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Character Sketch

Have you ever imagined yourself as a character in a book? Granted I've probably been reading too much Franzen lately, but I couldn't help writing this yesterday.
 
Meet Claire. At 32 years old she has spent the last year and a half of her life recovering from the violent act of bringing a new person into the world. Although she is both a wife and a mother, they are relatively new roles for her, and still aren't the first that come to mind when she thinks of herself. In a lot of ways, Claire is still waiting to become anything at all.
 
Claire is tall, almost 6 feet, and has been growing her straight brown hair out for months and months, ever since she chopped it off impulsively the week before her daughter was born. She has wide-set green eyes and very straight teeth that are on the smallish side. There have been times in Claire's life when she has considered herself pretty, but lately feeling that way has required great effort on her part, and she never quite feels as pretty as she once thought she may have been.

As a general rule, Claire assumes that everyone else has everything figured out. At the various mom groups she often finds herself a part of these days, she stares in hopeless wonder at the homes so easily filled with children's toys and washable crayons, the sleek kitchen counter tops and neat rows of wedding-registry appliances. Is she content, Claire asks over and over, not of herself, but of the women around her.

As another general rule, Claire is almost never content. Each time she achieves something big in her life — college, marriage, masters degree, baby — she moves immediately on to worrying about the next — published book, cross-country move, second baby. Sometimes she convinces herself that she is just being ambitious, a good thing. But the rest of the time she forces herself into sitting in hot baths on weekday nights, trying to be present to the current state of her life.

Claire lost both of her parents to cancer during her teens and early twenties, and it's made her into a frantic, yet thoughtful kind of person. For Claire, gaining this new person in her life — her little daughter — has somehow been just as violent and traumatic as losing the two other people she had once loved just as much.

She's not a bad mom, nor is she disappointed by the act of parenting. For Claire it has been terrifying to fall so in love with a person whose very existence is so fragile. It's also that becoming a mother has caused her to think more about her place in life and who she wants to be in this world than she ever had before. So much so that often her head hurts from it. And it's from this place that she stares in wonder at the other moms at the playground whose lives seem so carelessly easy.

Claire often envies her husband for his seeming state of perpetual calm. Even through some of the hardships they have faced in their short time together — lost jobs and financial set backs — Greg has remained relaxed and steady. She often worries that she isn't quite the woman he thought he was getting when he asked her to move from California to Chicago shortly after they met.

She had been happier and lighter then, less questioning of every corner of her existence. But that had been an easier time, right? She had been younger, prettier, with less obligations and more future. Claire herself wonders if she'll ever find her way back to that self again, and worries that it won't happen until she is in her fifties or sixties, like a character in a depressing romantic comedy film.

On this brisk, November day we find Claire in the back corner of her favorite coffee shop. She props an elbow on the table, flicks her longish brown hair away from her shoulder and stares out the window at a passing bus. She is here to write, to work on her memoir, a word she finds both conceited and pathetic.

On this particular day she has a feeling of gnawing anxiety mixed with excitement about the coming six months. She places her long fingers on the keyboard, biting the inside of her lip and takes an invisible breath.

20 Comments

  1. Good description of yourself…well from what I know about you on your blog! So..are you expecting baby #2??

    Comment by Vanessa on November 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

  2. Oh, definitely not! I didnt mean to imply that. No more babies just yet!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm

  3. Love the passage. At the risk of sounding like a kiss up, I am excited to read the pages of your published book when it comes into being. I like the character description so far :)

    Comment by beastmomma on November 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

  4. Lovely post Claire and if anything using the word violent made me look it up in google define and I concur – yes many meanings to words. I want to write too – so thank you for getting me to look up words. Made me teary sort of because I don’t think I would want to write about me, and what is happening/has happened (including losing a job and my partner too). But I would definitely by your memior!

    Comment by Emma on November 16, 2010 at 5:32 pm

  5. this is beautiful.

    Comment by Erika on November 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  6. Oh, thats really nice to hear. Thanks!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 16, 2010 at 6:07 pm

  7. Oh, not wanting to write about yourself is precisely when you SHOULD write about yourself. It can be such a cathartic and healing experience. You should give it a shot. Thanks for your kind words.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

  8. Thank you!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

  9. Oh wow! This is a fantastic read. And you’ve inspired me to write a character sketch of myself …

    Comment by Kristine Hansen on November 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

  10. Oh, good! I can highly recommend the experience.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

  11. Wonderful! The only thing you forgot in the character sketch is that Claire is an extremely talented writer. :) I got chills reading the part about having “less obligations and more future.” You need to incorporate that line into some of your other work because it’s amazing. Write on!

    Comment by Liz on November 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

  12. No worries, I didn’t really think so, but you know you mentioned it…so I had to ask! :)

    Comment by Vanessa on November 16, 2010 at 11:38 pm

  13. Relax. You will become lighter as you realize you get to reinvent yourself or find your old self or do anything you wish. When you are in your fifties, you will really look back fondly on the thirty-two year old you were and know she helped make you the fifty-something you’ve become. Thirty-three was a very good year for me and now 55 is looking like an exciting year. And my life still includes all the little people that populate yours now. If we are lucky, we keep children around to remind us to be diligent with our moments.
    You are doing fine.

    Comment by Mimi on November 17, 2010 at 9:48 am

  14. Aw, thanks for the encouragement! Very sweet to read.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 17, 2010 at 10:02 am

  15. But youre right — when I went back and read it, I realized it could have been construed that way. Im just excited about lots of things that seem to be bubbling to the surface these days, most of which I hope come into fruition in the coming months. Particularly our move back to California.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 17, 2010 at 10:03 am

  16. Ah, I loved this comment. Such nice reassurance from someone who knows. I cant wait to look back on my 33rd year old self. 55 really does sound like a great age!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

  17. I’ve been reading yr blog for about a year now, and from someone who does not know you, I would say you’re doing better than ever before – your writing is more open now, and you seem more relaxed about being yourself – sounds like things are changing for the better.

    Comment by Julia on November 17, 2010 at 10:17 am

  18. Oh, thats really nice to hear! Thanks for saying so.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

  19. What an interesting idea, making a character sketch of yourself. I’ve been thinking a lot about the other characters I have in my head (characters from various bits of fiction I have floating around) and getting to know them. I hadn’t thought to apply the same sorts of exercises to myself. I might try it!
    I concur about the book. I’m very much looking forward to reading it when it’s published! :)

    Comment by Sophie on November 18, 2010 at 9:20 pm

  20. I think you, in particular, would like this exercise Sophie. Give it a try! And thanks for the encouraging words.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 19, 2010 at 10:10 am

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