This week’s challenge asked challengers to choose a subject for the purpose of taking a portrait.
A picture is easy. A press of the button, the flick of light, and whola, capture.
A portrait seeks more. It wants your whole life in one shot. Brazen, I know. So, it settles for a few stories instead. And we all them; stories to tell.
For this challenge, I chose someone I know but not uber well. More than a Facebook friend, an acquaintance plus, if you will. I met her, along with her husband, about a year ago through a writing group; one that she and her husband manage. We meet twice a month to give each other critiques on writing pieces submitted in between meetings.
“Dog are easy. Dogs love you, you love them. You feed them, play with them, take them on walks. They are pretty simple. The love is simple and good.”- Allison K.
I choose Allison for this portrait because, honestly, she is someone that I found myself admiring, someone with a bit of mystery. She is a favorite in the writing group, coming across as very thoughtful, intelligent—someone well put together, and as “one of the guys.” And it was that latter quality that struck me, how well she has adapted to the culture of the American male. No make-up, frills, or lace, she is a practical woman in jeans, a T-shirt, a cross-fit membership and one that likes, by her own admission and in her own words, “Shoot ’em up movies.”
Toward the end of the interview, I asked her about this:
“You’re kinda like one of the guys, so cool. Was this a persona you cultivated with intent or is it something that came naturally?”
“I didn’t realize I was cool. That’s nice to know. I grew up with the boys…all my neighbors were boys, and I grew up doing the things they did and liked it.”
I also found myself admiring not only her but how she interacted with her husband, Mark. Personally, I can only think of one other relationship where two people interact with so much mutual respect, compassion and trust. I wondered, with envy, “What’s their sauce?”
2: The Interview:
I sat down with Allison, who always appears cool, calm and collected, even under pressure. She embodies the phrase: Cool as a duck but paddling like hell underneath. It wasn’t until this interview that I learned about the paddling underneath. I only had ever seen the cool duck. Being the unprepared, spontaneous, disorganized human that I am, I showed up to her home with an empty notebook, not a pen, and only a vague idea of what kind of questions to ask. And I was a bit nervous.
We sat in her living room: neat, organized, and eccentric. The whole house had a cozy, eccentric feel to it. Lining the walls, and shelves, I noted pictures, cards, and sentimental nick-knacks—many of which commemorate her marriage to Mark. One particular painting in particular—a master copy of Klimt’s “The Kiss,” shows a man holding a woman, and so gently. The pastel woman seemed to melt into the man’s arms. Allison tells me that her husband had painted it for her when they were dating. I had always seen Allison as the caretaker, the one doing the holding but that painting wielded another angle, peaking my curiosity.
I threw the first question out, and listened intently, not to the words, but the pauses between them, the words unsaid, the themes repeated. This, my friends, is where people tell you their story.
3. Who Are You?
I asked Allison to describe herself. She found the question too broad and wanted specifics. I found that this was something Allison likes—specifics, color-coded file folders. At one point, she described having a large room in her mind, filled with several boxes, and herself busily moving the boxes in organized haste. She described that small fluctuations in routine (a meal plan changed) would cause her to seek mandatory pause so that she could situate everything as needed in her mind before she could resume. Her mind—this is a place it seems she spends a lot of time, thinking and teasing apart moments in her life, things that she is curious about, worried about, trying to solve, and such (paddling like hell). She is one of those very analytical, rational people, the kind that thinks before they talk, and act. It is something for someone without these traits to envy. Adaptable though, she still answered that broad, spontaneous question, and answered it well, describing herself as:
“Insecurities wrapped in Bravado.”
It really does sum her up. Sums us all up, doesn’t it, except some of us have more bravado than others. I see Allison as someone who has a lot of it.
Allison spent a lot of time talking about what kind of person she hoped she was and strives to be. There was a consistent theme in her words; it is very important to Allison to be the good guy, the hero, the person who does the right thing. This isn’t something she views casually either, no, this is serious business to her. You do the right thing, or you don’t, and she isn’t very forgiving of those who do not—not even of herself, and actually, she appears to be less forgiving of her own transgressions than those of others. Allison is someone who truly believes in the tenet, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” taking that belief to the bank. She practices her preach.
“What is an insecurity that plaques you?”
“Not being the good guy. Everyone is their own protagonist. I always thought I was the protagonist, always did the right thing, was always nice and polite and sometimes that got me shit on (excuse me) but then I’ve made decisions in my past that I’m not proud of…ones that have made me feel bad and I don’t like feeling like the bad guy. I want to be the hero who does the right thing.”
I agree with Allison. Everyone is their own protagonist–not the protagonist, and everyone is their own antagonist, too. I could not help but admire her strong convictions, though, even if she doesn’t have Batman’s hero status. It is no doubt in my mind that the ones who know her best consider her a hero. Even from a distance, in the wind blowing, I can see her black cape riding waves.
“What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want people to remember you?
“I want to be remembered as the person who is dependable. If I say I’ll be there at 6:00 PM, I will be there at 5:55 PM. When someone calls me and says I just broke up with my boyfriend. I’m miserable. I don’t know what to do. I will say come to my house, I’ll put sheets on the bed if I have to. Tell me what you need to tell me, I will keep it to myself, whatever you need. I want to be the friend, the daughter, the wife people can depend on. I don’t waffle. People know they can depend on me.”
5. Mark and I:
Allison described Mark as someone who chose her, despite herself, saying he saw her at her worst, among several other women, and still chose her. I knew this was an ingredient in the sauce: Allison feels chosen and special to Mark; she feels lucky.
Calling him consistently her partner, Allison sees Mark on his best day every day, and in his best light. To her, he is the bee’s knees.
Allison talked at great length about how much she admired Mark, describing him as the more positive of the two of two of them, someone who works hard to provide for them, someone she can depend on, and as she talked, I couldn’t help but go back to the painting on the wall, the Klimt master copy. I realized it wasn’t just one holding the other, but both, and both adoring each other for the giving act–the act of love. The two of them are both diligent and ever present in protecting the bond between them, too, not taking it, nor each other for granted.
“When you look back on your life, what is one thing that makes you say, “yeah, I did that right?”
“My partner…There has always been a comfort with him. He settles me. Even with the last few weeks being crappy, with various things, I can always come home to him.”
“What do you attribute to this being such a stable, secure, loving relationship?”
“Work. Lots of work. I was under the erroneous assumption as most people are that relationships just fall together and they either work or they don’t, which is not true. With Mark, we decided we would always be honest with each other and that’s what we do, and that we would always make big decisions together…and if there is ever a problem between us, we will sit down and talk about it… even the most piddliest of thing. We will talk about it to the death.”
“Hermione is my spirit animal.”- Allison K.
6: Wrap it Up:
Did I gather a whole person? That’s impossible to do with a few generic questions and a camera. After all, it takes a lifetime for us just to get to know ourselves, sometimes, but I got a portrait at one angle. And a very lovely one at that. Allison is the good person she hopes to be remembered as, and, honestly, someone I would like to make a better friend.
“People say I make strange choices, but they’re not strange for me. My sickness is that I’m fascinated by human behavior, by what’s underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people.”- J. Depp
Be Well on this Journey.