The light, for every image begins with light, pressed through the window where the panes cut it into twelve neat, gold rectangles like shortbread.
This was the golden hour of a late summer day, the perfect sliver of time before sunset when photographers scramble to get that perfect shot where the glow of “ring-by-spring” happiness (or new baby happiness, or graduate happiness, or really any happiness will do) filters through a halo of perfectly softening light.
And I stood in the shortbread, golden hour sunlight and absorbed the screams.
I spread out my arms and felt my rib cage expand. I held my breath. Releasing the air, I said out loud:
“Yes, I am a mess.”
“Yes, I am lazy.”
“Yes, I am selfish.”
I accepted the words that my friend, whom I was living with at the time, had shouted at me. Words that are angry, mean, ugly, and said in the heat of the moment are not necessarily untrue. And the words which I received, I also swallowed and digested.
And now I am putting them online. Like I would an Instagram photo. And I hold my fingers above the keyboard, like an inhale, and I resist the urge to filter this. My favorite filters are “was,” “sometimes” and “can be,” as in “I was a mess,” “I am sometimes lazy,” and “I can be selfish.”
It was the first time I had ever confessed. Not like that. Not without filters. But I felt no shame. A rush endorphins, like when someone holds your sobbing, snot-covered face to their shoulder and won’t let go, warmed me. The dust in the air sparkled like champagne bubbles.
That was joy.
There was no one in the room when I confessed for the first time, but I’ve been practicing since, telling real people when I screw up and fall down. Confessing is different from apologizing. Saying “I’m sorry” specifies the action. Confession exposes an aspect of the identity. Apologizing is about others, about fixing relationships. Confession is about you and the ugliest parts of you. Apologies say, “I have sinned;” confessions say, “I am a sinner”—owning the consciousness of our wrong choices, the leaking, bent desires of our hearts.
All this introspection and reflection comes about because I have a horrible Instagram account @travelinglight97, and I recently started living forty percent of my waking hours in mirrored walls.
Seriously—my Instagram is awful. At least, it has been.
We were at The Sparrows coffee shop in Grand Rapids just the other day and my dear friend Elizabeth craned her neck to see the picture I’m snapping of my coffee.
“You need a new camera,” she said.
But she’s one of those good friends who sits up with you during family emergencies and tells you when you have spinach in your teeth, or your blouse gaps, or you are talking too loud, or your Instagram sucks.
We both know that I’m simply a bad photographer. That’s a confession. I am a bad photographer. That’s part of my identity. At least it was.
I got a new phone, a Pixel 2 XL. I didn’t really get it for the camera; my old phone was falling apart. But after boldly declaring, on my last Instagram post, that my style was “sudden and blurry” I will now have to take bad photos in HD for the foreseeable future. I’m sad to see the old style go. It had become my rebellion against the constraints of my own perfectionism, a bid for realness (but cute, comedic, ironic, hip “realness” in this topsy-turvy world where Authenticity and The Ideal form the conflicting duality in our pop pantheon).
As for the mirrors, my house in explicably full of them, and so is David’s Bridal, where I recently got a retail job. The whole back half of the store is mirrored dressing rooms under bright lights. You can see where I forgot to shave my legs. You can see the zit where my makeup rubbed off. You can see, in my black dress, that I forget to stand up straight and the tummy curve I tell women all day doesn’t matter suddenly does to me.
Because I’m still not good at confession. I’m not good at dwelling in my sins, faults, and failings. Confession dwells. It sets up camp in the desert of failure and resigns itself to wandering forty minutes or forty years. But the pillar of fire is still there and the manna still falls.
A voice calls from the dressing room, “Can you help me, miss?” as I’m thinking about how living with roommates is confessional and working retail is confessional. (Your messes and mistakes get seen.) But Instagram is not, yet.
I open the dressing room door and see her hunched over, arms crisscrossed like a mummy to hide her skin. In dressing rooms, women become their bodies because they don’t talk about their bodies, they talk about themselves.
It makes me think of “I was naked so I hid.” This is not a confession. This is not even an apology. This is an explanation.
And God says, “Who told you you were naked?” Because for God, it is about identity. That’s why I’ve tried to stop filtering my confessions with “was,” “sometimes,” and “can be.”
I started that day in the golden hour. After I repeated my housemates words, I said other unqualified things.
“I am being sanctified.”
“I am loved.”
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.