Here I have a self-portrait I took in my bathroom last night. I had just gotten out of the bath where I tried, in vain, to read some of Susan Sontag’s early journals, and ended up looking at Twitter for the better part of ninety minutes instead. Deleting Instagram from my phone has only made me use Twitter more and I think it’s time to delete that from my phone too. In the background of the photograph is a long pamphlet of photographs of New York from the early and mid-20th century. 

This is one of my only non-flash Polaroids that is in focus. Tyler gave me the camera as a Christmas gift and it’s the perfect gift for me. I developed 3 rolls of 120 film as well, but the contact sheets I made are no indicator of the work’s quality. The manual settings on my Polaroid camera are magical but also a pain in my ass. The still life in my living room is out of focus because I wasn’t taking the aperture setting seriously, but it turns out a plastic camera can still record depth-of-field (and put things out of focus). That’s the case with a lot of the photos I’ve taken. All my Polaroids have come out a little yellowish. I think my apartment is more than a little yellowish. 

I’m looking at the camera this way because I like how I look getting out of the bath, characteristically. I make this face often in self-portraits. I like being in the bath, with just candles and a book, as I’ve done for years now. I like exiting my plane of existence and sweating too much and turning the lights on in a foggy bathroom, flushed, my mouth geranium. I told Nicole today that I don’t know whether or not I am working on self-portraiture, or trying to feel pretty. When it developed I felt about half as pretty as I thought I looked when I took the picture. If I had my druthers the camera would not have me positioned in two thirds of the frame, but I couldn’t see the frame before taking the picture. It takes a lot for me to feel like I look nice, or pretty, lately, and this is one of the only successes I’ve had with the Polaroid. I have been trying to look at myself more kindly lately. It is as much work as trying to focus the lens of a plastic camera. 

My dad said that I was struggling, offhandedly over the phone a couple of weeks ago. He wasn’t saying it to demean me, or discount my experiences- he meant that I’m struggling because I do not have a job I love (who does?) and because I don’t make a lot of money (again, who does?) and because I am still reckoning with supreme loss, even after what feels like long enough. (It is not long enough! That is the kicker about grief. It is never fully done with you, ever.) I only say that it feels like it has been long enough because I am sick of feeling like I am struggling. I don’t know how to deal with supreme loss except to pretend it’s not happening, until it all comes crashing down on me, along with feelings of guilt and inability and inferiority and other negative shit. I feel unable to access the grief and sadness I am harboring, unless I let it come back to me in its own way. I am having such a hard time self-motivating, knowing what the right thing to do is, because I had the immense luck to have a mother who believed in me, who is now gone. I don’t know how to harness that self-confidence, organically, and I get very sad when I consider that absence. What I was told was grief is supposed to get better and easier, with the passage of time, and maybe that expectation is what has made it so disappointing that it feels like it’s only gotten harder. I’m sure I also compound that with a hefty amount of feeling like I am fucking up grieving (I know I’m not), which makes it that much harder to push past. 

But: it isn’t impossible. I asked friends to send me writing prompts because I am trying to ham-fist my way back into productivity. Today I chipped away at the tip of the iceberg of writing down all my job responsibilities in one place, so that when I start applying to other jobs I will have something to hand off to my successor. I am looking at other jobs. I am logging every single thing I eat, so that when I (inevitably) have another gastritis flare-up, I can show my doctors, look, I’m not eating (total) garbage, please take my symptoms seriously. I am going to yoga weekly. I have a new therapist who is great. I’m reading a lot of books. I’m writing, here and in a journal. I am doing a really good job of it, all things considered. This is why it does not look like I am struggling. 

At some point I want to point to the characters of my grief and blame them for tormenting me, months later, even though I know that my own self-doubt is more powerful than any outside influence. I want to be able to make some kind of work, writing or pictures, about this time in my life. I do not want to feel stifled or limited by my grief (see: posting a naked photo of myself on the internet) and I do not want to lapse into passivity. Today in yoga I reached up in a side-angle stretch and felt like I could grab the ceiling fixture, an orb as dull and yellow as the wall in this photograph. I want that sensation, but with the center of my creative process. I want to get out of the bath of my struggle, the January air making my skin real again. I want to break the hemiseal and heave into the pulp of it all with my whole body, like a blood orange in August. 

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