On Suicidal Trees

Suicidal Hog Plum Tree.Like most suicides, it gave no warning. The machinations of digging the pond included the tree being over the pond.

The pond was dug right at the very end of dry season. The tree seemed to be fine, this large hog plum tree. No roots were broken, no damage to the tree.

Leaning against it, I learned of the biting ants and learned… not to lean against it. It became a landmark of one of the many things to avoid casually touching on the land, like the weaponized chlorophyll of the Trinidad Roseau.

Maybe it was that lack of touch that was the signal. Maybe, somewhere in the latent consciousness of trees it decided it was not just alone but lonely. Maybe I had chopped down some of it’s children and it couldn’t stand to live without them. Maybe it had seen it’s reflection in the beginnings of the collected water of the pond and it didn’t like what it saw.

Whatever the reason, I found it in the pond one day, broken at the roots. At the roots, I saw the stone.

IMG_20170604_154150

I do not know why it committed suicide. It seemed happy enough. And here I was left, having to remove it’s burdensome body from the pond, something that between the pickup, tractor and excavator was done… dismembering it accidentally here and there. Corpses are so fragile.

I write all of this to show how easy we are to anthropomorphize non-human things, and how we treat humans like non-human things. About how people commit suicide every day – U.S. military veterans alone at a rate of 22 per day, once every 65 minutes – dismissed as numbers that march into the sunset.

Civilians, too, who pass quietly into the night, not the celebrity.

And here I wrote about a suicidal tree.
And you read it.

Share this to support Suicide Awareness. The life you save may never know. 

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.

Influence: Douglas Adams

Ready To Leave The Planet.Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, may have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

– Douglas Adams, Speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge, UK, (1998)

I was introduced to the works of Douglas Adams in my youth, and his dark satire suited me well – but he was larger than that in many ways. He also happened to be alive when I was reading his works, and in that he held a fairly lonely spot. So lonely, in fact, he left it in 2001.

His non-fictional work is worth seeking out.  He played with Pink Floyd, co-wrote a Monty Python skit, worked with the BBC in educating the public about wild life… he was far from just a boring human being.

People should know where their towels are. They should also not panic all the time.

Outlier Dilemma

OutlierAmid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to the fearful risk of losing his place forever.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Wakefield“, Twice-Told Tales(1837).

There is truth in that, and for those of us who have been uprooted from places place and dropped in others, the comfort of having a place and belonging didn’t go where we did. It got left behind, losing it’s place forever as well.

I caught myself thinking about that today, throughout the day. I have something I’m writing for another site that, when I paused to think about it, I realized that by saying some things about what others have done, I would be putting them on the defensive without intending to. So I’ve been trying to reconcile that in my mind, to find a way to get them past that hurdle in what I will be writing, an annoying by-product of knowing the audience.

In doing that, I ended up thinking about why I look at the data that has been collected so differently and see things that, apparently, the great cogs of an ‘academic bureaucracy meets government bureaucracy’  do not see in their love child, ‘dysfunctional data’. Truth be told, the data was collected for a purpose, but without a plan for the future.

And so, here I’ll be, the outsider – a role I know well – explaining why the work done over a 10 year period sucks. Of course, I’ll need to couch it better, but the reality is that with a little more planning and thought, it wouldn’t.

But as I thought about all of this, I knew it was deeper, and it’s something that as an individual who has dealt with it my whole life and I’m comfortable with, it’s something I’ve constantly had to wrestle with when communicating just so that people don’t stop reading, or listening. It’s amazingly easy to come across as a jerk, even unintentionally.

Granted, there are times when being a jerk has benefits and is a wonderful thing to be – really – it’s more of a sledgehammer in the toolbox of a communicator, and if it’s a default tool, people won’t listen – which defeats the reason for communicating.

So you get back to the basics and you muddle along writing for a deadline you announced to someone so that you would actually do it in time. And that’s that.

But even as I made my rounds on my land today, reconnecting with people, I knew that given different circumstances, I could have been any one of these people just as given different circumstances and opportunities I could be so well entrenched in academia I’d have the same thoughts as everyone else there. Or so well entrenched in other things that I would have the relatively mundane thoughts on things that they do – something I touched on in The Gentle Art of Self Deception.

