weather protects memory

Have you ever heard a song or album and the weather seemed such an integral part of the experience – so much so, that every time the weather conditions are right you still remember that song or album?   Well it’s happened to me.   Repeatedly.   

Today,  it’s “raining cats and dogs” and I spent a fair amount of time on the road looking from some rainy day photo ops.  It was raining so hard it was keeping time with Led Zeppelin’s song “Bonzo’s Montreax” (from the CODA album) which was playing in my car.   But this is not about that song.   

During my drive I realized it was exactly a day like today when I purchased my very first RUSH album, A FAREWELL TO KINGS (on cassette and vinyl).  The album was released September 1st, 1977.  I was 17 and only had a drivers permit.  I was only working on the family farm and had saved my allowance for this purpose.  I got to the car and greedily unwrapped the cassette to play in the car.  The weather was dark and cloudy not unlike the cover art with the post apocalyptic setting – the landscape crumbled and the crown of the king lying on the ground. The king plopped down on the throne like a puppet whose puppeteer had fled or a jester frozen in time – the joke had been played once to often.  I popped the cassette in the player and it started to rain.  I took the scenic route home through the countryside past hill and dale, field and farm listening in amazement and feeling transfixed as “Xanadu” blasted from the car speakers.    by time “a thousand years had come and gone…” I was completely enthralled, mesmerized in my rainy day drive.   I got home during “Cinderella Man” and felt lost in the myth, the poetry and story telling.   I continued to just sit in the car and listened thru to Cygnus X-1 (Book One) as the rain continued to beat on the car roof.  Wipers off I mused and wondered if Cygnus X-1 would have a Book 2 in this musical adventure.   The transformation was complete I was a RUSH fan.     For years to come A FAREWELL TO KINGS, HEMISPHERES, PERMANENT WAVES and MOVING PICTURES would be my favorite RUSH albums.   I would listen to them frequently.   

Well with Todays rain it was time to revisit the memory and the feeling of that first listen.   And though I am older I find it still extremely enjoyable and satisfying.  It’s just one of those things.   🙂

my experiences with police

Today I turn 60 and in light of what is happening here in America I wanted to examine my place in history and my experience with law enforcement and how it has informed my beliefs.

A short history: I am not black or brown. I am a white male of european descent. My ancestors emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in the mid 1870’s to escape religious persecution and enforced military service. Being of the Mennonite sect of Protestantism they were passionately pacifist and did not believe in, or support military actions. They were mostly farmers and craftsmen.

I have had a life of privilege. Growing up on a farm in a small community – not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. As a white man I have had many more opportunities than many people of color. I do not say that to brag or feel guilty about – but to simply acknowledge a fact. We owned the farm as it was handed down to the next generation. We insulated ourselves and kept to our own community – unless there were some few brave souls that would venture out through church missions in an effort to proselytize and convert others to our way of thinking and believing. The bottom line is – we always “had” – there was a sense of ownership and therefore entitlement. The vast majority of people of color have never had that and it is completely disingenuous to wonder, “why there are so many problems in communities of color?”

I have had job opportunities that a person of color would not have – I have had access to things that people of color do not have. I live a relatively comfortable life. So yes, I have white privilege.

I did not stay on the farm and since 1979 have lived in urban environments. my life is not without it’s “troubles” and my experiences with police from an early age have helped inform who I am today and my sympathies for communities of color as they struggle with police brutality, racism, oppression, suppression and a lack of opportunities economically (including business and land ownership).

Like many I have been appalled, enraged and deeply affected by the brutality of police that we have been seeing in America.   Sadly, this is nothing new – what is new is that white people are also starting to protest and starting to experience the same injustices and crimes of law enforcement. While George Floyds brutal murder may have been the “straw the broke the camels back” law enforcement injustices have a long history.   I’ve decided to look at my own history with law enforcement.  I know not all cops are bad and maybe even the majority are good.  But, there has been a long history of acceptance of bad police behavior, of officers who have been able to act with impunity.  I have not been beaten, gassed or arrested for speaking my voice.   I have however experienced police harassment which has impacted me forever.

