the comments

Don’t read the comments. This may be the most frequently shared piece of internet wisdom. If you value your sanity, do NOT read the comments. The comments aren’t healthy. They’re not safe. They’ll sap your will to live. They’ll shred your already loose grasp on reality. The comments will steal your soul. Whatever you do, do NOT read the damned comments.

The comments — they’re what this generation has instead of Vietnam. It’s where you lose your innocence and youth.

“Never get out of the boat,” Chef says. “I didn’t get out of the goddamned eighth grade for this kind of shit.” Never get out of the boat and don’t read the comments. Sounds like good advice. Or…you can read the comments, ignore the damned boat, abandon your innocence, and explore the heart of darkness.

Last week I wrote something about the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl that generated a metric ton of comments. I didn’t read them all. I couldn’t; who has time to read a metric ton of comments? But I’d set up this blog so new commenters must be approved (I rarely get a lot of comments; an approval process wasn’t expected to be a chore), so I was forced to glance at each comment long enough to determine if it was legit or if it was an opportunity to date Russian models or buy genuine Michael Kors handbags for 80% off.

Now that things have slowed down, I’ve been dipping into the comments. And you know what? Some of them are brilliant. Some — surprisingly few, really — are stupid and/or offensive, but for the most part the comments are composed by folks who sincerely want to express a point of view. There really wasn’t much heart of darkness to be found. It was more like the scapula of darkness, with moments of the raised middle finger of darkness.

But here’s the thing — and I think it’s a wonderful thing: people are arguing about art. I’m going to repeat that very slowly, because it’s not something you hear very often. People. Are arguing. About art.

“The girl must go!” “The girl must stay!” “She is an affront to Capitalism!” “Patriarchy must die!” “Your argument is not valid!” “If YOUR argument was valid, it would be easier to find images of women fighting with swords!” “I have no response to that, but I will continue to argue!” “I shall argue on as well! Have at you, varlet!”

They’re thinking about the purpose of public art, they’re forming opinions about the legitimacy of various forms of artistic expression, they’re debating the pros and cons of commissioned art, they’re arguing about depictions of gender in art, they’re reflecting on how context shapes the meaning of art, they’re having passionate disagreements about the intersection of art and economic systems, they’re fighting about what constitutes appropriation and what qualifies as guerrilla art. People — lots of people — are arguing about art. How cool is that? Very cool, is how cool.

There are a lot of recurring topics in the comments that I’d like to address, but I don’t want to turn this into Greg’s Fearless Girl vs. Charging Bull blog. So I’ll just natter on about two of the more prevalent comments.

Lots of great works of art have been commissioned.

Yes, that’s absolutely true. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel was often mentioned in the comments. But here’s the difference: Michelangelo’s contract to paint the ceiling specified some of the elements to be included (the 12 apostles, for example), but he insisted on the right to interpret how to present those figures. The Pope, for example, didn’t approve of Michelangelo’s decision to include nude figures, but he painted them the way he wanted to paint them. In contrast, as noted in AdWeek, the design of  Fearless Girl was predominantly market-driven.

We were so meticulous with Kristen about designing the girl’s look. It was super important to us, and to everyone at McCann, that she feel relatable to all kinds of girls and all kinds of women…. Every tiny detail of that pose, and particularly the face, and her tilt and angle, was so carefully designed to articulate a really specific message.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with that. Commercial art IS art, and commercial artists have to be exceedingly talented to turn a marketer’s concept into a piece that works as art while still selling a product. That’s not easy. But it’s important to distinguish between a commissioned work of art in which the artists has the agency to interpret the design and a commissioned work in which the design is largely presented to the artist.

Nobody reads the plaque / nobody knows Fearless Girl is/was a marketing tool

The plaque has actually been removed. In fact, it was removed before I wrote my blog article. A new plaque which doesn’t mention SHE is in its place. Here’s the new plaque:

Fearless Girl was placed in New York City’s Financial District, in honor of International Women’s Day 2017, to celebrate the importance of having greater gender diversity in corporate boards and in company leadership positions. She also stands as an inspiration for the next generation of women leaders”—presented by the New York City Department of Transportation Art Program and State Street Global Advisors

It doesn’t mention SHE, but it acknowledges State Street Global Advisors. More, it suggests Fearless Girl was created to honor International Women’s Day. Again, the decision to install the statue on that date appears to be as much of a marketing strategy as anything else.

