Memo da fé for McKendree Robbins Long
Begin with the spirits of turpentine, the apocalypse intoxication of a boy: 406 Davie Avenue Statesville, upstairs studio of McKendree Robbins Long.
Once a boy recognizes his face is a facet of the world that has many names to which it answers, he begins to wonder why the name he was given matters—
¿Robert Hill Long who is?
When he entertains this ¿bewilderment? much that was moored to his name—material things, memories, anniversaries, other lifelong names and faces—may drift loose.
May become transparent.
An eye for an I.
The world floats toward him, timeless, unbounded—
Air and space and light.
The alternative? boy in a bubble of blinding exceptionalism.
Name and story as obstacles, impediments, reduced to declarative surface and mass.
To block light, warmth, vista.
And these name-stories, because they have will and the power to follow their will–
can decide to countermove ¿Robert Hill Long who is? to block
any Eye for I movement he makes to see into and through the world—
transparencies and translucencies that attract him though they in no way need him, or others like him, to continue their timeless existence.
He loses interest in living with opacity of obstacles. yet more desire to live in a world that is open, transparent, translucent, he may see that maintaining ¿Robert Hill Long who is?
for the sake of the ¡eye for an I! he was given to make, to defend, to justify, means continuing to struggle with the opacities, the obstacles, rather than step away from them into simple light or shadow, warmth or cool, in the transparent world.
He may see that, for the sake of the importance of his name and what was apparently important to it, he was committed to conflict, to confrontation, resentment, recrimination, arrogance, suffering, anger, self-pity, greed, envy, pride, and more.
That this became a lifelong habit.
He may see that the retiring of this lifelong habit and the abuses of its practices and illusions is possible, feasible, comfortable, spiritual, simple.
He may freely desire this.
He may see, at this latest moment in his paradoxically ever-lengthening, increasingly-abbreviated life, that this process is a proper or at least useful description of “retirement.”
A form of retreat from the ego’s long struggle to get the world to acknowledge it for its own sake, from passions that entailed suffering, abuse, illusion, delusion.
He may see the history of ¿Robert Hill Long who is? from a free and natural distance—
the way a deer at evening might see a freight train.
Tremendous noise pulling a long line of fights and flights that are no use to the deer.
In the train’s engine, the engineer may glimpse the deer, and may feel a pang of joy or of envy, but the engine itself must keep moving its train.
The living engine cannot comprehend that being confined to a very narrow track, designed expressly to keep it moving with its baggage, deprives engineer and passengers of simply getting out now and forever—
Into the country of deer.
That which exists without need for an engine to run it, bring it loads of useless stuff, spoil its environment, and so on.
¿Robert Hill Long who is?, though, can get off the train.
A human tired of being an engineer can walk in that open country like a deer for a very short time, and realize something valuable: the deer it glimpsed has no name other than the name of all its kind.
The deer is all deer–and the world where they live. The self is its other selves, and the world where they mysteriously live on even after they have died or vanished beyond horizons. The name the ego was given and struggled to maintain ceases to mean or matter much, if at all. Anonymity and enlightenment go hand in hand, right foot, left foot, right eye, left eye.
Family can be part of the self or part of the ego. To the extent that family is about egos, it is a multiplier of illusion, obstacle, opacity, conflict, suffering. And the converse is equally true, but with this distinction: there is a possibility that the light of the world can be more focused, and also more widely dispersed, as it comes and goes through selves that value transparency, translucency, empathy, freedom from conflict, abuse and all that deadens or deludes.
If there is a spectrum that ranges from transparency to opacity, from freedom to imprisonment, what is true of self at one end and ego at the other is also true in relationship, friendship, work, society, ideas. And if there is dissonance or dysfunction in any of these, it will affect all the others, more or less. The life as self will seek or flow toward consonance in all relations, if in its life as ego it knew more dissonance than not, or reached a point where dissonance created disease, dysfunction, disinterest. It will want, at the very least, to choose–at this latest moment forward into the days that remain–where, when, how, why and with whom any further dissonances occur.
By which I mean Robert is less attached to ¿Robert Hill Long who is?
I am she as you are we: less attached to the life of my ego, to the egos of friends, family, colleagues, public figures, and all that maintaining and observing those histories of ego entail.
I do not know where the life of the self is going save more deeply into artlessness—
representing all beyond ¿Robert Hill Long who is? in simultaneous possibility—
childlike, ageless, human, animal, atmospheric, tragic, comic, ironic, wondering, detached, nameless, unnameable.
The unterrifying infinity and eternity of these spaces: their song and silence.
This is fulfillment and of never ending delight though the life associated with my name will end as indeed all the lives associated with my so-called life have their simultaneities, .
The deer is watching you—
all you deer who watch over Robert.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. —Mahatma Gandhi
By the time I was born, he had abandoned academic portrayal to become what we now call an outsider artist–visionary and evangelical, painting dreams, desires, revelations, and historical nightmares. In his role as Grandmac, he is the vivid stage manager of imagination, as dramatic a visual storyteller as a grandchild of 5 can imagine.
When he died in 1976, I had begun publishing poetry. That was my artlife for decades: publications, books, awards. Not long ago, during a health crisis, I took leave from writing, and in convalescence began to see how that life had grown inextricable from crises not only of health but of spirit.
It was then the muse of photography opened a door in the air, and I walked through, into new art, new life. I had reached the age when my grandfather radicalized his art, but the timing was no coincidence: he was, in the truest sense, prophetic. His last words to me–face shining, undimmed by dementia–were “You are an artist!” Moments after he died (many hours before I knew his death as fact), he traveled a dream to stand over my bed, arms raised in blessing.
Why do I photograph?
Because my grandfather showed me, while my clay was still wet and impressionable, that making images with all your spirit and strength and desire is worth a lifetime.
Why do I photograph?
To make moments of light memorable; to give shadows their proper mortal heft. To bear witness to what blossoms and passes daily, eternally, outside my skin.
Why do I photograph?
To stop time–and in so doing, to breathe in timelessness: whose many faces behold you and me at every moment.