I remember growing up – there was an image of a “friendly neighborhood cop” that was perpetuated in television, movies and the news. TV shows Like THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, MAYBERRY RFD, and many movies portrayed police whose primary function was as social responders. That image eroded over the 60’s and 70’s into a more aggressive function of law enforcement. And today the police have been militarized and have become a para-military organization viewing the communities they serve as war zones. And some wonder why people are afraid of and hate the police? I remember hearing one police officer say, “To catch a criminal, you have to think like a criminal”. And that type of thinking is part of the problem because that officer has streamlined his perception of his job and limited it to catching criminals. He was looking at every situation through that lens. That is a bias that will often lead down the wrong path. If you are only actively looking for criminal behavior you will start to, mistakenly, see any and all activity as potentially criminal activity. And eventually you will start making the jump (even involuntarily) to ” To catch a criminal, you must act as a criminal.”

My own distrust of law enforcement started soon after I started driving (1970’s). There is a small town called Smithville, Ohio that had a reputation for speed traps and police agressively ticketing people. One night at around 11PM I was driving my date home and our route went through Smithville. Knowing the reputation, I decided to drive 5 miles slower than the speed limit to be safe. However that did not stop the local police officer from pulling me over and harassing me and my date.
He asked for my drivers license and began to question me, why was I out driving around?, where was I going? etc. I asked him, “If I may, can I ask why you stopped us?” His response was both surprising and annoying. He said, “Because you were driving slower than the speed limit. Most people drive faster. I thought you might be intoxicated or up to something illegal.” I explained I was just driving my date home and was planning to go straight home after that. So he let us go. But my date and I were both annoyed because, FUCK!, you can’t even obey the law without getting stopped.

A few years later: (warning – white privilege alert!) I was driving north on Route 57 toward Rittman, OH I was doing 70MPH(Miles Per Hour) in a 55MPH zone. A highway patrol officer pulls me over. Very politely asks for my license and asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Of course I did, I was in a hurry to get home and had the cruise set at 70 since it was late at night and no traffic on the road. But I lied and said, “no”. He told me I was going 70MPH. I pretended to be surprised and sort of lied again saying, “I thought sure I had my cruise set at the speed limit (which was sort of true because the speed limit a few miles back was 65MPH to which 70MPH doesn’t seem so bad). He then noticed my last name and asked if my sister was so-and-so. Not sure where this was going and surprised by the question I said, “Yes, she’s my sister.” He went on to talk about how he used to have crush on my sister and had decided to let me go with a warning. He also said, “As long as you don’t go more than 5 miles over the speed limit we don’t stop people.” No ticket. Just a warning. It all felt weird and somehow not right. So even though I breathed a sigh of relief. I benefited from my white privilege in this instance but it still led to build my distrust of law enforcement. Because I knew it was wrong.

For many years after that I was able to stay away from law enforcement officers and situations.  I already knew I didn’t want to have to deal with the harassment that comes with a run-in with law enforcement.

Then 9/11 happened. The HOMELAND SECURITY ACT was put into place and everyone became afraid. Americans became afraid of each other in ways that had never happened before. Law Enforcement, now a para-military force, was looking for anyone and anything that might be used in a crime. Camera’s became an item of threat.

I purchased my first camera in 2009. If you follow this blog you know that I love photography. You also know the nature of my photography and subject matter. Since then I have been stopped by law enforcement several times for taking pictures and in one instance was told that they had the right to confiscate my camera for any reason they might find suspicious.

On one occasion I was just walking down high street in Akron, literally just carrying my camera looking for anything that might grab my attention and a cop stopped me to question what I was doing and why.

In Cleveland, Transit police literally tracked down me and a friend who were taking urban photos and had photographed one of the transit trains. The train operator called police on us. They tracked us down several blocks from where we took the photos. There were three officers and they were ready for action. They even threatened to take away our cameras claiming it was illegal to take pictures of transit trains.

