About two years ago, I learned something quite revolutionary about myself: I am meant to be a storyteller. It was undeniable. Everywhere I looked—films, music, books, speakers—the message was the same: you are a storyteller.
Meanwhile, I was learning something else about myself: I loved photography. I shot shows, sometimes several times a week. I enjoyed going down alleys in Chicago, looking for beauty. I became so caught up in art that I forgot this truth: purpose does not detract from beauty, but purpose makes beauty whole.
Then I moved and so much of who I thought I was and so much of the network I cultivated was suddenly gone.
There’s an over-used quote by Peter Parker’s uncle: “With great power comes great responsibility.” We usually associate this with superpowers or prestige or intelligence or a stage. We don’t usually associate this with art. But art moves people. A great story, a great photograph, the right word can change a person. Martin Luther spoke: “I have a dream.” Had he used any other words, the impact may not have been as revolutionary. Life Magazine created icons from a moments of the poor, of soldiers, of celebrities, of lovers, of addicts. Those images captured stories. They haven’t remained because the photographer was great—though they were—but, rather, because the story was great.Perhaps one of the greatest burdens, one of the greatest responsibilities is to tell stories, to open eyes, to grasp souls with a moment or an image or a word.
And I wasn’t doing that. I was soaking in the applause the drifted over my head as I stood in the photo pit. I wasn’t telling a bad story. My story was interesting enough. I had made myself into a very interesting person. But that’s not enough: to make myself interesting. That’s vanity. What’s more difficult and far more important is to use art to make the rest of the world interesting. What’s so interesting about this alley or that person or the moment in front of me? Where is the brokenness and pain and where is the beauty and redemption? This is the challenge.
I think I’m meant to tell a greater story.
It is like a two-minute time machine and in those two minutes I’m not driving home from eating pancakes. I’m driving home from a wrong turn on a dark road after eating frozen yogurt and all that I could think about was the evening before and travelling and long roads and short walks and things changing. It’s an overplayed song, easy to look past or nonchalantly sing along, but it means more at night. Maybe the song isn’t the time machine, but the darkness is. It slips in and I slip back in time, when it was warm and we were younger and I still didn’t know what to say, so there I was talking about the songs changing and here I am singing alone. Not a lot has changed, except for the soundtrack, and here it goes, changing again. The feeling begins quickly slipping away as subtlety as it came, now collapsing into a lttle blur of staccato piano notes. The two minute time machine is over and I’m back on the dark road going home, stomach full of pancakes and mind grasping for memories.
The radio played “You’re not alone, you’re not alone, you’re not alone,” which is really ironic, because I was alone, driving down the highway and I was going to go somewhere alone and probably for most of the rest of the day I would be alone, and most of the time I’m alright with that but sometimes, sometimes, like in that moment that song was playing, singing that I wasn’t alone, it would have been nice to have someone on that seat next to me, singing alone with me, knowing we weren’t alone because we were next to each other.
Then again, loneliness has it’s upsides. There’s no one I have to say goodbye to in the morning, there’s no one waiting for me late at night, there’s no one worrying about me and no one I have to worry about. It’s really a free life, but it’s a selfish one. Loving means caring and caring means your heart will break and you will feel pain, but in a way you’re also more alive because of it. Loneliness holds me together, keeps me from breaking, but as I grasp my heart tightly to my chest, I don’t allow myself to love anyone. I’m holding myself captive. There’s a freedom in being alone but there’s also a freedom in loving.
I don’t think I’ll ever wash that shirt. Disgusting, you might say. But it’s so intertwined in memories, that I’m afraid they, too, will be washed away. Some people reminisce back to certain places, and those places become holy ground. Yet we will likely never walk that particular path together again, so it feels as though the snow has already washed part of the sacredness away and more feet have trod on the cement after we left. But that shirt: it’s the one thing I can control. The snow can wash our steps away and years can wash our memory away and steps can trample our moment away, but no one can wash that shirt. There’s still that chocolate stain right above the second button hole and there probably always will be. That shirt is soaked in memory and to wash it would be to dry out that moment, to let it go free, and I’m not ready to do that. As long as I have it, I have a bit of your memory, how you saw me, how I felt. It’s as though I’ve bottled up a bit of the past, like a fabric photograph. It doesn’t smell like you. It doesn’t smell like anything. But it feels like magic and I’m not ready to wash that away.
Maybe I’ll write a story every day in March, nothing spectacular, just enough to keep me breathing, not a sprint, just a walk around the block, to see the sun and remember that winter isn’t forever and there are things that I love, even if they are buried beneath layers of white dirt and ice-locked plans. Maybe today’s story will be a little longer to make up for yesterday, or maybe today will be just my rambling about how I don’t write enough.
I think my problem with anything I create is that I want it to be perfect before I show it to the world, but then I never show it at all because it can always be better, right? So I stop writing. I watch TV because that’s easy. Writing isn’t always easy. It’s easy when you’re desperately in love or when you’re heartbroken, but what about the in-between times? What about when you’re driving through the gray world to work every day at 9:30 and home in the black world every night at 6:30? When every lunch is the same and it’s too cold for adventures.
I feel trapped inside this freezing cocoon. An old lady asked if I would like to be her grandchild. I asked her if she lived somewhere warm. She did, so I said yes, but she hasn’t come back for me yet. So here I am in the Midwest. It’s bitterly cold and I’m trying not to be bitter over cancelled plans and numb fingers and that time when my van slid into a wall. I wonder why winter exists and why some people love it. But perhaps I’m the same way. Perhaps people wonder why I exist and why some people love me. Perhaps I am winter. Perhaps there is winter in my soul.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grace, and that’s a longer story, but I know my winter soul is loved even when I feel stuck and frozen and struggle to find joy or do anything worthwhile with my days. I’m not given grace when I reach perfection, but grace is offered to me just as I am: grace and forgiveness in this wasteland.
I think that will be the end of my story today. I wasn’t sure what I would write about or where I would end up, and in that way, I suppose writing is a sort of adventure. Perhaps that is my adventure. And perhaps when this month is over the world will be fresh and alive and I can climb into my van and drive to Minnesota or Michigan or just to a coffee shop and I can be free. The winter soul will be alive.
This is one of those “what I wore today” photo posts, which really means I took a bunch of “selfies” with a nice camera.
Time together is just never quite enough…
When you and I are alone, I’ve never felt so at home.
This is Anah. I took her senior photos. This was a test shot; she didn’t even realize I took this. Pretty without even trying.
I have a little story for you, Tumblr, since this is the only social media site I can share it on because of things and reasons. Yesterday at work, Tony from Windsor Airlift came in and I recognized him because of mutual friends and the internet but I was working and I try to avoid awkward sometimes, so I didn’t say anything about it. But it was an interesting thing that happened, so I thought I’d share it.