If the White House is Burning in a Forest…

Lets talk about something that has been on my mind for a while. Lets talk about politics. They tell us in class that no one is outside of it. They tell us through the media that we have no place in it. They tell us at the polling booths that we control it. They tell us from Washington what is happening within it. Where are we? Really.

What I am coming to understand is that we are confused, and rightly so. Because if we are listening to all of this, we are a lot of places and nowhere at once. Thats it. Its not a conspiracy, its a well maintained plan. A timeless plan of confusion, disengagement and disempowerment.

Politics is centralized, as efficiency necessitates. We are fragmented. Fragmented, divided and conquered. Fragmentation is not checks and balances, it is isolation. Consumption becomes the treatment. We need communities not commodities. Computers will not bring us together, until we can bring ourselves together without them.

History unravels our mess through timelines and words nonsensical until the present is past, Germany 1933, South Africa 1948, Rwanda 1994, United States 2001. People were led to be confused, controlled. Confusion is the birth place of fear and dependence. My masters degree is becoming increasingly important, and not for the paper at the end of the two years. This MA is opening my eyes to confusion machines, that masquerade behind the titles of education, advocacy and public interest. We are their products.

I am learning how to acknowledge and decipher the confusion, to produce back, in resistance.

Confusion could be in the public interest if we had the time, investment and tools to investigate it. More often, confusion is in the economic or private interest. Lets talk about politics. Lets talk about representation. Lets unfold conversations that involve more than handfuls of people, politicians. Politics: we are uneducated about, deceived by, and consensually close our eyes to it.

I purpose an unearthing of politics in its multiplicity. The isolation driven by fragmentation and confusion is not an isolation of education, advocacy and public interest. Difference should be the beginning, and not the end of our journeys. We should start relishing in, instead of running from, the discomfort of it. Then we can move past this sedentary confusion, into the forest.

Sickness, Part 1

Today I felt a mixture of rage and nausea well up in my stomach when I heard the words fall from my classmates mouth: Gays, thats all Mugabe and I agree on. Gays? You mean the legalized discrimination and imprisonment of a people based on their sexual orientation, twenty-first century hate laws is all you agree on? What exactly is it that you don’t? I have met those before who are fearful of gays, those who are ready to throw a punch at a man who makes unwanted advances (as if that commonly happens), but I have never been so unfortunate as to meet another human being on this earth who would want another man imprisoned, and in Zimbabwe near dead, because of who he loved. Hate is a sickness perpetrated by those who do not know love. The feeling in the pit of my stomach welled up and grew quickly. He was of my own species. I am him, he is me, ubuntu, disgusting. This is the rationality of a Zimbabwean Catholic God? This is the rationality of a human in 2013? This is insanity, preached by those on Earth who’ve lay claim over the high heavens and attracted many obedient regurgitators. He vomited first and I’ve always been queasy at the sight and stench of it. I was at loss for hope but words were flowing freely. What do you say in the face of ignorance? I started in with the concept of love, the one that proceeds those two simple words ‘thy neighbor’ in the Bible. I asked him if he had a Bible and then told him to bring it tomorrow. I wanted to see with my own eyes his version of the proof. I wanted to see him search for reason. I wanted to see him find one single flimsy sentence of script and tell me again that was all it took to deserve judgement, an undeniable sin. When did we start believing that we had the prerogative to judge and condemn in the name of our creator? When did love become so stigmatized? Normally I feel blessed to live in this world of progression. But yesterday I realized Seattle is not the world one more time. All I can do now is look toward tomorrow as another opportunity to take on a bit fuller reality in hopes that in its wholeness I gain greater purpose and determination.

4 A.M.

Image

At four a.m. restlessness pulls my mind from its slumber. Jet lag seems an unworthy explanation for this repetitive awakening that I have never before experienced but could have time and again induced. I meander through miscellaneous thoughts: breakfast, chores, lunch, studies, rain, photos. My mind moves with unnecessary ease through consciousness. With uninterrupted and unending focus my frustration clouds my pre-dawn reckless mental abandon. A book, Einstein’s Dreams, crawls into my head, a chapter specifically that deals with mechanical time in comparison with body time. The argument goes that there are those in this world who follow the numbers on a clock, scheduling lunch at noon, and those who follow their instinctive nature, eating when hungry. Maybe I should be awake.

