Who Knew?

I never wanted to be a writer

I suppose that saved a lot of time. I remember the frustration. Page after page of marked up nonsense; no, this will never do. Spelling errors in every other word. Fragmented sentences, as I tried to get the stuff I wanted to say out— it never worked. I tried poetry, and failed. I’d get a song stuck in my head, and that would come out instead. But I liked pressing buttons. From the near-silent fftt of a Leica or Rollei to the loud WHAP of a Mamiya RB-67— there it is— it’s done. A moment caught, decisive or not— more often, indecisive.

Grammar made no sense. Are they just making this stuff up? Just what the hell is a dangling participle anyway? A subordinate clause? Why is the future imperfect? These things just didn’t seem nearly as pressing as the problem of air-bells on film. Why did they call them air-bells? Those dark circles on film caused by improper agitation. My perfect pictures, ruined by streaky skies and odd UFO type objects on the negative. They can’t be fixed, go on— try again. It’s science, you can handle this. There must be a reason why some pictures turn out and others don’t. I found out that consistency works; if you find something that works, just do it. Nothing worked when I tried to write but it worked, eventually, when I tried to take pictures. I wanted to be a photographer.

CLUNK— I settled in on the sound of the Nikon. Only the F’s, though. I felt like I needed to see 100% and no one else offered that. The real stuff happens at the edges, and I wanted control. Control, control, control . . . the world must be ordered, there must be some sense behind it all. Standing in the empty concrete and brown spaces of Southern California, I tried to make it work. To find in those rectilinear spaces something that I felt was inside myself. What I found out was— the harder you look, the less likely you are to find it. I suppose what I wanted most of all was mystery, and mystery just won’t come when called. Year after year of trying to make sense, when really all I needed to do was let go and let sense and mystery find me.

After you make the pictures, and look at them, it’s only natural to want to talk about them. I talked a lot. Inevitably, it seemed that other photographers just didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Somewhere in the gut-shot sore loneliness I began to think different. Maybe it was improper agitation. Too much time by myself, the bubbles settled in and stained me. I started looking for conversation somewhere else, electronic bytes over the phone lines. But that meant I had to learn to write. I had no choice, because there were few people around my town that saw pictures as important in the way that I did. They were my way of thinking about the world.

CLUNK— the words misfired. People got angry with me easily. Didn’t they know I was joking? Wasn’t sarcasm a universal right? I grew into being a writer out of self-defense. I wanted to talk, and writing was the only way I could do it. That’s inevitably what this space is all about: Jeff learning to write. If you think otherwise, I have misfired again. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Now Chomsky has made grammar make sense to me, and I’m a million miles away from fumbling poetry, digging deeper into just what I think. In words alone, because at this stage of my life that’s pretty much all that’s left.

I’ve embraced indecision, and let go of consistency. It’s just practice. A writer? Maybe, only in the sense that I’m a guy who writes. Yeah, so I’ve got degrees in it too. But more than that, I’ve majored in frustration— frustration with getting what’s inside into the light so that I can talk about it, and get over it. Words sometimes work, because I now have a sort of control over them that I only dreamed of as a photographer. Who knew? Words are easier!