Well, Swee'pea is adjusting -- slowly -- to his new daycare centre. They assure me at the centre that his behaviour is totally normal, and that he will eventually adjust. But I can't help feeling like that "adjustment" is just crushing his spirit, forcing him to lower his expectations of the world, that when he stops crying he will just be giving up hope. It feels wrong.
His crying when I drop him off (and my crying on the way to work) casts a shadow over my day that pulls my shoulders and spirits down all day, until I can pick him up, and he cries again, but only briefly, and we go home where he eats and eats and eats the food he's used to.
Last night, I had a bubble bath and read more of Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War. The latest story sees the author in Romania in 1990, shortly after Ceausescu died. She and her latest lover, a young Romanian photographer who can't speak English so they speak French together, go looking for one of the country's orphanages, which her lover calls Les hopitaux des irrecuperables, or hospitals for unrecoverables.
Sometimes motherhood makes me so sensitive, raw and exposed, to the world's tragedies, especially those befalling other people's children. This book has already brought me to tears once, and the part I read last night made me weep. Hard. Between the haunting photographs of the mostly naked and emaciated children in an institution so cold it doesn't even have mattresses on the beds (they were destroyed by constant bed-wetting and never replaced), and the mental images her words evoked, and the little girl who kept calling her Mama and, finally held close, bit her breast, I had no chance. To think that people charged with caring for children could be so inhumane nearly stops my heart. I know, intellectually, that the institution I have entrusted Swee'pea's care to is nothing like the ignored and impoverished institution described in Shutterbabe; there is no comparison really. Nevertheless, it feels like there could be, but for the grace of God...
If pictures can speak a thousand words, why do we keep writing?
"Call it the curse of the photographer. [...] most of the memories I have since becoming a photographer are four-sided and flat. When you learn to properly frame an image in the viewfinder of a camera, you start to frame and catalog everything you see, whether you photograph it or not. And suddenly, memory has the shape of a rectangle. The vastness of a forest becomes twelve trees with a rock balancing out the foreground. A person becomes a close-up of the crow's-feet around his eyes. A war becomes red blood in white snow. Sometimes I feel like my brain has become nothing more than an overstuffed spiral notebook full of negatives, printed at will in a disorganized flurry by the tiniest provocation."
At one point she freaks out, and her companion tells her to calm down, that she's "trying to understand something that is incomprehensible," a sure path to madness. It's the first time in her career as a photojournalist where shooting, hiding behind the camera, "seems like the most morally appropriate action to take."
As I read Copaken Kogan's experience at the Romanian orphanage, my tears nearly overfilling the tub, it occurred to me that words expand that flat, rectangular frame and make it three-dimensional and fluid. After Copaken Kogan exits the orphanage, having shot a crude and casual autopsy, she vomits until she dry heaves. She writes, "I look up into the sky, and it's as if I've opened the pages of a pop-up book or put on a pair of cardboard 3-D glasses. First the clouds pop out, then a bird. I see the sun and the way its rays hit the newly formed buds in the trees. I see the separate planes of the orphanage building, I see the horizon receding in proper perspective. Everything that had previously turned flat now has heft, shadow, dimension, depth. I see a broken tricycle. It's the first toy I've seen all day."
Combining words and images communicates experience in a way that neither text nor photography could do as well on its own. This book is devastating in many ways, a joy in others. I can't stop reading it; I'm invested. I must see it through to its conclusion.