The desert is not an easy place; every bit and breath of life here is hard-fought, hard-won.
And yet, it holds a stark and terrible beauty.
We live in the desert. We also live in - or, rather, just outside - an "arts colony" full of wealthy transplants who presume to speak for this place and its people, and who believe they know these high desert lands. They don't.
But here at Daily Kos, there is a Kossack who does know these lands - perhaps because he's truly lived in them, in ways that people who return every night to luxurious homes will never comprehend. I'm talking about desertguy. And he is perhaps the best fine-arts photographer of desert life that I've ever encountered.
Wings and I thought we were going to have the opportunity to meet desertguy - otherwise known as Brian - today, as he pursued a temporary job opportunity in our area.
But the harshness of life in our country's economic desert intervened. And instead, Brian is fighting a double lightning strike: a life-threatening health condition coupled with the loss of the money used for travel arrangements for his planned trip.
And now, opportunities have evaporated like the last runoff on a red-rock mesa in June.
Brian needs help, but he doesn't want what our society so derisively terms "charity" (what I think of as "being our brother's/sister's keeper"). He's been fighting financial battles for a long time now, and in the face of odds that would have broken many people, he's managed to maintain his ability to produce his art. Stunning, haunting, soul-stirring art. Images of life surviving and thriving against the desert's brutal odds. All he needs is to be able to sell it.
Let's make it rain.
MEET THE ARTIST - AND OUR FRIEND
Come - walk with me in the desert, for just a little while. I want you to meet our friend.
His access to the Internet has been sporadic over the last couple of years, but he's managed to build a beautiful Web site to showcase his art. He's also managed to remain a vital part of the Daily Kos community,providing moral support for countless diaries and diarists, buttressed by his stunning photography. He has a genius for choosing images that will bring joy, hope, healing, whatever's needed when a Kossack is feeling low, or for helping those fighting their own battles find reservoirs of strength and courage.
I remember when I finally de-lurked and registered; my first diaries here were in support of navajo's first fundraising drive to provide heat for people on the Dakota reservations who would otherwise have likely frozen to death that winter. And Brian was a fixture in those diaries, always showing up in comments to support our efforts and offer us a little beauty in the midst of a winter horror.
He made me feel welcome here, and he offered me photos in the comment of my diaries that he'd taken of subjects that are significant to our peoples in this area. He also exhibited a sensitivity toward those subjects that I don't often see in non-Indian artists: an ability, and perhaps more important, a willingness, to let those subjects speak for themselves, rather than trying to impose artificial constructs upon them.
Almost a year ago, Brian had nearly reached the end of his rope. He'd already been without an actual home for more than a year, and was trying to earn enough to stay afloat while simultaneously battling a constellation of health issues. I've been there. And the worst is when the depression - perhaps pre-existing, perhaps situational, perhaps purely a byproduct of the physical health issues, but by now, chronic and seemingly insurmountable -gets so bad that there seems to be only one way out. And when you realize that you need $81 to get the two prescriptions that will save your life, and you can't afford it, that way out looks increasingly welcoming. Yeah, I've been there, too.
Brian shoved all that down and reached out, in a diary so raw and honest that it stripped my soul bare. And this community responded, as it is wont to do. And Brian was able to give back, in part by donating his photography to last year's Netroots Nation Holiday Bazaar, the NFTT fundraiser, and other causes.
He donated some of his work to this year's (just-concluded) Netroots Nation auction, too. Ironically, that auction made more off his donated photography than he has made in online sales all summer. We know all too well how tough the market is for artists right now. We live on the edge at the best of times; in an economy like this, we're always halfway over the cliff, grabbing blindly for that edge to keep from falling permanently. But we've been lucky enough to make a few online sales this summer, buttressing what has truly been an abysmal gallery season. Brian? His online sales this summer have totaled $36.
Yes. Thirty-six bucks.
You can't live on that.
You really can't live on that when a health crisis hits.
ONE DOCTOR'S VISIT AWAY FROM DISASTER
In more ways than one.
Brian had a chance to lead a photography tour in the Four Corners region, which would have paid now, and also given him some great new photo opportunities that could have turned into sales down the road. In the meantime, he was hoping to make a little detour to Taos Pueblo for the Feast of San Geronimo, which is today, and visit us at the same time. He was ready to go; he'd even rented a car to make the trip.
And then a week or so ago, he developed significant swelling in his right leg below the knee and his right foot. It was extremely painful - so painful that it drove him to go to the doctor, despite the expense.
Brian had developed multiple blood clots in his leg. He's lucky to be alive right now.
