This morning, over a lovely breakfast of granola and yogurt at a quintessential Portland coffee shop, my friend Christina pointed out that I have a problem. Looking down at my muted lime green (is there such a thing?) rain jacket, my muted lime green wallet, my muted lime green t-shirt, my muted lime green computer bag, and yes, even my muted lime green engagement ring (a yellow sapphire that turns green in the sun), I realized that she was probably right…
Christina and I met in 2003 during a semester-long graduate certificate program in Portland, Maine. We were both studying creative non-fiction writing at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies
, her seeking to understand life at a prison outside of the city and me focusing on how the last independent movie theater in southern Maine was surviving amongst the sea of multiplexes that was springing up at record rates.
Those short months in Maine were some of the best in my life. I was surrounded by the most dynamic, engaging, creative people I’d ever met. I was neck-deep in documentary writing, working at the intersection of storytelling and social change. My friends and I would spend hours at our little safe haven on Exchange Street, an old union-hall-turned-school-house in the center of the Old Port, talking and thinking about and experiencing what life as a writer/photographer/radio producer could be. And when I wasn’t working, I went hiking along the coast. I ate organic food. I practiced yoga. I ran. I learned to knit. I taste-tested frozen yogurt. I read good books. I attempted to like good beer.
Christina and our friend Mira stayed in Portland longer than I did, and when I went to visit them up there a year later, in the midst of my first semester of law school, a mini-life crisis ensued as I struggled to answer the question of why I’d abandoned my writing aspirations in favor of tax and property law and civil procedure. Four months, a brief school hiatus, and a three-week stint as a staff writer for a local newspaper later, I was back into the swing of law school life in Philadelphia, still with the lingering uncertainty of the path I’d chosen.
Now, five and a half years later (holy cow), I’m still good friends with half a dozen of my fellow Salties and peripherally in touch with a handful more. Most of them are scattered across the country, ardently pursuing careers in freelance writing, photography, radiomaking, and film. I’ve visited them in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Tennessee, California, and now Oregon, and I’ve watched in awe as they work to tell people’s stories.
I’ve struggled with this a bit as I’ve made more and more decisions in my own life, following one path and seemingly closing the door on others. But now, as I sit here in a different Portland coffee shop, attempting to get some work done and waiting for Christina to finish following her leads for the day, I’ve realized, maybe I’m doing the same thing.
Sure, I’ve chosen a little bit of a more routed course, chasing law school with a PhD in history, getting married and owning a house in my favorite Philadelphia neighborhood. But as I near the final chapter of my dissertation, I see I actually haven’t veered all that far from my lovely life in Maine. I still spend my days sitting in coffee shops, listening to chatter and crafting narratives. And while it might be a little bit more analytical than my documentary project on the sadly-defunct Movies on Exchange
, through my dissertation on intentional integration and racial justice, I’m still reaching for what I was reaching for five years ago – to speak in stories.
It’s a comforting realization.