. . .And Now I See. . . Part 2

by Maria Theresa Maggi on September 12, 2017

 

“Watching A Whale and A Seal,” charcoal memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

My Mom, a teacher, used to say that teachers had eyes in the back of their heads. If you’re a Mom, too, you might also have experienced what I used to call my “mom radar”–that moment where I would suddenly just “know,” without a phone call or any other five-senses cue, that it was now time to go get my son from his overnight. I remember a visiting boyfriend of mine regarding me intently and saying after a moment of thought, “My Mom never had that.”

Even if you are not a teacher or have never been a Mom with mom radar, almost all of us have felt that sensation that someone is watching us from behind–the kind of thing that makes my head turn in a direction the feeling is coming from, though none of us could quite say how or why.

One evening at the very end of August, the dogs and I were on the beach. Romeo stopped at an exposed rock for a smell where he had left a “message” earlier that morning. The sun was out, dropping languid white tears of light on a calm ocean. As I waited for him to finish, I looked out across the water and saw a whale spout, then part of its back surface. I of course got very happy. When I turned back to the dogs, Romeo had settled himself in next to the rock, as if to say, if you sit here, there’s more to come. As always, he was right. We saw a seal popping up out of the breaking waves right in front of us several times. In the background out farther were maybe two whales, spouting and rounding their backs as they swam. An embarrassment of riches–which one to look at for that brief moment they are visible!

That night I realized I had this odd picture of myself in this experience, as if I could see myself from behind, sitting with my dogs, watching. So I tried to sketch it, quickly, in charcoal, in one of my sketchbooks. What I came up with is at the top of this post. I call it a memory sketch, because what is beyond the figures in the foreground is what I remember seeing, or what it felt like to see it. But there is no possible way I could have “seen” myself from behind, at least with my physical eyes. And no one else was there to take a photo of us from behind either. Yet it felt quite natural, oddly comforting even, to realize that some part of me is also the watcher of myself, and can draw me from behind by feeling what it was like to sit there and somehow “knowing” what viewing us from the back must have looked like. It’s almost as if this part of me were watching with deep love and affection, enjoying the state of contentment and happiness I was experiencing. Yet while I was experiencing that contented happiness I felt completely absorbed by it and not dissociated at all. It was only afterward, once I realized that I was being pulled to draw the experience from memory, that what I saw also somehow included the tableau of the three of us, from behind, relaxing in the sun, watching the scene unfold before us.

In “. . .And Now I See. . .” I referred to brain research positing that the brain thinks in up to 11 dimensions, that “The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.” This experience of being able to draw myself from behind makes me wax very metaphysical, and wonder if I might actually exist in 11 dimensions, instead of just three. Somewhere, around the corner from those, there is more. . .a way to “get” myself from behind, feel the quilted jacket, the shape of my shoulders, and the tousled hood sticking up over my collar. I didn’t seem to need my eyes to see it.

When I began writing this post, my explain-this-away aspect interjected that maybe it was because I had watched this video Mike made of me and Romeo last year as the sun set during my very first visit to this beach, and so I was co-opting my numerous views of that and transposing it onto this memory.

But if I was completely honest with myself, it wasn’t that at all. It was far more strange. As I drew, I felt as if I was somehow, non-physically, slow-dancing with myself, reaching around to the back of the scene to feel the volume and how to portray it on the flat paper.  I did the same thing for the dogs, which was harder, but not that hard. It all happened very spontaneously.

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Just as seeing takes me to the threshold of the sublime, it also brings me to the doorstep of the ridiculous.  A couple of years ago when I was moving into my little condo in Portland, I bought a little black dish drainer that fit right into my sink. For some irrational reason I absolutely love this dish drainer, and was delighted to discover it would fit neatly into one half of the double stainless steel sink at my new home on the coast. The only thing I didn’t like about it, or that made no sense to me, was that the utensil basket that came with it couldn’t be removed for cleaning. It appeared to be permanently attached with plastic rings. Time and again, I would try to wash the bottom of it out, and curse the fact that it was permanently affixed to the drainer. I’d squirt cleaner into it, spray water into it, try to wipe it out with paper towels. (This may sound like I’m a fastidious housekeeper, but that’s not true at all. These were all random times when I’d finally clean the sink and the drainer in an onslaught of domestic momentum that would soon fade.)

