Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nails too bent to be straightened

Pieces of our story wait to be collected. They appear as an apron in a Dorothea Lange photo, a Girl Scout Handbook on ebay, the gray of a February sky, six words of family myth revisited.

Whether or not it was true doesn't change its meaning. My father claimed that his father, in the ordered space that was his farm tool shed, kept a coffee can on which he'd stuck a label, Nails too bent to be straightened. The thrift demanded by farm life during the Depression, added to the magnitude of lack that defined my grandfather's childhood, saw that nothing went to waste. It may have been said in teasing, which seemed the basic form of communication among these people, but I always believed that my grandparents had the ability to conjure whatever was needed out of whatever was at hand. Bent nails would have found a purpose.

For me, the greater meaning was metaphor. The phrase has always been with me. Somewhere along the trajectory it became a phrase I used to describe myself to myself. It represented the version of me that I assumed was true, the result of my life experiences. I believed that various traumas, losses and betrayals had hijacked my real life, my possibilities, the hope of happiness, leaving me defective and insufficient. This, of course, was once I realized that those events had such a profound impact on my choices, my state of mind.

Some of us awaken more slowly than others. Consciousness needed to shadow me, patiently, hiding subliminal messages in popular songs, movie soundtracks. With peerless manipulative skills, it arranged for excessive periods of quiet. It made me sit still, then innocently suggested materials I might peruse, teachers from whom I might learn. Sometimes it found the process too slow and just kicked my ass.

In recent days, from nowhere I can identify, came the possibility that I was never meant to be a nail doing a nail's job. What if the circumstances that shaped me into what I thought of as damaged delivered me to my true purpose, my real life? At her blog, Twisted Knickers, Susan has been exploring authenticity. I feel I'm being asked to step up and say "I do" to merging my imaginary tidy and consistent persona with the bent, disheveled, disparate bits that I find somewhat odious and not always fit for public viewing and declaring us to be one. It replicates the sensation of being put in the air-lock on Battlestar Gallactica.

Do I go back and re-evaluate everything there has ever been or do I simply start from here? The combo plate seems a good choice. There is new illumination for old tales and a call for acceptance at a level previously unknown. This must be what it was like when Oprah learned she had a half-sister, only I get to play both parts.

22 comments:

Angella Lister said...

a nail too bent to be straightened has its own beauty, not the least of which is its insistence on assuming the shape it wants, rather than the shape the hammer would choose for it. love this.

Antares Cryptos said...

Bent nails can be re-purposed, who wants to be hammered into a wall for life and stay there in an assigned role?

The past can haunt, it cannot be changed or undone. Forward and onward, band mate, until that combo plate offers new meals to be discovered and explored. Taste buds awakened.

susan t. landry said...

this is a wonderful post. i love the metaphor of the bent nail (s); i think i have spent far too much of my life as a pretzel, yearning to be as tough and ornery as a bent nail. i never wanted to be a straight and shiny nail--at least i knew that much about myself.
my wv is
stnested.
St. Nested. i like that!

Jayne said...

Marylinn- this is so beautiful, and something to which I thoroughly relate. Excuse the pun, but I must say, you nailed it.
But your grandfather's bent nails were probably steel cut nails, which are now used for restoration purposes or works of art. They are pieced of art in and of themselves. They're the fasteners of craftsmen--beautifully finishing and holding the work together. (Whether straight or bent.) ;)

Elisabeth said...

You are like the bent nail, too bent to be straightened, Marylinn. It's better this way. Straight nails do not tell meaningful stories, like yours.

This is such an evocative piece. It's late, I'm tired and I'd like to write more but it would be gibberish.

Still I need to register my reading and my visit here.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Nicely done.

Erin in Morro Bay said...

String too short to be saved - we had a small box of that in oour junk drawer. Of course now, both the nails and the string end up in assemblage and collage - I somtimes wonder if my fascination with using found objects stems from being raised by parents that grew up during the great depression.
Erin

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - Thank you. What a long and crooked path it can be, seeking to claim our true form.

Vespersparrow said...

Marylinn, dear, as one bent nail to another--the early and tenacious insistence that we were wrong, twisted, insufficient and unlovable--those notions can stay for a long time. It sounds like you were able to latch on to the right people, the right book at the right time, to acknowledge and accept that you have bent places, as we all do. The line in this terrific post which gave me the most to cheer about was the line "For me, the greater meaning was metaphor." That's spoken like a nascent poet if I ever heard one!! xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - The past cannot be undone, though I do think with insight it can be reinterpreted...we arrive at the other side of the ocean and awaken to find the Earth was not flat. Yet it is all part of that forward movement.

Can we all stop at Bob's Big Boy after the gig? Their combo plate is calling me.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - Thank you, and for mentioning the toughness of the nail, which I think I overlooked or under-valued. What I really wanted to be was a beatnik. Stick around long enough, impossible things can happen.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - Thank you. I suspected I was not alone in this conflict. The mosaics done with broken crockery, jewelry fashioned from rusty discards, places and purposes only art can imagine. It is fine company.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elisabeth - I'm glad you stopped to comment, no matter how tired. Thank you. Finding contentment in a, shall we say, textured life gives us lots of material, doesn't it?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Has winter left Chicago yet? I hope so. Thank you for your comment.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Those frugal ways taught us to value many things, I'm sure. The art my mother made from tin cans or seed pods...the clothes she took apart and pieced into costumes...I have a very hard time throwing away political mailers printed on expensive, glossy cardstock...they make such good stencils. I think it is part upbringing, part a special way of seeing that pulls one to found objects.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Oh, joy. The embryonic poet...this will go on the good news list. Thank you.

Each day brings new points where so many of us intersect. The wonder of it... xo

farthestnorth1 said...

Marylinn, it's a delight to read your post and know a little of your thought-world. I love the metaphor of the bent nail, and what a song it would make! There must be an awful lot of us in that imaginary jar. Let's celebrate our bentness, and sing songs together.cr

Marylinn Kelly said...

Farthestnorth - Thank you...how I would like to hear a song of the bent nail(s). The jar is, it seems, much more full than I imagined. With such musical inclination, perhaps you will to join the band (see prev. post.).

Karen Mireau, Founder of Bio.Graphia said...

Love this . . . it's the things, however painful, that take us beyond the ordinary and give us the context in which to really sing. These posts are just beautiful . . .

Marylinn Kelly said...

Karen - Thank you, for visiting, for your comment. I think, when examined, much more than we realize IS beyond the ordinary; context waits to be discovered.

KrazyCoyoteKim said...

Earlier I had decided to hang a rusty crooked nail from my shamnistic medicine bag, I pick up old rusty truck disgards on the highway. I dont look for them, they are seen if meant to be seen - I see them as gifts. The chords that struck the most of the comments:who wants to be hammered into a wall for life and stay there in an assigned role. Long and crooked path, seeking...Toughness of the crooked nail to not conform to others ideas and expectations.

Marylinn Kelly said...

KrazyCoyoteKim - First, welcome and thank you for commenting. A rusty, crooked nail is a natural addition to one's medicine bundle. Related to the way we, here, seem to view the business of being human and alive, this quote, which was left yesterday at Radish King:

“So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things & leave an imprint, a design.” – Harry Crews

Glad you meet you along the crooked path.