Emerging from Absence into Presence
Here’s a scenario: imagine you are an average spontaneously creative and adventure-seeking perfectionist. One day, you realize you’re in a city 42.5 times the size of the city you grew up in, studying your favorite thing to study, surrounded by new places to explore and different people to meet. Your main responsibility is to go as many places as possible in six weeks, photographing to your heart’s content (and beyond), all the while feverishly watching your bank account (but not like, to the point where you’re not having fun, you know?). Sometimes you need to go to class, occasionally to a gallery or two. You decide you’re going to document each week with a blog post – a commitment to yourself and all your friends back home! Let’s go!
Then you come back home to a familiar world and don’t touch your blog for 4 months.
If you relate to this scenario, you’re probably me, or someone who has lived a life uncannily like mine. Either way, the point is that commitments are easier in abnormal circumstances than everyday life. I’ve moped and longed and talked too much about the past, but today I’m resolving not to be a person who “went to New York,” but instead be a person who presently “lives in Des Moines” and is doing things there. Here’s a small and incredibly exciting update on those Des Moines things.
Autumn’s life recap
I’m in my second to last semester of college, and though I’m shocked by this, I don’t actually feel very old, because well, I’m not. In fact, I continually am reminded that being 20 for the first two months of senior year is weird and most juniors are older than me (finally, as of October 16th, I am part of club twenty-fun!). However, I do feel old when I realize that the Urban Plains capstone I always heard students moan about is finally here, and it’s snatched me up with the lot of them.
What am I doing with capstone? I am the Art Director and Webmaster for our student-run web publication called Urban Plains, which produces stories from all over the Midwest. Below is what it looks like to be an Art Director:
Being Art Director means I design things (all the things). Being Webmaster means I implement those designs and post everyone’s stories written for capstone on the Urban Plains website. Webmastering also involves a lot of problem solving, research, trial and error, catastrophes, and rewarding moments where the code you added actually does what you want it to do. The first month and a half of the semester I spent revamping the website. I’ve also tried to improve the SEO so that there will be something to show for my work. These are stressful, frustrating jobs and I love them. Too much.
I keep doing weird things with my camera. I like taking “nice pictures” of friends and flowers and badlands and things.
But if you see me smiling deliriously or laughing to myself, there’s a reasonable chance I just thought of an odd photography idea and have been struck with an uncontrollable desire to test it. There are two camps with photography: the “picture or it didn’t happen” camp (journalism) and the “in the picture is the only place it did happen” camp (art). I do the former out of necessity, and the latter out of sheer delight.
I’ve been obsessed with light and what I can do with it for too long now, so you can rest assured that soon I will be exploring in other ways.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a lot of things. Identity, media, the post-WWII reconstruction era, data, ephemerality – the usual. About a month ago my external drive containing all my photos, videos, and most of my designs from the past year got damaged. I spent a couple weeks in limbo, not sure if I would get all of it back, some of it back, or none at all. As a creator in this society (and maybe in all societies), it’s natural for my work to define me. Especially when I’m proud of that work, put in hours of time and intangible heart and soul into that work. To think that all that data could disappear so easily has caused shock, anger, sadness, questioning, humility, then peace.
After that period of waiting I received a new drive with all the data recovered. It was surreal to see everything I’d created that I’d thought I might never see again. I was relieved, of course, but also surprisingly less tied to my work.
My creations are not me. It hurts to lose something when that something has defined you, and that is what I experienced. But then my Creator reminded me that all I have comes from Him, and my identity in Him isn’t stored on some external drive that could stop working. It’s somewhere much deeper, much more protected, and infinitely more valuable. I want my stuff back, but I’m humbled to know it’s a want, not a need, it’s just stuff, not my soul, and it’s only as much “my stuff” as I have been allowed to own it on this earth.
If you actually read this, I applaud you. I’ve been out of this blogging game a while, and frankly, I need to write again so I’m doing it.