(Messages to a friend – “Cairo Man” - abroad)



  8/28/01 - Here is a story of a great photo that got away ‑ the equivalent of a 50-pound trout that slipped the line. I don't take pictures of people in the street because I don't like to violate personal spaces and/or create a scene. I lack the photographic chutzpah for that and it has cost me some very good pictures. Here it is – In 1990 or 91, I was walking down 12th St. in DC and when I got to the corner of Constitution Avenue, I looked to my left and I was transfixed by one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen. There was a young, good‑looking African‑American employee of the gas company standing in front of a raised concrete steam grate. He was dressed in a bright orange protective cape and matching brimless hat. They looked like priestly vestments. Steam (incense) was coming up all around him and the raised platform behind him looked like an altar. But even more astoundingly, he was rigidly standing with the perfect posture of a classical Egyptian Pharaoh or Priest. (How many young "brothers" have you seen unconsciously assuming an immobile hieratic pose?) But the piece de resistance was the eyes, staring vacantly with the infinitely long gaze of a God King. (Excuse the overwrought language but it expresses what I felt at the time.) I had my camera around my neck loaded with B&W film so the bright priestly vestments wouldn't have shown to their best advantage but the steam, altar, pose, and eyes might all have been enhanced by a monochromatic image. But I choked. Perhaps it was his hypnotic stare that stopped me in my tracks, but I just couldn't raise the camera. The instant passed and he moved. The opportunity was lost ‑ never again in this Great Kalpa of Time will that happen. I blew it. I have no idea how to explain that scene. The concatenation was so precise that he must have been a momentary Avatar of an ancient Egyptian. This was at a time when there was a lot of discussion about the connections between ancient Egypt and African cultures. Books like Black Athena were creating a stir. Can you imagine how such a photo might have been used if it were known that it was spontaneous and not posed? Henri Cartier Bresson ‑ Where were you when I needed you? 


11/29/01 - I alluded to the Clear Light of the Bardo so here's that little story. It took place in late August as I was walking from my office in downtown D.C. to the main USDA building off the Smithsonian Mall to meet my commuter van. It was about 4:25 p.m. on a cloudy day. I had my camera in my backpack with two shots left but no spare roll. When packing a camera, I always tell myself to keep at least one shot in case something unusual occurs. As I was crossing the Mall, I liked what I saw and took a shot but as I did so a bird crossed the viewfinder, and then, failing to observe my rule (which I often break), I took my last shot. Anyway, I figured nothing more could happen. I was only about 100 yards from the USDA building and then I'd be on the van heading home. The USDA building to which I was walking was designed in the 1930's by an architect who specialized in prisons. It has several long and narrow parking courtyards that resemble Big House exercise yards. There is nothing there that would ordinarily be photogenic. But as I approached the building I noticed the sky beginning to clear with shafts of late afternoon light piercing the still dark clouds, a condition of contrast I knew from previous experiences was always dramatic. I had a premonition that something was going to happen and I began to regret having taken that last photograph. A gently descending ramp leads to the courtyard and as I walked down I saw that the light was becoming even more ineffably golden. I felt I might be entering some kind of Eleusinian grotto rather than a USDA parking lot and as I passed through the arch and looked up into the courtyard, the light, compressed by the narrow walls of the courtyard and set off by the dark clouds overhead, seemed to expand. I stood awestruck as what was a courtyard became a Coliseum in my imagination ‑ space expanding light, which in its subtleness and palpability was the most beautiful I had ever seen. And I didn't have a shot!   


4/8/02 - I've told you about my only little "Siddhi" ‑ Media ESP Lite (coincidences of little consequence conveyed through the media). Two weeks ago I had one that was really weird.  I was walking down the DC streets when I thought about becoming aware of groups of three. When there are a lot of people in the street, you have to do some rapid selecting. And then I started seeing that some people could be links between two sets of three and so forth ‑ how an inchoate mass could be seen to form interlocking patterns, etc. I also started thinking that I could sometimes vary the routine by including myself in the group of three. You get a different feeling tone with that one. The next day was Friday and I went to the restaurant. We have a subscription to The New Yorker there and I started looking at the new issue while sipping my wine. There was a photo spread on Japanese fashion taken by an American photographer. In one of the pictures (and I instantly saw this) he had positioned his models so that (two mirrors were also involved) they formed three groups of threes with two people who were mirrored forming the links between the groups. I had never seen a photograph like this and I was so surprised I almost splurted my drink out. Not only were these groups of threes but it also involved the interlocking element using mirrors, which also linked up with my Inverted Mirror World project. My skepticism about Media ESP Lite dissolved and I realized there is something going on that is beyond mere coincidence. Now for an even weirder one. There is a fallen tree with exposed roots lying over the stream where I walk and photograph. Its exposed roots look just like deer or elk antlers. I have two interesting inverted pictures using those roots. On Sunday I approached the site and this time went over on the other side of the stream where I usually do not go and saw a beautiful reflection scene in the upright position. I took a couple of shots and then I decided to invert to see what it looked like topsy‑turvy style. I thought to myself that for a change the inverted scene didn't look as good as the upright one but I took a picture anyway. A few hours later I developed the negatives. I brought them up from the basement while the movie THE YEARLING with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman was playing. Just as I started to examine the negatives, their young son ("Jodie") adopts an orphaned deer fawn. As this was happening, I looked at the inverted "antler" tree negative and there was the face of a deer. This was on top of the inverted negative but before the inversion it was a shadowy reflection underneath. I hadn't seen it at all and, in fact, thought it was a throwaway shot. So the antler tree has an ephemeral deer face in it and it is discovered at the very moment the "Yearling" is being adopted in a movie I had never seen before.  


