Sometimes, when I'm alone in my car and the windows are down, sun high, I put both hands on the wheel and grip it tightly. I blink a few times and if conditions are just right, I'm Steve McQueen. I used to think I was alone in these little flights of fancy, but I'm turning 40 this month and have come across enough adults now to realize that we're all children on the inside. We just have more problems with our knees.
When I'm in that comfortable space, that Steve McQueen space, I rifle through my list of friends and family and try to imagine who they become in their quiet moments. For some, the image fades in and out. For others, it's more clear. And for few, it's locked in stone and iron, a picture in my mind indelible, fixed, immutable through time.
That is my sense of time when I'm with my dear cousin Maia. I've written of her home before — it's impossibly, impassibly, inaccessibly high on a Los Angeles hillside in this dreamy space where walls are made of velour and wicker and around each corner you're as likely to find something of which music may be created as you are a cabana boy fanning you with grape leaves answering only to Bernardo.
Maia positively oozes classical Diva-ness — she has since she was 6 — and batted nary a fantastic eyelash when I asked her to light up and get comfortable for our shoot. She is a flibbertigibbet, a word used here in as proud a sense as I can muster of Maia. When she moves in and out of character, she is plumbing the depths of spirit for a great joy — a joy that is channeled through her own magical whimsy in the service of others, her audience … me, I guess. There are social performers in the world, turning on their charm to make people laugh. They're fun at parties, but duds over coffee. No spark.
But Maia, witnessing her moving into and out of performance is watching a life come into being. It's Frankenstein's monster's first great steps. It's a churning swell bursting into a deep belching wave. It's the terrific transference of enthusiasm from one to another.
Plus, she does Star Wars in 30 minutes. She's that kind of cool ... original trilogy cool … amiright?
The diva thing made it clear that Maia needed the 1940's treatment. It suits her, as a spirit out of time. When I look at this photograph, I see secrets behind great beauty. I see a woman who can all-too-naturally communicate the tragedy that comes from compromise and sacrifice. And I see a woman unafraid to play in the service of our joy.
I miss the Maia I hung out with when I was a kid. That chick was very cool. But this woman I photographed on her patio in LA? This chick is positively epic. I look forward to a lot more life in her orbit.
Besides … she'll be a wicked funny old lady.