On the feels-longer-than-nine-hour drive back to Pennsylvania from Chicago, Bryn asked, “So what are you going to name the album for all of these pictures?” I didn’t know, and after a moment or two of pondering album titles, I stopped thinking about it. “They usually just come to me on whim when I’m uploading the pictures. I’ll wait and see, I guess.”
As usual, this title presented itself to me rather spontaneously. But I didn’t feel very content with it at first. I liked the title well enough but it struck me as long, corny, and vague. When I thought about it some more, though, I realized that it was actually sort of complex for a title, and that was what mattered most about it. “When Time and Space Don’t Matter, Meet me at The Bean” captures a lot about the trip for me–comments, memories, future possibilities, and current feelings. That’s what makes it complex, and because of this, I really like it now.
Here’s one surface reading of things: A friend accompanied me on the drive to a multiple-day philosophy conference in Chicago. Once we got there, we stayed with some of my friends. While we were there, we visited the Bean. A lot.
Part of the more surface reading also includes these bits of commentary from the car: In Ohio we realized that time and space were doing weird things. In addition to our biological clocks being thrown off from each of us getting up earlier in the middle of morning than we had anticipated, and the fact that the car, GPS device, and cd player clocks were all reporting different times and various expected durations of travel, we noted that by then we had been in the car for nearly five hours, yet in our anticipation, it felt like maybe one had passed. We were far from PA, moving through states on a Wednesday morning, leaving behind our normal routines and typical worries, wondering “how did we get this far already?” It’s weird to just be able to jump in a car, hit the road, and go. You end up somewhere so totally far away from where you usually physically and psychologically live your day to day. It reminds you that such changes are not only possible but quite do-able. Despite my attempt to recall how I addressed McTaggart’s Time Paradox in my metaphysics class during my senior year, it didn’t get too philosophical. That much was saved for when I presented at the Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association.
Here’s another important element of the trip that relates to the title: The day that I presented my paper at the philosophy conference was the very same day that a friend of mine from high school turned 26, and a birthday celebration is a perfect reason to travel from Pennsylvania and reconnect. Even though facebook allows me to be in pretty regular contact with some people from Eagle, Idaho, there are very, very few among those historical peers whom I actually see on a yearly basis when we go home for the holidays. Lee was in my class and he is one of them. He went to Cal Poly for college, moved to Chicago to do improv, and put Bryn and me up for the four nights of our visit. Luke, his older brother, is another one of those friends from high school. He went to Gonzaga in Washington (the state) and has been living in LA for a few years now. The youngest of these brothers, Matt, graduated high school one year after Lee and me and went to college at UC-Boulder. Even though I was just north of him by a little over an hour at Colorado State for three years, we actually didn’t see each other much after high school. Lucky break, then, that he also now lives in Chicago. (All three of these brothers were mentioned before in this blog post. They are all still doing very well for themselves.) Our Idaho roots brought us from the east and the west to the windy city, where we also reconnected with the other Luke from our high school theater group. Go figure, he moved to Chicago a while back, too. (It turns out that a couple of other people from theater also live in Chicago. While a key member of our group of friends from theater is currently in Scotland, we missed her and she was there with us in spirit. Furthermore, on the morning that I left, Lee got a message from our other senior class valedictorian informing Lee that he just moved to the city. I didn’t see him, even though it would have been totally awesome.)
There were a couple of one-on-one meet ups with people who have unique space/time significance for me: I had brunch on Friday morning with someone whom I hadn’t actually met before face-to-face. We have been friends on facebook for a number of years now thanks to similar personal and philosophical interests. She is from and lives in Chicago, and while our paths have been aligned for some time, they never quite crossed (she was a participant in PIKSI, a summer philosophy institute at Penn State in 2006. I did PIKSI in 2007). I had dinner with another friend from Halifax, Nova Scotia. We met at Penn State as graduate assistants for PIKSI in 2009. Since that one week that we had together, we’ve made it a point to try and meet up for an annual coffee or dinner date whenever we find ourselves at the same conference. Apart from our time at Penn State then, this means that I’ve only had the pleasure of her company for something like ten hours or less, which took place in DC, Montreal, and now Chicago. In a strange way, we’ve only ever met in time and space. Nevertheless, she is one of my dearest friends for whom I care very, very much.
