Before: I feel like a stack of paper stapled into an uneven book. A roughly drawn stick figure is copied over and over, legs and arms in slightly different positions on each page. Flipping through the stack, the pencil line person jerks haltingly forward. It is simple animation, no nuance, just movement. I am both the flipper and the runner. I span the pages of this book but never seem to run off the edge of the paper.
I am busy in a way that reduces my life to an outline. There are no details. No time to consider much beyond the next step. I am just going.
Now I am here. I have a small box on my lap. It is brown, a string wound across and tied.
We each receive a box with intellectual anticipation. We have learned about assemblage art. We have learned about bundles and abstract thinking. We have learned about modern artists who bundle.
I open the lid. Inside are small bits of cloth and paper and natural things, wrapped like gifts in twine and thread. The tiny collection of bundles fit together, perfectly arranged, contained within the rectangle sides of the box.
I start to cry. This is unexpected. My reaction stirs internal dissonance. My body says, why am I crying? My brain says, no idea. From somewhere deep, my spirit says, wait …
Amid the strange rainshine sunshower tears, I stop moving. The flipping, the running, the busy … just stops. I start to unwrap, untie, unmake the bundles.
Now there are a million details to notice. Two pieces of purple cloth almost the same color, one a shade darker. Sticks with buds at the top. Dried leaves, still green. A page from a dictionary, a lock of hair, an envelope of wood shavings, a drop of wax, quilt pieces hand stitched into triangles, silk edges unraveled into strands. I group and regroup, auditioning different combinations. I touch woven textures, smell a path scattered with autumn, listen to the crack of antique paper unfolding. I wind and unwind.
As my hands tinker, meaning flickers from fingertips to memory. I have spent years sorting and parceling my adult self, emerging from my forties with labored patterns of success. These combinations seemed set, my life backward and forward finally tidy in a box tied with string. Now everything is present tense. Children moved, job new, friends preoccupied or away. I have pressed on the pedal, driving faster to keep from noticing that my hard won wisdom is fraying, the orderly bundles coming undone. Beneath the surface, I feel this older self commiserating with my younger self, comparing stories, wondering where the road forked yet again. How did I get here, needing an update, a version 53.0? As I wind and unwind, I realize I am afraid.
I open a cloth pouch and reveal a ball of sheep wool, dark brown and creamy white. With twine, I anchor the wool over the cloth, around a small branch. The invisible becomes visible.
I am still, motionless, fleshed out, in this moment, no longer a stick figure cartoon of my own design. I hold my box with new formed bundles. They do not fit within the sides. They are not tidy. They poke out, disheveled, probably temporary. But I have paused to unmake and make. I have paused to untie and retie. I have paused to unbundle and bundle this space and time, to pack up these bits of cloth and paper and natural things and take them with me, on a more deliberate path.