Monday, February 19, 2018

Serving the Homeless: A Lesson in Dignity

At the end of December 2017 and beginning of January 2018, some of the coldest temperatures on record in my hometown threatened the lives of the homeless. The thought of anyone suffering through dangerous weather breaks my heart. Perhaps my ego crafts a flawed story of unfortunate souls who may not ask for, but are in need of, help. Perhaps the plight of winter homelessness clouds my judgement as someone shuffles by me on the sidewalk on his way to God knows where in ruthless winter weather. My pity, it seems, is not in short supply. Knowing that I cannot turn my head away from someone else suffering, I joined local efforts to support the homeless during that deathly cold weather, and in those volunteer experiences learned that of the things the homeless need, pity isn’t one. Rather, I learned if there’s something homeless men and women need, other than support to survive, it’s to be treated with dignity.

During this deadly winter streak, several local organizations banded together and worked with city officials to open a 24-hour warming shelter for the homeless in the city community center. The warming shelter, the first of its kind in our city, provided cots and bedding, showers, hygienic supplies, and food to anyone who needed the help. Articles ran daily in the local paper, updating readers to the goings-on at the center and gently reminding them that help in any form would be appreciated. With each article I read in the paper, my sense of pity was poked and prodded –– enough that I got online to volunteer my time to help at the warming center.

A week after opening in the community center, the warming center was relocated across town in the National Guard armory. Dozens of people living without heat or shelter were again provided a warm, 24-hour facility to survive. Guardsmen volunteered to man the armory while community volunteers rotated in and out, every four hours, to keep the space operational. The display of community support for people of lesser means, some of who have little more than their addictions, filled me with equal parts sadness and faith in the human spirit.

I’ve made the same choices that some of the shelter residents have made, and have been fortunate to avoid the outcomes those residents have experienced. Because of that personal history, time spent volunteering at the shelter was initially spent feeling sorry for the residents. Of the roughly 40 people that filled the armory, there were several that struggled with addiction and substance abuse as I once have. While speaking to a few residents during my quiet four-to-eight a.m. shifts, I met people actively suffering from withdrawals while staying clean in the shelter. Shortly after a conversation with one man battling his addiction, I watched him fall to the floor in a withdrawal-induced seizure. As the man dropped, so did my heart. The shelter was not without its dose of reality. Reality is not, however, always so salty.

Among the residents was a young family of four struck homeless due to no fault of their own. There was a woman who happily gave freely of herself by cutting many other residents’ hair, and a man who rose from his cot several times a day to contribute the way he knew how by cleaning the facility. There were others with untreated mental illness and no one to care for their well-being. Some residents had a tale to spin, and just needed an audience to listen. Some residents needed help putting together a plate of food. With all the good that was happening around me, I still couldn’t help but think of the residents’ circumstances once the temporary shelter closed. So, it’s with a heavy heart weighted with pity for each of those people that I lent as much of myself as I could.

On a couple occasions, my offer to help someone was met with a resident’s wary look, unsure as they were of how to take me. However, most people were happy to have a little assistance with the coffee, or locating a warm pair of gloves from among the long table of anonymously donated goods, or simply procuring hygienic products to feel a little more “normal”. It was during my second, and last, shift at the shelter that a fellow volunteer framed the entire volunteer experience for me, and in so doing reminded me how normal the residents really are.

This woman spent shift after shift volunteering at the armory, showing the sort of kindness that melts a frozen heart. Upon walking out of the frighteningly cold air and into the shelter on both my morning shifts, she took my hands in hers, looked me straight in the eyes, and exclaimed, “Get in here, you poor soul, and warm up!” Like a grandmother pulling me in from a snowstorm, brushing the cold off my shoulders and filling my hands with a steaming mug of cocoa, this woman made me, and everyone with whom she engaged, feel at home. And it’s this woman, upon being asked why she was volunteering, that told me in a whispered, five a.m. conversation, “I’ve needed help before and received it. Now I want to give back, and treat these people in need with the dignity they deserve.”

