It was 2 in the morning and I had been shooting the festival for four hours.
It was all lovely and exactly what I wanted to be doing, what I couldn’t believe I’d had the dumb luck to be paid to be doing — but I couldn’t help but compare this experience to last year’s. I’d shot that one just for fun, following my own whims and that of my friends, all of us drunk on free will, late hours, strangers and discovery, strange interactive art and glowing lights along the Mississippi. This year I had been hired. My shifts were scheduled for quieter areas; taking pictures of children catching insects near glowing lights, the families laying on the floor of the Weisman under a tent projecting constellations. I was incredibly happy to be doing it for work, but it was, by nature, work. Somewhere, I knew, there was also revelry; the people I loved reaching out with glass jars and catching their own curiosities, marveling at the strange and beautiful. Christ, I thought, they were probably dancing somewhere. Always with the incredibly enthusiastic dancing!
Every now and then I got a text message. “We’ve decided to start a boy band! It will be called Major Movement. Your friend Joanna is here too by the way.”
Things were slowing down further. One of the booths I’d been told to shoot had shut down early; I tried to grab some hasty pictures as they disassembled, but nothing I was doing seemed to quite capture much of anything. Some people standing around, some cinderblocks, all shadows. Get in the light, won’t you, I thought. Somebody, won’t somebody gravitate toward that lamp. My Keds were scraping the skin off my heels. I was hungry, maybe, thirsty, maybe. Bodily needs become mysterious at 2 in the morning.
I decided I needed to take a break, regroup my own scattered thoughts. I took the elevator to my car in the parking lot and I just sat in there alone. I chugged warm water from a Nalgene, blandly gnawed on a block of cheddar I’d packed in a cooler. I slumped forward and let my head fall onto the steering wheel.
“Get it together, Mathiowetz!” I told the dashboard.
I remembered my new mantra.
If it’s not working, move until it is.
And my old:
Never fails to improve most things. Most of the time it will make them entirely exciting and worthwhile.
Okay, I repeated, okay.
When I reentered the Weisman, everything had changed.
A crowd — a massive crowd, my age and younger, all lace tights and thick framed glasses — had gathered and filled the hallway and galleries, and they continued to flow in, spilling from the elevator in bursts of laughter and squeaking sneakers. A garbled “what the . . .?” had just begun to pass my lips when the first note suddenly rang out from an electric guitar. I turned the corner.
After the first set I pushed myself up from the floor, where I’d taken pictures of tamborines being thrown, college kids flinging their arms around in pure joy, the guitarist playing from the window ledge, etc etc. I had been lost in the whole thing, completely immersed, it was everywhere I wanted to be pointing that camera. I was happy. More than happy; I was revived, competent, necessary. This is where I would have chosen to be, of anywhere, I thought. I pushed through the crowd, passed the donut stand, and leaned against the wall for a regrouping of an entirely different nature; it was time to step back, lose a little focus, see the forest again. Right! Settle down! What next, for now? Where to?
And that’s the moment I first saw you across the room, eagerly pushing through the crowd to reach me.
The camera in my head exchanged its wide-angle for a fisheye. Everyone else was abstracted, pushed to the side, and all that existed in the crowd was your giant grin. It’s a particular one, that always disarms me. It seems to exclaim, you! You you you you!
I would take pictures all night, and these few minutes, undocumented, is how I remember it. Your hands landed on my shoulders. People scattered around us like bowling pins. “Hey!” you said.
We stood there in the middle of it all. Your hands on my shoulders, that grin on your face, eager eyes searching uncertainly into mine. (You, right? You.) “Oh!” I finally remembered to say. “Hello! Hi.”
Somewhere, the band picked back up. I had to go to finish this up, and I did, somehow, I turned and left you with little fanfare. As if it had been any other greeting, any other person I knew. As if I didn’t always know exactly when you entered a room.