On another occasion a captain in the Akron police department emailed me to inquire about my activities at a location where my car was spotted. It was an abandoned auto garage and a passerby wrote down my license number and called it in because they thought I might be up to something “untoward”. I directed her to my blog – which she had already found before she emailed me – and she said I was okay and nothing would happen. So why the harassment? It’s because they want you to know they are watching you.

And one last time: My friend and I were at an abandoned observatory, car parked outside (no attempt to hide – obviously our big mistake). We had been there for maybe an hour. We happened to look out the window and saw a police car parked behind my car. We thought, “Oh crap, here we go again.” We went down and talked with the officer. He said he was just calling in backup because he saw a car with an out of town license plate and thought there might be a dead body on the property or some other “goings on”. We explained what we were doing; two crazy white guys taking pictures of abandoned places – and he let us go.

It’s such bullshit. Is it me or have cops taken this notion of “prevention” to unrealistic extremes? Anyway I’ve had it with cops. I don’t like them and don’t trust them. Brutality and harassment need to end. Period.

Now keep in mind. I was not ticketed, arrested or fined in any of these situations. And even though I experienced police harassment, if I was black it would have been a different story. So yes, I support Black Lives Matter and other protests against police brutality and unnecessary force. It’s way past time for a change!!!!!

An indirect situation/addendum: A couple of years ago I was called for jury duty. A black man had allegedly discharged a weapon at night and police chased him down and arrested him. All the evidence was circumstantial, police officers couldn’t even be sure he was the person who discharged a gun – but (in police thinking) because he ran he must be guilty –  and it was the Akron Police VS. Defendant. As part of the questioning process to be on the jury we were asked what we felt about the only evidence being circumstantial (i.e. no direct evidence and no corroborating witnesses). I was against such evidence. They also questioned repeatedly about our opinions on police and police procedure. The attorney for the police was very aggressive and empirical as he tried to defend the police actions and use of insufficient and circumstantial evidence against this black man being tried. Well you can imagine my response to that based on my experience. Needless to say I was dismissed and did not have to serve on that jury for that poor man that was tried (I had already determined his innocence).

In closing, in part, when I look at the reasons my ancestors left Switzerland (persecution and enforced military service) maybe there are genetic markers of protest that, in addition to my experiences, have also informed my views. Feelings and ideas stretching back through my ancestors.   And While I am physically unable to participate in marches/protests – I am there in spirit.

…….what I am, what I once was……..

Youth chases after and follows its bliss
The aged remain and rest in their bliss
and neither can tell you where it may be found

Youth is controlled by passion
The aged controls their passion

Youth rushes foolishly head-long to learn
what the aged already know, and have taken years to learn

The error of youth judges the aged
The error of the aged criticizes the youth
And neither respects the other

The aged were once youthful
As the youthful will one day be aged
Neither should be rushed.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE

When the Crows Awoke

I was there when the crows awoke
I’d seen them the night before
Flocking to nearby trees
Under cover of night
A whole murder of crows
Ominous shadows filling up tree branches
As if the trees were in full bloom
Large black blossoms
Shimmering with city light
In the winter’s night air

Now at daybreak
I was there when the crows awoke
Their cawing and chattering so loud
Drowning out the sounds of morning rush hour
…and then…
With excited whispering wings
took flight and were gone
Only the rumble and buzz of morning traffic remains.

***background: I live in the city. And we have a lot of old trees still standing. Of course all the leaves are gone now. I was watching an old silent movie on TV and out of the corner of my eye saw perpetual shadows flickering past my windows. Finally my curiosity got the best of me. I went to the windows and saw the trees filled with hundreds of crows… their arrival continued for at least a couple of hours. Of course I didn’t think to move my car which, although not directly under the trees was close enough for the birds to leave their “mark”. When I went out to my little blue car in the morning it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting with streaks, smears, splats and lines of crow droppings in white, yellow and brown as well as small twigs that had fallen from the trees. What a mess. All-n-all it was a magical experience and worth a trip to the car wash. 🙂

The Happiness Conundrum

INTRO:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” ~ Jesus [Matthew 7:3-5  NASB]

I’ve been trying to get the logs out of my own eyes for years – and will probably keep working on it for the rest of my life. It’s funny how easily our perceptions are blocked [log-jammed] and muddied by emotions. Emotions are a fact of being human – and self-control of those emotions is key. I find it interesting that one of the characteristics of “love” in the Bible is “self-control” but that characteristic is seldom preached – maybe because it’s difficult to look at oneself with the critical eye of awareness. Many people seek to control others and define their happiness in that context.

