Mixed Tapes

It’s 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon and, if I pulled a blanket over my head and settled back into the cushions, I would fall fast asleep. I am irritated by this fact. As I look around the room, I see my photography coursework beckoning from the coffee table. I see piles of books and magazines waiting to be started or finished. The things that are a priority to me – learning and creating – do not translate into first place in my every day life.

I was walking away from the office this week and I thought to myself: “I am going to quit photography school”.

I know, I know…not cool.

If my brain were a cassette player this would qualify as shitty mental music from a very old tape. A pre-recovery tape. A tape that says I’m not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough. So why bother?

I am smart enough. I am strong enough. And I am good enough. I’m just wired differently than many of my fellows. And by fellows I mean those crazy talented people who can work forty hours a week, pursue a Masters degree, and participate in three sports…all at once.

There are those people and then there’s me. I am in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru at least once a day just to get through the day. Pulling a comb through my tangled hair is a considerable victory, working 37.5 hours a week for someone else is absolutely painful, and it’s a push to feed myself, nourish my recovery, or run any sort of errand.

It’s not that I don’t have time to do the things I want (although that certainly can be the case!). Balance and time management are just not a part of my repertoire. I am caught between the need to use my natural artistic gifts and the fact that I crave and perhaps even require simplicity at the end of the day. Why? I’m an introvert and people are hard…really hard.

I spend a lot of time beholding the “underbelly” of the city where I live and work – the stuff many people would like to pretend isn’t there. Because that would require – you know – having to do something differently. But I digress. It’s not uncommon for me to step over puddles of piss on tenement stairwells and feel uncertain about whether the origins are animal or human. I watch prostitutes and drug dealers at work with a detachment that has less to do with a lack of compassion and more to do with the fact that these things have lost their shock value. The sunlight hits us all the same as we work; I sit in my car between appointments – sipping iced coffee and flipping through the radio – and they pass tiny packages through car windows or wave to greasy men from stoops. Figuratively speaking, however, the sunlight does not distribute equal warmth. I get to leave. They don’t.

I’m not painting this picture to create a “me v.s. them” dynamic or to spark a dialogue about privilege. It’s more about the weight of bearing witness and being powerless. I have developed a much thicker skin over the span of ten months and yet I am acutely aware that the little foray I have taken into the underbelly is only a fraction of the total descent.

It’s undeniably ugly out there. Writing and photography are my way of combating the ugliness. I would like to do it full time. And, like a good addict, I would like to do it full time now. Yesterday would have been better.

Wow. Does the “I want what I want and I want it NOW” attitude sound familiar to anyone else? Thank goodness I’ve met hundreds of people over the years who have brains that work the exact same way mine does. They have taught me to recognize my cognitive hiccups and to replace the shitty mental music with a new tape.

I’ve talked about receiving daily readings in my e-mail before. The same day I decided I was going to quit photography school the following affirmation was delivered to my inbox:

Today, I take a small step forward on my journey, without judging myself or my rate of progress.

Coincidence? I think not.

It is now after 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. I started this post on Saturday. And that’s okay. Anything of worth in my life has come to fruition one baby step at a time. I am on my way.

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