Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


All coiled up and hissin'

Today I watched an older gentleman rearrange the manikins in the front window of the men’s clothing store across from the radio room. For ten minutes. I watched him circle the three figures, tuck in, tuck out, unbutton, rebutton, armless sleeve in pocket just like so. He dropped to his knees to cuff the pants and pulled himself up. His back hurt. I could tell. He was still adjusting when I decided to walk away. On my walk home I saw a woman lip syncing to REO Speedwagon with her windows down, two elderly women with the same jacket and shade of lipstick, a boy galloping (literally, galloping) down Munjoy hill, and three firemen with tired eyes slumped in chairs facing the large window that looks out at Congress at the fire station.

Earlier today John asked us if we are pleased with our SALT stories and what our fantasy stories are. I remembered the story ideas I had prior to arriving in Portland, of the stories I hope to tell when I leave Portland, and how greatly disparate they are from the story I have found myself dedicated to. I returned to the question that has been haunting me since I became enamored with Sally Rollins. Why am I telling this story? Why am I enamored with this woman? In fact, what is the story? There is this woman, who is lonely, who fills her days with little tasks, cat detective novels, and stuffed animals, or, “stuffies”… She knows repetition and routine and she has lived with over two hundred cats in the last twenty years. And-- how can I responsibly portray her loneliness, expose her loneliness, while also relishing the somewhat sensational moments of being really grossed out by her living situation?

(Maybe I am intrigued because I haven’t known routine or repetition, ever really, or a crippling loneliness. I have been transient for a while now, and it’s exciting, but I can’t imagine a time when I will not be in limbo. This is daunting.)

Can I relate the excitement to accompany her as she bleaches 19 litter boxes, or watch her fill twenty-some odd dishes with Purina? At seven o’clock in the morning? Yes, the anticipation of observing a woman clean cat shit has kept me up at night. Am I pleased with this story? With menial tasks instead of speed or suspense, politics or action?

I am tired, dueling mono and insomnia and an eagerness to stay engaged despite them. But the sleepy delirium is leaving me a bit more contemplative. And it is making me stare at things for prolonged periods of time. Like the guy in the window. And wonder about the ladies that enjoy the same lip rouge. And what that girl is remembering when she mouths “When I said that I loved you, I meant that I loved you forever” (I remembered Tommy Wystup, this friend from high school that had an affinity for crapper Mercedes and cheesy power ballads.) I’m finding that although my energy levels are sub par, I am still able to do what I came here to do—indulge in curiosities about the small things, the way we fill our days, the things, like loneliness, we all recognize that make us human and are, simply, interesting.

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