Blowin’ In: Hidden Still
By Susan Mangan
“it is gone in a fling of wings
off up beyond the ash-tree hedge;
you write it down, then in wonder,
that are nets of air cannot hold
(“The Swallow” by John F. Deane)
As a child, I was intrigued by the act of hiding. I would spend summer days hidden in the yew trees outside of our house digging for ants and worms. Always one to create something out of nothing, I would scrounge around my grandmother’s kitchen for old coffee cans.
I would create lush jungles crafted from sticks and detritus that I would uncover in our small Chicago garden. Tomato vines, prickly stems having fallen from overgrown, rotting city pines, really any bit of flotsam and jetsam would suffice.
In the evenings after my bath, my mother always wanted to braid my long, curly hair. In her latent Ozark accent, she would gently chastise me for the rat’s nests that would gather in my hair, telling me the stories of Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, and the tales of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a most heroic mongoose. A precocious child, I reckoned that I should be able to play in my own would-be forest like Mowgli and not have to bother with my hair before bedtime.
One evening, I chose to hide away in my closet so that my mother would not be able to braid my hair. I wanted to be free to roam and dream, imagine and create without civilized childhood burdens like bathing and hair braiding. I was unsure how long I would have to hide in my closet.
At the very least, I would have to stow away until the early morning when my mother left for her job as a nurse. Surely by that time my hair would be dry, if not untangled. Again, I considered my plight. Would I become hungry, thirsty, or bored? Boredom ranked as my number one concern, so I brought my crayon box and my security blanket.
Our bungalow was small, and the closet was not very far from the kitchen, the bathroom, or my parents’ bedroom, but to me I was miles away, hidden in the darkness, in company with my blanket, crayons, and creativity. I thought it might be a good idea to draw a portrait with my crayons on the back of the closet. Perhaps in years to come, another child would steal away into the closet when he or she did not want to succumb to rituals like tooth brushing and bathing. I would leave my mark on the wall, hidden away for future adventure seekers, children with like-minded creative sensibilities.
As I look back on that moment, I realized that I missed my mother’s touch and her tales from the Jungle Book, and so my sojourn was not really long at all. I did, however, leave my self-portrait on the wall in my closet. Needless to say, it was not a remarkable likeness.
When I left my home in Chicago for the final time to move to Cleveland after my college graduation, I crouched down in the darkness of that closet in my girlhood bedroom and could still make out a stick figure of a girl with a triangle for a body, drawn in red crayon. Interestingly, my hair was not long and wild like Mowgli, the Jungle Boy, but rather was plaited into two braids sticking curiously out of either side of my perfectly round head.
Hiding: the word alone connotes confusion and fear, but perhaps hiding has another purpose.
Perhaps we need to hide away at times to rediscover our sense of self when the world becomes too much with us. In our stillness, our minds are free to dream and hope.
Our bodies, tired from physical and emotional toil can rejuvenate once our brief hiatus from the responsibilities of life ends. As adults, we do not need to resort to a closet to regroup. We can lose ourselves in the garden, on the nature trail, by the seaside, or in the pages of a beloved book. Here we will rediscover our sense of self and our souls will be refreshed.
We may also choose to hide in order to create. Irony is not lost on the notion of the artist who sequesters herself, at times by choice or as a means of survival, away from the world in order to delve into her art after absorbing all that surrounds her, and in turn reveals truth and beauty to the world.
When I grew out of my Rudyard Kipling adventure phase, I became fascinated with Anne Frank, a girl on the brink of womanhood who was forced into hiding with her family in order to escape the Nazis during the Holocaust. Though they were discovered, Anne’s diary survived. Her words are filled with a girl’s longing for romance and conflicted musings about mundane family life. Normalcy is all but eclipsed by the fact that Anne would never have the chance to grow up and grow old, to actualize into the woman that she would never become. As a result of her hiding and the grace of her words, generations of humans can appreciate that they have the freedom to hide at will and to return by choice.
Inspiration lies hidden in the chapters of our daily life, in the tunnels beneath the city streets and along rugged Irish strands. Recently, I have been reading a collection of poetry by John F. Deane. Born and raised in Achill Island, Mayo, Deane’s poetry is shaped by the tragic beauty of the sea: her tides and treasures. His words are born out of Catholic upbringing and the traditions of island life.
Hidden throughout Achill Island are poets and painters, novelists and historians. I like to imagine the artist painting in his studio, sculpting in her garden, surrounded by the seabirds and sweeping mountain scape. I like to imagine the artist observing island life without being observed.
Creating without seeking attention. Allowing the wind to catch inspiration and watch it settle on the canvas and upon the parchment of an aged journal. Unveiling the beauty of that which hides beneath the sand and stone.
*Source consulted: Deane, John F. Achill: The Island. Dublin: Currach Press. 2018.
Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.