I didn’t have those circumstances or opportunities. Later, I would make decisions so that I could retain that. I am an individual, but not like in the video, and that has value.

Being an individual is dangerous, because it’s easy to think you’re right and everyone else is wrong. It’s dangerous because it’s easy to go off of metaphorical cliffs that the crowd doesn’t, and yet it has it’s own value as well in that if the crowd is heading for the metaphorical cliff, you can shout at them from the side and get absolutely no satisfaction if people don’t listen to you.

I suppose it would be easier to just fall into the crowd and lose one’s self, if only I could do that. If only I could have done that. There was a time in my life when I wanted that, but it was not to be.

And further, how could the status quo be properly challenged from within it?

Losing one’s place forever, as Hawthorne wrote, can be initially frightful – I don’t remember if I was frightened, to be honest – but it is most certainly not the end of the individual.

It’s the beginning of a dance with crowds, of the art of appearing to belong while not actually belonging, of being the chameleon, and figuring out how to use it in a way that adds value.

Photography vs. Writing

I’m still muddling through a perplexing problem at times where I wonder whether a picture is what I want to take, or whether writing the scene is better. It’s hard to judge; I’m a published semi-pro amateur photographer, I’m a published writer (one eBook, if that really counts, but through a publishing company). I can do both reasonably well, or at least I would like to think so.

Here’s an example. I was wasting time on Independence Square (South) in Port of Spain, Trinidad, waiting for the next water taxi.

I came across a burnt out building- the marks on the walls through all where there had once been glass. Welded BRC wire framed on steel, painted with a reddish primer kept people out of… a burnt building… and a new sign in the lower right proclaimed it to be the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. A promise, perhaps, like so many others in Trinidad and Tobago by politicians seemingly paid by the quantity of what comes out of their mouths rather than the quality.

In front of this armored concrete husk lay a vagrant, facing the building, his red t-shirt contrasting with cardboard he was laying on. And oh, how I wish I had my camera with me at that moment. It was as critical a social criticism as any. It was, in fact, a perfect shot.

But I didn’t have the camera, and I simply wrote about it – taking 3 paragraphs.

In this, the picture would have been better, I think. Yet I wrote about it and described the highlights of the scene pretty well, too.

So what this taught me is that it’s not a versus. It’s a matter of combining the two, and really, I still need to work on that.

On Physical Writing

WritingWe live in an age where the pitter-patter of little keyboards has made way for the silent agony of typing on touchscreens, little QWERTYish keyboards on small surfaces that leave one looking like a monkey trying to solve a puzzle.

Truth be told, I don’t get release from tapping away at a keyboard. There’s no physicality to it. I carry a Moleskine reporter notebook with me almost everywhere I go, and for a years I went without – going instead with the ‘smartphones’, pads, etc – things that are supposed to ‘boost productivity’ and ‘blah blah blah marketingspeak marketingspeak!’ in ‘new and improved’ ways.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m becoming a dinosaur. Maybe I appreciate the relative privacy of my notebook – where it’s not encrypted and yet more private than using a smartphone, where the only people I need to worry about prying into my written thoughts being the ones physically close to me.

What I do know is, after getting back to writing in my Moleskines after these years, is that a good pen and a good Moleskine is like sex for me – the feel of the pen as it presses on the pages, cushioned as you break in a notebook, is simply a pleasure – the ink flowing properly, drying quickly, and flipping pages to write more. It’s sex.

And keyboards are like masturbation. Sure, you get some release, but it’s lacking that something.

That physicality.

That… sex.

When Fictions Collide

Hidden (Science ) FictionsEveryone is the narrator of their own fiction – and no one ever casts themselves as the villain in their fiction. Never, except perhaps in cases where there is some sort of mental disorder involved, but even that is subjective.

It’s just fiction.

We see ourselves as we wish to be seen, not as others see us; we see others as we wish to see them. And because we’re never the villain, someone else ends up being that villain.

Reality starts where that fiction ends.