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.

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

IMG_2729.jpg

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.

Childish Things

Flexible Flyer Sled_by John Hussey

I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds.  I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings.  Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer.  Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906.  The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one bedroom apartment.  I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee.  If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and killer Mexican restaurants.  In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress.  Why this winter snow and sled proclivity?  I’m guessing it is a subconcious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.  

Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.  No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to.   In the early nineteen something-or-others we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over.  The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it.  Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.

Peter Pan would have liked sledding.  Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fuck-up that many equate with the “not willing to work” type.  From what I read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued.  He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys.  Courage, rather than immaturity may be a fine way to define Mr. Pan.  Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?  

As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders?  Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be confused by the term “blinders.”  Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through the busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities.  They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation.  Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus.  I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus.  Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum.  It is the way we get from standing still to full speed.  Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another.  Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.

Some people loved sledding when they were children.  Some people did not.  Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up.  Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd).  Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value.  You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you?  Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot.  Are they the better for it?  Probably.  Have they become the Dalai Lama?  Ehh!

Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things?  Do we gain Money?  Security?  Power?  Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means?  Most likely yes.  What do we lose in exchange?  The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable.  It can bring great things, but at what cost?  Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults?  If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children?  If not their’s then who’s? 

Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904.  He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise.  He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging.  It was to be his most celebrated work.  It overshadowed all others in his career.  Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.  

Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor.  If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset.  If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind.  Why the hell not? 

Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us.  On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date.  I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensueing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide.   Sometimes its the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.