Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ghost in the Attic

I’ve written a lot in this space about the unwitnessed life, the uncomfortable acceptance that I have more in common with the tree that falls in the forest unheard and therefore makes no sound than my fellow humans, and the irony of sharing these observations in a manner that doesn’t go very far beyond myself as audience, surely the embodiment of Shakespeare’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But that’s the problem with ghosts like me, dead since last week, last month, or last century, I still keep trying to be part of the living world, won’t believe or accept that I’m completely gone or done, even when no one seems to hear what I say, feel what I am, even when I pass through walls, or minds, or hearts, and come out the other side untouched. So here I am again, falling, telling. 

Living alone is like being a ghost in your own life. You have a heightened sense of your existence, because so much of it occurs in your mind, where past, present and future are both tightly interwoven and easily penetrable, where worlds are created from the inside out, not defined from the outside in, where there is so much clear soaring certainty alongside so many dark pitfalls of doubt. I think therefore I am. My God, if I could just stop thinking.

Because ghosts need love too. And attention. Or at least the sense that they matter, make a difference, have an effect. There’s a reason the solitary people of the world talk to themselves. We all want to be heard, even when there’s no one listening. We all want to connect, even those of us for whom connecting has not gone all that well. We are not pure consciousness drifting in space. We are human, we have voices, we have hands, we have eyes and they are designed to communicate with other beings. 

I haven’t always lived alone. I spent 29 years in my parents’ home, haunting my childhood bedroom like the ghost I was destined to become. Adding together my few brief cohabiting relationships over the decades, I managed to log 9 years in shared living spaces. And for the 16 years I’ve had no human roommates, I’ve had feline companions, who have also acquired the habit of talking to themselves. And I’m beginning to think that being such solitary creatures, cats also need to hear the sound of their own voices to make sure they are still there. My fellow solitaries out there know the feeling of being called upon to speak after long hours alone and finding your voice reluctant and rough from disuse. The mild shock when you realize you have not spoken out loud for hours, maybe days. Or when you emerge from your hermitude and someone looks you in the eye for the first time in hours, maybe days, and you’re not sure you’re even visible, much less able to make some sort of socially appropriate response. It’s like that moment in the ghost movie where the especially sensitive character can see what no one else sees and the resident spirit accustomed to being overlooked has to adjust to being recognized.  Wait, you can see me?

Two years ago I started a self portrait project, drawn from a dark lonely place of personal and creative desperation to be seen, heard, to matter. Maybe not to a large audience, maybe it was only a photographic version of talking to myself rather than risk losing my voice altogether. I needed to feel substantial, a physical being occupying space, and I went literal, using my own body as subject matter. It started with me trying on various personae, drawn from famous representations of women in art, and faltered when I switched from a year of impersonations to a year of theme shoots that ended around summertime, when I ran out of ideas, and energy, and enthusiasm, redirecting my camera to abstract subjects in the outside world. But I couldn't quite walk away from the project. And I have been waiting ever since in this invisible silence for the inspiration to bring it back to life. 

Then my regular weekly Luminous Traces assignment finally provided just what I needed with the prompt Stomping Ground, which, to my delight, I found defined as an accustomed, familiar place, or haunt. And I looked around my new attic apartment, in which I have already spent too many long hours unseen and unheard, and realized it was time to reclaim the project by doing my inaugural self portrait shoot in this space. Which results appear interspersed here, for you who can still see and hear me. Because I may be a ghost, but I’m not done or gone just yet.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Where I've Been and How I Got to Where I Needed to Be

This was going to be one of those apologetic posts about how I've been missing from this space for so unforgivably long and why. Make no mistake, life has been far from noteworthy these past two months since my last posting, and having recently re-read that piece of writing, I can see that my mood and fortunes have only improved slightly, so consider yourselves (whoever you may be) spared.

And while I'm at it, sparing you, my remaining faithful and shamefully neglected readers, I'm going to spare myself as well. Honestly I can't even recall what got me through the summer that ended yesterday, except to say that I'm here, in a new season, with the year now three quarters done, and aside from having moved into a lovely new adult-sized apartment, there's not much to tell about, or to show for it.

Except for these images. Because that's what I've mostly been doing. Twice a week, the two times I actually have to show up somewhere and do something every week, something I actually enjoy doing, I have been visiting the Vermont Farmers Market in Depot Park in beautiful downtown Rutland to shoot photos for promotional purposes on social and other media.

