It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I finally get it, the time my Aunt Lesa said she’d redo her thirties in a heartbeat, but had zero desire to do over her twenties. Life is good, so good. But it is so incredibly hard at the same damn time.
I graduated from art school during an Ohio hurricane: cold, windy, sideways rain and no sight of the sun. I had a panic attack as the ceremony was ending and ran the eight blocks down Broad Street (in cap, gown and heels) to the school that had just kicked me out of its doors. I begged my parents to drive me home. Once we got there I climbed under the covers of my childhood bed where I cried myself to sleep.
Everyone I talked to said the first year out of art school would be hell; they were not wrong and I truly appreciate that they did not sugarcoat this reality. I was homeless for a few months, doing a brief stint on the wrong end of town in an apartment complex with a hallway that perpetually smelled of rabbit feces and weed. One night I ate half of a cucumber for dinner, the next a steak. There were times I had cents (as in less than a dollar) to my name and yet somehow I managed to travel across the country: Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Illinois, Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania. I worked five part-time jobs, more often than not over twelve hour days, until October when I traded two of those part time jobs for a full-time one. I was a cheapskate who bought a seventy-five dollar mattress online that was about as comfortable as a cardboard box. On a Sunday in September I began paying back my student loans, then my roommate and I declared that every Sunday thereafter we would spend drinking mimosas (which never actually happened).
This past year I was a real adult. No one could decide things for me, I said fuck more, prayed less and regretted both. I had to buy a shower curtain and baking sheet, I learned how to boil asparagus and I threw up in a Wal-Mart and Bob Evans parking lot (consecutive Sundays). Bad choices held consequences that I accepted, good choices rewarded me with pride and incredible opportunities. I was the girl walking through Kroger with the twenty-two-pound bag of cat food, special crystal cat litter and a case of Old Milwaukee Light (because that’s the only way you can buy it here in Columbus). When I turned twenty-two I drank twelve beers on the Sandusky River and threw up the next morning on a dead caterpillar being carried up the riverbank by a colony of ants. It was a modern day Walden – beautiful yet tragic.
One month I paid my rent, bills, student loans, put money into my savings and somehow managed to have leftover cash so I developed a roll of film and bought a new yellow flannel. I wore that flannel to work the following Monday and basked in the glow of accomplishment all day. A week later, in that same flannel, a man dropped his drawers across the creek from me in the woods. It was the fourth time I have been in a situation involving cops, but the first where there was any real danger. Some months later, in January at a work event, a man with a large scar running diagonally across his face asked me if I were for sale then proceeded to stalk me throughout our store. It took too long for somebody to intervene, eventually locking me away in the bathroom.
“Next time you have to tell someone”, he was clearly agitated.
“I did tell someone; I told you”.
“Well you didn’t look scared; I thought you were fine”.
I was an objectified princess, my tower a porcelain throne.
We threw a party, my roommate and I, because it was winter and we were depressed. An hour before it began the chain to the toilet handle broke. I made a sign with a black Copic marker on lined paper, attaching it above the tank with Gaffers Tape. A partygoer haphazardly fixed the loo by tying a tampon to twine and then to the chain as a makeshift handle. Our plumbing issues behind us, we stood in the kitchen pounding homemade wine when suddenly it began to rain down from the ceiling above. An uncoordinated mob tripped up the stairs to the bathroom to find water running into an overflowing sink. The whole place was sticky with mud, liquor and toilet water. I spent that Sunday straddling the toilet with a handsaw removing the stripped plastic bolt from the broken handle. Pride flowed through me when I flushed the functioning tank. We cleaned the floors but ignored the water damage to the ceiling. Each time I bathe I fear crashing through the tiles and plunging into the kitchen below. It wasn’t until a party in April (the Lynyrd Skynyrd party) that the sink was fixed. A frustrated friend pulled a huge wad of hair from the drain, and immediately after doing so another ran straight through the cupboard door knocking it clear off its hinges. This is when I realized that our home refused to function properly, if something was fixed something else would be broken.
Many of my friends left the city immediately after graduation forcing me out of my shell to meet new people, people I somehow managed to avoid up until this past summer. These new friends introduced me to new music, dragging me along to shows in basements of houses I had spent the last five years oblivious to. I also learned that Columbus has a pretty good comedy scene and spent more time then I had ever imagined laughing my ass off at stand up shows. These new friends met my old friends and suddenly I found myself surrounded by the most disparate, supportive, passionate, group of humans imaginable. This ragtag team got together at the end of April to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, drink beer and converse in what would turn out to be the second most bizarre party we held on 19th Avenue.
I made art. Not at first, but eventually. That’s been the hardest thing post grad – staying inspired. My advice? Do not cut yourself off from other artists after graduation. Fortunately, I had enough insight to stay in the city (despite my soul craving mountain streams and fresh country air). Columbus has kept me tied to creatives: I worked at my alma mater until I began working at an upscale junk shop and I lived with my closest photographer friend. These things have led to meaningful conversations which in turn have led to thoughtful making. The Honeybee Squad played a huge role in my sanity as well this past year: six female artists with whom I collaborated and commiserated. We created a separate blog called The Hive where we write of travel, adventure and life as female photographers. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly encourage that you do.
That first summer was a lot of mindless shooting, but eventually, I was led to Vacationland, the book that led to my acceptance into University of Arizona’s MFA program where I will begin studying come August. In less than three months I will pack up all of my belongings and my cat into a U-Haul and drive thirty hours south-west into the blazing desert sun. One of the department heads called me as I was trading one job for the next to deliver the news.
“Is this a good time to talk”, she asked.
“Yes”, I lied as I passed my debit card through the car window to pay for some french fries, french fries that I never ended up eating because I was too excited to stomach them.
It has been difficult, this first year out (my anxiety at an all time high and my already non-existent fingernails at an all time low), but it has surprised me in so many wonderful, unexpected ways. How? I said yes to opportunity, I didn’t fear rejection (which trust me I have received plenty of) and I didn’t expect to be living in the lap of luxury. I slept on couches, in tree houses and tents, skipped meals so that my cats could eat and sacrificed the latest and greatest in order to develop rolls of film. One morning I awoke, surrounded by some of my favorite people, in a tent buried under a thick blanket of snow halfway up the side of a mountain; I was happy. My first year as a ‘real adult’ has been unconventional, a precursor to what I assume will be the rest of my life. I will not complain about it though and I wouldn’t trade a single experience for a shot at normalcy – I want so much more from this life than that. To the class of 2017, congratulations on this incredible achievement. To my fellow alumns, congratulations on making it through this insane, uncharted, first year of life!