He said, “you know why I gave you a hard time back then, right?” Because you saw my potential and knew immediately that I wasn’t happy with the portfolio I came up with. “Exactly.”
That was a professor I never had, but for my senior design show I was required to have him sign off on the pieces I would be using as my final portfolio. (Which, to this day, I’m still not really proud of.) I remember that conversation so clearly. He kept repeating the phrase, “Why did you choose that/this? Are you seriously sitting there and telling me with full confidence that you’re happy with this?”
No. I wasn’t.
There was another professor who had a big hand in that. All I cared about was getting the yearbook done. I refused to quit even though I was going through hell; behind his closed office doors I was told that my talent was worthless (because he had no hand in it), I clearly had no real education (that he approved of) on the subjects I had devoted my life to, and I was told my traditions and standards were to be set aside for new ones (that he started). In front of my staff, I was praised and elevated, which resulted in conflict on all sides. I was stressed beyond belief, which meant I never wanted to eat. When I did, it was only enough to make sure I didn’t pass out when I went to the gym five times a week for sometimes two hours at a time. There was one day I left my office hours so angry that the first thing I did was head to the store to grab a bottle of wine, stick a straw in it, and drink. I was miserable. I looked fantastic because of how much I had been working out, but I felt awful every day.
I believe in the power of story. As much as photography is my life, story is even more so. There wouldn’t be much point to what I produce with a camera if I didn’t have a story to tell. I’ve actually brought this particular story up a few times in recent months, with significant people at my alma mater, because I’ve been lucky enough to recruit for the Graphic Design (Architecture, Photography and Visual Art) departments. Someone asked me if I would ever try to recruit for the school as a whole.
You have to believe in the whole institution, I don’t.
All he cared about was winning awards. All he cared about was beating Biola and having a program comparable to theirs. All I was told was, “it’s his first year here, he’s still adjusting, it’ll get better.” It didn’t. It only got worse. I cry easily, I know it. But I never cried in yearbook until he berated me to the point of total breakdown. In front of my staff. I think this happened five times. My senior year of college was when I started to do breathing exercises to calm down and they never worked.
I went to a college fair and had a student ask me if we had and what our journalism program was like. Not as good as Biola’s, you should go ask them about it, their table is right over there. I didn’t even feel bad telling my professors and the dean and his secretary I did that. They all had a knowing expression and said they didn’t blame me. They know my senior year and thank God and all the heavens they loved me through it.
I’m seeing so many of my friends and my brother go through the motions of graduating and I’m so envious. Especially of the artists who are putting on such amazing displays of their hard work. Last year was the same, but I still didn’t have this story right now, today, to tell and explain how hard that year has been redeemed.
What did I have to show for from my senior year? A totally wounded spirit and a shitty portfolio. I moped around my house because I still couldn’t fully make my parents hear me when I would tell them about what had gone on, was frustrated when my parents wanted me to find a job right out of college, even more frustrated by how much I flopped in my creativity. It was finally when she sent me a text message saying, “things have gotten worse, we need you to write a letter to the dean” that my dad said, “wait, was it really that bad?” It was when I wrote that letter (five pages, single spaced, 11pt font) that my life took a turn for the better. I got a job. A yearbook job.
At the end of my interview he said, “You seem like such a bright, talented, intelligent, and well spoken young woman. How is it that no one has taken you off the market and given you a job? Is it really that hard to find something out in California?”
They all praised me. They all couldn’t believe my hell. I was incredibly loved through it and given the opportunity of a lifetime. Living in North Carolina was exactly what my soul needed and I think in some weird way they knew that. I think in another way, they knew my heart couldn’t be swayed for long from my true love. He said, “why aren’t you pursuing photography? We both know it’s what you really want, right? Why are you forcing yourself to do anything else?” So I walked away and haven’t looked back.
“You are still shooting, right!? Just making sure…” he said when I mentioned I got my job back at the mall, “you’re too good to not be doing this full time.” He’s a photographer from the Midwest (or, as he calls it, the ass-crack of America) that I greatly respect. “You put the work in and did what it took to become a great photographer. And you have been blessed for that! You have come a long way and done so much!” He said after telling me about the Italian beauty he met in Thailand, after I told him how proud I was of him.
They say that you can be told a thousand times that you did something well, but the one person who tells you you’re worthless is what sticks with you.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Bull shit.
I said it a few weeks ago, words have power. The last two years have been full of Jesus sending me people who know the words I need to hear. It’s humbling, and I’m honored. I just moved my office into my bedroom, something woke up in me and decided that it was time to really REALLY do this thing. And it starts with the first and only piece of furniture that I own and assembled with few fingernail casualties and shouted profanities.
I hope you read this and know I want it to be my thanks to the men who have only listened, encouraged, given tough love, and who have known the difference between being genuine in all of that and how they could use it for destruction.
You are all da real MVP, and I love you dearly for it.
Disclaimer: women are cool, too. However, the women weren’t the ones who were the problem in the first place. They did a lot to help, but it needed to be the men. And they delivered, tenfold.