Abbie’s room is a darkroom in the trust sense: absent of color, a space-like void, and in the sense that all of his work, all of his manipulations, his editing, the work that transforms a picture into a photograph, is done in this space, in this darkness. In his room.
The centre of the room is lit by three monitors, and by Abbie’s laptop, which is usually on his bed, or on the floor by the bed. And his tablet, which is almost always on his bed. And his phone, which is always by his side. And because the room is screenlit the light, when there is any, is blue, a cool light that bathes the darkness in an otherworldliness, like a cartoon villain’s icy lair. Abbie refers to his room as a lair. He has since he was a child, in order to scare Dee, so she would stay out. But his room is not evil. It houses magic.
Abbie performs many ablutions to each of his photos, and each of these requires study and contemplation and effort and vision. Saul may use words like “art” but Abbie speaks of work, without purpose, which Saul says is another definition of art.
Bobby once wondered if he could rewire the house, or at least the meter, just to find out what percentage of the house’s electrical usage originated in Abbie’s room. He was curious, not dismissive, but one sensed that the curiousity, once satisfied, would lead to dismissal. Or worse.
And these things Abbie does, this work, for he sees it as a form of work, a hobby that has evolved into the very definition of work, except for the theory that all work should be compensated, and that likes or hearts or upturned thumbs, or heart shaped emojis are not compensation of any sort, they are compliments, and easy ones, and even those compliments that were sincere, and Abbie had no doubt that many of them had been sincere, he had counted them, after all, meaning they were worth, what to him, something, surely, strangers reaching out across the ether to push a button, to acknowledge, that even though you are a stranger your work was worth at least the push of a button. Abbie understood how stupid that sounded, how cheap it felt, but that was today’s currency, the internet allowed one to express feelings without effort, without consequence, and that’s all it offered, for good and bad.
Following this form of currency, Abbie could consider himself wealthy. Though he didn’t. Because his pockets remained lined with intentions and intentions alone. Digital love never put food on anyone’s table. He couldn’t see what he was doing as anything more than a step. Toward what he didn’t know. Everyday he asked himself when he would stop this, when he might return to school and study something that might lead to something tangible, acceptable, his father had used that word once, school was created to get you an acceptable job — he had said this as a kind of validation for school and the system — and to allow you to live an acceptable life, the kind of thing that kept us going, us meaning the world, and Abbie had managed not to laugh, or lash out, because what his father was saying was so obviously ridiculous. But then he navigated the rocky field of his own self-doubt everyday, the questioning of not just his work, and there was that word, always, looming, a vulture awaiting carrion, but also the path he seemed to be on, how alone he felt, how eternal being alone felt. Always.
Abbie was not scholarly, though he always achieved good grades, or social, despite almost always being the most pleasant person in the room. Saul was his only true friend, the only one who Abbie felt comfortable enough confiding in, about anything, and there was something about Saul’s combination of intense familiarity and absolute otherness that allowed Abbie to see him as his confessor. The two of them had known each other for as long as they had known of the world. And Abbie found in Saul a level of friendship that he’s not sure he had bothered to seek from anyone else. Abbie was a person of acquaintances. And now he was also a person who had decided not to attend college, to take photos of smokestacks in gentrifying corners of Montreal, and to post them online, for strangers around the world to see and, if they were so obliged, to approve of, with a tap. Or a stroke. Or a push.
Abbie is 18 and he doesn’t know whether that means he can continue searching his heart for his place in the world or if he has to make decisions and sit down and get to work. His mother is a searcher and always has been; if she is here, in Montreal, it is because she found herself here and allowed herself, her life, to happen. His father is a searcher thwarted, a man who imposed a way of life on himself and then convinced himself he was happy. Neither of his parents have anyone else to blame for their mistakes. And their search, their mistakes, their meeting, has resulted in this: Abbie, alone in his room, staring at a photo of a smokestack, wondering if the sky is not blue enough, if the contrast between the smokestack and the buildings surrounding it is not high enough, if the saturation of the orange tint from the sunshine is warm enough to express what Abbie wants to express here, the mix of decay and rebirth, the marriage of old and new, the permanence of loss. Society’s failure of remembrance. The meaning of progress. And its inevitability.
The phone buzzes and it’s a text from Saul. He wants to know if Abbie wants to come over and watch TV. Saul knows Abbie doesn’t watch TV but this, too, is part of the friendship, Saul will keep asking and Abbie will come up with another dumb excuse and perhaps one day, when the cosmos is aligned in a particular way, Abbie will say yes, in the manner that perhaps one day Charlie Brown will kick the football though we know that will never happen because Charles Schultz is dead.
I’m this close to solving the Palestinian issue, Abbie texts and Saul returns this with a LOL. Abbie checks his email. Half the new email is spam. Another three are notifications from social networks he has long abandoned but never deleted. There is one from a stranger. He opens it.
Dear Abbie Jones,
I am writing from the Galerie de la Man in Mile End. Some months ago, a colleague brought your work to my attention and I must now admit to being an admirer, and wonder if you already enjoy representation at the gallery level. My research indicates that you do not but I have to admit my research was cursory: ie: I Googled you. The Galerie de la Man has long championed young artists of all expressive fields and mediums, this is, indeed, our specialty, and then using our extensive PR skills to create the proper buzz and to launch careers. While I do not know what your plans are for your photographs, or if you are indeed serious about them, there is a quality to your work that demands attention. In any case, if you are amenable to it, let’s talk. Please call to arrange a meeting. I promise to keep it casual.
Etienne de Bosch
Abbie puts the phone down. And then he leans back until he falls to the carpet. He picks up his phone and reads the email again. He doesn’t know if he is breathing, the physics of life are suddenly unknown to him, or more mysterious than they were a moment ago. Before the email. He texts Saul. He tells him he’s coming over.
And then he closes his eyes and imagines things he never thought he had the right to imagine. Of being invited to a party he didn’t even know existed. Of success, even though he is uncertain what that means. Of being adored in person. Of people throwing themselves at him because his work moves them to do so. Of what it means to do what he does and realizing he has to figure this out for himself. Of entering something, a room, where everyone is clothed but him. Of becoming a photographer without knowing the first thing about photography; he is self taught, after all, and hasn’t much been interested in the history of his hobby. Just chimneys.
He laughs. He laughs because he has become insecure so quickly, by an email, nothing more. He needs to speak to Saul.