Monday, April 18, 2016

Death by Optimism


Five years ago, I wrote what turned out to be an extremely popular post.Viewed over 1700 times, thanks mostly to being listed on my front page as one of my most viewed posts, making me an unwilling part of social media’s popularity breeding popularity quagmire, but don’t let’s go there today, this bit of  therapeutic writing explained what it meant to be a Disillusioned Optimist, my gmail handle for a number of years and lifestyle for many more. Just thought I’d check back in to answer any queries as to how that’s working out for me with a resounding not so great turns out, but could be worse, which is to say, the disillusioned optimism is still strong in me, there is no cure, and I think it’s going to be the death of me, on which day I will still be telling myself if I just wait and see things can only get better.


In fact, things don’t get better, they just find other ways of doing me in. It’s like crop rotation, or some cosmic changing of the guard, or cross-training, the way those three metaphors will serve the same purpose but distract you from their redundancy by requiring slightly different imaginative skills. I release one frustration by some custom made combination of effort and attitude, but here comes another one to assess, address and resolve not so much because any real solution was enjoyed, but because I either gave in, gave up, or moved on, or it did. All this moving on I do, you’d think I would get somewhere. But here I am still, nowhere. 


Yet something has changed. I’m still an optimist, but upgraded – or downgraded? – from disillusioned to besieged. It’s not a philosophical exercise anymore, it’s war. Every day. Out there and in here, a war to defend the same little piece of land that is less and less worth the trouble. By the time it’s secure, there won’t be anything left of it. In case you prefer the direct approach, it’s my heart we’re talking about, or my hopes, or the very best part of me that still believes in truth, happiness, love, all of that. It’s not a golden meadow, if it ever was. It’s a battlefield.  One upon which the enemies being rejected from one corner, other enemies arrive in another corner. Or as Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna famously concluded: it’s always something. 

 

I’m having yet another year that could be worse. I know this because every day I find the strength to face the day by listing all the things for which I am grateful that could be worse and aren’t, to keep myself from looking at the things that either haven’t gotten any better or are indeed worse. I thought 2015 had its rank secured as the worst ever, due to its spectacular opening salvo of my mother’s death, a loss that may feel less acute over time, but an absence that will never get any better. Surely 2016 would be an improvement. You’d think.


Kinda not. If I try really hard I can point to things that aren’t as bad as last year. But it’s a little troubling to lean on “my mother didn’t die today” for comfort. Or “I’m still alone but at least I’m not in an unhealthy relationship.” Or “I’m a huge traveling shit show of interweaving intermittent physical and emotional symptoms thanks to menopause but I can still function.” Maybe I need to change that to Desperate Optimist. When you join that bitter little club, membership comes with a tiny rubber stamp bearing the words “at least,” which can be affixed to just about any miserable circumstance. I haven’t had a single night of sleep not interrupted by multiple wakings, often in a lather, nor a single day without sweat and tears in four, maybe five months. But at least. I’m here. I have hope. I have my mind. I am resourceful, stubborn, and determined not to be broken by what I simply must believe is temporary, or transitory, with something better just around the corner.


Thing is, my life is half over. And thus far, it has been not much more than waiting out one allegedly temporary or transitory set of vexatious obstacles and losses after another. The wiggle room, not to mention the enthusiasm and energy, for amazing turnarounds grows smaller every year as more years are behind me than ahead of me. This year I had high hopes. I had a good talk with myself and decided to perform one of those classic Gabriella self-rescues in which I create a beautiful net of time-tested positive attitudes, activities and pursuits that do not depend on other persons or conventional measures of happiness and success, and basically distract myself into a state that is less miserable, less frustrated, less meaningless. At least.

 

And this year, the ironic development is that the enemies have emerged from within. It’s my body, the one ally you’d think I could count on, turned traitor. Insomnia undermines everything. I make plans. I make lists. I set goals. And then I begin the day in such a compromised state I feel accomplished if I just don’t fall too far behind on basic responsibilities. Even for a veteran procrastinator, I find myself doing everything later than I had planned, in a less satisfactory way than I had hoped, or not at all. A lot of my plans age past their relevance, timeliness or interest. Oh well, guess I’m not doing that then. But I keep making plans. As if I were my own personal assistant, scheduling appearances and activities of which I myself am incapable. I get to the designated day, and I get out the eraser. My 2016 calendar is covered in the ghostly tracks of things delayed, deferred and abandoned.  And it’s already April.


Or only April. I had great plans for this as a kind of turnaround month. I won’t even report on them here because they may not happen and then I’ll have to add perpetual embarrassment to my list of symptoms. I haven’t exactly changed direction, but neither have I continued down the road from bad to worse. At least. In fact, I may actually be back out at the crossroads on the verge of an entirely new journey down a road that goes from “not bad” to “better” to “what is this strange feeling, is this what the others mean when they use the word good?” Because it’s going to be the death of me, but damnit I’m still an optimist.

