What Can You Do?

049 feeling gravitys pullThe world is full of people who see their own troubles in one way or the other. I see it more clearly in Trinidad and Tobago now, after years of drawing breath, but I’ve always seen it.

I’ve seen that listless look, the empty eyes, when people ask, “What can you do?” I’ve done it myself a few times when things were going in ways I did not expect or like – in ways I did not plan for, in ways that worked against my own goals.

The world is not always how we are told it would be. It’s almost never the way that we wished it would be. Broken dreams are made of these things.

And yet, rather than focusing on what we cannot do, we should focus on the things that we can do.

When you lose your job, you find another way to pay the bills.
When you lose someone you love, you find another way to exist.

You move on. The first part of moving on is accepting what has happened, the second part is assessing the situation, and the last part is to dare to keep pushing forward somehow.

Never ask, “What can you do?”

Always ask, “What can I do?”

That’s what you can do.

You’ll live a better life, and the world will be a better place for it.

Car Profile Pictures.

Car Tunes show in BeloitIn this day and age, when I see someone’s profile picture as a car, I wonder…

Do they identify with the color of the car, or are they trapped inside waiting to be a different color?

Do they identify as an automatic or manual or CVT or Dual clutch sort of car?

Do they identify as having leather seats or fabric?

Do they identify as a V8 trapped in a 4 cylinder body? Or vice versa? Or do they identify as electric, or hybrid?

Do they identify as a front wheel drive, a rear wheel drive, an all wheel drive or a true 4×4?

Do they want some cosmetic surgery, maybe change those headlights to round or rectangular or… hexagonal?

Have they been abused? Will they be triggered by someone with heavy feet, or a woman with stilettos?

Car profile pictures are so very open to interpretation. People worry about people too much, but what about people who identify as cars? What kind of cars?

I’m sure I don’t know.

What is clear is that they don’t identify as a human, for whatever reason. Maybe they were born that way. Maybe they smoked some strange plant – not marijuana, of course, something stranger. Maybe they were raised by feral Tonka toys, or Matchbox cars.

Maybe their parents were cars. Maybe it was a one night stand, they met by accident, bent some fenders…

So don’t treat them like humans – you should treat them like cars. Send them lubrication. Fuel/electricity. Make sure that they have enough blinker fluid stockpiled. Communicate in ‘vrooms’. Wave your hand at them like windshield wipers.

Whatever you do, don’t make fun of them. They’re really, really sensitive.

Thinking about India in T&T.

Statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on Harris Promenade, with mala.
A statue of  Gandhi in San Fernando, Trinidad.

I was thinking about how little I know about India.

The young lady of mixed East Indian and African descent who served me the gyro had called me ‘hun’, an American affectation,  while handing me a Greek-ish food. And there I was, reading an Indian blog entry on resilience.

It seemed appropriate that I be reading her words on resilience when everyone I ran into in Trinidad was busy talking about what might happen at Petrotrin, as if their very lives depended on it. Last week, it was the earthquake, this week, Petrotrin.

The gyro was wrapped tight in a combination of paper and thin aluminium wrap – impossible to get off one or the other completely, so either you bit paper or aluminium. It wasn’t her fault, she just handed it to me – it was a problem of the paper combining with the juices of the gyro-ish food I had. So, being hungry, I opted for getting all the aluminium off- paper doesn’t hurt your teeth.

My own form of resilience in the moment, I suppose.

It’s not often I get moments like that one, out in public yet in a certain silence that allowed clear observation of the world around me. Now that I’d sorted out my gyro, which was really quite good – surprisingly so – I cast my eyes around.

This is South Trinidad. I’ve been spending more time in North Trinidad and the cultures, while similar, are not quite the same. First of all, North Trinidad almost always has better options for things. In that, it lacks the charm of South Trinidad where you accidentally find something nice.

It’s getting better, but there’s still a marked difference.

Petrotrin, which was later confirmed to be closing the refinery, was probably going to be laying off people I expect are largely from South Trinidad. This means that a year from now, I might not be seeing the same people were I to sit in the same seat. Since, by this hypothesis, there would be less disposable income in South Trinidad, any gap between quality and choices between North and South Trinidad would likely increase in size.

Again.

I chewed, picking at the odd piece of meat here and there that fell into my strategically placed foil. It’s Tuesday afternoon, maybe around 1:30 p.m. There’s people outside with loudspeakers talking about the need to learn sign language. Well, if you keep using loudspeakers, I expect so. There were people milling about in lunch lines at this hour, which seemed strange. Where did they come from?

