Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Up the Down Escalator

Temporarily Stairs

My horoscope today provided a quote from the late great Mitch Hedberg that was both wickedly funny and profoundly relevant to my current seemingly arrested state of affairs: "An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. You should never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order' sign, just 'Escalator Is Temporarily Stairs.'" It occurred to me that maybe the reason I am going nowhere is that I simply need to climb the stairs my personal escalator has become. Thinking again, I realized that I am not facing an obstacle of inertia I wish some outside power would remove for me. I am actually climbing. Every day. With great effort and my hopeful eyes and heart set on the landing above me, where I can just make out other people whose lives involve strolling around on compliantly flat surfaces in the company of compatible others. But instead of getting closer, it seems I am just getting exhausted and discouraged.

 Against the Tide

I have lived enough years to know when I am pretty much living the same year over again, feeling the same hopes and devastations, writing the same words, making myself the same promises that next time it will be better, next time my next step will get me somewhere other than back where I started. I am climbing up the down escalator stuck in the middle. And it isn’t broken. And it isn’t stairs. It’s life against the grain, against the tide, against all odds and no choice but to keep climbing, because, well, the alternative isn’t remaining in place – the alternative is sinking.

 Keeping from Sinking

Keeping from sinking has become my full time job, my love affair, my property, my claim to fame, my offspring, at a time when I have none of these things that define and comfort most of my contemporaries. I always knew my life choices would banish me to the fringes where my fellow non-conformists dwell, but no one warned me it would be this hard. It seemed a thing for which you make certain initial sacrifices, because you know no other way of being, and then accept and enjoy, not something you earn, defend, and pay for every single day of your life, and certainly not something that gets paradoxically harder to maintain the better at it you get. 

 There Have Been Beautiful Moments

I’m a freak, a geek and a nerd. I’m a punk, a misfit and an outcast not even content among fellow outcasts. I crave belonging but membership makes my skin crawl. I die of loneliness on a regular basis, but I am often only truly alive in my own company. I don’t look or live like my alleged peers, I don’t have their obligations, concerns and drives; more often than not I feel slightly uncomfortable in their presence, as if I were from another planet and the energy required to mimic their behavior constitutes such a drain on my inner resources every encounter requires days of solitary restoration and replenishment of my reserves. I can find common ground with nearly every person I meet, but not one overlaps with me entirely or even more than halfway. Some of my best friends could not even be in the same sentence together. And while there have been beautiful moments of alignment and connection with some amazing people over the years, there is always that point where their escalator rises and carries them away to a safe happy normal landing and mine keeps me exactly where I am, struggling to go nowhere. 

 Room to Dream 

That said, the struggle makes me stronger than I ever imagined I could become. It gives me time to think and room to dream, between those moments of deep despair and acute longing. If I focus only on what’s immediately ahead of me, or even better, the vastness within me, I don’t even care about anyone else’s progress. Progress seems like a pastime for fools, weaklings and cowards. At times they cast a glance at what must appear to be my futile unproductive existence and I see myself reflected in their eyes, measured by their standards and falling short. At times I wonder how long those others would last living my life. At times I understand how limited their lives actually are.

They have arrived and I have not. I am fighting every day for every inch I gain and lose in an endless battle to remain true to myself.  And when it comes down to it, so to speak, there is nothing stopping me from jumping off this escalator and borrowing another easier way of getting somewhere in life than being in a position of always starting over. I am never at the end and always at the beginning. But why the hell would I want it otherwise?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phoenix in the Mirror

Unmasking a Mystery 

Last night in anticipation of my latest installment in the Self Portrait Project I wrote on Facebook that part of the fun for me doing these shoots is setting up the shot. I compared it to cracking a code or unmasking a mystery. I lied. Almost all of the fun comes from studying an existing artwork to figure out the angles lighting and mood - even the mistakes and accidents - that combined to create the final effect so I can re-create those conditions and then re-envision the work with just enough of the original to be recognizable but not be merely an imitation. 


Not only is it a great way to distract my squirrel brain from running in circles over trivial matters and focus instead on a real puzzle to be solved, it gives me the sort of satisfaction in the end result I don’t often get in any other way. It also keeps my ego in check by making me laugh at myself when it goes wrong. For instance, I discovered after a quick test shot that I am about 5 inches in hair length away from being able to do the shot posted below, or if I did, might create very much not the effect desired.

 Phoenix by Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham is one hell of a photographer to choose to imitate. When I selected her as this month’s inspiration I had in mind her unique ability to make bodies look like landscape, often shot within landscape. Unfortunately the endless winter and whatever sense of modesty I still possess kept me from stripping down in the great outdoors to pose picturesquely au naturel in Nature. Being limited to the not so great indoors, I kept looking through her catalogue and found four photos of a model known as Phoenix and was immediately smitten.

 Becoming a Phoenix

Captured standing, in the mirror, on her side and recumbent, Phoenix proved the perfect inspiration after the somewhat ironic pinup shoot last month. I wanted to get back to basics and create images that were about a celebration of the human form as a purely aesthetic phenomenon, not as prurient or philosophically provocative subject matter. 

 Purely Aesthetic

Call it a union of kindred artistic spirits, or maybe it’s just the hair, but something made this one of the most blissfully easy shoots I have yet done, considering I was impersonating a gorgeous blonde – which I am not – and borrowing the moves of one of the greatest magicians of the medium – which I am not,  and performing an activity which requires the poise and skill of being utterly confident and comfortable posing nude and posting the resulting images, which I am so very much not. But what’s the point of a comfort zone unless you step out of it?

 Out of the Comfort Zone

That said, that last shot did not appear on Facebook and I am hoping won’t raise any red flags here. On principle I defend its artistic content but bold as I am when it comes to standing up (or lying down) for art, I wouldn’t be a photographer if I enjoyed being the center of attention. Another reason this project constantly breaks and remakes me. Quite possibly I will emerge from it as both a different sort of creature entirely, as artist and as woman, as subject and object, beautiful in my moments of triumph and surrender.

 Moments of Triumph and Surrender

Phoenix indeed. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me in my undertaking and continuing this project. Your kind comments, useful suggestions and the example of your own courage whether in creative projects or just being unapologetically who you are mean the world to me.