Monday, March 28, 2016

All in a Day's Work


This week, on Luminous Traces Collective, my ongoing photo gig with the often vexatious always ultimately fulfilling theme prompts, I was called upon to create an image in response to the phrase Sun Salutation. New this season (and worth checking out, just saying), we now have a full roster of talented contributors and an open media policy allowing (and encouraging) all forms of artwork, which gives me myriad ways to be deeply frustrated and delightfully challenged on a weekly basis, with this week no exception.


Because there was no morning sun to salute or shoot today. Just this, captured before the onset of hours of precipitation unable to declare itself as either liquid or solid in nature. And me still just barely on the mend from a weeklong bout with flu the likes of which I can’t even remember having. Ever. As in, foggy, soggy, torpid, torrid, achy and exhausted on a cellular level, unable to be vertical for more than fifteen minutes at a time. As my body goes, so goes my mood. Not exactly outer or inner weather conducive to sunlit image capturing. So I was just about ready to give up and take a pass this time. Turns out, my muse kinda digs dreary despair and last minute reprieves, and helped me dredge up from the murky depths my first poem in months, and as good an answer to the prompt as any forthcoming. 

Sun Salutation

Nothing new stirs
but out of sight and so far down
it loses faith as it rises
uncertain of direction
in the long cold darkness.

But I know how it goes
waking to landscapes changed overnight
brief joys I’ve grown toward
taking me with head bowed
beyond doubt’s shadow.

This morning the trees and I
have nothing left to leave behind.
The convalescent sky
can’t hide its face of ash
behind such unfleshed fingers,

the way it always is
before some slim green thing
at last defies the hopeless surface
terrified justified free
too beautiful to not believe in.

© 2016 Gabriella Mirollo

Then, as luck, poetic justice, life imitating art, or maybe just the sheer perverse whimsy of the Universe would have it, it stopped sideways glopping. I went back outside. And I found this.


 Now the post for tomorrow is ready, as am I. Happy Spring, all.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Becoming Myself



In late 2014, I began a yearlong self portrait project in which I paid tribute to some favorite artists by reinventing, one might say, appropriating, their subjects. It was a challenging journey that lasted twelve months and quite simply changed the way I think of myself as a photographer and a woman. Readers of my postings during that period will know it was not an easy time for me in any area of my life. Early reports of this new year notwithstanding, 2016 is now looking a lot better, in more ways than one. By the way, if you have any issues with seeing more of me than you counted on, consider yourself duly warned and scroll no further. 


I admit, my recent daringly honest self-portraiture has not been a purely aesthetic experiment. Loneliness, uncertainty, and the too often self-eclipsing effects of too much social media immersion played a large part in my making use of myself as a subject and an object and sharing the results with an audience I wasn’t even sure existed, much less had any interest in my activities or appearance. Going nude on the internet had very little to do with courage or vanity and very much to do with the two pronged defense of 1) having run out of fucks to give and 2) being pretty certain no one was paying attention anyway. 


Long story short, one year and change (and I mean that in more ways than one) later, the project is complete, my facebook account is deleted, I have even less to prove, an even smaller less certain audience, and now find myself missing my monthly shoots. Lacking (and no longer desiring) a specific artistic source to emulate, I went for one of the oldest prompts in the book: a prop shoot. Oh look, there’s my blanket and some nice sunlight conveniently filtering through a curtain onto my bed. Right. Just go and shoot and see what happens. No attempt to control or invest in outcomes, as if that ever works anyway. And pretty soon the blanket fell away and I was left with -- just myself.


Comfortably back in the familiar territory of irony and living metaphors, as my pretext became irrelevant and my confidence pre-eminent, I realized in my effort to sidestep the self portrait project, I had managed spontaneously and accidentally to come upon its perfect conclusive subject and challenge. By not trying to become or hide behind anything else, I was left with that most constant and yet elusive of themes, myself, the thing to which all this long arduous process of elimination I have been enduring has finally reduced and refined me. There was of course a little of me in all the subjects I portrayed, in fact, in some cases, more of me than I have ever displayed. But this time it’s all me. And I can tell you, I’m liking what I see. 


Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Waking Up Not At Home

 

There is nothing more disorienting than waking up and not being where you ought to be or thought you were. This seems to happen especially to people who travel frequently – or drink too much. Admittedly, I have ample experience in both these areas. That mild increasing anxiety as you open your eyes, perhaps only one eye, and the sliver of reality materializing is not the accustomed view from your own bed. Not the right ceiling. Not the right window.  Even the light is all wrong.  


If you’re lucky it’s just the hotel room you arrived in last night. Or it’s the living room couch you never left after valiantly attempting the late show.  Or less proudly, the floor which was as far as you apparently made it when you got home from last call last night when that, plus the successful operating of your front door and the removal of one shoe was the full extent of your conscious abilities. 

