Personal Documentaries

Personal Documentaries_John B Hussey

I’ve heard it said that “life imitates art.” Times being what they are, with cinematic tools in the pockets of nearly every breathing soul, it appears that art or at least the cultural obsession with captured visual representations of some form of it now shape life. The advent of the personal documentary, whether we acquire imagery while looking through the lens or turn it on ourselves does not allow for life to unfold as it would in the absence of the distraction, or opportunity, or perhaps most importantly self-consciousness.

Personal marketing is ubiquitous. Social media and crowdsourced opinion are the new forms of connection, interpretation, and validation. This validity is assumed based on ‘homegrown’ legitimacy in contrast to traditional marketing and advertising which is widely presumed to be manipulative in nature. Are they really so different? We now package ourselves, consciously or unconsciously as products. To the best of our ability, we remove blemishes and imperfections before posting. Flaws and imperfection that exist, endure, and with time increase in scope.

I don’t post the nine unflattering shots of my family, the ones where someone made a face or blinked. I especially don’t post the pix that highlight that one crooked front tooth that’s always trying to get in the shot. I post the tenth pic where I don’t look like I need emergency adult orthodontia and my sons don’t look like they are recovering from blunt force trauma to the head. Am I posting a lie, or am I simply a savvy marketing wiz?

Our flaws can be perceived as components of character, unwelcome sidekicks or both. All the botox and plastic surgery in the world won’t fix the ones that truly define us. Our enduring flaws are the ones that we reveal, or that force their way into the limelight once the honeymoon has ended. Can those we’ve lured in with our polished documentary stylings live with them? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Documentary films are sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Some are important, some life-changing, some difficult to watch for the brutal truths they reveal about human nature. Some are fluff, some sweet, and many fall short of their intended effect. These outcomes are of course in no small way co-created by the viewer. So it is with our individual forays into self-serving cinema. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, so it goes.

Personal Documentaries are here to stay. A scroll session through Facebook, Instagram, etc. can light up the brain neurons like eating a quart of Death By Chocolate ice cream, minus the calories. These shared stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes provocative. Personally, I enjoy the voyeuristic distraction of it all and participate regularly. However, as I upload virtual interpretations of my life and/or witness the lives of others across the ether, I often wonder if the real art of looking another human being in the eye and making a connection in the moment may be the horse-drawn carriage faced with the imminent rise of the motorcar.

Four Days of Sunshine

Four Days of Sunshine Wildflower sm_John B Hussey

It may be simple chemistry, biology and physics strung together in an invisible helix that weaves its way into my soul. Four days of sunshine came and brought with them a rising tide of “yes.”

The science behind this is not new of course. Still, every time winter relents, even for a few days, a fresh year’s crop of optimism takes root and begins the process of lifting the world.

To everything, there is a season, and now in the northern hemisphere, we gratefully enter a season of aspiration. Happy spring!

Truth & Dare

Truth and Dare

Approval vampire, spinning compass, part-time lost soul; I might start an awkward t-shirt biz.  

My aim is true, but is my target? “What target?” I ask myself.  This is a new and unwelcome question.

Goals, I’ve had plenty, many of them achieved, others had to be set free. Motives? I shudder to think that at times they’ve manifested in the service of being accepted, appreciated, loved, etc., though I fear that may be the unflattering truth. Not in every case of course, but often enough that I owe it to myself to do a little psychological archeology.  Seeking the birthplace of motivation seems like a good place to start.

Weakness, victimhood, neediness, I have worn these mantles from time to time. Donned such untoward raiments, for all the world to witness. All the world that is, but for myself.  The mirror shows us only that which we agree to see. For many years I was blind to the presence of these less becoming personal “qualities” I’ll call them because to paraphrase Jack Nicholson “I couldn’t handle the truth.”

“The Truth” is, of course, a multifaceted moving target. It is, like a mirror, difficult to trust (ironically) because of the human ability to unwittingly (or otherwise) contaminate it with personal prejudice. Our capacity to inflate or diminish our relationship to, respect for, or understanding of the truth is Homeric in magnitude. I feel heartsick just thinking about all the lies I’ve inadvertently told myself.

