Trinkets

Trinkets

4b7c0-mailIt’s all crap really, the things we save.

An attic full of old books, a beat up record player, socks that never fit. A baseball bat lays next to an Easter basket. I don’t get the point of saving it all.

But then I sit down. The air is hot, stale and smells of sawdust. I reach over and pick up a book. It’s pages are yellowing with age and twisted from years of haphazard storage. The spine cracks as I open it.

Charlie Brown. Snoopy. Peanuts. I can’t help but laugh. The comic strips aren’t new to me. I’ve read this and every other Peanuts book in this attic a hundred times. I’d read them on weekends, on sick days home from school, in the evenings before bed. Every page holds the warms for recognition, of familiarity, of a time before work, family, Facebook and relationships filled my days.

I read a further. The strips aren’t funny, I realize. A few are—I can remember laughing endlessly at several of the pages—but overall they aren’t. What they are instead is a reminder. I wanted to be in those books. I used to pretend I was a pilot, flying a Sopwith Camel, stationed in France, locked in dogfights with the Red Barron over Normandy. I wanted a beagle. I wonder if I knew he would sleep in his doghouse, not on it.

I closed the book, set it down and pick up an old catcher’s mitt. The leather is cracking, but there is still a ball in it, put there to maintain the shape of the pocket. I try to put my hand inside, but the body I’ve grown into doesn’t fit into the echoes of the past. I smile at the hand that rattled inside the same glove so many years ago.

I look around, then slowly rise to my feet. There is so mush here, I could dig for days. Traces of the past are everywhere: high school trophies, basketball cards, a favorite pair of boots now sizes too small. But the hot air is making me uncomfortable, and it’s time to go.

It’s all crap really. I can’t use it. I don’t have room for it. It’s the same worthless nostalgia that hits me again and again, whenever I drive past my old school, see a name from the past in my inbox, hear American Pie on the radio. I shut the door, slide closed the lock. It’s worthless anyway.

Worthless, but I won’t throw it away.


 

I was cleaning out some of my things and found this piece. I thought it would fit well on here, so I made some minor revisions. I wrote the original in college.

Advertisements

Fire, part II

Fire, part II

IMG_5620I wrote the last post while on the plane from New York City to Johannesburg. It is not a work of fiction. It was a story told to me a few hours before by a friend. The friend was driving up State Street in Portland, Maine, and crested the hill to see a man burning alive. The man was standing in Longfellow Square, at the intersection of Congress and State, engulfed in flames. The man had obviously lit himself on fire, and despite the flames he steadfastly refused to stop, drop and roll. Colin told me their eyes locked, and for a moment everything else stopped. The man was burning, and his last moments were spent in a visual embrace with someone sitting in a car at a stoplight. I couldn’t get that image out of my head, and as I flew it spilled out into my notebook.

About a week earlier I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, the new Wes Anderson film. The movie was fantastic, funny and fun, but it was also more than that. The story is told through a writer, though it is not his story. It is the story of an old man and his youth. The writer, however, says he is never short of stories because people are always telling him theirs. His job is just to capture them. That’s how I felt with this. The story was Colin’s, but after he told it to me I knew I couldn’t just let it disappear. My version is not accurate from a journalistic standpoint—I did not take notes or probe Colin for details or fact check his account. Instead I took his story, which I believe, and filled in the details. I would not call it my story, because I merely retold Colin’s account. But it was a story that captured something primal, something real, that I wanted to tell. It had a power when he told it, and I wanted that power to keep rippling outward.

I’m not really sure why all that is at all important, other than it shares my process, my experience. There is no truth, and no one owns any of it. But the story is beautifully raw. It is a story worth telling.

Fire

Fire

pic-0007The two lanes wound through the city, cars streaming like a river towards the downtown. Colin banked right then left, steering from memory, pressing the gas pedal as the road began to climb. The leaves, fresh and green, rustled in the breeze. Colin pulled to a stop at a traffic light and felt the wind dance in his open window. It was cool and fresh. The light turned green. He pressed the gas.

