“Does Callie embellish?” This is a question my husband was asked at a party one evening after I told a story. The person leaned toward him, and nudged him in the side, real chummy-like. Jesse told me about it on the way home.
“And what’d you say?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I wondered if the man I’d known since I was 18 knew.
“I said, ‘Nope. It all happens,’” he said, taking my hand.
“Good man,” I said.
I rolled down the car window and stuck my phone outside. We were on River Road, my favorite road in the DMV. It follows the Potomac River with views of Georgetown and the National monuments. I was trying to get a picture of the Capitol. It looked so pretty that night. Every shot I took was blurry; like someone hadn’t let the film develop and rubbed his sweater sleeve across it.
“I can slow down,” Jesse said. “Or, stop. There’s plenty of places to stop.”
“Nah,” I said, thumbing through what I’d taken. The Capitol looked like it was being blown away, or shoved by the night sky, or mid-twirl, dancing at a gala on a Saturday evening.
I don’t embellish, but I’m fascinated with what I can do with the truth. Sure, there’s bound to be a story behind a still, clear picture of the Capitol, but why not see what there is to be done with blurred lines?
My oldest daughter, Hadley, recently had a photography assignment in which she needed to take several pictures: a landscape, a selfie, an action shot, etc. We walked around Ann Arbor, where we are now living, and Hadley took a close up of her stacks of French toast at The Broken Egg, drizzled with syrup and pats of butter melting over powdered sugar. She turned the dial on the lens and stood on Main Street as the shutter clicked quickly and she captured a long shot of the different colored storefronts. “I hadn’t noticed all those colors,” I said as I pointed to the reds and blues and pinks.
We went into Literati, a bookstore on Fourth and Washington. Hadley likes the black and white tile floor in the front part of the store and wanted to get a photo of it. As she adjusted her camera, Harper, my youngest daughter, made her way to the Children’s Section, sat down on a weathered green chair next to a table with a game of Scrabble on it, and began reading a book.
It was fun watching Hadley take pictures, so I pulled my phone out and took a photo of her.
I love how she’s looking at the camera, and adjusting the lens to get the shot she wants. I wanted to capture her profile and the look on her face; not so much of determination, but interest. I like watching my kids be interested in something, and I wonder what they’re thinking.
I put my phone in my wallet and looked at Harper. She was deep in a book, touching each finger to her thumb as she read. It’s what she does when she’s listening, or concentrating. It’s what I used to do, and actually still do, particularly when I can’t quite get at what I’m thinking about. “Nervous energy,” “fidgeting,” and “anxious,” are all words that have been used to describe this behavior for both Harper and myself. I find them negative. I don’t feel anxious or nervous when I’m lost in a story or trying to find words for my own. I’m quite happy. I believe Harper is, too. Happy looks different on everyone, I suppose. Happy isn’t always how one pictures it.
I found Jesse in fiction and peeked at what he was reading. A classic. He usually goes for the classics.
“Hey,” he said, closing the book.
“This is what I want to do,” I said.
Jesse put the book back and looked at me. He and I have been having the, “What am I going to do with my life,” discussion lately. I have it every few years.
“I want to find stories,” I said and he raised his eyebrows. Jesse has a beautiful, poetic mind, but it’s a mind that does its best work based on specific details and facts.
“I want to read books and write about them,” I tried again. “I want to write books. I want to be in all these magazines,” I said pointing to the shelf of literary magazines behind me. I linked my arm in his and whispered, “I’m happy here.” I meant the bookstore, and being surrounded by stories, but I also meant Ann Arbor. I love this town. I want to find stories here.
“We’ll figure it out,” Jesse said. I nodded and twiddled my fingers in my pocket, tapping each one on my thumb, over and over again.
“I’m ready,” Hadley said, walking up to the two of us. “Museum?” she asked. She thought there would be some great photograph opportunities at the Children’s Museum around the corner.
“I’ll get Harper,” I said.
The four of us left the bookstore and walked down the street to the museum. Harper skipped along and told me about the book she’d been reading as we held hands, and Hadley walked quickly ahead, the camera bouncing slightly against her tummy. She put one hand on the camera to steady it, and opened the museum door for us. We walked in, on the lookout for more stories.
Want to find a story behind a picture? Here’s a worksheet to help you get started. The idea is to not just tell what’s in the picture, but what’s not in the picture. Don’t worry if you think what you have isn’t good or perfect. Try not to be concerned if the memory you find isn’t a happy or even exciting one. Remember, your assignment is to see what you can do with the truth you are given.