This is What’s Inspiring me Today (Part 2).
Linh Dinh is obsessed with the things that everyone else turns away from. Which also happen to be the things that we stare at, hard, when we think no one else is watching. Linh Dinh is obsessed with porn and poop and fat and homelessness. With disheveled bodies and the boundaries that define what’s “unseemly” and “appropriate.” He seeks discomfort, and finds it all too easily.
In other words, he keeps his eyes open and looks.
Today, I’m inspired by his “State of the Union” photoblog, where he posts arresting snapshots from the sidewalks of cities around the country. He captures vacant lots and doorways, the people who live in them and those who pass by. Each image seems to whisper, “You walked by something similar just yesterday,” and then, “you didn’t even seem to notice.”
I first encountered Linh Dinh through his poetry—titles like “All Around what Empties Out” and “Some Kind of Cheese Orgy”—and as a writer of fiction and a translator of contemporary Vietnamese work. (I also saw him read last week as a guest of Naropa’s Summer Writing Program.) In his writing, as in his photoblog, he likes to make his audience squirm, and also laugh, and maybe widen our eyes a bit along with a sharp inhale.
Whether visual or written, his work is fascinated with the boundaries between public and personal space, the lines that divide outcasts from the accepted mainstream. That define what and who is worth noticing, and what is better by-passed.
I’m inspired by Dinh’s obvious respect for people who either refuse to or are unable to live by the norms pressed upon them—people whose personal lives lie strewn about on public sidewalks, for example, or vacant lots that are relegated to hosting piles of abandoned tires or appeals for “Three Hundred Dollar Divorces.” Offering scenes in which the people involved are often not acknowledging each other, he asks us to witness things that we might otherwise be inclined to ignore.
And suddenly we are faced with something fresh. Or at least something raw and real. Perhaps even tender-hearted. If we can see it, using our eyes without furrowing the brows above them, or slapping on a label right away.
One of the quotes that I live by (it’s pasted in large font on a stickie note on my desktop, and written in various forms throughout the notebooks that I keep) comes from Tibetan-born Buddhist meditation teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche:
Look. This is your world! You can’t not look. There is no other world.
What does it mean to open the front door (that consummate boundary between “us” and “them”) and step onto the sidewalk, approaching our world in this way?
How many of us, actually, are looking?
All photos from Linh Dinh’s “State of the Union” photoblog. You can support his project by donating or ordering a print.