10 March 2012

waking up before the sun

I saw my sister a couple of weeks ago on a business trip to Palm Springs, California.

I was there to make a video series with some doctors, which is a part of my job I never envisioned.

Actually, when you have a degree in British literature and you've spent your college days reading Wordsworth and Katherine Mansfield and TS Eliot, you rarely envision your job involving studio lights and a two-camera set-up and making decisions on what color the backdrop should be.

A degree in British literature makes you think you'll spend your days writing in a cottage in Devon. You'll have a wooden desk that's been used as a place to set Deep True Things down on paper for so long that it will have a patina of literary zeal. Of course the desk will be next to an open window, and there will be sheer curtains that flutter in the breeze.

But Palm Springs is not like Devon at all, and a couple of weeks ago, I was not next to an open window but in a windowless conference room that had become a makeshift studio.

To get over the slight road bump that I had very little idea of what I was doing, I pretended to be Mary Richards.

That statement makes sense if:
  • You've seen The Mary Tyler Moore Show and know that Mary Richards is MTM's character and that she's the associate producer of a news program in Minneapolis.
  • You buy into the concept of "Fake it till you make it."
I was pretending to be Mary Richards, charming producer in a newsroom full of men, a sweet 30-something who knows she's going to make it after all.

This little clip may help you relate to me in Palm Springs:

It did not hurt that I was wearing an outfit that always makes me feel like Mary Richards: pencil skirt, silk shirt, and heels.

Let's ignore for a moment that the heels were causing a blister as I scurried after the hotel banquet manager to make sure our lunch arrived on time and as I stood making polite small talk with the doctors who were waiting for the shoot to begin and as I offered condfident-sounding opinions on what portions of the video needed to be re-shot.

For the day, which began long before the sun came up, I was Mary Richards, and that worked very well for me.

But the next day when my sister arrived—she lives in LA, so it was just a two-hour jaunt out of the smog and into the desert—I got to be just Kami, my little sister self.

I don't mean to imply that I have this split version of myself: fracturing away into who I am with my family, who I am at work {and how I pretend to be Mary Richards sometimes at work}, who I am with my friends.

But I think most everyone can agree with this: there is something about being with your family, with these people who have known you since you couldn't talk, that makes you realize you don't always have to talk to be understood.

Now, of course sometimes with family, you have to talk more to be understood; family dynamics tend to get etched in the heart before you even get to your first day of school, so we spend part of our lives reminding these people we used to eat dinner with every night that we are not still the tattletale or the spoiled princess or the self-absorbed kid who spent too much time in her room.

That dynamic, though, is not what I want to talk about: I want to talk about how when you're with your family, especially siblings, you can quickly dip into the family shorthand of experience.

My sister and I did this when we were together in Palm Springs. She stayed the night in my hotel room, and the next morning, we got up early—before the sun was up.

This early-to-rise tendency was written into our DNA, I think, and then reinforced by our parents, who get up before the sun to work out or go hunting or just get a head-start on the day. "If you sleep until 9," my mother once told me in high school, "it's as if the day is half over by the time you get going. Think of everything you could've done with the morning!"

My high school self did not always agree with her, but my grown-up self does, as does my sister's grown-up self.

"I like to get up early, start the coffee, and then think about what's coming my way that day," my sister told me as she started the coffee in our hotel room.

"Oh, I feel that way, too: the morning is my time, and I think my quietly productive mornings help me stretch into the day," I told her as we took our coffees out on the balcony.

We were facing east toward the sun, which was just start to orange up the sky above the mountains in the distance. The palm trees planted along Palm Canyon Drive—Palm Spring's Strip, where you can just imagine Mayor Sonny Bono waving from the back of a convertible in the Fourth of July parade—were black against the rising sun.

The air was chilled and fresh, as it often is in the early mornings in the desert, and I was thankful I'd put on my cardigan.

"Don't you just love how gentle the light is just before sunrise is in the desert?" I asked my sister.

"Yeah, because you know that as soon as that sun comes over the mountain, it's going to be full-on day, and it'll be hot. It's not like at home where the sun creeps up and gradually changes the light."

I looked at her: that was exactly what I had meant with my vague "gentle" comment. I'd meant to compare the sunrise in the desert to an Iowa sunrise. I'd meant to point out that when the sun reaches higher than the mountain, the light becomes harsh and crystallizing instantly. I'd meant to say that a desert morning is invigorating because it isn't hot yet.

I'd meant to say all that, but I didn't have to because my sister and I have woken up in the same tent literally hundreds of desert mornings. Our parents took us camping every summer out West, and because of that good fortune, she and I share this appreciation for the desert light.

There is no one else in the world {beyond our parents, of course} who could've interpreted my thoughts so accurately from my one sentence about the gentle light, and it's because of our family shorthand of experience.

It's nearly impossible, at times, to have a pretense with your family, with these people who have known you since before you could talk. They know too much about what made you who you are today.

Like even in this silly example: I told my sister about how I pretended to be Mary Richards during my video shoot, and she said, "Well, you have liked that show since middle school. She may as well be a role model for you."

How comforting it is to have those moments when you don't have to explain who you are or why you said something or what you're thinking.

And how beautiful it is to have those moments before the sun rises.

1 comment:

  1. What a sweet post. I'm glad you have that shorthand with your sister.



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