The Dilemma

Evil Ice

Wrapped in the
sharpened quills of our insecurities
We twist through life
Wishing only not to bleed.

And if we dare bare ourselves,
Dare drop our quills
We twist through life
Wishing only not to bleed.

We all bleed-
The most honest thing we do
And we grow quills to
Cover our scars.

On Having The Right Conversations: Trinidad and Tobago

ConversationI mentioned recently that, in Trinidad and Tobago, we were having the wrong conversations. It was used only in a single context, which irked me, but media and social media are more about circulation than about solving problems these days.

Like anywhere else in the world, the conversations are cherry picked. “A woman was killed to the North-West of the Lighthouse” gets you uproar on social media, but no one East and South of the Lighthouse seems worthy of that attention. It’s just the way it is because – well, because that’s the way it is, a data point.

The conversations are largely dictated by the media, and the newspapers and television stations need to sell advertising – that they do so by reporting mostly useless conversation is just another data point. As a former member of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), I came to understand that what the media reports is largely limited to what they are allowed to ask during interviews.

And who tells them what they can ask during the interview?

The people who control the conversations everyone is having, really. This is not to say that some other garbling doesn’t happen beyond that – but it starts there, and the broad topics and comparative ‘analyses’ aren’t the conversations that should be happening.

When you listen in  Trinidad and Tobago, people largely have the same things to say about what is right or wrong in the country, and divided they do not aspire. Divided they do not achieve.

It would be nice to discuss less politics, less “my folks are aggrieved more than your folks”, and focus on the commonalities that everyone knows and understands are problems. Period. Just like everywhere else on the planet.

Try going 24 hours without mentioning or hearing a politician’s name. It’s a start.

The Tree.

We’d gone up to see the house, the three of us – two younger cousins and myself, to look at it. It stood there, something that so many people fought for over the years, showing it’s age through coats of relatively fresh paint. Some changes had been made since last I was there by the last who had stayed there. The yard was a mess – freshly sprayed to kill the unkempt grass, brown and dry. And as I rounded the corner, I saw the tree that I had planted.

Religiosa FiscosaWhen I had last seen it, it was a sapling. Many years had passed since then and it had surpassed my expectations – now standing close to 70 feet tall, it’s leaves littered the unused concrete path, intermingled with the leaves of the mango tree.

It had become magnificent, as unkept as it was. It’s massive roots slithered into the limestone rich earth, branches reaching for the sky- yet invisible from the front of the house unless you knew to look.

My cousins were talking as I continued looking around, finding a few other things I had planted that had stood the test of time despite all that had happened around the old house.

And then I looked at the house, in the house, around it – age showing here and there, cracks, spot repairs… the roof had a leak, and it had made it’s way through the ceiling at one point.

In my mind, this had always been an ugly house. It had been red once. It was white now. The flooring was still solid inside, but in the gallery I knew what lay beneath the linoleum. I knew where to look for the cracks, and I saw them – knew them intimately.

My cousins were still talking about this and that, and how the trees needed to be trimmed, that I was thinking about it all. “It’s a project”, is all I really added, as in the back of my mind, knowing that the leaves were bad for the galvanized steel roof.

And in the back of my mind, with decades of knowing the house and all that used it as a pawn in their petty fighting, the idea of blades touching that tree was grotesque while the idea of that house being damaged did not bother me at all.

I planted that tree for reasons. I watered that sapling for years. That tree and I had spent more time together over the years than I had with any living family member. To stand under the shade of that tree, which I did not expect to do, was a reprieve.

Yes, I’d rather water that tree than fix that house. I’d rather it grow unmanaged, strong, with deep roots and strong branches, and I cannot take a blade to it or tell someone else to do that. And yet I cannot stop what will happen to it, either, for it is not in my yard. If it were, the house would have been torn down long ago and a smaller dwelling put in it’s place.

This is why you should not plant a tree in someone else’s yard.

The Audience: Know It.

Blue Foundation liveAnyone who truly wishes to communicate is usually taught, somewhere along the line, about knowing their audience.

Knowing your audience is important for business, sure, but it goes beyond that. It gets back to personal communication, and as I noted elsewhere and helps diminish the signal to noise ratio: In essence, you should know what you’re communicating, to whom, and to what end.