“[T]here was a lot of discussion with State Street about the timing of this, because it was so important and meaningful. Launching it on the cusp of International Women’s Day really provided so much fodder for people to emotionally react to her.”

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this — aside from the misleading impression that the primary purpose of the statue is to honor International Women’s Day. I do believe the marketing team is sincere about honoring that day; but they’re professionals and they knew the statue would have more impact because of the date it was released. It was a clever, deliberate, calculated decision AND it also promoted a feminist perspective.

It’s also true the great mass of people are unaware that Fearless Girl was a marketing device — but the great mass of people weren’t the target audience. They were targeting the folks who make investment decisions. And hey, it worked. According to Fortune, SHE ‘has received $3.2 million in new inflows since March alone, half of its total inflows in 2017 so far.’

Fearless Girl is a very effective tool for increasing inflows — which I assume means money (I have to acknowledge that I’m a dolt about matters of finance; Fortune also pointed out that SHE is listed on the NYSE ARCA exchange, not the Nasdaq, as I claimed — and while I’m sure the distinction is important, I haven’t a clue what it means).

Let me repeat this one more time: there’s nothing wrong with running a successful marketing campaign. The problem I have is with the repeated suggestion that Fearless Girl was first and foremost a work of art rather than a very clever and rewarding advertisement for financial services.

~

I still love Fearless Girl. And I’m still bothered by her backstory. I still think Arturo Di Modica has a point — that the installation of Fearless Girl has both appropriated his work by making it an essential aspect of the new statue, and it’s altered the original perception of his work. And I still don’t know what should be done about it.

But I know this: people are talking about art. We’re out of the boat. And this is exactly what I got out of the goddamned eighth grade for.

snow, the cat, and some buddha stuff

Snow probably makes me a better Buddhist. I’m not sure I’m happy about that.

I mean, there’s the expected Buddha stuff you’d associate with snow. The stillness. The tranquility. The beauty of falling snow, of drifting snow, of snow whirling in the wind, of the purity of snow. Snowfall can be very contemplative.

all-that-pretty-snow

But eventually there comes the dull, monotonous, tedious, sometimes painful reality of dealing with the snow. Snow has to be moved. It has to be cleared from driveways and sidewalks. That means shoveling. Or — and this is SO much worse — if the snow is too deep to shovel, cranking up the snowblower. A noisy, smelly, hateful, but fairly effective machine. It’s faster and probably more efficient, but I fucking hate the snowblower.

However, I don’t hate shoveling. Okay, that’s a lie. I do hate it. I hate it and I appreciate it. You know that hauling water/chopping wood thing that Buddhists like to talk about? Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. You hear that all the time when you’re first noodling around with Buddhism. What does it mean? It means whether you’re enlightened or not, shit has to get done. A big chunk of Buddhism is about how you approach getting shit done.

Hardly anybody I know has to do much hauling and chopping, but I know a lot of folks who have to deal with snow. Shoveling snow is physical labor. I am not a fan of physical labor. If there was any point at all to having spent four years in military harness, it was to get Uncle Sugar to pay my way through college so I could get a job that didn’t involve sweating, lifting heavy things, or anything approaching actual labor. Shoveling snow is as close as I get to manual labor, for which I am ever so grateful.

This is where the Buddha stuff comes in. One of the things Buddhism teaches you (or tries to) is that if you do a thing, you do that thing. That’s it. You do that thing and you do it well. You do it mindfully. You don’t cut corners, you don’t do it half-assed, you don’t rush, you don’t complain. You don’t think about what you’re going to have for lunch, or fret about whatever fresh hell Comrade Trump has inflicted on the world, or debate the relative merits of Crazyhead compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You just do the damned thing.

It was still dark out this morning when I began to shovel snow. Dark and cold. I’m talking 16F with 16 mph winds. Miserable weather. But except for the wind, it was quiet. And I shoveled. The driveway. The front walk. The sidewalk. Much of both neighbors’ sidewalks.

