I bought a record player last week. It wasn’t a huge expense, but probably one I should have run by Courtney first. I had an older record player that was left at my grandfather’s house after he died, and sometime in the transport between Philly and Pittsburgh, it was completely destroyed. Over the past week or so, we’ve started collecting some new vinyl to spin. An easy choice pickup was Continuum by John Mayer, one of my favorite records of all time. It’s also one of Court’s favorites, too.
One of the earliest memories from our courtship was me playing “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” in my dorm room and her delightfully exclaiming how happy she was that I listened to John. I’m immediately transported back to 844C, South Campus Apartments, West Chester, PA. I’m standing in front of my iMac, turning up the volume to an appropriate level for a dorm. Although, truth be told, if I had it my way, I’d have turned that motherfucker up to 11.
“Yes, I love this song.”
“Wait,” she said, shocked to the point of almost losing speech. “You like John Mayer?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I never would’ve guessed you like John Mayer,” she said.
“Are you kidding? He’s one of my all-time favorites.”
I’m imagining us sitting close to each other on my bed. I can smell her perfume through the mustiness of the dorm room, our own Delta Tau Chi. I remember the excitement that came with living on campus, living out the life I had always wanted – the college experience. There was something so special about her. I was terrified of being vulnerable, but she made it easy to be myself. I can see her smiling at me as I’m trying to hit the notes of the hook, just about making it each time.
Suddenly I realize she’s talking to me in present time and I missed what she said. I can tell she’s angry with me a little.
“Sorry,” I say, “just in my head again.”
Here I go again, getting lost in my past. Typical.
This, friends, is precisely the problem. The story of my life is the story of my life and my inability to let go of my past tribulations.
I find myself lost in thought with the “ghosts” of my past pretty often. I relive the moments of sublimity, trying to uncover or decipher exactly what it was I was looking for, and perhaps what I’m still looking for. My life has been a series of different steps, different achievements, different losses, most of which would teach any normal person the lessons they were looking for. That’s just not how I’m wired. I dig, inspect, dissect every single action that took place, wondering, searching, looking for answers I already have. I’m never fully content. I’m constantly in the search for everything.
I’m so busy drowning out the world with distraction that I’m never alone with my own thoughts. I’m never vulnerable enough to be honest about how my past has affected me. My friend Charles tells me all the time that I carry too much. “It’s hard not to, but you have to let things go.” I used to get upset when he’d say that. But he’s right. I can’t let go of things. I’ve never been particularly good at doing that. It’s a skill I can’t seem to master, no matter how many times I think I have it down.
“Charles is right, you don’t let go,” Court said to me. “You’re like Luke Skywalker staring off at the horizon. You’re looking too far ahead instead of what’s right in front of you,” It choked me up. Not because she properly used a Star Wars reference, but because she’s right, too. It’s too scary, too painful to deal with my ghosts. I’m so focused on the road ahead of me, and what lies behind me, that I don’t take the time to see the life right in front of me. So many days spent looking in the rearview mirror as the present flies by me at 165 miles per hour, so many nights staring at the moons of Tatooine.
I reflect on specific touch points in time. Each of these memories is triggered independently by a smell, a touch, a chord, anything. Each one leading me back down the same familiar path of exhausting examination, each bringing the moments back to life. Another opportunity to carry too much.
A warm summer night in Philadelphia, 2008. Driving down Chestnut Street, off to find my next fling, my next shot, my next anywhere but here. Anything that would take me out of the monotony of the stifled existence I was living. I can feel the warm breeze on my face as the cigarette smoke ripples up my face and into the sky, high in the clouds where I usually spent most of my time. Dreaming of a better life, a better love, a better anything. I can feel myself right back in that moment, driving down that dark road on my way to another bad decision. I was miserable, desperate for the sweet escape of the darkness. I wanted to feel love, passion, excitement. I wanted to feel the warmth and comfort of a life fulfilled. Driving into the darkness, I was obsessed with the idea of those moments, and what lied ahead for me, without the baggage of my current situation.
High school, 2001, getting ready to process another roll of 35mm film in the place I only ever wanted to be. I couldn’t have given a fuck less about school. The darkroom, tucked away on the first floor of the west side of Rock North, was my salvation. I don’t front when I’m creating. I don’t pretend, I don’t put the mask up that I’ve shown to everyone but a select few who know me best. Creation allows me to be something I never want to be on any other occasion: vulnerable. It was the place I could turn off and express the creativeness and let the rich blue and purple hues of my existence shine. All of these years later, I can still smell the developing chemistry, the feel of the film on my hands as I wind it into the reel for processing, the serenity of the water running in the sink to help finish the development process. I’m standing at my enlarger stand, imagining the exact moment when I’d leave this pretentious town in my rearview, being exactly where I want to be. I’m picturing being front row, photographing John Mayer, or the Wu-Tang Clan, or hundreds of other artists and performers I imagine myself capturing through the lens. The quicker I can get out of this horrible fucking town, the better.
