Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Tipping Point

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I read those words at my high school graduation, during a speech about living without regret. At the time, it was mostly a speech to myself, about how I was going to not dwell on the things I'd suffered in the years before. I was going to college. I was being reborn.

But as my high school English teacher Linda Prady told us as we read "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston... as you move through life things change meaning based on who you become when you experience them.

When I was in Italy last month I re-read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," and was surprised to find it a bit flat. Uninspiring. In my memory, it was an astounding novel. Having read more. Written more. Lived more... Its revelations were the revelations of my youth. Maybe in the 20 years since it was written our ideas about time, love, sex and history are different. Or perhaps in the 10 since I last read it my own have changed.

Perhaps both are true.

Two road diverged... diverge... At times we stand on a precipice, and we are forced to decide which path we will chose.

In three days I will turn in my ID badge and my Blackberry and I will have officially chosen to walk away from a very safe, very comfortable, very respectable job with a national cable news network, having been given sole responsibility for the contests of its web site two nights a week and written dozens of articles... I am walking away from something thousands would fight for... Forgive me.

But I will walk away to see what it is that I've been so furiously trying to make.

I am a cynical scientist, but I am also vulnerable to belief in something... greater? To call it that seems naive. But I believe I know when we've done right by ourselves. By others. By the world. I know something more exists than myself and that which I can see.

I want to make a gallery of double-exposure Holga photographs. I want to learn all about The Blues. I want to read Herodotus. I want to absorb everything. I want to let myself believe...

I lay on the sofa in my grandmother's sunroom, sleeping, before my grandfather's funeral. And at 3:33 a.m., the lights and television turned themselves on. They did. I had turned them off. It was a funeral. I had not been drinking. I had fallen asleep in the dark, after turning the television off.

They came back on. They woke me. At 3:33 a.m. the lights and television turned on in a dark room and woke me. Me. The skeptic.

I mentioned it at brunch, uneasy... maybe I was wrong? But even if I were wrong, it had happened. My mother told me it was him. My grandfather. His favorite number was 333.

I don't know if I can accept that. This ghost story. All I know is that the lights and television went on just then. And nowhere else in the house.

My mother swears its a sign. From him -- the man who believed I'd be an actor until he saw me sing at my graduation from Dartmouth -- I was one of the performers in the tavern the night before graduation. Singing and playing my guitar. Then he thought I'd play music. Until I went to India... When he shoved a National Geographic in my face to show me how they were having a drought, it wasn't safe...

I promised I'd be safe. I was going with the chief of pediactric infectious diseases from NYU, or some such title (Ruchi?), and they were not going to let anything happen to me... I was taking photographs.

I took photographs of strangers going through the motions of their lives. I had studied photojournalism, and I was fresh from my internship with I was a maniac. I think I shot 25 rolls? Back when people took pictures with film. That shit cost money.

But I let it go... I let it go for a man and a dream and a life that never came to be, and followed my writing down another path, because it came with both easier acceptance and less threat. I can craft a paragraph like nobody's business.

I have just torn my apartment apart looking for a photograph from Istanbul that I wanted to scan... What could I have done with it?

When I find it, I will post it.

But I digress.

Two roads diverged, and I gave myself a deadline. I gave myself until August 6 to jump, or else who knows how long I would have waited. But I did it.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Matters to You?

Tell me.

I want to know what you think before I go on... What forces are the strongest when you make a choice that will change things? Because I am wondering if I have been following the right ones, the wrong ones or if right and wrong don't actually even matter at the end of the day.

(Not in an "I am a criminal way".. more of an "Is this me, or is this me being afraid" way.)

I could have turned in so many ways, but I turned in the directions I did. Wound up with the things I have. The choices and the consequences. Am I unhappy? With some of them. In the grand scheme???

I would have imagined a different set of things, but I don't have those things. But what I do have was never a choice I would have known I would have...

I don't know if I make sense. I am swimming in ideas. Regrets. A half-baked state of affairs. I usually wait longer to write, until I have set something in motion.

But right now, am recently off my first break from the place of business -- a vacation in Italy with dear friends -- the first that had been on the horizon in a long time. My last was in New Jersey. Before that, the Spainish Inquisition. (God bless my lawyer.)

I again saw New Jersey -- down the shore. And I saw it as I had never seen it before. As a place I belonged. As a place that was meant to be a part of me, not a place I had to flee to make myself important.

Who could flee such a thing?

Surely not a woman who spent most of her life dreaming about the ocean, the sea, lapping waves.