The other night I was about to try and wipe it out again, and begin bemoaning the fact that this sink has no sprayer to squirt down into it. I was about to move the whole thing into position under the faucet, when I saw, plain as day, for the first time ever, that the “permanent” plastic rings were merely plastic ties, the kind that often bind something to a cardboard backing, and they could simply be cut off. I would be free to wash the utensil container, unattached, to my heart’s content.

I couldn’t stop laughing at myself. For two YEARS I had seen this as a regrettable flaw in my beloved dish drainer, a permanent difficulty I had to work around. But this night, and now that I think of it, maybe it was even the same night as I had drawn the memory sketch of us on the beach, I finally saw what was actually there, and the simple thing I had to do to make the situation better.

And what I “saw” as I clipped the plastic ties off for good, laughing the whole time, was that in some little way that’s not so little after all, I have finally settled down in my cells and grounded enough to see something I literally could not see until now, because life was moving so quickly for me it was a detail I couldn’t make sense of, so I found a way to get by without the sense. That I was able to see it is very good news that my nervous system is catching up enough to take care of business at this mundane level. I can laugh at the ridiculous notion I have heroically lived with the inconvenience of not being able to get the two pieces apart. The funniest and most liberating result is not that they come apart after all, but the fact that  they do makes one less illusory burden to bear, however trivial, one less thing to get through in spite of myself.

The dish drainer is rarely empty, or nearly empty, but it was this morning, so I drew a quick life sketch of it from above, in honor of my foible.

“Dish Drainer,” life paste sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Once again, as the eclipse initially reminded me, it always helps to see with the heart, or use my eyes in service of it.  Yesterday morning it was beautiful and sunny once again. After a long walk on the beach, the dogs and I took five on the sand before going back up the two flights of stairs and heading toward home. While we sat there, we watched a woman ride by us on a bike near the edge of the water. Our beach is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, so maybe she was riding it. It’s not something I’ll probably ever do at this point, ride a bike on the sand. but today I realized that many years ago in Southern California I did ride my bike on a bike trail up above the beach, a good thousand miles south of here.

At the time, I was in love with a man who had ridden his bike across the entire country. He was a returning student, attending another university than where I taught, but he said to me slyly one day, that maybe some day I would be his teacher. I was quick to say oh that will never happen. Never say never he said, adamantly, and quite seriously, which was one of the reasons I loved him so, even though later that very notion would break my heart wide open where he was concerned.

So now when I look at this memory sketch, I see her riding, but I also see myself, riding in the early mornings, when it was quiet, with little traffic, even in Southern California. I passed only surfers pulling their wet suits on behind open car doors. How I loved those peaceful rides, before the Southern California beach was awake with its usual flair and industry, and only the people and birds who really loved it were about. I used to say I wanted to be buried with that bike. It makes me very happy to look at this sketch and “see” so many of my favorite things:  a woman with purpose, the ocean, the moon, and, with nonphysical “eyes,” the me who used to ride alongside the waves on a bike the color of vanilla ice cream.

Woman Cycling, with Ocean and Moon, pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

 

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Veronica September 18, 2017 at 11:18 am

I’m always in awe when I see whales and seals and sea lions and dolphins… and well, all the critters. 😉 We’ve been doing a lot of sailing lately in the Bay and still get so excited when a porpoise pops up next to us, or a seal lazily floats by… We went to Pier 39 in SF and sailed right by all the many sea lions hanging out on the docks on our way to our assigned slip – it was quite magical and wonderful. I could watch them all for hours, just hoping for another peek.
I also laughed at your realization two years later about the ability to remove the utensil basket! I know I’ve caught myself with similar realizations (or had someone else point it out!) on other things. It’s funny how our minds sometimes just don’t “see.”
Your sketches are beautiful, as always. xoxo

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2 Maria Theresa Maggi September 18, 2017 at 10:35 pm

Thanks Veronica! I loved hearing about your sightings while sailing–that sounds just great! It is always magical to see these creatures, isn’t it? And so glad you laughed at my utensil basket caper! I sure did. And thanks for the compliment about the sketches, and your faithful insightful readership. xo

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