Updated: Jun 12, 2021
Have you ever seen a ‘lenticular’ picture, where multiple images integrate into one surface, so the subject seems to move, when you look at it from different angles? Like a butterfly landing on Bambi’s tail (and off again), or Superman lifting an arm to lift off the Earth (and back again)?
we got a postcard from Hawaii, as kids. It featured a hula dancer whose image, as you tilted the card back and forth, swung from side to side. Hips right arms left, then hips left arms right, her head bobbing slightly from side to side. We argued over who got to tilt the postcard, to make her dance longer than another of us. There were so many of us. The effect is 3D, and at the just-right in-between point, you can see both images -- yet neither one well. More like colorful blurs, nothing quite solid, a peculiar state where the outer edges of some (usually defined) shape turn semipermeable. Not quite subject to gravity, or physical integrity.
I have days like that, now and then. Lenticular-feeling days. They come rarely and unpredictably. How to explain? I cannot. I just …
Wake up different. Everything – how I feel in my body, while not quite completely in my body, and not quite completely grounded -- and I don’t know why. But I’ve learned to trust that gripping yet blurry feeling. If there’s anything comparable, it might be the sense of “gut instinct” about something, someone, some rightness, even some danger.
“Not exactly in my body, not quite in contact with my planet.” I know that sounds pretty Twilight Zone. But unusual things do tend to happen, alongside those strange feelings.
An example might help. Here’s a memorable one when I was 12, in part because the unexpected trophy stood almost as tall as I did, then.
Soon after we moved from Chicago to Maryland, my mom pushed me to join a Saturday bowling league. Some of our neighbors in the next court over were teaming up, and she had talked to their mother. Those girls were a bit older than me. Anyway something to do besides babysitting, on a Saturday. (And the other girls’ mother, Mrs. S. from the next court over, could carpool.) They had a full team already, so I joined one that needed a 4th, with unfamiliar kids from other unfamiliar schools. I was the most ‘foreign,’ slipping into a Mid-western-sounding voice, especially if the ball managed to catch a good angle or sudden turn on its way down the lane. I'd whisper, “It could be … it might be … it is! … a spare!”
I’m not sure I had ever bowled a single game, before joining that team of strangers. Punishing my pins was fun enough, and I was okay at it. My average was 106. Absolutely nothing to write songs about. Some of those Shady Grove Bowl kids were already intense players with their own bespoke balls that fit their (growing) fingers. (Jesus, where had I landed, at age 12? Oh how I missed my friends in Oak Park, during Fall of 7th grade.) I was doing something that made my mother happy, and got me out of a crowded townhouse every Saturday morning. I was a few years away from lifeguarding or working in a clothing store or even high-school.
Then. One certain Saturday. Over Thanksgiving break. Some kind of big annual bowling tournament, all over the East Coast, including our league of middle-schoolers. That morning, I woke up feeling … different. Maybe I’d had an especially incongruous dream? Didn’t remember any dream. At first I tried to shake off whatever the weirdness. But there was no shaking off, because I wasn’t exactly in control. Of myself. Somehow. Weirdly. So I kept moving, got dressed, went downstairs.
Eating my Raisin Bran in our same kitchen, I still felt different. Walking the few minutes to the S.’s house for the ride -- different. Like the me I’d met, plus some slightly other version of me, overlaid inside the me of me.
In the car, Mrs. S. said something about my being extra-quiet that day. I couldn’t explain; I might have nodded. I did not say “hovering,” the way an air-hockey puck floats and caroms, but in slow-motion, no expectations from its surface. (In case this wasn’t clear, I knew I was sitting in the back seat of the S.’s car, squeezed in between three 14-year-olds.)
