Freedom and Youth.

Bondage Breaker. Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. — Helen KellerShe and I sat on her front stoop talking quietly so as not to awaken her mother. It was a cool morning, the dark rain clouds looming to the Northwest. It wouldn’t be long, I could be caught in the rain, but I was compelled to sit and speak with her because she needed to be listened to, she needed to to be spoken with.

This adopted niece is a strong young woman, and she’s bearing a weight of responsibility that sits maybe too comfortably on her shoulders, a tribute to her nature, an indicator of her nurture. She has been raising a parent and, finally, at 21, she saw a clearing in the clouds of her life and a chance to see the sunlight she had heard so much about. She’s intelligent, thoughtful and aware of herself… but youth comes with a pressure to press forward and the world has a way sometimes of keeping some of us from doing just that.

Who we are either grows or dies.

The paths for her are predictable: Continue on the path she’s being forced down by her own sense of duty and become further frustrated to the point where she gets married just to get out of the house, or she learns to become selfish just enough to allow her to grow out from under the rock placed on her by circumstance. While pressing up on the rock will make her stronger, it will only make her as strong as she can be without light to photosynthesize.

I suppose we all reach a point like this with things. For me, it happened when I was 15 and it caused me to rebel, to do anything to get out of the house, off the islands I had felt trapped on for 6 formative years. At 16 I did just that, not properly prepared, to return to the country of my birth and find it full of strangers and few friends.

There is no advice for me to give her. I can only tell her the path I walked and continue to walk. My challenges in life, the ones where I had to manage tough decisions that I made knowing I could not regret them, had meaning for her – not that she should do similar, but that I could tell her what would happen along that path.

Quietly, I considered her challenges as a woman in Trinidad and Tobago, bearing the responsibilities demanded of her by childish people who should be stronger. For her, the paths were limited because of the culture and because of society – and if she is strong enough to push those aside, if she can can keep her feet under her even as we both know it’s slipping… she is the Atlas of those close to her, holding worlds together even as hers shifts. That weight will eventually fall off her shoulder as people die; it could take years, it could take decades, and who she will be after will be dictated by what she does now.

How strong is she? How much weight should anyone have to bear? How many sins of our forebears must we punish ourselves for? How much do we owe, and in owing, how much interest must we pay? How much do we lose to the roles we are born into because of the historical detritus previous generations haven’t cleared up because of their comfort with it?

I watch again the freedom of youth being lost to the Faustian bargains of adulthood.

I’d write more about her, but I wish to respect her privacy on such a small island. She’s someone who deserves to be a character somewhere. A character that achieves something in life, however small. 

The Bookstore

Rain. Bookstore. I read the Glad well before, but find myself referencing when I don't have a copy.I’d needed a haircut for a few days, but the stylists – whatever you wish to call them – were having bouts of the flu. Today, though, I called and faced the traffic to get there, to have my hair cut – and the lady in charge was kind enough to throw in a complimentary shampoo. The shampoo involved a head massage by a woman I can only describe as gifted.

I was in a good mood. It was rainy. I did not want to go home; a lady asks me if I was hungry – a hint that I was boggled at to the point where I fumbled it. I left, and went to a place I am always comfortable. A bookstore.

In entering, I was immediately asked if I needed help. I said no, and began perusing titles – I liked the Louis L’amour, I always have, so I picked that up because I hadn’t read these stories by the dead author. Some will point out that he wasn’t the best Western writer, talking about how his publishers made sure his books were prominent… I don’t know. I do know that my father purchased all of them, that a Louis L’amour novel lasts me about 4 hours at most, but that I always enjoy them.

Another young woman comes up to me and asks me if I need help. I said no again.

A few more minutes perusing. Looking for minds more original than my own has become difficult; I scan titles and look at cover art. I read the back covers, instantly annoyed at how marketers have taken over that spot to tell people what other people have said about the book.

I don’t give a shit what anyone else says about the book, I want to know what the book is about.

And… a young man comes up to me and asks me if I need help. I stare at him. “You’re the third.”

“What?”

“The third person who asked me if I needed help. I don’t understand why. If I’m in a bookstore and I need help, I probably shouldn’t be in a bookstore.” I said this maybe a little more annoyed than I should have, but I let it sink in a moment. This attempt to play librarian in a bookstore forgets that the librarian sits quietly until provoked; the librarian doesn’t go around asking people, “Do you need help?”

I scan titles I’ve seen easily in the background as I considered the plight of the young man.

“Look, I’m sorry, you didn’t deserve that and you’re doing your job as your employer says you should – and maybe even as the market dictates. So I apologize. It’s just that I know my way around the bookstore, I like the joy of finding things I couldn’t possibly tell you about because I don’t know them yet.”