5/6/02 - I had an interesting cinematic experience over the weekend, which I call the Geist in the Machine. Do you remember my story about how I was practicing seeing groups of threes on the street, trying out different combinations, seeing intersecting sets, and then two days later seeing a photo in the The New Yorker magazine that, using two mirrors, had a group of Japanese models arranged in interlocking threes? ‑ a very strange coincidence to say the least. On Friday I came home from the restaurant and turned on the tube. An old sci-fi movie from the 50's, THEM, was playing. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. You've probably seen it. It was the first giant insect movie – Atomic Bomb irradiated ants grow gigantic and go on a rampage. It stared James Arness (the year before he became Matt Dillon) and James Whitmore. Somebody once said of Whitmore that he's always looked old. He was probably in his late 30's in this movie but his craggy face made him look older. In any case, I started watching about 20 minutes into the movie after the bugs first attack on a trailer in New Mexico and then a few minutes later I noticed Arness, Whitmore, and another man interacting. I started to go into a zone ‑ everything seemed to be slowing down into a beautiful choreography  ‑ the spacing, the lines, the forms (not the COLORS, MAN because it was in B&W). I realized that my little people-viewing practice seemed to be paying off. It was like I was seeing a little cinematic version of Maya being played out just for me. At one point, Whitmore kind of looks up and towards the camera and he has a slightly inappropriate smile on his face. He was probably thinking at the time ‑ "Here I am a serious actor playing in a movie about giant ants" ‑ but the thought that popped into my mind was ‑ Whitmore's geist has realized something strange and beautiful has happened and that nearly 50 years later some inverted mirror geezer will see it for what it was. Now to get more real about it. This practice helps sensitize one to people and their spatial interactions. It was truly uncanny (I think of a description that Alberto Giacometti wrote of the strangeness he felt when coming out of a theater once in the 30's). It was as if every frame was beautiful, perfect, charged with electricity, and that this was the real story, not the hunt for the big bugs. Frame by frame I was being transfixed. I asked myself "Did some great cinematographer film this movie?" and answered myself "But this is just a Big Bug movie, now recognized as a semi‑classic because it was the first of its kind." In Buddhist terms maybe this is related to ideas about interdependence and insubstantiality or, on the other hand, it is just another one of my aesthetic delusions. Take your pick.   


  5/16/02 - Great day today. The light was beautiful as I sat on the Smithsonian Mall watching people walk by ‑ slightly softened by cirrus clouds but bright, creating a depth that molded and caressed everything in sight. I went into a state of meditative absorption as I watched the people, something like the state I had been in while watching THEM. Then I walked over to the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Have you ever seen a picture of it? A work of Modern Architecture, gray reflective stone, triangular shapes. It has a triangular "prow", as I call it, which juts out at about a 30-degree angle from the main body of the building. Today was like the light at Stonehenge at spring or the light hitting the Ark in THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The edge of the prow glistened and the sun was in such a position that it seemed to fuse with the rest of the building (at the proper vantage point) while at the same time maintaining a space ‑ the building became Zen at 1:00 p.m. on 5/16.

Fusion ‑ no‑Fusion -- Space ‑ no‑Space. A true transcendental, sublime work

of man. I can't even imagine the Parthenon in its prime looking better, although I have never seen it. As I stood watching, I wondered if anyone else saw this. A woman walked by. She looked at the building. I smiled at her and said "isn't it beautiful" and she nodded and walked on. Then I said something like "look at this." She stopped and came over and I proceeded to point out the marvels, including how the light seemed to have slightly twisted the top of the prow and how the prow seemed to have been mirrored into the rest of the building. She got it and I expressed my thanks because "I just had to share this with somebody." I told her I had left my camera in the office.... A camera, A camera, My Kingdom for a camera. No, this memory is better. [Recent anti-terrorist security barriers and plantings no longer make this experience possible. Perhaps some day they will not be necessary.] 