As always, when I began shoveling I hated it. But there’s a weird sort of peace that comes from the rhythm of it. It’s pretty easy to slide into a state in which you’re mindful of what you’re doing without being altogether aware of it. If that makes any sense. Shoveling snow becomes a sort of meditation. Except that when you’re done, you’re exhausted, and your knees and back and shoulders hurt like hell, and you’d murder for a cup of hot coffee.

I shoveled for about an hour. The sun was coming up when I finished. Neighbors were beginning to shovel their own drives and sidewalks. Some asshole up the road tried to start his snowblower, but it just roared and coughed a few times, then failed. That pleased me — which is evidence that I’m not a terribly good Buddhist.

cant-say-im-happy-about-this

I put the shovel away, came inside, started the coffee. Fed the cat. Took some Advil. By the time I’d changed clothes, got my coffee, and parked my ass in front of the computer, the cat had finished eating. She decided it was critically important that she sit on my lap. I explained to the cat that my knees were on fire, so I’d prefer not to have a cat on my lap, thank you very much.

So here’s me, typing slowly because it’s awkward to use a keyboard with a cat on your lap. My knees ache, but the coffee is good and the cat is making the odd grunting noise she makes instead purring like a normal cat.

I am strangely contented.

LSotY

I belong to this odd collective of photographers called Utata. I’ve written about the group and some of its projects before, so I won’t bother you with a description again. I mention it because one of our elastic traditions (by elastic I mean sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t, some of us do it, some of us don’t) is to post the last selfie we took in the year to our Flickr group.

Yesterday was the last day of 2016, so I went searching through my files (I say ‘files’ as if I actually have some sort of organized system of storing photographs, which polite folks would suggest was an exaggeration) for the last selfie I shot. Turns out that was June 20th.

img_20160620_144116

It’s a perfectly acceptable selfie (at least by my fairly low standards), but June 20th was six months ago. And let’s face it, the photo is more about the cat than me. Still, it’s technically a selfie so I figured it would do.

If I had a lick of sense, that would have been it. But no. I decided I should probably take a new photo — a current photo, a photograph that is more clearly a selfie, a photograph with less cat. Did I prepare this in any way? No, I did not. Did I change clothes or shave or even bother to comb my hair? No, I did not. Did I even look in a mirror first? No, I certainly did not. Why didn’t I do any of those things? Because I am, on any number of metrics, a fucking idiot.

Here’s more proof of my idiocy: I picked up my tablet (okay, you’ve almost certainly heard folks say you shouldn’t ever take a photo with a tablet because the cameras suck; turns out that’s true, and it’s even more true when it comes to taking a selfie because the front-facing camera (or is it the rear-facing camera? I don’t know) sucks even more), stepped into the middle of the room where there was the most light, and hey bingo at 5:09 Central time on December 31st, I took a selfie.

dsc_0678-01

It was what you’d call a ‘tactical mistake’. I looked at the photo and thought ‘Lawdy, what the hell was I thinking?‘ It has been pointed out to me on occasion that I often look like a thug in photographs. I think we now have to amend that to ‘an aging thug’. Or maybe ‘a confused, aging thug’. Because, c’mon — just look at that. It looks like I’m concerned the camera is going to eat my soul.

I started to delete the photo, at which point I realized ‘Dude, THIS is the last selfie of the year.’ After a brief moment of horror, I realized I could comb my hair, put on different clothes, find some good light, take a selfie with an actual camera, and then THAT photo would be the LSotY.

But that would be sort of a dick move. Now, I’m perfectly capable of making dick moves. Mostly I make them without thinking. Deliberately making a dick move amplifies its essential dickishness (witness Donald J. Trump’s New Year’s tweet). I couldn’t really do that to Utata, could I. So I was stuck with this photo.

And then I thought of Prisma. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an application created by some Russian developer that doesn’t just apply a filter on top of an existing photo; it actually scans the digital data and uses that information to apply a ‘style’ to a photo. I’ve had the app on my tablet for a few months, but never really bothered to play with it. This seemed like a good time to try it.

Prisma - Udnie

Udnie

Prisma must have around thirty different styles (yeah, I could count them, but really, how likely is that?). The style above is based (loosely, I’d say) on Francis Picabia’s painting Udnie (Young American Girl, The Dance). I don’t see it, myself. But hey, it’s an improvement on the original photo.

