After Iceland, there was fall at RISD. Fall was a bit of a struggle. Being on crutches, living alone, going to five classes while working three jobs and a part-time internship, turned out to be a little too much. (Ever wonder why my blog came to a standstill during the fall?) Also to be considered here is the very handicap-unfriendly landscape of Providence, Rhode Island. The hills, the stairs, the cobblestones, the lack of elevators, the vast amount of art supplies, camera gear, books, groceries, etc that needed to be carried – for a while there, the thought of taking time off from school actually entered my mind. I ended up having to make some changes to learn to deal. I quit one of my jobs; I lessened my workload; I didn’t put quite as much pressure on myself as I had in the past.
I went to Maine as often as I could, where the air was clean and still fragrant with late summer; where flowers still bloomed and dear, wonderful friends from the summer still lived. I took the bus north when I could, staying with Spencer and trying to heal. It was still warm enough to not wear shoes, the first visit or two. He took me apple picking and we made whole meals in a toaster oven.
Back at school, I got to have my first-ever show at the Red Eye Gallery with four other classmates! Looking for vague links between our photo work, we ended up calling it, mysteriously, ‘At Home in the Universe.’ It was fun to organize and our opening had an awesome turnout – some friends from Maine Media even showed up! I hobbled around the opening on crutches and eventually just zoomed around in a wheeled chair. In fact, I got so accustomed to kicking myself from room to room on that thing that even when I eventually stopped using crutches, I forgot I could walk.
In other news, I took a Large Format photo class, which got me in the habit of taking photos in Providence on a more regular basis. This led me to discover that there are actually photos worth making everywhere I go, which I think I used to know but may have forgotten for a while. It was a wonderful thing to remember.
Annelise came to visit me and Rachel! She came to class with us; we went to gallery openings and drank margaritas.
Then the best thing happened: I got cleared to stop using crutches, and days later, my mom came to visit! It was like my whole life turned around. For months, it seemed, I had just felt like I needed to be taken care of – and suddenly I could walk, my mom was there, I got to stay in her hotel room and drive her rental car and feel like I was on vacation in my own town. We went to the beach and laid in the sun and went for a walk at Lincoln Woods when the foliage was in full bloom. I even got my homework done.
I had another photo in RISD’s Expose Gallery. It really, uh, stood on its own in there! I had never been allotted so much space for a single image before.
Then came the major turning point. Finally able to walk, I returned to Maine, and went back into the mountains. Safe, wonderful, beautiful mountains, that didn’t make me fear for my survival. I realized that part of the difficulty I had been facing was more linked to a sense of identity than anything else; the aftermath of nature unexpectedly having made me feel afraid. I had needed to get back on the horse, as they say, and up we went, slowly and carefully, up Ragged Mountain. Spencer showed me a beautiful patch of tundra-like moss that smelled enough like fall in Alaska that I just laid there for nearly an hour, listening to the forest silence and smelling autumn.
There was even sunlight.
It was heaven. Mountain heaven. I never wanted to leave; even when we reached the top we kept wandering further until finally dwindling daylight forced us to turn.
That day marked a huge shift in, well, everything. I remember scolding myself for beginning to fantasize about ski mountaineering on the way down. You’ve only just been cleared to walk! I told myself, but euphorically realized I was feeling like myself again. From that day forward, time flowed fast and reckless and before I knew it there were finals and deadlines and one epic winter in Alaska rapidly approached.