Friday, January 09, 2009

new situations, new questions

Yesterday's Open House at the ICP went pretty well. I estimate that somewhere around 100 people showed up. The facilities there are top of the line and it seems like a place that has a very engaged and diverse student body. I was impressed.

After going on a tour of the school and then, listening to brief presentations given by faculty members, I had the opportunity for my portfolio to be reviewed. The review lasted for 15-20 minutes. Asked about my work, I told him the story that you're all too familiar with by now: of how about 14 months ago I began photographing the Harlem River Bridges and other interesting sites nearby the waterfront. This project, I told him, had become a journey of exploration and discovery for me. But my response was partly true. I had hedged the story a bit. Due to some sense of embarrassment or stigma, I didn't feel like sharing or going into what has been the spark behind this journey: my cancer experience. My photography of the Harlem River is a product of my cancer experience and I think that when, as in last night's review, I fail to weave the two narratives together I diminish the personal significance that cancer and photography have had in my life. Perhaps in some way too I subdue the courage, humanity, and resourcefulness of my own journey. Long ago, I understood that looking at my images are nice and all, but by themselves they tell only a passage or two of a much richer story.

The instructor liked many of the images. He told me that it was clear that I had an eye for composition and tightness (no unnecessary clutter in the images). He liked that they weren't all of the panoramic, landscape variety. While my portfolio has a healthy number of such images, they are interspersed with intimate shots of flowers, mosaic tiles, street signs, and architectural details. This, he said as I understood long ago, gives my story balance and greater strength. He also seemed to be impressed by the breadth of my portfolio. It was clear to him that I was really serious about this project. Though, of course, because of my reluctance to disclose fully he didn't understand why I was so serious about it. I told him that I think my documentation of the Harlem River is a story that hasn't been told before to which he responded, "Spoken like a true photographer."

I let him know that I felt that I was at the point where I needed a better camera and so, I've been looking to upgrade to a DSLR. He was in complete agreement about this, which I found very reassuring. He said that the difference in the quality of the images will be immediate. My Canon PowerShot A700 has served me amazingly well, but my skills have outgrown it. It is time for a camera that will strengthen my work.

In many ways, my reluctance last night to share the cancer part of my story is strange, since I'm so public about it. There are just times and situations when it feels far easier (and safer) to just not go into it.

The day before I was in another situation in which with regards to disclosure, I chose to not bring up the cancer. This time, however, it has to do with a girl which brings up new questions about which until now I hadn't had to think about. For a few weeks now, I've been participating in projects with someone whom I find attractive. Until this week, however, I hadn't (I don't recall) spoken about "what I do." I told her that I'm looking for employment right now. Back in '07, I graduated from grad school and since then, I said I had been playing the role of Peter Pan and that just when I was beginning to look for a job, the economic crisis started. But I was holding back. I felt defensive . . . restrained. Here was a girl, whom I found attractive and was interested in getting to know, but was concerned that bringing up cancer would perhaps kill the conversation, but moreover, end any real chances of progress. So, I just left out cancer and as a result had this huge gaping whole which I didn't know how to fill quickly. Therefore, I used "playing the role of Peter Pan" as I have done from time to time. I did mention my photography work and listed some of my past jobs, but in the end I feel like I came across as a goalless, underachieving vagrant. I was hide something so monumental from her and as a result, I felt defensive and unauthentic.

Like with the ICP instructor last night, I chose to leave out cancer from the discussion of my background. Though the situations are somewhat different, they raise many of the same questions.

How do I fill up that void? Or should I? Does it depend on whom I'm talking to? I don't want to scare off a prospective love interest by bringing up my cancer experience on day one or two or three or four, so what do I do? Am I just being too careful? Now that I'm meeting more and more new people, these questions are beginning to come up.

I'm sure I'll see her next week. I might not have made the best show, but I don't think my battleship was torpedoed. There's still hope, I think. We talked about the recent renovation of the medieval art section at the Met. I've been thinking about asking her next time if she'd like to check it out with me on Friday.


Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on Duane, girls love goalless, underachieving vagrants.

Since you seem bothered that you did not disclose your cancer in these situations, it seems that the better choice would have been to be up front.

For your photography, cancer is such a huge part of the story. It makes the photographs even more meaningful.

For the girl, if you start dating, she is going to find out soon enough anyways, so why not be up front? If she doesn't want to date a guy who had cancer, than it would seem better to find out now rather than later.

