Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back in NOLA: 5

I spent the greater part of this afternoon photographing two small journals that I wrote over the course of summer 1996, and letters and photographs that luckily ended up in the one (count it - ONE) box that floated in my room and did not manage to get wet. This is a lot when you consider that I have kept journals religiously from age 8 onward and that I saved every letter I ever received (which was a lot as writing letters was something really important to me from middle school until I finished graduate school and cover letters burned me out from correspondence that wasn't email) and that I was an avid photographer of friends, events, etc. My room is still wet and moldy with boxes and their now spoiled contents.

Used my new digital camera to photograph every page of a somehow spared set of journals that I wrote while working as the assistant director of the Junior Zoo Keeper program (a volunteer program of public speaking training and zoology/biology eduation for incoming 7th and 8th graders at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans) during the summer after high school and before college. I only read snatches of things I had written, but it was amazing to read what were my thoughts and concerns from about ten years ago.

I also found an old letter from someone who had been a very dear friend. It was written during the fall of 1998 when she was studying abroad and I was anticipating a semester in Paris for spring 1999. It is so interesting to see how seriously 20 year olds take themselves. Angst in a 17 year old seems expected, but the level of drama and self-importance in a 20 year old is embarassing. Talking about "men" when you're still dating boys is just silly. Even getting caught up in that is embarassing. This letter exposes so many of the problems that ultimately ended that friendship. But it was funny to read about how another friend told this girl (in a melodramtically philosophical manner) that she would return much more mature after a year abroad. One would hope that would be the case by just living.

Last night, I had dinner with Simone, a friend I don't think I'd seen since May 1996. She has been living in San Francisco since then. We had dinner with Sudha and her family and my family, but I mostly caught up with Simone (she had kept in touch with Sudha throughout the years and her mother lives in the Quarter). This trip has been all about returning to memories and faces I hadn't considered in a decade or more.

Everyone keeps telling me that I remember stories they had long forgotten... and yet, pulling through all these long-tucked away letters, journals and photographs, I'm remembering even more. I can say this much: I am grateful the hurricane didn't happen for me at the age of 17... or 20 for that matter. Maybe it would have kicked me out of the melodrama of those ages, but I would also hate to have confronted this disaster at that stage in my emotional development.

Trying to put this into words is like speaking without a tongue. Nothing comes out right. It just gives me pause to remember where I was when I wrote these journals and received these letters --- and consider now the fact that I'm photographing them so that I can throw these items away. They are too smelly and moldly to hold onto. But I want to remember these moments in my life... however awkward or precarious. I need to remember how useless it is to not be self-assured. That one should be open and curious when one feels adrift instead of beating oneself up. You can always learn more and be open to the world. Seeing yourself as "shut out" for one reason or another is a futile way to live your life. I am not saying I was like this all the time, but the general position of an adolescent occupies a bit of self-fear and self-hatred, which is only normal because you don't really know who you are yet... what you are capable of being. But you should just enjoy and embrace that slate rather than curse it.

I say this because I think we spend our lives forging who we are more or less. The world's ever-changing state forces us to do so. I need to remember that I should always keep things in perspective and when frustrated, try to go about things from another angle or maybe give up for a little while and return later with more insight from that new position or with some new knowledge.

Aside from all this awkward, free-form thought, did I mention that I'm wearing sandals and a short-sleeved shirt? The weather here is gorgeous. For all those assholes who asked me how anyone could live in New Orleans... well, this is why we live in NOLA. 70 degree weather at the close of the year. And Lord knows we deserve some pretty weather after the hell that was 2005.


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