Thursday, May 1, 2014

On How to Write Photography

I never like going this long without writing here. I come back every time after a long absence and stare at the page and think "I don't know how to write anymore." And then I start writing but it seems either forced or rushed, but certainly not natural or easy like it does when I'm doing it frequently. It's a stutter step I don't know, holding down the backspace again and again until I just stop, sitting without typing, thinking of a million different things I want to write about but haven't. I just did it right now, actually- I stopped and re-read what I just wrote and I almost never do that in the middle of the thing, the work of getting it out. I just type it out, and then re-read it for glaring errors, and then post it for better or worse and we'll see what happens when we get there.

I sent my friend a link to my blog, and after a while he wrote back and said he felt like he had read my diary. I took that as a great compliment, coming from someone who knows me in real life.
I far prefer writing about personal experiences that aren't readily apparent or seen or experienced in concert with other people. I like writing about something that happened and how I felt it, or what I thought while it was happening, and usually that circles back to some random bullshit that's been percolating in my brain that is suddenly illuminated. Whether or not I am retroactively applying the light, I always manage to find some meaning in the practice of re-telling the event, freezing it and peering at it for all angles, shaking it up to see what falls out that I might have missed. I see more of my life when I sit back and try to write about it than I do when I'm living it. It's the step back, the hey wait a minute, what was going on there, the zoom in, crop out the rest, hyper focus of telling a story that draws me back every time. I can read back over something I've written in spontaneous prose and feel genuine surprise- not because what I've written is a fabrication, but because when I look at an incident through the lens of the story teller, I gain some distance and I can see myself and the incident more clearly; suddenly all sorts of things come popping out. I can slow it down, bump up the details, expand on a fraction of a second when a human connection was made, or a color moved across the sky, or the traffic opened up and I saw that old woman crouched over her cart and I saw that I'd be there some day. It's the way I could write a paragraph about the way the light hits at a certain time of day. It's all the words I want to say about the feeling of the breeze moving across my shoulder when I wake up from a nap on clean sheets and the birds are singing. It's the moment when I see two little boys sitting together on a river bank in Cambodia, and how it makes me think of my sister and my brother and all that they mean to me, and I feel like I've seen more than two little boys sitting together on a river bank and I want to capture it in a sentence to share it. The experience is there and gone in the time it takes me to see it and then not see it, but the writing of it expands all that it was. Inside of that writing I can see the depth and be astounded at just how much we are given to feel and know, hidden below these small ticks in time. It's an exponential increase of reality, to a degree that feels like discovering universes wrapped in minutes.

Last week, it was a monk in an orange robe, carrying a blue bag under a gold umbrella. He was walking at such a distance from me that in the instant I happened to look up, he crossed my vision right in the middle of the rainbow arches of the temple entrance, through which I could see a half circle of sky. All of it was framed just so by hundreds of flowers on the branch of the tree stretching in a sweep of red above me. I was walking on a sidewalk littered with fallen petals so bright they looked like embers. It couldn't have been more perfectly orchestrated than if I had been told to sit and wait for the things around me to arrange themselves solely for my benefit. I've been wanting to write about that since I saw it. And in the writing of it, I remember even more how much joy it brought me to see it, and to realize that the monk didn't even know I saw him, and that just as quickly as it all came into focus it fell apart as he and I kept walking forward in opposite directions. But before that, when the flame colored flowers and that young monk and the gold umbrella and I came into the ideal ratio of distances to make that scene, I tell you that everything I have felt about my current life here in Vientiane came into focus and I saw the inside of my heart reflected back to me in moving color.

I know I didn't realize how much I saw it, though, until I wrote about seeing it. That's the process I keep returning to. That's what reminds me that I need to keep doing this.

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