Behind the scenes: "HOMMES FÉMININ"

Being a photographer I get the opportunity to be part of different projects. The bulk of the work that I do is documenting love (what a privilege). For this project the love has kept on coming long after we hit the upload button. The world is a good place!

Washington D.C. ~ Journal

America! 

Distance does not explain it. Less than a month ago this city seemed hopeful. The reason why this is strange to write today is because America is a wonderful place to live.

The David Bowie song "I am Afraid of Americans" haunts my writing as I scribble down these thoughts...I'm afraid. I can't help it.  Tao teaches us the way that can be followed is not the truth or the correct way; history smacks us in the face yet again. I am alive again, live forever with me, someday we will be together, where are we now...the moment you know, as long as there is fight in me.  Accelerate inclusion, accelerate diversity, accelerate acceptance...my liberal bubble has been busted. With election results, there goes philosophy and that is what the electoral vote fed me. 

A red baseball cap got a win that's even too big for Chicago Cubs fans to believe. To speak well one must have a soapbox and an appreciative audience, I have neither. The KKK celebrates, ISIS celebrates, Vladimir Putin got a win, FBI or the KGB sold the new world, 50% of Americans celebrate, my IRA will go up as the ethics of my fellow citizens go down. 

That brings me back to when the city seemed hopeful. Twenty four hours before, the sun was hot in the street. Now the temp has fallen to 30 degrees, the wind is causing my tripod to shake. One photo, one f-ing photo to represent old D.C. and D.C. of today: the Washington Monument in the same photo with the new constructed National Museum of African American History & Culture.  People of minority groups woke up after the election and felt their lives were in danger in this post-political corrective alternative universe we now live in (a.k.a. another word for political correctness is JUST BEING FUCKING NICE...YOU ASSHOLE). The light fell fast, the sky went from a red hue of dusk to the royal night blue to cold blackness. I got the shot. A kind Muslim Uber driver dropped us off at Founding Famers restaurant. "God bless and goodnight" he wished us well as we closed the door and walked away.  We drank too much. It was fun. Soon I would drink to numb myself.

Anyway, now I want to tell you about my time in D.C. before this, this and this and our insultor-in-chief (the refried orange cheeto is my wife's preferred name).  Sunday morning we walked. 
The whole city walked with us as dogs pulled their owners, children pulled their parents; there is so much life on New Hampshire Ave. This was day four of our vintage, vinyl and vegan road trip. Elizabeth found a couple boutiques to roam through. I had to wait two hours for the record stores to open. We finished our breakfast at Whole Foods; oatmeal for me, random breakfast bar stuff for her. I get a kiss on the cheek there on 14th street as she goes right I go left in search of a spot to write.

I sat in Peter's Coffee shop three doors up from Som Records store (which would be the biggest score of my trip). I ordered black coffee, not even wanting anymore coffee, for this would be my fourth cup of the day, but those who need a seat must put coin in the coffer. I find the last seat in the joint. A perfect spot by the storefront window...great light, soft music and conversation to eavesdrop on. I politely asked the two men if the newspapers were theirs and if it was ok if I sat there. In a Scottish accent I heard "No problem mate" as they grabbed the papers. I had lots of funny experiences but few would be as enjoyable as listening to two Scottish men discuss life in Washington D.C... healthcare is confusing, NFL is confusing, retirement is confusing, calling any tech support is confusing. They laughed a lot discussing their jobs as professors at Georgetown University. "Pay off your house in D.C., that's all you need to do for your life savings. Sell the place when you turn 65 and move back home for healthcare; Glasgow soccer matches are easy to follow.

January 2017 I will be back in D.C.

Forget about the spread of human intelligence! Too much intelligent is what got us here. A clean slate, a foundation for the revolution.  Accelerate inclusion, accelerate diversity, accelerate acceptance...sympathy is no good.

Let the war come.

Philadelphia ~ Journal

I went to bed last night drunk on red wine. Reading Henry Miller's "Aller Retour NY" with the intent of stealing his idea to infuse with mine. 

And now, I am going to tell you a little more on my days and nights in the City of Brotherly Love. On how I walked down Broad St. turning left and right going in and out of the side streets in search of the original-whatever and to create one single photo that would last for a generation.

To know how to spend a life, to enjoy oneself and still be productive, truly productive, pay bills, build a nest egg, drink, walk and dream is something unknown to most. Not me. Music of Patti Smith plays in the background. *Note to the reader: PS music should never be just background, it should be digested with singular focus. Yet, Henry Miller fills my eyes as I empty my glass.  I am thinking about just how damn good it is to be alive on earth right now; to have health, curiosity and a good pair of shoes can fill every moment of your day in Philly.  

It took me longer to find a spot in Philly to write in. Through the Friday morning crowded streets, I pass the biz man, a tourist, two men smoking the fattest joint I have ever seen, and one pregnant lady smoking a cigar and screaming into her phone. No one noticed but me. Friday morning commuters walk on by as I sneak a photo of the dysfunction yet to be born growing in her belly. I feel guilty because all I can notice is how good the morning backlight looks on her multicolored hair.

Caffe L' Aquila on Chestnut street will be my home for the next couple of hours. Italian coffee, wine and music fills my five senses, this will do. I order a soy latte and fruit cup, brought to me by a thin young Asian waitress dressed in black. She placed a napkin in front of me, then my drink and then proceeded to place the tiniest of spoons into my cup give it three swirls. Next she smiles, says grazie and walks away. The King of New Jersey, Frank Sinatra, croons on the overhead speaker but it's hard to hear over the street noice. End of October and the storefront window and patio is opened up. Climate conditions are weird, beautiful and scary as hell. Might as well enjoy the day until all the birds fly away. 

You see, I am having a very interesting time in this city. Like the other day, for example, when revisited the walk I took the day before in search of the red pepper plant of Philadelphia. This majestic multicolored plant is spread out all through this town. Curbside planters, window sills, all littered with this pepper plant. Later I would discover that it's not food; they are ornamental buggers not meant for digestion.  I need to get a photo of this pepper that is akin to Christmas lights on a tree. There I was, hundred-percent Jack Kerouac in search of documenting this thing. Something lasts longer than you think they will, like effort to get a shot of the Philly pepper. Walking the streets, getting sweaty and hot, hoping not to get that late October sunburn and then suddenly there it is. Bang, snap and re-composed. Got it and off to the vinyl record store in search of something new. 

Moment

Current Reading: Aller Retour New York by Henry Miller

Current Music: Vulnicura by Bjork

Mood: On fire

Smell: Fresh cut grass 

Sounds: Lawn mower

Temperature: 79 degrees, climate weirding wonderful & scary as hell.  

Thought: Transparency leads to vulnerability in turns that leads to conversations: That where real healing is done...

Agnes Jones Tucker: The Kind Neighborly Lady

When Helena ever heard anyone, especially one of her nine family members, make a racist remark, her temper was quick to explode. She would correct the prejudice remark and then proceed to tell you about Agnes Jones Tucker. 

Agnes Jones Tucker was by far the most important and influential woman in young Helena’s life. Agnes was a woman of color, but Helena never referred to her that way. To Helena, Agnes Jones Tucker was the kind, neighborly lady who lived next door to her when she was a young girl growing up. 

Agnes never took all that much interest in young Helena, but at all times she was that kind, neighborly lady who lived next door. Once or twice a week Helena would find herself knocking on Agnes’ front door offering to share her father’s homemade red wine. Helena’s father’s red wine was known far and wide as the best dego Italian red, and it came out stronger than regular table wine. Anges would always tell Helena that drinking her father’s dego red made her feel like an Italian. So, once or twice a week, Helena would carry two bottles of red in her hands to Agnes, in trade for Anges’ homemade bread and rice pudding. 

Helena looked forward to these brief moments of exchanging goods. It gave her the opportunity to peek into Agnes’ home and see how a mother kept a home.  Before Helena would knock on the door she could hear Agnes singing along to her Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington records that she always kept spinning on her turntable. The phonograph was a big brown wooden box with a hand crank on the right side with a big silver arm that would hold the tiniest of needles. The phonograph was displayed right next to the kitchen table.

Agnes’ kitchen was always filled with the aroma of something sweet baking and sounds of jazz music. The joy of Agnes’ kitchen could be felt by Helena while standing on the front porch.

Agnes would open the the door with a smile and kind words for Helena. A compliment of her hair or dress or the smile on her face. Agnes would forever leave Helena with an extra bounce in her step.

Helena would exchange goods and compliments on the front porch, doing her best to peek inside of Agnes’ home. Always immaculately clean. Helena would ask Mrs. Tucker how could she at all times keep her home so sparkling clean? Agnes would reply “I just catch the dust right out of the air honey-child. Just like your mamma did. Be sure to tell your Daddy thank you for the wine.”

Sunday mornings Helena and her family would walk to church, leaving their home promptly at 10:05 to make it to St. Bartholomew church for the 10:30 mass. Agnes Jones Tucker and her two daughters would also leave their home for Sunday services at the Heritage Baptist Church, on the corner of Ligonier street and Avenue E, directly catty-cornered to St. Bartholomew.

Helena especially enjoyed seeing Agnes on Sunday mornings. Agnes would be dressed in the same outfit, but every Sunday she wore it with pride and style. Her dress was powder blue with a rose pattern cut four inches below her knees. She had on white gloves trimmed with white lace that covered her wrists, accompanied by a matching white, veiled hat that would cover her eyes and stop at the tip of her nose. She carried under her arm a red clutch purse (of which, inside, were only tissues). On her feet were black low-heeled shoes. Just the right height of heel to exude style and grace.

Before entering church, Helena would turn right and Agnes would turn left, parting ways for the day. Agnes, with a big smile, would tell Helena, “A clean home is a clean soul and say your prayers when you crochet; the saints and angels like it when you work and pray at the same time.”

For some reason Helena would grow up not to trust “those” people of color. Yet forever and ever would be quick to tell you the story of Agnes Jones Tucker: the kind, neighborly lady that lived next door. 

Instructions Before Leaving Earth

From Northern Italy to Ellis Island, they stepped off the boat and signed the ledger announcing their intent to live in America. After signing their names, they moved over to next line for job employment. 

A newly dug coal mine was hiring in eastern VA. Three train rides later they were set up with a job and temporary housing. The house was a small army base-style home, which they could live in until they saved up enough money to buy a home of their own. Working six days a week for the next nine months, her parents were able to do just that.  

Five years later Helena would be born, the last of five children.

The smell and soot from coal became the one constant memory in young Helena’s childhood. Her father would come home from the mines covered in a days worth of ash. The kitchen oven was heated by coal. The fireplaces throughout the home used coal and wood to warm the house. This black powdery, oily, substance forever needed to cleaned off of every surface in the house.  No matter how much effort Helena’s mother would place into ridding the home of soot it would come back the next day. Her mother would say “You can catch the dirt right out of the sky.” 

Their house was a small two-story that was lined up in rows and rows of houses that all looked the same. Every home in her neighborhood came out of the Sears and Robuck catalog. Basements that had dirt floors and a small window on the ground level used to keep the house in coal could be found in every home. Once every month a coal delivery man would stop by to refill the room. On coal dumping day Helena’s Mother would do her best to make sure that furniture and clothes were well covered up, for the next day the house would need a deep cleaning.  A day that all the children hated.

The house had three bedrooms with a small fireplace in each room. 

Her parent’s bedroom was always the cleanest room in the house. Above their bed was a large crucifix; black, glossy wood with a two foot Jesus nailed to the cross. Her mother had three dresses always neatly pressed hanging in the closet. Her father had two pair of work clothes and one suit, which Helena never saw him wear. Hanging on the bed post were her mother’s rosary beads. Next to the fireplace was a small, white vanity table.  On it sat mother’s hair brush, two sets of hair pins and a bottle of perfume that her mother would only use on special occasions. It was a gift from father on their wedding night. It smelled of fresh chamomile. 

This vanity was mother’s special place and the children were never allowed to touch her items. Everything had to be lined up properly and be kept in just the right spot. 

Helena, along with her two sisters, shared a room with one bed to be shared.

Helena hated sharing a bed with her sisters, unless it was winter.

Helena’s mother would heat up bricks in the coal furnace, then wrap the hot bricks in towels and place them underneath the covers and at the foot of the bed to keep the girls warm on winter nights. Smelling those hot bricks on cold winter nights was the only time Helena was not bothered by the odor of coal. 

In the back, far corner of their property was a chicken coop that held six chickens for fresh eggs and occasional meat.  Next to that was a small pen that housed a pig, until they would have to slaughter it. Then they would have to save up to buy a new piglet. The pen was empty more often than not.  Behind the pen was a shanty, nothing more than a crudely built shack that was made from leftover scrap metals. Helena’s father would use the shanty for making wine, smoking meat (when they could get it), and storing tools. 

All in all, Helena lived a life where she did not know poverty or wealth. She had what all of her neighbors had, which was a small two-story house filled with soot from coal and fresh eggs out back. No more and no less than anybody else.

Then The Great Depression hit America in 1928.  Life changed. 

The Great Depression did not hit the small mining town as hard as it hit the city. People in mining towns grew much of their own food and slaughtered their chickens and pigs that they raised. Neighbors shared as best they could with each other to keep everyone going. My potatoes for your bread, my wine for  your flour. Helena’s parents were quite skilled at living this way. This was how life in Italy was for as long as they could remember. 

The coal mines were kept open. Paychecks became smaller and the price to buy coal became greater than most people could afford. 

For all three years, Helena’s family was able to make do, until the last winter of the Great Depression. That would be the coldest and darkest year of Helena’s life.

There was very little coal to heat the house and very little food to go around the table. Only two of the six chickens were able to survive the winter and there were only root vegetables from which to make soup. 

That is when the fever struck. 

Helena’s mother began her withdrawal from the world. Helena sat by her bedside and watched as her mother suffered with changes in temperature, visions and hallucinations. She ate so little, refusing to eat most days. Restlessness and agitation took over in her voice where once she would sing gospel songs. 

There was never enough money to buy medicine, but there always seemed enough for her father to buy a few drinks. Helena’s mother would spend weeks in bed while her father would come home later and later each night after work smelling of booze. 

The closer Helena’s mother got to death, the further Helena’s father was from home.  Her father was not one for living for the other people in his life. He could live a happy life if he only thought of himself.  “Man is a rational animal. Fulfill that purpose and a happy life can not be snatched away.” That was the only advice that Helena could remember her father sharing with her. 

The priest came late in the evening to visit with Helena’s mother. He gave the children unconsecrated communion so they would have something additional to eat that night.  He asked Helena’s father if he would see him in church next week. His standard answer was “I’ll see you in two weeks.” He would never go to church and he would never ask for forgiveness of sins, for he believed that his faults would die long before he would.  

The priest entered the bedroom and made the sign of the cross on himself as he looked at the crucifix hanging above Helena’s mother’s bed. He took the rosary beads that hung on the bedpost and wrapped them tightly within Helena's mother’s hands. From his coat pocket he took out a small glass jar, pulled out the small cork and dabbed oil onto his fingertip. He anointed the oils as he placed a drop on her forehead, next the back of her hands and then reaching down to touch the tips of her feet, even though they were still covered by the blanket. 

The priest prays by asking God for absolution for her sins.  “With your grace O’Lord please give her the provision for the journey.” Helena and her sisters stood on the far side of the room watching and listening. Her father and brothers stayed downstairs while the priest recited Psalm 51. When Helena heard the priest say, “Behold, I was shaken in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”, she believed God was talking right to her. In Helena’s heart, she was born by sin and only in death could she be granted forgiveness for her birth.

In the morning Helena’s mother would no longer be in bed. Her father gathered the children and told them that there was not enough money for a funeral and the girls would now be responsible for their mother’s chores.

Her bed was made. There was not even an imprint in the mattress where she had laid. Her clothes were given to the eldest daughter.  The middle daughter took the bottle of perfume. Helena took her mother’s rosary beads from the bedpost.

Helena’s mother did not leave her with basic instructions before leaving Earth. Now she was to shovel the coal, slaughter the chickens and bake the bread.  

Every journey has its end. For Helena, hers was just beginning.

Three weeks later, the Easter lilies bloomed and their sweet aroma filled the air.

On Music

The world is divided in different ways – we are either born to the west or to the east. Our politics lean left or right. We either follow the teachings of evolution or the faith of creation.  We all sing, dance and celebrate life with music.

Man was the last thing to appear on Earth. First there was land, then plants then animals. Then man was created to complete the natural world. Music was last. Gary Snyder writes – “we are here to entertain the rest of nature”. I think he is right. In times of war send the musicians in first. I like that.

Prelude To My After Life

Her problems were born long before any of us. Meet me on the other side when my time comes. Maybe then we can have that conversation that we were never able to have.

Why would death not free me from you?

This is the story that I want you to know.

Her suffering has ended. The eternal love has begun.  My faith tells me that when she closed her earthly eyes, her heavenly eyes opened to the sight of St. Anthony.  She would daily say her prayers to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. I can remember her clutching that small paper prayer book; the pages curled and worn thin...the color faded from years of use. You could barely make out the photo on the cover of St. Anthony holding the baby Jesus. The book even smelled of her purse and home...mothballs.

To St. Anthony I say, “Thank you for finding what was once lost.” To her I say, “The garden of Eden lies ahead of you. I hope you finally like the taste of the fruit that you have been waiting for."

Now, let us all bow our heads and raise our glasses. A toast to all you good for nothings out there. 

Eu: True  Logy: Story

She was found dead at 12pm Friday the 15th, on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic holy day of obligation. 

Sitting in her favorite chair with a blue pen in her right hand, and in her left hand was a handwritten letter. 

Her hair was perfectly styled, as if she had just returned from her weekly appointment from the beauty shop. She was wearing a powdered blue dress that was freshly pressed; not a wrinkle to be found. On her hands were white gloves, which had a lace trim that covered her wrists. Placed perfectly on her head was a matching white, veiled hat. 

She was dressed elegantly and proper as if she was getting ready to go to mass at St. Vernon. It was at this church that she could be found most days at 10:15am sitting four rows back on the left hand side of the church. Reciting Hail Mary prayers while holding her wooden rosary beads. 

The room in which she was found was immaculately clean; everything was put away and in its proper place. The room still smelled of furniture polish and mothballs from the morning cleaning of her home. The transistor radio, which was tuned most days to her favorite station, 94.1 WRHQ, was playing “Strange Fruit” by Bille Holiday. On her feet were pink slippers. 

The room was warm from a soft breeze that blew in from the window. You could hear sounds from the town square outside. Birds, children, street vendor, cars, traffic…none of which she cared to listen to. The noise was a distraction from her jazz music playing on the radio. Helena liked the fresh air and did not like having to pay the high electric bill when she turned on the air conditioner. Her window would open promptly at 7am and close shut at 7pm, daily.

A teacup filled with chamomile, sweetened with a shot of rum, as always, was placed on the side table next to her favorite antique red velvet chair. The teacup and saucer were a matching set of royal blue with white polka dots, a single red rose with a slight gold ring along the top of the cup, and a gold line edging the saucer.  That matching teacup and saucer were, as always, placed properly on a homemade, crocheted doily of her making. It was of the utmost importance to her to use a crocheted doily, so as not to damage the furniture when drinking tea. 

On the saucer were three jelly-filled cookies with a bite taken out of one of them.

The note read:
“A prelude to my after life.  The devil burns my feet but you can have my heart. My death will deliver the verdict. You get no say on this matter. Do not try to understand. What is left is merely time. My only regret is that I could never speak these words, even to myself.  I still love you more than cheeseburgers…”  ~HF

"You seem lonely" the Ghost says to me

The ceiling fan did not move. The bird chirps were silent. Rain fell in rhythm with my breath. I awoke again as I always do with a hangover, even though I haven't had a drink in three days. 

"You seem lonely" the Ghost says to me. The Shadow places a pink flower into the vase sitting on the small wooden table in the right corner of the room. "I have been waiting for you to say my name. You never do anymore." I no longer feel the need; the hunger for touch has diminished. The pain melts into the morning air as I sit up for the first time in twelve hours. I wait for your whisper to wake me: "You seem lonely." Six thirty five a.m. everyday for three years: "You seem lonely", the whisper brings the dawn's light.

Shower, coffee, music, slice the tomato, two pieces of toast, walk the dog, pick up the poop, wave to the Chinese man smoking a cigarette at the end of his driveway.  "Death did not answer the door today", he said, as the blend of words and smoke pour out of his mouth. 

The rain makes me want to write. The sound, tempo, smell, the soft mist in the breeze, the defused light gentle on the eyes. The Shadow and the Ghost remind me, "You would only be missed if I went away".  Where do the birds go when it rains? 

Go back to the well, humanity needs you. Drink the wisdom from deep within the well. There are no heroes...only headlines. Would you be missed if you went away? An f'ing inspiration I would be to the dead. I am a bother to the living. Take it all away, I do not feel like it anymore. "Don't forget you love me today", I say to the mirror. I am just so tired of missing you. 

Too early for bourbon. Conversation with strangers to pass the time. People do not want peace; if peace is what they sought, peace is what they would have. Peace arises, is it not contagious. No matter how much you love someone all you have is hope. The coffee sucks in this place. I always get coffee, why not water? Water always tastes just right. Tell me what you are thinking. I will rescue you. Women walk throughout this coffeeshop sucking in their guts, looking for someone to tell their problems to. Exhale suburban white woman, I will help you sort it out. Life does not turn out well if an angel speaks to you. Seeking the divine, all you will ever get is the seeking. Life is not comfortable. We all have secrets that we hide.  Atonement for your spoiled life, somehow you cheated God and got away with it. Yet the light shinning down on you looks good. I have thought about it for awhile; pack it up and go away. Just be as your are.

The rain is starting to soften, the clouds are almost empty. I can hear the sound of the birds waking from their nap. 

The Only Thing Interesting About Art Is ...Discovery

Wait, the voice speaks to me. All you have to do is cry. I am haunted by a deity or maybe it's simply fear of normalcy.   I live comfortably between the world of spirt and soil.

John Craig Media

Brightly covered canvas. Music that pushes you to dance. Words on paper that changes your life. All you have to do is grab a stranger's hand. Repetition of practice, yet it's never the same twice. Improv, light, grove, brush stroke, sentences, flesh, tone, beat, dance...it feels good; it's never the same twice. 

You can tell what you have done to me. Always helping me.  Yet at all times above me. Never letting me meet you.  Mystery with no need of solving. It always feels good. That is wishful thinking. It's just a feeling of doing. It's never the same twice.

"I am a project. Like my house. I am rickety with charm." ~ Christiane Dolores, the lady with two first names, like me. 

She walked into the room, quiet, never looking at the crowd. Everything happens for a reason. In her left hand she holds a handful of salt. She takes a pinch in her right hand and proceeds to create a line, to create a barrier of protection from us, the audience. That's you and me. Protection from you. Protection from me. There is no pressure now, I think to myself. Enjoy the whatever-of-words to come towards me. She takes out a small bottle of water and walks in a circle around the microphone. Rosewater mists into the air.

"She was more like a beauty queen from a movie screen" ~ Michael Jackson. 

From Dutch-African decent. Life pulled from both hemispheres. This lady is weird/wyrd. The talk, the topic, the subject is weird. "I do not judge you for your normalness" She said. I fall in love with her right there and then.  Magical, weird, dramatic. 

Forty-five minutes later I walk out of that room. She gave me nothing; there was no take away. Yet she is still with me. She was interesting. I discovered her. A gift. 

I walk out of the building. Cross through a park where lots of homeless people are killing time, at least that's what my mind tells me. I find a new tea shop, not coffee. Tea? I order an Arnold Palmer tea, half iced tea half lemonade. I sit at a wooden table that's wobbly but manageable to write at.

Brilliant f'ing mistakes of discovery. My life. My journal. My art. All filled up with brilliant f'ing mistakes of discovery. Transcendental, existential; the whatever moments of yesterday, beyond questioning, repetition, repetition, repetition, mistakes, discovery great things come out of shit, introspection, expressive is the upside of affliction. Pour me a drink. Rejuvenate myself.

A damaged soul; it's like a romantic notion...dislocated artists trying not to be remembered but re-discorved. 

Day-by-day and that is a romantic notion to me.