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.

The Lost B Sides Of Our Lives

VINYLVinyl. Some audiophiles still say that it’s the best way to listen to music as they don their rubber gloves, pull their records out of the cardboard holders (plastic removed to avoid warping of the vinyl), carefully placing the record on the turntable, adjusting the speed for a 45 (single) or a 78 (album) post WW II, and 33 RPM later on for albums.

Today, the MP3 reigns supreme – a compressed version of the music where the frequencies are kept only to that which the average human ear hears. Yet there was a time before this, a time before the 8-track tapes and later cassettes and the then ubiquitous Walkman cassette players, before compact discs (CDs) (Hat tip to Valdis Krebs on his correction through LinkedIn).

In the house I grew up in, a Sansui amplifier and tuner was the core of the sound system – 2 Technics turntables, a reel-to-reel system, and a dual Technics cassette deck with Dolby recording and playback ability. When alone, the wooden floors vibrated as only speakers made in the 1970s would make them. Every Friday, Patrick and I would look over the Billboard Top 100 to watch the trends, and I would go off and buy some 45s at the local record store.

I learned early on that what I liked wasn’t always popular. With music slower to come by than it is today, I’d end up flipping the record over to hear the other single that came with the record. A great example of this was the B side of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears: The Big Chair. A mixing dream, really.

I’d end up exploring the work of artists other than what was popular. Sometimes it was crap, something that the recording company chose out of their discography that didn’t even make it onto an album, and sometimes not.

We don’t do that anymore. I’m not even sure that many people did it in the first place, daring to spend the time to see if they liked the song, but I do know that at least some hit songs came from B-sides. You can read about some here, and some others here where you can listen to themThink songs like, “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) and “Revolution” (The Beatles).

In an odd sort of way, we were allowed to explore the music of artists through their detritus on the B-sides of albums – the stuff that publishers ‘threw away’, not wanting to give a free hit single away with another. And yet, some of their greatest mistakes are treasures – some popular, some not, the listener deciding what was good or not simply by flipping a record over and checking.

Fast forward to today.

The Internet brought us the ability to get music like never before. I’d like to think most of us legally buy music, I’m certain at least some of us download without paying some service or publishing company. Artists in some cases have bypassed the middlemen in this, allowing us to purchase directly from them through websites. Some even make their music available for free here and there.

But the services, just like yesteryear, are about maximizing profit. There are no more B-sides; we are bombarded with things that are algorithmically decided for us as we stream music. Just as on social networks our digital shadow – what we do online – is used to decide what we see, so it is with our music. Alternative – how can something be alternative when it becomes mainstream? – is even decided for us. We are less consumers now, maybe, than we were before the Internet in that there is no conversation (hat tip to the Cluetrain Manifesto), decisions about what we get are decided not even by other human beings but by statistical and heuristic analysis of our data. We are, in the eyes of algorithms, what we were, and not what we can be – never-mind what we should be.

Generations have passed having never flipped over a vinyl record, having never read something not decided for them…. we are become the algorithms of our algorithms, the ‘tools of our tools’ as Thoreau might write today.

Unless we find the B-sides of our lives.

Twisted


Driftwood
Some treess are allowed to grow straight -a tree might have stable light, stable water, stable ingredients with no tropisms that would cause them to twist. They are not safe; they are cut industriously to make other things by the toolmakers, to build things. This is so true that they are grown for that purpose, to be used for industry like so many other things. Their corpses are to be found straight and true somewhere, sometimes bent, hammered, screwed…

And then there are the survivors, those whose circumstances twist them, winds might break them, rivers may wash them away – their bones persist, washed into an ocean, their roughness worn away by the incessant massage of ocean currents and waves, their character revealed in the process.

People do not collect straight pieces of wood, they are not drawn to them – they are drawn to the gnarled and twisted driftwoods.

And yet society tries to cultivate people straight and narrow, repelled by that which is twisted until it’s character is revealed years later when it no longer lives.

Arts And Technology

Sisyphean TechnologyI found myself at my alma mater, discussing with the present Dean the divorce between Sciences and Literature a few weeks ago. It’s part of the concrete issue that I faced as a young man – in Trinidad and Tobago, then, probably around 1986, we were put into focused classes for Ordinary Level examinations.

There were paths for Modern Studies, Technical for the more hands on, and two Science classes. I made it into one of the two Science classes where we were driven down the science path – which most of us wanted. We were also required a language, which was Spanish. I was very happy with this at the time, only of the Computer Science aspect.

I was convinced Computer Science was my future, and to a large extent this was a self-fulfilling prophecy – as most prophecies seem to be.