Since we’re all sharing content on the vast canvas of the Internet, we should all understand this, particularly since people who we didn’t expect to see our content may well do so… and also because it creates our digital shadow: Who people think we are.

If you’re going to be late for work, as an example, what you would call/text to your boss should be different than missing a meeting with friends. There are people who don’t understand that difference, and they will find no help in this post. 

There are some assumptions that will help with this:

  • What you communicate on the internet will last forever, even if you delete it.
  • We may not be what people perceive, but they don’t know that. Your digital shadow is who they think you are and you should consider what you want that digital shadow to be. If you want to be seen as an idiot, by all means… 
  • You can’t control how your content is viewed, but you can control how you are.
  • Spreading bad information makes you an untrusted source, spreading good information makes you a trusted source. Which do you want to be?
  • Social networks only show your content to the audience their algorithms think will want to see it. If you want to change someone’s mind about something, they need to see it and they probably won’t see it unless you change how the algorithm perceives it… which means you might want to write to your audience. Unless you’re just intellectually/emotionally masturbating with people who think like you.

    I don’t judge. If that’s your thing… (but expect me to disappear if I’m in your network).

  • If you don’t want to be perceived as an idiot, don’t communicate like one.
  • It’s safe to assume that someone will absolutely hate what you’re communicating. They’re part of your audience. Defuse them beforehand if you can.
  • If you share content of a certain type all the time, you’ll get typecast. Do you want that typecast?
  • Using profanity might seem fucking brilliant at times, but overdone it’s cliche. Oh. And your parents/children might read it 10 years from now, so get a grip.
  • Lawyers might use what you share in a court case. Yay. We love lawyers. It isn’t mutual when it comes to litigation. “It’s not personal…”
  • Ranting and shouting isn’t very effective.

I’m certain I’ll think of a few more after I post this, so don’t think this is an exhaustive list.

Summarized: Everything you communicate can and will be used against you at some point.

Your audience on the Internet is more global than your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Communicate like it.

A Personal Minimalism

UntitledI watched a tongue in cheek video on minimalism and it made me ponder my own. After all, I’m a minimalist, but not of the sort that is parodied so well in this JP Sears video.

It wasn’t some spiritual awakening, or some new age hyperbole.

No. It was about having too much crap.

My family includes hoarders – some self admitted, some not, but hoarders all the same. “Because you never know….”

And at one point, I changed. I’d come back from a 120 hour week in the labryinths of Honewell, Clearwater, to my 2 bedroom place with every conceivable device one could have during that period in the 1990s. I had DVD players in every room. Television sets galore. My home office could probably have supplied the entire department I worked in.

I walked in and it dawned on me that I spent so much time working that I never used any of this stuff. I had two bathrooms and showers – why? There was only one of me, and visitors were rare because… I was rarely home. I was working so I could buy stuff that I never used. I had 2 cars, the project RX-7 (which was probably the only thing I valued out of all the redundancies). Just a few years ago, when I was still in the Navy and working with the Marines, all my stuff fit handily into a Seabag. I could, at that time, walk around with everything I owned.

I didn’t lose things. I didn’t have unneeded things occupying space. I didn’t need to worry about moving a bunch of things when I left one place and ended up in another.

This was no spiritual awakening. It was a simple matter of being tired of dealing with all that shit, as well as the acknowledgement that I didn’t need most of what I had. And that was that. To an extent.

Then I caught myself buying things later on and asked myself why. It didn’t make me happy. It just seemed like a burden. It became something I just didn’t want to deal with, that distracted me from things I wanted to do. So I purged the idea of buying things without need. When you distill your world, you find out what matters – and you keep those things. The rest doesn’t matter. It could be if you’re trying to impress people, but if you have to impress people, do you really want them around anyway?

And then I traveled a lot. I left stuff in the Dominican Republic in 2005 to find out that it was given away when I asked about it in a few months. Or thrown out, or something. And so even what I carried in life became lighter.

