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In The Shadows Of Distraction

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I don’t like sports bars, not because I dislike sports, though I will admit I have little interest.  I dislike sports bars because there is nowhere to sit without the distraction of a television in one’s line of sight. My eyes are always drawn to the screen, no matter what is on it. I will sporadically glance towards it regardless of the importance of the conversation I may be involved in.

Cell phones have a similar attraction.  When your phone rings or chimes indicating a message, it is difficult to ignore it.  It might be something important.  What if you miss out?

You are missing out. You are missing out on the opportunity for deeper contact with the person across the table from you in the sports bar.  You are missing out on the pleasure of the concert you are making crappy videos of. You are missing out on the world around you every minute you spend on that phone.

Remember when the internet and cellphones were going to be the great equalizer, spreading information, truth, and power to all people regardless of status? Me too.  The powers that be took notice, and now the internet is flooded with manipulative misinformation and time sucking mindless games. Now, we walk oblivious down the street on our phones as the soldiers of fascism plot their revival in plain sight.

Oaxaca is a very political place.  I will either fit in, get in trouble, or more likely, both.  I’m looking forward to it.

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Doors Are Appearing And Inviting

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Some reading this may know that I am planning to move to Cd. Oaxaca sometime in 2021 to live off my meager Social Security while writing. photographing, and learning the local indigenous languages. I won’t be the “rich” ex-pat, but I will be able to be comfortable. I am daily finding more things to make me want to be here. Last night I saw a classical performance of the 5th Brandenburg and John Rutter’s Suite Antigua by all local musicians.  It was fabulous.  Right now I am typing this in a maker space called Convivio that offers high speed internet, free coffee and mescal, and a comfortable workspace for a very reasonable fee. It may not be in my ex-pat budget, but it says a lot about the community to make it more inviting. I visited one of the many print shops that Oaxaca is famous for, and was blown away by the high quality of the work they produce. I’ve only been here two days…

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The Appeal Of Decay

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Whenever I travel, I find myself drawn to things which are falling apart. People will look askance at me as I stand with my back to a beautiful building or view, shooting a closeup of peeling paint or crumbling adobe. At times, I have been accused of disrespecting a place by showing it in a bad light. That is surely never my intention.  I simply love what nature does as it slowly converts our best efforts back to their basic elements. I am not alone in this.  In the Tucson Barrio and other parts of the Desert Southwest, you will see adobe deliberately left exposed where stucco has fallen.  Decay becomes a design element. Often, an attempt is made to clean up the edges, which inevitably makes it look contrived and not nearly as beautiful.

As we get older, nature works her destructive magic on us as well. I love photographing really old people as much as I do really old buildings.  There is a book of stories behind every crumbling wall or sagging face, wanting to be told. One of the saddest things about our species is that we breeze past, never even contemplating what these stories might be.

I just finished a remarkable book: A Conspiracy Of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland.  The protagonist is a Chant, someone who spends their life collecting and sharing stories.  Every important turn of events in the book is illustrated by a story external but relevant to the one at hand.

It is difficult to get people to tell their stories, and for me it is difficult to listen to them without judgement as well.

Listening is an invaluable skill.  One must forgo the desire to share one’s opinions or to respond in any way, giving oneself over completely to absorbing and understanding.  I am really bad at this.  I usually spend a good portion of my listening time formulating a response. It’s a very hard habit to break, especially at my ripe old age. The sad fact is, I will have less stories to tell because of it. Or maybe I will allow my walls to crumble with age, becoming more beautiful and full of stories as they do.

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Both photos taken this morning in Cd. Oaxaca

 

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Fog

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I believe that we all walk around in a fog most of the time.  I know I do. It’s not a drug induced fog, it’s an overload filter fog. Our brains are constantly filtering input from the world around us, throwing up a fog to obscure the extraneous and distracting. At its best, the fog enables us to focus on what’s important. At its worst, it keeps us blindly following the wrong path.

