Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Walking with Moses

A month ago today, Moses and I took a long walk around parts of El Paso. We went to Ascaratre park and walked along the lake, and we drove to the outskirts of town and looked around.

Here’s some pictures, all of them taken on that day.

Ever since Moses and I have been friends, we sometimes walk around El Paso or Júarez with sketch pads or cameras, stopping at anything that strikes us as beautiful and trying to capture something about it, as if we were looking for treasure.

I remember when I was younger and I would walk into the field across the street from our house, or into a grove of fig trees or along the shores of Millerton Lake, and I would fantasize that I would stumble upon something valuable, a bag of money, an old coin, something that would change my life for the better.

This desire wasn’t unique with me, because on one level it was an impulse manufactured by the culture, the foundation of which is built on the economic system. It was a time when people walked along beaches and into fields and meadows with metal detectors, hoping to find some precious relic. When I was a teenager, the neighbor kid got a metal detector for Christmas, and he was so excited, certain that he would find many valuable things.

When Moses and I walk around El Paso, we too are open to discovering treasure, but we’re looking for things that we can’t possess, an idea, a feeling, a thought, the feel of a tree’s texture.

One time we went into Juarez and spent about an hour with some kids, street vendors, and we bought them sodas and drew their pictures and listened to them giggle. Moses gave them some paper and pens and they drew us and each other.

I’m in Buenos Aires today, where I’m working on my autobiography, my life story, which is painful to do. Each day I enter into the landscape of my past, and I encounter myself at different stages of my life, and it’s hard. There are some versions of me that I don't think I would get along with if we had to be in the same room together.

In many ways my life is the story of desire evolving.

Like I tell my fiction writing students, in character-based literary fiction, plot equals character over time, and the characters are driven by need, by yearning, by desire.

P=Ch(y)/T, where “y” is yearning.
Often, the irony of fiction is when the desire is unknown to the character him or herself, that is, they think they want one thing, but what they really want is quite different from what they’re after.

To think of my life story thus far is a painful comedy, so much time chasing after the wind, but I know it’s something I need to share.

The other day, in a used bookstore on Avenida Santa Fe, I found up a title called “Siete conversaciones con Adolf Bioy Casares” which I immediately bought.

I read this today, in a conversation he was having about what it means to be a writer:
“A veces he pensando en buscar objectos de felictdad que no cesarean en el momento de la posesion.”

I know this is a pretty standard idea, but it connects me to another idea that I find interesting.

Desire itself is the goal, the meaning, the value, not the fulfillment of the desire. The value of desire is not the possession of the object that is desired or the achievement of a desired experience, but desire itself.

Desire is pure and beautiful, because it is the will to live, no matter how mundanely it’s manifested.

Unfortunately desire can also lead to destruction, to bad things, when it is thought of as a goal that must be achieved, at whatever cost, no matter who we perceive to be in the way. We have the capacity to hurt ourselves and so many others in the pursuit of satisfying our desire.

This is an abandoned house we found on the outskirts of town, where some junkies broke into and smoked their crack or meth or both.

Still, desire itself is pure, because it comes from the same source as the will to live, it is energy, and, to cornily quote Blake, Energy is eternal delight.

That’s why young people are so full of light and life.

They are filled with desire.

Like the preacher says, Rejoice in your youth!

But to get back to walking with Moses. We go anywhere, without a destination in mind.

Sometimes when we see something that strikes us, it does so because it carries its own desire.

We sense the energy behind an image.

Sometimes I feel like a kid using a spiritual metal detector, and I kid you not, as we were walking along a path, I found this.

Happiness on the path.

I enjoyed the serendipity, but I didn’t pick it up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Expendables: Cuesta una vida solo 4 ‘pennies’

I read it on the news.

So it must be true.

El Diaro, the one that serves El Paso/Ciudad Juraez, reports that a life is worth four pennies.

Which life I wonder.

Las Adelitas


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ask? Don't tell?

When I walk around the city shooting street photography, I am often stuck by people I see, so, of course, I want to take their picture.

