Do you have an emotion or feeling, that when you experience it, you feel most like yourself? Like a favorite pair of jeans that you slide into with familiarity, worn-in at the right places.
I recognize mine as a mix of contentment tinged with the kind of sadness brought on by realizing the fragile, fleeting beauty of a moment. I experience a kind of nostalgia-in-real-time, this hollowed-out glow.
Over Thanksgiving, I re-discovered an old journal, stacked in a box in my childhood closet. It spanned the fall of my Freshman year of college until the very beginning of the following summer. The first entry – in which I recorded the arrival of my new goldfish, Gilbert Blythe – was exactly 12 years before the birth of my daughter this October.
My unfiltered musings were sometimes insightful and other times cringe-worthy, and it made me both happy and sad to reconnect with that less-cynical, wide-eyed version of myself. I was in love, then heartbroken, navigating early adulthood and wondering about the future. I’d tucked in ephemera from those months, too. A ticket stub to a Yonder Mountain String Band concert, a maybe-we’re-breaking-up poem I’d e-mailed late one night, and the printed-out response, mass messages I’d sent with updates from my work as a summer camp counselor and inspirational sayings scrawled on postcards. Old journals are the best.
My friends and I had just discovered Brian Andreas, the Decorah Iowa-based artist/author whose StoryPeople workshop Joe and I saw during our pre-baby weekend this fall.
At the beginning of my journal, I inscribed:
I asked her what she planned to do with her life & she said she was way beyond that point already. I’m just happy I remember to be there when it happens, she said.” – Brian Andreas
And hanging over Eileen’s crib is an Andreas print – “Her Laughter”
As has become a maternity leave ritual, I listened to this On Being episode, “Making – And the Spaces We Share” that same week I was reading my journal, and quilting a Christmas stocking for my daughter. There’s a part of the interview that talks about the similarity between art museums and churches in that they are both a space to be alone together, in private reflection among a crowd. I think that the most-me feeling I describe is a feeling I often experience when I’m in that alone together space. And, re-reading my journal, those inspiring lectures and long trail runs, train rides and artistic spaces encouraged growth.
P.S. Joe and I have continued our tradition of writing year-end letters to each other, and now our kids (!!!) on St. Nicholas day. We write about the highlights of the year and wishes for the next year and put them in stockings to read on Christmas. I started to keep all of the years in a scrapbook and I think it will easily become the thing I grab in the event of a fire. We drink hot chocolate and I cry a little when I write them.
P.P. S. Related: My “Letter from my former self” post