At four a.m. restlessness pulls my mind from its slumber. Jet lag seems an unworthy explanation for this repetitive awakening that I have never before experienced but could have time and again induced. I meander through miscellaneous thoughts: breakfast, chores, lunch, studies, rain, photos. My mind moves with unnecessary ease through consciousness. With uninterrupted and unending focus my frustration clouds my pre-dawn reckless mental abandon. A book, Einstein’s Dreams, crawls into my head, a chapter specifically that deals with mechanical time in comparison with body time. The argument goes that there are those in this world who follow the numbers on a clock, scheduling lunch at noon, and those who follow their instinctive nature, eating when hungry. Maybe I should be awake.
From Einstein I go barreling in Grandma, to a photo project I did with her last fall. Probably my first photo project I got resoundingly negative feedback from, one should be so lucky. I had followed her daily life with the attempt to provide a look into a faction of American retirement. I think the word was boring, or maybe conceptually anti-climactic. At least it was technically accurate, the light was right, the composition was strong and the diversity of subject matter commendable. Still, the story was noted as lacking.
This morning at 4 a.m. it came to me, the story was lacking sufficient conflict and resolution. It was lacking drama. Today we have drama habits along with our drug ones. Do you watch the news? Something is consistently wrong and needing repair, whether it be in politics or in someone made out to be the universal next door neighbor turned sociopath. We live in a world of vicarious climax, instability and fear that gets translated it into personal isolation. Happiness or balance gets pushed aside with idealism and optimism as unattainable and unnecessary. Grandma’s life gets easily written off as unremarkable.If only I had been there to capture the visual imagery of her childhood working for room and board on a farm, that is when she was worthy of documentation. That story would surely satiate our reliance on instability as it summoned harsh emotions of sadness and grief reminding us that we too were living.
The ironic thing is that as Americans today we probably put up holiday decorations more often than we work for room and board on a farm. We live comparatively comfortable lives. But we can no longer find comfort in them, in eating lunch at noon and going to bed at 10, because our body is not a machine but an organism. It wants to be listened to and not told. Somehow we have come to assume the more we open our consciousness up to the world’s shock and awe the more we will get back to the vitality of living. But the shock and awe is as temporary as a prozac. Grandma and my photo project is worthy in its honesty and acceptance, just like waking up at 4 a.m..