Finally, The Right Entertainer.

A memory has haunted me for years, coming back to me now and then.  I was a toddler, alone – I know this because the light blue kitchen was enormous for me, and it took great effort for me to climb up onto the counter. I simply had to get closer to this song as it played.

It was this exact rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” playing on the radio – which I just found. It’s a joyful memory. I laid my head against that old mono-speaker radio, delighted at the sound, with no care in the world.

For years, I found various renditions that could have played on the radio during that period. It wasn’t any of them – you can tell if you listen carefully.

But this was it, I found it 46 years later thanks to that memory, YouTube, Wikipedia, and a lot of trying to figure out exactly where I was when it happened.

And now I know.

Finally.

A NowHere Dilemma Solved.

And now, some of you have something that says, 'Home'. I don't. I'm Nowhere.I’ve been defining the new place which I call NowHere, and of course there are details that irk me here and there.

One of them was the ghastly electrical panel that someone thought would be a great idea to have in the dining space. A big, grey, electrical panel – one that might have gone with the more industrial side of me, a call to my childhood roots in electrical motor rewinding and industrial troubleshooting.

Somehow, that just doesn’t fit me in that way anymore. I might go hang out in a place like that because it’s comfortable to me, but it doesn’t mean that it should define my space. So, there was a thought of covering it somehow.

Worse, it’s the first thing I see when I come out of my bedroom. Haze grey and there to stay. It’s just ugly.

The first thought was bookcases on wheels that a cousin was going to give me, but those were bookcases made of that compressed wood that he had managed to put wheels on out of his own boredom. And really, they just didn’t fit.

Then came the thought of a mirror, but then, in an emergency, did I really want that? And given the angle, it would be awkward should I have a visitor in the visitor’s room. So I went around and looked at what people had to hang that would be the right size.

There were some paintings, priced for their own market which I am not a part of – and it came to me that I have enough photos that I should have something of worth. Thus I started going through my Flickr photograph collection, and I found it troubling how many pictures that I had taken in landscape versus portrait. I needed a long photo, not a wide one. I went on vacation.

Framing this one from Tobago.That’s when I saw the shot. I couldn’t take it properly – a lot of planning went into it to get it the way I wanted it. When I got back, I printed it.

It was, indeed, what I wanted – and of course the people who printed it said so, but that’s affirmation to a customer. It’s sort of like having your mother tell you that you’re smart and handsome/beautiful.

Maybe you’re not. You’ll always be special to someone who carried you around inside them for 9 months or so. They’re too emotionally invested in you to see you, sometimes, for what you are.  

Then I dropped it off to frame. The wait made that panel uglier by the day. In 3 days, I was called to pick it up, so I went and I did. The gentleman who had framed it, whom I never met, was busy with two ladies so I waited quietly.

It wasn’t long before all three looked at me expectantly. I pointed at what I could see was my framed photo, large enough not to be completely hidden by other framed works.

“That’s mine”.

“No, that’s mine”, said one of the women.

I know my work. I know that one is mine. In conversation, she realized I was the photographer, and she did something I didn’t expect. This was an opportunity, she wanted it and it was mine. I could have sold it right there and then.

“You didn’t sign it.”
“It’s for me, I have no need to sign it.”

She wanted me to sell it.

couldn’t.

I did not want to part with it. I know it’s one of my best photographs I’ve ever taken, if not the best. Yet, it wasn’t about the framed picture, it was about what I learned and how I had grown; it was collateral damage of a distinct growth of myself as a human being.

... And hung.Somehow, it had gone beyond covering that ugly grey panel. It had become about me stretching everything I knew about light, tides, meteorology, vectoring, photography, and timing – things that by themselves had no value to anyone. This was a nexus of a set of knowledge and ability that caused me to push myself to become better beyond that silo of photography.

This wasn’t pride, or I would have sold it and printed another. This wasn’t about bargaining for a better price. This was about who I am and am becoming, and some things – some things you hold on to as a reminder of that.

Some things hold a value beyond what other people might see as a cost.

The picture that hangs will never be sold.

However, it has pushed me a bit more toward getting more photos together for people to buy should they wish, which I’ll dedicate 10-20 hours a week on until it becomes manageable.

A Character Writing Itself.

“To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing it’s best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” — E.E. Cummings.

WritingI spent a week scribbling in a notebook, pen to page, ink to wood pulp, filling hundreds of pages in a cleansing ritual that I began using during my teenage years – notably when it took less time, ink and paper.

This writing was not to be published, it will not be published. The physical act of writing things on my mind, an exercise in what I would later learn is free-writing, is the way in which I aligned the world in my mind – instead of what the world would do so innocuously otherwise, aligning our minds to the world. And the final act of destroying it, as symbolically hollow as it may seem, ends the process.

I have been overdue.

