Issue #62: My battery is dead and this walk is getting cold
+ Living with the 'big lie,' playing 'Finite and Infinite Games,' Amazing photojournalists and links!
|Bryan Formhals||Jan 10||4||2|
Hello! Thanks for tuning in again. I’m Bryan and this is my newsletter on walking, photography, big lies and infinite games.
The day after the insurrection at the US capitol I was out walking in Sunnyside, the neighborhood where I live in Queens. I walked past the park on Skillman Ave, and overheard two older gentlemen speaking while their dogs ran around in the dog park.
“I’m not for that stuff, just because their side does it, doesn’t mean we should too.”
It was a casual conversation, nothing heated. Two old neighborhood friends speaking about the events of the day. I contemplated speaking up for a moment, but then thought better of it. I wasn’t surprised by what I heard. Even though the neighborhood is repped by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, there’s still a sizable number of Trump supporters.
That’s important to remember. There are Trump supporters in every neighborhood, in every major Democratic city. It doesn’t matter how liberal the neighborhood might be, there are pockets of conservatives. We are intertwined all across the country.
January 6, 2021 will forever be remembered as a turning point for the United States. What’s unsettling right now is we don’t know what happens next. We’re in the middle of it, watching most of this now play out in the media and on social media.
The photography from the day will be etched in our psyche for years to come. There were photographers covering the event that could have easily been killed while making sure we have a visual historical record. They have far more courage than me, and I commend them for their dedication to an industry that often doesn’t reward them enough for the risks they take.
We’re going to see these photographs and videos repeatedly for months, if not years. They will be a major part of the campaign ads we see in the 2022 election. It’s all set. This is the defining event, the break, the new chapter.
But the visual I haven’t been able to shake isn’t even a photograph. It’s a screenshot of a post in what I think is 4chan or 8chan. I don’t know I’m an old and don’t frequent either forum.
It feels weird to even have it in my newsletter, but this is part of the history too. It’s in these forums and groups where the right-wing alternate reality has been created and metastasized into physical violence. It’s been building for years, and you don’t really need to be extremely online to have seen it coming.
As someone who does probably spend too much time online, I often wonder about my own alternate reality on the internet. How do my choices of what I consume prevent me from accessing other realities?
I like to think we’re all capable of still connecting with the physical world. Then again, one thing we need to be careful about is the belief that what we do online has no physical consequences. It does, which is why it’s vital we think about how we construct our online lives.
I walk for all sorts of reasons but sitting at the top is my desire to not be connected to a screen consuming and inputting information. The inputs we receive when outside, connected to public space and nature are often far more interesting than anything we consume through a screen. That’s my bias! But I’m sticking with it.
And yet, here I am sending this to you through a screen. Like I said, how do you really escape it?
Back to the meme. It’s the last line that gets me: “the sun is going down and it’s getting cold.”
In one of the threads, I learned about the origins of the meme which is from the last days of the Mars Rover. The rover didn’t actually say that but the metaphor for me is brutal. Eventually, the batteries die and there is no one to save you. You are dead, either physically or metaphorically.
Whether we’re at that point with the alternate Trump reality is doubtful. Perhaps the most radicalized will be silenced, but 74 million people still believe in the ‘big lie:’ the idea that the election was stolen.
In the New York Times, historian and journalist Timothy Snyder writes about ‘The American Abyss’ and what happens now that the Republican Party is split by the ‘big lie.’ The article will give you plenty to think about, and then you’ll realize this is far from over. The ‘big lie’ is with us now.
America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to facts as a public good. The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibility. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.
When Saturday arrived, I woke up early for my long walk. It was much needed. Three days of doomscrolling had zapped walking time during the week. I was feeling depleted and knew a long walk was exactly what I needed to recharge.
I walked over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan on my way to Central Park. I was starting to feel good, picking up on some project ideas I’d been ignoring all week. But it was hard to get my mind off the events of the week. I have a bad feeling in my stomach about the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration. It’s going to be tense.