In El Paso the people are so beautiful I cannot help but to want to preserve an image of everyone one, to keep in my heart forever.

But like most writers (remember, I am a fiction writer first), I love to people-watch. Ever since I was a child growing up in Fresno, I loved sitting downtown on the Fulton Mall watching all the ladies shopping, all the old men on the benches by the fountains, the cholo kids zipping by on their bicycles.

As an adult one of the things I love most about travelling is sitting in plazas or thoroughfares watching people walk by, people who strike me as beautiful.

Like these ladies going down an elevator.
Maybe what compelled me to shoot them was how well they were framed inside that metal box.

They saw me, and they clearly know I was taking their picture.

What I usually do when I’m caught snatching someone’s soul is shoot more shots right at them, and to the side of them, and way above their heads, so many shots, click click click, that they know I’m not singularizing them but am merely taking pictures of the city. And in most big cities, places like NYC or LA, so many people carry cameras, I am never out of place.

One of the issues one encounters in taking street photography is how to shoot people. The photo blogs offer many hints on how to take people’s photos on the sly, so one can get real candid shots.

Whereas I appreciate the effect of clandestine shots, I also think asking strangers if you can take their picture works as well.

It started one evening in Hollywood. I had been taking candid shots of people, when I decided I was going to ask people if I could take their pictures, just to see what reaction I got.

It surprised me that mostly everyone said yes.

I liked that I was able to focus my energy on only people who said yes.

In the photo below, I didn't notice the guy looking out the window until later. Click on it to see that single eye looking out from under the cap, which gives the image a bit of tension, I think.

So for now, asking people seems a good way to go, but not telling seems pretty good too.

Ask? Don't tell?

To ask:

Or not to ask?

To ask:

Or not to ask:

I guess it depends on the moment.

I think form in any work of art is much more effective when it is at least partially the result of the process of creation itself.

Like Borges says , If you have written what you set out to write, it's probably not worth much.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On An Ordinary Day in El Chuco

It was Sunday, and I admit, I'm stealing the title of this blog entry from a great book by Willis Barnstone called On an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires, in which he walked around the city with Borges, charlando, charlando, the labyrinth that Geogie loved best.

Andres Montoya too. He loved walking the city of Fresno in conversation, observing the city, looking closely into himself, speaking his heart to his evening's companion, seeing how he was created in the image of the city and how the universe was created in his image.

So one afternoon (many afternoons) I walked around El Chuco with my camera.

I paused before doorways and windows.

and got caught in. . .


(okay, maybe that transition was a bit sophomoric)

"Breaking, the Aztecs"

"Girl Eater"

"Dos Mujeres"

"The Girl, Watching, Watching."

"Dos Danzantes"

"Chicana Journalist"


Good night, Juarez.
We love you so much it hurts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Follow the poet Michael Medrano.

He wants to take you to East LA, aka East Los, the seat of the Chicanada.

It was me, Tim Z. Hernandez, my friend Augie, and Mike, in a rented car, skipping a few sessions of the Latino Book Festival 2010 so we could search for a house where a Mexican women from Tim Z.'s literary past used to walk the hallways and look out the windows.

I won't tell you about his novel in progress, that's up to him to tell, but I will say that it will be brilliant and beautiful.

This man greeted us at the East LA gates.

He said, La tierra de mi varrio belongs to you.

East LA is the heritage of all Xican@ kind.

The four of us entered.

We were, like this old man, on a mission.

This man welcome'd us too.

He smiled at us as we snapped his picture, as if he was saying, The kind of drive-by shooting you're doing and the reason why you're doing it is all right by me.

Then we saw El Divino Maestro.

He said look at everything closely, whatever image strikes you. Look closely, and you will see what you didn't see at first glance. (Click on any image)

"Cuidador del Varrio"

This is "The Dollar Dance"

This is "Cesar Chavez Avenue."

What do you see?

Can you read the varrio, all the old stories, all the new hope? Can you see God in the details? The devil? The face of the dead?

Naw, I'm just playing with you.

We just went there to get a hotdog and a phat fat burrito.