I found myself drawn to making images of overgrown, neglected homes.
My eyes clung to the older ones stuck somewhere they didn’t seem to belong.
Swallowed in vines and bushes – mummified and cocooned. I purged a nagging desire by photographing these scenes, sometimes several times with different films and cameras.
Maybe it was the way they all seemed to be uniquely preserved, left alone by people. Was this a punishment for being where they’ve always been or was it a prize? Perhaps they’d won the test of time by becoming a living example of it.
Eventually these dwellings transform into that place they sit instead of just existing in it, leaving viewers with a contradiction: a symbol of permanence and the inevitable end. People passing through once don’t see the progression of a house emptying, people there one day and gone the next. They can’t know when it was boarded up. Visitors miss out on bearing witness to the daily transformation, so subtle that it seems like everything is staying the same.
I live in a small town.
There are few people here who look like me or my son, especially compared to my hometown of San Jose, California or Oahu, Hawai’i where I lived with my Japanese grandparents for a year. I wonder what my child will learn as he grows here, a wildflower among roses and sticker bushes. Will he find the sunshine through the thorns? As his mother I feel called to raise him with more of the culture I missed out on as a kid. How can I expose him to diversity in a town that’s mostly white and overtly conservative?
If I go deep, I find that persistent feeling was not just about whether I stayed in San Jose or Hawai’i. It is more about making the decision to commit to myself and allow myself room to explore what I really want. My parents made decisions for my siblings and I. We weren’t asked, consulted, or included in decision-making. In a world where my desires didn’t matter, and certainly didn’t affect my experience or survival, I learned to shut off the part of me that wanted things. I knew better than to want things I believed weren’t meant for me and weren’t modeled to me: a clean space, a nice house, my own room, new or expensive things, savings, to be heard, attend art school, or pursue my passions. There was very little time for daydreaming, and the dreams that were conjured up were just that. If there was something that I needed I was able to put energy and time into figuring out how to make the needs met, a skill my mother taught me. When I needed to feel more secure about my living situation as a teenager by means of paying bills or putting food in the kitchen, I got a job and I worked to make sure those needs were met. But the distinction between need and want was a thick black line — magnum-sharpied — stinking and bleeding into the next 30 years of my life. Needs were necessities for physical survival, but what about my emotional needs? I learned that I didn’t need to feel good or whole or happy to live to see another day.
Even deeper, I crave connection to the Japanese part of myself and identity I wasn’t exposed to growing up.
Sometimes I feel like the abandoned places, shielded from the outside, aging silently, stagnant and faceless, adopting status as personality. Disguised as nature, camouflaged in my environment. Living in limbo, unable to make a decision, paralyzed by endless opportunity. Fading away but not really going anywhere. Was I persistent in staying despite the lack of upkeep, or just giving into what was easiest? Perhaps I was waiting for someone to come clear the old growth and restore this old house to its original state, proudly serving the neighborhood, utilized for comfort and safety.
In the end, I realize that I have to be the one to trim off the excess, sand and paint, refinish and rehab. In trauma therapy I was taught to go back to the original wound, the first memory of when I first experienced something traumatic. Once I was there, I had to recount the experience over and over, week after week in the form of an audio recording. My homework was to listen to that recording of the experience I’d recounted in session the week prior. I had to relive what happened and sit with it. I committed to the process of giving attention to the 5-year-old me and the abuse that was done to me. That was the first time I gave importance and meaning to the trauma, the first time I allowed myself to grieve for my childhood and the loss of innocence that was taken from me at such a young age. It had come time to feel the feelings I said weren’t there but that presented themselves in other ways. I started learning how to care for myself.
Maybe this is a reason why I have this belief that things should be used and “taking care” of things or keeping them nice has been less important to me. Not deserving nice things equates to making worn the few things I had that started off as pristine. Favoring old clothes, messy homes, presenting in a way that was unkempt despite every effort to pull myself together. Accessories and gadgets were tossed around and beat up to match the way I felt about myself. I was unworthy of cleanliness and tidiness, I believed that something was fundamentally wrong with me and therefore everything that I touched had something fundamentally wrong with it. I thought I was not worthy of care, my life was not worthy of care, and so nothing else was worthy of care. My relationships with friends and family, my things, my education, my body, my mind; people always say that the outside reflects how you feel on the inside, and I thought at times that saying was a cop out or a quick way to label people one way or another, but just like we are products of nurture and nature, we are also products of our choices. And our environment is also a give and take, we affect our environment as much as it affects us. Things and spaces take on emotion and attitudes of the closest energies to it. Regardless of what any of this means, I choose to see beauty in the world and enjoy discovering new ways of connecting to my environment. That’s why I’ve decided to take on a new project based in collaboration with other creative people who are working through the growth to find some meaning and self-awareness. Check it out.
What do you think? I’d be interested to read feedback and engage in respectful dialogue in the comments.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Leave a Reply