7/8/02 – Here’s another topic for your amusement.  Since I take photographs by sometimes wallowing in the muck and mire, I tend to get a little dirty, especially my back, shoulders and buttocks, those parts most likely to touch ground when I am inverting. I wear old pants and an old sweatshirt, which has gotten inevitably more disreputable as the summer has progressed. Shirley washes it occasionally but the grime is so ingrained that it will not come out. Also threads and seams are coming loose. I also wear a black hat, for protection against Lyme Disease ticks, which I take off when I hang lest I lose it in the water. I then use it as a receptacle for little pieces of camera equipment. Now I didn't know how strange I looked until a month ago when my daughter visited and reacted with shock when I proceeded to leave the house for a photographic foray. "You're not going out like that are you Dad?" I replied that I hardly ever encountered other people where I walk (3 or 4 in 6 months) and so she needn't worry. In any case, when I came back I looked at myself in the mirror and realized why she had reacted that way. I was a cross between a homeless person, a hayseed (the hat does that), and a geek (my backpack and exposed upper chest.) But I have no choice if I want to hang and wallow, I said to myself, and I don't care anyway. Last weekend the weather was great so I spent many hours in the nature area. On Sunday morning I came out of the woods and started to walk to my parked car. I am almost always able to avoid other people while doing so but this time a stylish woman exerciser was walking down the other side of the street where my car was parked and I couldn't avoid her. From 100 yards away I saw a faint but clear sign of surprise and dismay cross her face, as though she were Martha Stewart and I the local homeless man crashing her lawn party. To lessen her anxiety, I said "hello" as we crossed paths and she reluctantly responded. Next time I think I should take one of my cameras out of my backpack so that future Martha Stewarts might be partially set at ease.   


7/16/02 - Today I was at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I was sitting in an area towards the back of the atrium watching people come in and walk by a glass railing that reflects the lower halves of their bodies. In the background (50‑80 feet or so because of the angle) is a stone wall of the building and then some gray partitions. Because of the angle I would see the reflections a little before the people themselves. Then I noticed that I was not only seeing the lower halves reflected in the glass but also spectral, ghostly‑like reflections in the air itself. My first reaction was to deny what I thought I was seeing. Then I thought it must be some persistence of vision phenomenon, an unconscious gestalt completion of the figure. But the more I looked at people walking by, the more it seemed these were actual airy reflections themselves. I could see the shapes but also the colors, especially if they were bright and saturated. In their airy versions they were elusive and washed out but colors nevertheless. Then I wondered about the stone wall and partitions. Could they be doing the reflecting? But how? They were far behind and were not polished. The tentative conclusion? I think they are real reflections, but I’m not sure how they are produced. Stay tuned. 


8/12/02 - Next time you are at the pool, try hanging upside down over the side getting as close as you can to the water and see what you get. I have never tried it in a pool (haven't been swimming in a couple of years). I doubt there are any decent streams handy where you are. Yesterday, being Sunday, I went to the stream twice and got into a meditative hang for about 20 minutes in the late afternoon. (Fortunately, nobody else showed up.) For me it is the closest thing to the merging of heaven and earth or to use the language of your favorite Fascist Philosopher, Martin Heidegger, it is the Four‑Fold ‑ Sky and Earth, Gods and Men. In that position, scene and reflection are juxtaposed in such a way that the earth (the bank that is) seems to be a kind of permeable membrane through which the trees and sky pass with ease to join their mirror counterparts on the other side. It is just one continuous Dada world and I am temporary part of it.  


8/27/02 - Last week I went to the Hirschhorn Museum of Modern Art on the Mall to see a photography exhibit entitled Open City.  After going through five or six gallery rooms, I came to a video installation in the next to last room. Black and white and color street scenes were being played simultaneously on three of the four walls. A Swiss named Beat Streuli is the artist. The cameras were stationary, presumably telephoto because the depth of field was not great and the space somewhat flat. They recorded in slow motion people moving and stopping on NYC street corners. What immediately caught my attention was that the scenes were reflected on the floor (the room was rather dark) so that one could see the MOVING bilateral symmetry of outrageously interesting and beautiful forms. I quickly discovered that the way to view these effects was to defocus and go soft with the eyes so that the entire scene and reflection could be taken in together and the sense of abstraction enhanced. The moving bilateral forms then really took off as people moved to and fro in front of the camera ‑ inflating like crazy‑angled balloons and then deflating, forming and reforming, pulsing and popping. I probably got into it more than most because of my own work at the intersection of scene and reflection. All this coming into being and then disappearing seemed very Buddhist as well. So that was one aspect of the show, i.e. reflections and bilateral symmetry. Another was how it seemed to sensitize me (and I'm sure others) to people on the street. This happened because of the slo‑mo and flattened space. One could potentially see all kinds of mythological characters like the Epiphany of Athena (a beautiful blonde profiled as she seems to sink into thought while being lit up by the sun), or The Descent of the Japanese Goddess (a very interesting Asian face glides through the crowd, stops, seems to meditate, and then descends into the subway as her hair forms strange swirling patterns). But the best was yet to come. There were intermittent street sounds being played as background ‑ kind of muffled and distant sounding. They would go for awhile, cease, and then start up again. So they caught the attention. I viewed this show for about 20 minutes and then walked back to the office. As I did so, I became aware that I was perceiving street sounds differently. It was as though I were hearing the Ground of Sound from which individual sounds (horns, construction work, traffic, and snippets of conversation) emerged. They had a much more unified musical impact than ever before, even though I had often tried John Cage-like listening experiments while walking (without much success.) I said to myself that if I ever needed proof of the life-altering potential of art, this was it. This show gave people a potential trifecta of transformation ‑ symmetries, people, and sound.  


