Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tough Enough?


did I toughen up?
scars so thick
a second skin
burned and burned
to begin again
I remember when
existing hurt
every day I lost my shirt
I had no history
so everything was
a dangerous mystery
but now...
did I toughen up?
metaled in
head armored
to bleeding heart
so foolishness
can't even start
I remember when
counting doubt
was so devout
I had no pride
so nothing was
on my side
but now...
did I toughen up?
or just, age out?
Stand here,
Hold this,
Let's fire another round...
Oberon singed curled his whiskers a lot as a kitten too.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Truth Taxed

Truth always demands a tax.
The sooner I admit it the smaller the fee.
The later I agree to see it, the greater the toll.
The tax of truth is at compounding interest,
Factorial for each day of denial,
Such that 5 days denial factors to 120 lives,
But just two more days, at 7, factors to 5040.
I mastered the math long ago,
But not the meter of its implication yet.
Why do I keep borrowing from this monster?
At some point, the borrower must become
Exponentially gross
For giving the lender credit again?
Despite knowing,
I must find the wisdom
To ask
How am I a fool today?
But I am too taxed.
If wishes were fish, and truth was neon bright...

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The COVID Diaries: What I AM Afraid Of (a poem)


When I was in college,
Andrew and I,
were voted most popular
to survive
on a small desert island with.
I lost Andrew
along the way.
He didn't survive.
It wasn't survivable.
But I wasn't there too.
By chance,
I survived.
Most likely to,
apparently.
What luck.
He once suggested
I read
The Road,
a story about surviving
the apocalypse.
Only it isn't the main character who lives.
He burns everything,
down to his dinted shopping-carts wheels,
to make sure,
his son survives.
You don't read about
the son shoveling
ash like snow
though...
you just know,
he's left,
to live.

That's what I'm afraid of.

Beneath the snowflake, soccer-mom, exterior,
Beneath the near-bottomless pit
of compassion,
I well know,
is a little steel will,
ironclad,
invincible,
it rises.
There is no low
that it is ashamed
to crawl back from.
There is no survivors' guilt
it will not tilt.
It will do anything,
and I mean anything
to survive.
I will cry,
but still
skin the buck.
I will zip
the body bag
of my friend
and begin
again.

That's what I'm afraid of.

This will
Rip into the eyes of an over-sized attacker
without thought.
This will
Spoon a stranger at minus sixty Fahrenheit
in the Bitterroot's worst snow
just to take another hundred thousands steps
with frozen tear ducts.
I know
because
I have
before
and
one more.

That's what I'm afraid of.

This monster,
that sighs,
and cries,
but survives,
and survives.
Brighter than Plath fresh
from the oven,
Lighter than Lazarus,
trading feathers
with Icarus
at a Phoenix revival.
Irrepressible,
even as what is loved most
burns to a ghost,
and spreads
away the next
universe.
I will
stay.

That is what I'm afraid of.

Like cockroaches,
Twinkies,
or Keith Richards,
I should have been dead already,
expired,
past prime.
I'm afraid
I will not break.
I'm afraid
I will survive
to shovel
ashes.
I'm afraid
that
is the answer
to everything.
I am most likely
to survive
and
that
is what
I'm afraid of.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer, but what is the right question? What should we be afraid?


Monday, April 20, 2020

The COVID Diaries: Summoning my Inner Opposite

Not long ago I lost my right-hand man, fellow builder, compatriot creator of shit, companion of contradictory and too specific counsel, and general partner in getting into trouble, Andrew Fritz. We valued the same things: curiosity, compassion, creativity, continuous learning. We lived the same ultimate purpose: serve the world well. The rest was pretty Mutt and Jeff, day and night, different approaches. Andrew went backcountry with 80 pounds of gear with a rainjacket, while I took less than a third of that including full rain gear and extra socks. Aside from our opposite genders, nearly foot difference in height, and of course our differing sexual-orientations, one of our biggest differences was in our approaches to photography.