In addition to my high school friends, one has to remember that newer friends were part of the whole ordeal, too: Bryn and I met just barely over a year ago through a mentorship program at PSU. Now that she’s been my mentee and my student, she’s also one of my best friends, and it was awesome that she was part of the weekend that I will now lovingly describe as “when friend worlds collided.” She met my old friends. We met Lee’s improv friends. They were all so cool, so fun, and so chill that we all started acting like fast friends. Brothers, roommates, college buddies, improv teammates, and lots of other relationships from various different places and times meshed together for four days. And that collision was awesome. Seamless even to the point when one of Lee’s friends was sitting shirtless at a table in a bar with us (it was for good reason) and he exclaimed, “Man, I just met you guys a couple of days ago and I just feel so comfortable around you that I don’t even feel weird sitting shirtless at a table in a bar with you.” He was right. It was like that a lot of the time with pretty much everyone. I met Lee’s college roommate on this trip, but after seeing a video of him years and years ago I told him that I already felt like I knew him. Bryn and I danced all funky like with one guy who also ended up being our bartender on another night. We all took shots together. And that’s pretty much how it went for the weekend. I suppose it boils down to this: The collision of friend worlds can be great when you have great friends in your worlds.
So here’s the summary of a more sophisticated reading of the title, “When Time and Space Don’t Matter, Meet Me at The Bean”: One of my favorite things about this trip was that all of these relationships, connections, intersections, and run-ins have their unique locations in time and space, and they all converged over the five days that it took to drive from PA, walk for miles around Chicago, go to three improv shows, a funk dance party, a philosophy conference, share lots of meals and beers, see The Bean multiple times, and drive back. Some of those connections have been long running, filled with years of memories or only a few moments from all of those years. Some were familiar for a while before they were realized, while others felt familiar immediately once they happened, like a really pleasant surprise. Being someone who values connections and the ability to laugh, dance, share, and play with others above pretty much all else, I can easily say that this trip was nothing short of terrific. It felt comfortable. cozy. easy. fun. For being in a new place, it felt like the complete opposite of that alienated feeling that so often sets in when you go to different cities. In many ways, it felt warm and fuzzy and welcoming and familiar and lovely, like home.
And here’s one more thing that I really love about this trip: There are lots and lots of pictures. That may not seem like a big deal. If anything, coming home with 450 pictures from 2 whole days of driving and only 3 days of actually being in the city might make it seem like we just senselessly felt the urge to capture every inane moment. But beyond the fact that each day, from the 9am start to very late end, was filled with nonstop moments that were definitely photo-capture-worthy (many of which were not even captured, such as the most amazing omelette of my life on the morning when we left), the point that is really cool and new for me is that there was a “we” that felt the urge to take all of those pictures. I love photos. I have photo albums filled with the photos that I love. So of course, I take pictures on every one of my trips. But on this trip, I wasn’t the only one using my camera. Never before, in all of my years of taking pictures, has someone asked to take my camera from me for more than a quick second. Yet here there were periods of time during the parties, the walks, the adventures, and the visitations at The Bean when I didn’t have my camera. Someone else was taking pictures. The brilliant effect of this is that the photos from the trip come from multiple perspectives. I spent six hours today going through those hundreds of pictures. While I ended up deleting more than half, of the 200 that I kept, many of them were taken by others. It is awesome to see how other people handle the act of collecting time and space in individual frames. And it’s very cool to recognize that as my friends on facebook flip through the album, they often won’t know who was behind the camera.
For me, there’s something very poignant about being in front of the camera on this trip. I often take photos of myself in different locations, usually on timers or through reflections in mirrors, windows, and puddles. But on this trip, and in a new way than before, I have pictures of me there. Seeing myself in my own photos feels different, like seeing how I’m seen, but somehow different from simply being in other people’s pictures. I want to say that it feels like a gift–that my friends were there, taking pictures not for themselves on their own camera, but for me on my camera. In a number of ways it feels like an act of sharing; by taking my camera they helped take in the surroundings and all of its happenings. It also feels like a lovely experience of letting go; giving up my camera, being vulnerable enough to be in front of it, and welcoming whatever image someone else takes. I can’t dictate the framing, the timing, the spirit of the picture when someone else takes it. Instead, I just really appreciate the moments and images that my friends collected. The point is that the pictures themselves represent a lot of the meaning in the title for me. In a way that feels almost too indulgent, they are little, individual moments in time and space that have taken place and been given back to me, by and with friends.