I got a digital camera for my holiday bonus. A nice one, shiny, lots of features. Spring sprung, I started taking my camera out just to take interesting shots. It became a little more than a hobby, a little less than an obsession. An excuse to get out of the house, a conversation piece, a way to express myself.
I took pictures of interesting outings, and pictures of mundane outings. I recorded people's lives to satisfy my own curiosity. It became a part of me, my right arm. When I could find no one to go to things with, I went alone and took my camera for company. The camera justified my presence. I was a photographer, a semi-professional flaneur, I wasn't just some weirdo who stood out of place.
The camera got lost. The camera and a gigabyte worth of pictures from the zoo, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. Heartbreak, honestly, as silly as it seems. I'd finally found an outlet that suited me better than writing. Writing was a chore, I always use too many words and, in my own eyes, all of those words were contrived, inadequate and poorly placed.
But a picture - a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe more, maybe less, but a contrived picture is more appealing than a contrived essay about a bridge from my childhood. And so, visually mute, I prepared myself for a mundane return to writing as my only creative outlet.
And then there was hope. A woman living in Rhode Island with whom I'd talked online for over a year (but never personally met) offered to get me a replacement. I'm not a fan of gifts out of the blue, I'm not a fan of taking things I haven't earned. I turned her down, she persisted. I chose a decent camera, sent her the information. She came back with the shinier model, the one I was saving to get myself for a graduation present.
And I'm grateful. The kindness she showed me and the swiftness with which she bestowed it was shocking. I can't know how to thank her, I can't know how to earn this. I feel like a swindler, a cheat. All of the problems in the world, and here I am acting like the gift of a digital camera is the greatest thing to have happened in decades. But it means something, to my ego and my heart, to know that people out there give a shit.
I'm grateful. I have my voice back, I have things to look forward to again. This weekend is the Chinatown Festival. I'm looking forward to taking colorful pictures of dragons and traditional costumes, exotic food and crowded streets to post to a billion strangers on the internet. Maybe it's pathetic, to find so much faith in humanity in such an act. "Oooh, I got something shiny, there must be good people in the world after all." And it's probably pathetic to get excited about taking pictures for strangers. But we each have our own joys in life, though it may take years or decades or an entire lifetime to find them. This is mine. She gave me back my joy.
And this Sunday at the Chinatown festival, I'm going to start earning it.