As 2012 comes to an end I naturally find myself thinking about what is to come. The late Joe Strummer has been on my mind lately because the 10 year anniversary of his death was this month. Strummer projected a forward thinking attitude about change and taking control of our own destinies, which I like very much. I’ll be ringing in the new year with the music of Joe Strummer and the long line of musicians he is associated with including Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bob Marley. Happy New Year!
“And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That’s because they’ve been dehumanized. It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.”
In the midst of my regular and usually quite aimless meanderings online, searching for meaning on subjects I obsess over and research in my spare time, I was recently reminded of this talk entitled, This is Water, given by David Foster Wallace in 2005, addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College. DFW committed suicide in 2008 and it is impossible to read or listen to this talk now without thinking of what was to come when he originally delivered it.
In (This is Water) he argues, gorgeously, against “unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” – From The New Yorker
He begins with a parable:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
DFW goes on to say:
“The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”
As I read on, I was so moved, I decided to order the speech which has been reprinted in book form by the Hatchet Book Group.
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace’s electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.
Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.
It’s a small and lovely book and I’ve been carrying it around for days. I especially like how DFW eloquently points out that we are not victims of some innate inclination for how we find meaning in our lives, or as he puts it, we are not “hardwired” in some specific way. Instead we are free to choose. It’s so easy to become trapped in the tedium of every day life and think that we are free.
“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” – David Foster Wallace
There’s so much more to discover… Google This is Water, and see for yourself.
After our opening at the Octagon Gallery in Westfield on Friday, we headed to Fredonia for dinner and drinks with friends. Deb’s friend Steve rode with Allen and me to make sure we didn’t get lost. Along the way we passed through Brocton, a tiny village within the town of Portland in Chautauqua County. It would have been easy to overlook Brocton all together if we’d been driving through during the day, but at night its old store fronts and abandoned businesses seem fantastically lit by a combination of rickety street lights and the stars in the sky.
I quickly snapped half a dozen mental images as we whizzed down E. Main Street which cuts Brocton in half along Rout 20. Just as we reached the end of the strip, Allen started insisting we turn around so I could take a picture of something he had seen. We circled around and I grabbed this shot. Allen felt the connection to my work would be interesting to me, and he was right. It’s an abandoned doll shop Called Pegg’s Enchanted Doll House and Hospital. I can’t wait to go back some night and take more pictures in Brocton.
My title, The Pencil of Nature, for this group of iPhone shots, pays playful tribute to the book of the same name by William Henry Fox Talbot, published in London between 1844 and 1846. These images started out as studies for another project shot using a DSLR, but as they accumulated, they took on a life of their own. The theme, which is revealed subtly in the image titles, is very much in line with my work on memory and loss, but the technology that frames the work has even more of a presence than usual. This is unavoidable, since Instagrams and their ilk remain rarely charted terrain in the world of fine art and so my use of them must enter my discussion of the work.
In the passage below from his original text, enamored of crediting nature and not the painter’s hand, Talbot muses about future photographic technologies. He seems to almost predict their many forthcoming incarnations, which we now know range from Calotypes to Instagrams, with countless points in between.
“They are impressed by Nature’s hand; and what they want as yet of delicacy and finish of execution arises chiefly from our want of sufficient knowledge of her laws. When we have learnt more, by experience, respecting the formation of such pictures, they will doubtless be brought much nearer to perfection; and though we may not be able to conjecture with any certainty what rank they may hereafter attain to as pictorial productions, they will surely find their own sphere of utility, both for completeness of detail and correctness of perspective.”
I’m in the process of deciding on titles and presentation for some of the new work for my upcoming show with Debra Eck at the Octagon Gallery. I made this grid of 6 of the new pieces to help me visualize how to lay them out in a small grouping. The final pieces will be matted and framed, so this is just for planning purposes. Recent events have inspired me to name the bottom left image in honor of my older sister, Eve. I’m still very much in the midst of deciding on all the rest, but the very nature of her name suggests a theme that I’m delighted with.
When Nadja got sick in the Summer of 2010, the Vet helped me keep her alive and, for the most part, pain free with fluid injections that I administered daily for a little over a year. I was so grateful to have that extra time with her and it helped me to prepare somewhat for what was to come.
On July 25, 2011 (one year ago today) Nadja left this world and went on to new adventures. I was struck with a sadness that I’ve never known. It took months for the pain in my heart to ease. My eyes still well up sometimes when I think of her. It’s a very sweet sadness, though. I’ve found that it’s a great joy to hold her in my heart and keep my memories of the 16 years she spent with me close. I enjoy her visits occasionally in my dreams and the little things that bring her to mind. Nadja is gone, but she will never disappear.
“Grief makes one hour ten.” William Shakespeare
“The problem with loving is that pets don’t last long enough
and people last too long.” Anonymous
A friend of mine posted this quote on her facebook page at a moment when I needed it most. It’s perfect even on a regular day, however, so I decided to share. The photo I chose to go along is from my trip to Old San Juan, a place I’d visit again in a heart beat. Every Sunday in Old San Juan (weather permitting) you can see dozens and dozens of chiringas (kites) flying in the open area in front of El Morro.
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken. ”
– Anais Nin
I had a wonderful time back home in Omaha for a long weekend that started on Thursday. It was magical for a number of reasons – not including the usual. Sometimes the unexpected is the biggest gift of all. A highlight was the occasion of my Great Aunt Ann’s 90th birthday which was marked by a fabulous party and fireworks show at Ponca Hills Farm. I captured this Instagram shot shortly before the great Netflix, Pinterest, Instagram crash of 2012.
“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon
It rained all morning the day I took the 2 1/2 hour train ride from Lancaster to London. It was a high-speed train, and it swayed from side to side as the scenery whizzed by in both sides of my peripheral vision. Reading seemed impossible. In fact, avoiding motion sickness seemed impossible. So I occupied myself snapping shots out the window. Most of my results came out as blurry as expected, but I was quite pleased with some of the shots. The way the water played on the window, and the blurry, vibrant whisps of countryside and rail stations captured by chance, seem to pay proper tribute to my anticipation of adventures to come.
After dinner we walked back and Derek and Yoke Sum took us to see their garden. We made our way down a narrow corridor of stone and concrete that stretches behind their home and the adjoining neighbors’ to a small garden plot at the end. My eyes are always wide when I travel and on this particular evening I was quite taken with the beautiful colors I encountered each time I changed my glance.