Do I recommend it for other people? No. Would I give you some new age bullshit of how it frees your soul? No. It’s just what works for me. Having a limited amount of dishes means that I don’t have a lot to leave in the sink. That means I’m not afraid of looking in the sink, that I have no apprehension when I glance around about where things are.

I know where my towel is. And where the one in Safety Harbor, Florida, is.

It’s not like I can take it with me when I die. And why would I want to?

As Peter Gabriel wrote, “… Hey, I said, you can keep my things they’ve come to take me home.

But then I would say that reading Erich Fromm’s, “To Have Or To Be” is worthwhile. 

Cutting Both Ways

NowThere are things that we know and things that we do not know. The troubles of humanity seem to revolve around the problem of confusing the two.

What We Know

We tend to be biased toward what we know. What we know, what we have learned, these things give us a definition of the world and people around us. This is how we learn to judge things; it’s our mind being ‘efficient’ in allowing us not to be overwhelmed by the world. It’s about creating a world that we know so that we can comfortably work within it.

It’s a way of mitigating risk.

What We Don’t Know

Curiosity leads us to find out what we don’t know based on understanding that we don’t know it. Few wish to deal with unknowns – in a world largely built on our understanding of what we do know, we balk at what we don’t. Even if we don’t know it, we expect someone else to know it and we even pay us to teach us what they know – but there’s an implicit error in what we know because it is largely a broad brush that paints over what we don’t know. It’s a scary thing for people sometimes.

But What Do We Know?

See, here’s the rub. We believe we know what we do only because it hasn’t been proven to be different. And what do we know? We know what we experience. Everything else is hearsay, be it in a book or something someone else tells you – regardless of how much you trust them, because, really, trust is about knowing and not knowing.

Trust is about believing someone based on previous experience. Trust is about believing that someone will act a certain way under certain circumstances. If anything, Life probably has shown anyone that has survived the first 10 years of life that trust is fickle because people are fickle because… people confuse what they know and what they don’t know.

A broken promise to a child isn’t something the child forgets easily, but it’s an easy mistake if the promise was made on expectations proven wrong. “I will be there” doesn’t take into account the last minute thing that drags you away.

What we know is an illusion of permanence. It’s a snapshot of how we believe things to be, and anyone who has survived more than 2 decades on the planet will have experienced the turmoil of the way things are versus the way they thought things were. Whether they understand it or not isn’t important until it becomes important to them.

Where knowledge is power, not acknowledging lack of knowledge – lack of certainty – is the other edge of that sword.

Death of A Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (2)Adolescence was an unhappy, angry time for me. And it was at this time I found a spot as far away from everyone as I was permitted, a point in the triangular yard where I could sit and think – and yes, write. It was my spot.

It had an unkempt Bougainvillea spectabilis in that corner that allowed me some illusion of privacy while I could watch all round, my back against a wall. It was as secure as I was the opposite, the bougainvillea hiding me under it’s thorny branches. The call of the Uncle, the search by his toddler son, the incessant calls of the stepmother to do things she could damned well do herself, and the father who could always find a reason to be angry.

It was my bubble.

A bad day at school saw me stride into that thicket and it tore at my uniform, ripping my pants with a thorn. My pants. The pants that I maintained, that I paid to fix myself, that I washed and pressed, and that were always a problem to get new pairs from because they had to be tailored. Something in me snapped – years upon years came out in that moment, something pure and distilled. I remember staring at that thicket and unilaterally deciding that the bougainvillea needed to go.

I went downstairs and grabbed the camp axe, cutlass and file next to the stairs after a change into my shorts, and I went to work. I just let it all pour out on that Friday evening, the muscles that had grown from toting paper, electric motors, bricks and buckets of concrete lashed out with sharp blades. The bougainvillea fought back tenaciously, ripping back at me as I methodically focused my rage on each branch.

During that time the stepmother came out. “Did anyone tell you you could do that?” I stared at her a moment and continued, knowing her next step would be to wait for my father or uncle to return so that they could defend her soap bubble of ego – so large, so fragile. It fueled me. I simply said between swings, “It ripped my pants. It has to go.”

I decided then and there I would not stop, whatever the cost. Whatever the punishment.

