I know how to get through winter – books and coffee. It’s a skill. I don’t think about spring. I meet the cold and dark on its own terms. In the middle of summer, though, I worry whether spring will come again. Autumn reassures me. Once the leaves turn red, and I see the sky divided by grey and black veins I know: I am going to make it.
Officially it is autumn, although summer was over for me more than a month ago, the first time I left for work under a black morning sky, twinkling with stars. It was as beautiful as it sounds.
I think I’ve rounded a corner, as well, through no more effort on my part than leaves giving up their hold on dormant branches. Even as crisp sounds and the unmasked silhouettes of trees replace insects’ hum and washes of green wherever you look, the edges of my inner world have become softer, the shapes less distinct. I used to remember the purpose I had here, could poke away the earth around me and reveal. That fuel feels spent now.
When Pammy and I were little, we spent a lot of time, especially with Daddy, looking at things behind glass – jewelry and watches, stuffed birds and bison, even little rooms full of perfect scale furniture no child had ever played with. I think I just want to go back there again, with him. I want to ask him why we are looking, ask him what we are looking for, and know whether he sees my heart reflected back in every lingering moment.
“Oh, good,” the lady said with fierce conviction and clear italics. “None of that digital crap!”
Have you ever felt a room wince? With just four or five people standing in the little gallery space, our mutual cringe was unmistakable as the social atonality of “digital crap” blew apart the melodious duets of small talk. A tiny pause magnetized the atmosphere. One side of the gallery was filled with lucid, graceful abstract photography, created with film, while the other side displayed a modest selection of still life images created solely with pixels. Created by moi. Moi. Who was sitting right there.
I clamped my mouth firmly shut, literally biting my lips to avoid the urge to interrupt, and reminded myself of Richard Thompson’s scalding comment, “They’re worse than critics. They’re amateur critics.” Graciously, the film photographer tip-toed around the scorched earth of the conversational land mine she had accidentally triggered. She assured the lady that the unique and unpredictable qualities of the film processes she favors were integral to her artwork. The lady seemed satisfied that, thanks to her insightful observation, the Crap of Digital had been vanquished. Buying neither film nor pixel, but having thus had her say, the lady soon departed, proving the visual art corollary to Kenneth Patchen’s Theorem which states “People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches.”
I guess what upsets that lady is the thought that pretty much anyone with a cell phone can wander down the Picnic Point running path on pretty much any Thursday afternoon, and take a picture, for chrissake, and that picture can be awesome. Yeah, I said it. Awesome. (Oh, I suppose what really upsets that lady is the danger that she might accidentally like an image that someone made with their cell phone on Thursday afternoon, walking on Picnic Point Trail, before she realized it was – you know – digital crap.)
Well, next time, that lady should take all that money she isn’t spending on buying digital crap and upgrade to the cell phone with the “kick-ass picture setting” on it. Cause that’s what I did.
It’s not that different, feeling your way through the earth towards humble particles that will submit themselves to becoming part of you. Not that different from shivering in the autumn light, reflecting back what you have already absorbed. Formed by nothing you can see, life crawls forward of its own accord, need taking shape, shape finding need.
What if there was a way to guarantee that everything you made would be beautiful? Some sure-fire formula, a fool-proof recipe, a method which, even if not easy, promised predictable rewards?
Could you say “no” to such a tender trap? Say “no” to knowing that your creations would always show your loveliest face? Or do we need the rough places? Places where we skin our knees on selfishness, sharpen our petty axes, wake up in pain? Maybe we even want to be unmasked for losing something we should know, confessing at last that all our straining to remember has only washed it further and further from the shoreline?