On Monday evening my proud papa showed my youngsters video clips he had taken of me and my band almost ten years ago. There we are, up on the big stage, under the bright lights, playing our twenty-something hearts out. “We were young and we were improvin’. . .”
Mellencamp was on to something, although I haven’t always thought so over the years. Wrinkles, gray hairs, extra pounds and stretch marks don’t seem like an improvement. But they are simply markers of the real life I’ve been living. The wrinkles around my eyes record the smiles and laughs that have crinkled the skin there again and again. The creases between my eyebrows show the grip of stress, grief, and anger. The gray hairs grow from a head that has pumped out thoughts and dreams at the pace of a Chinese toy factory. The poochy tummy and the stretch marks tell about the two people I co-created, nourished, carried and bore into the world.
These days I don’t look back as wistfully as I used to. I can almost laugh at – I mean with – no, I mean at – the profoundly serious girl up there on the stage, who scans every audience for a talent scout and will soon cry herself to sleep the night she learns of her first pregnancy, certain this means death to her creative life.
Small children, it turns out, are small for only two or three blinks of an eye. This is a great relief and an eternal sadness.
They are also loaded with material – not only the fecal variety, but the sort of material every writer seeks – magical moments, ironic situations, hilarious word usage, and heart-stabbing lovelinesses and tragedies of all sorts.
On Tuesday morning I took my guitar down from the wall and began to play and sing. My two-year-old Silas hurried from the other room, smiling and dancing like sun-sparkles on a forest stream. It was a stellar performance. I totally connected with the audience. I’m pretty sure I’ll get another call soon (“Mommy! Play my song again!”).
Lately I’ve discovered that the songs and performances I do create, when I take the time, are better than those of ten years ago, and they often take less effort. I think this is about reaching maturity.
This past spring I bundled up and went out to the garage, where I poked tiny tomato seeds into small pots of soil arranged on an old cookie sheet. I brought the cookie sheet into the house and set it on top of the refrigerator so the seeds could stay warm and germinate. It took about a week before I saw more than soil in those pots. It took even longer for the tiny seedlings to grow into recognizable tomato plants that could stay outside overnight alone.
Once I finally got the plants outside, the tender leaves soaked up sunlight and used that energy to make more leaves, which all soaked up more sunlight and made more leaves, so that the plants grew exponentially. A couple weeks ago, green tomatoes began blushing into red, and I knew that the plants were doing what the seed packet had said they would do in the prescribed number of days – reaching maturity. Now every day I spot another brilliant red tomato, standing out vividly from the surrounding green leaves.
If I were a tomato plant, I think I would currently be putting out yellow blossoms. These blossoms are more interesting than the green leaves I have spent much of my life to produce, but it gets even better! If I keep growing, one day I will make brilliant red fruit with the power to nourish and cheer whoever finds it. I don’t miss those spindly seedling days. And I’m not seeking to preserve these yellow flowers. I’m going for the juicy red fruit. I’m reaching for maturity. I’m still young and still improving.