Regret Is A Gift


I've written about my fascination and brief connection to Patti Smith before, but the one sentence summarization is that I was once accidentally very close to her with my camera, tasked with photographing her while getting pelted by a rain of her saliva. Was this her process? Ritual? Did she just have a bad cold that day? Unanswered questions still, and while I loved Horses like any other proper fan of female-vocalized rock and roll, my unforeseen love for her blew wide open with her book, Just Kids. I've read that book twice, and I never read books twice. I'm not the only one who has loved this book, so I won't be so arrogant as to assume I can properly critique it here, but just know that I've treasured it. So when she released M Train, I was hesitant to actually take the steps in owning it in my attempt to continue to savor Just Kids, that is until a few days ago when I stumbled upon a hard copy at my favorite thrift store. It was time. Just as I suspected, pen in hand I'm underlining at least a phrase a page. 

As of this writing, I'm only about half way through the book. She claims in the beginning that it is a book about nothing but it's all the nothings I marvel at, specifically how she allows herself to travel down any wormhole that her curiosity will take her. And not just trips to the library either, she'll go places that require planes and passports. At one point, I had to put the book down, overcome with a sadness that can only be spurred by regret. Most of the scenes in this book take place in a cafe or bar and she always describes her order: black coffee. I couldn't help but cycle back through my entire 20s and 30s, regretting my choices, wondering about that path not taken, the one where I'm drinking black coffee over booze. What if I'd traversed through life with only a camera and pen in hand, documenting details to later recount in the most eloquent prose and poetry instead of drinking until I fell off barstools, feeling so carefree and witty, determined to go home and transcribe the profundity of my experience only to either pass out before it happened or manage to jot something down that later proved illegible or meaningless and feeling so miserable, carved out and vacant the next day as not to even care? That times 365 days times 25 years. That's a whole lot of regret.

Immediately after my morning reading (and regret) time, I did the thing I always do and went to my tarot deck to pull a card. The first card I pulled was The Hermit, illustrated as a turtle with a candle on his back in The Wild Unknown deck. Lately when my intuition has guided me to, I've pulled a second card as a companion to the first and this day, the second was what may as well now be my default card, the card I always seem to pull when I'm stewing, the card that prompted me to start the Name It Journal as it begs of you to consider what you might be taking for granted in your life, finishing off with the question, What are you longing for? Name it. Good grief. It never doesn't feel like big dose of tough love, bittersweet because sometimes I like to hang out in that pity party for a bit longer. Sometimes I want to wallow in the muck, feel sorry for myself even when there is zero productivity there, I want to validate my own yuck with a You're right, you are definitely a piece of shit self-inflicted kick while I'm down. But there was that little rat resting on those Four Cups saying, You know what, Miss Sad? How about we think for a second that some people leave this Mortal Coil before they've even had the opportunity to experience regret? Some people never get to turn their ship around, right their wrongs, make up for lost time, do better because they know better? This is the moment to seize, not because it's the dregs or the slim seconds or an afterthought, but because it's the moment I have. So like a dog that just rolled in poop, I felt a slight pull of dignity, at least some resolution.

All doors are open to the believer.--Patti Smith, M Train

I was listening to an older podcast interview with Lidia Yuknavitch, another author I admire. She was talking about her experience as a teacher at a community college and that satisfaction she receives from helping students choose self-expression over self-destruction. I wonder if I'd had someone to guide, nurture and nudge me, would that have changed my trajectory? Would I have been open? I don't know the answers to those questions either. I only know that I'm open now. 

