Saturday, February 19, 2011


 One of the nicest dogs in the world waited for us while I got a latte and bought a small ice cream for S. (cost $10 for both) at a newly opened boutique-coffee shop. When I'm facing a difficult meeting or late in the afternoon or after an exhausting experience, I need a latte.

(I do like Starbucks  -- the latte is predictable. If I ask for light foam, I get it rather than a light cup of foam. Some of the staff I know in the Everett store are serious about their commitment to the organization, rely on the health insurance, feel comfortable because they can get a similar job in another city (transferability) and want to become managers. Some, of course, will only work for a few years. So, I haven't been able to work up any hatred against this expensive franchise. I'm even fond of my gold Starbucks card.)

However, buying this coffee, served by a handsome young Italian who didn't entirely understand what I was saying, allowed me a picture of Jinx, just his legs, the better image of his soulful eyes not being included here..and a glimpse of that fine dog sticker attached, along with many stickers, to this bench.
The ice cream was inordinately gorgeous.

After fortification, I met with a young woman to show her some work. Unexpectedly, she had the capability of getting me to talk about it. (As S. said later, she's very smart and there should have been a tape recorder.) Though I can't remember the exact phrasing of the question she asked, the basic idea was for me to define what most interests me. Of course, I am now thinking about that, not having come up with a decent answer at the time.

(My basic attitude is to resist defining even though I scrap around working like mad, obsessed with some vague idea or another, a thread to follow, a cliff to leap off of. What are you doing? Oh, I'm just working. It was very hard to allow myself to work and necessary, for complex reasons, to pretend I wasn't.)

The self-portraits are a very narrow view of my preoccupations, though they display a considerable change, one that I would have thought impossible, in my emotional development since '72-'73. Perhaps they even hint at my social interests, but I'm not sure they reveal enough. At least they show a much broader person that the original set does -- that lovely fruitcake leaning against the white wall in that tenement in a quite dangerous neighborhood, wondering how she was ever going to raise her daughter. My looks were not an asset, I'm now sure, and I thought nothing about them then other than that they caused me considerable trouble.

After our meeting, I tried, in my vague way, to think about what sort of worker I am. In the middle of the night, I came up with a good couple-of-words description. I can't remember it now, though I'm certain it had to do with social instincts. And that the gist of it was borrowed from the title of the book (along with a quarter of a Valium) that got me to LAX -- Scent of the Missing, Love & Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog, by Susannah Charleson.

This morning, the definition of my body of work as search-and-rescue still makes sense, starting with a search for and rescue of myself and then leading on to a search within distressed or somewhat distressed communities/clusters and a rescue of individual stories. I know that I can't actually present an adequate/comprehensive version of their experiences (and certainly not in their native languages), but since these are people who I enjoy and am curious about (women who are or have been homeless, workers in the barn area of a small race track, six eighty-year-old ladies who have made over a thousand quilts for babies in Intensive Care Units since 1989)  aren't about to do that and I think their lives are important/significant/, I don't think that the interviews, even filtered through my brain, do any harm and  might allow some insight.

So, my curiosity about and comfort within diverse communities that don't have a lot of economic or social privilege defines my work.

Two summers ago, I met a much younger Irish woman, earning a living as a cook for a family and trying her first run at Thoroughbred training/racing, learning the ropes on the backside of Suffolk Downs, getting ready to race her co-owned horse in it's first race. We had a brief conversation while she grazed that horse about the problems we've both found at various parties or gatherings in Boston.

People, she said, seem quite friendly if she says she's done this or this, (hum, yes, that's alright, nod pleasantly), but if she adds that she's done that and that, they look away. She's aware that she suddenly failed the test of class and prestige. We are both highly aware that, in some circumstances, we both appear to have some touch of class, even though our economics and our interests lean a lot more to the marginal.

We commiserated about how comfortable we both felt in the barn area. I like it there because I now have a group of people who talk to me, tell me stories, even though they know that I understand little about taking care of and racing a Thoroughbred.. and I don't have to say much.

She found the same comfort -- the easy banter, the hard-scrable lives, the acceptance of danger, or death (the old guy who fed her horse at night had died of an overdose recently, she told me.)

Anyway, I suppose that all this is leading to the fact that I'd never do a series of portraits or a video about academics (except about Gene Sharp, who I'd never heard of until the NY Times wrote about his influential writing concerning non-violent protests. (No, even though he lives in the next poor town over, I'd never heard of him and he's not, I think, the Marxist influence that enthralled a Vietnamese student some fifteen or twenty years ago.)

And I think that being in an academic setting wasn't particularly good for me since I usually felt that colleagues were weighing each of my hard-won sentences. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the urban student body, often first in their families to go to college. I was curious about how they would solve the problems that assignments set, what ideas they would explore, how they would convey them. I view sets of images as somewhat equivalent to poems, stories and essays, each having a different purpose, exploring different ideas or feelings. And I truly liked watching their explorations.

Enough of this now. I'm in L.A....amazing.


  1. the young woman you saw, who talked with you, must have been smart and perceptive, and you found her interesting enough to take her seriously. i like what you did with the chance to look back and reflect. have fun with sally, dog, lattes, LA. take pix. espec of all that cool signage. and pix of you, sally, dog, lattes. come back in time for the crocuses.

  2. You made it!! I was wondering if the Valium would do it's lovely work and make it possible to send you over the continent to LA! How great that you got there and how much I will miss you until you come back. xo

  3. thank you!!!! thank both of you!!!
    I just e-mailed you today, Sparrow...

  4. Search and rescue: lucid, succinct!

    You're in Los Angeles, you traveling person!

  5. gosh, i've sure missed your posts! your travels are downright invigorating. i personally never want to return to LA, but seeing it through your eyes was an almost nostalgic visit.