“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that.” ~ Alexandra Horowitx, On Looking
I am working on one of the common Coronavirus projects I saw so many people doing when I was in Roanoke, Virginia during the first three months of the pandemic.
When I returned home to Vermont I planned to tackle my large collection of photos but my fifth novel was calling. I spent the months of June and July writing up a storm.
Now I’m taking a break. I started with my old phone that I thought I had lost but some coronavirus deep housecleaning helped me find it. It was that first Iphone that unleashed my passion for murals, street art, old brick buildings, and the forgotten places across America.
When I lived in Florida I could experience income inequality in a two mile walk, from a mansion that looked like a hotel to a run down trailer park.
Neighborhoods in Florida could change just walking around the block. Or on a short drive down Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach to the local bodegas and restaurants where only the locals ate the best Cuban food in town.
At least when I lived there, but things have changed since then. We lived in Florida at the beginning of the end of the Recession during a time when the rich were getting richer and housing prices were rebounding. I would cross the railroad tracks to the other side of town, house hunting for something we could afford. There were new complications like short sales. Foreign buyers from Russia and Venezuela buying beachfront property sight unseen. Large trucks passed me by with immigrant landscapers sitting on palm fronds they’d cut earlier in the day to tame the ever growing jungle that is South Florida.
Rich and I often choose to take the detour. The back roads. Walks through small towns that are rarely visited by tourists.
When we were innkeepers in Norfolk, Connecticut we lived in a Manor house, a mansion by anyone’s standards, but the towns where we shopped for dozens of eggs, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies were places time passed by. Winsted – the closest town – was called the one-sided main street. This may sound familiar if you’ve read my fourth novel Under The Same Sun.
When we had the rare slow day at the Bed & Breakfast I traveled rural roads to visit my parents in Rhode Island. My mother’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse. My journey took me through forgotten New England mill towns where I’d stop to take a walk.
When Donald Trump won the 2016 election and so many people were shocked I began to realize that a lot of people had either been sleepwalking through the last few decades or they chose to see only what they wanted to see. For me it was all right there before my eyes and in my phone which is now my camera. And it wasn’t just the beauty I saw in what others mostly ignored but the story it told me and the reality it taught me. To paraphrase Paul Simon in his song Kodachrome, I didn’t think all the world was a sunny day.
The observation of the ordinary, what others might call ugly or rundown, became my thing along with street art and old brick buildings with advertisements. Neon signs, old theaters, Mom & Pop stores, diners, dive bars, Messages From America. The places we’ve lost and left behind.
I purposely take the detour. Park the car. Take a walk. I will turn around and drive back for a photograph. Back roads and alleys became another one of my things. The pictures most tourists don’t take in picture perfect places like Mendocino.
They told me a story of declining America. They showed me why and where the anger came from. The discontent. The disconnect. Why some people voted for disruption.
“Once you have an eye for these things, even when you’re not looking for them, they just jump out at you. Everything is a sign of something.” ~ Horowitz
In Maria Popova’s review of Horowitz’s book she calls it “the power of individual bias in perception — or what we call “expertise,” acquired by passion or training or both — in bringing attention to elements that elude the rest of us.”
In the words of Horowitz: “We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.”
What do these neglected struggling places tell me about America? Do you see what I see?
One trouble with being human — with the human condition — is that, as with many conditions, you cannot turn it off. Even as we develop from relatively immobile, helpless infants into mobile, autonomous adults, we are more and more constrained by the ways we learn to see the world.” ~ Horowitz
So because I have lots of time on my hands I’ve started a second Instagram page. It’s called #ashinycarinthenight for Jack Kerouac and this line: “Whither goest thou America, in thy shiny car in the night?”
Check it out and if you’re on Instagram follow along and give me a few likes. I am looking for readers. I am trying to increase book sales.
I am longing to be the on the road again. I need to get to Glacier National Park while my younger daughter lives in Montana and before the glaciers melt due to global warming. I’d like to drive home through Canada but right now we Americans are not allowed to cross the border.
Good news, while editing this blog I heard the news that Kamala Harris is Biden’s V.P. pick. As my friend Mary Jane texted “She will wipe the floor with Mike Pence.” You may remember Mary Jane from the Thelma & Louise Road Trip blogs when I first moved to Florida. Those were some of my very first blogs.