AD as it is

This blog’s about to change. It has to. I don’t have time to work on it anymore.

My habit thus far has been to have a good idea for a post, then ponder it for days, wondering how to start. Then write 2000 words. Then agonize over the draft for a few days or even weeks, editing, revising, polishing, more often than not adding instead of cutting. Then finally, when I have the nerve, publish. Then go on reading over it obsessively and revising a little at a time, while other ideas circulate in my head.

At times I’ve made lists of ideas for entries — up to ten or twelve at a time — then stared at the lists helplessly, knowing my work methods would never support such output. And I go about my day, working, running errands, trying to sleep, and the sheer number of thoughts and ideas I have and how little discipline I have in getting them out is a torment. It feels like not being able to breathe.

All the while knowing that’s not how blogs work. I should have an idea, compose a few thoughts around it, provide an interesting link and an image or two, click publish, boom. Hopefully doing this several times a week, so that my constant readers (all six of them) don’t get discouraged and forget to check for updates.

So the end result has been less like a blog, and more like a collection of essays. And I’m sort of happy with it. I’ve even gotten a number of compliments on my writing. But I’ve never been able to avoid the feeling it’s neither here nor there. I’m not a practiced enough writer (yet anyway) to indulge ambition thus. And what I would be good at — thoughts, impressions, connections — I’m not doing. (I’ve always been better at putting things together — whether cutup pictures in a collage or records in a mix — than I am at composition and raw creation.)

All of this was OK when I was between gigs in Sydney and had all day to sit around and freak out about it. But now it’s got to change; I’m in Abu Dhabi working on publications for a film festival; my free time is like water in my hands. Soon I’ll be working night and day every day. The fact that I’ll be writing for work only makes it certain I won’t have much left for me.

So sooner rather than later, this page is going to become what it always should have been — ideas, links, impressions, associations, a stream of information rather than some sculpted object. Whatever I publish I’ll to have to work fast, cut and run, live off the land, take no prisoners.

Meanwhile. I’ve been back in Abu Dhabi for  a few weeks now. Loving it. And whenever I find some free time, especially early in the morning, I’ve been taking walks. Just enjoying the place and the crazy heat. But also looking around and coming up with ideas to shoot a film. (I know — I’m complaining about how hard it is to work on a blog; meanwhile I’d like to make a film. As you can see, something’s got to give.) I’ve been carrying my iPhone with me, though I have no sim card or data plan, and getting snapshots with its built-in camera whenever I’m inspired. Which is often.

When I was here last year, I did what everyone else does when they take pictures of Abu Dhabi (including the government or any entity involved in marketing the place). I would find a nice green garden or a park, frame a cool-looking building in the background, maybe throw in the Persian Gulf, et voilà. A gleaming postmodern Arabic metropolis, an enchanting vision to make my friends and family wonder what they’re missing.

But this year for a number of reasons I’m driven to show what the UAE is really like, how it really feels. Yeah, there’s a nice-looking building or a garden or a mosque in the distance. But between the broken sidewalk where you’re standing and the thing itself is a good deal of sand and dirt. And rubble, and loose bricks, and machinery, and pieces of plastic, and other pieces of infrastructure and debris from the construction projects that are everywhere, in every direction. There might be a lawn or a garden, but right next to it is more sand. And plastic furniture sitting there for no apparent reason. All of it covered with dust. It’s a postmodern cityscape vying with a desert. Sometimes the desert wins.

Everywhere you go there’s lots of leftover space no one’s sure what to do with. The awkward spaces behind and between buildings; the spaces between sidewalks. They’re like gaps between reality and whatever Abu Dhabi is. Abu Dhabi is posh hotels and perfume and Gehry’s Guggenheim and air conditioning; but it’s also rebar and orange plastic construction barriers and broken air-conditioning units sitting in the street.

And it’s a guy, probably from Pakistan, walking across a barren stretch of dirt, wearing green coveralls, with a checkered cloth tied haphazardly around his head to protect it from the sun. Walking slowly, languidly, you’re not sure if he’s ready to collapse from exhaustion or if he’s just taking his time. And where is he going? Is he on a break? Is he walking a mile to the nearest bus stop?

This is not meant to be cynical. I love this place. It’s weird, but I love it. For some reason, even where it’s awkward or ugly, I’m still psyched about it. For me it’s a visual signifier of a whole range of experiences and thoughts over the past couple of years. Not to mention inspiration for a bigger project.

The iPhone’s photographic capabilities have often been justified with the maxim, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I wish I could claim that — I wish my photos were low-fi in a cool way on purpose. In actuality I’m not a terribly astute photographer and never have been. But I have an eye for… something. And I know it when I see it.

So, for your consideration, a few sketches of Abu Dhabi as it is.

By the way, even this entry is a fabrication, a simulacrum. This is where I was two weeks ago; these photos are from another part of town, another hotel, another state of mind. Now I’m back on the Corniche and I have a tilt-shift generator app for my phone. And I have so many more ideas I feel like smashing something.


1 comment so far

  1. Kathlyn on

    You and a girl named Tavi Gevinson have convinced me, with your blogs, to give up Facebook, take up collage making and start my blog again. I thought I would give it a rest while I was in school, but I miss it and the quality of my writing has totally tanked since I started spending too much time on FB writing dumb snarky-ass comments on everything.

    Thanks man – I miss you guys!


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