A Letter to 2017
There were parts of 2017 that I would probably do over again, if I could. Like stand a little longer with my feet in the Pacific Ocean in Maui, watching the waves a few minutes more with my sister. Like go back and give my mom that one last hug at the airport before she got in line for security to go back to Austin, because I already missed her and instead I watched her disappear in a crowd of suitcases and people, feeling foolish for needing my mother at 30 years old. There are other things, hard and sad things too, indisposed apologies and a very sick grandmother and the hardest of all: acknowledging and accepting trauma from a situation of sexual assault I experienced last year, before I left San Francisco. After it happened, I didn't tell anyone. In fact, I made up excuses and isolated myself for nearly a month, away from friends and family. I worked diligently and efficiently, but deep down I was always counting down the minutes until I could go back home and into my bed and retreat where it was dark and quiet and no one wanted anything from me. I watched a lot of Criminal Minds. My dog, Sunday, was essential to me during this time; a companion who didn't ask questions and gave nothing back except love and chewed up toys placed at my feet as an offering. This has been a year, not about what happened, but rather it has been about the recovery.
I left California, I left Texas, and have spent the last year in New York observing myself through the seasons. I was in such a daze of what had become of my life that I tried to focus on settling my feet in the ground. Making roots and a home for myself- an extreme opposite of the gypsy life I had established for myself in my 20's. 2017 was about turning 30 and knowing what was best for me. Saying, no. 2017 was about love, too. A love that took me by surprise and gently orbited me around the potential of something I did not predict after last year: that I would feel joy again, in a deeply resonating way. In even greater emphasis, to also feel that I deserved it. A relationship does not and will not solve problems; but having the incredibly generous, witty and loving partner that I do, required a strength in me that I did not feel qualified to be part of, and in fact forgot that I had. Resilience is a muscle that I have had to remind myself again and again of having. Grief has an interesting way of convincing you that you are stuck, like a tree limb caught in a curl of vines that grew around you for ages.
Cheryl Strayed said it best: "This is how you get unstuck. You reach."
The pinnacle of my grief was also the point at which I decided enough was enough. It was beginning to interfere with the way I wanted to function on a daily basis. I was tired of being sad, of being stuck, of not recognizing myself in the mirror and feeling like an imposter. I've never stopped taking pictures, but I started taking photographs for me. I've taken the train to Rhode Island and watched the coastline wave and wander. I set a goal in January of reading one book a month, letting myself get lost in the mind of someone else's narrative. I had a dream come true of being photographed by Jamie Beck, one of my absolute favorite photographers. I started drinking coffee and waking early as a ritual. Just my bare feet in the kitchen as the sun comes up, admiring flowers I bought for myself. I made phone calls to friends more and spent many evenings sitting on the window sill of my bedroom laughing with friends whose sense of humor reminded me of my own.
In May I went to Maui with my sister and grandmother from Thailand, slept well for the first time in what felt like a year. One morning specifically I woke up at 5:00am, my grandmother found me sitting on the patio watching a turtle swim onto shore. We talked until sunrise, reminiscing. She told me stories about living in Bangkok in her 20's, raising my mother in Michigan in her 30's when they moved to the States. I listened to the things she didn't say that I have observed over time: How hard it must have been to be a young mother living in a country where she didn't speak the language well, and how incredible it was that she had been brave enough to change her life in a way that led us there, living on separate continents but watching the sunrise together in Hawaii, her delicate hand in mine.
After that, I didn't let myself feel guilty for sadness or happiness... you'd be surprised how both feel possible when you are reclaiming a sense of your body and self. I acknowledged my ability to feel both simultaneously. In July I stood five rows away from the stage at the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers show in Philly, singing my heart out to him singing Wildflowers, the anthem to my first year of living in San Francisco. So many memories colliding with new ones. Sunday running through the snow last weekend, as fearless as she once ran into the water of Ocean Beach. I learned how to walk in the cold in New York City, and I've experienced my first New York Summer too, sweating on the crowded beach of Rockaway with a magazine and a sunhat. I opened a studio in Brooklyn to photograph. I read Salma Hayek's essay about her own monster too, and cried on the floor beside the bed I share with a partner I trust. So much hinges on that vulnerability and I do not ever take it for granted. I created a series focused on female creatives, with the intention of giving women recognition, but in many ways became the honest way I explored intelligence and softness of being a woman, pushing back against an incorrect stereotype about the way we regard each other.
I write this with a feeling that 2018 will be less about recovery and more about hope; a hope for more travel, more love, more time with good friends on opposite coasts, more photographs, more kindness, more generosity, more books, more conversations in French, more time for hot tea on cold nights, more time in the kitchen cooking as a form of meditation, more afternoons in museums, more times of pushing against a shyness to be photographed, more warmth and less apologies.
In the evenings after a walk around the neighborhood with Sunday, we trek slowly up the four flights of stairs of our Brooklyn apartment, as if we are climbing a long hill. Often times she has snuck in proof of nature outside; at least a few times a week she will have a flower or leaf in her mouth. I suspect it’s from the neighbor down the street and lately on our walks I’ve been writing stories in my head, thusly too distracted to notice. How lovely and how sweet my days can be, to have a pup who brings the outside in, her mouth covered with yellow flowers and pollen.
Here's to 2018.