From Einstein I go barreling in Grandma, to a photo project I did with her last fall. Probably my first photo project I got resoundingly negative feedback from, one should be so lucky. I had followed her daily life with the attempt to provide a look into a faction of American retirement. I think the word was boring, or maybe conceptually anti-climactic. At least it was technically accurate, the light was right, the composition was strong and the diversity of subject matter commendable. Still, the story was noted as lacking.

This morning at 4 a.m. it came to me, the story was lacking sufficient conflict and resolution. It was lacking drama. Today we have drama habits along with our drug ones. Do you watch the news? Something is consistently wrong and needing repair, whether it be in politics or in someone made out to be the universal next door neighbor turned sociopath. We live in a world of vicarious climax, instability and fear that gets translated it into personal isolation. Happiness or balance gets pushed aside with idealism and optimism as unattainable and unnecessary. Grandma’s life gets easily written off as unremarkable.If only I had been there to capture the visual imagery of her childhood working for room and board on a farm, that is when she was worthy of documentation. That story would surely satiate our reliance on instability as it summoned harsh emotions of sadness and grief reminding us that we too were living.

The ironic thing is that as Americans today we probably put up holiday decorations more often than we work for room and board on a farm. We live comparatively comfortable lives. But we can no longer find comfort in them, in eating lunch at noon and going to bed at 10, because our body is not a machine but an organism. It wants to be listened to and not told. Somehow we have come to assume the more we open our consciousness up to the world’s shock and awe the more we will get back to the vitality of living. But the shock and awe is as temporary as a prozac. Grandma and my photo project is worthy in its honesty and acceptance, just like waking up at 4 a.m..

Listen

I know why I love airplanes
as the presentation on journalism passes between my ears
and I think more about the process of applying stickers to my water bottle than critiquing the rule of the watchdog
I realize that airplanes are where one has to run into strangers
they are our contemporary public house
a closed container of people watching and happenstance encounters
I am stuck
what will consume my thesis research and writing?
flying presents another type of stuck, one with equal and unlimited potential
even with a closed mouth my ears and eyes are busy
hold that in your mind
my head floats in and out of class
strangers float in an out of our existence
everyone is a presentation of alternative realities and various  contexts
what tells us more: words or people?
sometimes actions are silent
constituting meaning
silence speaks, if you’re listening

Declan, The Graduate!

Last weekend was spent in Durban for Declan's graduation. He now has his B.Soc.Sci. with a double major in Sociology and Religion.

Last weekend was spent in Durban for Declan’s graduation. He now has his B.Soc.Sci. with a double major in Sociology and Religion.

The Irony of Silence

Today there were a lot of students wearing purple shirts on the the Rhodes Campus. As one of Rhodes University’s colors one might have mistaken the collective action as an exclamation of collegiate pride had it not been for the equally as prevalent pieces of duct tape covering student mouths. For all those who had little clue what was going on today at Rhodes the duct tape, if not the plague of purple, probably prompted some second looks. The shirts read: Sexual Violence=Silence or Stop Violence Against Women, the Power of Change is in Our Hands.

As I am normally one fueled by collective social action, either through participation or photographic documentation, I felt a bit odd in my protest of association. The Rhodes Silent Protest today was the first time I can remember not joining a collective movement that stood in solidarity for a just cause. It is not that rape is growing on me as a cultural practice, or that I am personally and individually removed from any form of sexual violence and its horrifying effects. I wasn’t wearing purple today for the simple reason that I could not find or construct any semblance of a suitable justification for the collective action.

When was the last time you remember seeing or participating in public protest that made some lasting change? After participating in more protests that I wish to count on my two hands and probably feet I can only remember one. It was a student protest in Durban over the privatization of the residence halls. After rubber bullet fire and student resilience the residence halls remained school owned. But one success in even a handful of cases isn’t too compelling. I don’t mean to diminish the small scale advances of personal empowerment and awareness raising, but I do wish to impart that protest generally aims and fails to achieve something bigger, like reducing rape, ending the Iraq war, or restructuring wall street.

