I’m back from my MacDowell residency. I took over 6 rolls of Polaroids. I revised, marked up, & reshaped the first 200 pages of my novel. I sat for days (literally sat without writing a word for days) with the big questions my novel was asking me. I waited for answers, without chasing. I lived in a more analog mode.
I finally read my first Didion novel (Play It as It Lays) & ordered this absurd notebook when I saw that another fellow named Shira had it. I played a copious amount of ping-pong (including 5-person ping-pong in which you all rotate counter-clockwise as you hit the ball. A residency full of mavericks, I tell ya!) I prepped with my brilliant team for our January In Surreal Life session, which starts in just a few days. Kicking off 2023, we’ll have fifty students from all over the map creating & taking risks in good company.
MacDowell was six weeks of walking through the pitch-black woods alone from dinner to my studio. Or walking that dark road with my arms linked with Jean the installation artist, or a step behind Harold the painter, or side by side with Brendan the architect.
Artists make terrific walking lighthouses. I’m so lucky to have been shepherded through the dark by them. I was nervous to need others. It’s a tendency. A pattern I’m trying to break. “Will you walk me home?” I asked Jean, Harold, Brendan & they each said, “of course.” Sometimes, when the moon was boisterous & bright, we left our flashlights off & walked under its cool, thorough beam.
As I re-enter Brooklyn this week & adjust to letting go of that sacred space, I want to inhale that time in the woods, exhale its meaning. It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Letting go while appreciating. “Kindness eases change,” writes Octavia Butler. What eases change for you? What helps you let go?
Here I go, carving MacDowell into place with my heart’s pocketknife, where it will stay initialed until the tree rots & falls. Am I the tree in this analogy? Seems I have to be the tree. Let’s try another analogy. Here I go, allowing MacDowell’s little footprints to impact fresh powder, at least until the next snowfall. Am I the fresh powder? It seems I am. In each of these analogies, there’s the sense of impermanence & the choice to savor.
We hugged goodbye yesterday morning; still, I savor my new friend Pea, gently caught in the brambles. Even though they’re “the real photographer” they always took my gaze seriously through the viewfinder. They stood still for me, & encouraged me to play. They called me “a real photographer,” just because I held a camera with love & playfulness. I don’t flinch, these days. I savor their generosity.
I savor the out-of-focus bloom - literally & metaphorically. What arrives to us in crispness is not always the most valuable. Sometimes the blur is just as necessary. It has its own sensitive calling.
I savor the close-up of my favorite tree in front of the Baldwin library where I wrote every day (I snapped at least 9 different polaroids of her over my time there). It was easy to feel solid in front of her trunk-like branches, the grandeur of her moss & marbled skin.
I savor the single cloud in the deep blue dusk. The quickly changing light I have to chase or lose – & often lose. I savor not knowing how the film will replicate the night. It usually doesn’t. The film unbuckles & flares its own decided shade. It is moody & ripe. I savor what’s chance as much as what’s choice.
I savor Clem & Rebekkah talking about books in the middle of the slushy path. Out of frame are multiple small & sudden creeks running wildly. They were a result of a massive snowstorm melting into place. Into place? What could really melt into place? Well, for just a moment these creeks did. They found their place. Then they dried up. Impermanent & (hopefully) savored.
How did it happen that 2023 is just days away? I love New Year’s. It’s my favorite holiday.
Over the past six years, I’ve maintained a Gratitude Journal, which I always rekindle at the beginning of the year. I’ve also set SMART goals, made excel charts, consulted astrology, & reflected deeply on the last year so as to chart the year coming up. This past summer, in the midst of a million practices & rituals, I spontaneously let go of most of them. It was weird, & natural. Like a tree shedding leaves, I just fell into a new season, & felt them drop away, my will-power having nothing to do with it.
Sometimes, who can explain it, it’s time to let go & live.
Remember that Toni Morrison quote? “At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.”
Now, I’m still photographing it, I’m still remembering it. But her words nonetheless call up something for me: enoughness. For example, that I can feel deeply grateful without the need to jot it down in a book. That I don’t have to “capture” anything with my camera; rather, the camera can be a way to touch the world - another limb, an organ. Camera as tongue or lung. A way to know, not keep.
What are you leaning into this New Years? What are you releasing?
This transition into 2023, I’m trying something different. No charts or spreadsheets. A hand on the heart, a pause, a listening. I’m investing in patience, experiencing, & savoring. I’m putting my ear to the wall of Morrison’s quote & listening for what stirs on that other side, that side where beauty is enough.
I know only a few things about the year ahead. I know I’d like to play a ridiculous amount of soccer. I’d like to spend more time with friends, making them & keeping them. I’d like to touch the world with the multiple limbs & organs of art-making. I’d like to invite a more analog knowing. I’d like to work on & hopefully finish my novel - at my pace, honoring my gifts, undressing the big questions for their onion-esque goodness, & allowing my intuition to flower.
As Etel Adnan says, “The books I’m writing are houses that I build for myself.” I’m keeping that intention close. What kind of house is my novel, Tangerapple? I’m excited to keep finding out.
So far, the walls & the roof are a red & cloudy membrane. It’s like being inside a human body, via the vessels. The house is organic & porous; its walls subtly expand & contract. As I write this, I realize how akin to a tangerine this description is; the novel is pulpy, full of pips. It is red-orange, interconnected, crunchy, organic, heart-centric. I’m excited for you to hold it in your hands, one day. It’s a surreal Queer love story told from the perspective of a comatose seventy-year old woman to her bedside wife, have I mentioned that yet? It explores death, consciousness, & connection; it reckons with how to love in the midst of impermanence. It’s the house I need.
May your New Year be joyous, easy-going, & sudden-creek-full.
May you savor the impermanent everything.
May you pick up a camera. Who knows what you’ll notice?
May you build the house you need, whether it’s with words or silence.
You know, I lived those New Hampshire woods fully. Fully in my fear & fully in trusted company. It was eight minutes of alert awareness, of counting my breaths & singing “This little light of mine…” in my head, my friend April’s advice to beat fear. I can still hear the branches crackling, & the old shed’s open door creaking (the half way point) as I passed it.
I’d like to invite you onto that dark road. Come. I’ll link my arms with yours as we part the woods with our little flashlights. Here we go, chatting, laughing, trying not to slip on the icy patches. & now, we turn our flashlights off, the moon is the only thing on. At first our bodies too are dark. Then our eyes adjust. We are bright, brighter, brightening.
It means something, that we can reach for each other & be walked home. That we can lean on an impermanent shoulder & - for a moment - it is real, it is everything.
With ample maple syrup,
bright, brighter, brightening. loved/ loving every word of this Shira. thank you
As a human-artist-creator-writer-photographer-poet, you embraced each individual tendril of my vital heart with your stories, thoughts, and art. I am so grateful to witness you in this lifetime. Thank you for being. Thank you for playing. Thank you for sharing. With love and flamingos, Kelly.