I fully intended to finish this series of posts like forever ago, but then I decided to do this:
That is the massive home organization project I decided would be a good thing to start at the beginning of the semester. And it totally was, until I realized I’d started a massive home organization project at the beginning of the semester.
While I was shoulder-deep in postcards and yarn and cat fur, I did a lot of thinking to keep the helpless weeping at bay, and while I was thinking, I realized I should clarify a few things about the story before I went any further. The first thing I realized I should clarify is that this happened a few years ago and I’m much better now. I can see, like, 88% of objects. When I started writing this post, I neglected to mention the time frame for the story because it seemed totally obvious to me that it didn’t just happen since I’m now living a gluten- and carb-free life and therefore clearly wouldn’t be going somewhere to eat sandwiches. Then I realized that, like 88% of things in my head, that was obvious and clear in my own head only. Seriously, it’s a messy place up there. That photograph of my destroyed office is pretty much like an MRI of my brain, if MRI machines understood metaphors, which I’m guessing they don’t. Machines just take everything so seriously, you know?
Also I thought I should clarify some things about going to Sarah Lawrence College, since people who go or have gone to Sarah Lawrence College already get enough crap about going or having gone to Sarah Lawrence, as we’re always having to listen to people talk about how our school is fake because we don’t have grades or tests or majors and about how Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles. As to the first, listen, I can honestly say that there were many, many times I wished I just could’ve taken a test instead of having to talk to a professor about Hume, who I hate, for an hour, or gotten a grade instead of an essay from my professor about how I “slacked off mid-semester due to an emergency appendectomy,” especially seeing as how it was an emergency appendectomy and I still managed to finish Whittaker Chambers’ Witness AND Left-Wing Communist: An Infantile Disorder while I was in the hospital. As to the latter, that isn’t my fault, okay? It isn’t my fault. Because of this, and because I don’t want to make anyone else have to go through another terribly uncomfortable dinner party and/or date and/or mortgage negotiation in which they had to explain how they had to write out an application justifying their need to see the grades kept secretly in the basement of Westlands, I feel it’s necessary for me to state this: bongo playing is not a requirement for many if not most classes at Sarah Lawrence College. In fact, I was, like, never around bongos at Sarah Lawrence. Except for that one time I went into The Coffeehaus for a latte and it turned out that something was going on and someone brought out bongos and I had to try to sneak out of the building with my latte by walking very close to the wall and pretending like I was just going outside to smoke a Bidi, by which no one would have been offended. And the time that weird guy who smelled like patchouli and Dentyne kept bringing them to our Imagining War lectures. And during our school production of Hair. Oh, and at all the drum circles. I forgot about all of the drum circles. But three out of those four don’t even count because they’re legitimate instances of bongo appearances, which is a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
I was just about to write that I promised there’s a point to all of that, but then I remembered that one of the major benefits of being a poet, besides a head’s up on all local beret and black turtleneck sales, is never having to promise that there’s much of a point to anything. So eff that. I’m just going to keep writing.
I think that everyone, if they look very closely at their selves and are honest about the selves they see, has at least one major fear, the kind that sets the bed shaking with your terror and also, if you look very closely at and are honest about your self, drives your actions and decisions, large and small, like moving from renting a duplex to buying a split level or deciding if your social anxiety is in control enough to order a caramel macchiato through the drive-through at Starbucks. And since, as I mentioned above, I am a poet and therefore spend probably too much time looking very closely at my self and trying to be honest about the self I see as mine, I’ll admit that this is very true of me. I’ve got a veritable Pantone color palate of fears, but two of them are having things pass me by and forgetting things. When I was in school, this made me
a complete social outcast because I was incapable of leaving the house until I’d read, highlighted, and summarized every last paragraph, note, and footnote in all of my textbooks, even if I was so tired I had to occasionally hit my head against a very hard wall in order to stay awake a very excellent student. And when I was in the sandwich shop, it made me absolutely terrified. Two of the major side effects of Neurontin were forgetfulness and the loss of any ability to lead a normal life because you’ve been wandering around your apartment all night trying on your grandmother’s jewelry in your sleep while your cats watched you with a particularly feline mixture of fascination and scorn, so I’d already been facing two of the fears closest to Red Alert on the Pantone color palate. Then, in the sandwich shop, while I literally looked around blindly, the fears progressed to shades Pantone would never even try to replicate because they’re too terrifying. Not being able to see things, I realized, would make it really easy to forget them, and also not being able to see things is the very definition of things passing me by.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty moment.
I’m proud to say, though, that pretty things came of it. Thankfully, I’ve always been
obsessive to the very point of madness well-organized and attentive when it comes to my works (writing and teaching), so I was able to manage all of that well. It’s the rest of my life — my days in and days out, trips to the grocery store and rides to work, and all of the unexpected beauties and terrors that make the beauties all the more beautiful — I didn’t want to miss. I started taking pictures. A lot of pictures. I started taking pictures of things I couldn’t quite see and wanted to be able to examine myself, and more closely, blown up on a computer screen. I started taking pictures that would jog memories of moments I didn’t want to forget, of laughter and losses and triumphs, even if they were as small as someone drawing a portrait of my cat on the white board on my office door or finally finding Goo Goo Clusters in a Kentucky Cracker Barrel.
I started making a record of my life, of the moments that made it, and I realized very quickly what an amazing gift a photograph can be. It’s no coincidence, I think, that writers spend so much of their time talking and thinking about images, laboring over every single syllable of them to make them prism-perfect. It’s because an image is like a prism: when you look at it, you don’t just see the object. You see light itself, and you see all of the beautiful and terrifying things light can do, and there’s this moment of transcendence when you realize you’re looking into another world. Which is, pretty much exactly, what looking at the photographs from that year do for me. I’m looking into another world, inhabiting it. It’s the world of that year, the world of my own life, and how I lived even when I didn’t feel like I was living it. And even though I (literally) couldn’t see it then, even though it was a time of terror and uncertainty, I can look now and know I lived, and I can live each moment, even if for a moment, for the self of mine who, then, couldn’t.