It’s much easier to see the connection between the Heisenberg style and the famous Heisenberg drawing of Walter White from Breaking Bad. I like this style, although I have to say it’s a wee bit alarming to see that a Breaking Bad-based style makes me look LESS like a thug than in the original photo.

Heisenberg

Heisenberg

Some of the Prisma styles don’t seem to have any relationship to — well, to anything at all. For example, the Colored Sky style has a lot of color, but I don’t see much sky in it. Unless you’re hallucinating. Or maybe on another planet. The shark eyes are sort of cool, though.

Colored Sky

Colored Sky

And the Aviator style? Seriously, what does this have to do with aviation? It should have been called the Braveheart style. It’s got Mel Gibson as William Wallace splashed all over it. Well, except there isn’t an implied claymore in the photo, and there’s no hint at all of consuming “…the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.” So okay, maybe less Braveheart and more Pogo the Clown.

Aviator (seriously?)

Aviator (seriously?)

The Urban style doesn’t strike me as particularly ‘urban’ unless you’re defining ‘urban’ as ‘scowling like a motherfucker’. Really, I don’t understand where that scowl comes from. I’m a nice guy. Honest. A harmless guy. I’ve never once been convicted of a felony.

Urban

Urban

I suppose it’s appropriate to end this with the Mononoke style. I’m not sure if Prisma named the style after Princess Mononoke, the 1997 anime film by Miyazaki, or the 2007 Mononoke television series about an itinerant medicine seller, or the Japanese term for a supernatural spirit that can inhabit or possess…well, just about anything, it seems. It’s appropriate to end with this style because that’s sort of what Prisma does. It doesn’t lay a filter ON the photo; it digs down into the photo’s data and sort of inhabits the photograph. This is probably the closest approximation of the original selfie; it transforms the photo while still retaining its essential confused, aging thugness.

Mononoke

Mononoke

In general, I’m not a fan of apps like Prisma. I just can’t take them seriously. I certainly don’t believe Prisma’s claim that their app “transforms your photos and videos into works of art.” That’s fundamentally bullshit. You don’t create art by picking styles off a menu. That’s not making art; that’s shopping.

But you can have fun shopping with Prisma. Watching the transformation is a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be. And that’s the thing about Utata — it’s all about having fun. So I legitimately took my last selfie of the year at 5:09 Central time on December 31st. But I don’t think anybody can fault me for spending maybe twelve minutes on January 1st shopping with Prisma.

all i wanted was a donut

I wanted a donut this morning. I love donuts, but I don’t eat them very often. I don’t eat them often because I work at home, and in order to get a donut you have to get dressed and leave the house and go to a place that sells donuts. That’s not a lot of effort ordinarily, but it’s the middle of December and the temperature is only 20F (with a wind chill factor of 8F), so getting a donut was going to require a certain amount of planning and preparation.

The first step was to figure out the location of the closest donut shop. Easy peasy, on account of the Google is your friend. All I had to do was enter Where is the nearest donut shop? and I’d be able to bundle up and be on my way. But I got as far as Where is and the Google offered a few possible autocompletions:

Where is…
Xur
Allepo
the love
my mind

I know where Allepo is. Love, according to the Troggs (who’ve never lied to me, so far as I know), is all around. My mind is right here, searching for a place to buy a donut. But Xur? Where the fuck is Xur? In fact, what the fuck is Xur?

It turns out it’s not Xur. It’s Xûr. And I’m reliably informed he’s an agent of the Nine. Who and what are the Nine? No idea. But Xûr is a vendor who sells exotic weapons, exotic armor, engrams, and consumables in exchange for Strange Coins and Motes of Light. He appears in different locations in the Tower and Vestian Outpost every weekend from 9:00 AM Friday to 9:00 AM Sunday UTC.

Xûr, Agent of the Nine.

Xur, Agent of the Nine.

