a bit of grace

The random musings of Kate Grace

Where It Came From – The Darkroom Scene

I wasn’t going to do excerpts, I’ll be honest. Excerpts out of context of the whole are a bit tricky, but after some prodding from my literary agent, Bree Ogden, I’ve decided to approach them from a different angle. (And by “prodding”, I may mean begging, whining and bargaining.)

So instead of posting an excerpt and you all feeling obligated to ignore the fact it doesn’t really make sense but pay me fabulous compliments all the same, I’m going to come at it like this:

It’s interesting going back and reading your own work as a reader. Nearly a year after finishing the rough draft. Months after the last rewrite and a couple months after your lest editing skim. It’s a weird thing, sitting down with your manuscript with reader’s eyes, because you know what you see? Your reflection.

When I write I go into what I call my “Writing Coma.” I basically become uber focused and intense. Writer’s Block? This is a World Outside Block. And I come from Improvisational Theater where we were trained to just let go and trust that your gut is taking you somewhere great. Sit back and just have trust in your subconscious to know where the story is and where it’s going.

Giving your subconscious that kind of control is a tricky thing, particularly when you come back to your manuscript as a reader and recognize those bits of yourself that slipped in there. They surprise you. They can make you laugh. They can make you look at things a new way or at how far you’ve come. They can make you remember. Sometimes the good. Sometimes the hurtful. But there you are, looking back at yourself from between the lines.

So with the excerpts I’m going to be sharing are the scenes in particular where I saw myself, where they came from (the memory that inspired them), and then I’m going to share their origin because I find it fascinating.

And improv guru and father Del Close said “Where do the really best laughs come from? Terrific connections made intellectually, or terrific revelations made emotionally.”

He said laughs, but I think it applies to more than just comedy. With this particular scene, it’s an emotional revelation and it made me giggle when I realized where it came from.

(Clara is relieved to find she’s the only student in her art class who has opted for the archaic darkroom instead of the flashy digital lab. Well… not the only one.)

I had used my Dad’s ancient SLR camera complete with a colorful strap that looked like it dated back to the 1970s. I shot a roll of film just around the house, taking pictures of my Mom pretending to not notice or show her annoyance with my budding hobby.

It was an image of her I was waiting to see float up from the bottom of the basin when I heard the outer door open and close behind me, then the inner door. The double door system protected the darkroom from any light contamination, but instinctively I blocked my bathing photo protectively just to make sure.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was in here.”

My spine stiffened at the sound of his voice. I didn’t need to turn to know who it was. All of my limbs froze in place as my inner monologue begged me to play it cool, to say it was alright, to ask how he was, to tell him I loved him, to speak at all.

Instead I just shrugged and kept my eyes planted on the photo in front of me without turning. I heard what sounded like the thump of a book bag hitting the floor by an enlarger at my back. Then a zipper was undone and some shuffling.

“You like William Elliot Whitmore?”

I felt the heat cascade under the skin of my cheeks and air catch in the back of my throat suddenly making my mouth dry. I was busted.

All I could think to do was try to cover.

“Should I know who that is?”

He laughed just a few small pops rooted in his chest, my eyes and face still locked on the chemical basin in front of me. I listened as he crossed the small room to the old CD player to my left. Through the corner of my eye I watched as he put a CD in, skipped to his desired track and pressed play.

“I think you’ll like him, At least I hope you do,” he said.

My cheeks blazed with the heat now and I turned away from him to block my face from view, then turned back again as he crossed behind me back to his enlarger. Silently I thanked the red lights for doing what they could to hide my embarrassment, but I still didn’t want to gamble with it.

Why did he hope I liked it? Why hadn’t I just said I knew who it was and pretended to be a huge fan? I could be a real idiot sometimes. If only I had the skill so many had at being smooth.

“Um… why?”

“Cause I don’t see myself printing in silence or giving up rights to the CD player,” he said, coming up on my right side. Within such close proximity I became super aware of how perfectly I would fit under his arm. I was just the right height for the back of my neck to rest comfortably along the curve of his shoulder. The thin hairs at the nape of my neck stood up straight as I pictured it from every possible angle and with every possible wardrobe selection.

Crap. Too much silence had passed and my rigid demeanor must have sent the wrong message because he took a step back and spoke with more softness in his voice.

“Unless you really don’t like it, I mean. I was just kidding.”

It was the same song I had listened to that morning on his blog. The twanging banjo and throaty male voice seemed to see through my lies and cover up. Without thinking, I turned to him and saw the shadows of his angular jaw cast in red.

