photo by me taken in Oberlin, OH, 2005
This past weekend was my five year reunion at Oberlin College. It was wonderful to be back in a place that I love and to spend time with my sister, who flew in from Austin, and catch up with friends and professors I haven't seen for several years. (Oberlin is also the place I met and fell in love with my husband Craig, so I had rosy goggles on for pretty much everything about the place, from the unidentifiable body odor + popcorn + wood furniture smell of the dorms to the 1.5hr wait in line at the town's brunch spot).
During the long car ride out to Ohio, 7+ hours in, at around 12am, in an effort to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel, my friends and I started reflecting on the last five years. How have we changed since college? What's stayed the same? What were our goals leaving college and how have we met them or altered them? What do we see as our strengths now that we didn't see then? What do we value in others now that we didn't back then?
Where do we want to be in another five years?
These questions became the running theme of the weekend for me and though I was delighted to just be back in a place for which I have endless faunts of nostalgia and fondness, I also wanted to make the 10+ hour pilgrimage worth it in a deeper way.
During the reunion I got to see my old photography professor Pipo Nguyen-Duy, always a treat. A bunch of us old photo students were catching up in his studio, talking about our lives and current pursuits, and he said something that resonated with me. Basically he said, "Your twenties are about figuring out what you don't like, your thirties are about figuring out what you do like, and your forties are for actually doing what you like." A light bulb moment.
Thinking back on the last five years I'd been feeling like "Ack! Five years have gone by and what have I got to show for it? What have I been doing with myself??", which was mostly in regards to my career. I've tried a bunch of different jobs across various areas of interest since I graduated -- I interned at a Chelsea art gallery (the highlight being when Steve Martin came in and we all pretended not to notice), worked for Broadway theaters doing production management (ordering hardware and tracking invoices all day makes you appreciate Chekhov all the more), and most recently non-profit administration for Jewish schools in Tribeca (I love a good latke, but Talmudic scholar I am not), all the while squeezing art and photography into the sidelines of my life. Although these jobs have skirted my interests, they have not truly fulfilled my passions. My work decisions have helped me have a secure and steady income for the last five years, but I haven't let myself take a big risk and say, "I'm going for it!", be it with acting or photography. Which is why I'm very happy that I've made the decision in the past month to leave my current job and start focusing on my photography career. Am I scared of relying on a scatter shot freelance income? Definitely. Do I know I have a long way to go before I'll feel fully confident in my skills and artistic vision? Yup! But in another five years I want to be able to say "I'm a photographer" or "I'm an artist" when someone asks me what I do and feel proud of my work.
Which brings me to the photo above. This photo was an early shot from this series, which ultimately got scrapped from it. My professors and peers weren't crazy about it and I remember my pride being quite hurt during the critique. But I took their advice and the series became better for it. I had asked an acquaintance, Clare McNulty, to be my model and at the time of the shoot we didn't know each other that well -- it was the first time we ever hung out one-on-one. Flash forward six years later and Clare is one of my closest friends - she was a bridesmaid at my wedding and even mentioned doing the shoot together in her wedding speech. Though the shots from that day ended up on the scrap heap, what grew from the experience is what matters.
I'm so lucky to have an amazing husband, the best and most loving family imaginable, and friends that inspire me and always make me smile. I try to start every day in grateful meditation for all the love and blessings in my life, which is something I never would have thought to do during college.
So, here's what I've learned in the last five years. "Success" is a relative term - trying and failing and trying again is a necessity for growth. And it's the people in our lives that make it so very rich and special.