In 2013, I met a woman at a friend’s birthday celebration on a Brooklyn rooftop. She was an amazing illustrator - smart, with a vibrant personality. She spoke her voice, and had strong opinions, but she wasn’t loud or boisterous. Her presence was calming. I only met her once, but we connected on Facebook shortly thereafter, and never spoke again. We moved forward with our lives as Facebook “friends” - you know the ones. And then, a year ago, during a bike ride with our mutual friend to Fort Tilden beach for a day of swimming and relaxing, I found out that this talented and bright woman had just died in a sudden and terrible accident. Like I said, I had only met her once, but my vision of her and the life she was creating come to mind so often, even now.
I was cleaning out an old email folder a few days ago, looking for some piece of information, and I came across the one and only message I had ever received from her. I had forgotten that it even existed. At the party I must have been telling her how I wanted to be a photographer, because her message to me said, “I looked through some of your landscape photographs on Facebook. They are beautiful!" Curious, I clicked on the links in her signature block - Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Behance. The message for all of them was the same: Sorry, this page is no longer available. I couldn’t help but feel saddened, to see firsthand that this digital life we place so much emphasis on is fleeting. It’s a shell. It will vanish once we are no longer physically present to keep up with it. But by no means does this signify that this woman is gone. I’m sure that her family and friends think about her every single day. I’m sure that they carry her spirit within their hearts - the memories, the words, the good and the bad. She lives on in the lives of those she touched, the ones who really knew her. Even in me, the one who didn’t know her at all.
And here I am still finding myself in an in-between state of mind after so much time has passed. Always having one foot facing in the direction of my dreams, the other afraid to leave the world I’ve grown accustomed to. I am under the impression that I cannot make a mistake - that the wrong choice will catapult me down a road of misery. But that is such a narrow-minded way of thinking. Nobody has ever been on a road where it was impossible to turn around, or diverge and go a different way. Or even keep on moving forward should it turn out to be the right way. I still speak about taking my photography to a professional level as if it might be the wrong decision. Why spend time worrying about that at all? I’m asking the wrong questions. Life is short. Will I regret taking this leap, even if it fails? I already know the answer. Will I regret not having tried if I waste any more time with the "what ifs" and uncertainty of what lies ahead? I know that answer too.
I met a new friend recently, a handful of years younger than myself, and she’s an incredible artist (an illustrator, actually) contemplating life and how to stay humble and true to self when one’s passion becomes her livelihood. I spoke the same words I always do - “Yes, me too. I often wonder, if I did photography for money would I even enjoy it anymore?" Well, why not continue wondering, but try it still? Why not walk down that road and see where it leads. If there are lessons to be learned, now’s the time. Now is the time. So moving forward, my advice to anyone (including myself) letting fear of the unknown stand in the way of pursuing her dreams, is this:
Do anything and do everything. Do not believe that the first decision you make has to be the right one. Live a messy life, making all the mistakes, and learn from them. Don’t think too hard about it, because you already know the way.
**In memory of an angel, Arlene Ellis, whom I did not know, but wish I did. One link in her email was still working.