Lunch is typically from 12 to 1, yet there were lines at all the health food places – you know, Royal Castle, Burger King, etc, in a country where people still share information on what to drink, eat, or stick in an orifice to ‘purge’. Not that my gyro was absolutely healthy, but I do have some moral high ground here that I won’t waste – it rarely happens. A spoiler for people: If you have healthy kidneys and a liver, your body doesn’t need much more help except with regular infusions of dihydrogen monoxide.

Water.

Reading an Indian writer, watching a South Trinidad floorshow while eating a fusion in cuisine. For some reason, a lot of my traffic here on RealityFragments, as well as on the Reality Fragments Facebook page, comes from India.

That’s why I was thinking about it. From the outside looking in, being a roundabout descendant of descendants of Indian origin (as well as others), what I know is a collection of reading what Indian friends have written or shared with me. They shared with a depth that was inspiring.

And yet I am apart, but then, as I considered India, India is largely apart from India. It’s this mass of people who turned an imposed language against the owner of it and continues to be a growing economy – even as poverty is visible. Conflicted, yet with a depth to those conflicts that cannot allow things to change quickly in a world that hastens in accelerated ways. I cannot know India.

I know it only from parts, pieces, little anecdotes, some articles, a Simputer, and little else.

There’s more to know, I’m sure. But with so many readers from a part of the world I might insult by only seeing pieces of it on a trip, I spent time thinking about it. And I likely will in the future.

So, for the people reading in that place marked by lines on someone else’s map – thank you for stopping by. You’re appreciated, and I’m returning the favor as best I can.

Recoloring Society

Snowy Mountains
‘Snowy Mountain’, by Wasfi Ekab, 1992.

People do amazing things with simple items. Take crayons, for example.

The image at top was done with what we consider children’s tools. We send them off to color between the lines in the hope that they’ll be quiet. Maybe hoping that their hand-eye coordination improves as they grow older so that they can stay within the lines – and society likes things that stay in lines. That follows something someone else drew. Whose vision is limited to what is possible within those lines.

Crayon ProgressionIt keeps things safe. Predictable. Unambiguous.

Yet we celebrate those who can do things without lines that we can identify with – we like art we can identify with. With lines. With a framework. A framework we can identify.

Stray too far, and it makes people uncomfortable. Few people like uncomfortable.

People want order. Nice lines of what can be expected.

Everything in it’s place.

Everything explained, even if by a theory incomplete.

The trouble is that we just get the same things when we do the same things. There might be some variance, but it’s the accepted range of things.

Shots from Hottie's Coffee ShopThe only real moves forward humans have made have been when people color outside the lines.

When the crayons are outside of the box, the framework.

When they’re disorganized.

Mixed up.

When the canvas is clear of lines we thought we needed.

A mess of crayons and a blank page is how we let children play.

When did we lose that?

Or do we still have it?

Relativity

RelativityAs I hinted at, I got rid of the last pickup – codename Artsy – and have since moved on to another vehicle. I won’t mention make or model – I’m not going to do free advertising for some company when I’ve only had the vehicle a few days.

But I like it. This is what the article is about – because I told someone I visited today that they are now less far away with this vehicle.

They didn’t move. I didn’t move. The distance hadn’t changed. What I was driving had.

Artsy’s job was to create trails in the bush with me at the wheel. This she did well – so well, in fact, that I saw her on the way home and for a moment wondered what my pickup was doing there… when it’s not mine anymore. She looks well. 

However, things have changed and so the requirements of the vehicle have changed as well. And this one doesn’t have to go in the bush. Trails, maybe, but no more bush. Mainly, roads. Parking in the cities. And, finally, it’s not a manual transmission.

It’s a dual clutch transmission, which for the sake of people who don’t know enough about cars, is more efficient than a manual and as convenient as an automatic.

The air conditioning is awesome. The back up camera makes parking so much easier. The audio is so good stock, and plays my MP3s and more. The seat is comfortable.

And so, now, what used to be a long distance for me is a shorter distance – just like that. This is probably not news to a lot of people, but I’ve always sacrificed things.  The RX7s had their AC’s take out for weight reduction, Artsy had noisy mud tires, and so on, and so on. These were things that were necessary for the tasks at hand.

With this vehicle, I did not sacrifice. I ordered the pizza with everything on it. It has features I may never use.

But today I saw the value in that spontaneous simple statement, it dawned on me.
It dawned on me that relativity and the hierarchy of needs are related in the human experience – something I knew – but at a new depth.