At the time, I don’t think I weighed as much as my bowling average. My skeleton, for starters, still had much to do. And half my weight was hair, dense at the scalp and down to my waist. Its length, in strict defiance of my mother’s preference. (Also in strict imitation of Peggy Lipton of “Mod Squad” and the older “Brady” girls.) My mother begged her daughters to agree to “those adorable pixie cuts.” Mothers and daughters, though. At 12, some defiance comes with the territory. My mom would say, “I lost all you girls around age 13 or 14. Got you back around 19 or 20.” (That feels true, from inside one of them.)
Anyway. That tournament day, I also bowled different. Without knowing how, I knew exactly where I needed to put the ball. And when I let it go, the ball went exactly there.
Some new geometry or physics had control of me. My eye and muscles understood what some other Mary knew. I had nothing to do with all this. Some other presence or force had decided: “Hey! We’re good – we got you – today. Trust us. Just. LET GO.” Without meaning to and tanked full of Raisin Bran, I think I did, let go.
The league coaches and visiting tournament reps started coming by my team’s lane. They pointed, shook their heads, talked very loud. What the heck had overcome this completely average girl, that day? I tried not to let the visiting observers interfere with my walking float. My teammates were unusually quiet. I suspected the feeling, or physics, or geometry, or what I might now call flow, were temporary. Anyway, with an average of 106 …
I bowled a 197, then a 178, and a 156. (As I’d feared, my conscious, interfering self, and the ‘expected’ world watching me, had a declining impact.)
Turned out the 197 was the 2nd-high-individual-score in the Eastern Region of the U.S. (girls or boys) for that annual tournament. (Announced casually overhead a few Saturdays later, as if the girls OR boys part didn’t much matter.) (Have you met my generation, or my sub-generative peer groups?) Anyway, they also mentioned, overhead, something about a “banquet” and a “trophy” for our own “little Mary Donovan.” I exhaled, exhausted.
Their words glanced off my Mod-Squad hair; they might actually be problematic. And I couldn’t summon the social energy to deal with it all, Wait, are they talking about you? Oh god, like, seriously, you bowled that? Or even Right on! Keep on trucking, baby!
For me, the learning from that strange day? More like: Holy cow, the human body! And holy cow, what some call spirit, infused with a mortal body! I’d had no idea. So much more than differentiated eukaryotic colonies, like in Bio, much more than warm-blooded and relatively hairless mammals who might someday go bowling, and whoa. Much, much, more than mysterious. So much to love about this new knowledge, however uncertain its meaning or origin might be.
Holy cow. Could there be other days, in my future, when I seemed to know what to do without thinking? Days when I would do well to listen up to some deeper, if infrequent, voice? When I might step to the side of my known self, to let my personal limits and expectations somehow expand.
On those “in the Zone”* days, my understanding of what some might call the part that never sleeps, the part from waaay far away, or the love of God? Amplified, rare days, when being alive felt closest to every cell and nerve inside of me, and closest to the farthest away of anything, including me. Neither here nor there, and meanwhile both. Inexplicable. Like a postcard from Hawaii.
Many weeks later, the next spring, the tournament folks held the banquet, somewhere East Coast-wise (north of Baltimore, as it turned out). They handed me a trophy almost my actual size.
The MC had to double-check (out loud) my printed average (I nodded, yessir) before he announced my “2nd-high tournament score of 197.” (I know, my good man from the Eastern Region of the U.S. Didn’t make sense to me, either. But here we were.) My mom had driven me to the banquet site north of Baltimore, but dropped me off, saying, “I hope someone else can give you a ride home.”
Like … these random people from New Jersey I’m sitting with? Or that table there, with kids and parents from Philly? or Delaware? I had so hoped she, or someone from my large family, would sit through this awards thing with me.
No one else I knew, or had bowled with, had come. My only invites were for my own family, and they had declined. Who was going to give me a ride back to our Montgomery (MD) Village? I had wandered into this hotel by myself, already anxious about how I’d get home. The other awardees had all walked up to the podium with a proud parent, to collect their trophies.
“No one came with you, honey?” the announcer asked through his microphone, as I approached. He held up a giant 2nd-place-East-Coast-Region silver-and-blue sculpture, complete with a gender-neutral(ish) bowling figure.