Xûr doesn’t appear to sell donuts. Besides, I’m totally out of Strange Coins and Motes of Light, so fuck him. But at that point I was curious about the Google’s autocompletion function. So I typed in:

Why does…
ice float
my cat bite me
my back hurt
my eye twitch

All good questions. Ice floats for the same reason anything floats — because it’s less dense than the fluid it’s sitting in. That’s it; no mystery there — just science. Your cat bites you because it’s a cat, and cats do whatever the fuck they want to do, and trying to understand why cats do anything at all is a mug’s game, so just give it up. Science won’t help you there. Your back hurts because everybody’s back hurts. Why should you be any different? And your eye twitches because you’re probably guilty of something shameful. Aren’t we all? Me, I’m guilty of the sin of curiosity (which may also be the reason cats bite).

Maybe about to bite, maybe not, who knows?

Maybe about to bite, maybe not, who knows?

What’s the point of…
living
the mannequin challenge
instagram
marriage

Again, good questions. The point of living? See, right there, that’s your problem. You’re expecting there MUST be a point, a purpose, a reason, something outside of yourself that you’re supposed to be doing. Let that shit go, dude. It’s clearly making you miserable. If there’s a point, part of it is NOT to make yourself miserable. But if you MUST make yourself miserable, go find a cat, let it bite you, then ask the cat why. The mannequin challenge? No idea. Seems silly, but fun for a lot of folks. That’s probably point enough. The point of Instagram is the same as the point of masturbation: it’s easy, it’s fun, it doesn’t hurt anybody, and it’s something you should probably do in private. And the point of marriage is, and always has been, about property. Getting it, keeping it, securing it, passing it on. I know that’s not very romantic, but there it is. It’s got nothing to do with what the Troggs were singing about.

What is the meaning of…
life
love
christmas
deplorable

Oh, c’mon people, really? You’re asking your computer to explain the meaning of life and love? Okay, skipping over the fact that that’s just sad, what makes you think there’s just one single meaning? Hell, there are dozens of different meanings for the word ‘run’ and that’s a pretty simple word. Here’s an idea: keeping the words love and life in mind, look at photographs of 1) a cat, 2) a wedding, and 3) Aleppo. Does that help? No? Then stop fretting about it. And speaking of Aleppo, let’s talk about deplorable.

We can actually define this. It comes from the Latin prefix de- meaning “entirely” and plorare, meaning “to weep or cry out”. Combined, it became deplorare, meaning “to bewail, lament, give up for lost”. Although now deplorable as an adjective means “very bad, shocking or regrettable”, originally it referred to the regret we feel for people who’ve been given up as lost forever.

dplorable-lives

It’s appropriate to move from the current meaning of ‘deplorable’ to the meaning of Christmas. I should probably admit here that I’m not a Christian, but really this Christmas business isn’t complicated. It’s a lovely story about a poor, pregnant Middle Eastern couple forced to travel maybe 90 miles on a donkey in order to register for a census created by an occupying army to determine tax levies. It’s about an innkeeper who, out of compassion, finds room for this couple to shelter in. The woman gives birth to a baby. Okay, from that point on it’s all angels singing, and wandering kings arriving with esoteric gifts, and animals that bow and speak, but that’s just gravy. The heart of the story is the notion of good will and peace on Earth. Whether you’re Christian or not, peace and good will and hope and love (however you define it) and compassion underlie the meaning of Christmas. And that’s all good stuff

Yes, we still have the horror of Aleppo,. Yes, we still have folks who are proud of their modern deplorableness. And yes, the cat will still bite you. But watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (start at the two-minute mark), and listen to the Troggs. Get yourself some Strange Coins and Motes of Light.

I had a point when I started this, but I’m damned if I can remember what it was. It was probably a good point. But I still don’t have any donuts.

the humanness of things

“I don’t believe in coincidences.” You’ve heard that line spoken in every detective show that’s ever been on television. It’s ridiculous, of course, because coincidences exist. I mean, that’s why we have a word for it.

For example, about a week ago I was shooting a photograph of some yellow bollards at the very back of a massive and nearly empty parking area of a big box store. I was using an old Polaroid Spectra 2 camera, trying to get a feel for what the camera could do, using Impossible Project color film, trying to get a feel for what the film could do. In other words, I was experimenting.

family-of-bollards

Before I took the shot, however, a car pulled up and the driver rolled down his window. He was an old guy (and as I say that I realize he was probably around my age — maybe even a bit younger), and he grinned at me and my Polaroid camera and asked “How do you use your camera?”

