This Is Not My Beautiful Life

This past Sunday was an almost perfect day.  Gray and damp, with that special push of wind that seems to scour your bones gloriously, enlighteningly clean as it passes by, passes through.  It was a little warmer than it should have been, the unseasonable mildness the only hint of the dis-ease that has riddled the weather this past year even more than those before.

The earth is shouldering its way into the death-sleep of winter, grumbling uncharitably to the too warm air.  Not that the air can help it, not really, the only sign it’s even aware of the unrest its disordered behavior causes a certain apologetic sadness in the rain it scatters heedlessly into earth too swollen or too parched to swallow it in.

And this is the way a year ends, stepping into the dark and laying down, sullen-unwilling and grateful-tired.  People, carried along with it, some fearful of the dark, looking forward to the clamoring holiday clangor of light’s last gasp; some few eager for the dim rest that winter affords.  Working on a personal photography project, I find myself wanting to stop the car, wherever it is I’m going, to take pictures of trees, aflame or enflamed with autumn’s descent into winter.  To capture the most beautiful colors, the ones nature offers only parsimoniously on such a grand scale, an eyeblink of the year before snatching them all away again, hoarding them for the flowerbeds of industrious gardners.

I never stop though, something about which I felt a vague sense of existential discomfort, that needling in the hindbrain signaling something that needs to be examined, teased apart and considered fully.  The trees, the colors, the cacophany that is fall in the northern midwest, it is one of those things that makes the world beautiful.  Beauty that helps to ease * some of the the economic and social discomfort that are the day to day realities of our state.

But it’s not what makes the world around me mine.  Beauty, to me, is sort of an aesthetic anasthetic.  My mind processes something as visually pleasing to a general ‘audience’ and then stops thinking about it, unless otherwise prompted.  As if beauty were not only objective, but an end in itself.   I won’t go into the whys and wherefores, but I will say that it is that acceptance of soialized beauty as a cognitive stopping point that is the source of a great deal of my own alienation.  I find the beauty that ‘everyone sees’ in things, and thus exclude myself from the world they inhabit.**

So this project has a two-pronged approach.  The first is that I (try to) take a self-portrait every day, unedited and largely unprepared for, and then make myself look at them until I can accept the photographic evidence of myself-as-object-in-the-world – because oh, yes, there is a decidedly philosophical bent to this.  The second is to take pictures of the world: not the world as ‘objectively’ beautiful, but as subjectively mine.

I will write more about this oddyssey as the whim arises, but my early stage evaluation is thus: it is an interesting journey that I’ve set myself on.  Interesting in the engaging sense, but also with a sense of nervousness, an awareness that I am uneasy about what I will find.  I know the whole of the journey will not be simply acheiving a sense of engagement-with-the-world, but then going forward with it.  That is what stirs a susurrus of dormant dread in the belly.  Rather appropriate for the witching season, eh?

*Not my state, but a very good piece.  You should go read it.

** If ony body dysmorphia were a rational thing, I might have conquered it already.

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