Ocean in a Drop

Rumi said- You are not a single drop in the ocean, but the entire ocean in a single drop.

I am learning to reconnect with myself. I have been distant, absent, far away for seemingly a long time- perhaps for as long as a year. I’m still working in spurts on a Bob Marley painting that I cannot seem to finish. I have ideas often about books I’d like to write, or projects I’d like to start, and they go nowhere, just as quickly as they came. Sometimes my thoughts race, feelings of paranoia or hopelessness overcome my mind, and my body suffers, too. My once daily yoga practice has fallen by the wayside. I’m lucky if I even meditate or practice deep breaths once a week. This in turn depresses me, because I feel weak. I feel jaded. I feel tired.

I feel like a liberal woman living in rural Alabama.

I love Alabama, though. I love the muggy air, the old barns, the magnificent sunsets, the slang. I love the wildlife, the rivers, the caves, the neighbors, the churches, the constant reminders that I do possess something inside me that is somehow beyond me. Something infinite, something majestic, something I forever long for. I always hope for the best, but for whatever reason, I can only seem to regularly focus on the worst.

Maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s current events, maybe it’s pollution in our rivers, or unfair wages, or mute personalities surrounding me, or fear.

Or me

Why do I blame myself?

I used to feel funny, helpful, and like a light. Adults typically liked me because I was genuinely me, and excelled in academics and athletics and art. I would raise my hand when I knew the answer, and I usually did. I volunteered at the library, and church, and school. I was well rounded, but different. Rarely afraid or timid, I typically expressed myself in different ways. Hairstyles, clothing, poetry, piercings- I tried to be who I wanted to be. I tried what I wanted to try. I’ve always known I was different, but I’ve always known that about every single person, too. I just never understood why people cut others down to make themselves feel- what they thought was- better.

Growing up, and even as a child, I gravitated towards the most interesting people, and guarded myself from the popular crowd as I would observe their judgmental or condescending behaviors towards others. Typically, I was just friendly or hyper-active, trying to make those around me laugh or feel good, but I never sacrificed my personality to make anyone happy. No, I exposed my personality to try to make everyone happy.

But with the commercials we see each day of the picture perfect families or seemingly idealistic situations, we begin fooling ourselves that this is what I should want. Maybe social media has created this new need of belonging to the most appealing or trendy group? We as human beings are social creatures, which is no secret. But when did we feel the need to sacrifice our true selves to please normal people who “fit in” to those pearly gates guarding a Utopian society? I’m a risk taker, damnit. I love that about myself. I don’t want to be trendy. I want to be free. And yes, I’ll say a cuss word every other sentence if I want to do so in expressing myself.

I live in rural Alabama and have almost all of my life. I appreciate every aspect of it because along with everything else, this state has shaped the person I truly am. I am a free spirited woman who has convictions, stories, jokes, advice, wisdom, pain, regret, and yes, even depression at times. I saw Dave Chappelle perform stand-up at the Alabama Theater on April 20th, witnessed the Dalai Lama speak to a crowd of people who wanted to listen and people who travelled the same tour just to protest, and with my own ears, heard Bernie Sanders speak in a park in Birmingham on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I love being 31 and having a 12-year-old daughter who I am immensely proud of and who never ceases to amaze me. I love that I have allowed myself to make countless mistakes and overcome my battles. I love that people judge me and in turn, I love them back with a smile and an offer to help.

Love your neighbors- especially the ones who don’t look like you.

Her Canon AE-1

My mother had the choice between a camera and a car for her graduation gift. She chose the camera. A Canon AE-1 model rested in her hands, and subsequently- her closet.

For two decades.

That camera was present at every significant and slightly insignificant event throughout my childhood. I can remember modeling for her in our magnolia tree, and holding my baby brother, strategically placing his face between the waxy green leaves. Those are the moments I can hold in my hand, as long as I like. That’s why I always remember them with ease. That’s what makes me smile.

Digital photography swept the globe and she followed the trend, posting photographs taken with the new wave of Canon model cameras. Slightly less nostalgic are the moments viewed via Facebook albums. Still sweet, nonetheless. But what was so vastly different between the experience of looking at a photograph taken by the same photographer? The answer: everything.

With the AE-1, you could hear the shutter open and close. The sound in my ears brings me joy. I can’t explain why. I suppose it has to do with the fact I was a child, and everything was fascinating to me then. The shutter noise on the digital camera seems boring to me… and there could be a reason for that, too. (Comment below to see if you guess right.)

Loading the film seemed like a magic trick, and winding the film back into the canister was even more magical. Riding with my mother to Wal-Mart to have the film developed was also a treat, because she always bought us an ICEE and let us ride on the “buggy” through the isles as we shopped. Yeah, we broke the rules. And we had a damn good time.

And then there was the unveiling of each printed photograph. Carefully thumbing through each image, she gave particular attention to the moment captured. Flaws, such as light noise or a finger in front of the lens, didn’t matter, as long as the moment was there. That is one thing that never changed.

Placing photographs in books was also a fun occasion, but most of our photos remained in the small paper sleeves they came packaged in from the store. They were everywhere, but we were always careful with them. They were our treasures, and it’s still always a treat to find one and revisit those moments that haven’t been touched in years.

Those moments are special. The camera that captured them was special by association. So, it was a monumental moment when I unwrapped the AE-1, gifted to me by my mother for Christmas when I was the milestone age of thirty. On the tag, she wrote- Yes, it was mine. Full circle.

I used it almost immediately. I took it hiking with my boyfriend and me. I took special photographs of my boyfriend and daughter. I took it to an event and unashamedly snapped photographs like my mother before me, loud as hell. It’s an antique, it’s supposed to be loud.

Unfortunately, I forgot to magically wind the film back into its canister before opening the back door to retrieve that film. I shut that door as quickly as possible when I realized what I had done. My heart sank. I had been so used to the immediate satisfaction of viewing my digital images on the back of my own cameras that I had missed one of the most important steps of film development. I thought, maybe I shut it so quickly that the rest of the pictures are okay. I transported the roll to Wal-Mart Supercenter. (Our small town had grown since then.) I waited a week before I received the phone call.

There were six good photographs. (Good meaning, not totally black.) Four of which had light pollution everywhere, making it nearly impossible to see the moment. A hard lesson to jot down in the books, and a disappointing first experience, but even so, it was a lesson.

I placed the camera carefully back into its bag. One day I’ll retrieve it and take great photographs and remember those moments. But for now, it rests in my closet.

For now, digital albums on Facebook will have to do.