Saturday, December 13, 2008

On suffering, on volume.

I was reminded of my temporality yesterday when I found out an incredibly kind man named Terry Toedtemeier died, someone who I had briefly worked with while I was in Portland. He was working on the publication of a book of old daguerreotypes made by Mormon photographers during the Gold Rush and mass exodus to the American West, but also worked as the Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum and showed his own photographs at PDX gallery and Blue Sky. He collapsed immediately after finishing a lecture in front of 150 people because his heart had stopped.

Once when I was in high school I was sleeping over at Liz Sholtys' house and we started talking about dying. Liz confided in me that she had a feeling she was going to die in her thirties and I felt immediately comforted by this having shared the same prediction for years. I'm not sure if I still think this-- if I do, I'm not anticipating that day with dread like I used to. It would be interesting to talk to Liz about that conversation and see what has changed for her-- our lives have since veered in different and productive directions. Liz opened a home for street children in Pune, India and is raising 12 little whippersnappers as her own. I moved to Portland, worked and lived in a slew of places and now am in San Francisco drawing 40-50 hours a week.

When I was 7 I sometimes would get swept into a panic right before bedtime that I was going to die in my sleep and my parents, probably feeling like them forcing me to go to bed would be like forcing my execution, would let me stay up reading until I wilted on my own. Those hours of me sitting up in bed reading by myself after the rest of the family had gone to bed represent the kind of productivity that I aspire to fill my life with. When I think about someone like Terry Toedtemeier, whose life was so completely rich and full, it reminds me of that potential for my own. What Liz and I are doing is different kinds of preservation-- Liz is enabling kids to grow up safely and make histories of their own, I am fixated on learning about the family that predated me and hope to make images that will start memorable conversations for the people looking at them.

I don't mean this to be a depressing posting, but this whole semester (or really, since I was very small) I've been thinking about my own fear of finality and suffering and still haven't quite figured it out yet. My grandfather woke me up this morning at 8:00am with a long and confusing cellphone call from Indianapolis to tell me he's decided to come to Ithaca for Christmas. I tried to spell my new street name to him for at least 4 minutes before he finally got it: F-O-L-S-O-M. I kept saying things like "you know, like the prison?" to which he would classically respond, "WHAT? I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS AN APARTMENT BUILDING." It will be nice to talk to this grandparent while I am at home, a man who has always been a pretty silent guy, but whose deafness and wisening and suffering has now caused him to be so exuberantly LOUD.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

I've resigned to the feeling that I will probably die much younger than expected but, unfortunately, it hasn't spurred the level of productivity that it has evidently done in your's and your friend's life.

Perhaps I should reconsider my prediction. Or my productivity.