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29 weeks | I wonder who I am sometimes | no. 0022
In the early weeks just after the munchkin’s birth, I wondered furiously about the same elusive thing: Who am I? It wasn’t just that I was delirious with the incessant rhythm of our newborn days. I was thoroughly and profoundly stumped every time I asked myself that question. Multiple points throughout the day, I would ping back to that placeholder in my thoughts, check to see if it had been supplanted with a lesser void. Still though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the container where I stored self-identity was leaking. Even as I delighted in the abundant sensations of newmommyhood, the concurrent feeling of newfound emptiness took up equal space.
In truth, there was something there. An unfamiliar reality that I wanted to believe was whole. This was a challenge though, for reasons I could not then articulate. But still, an answer nonetheless to my question about who I was remained flickering like a lone candle flame in a dark night: I am my son’s mother.
“That’s it,” I remember thinking aloud so many times. It was a very deliberate consideration on my part. I genuinely did not know if I was perhaps missing something, like that hunch you have when you’ve forgotten something at home but can’t figure out what it is. All 1,440 minutes of the day would come and go, and still the only thing I knew myself to be was a mother to the munchkin. All my other known selves had faded into the background– dancer, artist, teacher, movement facilitator, Visionary Space Activator. I felt stripped of my certainties, and yet I walked deeper into what seemed like separation. There was so much work to do. And I was exhausted. The fact that I felt completely lost in my personal identity crisis seemed of little consequence. He has to eat now.
It was like I needed assurance that my existence as-is was enough. That the combined impact of my intangible efforts as mother indeed took shape in the real world outside the scope of intimate victories. The secure tug of a good latch after 30 minutes of more painful attempts, the pleasant airiness in the bottom of his clean diaper after an epic poop, the extra weight surrendering in my arms when finally he reaches a deep sleep. That lovely but instantaneous high of success, eclipsed ever so quickly by the eternal murmurs of defeat. Whoever says, ‘Enough is enough?’
But mostly this phenomenon of self-doubt would make itself most known to me when he looked directly into my eyes. Always, I would feel exposed, my infinite shortcomings as a mother shining through the frailty of my best intentions. And after all this work to get him here. To have to be honest about the multitude of things I did not know. It was one thing to explore my abstract sense of self on my own. But now my child would need more from me than theory. All this time, I have crafted myself to be this ongoing experiment. My son will ask me hard questions that need answers. I think it worries me at times that I just don’t know. In fact, I think I’m writing all these posts partly because in the event that I am still unfiguredout by the time he’s talking and reading, at least I can refer him to the journey in my words and he can see how long I’ve been trying.
At the National Gallery of Art, East Building, I attempt to explain to the munchkin why this space is so special to my development as an artist. The story is long and will take many trips, perhaps many years to fully get through. But in the few moments I have before he makes a big diaper, I try to get the pertinent points across. Above us, the enormous Calder mobile hangs from the ceiling by invisible wires. There can be no brevity though. I feel this pressing need to go over all the details I’ve learned about specific pieces. This is what my mother did for me when she brought us here lifetimes ago.
The munchkin has never been in a space this large, I think. It’s amazing that we’ve even arrived here because I have what is shaping up to be an official cold that was unimpressed by my after-the-fact concoction of garlic and ginger and lemon. It’s also cold outside, threatening to snow, and we’re traveling by bus. Still, after finally arriving downtown, and sitting in the Sculpture Garden to eat my made-at-home-with-leftovers chicken sandwich, I couldn’t just turn around and leave. We have to have an art experience today.
Stuffing all my loose ends back into his baby bag, and with the blanket wrapped tight in all the right places, I venture across the street and approach the massive doors of the museum. The munchkin sleeps through several exhibitions, a stop at the gift store, and a trip to blow my nose and refill my tissue in the bathroom. Passing by all the art, I imagine the creative juices are reaching him on a subconscious level and I talk to him about what we’re seeing.