I’d had a similar question from a police officer a couple of weeks earlier (there’s a coincidence for you — and coincidentally, one of the photos I shot before the arrival of the police officer was of a yellow bollard). With that encounter in mind I launched into an explanation of how I used the camera as a descriptive tool, a device designed to record a small but precise rectangle of the reality in front of the lens. I was prepared to elaborate on that idea — to spell out how the decisions of what to include in the frame and what to exclude from the frame were expressive decisions, and so even if the final image seemed mundane — like, say, a group of yellow bollards — there were still aesthetic aspects to be considered, as well as the notion that mundane objects and structures can be interpreted as a manifestation of humanness. In other words, my decision of what to include in the frame is, in part, a reflection of some other person’s past decision to…

“No,” the old guy interrupted. He said, “No, I mean, the camera. The camera. How do you use that camera? I thought they stopped making Polaroid film.” So I told him about the Impossible Project. Then I shot the photo.

That photo, coincidentally, sparked a brief discussion on Facebook because apparently relatively few people were aware those posts are called bollards. And coincidentally, this morning on Facebook I learned that William Christenberry had died.

Just over a decade ago I admitted that although I’d been shooting photographs for years and I knew how to operate a camera, I was pretty ignorant about the history of the craft. I had only the barest notion of what had been done in photography in the past, or who had done it, or what they were thinking when they did it. So I decided to educate myself, and I decided to share my education with a group of friends in a Flickr group called Utata. I’d pick a photographer, do some research, write a short article based on the research, and we’d discuss it in the group. We called it the Sunday Salon.

christenberry1

One of the first photographers I picked for the Sunday Salon was William Christenberry. Why? Because I came across his name somewhere and liked it. I didn’t know anything about his photography, and when I began to look at his photographs, they didn’t make a lick of sense to me. I saw an old black-and while photo of a dilapidated juke joint somewhere in Alabama. Then I saw a photo of the same building, only this time it was in color. Then another photo of the same place, and another and another — all of the same building.

I began to get it. This guy wasn’t just photographing the building; he was photographing the history of the building. Christenberry wasn’t trying to make art — at least not at first. He was just creating a document, a description of how particular structures evolved and devolved. He went back to the same places year after year to record how things change.

christenberry2

A building may be static, but the world around it is dynamic. What happens in the world is reflecting by the changes to a building. Wind and rain have an effect, the settling of the structure into the soil has an effect. Paint fades, shutters have to be replaced, buildings begin to tilt. Humans very obviously have an effect; they do the painting, they replace the shutters, they repair the damage.

Over time, Christenberry’s simple documentation process became deliberate, thoughtful art. His first photographs were shot using an old Brownie camera given to him when he was young, but as the project progressed, so did his use of technology. He eventually began to shoot with a Deardorff 8×10 view camera. Christenberry even began to take measurements of some of the buildings and recreated them as sculptures.

christenberry3

“What I really feel very strongly about,” Christenberry once said, “and I hope reflects in all aspects of my work, is the human touch, the humanness of things, the positive and sometimes the negative and sometimes the sad.”

There it is. The humanness of things. Those half-dozen yellow bollards? Somebody deliberately put them there. Somebody designed the shape of that small area, somebody chose to plant a tree in the middle of it, somebody decided what type of tree to plant. Somebody designed that parking lot. The humanness of things is always there.

I believe in coincidence. I love coincidence. I enjoy the weird, improbable chain that links an encounter with the police to an old guy in a parking lot asking about an old camera to a discussion on the etymology of the term bollard to the work of William Christenberry to a photograph of yellow bollards. I believe in coincidence and I believe in the humanness of things, and wouldn’t the world be terribly dull and uninteresting without them.

i took a walk a couple of weeks ago

I like to walk. I like to walk without any purpose, without any goal or objective, without any particular destination. But occasionally I walk with the idea of shooting photographs. Most often that happens on a Thursday (largely because I belong to Utata — an international group of photographers who walk on Thursdays; I’ve written about this before: here, here, and here).

So it wasn’t unusual for me to take a walk on Thursday, the 11th day of November, 2016. I needed a walk that day. I needed it because Donald J. (for Jackass) Trump had just been elected President of These United States. A quiet, contemplative walk on a gray, chilly day that seemed to hold the promise of a gray, chilly future.

