Let’s be honest: 2016 recaps have been bleak, and I’m sure nobody wants to read another op-ed about how Trump is a harbinger of the apocalypse. We’ve figured that out by now, so instead, I’m going to be positive for a minute. 2016 has been secured in our collective conscience as a total disaster, but at least it was an exciting disaster. Also, 2016 contained a whole lot of personal firsts. Overall it was a really good year for me, at least on a personal level (I don’t have many positive things to say about the state of the world, though).
I graduated college this year. It’s funny being at a grad school surrounded by people, both fellow grad students and undergrads in the SACI study-abroad program, who are coming from prestigious state schools and private arts colleges. Then I get to sit them down and tell them about my weird little college, which is famous for its competitive musical theater and that one semester where we had a cat serial killer. It's home to exactly one bar, one coffee shop, zero Taco Bells (to the horror of every college student ever), and a lot of hippies. Yes, Alabama has hippies, and they all live in Montevallo. They're mainly found in the woods, and they surface only to play experimental music at Eclipse on open mic night or to invite you to the commune they want to start. Liberal arts educations at work! (But really, though: Montevallo, I love you, and I'm damn proud to be an alum, even though you're probably the strangest college in the south. I have SO many stories...)
I learned how to make a life in a foreign city. It’s interesting being in a place where everything is similar enough to be familiar, but at the same time, certain routines and customs are just different enough to lead to confusion. Oftentimes the differences are subtle enough to fly under the radar until they come up in a spectacular and disastrous way. For instance, it turns out that I had no idea how to navigate the world of Italian cell phone plans, or the Italian medical system, or even how to grocery shop (weigh your own produce and don’t you dare touch anything at the market!). There have been plenty of embarrassing language snafus, like the time I accidentally robbed a pharmacy after a miscommunication gone horribly wrong. I’ve made more than a few accidental cultural faux-pases, but believe it or not, the wackiness of it all has become routine. Italy is incredible, and these experiences build character… plus, I’m learning.
I fell in love with film photography at grad school (and I also fell in love with my grad school in general- I could write a novel about how much I've loved my experience at SACI thus far). That being said, the learning experience has been a comedy of errors. Where to start? I loaded my second roll of 35mm film improperly and didn’t realize it until all of the developed negatives were blank. I somehow managed to completely unscrew the rewind knob of my professor’s first-ever camera, resulting in me accidentally sacrificing an important screw to the cracks of the Santa Croce cobblestone. Yes, I still have a mild anxiety attack when I think about that. I also thought I broke our school’s expensive Hasselblad when I really had just forgotten to properly wind the film at the beginning of the roll. I’m still spending upwards of 4 hours on individual prints to get them exactly how I want them. Again, I’m learning, and it feels like I’m discovering an entirely new realm of photography that was previously off-limits. Having been raised as a product of the digital age, I never gave film much stock, partly because I was intimidated. Now, though, I’m a firm believer that anyone who is serious about photography should know their way around a darkroom because analog photography requires more thought and intentionality. Don’t tell that to my 17-year-old self, though. She would be so annoyed. Young photographers, if you are reading this, please don’t make my mistakes. Get yourself a 35mm camera and really learn how to use it before you go to grad school and reconsider everything you thought to be true about photography.
I visited two new countries, Portugal and Croatia. The Croatia trip was beautiful, but (much like the year 2016), it was also a bit of a disaster. Oh, and I went to a nude beach while I was there and… well, that one didn’t end well. I also visited new places in Italy: Arezzo, Bologna, Turin, Cortona, Parma, and Fontanellato.
Those are all pretty major life events, but I’d like to think I got out of my comfort zone in some smaller ways as well. I went to New York City for the first time as an adult, for example. After graduation, I went on a trip with my Montevallo art family and it was… well, it was an adventure. My favorite part was the night we went dancing at a Bulgarian disco that my photography mentor used to frequent (this sounds insane, but if you knew my her, it would make total sense). This is the perfect anecdote to describe just how wonderfully strange Montevallo was. How many professors bring their ex-students to a Bulgarian disco, immediately find themselves a strapping 20-something stranger, and then dance the night away doing choreographed-looking stunts as her students look on in awe? I should also mention that my professor (who is also one of the most genuinely good-hearted and exciting people I know) gave us one warning before we went. That warning was simple: “If an Eastern European man asks you anything, the answer is NO.” It turned out to be pretty solid advice.
In March I went to New Orleans with my boyfriend, which was the first time I’d gone on a trip with a romantic partner . While we’re on the subject of strange places I’ve danced at in 2016, my boyfriend’s local friend gave us a memorable invitation. It went something like this: “There’s this cool bar close by with a great band playing tonight. Someone just got murdered there. Wanna go?” What a sell. Obviously we said yes, had a great time, did not die, and I still affectionately reference Murder Bar to this day. No, it’s not actually called Murder Bar, but have no idea what the real name is (just like I have no idea what the proper name of the Bulgarian disco is). Even if I could remember, I’d still probably call it Murder Bar. I’m not sure which is more noteworthy: the traveling-as-a-couple thing, or the fact that can safely say that I’ve never danced at a murder bar prior to 2016.
I started a photo project, reconsidered it twice, and finally ended up with something to show at my end-of-semester SACI review that I didn’t hate. Before graduating Montevallo, I also put together a book for my capstone project, and I look at it whenever I feel homesick.
2016 was also a little sad. I said a lot of major goodbyes for the first time ever this year. I’ve never lived more than a six hour drive from my hometown before, and suddenly I have about 20 hours of travel separating me and my loved ones. I’m not the only one that left town, though; my best friends are scattered across the country now, and it’s a hard thing to adjust to because I’m so unfamiliar with that kind of distance. I went through my first-ever major breakup when I left in August, and it kind of happened in an airport security line. Not a recommended experience.
I also said goodbye to my two Florida jobs (Cocoa L. Photography and staff member/photographer for Gigi's Fab Kids), both of which I've had since the age of 16. I'm going to miss seeing my clients' kids grow, though, and I'm definitely going to miss chasing the Gigi's truck during the 4th of July parade with a camera in hand. Really, I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
Oh, and one more thing. I turned 22. Nobody sang that Taylor Swift song to me. I’m not a Taylor Swift fan, but I was still secretly a little disappointed. 2016: the year I found out birthdays get increasingly boring after you turn 21, started grad school, moved to Italy, made some questionable nightlife decisions, and realized that humanity is a lot more terrible than I previously assumed. Happy new year!
I'm going to close this post with a quote one of my professors posted on Facebook last night. In all seriousness, happy new year, everyone. Let's keep trying to do better this year.
Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded.
Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I asked [the influential microbiologist] Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.
John Steinbeck, January 1, 1941