As the car climbed, Colin saw smoke. It was billowing skyward from something over the crest of the hill. With every turn of the tires the horizon sank, revealing more smoke whirling in the breeze, dark against the blue sky.
The wheels turned, the car climbed, and Colin looked. The horizon dropped. What was burning? He couldn’t see.

Then the flames were there, dancing over the pavement skyline, red and yellow among the bricks. The fire strained for the sky, leaping and jumping. One more revolution and Colin would see what was burning. The car crested the hill at a stoplight—red—and Colin pushed the brake pedal. Across the street, standing on the sidewalk next to the intersection, stood a man engulfed in flames, burning.

His eyes were closed, Colin could see that. And his face was taut. His teeth glistened through a grimace. He held his arms out from his sides at an angle, both hands balled into fists. He seemed to be dancing, hopping from one foot to the other, red flames licking their way up his body.

His clothes were not yet burned away. They seemed to breathe fire all around him, drawing it down his shoulders, along his legs, up into his hair. A soft breeze fanned the flames like a flag and left the leaves shuddering in the trees behind him.

Colin sat at the light, both hands on the wheel. A woman in the next lane was also staring. A man and a woman were walking together on the sidewalk, laughing, unaware of the man and his flames.

Colin’s gaze returned to the man, still caught doing his strange shuffle. His clothes were melting, fusing into his skin. His lips were burning away from his teeth. The man opened his eyes—Colin couldn’t tell their color beneath the flames—and scanned around him through a veil of fire.

And then he stopped, his eyes on Colin. Through the intersection, the windshield, the glare of the traffic light, the red of the flames, the man’s eyes locked on Colin’s, even as the fire ate his eyelids.

And Colin stared back. They were transfixed—the burning man shuffling from foot to foot, Colin with his hands on the steering wheel, eyes locked across the divide. Colin could feel the sweat on his back, beaded and cool, something the man would never feel again. He held the man’s gaze and watched as the tissues around his eyes charred and turned black. He was unable to look away.

The light turned. Green. Colin rolled forward, still transfixed, still unable to turn. The burning man followed him as he passed.

Colin crossed the intersection, pulling the wheel to the left and glided into an open space. He leapt out of the drivers seat. The burning man had lost control of his muscles and fallen to the ground. From either side people ran towards the charred body. One was carrying a fire extinguisher, bright and red.

For Vivian

For Vivian

Last night I went to see Finding Vivian Maier, a documentary about one of the most prolific and talented street photographers of the 20th century. She shot without publication, amassing hundreds of thousands of negatives that were only discovered and recognized for their brilliance after her death.

There seemed to be this sadness, over the course of the film, that Maier was not discovered sooner, that her talents were never recognized during her lifetime. She shot in obscurity, earning her full time living as a nanny. It was only after her death, the film narrative goes, that her art became celebrated.

But I see it differently. Art, the word, can act as a verb, not just a noun, and her life was a celebration of the verb. She shot and shot and shot out of a drive, a passion, that wasn’t tied to money or fame or prestige. She shot because it fed her soul, because it was a way to capture her truth. The true beauty of her work was not the piles and piles of negatives she left behind; the true beauty was in a life lived devoted to the act of capturing moments, for no other reason than because the moments were beautiful.

I woke up this morning and drove to Pine Point Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand about 20 minutes outside Portland. I brought my camera, and, inspired by Maier, searched for unnoticed beauty. It was raw and cold, the sand was still wet from the dew. I wandered to the breakwater and back in bare feet, looking for treasure. I was happy with what I found, the pictures I took. The moment, however, is not captured by the shutter. It was the act of looking, of pressing the release in the first place.

Just act, don’t ask why. The art is not (just) the result. The art is in the act itself.

Africa

Africa

I do not know this country, this continent. Every bit of red earth is new, as are the smiles and warmth of its people. I came for work, but I will leave having made more friends than money. And I’m OK with that.