In honor of addressing the anniversary of September 11, 2001, I’m re-posting this entry I’d written in 2004 (before I made a living through photography and writing), because I think it honors the idea that life is precious, and we shouldn’t squander it doing things that make us miserable or that don’t, quite simply, bring us joy.
Last night I opened The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. I opened it to a random page, as if I were cutting a deck of cards. Figure Out What Your Career Really Is headed the top of the page. Just answer this question, and you’ll find your answer: What did you do the evening of September 11, 2001?
It goes like this: it’s a time of crisis and panic, when you’re uncertain and nervous. So what did you do? Did you phone friends and family and keep them in arm-distance as you watched the news for days? Did you flee your office with your unfinished manuscript? Beyond the phone calls and the are you alrights, what did you do? Beck suggests in times of uncertainty our deepest values and true career are reflected in our actions. Your real career is whatever action your heart and soul need to take; it’s not necessarily what you do for a living right now. Despite how you choose to spend your free time or how you earn your paycheck, the answer to what you did the evening of September 11 is a strong indicator of what you should be doing. I love this idea.
I tried to donate blood, clicked through news stations, and I may have written in my journal. I like to think that I did, but I doubt it. I hadn’t thought to pick up a camera or write about grief; all I could think about was food.
The most memorable thing I did on the evening of September 11, though, had nothing to do with my camera, writing, or the web: it had everything to do with a turkey baster. I cooked, my friends; I cooked.
I assembled an entire Thanksgiving meal for friends and family. I packed fistfuls of prayers in the cavity of a bird, my thoughts mingling with mushrooms and stemmed thyme. Stuffing stuck to the roof of my mouth, like I imagine a wafer of Christ does in church. I chopped celery, and turned out cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes were splashed with orange juice and gobbed with butter and brown sugar. I hosted friends who were new to New York City. I did anything I could to make the people around me comfortable.
Two years later, when the 2003 Blackout happened, I ran home to get my camera and drank a bottle of wine. I wrote about the events; okay, and I got drunk, letting Linus run in parks with large NO DOGS ALLOWED signs. That’s how far I’ve come to living my dreams, my real career. My divorce enabled me to take my dreams more seriously. I allowed myself to take Stephanie seriously. It’s not selfish; it’s crucial. When I was married, I tried to play that part of comfort and Mom to a boy. It’s what my mother did for my father; it’s what I knew. Years later, and a heap of perspective, and I’m so thankful I’ve learned how to bend over backwards… to make me happy. I’ll always want to cook and surround my loved ones with comfort, but it won’t be at the expense of fulfilling my own mandatories. Storytelling. With a camera or a pen and paper, it’s what I do. It’s not how I make a living, not yet, but it’s what I do.