Just my 2 cents.

5:30 PM  
Comment Blogger Bekah said...

Dearest Duane,

It is so ironic, that you bring up this subject. Not only, am I struggling with it -- as I start my new degree. But, Darrel and I have been discussing the 'dating' world, after cancer-- in both of your cases, or during -- in my case.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma to cancer patients, survivors, warriors. Ect. What, I can tell you from my own personal experience is. I want the person to know me, for me. I see why you are hesitant, and I truly believe you have a RIGHT to be hesitant.

The cancer story; unfortunately, can kill a conversation (I'm not going to lie to you). What, I do find... is that once, a guy gets to know me. And I think they see the real 'Bekah,' then, I am comfortable disclosing this information.

If they can't handle it -- then, they're out the door. But, at least, they saw me. For me. Without the judgement of what a cancer warrior is.

Your personality shines through, Duane. You are a marvelous, amazing, person. My advice? Have fun. Take the girl out. You have interests, and passions, and a future.

The cancer is part of your identity. You reveal that, when you are good and ready. So often, cancer has been the forefront of our lives. But, it doesn't have to be.. anymore. All the time.

As you can see, I have a lot of thoughts on this topic ;) I'll be e-mailing you soon. I'm good at girl talk.


10:39 PM  
Comment Anonymous Stratman said...

Duane, I know the feeling. I sometimes think I'd be wise to never mention to anyone that I've had cancer. There is no doubt I've been viewed differently when I have told certain people.

I have always shared my journey online but here I'm just known as Stratman and sharing what I've been through might be helpful to others. Offline, I find it hard to find a good reason to share in most cases. Somethings are better left unsaid until a true need to disclose arises.

Just my 2 cents worth.

11:04 PM  
Comment Blogger Michelle said...

I totally get what you are saying!!! I do, but (and this is only me) i welcome honesty and full disclosure in a relationship!! I would never treat anybody differently knowing anything different about them.

But, i totally understand what your saying. Don't think of it as a stigma, present it to a person as saying it made you a better, stronger person. They will appreciate that and then imagine the possibilities!!!

Your a great guy!! Just remember that dude!!!

1:17 PM  
Comment Blogger Cathy said...


You know I have been where you are! :) From my own experience I was honest up front. I think I wanted to tell the person sooner rather than later because it made me feel like I had something to feel bad about by keeping it to myself. You should think of you cancer experience as something that is of course a part of you but certainly not who you are. I feel that honesty soon is best to help you let go of the stigma you may feel you have.
I know how difficult it is. In the end though, anyone who doesn't want to pursue a relationship with you because of that is not someone worthy of you!!

6:06 PM  
Comment Blogger Heidi said...

You will figure out what works best for you, but my sister started dating someone while she was really pretty sick with her cancer (almost a year before she died). She met him on the internet and was totally upfront about the cancer before they even met in person and he did not run away, but met her and fell in love. He loved her through it all as she loved him. What a blessing they were to each other. You are an amazing person, and deserve someone who will hear about your cancer and see your courage, wisdom and strength.

9:16 PM  
Comment Blogger Adrienne said...

Adrienne here. I totally get this, I've been dealing with it for several years now. We all have secrets or things we don't tell people right away, but cancer is such a big part of my life that when I leave it out of the conversation, it feels like there isn't much else to my life. In general I don't tell acquaintances, and will tell white lies or be vague to avoid the topic. I don't tell professors unless absolutely necessary because I don't want them to treat me differently. I tell friends when I feel like they know me pretty well and it won't affect the relationship (people have often had something to tell me in return as well). The same will go for dating if I ever get there. That's my system and I've been really happy with it. You'll figure out what works for you in time. Love, Adrienne

1:56 PM  
Comment Blogger Hillary St. Pierre said...

DUANE!! USE THAT CANCER CARD FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH!! Intelligent, fine men should not reduce themselves to "peter pan Sx" in front of the ladies. A good woman wants to take care of her man and will understand that what you have been through has made you stronger, empathetic, and ultimately more understanding. Change that nasty stereotype associated with our battles. Remember the prize fighter you are. You want a fine woman? You'll get one.

11:00 AM  
Comment Blogger Bobby said...

Just be yourself, do not use the cancer card later for that she will ask you about yourself then you can tell her, just be cool, be you

5:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home