Wisdom, like Montezuma’s gold, is easy to talk about, harder to lay one’s hands on. This psychological digging, or flailing, or whatever it is that I’ve undertaken started when a tear appeared in the fabric of my personal universe.  Suddenly, after surviving adolescence (barely), building a career and raising two wonderful sons, I awoke one morning to the feeling that I no longer knew what was propelling my life forward.  I found myself wondering, then wondering some more; a passenger and prisoner of inertia.  The continuum of clear goals I had used all these years as ladder rungs, as definitions of purpose, as “meaning,” had suddenly splintered and blown away like the seeds of a late summer dandelion. Thanks Middle Age…Bastard!

It’s a phase. Everything’s a phase. Its a “waiting place” I suppose. Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for normalizing and putting a name to that part of living that can be so vexing and seem so individually and solitarily suffered.  It is easy to feel uniquely alone when muddling through a challenging experience, so easy, yet so profoundly incorrect.  Can I get an amen?

“The Obstacle is the Way” according to Ryan Holiday, and from where I sit it better be. The usual shit isn’t working. I can’t exercise, socialize or anesthetize away the nagging feeling that I no longer have the answer to the question “why?” There it is, the obstacle, and the disquieting truth.  As many of us sang at camp while going on a bear hunt, “can’t go around it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it!”  So it appears.

The “truth” may be that “the waiting place” is as good as it gets right now. The place where I sit with this puzzle, patiently pulling tea leaves and reading for clues. That is assuming I can resist the temptation to distract, numb, or otherwise give myself an easy way out of confronting the uncertainty surrounding my current master purpose here and now on this spinning orb.  The “dare” then must be to find the fortitude to forsake these myriad options for escape and stare down the barrel of the void until it blinks.

Mindfulness​ Practice

Yin Yang Cell Phone

Contentment is a bore. Our precious human drama finds no safe harbor in the realm of enlightenment.  Not surprisingly its mindfulness that somehow slips our minds.

Imagine the tedium of mindfully avoiding the endless stream of dross that greets us daily, masquerading as meaningful. Delicious, sensational, insidiously addictive Drama! Social media supported, and family approved. Oh, how I love to pretend I don’t crave its corrosive company. I disavow it with my words then hold it close when I think no one is looking.

“Mindfulness practice,” two words that won’t mean much until I stop checking my damn phone every ninety seconds.  Ugh!

The Work of Living

The Work of Living_by John Hussey

The rains came at the end of December and have since called this place home.  It is not the countryside, rather a despondency that blooms in the midst of this cold winter downpour. Those in the parts of the world where such weather is commonplace probably bare it away silently, knowing year after year that such is their fate. Here in southern North America, this bleak, relentless drenching has transformed myriad normal men and women into so many agitated, forlorn creatures.

The wearing down of the spirit by natural means such as continuous dark, damp days is in no way sinister.  In that light, this indifferent water torture shows a modicum of kindness. The spirit breaking inventions used by one human on another cut more profoundly, with much greater precision. Cruelty is intentional, and therefore personal. Such malevolent behavior, like the weather, is sometimes predictable, sometimes not.

Confronting darkness in any form, be it natural or man-made presents each of us with the opportunity to choose a response. With rare exception, we can decide whether to reflect or reject the shadows cast upon us. Reacting on impulse is natural, but void of the benefit of circumspection. Stepping back, taking stock, digging deep and choosing a way forward that lies outside readily ostensible options, a path that leads us back to the light, that is the work of living.

The Void Within A Heart

heart trails

It is a luxury to clack these keys; to form these sentences. I rarely think about illiteracy then remember that many cannot read these random thoughts or the instructions on a bottle of aspirin. How easily, absentmindedly and accidentally I take good fortune for granted. With a roof, rations, and relationships in my treasure trove, how is it that at times darkness comes as a thief in the night, stealing my perspective?

