I am writing because I will otherwise forget, because I have so much in my mind lately — ideas and concepts and breakthroughs boiling in my subconscious that I sincerely can hardly remember where I was yesterday.
Questions, normal questions, such as, “What have you been up to lately?” or, “How was your weekend?” have become…difficult. I stand there, frozen, attempting to fetch memories from my mind. They’re in there, somewhere, they must be, surely. It’s just that I’ve thought a million thoughts since the weekend, and “lately” is more like an eternity of experience than a summary of recent events.
It is an increasing challenge to retrieve yesterday or the day before. I am writing because my life is slipping by so quickly, and I’m having increasing trouble recalling it, to an extent that causes mental distress.
I want to remember. I want it to matter that I was here, though it probably doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things. Two generations from now, I’ll be forgotten. But, truly, what does that grand scheme have to do with me, or I it? What can matter more to me than my own experience? Is it not worth documenting, even if the attempt of grasping is futile?
I wake up on a Thursday in September in my own bed. Drew kisses me goodbye as he leaves for work, and I know now with a certainty I have come down with a cold at the most inconvenient of times. I should have expected this. It is September, after all. But why must it revisit me now – only a day before I was bound for Colorado, to shoot a magical mountainous wedding I had been looking forward to for months?
In the course I took last year, they taught me that every physical ailment means something, that illness is a message from your body, telling you to slow down, give yourself rest. I think to myself, I’m doing my best. I think I’m taking care of myself pretty well, all things considered. If my body’s trying to tell me something, maybe it could try morse code. A dream or vision, perhaps. But, then, inevitably, I think, maybe this doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it just means I hung out with a friend who had a cold a few days ago, and so now I have a cold.
Once again, I arrive back at the awareness that I’ve come to embrace lately – like a new door opening in my subconscious – that I seem believe in everything and nothing at the same time. That nothing means anything and everything means everything, even if that can’t logically be.
Because I commend logic, yes; I also see an entire realm beyond it.
I turn into a needy child, as I do with illness. I have a million things to do before I leave, including packing, clearing my SD cards, making sure what was previously on them is backed up before adding more, but it is as if my body is on strike. It protests my every move. I fall asleep before I ever get to packing.
I wake up on a Friday, and hurriedly, dazedly, half-mindedly throw some clothes in a suitcase. They make no sense. They never do. How many trips, how many weekends away will it take for me to master the art of packing? Yet another riddle of existence I haven’t the time or energy to solve. The house is a mess, but I have no time to clean it. I blow my nose a million times, create a mountain of used tissues.
Drew comes home from work, helps me put my bags in the car. He gives me one of his hugs and I start to cry. In full melodrama, I tell him I don’t think I can do this. I feel terrible. Why do I have to be sick now, of all times? Where is the justice in life? What is the point of it all anyway?
He handles my meltdown perfectly, gently, reassuringly, understandingly. He doesn’t embarrass me for being emotional or chide me for being sad. We are, after all, kindred, sensitive souls. He knows just what to say. He always does.
I sit waiting in his passenger seat, sniffling and sneezing and whining to myself while he gets his teeth cleaned at the dentist. When he returns to the car around 12:40, we are off like lightning to the very same airport I left from the weekend previous for a wedding in Atlanta. He drops me off at Departures. Goodbye again, for what seems like the 5th time this month. I rush inside to make my 1:45 flight. Life is increasingly strange and exciting and exhausting and constantly moving forward.
Security, shoes off, no, I don’t have a laptop. Hurry up and wait. I board a tiny plane. I love picking a song to properly accompany the sensation of leaving the ground. And I know no one will ever ask, but Cream’s “I Feel Free” is about as perfect a Takeoff Song as could be.
And while we’re on that note, let it be known that I consider “Astronaut” by Gregory Alan Isakov to be one of the most romantic songs a person could write. But nobody ever really asks each other questions like that, in life, in social situations, though I wish they would. I wish it were considered normal, to delve into the soul on a regular basis. I need that, to feel healthy and whole, that kind of connection, to spend time with people who crave and indulge intellectual exploration. When I go too long without it, spend my days in surface-level interactions, I begin to unravel, lose my sense of self and purpose.
(And I’m just now realizing, that’s what my writing is – the answers to questions no one will ever ask which I nevertheless feel compelled to answer. And that’s why, to stay sane and functional and whole, I must write.)
I get a window seat, which is the only way being in such close proximity to other humans is bearable for me. It means instead of suffocating in my own Agoraphobia, I spend the entire flight marveling at reality. I think about how I am sitting in a seat in the sky, floating through towering puffy white clouds bigger than the aircraft I inhabit! What beauty and brilliance! I wish I could jump out the window into the clouds. They look so friendly. I gaze downward, enchanted with the scenery below.
From here, everything looks perfect, quaint, idyllic, like a miniature model. Tiny toy houses, tiny broccoli trees. Only it’s real. A million roads I’ve never driven, dry riverbeds cut their way deep into the ground, sprawling out in different directions. It’s the kind of sight that makes me wonder if we’re all just living in someone’s painting. I would like that. And perhaps, in a way, we are.
These are my thoughts on airplanes. I do well up there, in the clouds, because my mind spends most of its time there anyway. But the inevitable landing grounds me, back to the harsh reality. The landing is always my least-favorite part.
