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Tasting Notes #1: Charlotte speaks
Introducing an exchange between writers
Oh, hi! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charlotte, and I am fortunate enough to call myself a friend of the sweet genius that you usually hear from here. Thank you for indulging me. My first contribution reflects on the topic of “holding.” I hope you enjoy and hope to see you soon.
Tasting Notes is an exchange between writers. It’s a letter, it’s a conversation, it’s a trade. In it, the authors of arbiter of distaste and Insecure Tea are challenged to speak to one another’s audiences, one another’s themes, and… one another. Well, the last one isn’t actually a challenge.
I realize I’ve spent the last few weeks holding.
I don’t dread the dentist for the pointy tools or the specter of cavities or the view up Dr. K’s nostrils. I’m a good patient. I open wide, set my sight on an indiscriminate corner of the ceiling, and never leave with a grade lower than an A minus. Who among us couldn’t floss more? What disturbs my peace is always the inevitable barrage of personal questions from the dental hygienist.
You were an English major, right? Her disdain is poorly masked. She tells me that it’s apparent that I have a history of grinding my teeth because they are literally so worn down. I should consider a mouthguard. I tell her I’ll consider it, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been an issue recently. It’s stress, she says, a lot of people clench their teeth during college, then grow out of it. I blink a morse code message to God, asking Him to end the conversation. Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash.
Two days later, I woke up in pain. It’s 5:30 and my jaw is on fire. I touch my cheeks and recoil. It’s the sharpest pain I’ve felt in a long time. The mirror in the bathroom reflects my swollen face. I return to the darkness of my room to illuminate it with blue light. My research narrowly rules out tetanus. I concede that I was clenching in my sleep. The next day, I ice my cheeks and weakly swallow soft food.
Blame chewing gum or travel or exercise or too many pillows or too much to drink at the English Beat concert. The truth is simpler than all that. Shoulders to ears. Stomach in knots. Tooth to tooth. Toes gripping shoes. By trying to protect us, our bodies hurt us. I rationalize this clenching as a mistake. A byproduct of some misfired human condition that is causing me needless pain. But it’s not unnecessary. My body is sending me a clear and direct message that I’m stressed. I wish I consciously knew what I am trying so desperately to hold in. Or, rather what it is that I fear will spill out.
I’ve been hesitating to write about one of our shared memories because I worried that you would write about it, too. This fear is silly. Our lives overlap, and if we were to write about an event that we both experienced, we would render it differently, like two artists painting the same vase. Notice how I said like two artists. I suspect that you’re like me and hold a certain suspicion about calling yourself an artist. Once you told me that you even struggle to call yourself a writer. I scolded you, even as I share the same doubts.
It was a few weeks ago. We decided to brave a scene we both are indelibly drawn to and repulsed by. It was the basement of a gay bar, fashioned into a venue for some insufferable DJs and podcaster-turned-musicians. I met you straight from work, toting my laptop and dressed in a brown sweater vest and long, denim skirt, like a 1970s kindergarten teacher. You looked like a vision of summer in your sundress. We were juiced up on three glasses of wine and a brownie sundae, cheerfully giggling in a crowd of scowling skeletons.
There was, of course, a party photographer. It wasn’t the guy we call the Shrek of the Lower East Side. It might have been Cobrasnake. Literally, who cares. We watched him swoop around, considering his subjects before catching them in time-stopping bursts of light. The Dare was standing to our left in a buglike pair of sunglasses. FLASH. The Dare yawned widely. Maybe he slept poorly the night before. The camera’s hungry gaze turned to us. The photographer gave us the kind of look you wouldn’t soon forget. Head to toe. It was just like being checked out, except instead, it was an instant assessment that we were Not It. FLASH. He took a shot of the black leather jacket and a perfect red manicure to our right.
