Last night I finished editing video footage from a wedding in Central Park near the Bethesda Angel. It was a beautiful ceramony in a beautiful spot that has personal meaning for me. Beautiful yes, but I was also thrilled to be done with it because moving photography is a new venture for me. I've been crash-coursing Adobe Premiere for a couple of weeks, hyper-ventilating all the way. After I was done with that video, I wanted to edit just one photograph before I headed for bed at 2am. The one above is the one I chose. I like it. It's from Le Reve - The Dream - a cirque style show in Vegas. The image reminds me of Nietzsche; his idea of Untergang - going under. Inherent in this idea is risk and a leap of faith and confusion about whether you are actually going down or rising up. I like that there is confusion in the photo about who is rising and who is falling and who might be doing both at the same time. Blah blah blah. There's more to say about this and even cirque shows. But I'll let the image speak to you however it wants to and however you want it to, and move on.
This morning I woke up and peed. It’s a daily ritual I’m sure you’re familiar with.
Then I dressed and put on my coat and walked out to the living room. K, my room mate, was remembering his cotton socks for the daily journey to class at Union, a theological seminary on Broadway near Columbia.
“Good morning, Mr. Socks.” I smiled and sat on the couch. He chuckled and continued his preparations. He walked into the bathroom, walked to the kitchen, came out and walked by me.
“Okay, I’ve taken everything out of the drawer for Shah. I’m leaving in a few minutes and I hope THIS drawer will be different when I return.”
Shah is our Super and the kitchen drawer is broken and K's statement felt ominous.
“I… never mind.” I laughed some more. This was not nervous laughter.
“I’m not sure if you meant it consciously or even at all, but part of what you said felt to me like a veiled threat.”
“I’m leaving now and I hope – for your sake, JASON – that things are much improved when I get back. And if they’re not, it will be all your fault and I will be sure to blame you squarely for it.”
K. laughed even more. “No, I didn’t mean that.”
“I understand,” I said. “Which is why I’m laughing. Whether you meant it or not, I inserted it into your words.” I continued the conversation in my head (because he was leaving and there wasn’t time to unravel all of what I was thinking) and thought about Meryl and my mother and others. About Tom and Louise. If I’d had time to explain all of it to him, I might have begun with something like, ‘There’s an IPIR for that.’ In case you're not an avid Merrell Street Blog Stalker, I dropped the IPIR a few posts back. It's an acronym that stands for Important Person Internalized Representation. Which, come to think of it, reminds me of something Bob Redford said to Meryl in Africa. ‘There’s a poem for that.’ After which he observed that in all of poetry there are words dedicated to every part of the body except the foot. “Trouble is, there’s nothing to rhyme it with,” said Bob. “Put,” said Meryl. “It’s not a noun,” he said. “Doesn’t matter," she said. "Along he came and he did put, upon my farm his clever foot.’ “Hmmm…” Bob raised an eyebrow.
So none of that was said between K and me. We moved on to other topics and chit chatted until I left to get some food and a cigarette – another morning ritual, the latter part of which I hope you are not familiar.
Oh, there’s one more thing. Before I left for the bodega, I sat down at my computer and read through my email, deleting most of it. I looked at my facebook page, read posts from a couple of friends, looked through a couple of news sites, and checked a few blogs I follow to see what was new there. Indeed there was something new.
Tom had written a piece on work; the nature of what we call work. In his opening, he said something like, ‘Now I don’t know what the discussion is in New York or Paris but at church in Utah, the subject of work inevitably comes around to physical labor,’ basically saying that if it ain’t busting your back, it ain’t work, stupid. Of course this resonates with me.
He went on to draw even more pointed analogies. He talked about mowing the lawn and that his mother would start the lawn mower very early on Saturday mornings right by his bedroom window. Which he ignored, until his grandmother called out, ‘Are you going to let your mother mow the lawn?’
He and I have had this discussion before. For me, mowing the lawn is a pivotal metaphor for things I both resent and regret about my childhood. My dad came barreling into the house one fine day and started yelling. “What happens when the neighbors know that there is a perfectly strong and healthy young man in this house and yet they see Deni out there mowing the lawn?!”
“They think that boy that girl loves mowing the lawn and boy that Jason just doesn’t love it at all.” I didn’t say this out loud. I may have. If I did, there were consequences.
It’s a dynamic that has stuck. I’ve discussed this with Deni, my lawn-mow-o-phile sister. She laughs. “I still mow the lawn and I have three sons. It’s something I like to do.” I’ve discussed this with other sisters. The last one was Julia when she visited New York this Fall. We were sitting on the patio at the New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tryon Park. Julia laughed too. Her laugh is infectious. If you’ve never heard my sister, Julia, laugh you’re missing something pretty fabulous. Then she said, “I drive by there all the time and there she is, out mowing the lawn while her boys scream and play in the driveway. Deni is a hero.”