And that was how I felt even before I got stopped by a police officer. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

tire-swing

I wasn’t really in the mood to shoot photographs, so I didn’t bother to take a camera. Just my cell phone. It was this tire swing that first made me pull out my phone and open my favorite black-and-white camera app. It seemed a perfect metaphor for my mood. Sort of sad, sort of nostalgic, sort of pathetic. Lost innocence and all that.

I was near a semi-industrial commercial area, so wandered over there and strolled along behind the various shops. You know, that area where the shop owners keep their trash and deliveries get made and isn’t meant to attract customers. I’ve always liked the lack of pretense in alleyways and the backs of shops. And, again, it suited my mood.

fence-and-trash-can

This wasn’t an actual alley, though it served the same purpose. I’ve wandered along behind these buildings before; it’s always remarkably tidy. The morning light gave it a certain shabby elegance that contrasted well with the bright, functional geometry of the buildings.

At some point I’d stopped thinking about Trump and started to enjoy myself. That’s the thing about photography, isn’t it. It draws you outside of yourself. And that’s especially true, I think, of black-and-white photography, since you’re paying more attention to shape and line and structure.

bollard

Everything gets reduced to what’s in the frame. Not just what’s in the center of the frame, but what’s on the periphery. A step or two to the right, and that bit of shadow from a vent disappears. A step or two to the left, and the bollard disrupts the lock on the electrical whatsit, and the ramp is no longer obviously a ramp.

I know this because I actually took those steps to the left and the right before deciding this was the composition I wanted. (I learned to shoot with film, and since film was expensive and processing it was pain the ass, I learned to pay very close attention to composition; get it right the first time, shoot one frame — maybe two — and move on. I’m a stingy photographer.)

broken-adirondack-chair

There’s usually a sort of fuzzy area between semi-industrial commercial shops and the more comfortably suburban, well-groomed neighborhoods — an area where the houses might need a bit of paint, where the lawns aren’t quite as tidy, where the kids’ toys haven’t been picked up, where the cars and trucks are a few years older and are showing a bit of rust. It’s the Almost American Dream zone. I grew up in that zone.

Remember that police officer I mentioned earlier? This is where he shows up. I was just about out of the Almost American Dream zone when he arrived.

packers-fan

He was very polite. Young white kid, buzz cut, nice smile. He rolled down his window, said “How’re you doing?” I considered telling him I’d voted for Hillary, so how the hell would I be doing. And that’s basically what I said, though I moderated the last bit. He nodded and said he couldn’t believe it either. Then he said something to this effect: “We got a call about somebody walking behind the shops and taking pictures with a phone. That you?”

I admitted it was. He said one of the shop owners was concerned that somebody might be casing the joint (he actually said “casing the joint”), and then asked if he could have my name.

A short digression here. I worked as a criminal defense investigator for about seven years. I’ve been stopped and questioned and actively harassed by police officers more times than I can count. I know my rights. As a pedestrian legally walking along a public way and minding my own business, I’m not required to identify myself to the police. However, if the officer is investigating a possible crime it becomes a tad tricky. And given that there might be some dispute whether the area behind these particular shops is a public way, it becomes a tad trickier. So I told the officer I was going to reach into my pocket and get my wallet (as a white guy, the odds that the police would shoot me for reaching for my wallet are really really really slim — but still).

I showed him my driver’s licence. He asked the obvious question. “Why were you taking pictures behind those shops?” So I told him. Thursday walks, Utata, light and shadow, alleyway geometry.

hoop

Then he asked the really difficult question. “Can I see your photos?”

The obvious answer is no. No, you can’t see my photos. No, because you have no legal right to see them, and I have no obligation to show them to you. The fact that he’d asked to see them rather than issuing a command didn’t matter. The fact that he’d asked politely didn’t matter. Courtesy counts, but it doesn’t trump civil rights.

On the other hand, I didn’t want a fuss. Hillary had just lost the election; I didn’t have the energy to make a passionate civil liberties argument. So I offered a compromise. I told the officer I was reluctant to show him the photos as a matter of principle, but I understood why he wanted to see them. I said “If you agree that you have no legal right to see the photos, I’ll show them to you.”