In retrospect, as I spoke to the Dean of the school, a man younger than me, I looked back on how I wish I had the option to continue studying English Literature. I lost that when I got into the Science silo.

For 3 years prior, at the beginning of every summer vacation, I read all the books required for the next year. A voracious reader, I had read everything in the house already – all my father’s novels. Louis L’amour, James Clavell, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Zane Grey and Clive Cussler come immediately to mind. We also had an Encyclopedia from the early 1980s that I had read from end to end.

As I look back, I had two main passions but at the time I only understood the passion for one: Computer Science. The second, which I didn’t understand as a subject, was literature in it’s many forms – except plays. I thought reading plays was silly, and to a large extent I still do – you lose the forest for the trees, in my mind, and to write a forest one does not study trees but the forest. An opinion.

Now, what would have happened if I had been able to trade Spanish or Geography for English Literature? We could speculate a lifetime. I could say that the system failed me, but it’s not the system’s job to create individuals. In fact, when it comes to Education, what the system’s job is probably one of the most debated topics on the planet.

I can’t fix the Education system. That’s not the intent here. Nothing works for everyone, and it’s a fool’s errand to try to – but we set humanity’s most horrendous weapon to task, bureaucracy, and it grinds at young minds enough so that Pink Floyd wrote, “Another Brick In The Wall” as I began my very journey through the grind, beneath that wheel.

This isn’t about Education, though. This is about Learning, and the need to be balanced to at least be competent to some degree in sciences and art.

Just because you like being an individual who writes poetry doesn’t mean you won’t gain from understanding how a tree lives. Just because you like to know how things work doesn’t mean that you have to be spartan in your reading.

It was later on in life where I was rescued and given challenging things to read that tested my mind, poked and prodded it and teased out the importance of other things. It was an openness to knowledge that allowed me to do that, and while I was in a secondary school silo I did not feel that I had the time for such… luxury… such freedom to allow my mind to explore.

Yet I worked for decades with people who were generally horrid to communicate with, who weren’t aware of some of the lessons available in the Arts – about why society maybe should do some things and maybe shouldn’t do others. Ethics, and the roles as builders technologists play on the world stage. Philosophy. Being human. And in doing so, we forget what our role is, shrugging off the responsibility and putting it on others because we like our paychecks.

We should be better than that.

The Expanding of the Canvas

Framed WallI was standing with Tony, who I’d just bought a copy of his book from at the Presentation College Reunion. I mentioned I was battling existence in my mind.

He said we writers look at the world differently and see things differently.

That’s a true statement, I think. I also think that it’s not true enough.

Our world is framed, and when I say that, I mean that your world is framed, my world is framed, and everyone else’s world is framed. There is absolutely nothing in our world that we deal with that isn’t a derived construct of our brains. All of our senses are interpreted, processed and spat out to us as reality. We know what we like and we know what we don’t like.

That physiological limitation is the first frame. We cannot experience things like magnetic waves and radio waves directly; these are things that we have interpreted into motion and sound so that we know that they exist. And all of our frames are slightly different – someone may have better vision, someone else better hearing, and someone else may be more sensitive to touch, smell… the list goes on. And how we interpret these signals, the ratio of these signals, varies our framing.

Then, when we introduce more human beings, it gets more complicated. We have sounds we agree on for language, and around the world we agree on different languages. We agree on things like what the color blue is, even though each one of us might perceive it differently, some of us more sensitive to the visual spectrum than others, but we have this agreement on what we call blue – and if you get into the finer details, you find the disagreements.

We frame our own physiological experiences to each other in the context of what we agree on. We will say that the sky is blue, even though it actually only appears to be what we all agree on as ‘blue’. And that, too, we frame – within our physiological frame. The communication frame, the ability to share things with others and have them shared with us.

Then it gets even more framed with society, with cultures and subcultures, and suddenly we’re looking at the world through shared experiences rather than as we actually see it, the phrase, ‘typing at a keyboard’ only making sense to someone who knows what a keyboard actually is.

So I don’t know that just writers see the world differently. I think we writers simply communicate more differently than others in the written sense, some of us  to expand it because we see the world differently at some level of framing and feel the need to expand the canvas within the frame. Some could argue that artists only see things that way, but that argument is typically made by artists. Scientists also have that issue.

In fact, everyone has that issue. It’s how we expand our canvases… or try to… that allows others to define us so.

Java Speak

Short haired girls,
Long haired boys,
Raspberry blended cappuccinos,
Simple ideas of Art procreate –
Taking each other to new levels,
They mature with each other –
Subjective good with
Subjective bad –
Mix with the passionate artist’s
Paints and voice as he
Describes his work to all,
All that will listen.
A freely leased soapbox
Leaves the walls.

His art cannot stand alone.