Burning Poems

24 December 2012, 15:06

Your Turn



If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

19 December 2012, 19:21

Your Turn [1]


Green Eggs and Ham

Benjamin Más and I recorded this one back in May.

It didn’t take me long to photograph the stills and assemble the first full Final Cut draft; the majority of the legwork was done by June.

Prior to heading to DC for Breakpoint and jumping into the AFTH2012 vortex, I edited the audio and balanced the levels/tone. As I work, it’s not a long process.

The months passed, one priority overriding the next, the seasons going from summer to fall to winter. Adult life in the big city moves just so, and this piece was really just playtime, for fun, not critical.

20 children — small ones, just Ben’s age — were executed today. Their murderer was driven by forces I wish to never know.

I can’t think. I can hardly type this. Through the day, I’ve been alternating between tears and utter blankness for this spontaneous void.

I can’t pull my son to me right now; I can’t feel his warmth. Remembering this almost-complete piece, I opted for the next best option, his voice. It’s changed a lot in the months since this recording. The slight inflection of baby has been replaced by the confidence of boy; this is a time capsule. But I don’t care. It’s my child’s voice, and just hearing him happy gives me peace.

My sweet, growing boy, all his life still ahead of him. One day a man, someone I can’t wait to meet.

I think of these children in Sandy Hook and I feel headless and blind from pain.

These deaths won’t be senseless if our culture can pivot for it. America must reform gun laws now. Assault rifles have absolutely no place in this society. None.

My man Andrew put it perfectly today:

I’m going to hazard a guess that the authors of the 2nd amendment didn’t face the regular mass murders in classrooms, cinemas and shopping malls America has become sickeningly used to. Otherwise, perhaps, they might have put in an assault weapon caveat or two. You’re allowed to improve upon your laws over the centuries, by the way.

14 December 2012, 17:20

Your Turn [1]


Breakpoint, A Picture Story

“Brainwashers” by Blackalicious, from Blazing Arrow (2002).

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Wikipedia: Transformation theory, first explained by Dr. George Land (1927-) is a description of the structure of change in natural systems. Land’s research, detailed in his seminal book “Grow or Die”, illustrates change as a series of interlocking S-curves, each interspersed with two breakpoints. Breakpoints are the moments in time when the rules of survival change.

My Picture Story communication art was born at the first Breakpoint retreat, in 2010.

Rico asked me to cover a 3-day intensive for inner-city DC high schoolers, run by a handpicked team of black belt facilitators from across the country. At the end of the process, I’d be expected to project a photographic slideshow of the weekend’s moments. Maybe over some music, if I liked.

I remember how overwhelming it was at the beginning, when roundabout 100 teenagers trickled into the staging/registration area in downtown DC. The cacopohny had a pattern, but I’d lose the thread away from the viewfinder. So, progressively, I would keep the camera to my face for longer stretches.

I was taking so many pictures – an absolutely incredible amount for me, then – that I had to reduce the camera’s resolution to small JPGs to be able to fit in everything I suddenly needed to try. And once I dropped the resolution, the camera could record data more efficiently, which meant that I could shoot faster still.

I continued in this way, trancelike, for the first day and a half. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; it felt like a Hail Mary to a future version of myself who would be able to carry the ball the rest of the way.

Late into the night on the second day, I began to consider where this river could go, scraping through a few thousand images, listening to music to keep my energy up. Sonically, I kept coming around to Blackalicious. And when I’d take breaks from shooting to sort the imagery or batch process selections, it would get specific: Brainwashers.

And just so, the track began to inform the shooting, and a direction emerged.

The way Breakpoint worked is that the facilitators and I would converge on the project space (George Washington University) on a Wednesday, receive the students and begin training Thursday, run programming from early to late all day Friday and Saturday, and wrap the experience up on Sunday with a final group meeting and viewing of my output. So on a daily basis, after 12-hour days of shooting, the evenings were my only times to edit and build the piece. By Saturday, the overhead of discovery and backlog of work was so extreme that I had no choice but to break night.

Shaking from fatigue and scared out of my mind, I showed up that first Sunday morning with a plan that made sense on paper: I’d manually advance the 5,000 frames that I had spent the night carefully arranging to music. The song would stream separately, and the presentation room would have to be reorganized to allow for the largest projection possible.

All of the production details fell into place easily enough. But I found in rehearsal that no two screenings of the piece would be quite the same – some were in fact way off, in large part for my frayed nerves. But I stayed with it, running through the process as many times as I could.

It was when Rico brought the commissioning agency’s director in for a private viewing of the piece that I gained perspective: she was moved to tears.

I did my best for the kids that year. And consequently, I was asked back in 2011 and 2012, each year improving upon the formula. This year’s product is what’s presented above, and I believe it to be the best I’ve so far made. I delivered my final cut mid-July, right as AFTH2012 stormed through, and I haven’t had a chance to reflect on the experience til now. The months since have been rich in the extreme, but the desire to take the time to record my thoughts has lingered. Somehow, this late release feels right.

This summer marked Breakpoint’s conclusion: funding for this beautiful, imaginative, effective program has ended. Which is how DC works.

Breakpoint taught me things about myself I’ll never forget. The entire arc was a blessing. The facilitators showed me so much; the students even more. And as for Rico, for him the only words that feel right were the ones I spoke at his wedding: thank you.

13 December 2012, 17:28

Your Turn


Spiral (2012)

From Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine”:

Even before the existence of any adequate dynamical theory, even as far back as the Babylonians, it was realized that eclipses occurred in regular predictable cycles, extending backward and forward over time. It was realized that time itself could better be measured by the motion of the stars in their courses than in any other way. The pattern for all events in the solar system was the revolution of a wheel or a series of wheels, wether in the form of the Ptolemaic theory of epicycles or the Copernican theory of orbits, and in any such theory the future after a fashion repeats the past. The music of the spheres is a palindrome, and the book of astronomy reads the same backward as forward.

10 December 2012, 16:02

Your Turn [2]


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