Julia didn’t say those exact words and whether she intended what I took from it, I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I grant her the fact that my sister Deni is one rocket woman, kick-ass hero. She’s amazing and her laugh is another thing that you should hear at least once before you die. But the dynamics of my father’s ‘if then – therefore’ sentence play out for me in words like Julia's. 'Deni is a hero and, therefore, because you are not a lover of mowing lawns, you are not, Jason you embarrassment. Only mowing lawns is work. What you do is not. Definitely not. You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting wanting wanting wanting. Needy baby greedy baby.' And here’s the thing about carrying around such sentences planted in the mouths of dead people: No matter what you do, you’ll never do enough.
I stole that last part – the needy/greedy bit - and if you know from where, you get a free Vivienne Westwood wrap.
Anyhoo, I’ve also had this discussion with Tom and with Louise. Tom said mowing lawns gives him hives. “I had enough of that as a kid.” And Louise, after I told her the Dad, Deni, & The Lawnmower Loser saga – laughed over the phone. And again, if you’ve never heard Louise laugh, it should be on your bucket list. “Sounds like your dad cared too much about what the neighbors think.” She smiled at me – we were on the phone when we talked about this so I can’t tell you for a fact that this is true – she could have been making faces at herself in the mirror – scrunching up her nose and baring her teeth and curling her lips - for all I really know. But I’m willing to bet that damn lawnmower on it. She was smiling and her eyes were too.
So at the end of Tom’s blog post, he asked if there were anyone out there who identified with what he’d talked about and, if so, please write in. ‘I know that some of you understand what I’m talking about. I won’t say your name, but let’s get this discussion going.’ I’m paraphrasing.
I was pissed. I also laughed. I was also pissed.
“Yeah, I know you know this. I know you know that all of what you’ve just written is entering my understanding. So yeah, I’m willing to get this discussion going… Are you?”
At least part of my ‘Fathers Day Fugue’ poem a few posts back was written for the Tom & Louise show. And that part of my story will take some unraveling – some of you may understand and some may be scratching your heads. And that's fine. The truth is I love puzzles and code and metaphor. Passing notes under the table or talking under water. It always opens a door or a porthol and leaves a gap. Shakespeare spoke of this gap in As You Like Its Arden forest. It's where artists and the audience, writers and readers, speakers and listeners meet. It always allows for so much more than ABC or 123. But sometimes you have to play it above board. As you said once to Louise in class, Tom - accentuating your words with a slap on the wood and your fabulous flair for comic drama, “Let’s get this shit out on the table.”
So yeah, I definitely do recognize what you’re talking about. I say it all the time. If I’m chatting with someone online or via text messages, they’ll ask me what I’m doing and very often my answer is, “I’m editing a photograph.” “I’m editing a video.” Edit edit edit.
“You have such an exciting, fun job.” This is most often the gist of their answer.
To which I say, “Yes, it can be pretty great.” I nearly always want to add, “But it’s also work.” And sometimes I just want to throw my computer out the window and watch it smash on the sidewalk. “Buy bye, Mr. Mac. Can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.” To borrow from Elton. The Mr. Mac bit is mine.
But the truth is the Mac IS my plough. Or one of them. A major operating factor for me in photography is the objective of making my own movies and stories so that I can BE IN them. I'm definitely IN this show coming up. And not, too. And speaking of work, another plough which has gone unheeded in some real ways, is the actor bit. Meryl will speak to that later.
So… yes, Tom. I say this to the real and living Tom, as well as to the IPIR mythological Tom in my head, acknowleging that the real and living Tom could be scratching his head or could care less or be paying no attention at all; or he could just be making faces in the mirror like Louse. But, again, I'm willing to bet that damn lawnmower he both is and IS NOT. That part matters less. I'm writing this for my own pleasure and for my own good. If it does more than that... if it does you good, too, or if it amuses you, all the better for all of us. So yes IPIR Tom, yes real and living Tom... Let’s get this discussion going. I’ve been trying to tell this story for a year or nine now. It’s been making its way through my mind and my life since before I knew you and now it’s here and you’re there.
I began with a prologue in Sweden. Ed’s writing. Meryl’s writing. Hamlet’s ghost is writing. Louise is writing. Tom's writing.
Jason. Me. Hi, I’m Jason Merrell and I hate mowing lawns. Hi, I’m Jason Merrell and I’ve avoided this subject because, like my father before me, I’ve cared too much about what the neighbors think.
There, I’ve said it. Goody goody.
More to come… I'm thinking of calling this next part "Chains & Other Reactionaries. My New York Felony." What do you think?
Moving on. Moving on. Gang, baby. Gang.