My generation seems to be one that is brilliant at producing visual representation but questionable when it comes to physical implementation. Rape is not about purple shirts and duct tape, rape is about oppressive physical structures. While the purple shirts and silence might unite and empower us today at some point our unvalidated discursive endurance will lead only to disempowerment as we recognize the expired effect of our voices.

Individual empowerment does not shield us from rape. Street cleaners don’t get people to stop littering. We are worthy of solving our problems and not just their symptoms. Perhaps it is time to take the duct tape off and start talking to each other. Other civil action is possible. Lets not restrict ourselves to the dominant and failing model of duct taping our mouthes to speak to those that have duct taped their ears.

I Saw Another Dead Man

We were in the sea together, except you were only physically present. And then the whistles blew from the unassuming faces of lifeguards at the shore. My mind went to shark and my pace began to quicken as I hoped I wouldn’t assume the caboose position in our mass exodus towards the beach.

I was not last and you were not a shark. You are a breathless and naked man rolling with carless abandon in the waves. This will be the extent of our relationship. I see you, you don’t see me. As I stand there dripping off our recently shared ocean I can’t stop watching you, trying to unravel your mystery, knowing and coming to accept certain unknowing. I’m going to walk away when I see him covertly shooting you. To him you are a newsworthy spectacle, a story, but I’m still failing to find context. How can you adequately reproduce the unfamiliar?

I have a camera in my bag up the beach but I do not walk away to grab it. I walk away in an attempt to escape the voyeurism started by consented release of the cell phone shutter.

I am less curious about your history then your present. How long will procedure and bureaucracy of the living condone your final exhibition? Where is the body bag of our innocence and your dignity? Instead we are left floundering in what seems like unending and unnerving time with each other. I can’t estimate who is handling the contemporary discomfort better. You are the still peace to our frenzy but we are too loud to recognize the quiet.

Drinking from a Watering Can

I have been in settling mode: running errands, walking though town and campus, essentially attempting to nest. In the back of my mind is the expectation of what my nest will look like, moulded undoubtedly by what my prior nests have been. It is always an attempt to fit the unknown into some sort of material package that resembles home. What and who would we be without our loyalty to materials?

Unfortunately, the tap has been putting a damper on the efficiency of my ‘home’ packaging. Grahamstown water tastes bad, and I hear rumors of mercury and aluminum and early-onset Alzheimer’s. My nest cannot have bad water, much less water that is potentially making me sick. I am used to the luxuries of a healthy nest, and so that is what I will try and replicate.

Recently, I went out in search of a water purifier, like a Brita pitcher. A Brita in South Africa, what a beautifully familiar solution to my bad tap water inconvenience. Not being able to find one in a local store on my own searching I enlisted the help of an employee. I briefly described that I was looking for, a jug of sorts, that I could keep in the fridge, that would purify my tap water. Nodding, he said he would just go look in the store room for such a thing.

A few minutes later, after I had sufficiently read all the packaging information and ingredients on a bottle of parmesan thyme infused olive oil, the employee returned. He had found what I had asked him for, or rather how he interpreted what I had asked him for, a watering can. A big blue watering can, way too big to fit into my little refrigerator. I smiled, let out a slight understanding chuckle and thanked him for his help. There is not much else worth doing when experiencing the short-comings of intercultural communication.

Travel, and life generally, gives a sense of interconnectedness while only inherently accommodating for the physical. Last year, at the LIU Global senior orientation in upstate New York, students were given a large piece of poster board and pens and asked to depict what LIU Global had taught them. After listening to The Real Deal, by Goldfish (a South African band) I started in on drawing. LIU Global had taught me so much, but what seemed most unexpected was what it taught me about human’s disjointed ability to connect with each other. To perceive other’s: social, cultural, class, and gender conceptions, and our own ideological context, and relay our messages to each other with efficiency and ease will remain a constant struggle, that often goes unnoticed at home and abroad. Unfortunately, these ‘mis’translations do not normally come in the form of a big blue watering can.

On my poster I started to draw a collection of free standing hills with individuals atop them holding half a tin can phone to their ear and a separate one to their mouth. Tin cans that would receive the messages of an individual, on a different hill, speaking into its pair can connected to it by a rope or string. We see people as if there are no hills, and think that we know them, much like we see things and acknowledge their physical existence as totality, but seeing isn’t all knowing. The physical is never definite. We are all just standing on our hills, hopefully trying to strengthen the effectiveness of our ropes.

