Monday, September 12, 2011

A Day Late, A Buck Short

I spent yesterday not dealing. I didn't want to see it, hear it. Didn't want to care what it meant to other people. Didn't even want to reflect on what it meant to me. Was angry at its ubiquitousness. Told my brother as much, without even thinking. He said he didn't want to watch football with friends because of all the associated 9/11 hooplah, because he wanted to deal with that privately. I answered quickly, "I don't want to deal with that at all." So I didn't. And yet it became impossible to avoid, somehow.

Today I started thinking about a photograph. I tore through some memory boxes looking for it. My college had a newspaper called "The Justice." I think 2, maybe 3 days after September 11th, 2001 it put out a special issue. There was a picture of me on the cover of that issue. Nobody who isn't me would know it was me because it doesn't show my face. But I know it's me because it's me. I'm sitting on a stone bench by the pond between the three chapels. I am wearing a long khaki cargo skirt, a blue baby tee, and though the photographer is fairly far away, you can just see the edge of my purple flowered underpants poking up out of the back of the skirt. If you're looking closely. I am leaning forward with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, and I am crying. The photographer is probably 30 yards behind me. I didn't know she was there until I saw my picture in the paper days later. I saved this issue for years. It is somewhere in my house, but in the boxes and boxes of memorabilia I have whose filing and labeling system has broken down in the 20 years or so of collecting, it is hard to locate at a moment's notice. I've decided that it's enough to know I have it.

To "The Justice" the picture represents just one more anonymous person grieving. To me, it represented the beginning of finding my voice. A truer, more thoughtful inner voice.

It cost me my first college friend. About a week after it happened, I hung up a copy of this poem by Ani DiFranco in my dorm room. Was it insensitive, considering that my roommate Mary's brother had been killed when the first plane hit the North Tower? Hell yes. Do I feel a bit of regret for that now? Definitely. But I couldn't even think about whether it was sensitive or not back then. All I could think was that I needed to express something huge, but couldn't. And here was somebody else expressing a lot of what I felt. That because I couldn't say it adequately in my own words yet, I had to have my voice represented by proxy.

Mary didn't speak to me for weeks after I posted it because I refused to take it down. And even after the ice thawed a little bit, we were never really close again. A story for another time, a differing proclivity for drugs drove the final wedge between us.

A purpose of liberal education not yet fully understood was doing it's job. Influenced by the events of the world and my own convictions, I was learning how to think. How to express what I thought. All the while growing. Formative.

March 20, 2003 - reacting to a global tragedy

December 2003 - reacting to a personal tragedy (I'm only noticing now, years later, that the only thing I could think to draw on that random night of artistic collaboration in mod 32 was woman born from tears)

April 2004 - Traveling 600 miles in a bus full of strangers to further exercise my voice

I would do more to connect the dots for you but these days my voice is better expressed in images than words. And primarily, images are what have dominated my consciousness for the last twelve hours or so. Particularly the significance of images, both generally and to me personally. Some day, when I'm long gone and my progeny (or if I don't manage to have any of my own, perhaps my nieces or nephews) are talking about the life I've had, photos will be their anchor. They probably won't talk about the six years I spent making project plans or writing marketing materials or running accounts payable for a small office. I hope. I hope they'll talk about how the day King George II declared war on Iraq I was one of the first people on a bus to Boston to shout my displeasure from the rooftops. And they'll see the photograph to prove it. My daughter will pass on my hard-learned lessons about the value of sex and relationships to her own daughter, and maybe (for at least one more person) stop the cycle of violence and abuse that is far more common than is ever discussed. She'll show her the drawing from the mod, or the portrait series of date rape victims that in the future I hope to shoot, or the picture of my sculptures from 2003. Images will connect to history, to lessons, to connection and shared wisdom. Insight into a consciousness that hopefully will not be a waste after it's gone if it can somehow provide a way to show what it has learned. Another reason to keep pouring as much energy as I can muster into my time behind the lens. To never give up that passion, whatever the day job might be.

So many of us are already proving we are unable to learn from the past. Let that not be my legacy.

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