My close friends know this. I’ve always joked around that I won’t feel like a real adult until I’m 25 and can rent a car for the normal rate. For some reason, that’s what being 25 and a “real adult” means to me. So, Happy Birthday to me.
My real birthday gift is that I am just glad I have made it this far.
There was a point where I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think I could handle what life could throw at me. I thought I was strong enough to deal with any difficulty, to turn around any negativity, to overcome any impossibility. I didn’t think life could do that to me. I thought I was made of stronger stuff - I just refused to operate by life’s rules. Whatever hardship it tried to subject me to, I just wouldn’t take it. But, I think, definitely since college, and definitely since my dad passed away 3 years ago, I found myself being strangely affected by life in a negative way, more than I thought I could be. My optimism picked at like a balloon with a pin prick. And a slow leak began. I felt flatlined: my strong “resilience” deflated. And at some point I began asking the question: What if everything isn’t really as positive as I think? What if I’ve been living in a dream that isn’t reality? What if everything really can’t be turned around for good? What if my ideals, my ideas, everything I always thought about life - was more fragile than I realized? And could be shattered. I’ve always been searching for a protection from the shattering of the beautiful world in my mind and in my heart. I’ve tried to make it myself. I’ve tried to find it in others. And this is where push has always come to shove.
What would happen when I tested everything out? I was always afraid of taking action, I think, because, it so much threatened my internal world. Would it all shatter? But, over the past couple of years, I started moving my feet. I started taking action. And some things shattered. And some things cracked. And some things healed. But, I am here. I wake up every day, and I am here. I think I understand new morning mercies a whole lot more now than I ever did. I find myself going to sleep, begging the Lord for new mercies when I open my eyes. I find myself waking up each morning, clinging to them. New mercies for the unknown. And everything is unknown, and that was my fundamental mistake. New mercies for what I don’t understand. And everything is something I don’t understand, and that was my fundamental mistake. The ability to grow and to change is the greatest miracle and privilege of life. I feel myself changing. I am not the same person.
I have learned that extremes cannot save me. My ideas, my passions - everything that is objectively me - has been at extreme ends. My core motivation is that I feel as if I’m supposed to do something nobody else has ever done before, to, kind of, crack the code of the universe - to do something so new, go where nobody has ever gone before, with or without anyone else - in doing so, to love the world long past my lifetime, to do something that really lasts, and outlasts me. Because of this, I’ve always been in a 1-1 game: nothing has ever been good enough, because there’s always something else, more cool, more exact, that can be discovered or clarified. It has never been a competition with others. Only with myself.
I imagine, sometimes, that watching me from the outside has been like watching someone do this beautiful routine or something, in this glass box, where where you’re like, “Oh, that’s so beautiful. But why doesn’t she just shatter the box so she can really do it?” I thought my extremes would propel me through life, to get me to do that “thing”. But, they were only building that box. And there’s been people, there’s been Jesus Christ, Himself, trying to love me and break me out of that box. And, I just think, this year, enough was enough. I shattered it. Some days I want to stay in that box, wrap the panels around me, and just be a strange, beautiful thing. With no interaction with anyone or anything outside. But, all the keys to my purpose in life are outside of that box. It’s where the dance really comes alive, because others are dancing with me. Or, maybe I get to take a break from the dance and just rest in others’ arms. It’s not some strange performance, spectator sport, where all the world is a stage and I am the only player, playing to no one. I’ve secretly always wanted someone to break through the glass, foil my ideas, and convince me there’s a better one or a better angle to see things from. And maybe that the better idea and better angle is something I don’t see. Maybe it’s something much less mystical. And, certainly, it’s very much outside of the box.
The keys to life, are, instead, hidden in relationship with others. In the love and relationship of an incredibly real Jesus. All of who never loved me for what mission I could accomplish, only for who I am. When I am pathetically myself. When I am waking up, going to sleep. When I am passionate, when I am dull. When I am sure, when I am confused. When I am dreaming, when I am over analyzing. When I am getting coffee, thrifting, making stupid jokes, asking strange questions, eating random things, when I am upset, when I am loving, when I am afraid, when I am angry, when I am making music, when I am a shell of myself, and when I am full to the brim of every bit of who I was made to be. I had the key backwards.
In the middle is where people and relationship are - and where I am, truly - truly, living. Moment by moment. Trying to love myself and view myself in a better way, just as I am. Trying to love all the people in my life, especially those close to me, the way they ought to be loved, not tied to my extremes or my expectations, but just as they are. How good it is, to be just as I am. How good it is, to see you just as you are. It is so nice to see you, it is so nice to see me, just like this. And I could look at me, and look at you, forever, just like this.