The Big Ask

When I was finishing up my second college stint for Photographic Technology, I was working as a bartender but eager to get out of that industry. Not eager enough to have a real plan, mind you, but it was a time that I would say yes to any and all photo jobs that would come my way, with few questions and hardly any negotiations. So when a friend of a friend who was a Make-Things-Happen-Guy approached me about photographing an industry party for a popular week long music festival that happens once a year in my city..."you know, just walk around and snap party pics, two hours tops"...I said YES. I gave him a price (which was always under-valued and would never move me anywhere closer to leaving my bartending job), he gave me a time and place and that was that. Until I was driving there on that Saturday did I realize that I was driving to a pretty exclusive venue and 'industry party' was actually hosted by a pretty big record label at the time and did I bring the right film for this (yes, pre-digital)? All very good questions I should have known the answers to had I asked the right questions, or any questions for that matter.

Mr. MTHG found me right away and immediately handed me a check made out to the amount we had previously discussed, which was for my time only. Oh well, I thought, we'll hash out the cost, development, editing...later, I'm sure. Again, no questions, nothing was in writing. Driven by one hundred million forms of fear was my constant mode of operation. I started shooting the party scene while a band played, beautiful people milled around talking about what bands were showcasing at this party, booze was flowing, then another band played and another. Just when I thought it was wrapping up, Mr. MTHG came up to me, "Welp, time to move inside!" Inside, I thought, WTactualF? If you don't remember what film was like, there were different types for various environments, specifically, film suited for outside shooting and film suited for inside shooting. And film wasn't very flexible. I started panicking internally for fear that I didn't have enough of the right kind, but down the elevator I went.

When I got inside the venue, I find out that no flash photography was allowed, I would have a very tiny space in which to place myself while avoiding a moving cameraman and there would be five bands including a top secret special guest closer. I just went to work trying to act like I knew what I was doing and that I wasn't scared shitless which meant, you guessed it, faking it and not asking one single question, much less a cry for help. And forget that my shift for this job should have ended before I got on that elevator. I just couldn't state my needs. Hell, I'm not even sure what I wanted in that situation, or any situation at the time. I won't detail everything that happened the rest of that night, some of which is a complete blur, but I will tell you that the 'special guest' was Patti Smith. She, by the way, spits when she sings and I don't mean that saliva randomly falls out of her mouth but that she intentionally clears that passageway. And I, being stationed underneath her, was the direct recipient of a Patti Smith shower.

When it was over, I wish I could tell you that I took all of my film, ran straight to my car and held it hostage until I was paid more for the work I did that I did not originally agree to. I was angry and a little stunned, but when Mr. MTHG jumped on the same elevator and gave me the strong arm, I begrudgingly relinquished then ran to my car and cried. And I'm sure I couldn't get booze in me fast enough. 

If you think that this magically fixed itself when I stopped drinking, you would be wrong. I always thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness but true humility is only telling the truth about yourself and your needs.  Pride is a big, fat liar. But you have to know yourself and if you are numbing all your emotions to their lowest common denominator, how could you? 

I just got back from a vacation with my Mom and kids. I can do Mondays, I've got the fucking weekends down, I can even navigate a party but I do not know how to be on vacation. There were many, many times I had to ask myself...what is the appropriate emotional response to this? What would a grown-up do here? WHAT WOULD MICHELLE OBAMA DO?? It took me half the trip to realize that my point of discomfort was a result of my failure to ask for help. Becoming aware of this changed my entire outlook mid-week and I found myself saying, many times, "This is me, enjoying the moment!" 

So what did I do differently? Well, I asked my Mom to keep an eye on the kids while I took advantage of the workout room, or took a walk, or excused myself and inserted my earbuds. When it was time to engage, I dug down to remember what I liked to do when I was a kid on vacation, back when I knew better what it was that I liked. 

There was much Scrabble.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

And gem hunting.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

Another thing I like to do is walk off to take photos, phone or camera matters not. Not only do I look for things that interest me visually,

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

but also for cool textures or patterns that I can later use on social media.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

The other discovery I made about myself is that I am resilient. Different than being a martyr or throwing myself a pity-party, I know I can do so hard shit and get to the other side with most of sanity and all of my sobriety intact. Perhaps I've always been. Actually, I have always been. This I know.