Incredibly, I've Lived In Chico, CA 8 Years Now.
Marks of Time Passing: Gifts, All of Them
There is a nice exhibit currently showing at the Janet Turner Museum on the Chico State campus, featuring the prints of Allison Hyde. This is quite a remarkable series, sparked by Hyde's perspective on the marks we leave behind our literal surroundings, as she expresses here:
Personal subjective histories are not recorded in the same way that the history of countries are in textbooks; these unspoken histories exist inside the memories of others and the physical traces of their lives on the spaces and objects around them....(their) traces...can be discerned in the worn patches on the hardwood floor; memories can be triggered by the faded wallpaper silhouette where a bed used to sit. These spaces and objects embody a beauty in the marks of time passing, and speak quietly about the human experience ...
Reading this I think of so many things, like scents I associate with my grandmother, or the sounds of certain cries that remind me of my children's births; a scrap of fabric brings to mind a cherished blanket; a certain type of clutch wallet reminds me of the one I carried during errands for my grandmother when I was seven years old. A single apple makes me thing about endless peeling, making pies with, you guessed it, my dear grandmother who loved me. The sight of an old linoleum floor reminds me of happy places I visited as a little girl.
Reflecting on all this also reminds me how impossible it is to boil down our own, or anyone else's life experiences neatly no matter how we may judge ourselves as capable of doing that (or should I say, as much as we sometimes may feel entitled to.) Hey,it's Passover/Easter; imagine Jesus saying, "Judge one another as I have judged you." Oy.
I guess this is what Rilke was getting at when he warned us about "the slippery slope of our light judgements." We address the compelling realities of others' lives rather lightly at times and from a limited perspective, and in the process we may all be hurt. Small things matter so very much.
On a loosely related note, perusing this exhibit, I remembered an assignment I did with my University 101 students a couple of years back. We came out of the experience as different people; as a whole different class. The assignment was this:
Tell of an experience you had that changed you forever. Talk about what you realized coming out of that experience.
What emerged were gripping tales of joy, sorrow, pain, humiliation, triumph--the stuff of raw human everyday experience. I read them the very evening of the day I received them, and I cried as I read. Everyone had a precious story, a deep realization. I'd asked for two paragraphs yet received many more from each student; one wrote eight pages. I ended up creating a poem from one remarkable line from each essay and offered it to them, saying, "One of my old bosses used to tell his work-group that we were special people brought together in a special place and time, to do unique and wonderful things." And so, for the rest of the semester, we did our best to act upon our potential to be "that special." That, I felt, was the essence of the 101 experience, to get first-year students ready for their adult lives.
Awhile back I analyzed my own life up to 2005 similarly. I asked myself what I have gone through in life and what it meant, just for me. It resulted in a book you don't have to buy--it's free below if you want to see it. I wrote it for my kids.
I wish I had books of my friends' lives too. I know children who have lost parents, and how hungry they have become for insights never expressed. Reflection upon one's past is a beautiful way to see the potential of the present, and glimpse our own future, if we are brave enough to do the work of really seeing. This inevitably involves pain and grief, but just as often, enough pure, unmitigated joy to balance it all out. I would not trade my life experiences or humble beginning for anything.
See the exhibit if you can!