There is a space there that must be kept, a boundary that allows us to be who we are in a world where we are expected to fit into molds, into categories, into these things only to make the lives of others simpler so that they can easily categorize us and put us on shelves to collect dust and cobwebs of convenience in their minds.

WritingTheir convenience has never been convenient for me; they would tell me only to study what I needed to pass tests but I wanted to learn everything and never cared much for tests. Who are they to test me on what they think I should know when they are gambling on knowing what I should know? How is it that they can justify measuring me as if I were a shoe for society to wear, to protect it’s tender feet from the reality they do not teach of?

By the time I was 11 I knew that they would not teach me the things I needed to know then, the challenges I had to face were well beyond their curriculum. They could not teach me to adapt as I had to, they would not teach me then how to help my father make sure that we made enough money to put food on the table. Certainly, I have used much of what they taught me, but most of it was not timely, most of it was inappropriate, and the only real benefit I would find later would be understanding the intrinsics of how a bureaucracy can mold people into not only accepting but expecting bureaucracy as some form of answer in a society that shudders under it’s weight, humans shuffling from one line to another with the quiet hope that by continuing in those lines that someday they might become something they have been taught is ‘successful’.

No one teaches what success is. They’ll toss you carrots when you jump through hoops, but tigers do not eat carrots and are not fond of flaming hoops – thus the whip.

To some of us – I do not know how many, they will know who they are and announce themselves if they wish – there is a need for this boundary between ourselves and society, where the indignities we suffer in pretending a conformity we do not have can be forgotten, if only for a while, because in the end it is only a while that we have. We do not see the world as they taught us, but we recognize that others do. We do not see the world for what they want us to see it for, we see it for what it is – whatever that may be for any one of us.

There is no ‘woke’ to be had by reading a book or following someone else’s philosophy, it comes only from the brave act of living with freedom despite the bindings of society.

Alone on a rock, able to leave whenever it wants. Freedom.
The Brown Pelican, on a rock in the surf, free: Able to leave whenever it wants.

As I wrote what I had to in that notebook, hand sore, finger indented from holding the pen so long and so emphatically, it became apparent to me that I had become exhausted by the world constantly trying to make me one of everyone, that I needed to get away more often, and that my exhaustion was a reward for victory.

The rest and relaxation was simply to continue being a free individual in a society that detests such people – for we are dangerous; we have ideas and thoughts that threaten the status quo. Outnumbered, surrounded…

And unconquered.

The Bananaquit And The Hummingbird.

Bananaquit from above
The Bananaquit

I sat one afternoon after lunch and sat, listening to the surf. A bold bananaquit had grown used to me and would come within arms reach, whistling and studying me – unafraid even when I moved. He whistled loudly, either happily or voicing a complaint. After much song and the little hopping two-step dance of the bananaquit, he would go for the hummingbird feeder.

The ever-present hummingbird watched from it’s regular roost in a shrub in front of me, and would dart at the bananaquit – the bananaquit that was unafraid of me would fly off quickly to avoid the humming bird, looking for it, but unable to see it.

I watched the hummingbird hover in the shade of a nearby tree, watching the feeder it had claimed. As the bananaquit would sing and dance toward it again, the hummingbird would dart at it again,so fast and precise.

The bananaquit would again fly off.

Photo
The Hummingbird

This process repeated itself in so many different ways – different directions, different starting points and ending points for both of them. The bananaquit could simply not get to the feeder, afraid of a bird even smaller than itself as I quietly chuckled at it’s many failures when trying to sneak into the hummingbird’s territory.

I watched – they had been at it for an hour, and in heartbeats that must be the equivalent of days of their lives, perhaps even weeks.

A thought occurred to me.

It might be nice to have a hummingbird to deal with all the noisy bananaquits in my life.

Peering Into The Past: Speyside, Tobago

Speyside Estate, TobagoI stood there, reading a sign about who once owned Speyside Estate in Tobago, the smaller island of Trinidad and Tobago. It told me who owned it since 1773, how many slaves they had, and even how much compensation was received for the slaves upon Emancipation.

Context is an important thing – I was standing there, reading this, as people of African descent were keeping the area clean – Tobagonians employed, not slaves, but there was an unsettling feeling that I had just gone back in time. The cars didn’t belong.

It isn’t hard to imagine that the descendants of the slaves were now making a living keeping the area clean – pristine, in fact.  It’s hard to imagine that less than 100 years ago, slaves maintained this Estate. It’s an uncomfortable reminder, one I’d argue is necessary.

It’s necessary to feel that discomfort, I think, as an outsider looking in – a witness across the timeline of Tobago. It’s that discomfort, I expect, that causes people to react in different ways, even going so far as to attempt to misappropriate a history not their own by attempting to speak for those who have their own voice.

