I have had nothing to say for about two months now. I wouldn’t say I’m depressed, but I have been stuck for things to say that belong here, where I try to keep politics and personalities pretty much out of it. I’ve been writing postcards to my elected officials. I’ve been obsessively reading newspapers. All of which is irrelevant to my readers, and I apologize for the long silence.
A few weeks ago, a friend, whom I have known since we were both seven and in second grade together, came to visit for a few days. We wandered Portland, ate some good meals, talked about drawing and art and dogs. We talked about our parents, who were part of a group that met every other Friday to take dancing lessons (at the house where I grew up). We visited Portland’s Pittock Mansion together (and I pointed out the pantry sink and yes, she remembered the pantry sink in the house I grew up in) and we wandered the Japanese Garden.
And Adrienne told me something that completely stunned me. She didn’t learn to read until she was ten. She still doesn’t see herself as a fluent relaxed reader.
You will have noticed that I said we’ve known each other since we were seven. Memories of Adrienne from our shared childhood are lodged deep in my memory. When we were ten and in fifth grade together–the year Adrienne said she learned to read–there was an assignment to illustrate a book we ‘d read. Adrienne did a set of three tiny three-dimensional dioramas of short stories from a collection by a writer whose name I remember as “Sake” but googling has drawn a blank, except for a British writer who used the pen name “Saki” who might or might not be the same writer. (I talked to Adrienne, yes, the author was Saki.) But I remember the dioramas so well! They each recreated a scene from the short story. One of them had a tiny black cat. There were tiny books on a tiny desk. Not dollhouse furniture. I think some of it was papier mache. (Sometime that year I tried unsuccessfully to make a papier mache dragon. Its head fell off on the way to school.) For the same assignment, I had created a badly drawn picture of a cat from a collection of short stories about cats. I can still feel today my astonishment at how wonderful her dioramas were. I was stunned at her creativity, her skill, her ideas–and it certainly never occurred to me that she struggled with reading!
The next year, when we were in sixth grade (1966 to 1967), the sixties and all that implied for fashion and clothing had begun in earnest. Adrienne came to Gisele’s birthday party–a wonderful summer day and Gisele had a pool and there was ice cream and cake–and she was wearing a pantsuit. A black and white op-art pantsuit. I just spent about fifteen minutes searching the internet for an image of anything like what I remember, but no luck. Use your imagination here. It was a black and white pattern with varying squares, like classic op-art of the time. It was a pantsuit, at a time when we still had to wear skirts to school. It was, in short, the coolest piece of clothing I had ever seen. Ever. Adrienne has a sense of style I can only envy. I visited her last year and tried on her shoes. I thought about stealing her shoes, actually. I didn’t, though. (Later that sixth-grade summer, a friend of my mother’s wore a Pucci halter-neck plunging-back one-piece bathing suit to a pool party at our house, and I fell in love with Pucci once and for all. There’s a photo below of that one.)
Adrienne drew a little watercolor of the dogs and me and mailed it to me after our visit. Here it is:
So I hope I’m really clear here. I have admired Adrienne for many many years, for her sense of style, her ability to create, her art, her skill. When she came to visit, I pulled a new dress out of my closet (a Pucci I’d found used) and asked her how to wear it.
And while she was here, she told me she’d felt bad about her struggles with reading.
Struggles I had no idea about. I saw her strengths; she saw her weaknesses.
And that brings me to that inner critic. The one we all have, the one that talks to us constantly about our weaknesses, about how we compare to other people, about the areas where we want to improve ourselves, about how we’re too fat or too thin or too slow or a lousy dog trainer (I had to get the dogs in there somehow) or a boring writer or a mediocre cook. That little non-stop voice that we listen to way too much.
I’m not sure how to tell my inner critic to admire myself for my strengths as much as I admire other people for their strengths. I’m not even sure that would be a good idea–but I do want that inner critic to acknowledge that I have strengths!
Oh, and here’s the photo of the Pucci bathing suit. Awesome, isn’t it?!