Fill in the Spaces

spaces, rita mae brown conformity, donna woolam, conformity

Years ago, I took a little course on how to draw. Or maybe I read a book. Who knows? Anyway, the entire premise was to teach the student how to not draw the apple or the horse or person, but to draw the spaces around the apple, the horse or the person.Twice now, this thought has come to me, that my writing is to be like that. To find the spaces around the person, the situation and to draw that with words. I don’t know exactly how that is going to look.

Maybe, it’s a way to find the reality because of the space around it.

Maybe, it is identifying people with what is around them, and how that has influenced them - rather than trying to decipher what is going on inside.

And just maybe, it’s what I’ve done all along.

These days, when I think of my Mom, I don’t think of her as an old 89 year old woman, with soft hands like mine, only older. I think of her as a 15 year old girl, running the dirt lanes of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I see her hiding away under a tree somewhere to read a book she was able to borrow from the school. Her dark hair is flying out behind her. The Panhandle wind is whistling, stirring up clouds of dust, and sand and grit. The brown, dust-bowl day landscape is trying to steal away her curiosity, her joy, her desire to be more than she is. Her mind is filled with city scenes and wondering how to escape this dry, barren life. The dust, the death, the poverty, all shape the woman she was to become.

It had little to do with what she could control, but what moved around her - shaping her and forming all of her life.

It was the husband who tramped around the world - everybody’s hero - my hero - but the man who didn’t see her.

It was a first-born son filled with curiosity and wonder - where she placed all of her hopes for something better - who resented her for the pouring out of her dreams.

It was the brother, born with so many complications he should have died - but lived. The guilt and fear heaped upon her by others. “Our family never had anything like THAT before. It must have come from your family.” Pouring every vestige of life into the boy. Searching for money for medicine. Laying hands on him and on the TV as Oral Roberts prayed. Sheltering him from cruel words, angry comments - and being resented by him for her care.

Shaped by me. A daughter she hoped would go after more, but instead got married in high school, had children early, and left her talents in a box alongside the road as she moved from town to town. Living the same legacy without ever understanding why her mother pushed so hard.

Or my baby sister, the one who cared for her over the last years of her life. A sister filled with the same fire as her mother. Fire that caused them to scorch one another, but in the end melded them together.

My Mom was formed by the shapes around her. She desperately tried to fill in the spaces. She tried to push out of the frame that was designated for her. She came up against convention, tradition and self-recrimination. She pushed at the barriers all of her life. And in so many ways was deemed someone who didn’t know when to quit. Her family thought her odd and arrogant. Her friends thought her bright and capricious. Her children thought her grasping and cruel. Her husband thought her insatiable. I wonder, what did Mom think of herself?

In the few snatches of writing I found after her death, she wrote things like, “Learn to not be selfish. “Learn to not feel abandoned.” “Strive to be kind.” “Be forgiving.” “Stop being filled with self-pity.” I think she felt alone and misunderstood. I think she carried the picture of all women and all life within her spaces.

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