When my wife and I met we moved quickly. I’ll save you the details and provide a highlights reel instead. September 1st we went on our first date. September 14th we moved in together. October 9th of that same year we got engaged. And much to the chagrin of any would be naysayers this past month we celebrated our five year anniversary.
I can remember clearly when I called my best friend, whom I’ve tried to emulate forever without success, to tell him about our engagement. At the time I was dressed as though I had walked out of an Old Navy display: sweater vest, herringbone pants, and standing in the parking lot of a golf course shared by my office.
My pitch went something like this, “look man, this is going to sound crazy, and I know we haven’t spoken in a while but I’ve got something to tell you. . .” At which point he likely thought I was going to join the circus, had gotten someone pregnant, or was going to move to Cuba. “This is nuts, but I just got engaged,” I said. At this point I'm sweating in the Florida heat and the phone was silent for a moment before he said, “wow, congratulations, umm, I just, wow.” We spoke for a few minutes in a general conversational manner as friends do before he interrupted and said, “ya know, I just thought you were the type that would live with someone forever and I never really thought you’d get married.” To which I said, “look, I know it’s nuts, but this is what I’m doing.” When you’re in love the fear of what other people think dissipates.
My father had a similar reaction when I told him. My pitch this time was much shorter, “hey, I met this great girl, I really love her, and we’re going to get married.” My father is a man of few words, and so if I recall he said something like, “are you sure?” I’ve been known to operate on impulse in the past, and so if you know that about me you’re likely to judge my actions based on that, and rightfully so. “Yes,” I told him, “I love her, and this is what I am going to do.” My friend and my father were both excited, don’t get me wrong, but they were also cautious because they had yet to love her as well.
The thing about love is that when you’re truly in it, you don’t care who knows about it or what they think. It’s dangerous in that way. When you’re in love you’re willing to throw in all of your cards despite any risk. My neighbor, he quit his job, showed up at the airport and started a year long journey around the world to court a woman he barely knew; this year they’ll get married.
For a long time now I’ve done photography, and while I’ve had some success, I haven’t reached the point at which I’m satisfied. One day, my life had basically imploded and I needed to “fix it”. I saw a goals and values counselor in Portland to do just that, and while it didn’t fix anything, we had some conversations that foreshadowed the path that I am currently on in my life.
During one of our most poignant conversations we discussed photography. He had asked what I wanted to do with my life and I told him matter of factly that I wanted to BE a photographer. He pried harder, asking what exactly that meant. I told him I wanted to travel, take photographs, eventually have them on the walls of a gallery; I did all this in a manner that only youth and naiveté allow.
He asked in response, “but what if you only get to go to galleries, what if your work isn’t in them, what then?” I sat forward on the couch as though I had just been challenged, and I said, “then I’ll keep working on my photography until I do.” He responded by asking, “but what if it doesn’t? Will you be okay just going to a gallery?” I uncomfortably squirmed on the couch and leaned a little farther forward and said, “then I’ll keep trying.”
This conversation, I imagine, is for a counselor the equivalent of what a parent experiences after telling a child “because I said so.” What I was trying to tell him is that even if it doesn’t work out I am going to keep photographing because I love it; I know that now. Yes, I am okay with just going to a gallery because it doesn’t mean I am not a photographer.
A friend of mine used to say that they “love it for what it is,” and they lived this mantra in every situation. If you get a speeding ticket, if someone is dying, if the rain is blowing sideways and you can’t go out; love it for what it is. The speeding ticket is an opportunity to slow down and reflect on your actions. Knowing that someone is going to die is an opportunity to tell them you love them one last time. And staying in because it’s raining is an opportunity for you to just sit back and listen: to really BE in your own skin. Whatever is happening, or whatever you’re doing, love it for what it is.
Nicolas Cage seems to attract a lot of negative attention. He is in fact not the best actor in the world, has taken on some questionable roles, and has hair that at times looks like a bird. All of that aside he did star opposite himself in one of my favorite movies, Adaptation.
He plays his own brother in the film and during a chase scene the brothers are hiding in a swamp. It’s a great scene, and one of the most important exchanges that I’ve seen in any movie takes place there. The brothers are hiding behind a downed log when Charlie turns to Donald and the following conversation ensues:
Charlie Kaufman: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
Donald Kaufman: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.
Charlie: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.
Donald: I remember that.
Charlie: Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. And it was like they were laughing at me. You didn't know at all. You seemed so happy.
Donald: I knew. I heard them.
Charlie: How come you looked so happy?
Donald: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn't have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.
Charlie: But she thought you were pathetic.
Donald: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That's what I decided a long time ago.
It doesn’t matter if Sarah Marsh loves you or not. If your followers on Instagram love what you’re posting, or not, it doesn’t matter. If you choose to show your photography or not, it doesn’t matter. If people dislike the photos you take, it doesn’t matter. Follow the voice in your head that says to take photos and be comfortable in that voice no matter how insane or ugly the result might seem. Somewhere in that is your path when you let go of what loves you and focus on what you love. If I could go back, that’s what I would tell my counselor.