Map Inset: Kansas – A Video Essay

This video-essay and the accompanying essay on the process of crafting this piece were published by Electric Literature!

A woman, a dog, the open road & the things we carry to the middle of nowhere

A video essay? A photo essay in video form? A lyric essay in filmstrip form? Whichever way, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

How Did We Get Here? Notes on Craft & Process

Once upon a bleak set of years, I did nothing but drive back and forth across the country. I had no job, no house, no partner, no plan, and, in the wake of various concurrent losses, I no longer had faith in my own desires.

On one of these junkets, I pulled over at a roadside rest stop in Kansas. The landscape reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, and so I tied the dog to a picnic bench, set up a timer shot, and somehow spent hours trying to reenact the painting. At some point later on, I tweaked the color on a single shot, posted it to Facebook, and promptly forgot that this particularly lonesome day (and its attendant series of photos) had ever happened.

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

When I first sat down to write about these dog days of roaming, I went poking around an old back-up drive and discovered the forsaken photos I’d taken that day.

The images are poorly lit and lackluster, and they certainly don’t get into the logistical grit of the drama going on in my life at the time, but, true to the old creative-writing adage show-don’t-tell, the photos manage to conjure the emotional truth of the story without explicitly stating a thing.

The isolation is clear in the landscape. The repeated attempts to get the perfect shot reveal a mounting desperation. The light changes; the sun fades. The sheer number of shots belies the fact that I had nowhere to go and no burning desire to get anywhere.

I wrote a brief essay-ish sort of piece, almost as if captioning a contact sheet, but it was difficult to read on a small screen, so I tried to find a form that would function in service of both image and text.

Video essay? Slideshow narrative? Lyric filmstrip? I’m not sure what to call it, but even with the rudimentary skills I was able to work up in the crash course of a 14-day software trial, as is often the case with revision, this exercise in form furthered my own understanding of the story at hand.

Some shots were taken in such rapid succession that by setting them in video sequence, it’s almost as if I’m reset in motion. This animated humanity and my voice on the audio track, bring to the project an intimacy that I find both strange and pleasing. This pit stop in Kansas marks what I can only hope is the loneliest I’ll ever be; the dog was the only one to hear my voice not just for those hours in the field, but for days. By offering a belated chance to both speak and move, the multi-media form seems to do more than just capture the experience I had with the dog the day we got stuck in that field; it somehow seems to release us from it.

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