He was given Heparin injections for a week, and remains on an anti-clotting medication. He can't travel - but by now, he couldn't afford it anyway. Multiple clinic visits, at fifty bucks a pop - only the kindness of strangers provided the last lousy $8 he needed to afford that. His medication is $4 a month - but I'm familiar with this medication, and it's going to require at least monthly blood tests to ensure that he's getting the right amount. Too little, and he risks stroke or embolism; too much, and he can bleed out. It's a dangerous drug that has to be carefully managed - but careful management costs money.
So the Four Corners gig has been lost to him - and with it, the prepayment on the rental car. Because when you live this close to the edge, the only way to get reliable temporary transportation, or a motel room, or any of a number of other things most Americans take for granted, is by prepaying in full. And it's usually going to be nonrefundable - like now.
And before you ask: Yes, he's been trying to navigate what assistance is available through state and other agencies. A lot of what's available is predicated on the assumption that one either has no job at all, or is working at a "regular job" - i.e., for someone else. If you're self-employed, it can be much more difficult to provide the sort of documentation that a lot of agencies require - or, even if you can provide it, getting them to believe that it's accurate is another whole battle. The upshot is that, because his income is not hourly or salaried, both MediCal and the state's food stamp program have rejected his applications, and the bureaucrats charged with reviewing his applications have apparently shown little to no interest in understanding his true status and getting him some aid. To them, "one good art show" back in March negates the fact that he's had virtually no income for much of the rest of the year - because they are apparently refusing to understand that one month of $1,000 in sales, for an artist, equals perhaps $200 per month over the course of half a year.
You can't live on that, either.
MEALS ON WHEELS
The one asset Brian had had in recent years is a 1990 Dodge Caravan that a friend helped him buy two years ago. It functions as his living quarters at night, and he uses it daily to haul his display fixtures and larger art pieces from storage to the street fair where he sells his art.
He also uses it on a regular basis to collect surplus food from food banks - and he barters for surplus food from area farms - and then delivers it to the numerous homeless encampments that have sprung up in the desert outside Palm Springs. Yes, another wealthy urban enclave surrounded by the invisible homeless, trying to survive in harsh desert weather. And Brian makes sure that they get to eat, at least occasionally - maybe just enough to keep soul tethered to body.
But the van is on its last
It hasn't had a working air conditioner for a year and a half now. But he's already survived two brutal summers without it, and so he's not all that worried about getting the A/C repaired, especially now, as we head into winter. It might be more than the van is worth, anyway. But the van has become dangerous to drive: Two tires are bald, and the brakes' master cylinder is failing. He's been given an estimate of around $700 to for those repairs; without it, he'll have no way to take his art to his booth at the street fair (and he prepaid the $900 biannual fee for his booth at the first of this month; without transportation, that's nearly a grand evaporated).
HOPE AND [SPARE] CHANGE?
Some days, the sun still rises, and still brings with it the ephemeral promise of hope. Other days are more difficult. Even a rising sun isn't powerful enough to bring with it rays of hope and possibility. And without a safely functioning van - the means to do his work - there will be no art, and no sales, and hope will be foreclosed along with everything else.
This should not even be a question. Yes, I know, life's not fair. But people who give so much - and who still have so much more to give - should not be forced into homelessness, should not be without access to basic health care, should not be bowed and broken by the weight of these sorts of pressures.
We're still in the gold-limned days of autumn. The leaves are still mostly on the branch; most of Nature's dress remains green, the gold and red and brown mere accessories. The days are still mostly warm, the nights not yet frigid. But the shadows gather. Time is slipping away. Summer is gone; winter is coming. Soon.
HOW TO BUY
Generally speaking, most of the prints on the Web site are available in the following variety of sizes and price points:
- 5 x 7 Metallic Photo: 12.00
- 5 x 7 Metallic Photo, white mat: 15.00
- 8 x 10 Metallic Photo: 22.00
- 8 x 10 Metallic Photo, white mat: 29.00
- 11 x 14 Metallic Photo: 40.00
- 11 x 14 Metallic Photo, white mat: 50.00
- 16 x 20 Metallic Photo: 100.00
- 24 x 30 Metallic Photo: 225.00
- 30 x 40 Metallic Photo: 350.00
Fall 2012 Special: 50% off the cost of shipping to addresses in the Continental U.S for all orders placed by October 20, 2012. Use Coupon code OCT12 at checkout. Thank you.
On his Web site, Brian has a special offer for these two photos. Each is stretched across gallery-wrapped canvas, ready for hanging, and each is offered at a special rate of $125.
A note from Aji: If you'd simply like to kick in a few bucks to help, you can do so via Brian's PayPal account, at this e-mail address:-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
desertguydk [at] gmail [dot] com.
All photographs in this diary used with permission, and are copyright 2012, Brian, a/k/a desertguy; all rights reserved.