As I got over the bridge, I pulled out my phone, and realized my battery was down below 20%. Time to turn the music off and charge up. I tapped my pocket and realized I’d forgotten the bulky portable battery charger that goes with me on every long walk.
It was the first time I’d forgotten it. I had to laugh at myself. Subconsciously I must have wanted to be without my phone. No phone meant the walk wouldn’t be tracked on Strava. I wouldn’t be able to make notes or look up the nearest public restroom.
I took it as a sign. This was the lesson for the day. I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind to make some walks without my phone to see how that would change the experience of the walk, so this was a spontaneous test run. Good time. I felt unmoored and anxious. This is absurd I said to myself!
It’s impossible to get lost in Manhattan. But that wasn’t it. I felt that without tracking it on Strava, I wouldn’t have a record of it. I wouldn’t have a goal. It made me realize how deeply ingrained this part of the process had become over the last couple of years.
I literally needed to track myself and collect digital data to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Art requires you to live in an imaginary world part of the time (maybe most of time.) For many of us, that’s where we make the creative connections that push us to keep making new work. But we all know that the imaginary world is also partly a ‘big lie.’
What’s the lie? Well, I think the lie is different for every artist. What’s your deception? For me, the lie I tell myself is that at some point all of the time I’ve spent making photographs, working on books, consuming art and photography will pay off materially some way. There will be a reward.
That is a lie. There probably never will be. There is no entitlement. There are more deserving photographers and artists. And if it doesn’t, that doesn’t equal failure. The finite game will often lead you to disappointment.
One of my favorite books is ‘Finite and Infinite Games’ by James Carse. It was a gift from my aunt, who was a journalism professor, and keen observer of history. It’s a brilliant book.
A finite game is a game we play with an ending. A finite game is getting paid for your work. It’s achieving financial success. It’s gaining accolades. We all know these games. In our current capitalist economic system, you are either skilled at these games or you become economically marginalized and isolated.
Infinite games are far more interesting. These are the games with no ending. Art is an infinite game. You can keep playing for as long as you are alive. Finding your creative voice is an infinite game. Walking is an infinite game. Connecting with like-minded peers in an infinite game.
I like to think my infinite games keep me grounded. But I don’t know. Maybe that’s the big lie too.
I stood on this rock and thought about the ‘big lie.’ The belief that the election was stolen really isn't the big lie. We all know the true ‘big lie’ is white supremacy, and here I am standing on a rock in Central Park telling myself something I already know as fact.
We’ve been warned about the ‘big lie’ of white supremacy for going on hundreds of years in this country! People of color and black Americans have told us explicitly since the day Trump took office that he was a white supremacist and that this was going to end horribly. We didn’t take it nearly seriously enough, even if we think we did, we didn’t. Clearly. Obviously. Shamefully.
As I was meandering through Central Park, I remembered that I’d taken a similar walk back on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s first inauguration. I hiked up to Fort Tryon Park and through Inwood Park, and then back down to Midtown where the anti-Trump protest was happening. I didn’t join, but observed from the sidewalk.
I don’t why, but I feel there’s a strange, disconcerting symmetry between that day and January 6, 2021. Red hot anger and fear expressed through public protest, except one side chose to move from speech to violence.
We can’t be naive enough to think the United States has lost its innocence. That’s absurd. Political violence has been a part of this country since the beginning. Will that change after January 6? I don’t know. I don’t think so and I can’t shake the chill I feel knowing that right now.
I walked for another hour, my battery was dead, and I was getting cold.
I’m not too worried about not having a record of my walk. It might be time to pay more attention to the infinite games.
Some more stories I bookmarked from the week:
Photographer Louie Palu for NatGeo: Inside the Capitol: ‘It was the ugliest moment I have ever seen in America’
Photographer Ron Haviv for New Republic: A War Photographer Embeds With the Capitol Hill Mob
I’m an photographer, writer and editorial strategist in New York City. This is my newsletter on art, walking, and mindfulness. Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Instagram & Twitter