The Real Deal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sYnKdEEgKA

Grahamstown Home

Grahamstown Home

Out the bathroom window.

That Next High

I have been home for seven months now. I feel externally idle with adventure pulsing in my veins, waiting to burst. I remind myself life is not about place but human connection. This is my daily mantra. It matters not where you are but who you are, and who you allow yourself to meet and further be present with.

This time at home has been surprisingly rewarding, frustrating but continuously rewarding.

Travel is my addiction, it is a constant rush of the unknown, mystery, and thus adrenaline. It is the perfect drug, it doesn’t tie you down, its high is always of a different variety and thus unexpected, and there are no proven physical side-effects.

Seven months in Seattle has reminded me that it is a high nonetheless. Once you become reliant on a high, normality as you came to live it before the high somehow seems low, and lower than normal should be. If the high isn’t bad for you why not chase it?

I had a Nanny when I was a little girl, until I wasn’t even so little anymore, who had a huge impact on my life. Shelly used to say to me, come Christmas time when the most common phase fleeing my mouth was ‘I can’t wait for Christmas’, that I could wait and further I should try to enjoy the wait. As a kid that seemed like the most unbearable and unreasonable advice. How could you enjoy waiting? Waiting inherently meant that your were preoccupied by an internal countdown that clouded all present activities with the mundane ticks and tocks to its completion.

Healthy withdrawal, if you can oversee its oxymoronic nature, is a balancing act of deafening out the tick and tocks enough to enjoy the present while maintaining excitement for the next high.

I have been home for seven months now, waiting to go off to grad school in South Africa come January 5, and I have been enjoying the wait. I was home to take a remarkable and unforgettable road-trip across the United States after graduation. I was home to welcome Declan to Seattle for another bit of much enjoyed time together. I was home to photograph my first wedding. I was home to go on Dad and my annual father-daughter camping trip with his friend from high school and his daughter. I was home when my Great Uncle Lane passed away. I was home to hug Grandma and the rest of the family, and to send off balloons with messages to Lane off the bow of my great Uncle Brooke and Aunt Sharon’s boat. I was home to bear witness to the hoopla of this years presidential elections. I was home to vote for President Barack Obama and the legalization of gay marriage in Washington State. I was home to watch both victories, and I was home to feel thankful to America. I was home to mentor a photography class at Youth in Focus, a youth empowerment program for marginalized teens in the greater Seattle area. I was home to listen to their stories, and share with them parts of my life that might give them insights into their own decision making. I was home to receive a scholarship to take an Assignment and Editorial Photography class at Photo Center Northwest. I was home to start and finish a documentary photo project on my lovely Grandmother and her life of retirement. I was home to listen to her phone conversations with her Brother, and to watch her get her home ready for the holidays. I was home to go to Phoenix and Sedona Arizona with my parents and visit my Godfather. I was home to celebrate his 70th birthday with him and I was home to bake five cakes for his birthday into the wee hours of the morning with my cousin Andy. I was home to volunteer as a dispatcher for RightRides, an amazing organization that offers free rides home in the greater NYC area to women and members of the LGBTQ community to cut down on gender based violence. I was home get such amazing cascade powder shots to the face at 3:30 in the afternoon while killing runs at Stevens Pass with Dad. I was home to start a T-shirt company with a friend from high school. I was home to prepare our own home for Christmas, to get Santa pictures at Nordstrom, and to celebrate one of the most love-filled and festive Christmases of my entire life.

I am realizing more often that stabilizing withdrawal is dependent on shifting perspectives on the meaning of life and the pursuit of meaning.

While I list off 430 words that link phrases of written memory making, I know I have not noted it all and for that I feel so incredibly blessed. I won’t bore you with much more, only to say I have yet to give up the travel high. Home is a beautiful place filled with the greatest of people, yet I can’t help but feel my home expanding. As a globalization baby, home’s boarders are expanding and even erasing. How amazing it is to theorize that one day people will believe that home is not finite, beauty is everywhere and great people are not limited to specified blood lines.

Love to you all. Keep embracing it, life that is.