I cannot presume to know anything but that discomfort I initially felt as I read that sign and was surrounded by quiet people who gave me a wide berth, letting the outsider look upon their ancestors’ history. I can write as neither someone who owned nor was a slave, I am of different heritages, seafaring and indentured mixed in my blood.

My decision was to not to take pictures with them there, because there was no way I could find to capture that deep feeling I felt when I looked around. It’s all too easy to misinterpret. Some might have called it ‘art’.

At the time, in the moment, I saw it as a disservice to those around me.

I was the one that didn’t belong.

This was their history, this was a history that they maintained, this was something that through the centuries was maintained for reasons beyond me, but left for me to stand there and contemplate.

And it was beautiful. In fact, not having visited Tobago in 32 years, the pristine cleanliness of Tobago struck me, but here at this Estate there was a different sparkle, a tie to a time when things changed in 1833, where the numbers of owned people was noteworthy enough to keep in a ledger to later be reported on a green sign in front of me.

It was a shorthand for an embarassing aspect of humans and our capacity to treat others so… inhumanely.

History and NatureThe black and white history of the bricks was being replaced with the living color maintained by these Tobagonians. They had left here a lens through which to see their history, their culture, in the crumbling bricks of a retired watermill and it’s surrounds.

These scars of our histories are something some wish to remove. I do not hold an opinion on such things when it relates to history not my own, but what I will say is that I have a fondness for scars, I see a beauty in them not for the harshness of the wound but for the healing afterward.

It takes more strength to heal than to wound, and we need to remember what caused the scars to recognize the paths some have had to travel to be who they are, to be who they will be.

That discomfort was a gift.

Shouts and Whispers

Whisper
My dog when I was in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, named, “Whisper” largely because he wasn’t much of a talker, and a Passenger song by that name. 

I was sitting having dinner with a bird-watching couple from England.

The man was explaining to me that he had lost hearing of certain frequencies – and that he had hearing aids now that allowed him to hear calls by boosting frequencies that he had become deaf to over the years. It was an emotional admission, one that I understood – to be robbed of that sound, among others, would be horrible.

I empathized because I put up with it every day, just not in the same way.

My hearing has always been more sensitive than most – admittedly, not as good as it used to be, but it’s still better than average. Over the years, dealing with such hearing has been something that made me seem anti-social to a lot of people, and it’s probably a large part of my own personality. I hear things others cannot; large groups are too noisy – and generally, most people are too noisy. I live in a world of sound that most people seem oblivious to. It allows me to hear inflections when people talk, slight variances, little tells – and also allows me to mimic and ‘fit in’.

In the forest, alone, it allows me to hear what is around me. The different calls of birds can be easily sorted out, the overlapping songs that most seem to hear as an orchestra I can separate into the different instruments, looking for birds by eye after hearing them. Most people wander through the brush with a wild abandon, scaring everything off with their voices and noise – even ‘tour guides’ for people who are looking for wildlife.

So when he told me about his problem in that one ear, his inability to hear certain frequencies, he must have found it odd that I said, “In a strange way I wish I had your problem.”

The world constantly shouts, and because of that I miss the whispers underneath it all – the nuance, the minor orchestra of a world hidden in noise. It would be nice to be able to tune out all that shouting, listening to only that which I wished.

Incidentally, that noise lead to the extinction of the Baiji

Vacation Thoughts

Bananaquit from aboveThe time away was a wonderful thing; I hadn’t realized how much I needed a vacation.

There was time for some necessary culling of what I have been doing over the years by not doing any of it. I wrote for days in a notebook, a means I have for clearing my mind. I started doing that as a teenager, a way to get everything out – every sting, every joy, every itching wound. That writing is never to be published – simply an exercise in free writing that cleanses and, which at the end, is destroyed.

An open letter to the Universe as some might see it, an open letter to the Self as others might see it. The physical act of making everything inside external, the mechanical process, is something that works for me because then you can look at it from the outside looking in. The shift in perspective is then more easily done, going through one’s own life as the reader rather than the author.

You find petty things, you find important things glossed over, you find a character whose world-view is affected by things no longer present, whose actions are affected by that world-view in both good and bad ways.

And then I burn them – a symbolic thing I have always done, watching the black ink contrast less and less on the pages that go from white to ash.

Then you’re left with a start, and in that start, in a space where you can be yourself, you find what’s really there now. What I found was not what I had thought was there – faux rationality is easily scattered from the urn and you can see yourself for what you are, the world for what it is…

And then the vacation starts where you can do the things you want to do.

One morning I idyllically tossing a tethered waterproof camera into an area of deep current, just because I had one and some 550 cord.

Another morning I traipsed around on the abandoned paths of Blue Waters Inn – full of life, absent people who wanted to spend money to go see things and were out and about. I saw new things.

I sat with a hummingbird for hours, watching it feed and chase others from it’s source.

Most of all, I figured out what the next me was going to do with his life, if only for a while.