What began in May as a kind of community service and creative challenge way out of my comfort zone, being perilously close to doing photography as a JOB, as opposed to an unfettered expression of my whimsical spirit, accountable to no one, not even myself, soon became the thing to which I most look forward every week, and eventually, my first regular paid work in years, and maybe even the first paid work I have ever loved doing.

Turns out, fruits and vegetables are an amazing bottomless well of inspiration in terms of subject matter. I started out intending to dutifully document the variety of available produce and products at the market, and the people providing them, as close as I will ever get to commercial photography. What happened was the sort of "art as work, work as art" equation I have only ever dreamed was possible.

The biggest surprise was how easy it was. I would stroll through the rows of tents enjoying chatting with my fellow marketeers and snapping frame after frame of compositions that pretty much composed themselves. All the artistry I feared I would have to set aside in the interest of job requirements was not only available but impossible to ignore.

I even started taking decent photographs of people. Yes, people. After weeks of circulating the market with my camera as a weekly presence, either my subjects lost their wariness, or I did, or both. I have now not only built a vast archive of images of our vendors and their displays, but I no longer need to squirm and declare "anything but people" when asked what sort of photography I do.

It's been fun. It's been enriching. It's been horribly self-absorbed and also served a purpose outside myself. People, even the ones I take photos of, seem to like the images I post on Facebook and Instagram, and I hope this makes them feel as warm and fuzzy about the market as I do and want to come experience in person the feast for the eyes I lovingly capture every week. Everybody wins.

And now somehow, suddenly, it's autumn. I'm taking photos of pumpkins instead of berries. I'm doing so in a plaid flannel shirt instead of a sundress. And soon, the market will move to its indoor winter location and I will take my place behind my own table for the six months of the year that I am not only the documenter of all things VFM, but a regular vendor.

And the way things sometimes magically come together when you aren't meddling in the process, in addition to the crocheted accessories I will once again be selling come November - stay tuned for future posts on how that's going - I will also be selling prints of some of the photographs I have been taking in the off season, some of which you see collected here. So, far from doing nothing worthwhile, and continuing to go nowhere, I guess I have been doing exactly what I needed to be doing, and got exactly where I needed to be.

Happy Autumn, all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Driftwood: A Life in Fragments


My first early retirement from life occurred when I was 22. I have always done a lot of living inside my head, and my college years added a particularly intense outside my head ingredient to the prematurely, precociously and presciently bleak mixture of public and private hopelessness I had been cooking up since I was 10. Then, as a graduation gift, my grandmother died, and I spent my first post-graduate year processing a loss that gave way to an absence never to be filled. But at least it gave me a societally acceptable period of not being expected to figure out, much less get started on, what was to become of me.

 Led to Believe

As the Monty Python character claiming to have been turned into a newt by an alleged witch once admitted, it got better. It took three years, but eventually I emerged from my self-incarceration and took a part time job in a small library, which then led to a full time job in a large museum, and by the time I was 30 I was leading a life that included all the things I had been led to believe life was about: a place to go every day, work to do, friends whose company I enjoyed, and sharing my home and myself with a good man who loved me enough to ask me to marry him. I went from living as deeply inside my head as a person can retreat, to living as far outside as anyone dares venture. 
True to Myself

Which was the problem. I became unrecognizable to myself. One by one, I came to question and challenge and eventually reject all the things that had contributed to construct what I presumed to be happiness because it looked just like the picture next to the definition. I found myself out the other side without a clue where to go next. Only this time, it didn’t get better. Being true to myself reaped no such rewards as denying, betraying and falsifying myself. And that has pretty much been the story ever since. The settings have changed, and the cast of characters, and the plot lines, and I am not exactly sure how I wasted whole years only half alive, and more recently endured yet another devastating relationship based on compromise, resignation and abnegation of self, but here I am, some thirty years later, feeling 22 again.

Mom and I

Back then, my Mom and I mourned her mother’s loss together. It suited us both to limit contact with the world outside, to seek solace in books and writing and midnight snacks, the familiar safe comforts of home and our own inner worlds. I wish I had known then that it would turn out not to be a brief hiatus, but who I am and always will be. It wasn’t me that needed changing, but my way of shaping the world around me. And since no one told me there were any other options but fully immerse or fully withdraw, I tried each to the exclusion of the other, alternately, repeatedly, to no avail, for decades.  My mother chose full withdrawal, ongoing, and ingoing, further and further until her last years when her body, mind and spirit all retreated to some deep inner place leaving little for the world outside. And then, when there was almost nothing left, suddenly there was nothing at all, except another loss to process, another absence never to be filled.   And the creeping suspicion that a life made up of what’s missing cannot stand.
Long Walks Alone

Some days it feels as if I may as well be that same 22-year-old who only left the house to go down to the Strand to prowl the stacks and barely made eye contact with other humans, who spent years taking long walks alone and reading big books and endlessly delaying any declaration of what I intended to do with my life or myself. As it is now, my life was on hold then, an elaborate and functional structure of distractions and stalling techniques. But unlike today, I wasn’t lost or frustrated, because I wasn’t trying to go anywhere or do anything. And unlike today, I wasn’t completely alone. 

