Bright Milky Lights: A Memory Vignette

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Seattle, WA. 2012. 35mm film.

I’ve been thinking about this picture since about mid-November.

Last winter, I was working at two coffee houses in downtown Seattle. Every evening when I got off work, I would walk through Westlake center to catch the first of many buses back to Snohomish. Every day as I walked, I passed this donut truck. But even before I passed it, I could smell the hot cinnamon and butter and sugar from over a block away. It permeated the downtown air, the smell was a trillion invisible atoms of sparkling Christmas joy and it haunted me on each and every evening commute.

I was on a pretty strict diet last December. And I never once let myself buy donuts from this truck.

This isn’t a blog post about how I wish I had let myself indulge. This is a post about waiting.

Last winter was a pretty terrible time for me. My grandmother was dying, as was another close relative. Both of them passed before the second week of January. Both of them were living with me and my family at the time. We were, literally watching them die while they were surrounded by my mother’s festive Christmas trees and bright milky lights. In addition to watching my loved ones pass, I was dealing with the disappointment and confusion of not being in Korea. I was coping with boy trouble. And I was also experiencing friend trouble. Friends who I needed to be close to me were distant; some geographically and others emotionally. I was very much alone last December.

The fact is, I can remember little of last year outside of walking around downtown Seattle at night. I know that I had to have spent more time working, more time sleeping, more time even sitting on a bus than the time I spent walking those sidewalks. But when I think about last December, mostly I think about those lights, that donut truck, the waiting and the not giving in. 

Every day that I walked passed the donut truck, I resisted, and in the resisting, I grew a little bit stronger.

I don’t know how you deal with, or process life. But I figured out some time ago that I use both writing and photography as a way to figure things out for myself. For me, so many of the pictures I take become symbolic and metaphorical. Some times, it takes me years to figure out what they mean; other times, I think I snap the shutter release already knowing that I’m subconsciously sending myself a memo, writing a little Note To Self on film, something to be opened at a later date.

I wish I had this photo printed so that I could tape it to my mirror and look at it every morning. I wish I always had the self-control that I somehow garnered last winter; and I don’t mean with food. I wish I could go back in time to just a year ago, and take myself by the shoulders and tell that girl with the heavy camera and the restless boots how fucking proud I am of her. And in some ways, I wish I could be her again, just for a moment, to feel the invincibility that comes with having nothing left to lose.

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