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The thumbs down
I’m in a different time zone than I’m used to. It’s late. But I love not having to dial out of country to call Ali. I adjust my headlamp and throw the blanket over my face to conceal the noise. I feel a complete laughter outburst coming on. Just to be clear, I don’t need a headlamp. There is full on electricity in this house, but wearing a headlamp makes me feel at home. After bouncing in and out of the US for a decade, sometimes being in my own country feels foreign.
ALI: So last night I asked him, why don’t you return my texts during the day? By the way I’ve had like 3 glasses of wine. I was afraid to ask him the question. And his response was, because I’m at work and I don’t get cell reception.
ME: OK. Fair enough. Go on.
ALI: (annoyance) And I was like, yeah but what about at night? Obviously I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. My mom told me to just send him the thumbs down gesture off of the new iPhone app every time he doesn’t respond.
ME: (laughing) What iPhone app? Your mom is hysterical.
ALI: It’s so funny! It’s a new iPhone app for emotions. Not just smile faces. It’s the whole shebang. She went to a Kundalini yoga class on New Year’s Eve and wrote me, just did Kundalini. It was great, and attached was a spinning head and hands in prayer pose beside it. She cracks me up.
ME: You should just send him the thumbs down image and the spinning head because this is how you kind of feel like while you’re dating him.
An ax and 50 years of weaving
I could be anywhere in the world but I’m nowhere spectacular. Or am I? A flea market in Raleigh, North Carolina must be spectacular to someone. My Dad and his girlfriend Joelle sample apples and homemade salsas in a distant aisle. Meanwhile I’m talking to Neil, a 72-year-old basket weaver. He sits in the back of his truck. I’m not sure how we get on the topic of airplanes.
NEIL: I’ve never been on a plane before. You’ve been on a plane?
ME: (lightheartedly) Yep. Often. Since I was a baby actually. It’s fun. But scary!
NEIL: (stating) So you don’t get scared anymore.
ME: (laughing) I’m scared. Sometimes just uncomfortable. But I definitely still get scared.
NEIL: (he stuck his hands in his pocket, surprised) You still get scared? Why do you do it then if you get scared?
What a great question.
ME: (pausing for quite some time) Because life wouldn’t be the life I would want to live if I didn’t do things because they scared me or made me uncomfortable. I risk more by doing nothing I guess. I live to be uncomfortable. It’s what makes me feel like I’m actually alive.
Guns and war relics
I pay the $6 entry fee so I can attend a Gun Show. I sneak my camera in. Against a brick wall, a 20ft-wide sign says “War Guns and Relics.” I head in that direction. Once there I take a deep breath and ask the one question I’ve wanted to ask a gun owner since December 16th.
ME: (nervously) What do you think about the shootings in Sandy Hook?
GUN SELLER 1: (perky) You a photojournalist girlie?
ME: (lying calmly) Nope. Just curious.
GUN SELLER(S): (They went off on a tangent and talked straight through ten minutes) It’s my rights. I’ve owned one since I was 8. Yes 8. Things have changed since the ’50s. Don’t blame it on gun laws. They have nothing to do with it. Blame it on the psychiatric system and video games and violent movies. More people get killed by knives than guns you know.
ME: (silently and sarcastically) Right. Gun laws have nothing to do with it. Nothing. At. All.
GUN SELLER 1: (accusingly) What about you? What do you think about Sandy Hook? I’ve told you my thoughts. Now tell me yours.
ME: (silently) My sister lost her nephew in the Sandy Hook shooting. I think it has to do with our inability to listen to one another. Broken down family systems. Overstimulated minds. Toxic chemicals in our food and environments. Disconnection to our minds, bodies, and hearts. Uncontrolled anger. A result from suppressed grief. I know that sounds ridiculous to an extreme right-winged man like yourself. I respect you and your opinions. But don’t agree with them. I hate you and your stupid views on guns.
ME: (sighing) I think it’s devastating. I believe that it’s complicated. It’s a cocktail mixture of gun laws, the medical system, and violent media. That and a lot more.
GUN SELLER 1: (compassionately) Me too girlie. Me too.
Moments later I get a stern eye from another seller.
GUN SELLER 2: (threatening) Take care of that camera. You’re bound to piss someone off with that thing.
ME: (threatened) What, this thing here? I’m a pattern and design photographer. Shouldn’t piss anyone off doing that.
He doesn’t flinch and smile back. I pretend to roam around taking photographs of the Purple Hearts, making me think of my mom’s Dad who used to let me wear his as a young girl. I make my way to the exit thinking about how I don’t even know why he had a Purple Heart. Did he ever kill anyone?
Fear, courage, and love
I text Ali.
ME: Just snuck my camera into a gun show. Asked some bold questions. Scary. Fun as hell!
I love knowing that I don’t have to leave this country in order to get uncomfortably unfamiliar in a place so familiar. Research professor Brene Brown says that we live in a constant state of fear and courage. They don’t exist separately; they coexist simultaneously. Being afraid and doing it anyways is vulnerable. But it’s also courageous.
I fear everything. I fear that I won’t make the right decision. I fear that I’ll say the wrong thing and offend someone. I fear I’ll say the right thing but make someone else uncomfortable. I fear getting yelled at for saying the wrong thing. I fear getting yelled at for saying the right thing. I fear not being good enough. I fear being too good and making someone else feel less so. I fear saying I love you to a man who at one point loved me forever, but doesn’t now. I fear failure. I fear success. I fear love and being loved and losing love.
It takes courage to do these things regardless of the fear. I should know. I do it every single day. We do it every single day. I think that between fear and courage there is a place for hope. It’s the fine stitch that sews fear and courage together. Knowing this, I love regardless. I speak in a way that people can hear me. I speak up, and when I’m not heard I say it louder. I still put myself in uncomfortable situations. I don’t have regrets. I try harder.
I never ever give up. We never ever give up.