Hybrid Approach

These days, I am. These days I know the world can’t and shouldn’t be entirely ignored. I’ve had to adopt a hybrid approach to living to survive, and on the days I am not the timeless ancient hermit I should have accepted as a very large, in truth the very largest, part of my true identity long ago, I am the social creature who has learned more than enough of the ways of the world to navigate them effortlessly, like a shark cutting through water without leaving a ripple. I have encounters and experiences in which I am fully immersed, and I continue on. The only difference between me and the shark is that things actually stick to the shark, living things, any things. I seem to shake everything off. Or everything shakes me off. I spend time with people. And I spend time alone. I’m pretty good at both, and fear or resist neither. And that’s an improvement. Of sorts. I don’t intend to be needing one anytime soon, but fearless and non-resisting is not such a bad epitaph.


Back in my first early retirement, one of the creative projects I undertook, because nothing fills an empty life of self-imposed solitary confinement like a creative project, was writing an autobiographical novel. I didn’t have very much personal history to relate, so instead I looked into a future imagined as a continuation of my current state, and appropriated quotes from all the books I was reading to support and enrich my own musings on the public and private human hopelessness of it all. The novel was called “Driftwood: A Life in Fragments” and followed its Dostoevskian narrator from her early realization of her own uselessness to a time when she has outlived even that, outlived everything, with even death eluding her when it would be most welcome, and in fact, the only meaningful thing that can be hoped to happen to her, ironically, the one thing that will make her feel she is alive at all. 

 What Happens Next
When I went looking for this novel in progress, it wasn’t where I remembered last seeing it, and honestly, I didn’t look that hard. Maybe it’s time to write a whole new autobiography. Or at least I think I’ll keep the main character exactly as she is, and take her story, with all her immersions and withdrawals, with no changes, right up to now. It’s what happens next I need to rethink. 

All photographs taken by me on yesterday’s hike along the D &H Rail Trail - because some things that never change never should.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

When Words Fail Me

 …is this week’s theme prompt on Luminous Traces Collective. It also prompted me to check this space and discover that I had not posted a new post in almost 6 weeks, which might be more of a case of me failing words, or at least doing a disservice to the word side of the twin tigers this blog was created to serve.

I confess, I haven’t had much to write about here. I have, however, been creating a lot of images, between the weekly LT theme shoots, and the twice weekly shoots I have been doing for The Vermont Farmers Market, from which I am taking my usual summer break as a vendor. This frees me up to be a roving documenter of everything I used to be too busy behind my own table of wares to enjoy and capture. If you want to see some really cool photos of fruits and vegetables and the people who provide them to my community, check out the VFM Facebook page.

But back to my wordlessness. Maybe I have only so much creative energy to give. It’s happened before that one of my passionate pursuits languishes while I attend to another. Or maybe it’s not about quantity of attention but quality – or variety. I’ve started to think visually by default. The spark of an idea or emotion that once ignited a poem or post now bypasses that unlit heap of language and goes right for the visual kindling. I used to grab my pen and write about whatever urgent subject matter refused to leave me alone. Just try to stop me. I never left the house without pen and paper. Now I have some sort of camera with me at all times, and whatever I’m thinking or feeling informs and infiltrates whatever I am photographing.

But I owe this space and its small but select and much appreciated following some kind of update. So here it is, a month late. I still haven’t found the ideal job or the love of my life, or fully reclaimed my former fitness of body, brightness of mind, or lightness of heart. Progress has been slow or lacking in all areas of life, which may be part of why I haven’t been around lately. When days are all the same, time both drags and slips away. When there’s no good news, or even promising prospects to report, I fall silent. Consider yourselves spared my mopes, which have finally become so redundant as to not even inspire – or deserve – being written about.

But I’m still here. Still writing about not writing. Maybe my words and I have not failed each other after all.