It is sort of silly that all of the things that are most important to me are in the room farthest from the door. Of course, this thought only occurs when the flames are already invading, marching and dancing around like they own the place, which of course, at this point they very much do.
I tell myself to stop and think for a second, before the smoke fills my lungs and travels through my nostrils to my brain and I pass out in a grey, sooty fog. There have only ever been two options of the things I would take with me in case of disaster. Both of them, cruelly, most vulnerable to these godforsaken flames, both of them able to hold all my thoughts and dreams and desires and then be burned up to a crisp and ash in godforsaken seconds.
I do not take my books, or my music. Those things I can buy again. Those are not the two things.
The first, immediate choice is my words. There's a blue journal I kept in Europe: the pages are unlined and I wrote inspired, dreamy travel drunk things in various patterns and directions and loops. There's the plain CVS notebooks, each page filled with blue ink from high school, college, full of angst but also full of the times that I knew myself and loved myself best. There's a journal, the cover full of road signs, that is just for lists, and I like this one so much. There's the small, pocket-sized notebook bought last year in Brooklyn that I've been carrying around in my bag ever since until I just filled it to the last page last month; now it sits in my desk drawer, full of lists about books and the bad poetry and angry thoughts I needed to fill it with this winter.
These things together I can hold in one hand; they are not much. I can grab them, put them under my shirt, next to stomach, hug them to myself, and be fine. I would be fine, they would be fine.
At the door I stop because this is the immediate choice but it is not the best choice. I make it first because it is the selfish choice: to save myself. My instinct is to take the selfish choice first.
But I put down the notebooks and go back for the second option: the pictures. There are several boxes, each full of smaller boxes, each smaller box labeled with subject and date, each individual photo inside labeled on the back. They are heavy, bulky, but I can carry them in both my arms. On top of the boxes I'd put the plain white album from my mom, the one with the family trees in the front. I take the external hard drive, all the repetitive digital megabytes. Then there are the two black binders full of RC prints and the art folios of the fiber 11x14s. I need these too. I need all of them. I can do it. I might inhale more smoke and I might need a medic to attach one of those breathing things to my face when I get outside and collapse in the cool grass, but it's okay, it's fine, it's worth it.
The pictures are the people, the pictures are the memories that are truer than my words, less skewed and less dramatic and more real. The pictures are the real art.
The pictures are the things that say all the things that my words can't describe.