When we reach the east building I ask a guard about where the massive painting that used to hang there is. He informs me that the east building is closing for two years because of renovations. They’ve removed most of the pieces and will close the whole space down in a few weeks. “We’re giving people a chance to say goodbye,” he says.
I find a seat in the open space where I have sat and pondered life on so many occasions. This is my first time reflecting in one of my art-muse spaces with the munchkin. I take out my on-the-go-journal, date the page, and write this down.
I look up at the mobile as it moves almost imperceptibly through the space. My eyes fall on the railing of the second floor overlook. That’s my space. I realize then that’s why it was so important for me to continue onto the museum even though I didn’t feel like it. Not only because the east building is soon closing, but because this month marks the 7 year anniversary of the birth of my space activation process.
On a cloudy, wet day in the last week of March 2007, a friend and I created a spontaneous movement laboratory on the second floor of the east building. We danced in a wide, open space that was clear of any art work. What was most magical about the process was that we had only met days before, and yet felt very connected through the dancing.
For two hours the public and the guards watched us move through this dance. We did not speak the whole time. We just moved in and around each other, never losing contact. One of the best memories I have from that dance is of a class of middle-schoolers all stopping to watch us. They took it upon themselves to detour from their teacher and sit down as a group to observe. So many patrons thought we were an official museum program. After several minutes the teacher made the students resume their tour. They applauded us. We kept dancing.
After engaging in this movement for two consecutive hours, with nearly every guard on duty watching, and even nodding with interest at times, we come to a mutual closing of the dance. We seal the process and speak for the first time. As we are putting our shoes and coats back on, the head officer comes over to us with an aggravated urgency. “You can’t be doing no ballet in here,” she says. I remember being so offended because at the time I had such a huge aversion to ballet, and wanted desperately to correct her. I also wanted to laugh because her entire staff had watched us for so long, and had essentially been participants in holding the space for us. And, point of clarity, we had already stopped dancing by the time she came out her mouth with misinformation.
Anyway, we just smiled and went on our way. The next day we met up again to dance, this time at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, which has since become my favorite space in all of DC to dance. Still, the guard’s words stayed with me and I started digging deep into what I was doing, where I was dancing, who I was be(come)ing. I wrote about the magnetic energy our movement had generated and somewhere in these writings, I penned the term, “space activation.” Its definition grew to be expansive and fluid, and became one of the primary things I experimented with in Trinidad years later. But in the spring of 2007, space activation initially referred to the dialogic interfacing of dance in any space, literally the way the movement itself changes the space, and people’s experience in the space.
After that exchange with the guard at the National Gallery of Art, I took this inquiry of where is it “okay” to dance into many places. In April of the same year I initiated what was to be a public space dance project for 600 consecutive days, an hour per day. It was called “Open Space Activation” or O.S.A. and I blogged about my adventures, which included dancing in airports, grocery stores, libraries, street corners, and more. I reached just under 240 days before having to stop because I got very sick (from something else). While recovering on bed rest, I reflected on all I had done and made a decision to shift my focus from the number of days, to the intensity of investigation during the process. Slowly, my work and my identity as a Visionary Space Activator emerged over time. I am also capturing these stories on Be(come)ing Binahkaye too.
When the munchkin finally wakes, his eyes drink in the space. I cram the magnitude of what this space means to me in a few rambling sentences. I start by saying: “This is where mommy became a Visionary Space Activator,” while pointing to the second floor. I am too tired to lug our bulk up the stairs onto the landing. For now my finger will have to do. How the times have changed.
In the back of my mind I imagine the munchkin asking me one day, But what does that mean, Mommy? I used to have so many well thought-out words for defining my life as a visionary space activator. But the more I think about it, I realize it’s actually me who is asking myself the questions. It’s absolutely mind-boggling all over again. For as much as I’ve spent countless hours sifting through the threads of my soul to identify all of my parts, I am still a blank canvas before my son. This is what I learn from my mothering today. An acceptance that any understandings of myself are at best moveable, and subject to growth.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.