It was still a fun night. We drank for free and danced bombastically in the static crowd. We caught up proper, then left at just the right time. But that tiny moment stuck to the bottom of our shoes like gum. Who doesn’t want to be the girl who stops photographers in their tracks?
Every girl goes through a photography phase, according to Lost in Translation’s Charlotte.
I’ve been trying to write about photography for weeks. The truth is that I haven’t been writing anything about photography because I haven’t been writing anything about anything at all. My ideas were scrambled. I wanted to use the previous anecdote to discuss how photography is a tool for both memory and inclusion. How the permanence of photographs from a camera differs from pictures on a phone. How the flash of light captures a singularity–a point in time in which there is only infinite before and infinite after. How being photographed by another person can make us feel so foreign to ourselves. How a rare film photo can capture the spirit in a way that’s so much more divine than the godless outtakes cluttering our camera rolls. But, the more I procrastinated, the more I got stumped. I looked to our earlier attempts at writing about photography, thinking through our experiences of alienation and dysphoria. I dislike most photos of myself taken by others, be they candid or planned, I wrote in August. When you retook your passport photo in September, you said: What’s printed out is a photo of someone who resembles me, only if I really looked like Owen Wilson.
Watching Lost in Translation on the airplane, I chuckle at the irony that my borrowed headphones are muffling the audio. Bill Murray’s character grimaces under a photographer’s instructions that are so specific enough that they render them completely vague. Rat Pack! Mysterious! More! More? Yes, more. Roger Moore? Yes, Moore. The actor clenches his right hand bizarrely by his face. He repeatedly turns his head toward and away from the camera, making faces. It’s an absurd pantomime of the discomfort so often felt by having your image captured by someone else.
In the midst of my rereading and thumb-twiddling, Haley Nahman publishes an essay about film photography. Fuck! I muttered aloud. I texted you immediately in dismay. I am once again proven a bargain-basement Haley Nahman.
I confess. My procrastination wasn’t just writer’s block. I was intimidated to write this. I desperately wanted it to be good for you. I didn’t want to disappoint. So, instead of writing, I flew to LA. Instead of writing, I aggregated two garbage bags of donations from my childhood room. Instead of writing, I texted you promising I would write soon. Instead of writing, I clenched my teeth. Instead of writing, I rewatched Lost in Translation on the airplane back to New York. Instead of writing, I worried that I’m just another Charlotte that tried and failed at being a writer.
Haley said: It seems likely that my constant documenting isn’t actually about the future, as I claim, but about the present—about quieting the neurotic voice in my head that views experience as a losing game. This struck a chord. I have always thought that the point of taking a photograph is, ostensibly, to remember. I think of the hours I’ve lost in my camera roll. But the act of taking a photograph is active. It’s a memory in and of itself.
Do you remember the first photo we took together? It was the second time we ever hung out. We went to a reading at KGB. In a corner, I meekly pulled out my phone to capture us in my new-at-the-time favorite angle: backward-facing, 0.5 zoom with flash. We are two sweaty blurs. It’s a harsh angle, but it’s sweet. That same night we were actually photographed in crowd shots by Cobrasnake (confirmed), but I cherish our photo so much more dearly.
I was so excited when you told me you were buying a film camera. You claimed ignorance but I knew there was no way you could fail. Every girl goes through a photography phase, but any girl would be lucky to capture the darkness and light of humankind like Evana Bodiker. Keep the pen, but embrace the shutter, too.
I love Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel because it is two 27-year-olds ruminating on their fear of mortality. This reminds me of us. It’s a perfect album, offering me something new every year that I grow up and change. Tucked between “Old Friends” and “Fakin’ It,” is the “Bookends Theme - Reprise.” It’s three lines. It’s less than two minutes. Yet, it’s still one of the most poignant poems I know. I will leave you with this:
Time it was, and what a time it was. It was.
A time of innocence. A time of confidences.
Long ago, it must be. I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.
To read Evana’s contribution, you can subscribe and visit Insecure Tea.