The Gift of Alice - Deborah Monk

Deborah as Alice

Maybe you were lucky enough to be born into a family where you learned how to identify your feelings… and then were taught how to express them.

I wasn’t.  My role in my family was the “happy one”, which is great practice for being happy.  The downside is I never learned how to identify what might be causing some of my unhappiness.

Plus, with an alcoholic father, a workaholic mother, and a very troubled brother, the only way I was ever shown how to express unhappiness was with volcanic anger and violence… and I was never that unhappy.

But there is a malaise that often comes along at mid-life.  And I honestly believe that a lot of that malaise is unexpressed negative emotions.  A couple of years ago when I was struggling with Lyme disease, preparing for an empty nest, and a multitude of other issues, I discovered expression through art.

The Fairy Tale Ponderings started one day when I was out on my back porch, feeling trapped in a house that wouldn’t sell.  My marriage wasn’t the partnership I hoped it would be, my only child was getting ready to go to college, and I felt like an animal caught in a trap of my own making.

I have been secretly collecting pieces of a costume.  A long blue satin skirt.  A white bustier.  A headband with a little black hat with dangling ribbons that tilts to the side.  Black and white harlequin tights.  Alone, they don’t symbolize anything but put together.

I have my very own Alice in Wonderland costume.

I have the clothes, but not the hole

The questions but not the answers.

All I know is I feel like Alice poised on the edge of the rabbit hole.  Like I’m tiptoeing around the edge, dipping my toe in to test the waters, but backing off because I’m afraid.

Will going in make me crazy?

Or is it staying out that is making me crazy?

I don’t know how to go… and I don’t know how to let go.

I don’t even know what the rabbit hole represents in my life…but I am obsessed with it.  The visual in my head, this Fairy Tale Pondering, portrays my frozen frantic-ness perfectly.

Words reverberate over and over again, echoing in the cavern of my body.  In every woman’s life there comes a point when she has to choose…stay safe or stay true.

On this day, I see the fire pit we dug for Sophie’s high school graduation party.  The hole I have seen, or not seen, for the past two years.

Surrounded by tall trees, I realize it’s the perfect rabbit hole.

On my forty-ninth birthday, I am in my back-yard in full costume, waiting for the professional photographer.

Half of me is embarrassed.  Half of me is proud.

Jonathan tells me to practice my pose and takes some pictures.  He moves around, getting shots from different angles, even lying on the ground so that he’s looking up as I look down into the hole.  With him, I dance around the hole.  I lift my skirt and slip my shoe off, like I’m getting ready to jump in.  I get in the hole, my limbs going in dis-jointed directions, my head thrown back.

Then the photographer gets there and he sets up professional lights with umbrellas for light control.  This is the real deal.

He takes the pictures but he doesn’t get it.

I’m starting to feel silly.

This shot, the one that means the world to me, is almost too intimate to share with a stranger.

Trusting that Jonathan got the original shot that has been speaking to my soul, I switch it up.  We have a fancy dog house with weather-worn shingles in the back yard that looks like a little house.  I crunch down in the tiny doorway, my feet pushing up against the roof, a scream of frustration on my face…When the world tries to make you feel small…

Next, I sit in the doorway, my black and white diamond legs planted wide, my elbows resting on my knees and my shoulders angled forward.  It’s only after I see the picture with my Sharon Stone pose, that the words come to me…I knew who I was this morning… but I’ve changed a few times since then.

Thank you, Alice, for freeing me of these veritable weights of unexpressed emotion that I simply don’t have the words for.