9/25/02 - I sent “While Inverting over a Mirroring Stream” [see the “Inverted Mirror World”] to the journal yesterday but doubt they will publish it ‑ too many rhymes, too clear in its meaning!  Onomatopoetically, the sound is "click" to me, at least on that occasion. Other times Fwwwop, etc. as you remember from our walks around Eugene.  What is so great about the leaf experience is that, while upside down, I am not conscious (and have turned off the rational self for a few seconds) that one of the images is a reflection. They are just two beautiful sub‑atomic particles rushing towards each other, clicking together with gentle suddenness, unifying the forces of nature and emptying my mind.   


  10/9/02 - I am slowly recovering some of my old “elective affinities.” Cloudy overcast cool days with even subdued light are conducive to feelings of big space and big mind. So too are some of the visual exercises I have mentioned. I have been doing the Hands’ Observatory a lot recently ‑ during meditation, in the woods, and at the museums, though I try to be a little discreet when others are around. I have tried just closing my eyes without also cupping them, but it doesn't work as well. And rather than pulling the hands slowing apart, I now, for the most part, open them quickly. When viewing art, I have noticed that it often brings out subtle aspects of a work that I hadn't previously noticed. As I'm sure you've experienced, when you open the hands you go into a slight trance, the scene brightens up, and, very importantly, the peripherals also seem to lighten up and expand. You do that enough times and it will have an effect on your usual way of seeing. Then a couple of days ago, I realized as I was walking that I had never really concentrated on other people's feet so I proceeded to do so. I also played that little game of three's that I told you about several months ago. It's very interesting to watch the rhythms of soles as they counterpoint and harmonize with each other. So then today I went out for my usual walk and I soon realized that I was walking in a different kind of space ‑ bigger both sideways and up and down. I think this is the result both of the Hands Observatory (sideways) and the Rhythm of the Soles (up and down). Also of the Inverted Mirror World which allows one to experience all the quadrants as equivalent. And then it intensified in certain places, especially broad sidewalks with a long view. At one point I felt as if I were in one space (or bubble) while moving through another ‑ a very strange and wonderful feeling. I laughed and smiled as I thought I might be on the verge of seeing that old Broad herself, Maya, or jumping into a new dimension. That re‑occurred again as I approached the big National Archives building on Pennsylvania Avenue. I once took a picture of it that to my eyes, at least, seems to look as though the camera has just caught the building right after it had materialized out of sheer space. This time it was greater. I had never quite seen the strangeness of a building like that before. If it wasn't coming to me from another dimension, it was sure doing a good imitation of it. I went into the National Gallery of Art, looked around for 20 minutes, played my little games, and returned to the office. I guess one can't sustain that high because, although I was still seeing Big Space, the extra-dimensional part had ramped down. The eyes and mind need a little break, I guess. 


11/7/02 - Following up on the idea of unexpected benefits, here's another story. For years we've had black window blinds in our bedrooms with little holes in them. In the morning on a sunny day they let in points of light and turned the rooms into beautiful little Planetariums. As a light freak, I always enjoyed the show. Shirley had made noises about wanting to change them because they were getting old but I didn't think she would do it until one day I came home to discover that they had been replaced by cream‑colored ones without holes. I vented a bit at Shirley asking her why she had gotten them and telling her that they were banal and wouldn't put on any kind of show. But it was too late so I just accepted them and bid goodbye to my starlit weekend mornings. (I get up too early on weekdays.) In our bedroom we sleep with a nightlight on because Shirley comes in after I've gone to sleep, as well as for ease of mobility in the middle of the night. A few days ago I caught a cold and went to sleep in another bedroom without a nightlight. And there I saw what the ambient streetlight did to the cream‑colored translucent (some kind of cardboard composite material) blinds. It had turned them into a living Rothko painting (but much better because of the real light) or a light installation by James Turrell ‑ a soft, ethereal glow, remnant light from the Big Bang almost. Here in my book strewn, messy bedroom was now a darkened mystery religion Grotto. What a place and time to meditate!  