 
Worst case scenario it’s a bed belonging to someone else, with whom you must soon perform awkward farewells while gathering your possessions, followed by a grim exhausted commute to your own home fueled only by bemused shame and a desire not to collapse in public with your underwear on inside out. Or, as the smell of damp grass makes undeniably apparent, it’s the lawn you for some reason thought was a way better option than indoors sleeping arrangements, a memory I wish were far more distant and rare than it is. 


And then there are the times you wake up in your own bed, in your own home, and all is where it ought to be, the light is right, the smells are right, that’s your cat snoring, your neighbor rustling upstairs, your window view. You uncurl your rested body and easy mind, you sigh lightheartedly in cheerful greeting of a new day, and then you remember: oh shit, that.  That thing you momentarily forgot and hoped was a dream. That thing you only days ago woke up without knowing, without feeling, without rearranging your whole life around. That. 


It could be that someone you loved and couldn’t imagine living without is gone. It could be that you lost the job whose routines and relationships were what gave your life both context and content. It could be any number of inner or outer landscape altering news, happenings or realizations that were not part of your reality mere days ago, and are now. That. And it was that pre-that landscape you were hoping to wake up into, because that was home. And this is not home.  Home is what you are a long way from.  And now you have to slowly crawl your way back to it, if you can.


I seem to be having a lot of these “that” wakeups lately. Hazy cozy one eye open morning thoughts that are suddenly rudely eclipsed by the new reality I temporarily blissfully forgot happened.  Oh, that’s right, my mother died last night and today I have to get on a train and go to her funeral. Or, oh that’s right, I don’t live there anymore, work there anymore, get to talk to or touch that person anymore. I had (fill in the blank) yesterday, and today I don’t. That text wasn’t a dream, or that phone call, or email, or if you go way back in my history of landscape alterations, that letter, that sighting, that “there’s something you need to know” conversation. Sometimes, the agent of these abrupt losses was simply silence.  But it changed everything.  And it wasn’t a dream. And for days, weeks, even months afterwards, in that confused hopeful moment between dissipating unconsciousness and materializing consciousness, I have understood that I am waking up not at home. I may as well be in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city, or a stranger’s bed, or the front lawn.  Oh shit. That. Now what? 


The slow crawl back home.  In the full resumed occupation of which, I am happy to say, this post was written.  Because as it turns out, and I have to keep learning over and over again, home is not a place, or an occupation, or another person. Wherever I go, whatever I do, whoever chooses to keep me company, I am always at home. Because I am home.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Becoming a Shadow

My bed is the place a shadow lies


We all have times in our lives when we feel as if we are becoming a shadow. We are still alive, but moving through our lives without notice or impression or sensation, because of certain circumstances or conditions, reduced from or a mere projection of our former selves.

My kitchen is where a shadow feeds


Lives are being led somewhere, but not where we are, where there is only unwitnessed unrelieved silence.  I have had far too many long hours living the life of a shadow, wondering if I am merely a figment of my own imagination, wondering how long it takes for an untouched body to vanish into nothing, an unheard voice to lose all meaning, an unwanted heart to stop feeling. 

My chair is a shadow’s studio


Fortunately I have always managed to re-materialize before that time, for a time. But then it happens again, the slow receding of me from my life, or my life from me, the shadow times of talking to myself, or holding myself, or gazing into my own mirrored eyes, just to make sure I am still a corporeal being, even if there is no one to prove it, no one to see it, no one to care but me.  

Reflecting illusory sympathy

   
Recently, I began to feel I was once again slipping away, and I wrote the poem that I posted on my TTC Facebook page, that prompted the series of photographs that appeared all of last week on my Instagram account, captioned with lines from the poem that I now include here with the photos it inspired. My efforts received minimal response, which didn’t provide anywhere near the thrill of someone you love kissing you for the first time, but I did feel a lot less invisible, unheard and unknown. 

A shadow will sometimes fill my tub


Must say, not even three weeks into a new year with new routines and I am already really digging the cross-pollination possibilities of word and image between Blogger and Instagram, and keeping myself to the daily discipline of some sort of creativity that also works towards a further goal.  Not so much digging what occasioned these particular words and images, but what’s a shadow to do but wait for better times? Sometimes creativity has to be an end in itself, and so does the self. 

My love is a shadow a shadow loves

  
And here’s that poem in its entirety:


Note: I compose and view these posts on a laptop screen and have noticed that when viewed on a smartphone screen, where so many of us are doing our viewing these days, the photos can be grainy or blurry within the body of the post. However, if you tap them they will open in a new window of their own and look a lot sharper. This may prove especially useful with the photo of the poem above. Enjoy. - G.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

First Week

 
Day One - Because I haven't quite figured out how to do this yet. 

