Limited

The turbulence puts my pen to paper again. I have been writing and rewriting this post for the past two months, unsatisfied. This one however will be my final rewrite. I will do all I can to chase my mind away from thoughts of pee consistently jostled about by ill timed clouds and air-hosts with little faith in passengers balance.

10 hours before home and I have just watched the most remarkable story unfold before my eyes. I always know I like a movie when I have to pause it, for airline ‘food’, and realize I am already an hour in. The Great Gatsby, timing is everything. You see I haven’t found eloquence lately because I have been distracted. My heart has been hurting in an eerily silent and blinding way.

Three years ended in an insignificant instant and I was left pondering a phrase on a greeting card I had bought sometime back: your heart hurts because it wasn’t in the shape you thought it was. It was one of those cards I bought only partially understanding and fully hoping for the continuation of that partial comprehension. Yet, certainly a depth and breadth of life experience is useful and I have been spending these past few weeks reacquainting with myself and that heart, understanding the card. I apologize for the delay.

I vividly remember a dinner table conversation from when I was 13, angsty. I had realized a conflict in two of my Mother’s pearls of wisdom: between the ideal that anything with love, determination and dedication is possible and her remark that perhaps not everyone, regardless of an abundance of all three, could make it to the olympic national soccer team. We are not limitless.

I recently reached an insurmountable boundary and had been avoiding its confrontation while basking in an optimism that obscured the shape of my heart. In the noise of life what I wanted and what I needed had quietly divorced. Neglecting the present, I clung to memories and expired significance of the past.

There are so many uplifting cliches about love and life and yet sometimes despite how relentlessly you want something or someone it just doesn’t happen. The Great Gatsby is literary and cinematic reminder. Reality, in its entirety, is never a graspable one-liner. These past few months I have been trying to catch up with myself, the present, learning that boundaries exist and sometimes we fail.

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Dead Alive

A classmate and I recently started a revolutionary book club, revolutionary in content not structure. Currently, we are reading Hitler. We meet every two weeks and digest bits of what we’ve read and inevitably end up translating Hitler’s meaning into contemporary contexts. Last week we got onto the topic of control after reading a rather succinct chapter on propaganda. Khanyile, my classmate, noted how at ease Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, was with controlling people by overt force: death, disappearance, detention. He then contrasted this to the covert wielding of power in the United States, “you are all already dead, alive but dead”. These eight words, while physically nonsensical, made complete sense. This is what I was trying to say when I wrote about the dead man, blood spilling from his head in the Durban intersection. This is what I meant when I talked about the vitality in discomfort. Khanyile reminded me you can be dead alive.  

Vitality is the word I use when people ask me why South Africa. Beyond the manageable higher education costs, the people of this country captured me. People address each other on the streets, engage in conversations about race, politics, and religion with strangers, consciously acknowledge the life within humanity. I saw a courage in South Africans, a courage that they wore seemingly unknowingly. I used to attribute this vitality to their youthful democracy. They were vibrantly alive because they knew what democracy and freedom meant to them, they knew what it was to live without it. This was shortsighted. South Africans were necessarily conscious before the coming of democracy, and harnessed this awareness to progress into freedom. They consciously contested before political institutions legalized it.  

I used to link vitality to a historic and political circumstance, but South Africans bear better news: vitality is within us, graspable, regardless of circumstance. Americans could be complacent and apathetic because the living generations were not personally engaged with the struggle of politics and freedom, but most important Americans choose to be complacent and apathetic, inherently meaning that we could choose otherwise. Our complacency and vitality is not solely dependent on historic circumstance. 

I get this little high after talking to strangers, even a hello, or better a compliment, just generally recognition. When walking to school I pass a guard house and unintentionally give the guard on duty a fright as I come around a corner of a construction fence, unexpected. Surprised and smiling he says, ‘Hi Mama’ and we both have a laugh. We share an unexpected moment, instantly and subconsciously assessing our intentions, we acknowledge our shared humanity. We don’t know each other, but we do. If either of us were dead a moment before, we are now sufficiently alive. We woke each other up. 

Maybe its the cloudy cold, the mechanization and digitization of previously face to face social interaction, and the comfort of routine, but I find myself smiling less with strangers back home. There is less eye contact. There is the observably deplored smalltalk. There is this unspoken and under-appreciated obligation to living, ‘another Monday’. Life in South Africa isn’t seamless or predictable because it is alive. ‘You never know’, an often used expression sums it up quite concisely. This unknowing is the birthplace of curiosity and daily engagement. The more we presume we have answers and the authority that precedes them, the more we run from our unstable humility, the more we concentrate on knowing the less alive we become. We will never know, and that is the beginning of living.

On Going Home

Home: places and concepts that harbor the feelings of belonging, tie them down, and set them free.