As a computer scientist, Andrew loved the technical details and finer points of light and focus. He was continuously pushing himself to learn new software, new gear, new tools and new ways of capturing a painting of light. I love his work, but I also dubbed him the "Gear Whore." As a social scientist, I'd rather experiment with the relationships of colors and contrasts. Andrew thought nothing of spending twelve hours on a computer stitching 60,000 photos together into one Star Trail. I refuse to do any editing out of the camera (on a computer). I am point-and-shoot lazy and have had the same three of lenses on the same Pentax body type for decades. Andrew bought quality gear. I am cheap. If we were composers, Andrew would have been Mozart, while I remain Scott Joplin in his early days writing Ragtime above a bordello. The funny thing, the brilliant thing, is that we respected each other and our different methods. This allowed us to push each other. Andrew isn't around to nag me into taking my photo into Capture One for a little post-editing, or to quit being lazy and set up that flower shot using a longer lens...to see what more my art can become with a little opposite in my approach. I have to do that part myself now. Play Andrew in my head.

Fortunately, I had 24 years of training before I had to do it on my own. As much as missing my friend sucks, this ability to play my same-purpose, different-approach opposite is a gift right now. None of us have all the same supplies, resources, outlets, or places to work that we had a month ago, but I can see other ways of creating art, of being happy without my norms available. It's just like having a conversation (aka argument) across the kitchen counter with Andrew...he was a baked goods guru and I'm more of a short-order cook, but we made a lot of popular party meals on a dime by doing both/ neither composites.

The moral of this post is: summoning your inner opposite some more right now might save your sanity. I don't mean an opposing opinion or argument. No need to squint your Republican self into a Democrat or anything so drastic (although that is a good empathy exercise). I mean imagine yourself, still with your same values and purpose, but a completely different way of achieving those things. This is more than just an empathy exercise, it's a survival panacea of sorts. No matter all of the things we can't control, we can still control our how...and that is incredibly comforting, like a big lug guarding your back during those slum photo shoots in the middle of the night.
My opposite, the day he married his soul-mate, Dr. Adrian Fritz-Dahood.



Saturday, April 18, 2020

The COVID Diaries: Can I Graduate?

I write this to all graduates this year, but especially those who have slaved an extra eight to twelve years earning a doctoral degree. I have empathy for the effort and struggle you have endured. As my former study-buddy (a Marine NCO) used to say, "It's like getting F*cked up the @ss with a corncob and having to say thank you for the privilege." Especially if school didn't come easy for you, or you paid your own way one class at a time, or if you're somehow a first in your family and had to navigate the social path (and all those strange new terms and rules) on your own.
You were likely looking forward to skipping across the stage in some seriously hotter-than-sin formal regalia, complete with an unflattering hat of Cambridge or Oxford design. Some of you skipped walking for your undergrad degrees and master's degrees, saving money and family travel for the big one...the one that really matters...the last one you planned to do. I hope you all still get the pomp and circumstance in person someday, even if delayed. But even if you don't, I offer you my heartfelt congratulations and appreciation.
I also offer one bit of hard-won wisdom from my own strut across that stage in velvet. I thought that would be the day I finally felt it was done. I thought that would feel like a big victory. I was wrong. The surge of pride and a real feeling of victory and meaning to the struggle was NOT that day, or even the first day someone called me Doctor Schmidt, or even the first day I received my 1,000 new business cards with the Ph.D. on them, or even the day I got my first seriously real-doctor-job paycheck. Turns out the day that felt like graduation was really the day I first had to pull out all of those fancy new intellectual tools and use them to make lives better...something I was only able to do because I endured and persisted and kept practicing perfecting my learning well after the rented velvet robes were all returned. I think your big day is now to come because you were also brave and bold enough to persist in learning and now it's a bone-deep habit. Congratulations! You came, you learned, and you will soon conquer your first of many challenges in making the world work better. No matter how you celebrate it this year, allow yourself to feel the free fall into your most-amazing potential. Graduation is just a very brief welcome to the best adventure of your life. Dum vivimus vivamus, and God Speed!

Even without the monkey suit, you still win (maybe more so because you can pick your own ceremonial robes that you look cool in now).
*Note: The title of this post is borrowed from a Third-Eye Blind song, "Graduate." I used to sing it to myself a lot as I spent night after night running stats programs in SAS for my research (back when a comma out of place might mean another 4 hours to fix and rerun your analysis...Yes, I know I am old.).

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