All posts filed under “Writing

The Drive.

Secretly, I have always wanted to be a Southerner, one who is born from the South. Sadly, I was born above the Mason-Dixon line and don’t get to have such an honor but I figure I can always visit. Or live there as my stupid hopeful plans go for the next year or so. When I set out last Thursday for a 8 hour drive to Winston-Salem North Carolina, the sun was bright and the weather forecast was promising for the trip: 85 degree weather with clear skies. Car packed, lunch waiting for 1pm, plenty of liquids and music, I headed west on I-78 over dry asphalt and then south on I-81.

The camera I brought with me was a rental from a work, a Nikon D3 with a massive 14-24mm lens. It is a bulky and heavy set-up and though I was tempted to shoot on the way down through my car window, careening into the side of one of the many tractor trailers that I was traveling with wasn’t exactly appealing. Which is why there are no photographs until I actually got to North Carolina.

That said, crossing the Mason-Dixon line was strange and anti-climatic. It is marked mostly by the Mason-Dixon Auto Auction, the Mason-Dixon Road and a rectangular green sign, posted on either sides of the highway. While I have been south before in my life, I was less cognizant of the impact of that line and when I did finally cross it for the first time in my adult life, the impact was underwhelming. The changes in the land didn’t come until I was well into West Virigina and even then they were subtle; from the change in land use by the sides of the highway (rolling, wide fields versus rocky, steep pastures) to the blue highway signs advertising fast food (Wendys’ versus Bo’jangles) were the only indicators that I was below the line of demarcation between North and South.

Housekeeping.

I find comfort in the menial tasks of domesticity, where my life floats beautiful around the mundane. In small housekeeping based tasks, I find satisfaction in keeping a clean space, a clean house, meticulously organized and put together. It is no surprise that upon coming home, I have found myself more willing to put up with and maintain my mother’s expectation of order that has been established long before I was born, long before she was even born. In washing dishes, I find time to mediate. In making my bed every morning, I find a routine that keeps me grounded. In dusting, I am comforted by the way the rag clears the pale floatsom from tabletops, from nooks and crannies in furniture.

Admittedly, it’s akin to a nervous tick.

When I am worried, I straighten. When I am listless, I dig into the world that is my stuff and discard the unneeded, the extraneous, the superfluous. When I am sad, I find myself scrubbing a bathroom from top to bottom. When I am alone, as I often am, I find myself deep in the silence of cleaning a floor by hand, on my hands and knees. Often, as extra income, I find myself in other people’s houses, polishing their hardwood staircases with hot water and Murphy’s oil soap, hands wrung dry and knees bruised. I find a calm in not only cleaning my living space, but other’s as well. The world is a better place when I can organize and put things where they belong.

Housekeeping, in a way, is a representation of moral character. The matriarchal family in which I was born into has taught me the responsibility and need to maintain a clean living space in an intense, obsessive manner. Before I moved out, away from the life I lived under the gaze of my parents, my room was a place of chaos, of collaged walls, of piles of clothes, of stuff. I clung to disorder as a means of rebellion, to not only irritate my mother, as all good teenagers do, but push against all that I was brought up to believe, what I should be. I tried to ignore the uneasy feeling I got when I went into homes that were less clean than the one I lived in, whose blatant filth forced me to be careful about touching things, about stepping lightly. I tried so very hard to ignore the dust on the baseboards, the dirty kitchen floor but I could not.

So, when I moved out, when I got to fill an apartment with my things, my tendency and my need to keep house crept up on me and the one day smacked me across the back of the head. I dreaded using the dirty bathroom so I cleaned it. I hated walking barefoot across the dirt-speckled wood floors so I vaccumed. The disorganization of the kitchen made me nervous so I straightened. By the time I moved into my third apartment in 2 years, I was willingly and happily scrubbing the dingy linoleum kitchen floor back to it’s former white glory once a month while my roommate was out. I swept the back porch in the summer time, pulled weeds from the sad patch of dirt in front of the house, wiped out windowsills after rainstorms.

I often think of not keeping house a sign of something amiss. I have noticed, as I go back through the short stories I have written, that when ever something is wrong, the house is a mess, the dishes aren’t washed, there are no clean clothes, the floors are dirty. Despair is eating in bed, leaving the dishes on the nightstand. When the future is bright, the characters (or myself, since I think it’s hard to write something about someone else without you in it) live in a world of order and immaculate baseboards. Love is washing dishes together. I see the decay of personal space as internal conflict in other people’s writing too; off the top of my head, Housekeeping by Marylynne Robinson is one, We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates is another.

Today, while I am alone in a big quiet house, I am listing the things off in my head that I need to do in order to maintain that moral character. There is a vacuum to be run, a kitchen floor to be cleaned, counters to be bleached, laundry to be folded and put away, and as an extension of personal space, a car to be cleaned out. Granted there are other things I need to do but before I leave the house, before I even bother getting dressed, the housekeeping comes first. It is only after I do these things, only after I have made my world a better place, can I deal with the world outside, in all it’s dirt and disorganization.

Waxing.

It’s 4.30 on a Sunday in mid-March and right now, I can’t think of a better time to be breathing in the crisp, mud-scented air than this moment. I listen to six cylinders and gravel crunch under the wheels and my brain is rapid-firing at me with thoughts about what the fuck I am doing and who the fuck I am. I downshift for the stop sign and brake. Here, now my head and heart is full of wanting of direction and an idea of what I will be in 5 10 15 years and the only thing I can see is brown, tilled fields and leafless tree lines.

Picking up a camera to attempt to make an image that is interesting and smart and subtle has seemed like too much of an effort lately and I find myself going “but what’s the point of photographing here? What important thing are you trying to said that already hasn’t been said about the loss of rural life in the United States? You are beating a dead horse. Put the camera down” when my eye is pressed to the view finder. It doesn’t seem like such a great thing to plot a future around but neither do any of the other ideas that I’ve come up within the past year or so (welder, librarian, intellect, part of the NPR braintrust, farmer, photographer, etc.). I want to know as much as I can, see as much as I can see. I want to shove as much stuff into my brain and figure out what to do from there.

I want to be everything. I want to be everywhere.

Instamatic, LIFE.

Two things, which are shining examples of those things from the past coming back to impact the future.

Polaroid film. Instant, with those strange colors, is one object in photo-making who’s manufacturing life has met it’s end. The need for the instamatic camera and the one and only it spits out has radically diminished with the massive take-over of digital cameras. It is a niche market now, an object of the past that technology has eradicated.

Which is why I want to see The Impossible Project succeed this year. I am rooting for them.

Google’s archives of LIFE magazine. This article published this week by the New York Times Magazine discusses the problem with Google’s recently digitized LIFE photographic archive and it’s lack of contextualizing details. In it, Heffernan explains why this lack of contextualizing evidence simplifies and softens the subject matter, how it doesn’t explain the obsession with the Kennedy’s and is sorely lacking the way the images were categorized. Imagine my delight at the job she is proposing for the particular photography lovers and aspiring librarians everywhere:

“If Google intends to get into the business of displaying photography, it needs to either encourage wiki curation or, more feasibly, to hire a team of people who understand photography to make the most of the raw material here. It’s a good time for it: many first-rate content providers who made their careers in old media (some who even understand the significance of Life photography) would be happy, one of these days, to get a call from Google.”

I won’t lie: my toes curled.