And, after all, even the Spartan minimalist has to acknowledge that the new chariot is a worthy tool for the next part of my life.

I Was Going Somewhere With That.

Little Green Man says THAT WAYOne of the more ‘fun’ things that happens with writing is the distraction – when you end up off on a tangent because of other things.

Like earthquakes. Introspection because of how you see other people react about earthquakes. And then, because you’re already distracted, you end up writing about an attachment to vehicles.

And that actually fits in with all of what I was getting at. Granted, some people are distracted by the antics of people who they implicitly give authority to with their attention, or have that societal attention deficit disorder as frameworks do what they were designed to.

When the earth rumbles and people realize just how powerless they really are – when they can’t run away from something and there’s nothing to fight – a morbid reality sets in that can’t be so easily dismissed… for a short while, anyway. It’s not as if understanding plate tectonics is going to save you from an earthquake. Breaks in frameworks begin to show, and the ambiguity of how safe one really is seeps into the society.

Time moves along, the ambiguity pumps are manned as people find explanations from either science or religion or that-person-down-the-street-who-knows-everything… they find some comfort, getting rid of that ambiguity.

And suddenly, they’re acting as if nothing happened at all. As if they are safe, as if the few hours of their lives they spent with seismologists was enough – because to them the world is dangerous to know about, it’s dangerous to understand what happens outside of those frameworks.

People don’t want answers. They want comfort.

And, oddly enough, that’s an important point on the way to where I was going.

The Soul of Machines

Baby Driver.
Me, attempting to borrow my father’s 1969 Barracuda. I had gas problems.

There’s a part of my soul that’s machine. It started early.

As far back as I remember, it was an integral part of my life. I grew up on the road, with 8-tracks becoming the first part of the soundtrack of my life. Later, cassettes. Later, CDs. Later, MP3s.

And even before I got my license, I was driving – to the consternation of just about everyone in authority, including a particularly patient Irving, TX police officer who was genuinely surprised that I had gotten a 4 speed, 81 hp Toyota Tercel up to 90 mph on a curvy road that someone had mistakenly suggested had a speed limit of 35 mph.

No ticket issued, by the way. He simply waggled a finger at me, told me to get my license, and had me park the borrowed car of a friend’s mother where he could check on it in her absence. That, by the way, is policing – as opposed to Law Enforcement, which could have gone a really, really different way. Thank you, wherever you are.

Vorpal Bunny: Stage 1
The Vorpal Bunny: chipped, a sleeper until that carbon hood… and the daily driver to work on I95 for a while…

Every vehicle I’ve driven has become a part of me – from the sports cars to the 4x4s, from the muscle cars to the ricers. Each played a part in my life. Each one had it’s own character, it’s own special songs that fit the shifts – I rarely drove automatics. And I knew the mechanical aspects of every single one, enough to surprise mechanics. Later I would learn not to say too much or I wouldn’t learn more. And I managed to find great mechanics everywhere to help me.

83 RX7-GSL
The 1983 RX-7, GSL, kept… close… to stock. 😉

When it came to the RX-7s, though, I was the only one to work on mine.

Restoring those first gens was always a special joy that came from my father and I building a model when I was about 5. Of course, I was full of questions – and he could explain piston engines to me, but when we built the RX-7 model, he explained to me that the engine was different – and when asked, he couldn’t explain why. That unanswered question made me fall in love with the Wankel. Beautiful and underappreciated cars, those old RX7s.

I’ve been fortunate with cars: I’ve always found the good used ones, and people have always wanted the ones I’ve driven – even modified, sometimes especially when they had been modified – but when the machine and I merged, they only saw the machine.

They bought what they had seen me do with a machine. Pulling out every little bit of horsepower, using inertia, understanding the flow of air, the engine, the transmission, the drive wheels, the tires, the feel of the steering – the machine speaks to you.

Some people can’t hear when machines speak.

Artsy likes picking #cassava. #agriculture #offroad #4x4
Artsy in the bush… in the area that she helped me claim. 

And so, another change. Another vehicle tomorrow, the turbodiesel Ford Ranger now the past. This last machine worked hard, doing things that surprised people I know.

And, a few times, she surprised me.

Life changes.

New tools are required.

A new vehicle awaits for a more sedate part of life.

Her new owner better understand her – she can be an unforgiving vehicle. But oh, she worked hard and did what so many thought were impossible.

Just like all machines can in the right hands, with the right maintenance.

They have the heart.
The soul, on the other hand, is always the operator.

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