Upon Merlin’s repeated suggestion, I purchased a copy of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and I’m reading through it. For a self-described “self help” book, it’s quite the page turner. I have no doubts that I’ll finish it by the end of the weekend and that’s unusual for me.
Anyway, the book is divided up between commentary/advice from Twyla and exercises that she suggests you do to practice or spark creativity. They have so far been insightful to me, even if I did feel a little silly creating my own dance move here in the living room. (Wearing cowboy boots positively influenced the end result, no doubt.)
One of the exercises is entitled “Mining for Memory in a Photograph” and because I found Twyla’s description of her own photograph so interesting, I thought I’d share my own. I’m not yet the keeper of my childhood photos, but I do have some from my highschool years and onward lying around.
My fifteenth birthday.
This is a photo of me and my best friend, Michelle, on my 15th birthday. We’re sitting at the bar in my dad and stepmom’s house posing before I blow out the candles on the cake. Some things I notice in particular:
I have had very long hair for the majority of my life. In this picture, it was down to my waist. Long hair is feminine. It’s flattering if you are overweight (or rather, I believed that short hair was unflattering). At very long lengths, it’s unique. My dad seems to like my hair better when it’s longer.
I’ve had very short hair for the last six years, but I’ve been growing it out recently. Seeing this picture makes me realize that one reason I’m growing my hair out is to gain my dad’s approval. It’s not the only reason, but it’s an undeniable one. Sometimes I dream that I look in the mirror and realize my hair is long and I am embarrassed and ashamed and want to hide it. I think subconsciously my hair represents my growing uncomfortability at living my life to please others. I imagine that my hair will be one of those “the mountains are mountains again” things where I’ll be able to reclaim longer hair one day and it won’t be any sort of deal.
I am wearing silver dolphin earrings, a gold necklace (with either a dolphin or a cross on it), a gold bracelet, a gold panda coin ring, and I just bet a gold pink ice ring on the hand you cannot see.
The dolphin thing is a bit of a mystery. I never particularly obsessed about dolphins, but I was given several dolphin pieces as gifts and I loved them. The panda ring was a gift from my mother’s boyfriend. It was also a high school status symbol (as was the pink ice ring). I remember John buying that ring for me at a Kay’s in the mall. It was just me and him shopping that day, which was odd, and I liked him better afterwards. I remember the clasps on the bracelet (I would clasp and unclasp it as a way to fidget in classes) and on the necklace. If I close my eyes, my fingertips remember what it feels like to put them on and take them off.
These days the only jewelry I wear is a necklace I bought in a very spontaneous moment after lunch one day. It’s a round silver pendant on a neoprene collar. It was an expensive and totally unplanned purchase and I haven’t regretted the decision for a moment.
Looking at the picture, I recall the sweet smell of store-bought cake icing… the slippery, greasy mouthfeel… the dryness of the cake on the back of my throat. The smell of Bryer’s Neapolitan (not pictured, but surely present). I am not hungry, but my stomach grumbles at these memories.
These days my birthday cakes are small, flourless, bitter chocolate ones. They go great with coffee and require you to close your eyes to finish the bite. They are sweet only to a person who doesn’t eat much sugar. I smile when I think of my birthday cake, but it doesn’t make my stomach grumble.
Michelle is exactly the kind of friend I had over and over in my life before I had a real friend. We weren’t real friends because we didn’t know each other. How could we? We didn’t even know ourselves.
These days, I am surrounded by people who are generous with their respect and love. I can’t think of a single friend I have today who is passive with me or neglectful. I have done a good job at avoiding people that treat me or others that way.
I ate countless bowls of Applejacks and deviled ham sandwiches at the bar Michelle and I are sitting at. I grew up eating at that bar while watching television on that little white TV. The table behind us was a place where we ate when there was a holiday and holidays were sometimes shared with adults that I didn’t like very much. I have very fond memories of that bar and not so fond memories of that table.
The first purchase I made for my home was a table. My dad helped me put it together and it’s by far my favorite piece of furniture.
Now to answer some of Twyla’s questions…
What do you see in the photo that is indisputably similar to your life today?
This one is easy: my smile. To most who knew me when, I am completely unrecognizable now. But when I smile at someone who assumes me a stranger, their glazed-over look of unfamiliarity turns into a warm dawning of recognition. My smile, specifically the shape of my mouth and the imperfection of my teeth, has pretty much stayed the same my entire life.
What’s vaguely similar?
My face. There are parts of my fifteen year old face that are tighter and smoother and plumper than my thirty year old face, but it’s still very much the same face.
What bears no resemblance or suggests nothing memorable?
The boxes in the very back corner of the dining room. I’m not sure what was in there or why they’re there. My dad’s house was always very clean and they don’t belong.
What ended up the opposite of what you see?
I feel nearly everything is different now. (See descriptions of what I noticed in the photo, above.)
Twyla ends this exercise by saying that these thoughts are memory, “it’s buried in everything you’ve saved, patiently waiting for you to dislodge it and, hopefully, use it.“
If you decide to do this and blog about it, let me know. I’d be interested in reading yours.