I am a mother.
My memories of my mother when she was the age that I am now are very strong, potent and continually influential.
My son Simon is almost eight.
When I was eight my Mom came out to me.
In the same breath she explained that she and my father would be getting a divorce.
She loved Lori the way she had once loved my Father.
My parents had enrolled me in catholic school a few years prior. We never went to church and we were already considered a pretty weird family, So my mom thought it best if I not tell anyone about her sexual orientation. So I didn’t. I felt a little guilty when I made “best friend pacts” to tell all …but my Mom always came first so mum was the word. But it was tricky for me: I thought her relationship with Lori was beautiful and I wanted so badly to tell everyone I knew. I didn’t like lying when people asked why my Mom didn’t have a boyfriend.
My mom’s fear was strong. In general. About a lot of things. And it still is.
When I was eight AIDS was spreading and the general population didn’t understand what it was.
And AIDS was connected to gay.
Fear was strong.
My Mom’s partner was a nurse and they showed me several VHS movies about AIDS; making sure I understood that you can’t catch it through touch and spit. And they made sure I knew everything there was to know about condoms. “Guys- I’m 8!!! Yuck.” They made jokes about how straight I was and giggled about the guys I would be bringing home. “Guys – I’m 8!!! Yuck.”
My Mom and Lori found a community of closeted lesbians in our suburban neighborhood. Many of them had kids from previous marriages… and they became good friends of mine.
…when I was 8 years old it was 1980
Ronald Reagan was elected.
I vividly remember my mother pacing and panting as the results of polls rolled in.
“I can’t fucking believe this. What is wrong with people? This man is a moron.
Nichole, the world you live in is about to change for the worse.”
I wondered what does this mean? Who is this man? How could he single handedly ruin the world we knew? What should I do to prepare?
Is this how Simon feels as we gear up for the election where Mitt Romney “battles” Barack Obama? Simon is searching for good guys and bad guys – trying to assign the roles.
The messy details of my parent’s divorce taught me early on that there were no such thing as good guy and bad guy. There was only difference and complexity. Sure, there are extreme beliefs and behaviours, but everyone has their reasons and even the most well-intentioned action can hurt others. I learned this through the example of the relationships in front of me. The tiny tears against my heart made it stronger bigger full of compassion. Will Simon absorb this type of information through my words, without living through the struggle? Is he too protected? What is he taking in through that little lens of his?
The Memory Map:
In my solo practice I found myself referring to a mental map of my childhood home. I lived on a street called Midway Avenue between ages 3 and 10, sometimes with my Dad and his girlfriends, sometimes with my Mom and her partners, sometimes with my parents when they were trying to work it out. As adults came and went I was the most consistent resident.
I find it interesting that seven years of activity are now condensed into one static picture that I can mentally walk through. Its interesting to note what remains: for instance the christimas tree sits at the bottom of the steps even though it was only there one month a year. Its like a time lapse photograph of sorts. Sometimes length of stay earns a piece of furniture its place, but sometimes a brief flash of activity –if bright enough- burns its way onto the image forever.
The Poetics of Space: I started reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard and felt an immediate thrill as I read the introduction. I couldn’t believe how perfectly it supported and illuminated the ways I’d been thinking about space and the significance of one’s memory of their childhood home. Reading this (I’m still working through it) is deepening and expanding my thinking about this personal material and strengthening my confidence that it can indeed make its way into a work of art that others can relate to.
Real and Borrowed images. And the Borrowed images you can’t remove:
The dead guy: When I was taking a mental tour of my childhood house on Midway avenue, I noticed there was a bloody dead man on the couch. What?? There has never been a bloody dead person on that couch and I have never seen such a horror with my own eyes. So why is he here on the couch at Midway avenue? I realized this image arrived when I saw a play “Iron” in which the mother tells her daughter the details of a murder she committed. As I listened to the story I was staging the murder in Midway avenue. I often stage scenes from books or plays there if the author does not assign specific architectural details I just subconsciously stage the action at Midway avenue. Apparently this body permanently lodged itself on my childhood couch. As much as a try I cannot erase it from the room. I’m stuck with this dead body.
Now as you can imagine, when I relayed this detail to Wendy her eyes widened. “Well, this metaphor is very strong Nichole, you need to put this stubborn obstacle on the stage with you in some way”
Ok, so what does all this have to do with performance? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But its certainly made its way into this creative process…
And, when your own story implicates others, is it okay to tell that story?
*how this relates to my group process is detailed in “Mother and the Architecture of Memory”