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.

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.

I have nothing to say…

wordcloud inverted

Vintage random thought

I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right.  The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din.  Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school.  My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive.  They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference.  Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass.  “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice.  I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons.  Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun.  So that’s all I have to say…

Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex.  They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging.  Well done boys.  

I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment.  That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff.  When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.”  My father was a man of few words.  Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.”  What?  Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle?  You can’t be serious?  Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!

I have a couple talkers in my house.  The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16.  While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted.  He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift.  When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.”  I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha!  It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.  

Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do.  Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen.   What?  Ha, just kidding.

So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me.  Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.

Freestyle

1970s High School Dance (4)

“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!”  The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.

In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.

Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.

Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.

Let’s break it down.

Free: definition
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

style: definition
A manner of doing something.

According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?

I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.

These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!

Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

The Subtext Of A Sigh

The Subtext Of A Sigh

Walking through the woods the other day I found myself thinking.  Thinking it turns out is an activity which, meditation practice notwithstanding, I’m incapable of not doing.  Perhaps that’s why my novice monk robes have been held up in Nepalese customs for these many years.  As I made my way toward the top of the ridge thoughts wandered and morphed spinning my brain into a somnambulistic drift.  

A deep sigh brought me out of my reverie.  “Was that me?” I wondered.  The complete lack of anything but trees and a whitetail deer lead me to believe that it was in fact, me, releasing the somewhat dramatic, perhaps even melodramatic sigh.  A sigh of release I thought, as all sighs are, a near verbalization of the letting go, or forcible jettisoning of something the mind or body no longer wished to hold.

Hmm, the sigh had caught me off guard.  “What had I been carrying?” I wondered.  “What had I released?”  As lives go mine has been a walk in the park, current circumstances made that expression a pun of course, but whatever.  I crested the ridge taking in the endless canopy of brilliant green late summer majesty and paused.  Then it dawned on me.  It was a simple thing really; nothing more than a deep sigh releasing a lifetime of making things harder than they had to be.

Sailing Upwind

sailing-a-storm-getty

Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.  Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.  The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.  The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.  All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.  “Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.  “Perhaps.”

The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it.  For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums.  Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them.  Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.  It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.  

Parents

Mom dad me

Parents!  If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent!   If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking.  If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.  

For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.  Humanity, consisting primarily of me.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.  Ugh, so embarrassing!  Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.  

We all do our best right?  No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.  However, if we do our best, well done us!  That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.  To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.  Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole?  You decide.

These days I am a parent.  Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.  I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”  Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.  Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”  I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.  Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.  Attitude is everything!

Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.  Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.  I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.  Ego talk? Probably.   Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.  Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.  As for my misread on the choice of life partners?  Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.

I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.  All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.  What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?  Could we have done better?  Certainly.  The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.  No blaming or finger pointing here.

Back to my parents.  They worked hard, or at least my pops did.  On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included.  Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect.  To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics.  Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps.  My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life.  The intensity must have been nearly unbearable.  Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure.  No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.  

My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs.  We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood.  It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled.  In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt.  We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together.  So it goes.

In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown.  I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.  With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.  “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.  My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.  Phew!  

By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.  Distance allows perspective.  Perspective provides the chance for healing.  Healing allows courage to blossom.  Courage creates the possibility of change.  Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a universal gift.  

Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.  It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.  Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.  

I love you, mom and dad!  I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.  Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.