I knew a guy (Zsolt) who (camera in hand) used to approach strangers going about their lives… on the sidewalks of New Haven and photograph them. He had a contagious engaging charm and genuine interest, a curiosity- for all life; he saw art about him in simple things.
It was this sincere interest in the myriad forms humans come in that was the personality trait definitely essential in being good at this. (Photographing strangers.) He showed me some of these on-the-spot portraits: a purple haired teen with a Mohawk hairstyle, a withered man sitting cross legged on an equally pocked timeworn sidewalk; a can nearby and a guitar in his lap… In the faces of his subjects from these impromptu city photographs, one can see a spark, and you just know; that because Zsolt enjoyed knowing them (if for those moments), he really saw them. It shows in their expressions…
So … On that topic; photographer
Matt John Robinson
-says this on the subject:
“I, as a photographer, have the power to capture the beautiful qualities of anybody I pass by. Or I can at least make the attempt.”
He’s “making” the attempt. Think of the term “making friends.” There’s also the phrases “making lunch.” And “making art.”
With both cooking and art, a person uses a list of chosen ingredients, a cache of supplies. The word ‘make’ implies there is a skill set involved in making a meal, in making artwork. So too is there a skill set involved in the ‘making’ of friends. What are the inner qualities needed to make them? The inner ingredients and supplies needed to make them?
To a person on the spectrum of autism, this is a double edged endeavor.
At the age of 16, my significant other (soon to be father of my son) drove me by a place with a large sign stating it was a “Subway.” Having obviously already secured that he was my friend, I was free to speak of what my desires were. (Without feeling foolish.)
I remarked that I’d always wanted to see what it was like to ride the subway.
He laughed, thinking I was joking. When I told him I was serious and that we’d just driven by the Subway station I said, “We should go in there some time! I wonder where they let you off. There must be other Subway buildings.”
He replied, laughing, “That’s a place to order food. Subs. Short for submarine sandwiches. Not the entrance to an underground subway!”
I had never heard sandwiches called subs before. And I didn’t watch TV much, had never seen this food place advertised. This was 1980. Later research (years later–would reveal the first Subway restaurant opened in ’65 when I was only one) but advertising wasn’t rammed down the throat then.
He went on to ask me, “You thought that that Subway on the corner was a subway system all this time?! What on earth did you think all the posters with pictures of food were for- on the front window of the place?”
I sensed an incredulous maybe mocking tone. I replied, “I always thought there’s a restaurant upstairs to buy food before you go through a door to the stairs or escalator or elevator or something to get underground. So you could eat before you take the subway… which I thought was under this road we’re on…”
Needless to say I had ended up feeling foolish for sharing my inner thoughts and became wary of doing so in the future.
When I was settled into a surprisingly spacious third floor apartment at the age of just-turned-19 with my young son and his father, there came a knock on the window of the door.
The woman standing there was my age (probably a few years older.) She (Irene?) had a cute bobbed haircut; wore a pleated skirt with hose and was sunny by disposition.
Like the Zsolt I would come to know decades later, she seemed to genuinely like to talk to strangers. Me, in this case.
She started to come over regularly. For tea. We would sit in my kitchen, that long ago kitchen with the long horizontal mirror above the length of the kitchen sink on one wall; the mirror I could never get smudge-free enough to my liking. I didn’t even like tea but my mother had said I should always keep it in my pantry just in case.
Irene and I discussed politics, world events, what the future would bring, and faith. She’d even leave me with follow –up reading on occasion. For a long time I told no one about these visits, wary that I was doing something wrong. And then-
One day over a meal of pork chops fried in apple juice and sides of carrots and mashed potatoes, I decided to talk about my new friend with my then future husband.
“Let me see the ‘reading material,'” he said, setting down his fork.
Giving the pamphlet a once-over, he quickly stood and threw it away. “How long has this person-your friend- been coming into the house?” He asked.
“A couple months,” I replied.
He quickly informed me (chuckling) that this Irene was NOT my friend. He went on to say she was pushing a “Jehovah’s Witness agenda.” I didn’t know what that meant. He went on to say (more seriously now) that I was not to let her in the house anymore. Subservient then, I ignored all further raps on my door from her. And became a little more wary of the world. And strangers in general.
Above: a Jehovah’s pamphlet
What’s my point?
(Besides the obvious one: it actually took years until the golden dawn of knowledge-sunshine illuminated me with the fact that subservience is never good…and although my core is Buddhist I listen openly to others with religions different from myself. Among other religions, a few of my friends/acquaintances today are Jehovah’s)…
But after the Irene fiasco, I had realized I was a tad naive. About letting people in. I became wary of that. What if they had a hidden agenda?
Case of naïveté in point: not long after the Jehovah’s debacle, I got a little ‘too’ excited about a certain notice that came in the mailbox. Addressed to ME!!!!
My mother arrived for coffee when she got out of work and I couldn’t wait to show her exactly what had arrived in the mail.
