Sunday, August 06, 2006

This time last year, I was getting ready to go to China, to leave the country for the first time ever. China taught me a lot of startling things, about how friendships can have expiration dates and about how we can outgrow what we knew of as our old brains; about how very disposable we each are. Herman Hesse wrote about how we are always hatching from new eggs, how it is impossible to emerge into new worlds without destroying the shells of the old ones. When I came home it was to a new world that was rounder, it's true, but a trifle thinner nonetheless. There is a difference between a landscape painting and a portrait of a place, and when I came home I realized that I was desperate to discover that very difference in my own tiny keyhole.

It's an unfortunate time of year for y'all--my birthday is in a couple of weeks and so I'm currently stuck in my usual birthdays-and-new year recursive vortex of reflection. I'm trapped in this ditch full of mirrors trying to figure out if I've actually accomplished anything worthwhile in the last year.

So this time this year, I'm getting ready to go to Florida, to see the grandmothers for what is always possibly the last time. Grandmothers are all that small delicate girls can count on to be kind and stable when young mothers insist on marrying crazy junkies and every-other-weekend fathers jump to selfish conclusions and exchange fondness for sarcasm, so they've always been my solid place.

And I have been reading lately about how sometimes the Earth's magnetic field vanishes, and when it reappears the poles have reversed themselves. It's expected to happen again sometime in the next 2000 years, and during the time before the reversal compasses won't work and there will be a lot of very lost sailors. I think that's what's going to happen when I lose the grandmothers--that what I know of as up and down will be turned on its head, that I will be very lost until I locate a new place to fix my bearings.

As they grow weaker and older it becomes my turn to be the solid place, to become the point from which they see the rewards of the kindness they've given. It's my job to gather their stories and create a place for them in whatever future generations of my family they won't be around to meet. I need to remember portraits, and I'm not sure that I'm strong enough for more than outlines and soft brush strokes.

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