Giving Thanks

Most of my Thanksgivings as an adult have been away from home; some motley crew assembled by one friend or another, a college cafeteria full of international exchange students, a boyfriend’s family with their baby chickens running in the yard. I love my family and I miss them, but I’ve come to feel that there’s something about being the Stranger that makes the spirit of Thanksgiving feel all the more potent. To usher one another in, to be ushered in; to receive, and to give, as family. (With who, again? “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch it the first time; what was your name?”)

We set a table with stolen linens in someone’s sister’s dining room to make it feel like home. On the television, the football game played. “Do you like sports?” the guy sitting on the couch asked. “I like the way they sound,” I said, drawing my feet into my chest like a kid. “Like my grandparents’ house after they tucked us in.”

“Glass of wine or vodka?” Marie asked.

“Woo hoo!” everyone replied.

Full album of Thanksgiving with Kent and Marie and friends: here.

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Northern Spark

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:

Get closer.

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.

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An Assorted Archive of Travel, Youth

I very nearly threw all of those envelopes of negatives directly into the trash.

They’d been crammed together like trash, separated from their prints and randomly crumpled in one bulging envelope. Resented as future trash, just another thing to keep track of until then. Even when I was using film, (ha what? I used film once?) I had never understood why the drug store gave me these damn things with my prints. Negatives! For what — pictures I’d taken as some goofball kid in high school, 4x6s I’d already carefully pasted into collages and scrapbooks?

That’s exactly what those photos were good for, I thought. Negatives are for Real Photographers. Negatives are for the diehards of technology, the chemists, the artists, the luddite sages.

But then I held one dented, tiger’s eye strip up to the light.

What! I’d forgotten about this one. And what’s this? I must have given that print away. Hey, I realized, I want another chance with these.

I got my first digital camera (1.3 megapixel, cutting edge!) second semester of my Freshman year in college, and it was around then I started getting interested in photography as a thing I wanted to get better at: being able to see the result immediately was huge in figuring out what worked, and instant gratification has a way of becoming addictive. Since then I’ve gone through a few desk top computers, a few external hard drives. In the processes a lot of those early digital photos were lost. Data got corrupted, I didn’t transfer something correctly: for the majority of them, I honestly don’t know what happened to them. Even when present those photos were always intangible, disappearing with the click of a power switch.

But these negatives, randomly jammed together with no indication of date or location, managed to survive those haphazard, careless years. Instead of throwing them in the trash, I could just put them all in a ziplock bag and mail them to a scanning service. Why not right?

And so, ladies and gentlemen, through the miracle of past technology meeting present, I give to you the fine results of my first photoshoot. (I’d like to say I took this around age eight, but I think it may have been more like thirteen.)

Full album of random life experiences, age 16-19: here.

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On Which Musical Genre Should We Build This City?

We were standing at the top of the Foshay Tower when it hit me. Josh was pointing at the liquor store they had just stopped at the other day, Joanna at her favorite pizza place. The city teetered below us, sparkling like a giant pinball machine, and I thought: “I know who owns that place. My friend hosts that show. I went to a talk last week, and met the people behind that event, asked them questions.”

My generation is no longer our cities’ doe-eyed, shuttled participants. We’re starting to reach the age that grants us the possibility to create these places. We’re developing the next thing you attend. We’re making and opening and directing and managing, and this involvement, this ability to be involved, may truly connect us to a sense of home.

Full album from the Northern Spark Outdoor Arts Festival (first year): here.

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Inanimate Objects

Sometimes I think I need a cat. Or a dog. Or a roommate that’s around more than fifteen minutes a week.

“I just ordered a humidifier!” I instant-exclaimed to my long-distance boyfriend. “It is in the shape of a penguin! What’s its name?”

“Sterling arrived in the mail today!” I updated Janaka over the phone. “Let me read you the itemized selling points on his box, they’re great. I also took some pictures of him for my blog. Uh. I . . . take pictures . . . of my humidifier . . . for my website . . . ”

“Yeah!” he said. “COOL LIFE.”

“Cool life!”

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