The Roots are Where the Life is


“No one prints photos anymore,” people say when they visit my apartment on East 85th Street. They walk through the door and are almost immediately drawn to the collage of printed photographs on the west wall of my studio — photographs I upload to an app and receive in the mail each month from my subscription to timeshel. These visitors often gaze at the pastiche of faces and locations and ask about the stories behind them.

As eager as I was to begin my new rootless existence, I had forgotten something I learned during my childhood in small-town Mississippi. I had spent enough hours in my father’s rose garden to know none of those plants could survive without roots. They could be relocated, but if they stood a chance of flourishing in a new environment, the roots had to come with them. My father taught my siblings and me to water the roses’ drip line, the halo in the dirt beneath the farthest-reaching leaves of each plant. The roots are where the life is, he told us.

It did not take me long to realize that roots are as critical to a human’s life as they are to a plant’s.


Nearly two years ago, I backed timeshel on Kickstarter and began receiving thirty high-quality printed photographs in the mail each month. As my collection grew, I began to attach them to a blank wall in my studio with double sided tape. I printed photos of my two brothers, my sister, friends from college, a trip I took to South Africa, a trip to India. I asked my brother to email me photos of my baby nephew, and I added those to the wall. Once I had printed my old photos, I began adding images of new friends and recent occurrences: a weekend excursion to Coney Island, a midnight stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, apple picking upstate. The collage of photographs taped to the once bare wall grew into a mosaic of faces and stories that span from Mississippi to Manhattan to Mumbai.


These people who come to my apartment, for the most part, have only known me during my years in New York City; they do not know the stories from my lifetime before I arrived on this island. And as my finger points to different snapshots from my story and I tell of the collective people and places that together have built my present self, the recent places that will one day feel like distant memories, I remember: the roots are where the life is.


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