At some point I decided I wanted to be a conduit. As an artist I figure it’s my job to report on the world around me, the beautiful as well as the grotesque. However, being the person I am, realized I could never attain the perfect impartiality of a mirror. My daily vision is clouded with worries, fears, minor resentments, and various physical urges. So I figured the best I could shoot for was a conduit, and attempt to let the world move through me, while allowing what I saw to frighten, to inspire me or to stoke whatever memories they may.
For example, working for the City of Richmond, I find myself daily watching refuse truck unloading at a transfer station over in Southside. Their freight is dumped on a “tipping-floor” of a huge, open structure, and then loaded by heavy equipment into open-top tractor trailers which is then “transferred” somewhere else. It is a loud, dangerous operation. Everything is huge and moves too fast. The texture of several tons of trash is enough to overload your senses, not even taking into account the smell. Plastic bags and styrofoam get blown out and hung up in the tall oaks and pines that boarder the place. At some point I started noticing the birds. Each tractor trailer seemed to have a line of sparrows riding along the top edge of its box, darting down occasionally to scavenge food. Red-tailed hawks hunkered down sixty feet up a massive radio tower across the way. The place is essentially in a healthy wood with some good sized loblolly pines and pin oaks. The trash used to depress me, as did my station and paycheck associated with it. I am a middle-aged pilgrim wandering the new economy with children to care for. After a few months of watching birds dart through chain-link choked with Trumpet Vine, I was struck by the idea, a concept maybe, of “Urban Naturalism.” I realized I previously always looked away whenever I saw a municipality truck, that I’d never really considered the shape a trash truck makes.
Or rather, I’d forgotten about it. Large trucks are like elephants. You become an adult and have kids and a mortgage and dysfunctional relationships and then one day you wander into a large open space at the Bronx zoo and there is an elephant walking on it’s huge elephant feet, waving it’s trunk around and you realize somehow you’d forgotten all about elephants. You remember the child-like feeling of not being able to fully comprehend something that foreign, that much bigger than yourself, much less appropriately describe how it moves through space. I mean, look at it! All you want to talk about is elephants, you want to write a story about elephants. Ideally it should be about the elephant, but shouldn’t you acknowledge that your anxiety about how close the children are is partially based on the hangover you haven’t been able to walk off? Also, how can you leave out the comment your mother-in-law made to you back in the dark halls of the reptile house? In the real world, shouldn’t all this inform your elephant?