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“There are days that must happen to you.” – Walt Whitman “Song of the Open Road”
If I had known as a teenager that picture days would become a bizarre and beautiful display of teen angst and hope, maybe I’d have liked them better. Or maybe part of this rite of passage is not fully appreciating this often disliked time-tested tradition.
As a teacher, I have a lot of picture days and witness the ritual of this kind of record keeping. While having my own picture taken yearly, accompanied with the nostalgic bad lighting and faded canvas background (thankfully the barely blue cloud-like colors have been replaced with solid white) may make for a brutal display of yearly age, it also has me less concerned with my own perception of self, and more in awe of the state of teens. The state of humans. The state of us all.
It is as Whitman says, “…of myself forever reproaching myself.”
Reading this month’s journal interview, poetry and prose selections at the beginning of a season and the beginning of a school year – of all things new and old – brought lines of Whitman to mind, reminding of self discovery through the everyday. I think when writing brings forth other lines of poetry and writing, you know it’s truly rooted and great.
Walking down the hall with hundreds of high school students one may encounter: a variety of smells that range from the sentimental mix of crayons and soap, to a combination of McDonald’s and cheap cologne. Add in a bit of chaos, ample evidence of phone attachment, a rainbow assortment of hair colors, some shoving, kind door openers, and the surprise (to some) that 90s style is quickly creeping back (or has fully arrived). Nobody told me as a teacher I’d still be trying to figure out life alongside my students. I must have thought by the time we’d be in charge of other humans, we’d have adulting figured out. But this potpourri of people and sites echoes to larger questions and important stories.
These snapshot moments on picture day remind how a picture of a face I see almost daily makes me have a moment of stillness for the people they are. It’s fleeting but sure. For whatever reason, when I look at their photo ID cards I’m reminded of the depth of untold stories. They are intricate. I like picture day because I see faces on a card that much like the dramatic carpe diem scene in Dead Poet’s Society, figuratively yell-whispers, look at me! But not too closely. But here’s the thing – the students immediately receive their photo ID and sigh. Maybe an eye roll or two, but almost always they’re met with their own eyes staring back at them as they look on with dissatisfaction. No filters, just them in poor lighting being asked to hold their heads at weird angles. And they’re so right and so inaccurate all at the same time.
This haunted place of familiarity is all too true to what I did on picture day as a teen too.
Maybe all of this is to say that these brief imperfect moments of time make us stop. It can be an exercise in acceptance and simultaneous empowering dismissal. Maybe it’s school picture day, or standing still in a grocery store line when you’re asked to look at someone, or reading someone’s words to try and capture these fleeting ghosts. Oddly, seeing their pictures and saying they’re silly and beautiful and perfectly lovely helps me accept and heal my own insecure, fine, mediocre feeling teenage self, and even be glad for it.
I couldn’t help but connect these observations when reading the pieces this month. Some are archived selections that hold ideas and words we wanted to revisit in this, the beginning a new season. All have currents of beautiful human truths and self-discovery described in understated everyday experiences. Allegories of life that if examined or simply acknowledged breathe stillness, peace, and joy.
Journal Prose Editor
Interview with Featured Writer, Rachel Hunt Steenblik by Sandra Clark Jergensen
Visual Arts: Featured Artist Aimee Bonham – Artist’s Statement