Monday, May 17, 2010


I’ve been thinking of lines and spaces lately. Every leafy tree invites me to see it two ways: once as an image of the multitude of greens and branches, then once again in negative, seeing only the jagged splotches of sky between branches and leaves.

There’s one tree especially that I keep noticing for some reason. It draws me toward it every time I pass by it on the road leading northward to our street. It’s an ordinary tree, and I have no cause to notice it. It’s not standing alone, nor is it outwardly unique. It’s just a wide-spreading maple at the top of a small hill near the road. Regardless, something about it has caught my eye repeatedly for well over a week now.

There’s a hayfield next to the tree, and a long greystone wall that holds back the farm beyond and follows the road for miles. So maybe the open space that precedes the tree brings attention to this maple. But there are other maples next to it, behind it, across the street. It is only this maple, with its wide branches, that has captured my thoughts enough to notice it each day, to have it enter one of the bedtime stories I spin for my daughters, to write about it now.

Today I drove past the maple again, and as I approached, it dawned on me that perhaps it’s not the tree itself, but the overall outline of the tree’s shape that interests me. I slowed down and saw the tree in a new way. If one were to follow the top of the tree’s branches--the very points where they meet the sky--one might make a line drawing very much like a dot-to-dot picture that children do in coloring books. This morning I noticed that outline, and I noticed also that it was almost a perfect half circle. That must have some meaning for me. It felt right to recognize it. It was beautiful, round, welcoming--a sheltering arc rising above the field and road.

It took a second look to see it. But something in me must have noticed it right away, and kept calling my attention until I really saw the tree.

Last year I celebrated my 10th anniversary of learning to draw. That sounds too self- congratulatory, so I’ll be more precise. The series of classes I took in 1999 were technically drawing classes, but I wouldn’t say that’s what I found so life-changing about them. Even now I’m not particularly good at sketching, but I absolutely love to do it. There was something life changing, though, in those lessons. I learned to see.

Learning to see? Talk about self-congratulatory. Honestly, though, the world did change for me visually. Everyday things, things that I had lived with or walked past for my entire life--these things suddenly changed. Objects like teapots or screwdrivers, chairs, paving stones, an apple peeler, a pear, a tree--these all shifted from their ordinary selves into lines, and shape, shadows alternating with light. The world undulated with color, and and individual colors broke into strange and exciting combinations. I was practically dizzy with letting my mind re-vise them.

My new perspective distracted and thrilled me for months--I learned all of this while we were living overseas, and it simply added to the exciting, exotic feeling I had of living so far away from home. When we returned to the US, I retained a great deal of my giddiness about “seeing,” but I fell back into a routine and just enough of the magic faded so I could about my life without reeling every time I noticed the color of a glass of milk or the curve of a teacup handle.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a little bit more about how to “see” through a camera’s lens, to recapture an element of what I am noticing in a moment. It’s far from perfect, and I’m not a photographer by any stretch, but some of my photos are good enough for me to enjoy later, and that seems enough for me.

There is a difference to seeing and being seen, and I while I might often have a camera to my eye, I am seldom in front of one. It’s my dread to be tagged in a Facebook photo. I skulk out of view when I see someone swinging a camera around, readying a shot.

I have a disconnect between what I see in the outside world and how I see myself. I look in the mirror, and I think, “Not too bad. Not perfect, but not bad.” I like myself, and for the most part, I like the way I look. However, the scale and my clothing are reminders I need to lose some serious weight, and last month I finally listened. I’m on a good path, and I’ve dropped 6 pounds so far. Again, not bad. I’ve cut sugar from my diet, I’ve been feeling increasingly strong. Most shockingly, I’m actually enjoying working out. I put on my loose(r) pants and head out of the house knowing all of this, wearing my confidence like a must-have accessory.

Last week we visited a goat farm, not too far down the road past the maple tree, in fact. I brought our camera, and got some great pictures of Esme running after (and with) the baby goats. She captured a few for hugs, and so did I. My husband took a photo of me, laughing as I cuddled a soft brown and white kid. I felt a twinge of self-consciousness, then let it go.

I downloaded the photos later that night and discovered, to my disgust, that I still don’t recognize myself.