Sitting at the bar of The Note in West Chester, 2010, drinking my way through the worst heartbreak of my life. I can smell the stale cigarettes on my hand as I slam back another shot of whiskey. I can feel the sadness creeping back, a numbing feeling that feels like white noise all over my body. Things got so confusing so fast. It was perfect one minute, not perfect the next. “Fuck the world” was the motto, and there was no turning back. I was all in on that approach. It wasn’t just the heartbreak that brought me here. It was the collection of moments that took place in my life all at one time, with seemingly no end to the upheaval in sight. Karma works its way into play. Platitudes don’t help when the whole fucking world is on fire, and I had no time to listen to anyone telling me “keep your head up”. I can feel the burning of the whiskey as it enters my system, another step in the numbing of the noise. This was supposed to be it. This was supposed to be the ending to this part of the story and the beginning of the right one. This was not how things were supposed to go, especially when it was so perfect. This just isn’t fair.
Each of these moments above represent the collective incompletion, the perpetual emptiness, the endless vacuum. They’re specific touch points that feel so real, so tangible, that I relive them in frequent succession. The ghosts of my past, the tribulations of Adam Daniel, the opportunity to carry too much.
How desperate I am to let go. So why can’t I?
The joy that must come with letting go sounds wonderful. But how? What will bring me the joy I’m looking for? What will allow me the serenity that comes with the acknowledgement of your ghosts, and the understanding that they belong as important markers in your timeline? What will grant me that knowledge that these ghosts belong as remnants of your past, not as things to dwell on and dissect, but to learn from?
There’s a comfort that comes with holding on, and the ability to keep myself rooted and surrounded by my ghosts so completely. Perhaps it’s my method of control in such an uncontrollable life. Perhaps it’s so much easier to stay complacent and content with the current state of affairs than it is to continue the hard work in search of the individual, the “I” that is my soul and consciousness, and the purpose of it. Perhaps it’s because it allows me to hold everyone else accountable for their transgressions while ignoring my own behaviors. Perhaps it’s so painful to deal with my ghosts, so extreme a thought that I could be perceived as vulnerable, thus appearing weak, that I choose to try and rewrite endings to books that have already been completed. Whatever the reason is for holding on, it's causing immense strife and struggle, and I'm too busy with my face in the clouds to see the successes and blessings in my life.
I’m a successful person. I don’t say that to brag, and I generally don’t ever celebrate myself or my achievements. Somewhere along the way, I learned that celebration of self is akin to full on braggadocio, and it’s better to remain fully humble than to give the impression of any grandeur. But I can’t deny this reality. I have everything I’ve ever wanted and so much more. The greatest heartbreak of my life led me to the greatest love of my life, who gave me the three greatest souls to walk this earth. Three beautiful children that grace me with the joy and unconditional love I’ve searched for my entire life, who keep me humble, grateful, sincere. I have accomplished so many incredible things, due to my own determination, fortitude, and unwavering confidence in my ability to create something magical with that opportunity. I’ve met my heroes, chopped it up with my inspirations, and created pieces I never dreamed I was capable of. I continue to be successful due to my own determination, perseverance, and unlimited belief that anything is possible. I’m missing out on this wonderful life, and to miss this beauty would be criminal.
My therapist used to end our sessions with “I Am” affirmations. I kept the journal that I logged my statements in and refer to it at least five times a week.
“I am worthy of love.”
“I am capable of being loved.”
“I am not the transgressions and mistakes of those who came before me.”
“I am capable of letting go.”
2021 me is channeling the passion of 2008 me, and although it didn’t turn out exactly as we thought it would, we still got everything we wanted and more.
2021 me is envious of the excitement, passion, and unlimited potential 2001 me had, but I’m so excited to tell him how fantastic we’ve become at photography, how much joy it’s given us, and how we’re only just beginning. We’re living our dream and still shooting film. Is would be proud of us.
2021 me is grateful that 2010 me didn’t punch his card. I want to tell him that the closure we’re looking for won’t come from anyone but ourselves. Everything we want is coming, even if it’s not what we thought it’d be. Your move, chief.
“You need to let go.”
I am capable of letting go, and I’ll get there.
I’m just working on it still.
Thanks for reading, friends, and thanks for joining me on this adventure.