Private property. Probably the two most boring words ever. But there is something I totally appreciate about private property. When I'm hunting around with a camera I usually walk right up to the edge. I'm freewheeling until I see the sign. When I see the sign, I back off. One, I don't want to get shot. Two, I don't like confrontation. And three, mad respect. So for me, the sign is one of those proper mind awareness tools. PMAT. It's readily available, there's no monthly fee and it's full-on yoga. This is a tool I can trust. So I'll wander to the boundary with no worries, clicking this, clicking that. Taking picture after picture. Because when I'm lying on my deathbed and my life flashes before me what I'm actually remembering are all these images. So I want to take the best pictures and I want to capture all the feels. With tender heart and lowered guard I expose every frame to love. I want pictures that help me remember the good shit. Just like they did in Soylent Green. So I'll take another photo, ooh, ahh, then another. Until I see the sign. Then it's BAM! snap-to. I am slapped from my dystopian melancholy and the awkward ironic pleasurable pressure to document my life is gone. Private property, yes, a simple reminder to get back to living.
Let's just clarify that I am writing these words while listening to soft piano music, sipping on an Italian roast with bits of dark chocolate stirred in and looking out my window while a cool breeze reminds me a rain is coming. I can see the water of the James River. I am wearing flannel and writing on a late 2013 MacBook Pro. My toilet flushes and the refrigerator stows away pickled jalapeños and frozen blueberries. In essence, I am rather fortunate. Is this white male privilege? Probably. But either way, this is my current state of physical being. It feels lavish to me so I will honor the luxury while it lasts. I promise to write about contentment when I am homeless and my body withers away from cancer. Just for comparison. To see if my current perspective holds water when the view changes.
I speak of contentment and the efforts to both recognize and monitor this feeling during all my waking hours. This is a practical guide to awareness. Contentment is available all the time. It's just a vibe. Thought waves. I've recognized these vibes while creating a spreadsheet full of numbers. I've also felt the ease of contentment while sipping drinks on a beach. Whether my head is full of practicalities or dreamy with dance I glue it all together with the same thought. The mantra is basic. I am grateful for this experience, this breath, this ability to not measure myself against others. This is the gateway to contentment which is the gateway to happiness which is the gateway to love. When I first moved to NYC I joined a gym. I felt the need to be fit. And there was a Crunch within walking distance on the corner of Christopher and Greenwich. Their motto was no judgements. Still is. I can truly get behind this hashtag. But I would like to believe that Crunch was inspired by a simple Taoist concept that the true measure of life is to not measure at all.
The human species is constantly evolving. Faster, stronger, smarter. But no matter how much we change there seems to be a universal joy for contentment. To be comfortable in your body and your head. The first step to being comfortable is listening to how much we judge. Let go of judgement and you will be rewarded with contentment. But letting go of judgement in order to love is a mental thing. And stuff involving headspace is really hard to grasp. So let's introduce a practical tool to make the act of letting go easier. Unclenching. Unclench your butt, unclench your jaw, unclench your shoulders, unclench all that shit. Now you can get busy with loving.
I'll conclude this journal with a photo of Dee W Squeeze. I met her while living in NYC. I wasn't going to Crunch anymore when we became friends. I had a yoga mat instead. Dee and I recently went on a road trip. We slept at a funky motel in Arlington, VA. It's her most favorite motel in the world. So this is Dee being happy. Her happiness is my happiness because we are like a pajama onesie.
Find your happiness. If you are struggling, please let me know and perhaps we can collaborate on an art project that champions love, awareness, no judgements and contentment. Art project? Sure. It's all art really. But we'll talk more about this in the next journal.
You read that right, but we'll get to the dirty deets later. Whoa, the last three months just whizzed by. Long of the short, all is chill in Wiggyland. Yay. I've been trying on some new clothes, taking off some used. I'm still living in Lynchburg, VA with the always inspiring Dee W Loizou. We've perfected our spicy fish-sauce sauce. Yes, I'm still vegetarian but this Thai dish we love requires the Red Boat, so we tread lightly and nom, nom, nom the bejesus outta that dish. I took photos for a wedding. My god, that was hard. Probably won't do that again. Thankfully the bride and groom are the best people on the planet. I took on a bookkeeping job for my dear friends at Riverviews...what! Yes, I hear you screaming. It's just temporary, people. No, I'm not moving back to NYC just yet. But I miss it. Dearly. Took photos for a fundraising event. Umm, super hard. But I did it all in character, with a British accent, in striped tights. For the challenge. Oh, I would do that again. For sure. Makes picture taking wildly mysterious. And fun. I did a few promo videos, bought a battery powered light kit, started using my flash a bit more for stills, and yeah, I taught an Introduction to Digital Photography class and an Advanced Digital Filmmaking class at the local liberal arts joint just up the street. It's called Randolph College. Used to be all women. Then that changed in 2006. I had 19 students and 16 were women. So who knows. I began teaching in February. Unfortunately I missed the first 11 classes of the semester because I came in as a pinch-hitter. Probably won't do that again. So hard. But I would do it all again if given a full semester. I taught four classes a week for a total of nine hours. 4.5 hours on Monday and 4.5 hours on Thursday. But you know what, that shizzle was a full-time job. Seriously. Best paying gig I've had in Lynchburg, but damn, brother barely had time to rest. But I kinda loved it? I know it's trite, but mad respect to all the teachers out there. Bring it in for a group hug! Yesterday was my last day. Graded all the students, sent each a personal note of gratitude, and then I noticed I hadn't written a blog post in three months. Whizzed by. The picture up top was taken at a show ring in Big Island, VA. I imagine myself sitting on those aluminum bleachers just taking it all in. Beautiful scenery, nice and quiet, just me and the cool breeze. What a spectacle. What a show. What a gift. Might as well be happy.