The most soothing sound will always be that of the ocean. The best smell the salt marshes when you finally hit the right spot on the Garden State Parkway. Ocean, salt, sand. Coconut-laced sunscreen. Sweat and tennis practice. Bathing suits and the crunch between your teeth of a beach-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

How far we come, to go back home.

Monday, July 20, 2009

La Vie Boheme

I come from a line of artists. My mother paints, photographs and creates jewelry, among other things. Her passion for creating things -- above and beyond creating four lovely daughters -- is almost insatiable.

My father, a surgeon, apparently dreams of both fishing and painting -- making paintings. I had seen a small painting in his closet, when I was a child, of a... was it an old mill on a river? I just remember its colors.

But they share that thing.

My father's father was an artist. He designed cars. Planes. Machines. Created.

And my mother's father told me before he died that he thought I'd be a musician, but for some reason that art has always intimidated me more than the others. I can sing. I can play. I can feel my way through a song. But I never had the training one needs to do it for real. I resent that a little. My piano lessons fell by the wayside when my teacher moved when I was 11. I want to learn classical guitar. I think I shall.

I almost went to art school. Instead, I went to Dartmouth.

And now -- now I find myself wondering how to leverage these eyes. The hazel/olive/golden-green eyes that, I think, maybe, can see things. I pushed myself to study photojournalism. I claimed writing came easier... but it comes the same. In fact, the pictures -- framing, seeing, making art -- comes more easily than the words. I can make pictures every day. The writing must fester in this over-wrought brain. I feel self indulgent tonight. I'm certain to annoy. Solipsistic. Je suis l'etat.

We sometimes make choices because we think we need to prove ourselves. To whom, when we really get down to business, often exposes our insecurities.

I do what I do because I needed to show everyone -- to show myself -- that I could. That I can. But it is not enough.

It is far, far from enough.

My circumstances have given me the gift of choice, but I have always chosen the safe, mainstream, "right-for-my-career" path. But I have never chosen the path that was right for my heart and soul. For the things that long for release. Sharing the things I see.

Thinking about my last post, it echoes the same hesitancy to feel superior/important/listen-to-me that I shun.

We carry our parents burdens. My own feel a class disparity that I fall on the wrong side of, to some in my family. I was picking up a low-budget purple chenille sofa from a discount furniture store with my parents, in the Jeep SUV that I would eventually trade for the cost of "towing it off the lot because the cabin filled with fumes... thanks parents..."

My father turned to my mother and all I remember was "and your family were the workers..."

Not even the exact words, but I remember. And she was furious. It was the first time I had seen him breach that divide. Iron and steelworkers. Wonderful, talented people.But the teams were not the same. My grandfather never went to college, yet he built Temple University's stadium. But my father's father was also Ivy League. Got a degree from Penn. In 1929.

If I could meet one person... I would choose him. I am certain we would know each other.

I think he could unlock so many of my secrets that I ache to know what that man -- that man who Alma, my grandmother, stole from his girlfriend because she "set her hat on him," according to my mother's grandmother. Immigrant Polish Philadelphia was incestuous. Love? If not, at least a premonition.

And by some mercy, my father's parents made my father at the same time my mother's parents made my mother... Although they were more than half a generation apart in age.

And knowing the love I feel for my niece, my next-sister's daughter, our only offspring -- of course last weekend when I joked about moving into the house next door to my parents' to stay hear -- and my father turned and told me that I already had a dock and a boat and a home. Theirs was mine. I never assumed so.

Even now, how much my father loves me can crush me.

And seeing how much I love Diana, my precious, gorgeous, perfect niece, I fear crushing my own children with the weight of my love, seeing how tightly I just want to squeeze her. (I don't.) I would give her anything I could even remotely lay a claim to.

Which brings me back to the title of this essay: La Vie Boheme.

I -- for the first time -- am seeing my choices through the eyes of someone who will judge me, and I get to choose what she/he/they/our family's babies see as "Jennifer." I am a writer/photographer/artist/firecracker or I am the woman-who-makes-safe-choices....

(Yes, they are going to Dartmouth regardless. All of them. If I have to buy every admission with donations. Get used to it.)

What I am choosing requires tremendous faith in myself. And I think I have always lacked that -- and I think may of you will be surprised by that. Several of you will say "yeah, dork..." And others will mumble "it's about fucking time...."

I will spend most of my savings on my mortgage, building maintenance payments and my health insurance. Those are my absolutes.

But with the weight of every stranger's gaze I meet weighting down on me, why else was I given this gift? But it is not a philosophical essay I seek to make my end game right now.

I want to capture your soul in a picture. Let me.