“No, it’s fine,” I managed. “I mean, it sounds good.”

The deep lines that were absent within his contrite face slowly became visible, growing deeper and more present like a developing photo as his lips turned up in a grin.

“Great,” he said, holding my eyes for just a second. “Then we should get along just fine this semester.” He reached up and gently pinched my elbow between two of his fingers as a gesture of… what exactly? I had no idea. But I did know I had never been more aware of my elbow in my life. The heat ran up in my cheeks and down my legs at the seemingly insignificant touch.

“Cool.” That was it. That was all I could come up with. I tried to shadow his pinching gesture, but my arm got half way out, decided it was too far and then retreated back, clinging to the side of the large chemical sink.

“Cool,” he mimicked with a half smile, following the path of my chicken shit hand with his eyes. “Looks like that got a little overcooked, but nice shot.”

Then he turned and walked back to his spot as I looked down and saw the over developed, darkened image of my Mom glancing at me sideways with an accusatory look in her eyes.

I did my undergraduate studies at Columbia College in Chicago. I studied fine art photography and was a very different version of myself on the outside. I was pretty much the same on the inside, just with a whole lot more inner dialogue that remained inner… as opposed to where it is now. I was shy. I was REALLY naive. And I was living in a big city without family nearby trying to hack it on my own. Going to school, working full time and trying to find time for homework, which in my degree meant hours in a darkroom.

At Columbia College there was a massive series of darkrooms on the 10th floor. There was a digital lab but, believe it or not, this was just about the time digital photography was starting to take flight so we ALL used film and chemicals. I don’t think I scanned anything until my fourth year, to be honest. Anyways, the darkrooms were gorgeous. The envy of every photography nerd across the country. We were spoiled rotten. That’s why they were always buzzing with people. A lot of the department’s socializing happened there. We didn’t have a student union at the time, but we had the 10th Floor darkroom. That’s where relationships played out and friendships were made.

So of course I avoided it like the plague. Because that’s the sort of thing you can expect from Mousy, Shy 19-year-old Kate. Instead, I walked farther down the South Loop to the photo studio… a huge loft-like space that had an old, run down darkroom adjacent. I think it was mostly used for storing old enlargers, but it was always empty of people. It was dusty. It was dark. It was empty. I loved it.

But then one day, someone else walked in carrying his supplies and a zipped up CD book. (Remember those?) Chris. He commandeered the CD player, we shared a few words, and then I hid in the film changing room (closet with absolutely no light so you can put film in a developing canister) for a good 20 minutes… not changing film.

His presence made me so nervous and his music selection made me feel like the biggest nerd that has ever lived.

He was in one of my classes at the time, but I hadn’t spoken to him at that point. But I did listen in as all the other girls gushed over him when he wasn’t in the room. So that day in the darkroom chatting with him for the little while before escaping to the film changing room was both amazing and terrifying.

There were a few other instances with Chris over the span of college that kept the crush alive. There was the time I signed up for the hardest instructor with the determination to get an “A” because he had already graduated and I wouldn’t be distracted only to utter my first “Oh F#@&” when I turned to see him step out of the elevator and walk straight into the same room I was. There was later that day when he walked to the enlarger right next to me in the classroom darkroom and stay there when the professor announced those were our assigned enlargers for the semester.

But there was also the times he recognized me walking down Wabash to class. There was the time he recognized me on the Red Line after 10 o’clock at night. And there was the time he called to invite me to his friends party at Bar Chicago (I was at a friend’s house studying but dropped everything, dragged him with me and went all the way downtown to get to that party). It was winter and I was in a dowdy sweater. I didn’t fit in with the sequined halter tops floating around the room, but he sat and talked to me the entire time I was there all the same.

Just as he did at the party, he saw me in the darkroom that day. Sure he was polite. Sure he was a gentleman, but for a girl who worked so hard at being invisible for so long, it was nice to finally be seen. She had forgotten that being seen could actually feel good.

The C+ she got as a final grade in that class didn’t feel so good, but she still thinks it was worth it. (giggle)

3 comments on “Where It Came From – The Darkroom Scene

  1. Bree Ogden
    January 25, 2011

    I think this is such a good idea… the method behind the madness.

  2. ketch1714
    January 26, 2011

    Know how you feel. I just picked up my printed copy of my manuscript a few days ago to review some chapters. It’s an amazing experence to look back at your work.
    Great excerpt!

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This entry was posted on January 25, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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