you & me

Caring for Your Creative: Curiosity and a Question.

Curiosity arrives today in the form of a question and a fox, several times over.

As I was about to begin this writing, my heart leapt. A young fox appeared about 10 feet away, healthy, lithe and magic, as it parted the anise hyssop. The birds had been silent moments before, which is what I remembered as the fox evaporated before my next heartbeat. I relocated my desk out to our back porch, where I spend much of my day working, writing, sewing, reading books, and thinking.

The birds are the major accompaniment to my day, and an occasional mammal, but a fox, this close, surprised me. I do believe it was looking for chipmunks, of which we have many. Plump well-fed golden beasts who dig up around the violets and kale, who natter away in the potted plants, and who have made a Star Wars scale underworld beneath our terrace. I say, Feed on, fox.

Heart full of surprise.

Last night, vales of fireflies,

Oh phosphorescent sea in the tall grasses and up into the oaks.

Undulating waves of sparkles, stars bobbing in black air. Bright rumpus I watch from the side of the road, in my pajamas and boots.

I have been sitting with this question: “What do I identify as?”

In the development of my work as an author, artist and teacher, I take questions like this seriously. I think the power of this curiosity lies in its broader and deeper application.

What do I identify as?

I identify as a woman who is a mother, a writer and a committed book artist and mixed media collage-maker, who sometimes works in fiber, poetry, and berries.

If you spend more than a minute with me, you will find that I identify with curiosity, community, and creative practice.

Until this morning, I identified as a woman who could not approximate the Bird of Paradise asana, but due to urging from my beloved teacher, I can now identify as a sometime Bird of Paradise.

I identify as a woman who makes things of nearly nothing, with seeds, with cells, with paper and time.

I identify as a woman who made dinner for over 16 years almost every night, and who has given up that job to my husband, who identifies as an excellent chef, a fine lunch-maker and a worthy laundry cohort.

I identify as a Yooper, that being one who rises from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I was not born, but my grandmother was, and where I was raised by my mother and absent father within the fair winds of Lake Michigan and the blue-green depths of Lake Superior.

I identify as a person from the Midwest with strong Northern leanings, as in: I identify as a woman of the North, sturdy in heavy winds, handy with worms, ropes, and oars, eager as anything to get outside, whatever the weather.

I identify as a woman who can stumble on my own two feet, choke on my multi-vitamins, stab myself with knitting needles, drop phones in to rain barrels, keep the pitchfork away from my boots, and navigate embarrassment with good humor, mostly.

I identify as a woman who often takes what is not mine, personally, who has to think things over, pray and meditate, let ritual run waters of forgiveness through me until I find myself clear and standing in my own value.

I identify as a woman who loves to do laundry most of the time, who folds in the sun, irons in the winter, and leaves your stacked jeans at your doorstep, because I do not identify as a woman who puts away the clean laundry. I just wash, fold and deliver it.

I identify as a woman who drinks one glass of wine, as the daughter of an alcoholic, who just does not enjoy a big buzz of whatever kind, medicinal herbs or fermented grain. I identify as a woman who prefers reality straight up.

I identify as a woman who snorts when she laughs, who has friends who bend over laughing, and who sometimes fall off chairs because of that laughter.

I identify as a sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, aunt, US Mom to my overseas brood, neighbor, helper, driver, voter, recovering volunteer in solid occupation of my No as well as my Yes, a Sister Goddess (and so are you), a Girl Scout, a band member, a dancer, never a mime, unable to speak in other languages but a very good gleaner of meaning, a writing mentor and teacher, a bicycle rider, and a swimmer in deep clear green pools of river and pond, lake and sea water.

I identify as a mother and with other mothers, as an artist and with other artists, as a citizen and with other citizens, as a teacher and with other teachers, as a lover and with other lovers, as a poet and barely with other poets, but I am working on that.

I can, with confidence, say that I identify as a woman who is literate and literary — lit, as Jim Harrison likes to say, by fireflies and sumptuously fascinated with beauty, with love and all things growing.

How about you? What do you identify as? Where does the current definition of yourself pale against what you know to be true about yourself but have not yet revealed to the world?

At 18, I lived with my father, away from my mother and my people. I got a tattoo. It started as a rose, red buds and one open bloom. In college, I had some of the tattoo removed because I did not want people to see it when I wore dance leotards, which were my uniform in those days. From the moment I got that tattoo, I kept it covered up. I did not identify as a woman with a tattoo on her chest, even though I am a woman with a tattoo on my chest.

I could fill a book with stories that my tattoo and I have lived in all of these many years. My tattoo, the scar that was left after the removal, and I, have confused people, dared people, embarrassed myself and others who are surprised because I just don’t seem like that kind of woman.

Tattoos are much more common today, prolific among some crowds of humans. Just yesterday, I broke out from my usual habit of not baring my cleavage. I am 57 years old, people. It is about time I let go of your reaction to my having a tattoo, isn’t it? I was in the company of close friends who had never seen my tattoo in public. They didn’t miss a beat of conversation. I could not sense them edging away, closing their minds because I sport a tattoo. I lived.

And so, I guess the point of this whole question is this: What have you identified as or with for so long that you have worn yourself silly? I have tugged up Yoga tops, closed the collars of shirts, and only ever worn bathing suits that cover my chest — except on the rare occasions when I am with my women friends or sisters with whom I swim naked or wear bikinis.

What parts of you do you share for public consumption? What do you identify as, that is private and not to be seen by others? Have some of those secrets worn themselves to a dull nubbin? Could you, like me, toss them out and reveal a little more of your full self to the world?

My tattoo is a symbol to me of all the ways I hide in plain sight.

“I fell in love because of the radiant authenticity that lives in each word. This is me. This is my story of becoming whole, of remembering who I am.” ~ Meggan Watterson

I identify as a woman who holds space for great change.

I identify as a woman in relationship with the Holy.

I identify as a heterosexual woman in a committed relationship to a man, with whom I have birthed two healthy children, and did not birth, but lost, two pregnancies.

I identify as a woman familiar with sorrow.

I identify as a person with dedication and devotion and determination.

I identify as a provocative instigator. (The fox just returned.)

I identify with roses, hollyhocks, and white pines.

I identify with joy. (The fox, again. Hungry fox.)

Today, I care for my creative by letting curiosity ripple through me. I’d love to hear what ripples through you.

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SuziBanksBaumSuzi Banks Baum is an artist, actress, writer, teacher, community organizer, and mom. She’s passionate about helping women find their creative voice and live focused, joy-filled lives. Suzi inspires hundreds of women every year to live their lives from the space of creative spirit and to value their contributions to the world and one another through her Mapping Motherhood course, taught throughout the United States, her blog, her Sacred Refuge programs and her Powder Keg Writing Workshops. You can find her work on TheMid, Literary Mama, MotherWriterMentor and her blog.

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