What’s your escape aesthetic?
I love movies by John Cassavetes. Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, Husbands… fading in and out of shadow and light, the characters of Cassavetes’ films come alive in all their craggy, porey glory.
This cinematic style of closeups, long-drawn-out moments, shadow and light, serves to expose the vicissitudes of these humans living in the wild, uncertain place between the social norms of conventional society and total freedom.
The emotions that flit over the features of these characters make them vibrant to behold on-screen, though from a moral standpoint, many of Cassavetes’ characters are far from perfect.
My penchant for appreciating imperfections carries over to my musical tastes – I’ll take Wayne Coyne’s tremor, or Dylan’s nasality over the groomed vocals of Josh Groban anyday – and onto my family members and loved ones. My mother has impeccable handwriting, but I love her best for the gaspy, choky, girlish laugh she’ll let out when she’s caught off-guard by something funny. It’s like she forgot how to laugh between her last laugh and the present one, and you feel all the more special for making her remember. And while I generally feel confident in myself and my abilities, I think I find the deepest joy in being me is when I’m struggling to successfully navigate a new situation. Getting out of my element keeps me fresh.
It is only through noting the flaws and hiccups and idiosyncrasies of life that I am able to realize the richness of humanity. But appreciating all this human texture sometimes bankrupts my patience and empathy reserves, because inevitably, other people’s emotions and reactions — the offense they may take or the misunderstandings that can occur — can become exhausting to maneuver.
And that’s when I escape into nature.
Nature has idiosyncrasies all its own, but nature exhibits an absence of ego, motive… instead, there is order. Everything simply is, and you can choose to complain about the unchangeable, or appreciate it for what it is.
Amid the natural embrace of an incredibly wild island, Isla Palenque, covered in untouched jungles at the height of their green season profusion of growth, I found my escape. One that engaged me from that deep place where Cassavetes, Dylan, my mother’s laugh, and my self-image live.
The photo shows the moment at which it dawned on me. I had just taken a sweaty hike through the aforementioned overgrown jungle, ducking under spiderwebs, peeling back leaves to expose the trail before me. My eyes trained on the red earth under my feet as it swam beneath each footstep, and I chugged more water to replenish what was pouring from my skin. (I think my deskbound daily life had me a little out of shape; it wasn’t all that difficult a hike.) As the trail took a final upward turn, a speck of sky hinted at the openness beyond the edge of the jungle and I made the last few steps of the ascent. Into this natural clearing, tufted by strong spiky grass and speckled with volcanic pebbles, I was overcome by the wildness of every element in this place. It was majestically beautiful, and yet imperfect. Nothing was manicured or manufactured about its greenery, the natural landscaping like Gena Rowlands’ disheveled beauty projected onto nature in random-sprouting flowers, chaotically-strewn volcanic rocks, and a sea turtle surfacing in the waves below at a new location every couple of minutes. Unpredictable and wild, and blowing every connotation of the word “paradise” out of the water – or rather, out of the blowhole.
And unlike the people whose natural beauty I appreciate, this place had no message or motive to get across. No motivation, no agenda, no personal identity to maintain. It simply opened itself to me, quietly and unrelentingly. I moved down the steep cliffside onto a rock below where the mist of the blowhole could reach me, and I stood in its spray, and I found escape in the vibrant immutability of the wilds.
On the side of a bluff plunging towards the sea that was utterly spectacular in its natural state, I listened to the rhythmically-crashing waves and heard the song of the people I love, and why I love them.