Wednesday, June 25, 2014
In the Absence of My Reflection
It didn't happen right away.
Inspiration didn't swoon down from the gods. The tiny opening in the trees didn't issue an invitation to enter its domain. My fingers didn't feel an irresistible urge to pull out a pen and scribble on the notepad I tucked into the cup holder tray on my stroller.
Of course, those were the things I was hoping would happen when I packed up my baby and ambled down the sidewalk. With a thousand ideas curling around the margins in my jot pad and a million more pin balling around in my brain, I took a walk to find direction, clarity, focus. I took a walk so I could breathe, so I could observe, so I could grant my brain an opportunity to sort through ideas and give the more important ones a chance to clench my throat, climb up my esophagus and demand to be heard.
Of course none of this happened right away. Inspiration tends to be a tricky, little shape shifter. He rarely appears in predictable garb; she rarely arrives when you summon her. I knew this. And so I waited. Aiming to be present in the moment, I spoke to my baby in silly voices, giving him a tour of his neighborhood park, and I made him giggle by venturing into the bumpy domain of grass.
I also turned my iPhone to picture mode, frequently pausing to look around. Scanning the same scenery my husband and I pass on our evening walks, I looked for anomalies in the landscape. I investigated a low hanging leaf, burdened by the weight of raindrops clinging like climbers on the edge of a cliff. I indulged my curiosity, squatting to capture tarry footprints freshly imbedded in concrete. And I drew myself to gaps in the brush lining the creek, spotting a smattering of white wildflowers bursting like pinwheels against the lush vegetation.
I took note of jagged barriers in the grass, where portions had been cut, prepared for picnicking or play, and portions had been preserved, a matted labyrinth presumably left for nature. I relished my encounter with forked paths, marked trees and skittish squirrels. And I pondered the necessity of a 50 foot split rail fence that seemed to begin and end in a spot that appeared more appropriate for trees.
Somewhere along the way, my feet clipped the edge of a puddle sitting alone on a briefly barren stretch of asphalt. The unexpected jolt of wetness startled me, and I hopped backwards, pulling myself from the rainwater tickling my toes. I locked the wheels on my stroller, and turned to face the water which sparsely coated three thin feet of bike path. Leaning forward, I saw my shadow gaze back at me, dark and hazy, stirring back and forth across minuscule ripples, failing to settle into any state of stillness the entire time I looked.
I snapped a photograph of the faceless woman peering up at me, and then I continued further into the wooded area, where I encountered a deeper, larger pool, at least ten feet wide and six inches deep. I leaned over again, this time, hoping my reflection would be clearer. No matter how far I leaned though, my face did not appear. Leaves, caked in mud, lay matted along the bed, while trees climbed and cuddled above me. I switched positions, attempting to catch the sun at different angles. I crouched low to the ground and balanced my foot on a fallen branch bridging the water. Still, I could not see my face. I could not even see the shadow of my face. I saw nothing but clear water gazing back up at me.
In the absence of my reflection--in the caked leaves, the pooled water, the over-saturated sticks stretching from one space to another--a dull buzz of disappointment rose within me. When I saw the long, deep puddle, my creativity surged, and with all of the urgency of a person in pursuit of something terribly important, I wanted to see my face: clearer than hazy ripples, lighter than dark shadows. I wanted to capture my reflection in a prettier pool than the shallow asphalt one I encountered earlier. I wanted to snap what I perceived--in that moment--to be the inspiration I set out to find, the perfect image, the muse I needed to begin my latest project.
But I failed to manufacture such a shot. I failed to insert my face into a moment that wasn't meant to hold it. I failed to cast my reflection upon a collection of water already decorated with slivers of life. And I failed, because I didn't fit. I failed because my place was not in the pool of water, or in the symbolic mirroring I aimed to capture. My face wasn't meant to compete with the reflection of sunlight descending through the cracks in the canopy above me, or in the mosaic of muddy leaves layered like plush feathers in the clay. My face wasn't meant to cross over water-logged sticks or mingle with the grass.
My face was meant to observe, to listen, to breathe.
I walked away that morning without my prized shot, but as I pondered its absence during my journey home, I realized something far more important. We don't have to be part of everything in order for everything to be perfect. We don't have to have a place in the center of a landscape in order for us to belong. Our plans don't need to unravel cleanly in order for us to succeed. Sometimes our inspiration is less about what we see and more about what we imagine, less about what we want and more about what we get. Perhaps sometimes life doesn't intend for us to jump in; it just means for us to open our hearts and be moved.