I was in line at AAA getting my new license. I didn’t want to drive with an expired one. Once I forgot to register my car for two years. “Do you know you skipped an entire registration cycle?” the registry person said.

I was pretty pregnant. Everyone tries to help pregnant people, so he covered up my misdeed without a single charge or fine. This is Rhode Island–after living two decades in the land of nepotism, I’d finally received my slice of the special treatment pie.

Very few people know AAA has Department of Motor Vehicle Services, which makes it better than the line-skipping pass at Disney. I was smiling–yes, smiling–as I waited for my license picture. It was raining. It would not be a good photo day.

I’m not photogenic. It doesn’t matter what my photo looks like, they’ll take a worse one.  I never get carded, though, so the photo doesn’t matter. It’s the standard, “you’re older” license photo retake.

I passed the eye test without a copay.

“Take off your glasses.” I asked why. Shouldn’t the officer know I’m blind as a bat?

“So they can see your eyes.” Flash. My eyes closed. No officer would see them.

Every time I get a new license photo I secretly challenge the photographer to take a worse picture than the last. I’m certain it’s not possible with the picture I have now–she’d have to be talented to win. She was. I was pleasantly surprised.

I love photography. I should’ve been a photographer. I’ve been taking pictures since I was old enough to ask for film and flash cubes for my birthday.

I think photography’s a zero risk career. If you’re a good photographer, your stuff’s in art galleries. You photograph Mick Jagger or work for National Geographic. If you’re a bad photographer, you take mug shots or work at the DMV. Either way, I could get paid to do something I love without always collecting data and worrying about teacher evaluations.

I have three favorite photographers. If you haven’t seen their work, you should.

Jeff Weisberg makes crumbling things look beautiful. There is beauty in every space whose golden age has long passed and every person not at his finest hour.  Jeff finds that beauty.

My favorite Weisberg work is of a man wrapped in a blanket. He sits on a heat grate eating from a paper cup. You’d walk around him in the street. He is forgotten by society, in front of a soaped-up window with block-letter graffiti, “You are beautiful.”  I’ve stepped over that man, but that man could, but for the slightest twist of fortune, be me.

Jeff’s photo makes me want to be a better person–to do more–because no one should be invisible. It’s in the door of my classroom showing every student they are beautiful.

Photographer Jodi Swanson created the Women of Strength movement. Her pictures of women in times of crisis make me react, reflect, and cry. Jodi also volunteers in other areas. When she goes into a cancer ward or a neonatal ICU I thank God for every single blessing in my life. She has mastered the resilience of the human mind, heart, and soul, whether she’s showing single mothers, women working through abuse and homelessness, families in struggle, or triumph over suffering–each of her photos says, “I am strong. You are strong, too.” That message makes me stronger. We’re all together in this.

Chris Michel does something few photographers do–he tells the story of a single subject within the narrative of the world, past, present, and future. It is a gift I’ve rarely seen in an artist.  This is the photographer I wanted to be at seven years old, taking pictures of colonial gravestones and beach shots with my thumb in the corner of each one. It’s the photographer I’d like to be now as I visit my film Nikons sitting on a shelf, victims of the iPhone revolution.

Chris was the Dalai Lama’s photographer for a bit. He traveled to the edge of space. He’s photographed whale’s tails, penguins tap dancing, and people in their day-to-day lives all over the globe. I look at a woman carrying a basket. I see she’s lived a hard life. A simple life. And she is happy. I think to myself, “Simple. Happy.” It’s a message that improves me and makes me try better to leave life’s clutter behind. That’s what brings true joy.

I should have been a photographer. If I was as good as them, I’d make you feel, experience, believe. If not, I’d take your kid’s picture when he tried to get a fake ID.

Click. “Here you go,” she said with a smile. “It’s a temporary. The real one will come in the mail in 4-6 weeks.” I looked at the photo for my new license. Truly horrendous. I was proud. I could hide from the law forever with this photo. No one’ll recognize me. Ever.

But in a month, I’ll get a new license, fully mutilated by Downtown to look even worse than the paper printout.

It’s definitely worth the wait. Happy new license to me!

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