As if the freezing winter night gave way to a warm dawn of enlightenment, the power of this kind woman’s message opened my eyes. What the residents of that warming shelter needed wasn’t someone to hold their hands or coddle them. Me feeling sorry the residents wasn’t doing them any service. Aside from the physical support services that every volunteer provided, what the residents needed was to be validated as a human worthy of self-respect and respect from others; to be empowered with the knowledge that there are people who consider them equals; to be treated with dignity.

That’s the clincher. At the shelter, I spent time with people in need, some of them in need of more than shelter, food, or bedding. It took displays of vulnerability for many of the residents to seek help at the warming center. My pity wasn’t what the residents needed in return. Due to the virtue of being human, we all want to be treated with respect, and yet any one of us are only a few poor decisions away from suffering out of doors in the winter. In that lies a nugget of truth exhibited by volunteers who gave their time to help the homeless, and by the shelter residents themselves: the homeless are human beings worthy of being treated as such, and to be treated with dignity, at that.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Social discomfort you can relate to (and perhaps should overcome)

crowded cells in a pour-painting

How do you feel in a room filled mostly with people you don't know, and only a few whom you barely do? Do you fit right in, comfortably moving from person to person, enthusiastically engaging in various conversations? Or do you feel like shrinking into a corner, stealthily passing along a well like a ninja on your way to sneaking out the door? More often than not, I feel like the ninja, just not as cool.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why I'm learning how to use a DSLR camera

My partner in a window seat at a restaurant

You ever see a photograph in one of your social media feeds that stops you from scrolling past it? Perhaps it's a picture of an old wooden dock with huge pylons extending into lake, so still it looks like glass with a reflection of a snowy peak in the distance and the sun rising over it. Or maybe the scroll-stopping image is a candid, black and white portrait of an old man holding a half-burned cigarette, staring off-camera back into the years of his life that's left him gnarled and wrinkled.

Isn't it funny that in our world of bite-sized video clips, and the rest of the quick-hit media we consume, we find so much meaning in one still-image? By capturing one moment in time, the photographer tells a story that she sees through her camera. For us, her audience, that story is up for interpretation. While photographing the old man holding the cigarette, the photographer is framing what she sees in the context of that environment. What you and I get out of the photo, however, are our own unique perspectives. It's story that began with the photographer's opening sentence -- "It was a dark and stormy night..." -- and that we fill in with our own imaginations. Those pictures that stop you in your tracks and make you imagine the greater picture at hand are what draw me to photography -- storytelling through a still-image.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Why You Don't Want A Breathalyzer In Your Car

Intoxalock Ignition Interlock Device

The car is running, the doors are locked, and the horn is bellowing into the winter night, alerting every neighbor to my enormous and noisy mistake.

It’s cold out, man. And that’s why the car’s running; I’m heating it up to drive my partner’s daughter a few miles down the road to her dad’s house. That trip, however, is put on hold until I can get into my car -- the car that has a breathalyzer on the ignition that I haven’t blown into since starting it and is now on full alarm freakout.

You see, I got that well-deserved, court-appointed interlock device (breathalyzer) in my car because I’m a multiple DWI offender. That damn thing is screaming bloody murder because while the car is running, the device requires breath tests at random times, and upon alert of a random test, if I don’t blow into the device, the car horn starts blowing; not once or twice, but every other second, with some honks lasting for several seconds.

And no, I don’t have a spare key.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Storm Brings More Than Snow To Rochester Community

It's the first snow-storm of autumn 2017 and I'll be damned if I don't go out walking in it because there's nothing like being outdoors in New England in falling snow. All these old towns in the northeast, at least the ones such as Rochester that have held onto the 100 year-old neighborhoods and streets with their leaning barns, stoic New Englander-homes, stone walls, and downtowns that, if they haven’t been ruined by the race towards box stores and drive-thru convenience, are built on mom and pop shops and other independent, family-owned businesses.

