I had a massive breakthrough this weekend. I'm currently back in central PA, called back unexpectedly (and gratefully) to photograph two conferences held at Penn State. I'm staying at my parents' place during this interim and spending a lot of time alone in my head.
I never really have been cut out for city living, so I'm not planning on living in New York for long. It's a reset period to shake off the PTSD from working in academia for so long, I think. Another thing happened: two young men were gunned down just outside my subway stop in the last month. Ditmas Park isn't exactly a hotbed for criminal activity, but I am so close to it now, and I can't concentrate on my art. At home, a double murder is grounds for legends lasting generations. In NYC, it's just another day. I'm more disturbed by the apathy than the murders themselves. It's a defining moment, though. Sweet Victorian, wealthy white Ditmas Park borders on Newkirk Ave and the "ghetto," and the animosity can be palpable some days. I'm too poor to live anywhere else in the city, and to be fair, Flatbush is mostly quite pleasant. But it's not a forever home. I think I'll hit my limit around the time my lease ends in December. I'm appreciating it now, and taking from it what I can. So many lessons to learn.
I don't know what the next chapter is, so in the meantime I'm just learning to exist. There is no future, the past is past. Part of me wants to continue living in the city; part of me really just wants to be in the woods in a shed next. This isn't a romantic whimsy of mine, either; I know fully well what it's like to live isolated in the woods with wild animals. My entire childhood was spent avoiding rattlesnakes and rabid coons.
I have been really interested in William Blake, Wilhelm Reich, Aldous Huxley, and Alan Watts, and suddenly I found myself very interested in small patterns.
Their direct influence has made me suddenly hyper-aware of plants. My parents are huge gardeners and the back yard is a veritable jungle of wildflowers, bumblebees, birds and their food for the year. I spent the past couple of days roaming the woods, stripping topless in the sweltering heat; shooting portraits and being eaten alive by mosquitoes; crawling on the ground photographing insects, dewy spiderwebs, tiny clover leaves, cosmos flowers, sweetpeas, the veins of a flower petal, whatever I could find. It was the same kind of excited delight I felt as a child. What was there to discover? Butterflies, beetles, caterpillars, dead centipedes being devoured by ants. I learnt today that ants carry their dead back home. Did you know that?
Blake and Huxley both talk about discovering "heaven in a wildflower" and "infinity in grains of sand," and I think to really appreciate this concept, you have to be completely alien to it for a while and return. In New York, I am completely distracted by being swallowed up in the hugeness of a city; being and feeling alien to surroundings, and being small in comparison. Here, in my familiar surroundings, suddenly I am swallowing my surroundings, I am alien to the tiny world outside, I am tall. I never appreciated that juxtaposition before. Now it's exhilarating. I find a lot of joy in looking for pretty things to photograph and explore.
I have a hard time explaining the feeling other than it is so much like being a little girl again. I had a flashback today of myself at three, roaming the backyard of our farm in red wellies, talking to my imaginary friends, surrounded by cats and birds and butterflies and bees. Thirty-three years later, I am roaming the backyard once more, this time in green wellies, talking to spirits, surrounded by the same animals. It's the very core of Alice. No one else will ever understand, but I'm delighted to be back there. I hope others can find their inner child; their songs of innocence and experience together in harmony.