Lamp Series

I have never been comfortable in front of a camera. I think my smile is awkward, my face looks too round and my gestures are forced.  I’m in continual awe of people who are just naturally photogenic like my dear friend K and her boyfriend — even simple snap shots look like something out of a catalog for Perfect Happy Couples.  Perhaps one of my “problems” is just that I think my friends are beautiful. I love snapping photos with my phone and looking back at their smiles and their strength.  For the most part, that’s me. Behind the lens.

It was sort of unnerving when H-  turned the camera around without really asking– let’s get a picture. Smile! As a result I have great photos of us climbing at Smith and it isn’t just his helmet or him at the anchors… I’m there too. It makes me smile, and I’m glad to actually be recorded somewhere instead of just the one doing the recording.

A photograph is an interesting thing.  It’s a moment, without context. I’ve been thinking a lot about context with the lamp series that I wrote about here.  Thus far I’ve just been posting the images on Instagram with the tag #lampseries.  Each image is paired with a quote from a book I’ve read or whatever is laying around close to hand– it’s funny how often Anne Carson and John Tyndall work their way in.  Are these quotes misappropriation? I don’t think so.  Do they help provide context? I doubt it.

I’ve done three sessions of photographs at this point, and I just bought some lamp oil to fill hurricane lamps and work those in. (I also broke the tripod I was using, so I’ll have to wait a little while for the next series. Or, gulp, recruit help to hold the camera.) I’m not really sure where this collection belongs, if anywhere. But I like what it’s doing to me– allowing me to wrap myself in lights and do something ridiculous, feeling silly but keeping at it.  Art is ridiculous– splashes of paint, the curve of a shoulder, words scrawled on a page. This is supposed to save something? Why? Because, when you see something that resonates in your body like a plucked string– it matters. I’m not saying any of these photographs do. It’s just me, dancing around my apartment, pretending like my windows aren’t street level.

The images are slightly NSFW, so I’m embedding a PDF (lamp series) and you’ll have to click through– it’s your call.



AWP and Finding my Footing

AWP in Seattle. Oh boy.

I now understand the glazed expression of fear that crossed my friends’ faces as I excitedly talked about AWP coming to Seattle. Have you ever been…? Of course not.  Travel is expensive, registration is expensive, and vacation was nill.  But this year, my city! How wonderful!

Except. Sort of.

I suspect it’s very different to go to a different city, to stay in a hotel crammed full of writers and to stumble around an unknown city and brush into people equally jet-lagged and out of place.  My city means– I know where my bed is, and it is oh so close. I want to say that AWP was frustrating because of this– my desire to crawl into my own place, but that’s kind of a lie.  Especially because I crashed with a friend two of the nights of the conference.  I think, really, it’s that– I don’t belong at AWP anymore.  A few years ago, I’d have come to the conference ravenous, devouring panels and readings with equal vigor.  I’m hungry these days, but for other things. I found myself dozing off in one panel, my mind working through a boulder problem instead of catching onto metaphor. I found the ache in my body from walking around the city in low heels frustrating.  I thought I better not have a blister, it will make my climbing shoes hurt.

This would make sense if I were some strong crusher– someone who doesn’t get spit off of V2 boulder problems, who isn’t afraid to lead 5.10s.  I’m not an amazing climber. And yet. I’m hungry for it.

There were wonderful moments during the conference, of course.  One of my favorite moments I recorded on video– my friend Nicelle reading on the boat as a troupe of runners came in.  Of course I helped organize an off-site reading that took place on a boat, the perfect venue to serve as both water and poetry support for a run my friend organized.  A reading in a conference room isn’t enough for me? Apparently not.  I’ll try to embed the link of me reading on the boat.  The piece is old, the venue strange, the audience small.  

Glass Slipper Off-site reading from Alexis Vergalla on Vimeo.

I caught up with a friend that I met in Mexico yesterday, and again today, and in talking to him I felt more at home than I did among the MFA crowd.  When did this slip happen? I feel more inspired to organize climbing adventures and to throw into a Women’s Climbing Group than to organize readings. Partly it’s that I’m out of touch– I don’t know the names of writers and I spend so long on my computer that by the time I tumble home I want to be moving.  Still, other people juggle jobs and writing– why can’t I? Because I don’t want to. I want to move, I want to play with lights and photography, I want to wake up early to hit the road and experience something with my body. 

I will never forget Chris Abani asking me to put my hands out, place his palms on mine upturned and ask– what is your first thought. You’re touching me. He said, you think with your body first. It’s why I was unhappy in California, it’s perhaps why I’m happy in this beautiful city of rain and sun.  It’s why I make bad decision around men, it’s why my current photography series circles around my own form.  It’s why I’m going to stop writing this now, change into a climbing top and leggings and meet my friends at the gym. I’m not amazing, at anything, and I have so much further to go before I can attempt any big wall anything, before I crush a bouldering problem that’s mildly difficult, before I can lead routes I want to climb.  But I’m hungry for it in a way that words no longer fill.