Things I Didn't Photograph
I’ve been calling myself a photographer ever since I started studying camera arts in college. My teacher suggested, as many of my writing teachers and friends also did, that the first step to creating something worthwhile was to claim that you were indeed attempting to do it. “You are photographers,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to call yourself what you are.”
Since then, I’ve taken many pictures, many of them terrible, some of them for compensation. I have chased light into the sunset, laid on my stomach in wet grass and gotten very close to small things that no one else seems to notice.
In the thick of the time when photography also meant money, I found, like many photographers do, that I had difficulty putting my camera down and enjoying the moment. Slowly, I began to intentionally leave my camera at home.
Over the years, I may have gotten too good at this. I have to remind myself to take pictures (even with my phone). Sometimes, I look at my camera and notice a layer of dust.
But on the whole, I have learned to be more present. Instead of looking for the next shot, I am engaging in the moment. Instead of capturing the way the water sparkles in the sunlight, I am jumping into it. Instead of trying to get the right angle on the laughter of someone I love, I am joining in.
Sometimes, I wonder if writing isn’t the best camera of all, so I’ve been practicing lately, capturing images with words. Today, I’d like to share some of the results of this practice with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
I arrive at the restaurant just as they open. I am the only patron, and I sit on my own, waiting for a friend. There is a frisson of tension just under the surface of the calm room.
The kitchen is beginning to stir.
I am savoring my last moments as a food editor, excited to move on to the next adventure and a little wistful about what I am giving up.
I will still have moments like these, I am sure. But I am suddenly hyper-aware of the tables, crisp and prepared, and the way my waitress pops her head out of the kitchen every once in a while to make sure I haven’t changed my mind about ordering before my friend arrives.
I sip my Dark and Stormy in silence, listening, noticing. It is a long while before anyone else comes in. I am early, and I am glad.
I am waking up in my new house for the first time. I’ve been thinking about this morning since I first stepped inside.
It was the kitchen that got me.
It’s all windows and the light spills in, onto the blonde wood floors, just as I knew it would.
I put the kettle on and begin to brew my morning tea, smiling to myself as I do so, in spite of all of the work I have ahead of me. It is good work.
I linger with my tea several moments longer than necessary. My tea catches the light and sparkles.
I was nervous as I stepped into the waiting room, but I am not now.
I am sitting on a light green leather couch high in an office building, early in the morning. Sun streams in through the windows, illuminating a hand-painted sign just above my new therapist’s head. It says: Grace.
Even though I have many reasons to be cautious and circumspect, I allow myself to settle into the gentle folds of the couch. In this moment, I cannot help but hope.
The smoke is starting to lift and the lake doesn’t look so hazy as we walk companionably, checking out hammocks, lawn furniture and hydrangeas. It is this habit of looking in the yards of other people that makes me notice him.
Clumsily, with new feet, eyes and ears, he comes toward me. An English Lab, his mother tells me, twelve weeks old.
His name is Otis.
He licks my hand as though I am an ice cream cone and I allow myself to steep in thanks.
I have been praying for a puppy lately.
This one looks almost exactly like my own dog when she was small. Now, she creaks and groans, legs clumsy on the other side of life.
My companion and Otis’ mother discuss human things, and I crouch, looking deeply into eyes that are almost tearful. Otis gently chews on my hand. I tousle his ears.
It is with great difficulty that I tear myself away.