Or does it?  That statement implies that there is a wrong path. The thing about fog is that you never know what’s going to float into your field of vision. It creeps in at night, coats everything with droplets of moisture, and then lifts.  I was in the fog on top of Mount Lemmon once, before I knew the lay of the land up there.  A friend and I wandered off the trail and found a big boulder to sit on and smoke a bowl. (This was back when weed wasn’t so freaking strong that you go into a coma just looking at it)  As we finished smoking, the fog slowly lifted and we saw that we were sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the mountaintop valley known as Wilderness Of Rocks. The view, gradually revealed by the receding clouds, was stunning.

Had we taken a few more steps, we might very well have fallen over the edge of that cliff, becoming short-lived statistics on the mountain. Instead, we had a transcendent experience of beauty. The fog could have been called responsible for either outcome. In the end, it was the choice we made which mattered. A choice made without knowing either possible outcome.

Sometimes the fog itself is a choice.  I have recently been spending a lot of time in a self induced fog made up of rented DVDs of TV shows which I binge. This fog helps me avoid dealing with several things I am not ready to deal with yet. When I go to Oaxaca Tuesday for a month, that fog will lift. I will be immediately distracted by a myriad of sights, experiences, and people, many of whom you will doubtless read about here. I usually find clarity at such times, for some reason, so you may get a glimpse of that as well.

The above photo was taken in Maine in 2017 with my Olympus OMD E5, which I will be taking on this trip, leaving my big, fancy, Sony A7 R III at home.

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Bug Of The Day

This elegant lady visited me at work the other day.  Did you know that mantises have five eyes?  The two large compound ones that are obvious, and three simple eyes between them. The females of the species are infamous for eating their mates, head first, during sex.  This actually happens less than 25% of the time.  Evidently male mantises like the odds, as mantises have been around for at least 135 million years. Their closest relations are cockroaches and termites.

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Excuses, Excuses

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with the obligations I set for myself here.  I’ve been working a lot, and also I’m still rewriting the novel.  On the 15th, I’ll be going to Ciudad Oaxaca for a month, so I’ll probably post almost daily.  In the meantime, here’s a photo from the last time I was there.

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Tastes Like Chicken

Contrast and comparison.  We describe, define, and divide the world around us using both. Boys are tougher than girls. Girls are more emotional.  Democrats care more about people than Republicans.  Republicans are more responsible and realistic than Democrats. My dogma attributed to God is better than yours. This culture is better or worse than that culture because of this attribute. People who drive Priuses are better than people who drive Humvees. People who only ride bicycles are even better.  Vegetarians and Vegans are ethically superior. Omnivores are more true to their biological nature. My team is better than your team. Contrast is scary.  Contrast is attractive.  Brown men and women are exotic and sexy.  Don’t you love that accent?  What interesting and beautiful clothing!

We identify ourselves in contrast to other people and then cluster together with those we perceive to be like us, building walls, gates, rules, and laws to keep the contrast away. You must have a keycode to enter this neighborhood, you must hide your car in the garage.  You may only paint your house in this limited palette in order to avoid contrast. We go to the restaurants, bars, gyms, and supermarkets where the other customers contrast least with our norm. Then, once a year, some of us are so starved for contrast that we travel halfway around the world to find it.  We dive in to another culture, marvel at the difference, document our immersion with selfies, and then, because deep down we are terrified, we go to McDonalds with the other people like us to escape the contrast.

You may think I am denigrating the people I describe above because they are different from me.  You would be correct, to a point.  I despise HOAs, I seek out contrast and exotica.  I never go to McDonalds even in this country, and certainly not in one with far superior cuisine (any country in the world). But I am guilty of avoiding contrast as well.  When I travel, I by and large avoid Americans and the places they most frequent.  I don’t socialize at home with people who are frightened of contrast.  I avoid Republicans, especially now, and I consider anyone who supports Trump for any reason to be morally inferior, or at least delusional.

