Monday, October 10, 2016
There were also loose negatives trapped under piles of pictures. The negatives, white becoming black, directions reversed, conveyed the shadow side of their photographic subjects, their rejected identities. They defined people by what they were not, a common organizing principle for a worldclass non-joiner like myself. I specialize in rejected identity. I know who I am because I'm not the sort of person who eats lunch at Burger King or drinks martinis at the country club. I know who I am because I do not believe in American exceptionalism, especially not in this season of vulgar buffoonery. I am Jewish, but not that kind of Jewish. Not zionist, not orthodox, not tribal. Not, not, not. What happens when events conspire to force me to print the negative, to stand and be counted?
My husband has written a play. I am generally resistant to the idea that all women are sisters. I regularly consider and reject that sweeping generality along with all the others. But then a man I know socially approaches the two of us at a reading and asks me how it feels to be the muse of a playwright, muse being code for the woman behind the great artist who types his manuscript and provides encouragement and coffee. The first person I think of is Vera Nabokov and while I am thinking of the beleaguered Vera, the moment passes, the opportunity to say, wait a minute, wait just one fucking minute, becomes part of history and doesn't resurface until Donald Trump makes his porcine remark the following week and I say to myself. Mother of God, he's talking about me.
It's remarkable at this late date to be considering fluid identity, a poorly explored aspect of aging. A friend just the near side of seventy laments that she used to be the life of the party. Clever, witty, the whole Dorothy Parker-Nora Ephron thing. Now, she says, she feels more reserved, more introspective. The change in social metabolism comes as a great surprise. Much has been written about wrinkled skin, about sexual invisibility, but very little about the way for some people, aging involves a certain withdrawal, a tendency to want to give it a rest. I remember when I was much more gregarious. I remember when the idea of spending a protracted period of time alone was anathema. I felt a great dullness, a great heaviness that begged for distraction. I wanted to go out, out of myself, to see and be seen, to discover the identity du jour and attach to it. Being young seemed to be one long advertising campaign, one long broken record, designed to reach the largest audience, whether we believed in our product or not. When sales declined, it was a dark season.
Aging has lifted me out of that malaise. It has introduced me to myself, a previously unidentified image, and offered up a time-lapse photograph that has recorded my evolution from an uncertain girl, anxiously scanning the horizon for indications of social weather, to a grown woman, in love with her family, with spirit, and with writing. The images are emerging from the developing negatives.
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