I’ve read a lot of wisdom literature over the years and have found (even in my own experience) that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is fickle. Happiness is something people constantly strive for only to see it slip through their fingers like sand. So what do we do when we aren’t happy? If we are seldom happy is that a bad thing? How do we cope, or what emotion is happiness replaced with when it skips merrily on its way?

I have found that happiness is the wrong thing to focus on (contrary to what all those self-help gurus say) When we are happy we naturally relax and enjoy the moment. But once it’s gone we immediately try to re-capture, control, and try to manipulate external circumstances to get back to that happiness state. Many people, unfortunately, despair and long for past happiness (“I remember when….”). But this is the mistake.

THE DREAM:
On September 29, 2014 I woke up early from a dream I had. I wrote the dream in my journal. I thought I knew what it meant – turns out it has multiple applications (for me). Now for the dream:

In my dream I was fighting a fierce dragon. It was boastful, conniving, cruel and threatening. I only had a sword. The dragon didn’t have to move around a lot. It was so much bigger than me it just seemed to mock me as I searched for its weak point. The dragon started to yawn and I seized the moment to go for the mouth. With one eye open the beast snapped its jaws down on my sword and with iron like strength just held on. I couldn’t move that sword no matter how hard I tried. I wasn’t going to let go either because the sword was my only weapon. We were at stalemate. Neither one willing to budge. I decided that instead of pulling the sword out – an impossible task – I would try the opposite and push it further in. I pushed with all my might and with a snicker the dragon opened it’s jaws wide and I went tumbling into its mouth. With one self-satisfied gulp the beast swallowed me. Inside I could hear echoes of its satisfied, mocking laughter. It all happened so fast, and caught me by surprise. I was tumbling down its steamy, moist throat just trying to get my bearings on the long journey despairing of my loss and my situation. I came to an opening which I presumed to be the dragons stomach and expected to be digested and totally consumed. Instead I noticed in this opening, fresh air, a breeze, sunshine the sound of birds and children laughing. It was a whole other universe. Familiar yet different. I saw clear skies and saw people enjoying themselves just like the world I had come from. It was magical and different – somehow better. I just stood in wonder and amazement asking myself who had really won – the dragon or myself and its other victims?

LOST HAPPINESS:
So what do you do when happiness is gone? What is the cause of your unhappiness? What emotions replace happiness? Anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness, fear, hatred or despair? Maybe it’s a combination of these emotions. How do you deal with these darker emotions? I recently (again) have lost my happiness at work. In fact I would say I hate my job. It is not the job I was hired to do. And after some corporate restructuring things seem to have gone “haywire” and all akimbo.  I’ve dreaded going to work and have been stressed, frustrated and angry.  So I have some decisions to make. Do I look at the situation and blame management, the union, or other people for the loss of my happiness? Or, do I look at myself? Do I look at my blocked perception and try to “fix” myself instead of something I can’t possibly win against?

On November 14, 2014 I wrote in my journal:

All things come to an end. But when one thing ends another begins. Happiness never lasts forever. When happiness is gone, what replaces it? Is the thing that replaces happiness worse than the thing that displaced happiness in the first place? I’ve been fortunate to know happiness in the past. Now that happiness is gone – do I get to choose what replaces it?

Initially I interpreted the dream as: whether I am facing an enemy or adversity I will remember the dragon. Because whether I fight or surrender the outcome is the same. One life is merely changed for another. I live on either way.
And I keep a small note on my computer monitor at work now with the words “remember the dragon.” This has helped in my work situation. I can see that the dragon is my work environment. And since I’m in the belly of the beast It may not be as bad as I thought. This interpretations definitely works on one level but I came to realize some other things.

