As you may or may not have heard, I recently lost all of my photo albums from middle school, high school, and college. (Read more about that here.) After my initial outrage and devastation, I embarked on a project. I thought it might soothe my heartache if I created something new instead of dwelling on the loss.
Over the past few weeks, not only have friends been supplying me with photos from 1992 – 2004 (keep ’em coming, people!), but I have been writing detailed descriptions of some of the photos I remember best. These descriptions often turn into vignettes that I end up rather liking. I can even imagine using some of them for stories or essays one day.
And not only that, I’ve given some of the descriptive vignettes to artists of all sorts (my brother, some friends, two high school girls from India), and they are going to draw/paint/create new pictures from my words. I hope to write more vignettes and get more artists involved. I’m very excited to see how these recreated images turn out!
This project is turning out to be a very good writing exercise and creative venture. In trying to precisely describe faces and settings, I am flexing my ability to paint pictures with words. And in writing the stories that accompany the photos, I’m accessing memories and emotions that might be helpful in my writing at large.
I never would have done this if I hadn’t lost my photos, but it occurs to me that anyone can do this, without having to lose their treasured possessions. Either reach back in your memory and write about photos you particularly remember, or, flip through your old photo albums (feel lucky you still have them) and write about the memories those old photos hold.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to recreate an image for me, let me know! I have enough for everyone! And for now, I thought I’d share below one of the vignettes. Enjoy!
“The LA River” Long Beach, CA, Summer 2001
This is a picture of me from the year I lived in Los Angeles…
To make a long story short, I dropped out of college after my freshman year and drove across the country by myself, from Virginia to Los Angles. I was nineteen years old, and I wanted to be an actress. I worked as an extra for movies and television shows and spent my free time mailing headshots to casting directors.
I lived in a run-down area of North Long Beach, near where the 710 and 91 Freeways intersect. When I first moved into my apartment, I was afraid to take walks in my neighborhood because of the very-real gangs and the Hispanic men who stood around in the liquor store parking lot, shirtless and cat-calling. It was only half a mile to the infamous Compton, and at night my roommate and I heard sirens on the street and the whir of news helicopters overhead.
But, after a while, I started taking daytime walks and exploring my surroundings. I remember looking at the map and seeing that I lived only a few blocks from the Los Angeles River. In fact, I noticed, there was a park nearby that ran alongside the river. That sounds pretty, I thought. I decided to go check it out.
When I got there, I realized the “Los Angeles River” was not the green oasis I had been imagining, but a large, concrete drainage basin filled with sluggish brown water and floating trash. I was disappointed, but even so, the park became one of my favorite walking destinations. When my boyfriend, Jason, moved out to L.A. to live with me, we walked together to the park alongside the river.
So this photograph I’m remembering, it must have been taken by Jason. I don’t remember buying a little kick scooter, but apparently we did, because I have one in the picture.
It must have been summer time. I’m wearing a pair of dark, denim overall shorts with a red tank top underneath and black flip-flops. My legs are long and tan, and my dark, straight hair is down at my shoulders. The wind is blowing it back from my face in a lovely sort of way.
I’m standing on the concrete bank of the Los Angeles River with one foot on the scooter, my hands gripping the handlebars. Below me is the dismal-looking water, and in the distance are the crisscrossing freeway bridges. The sky is a washed-out, smoggy gray. In fact, I am the only thing colorful about the photograph. The rest of my surroundings are muted grays and browns: the sky, the water, the concrete.
My cheeks are flushed, and I think I’m smiling. Back then my face was chubbier than it is now, but I was thin everywhere else. I was always trying to skip meals and cut calories. I was told by my acting teacher that I wasn’t skinny enough. I was told by casting directors that I wasn’t “hot” enough. This was part of the reason why, eventually, I decided to move back to Virginia. I missed school, and I didn’t want to spend the cutest years of my life being told I wasn’t cute enough.
When this picture was taken, I had already made the decision to go back. Maybe that’s why my face holds a strange mixture of happiness and disappointment. Los Angeles hadn’t turned out the way I’d expected, but I’d learned something important about myself.
In a way, I look like I’m about to take off on the scooter and follow the river all the way back home.