Finding the time to write is harder now than it ever has been. Which in some ways feels comforting, because there is always a not so small voice in my head telling me my words aren't worth the time. It's that imposter thing, maybe, but also something softer that asks to be kept private.
Everything is different since starting my job downtown as a teacher. Time passes differently, now. I’ve been a bit of a recluse for the past lifetime and stepping outside into the big city, day after day, has felt equal parts liberating and paralyzing. It’s that braid of being alive thing. The weaving together of the beauty and the bare bones; the remarkable and gut wrenching tapestry that proves we are here without apology. Being a human is no joke. I find myself learning how to forgive my own heart every moment of every day. And thank goodness for art. For my weekends at the river capturing incredible women. For the ability to, even if just for one one thousandth of a second, make sense of it all. To find truth in the tornado. To hold still, while we are still holding on.
I remember reading an essay once by a woman who was half Native American and half colonial, and she explained it as wanting to unbutton her shirt with one hand, while wanting to button it all the way up with the other. While I am not cut from the same fabric of her roots, I hold onto those words very tightly these days. I don't see myself in many people, and so when I do, I tuck the sentiments away deep in my chest. Her words resonate with the parts of myself that wish to remain hidden in river shadows, but/and, at the same time, knowing that I have a lot to offer by sharing my voice, and my heart, in uncomfortable places, like the big city I now work in.
I have always been fascinated with death, in the sense that I wish I never had to die. I'd cry as a child in bed, fighting with my own mortality, wrestling with a huge sense of responsibility to not waste any seconds. I knew from a very early age that life was precious, and I also knew from a very early age that I was not born into a situation that would make savoring the sweetness of life very easy. I'm used to catching drops of syrup on my tongue, stolen from the unlikeliest of places, like stubborn trees or the pauses between words.
When I teach I feel traces of immortality. It brushes against my cheek and then it's gone. But it's there. Those kids know I love them, I know they know, in the same way the people I photograph know, and those seeds don't ever die. I see you. I believe in you, with all of my guts. They know I mean it when I say those things.
So, when people ask how it's going with my new teaching job, I want so badly to take them into a wide open room filled with portraits of my beloved students. To stand speechless and let them see what I see and feel what I feel every single day when I walk into my classroom and shake out the dusty sweater on the back of my desk chair. Because I don't have words for these types of things.
I get to be in the same place as my son each day. I get to keep him close even though he's oceans away in many respects, tides turning him into a man. I get to watch out my window while his soul catches fire.
What is the word for when something is the hardest thing you have ever done, but it is also breathlessly beautiful and horrible and meaningful and important and exhausting? I suppose the closest word would be: human.
I've never felt more human in my life.