I continued, picking branches one by one, finding ways to get in to that thicket without getting hurt too much, and delivering strikes for every wrong I felt had landed on me, every scratch simply pushing me further into this meditation of rage. I had moved being past being scared of what I could do.

I would do it. Let them sort the shit out later with me. They always do.

My uncle showed up first, going up the front stairs. I heard their voices as they spoke, but he did not come down. I kept going, about half way done, a pile of thorny branches at the base of the fence.

It was at this point that I realized that I hadn’t seen my dog, and called to her – she came, but she was sheepish around me. She sensed something and wouldn’t come closer than a few feet. The one creature in the yard that loved me without question would not come near me, and that fueled me more.



The thud of the blades had become as dull as they were. I fetched the file from where I had placed it on the ugly red wall and sharpened everything. And I continued. Every now and then I’d hear distant voices from the house less than 50 feet away, talking about something.

My father had come home without me knowing, and as the sun glimmered its goodbye, he had quietly came over and brought a large cup. I saw that big yellow cup and him behind it. I waited a moment to hear what would come but he turned and walked off without a word. I continued and did not stop, only a few more branches to go. The fence was clear – all 16 foot of the point of that triangle. I stared.

I didn’t want to be done.

I really didn’t want to be done. And slowly, the weight of being done crept up on me even as I wanted more to cut, to punish for my anger.

There wasn’t anything left.

Cutting the branches on the ground was pointless.

The cup. I drank the cup down – water – and turned, sitting in my corner, watching the sun set. I went and got some gas, soaked the root, and lit it. I stayed with it until it burned out, adding branches now and then.

By the time I got back inside, putting everything back next to the stairs, there was no one in the living room or kitchen. I went to my room to get ready for a shower and found myself staring in the mirror within the wardrobe. Splintered pieces of that thicket, as well as some leaves, punctuated the sweat and blood – there was blood – in the reflection.

Any feeling of victory was gone. I saw a gruesome sight in that mirror. Teenage muscle rippled under a bloody and dirty visage. I had destroyed that bougainvillea. I showered and, without encountering anyone, went to bed.

I was to find that it would never be spoken of.

Something had changed. Punishment all but disappeared but for the greatest of infractions – real or imagined. Yet there was no sense of victory, no sense of things having changed for the better. They hadn’t.

But that bougainvillea never ripped my pants again, and I no longer had the illusion of hiding there.

No one else intruded.

Years later, I realized how sad a day it was – that the people around me had learned to fear me as they had taught me to fear them… and I no longer feared them.

A hollow victory with a bougainvillea proxy.
An education you can’t find in a school.

Precious Precarity

Nothing is ever truly complete because everything changes. While we’re not looking and still hold a snapshot of our former selves in our minds, we change – we’re almost never who we carry in our own mind.

We know this at the beach, when we stand and watch the sun rise at the intersection of boundaries of earth, sea and wind – and light. The sand shifts beneath our feet as the water laps at our toes, as we sink the wind blows through our hair. The light of the sun comes to our viewpoint through the globe prism of Earth’s atmosphere, cascading our eyes with a rainbow of reflected colors off of our surroundings.

We only see what isn’t absorbed, the colors we see the shadow of the visual spectrum that wasn’t.

Where the water line falls is determined by the tides, and the tides are combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth. And even as the Moon rotates around the Earth rotates around the Sun… our Sun hurtles toward Lambda Herculis at 20 km/s. 12 miles per second.

We’re dragging along with it with the rest of the Solar System even as Lambda Hercules itself rotates around the center of the galaxy that we, in the limitations of our languages, call “ours”.

As if happening to be in something gives one ownership. Think of that the next time you’re in a bad situation.

Most people don’t know all of this, and they don’t care. They just see the beauty of it – and they will talk about the beauty of a sunrise as if it’s a constant when it isn’t. It’s a precious precarity every morning of clouds, winds, dust and tides. It’s a cluster of precarity, a moving intersection in the Universe – however small those changes are.

And when I take a picture of all of this, people like that without knowing any of that.

It boggles me, like so many other things that people dismiss. The precious precarities that surround us, the wonderful beauty of improbability dancing through the Universe, ourselves looking in the mirror of our existence, wanting to be constant yet decidedly finite as we are.