This is a chronicle of Consumption. I’m not talking about tuberculosis, but I might as well be. Rather I’m writing about Consumption by Inspiration. The Romantics considered Consumption (the TB kind) a fashionable disease of passion, an inward creative burning and metaphoric devouring of the life force. But the manic fever of creativity is not so glamorous to me. The more details and moving parts a project has, the easier it becomes to experience imagination as an infection, transported by microbes, changing its host. If not properly contained, this type of Consumption can compromise health and relationships.
Consumption starts innocently enough. It simply happens and, before you know it, it takes hold. It makes you do ridiculous things. For example, a few months ago I was feeling crafty and decided to make a holiday diorama. I had a book of dragon mobiles and found some cut and assemble buildings for model train enthusiasts. As I built the reproductions a more elaborate landscape evolved in my mind, one that would need sixty pieces of fire and dozens of fireballs. I would need grass, day and night sky, little people, little trees, little clouds, a moon and lots of petite, burnt birds. As feared, Consumption had set in.
My illness was beginning to rage. I had tried to obliterate it with several bottles of wine and thirty-six binged-watched episodes of TREME, but it was too late, my diorama had transformed into a stop motion animation. Bernie Sanders has gained momentum in the US race for President and I wanted to make a short movie inspired by this success. Just before the year’s end, my vision began to gel. I figured it would take me an evening of moving the dragon around to get the necessary scenes and another day to edit the photos together. Simple.
I finished the animation fifty-one days later. Consumption by Inspiration always begins with Delusion Fever. This is a rousing and dangerous time. Your mind and imagination are churning, you’re synthesizing random ideas, and willfully suffering from visions of grandeur… sure you can make that, easy.
A more evolved version of yourself stands before you, dangling the completed results in your face. Future You has been transformed for the better because of this project. In your altered state you’re high, you’re not thinking straight. The rational brain is cooked from all the inspiration and you willfully overcommit to one elegant leap from here to there. Eventually, the fever breaks and you see things as they are. A vast and inhospitable sea lies between your current predicament and the safe harbor you aim for. The work of accountability begins here. You either stay onboard to make order of the chaos, keeping things afloat, or you abandon ship. These are the options.
I live and work in a small apartment. A guest stays with me for a few weeks each month and there are only three walls in my home that accommodate a project of this size. The process began in the kitchen, by the stove – flammable, but manageable for early tests. I pulled the appliance to the middle of the floor so the project would fit. This rendered the oven unusable, as I could not open the door. The arrangement left a minuscule gap to squeeze by the fridge and the paper backdrop became splattered with food. It was disgusting. Once a lighting kit came into the picture, this site became unbearable.
The set migrated to the den, but here, it blocked the hall connecting the front of the apartment to the back. This left a 3 by 3 foot gap near the floor where I could dive thru to the bathroom. Short on material to adequately block the windows, I committed to sleep by day and photograph by night. I gained more control of the environment this way, but lost track of the number of days I spent in this state. I surmise it lasted a few weeks, until the next visit from my guest. At that point, I was afraid we would murder one another if forced to navigate the space as it was.
The final solution took over my bedroom. I pushed all the furniture to a corner. The arrangement would have to suffice. Each piece of fire required a place to be queued and the bed made an excellent staging area. I could block out the light here, so I resumed daytime photography. At night, I would put away the paper flames and give my guest the bed. This way I could stay up and edit. Eventually, I had the place to myself again, the fire reclaimed the bed and I was banished to the couch. I was wonderfully relieved when photography finally wrapped.
Tiny pieces of paper are not easy to work with, they are precarious and downright cruel. I anchored the trees with four US quarters – the exact amount required to run the washing machine in my building. There is a very steep hill separating the apartment and the closest place I can get change. Every time I got overwhelmed, I was tempted to abandon production and demolish the town, if only to more conveniently launder my underwear.
If this sounds like self-inflicted inconvenience, it is, as is all art that has to be tiptoed around, or packed up and put away frequently. Consumption can feel carefree, but once the sickness subsides the patient returns to reality. The aftermath must be lived in or cleaned up. I suppose this is where the initial euphoria ends and industry begins, if one stays the course.
Eventually 5,505 photos were completed, imported and organized. 2,787 survived the cut and were cleaned up, renamed, and sequenced into one hundred clips I used to build the final edit. Conceptualizing a project is satisfying, but the biggest rewards are dispensed via inventive breakthroughs.
Small spaces foster awkward working conditions – bending, crouching, leaning. I found it easier to control things when I was present, accepting, methodical in my movement and tracking. Applying measured breathing allowed me to improve motor control and engaging my core helped with stamina for sequences that required long periods to execute. Each time I had to breakdown, move, and reassemble the set, I discovered a new technique that made the next steps less challenging, like photographing a sequence in reverse or upside down.
Consumption by Inspiration is exasperating, but can it be avoided? One can only get better at sparing themselves and others. Recovery time improves with repetition, still this sickness will test your patience, your friendships and unhinge the most chill of roommates. It will inconvenience your family, it will neglect your pets, and it will turn romantic partners, once totally enamored with your work, into saboteurs. This is why creative types need a dedicated workspace, if only to quarantine ourselves from those we care about, once we’ve been ravaged with Consumption.
Full Bern is the result of my most recent bout with Consumption. It is intended as an homage to the smoldering success of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. The project contains models from the books Dragon Mobiles by Anne Wild and An Early New England Seaport in H-O Scale by Edmund V. Gillon Jr.