I arrive in Grand Junction, which I realize is a place I’ve never been before. There are too many places I’ve never been before. The airport is small. I love small airports. Everyone who works there seems excited to see me, wants to chat with me about what snacks I chose. Nobody at the car rental car counter tries to get me to buy insurance.
I drive two and a half hours through lovely Colorado scenes, gradually climbing from bright desert to pines to aspen. I blast Shakey Graves, Conor Oberst, Laura Marling, Fleet Foxes, Rayland Baxter, The Nude Party. The latter sing to me, “I don’t need your love/ I just need my records.” And I think to myself, that’s almost true. And then, as twilight settles in, I arrive: Telluride. The place that most resembles Rivendell I’ve ever been. (Yes, a Lord of the Rings reference; my very soul is practically woven with them.) A tiny ski town at the top of a magical canyon, a river running through. Pleased to meet you, indeed.
I rush through a quaint little village into a restaurant to meet the bride whose wedding I’m there to capture. She is glowing. She is flawless. She is tall, slender, timeless, elegant human perfection. The sort of person you feel like a bridge troll next to, even when you’ve been in therapy for years. The next day is the wedding. It is divine, literally taking place on top of a mountain. The stuff of my career dreams. My cold persists, and the elevation makes it embarrassingly difficult to catch my breath. By the end of the day, I am spent. But I’ve come to love that feeling.
I think of something I read in a book a friend recently gifted me called “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” Estes writes of a woman’s wild self, “Once women have lost her and then found her again, they will contend to keep her for good. Once they have regained her, they will fight and fight hard to keep her, for with her their creative lives blossom; their relationships gain meaning and depth and health; their cycles of sexuality, creativity, work, and play are re-established; they are no longer marks for the predations of others; they are entitled equally under the laws of nature to grow and to thrive. Now their end-of-day fatigue comes from satisfying work endeavors, not from being shut up in too small a mindset, job, or relationship.”
I remember those words, feel my heart echo their message. I think to myself, this life I now live is much better, ending my days in the delicious satisfaction that I’m doing the work, rather than in that old suffocated, stifled, muzzled, comfortable boredom.
Yes, the past several months to a year to maybe even two years have been full to the brim – sometimes to the point of what feels like insanity. This past summer, we scarcely had time to stay home and breathe. We scarcely had a free night to ourselves for months. But that’s only because we are finally spending our time on doing the things we’ve always wanted to. And, it’s like Oberst sings, “Slipping steadily into madness – now that’s the only place to be free.”
I went on a trip with my childhood friend to play in Harry Potter World, to pretend for just a few days that we’re still kids. I realized, as we laid next to each other devouring garlic fries on Venice Beach, just how strange it is being a grown-up, because you can’t help but to see the many ways you and everyone around you are still children. And yet, that you can never truly be children again, and how that hurts, how that never stops hurting. Not really.
I went to Washington to shoot my first wedding in the Pacific Northwest. It was an enchanting ceremony nestled in a forest of pine trees. I stood a few quiet moments in those trees alone, and they reminded me that they are alive, just like I am alive, and isn’t that a lovely thing? I have increasingly come to love listening to trees.
Next, a photography retreat in Big Sur where I couldn’t comprehend the beauty of the coast, of water and sunshine and fog. I learned there more about who I am, and who I’m not, as a person and photographer and creator. I was asked the question, “What is your main goal?” At first I wasn’t sure, but then, the answer was there. It flew at me with the speed and force and certainty of an asteroid.
I wrote: “To be FREE, financially, emotionally, creatively — of guilt, and shame, and preconceived notions, and the ‘suppposed-to’ mindset, and living life out of obligation — to show others that they already have permission to be free themselves.”
The speaker had us share ours with the group, and when I read mine, they applauded. That felt really good, to share my honest truth and find it could be supported, even applauded.
I came home for a day to see Jack White, that Modern Warlock of Rock N’ Roll, Prophet of Sacral Sound, Deliverer of Holy Rhythms. We had the perfect spot on the second floor of Saltair, where I swung my head over the banister to the music, over the sea of human energy below as I stood next to some of my most kindred spirits. Our phones locked inside of cases that couldn’t be opened until the end of the show, everyone there was so present – you could feel it, all electric and dynamic and alive.
It fed me, that experience, fed my heart and my soul. Yet again, that delicious feeling of earned exhaustion.
And then, just as quickly, we were off for our yearly trip to California with Drew’s family. We basked in the sunshine, swam in the sea. We sped as a group of seven – that is me, Drew, Lauren, Megan, Cody, Lisa & Kevin – on electric bikes down the historic Pacific Highway 101. As I rode, pushing my pedals with the joy of a child, I looked out to the waves below and let the sweet ocean air kiss my face, run its fingers through my salty hair, almost like it knew I would soon be gone once again.
After that came the wedding in Atlanta with a fellow friend and photographer. I was transfixed by the tree-lined streets, charmed by the neighborhoods without sidewalks. I sweat through my clothes in the humid southern heat, and collapsed on the floor of the bride’s room after several hours of straight shooting. We were, from what I could tell, the only white people there. It was incredible.
And, somehow, there I found myself, falling asleep in Colorado after a day of photo-taking, moment-capturing, coming to the close of yet another season of major soul excavation and growth. Now, here we stand, on the edge of another November, inching closer December with each second: the end of yet another year. And how?
I’ve finally begun the process of surrender — to the insanity of it all, and I’m beginning to think that is the key.