Seattle is a freeway, a bend and a curve that give way to a skyline of little grey soldiers that solemnly grow as the airport diminishes. It is a stadium, two stadiums, spacers in the pavement, warehouses, reflective windows, talk radio and music. It is grey and yellow and short white lines that frame and direct man made movement through a maze of natural wonder, two lakes and two mountain ranges. Seattle is a hug or more from those who have been anticipating your return, eager to receive you. Seattle is a people, linked consciousness and contestation. Seattle is a feeling of descending on the known and knowable of an educated semi-predictable and more so sculpt-able living. It is a landscape of both age and renewal. Seattle is shifting in ways that are often unnoticeable by day but biyearly recognizable. Seattle is my home, regardless of the number of other pronouns steadily joining it in classificatory solidarity.

In June I came home to a full calendar of people and places. Seattle can be overwhelming. I flew in with plans of heading to breakfast in West Seattle, lunch in Greenwood, appetizers in Madison Park and dinner on Crown Hill, of breakfast in Edmonds, lunch in Sedro Wooley, afternoons in Fremont and dinner on Capitol Hill. Seattle can be a marathon, and home expands. June and July 2013 in Seattle became June to July of 2013 in Seattle and Quincy and Victoria B.C. and the Skagit River Valley. Four weeks and three days of Hosford style planning precision.

While Seattle may be a welcoming of natural and man made structures, it is mostly a collective of moveable parts, people. It is these people that I wish to tell you a bit more about, specifically: Don and Rudy.

Edmonds is an unassuming place. Walking into this home was a bit like opening a pail of paint to reveal a collection of berries, delightfully unexpected, fulfilling and exciting. He was wearing a camouflage hat that stood out against walls adorned with masks and canes, museum like collections. The small medallion of our eagle, just above his bill, never seemed more out of place and significant. His name is Don.

Sometimes when I think about my Mother, I imagine her carrying these big baskets full of people. Not because they need her to hold them up, but because she chooses to take them under her wings. To call her a people person would be an unfortunate understatement. In fact I have never met a person who is more unassuming, outspoken, genuine and welcoming in my life. Growing up with my Mother was growing up in a world of constant collaboration, strangers and stories. Whether we were on a subway in New York City or in line at the local 7-11 we were always talking and listening, listening and talking with strangers who quickly became otherwise. I have met a lot of people, thanks to my Mother. Don is one of those people.

In all honestly, I have a stereotype of diplomats, and furthermore Americans. For the most part I think we have a skewed intelligence. Clever in areas of linear and methodical planning but inept in the workings of our intuition and our hearts. In all honesty, I believe we are taught to accept this imbalance as efficiency. This stereotype has been both affirmed and contested by my continuous reality and more specifically people. Don is of the contesting variety. As we sat down on his couch he told me he had been to every African country. Any questions, comments and conversation I could have preplanned or expected flew out the window with the weight of 61 countries, continent observation and experience. Over two hours Don shattered all of my assumptions, of not only what it meant to be a diplomat or an American but what it meant to be a person in this world. His words documented a person who was necessarily linear, methodical, and intuitive. He is the interweaving of internationally gathered lessons and diversified knowledge. He is a man who transcends his invaluable possessions. We should all be so determined.

I saw Don twice when I was home for the month and three days of Seattle summer. Twice too little. If I could go to Don with open ears for the same amount of time I go to the internet with open eyes I would be a truly and immeasurably more educated 22 year old. In our two short visits Don reminded me of the instability of assumption, the value of education and the wealth in people.

Sometimes my Mother flies through this world like a gale force wind, unintentionally reminding people that they could blow away at any second or that they already have. Rudy was a temporary stranger with flickering eye contact and a soul worn unprotected on the outside of his skin. He was an islander, a Vietnam draft dodger living on Salt Spring. We met Rudy as we were parking the rental car. Mom just wanted to know if the spot we had chosen was a legitimate parking space. Without a yes or a no towards its legal legitimacy Rudy’s answer of assurance appeared unfounded of which he seemingly also found our request at certainty. Regardless, an hour later he became our tour guide. The day became an unscheduled but cohesive wandering. We visited a hand built and well loved convertible coffee shop, bookstore, movie-house, a roadside farm stall, a permaculture farm, a pond which doubled as Rudy’s bathtub, and a small organic winery.

Salt-spring Island is a collective of the wounded, individuals that seemingly fled from what they felt to be harmful in society, protectively introverted. The introversion met Mom’s extroversion and the two reached an understanding. What seemed like a man who was going to be quickly blown away with the force of question about parking became: a walking reminder of the simplicity of necessities, of generosity and curiosity, of the hurt and pain of the world that can mark a lifetime with undeniable insecurity and uncertainty, and most importantly of the value in human connection.

Recently in class our lecturer labeled herself as nomadic. I feel otherwise, less uprooted. For me home is a multiplicity but nonetheless existent. Home is a ground of place and people not magnetic but unfailingly facilitative.

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.