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  • Writer's pictureBrit Victoria

Over the counter

*Originally written on January 14, 2015. Revised June 9, 2018. 

As I advance in my journalistic career, my tendency to enter any and all events with a rather reporter-like mindset becomes ever-prevalent. Who, what, where, when, why, how? Scribble furiously if you hear a good quote. MAKE SURE YOU GET CORRECT SPELLINGS OF NAMES! 


But sometimes you're caught off guard. Sometimes a presenter or an exhibit piece will say something which sparks a memory or connection in your mind and derails the entire newspaper-fitting tone of the resulting piece. 


I attended the opening of the last exhibit at our campus museum, The Museum of Culture and Environment, which was entitled: Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in Urban America. As you can somewhat see in the pictures above, the photographer and ethnographer, Jeff Schonberg, felt black and white photography would best depict the subjects of the project--and he succeeded. 


Besides supplying my love for black and white photography with new ammunition, this exhibit definitely caught me off guard. Alike to the distinction present in the velvety blacks and bright whites of Schonberg's work, my emotions in regards to this exhibit also greatly contrasted and caused me to make three rather large connections. 


Connection I:


In the presentation given at the opening the "process" of addiction was discussed. One of the speakers mentioned how many addicts of harder drugs had resorted to using such substances as street heroin after first becoming addicted to prescription pain medication, whether from having it prescribed to them for chronic pain or obtaining it otherwise. 


Here comes the first instance of the journalistic professionalism wall being hit: the statement written in the center picture above was authored by me. My father was in a car accident the year I was born which left his back greatly damaged. Such accidents make prescription pain medication a given. My father was on said medication for 20 years of my life. I am currently 21. The name of the drug was not the only thing which seemed to be constantly changing over that time. 


In the time--the majority of my life--that my father was on these drugs, not only the effectiveness of them changed, but he also changed (or so I assume since I didn't really know him before the accident). As the pain got worse and less likely to be easily taken care of by medication, my father's already rather heated temperament caused a few occurrences in my upbringing which hold very negative connotations for me. 


Today my father is no longer on these drugs. He went through a weaning-off period two summers ago which added a few more not-so-fun memories for my family and I before things began getting better. I am happy that he can deal with the pain without such a personality-changing dependency. As the note above says, "I am glad to know the real him"--for I feel I never fully did until a few years ago. 


There is a difference between knowing someone's favorite bluegrass artist or what gag gift they'd get a kick out of and knowing you don't have to worry about them being pressured by pain and prescriptions to be untrue to their heart. 


Connection II: 


Homelessness was also an issue addressed in this exhibit. Besides reminding me once again of the people I have personally worked with through Sierra Service Project: a United Methodist-affiliated non-profit with which I have worked with to help flood victims and homeless communities alike, it also reminded me of a conversation I recently had with one of my good friends, Shyann. The conversation was on a topic I have written about in the past: the concept of home. When we talked we discussed how college students are really in an odd home limbo; our concept of what is home changes and fluctuates and, as I discussed in this post (Dear Emil, Max, and Pistorius; I now truly understand....), expands. And, as people who want to travel, Shyann and I see a lot more re-conceptualization of this idea in our futures.


Connection III: 


Thus brings me to my last point: Shyann and I. As I mentioned only sentences ago, Shyann and I both want to travel with our occupations. She is studying to be a cultural anthropologist and I, as if you didn't already know, am studying to continue my career as a photojournalist. 


At the follow-up event, hosted again by the Museum of Culture and Environment, Phillipe Bourgois, the anthropologist behind Righteous Dopefiend, gave a lecture and also further connections for me. 


At some point in that evening Jeff Schonberg, Phillipe's photographic partner, got up to help him with something in his presentation and Shyann and I just slowly turned to each other. 


"Holy s***! They're us!"


In the just over a year going on a lifetime that Shyann and I have known each other we have noticed and remarked on many similarities between our choice professions, but somehow the idea of working them together in such a way never really came up. 

So, for the sake of an attempt at brevity I'm going to reel this in. Even if Shyann and I don't end up working together in that capacity, or even if just not for some time, and even if I initially left my first experience of that exhibit with a rather negative yet inspired feeling, now, from writing this post, I see a lot of potential. A lot of hope. 

There is hope in being able to get to know my father better as a person, there is hope in the endless possibilities to create a home (I am very fortunate), and there is hope in the opportunities allotted us by who we know and who we plan to become.


Since this website is a new creation and collaboration of Shyann and I, I felt reposting this from my website especially appropriate. To update: Shyann FINALLY HAS A BIG GIRL JOB and has joined me in the real world. I am in Portland, living in the city and covering news for a neighboring small-town newspaper -- it's the best of both worlds. We are now about 150 miles apart, but we keep connected with Skype, occasional visits and this blog.

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