I was lucky to never lose my first true love. And to be able to share it later, with a more mature love.
While our 1960s Ford Country Squire wagon covered hundreds of interstate miles crossing the country, east to west—my younger sisters and brother safely tucked in the wayback with my father focused and steadfast at the wheel, my mother the continuing peacekeeper and crafts distributor—my constant companion was my book. Any book. It didn’t matter, though I did prefer Nancy Drew mysteries and Walter Farley sagas about gifted underdog thoroughbreds. Passing by miles of stunning scenic beauty, motels with beckoning swimming pools, shady rest stops, gaudy tourist attractions and astonishing natural wonders, I was focused only on one thing: my book.
My mother frequently exhorted me to “put down that book and look out the window, Janet.” To no avail. What I was reading was always more absorbing than anything that we were passing by, forever, missed and never to be seen again. At wit’s end, my mother resorted to a command I relentlessly ignored:
“Get your nose out of that book and look around!”
I think we passed by the Grand Canyon on one of those trips, while my mother (increasingly frustrated), demanded I look up to see what I was missing, but I’m not sure. I don’t really remember; I was reading.
When I wasn’t reading, I was writing, and drawing. Both came as naturally as reading, and perhaps were even inspired by my reading. They seemed so connected to reading, as though all were one. But car trips were for reading: neither writing nor drawing were much good in a speeding station wagon.
Had my parents gifted me with a camera then, instead of a bounty of books (a debt of gratitude I wish now that I could convey to them in person), things might have gone differently on our family travels. Because once I discovered my next love, photography (not until my post-college years), road trips were no longer for reading while driving. They were for watching every inch of the passing scene, diagnosing the light on the potential subjects, asking myself unanswerable questions about them, and stopping whenever, wherever, to shoot whatever was there.
But my love of reading remains my sweet, first, true love, and writing comes hard and fast on its heels, its inseparable twin. I can’t read anything for long without wanting to put my own words down next. Making photographs, my later, more mature love, complements my experiences as a way of capturing first, then making sense of things later (usually in written form, sometimes as paintings, like Beautiful That Afternoon—a scene I missed as a child, and was able to paint as a wiser adult). They are all intertwined like a tangle of sticky spaghetti, and no one strand could be extracted without breaking up the other strands. ♣