Positioning the letter down in front of her just so on the kitchen table, (I was about 20 now and so considerably less naive than I was at 19) I announced with a beaming face:
“Look! I may have won a million dollars! I couldn’t wait to show you!”
I’m savvier now of course but still I relate to that meme. A little bit. Anyway, I became a bit MORE wary after that embarrassing display with my mother and the junk mail she informed me about. And mistrustful too.
It wasn’t until I reached my 40s that I was able to publicly share my vulnerabilities in a book. (Under The Banana Moon- living, loving, loss and Aspergers). I find it funny now. What’s the alternative? Through misunderstandings and humiliation: growth.
But back then every raw example of my naïveté ‘lessened’ me like a face slap. It doesn’t anymore. But back when I worked at a department store in my 20s, genuinely interested in people but wary too, unusual situations arose time and again.
One day in particular stands out and proves that my danger radar was intact. As a child, I’d had a series of encounters sometimes going on for years-with five distinctly different and dangerous men who had fooled me with the promise of such things as gifts, rides, candy (sour balls to be concise- yeah I see the perverse irony in that) and this bred in me a certain type of wariness too.
A serious, dark eyed, very tall and broad shouldered man walked into the store; right through the empty path of register 10 and seemed to notice me. He started browsing the packets of balloons and children’s party favors I was pricing and stocking. Like those other scary men, it wasn’t long before he started offering me something too.
A somewhat over eager store representative, I was very helpful when customers asked questions but this guy made me uneasy.
His attire was unusual for our town. Or was I being too paranoid? I couldn’t be sure if I trusted my own judgement because it failed me a lot.
Huge belt buckle. Wearing black from head to toe, including his glossy black hair. Big heeled boots. Leather with spikes and buckles on them. His pants were leather too. He wore jewelry; gold. An oversized watch.
This is the gist of the conversation. Had I been working there long? He stated I was attractive. Too good for this place. Obviously intelligent.
He could tell.
In fact if I left with him he could “set me up” in Chicago. Hotel management to be exact. And he could promise I’d make a thousand dollars a week.
I said nothing.
Did not even nod or make eye contact.
He shrugged and walked through the empty path of register 10 again; and out of the store. Never bought a thing.
I brought it up at supper. I’d “made” meatloaf. Peas. Baked potatoes.
Sometimes peas would roll off the table. There were house elves (Binghamton and Thaddeus) who hung out under the refrigerator and appreciated those peas. But I digress.
I was full of an inner turmoil of sorts, a swirling eddie with emotional debris caught in it. I raised my voice:
“Do I have a sign on my forehead that says Easy Target??”
I was crying.
I lost it.
I was wondering aloud why he chose me. I was a target. Had been one for some time. Somehow, some way, I was wearing it. I was just being me. But being me caused turmoil. I was wary of fully being me.
Ever see pictures of Middle Eastern mausoleums? Imagine glittering walls; fully covered in mosaics fashioned from small mirror fragments — a style called ayeneh kari (above) that became popular in the 17th century, when many of the mirrors being carted to Iran from Europe would shatter during the journey. Later, the Iranians decided they liked the look, and started cracking them on purpose.
We’re all a bit shattered and cracked by our journey. I tend to turn the shattered bits into art. Literally at times. 🙂 the shattered bits are materials I use. I’ve suitcases of broken bits. Both literally and in my heart too.
I made (painted) the image that appears on this book. I call it Self Portrait Shattered Image:
I once knew a woman who was told that all the beach sand in the world was made by carting in big trucks and dumping loads of finely crushed glass. This was what made beach sand glitter. She believed it. (Donna Williams mentions this in one of her books.)
Did she feel like she had a sign on her head too?
I’ve been thinking of all this because of what happened in France.
Dalai Lama (pictured above) has said this: (I posted this on both my personal and author FB pages and decided to repost it here. Perhaps you’ve seen it.)
These wise words
From the Dalai Lama:
“We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place. We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody’s interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments. Furthermore, the problems that we are facing today are the result of superficial differences over religious faiths and nationalities. We are one people.”end quote
One can’t truly capture beauty in people of course through photography alone. Or through artistic renderings of people either.
Perhaps there’s a skill set involved in seeing the beauty IN other people around you when the world seems crazy and evil elsewhere. I attempt it. Change does start in individuals and in their homes and communities when we model the peace we want for everyone.
Irene and I would talk about peace in the long ago kitchen; about how we wanted it in the world. It didn’t feel like an agenda. I still am not sure what list of ingredients one has to have and what supplies one needs to possess to make friends. It’s important for me to remember Irene felt like a friend and not an agenda.
There were attempts made in the conversations we had. Attempts at understanding what peace was and how we could all achieve it.
Sometimes there’s such a thing as making yourself have faith in the face of despairs and evils because it feels the smartest thing to do. It’s a balancing act I guess; a healthy seesaw of wariness and trust.
And there’s always music.