It's not even winter yet. There's still another two weeks left to autumn. Yet the snow doesn't care about the calendar; it's going to fall regardless. And this first significant snowfall of autumn for our little city of Rochester has the same effect as all first snowstorms: everything and everyone hunkers down, pulling knit caps over ears, wrapping scarves around necks, and craning heads downwards while awkwardly shuffling to and from cars, houses, and other destinations, over slick, snow-covered walkways.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2nd Annual Rochester Festival of Trees

Cheer and community engagement lit up the festive evening

A good number of eager people stood outside the door, waiting for Rochester's 2nd annual Festival of Trees to kick off. The line of eager festival-goers was kept warm during their wait in Studley's Flower Garden shop, who repeated as gracious hosts of the event.

When the doors opened, they let in a four-hour blizzard of smiling people, happy to support event coordinator Rochester Main Street -- a downtown-improvement non-profit -- and to test their holiday luck on winning one of the many colorfully decorated trees up for raffle.

Nearly two dozen area businesses decorated their own tree for the raffle; each with its own twist of style. Sprague Energy opted for a rubber ducky themed tree, while event-host Studley's chose to weave a gorgeous and enormous large bow throughout theirs.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Will Jerome Graille revolutionize cigar box guitars?

Is a cigar box guitar destined to play only the blues?

What exactly can you play on a cigar box guitar?

In this post you get 6 different videos showing how one man is changing the way cigar box guitars are perceived, and revolutionizing how they are played.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Introducing Eric Denton | The Man Who Makes Cigar Box Guitars Sing

Looking for some new music?

Want something to point to when someone asks, "Is a cigar box guitar a real guitar?"

In this post you’ll discover an artist who has stepped forward, representing the cigar box guitar world, with heartfelt original music played on his handmade cigar box guitars.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

[ARTIST PROFILE] Found Object Instrument Making With Zeke Leonard

He's a madman, in the best sense of the word.

He deconstructs pianos and reanimates the remains into new musical instruments.

He erects monuments of music out of salvaged timbers, sinks, and fire extinguishers.

He opens your eyes to the potential for art in the discarded objects around you.

"As a former theater set designer I used to build beautiful things, and they'd be thrown in the trash when their use has passed. Now I take things out of the trash and make beautiful things." - Zeke Leonard

For seven years, Zeke Leonard has been sharing his stories of experimentation and instrument-building on his blog, Salt City Found Object Instrument Works.

Each of Zeke's stories builds upon the last towards a height yet unseen, but certain to dizzy the rest of us in its genius.

For Zeke, a university assistant-professor and traveling impresario for handmade found-object musical instruments, the story started with a simple stick and a box,

but turned into something much, much different.

This is a profile of Zeke Leonard and his found-object musical journey. I can assure you, his journey is like none you've seen before.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Use The Gambler's 6 Step Guide to Build Your Best Cigar Box Guitar Ever

Everyone knows The Gambler, that classic country song popularized by crooner Kenny Rogers.

But what only a few people know is that The Gambler isn’t just a smokey rail-car story sung by a velvet-voiced country star.

The Gambler is a 6 step guide to making your own cigar box guitar.

So lean back and take a look at this study of how you, the cigar box guitar builder, benefit from a The Gambler's 6 guide.

With cigar box guitars, you got to...

Friday, June 30, 2017

Learn why G-D-G is the King of Cigar Box Guitar Tunings

It's the one tuning that rules the Cigar Box Guitar Community

Watch any online video of a 3-string cigar box guitar being played and that guitar is likely tuned G-D-G. 

You can't help but ask yourself why that is. 

Well, my friend, I'm here to lay out the case that answers that question, and confirms why G-D-G is the King of cigar box guitar tunings.

Following is that case - written for my employer C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply - originally posted on Gitty's Facebook page

So read on to learn some really cool stuff that I didn't know before embarking on this crusade for the King ;)

Serving the Homeless: A Lesson in Dignity

At the end of December 2017 and beginning of January 2018, some of the coldest temperatures on record in my hometown threatened the lives o...