11/13/02 - This morning began at 3:00 a.m. with me sitting on a bed with a doubled‑up pillow for a cushion and meditating on my Rothko Blinds. I soon entered a little higher zone. I was able to meditate for almost 2 non‑stop hours (longer than I had ever tried before) while maintaining bodily stillness and good posture. This seems to be a great advantage of meditating on a vision I find fascinating. It requires virtually no effort because I love doing it. And then I got on my van at about 6:05 a.m. and the Squint Time Light Show began, better than I had ever experienced it in my two months of squinting to work in the darkness of early morning. The imagined starships in flight along their causeways of space, moving filaments of colored lights like insect wings, diaphanous bundles of wheat, and spiraling kaleidoscopes, were great and then when we hit a traffic slow‑down and all the red lights came on, it became almost too much to handle. I had to restrain myself from emoting in the van. "Behold the Glory" or some such came to mind. And the finale was our passage through the Age of Gold as we entered the orange‑lit tunnel right before the D.C. line and crossed over the similarly lighted Roosevelt Bridge.  


4/25/03 - I solved the mystery of the air reflections! It is my very first hypothesis ‑ the gray stone has slight but visible reflective qualities, but only at a distance. Last week my wife, her niece and her two kids went with me to the Mall. We stopped off at the East Wing and I directed their attention to people walking in and out by the railing and after a few seconds they (excluding the 4‑year old) saw the reflections ‑ "kind of like ghosts" my niece said. That told me that there was nothing strange going on, just something requiring a normal scientific explanation. For the last several months, as I think I told you, I have also seen reflections in the white walls in the American Modern exhibit in the lower level.  Actually what I see are the movements of my hand as I open and close my fist or move it up and down my torso, etc. ‑ a little bit of ear movement too and also a very general form to go with it. My wife and niece couldn't see those but that's because it takes time to do so. They are more difficult than the original ones, requiring more attention and almost a trance like stare. Today, it finally occurred to me to try the same hand movements on the gray walls up above and at least two places, including one of the walls by which people pass, I saw hand movement. When I went closer than about 15' to the railing or 30' to a wall not fronted by the railing, I got nothing. I wonder if anybody at the Museum knows about this. One of the guards, who is an artist, was surprised when I told him about it, but I don't think he has ever gotten around to observing it. Case closed. Maybe in retirement I can become a private eye specializing in visual conundrums. Not so fast! I can also see very faint see hand movements in the carpet from a certain position in the lower level, as well as in an orange-painted shape in an Ellsworth Kelly wall sculpture. I can’t explain those.


5/5/03 - Over the weekend I combined the Dao Re Mi with the Inverted Mirror World (homepage) because I had wondered how things might sound upside down. I haven't taken any pictures for months but recently I have been hanging over rocks and docks (the two available to the public, the rest are private and inaccessible) in one of our man‑made lakes. Now when I inverted over the stream banks nobody ever saw me but on the lakes it is a different matter. However, I have become more brazen. I'll invert next to almost anyone and suffer questioning stares without a blink now. Inverting over a small lake is great, especially if the sky has nice clouds. You look DOWN at the Great Cosmic Ocean or River that many mythologies speak about. It is a cosmic ocean because the imagined "water" (remember this is the real sky, not the reflection which you look up to see) seems to float on clouds and sky. Because it is actually the sky seen from the inverted perspective, it is an ocean with cosmic depth. When I'm inverted, I forget that I'm inverted. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just looking. This may be as close to a "heavenly" perspective as I'll ever experience. On Saturday I was sitting upright on the lake bank when I started my finger moving across the water up the opposite bank and the tree line. The musical line: it starts as a bilabial "mm" going straight across the water and increasing in pitch as the distance grows greater, then makes a little bend as it comes out of the water and up the trees, and then as it hits the sky, it suddenly goes "Ding" which increases in pitch but decreases in loudness as it curves across the vault of the sky. Why "Ding"? ‑ Ask Heidegger about the Four‑Fold = Sky and Earth, Gods and Men. The finger's path has reached escape velocity and must make a qualitatively different sound. That was a little epiphany for me. I have just heard the sound of the sky and it is "DING!" The next day I inverted and this is the musical line: You start looking "down" at the center of the cosmic ocean (i.e. the top of the sky) and naturally the sound is "AH" ‑ the syllable of marvel and awe ‑ which decreases in pitch and loudness as it goes down the arc of the ocean, hits the tree line and pops into the sky (actually the "reflected sky") where it again goes "Ding" and then quickly decreases pitch on a straight line because it is coming across the water towards me. So when inverted, the sky as cosmic ocean says "AH" and as "reflected sky" "Ding". This is getting Abbott and Costelloish. Who's up? Who's down? No, What's up? What's down? Who cares! Who enjoys? Where is your original face?" Obviously no photograph can capture this experience. In one place, I invert and look at a high human‑sculpted embankment at about a 40-degree angle or so. It's maybe 90' high. Rocks at the bottom. Inverted, the rocks and their reflections form something like lips (they're at the center of the image) and the green embankment and its reflections add the rest. Seeing it upright, it's okay but when inverted it is much more interesting and beautiful. Even better though is when people (joggers and walkers) pass along the top of the embankment. Because the field of vision is so wide, it is difficult (but not impossible) to see both the walker and his/her reflection at the same time. Since they are widely separated in my vision, it is even more difficult than usual to believe that they are one and the same person. My mind wants to deny the "rational." It does deny it and instead accepts it as two people doing almost the same thing ‑ quite marvelous, as the surrealists would say. But since I can't quite see them together for more than an instant, I switch back and forth and so one is always a little behind or in front of the other in his or her movements. It is as if one or the other is reading the past or foretelling the future of the other. Most mysterious and worth quite a few sotto voce muttered hosannas from the entranced inverter! One final point ‑ when a person is seen walking upside down he or she suddenly takes on a grace and effortless fluidity not seen from the upright perspective. Even a Big‑Gulper can become a Baryishnikov when viewed in the topsy‑turvy world. Or an Astair dancing on the ceiling. You will get a smaller idea of this if you hang upside down over the side of your bed (or sofa or whatever) and watch a football or soccer game. Maybe Basketball or Tennis too. Baseball, I would guess, is too slow.  