He accepts the apology, but I see that my former words had stung more than my latter words had soothed. He wanted to explain. I let him, let him let the ooze rip from the cyst I had accidentally incised with my words, nodding at moments, keeping eye contact, but flipping through the books I had scanned in my mind. He needed to let go of something, I didn’t need to hear it. His face relaxed. He was done. I smiled, nodded and said, “I think I understand” and continued looking over the shelves of books.

The young woman who had asked me if I needed help first witnessed the exchange. She assured me he was fine, but her assurance didn’t mean he was fine. He was sensitive. People had been nice to me today. Part of me wanted to shout at him to toughen up, the other part regretted my casual abrasiveness. The latter won this time.

Most of the books were ancient in the age of the Internet; a point of anguish for me sometimes, but also a time of opportunity to see some of how the roots of present ideas form. I read very, very fast – not ‘speedreading’. I just read fast and have a reading comprehension that frustrates me to no end when people with degrees are so bad at it. So, while the books are generally what’s sent and left in this tropical armpit of the planet, where books come to die, there are opportunities to explore things – with the knowledge that the information in them is likely outdated. It’s better than reading ingredients on soup cans.

I peruse some more, finding the Gladwell that I so often tried to use as a reference for some of the solid concepts he has written about – but I had left my copy in Trinidad the first time I had left, had left the copy I had in Florida, and was down here without a copy. And I picked up one on the rise and fall of information empires — something that I’m constantly researching new perspectives on (because none of them truly fit). I explore more, seeing the same tired titles that no one wanted yet.

I encounter the young woman I had first met upon entering the store – she’s nestled quietly in a corner with a book, reading.

“Ahh, that’s exactly what I would be doing if I worked here.” Nothing makes a literate person more comfortable than seeing the person working there reading instead of pestering them, in my mind, but we’ve already established I’m an outlier (gratuitous Gladwell reference).

She looks up and smiles, “I love working here. I get to read.” Well, look at this – a rare bird in this day and age, the Literati Exoticus.

She looks at the books in my hand, “I see you found some things. Why did you choose them?”

So I go through, explaining, “Well, the Louis L’amour is like cocaine to read; it’s fast, action packed, well paced and unfortunately over quickly leaving you wanting more. The Gladwell is something I like to refer to when writing, but I don’t have a copy so I’m getting this one. And this one is about Information Empires, which I’m interested in because I find myself writing about them indirectly.”

“You’re a writer?”

“Ugh. I wrote an eBook that got published back in 2005 or 2006. I wasn’t pleased with it, but yes, I’ve been published and I do write… though I haven’t published a book since then.”

“Why not?”

“Partly things changing so fast, partly procrastination and all the excuses not to write, and partly too many projects I’ve started and not finished.”

“I want to write children’s books.”

“Then write one.”

“I’m procrastinating.”

We laugh. In conversation she points to the bookshelf next to her as a generic reference to books and accidentally points at “50 Shades of Grey”. I laugh, telling her what she pointed at – and looking around to see that the store was empty of other customers, went on to say, “That book is so horribly written.”

Enter sensitive Third, who apparently loves the book. I try to make the distinction, “I’m not saying it’s a bad book… I’m saying it’s horribly written.” An attempt to be honest without being dishonest to smooth over the sting. This poor guy looked like someone kept walking by and killing puppies. I decided that there was nothing to be done, that I had been kind enough, that part of growing up was facing facts and that the “my puppy died” face was just to trigger enablers.

Fuck enablers. I’ve seen too many make children of what could have been men in my generation and prior. There’s a place for sensitivity, but there’s that thin line.

“Listen, it’s a popular book, but being popular doesn’t mean it’s well written. In fact, the BDSM community came out against the book. Writers mock the book openly. But people buy it, just like people think McDonalds sells hamburgers.”

His eyes grow distant, as if I had also killed puppies in the distance. Or maybe he was sad yet thoughtful. It’s not my business, my business is being honest and, at times, hurting feelings – conscientiously, for ‘the greater good’.

I bought my books, having made a friend of one person there and having killed a few virtual puppies of the other – a shame because if the puppies were real, I’d probably still be playing with them. Who doesn’t like puppies?

Exited stage, left.

Conversation.

Dharma MoonWhy are you up so early?

I woke up. I’m not tired.

No one else is awake.

That’s sort of the point. No one’s making noise aside from that confused rooster nearby that crows from 2 a.m. onward. And the dinosaurs that live upstairs have fallen silent. They must have fallen silent, because there was quite a racket before they became silent.

What are you going to do with the time?

