Monday, January 3, 2011


Glisten. Gleam.  All this winter travel has me thinking of words like this. Storms ahead of us, storms behind, snow and ice everywhere we go. It’s been like travelling in a snow globe while the glitter fell.   Glisten, glitter - pretty but tricky little words –soft when applied to soft and liquid things – hard when applied to hard surfaces that produce the same effect. The flowing water gleams, frozen it gleams the same.  A bright reflection blinds a viewer precisely at the spot from where it springs. We have to trust our vision that the object’s surface beneath the light is the same as the surface beside it.   A steel fender could be ice or water at the point where it glitters.  The snow could be powdered with metal or glass.  We can’t touch it to find out.  In reaching to do so, we block the light and any gleam of transformation becomes fixed and dull.  I don't mind - photography is a magpie art, drawn to all that glitters, lifting it from one surface to another.  A photo is a little flake of light fixed for the eye, a little flake of the world.



At night I looked at the castle through the window, trying to fill it with history – with specific events and specific lives that intersected in time, whose ripples continue wobbling all the way to the present moment.  American that I am, all I did was stuff the castle and the entire city  for that matter full of period dramas, ghost stories, and fairytale images. Meanwhile in the classrooms the work of other filmmakers brought fragments of contemporary Scotland to us –life from the point of view of a wheelchair, working class suicides, prostitutes and their saviors, shoemakers for ballet, WWII re-enactors, the nationalist overtones of the battle between red and grey squirrels… Cinema and travel –two  versions of the same joy – the interplay between location and dislocation, in time, in place.

The airplane window frames the view beyond like the circular vignetting of a microscope. The land through the milky glass is flat, white patched, and divided.   The low sun tints the snow a pale orange, making the blue contrasting shadows as bright as the snow itself. I almost expect the fields to move and shift as cells do when they touch one another, or divide. I imagine them shivering  when the plane shadow pierces their membrane. The closer we descend, the more the micro perspective pulls away. Fields become epidermis. The frostbitten skin of the country rolls pasts, sprouting barns, silos, and snow coated suburban homes.

(found image -onion cells)


At the bar he explains the complexities of his love for his wife and being a young gay man with two children –one with a terminal illness. There’s playfulness, not grief on his on his face as he mimics playing music with his sick daughter. He smiles. His slender fingers stroke the tabletop and tap his glass. I’m amazed that an hour ago he existed only as a collection of flirtatious texts, e-mails, and sexualized images sent back and forth.  Now we ponder each other, exchanging intimate, increasingly whiskey coated details of our lives.   We drive off to a quiet, Christmas lit neighborhood.  Above me on the bed his groans become something like a song, a great crazy sound that seems both released and swallowed.  The goodbye lingers – little kisses and stroking hips. There is a feeling of emotional potential in air that we both savor easily, maybe because neither of knows when or if we'll meet again. Later in my hotel room I dream I’m eating Christmas lights, lit ones, plucked ripe from decorated yards. They have no flavor but the electric shiver on my tongue has the exactly qualities of sweetness.


Follow the woman in the wheelchair, the one like so many here – a face stiff with pain and make-up; high, high bleached hair; and a leopard print shawl. She passes from floor to floor, moving through a hotel lobby that becomes hallway of shops that becomes an elevated walkway where snow hurls itself against the glass around her but does not give her thin bones even a chill.  The walkway becomes a ramp leading through an entire mall full of Christmas shopping families.  She rolls passed it all to an elevator. Down she goes beneath the city, through bank lobbies that never see the sun; ceramic hallways that hum with florescent light and advertisements of healthy families; display windows that glow with clothes, toys, mobility devices, and row after row of wigs for women going through cancer treatments.  At the end of pink tiled slope, she slips away into some obscure ward of the Mayo Clinic. In Rochester a person can move for blocks passing shop after shop, banks, university halls, treatment centers – all without entering the outside. Between the buildings the glass skyways protect pedestrians from the winter and make it easy and comfortable for the many patients traversing on foot, on walkers, and in wheelchairs from one section of the clinic to another.  Downtown is a city of glass veins, with buildings like chambers of a heart, sliding door ventricles, and the cellular flow of human traffic moving through it all. Almost everyone we meet here has given their body to the clinic at some time - either for work or because of illness or both. The punk kids here say this is a city built on pain and death; other citizens say it’s built on healing and give multiple examples of being saved by the clinic.  At night, the crows gather by the noisy hundreds in the trees outside the towering clinic center –what do they think?


The winter outside means nothing in the painted jungle of the primate house. We are investigating the story of chimps on PAXIL. We expected to find ourselves baffled by the absurdity of the story, if not outraged. Instead we learn the drug helped with abuse and self injury for a young male within the troop and brought a family unit together. Apparently anti-depressants would be far more successful if we were under  a  form of public display/ house arrest and monitored by a team of psychiatrists and digilent keepers. The primates around us watch the interview with cool disinterest.  Their eyes gleam softly behind the hard sheen of glass. That night I dream a gorilla in Mike's video monitor that is performing actions completely different from the real animal being filmed.  I dream a snow covered midwest field divided by high black fence, topped with razor wire. Inside the bladed loops is a black gun, an automated weapon that is also a crow. It fires but this is also the flap of its' wings.  I notice that the dark circles of the wire are handwriting - a prescription of course.


Speeding back to NYC on the evening train, barreling into a blizzard –the world outside buffeted is going grey, going blue. The snow sweeps by in pale, unbroken lines.  The Hudson is full of ice, a miniature arctic  fading into a granular emptiness. Things are not well upstate but the wind and snow that scrub at the train seem to clean me of the of the stories of drugs and abuse that haven’t stopped; of Daneal’s commitment to her children but her enduring loneliness; of Desi’s absence now that she is living with relatives in VA; of  the clouds of cigarette smoke that hang around my mom and dad; of  how much their age showed in their hands as they tore at shimmering foil wrapping paper.  The window is almost dark now.  The valley and the river are becoming night sky.  Flakes are like stars on the window. Far off Christmas lights hang in the dark like constellations. It think the train is flying. The whistle agrees.

(found Image)



Back here the weather gives a dull shine to everything, a damp shine. The sound of rain surrounds all other sounds –the click of shoes,  the click of cameras, the creak of the beds, Mike playing  his favorite guitar lines, sweet and familiar from somewhere in the house. We're both so delighted and lazy now that we are home. The rain collects and moves on the glass like film grain. I think of the all the strange stories of pharmaceuticals we've collected while traveling and shooting, even while teaching and fucking around - everybody is on something, or has been, or wants to be.  Watching the wet glass, I imagine pale blue capsules falling with the sound of raindrops, soaking into the Portland mud, sprouting back up with bright green leaves and pill-blossom flowers.