During my first week without Facebook, which was also the first week of a new calendar year, I learned a few things I’d like to share here, because even though I have closed one door of virtual communication with an indeterminate and possibly imaginary audience, doesn’t mean I could resist opening some windows. This space is in fact quite an old window, with its own structural and operating quirks, but its exasperations are at least familiar and mild, whereas Facebook, don’t get me started.

Day Two – It's a stale old practice, but I need more structure and routine in my daily life. I don't however need the truffles I received as a holiday gift. Today my truffles will come with me, but by the end of the day I will have left them all behind.  

The first thing I noticed is that I prefer my morning tea without aggravation, indignation and needlessly ego brutalizing comparisons to other people’s probably entirely misrepresented happiness, intelligence and good looks. Also turns out I can wake up just fine without memes and political rants too, breakfast choices free of both healthy calories and unique, appealing or lasting flavor. Next, I found myself not even an hour into my day ready willing and able to do things on my list of things to do instead of staring at a screen wondering how it got so late when I got up so early. I accomplished morning workouts and did a little real writing in the time it would normally take to scroll through my newsfeed, in which there was really nothing newsworthy, make and answer comments, which provided no answers to anything actually affecting my life, and follow links to articles and videos that were, okay, interesting, but, I am here as living proof after seven days, I can clearly live without. 

Day Three – How I get undressed after a night on the town.  

Enough with the Facebook bashing. I am still an (embattled) optimist, and I tried, I truly tried, to use this most prevalent and potentially useful social media platform for good and not evil, to find others with similar intentions, and create within a cluttered chaos of vacancy and pretense, my own little well-maintained corner of culture, art, candor, and genuine connection.  It can happen if you desire, accept and embrace Facebook Experience Management as your full-time unpaid no benefits job. As they say, good luck with that. If I really miss being briefly amused and enriched amidst lotsa ignored and exasperated, I can always go to a bar on a Saturday night.

Day Four - On the anniversary of her death, my beautiful mother Julia (1929-2015)  

Being a solitary person with a huge self-expression habit, I had misgivings about depriving myself both of the company, albeit virtual, of others, and the comfort, albeit spurious, of being seen and heard that Facebook, for all its flaws, offers to the user. Even an imaginary audience is better than none at all, right? Wrong. Turns out, I actually feel less lonely talking to myself than addressing myself to 170 people and still ending up, most of the time, talking to myself. It also turns out that my proven conclusions about the failure of Facebook to provide any but the most minimal and hardwon meaningful contact with people far outweighed my unfounded fears of failure to thrive without those crumbs of social nourishment. Many of my alleged friends didn’t even know I had disappeared, or what happened to me, even though I spent a few days prior to deactivation posting about its imminence and my reasons. When no one even hears you announce you’re leaving the party, or notices you’re gone, it’s a party you needed to leave, without regret, and without looking back.

Day Five – It's that time of year again when sudden single digit temps inspire my windows to make morning frost art.  

That said, one by one, my real friends found me again later, beyond the virtual party, in real life, because they already had other ways than Facebook to contact me, or made sure to secure them and make use of them before I left. And anything or anyone I have missed because I left, well, I just have to have faith that I can do without.  That includes what little attention and validation I received when taking a good photo, or complaining about my loneliness in brave and eloquent ways, or sharing the perfect poem, painting or song. I will keep doing that in other places online, each with its own dubious and erratic audience reach, and I can even do that in person, risking rejection the old fashioned way. I am not that hard to find, even without a trail of selfies pointing the way. 

Day Six - Shadow of a Doubt

But the confessional shutterbug habit is hard to break. The challenge for me was to find a way to take and share pictures that were connected to who I am and what I am up to, but not connected to the quality or quantity of possible acknowledgment from the outside world, a process not unsimilar to one going on in larger and deeper ways in both my creative and social life, in which simply being and doing have, over the years, become more important than being recognized or rewarded.  Introducing…Instagram.

 
Day Seven – Nothing says I don’t  care who’s looking like a selfie. 

On Instagram, I now post one photo a day, taken with my phone, which, by the way, now released from its draining hours of Facebook activity, spends far less time connected to its recharger, talk about being literally and figuratively unplugged. The photos, the first seven of which are offered here in this post, are representative of each day, and for each day provide both routine and a miniature creative challenge. They need to be good, and they need to be meaningful, and tell a story or convey an emotion, with minimal personal commentary or context and no expectation of response. On Instagram, you don’t go looking for “friends” and find that the more you have the less the word means. You acquire “followers,” and you follow people. It’s about a community of  shared images, not promoting self-image, at least the posters I am following, at least the way I intend to post, as more of a private practice than a public outreach. If I have just left one fool’s paradise to take up residence in another (which has been my relocation situation more times than I care to admit) that remains to be seen. Until then, things are looking up, but don't necessarily care who's looking.