We move forward every day until we don't. I've spoken about my extensive work as a production accountant in Los Angeles and NYC. I'll eventually stop talking about those days and focus more on the now. When I moved to Lynchburg I didn't know what to call myself in regards to what I do. My business card in 2017 said, Michael Wiggins, compassionate. But, you know, that doesn't really work so well when you meet new people. Hi! I'm Michael Wiggins, I'm a compassionate. Crickets. But I never said, Hi! I'm Michael Wiggins, I'm a production accountant. Things change.
Today I was walking the aisles at Home Depot. I'm working on a new art installation, looking for some ideas. A kind gentleman asked if he could help me find anything. And this is what I said. Hi! I'm Michael Wiggins, I'm a working artist. Maybe I didn't say the Hi! thing, or the Michael Wiggins, but you know what I mean. I'm a working artist, that's what I said. It just came out of my mouth. I told him I was cruising the inventory looking for inspiration. His smile was genuine and wide, there was no confusion about what it means to be a working artist. He casually pointed to the forklift he was sitting on and said, this is art. We understood each other. He told me if I needed any help just let him know. Beep, beep, he rolled on.
Having photographs or an art installation exhibited in a gallery does not make me a working artist. Although I've been fortunate enough to sell a few photos, no one paid me to take a picture. And my video installation was also self-funded. Honestly, if it wasn't for my years working as a production accountant I would not have been able to move to Lynchburg and reinvent myself. Life is glorious this way. And now I'm a visual artist , but I ain't working. Until last week.
I get an email from Kim the executive director at Riverviews Artspace. I've known Kim nearly the whole time I've lived in Lynchburg. And Dee and I had the pleasure of being one of her guinea pig vendors at the first Riverviews Makers Market. Kim gave our company, Koh-Dee, a chance to sell our wares publicly. That's just Kim, incredibly supportive. Hi! I'm Kim Soerensen, I'm a compassionate. And I would say, yeah you is sis, yeah..you..is. Anyway. Kim's email said some glowing things about my work and basically she hired me to be the staff photographer for Riverviews. I mean...
This was a good day. Kim immediately put me to work documenting a screening of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I did ok. And I was sincerely giddy for the opportunity. I told myself I would be better at the next gig if I schmoozed a bit more during the process. It's really important to let people know who you are and to make them feel comfortable. And two days after that Kim had me working a fancy-pants breakfast event. In attendance would be a senator, a mayor, women campaigning for Congress, founders of the organization, news media and a ton of good-hearted Lynchburg folks. I perfected my pitch. I took 440 photos. Hi! I'm Michael Wiggins.
I'm a compassionate, a dreamer, a working artist.
I was digging through the archives yesterday trying to see if my friend Kent sent me an Aretha Franklin postcard from San Diego back in the 80's. He didn't. It was Billie Holiday. But in the same ziplock was this picture of me and all my friends from Mr. Warner's class of 1973 at Hamlin Street School in Canoga Park. I forgot about Kent, about Billie, Aretha, everything but that photo. I held it in my hands and took a long look into each beautiful face. Then I'd let my eyes wander about the image admiring the drapes, the tiled floor, the felt letter board, the wooden bleachers, the flag, the bell-bottoms, the overall composition. Then I'd return to another face. I knew everyone. I remember the tenderest details about each personality. These faces have been living inside of me all this time. I never imagined that 5th Grade would have such an influence over my being. A fun expression from the 70's was Everything is Everything. I guess it is. Live in the moment cause it lingers a long time.
The year was 1993. I was holed up in a roadside hotel called the Hilltop Inn. This was in Monroe, NC. I was working as an assistant accountant on four back-to-back TV movies based on the film Smokey and the Bandit directed by Hal Needham. Hal was also directing the spin-offs and his hotel room was right next to mine. We got to know each other. I worked long hours, six days a week. Our accounting staff consisted of three people. My only free day was Sunday so I would drive my rental car to a sports bar in Charlotte to watch the Steelers. Monroe introduced me to the art of stunts, the cicada and minor league hockey. My sweetheart at the time was Penny. She was working in LA while I was in NC. Thinking about her kept me company. While researching this memory and going through my Bandit archives I found this headshot of Traci which basically explains everything else. Bye.
