Why do you carry a camera everywhere?

July ’16, in downtown Iowa City

There are many reasons I carry my camera everywhere with me. People often ask me why. Here’s one example.

It was around 11pm on the first Saturday with the semester begun anew, and students fully returned from their summer breaks. I was standing in the middle of the recently semi-opened Washington Street, post-beautification, munching on Mesa Pizza.

In the middle of eating a strange slice with some sauce and some meat and some caramelized onions and thinking about finding a darker spot than the shadows of a mostly complete construction site in the heart of downtown to pull out the cork of the wine bottle in my bag and rinse my mouth, I watched a young man and woman holding hands walk from my right, past the MidWest One corner, then behind the first lamp post, and cut an angle through the shadows of the empty, freshly minted street I’d been staring down alone with my pizza, camera, and bag of goodies, as others walked the pedestrian paint behind us.

Ostensibly, I was there to shoot some night shots of the only true neon sign I can find in downtown Iowa City, which is Bo James. Cool sign, okay bar. (Please, enlighten me, are there more neon signs?)

I was on my second bottle of wine and wandering with my pizza, looking for other subjects to photograph with my new-to-me Pentax K1000 and a 135mm f3.5 Pentax lens. (I’m used to shooting at 50mm, which is a similar point of view on a 35mm film camera to the naked eye, whereas a 135mm is, well, ya know, almost 3x as zoomed. Skipping the rest of the technical.) The point being, the couple were too close for a photo. Instead I ate my pizza and watched.

So there they were. The set of his shoulders we both noticed, and she squeezed his hand tighter before pulling him up. She stopped him just before they stepped off the first curb.

Grabbing his face with both hands while speaking too softly for me to hear, though I was trying, she reached her head up and kissed him on the lips. And held the kiss. And then held him.

It was like this for him, removed, I suspected.

They resumed holding hands, and walking. She, though, pulled him into the shadows between the weak construction lamps a bit more, slowed them to a stop again, and spoke more soft words, and didn’t so much grab his head this time. They were aligned with me in the center of the street.

By the time they stepped on to the curb on the left side of the street the intention his shoulders carried when they entered my peripheral vision had dissipated into him smiling while walking into Mesa Pizza.

Allow me to shift.

There is is a podcast I’ve begun listening to called “Faster Than Normal.” It’s for people with ADHD, to help them understand that the diagnosis is a gift and not a curse. Through interviews with successful people who are open about their diagnosis, host Peter Shankman unpacks their unique skills and problems, so that we can extract actionable advice from their experience.

In the episode with Ryan McRae, Ryan relates how, even as a 40-something year old man, when there is a planned set of events for an evening out with friends and in the middle of it things change, he reverts to something like a six year old’s emotional response.

My nephew turns seven this year, and I see it in him too. He doesn’t realize that the change we’re informing him of (we’re going to get some food, then we’ll go back into the museum to finish your “museum mission”), is solving the problem he’d been complaining about (being hungry), and allows him to continue on his mission. (By the way, the Art Institue in Chicago has a kid’s zone where you can print out a self-created booklet that gives you tasks to explore the museum and find certain works of art.) But all he hears is the change.

First his face starts to melt into despair, then he throws his pencil and booklet to the ground and exclaims, “Now I’m never going to finish my mission!”

I see it in me too, and I turn 26 in one month. If I have woken up late, and the night before scheduled my day to begin early, it is as if my brain can not rectify the change. I am no longer on a course, sails hoisted. I am listless, looking for a storm, any storm, to blow me in some direction. The problem is that with ADHD, that storm can be reorganizing my bookshelves. The benefit is that storm can be a new or old project. But even still, it is likely not what I was meant to be doing that day.

Ryan McRae goes on to explain that he first had to become aware of this tendency, and that secondly he had to figure out how to compensate for it. When allowed to wallow, his tendency to be continuously processing the world around him meant that he reprocessed again and again the change, which only deepened his emotional response.

As an adult dealing with a seven year old, it makes sense to simply point out the eccentrically dressed man riding a unicycle down the sidewalk so as to distract him from the negative emotional response he was just shouting to the world.

But as an adult dealing with yourself, it is more difficult to recognize that tendency, and even more so to find actionable ways to compensate.

My friends know me as someone who, almost reflexively, says, “Such is life.” When I was in high school, and learned of the French phrase, “C’est la vie,” it struck a chord, and had a deep, existential meaning to me. I also recognized that, living in a small town in southern Iowa, it made more sense to say, “Such is life.” This phrase is still a part of the compensations I’ve developed.

I acknowledge out loud that there has been a change, perhaps unexpected and/or unwanted, whether by me or others, and that, indeed, such is life.

I also carry a notebook with me in my pocket, the mini-volant size from Moleskine, and I carry a 35mm film camera with me everywhere I go. This is also part of my compensation. Rather than wallow I can always look around and ask myself if I see anything of beauty that I want to share. Then if there is any need to express an idea or an emotion, I don’t need to monopolize anyone’s attention, because I can put it on paper or on film.

McRae forces himself to engage in conversation about any other topic, rather than wallow, and begins asking questions of his company. I force myself to put the moment in context. We distract children with something more exciting. And our lovers reach out to us, touch us and whisper to us.

But in all of those moments we have to be aware of how we are feeling, and open to the possibility that we might be able to feel differently within that moment. For those of us with ADD/ADHD, this is more than just a response to a bad night out bar hopping. This is an every day, multiple times a day, emotional response we have.

The more we can recognize these kinds of small triggers and habitual responses that end up hurting us, the more we can minimize them, and find ways to instead utilize that same energy into a constructive action.