With my understanding of the dream and recent questions of happiness I started asking questions about the perceived source of my unhappiness. The questions themselves began to evolve.

Do I need to look for another job? Yes.
What will I do? At 54 I don’t even know anymore. There’s nothing I “want” to do. Nothing I need to prove anymore.
What kind of work can I do? Same as above
Can I do the job I have now? Absolutely!
Is there benefit to the job I have now? Yes, I can eat and pay bills.
What would the consequences be for taking another job with another company? Answer: most likely, based on past experience, starting at lower pay than I’m making now and eventual dis-satisfaction.
Do I need to look for another job? No

When I was in my teens, 20’s and even my 30’s I thought I could, would and wanted to change the world. Now that I’m in my mid 50’s I realize I can only change myself. Change my perceptions. It’s been a long difficult road and I’m sorry for any harm I’ve done along the way.

So, back to work. When I realized I didn’t need to look for another job the next task became – how to survive my current work situation. I remembered that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is not a requirement and need not be a benefit of doing a good job. There will always be times I hate my job. And having “processed” all this before I went to work yesterday – it changed my whole day. Work was the same, all haywire and akimbo but I had changed. I was less stressed and when things were “thrown at me” (figurative) I may have been frustrated or even angry but I quickly got over it and moved on. I stopped seeing the company, management, union, co-workers as those who were making my life miserable.  And realized they were just doing their job with their own frustrations, stress etc.   It was all ‘n all a good day which is about all I can hope for until happiness returns. Just being less stressed made such a HUGE difference. I’m not perfect so I suspect on Monday I’ll have to remind myself again about this lesson.

CONCLUSION:
While happiness seems to have escaped me and things may not be pleasant right now – the good news is, I believe that happiness, being fickle, will return. And I will enjoy it when it does. In the meantime I know that I can be less stressed, less angry, less frustrated, less fearful, less hateful and more tolerant at work. While I may have removed only a “splinter” from my own perceptions – there are plenty of logs (wrong perceptions) left for me to work on.   All by the grace of God.

Thanks for reading.  I hope it may benefit someone.


Monday Art Moment

Here’s a wonderful video featuring an interview with artist, Richard Tuttle. I can relate to so many of the things he says regarding identity, experience, and the need for artists to create. I hope you enjoy.

Richard Tuttle: Artists are like clouds from Louisiana Channel on Vimeo.

the fine art of lemons to lemonade

You may have heard the phrase “When life hands you lemons – make lemonade.” I was fortunate to experience this firsthand today. The phrase was first coined by Christian Anarchist Elbert Hubbard in 1915 as part of an obituary he wrote for a friend. The exact phrase was, “…He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand.”

So how was I able to do this today? I’ll give you the recipe.

3 Raw lemons = a kitchen sink that started leaking, no experience or knowhow in plumbing, no money to pay a plumber, a landlord that would have to pay a plumber and wouldn’t have it scheduled for a couple of days.

Squeeze the lemons = the stress and pressure of the situation that has interrupted the daily routine and special plans.

Add sugar to taste = found YouTube videos that talked about where leaks occur in sink how to repair different leaks. With a positive mindset determined what I needed and went to the hardware store. I took the part that needed replaced to the hardware store and the employee knew exactly what it was and helped me find it. I have a double sink but only one started to leak. The part that needed replaced was badly corroded on both sides – so I decided to fix both of them.

Stir = Replaced the necessary parts and run water to make sure leaks were stopped.

Pour over ice in a tall glass and enjoy = after repairs were done and all leaks were stopped and future leaks prevented I had a real sense of satisfaction & accomplishment; and I learned how to do something I had never done before. An added bonus was the monetary savings: My cost $5.21 + less than a gallon of gas to get to the hardware store. A plumber would have charged me between $120.00 and $200.00 for doing the same work. The experience – PRICELESS.
🙂

And here is some smooooooth music to enjoy your lemonade by. Enjoy this song, GREEN LEMONADE by Herb Alpert from his 2013 album Steppin’ Out.