5/29/03 (To my sister and friend) - The trip to Denver was fine. I discovered that by visiting Mom, I could also visit the Parthenon. You know the red and white striped curtains in the guest bedroom. First close the blinds behind them, wait until dark when the room is as dark as it can get (or also just at twilight and early dawn) and then sit down at the very edge at the bottom end of the bed, facing the curtain. The Moon Goddess, Semele, (a.k.a. the street lights) will back light the scene. Your eyes will be just about a foot or so away from the curtain. Now stare intently at the curtain, focusing on the white stripes, until the white and red (now become dark) seem to double in width because you are seeing double. You've got to trance out to do this but it's worth the effort. At this point the dark (red) stripes seem to move forward and the white (which have also darkened somewhat) recede. (If the whites moves forward, you will get a different and also interesting effect, but you'll have to shake it off and repeat the above if you want to get the effect I will describe.) Then work to get the two "slats" (those horizontal pieces of wood that help bring the curtain up) right below to appear as if they are on the same plane. When all of that is accomplished, a most wondrous sight will appear ‑ dark Ionic Order columns (the dark red stripes) and a beautiful marbled reflecting floor (the space between the two "slats"). Since I get up early in the morning, I was able to observe this for several hours during my three days there. I came upon this by accident while looking at the stripes as white and black keys of a piano‑like instrument. I got close, tranced out, and Voila, I was transported to 5th Century Athens.  


6/5/03 – I crossed the line today and drew a little too much attention to myself. I felt partially vindicated when Shirley, my niece, and my friend and former colleague at work, Doug, saw the ghostly torso reflections above the railing in the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Then I seemed to confirm an explanation when I did my stare and hand movement while facing the gray stone wall of the building and saw reflection-like hand, arm, and finger movements. I got the same thing when also observing white walls. Okay, maybe gray stone and white walls have reflective properties but that sounds unusual to me. So then I tried it on the carpet in the lower level of the museum and after a few attempts, while standing behind the railing just above it, I also got hand and finger movement. Now no way ordinary carpets have reflective properties. Today I was again successfully working on that – but maybe a little too successfully because I noticed a guard keeping an eye on me. Then I walked down the steps and sat on a bench and the guard said: “Mister, are you okay?” Obviously I was doing something that appeared strange – maybe it was the transfixed eyes or the rotation of the hand or all of the above. He probably thought I was about to have a seizure of some sort. I assured him I was “fine.” He shrugged his head perplexedly and walked away.  


7/14/03 - I spent the weekend either walking or in the darkroom. I really enjoy hanging over the dock in one of our local lakes. It's best to do it early morning before the local fishermen get there. In this case, there's a big dam‑like embankment 75 to 100 ft. high behind (or in front depending on which way you're pointing) the dock. Hanging one way I can see cars, cyclists, and walkers (and their reflections) passing on top of the embankment. Cars and cyclists are not very interesting because there are no moving parts (I can't see the cyclists legs because they are hidden by the curb), but walkers are up higher on the ground so I can see all of them. They don't come by very frequently but when they do I get set for a treat. There is that "is it two or one trick‑the‑brain phenomenon" and also the fact that I am seeing the "real" walker "below" with his legs hanging "up". Because I am actually seeing the legs more clearly and from a different vantage point, they take on the slow, humorous (because of the incongruity) grace of moving arms. As I said before, try watching an athletic event like basketball upside down from your bed and you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about. So I got off on that and then went to the other side of the dock to get my cosmic ocean experience when to my delight a family of geese came parading 10 feet in front of me (or was it in back of me – who knows or cares). They appeared suddenly in a way that would not have been possible had I been standing upright and been surveying the entire scene in the usual swivel-headed fashion. Of course, this added to my surprise and pleasure. They seemed (anthropomorphically‑speaking) to have a bemused expression on their faces, as if saying to themselves "he's strange but harmless so let's give him a little show." And they did by just slowing swimming by with their goslings in tow. Seeing waterfowl completed by their reflections is great. (Even better is when they are flying close to the water and come in for their Sound‑of‑One‑Hand Clapping landings). From one angle "completed" ducks look like Hammerhead Sharks, while geese appear to be two‑headed Penguins. (You have to mentally rotate the image to get that.) I couldn't verbally contain myself and started saying things like "you guys are great. Keep it up. I can't believe this" but they weren't put off by my evident lack of cool and just kept slowing moving on. Finally I got up, bowed to the lake, and climbed the embankment for the walk home.


