Morning light. The note is written on a red colored note card, displayed prominently at the base of my Korean-manufactured flat-screen computer monitor, as a way of reminding myself that, especially in the summer, the best opportunities for photography occur early in the morning, just before and after the sun appears to rise above the Sandia mountains to the east, dispelling the cool night's mountain air with its thermonuclear rays.
My wife, she was still getting ready for work when I departed on my motorcycle, this being an off day for me.
I was just in front of the wave of morning commuters, rushing to wherever it is they rush to, riding with my usual defensive driving techniques (staying visible, out of people's blind spots, leaving myself an opening, a place to go should trouble suddenly appear up ahead or alongside), zipping down Eubank and then west on Lomas, through the cool, morning air, cooled from days and days of afternoon and evening rain storms (our "monsoon" season here in the normally arid southwest finally started for real), toward the University area and breakfast, hungry for my physical and creative appetites to both be satiated, in search of that Morning Light.
I parked on the street out front of Winning Coffee, oblivious to the parking meters (since motorcycles are exempt from paid parking) and began a quick morning reconnaissance of the surrounding areas, up Central a few blocks, through alleyways, back down on Silver to Harvard and breakfast at Winnings.
Commuters waiting for buses, bicyclists negotiating traffic (really not much of a negotiation, actually; car drivers rarely yield their privileges), workers hurrying to their duties, hungry patrons hurrying to breakfast, motorcycle patrol officers hurrying up the street to park alongside the main drag and peruse traffic for potential offenders: a small city in the American west coming awake on a pleasant, summer's morning.
All is not idyllic out here in the Badlands of the west, however. The snarl of traffic backed up behind a road construction project harkens to the crumbling infrastructure; people making it, as they always do, with cars barely roadworthy, and which they can't afford to fix - signs of not so hidden economic troubles afoot; the detritus of trash and litter in the alley behind low-rent student apartments symbolic of a questionable educational system; an old man in ragged clothes, searching the streets for cigarette remnants with which he can enjoy the day's first smoke, a reminder of a dubious social safety net; the street lady, aura of the unwashed surrounding her, sitting at patio table as I pass by, mumbling to herself, reminding me of the urban legend of "greyhound therapy," when the mental institutions were cleared out, years ago; drug wars and rumors of drug wars to our southern border a threat whose potential seems much more ominous, closer to home, than obtuse geopolitical machinations halfway across the globe. These are like mere hints, not-so-subtle suggestions, symptoms of something darker, more sinister, at work within the land that we call home.
And yet, "You will always have your poor with you," the verse reminds us.
I sit at my usual spot in Winning Coffee, along the north end of the long, wooden table, and gaze at the line of art work that decorates the south wall of the coffee shop. There's a gap in the line of large paintings on display, a gap that reveals the imperfections and mysterious textures of the plaster wall with its archaeology of past art showings, and also evidence that someone, in this economy, is still buying someone else's work.
It's a curious notion, this idea that, on the face of it, although we teeter upon the brink of catastrophe climactic, economic, fiscal, political, social and militarily, we can somehow daily choose to ignore the warning signs, live our little lives like they've always been lived, finding comfort in small things, finding joy in the most obtuse and indescribably minute treasures, each one of us on some personal quest, alongside all the other things we do each and every day that seems to overwhelm us, a quest for joy that we find often takes us down alleys and side streets not becoming of rational, educated people, following our hearts, in search of that illusive image, perhaps, even though each one of us can't seem to stop long enough to acknowledge the precipice at which we mutually stand, a sense of common foreboding in the air.
It becomes apparent that we have two beings living within each of us, seemingly inseparable: a physical, rational creature that needs feeding and watering and caring in the usual manner of all living things, and an emotional being whose needs seem, at times, to be entirely out of character with the waking world, irrational and mysterious, whose powerful and steady influence we can't seem to shake, a hunger that needs satiating.
Some people seem to answer the call of their wild in methods of response entirely self-destructive, while others (most of us, I suspect) do not entirely understand that which holds sway over us, but we've learned to feed the monster, improvising, tending to it with just enough care so as to negotiate it back into its cave for another day, week, month or year, a season of folly, desire, repast and regret.
"Follow you heart," goes one adage, while the prophet warns "The heart of man is exceedingly wicked." Some of us learn the language of our intangible selves just enough, learn a few of its quirky ways, as if wide awake in some vivid dream, learn to negotiate adequately enough the indecipherable map that warns of sea monsters and sirens and troubled waters, at least enough so as to manage that Other Self with which we must abide. We call these people - these successful managers of the inner, emotional self - artists, writers, visionaries and madmen. They are all around us, which we seldom recognize, only their works, like the wake of a ship in the night, phosphorescence glowing in the brine.
I noticed, on my ride down to Winning's, of the road worker at his jackhammer, tearing up the neighborhood with a terrible racket. He's an artist, I've finally decided. An artist at his brush, repainting the terrain like thickly applied encaustic, crusty and crumbling, geological even.
The delivery guy at the deli across the street, delivering his goods in blue plastic crates, doing so with the flair and talent of a true artist, an artist of assemblage, some new "ism" of sculpture or performance perhaps, no unnecessary motion wasted, every action fluid and agile. His work, it will not be on display at MOMA, or the National Gallery. Instead, it remains on display each and every work day to those careful enough to stop and observe.
There are two young men seated at a window table overlooking the sidewalk and street, lit by the bright morning sun. The one guy, he's twirling his tactical pocket knife -- a real pig-sticker of a job -- that reflects the early light in rotating glimmers that flash off the walls and paintings behind him, beacon-like. Even at leisure he's an artist, a craftsman of spontaneous optical performance, whose audience may only amount to several of us more observant ones, who took the time to notice. All about me there are indications of the hidden artist revealed in the common person, going about their ordinary lives yet somehow attentive enough to one's inner emotional life so as to live a life of quiet grace.
I am reminded of Winston and Julie, in Orwell's "1984," sitting in bed in a decrepit flat, seemingly out of reach from The Party, admiring the quiet and humble grace of the ordinary proletarian, of which we all are.
There are people reading, surfing, writing and talking, and the day is still cool and the light still fresh and bright, so I pack up Neo keyboard, mount my steed and ride out into the clear Morning Light.
Written via AlphaSmart Neo, images captured via Lumix G1