The Poet and I are in his darkroom developing prints from his recent trip to Santa Fe.
He removes film from a yellow cassette and unrolls it until he reaches the plastic rod in the center. Cutting the tape from the plastic, he deftly wraps the film around a reel.
Poet, why do I foist the responsibility for my creativity onto the shoulders of others? Why can't I empathize that they've their own creative projects to fret over and breathe into life? Instead, I stew in the stagnant puddle of my literary inadequacy.
He places the reel in the bottom of the film tank and covers it tightly with the lid before answering.
It’s easy to indulge in melodramatic bouts of unrequited affection. A million times easier than sitting down to try and create something new. Creativity requires courage, to dive deep into who you are and aren’t. To explore the zeitgeist and the tweaks and contributions you’d love to make to it.
Write what you like and do your best to impart your narrative voice onto the page. Enjoy the niftiness of your prose, the simple rhyme schemes as they unfurl line by line. Remain unconcerned with pure originality.
Before re-imagining a medium, you must understand how it works. What makes it tick, its little quirks. Where it goes for a cheeky chocolate milkshake on occasion. The second-hand bookstore it frequents, hoping to catch the eye of the cute girl working there.
She’s always reading Vonnegut or Burroughs or some long-dead Russian you've never heard of. Now, don’t get particularly invested in trying to sleep with her. Just take comfort in the fact that she buries her face behind a book in the same manner as you.
With the film stored safely, the Poet flicks the lights on. He indicates for me to handle the rest of the process.
I mix 16 fluid ounces of film developer solution with 16 ounces of water in a metal container. The mixture’s temperature is a perfect 68° F and ready to pour into the film tank. Careful not to loosen the main lid sealing the tank shut, I remove the thin plastic lid on top of it. I pour the mixture into the larger lid’s hole and cover it again. A timer is set for eight minutes.
The Poet continues supervising impassively.
So recognizing my conformity makes me more powerful?
No, it teaches you self-possession. The creator learns to tolerate and appreciate solitude. You must steer away from the masses. Until then, you're but an echo of others. Amongst the crowd, you forget your uniqueness. You jostle for acclaim.
It's in that precious time away that the grime clears from your eyes. Revealed are the mannerisms, affectations, dramas, lies, secrets, and loves told and retold. Reenacted and recreated for thousands of years. The game carrying on beautifully.
Our roles in the play change but never the stage. The rules are burnt, rewritten, then codified into law. Doubling down on our non-realities, lest our mask slips off and expose us to the world. We laugh, knowing the absolute absurdity of it all, and play our parts with renewed gusto.
Are they too intoxicated by illusion to notice?
While the Poet speaks I agitate the film, twirling the tank in my hands to spread the developer mixture. It's agitated for half a minute, rested on the counter for 20 seconds, and agitated again for 10 more. For each of the remaining seven minutes, I rest the film for 50 seconds and agitate it for 10.
But if I’m masked, who'll see the real me?
Perhaps those who've nipped off out the back for a quiet cig. Your brothers-in-arms and cousins of non-attachment. They don’t act from places of illusion towards you. They do not seek your approval, nor do you seek theirs.
They teach you to stop seeing life through egoic filters. With the sincerity of their actions, your internal narrative atrophies. The ego requires the unconscious motivations of other actors to survive. It’s a weed, a ravenous parasite that needs new hosts to satiate its competitive desires.
With the initial agitation complete, I pour out the developer mixture. To prevent any overdeveloped film, I add a stop bath mixture and agitate the tank for 30 seconds. The stop bath is then swapped for the fixer, a chemical that ensures light exposure won’t ruin the film. Finally, I agitate the tank for three minutes.
Why shouldn’t I want to be the best, can’t that inspire higher quality work?
Because intention for recognition fractures your creative energy. It dissuades you from sharing your true self with the world. When people stop misrepresenting themselves, you'll see into their hearts. You’ll discover the beautiful, golden light pulsing in their souls as it does in yours.
Your heart cries out for emancipation from its cocoon of insincerity. To blossom into the incarnation of supreme consciousness it's meant to be. Don't delay, reclaim your heart from the clutches of that honeyed-tongue usurper, the ego.
Imagination ablaze with images of Reconquista, I empty out the fixer and rinse the film in cold water. It's then soaked in a wetting agent to prevent bubbling.
We’re a helluva long walk from the land of milk and honey. Where's my salvation supposed to come from?
From your creativity. Seeking external validation will inevitably result in rejection. But really, the lack of perceived appreciation hurts only the ego. It's the one calling out for constant admiration. It cannot exist without the craving for recognition. Your heart seeks only love.
When not attracting enough attention, the ego feels it has failed. This sets off the perpetually petty waves of self-indulgence, self-pity, self-loathing, and depression. The ego can't see that love is ever-present in our souls.
I slide the film off the reel and unroll it carefully. I fish for a clip in my pocket and hang the film to dry on the thin clothesline running above our heads. Once dry, I clean and cut the film into negatives before storing them safely.
I wonder if the Poet ever looks at them once they've developed. Maybe he just enjoys weighing the aesthetic consideration before immortalizing something on film.
What if I can't believe that love is ever-present?
Think of the cool breeze, soothing you on a humid day. The sight of hummingbirds, butterflies, lizards, squirrels, blue jays, and spiders. That burst of sunshine warming your face when outside on an overcast morning.
The smiles of strangers, truly, madly, deeply present with their partner. Watch as they lose themselves in the happy pools of each other’s eyes over brunch.
Your friends, thinking of you and reaching out because they miss the way you see the world. The perfect song, coming up on shuffle right as you hit the final stretch of your commute home from work.
We are hyperactive, convinced the only way to get more is to do more. Stop casting your net overboard in search of marooned affection. Violently splashing about in the shallows, you scare off the gentle current of bliss. When you realize all you seek is within, you'll achieve tremendous serenity.
Every stream of love in the Universe shall flow to you forever.