Clearly, I’ll write. I’ll read. Check the weather outside, see if it will let me get some things done out on the land. Plan the day. Do some reading.

– Write? What about?

That’s a problem this morning. There’s nothing really on my conscious mind, so I’m free writing and having this conversation with you.

– Me?

Don’t be a smartass.

 

Redefinition.

NASA Rocket Experiment Finds the Universe Brighter Than We ThoughtThe world changes, the way we see the world changes – and this happens to everyone around us. We talk about growing apart from or growing beyond people – a view of the world that centers on the self – selfish? No. In a world where we act and react to our environment, an argument can be made that we are the most constant thing that we know even as we ourselves are not constant.

And we redefine. When people treat us well, we gravitate to them, when they treat us poorly, we are repulsed – and the same is true of how we treat people and how they react. Some people who are unhealthy do the opposite, some put up with poor treatment because they do not think they deserve better – and, hopefully, one day they figure that out. And we redefine.

And we redefine.

The Honesty Of Land

Yeah, I earned any calories I could possibly eat today.Working on the land daily, there’s a brutal honesty to it. It doesn’t lie; it doesn’t need to. It speaks openly of what it does, there is no subterfuge. In the tropics, the wet season is about to shift into dry – the last of the rains come with vigor and the grass grows where I had cut.

So I cut it again.

The small crops I had been able to sew at the beginning of wet season are cleared of bush, have been cleared of bush for some time – with the exception of the period where we got the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Brett, when it would have been irksome and perhaps even dangerous to work with a spinning blade between them, and when I tried to keep spraying chemicals to a minimum.

My crops thrive when a cousin’s are buried in bush; an Uncle who helped and advised him wanders by the day before Christmas and tells me their cassava is no good. He sounds surprised and frustrated when they let the bush master their land, overgrowing their cassava. In fact, the man who plowed the land for them still hadn’t been fully paid by them – the follies of their world made photosynthetic, just as the crops would have. I cannot speak to such things, I have my own things to worry about.

The land is honest and unforgiving. It has no give unless you work it so. It has no mercy, it has no guile. It compounds the forces of nature to be something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

I have sweat, blood and yes, tears, in the land. It inflicts cuts, bites, punctures and bruises to defend itself and, pushing through that, I have fleeting conquests doomed to failures without due care and attention. Piece by piece, it becomes more manageable – but manage it I must, or it will manage me. This is the honesty of the land, a stark contrast to humans and society where the social construct of promises were once made by those who worked with the unforgiving land, where it meant something, where now promises are something to be broken.

Then the human side – where people not getting paid to pick up rubbish cause people to dump rubbish on land they think isn’t managed – and so you manage that land, cleaning areas and keeping them clean. They no longer dump their rubbish there but somewhere else: People wring their hands in talking to me about it. I look at them now and say, “That is not my problem”, which is not true, but is a necessary answer for those who don’t maintain their lands – a truth that they need to wrestle with if they pay attention and act.

Opportunity: Missed by people because it comes disguised as hard work.

It’s like software engineering, except much more real.

The Human Contrast

The cousins who own nearby lands fumble through their own relationships with their siblings and try to cash in on the land; I make efforts to see some of them when they come to Trinidad to visit them – we grew up with each other – but they had no time for me, leaving me to sit alone outside. One even blocked me from going inside. I arched an eyebrow, having made the effort to go visit, and realizing that they did not want to see me. This was compounded by the one time during that period where I reached out, at a nearby restaurant with someone giving me advice on the land – out of all of them, one showed up, and he simply spoke with the one advising me.

Meanwhile, people come to me complaining of them, and I shrug. It is not for me to deal with, I am not one to do what they are doing and I am not one to do for them what they do not do for themselves.

Another is going abroad, asks me if I want anything – I did not ask – so I do mention a few things. He calls me from the airport to tell me where he’s going, where the gift he left for me is, and I ask him to let me know if he orders a particular item for me so I don’t try to source it locally. Meanwhile, the people who he promised to do something for see me on a daily basis and ask me for updates that I cannot give. I hear nothing from him other than part of a deluge of WhatsApp messages wishing me ‘Happy New Year’. He returns nearby, I still hear nothing from him. Well, ok then.

I am becoming more like the land every day, and since the land is alien to them, I grow alien to them.

One aunt spreads lies about everyone in the family, calling everyone greedy when she made sure her brother was isolated and left everything to her in the Will before he died. If you want to find the greed, find the one who has what they think everyone wants. She’ll choke on it eventually. I let her know that on my birthday after she asked to see me, after she spread lies about me, just as she asked me to help her manage her gains – ill-gotten in my opinion. A skeleton choking on a crust of bread.