I shook my head. Then said quickly, “It’s okay.” (I was used to it. He had no idea. I felt tender towards him, for having no idea.)
Everyone in my household system was hanging on, against the spin and flare of a giant, gaseous star, a star certainly suffering, too, from his very core. We all wobbled discretely on our tilted axes, pretty much all the time, including our mother, who’d urged one of us to join this bowling league, but hadn’t prepared for any such awards ceremony.
Meanwhile, I knew already, my larger world was well-sprinkled with nice people. Like this exact, ceremonial announcer! I expected someone like a nice announcer, even at that age. And I was rarely disappointed. I’d been around (my country of birth) by then. (Also Canada, by then.) I understood, maybe more by then, how sleeping in bedrooms in different regions of my country of birth, might have prepared me better for strange, even non-bowling, senses of myself, through this life.
Also and meaningfully, by then, I understood a personal “average” did not equal a person’s limitations. The unlikely did not mean impossible. What a grateful gift. Who, how, where, when and what, had wanted to teach me that, with a slightly tilted angle, the whole hula stance of my young female life, to that point, its edges and integration completely uncertain but so intriguing to watch, from slightly adjacent me.
Many years later, I found a precious photo of my own young mother, front and center as captain of her "duckpin" bowling team. Her team were champions in the late ‘50s, before I was born. (Sweet Jesus, where is that photo now?) So she’d held a strong affinity toward bowling as an accepted athletic endeavor for girls of her time, as a social grace and gift, and she'd wanted to share that opportunity of community and some shimmer of 'success'?
Huge ahh. Huge gratitude. Even if driving me to that banquet felt like an annoyance to her. (I don’t remember how I got home that day. Only that, with my absurdly giant 2nd-place East-Coast trophy in the lobby, hotel staff kept asking me, “Are you still here?”)
But I digress. My point about some long-ago bowling thing, as some random, weekend bowler-kid, fish-out-of-water-from-Chicago, over a 7th-grade break?
To take my deepest gut, my oldest “look alive!” voice, seriously.
An Aussie from Perth, whom I “recognized” from behind on the sidewalk in Nice (France) in 1982, before I ever met him. (Dark-blue windbreaker a block ahead of me. There he is. There who is, gut-voice? But the voice knew.) A med-ed conference in Austin, TX, which effin' compelled me to attend, in 2018, even if I had to pay for it myself -- hadn't a clue why. But. No choice there. Critical as anything ever. (I have that clue now.) Jumping up from the sofa moments after the "Challenger" shuttle lifted off -- described as 'picture perfect' -- and running to the farthest corner of my apartment, then covering my face and running in place at the wall, wondering why in the world am I doing this? They'd said it launched fine. I kept mumbling no no no no no; with no clue why. Eventually I made my way back to the living-room and learned what had happened while I was not watching (but freaking out, for reasons unknown). Understanding absolutely nothing but the urgency to bring my body, to listen, and somehow to 'let go' of the ball at those earthly coordinates and times -- it knew where to go.
To pay attention when I - or the slightly adjacent I - decided, against my planned next song, to sing a completely other and random song and why the heck did I change songs to that one? More soon, about Clarence and our strange lenticular adventures together.
More soon, because you have shit to do! And I love that you’ve read even this far, for a post bowling- and Twilight-related. Someday, if bowling is still a thing, let’s punish some pins together sometime, yum? Pins tumble and no one is any the wiser about anything, but a cool staccato-knocking sound against each other -- as they fall -- and against worn, varnished wood. The pins reset, and tumble again.
Curves and angles do their thing, often counter to expected paths. So much outside our conscious control. Why even keep score? We don’t have to keep score at all.
Thank you so much for reading my weirdnesses, especially through this weird 2o21,
* Arthur Ashe, the tennis great, on being "in the zone" https://quoteinvestigator.com/2016/09/16/zone/