What are you working on?
“So what have you been working on?” I hear over the speakerphone of my Nokia brick phone. As I lay sprawled out in the back of my retired church van, turned low-buck camper, I paused to gather my thoughts.
“I’m not working on anything,” I replied. “Actually, I’m working on my mental health. I’m learning how to deal with my anxiety. But I’m not really making any work right now.”
A strange gift (gift?) from the pandemic was my anxiety turned up to 11. I say gift because I’ve lived with anxiety and depression my whole life, but rarely spent the time to understand what an all-encompassing impact it has on not just me, but everyone around me. The gift was finally giving up and getting help.
So since I don’t have any new body of work to promote, or book to sell, or exhibition to push, I thought I would share my new work with you…
Piece one: Marketplace and Self-worth
No, the above piece isn’t called “Marketplace and Self-worth.” It’s just a photo I made in a cave this weekend. It really has nothing to do with this, but hopefully it keeps you reading.
When we say, “What are you working on?” what we really mean is, “Are you feeding the marketplace?” Are you making something that proves you are still an artist? Can we purchase it, both with financial and social capital? Can you win a meaningless award with it? Can you secure another job with it? Will it impress a magazine editor or curator or reviewer (isn’t that why an artist has a newsletter anyways?)?
Capitalism. Oh, capitalism. We are a product of production that produces a product that attempts to prove that we aren’t merely a product of production.
So, for my first piece, I present to you me not placating the marketplace.
Piece two: Anxiety and the Potato Phone
Four and a half hours. That is how much time my iPhone tells me that I stare at it a day. 31.5 hours a week. 5 days a month. 9 weeks a year.
Staring at my phone…
So I bought a Nokia (potato) phone. It is painful to text with (T9). It makes phone calls (who does that anymore?). There are no apps. It is fantastic.
This terrible device has allowed (forced) me to be present with my family and friends. If I don’t know something, I can’t look it up. I just exist in the unknowing (anyone else terrible at remembering that actress’s name?).
I don’t know of a single life-change that has decreased my anxiety like the potato phone. I’ve read more books and been jealous of fewer peers. I’ve missed more algorithmically controlled Instagram posts and played more mediocre guitar licks on the living room floor with my infant daughter. Who won the Aperture First Book Award? Don’t know, but it wasn’t me (surprise!).
But yeah, the camera is phone camera is rubbish…
Piece three: The 20 Year Old Spare Tire
So one of the goals I have with going to therapy is to enjoy moments as they happen. Maybe I make photos to record a happy time so that I can prove to myself that I was indeed happy, despite rarely enjoying the moment as it happens. Kinda like stealing from the present to pay the future. It is miserable.
This past weekend, my wife and I camped in the Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois. Now full disclosure - I’m not an outdoorsy type of guy. I don’t hike, or fish, or hunt, or go more than 24 hours without a hot shower. So camping is a stretch for me.
In recent years, I’ve also developed a considerable amount of travel anxiety. I usually lay awake in bed several nights leading up to a trip trying to pre-visualize any potential problem. This results in copious amounts of research and a long trip into my “mind-cave” (it’s not a place you want to be).
But for this trip, I wanted no plans or expectations. No agenda, no schedule. Just a campground, our church-van turned camper, and my partner. I can’t remember the last time I felt so at peace.
The true test was on the way home. As we weaved and bobbed our 15 passenger van through the gravel-pit Illinois roads, we hit a jagged pothole. I heard a piece of our tire hit the bottom of the van, but hoped it was road refuse.
Sadly, the tire let go a mile down the road and all I had to get us home was a twenty year old spare with a lovely spiralization of dry-rot cracks. And wouldn’t you know, tire shops are closed on Sundays. On went the crevassed spare.
Knowing we wouldn’t make it far on this sad tire, I broke the news to my wife. “Well, every mile we get down the road is one less mile someone has to drive to rescue us,” Alice replied with her usual cool confidence.
Three hours later, we cruised up the driveway at home without a single issue.
Not making art right now,
I appreciate your honesty and clear thinking about what you are feeling and experiencing. It is hard sometimes for me to get right to it in words, perhaps that is part of the role photography plays in my life. Your insights are spot on, and you are not alone
i really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing :)