I’m Back!

Things have been insane since quarantine began, but there are some good tidings to share, which I’ll be going into now. I didn’t want to make a full disclosure until things actually happened, because life has a nasty habit of putting a damper on things. Anyway, here they are.

First, my PC is finally repaired, at least for the time being. My power supply unit is in need of replacement as it has been making grinding noises for some time now indicating that the fan is going. So I still need to invest in further repairs and replace my dying laptop with a model that is capable of handling heavy duty video editing for my YouTube channel. In the meantime, I intend to continue investing in my YouTube studio setup.

Second, I’m also saving toward getting my own apartment. I’m done having to rent rooms in other people’s houses where they feel at liberty to steal my belongings, break them, discard them, use up my toiletries and food and other of my personal possessions, and disrespect me at every opportunity. I pay rent for lodgings, not to take abuse.

Third, I’m getting more involved in my community as a result of my job in ways I haven’t been able to do in many years. If the disasters of the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that the system in which we all live is unsustainable for human survival. We simply cannot continue as we have. We need to make systemic changes or our species will be extinct by the end of the century if not much sooner.

That’s all for now. I’ll keep you, readers, updated as time and circumstances allow.

Thoughts on Mortality

Last Friday, someone who attended the same college I did passed away from brain cancer. He was only a year older than I am. We were friends on Facebook, and his struggles battling the disease were an inspiration to me. Yesterday evening was the life celebration. I went and paid my respects, since we were both in the film program at Cleveland State, and then left before wearing out my welcome. I didn’t want to intrude too much into what was meant for family and close friends.

But this, with Aunt Mary’s liver disease that may kill her before summer is out, really has me thinking about death. Looking at my former college-mate’s battle with cancer, I was inspired to keep going, because life is too short to waste it afraid of pursuing one’s goals. We’re only here for a precious short time, and if any of us want to leave a mark on the world, we have to try. There’s no point living if all one does is merely survive.

So, I will continue to take this lesson to heart.

Yep. It’s Sprained.

I took the day off yesterday to go to the doctor and have my ankle examined. As I thought, it’s sprained. That’s been a thing ever since I broke it at age fifteen—twice.

There’s a comedy of errors in that bit of personal history.

It was the day after New Year’s, 1990. I was fifteen. Over the winter the family had taken in a black tom cat, whom the hag had decided to name ‘Buckwheat’, after the character from The Little Rascals. She was and still is horrendously racist, though like all bigots, she’ll deny it with all the false indignation bigots can muster.*

Anyway, David had taken a liking to the animal, in fact bonded with him. Buck (I’ll call him that from here on) was aggressive, tended to dominate all the other cats except for Bambi, our pride’s elderly tabby matriarch. Even as she approached the age of twenty, she could still put him in her place, and he respected that. But Buck was the only cat I’ve ever met who stomped rather than walked. You know how cats typically walk lightly on their feet, all silent like any predator worthy of the role? Not Buck. He stomped, made himself heard so you knew he was there. Assertive, kind of a bully, just like David. That’s why they got along so well. Bullies are drawn to one another in, not exactly friendship because they’re too antisocial to make real friends, but there’s a mutual understanding and sense of camaraderie.

But I digress. Buck was never an indoor cat, and as long as he lived we could never keep him in the house. He’d always get out despite our best efforts to block his escape. See, the hag didn’t like our cats getting outside; too much chance they’d get run over by a passing car or tormented by a neighbor’s child, or taken, or killed by a stray or loose dog. It was a paranoia, to be sure, but had at least some basis in experience.

So, in those early days before we largely gave up trying to keep Buck indoors, he’d frequently try to escape and it was typically up to me to retrieve him. This is when that fateful day arrived that I broke my ankle. The day after New Year’s of 1990, Buck had once again run out the door, and I hurried to catch him and bring him back inside. Of course, it being winter and plenty of ice on the ground, I slipped, twisted my ankle, and felt the pain of bone snapping.

A trip to the emergency room (Dad took me, as always, because the hag could never be bothered) confirmed a zig-zag fracture of the growth plate in my ankle. I was put in a leg cast below the knee, given a set of crutches, and sent on my way. After the first cast came off, the doctors and nurses at MetroHealth Orthopedic Center sent me home, having failed to take any x-rays.

Note that I said “first cast.”

For a week I continued to hobble around on crutches because I was unable to put any weight on my ankle without stabbing pain shooting up my leg. On the sixth day after getting the cast off, I was walking into class when my foot caught on the metal strip in the doorway that is found on the floor in public buildings. I don’t know why these strips were thought of as a good idea. Anyway, that sent me to the nurse’s office in agony, and after some minutes’ rest I was sent home, picked up by Dad to finish the remainder of the day with my ankle elevated.

The next morning it was raining heavily. Dad dropped me off at school. As I walked to the elevator to go to home room, either the rubber tips of the crutches slipped on the wet floor or, as some told me later, some dweeb with nothing better to do than get his laughs at the expense of others kicked them out from under me. I never did find out which scenario was actually true. At any rate, I was down on the floor, in familiar agony, my ankle having been twisted again. I knew it was re-broken. A trip with Dad back to the emergency room confirmed that the fracture had been done anew, though thankfully there was no new damage.

But I learned an irritating fact at the hospital: the imbeciles at Metro had sent me home that first time with an ankle that wasn’t fully healed. Had they taken x-rays at the time the first cast was removed, they could have seen that and applied a walking cast then and there, and maybe I wouldn’t have suffered a re-break. So, this time they gave me a walking cast, toe-sock, and post-operation shoe. I still used the crutches, though, not trusting the doctors to have done a proper job. This was MetroHealth in the 1990s, after all, and back then they didn’t have a good reputation for doing much right. They still don’t.

Since that year, my ankle has been weaker than it otherwise would be (the general lack of adequate calcium in my diet hasn’t exactly helped me maintain good bone density, either). I’m prone to spraining. In 2004, I was working at that time at Boston Market. One day in the summer of that year I woke to find my ankle swollen and stiff, and in pain—not as much as if it had been broken, but I had a lot of difficulty walking on it. A trip to Fairview Hospital revealed a sprain. The thing is, though, that I hadn’t fallen or done anything that could feasibly have injured it. As it turns out, though, excessive walking and standing on a weak ankle can actually result in spontaneous spraining, and I do a lot of both. Lifting heavy objects can push the strained ligaments past the tearing point, and that’s what happened.

This past weekend, it happened again. Had the truck on loan from work come with a dolly, I might have avoided this latest sprain, but alas, there wasn’t one included, so I had to lift all those boxes and tubs and furniture. I had help, yes, but still, the strain on my ankle was there and it gave out as it was going to. This is why jobs that require much walking, standing, and heavy lifting are increasingly beyond me as I get older.

So there you have it, my trip down the bone-break memory lane. There’s another one to be had, but that’s for another time.

*: I have another story about bigots taking offense to being called out, that took place over this last weekend. I’ll get to that soon.

Reminiscing on Dad and Easter

Dad being a great baker as well as cook, holidays tended to involve a lot of bakery: cookies, cakes, babka, and the like. Easter was, of course, when he would break out the babka recipe and make a ton of loaves to give to family and friends, and also bring out the cast iron lamb cake mold. Easter dinner typically involved ham, kielbasa and sauerkraut, potato salad, cucumbers and sour cream, deviled eggs, Easter eggs, and Jell-O mold, among other treats.

My fonder memories are of helping dad do the grocery shopping for holiday meals and in helping make the babka and other baked goodies. He had me pick out his preferred brands of yeast (Brewer’s), fruit and nut fillings for the babka, the eggs and butter and all the rest, and we three guys got to help him make all those wonderful treats. As the years went by and he gradually lost the use of his hands, those activities became less frequent and eventually ceased altogether—the hag certainly never had any interest in participating in anything, only cooking for Thanksgiving and Christmas with any real enthusiasm, and even then Dad and I, between the two of us, did more than our share. So having those times helping dad with the shopping, cooking, and baking, were what made the holidays so memorable.

Good Friday was usually when we’d boil the eggs and color them. Ours was a Paas family. No other eggs dyes were used, although occasionally we’d boost the Paas with food coloring to make the colors more vibrant in later years as the company began skimping on deeper hues. I don’t know why we used that brand so exclusively, really; there were others. Maybe Paas was simply what was immediately available in stores back then and other choices tended to be sold in more out-of-the-way venues. Or perhaps Dad simply liked the brand more. Some traditions we kept because it had been done for ages and no one saw any reason to change them up.

The weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter were spent decorating the house. We had a table-top egg tree that consisted of a natural wood branching structure upon which we would stick colored Styrofoam eggs, and hang Easter-themed ornaments, and at the base we’d put the cellophane Easter “grass”. Miniatures of various substances from resin to plastic were likewise put around the base. Cardboard cutout decorations were taped to the windows, as during other holidays, and on the front porch we’d tape or staple them to the outer wall.

When we were still regular churchgoers, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday evenings were spent in the pews of Luther Memorial over on Lorain Avenue, and Sunday the family would go to Easter Service. These events I had no enthusiasm for, because the hag treated them so seriously, like a duty that must be carried out and enforced lest we boys get the wooden spoon to our bottoms. I remember one year, David and I were made to dress in our Sunday best on a Good Friday and sit on the couch in absolute silence to mourn the death of Jesus on the cross.

But always there was the food, and helping Dad with it. That was what I really liked.

Dad was always more enthusiastic about these traditions than was the hag. As we kids got older our own passion began to wane, with our jobs taking up so much of our time. David, lacking any sense of sentimentality (taking after his mother, as always), never cared all that much for them. Today, being a dogmatic hardcore atheist, he’d probably attack anyone and everyone for even entertaining holiday traditions, and he certainly would spare no opportunity to make snide comments if Dad were alive and tried to revive them. So these were passions belonging more to Dad and to me. I guess, taking after him, I never really lost my child-like pleasure at indulging in holiday decorating, baking, and cooking.

Having no one now with whom to revive the old family traditions, I don’t practice them. What a gift it would be to have my own family with whom to restore those activities!

Maybe someday…

Breaking Up Is Hard To Endure

Okay, it’s been a while since I posted but I thought I’d give a couple of updates as to what’s going on in my life so you, dear readers, don’t think I’ve dropped off the face of the earth.

First, in August one of my teeth broke apart and I had to schedule an appointment with the dentist. It’s not salvageable, so I’ve begun the process of getting a dental implant. My Medicaid provider doesn’t cover it, so I’ll have to pay for it out of pocket, but my job may reimburse me under its medical plan. In the meantime, I’ve gotten my other cavities filled, all covered by Medicaid, so thank God for that. I have an appointment later this month to start the implant process. This past Sunday the tooth broke up even more leaving a stump behind along with a disconcerting feeling—not pain; the nerve endings and blood vessels are pretty much dead. No, something else I can’t describe in words because I have no context in which to put it. But I refuse to go to my grave missing teeth, dammit. It’s not happening.

The owner of the house in which I’m renting a room is selling the property and I have to be out by the end of the month. I was told this would happen when I first moved in, so it’s not a surprise. But rents even on rooms have gone up and it’s tough trying to find anything within my affordability. But I have to find something, because if I end up at the homeless shelter I’ll never be able to get out of it. No one will hire me for a job that pays worth a damn if I’m homeless. So the search continues.

My Americorps assignment is going well. I’m putting together a database of resources for prisoners re-entering society, helping with the accreditation process to ensure the host organization is maintaining what it needs to do to secure accreditation, and going over grant applications to make sure they pass muster. Fulfilling work, all in all, even though the pay is shit (Americorps’s stipend doesn’t really cover the basics). I’m going to see if the organization will hire me for a permanent position once my term of service is up. A lot of the staff here are former VISTAs, so the chances are good that if I do my job well enough, they may keep me.

Aside from those,there’s not much else to report. Yesterday after work my fellow VISTAs and I were invited to take a tour of the minimum security prison where our program participants reside. The compound has a puppy program that allows prisoners to interact with puppies and young dogs as part of their therapeutic process. I got to hold one very beautiful pup, and it made me miss having a dog. If only I could afford to care for one…

Oh well. Maybe someday. That’s about it for now. Thanks for reading!

Full Circle

It’s funny sometimes how life works out. Ten years ago I was working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with a local non-profit, and now I find myself back doing it again with another organization. I’ll be researching and writing grants primarily starting tomorrow.

I can’t say I’m not nervous about this. It’s another new start and that’s always somewhat daunting at the beginning, but that’s just another breaking-in period to experience, and I find I’m up to the challenge. I’ll also be going through some other transitions as this strange journey called life takes me on yet more turns both expected and unexpected, and I’ll blog about those later. But for now, another new chapter in my life is opening.

Wish me luck!

Finally, a Pay-Off?

Wow, did the Falcons choke or what? So-called patriots probably cheated as always, too, but the Falcons really folded in the last half like cheap lawn chairs. Dang. Oh well.

Anyway, a couple of developments. Last week I took photos for a campus event for which my compensation was a chess set I’ve had my eye on. Hey, it’s a campus organization; they don’t have all that much in terms of funding. So I’ll gladly take what I’m offered and it helps get my name out there as a reliable event photographer. Plus, as I left, one of the club organizers offered to pay me for an upcoming event next month. Probably won’t be much, but it’s the break I’ve been waiting for since I started my photography over a year ago. And I’m getting opportunities to shoot models and other events, too!

I’m also raising money for an urban wildlife photography project I’ve been turning over in my head for a while now. In the last six years I’ve been seeing a lot more wildlife—deer, red tailed hawks, kestrels, and other critters formerly confined to the parks—popping up more and more in people’s yards, including my old neighborhood. This is the result of urban sprawl that has left wild animals with nowhere else to go except where they used to be, only the developments are still here. How are they affected? How are people coping? Who’s documenting this new reality? Well, if no one else is, then I want to. But being gored to death by antlers, hooves, or both, or scaring off creatures, is not something I want, so I’m raising funds for a decent telephoto zoom lens. Adding that to my lens inventory would go a long way toward helping me build my wildlife and sports portfolios, and I’m offering prints and CDs of the finished work once it’s completed.

But the real money is in events, so a good telephoto lens for sports events like Browns and Indians games is essential. For weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and religious coming-of-age, I can use my portrait lens and save up for a good wide-angle lens. I’m applying for a small business grant, and with luck and some awesome grant-writing, who knows?

But I’m finally starting to receive compensation for my photography work. I just need to keep at it and keep proving myself.

Belonging

This morning I was in the old neighborhood taking care of some financial matters when I suddenly had the realization that I was a stranger in my own neighborhood. And it depresses the fuck out of me. This was the part of town I grew up in and I feel like a bloody foreigner in my own home area, like a damned interloper trespassing somewhere he oughtn’t.

Of course, the reason for this feeling is that I am homeless—I have no place I truly belong. To belong is to have roots set down, to have somewhere no one can take away from you, to be a part of something and somewhere that belongs as much to you as you belong in it. I haven’t got that. I haven’t had it for over seven years now, especially the last five. There is no place I belong, no place that belongs to me. No matter where I go or how long I manage to stay, it’s not home. I’m a foreigner anywhere and everywhere.

And the reason for my situation is that I stood up to a pair of violent sociopaths.

Exiled for trying to defend myself.

Deprived of belonging for all time.

Why?

Why does standing up for myself, refusing to be literally beaten down, have to come with the price tag of homelessness? Why must the price of my dignity, self respect, even my very life, be eternal punishment?

I am a man without anywhere to belong, a man to whom nowhere belongs.

And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

So Yeah…

Yesterday my student loan check was deposited to my bank account. In addition to textbooks, note-taking materials, and the semester meal plan, I splurged and got a Canon EOS Rebel T6i bundle, one so comprehensive that all I need to do now for indoor shoots is rent a lighting kit for studio grade work. A light meter will be bought next month when my tax refund arrives, thus completing the tech component of my imminent photography business. As well, I’ll be getting a fiscal agent sponsor so I can apply for grants for film-making and other photo and film related projects.

Since I’m starting my Master’s program Monday and don’t need to maintain a moving expense fund-raiser for NYFA, I’ll be taking that down. The fund-raiser for the camera bundle will shift in focus from acquiring the hardware, since I will have it within a week, to fund-raising for actual projects. I’m writing up a screenplay, a satirical short about the extent to which the U.S. grants businesses legal person status. It should be a perfect fit with which to break in my new camera bundle as a video-recorder. Some of my peers from film school shot their projects using DSLR cameras and the results were pretty cool.

I must admit to being a bit nervous regarding my return to college. It’ll be my first time back as a graduate student and I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’ll be going for graduate assistantships and even a teaching assistant position if I can swing it. I’ll also need extra income, so I’ll be maintaining a part time job as well.

Wish me luck!