Chiaroscuro, (from Italian: chiaro, “light,” and scuro, “dark”) technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.
The day started something like this.
Woken by the dog barfing at 4:30 am. Walked him around Chelsea in the wee hours in a misty rain. Was fully awake then, and no getting back to sleep.
Got kids off to school. Did some housework. Prepped for some yoga workshops I'm teaching in the next few weeks. Tried to write, but felt dull and full of worries, chiefly about how I’m not getting enough writing done, not practicing enough yoga, and also about an infuriating argument I'd had with my kid. Kept nodding off into notebook.
Got dressed to take a yoga class to perk myself up, but remembered I had to spring that selfsame kid from school early for a check-up. Gave in to a quick nap. Woke up drooly and disoriented, still inside a disturbing dream, feeling unsteady, delicate, like I couldn’t see straight.
Picked up the kid and 2 cappuccinos (one for each). Saw the doctor. All good.
Still feel foggy, want to clear my head.
We start for home, and somehow I lure the boy into taking a walk with me. We wander a scenic route through Central Park--slowly stroll its highways and byways. He knows them all now, better than I do. I get turned around and he sets me straight. And perhaps it's this shift in power that puts him in the mood to open up, I don't know. We walk and talk. About everything. All of it. The good, the bad, and the teenaged. Talk with no filter. Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Faith and yoga, books and art. We talk about, kid you not, inner peace, and what we're going to be when we grow up. Because that’s how it feels--raising this almost adult person, who’s taller than I am and stronger too, whose thinking is deep and sharp, whose dreams, plans, and fears are so similar to mine at that age and still, today--like we’re growing up together.
Briefly, the sun slides out from behind the clouds, and we stretch ourselves like lizards on his favorite rock, because he has those now, secret NYC spots to retreat to. And I wonder who he’s brought here before and then I’m glad I don’t know, so today I can imagine I’m still the woman in his life, and just feel privileged that he showed me his place.
He closes his eyes, props his head on his backpack, angles his face in the sun, and I note how it lights up his edges and deepens his shadows, reveals the thickening fur on his upper lip. He tells me all the things he wants to do, be, know by the time he's 27, because that seems like reasonable age to have your shit together, and I think, good God, I'm forty-seven. Has he figured out I’m still improvising day by day?
Then slowly, we wander south, toward the inevitable exit, Columbus Circle, the subway. Everything is in full glorious flower along the way. We stop many times and I take pictures of him as he takes pictures of the park. There he is, walking away from me, into a grove of blossoming trees, *snap* and disappearing into the shady sanctuary of drooping branches, beneath their pink canopy, heavy with the scent of spring, *snap* then emerging, wind blowing petals from his long surfer hair, *snap* There he is, hands in hoodie pocket, cooly strolling over a footbridge *snap*
It’s every cliché and they're all true: the growing and blooming, the crossing over, disappearing, the changing season... turn, turn, turn. I want to go forward, for his sake at least, and I want to go back. Mostly I want to stay in this day forever, just watching him as he watches the world. Him, seeing it all with a young photographer’s eye, and me seeing him through the bleary lens of motherhood. Both of us in our own way trying to capture--this.
For a moment I wish I weren’t his mother, not because I don’t love being his mother, but because I know that as his mother, everything I say lacks street cred. I want him to understand how much it means when I tell him, as I have this afternoon, that since the first moment he could open his big blue eyes, people have felt him looking at them, through them, and have turned to look back, and drawn their breath and said, oh my, such an old soul.
When we get home he shows me a drawing he made, days before. I didn't even know he could draw. It's a pencil sketch of a face, representational, detailed, just beginning to experiment with dimension, chiaroscuro. Only half the face is shown. The rest blurs and flattens into shadow, and a swirling, repeating pattern of abstract florals and vines. Beautiful, sort of art nouveau, and a little unfinished, in a good way.
"I've gotta do some more work on it," he says, "it needs more shading."
The face has a strong, masculine bone structure, but its one visible eye is soft, smoky, feminine, and it stares, steady and direct, right at--or through--the viewer. Every artist is always, at some level, revealing himself in the work, and I clearly see my son’s face here, his own cheek and jawline, something about the lips. But the almond eye, that isn’t his. I don’t flatter myself that my teenage son wastes any time drawing portraits of his mother, but I can’t help but notice the eye is more like mine. And I see in this sketch, as I haven’t before, how our looks, like our interests and issues, intersect and overlap. Where we're the same and where we're different.
Of course, it may be my mind playing tricks on me, the eye seeing what it wants to see, or needs to believe. But I think to myself, here’s a portrait of us today--it’s him and it’s me, peeking out from a tangle of flowers and vines, set patterns and new growth, still a lot left to be filled in, but staring unblinking into the future, figuring out how to move forward together, and apart. There are dark, scary shadows and then, too, unexpected sources of light--and together, they give us shape, reveal our true form.