Misery makes quick partnership with any who invite it, including those who do so unwittingly. It stays as long as it is welcome. Many of us attempt to keep up with, or surpass the “Joneses.” Reaching the goal of a cup running over seems at first a sure defense, but more often than not discord infiltrates, souring the wellspring of contentment.

The void within a heart can be ignored, obscured, disavowed, but not transformed. Dancing with it, sitting in silence, pouring buckets of unrequited gratitude into the vastness of unknowability are the exercises I perform during the very few moments I remember to truly live.

Holiday Postpartum

Holiday Postpartum_JH

January 9th. The Christmas tree, or should I say fire hazard now long in the tooth droops in the corner of the living room. Brittle needles find their way to the hardwood floor, forming a circular colony of tinder. Surprisingly, the scent of pine has been growing stronger, filling the front rooms of our small cape cod style home. Holiday postpartum has descended upon this place. Andy Williams is not singing of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Festive open houses are closed. The last of the baked goods have fossilized and so been shown out to the frozen garden plot for the birds to beak. The heat runs near constantly as the days of subfreezing temperatures depress the mercury in this part of the world.

I miss the holidays, the anticipation, the many opportunities to raise a glass with old friends and make new ones. Over the years Christmas time has always managed to deliver joy, optimism, and magic. I found myself this season thinking for the first time about the fact that I have only so many Holiday celebrations left. It may sound morose, indeed but this recognition of reality is also a useful reminder. Living fully, openly, and with the intent to make the most of each moment is a choice…just that, a choice. We only have so long to become our best, then we rest. Have you made strides in this quest over this last year?

When the twinkling lights go dark, and the long nights unrelentingly hold the world, we may turn inward, we may be saddened, or we may take no notice. To each his own. I for one find myself a bit saddened, a bit grateful, and a bit nostalgic. Every day is not Christmas, though as Charles Dickens suggested we might do our best to keep it in our hearts throughout the year.

Barring an untimely demise, I will find myself eleven months from now decking the halls, raising a glass, wrapping treasures for those I love, and feeling that twinge of the childlike excitement that the holidays bring. I know not all share my opinion of the magic of Christmas time, and to those who struggle during the season, I wish you strength and love. May your days be merry and bright, long after the twinkle lights have faded.

Resolve

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Can we change or can’t we?  Sometimes I believe I’ve changed for the better, my usual goal.  It’s just then that I catch a glimpse of my old self and I feel the specter of immutability giggling at me through the looking glass.  I like to think change is possible.  For some people, metamorphosis may be the only path to freedom; freedom from an existing legacy, they are reluctant to leave behind.  I count myself among those who feel life has its length for the purpose of growth.  I want to be a bit better at the end than I am today.  Better at what?  All of it!

Each year I engage in the hopeful ritual of making new year’s resolutions.  They symbolize the hope of change.  Against all odds and history, I write down a few bits that I’d like to bring to fruition in the coming year, fold them up and seal them in an envelope bearing the calendar year scrawled in ink on the front.

I recently opened my “2018” envelope and found that my resolution success rate for the past year was a meager twenty percent.  A failing grade to say the least, though I suppose twenty is better than zero.  Perhaps I set my sights too high.  Or it could be that I’d merely forgotten my goals, as some of those I’d written came as a bit of a surprise when revisited.  At first, I thought I’d failed. Indeed by some standards, I have failed miserably.

However, if I were to achieve a twenty percent annual increase in an investment opportunity, I’d call that same percentage a smashing success.  Its all relative I suppose.  Getting somewhere is better than getting nowhere, if one is in the mood to get going at all, and I am.  So for the sake of momentum, I’ll choose to view the outcome of my 2018 resolutions from an investor’s point of view.

This year I will again take out the paper and pen, pour a cup of coffee and sit by the desperately dry and brittle Christmas tree.  The cold winter light will spill in across the weathered wooden sashes of the living room windows and cross my page.  Then and there I will again challenge the concept of immutability.  Goals will be set that may not if history is any indication, be reached.  I will laugh in the face of past failure on the eve of a new year.  Once again, without any reason for confidence in the matter, I will choose to find resolve.