As fantastic and confident as I might feel, the camera (and everyone else, I presume) sees something different. In fact, people who have known me for only the past 5 years have no other template for Kirie. I’m just that same old chubby mom they see in town (I cringe as I type). I don’t know which is worse--to be only known as the chubby mom, or to be recognized by people from my long-ago life accompanied by a thought like “Hey, didn’t that girl used to be small and cute? What happened?”

I get myself all worked up for nothing, I realize. Do I consider the appearance of my friends? No. These harsh judgements I reserve for myself alone. Honestly, I know that few people even really care a whit about how I look. Oh the vanity.

If one were to look at that photo of me with the goat, to follow the just edges of my clothing--the very points where they meet the sky--one might make a dot-to-dot picture that captures the general shape I fill. It is not a shape I recognize. It is not a shape I claim as my own, obviously.

But like the maple on the hill on North Road, there is something in my outlined and foreign shape, something hidden, something special waiting to be seen. There is more to me than what I must appear to be on the outside.

I am in that in-between time of fat and fit. I am embracing the ambiguity as much as I can, feeling the dissonance of feeling healthy but looking heavy. In equal parts I hate and love this sensation of being in flux. I hate this time, knowing my new feelings are hidden. And I love this time, feeling silently willful, knowing that I can make the changes happen, regardless of how I’m perceived or not. It’s as though I have a secret engagement--one to myself--an engagement that only I and a few people know about. I’ll reveal this new relationship with myself eventually, I know, and I will celebrate.

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves


Irene Latham said...

Kirie, you're beautiful. Body image is such a complicated thing... I share your experience. Big congrats on the six pounds... keep going!!

The Storialist said...

Wow, Kirie, wow. This is your voice at its best and most probing.

Seeing and allowing your mind to catch on fire by getting involved with what is around us in the world....yes, I can see why you'd celebrate this. Candle and song-worthy, Kirie!

It is about the importance of being present enough to notice these things. Presence can sometimes be uncomfortable.

You have a sensitive eye. Be gentle with yourself, ok? You are valuable and valued.

Angie Muresan said...

You know, it's funny, but I rarely notice how my friends really look. To me they are so dear and beautiful that their outward appearance makes very little impact.

Maggie May said...

"feeling silently willful" oh I LOVE that, Kirie!!!

La Belette Rouge said...

Absolutely gorgeous post. And it makes so much sense to me that learning to draw would change how you see the world. It makes me think of John Berger's book( or at least his title) "Ways of Seeing". Art, Literature, Music and all the big "A" aesthetics change the way we see the world when we really engage with them.

Seeing ourselves with the love, compassion and kindness that we see others with is a kind of seeing that seems much more difficult to cultivate. When I see you I see extraordinary beauty, talent, and a creative energy that astounds. Hope your eyes can see that too.

Mike said...

Your blog has been recommended to us as a interviewee's favorite blog!

We would like to do an interview with you about your blog for Blog
Interviewer. We'd
like to give you the opportunity to
give us some insight on the "person behind the blog."

It would just take a few minutes of your time. The interview form can
be submitted online here Submit your

Best regards,

Mike Thomas

Judy said...

I can't believe I missed this blog post for so long! It must have been getting ready for the wedding.
After just having seen you I must say you are beautiful and youthful as ever!!! Congrats on the wt. loss but it isn't who you are... I see so much more and agree with Angie that I rarely notice my friends outward appearance as they are so very dear and that has the impact for me... I guess its our history together and the love that make up what matters to me... Hugs Aunt Judy

Robyn Rennie Oag said...

I love how you talk about trees! Trees have a special place in my heart - especially elms! I can't see very well, but sometimes I lie on my back and watch the chestnut and maple leaves overhead. I've never noticed the negative spac left by them, but I will look at them differently now. Thanks!

Eric Alder said...

One of the most valuable things I learned from an art class was how to really notice negative shapes.

P.S. - I recently posted that I was trying to get into shape.... 'round' is a shape, right?

Cin said...

You have wonderful talent! So happy I came upon this post - maybe not random at all , but meant to be. Blog on!

Susan Tiner said...

Thank you so much for your lovely comment on my blog. It is wonderful to meet you and I see you keep wonderful company as well :-). This is a beautiful post. I know what you mean about it being one thing to see and other to be seen by others and oneself.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.