7/16/03 – I had a fulfilling teaching experience today. There are two works in the Hirshhorn’s current Gyroscope exhibit that really excite me – one is Beat Streuli’s films of people walking in New York City with their reflections on the floor that I described to you last August. Last year it was up for only two months or so, but this time it will be up for about six. They’re like the Rocky Horror Picture Show to me. I know all the characters (it’s all silent except for occasional street noises) and I have given some of them nicknames. As I mentioned in August, my two favorites are the Epiphany of Athena and the Japanese Goddess’ Descent into the Underworld. The other is a rectangular glass enclosure with various panels of glass inside along with a camera on a tripod and some dirty clothes and an inhaler on the floor. It’s called the Asthmatic Escaped II by the English artist Damien Hirst. In any case it has reflections, so naturally it caught my attention. I was standing in front of it facing the camera when I noticed that there were three reflections of myself – one clear and distinct at the greatest distance from “me”, another slightly larger and more indistinct midway to “me”, and close up a very indistinct and again even larger reflection right before “me”. As I looked, I felt my own “self” kind of drop out. Is that the real me far away and then am “I” getting more and more indistinct until the guy doing the perceiving disappears? I had never before experienced (actually felt) something quite like that in the presence of an art work, although I have occasionally while inverting over a lake or stream bank. When I got on my commuter van in the afternoon, I related my experiences to a friend but some others overheard me and became interested. I told one I would meet him at the museum the next day and give him a little tour. He said: “Now don’t expect me to see what you do. You’re a photographer and your eye is more trained than mine.” I replied that “whatever you see is fine with me. Maybe you’ll see something different.” The next day I met my fellow commuter, a former telephone company manager now a telecommunications official with the government, and I brought him to the two exhibits. I was pleasantly surprised because he seemed to get it right away, including the “disappearing self”, which I thought might be difficult. I told him that one of the reasons it intrigued me was because of its kinship to the Buddhist idea of “no-self”. He said he could understand that from his own Christian perspective. With a bit of coaching, he also got some of the film flashes. And then I took him on a ride up and down the museum escalators and introduced him to the concept of edge effects and the idea of watching the unfolding and unveiling of relationships in motion. He really seemed to connect with that. As we were coming down from the second floor to the first, I told him to keep his eye on the top of the first floor window and watch the unveiling of light. He interjected “the unveiling of light and life.” That was better and more profound. He had gotten it, and, as we parted, he said, “I’ll never ride an escalator the same way again.” Me too! 


