Yesterday, I ran into a man I have known since I was 18 years old…that’s four decades ago. It brought back a torrent of memories from a life that wasn’t always easy, but nonetheless has changed in every way since.
I wondered if seeing me had half the impact on him that seeing him had on me. I doubt it. Still, so many memories swirled through my mind…did he remember any of them? Surely he remembered some. We were both dignified in our meeting, never showing to any of our family members the intersections our lives had passed. All these years later, would our families even care anyway? I tried to tell my father, who happened to be with my husband and me: “Dad, I’ve known that man since I was a college freshman. He knew both your sons, too,” I said, wondering what thoughts might have crossed this other man’s mind as he sat across the restaurant from the father of three kids he generally liked, respected–you might even say to some extent, admired. “You ought to go to law school,” this man once told me. “I thought of that,” I answered, “but my brother’s a lawyer, and he’s an asshole.” We both laughed–as did my dad when I relayed this story at breakfast. Because, you know, lawyer jokes.
For me, even if I had been this man, such a meeting would have been a meaningful encounter. I mean, if nothing else, it was like “WHOOSH–Here is your life, fast-forwarded.”
I cannot say that the meeting wasn’t equally resonant for him; I just do not know. I would never now invite such thoughts from him, nor have the opportunity to hear them. I might have changed this in our meeting, but I didn’t. It actually did not even occur to me until he was preparing to leave, knowing this could be the last time I ever see him, which was a thought I really did not want to entertain. More precisely, I suppose I already knew that some things are best left in one’s memories and in the past. I’m comfortable with that, although I like this person. If things had been different he would surely still be my friend…I mean, actively, not merely by consequence. This chance encounter certainly has me thinking some about change…about time.
All this month, I have been participating in a photo challenge called April Love, and lo and behold, we are already on Day 28. Each day we are given a pre-set photo prompt, provided by everyone’s favorite online creative goddess (or at least mine), Susannah Conway. We take or find a photograph and then share it either on Instagram, Flicker, or Facebook. Most of us use our own original photographs, and sometimes we share personal details from our own lives. It’s amazing how one photograph can stir so many thoughts and so much dialogue. It’s amazing how much fun it is, how the creative process works.These images become intriguing prompts for reviewing one’s perceptions, but more notably they become great prompts for writing. I have been amazed both by what they have allowed me to say and by what others have shared. As such, we are meeting people (mostly women) from around the world, and we have become a new tribe of sorts–so much so that we have agreed to continue sharing far beyond this month–weekly instead of daily, with prompts already reserved for and continuing into the next year (at least)! It’s been a fun and enlightening experience with new, mostly unanticipated, friendships being formed and still forming.
The focus of April Love on self-love has given me much to think about with my accident (see previous posts–not an automobile accident–I was hit by a malfunctioning electronic steel door while exiting a retail store). Some things I really should blog about (self esteem, self-love, self-care–so much to say about all of that). As I continue to work to come to terms with the physical changes that that incident brought, I find some relief from my former profession of university teaching. Teaching college English had many requirements, unlike the fully-creative life I have adopted in its place, which joyfully allows me to stretch beyond pedagogy. Not that pedagogy is a bad thing. I love pedagogy. It’s just that sometimes students begged me to do some of the things I do freely now and would have done freely then, that really had no place in a college course. At least not the ones I was being paid to teach.
When I taught, I gave my students photo prompts to write from, but they were nearly always of famous works or even of media propaganda. The aim was to try to get them to think and to sharpen their critical, analytical and expository writing skills. It wasn’t solely my preference; it was in line with the courses I was assigned to teach. Students were discouraged, in fact forbidden, from writing expressively about anything personal, as the objective was to get them to look outside themselves, to see beyond their young cocoons, to find the bigger picture and to examine it intellectually, not just feel it on an emotional level.
Expository writing certainly has its place, and I don’t feel I did anyone a disservice by teaching it. It’s a crucial step toward becoming an educated person and securing a college degree.
Once a person has been broken by one tragedy or another, it is important to process and to move forward…therefore, to see things from their origins. To look carefully from the heart and in the soul…and to see just where they land–in the mind, and in the heart and in the soul. Simply put, not everything can be processed from the mind alone–or from the mind first. For me, April Love encourages this vision…one that looks outward to the image, then back in to one’s perception. While the discoveries aren’t generally political, they are somewhat social–certainly more universal than strictly personal. In some ways, it is a catalog into the lives of women. We aren’t solving world problems, but we are solving our own–and indirectly, one another’s. Even more than solving anything, we are just sharing. Sharing through the art forms of photography and language, and acknowledging the world as we see it today–which is usually much different from how we saw it at one time.
In many of our shares, there is a collective sigh. We are all living in the moment, taking a subtle backward glance. It is funny how relieved many of us are to leave some things in the past. And then, too, how much of the past still warms us. We are still learning, even from what we thought we already understood.
Today’s prompt was pedestrian enough: it was “Clouds.” At first, I shut completely down and said I wasn’t going to participate. I’ve got nothing against clouds, but…too cliched, perhaps? I’ve been taking photographs of clouds for years. I thought it would be best to be a sort of non-active participant; just to read and enjoy others’ posts. Somehow, I admit, I thought, “Ho Hum.” That was scary…because that is not like me at all. Instantly, my own attitude reminded me of a friend I once had who couldn’t be encouraged to enjoy the sunset. “I’ve seen sunsets before,” she grumbled. What a horrifying stance, I thought–I certainly do not ever want to become that jaded…
Fortunately, immediately following my reticence, cloud shots from days passed moved through my mind like a slideshow. I still thought I wasn’t going to share anything in the group, when suddenly a favorite came to mind–a gift, actually. I wondered if it would be acceptable to share a gift. I had received this photograph from a student the summer of the last spring semester I taught. He said he had been driving to work early one morning, saw this image and instantly knew I would like it. He emailed it, and said it made him think of me. The magnificence of the shot impressed me, and it meant a great deal that when he had nothing at all to gain, he still wanted to share it with me. It let me know that I had taught him something beyond expository writing.
Here is that photograph, taken with his cell phone:
It is funny how our paths cross and how our lives play out, what we think and what we realize. How beat up we get. How we recover. As I write this, the legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is fighting to recover her own health. I have been watching the news for updates, reading online about her, watching videos, replaying “Shine” (my favorite CD of hers), and adding to my reading list her biography by Malka Marom, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words.
Then today, on the day I thought I would not participate in April Love as I have done all month, with the prompt being “clouds,” one of the participants shared this video. So obvious, right? And yet, the video stopped me cold. So many connections. Is it any wonder we look to the clouds to see what we already know? What could or should ever be more obvious than the clouds? How can we possibly overlook them…in any way, really?
And that is how one spring day I went from not sharing a photograph to writing a whole blog post.
May all your Aprils be filled with love.
© Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.