The earliest picture I have of Eric and myself is from the 70's. We played sports together in the YMCA. Our team was called the Dodgers. We both lived in the San Fernando Valley. We enjoyed competition. Football, basketball, tennis, billiards, foosball, ping-pong. You name it. And it is an honor to say we remain true friends to this day. Although we talk less and less I will always consider Eric a faithful companion. My fondest memories were from the late 80's when he and I and my mom all lived together in Woodland Hills. If any of us had something we needed to bitch about we would talk it out. Patiently. With emotion. But we also loved to laugh and dance and play board games. We were a formidable trio. The thing I admire most about my dear friend is his loyalty. I could trust Eric. He was sensitive. He could always relate. And his love and generosity for my mom was remarkable. Probably the most compassionate gift I have ever witnessed. Thank you, Eric. Godspeed.
Why did I start taking pictures? Pretty much to document family and vacations. My first few cameras were essentially scrapbook facilitators. I love a good keepsake. But by the time I started college I became less interested in the camera as a tool of remembrance. It was the Vivitar 35ES that changed things. The Vivitar was a gift from my dad. It was the second camera he gave to me. We bonded through picture taking. Me and Pops. And boy did that Vivitar make me feel legit. I lugged that baby around from class to class. I had no idea what I was doing at UCSD. I was a biology major, then drama and finally visual arts simply because my roommate at the time, James, got me a concessions job at the Ken Cinema. He worked there too. Films were cool. James was cool. And during our six years of living together in San Diego and Los Angeles, James introduced me to all kinds of art, literature, music and food. James taught me about friendship and cinema as well. Moving images, still images, we were fascinated by every frame. And that's when my relationship to the camera changed. The Vivitar became my first paint brush. I am a deep observer. Patient. Cerebral. A huge fan of pattern recognition. The world was abundant with grace and strange. And the Vivitar faithfully captured my POV. One of the books that reminds me of James is John Berger's "Ways of Seeing." James was a visual arts major as well. I started reading Berger when I had the Vivitar. He was the perfect complement to all the Hitchcock and Truffaut films we saw at the Ken. As John Berger would say, "Seeing comes before words." James, John and the Vivitar. Each introduced me to the world of my inner and outer compositions.
Lately I've been feeling nostalgic. I'm totally happy I have nostalgia. Grateful I've lived to accumulate these recollects. Oh, I must mention I recently moved my desk. I look out the back porch now. The fresh view has something to do with me floating in time. At least two or three things are always in motion when I daydream. Most of the flow comes from the steady parade of Chevy's and Ford's along Commerce. Just beyond, the graceful James slinks easily in a SE direction. And then there are the walkers down 12th searching for bargain antiques or tequila shooters. But my favorite flow by far is the slow passing train. The pace of the freight syncs perfectly to Ahmad Jamal's, "Poinciana." Smooth. I think about my life. Sometimes thoughts are about what is happening now. And then I scan an old photo and my mind wanders. Downstream. Today the skies are misty blue so I muse in black and white. The day I went to Santa Anita with my friends. I loved the track thanks to Uncle Tom who traditionally took the family to Santa Anita the day after Christmas. It was everything. Beer, sunshine, handicapping, people watching, science, drama. The perfect social scene. So I look out the window inspired by movement. Flow. I am a visual artist. A gambler. A drunk. Wait. Are these my memories? Who are you?
Pulling the blinds. When I am hunkering down for some creative, I tend to work in the dark and alone. My inspiration is a combination of music, memories and the now. Music provides a calming focus. Memories supply an endless stream of happy and sad. And the now. Oh the now. No matter the song or the recollection, I always return to love. Yes Milan Kundera, yes, it is unbearable at times. Being.
I want to run, kiss, dance and create. Is this too much for a Saturday? I say no. Because you must take it when you get it. There are days when the power of love permeates my entire being with blissful intent. It is a day like this that can motivate a man for months at a time. Deep seated belief. I am wide awake. But I have to close my eyes to truly feel it.
Dee and I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia on January 6th, 2017. It has been almost one year. Today is Sunday and it's a typically quiet day on Main Street. We have plans to make coffee, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, curried cauliflower, cranberry chutney, rosemary potatoes and mushroom gravy. But before all of this, we took our time getting out of bed. We spoke about the middle way. A place between our earthly bodies and our ethereal souls. And we sincerely believe our happiness is the result of this delicate balance. This is how our morning began.
My first camera was a Polaroid Swinger. A gift from my dad. I used to keep a Swinger photo of the family in my wallet. I was so proud of them.
My dad loved taking pictures. He was a faithful documentarian. My mom would make something good to eat and we would dim the lights and watch slides and Super 8 movies projected on the walls. These were times of laughter and love. So thank you James W. Wiggins, Jr. for introducing me to the art of photography and associating the viewfinder as an act of affection.