Sometimes I can’t avoid these people, or I accidentally encounter them. I might be in a conversation with someone in a coffee shop about the latest movie or TV show, or I might ask to pet their dog, because I can’t resist a canine. I might be sharing stories of grandchildren with another grandparent. In those moments we are all the same tribe.  Then something will happen, a comment, maybe, that outs them as different.  I spent a year being friends with a guy I met here where I am writing right now.  He was fascinating, friendly, smart, and seemed like a decent sort. He had been in the tech industry as had I, had made some money, and decided to leave it all behind for a nomadic life on his bicycle.  He had a cool website about his journeys, and lots of stories. Then this past year, he passed through town again.  About a month later, the subject of Central American refugees came up.  He made some incredibly insensitive and downright racist statements. When I called him on it, he made jokes.  Our friendship ended on the spot.

I have friends who maintain relationships with Trump supporters because they are family members, or because they have other things in common that override the racism somehow.  I can’t do it. They tell me that, deep down, we are all the same, and that such reprehensible beliefs, words, and actions are a result of life experience and trauma. Everything tastes like chicken, in other words.  The thing is, everything does not taste like chicken.  In fact, I have never had anything except chicken which tastes like chicken.

I took the photo above across the street from a house I’m working on.  I boosted the contrast all the way up on my phone to get the image you see.  This is what we do when we generalize about a group.  There are still nuanced differences in evidence, whether it be the little bit of color in the prickly pear, or the higher resolution of the shadows on the sidewalk. My grandchildren’s other grandparents voted for Trump.  They are some of the sweetest, kindest people I know.

Nothing but chicken tastes like chicken, but chicken can have a lot of different characteristics and flavors.

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Oh, What A Tangled Web

…we weave, when we practice to deceive. – Shakespeare.

Reporting on this year’s Democratic primary has been frustrating to me.  First, when Kamala Harris was in third place early on, all reporting was about Biden, Warren, and Sanders, as it still is.  Then there is the Republican talking point about taxes going up under Medicare for all that gets turned into a question by every reporter.  The amount people will pay goes down.  Taxes aren’t everything. Right now, you pay taxes plus insurance.  With Medicare for all, you just pay taxes, and the amount is less.  Thirdly, the whole narrative about Biden being the favorite.  That is complete nonsense.  He dominates the middle of the road status quo wing of the party, but if either Warren or Sanders dropped out, he would be down by 10 points.

I supported Kamala Harris early on, and I still like her best, but everyone on the stage Thursday except Wang would make a good president.  Several of them would make great presidents.

All that said, I felt Warren was strongest in this debate.  She was crystal clear in her answers, even to leading questions. I hope Bernie can set aside his ego and help her become president.

Lastly, we MUST take back the Senate.  If we don’t, any Democrat president will be ineffectual and a second Trump term will destroy the integrity of our judicial system.

Photo taken at Fort Popham, Maine last week.

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And So It Begins

I remember my grandparents always talking about people who had died.  Now my parents do.  The longer you live, the more people around you die.  I had two friends die last week.  I sometimes joke that I try to make younger friends so that I will outlive them.  Well, James was 6 years younger than I am. I took this photo last year right after he had open heart surgery.  It wasn’t his heart that killed him though, or maybe it was.  He dove in to the Salt River to rescue a dog and drowned in the process.  I lost touch with James after I left New Jersey in 1983.  When he showed up here with a complicated and confusing tale of love, betrayal, and legal issues a couple years ago, I didn’t know what to make of it.  To me, he was still that sweet teenager who never shaved and thus had a downy soft beard that girls loved. He was the definition of “mellow”.  I couldn’t reconcile his present with my memories of his past, so we didn’t connect very effectively here.  I went to see him immediately after his surgery, took this photo, and then never saw him again. He should have had 30 more years, at least.