To those three or four people who read this column, I sincerely apologize for my absence. Just a reminder, I’m your friendly neighborhood poacher, making a nuisance of myself in snowboarding to finish a book of cultural history. Last time I posted, I was talking about the sweet gig that photographers have. Boy that seems ages ago. I’ve been back in New York now for four months, and sometimes snowboarding seems like part of the already distant future.
Oh, I finished my book. It’s called “Sick” and it only took four months more than it was supposed to. I got back from the West coast around the end of March, missing the best of spring conditions in the Rockies. While I had looked forward to being home with my peoples, snowboarding had changed me. After feeling low-grade alienation for six months, I came home and felt low grade alienation all over again. Let me explain.
Out in the snowboarding world, I was used to being treated like a tourist, someone who can’t understand the real snowboarding. This didn’t bother me. It was really interesting — refreshing even. But it was tiring to be pigeonholed as an uptight, New York writer all the time. It was only in comparison to my surroundings in the mountains that I seemed (even to myself) like such a media-crazed urbanite.
Getting home was going to be a relief, I thought. My friends here understood what I was trying to do with my book (the whole cultural examination thing, the relationship between snowboarding and the rest of American youth culture). However, upon return, I realized that my time away had changed my priorities for the book. Developing relationships with snowboarders and industry people changed everything. They had opened up to me and now I felt indebted to them. In some ways, I had become one of them, a possibility that never occured to me until I received a certain amount of eye-rolling from friends.
For the book, this swticharoo of surroundings was good. While everyone I had been talking to out West was constantly feeding the factual and historical information monster, offering me more stories and characters than my book could ever use, everyone here was checking my perspective and commentary – the other side of the coin. I was getting deep into 8-hour writing days. I was seeing all the holes in my story, all the people I had to leave out and all the missing dates. Everyone else, those who knew nothing about snowboarding, were saying that I had way too much information. A fact of which I was quite aware.
“No one can digest this. You’re thinking too much about what the insiders will think,” my editor would say. “I want to see more drama on these pages. I want to be in suspense. The facts aren’t important. People need to turn the page.” Meanwhile, she had only read 20 pages of the manuscript. She’s not what you might call a “words” type of editor. To be honest, every time I left her office, I felt like I had been tricked, hypnotized into agreeing with her.
Then she told me that the book couldn’t be in color because they wanted to keep it to under $15. “Snowboarders don’t care about color anyway,” she said.
“It’s your writing that’s important.” That’s like the manager guy in Spinal Tap telling the band: “Don’t worry that all your Boston dates are canceled. It’s not a big college town or anything.” I switched editors.
Never mind that I switched editors because my editor quit the company to publish travel guides. Never mind that my project was assigned to her old assistant. Actuallyy, my new editor was like a dream. She was young, smart, much more interested in my book. She was also editing Ricky Powell’s book of hip-hop photography, which was closer to me culturally than travel guides. She got me an extension and a higher price approved for my book which meant that I could use color photos. I spent the month of June in my apartment, sweating over a light box with four fans pointed at different parts of my body. I ate nothing. I drank only iced coffee. I took multiple cold showers every day. I slept only a few hours, awakened by intense anxiety dreams of losing slides. I dreamt of finding random slides in my shoes, between the pages of magazines, in the refrigerator. It’s not fun having 800 slides by the likes Jeff Curtes, Bud Fawcett, Trevor Graves and Justin Hostynek in your Lower East Side apartment when the replacement cost for each is $1500. I was so unsure about the whole system of manila folders that I had going, and spent hours counting to make sure I still had them all. But when I was editing, I got lost for hours at a time in the photos, lost at Island Lake Lodge, or Donner or Baker.
I was obsessing over snowboarding more than ever. It didn’t matter that it was 90 degrees out. Every morning I jumped out of bed to rifle through my manila envelopes for some shot of Rippey, or Lonny Toft, or Jake Blattner that I had dreamt about. I was going crazy. It was taking over. I wouldn’t let anyone come over, lest they would upset the careful balance of snowboarding photos in my apartment. I made frantic phone calls to Jeff Curtes in Wisconsin in the middle of the night. Being in New York yet totally immersed in snowboarding is a weird one. I was feeling crazed for it. I was understanding how all those kids in Southern California feel. Every time I skated over to the coffee place, I would stare at the concrete blurring by me and daydream about how it was dumping at Whistler.
On June 30th, the Fedex guy came to my house and took away 14 packages filled with slides. It felt like the last day of school. I was dancing around my apartment to the last Pavement record, sucking on a Frozefruit, trying to figure out how I could go to New Zealand.
I’m still trying to figure that one out.