7/21/03 - I had another eye‑opening Hang‑Time experience over the weekend. Do you remember my message at the end of May about staring at the curtain in my mother's guest room and turning the vertical slats in a seemingly horizontal direction so that the space created looked like a Greek Temple with columns and reflecting marble floor? Last Wednesday I started hanging over the top step of the 6‑step stairway that leads from our dining room to the sunken living room. On one side is a wall that goes straight up for awhile and then angles over as it forms the base of another flight of stairs that turns as it goes up to the bedrooms. From a hanging position on the top stair, I see through a gap of about 2½ feet that narrows as the upstairs flight angles over to meet the wall separating the dining room from the living room. Of course, there is a big rectangular opening in the wall so one can look from the dining room down into the living room. At night this keeps the ceiling of the living room in gray shadow when only the light in the dining room is on. The dining room, obviously, and the rest of the living room get more light. From the gap, when inverted I see "down" (my directions like "up" and "down" are meant relative to that viewing position unless otherwise stated) into the living room ceiling. I had tried this briefly last year, mostly just to show people what kind of position I got into over the stream bank. Of course, it wasn't really like the latter because there are no reflections. However, hanging over a lake is different because an important part of that experience is looking "down" on the sky as "cosmic ocean." So this time I thought I would look fixedly at the ceiling and see it as a kind of floor (though not necessarily cosmic). The floor/ceiling, of course, is approximately at a 90-degree angle with respect to my inverted head and eyes. I soon became aware of the floor/ceiling as seen through the angles of the staircase gap and as I stared and tranced out, the floor/ceiling seemed to rotate up, towards, and parallel to me and then covered over the gap like a translucent gauzy sheet or scrim. I became rather excited, especially when I realized I could relax my eyes and even move them around, peering over the "scrim," which seemed only about 6 feet away (the distance from my head to the gap) to the living room wall some 25 feet or so away. But just like an unstable radioactive isotope, this scene eventually decayed (actually just popped back into "reality") and I had to trance out again in order to reconstitute it. I was doing this in the evening so the floor/ceiling was in soft gray shadow. I realized that because of that there were fewer spatial cues like clearly defined edges and textures that might hinder me from seeing my beautiful little "mirage." I suspected I wouldn't be able to see it in daylight, but I waited for the next morning to give it a try. I began my new experiment in early daylight on Friday morning when the floor/ceiling and adjoining wall were reasonably well lit. I stared for several minutes and was about to give up when I softened and deepened my gaze. This time the floor/ceiling rotated, moved towards me, and covered the gap with an even more beautiful cream‑colored scrim that I could also relax into and around. I could also see through it to the texture of the floor/ceiling that seemed to be in the background. Out of a two‑dimensional surface a three‑dimensional space seemed to have been created with the light of the surface moving forward while the texture remained behind. And there was nothing hallucinatory or occult about this. It's just that under certain     conditions the usual visual cues can be overridden and new sights made to appear. What the geometry of vision giveth, the playful eye can taketh away, at least partially and temporarily. It's inherent in modern art's obsession with the perceptual ambiguities of flat surfaces. I learned to see this way by looking at 20th century painting, especially those conveniently located and free to view at the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art. However, this "scrim" was even more unstable and harder to form than the gray one and could quickly blink out of existence. Is this the way Maya plays around? The next morning I went for a walk under an overcast sky. I soon realized I was seeing space and light more strongly than usual and I connected this with my exercises of the previous days. Maybe this was just a coincidence. I'll see. When I reached the lake, I sat on the dock for awhile because the overcast sky and rippling water didn't make for very good reflections, but the sky soon pulled me down and over the edge of the dock. I realized that in order to "see" the sky as "cosmic ocean" I had to imagine or intuit some kind of "surface" between the “ocean” and me. If so, the upside down trees around the lake outlined the contours of this "surface" and the flying fishes (the birds) played upon it. So I must be seeing/imagining at least three layers ‑ air, "surface", and "ocean." (Now I'm just talking about looking at the "real" sky while upside down.) I also realized that I probably wouldn't have thought about this imaginary surface so explicitly if I hadn't first rotated the stairway "scrim." As I walked home, it occurred to me that I might try inverting the inversion by imagining that I was still in a layered world with an airy medium below, an invisible membrane between, and an ethereal medium above ‑ kind of like the ancient distinction between celestial and terrestrial but without the invidious comparison between pure and impure. Perhaps this can be another way of seeing fuller and deeper spaces. The next day, Sunday, I went for a walk in the morning, but instead of going out again in the afternoon, as I usually do, I decided to watch REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, a movie I hadn’t seen in several years. Halfway through the movie, James Dean comes home from the fatal “Chicky Ride” and flops down on the couch with his head hanging over the edge and looks at the staircase as his father descends. For two seconds or so the camera shows the father upside down. I did not remember this scene from the movie at all and probably took no special interest in it, but here I was watching it on the very weekend when I had been working on my own inverted stairway experiment. Is there any other movie involving an upside-down character and a stairway? Very strange – Media ESP Lite strikes again?  


8/4/03 – I experienced ESP Lite this morning, although no media were involved. It involves an activity that you might want to try if you have the proper props. Two weeks ago when I started doing my staircase scrim inversions, it occurred to me that I could hang over a stair on the landing leading upstairs and look at the ceiling of the dining room. In this case, I was right under the ceiling. When I inverted, I was intrigued by what I saw. Hanging from a chain in the center of the ceiling is a chandelier and a few feet from that is a wooden Indonesian birdcage handing from a hook. From the inverted perspective, I seemed to be looking down on the ceiling/floor while seeing the fixture and the birdcage standing upright or perhaps growing upright because of the vine-like chain and the bulbs. But standing upright only with the aid of a chain and a hook, which imparted a surreal quality to the experience. They seemed to be so delicately and precariously poised that any sound or noise would topple them. Therefore, it also seemed very silent. I hung meditatively for 10 or 15 minutes and have done so most days since. Today, Doug, a friend and retired work-place colleague, dropped by my office for a short visit. I told him about my staircase and lake inversions and then he said that he also had an experience but apologetically added, “not anything like yours.” He said that while doing some pre-jogging stretching exercises on the floor, he lay down and looked up at the chandelier and noted an interesting delicately balanced effect. To which I replied “well that was exactly the next thing I did after the scrim inversions. It would just be better if you could invert because you can get proprioceptive ambiguity that way.” We both marveled at the coincidence.





Copyright 2003 by Dennis Roth - Please do not distribute without the author's permission.