LOULOU'S ALIBI

Lucas Valley Road (LVR) in San Rafael, California winds around rolling hills and very tall trees.

Last night around nine I took a drive down LVR to get away from the high-eighties heat baking Northern California. Its location and geography offer an almost sixteen degree drop in temperature compared to the surrounding area.

My pseudo scientific take, it has to do with the way the breeze from the ocean blows through the valley combined with the canopy of shade provided by the tall trees during the day.

The effect is incredible. A cool ambient temperature interrupted by an occasional warm gust amidst the vibrant sounds of all the wild critters and creatures that roam the night.

Just back from two weeks in Peru. Ten days of that was deep in the Amazon basin about three hours from Pucallpa on the boiling river. A pump pulled our drinking and shower and toilet water from a part the river that runs at 100° F. The less hot spot. The very hot spot, 203° F, was where we disinfected our clothes which were steeped in jungle funk—body odor mixed with persistent mildew owing to the hot and humid conditions.

I don't want to say the conditions were challenging, it’s too judgmental of a word. But they did require some adaptation and a different way of thinking. One that led to wildly different perspectives and insights for everything in my life.

I didn’t find the almighty (choose your religion here), and I didn’t find myself. What I did discover was a stunningly beautiful environment that only cares if you're edible. An environment where survival requires a lot of common sense and trusting your instinct. Which, as it turns out, when constantly brought to the fore, really opens your mind.

Made a decision to delete as much of my past work from the internet as possible. This wasn’t a hundred percent successful. Search engines still manage to unearth a few pieces on lingering defunct online publications that I have no access too, or, who ignored me when I asked if they would delete my stuff. But, for the most part, the vast majority of my online writing is kaput.

The stuff that appeared in print. Well, one can peruse the periodical archives at the library. Same goes for the internet archive. Enter my name, do a little click-digging, et voila. But that requires effort where my intent is to avoid accidentally bumping into my old work. Sort of like asking a party host if your ex is invited before committing to attend their soirée.

As to the why behind this, I can only say I’m trying to close a chapter. It was a good chapter, brilliant in a lot of ways, but it’s done now.

As humans, I’m not sure we're meant to have our previous lives so accessible as they are online. It’s one thing to pour a whiskey and pull out a photo album to traipse down amnesia lane. It’s quite another to constantly bump into your history while living in the present which is a journey to your future which is purposely different from your past. While it’s true our previous experiences make us who we are, it’s also true that a huge part of that process relies on the perception of our memories.

A while back I wrote a mini memoir about my first photojournalism assignment in the Soviet Union in 1989. It came out “fine.” Michael, the agent who launched my photography career, an effusive man with an angry disposition toward mediocrity, used to say “fine” is a four letter word. He insisted my work be flawless or nonexistent. It was harsh and demanding but pushed me to produce beyond what I thought my capabilities were.

Occasionally I’ll go back and read parts of the Russia piece. Each time I do I think, it’s not bad...it’s fine.

Ugh.

This morning I read a letter from music producer Steve Albini to Nirvana entitled “I would like to be paid like a plumber.” In it the following caught my attention:

If the record takes a long time, and everyone gets bummed and scrutinizes every step, then the recordings bear little resemblance to the live band, and the end result is seldom flattering.

There is the truth I’ve been seeking.

The memoir took way longer than it should’ve. I started and stopped it at least a dozen times owing to the chaos of my life that year. The result was a lot of second guessing and indecision. I got it done in the end, but it could of been better than “fine.”