I got lucky, probably. This guy had a sense of humor. He laughed a bit, then agreed he had no legal right to see the photographs. So I showed him the photos. More than anything else, he was surprised to see that the photos were actually shot in black-and-white. He wasn’t aware there were black-and-white apps. He wasn’t aware you could shoot square format with a phone.

So I took my phone back, turned and shot the photo of the basketball hoop and shadow, and showed it to him. He asked for the name of the app. Then I asked if I could take his photo, and he said this (or something like this): “You have the right to take my picture so long as it doesn’t interfere with the performance of my duties…but I’d rather you didn’t.”

So I didn’t. I thought about it, but I didn’t. As he drove away, I wished I had. Sort of.

Postscript: I began to write about this on the day it happened. But the sad fact is, I was still too discouraged about the election to write more than a couple of paragraphs. I’ve noodled around with this post off and on, but I’m still pretty gutted by Hillary’s loss — and seeing these photos reminded me of how grim I’ve felt since the election. It reminds me of how much stuff I’ve put off, how many things I’ve been procrastinating about, how much normal stuff I’ve been avoiding.

I had a good encounter with a police officer — something positive happened to me — and I just couldn’t maintain that feeling. That sucks. It has to change. Maybe finishing this and publishing it is the spark I need. And now I suppose I have to append the ‘confessional crap’ tag to this. I hate confessional crap.

sure enough gettin’ worse

It’s been a week now. Seven days since I woke up and discovered it wasn’t just another PTSD nightmare. Donald Trump really no shit actually won the election. A full week, and folks I’ve been struggling.

Here’s the thing: I’m a Buddhist. I’m not a particularly good Buddhist, but for the most part I try to abide by the basic tenets of Buddhism. I don’t often talk about this Buddhist stuff because 1) who cares? and 2) it’s nobody’s business. But I’ve been struggling, because one concept lies at the heart of all the various Buddhist groups: compassion. So I’ve been trying to practice compassion for Trump voters.

It ain’t easy. For example, I read a New York Times column by Rabbi Michael Lerner entitled Stop Shaming Trump Supporters. I’m going to quote a chunk of his column:

The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable not because they themselves have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing).

Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.

No. As Donald J. Grabbembythepussy would say, wrong. The left has NOT been blaming white people as a whole. The right has been telling white people that the left has been blaming them — and a LOT of white folks have fallen for that lie. The political right-wing has also promoted the lie that the ‘failure’ of some groups of white folks been the fault of “some other villain”. Rabbi Lerner has got the wrong end of the stick.

Here’s where I begin to struggle. When I was formally studying Buddhism I was taught the greatest impediment to compassion is our attachment to a personal belief about how the world should be. I was also taught that compassion and forgiveness went together like peanut butter and milk chocolate. I have no problem feeling a good Buddhist level of compassion for folks who’ve been lied to and whose suffering is exacerbated by their acceptance of those lies. It’s the forgiveness component that’s kicking my ass.

Which leads me to this: if you voted for a candidate who is racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic, then even if you’re not personally racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic, you’re at the very least willing to support racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. I can feel compassion for folks who are scared of other races, who are fearful of women, who are anxious about folks who are different. But right now I’m just not capable of being forgiving of such bullshit.

And if you voted for a candidate who explicitly advocates torture and the revenge killing of the families of terrorists, then even if you’re not personally in favor of torture and revenge killing, you’re at the very least willing to support torture and revenge killing. I can feel compassion for folks who are so afraid of the world around them that they think hurting other people is the only way to protect themselves. But right now I’m just not capable of being forgiving of such bullshit.

So right now, this week, I’m struggling. Right now, this week, I’m in Mose Allison’s camp. Everybody cryin’ mercy, when they don’t know the meaning of the word. Right now, this week, I have no time for racists who suddenly feel safe to be racists, and who whine when they get called on their racism.

Right now, this week — and maybe the next, and maybe the week after that — I’ll do my damnedest to be compassionate, but I’m putting a hold on the forgiveness. I figure the Buddha would understand. That dude had compassion down.

Postscript: I just found out Mose Allison died yesterday, Fuck me with a chainsaw.