Cannonballing Into the Future (or, "Learning How to See")

I was an all-night janitor one summer in Portland, Oregon; 8:30 pm to 4:30 am, four nights per week. It wasn't so bad. I made sweet money, $8.35/hour, I think, which doesn't seem like much, but I was living in my parents' garage, so it covered the essentials, like N64 games. You know, as I put this down in writing it's becoming clear that there have been periods in my life where I have really been quite a loser.

I call this piece, "The Nature of Grandmotherhood." (Joya del Pacifico, El Salvador; Dec 2016)

The sun rises early in the summer in the Pacific Northwest, and every morning I'd drive home on the empty freeway in my 1980 Honda Accord while the world slowly lit up. It was right when Coldplay had put out their first album, which was actually pretty good, and the words to one of the songs on the album went, "We live in a beautiful world," and I had it on the CD player, cool dawn air whipping through the open car windows and through my hair, and the city was still, and the sky was pale indigo, and it felt like I was going somewhere, even though I lived in a garage and ate PopTarts for two-thirds of my meals.


I've always loved photographs. When I was a kid we had a bunch of old National Geographic magazines, and I devoured every single one with my eyes. Never read a single word of a single article. I'd just pore over page after page, soaking in every detail of every picture. Travel magazines, sports magazines, newspapers -- I loved the pictures, the colors, the angles, the sharpness, the way the world froze for an split second and you could just stare at it forever, and it wouldn't change.

About a decade ago, I finally bought a decent camera, thought I'd try my hand at my favorite art form. Since then, I've taken more than a hundred thousand photographs. A few are okay; most are pretty pedestrian. But the beautiful byproduct of snapping all those photos has been learning how to notice the instant of feeling that flashes across the human face, how to spot shape and color and light and shadow, the profundity of the quotidian. I’m slowly teaching myself how to see.

I still think we live in a beautiful world, like the one that used to blow through my car window and across my skin on all those pastel mornings years ago. There are ugly things in this world too, of course, horrendous things, even. Watching for the good isn’t the same as burying one’s head and pretending there’s no such thing as bad. Levelheaded engagement with humanity and its ills is probably a good, responsible idea. But maybe it ought to coexist with a wide-eyed, enthusiastic engagement with the wonder of humanity, with the exquisiteness of the seemingly mundane. Because that wonder is happening all the time. You just have to watch for it.

As for me, I intend to keep my camera a little closer this year, to pay better attention while the beautiful world goes around, to notice while life and light happen.

I also note that this ugly and clunky blog celebrated its 10th birthday last week. I love this blog like I love Roxette -- they are both so dumb that they are incredible. I don't foresee abandoning Abu Halen anytime soon in favor of some other, more modern platform for sharing. I hope you don't mind having to type in a URL or pause in the middle of your Facebook scrolling to click on a link and wait 3.5 seconds for the blog to load -- I know your time is valuable. Happy New Year to all 24 of you.