A couple days ago I had this thought. I was talking to one of my students about songwriting, and the image just came to me. A good songwriter, a good artist, a good person, is like a photographer.
We all take “snapshots” of our lives, that collect in rolls of undeveloped film, inside of us. But I think the problem that most of us have is, we sit with these rolls of film. And we don’t know what to do with them.
Until someone comes along and helps us develop the film. Then, we can take those pictures, and do something with them. They process out of our bodies. And we have the choice to hang them up on our walls, to put them in a photo book, to burn them up, whatever we want to do.
I have vivid memories of the darkroom at the studio. It was in a scary back hallway. It was pitch black, aside from a glowing strip of red light lining the ceiling, and it always smelled like strong chemicals. I can smell the smell just thinking about it.
I’d call for my dad in the hall, and he’d call out, “I’m in here!” When I heard his voice, I could work up the courage to go in. And there was my dad, hidden in the darkness - his outline barely visible, only when he moved or the red light reflected in his glasses - gloves on, hands-deep in developing chemicals, hanging up pictures, one by one, in the drying room next door.
Now, I wasn’t allowed in all the time, because of the chemicals. But, sometimes, he would let me walk in. He’d hold my hand and point to the pictures hanging up. Telling me we couldn’t turn the lights on yet, they needed to develop and dry, or we’d ruin them.
And the coolest moment is when, after awhile, he would turn on the lights. And then, I’d see the room. The color on the walls. And the pictures, hanging there. Fully developed.
It’s a powerful image. Because the darkness is where everything develops. The void. It’s where we process, where we expose our film to the right things, where our pictures truly take their form. They cannot hit the light prematurely. Or the picture won’t come out right.
I’m not afraid of the darkness anymore. Because I know it’s where everything develops.
And a good photographer knows that the initial negative is not the end result. Instead, he sees something else inside the picture.
And I think now, my life goal is less about cracking the code of the universe, but more about helping people develop their film.
And it all makes me think. About the pictures. And who is taking the pictures of me? How am I seen through your lens? I can build up an image of myself in my head, I can look into empty mirror glass and beg it for an accurate image, but, my eyes will always deceive me. And that’s why, out of them, I often tear up. Try as I may to see myself rightly, I am not my own photographer. I am truly captured, not by myself, but, by others.
And who takes my pictures when I am stripped of every garment, every crown and jewel, every bit of facaded strength and control? Who takes the picture when I am vulnerable, in low light? When I am doing normal things. When I am waking, when I am sleeping. When the most poignant thing about me is my heartbeat and breath? What does that picture look like? I think about that a lot. And I’ll take that picture, and I’ll put that one in my wallet. And the lens makes the difference, and that’s why the beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. That’s the picture I want to see. That’s the picture that matters most.
That’s why I weep when I think about my family and my close friends. You’ve taken those kinds of pictures of me. I know that each moment my mom sees me, she references a picture she took long ago. Of me as a baby. Of my heartbeat and breath in her arms, at her chest. And that’s just part of why I love her. When I look at Kyle, I see the picture of him as a bright young kid, so happy about life. And when he is sad and asks me if he really thinks I think he is still that happy kid inside, I say, “Absolutely.” Because I have the picture to prove it. And when I think of my dad. There are just so many pictures.
For as much time as my dad spent in the darkroom, my dad had a lot of rolls of undeveloped film. Since he’s passed, I’ve learned more of his internal struggle from my mom and my family. There was a lot that he carried. And I think a lot of things really hurt him, in ways he didn’t really ever show. Just swallowing the film, over and over. And I know that played into a lot of what happened to him. And I wonder all the time, how all of it gets made right. And I think I’m stumbling across an answer.
I get to carry on some of the good parts. Faraghan Studios can live on, in a strange way, when I make the choice to go in the darkroom myself. To take my film, to take the film of those I love, anyone at all, unafraid, into the darkness. Elbow deep in strange smelling liquids, making a mess - for the sake of the picture. And, in a weird way, by doing that, I’d like to think I’m developing those rolls of film my dad had left inside of him, for him. What a strange miracle. I’ll take his negatives, and plunge them into the chemical bath. And watch them turn. I hope I do him justice. I hope he sees the pictures. I hope he’s proud. I know he is.
Thank you for reading my thoughts. There’s no way to articulate (although I am not a person of brevity…) what it really means to me.
I will leave you with my Grandpa’s, favorite thing to say:
Everyone’s an art director.
Here’s to the next 25.