Today OCAC announced their closure. This year the last class will graduate, and there won’t be anymore after that. No more incoming students, no more campus, no more professors, no more school.
Now the slate will be wiped clean and there won’t be anywhere for me to go back to, I won’t be able to recreate all of my former emotions, walk the same steps, put myself back in the same threadbare spot on the rug. There won’t be those wires holding me to that place anymore, the strings have been cut and I’m floating and there’s no more proof of who I used to be or where I used to exist.
I can’t handle anymore little deaths. Ali says change is always knocking, but I’m sick of answering the door, I want to shut it and hide and never come out and never exist in a world where I can’t walk among my ghosts.
This year I’ll have lived in Portland for 10 years. I’ve lived here for more years without the context of school holding me than with it. But, still, I knew it was just up the hill. I could go back and I could wave hello to all of my former selves, the ones printing endlessly in the darkroom or mixing ink, setting type, the ones who grappled with growing pains, and the ones who felt so certain and solid, the ones who built a life from the ground up. They were all there, and the sun was perpetually setting over the clover field (and furthermore, the clover was perpetually blooming.)
When I was there, even after I graduated, it was like I extended all the way to the edges of my body. Like I was the most me, like I was real, I wasn’t pretending, I wasn’t trying to extend further, and I wasn’t shrinking.
Every single good thing in my life is because of that place. Every thread that reaches out from the center of my life was spun there. All of the people I love, but even more than that, the way I walk from the bus stop and look up and look down and the way I read, and read, and the way I write and the way I will never stop making photographs and the hesitation before I talk about something that means so much, and the way I take myself way too seriously and the way I try not to. My love for things that grow and for using my hands, my appreciation for text and my insistence on using the correct word, “typeface” instead of, “font.” The way I feel entitled to scoff at the zone system because I can also stand in front of a silver gelatin print and appreciate the greyscale, and the way I take pride in developing my own black and white film, how I know I agitate a little weird but I always have, that despite never feeling the urge to pick up alternative processes, I still remember the feeling of coating tin in the dark and how the smell of fixer on my hands will always make me feel like home.
Also, the people I love. My tiny microcosm of artists, the ones who graduated with me and the ones who graduated after me and of course, of course, all of the professors who so patiently guided me and who made me believe I was something, an artist. After I graduated I never really considered leaving Portland because they were all still here, and because it felt good to belong to something, even when I was gone.
It’s not like any of those things are evaporating, they’re still a solid part of me, just that the campus will no longer exist and no one else will get that now, and the fact that there is now a solid line, something I can’t climb over when I’m feeling nostalgic, and now I really have to grow up and move on.
In our fourth grade yearbook we had to say what we wanted to be when we grew up, and they printed it below our pictures, little one word idealisms.
Mine read: Artist.
And now here I am in a studio I have thanks to the recommendation of a former professor. I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully support myself financially with my art, which is after all what they were asking our fourth grade selves: how would you like to make money on this Earth? Despite that, my time at OCAC ingrained in me that deep belief: that I am an artist. It doesn’t matter how the money drips into my bank account, or what things get tacked slowly onto my tiny CV, it doesn’t even matter if I’m making work, it’s just what I am. A facet of my identity so true I haven’t felt the twinge of embarrassment of casually acknowledging it in years. There’s no more, “Well, I’m not really showing, but..” There’s no, “I mean, I’m not like, a ‘real’ artist…” It’s just there, just a fact of me.
My time there taught me to work with my hands, to understand the physical processes of something, which will always always always inform the digital processes. My work on the day to day is incredibly digital, but because of my sense of craft I never feel disconnected from it. (Though I sometimes miss the more physical processes, setting lead based type, darkroom printing, mixing ink.)
The truth is, I am in a lot of debt from school. The debt keeps growing, and will keep on growing and growing and I don’t realistically know when or how or if I’ll ever pay it off. Sometimes I say it wasn’t worth it. I say, if I could go back and do it again I wouldn’t. But I’m thankful every day that I don’t have that choice, that this is the path I’ve found myself on, even as the numbers on the balance rise higher every month from interest. It would have been a more pragmatic decision to go to a state school, or to not go to school, or to wait, who knows. 17 year old Brittany wasn’t as pragmatic as 27 year old Brittany. (17 year old Brittany also had no concept for the realities of debt, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
The truth is, I wouldn’t be who I am now without that place or those people. It’s the truest sentence that sounds the most flimsy, of course I wouldn’t. But I don’t know how else to say it. It makes my heart ache to think of not being able to step foot on that campus again, and it makes my heart ache to think of the people who will come into my life in the future and never be able to step foot on that campus, who won’t get to see what made me.