Last year, another aunt went away and I checked in on her human project, an adolescent who came from a shattered home and less than pristine circumstance that she had taken in. He made promises, he broke promises, he is young – but he did not meet the social contracts that brought him there. In the end, he had to return to where he had come from but, for the duration and after I regularly checked in – not because it was important to me, but because it was important to her. She returns, it’s not spoken of. I make arrangements with her to visit her not once but twice; both times she goes out on recreational sojourns while her husband and I stare at each other. I had tried. Messages to her were rarely answered, if at all.

My time spent on all of this robs me of time to do what needs to be done. No more.

And I’m safe, because the odds of any of them reading this is pretty low.

Meanwhile, others see what I’m doing and help in their own ways – some plants here, some compost there, some business advice, planning advice and planting advice. I do the same. We build relationships like that of the land, not of society. A throwback, I think, to times when people worked the land.

The Human Contrast, Part II

I go to the towns now and then. I will sit and watch people drinking coffee and doing their best to impress each other at one local center, preening. I go get my haircut, I watch people in branded exercise outfits drive to the gym so they can be physically active – I’ve lost 3 inches off my waist in the last month alone (with more to go) over the last month. They pay to be members. What an odd way to live – and I used to live like that before I thought it through. A little before I ended up in the hospital. There’s a lesson there.

I watch the lowered cars pull in, screeching to a halt on the speed bumps or near potholes, impractical in a country that has a debilitating inability to build and maintain roads. Pickups with ‘4×4’ emblazoned on them sit on pretty wheels, nothing more than street cars that run on diesel. SUVs have been made too expensive for most by the government, and their last refuge are these pickups to give them a false sense of security when driving because they can look further ahead – but they can’t brake as well in a pickup. Taxis stop in the middle of the road to drop off their passengers rather than move to the side and allow traffic to pass.

On social media, I read someone’s whine about not being treated seriously in technology and it reminds me of how I had felt and what I had communicated over a decade ago – interesting since I’m not much older than the one complaining now. Without compunction, I wrote that we are not owed change, that whining doesn’t change anything, and that when he gets out of his selfish moat of self-pity he should get back to trying to change things – advice I had to give myself over a decade ago.

It’s a rat race, and the trouble with rat races is that they are full of rats.

I am becoming a misanthrope, some might think. Sometimes I think so. Yet when I reflect on it fully, I am simply becoming what I need to be in a world where people are busy trying to become what they are told they want to be.

And therein is the real contrast. Where someone’s word should be unbreakable, where relationships are valued and treated accordingly. I am becoming me, and this drives a wedge between myself and those who are busy trying to become what they are told they should want to be.

Be who you need to be. The trouble with the world is a lack of honesty to the self about the self which leaks into everything else.

Hedgehog 2.0.

927A9660.jpgSchopenhauer wrote about the Hedgehog’s Dilemma:

One cold winter’s day, a group of hedgehogs crowded together for warmth so as not to freeze to death. However, the pain from the mass of spines soon caused them to separate again, until the cold forced them back together, and thus they continued, moving from one source of discomfort to another, until they found a distance that allowed them to live but without the benefits of the full warmth of community.

To build on this, the longer a hedgehog stays out of the community, the longer the quills. It may not have started as a misanthrope but rather an explorer, maybe it was shunned because it was different, but over time without the issue of intimacy to contend with, it grows longer quills which makes it a misanthrope even when it tries not to be.

There are entire generations growing up more comfortable with a cold flat screen than other humans at this point.

Let that sink in.

Without Shadow.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) in Silhouette.Almost every morning, I wake before my shadow and spend 2 hours without it.

I pondered this on this morning, awaking and, placing my foot on the ground, not required to be anywhere yet wishing to get to the day’s activities. There are fewer people at this hour – enough to notice, to watch, as they trudge with their own meaning, slaves to what they must do to get what they must have, slaves to what they must do to get what they don’t need. Some move with purpose belied by their step, target blindness robbing them of the world around as they focus on the world ahead. Few take their time, one stops to dissuade the stray dogs at his heels. A world awakens, the first bits of dawn bend through the atmosphere, something so many do not understand from secondary school physics – it mutes the darkness casually, awaking the birds from their slumber – the owls go silent, the passerines awaken with vigor.

The cars start passing more frequently. There is a rhythm that reaches a crescendo soon, an expanse of noise that mutes the world as it was, that mutes us as we were.

The shadow shows up, the expectations, the definition of what we are by what we aren’t – to mock us throughout the day.

Those that do not wake without their shadows cannot see this, blinded by light, staring into the sun instead of what it reflects on. On what we reflect on.