From what I understand I lost consciousness in less than a minute. The same anaesthetic that, along with other things, killed Michael Jackson dripped into my veins yesterday afternoon while a doctor took a look-see to discern the source of a mystery pain that has persisted since the Fall.
I’m told that most people feel dazed when they “come to,” but at the moment of consciousness I experienced what you might call a “creative vision” a great clarity that left two vivid thoughts in my mind—the desert and a desire to write.
I visited the Sahara desert over a year ago and produced a video report on the Sahrawi refugees and yet, the fact that I haven’t written anything about them nags at me. Maybe because until I write, I won’t know exactly what happened, what I learned. The pile of notebooks left unstudied, my experience unexplored. It’s as blank as this page was when I began.
At the moment of consciousness the mental circus quieted and an inner truth was revealed-without the exercise of writing, my emotions run amok, the circuitry of my reality becomes tangled up with feelings and impulses and I become lost. I suspect those unrestrained, unexpressed emotions have contributed to my mystery pain. And I can’t help but wonder if an undiagnosed need for the journey that defines ‘writing’ ails not just me but many of us. Could we call it a social ill?
Sure there are plenty of venues for expressing what one thinks, one feels, their sexual desires, fetishes, the daily outrage. But I’m talking about the journey, feeling and researching your way from point A to point B and not knowing where that is when you start out. I’m talking about being made to feel uncomfortable because what you thought you had all sewn up, your take on reality, is suddenly shot to hell.
Joan Didion in her speech “Why I Write” said: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want to what I fear.”
Writing forces me to acknowledge what I don’t know, demands you figure things out, sculpt your thoughts, observe them, challenge them, and make peace with thoughts and emotions. I don’t claim to excel at any of this, in fact, this may be the most poorly written piece of garbage I have churned out to-date. I’m simply describing the painful process that forces me to be with myself, and then nakedly and at times publicly reveal what I learned. Over a leisurely dinner recently, a friend read aloud a selection of Salvadoran poetry. I marveled at the constant in many of the pieces, the observance of the poet from a distance, the creation of space between the self and the narrator.
Entra una mariposa por la ventana.
Y pienso que es Chuan Tzu
Que se sueña convertido en mariposa.
Pero a medida pienso la mariposa vuela
Y revuela en el cuarto vacío
Y yo no estoy.
Working on Tell’em Who You Are demands a similar effort, it has forced me to delve into private places, and kick up emotions all toward drawing the blood that becomes the story. Through loss and circumstance I am freeing myself from my own narrative to discover anew my childhood home, my ideas of home and family. Shooting injects distance between what I believe I know and what I see, to analyze the image and its meaning, images that are as familiar to me as my own reflection. In March I spent an entire afternoon shooting South Texas wildflowers and reflecting on how a concrete bench under a rustling oak tree viewed from one angle but not any other can provoke a deep nostalgia in my heart.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with my discoveries, put them on a backburner somewhere until it’s time to edit? The images are recorded on a tape that just sits there giving me nothing, no outlet. There’s no process for thinking through what I feel. It’s excruciating. Maybe that’s the source of the pain. Maybe my stifled message has manifested itself as an attack on my very self.
Certainly over the last few weeks I have experienced a rush of wild emotions, mostly from a feeling of impotence about the events in Arizona while I’m stuck in New York. I want to know what’s going on, firsthand. I resolved to travel there later in the summer. Then, a Border Patrol agent shot a teenager in the head on the border between El Paso and Juarez and the story summoned memories of another dead young man, Esequiel Hernández. I was just out of college and working in Washington DC when I met his parents who had traveled from their home in the remote border outpost of Redford Texas to confront lawmakers about their son. Hernández was 18 years old, a high school student, and herding goats when he was killed by a U.S. Marine.
All these years later, perhaps thanks to shooting those wildflowers, I figured out that what I wanted to say back then, beyond my report on discrimination against Latinos, the failure to uphold the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, (yep, that went in too) that ended the U.S. Mexico War, what I was really trying to do was analyze his photograph. He was labeled the ‘goat herder’ in most press reports but in that photo I saw a young man who resembled the boys I went to high school with, boys with the FFA emblem stitched to the back of their denim jackets, boys who wore cowboy boots to class, the prom, and then later to the army enlistment office. There was an entire untold story about a place and a young man and a way of life out there on the border. Even now, all these years later, yes, I want you to see what I see, “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind,” as Didion said in the same speech. But I couldn’t get it out, not then, I was inexperienced in the art of reflection and the space was constricted by arguments about “border security.”
Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca was shot by a Border Patrol agent while or after allegedly throwing rocks at agents, a teenage kid living in a city where there’s not much for teenage kids to do, a kid allegedly known for smuggling migrants. There’s a whole story behind how he got to be on that bridge and a story about pulling the trigger. And while their stories are somewhat different, what rings true for both border tragedies is the restricted view we in this country have about the border. There is no space, no divestment from the circular arguments about border security, about the meaning of the border, no respite from the yelling and screaming, no escaping the ideological divide, a divide that’s built and fortified by people who know what they know and know how to rile up everyone else.
Yesterday as the anesthesia lifted I realized that without that space, without the journey, I easily succumb to self affirming beliefs, seek out evidence to prove my point, and allow a tornado of emotions to envelop me. While it may feel good for a while, inevitably it’s followed by the pain.