WHERE IS THE CAMERA? By John Watts

 

The Foggy, Foggy Blue”

Stanza 1

“When I was a young man, I loved to write poems   

         And I called a spade a spade 

And the only only thing that made me sing   

         Was to lift the masks at the masquerade.   

I took them off my own face, 

         I took them off others too 

And the only only wrong in all my song 

         Was the view that I knew what was true. 

Whatever you’re station in life, wherever you are going, whatever task you are embroiled in, it pays to notice where the cameras are.  Just ask any famous celebrity athlete like Michael Phelps or Johnny Mansell.  If you want to see how the trajectory of a man’s life can be radically altered, just consider Ray Rice and his situation in a casino elevator.

It can bring the proudest, most aloof man down on his knees; sobbing contritely like a baby as he formally admits to the entire public that this is not really who he is, and that he is exceedingly SORRY for being caught.

Be very cautious in who you invite over to your residence for a private party or even when you are walking in the mall, for if your conduct where to slip and you were to appear salacious or inappropriate, a tiny camera is always seconds away from clicking a fateful amount of footage to cook your goose.

This is, as I said before, especially important if you are in the lime light as a public figure.  The sharks will soon circle when they hear about rumblings of any scandal brewing.  That great arcing career, with all its perks and residual endorsements, could be over in the blink of an eye.

But this begs the question, who is NOT in the public eye nowadays?

With all the sensational viral videos and reality TV shows, all of us are now players and participants as entertainers, artists or at least commentators.

So every time we step out of our house, or even if we stay locked in, we can either be selling something or buying in return.

We have fit bits and cameras to monitor our pets and children.  Tastefully arranged cameras offering a blankly staring, never shirking level of witness as to what we are doing while we stand in a bank line or walk in to a grocery store.

Often times, the stores we frequent will reveal their secret camera presence in very mock funny ways”

“SMILE your on our hidden camera!” 

“If you even think twice about stealing our merchandise the last laugh will be on you!  Have a great day!”

 

But beyond all the ramifications of how instantly easy it is for our reputations and careers to be destroyed is the question of OUR MOTIVATION when it comes to the electronic communication we send OUT to others.  Is it the right kind of motivation; centered on altruism and the miraculous nature of finding and keeping long lost friends, or is it based primarily on EGO gratification?

 

And after years of applying all my brain power and instincts on this issue—I can only say that it is probably a mixture of both.  Truly all of us have remnants of the hungry ID in us that craves attention and wants our fan base to see how well we raise children, bake bread, or perform nifty house hold projects.

We are ALL in the self-promotion business now.  Well at least most of us.  I have a few purist, hold-out friends that still scoff at face book and refuse to test its waters, for fear that it will only be a waste of time and a pathetic, never ending display of self-aggrandizement.

So I tried to keep a balance and sense of humor about myself regarding all things public media—while at the same time resenting popular face book nuggets sent by others and wondering why I wasn’t getting more HITS and going viral as I obviously represented one of the few original voices in the wilderness left.

And it wasn’t just the internet.  The entire gamut of public exposure was beginning to obsess me just as it seemed to render me invisible.

Before long, I found my mind constantly wandering off into some dangerous mine fields of the ego.  Wasn’t what I had to say more edifying and artistic than the typical fare and fodder of what passed as COMMUNICATION on the internet?

Or was I just another hypocrite being caught chasing my own tail for easy fool’s gold?  Like most others, I was becoming only interested in reading OTHERS comments sent back to me, if it centered primarily on something I had said earlier in one of my HIGHLY artistic public releases.

But all of this soul searching only resulted in becoming too self-aware of EVERY act and deed I did out in public too.

And an odd, curious thing unfolded.  I became very resentful of the hidden brick wall that seemed to be held up around me but not everyone else.

That’s right.  All the countless hidden and not very hidden cameras did me wrong in a very different way.  They made me too aware of myself. And having done that, the worst ignominy was they refused to get me busted or even notice my presence.

And it was these same cameras that confirmed to me, in the most depressing manner possible, that I was in fact, smack dab in the center of middle age; stuck in a ripple-less ocean with no hint of a breeze and ZERO chance of even mustering up a good old fashioned mid-life crises.

In order to have a crises after all, it must be officially noted as such by your peers.

Because I tried so darn hard.  I tried desperately to have a crises.  Some dastardly act that wouldn’t hurt anybody but that might romanticize me beyond the blasé level of just being plain old me—always following directions and barely getting by.

On my first attempt I went back a second time to spear a mandarin orange with a toothpick in the plastic domed serving station at the grocery store.

On another dark day of the soul, I stealthily picked up a used sports page from the table next to me at Starbucks while making a bold dash for the door. This act took me 4 espressos to down in order to properly steel myself up for the heist.

And yet all of this drama elicited zero response from anyone.  Not even a chortle.

Still I tried.

While hanging out at the mall food court with its 15 choices of convenient restaurants, I even considered crime of a more serious nature.  And it could have been lucrative too if I had the requisite ruthlessness.  Every time a clerk called out that an order was ready, amid the half circle of food court fast food options, I could have run up and grab someone’s To Go bag and make off for the EXIT sign.

(Think about this one: the mall food court is SO loud that very often there is a staggered delay before the correctly matched costumer finally comes up to claim their tray or bag)

But I just couldn’t summon up the nerve.

The only kind of offences that I could commit were a bit lower on the VILLIANY chain.   Infractions like purposely allowing my dog to go Number 2 on someone’s lawn and never bothering to scoop it up.

Still though, no one called me out on it and I never got the full thrill treatment of being a rebel or scofflaw.

My next strategy in leading my own self destruction (I was certain), was to let my mouth run unfiltered until finally saying one word too many to the wrong guy at the wrong time–which would in turn be recorded and played back to influential people who would insist on muzzling me for my lack of political correctness.

So I ran amok with verbiage.  I removed my filter and spoke as loosely and sloppily as I could to my compatriots and colleagues.

To ram home the point, I interrupted folks in the midst of private, intense conversations.

But no one seemed to be properly offended.  My interruptions were barely noticed and my unfair characterizations about others and my uninformed rants about politics never got policed.  And all the juiciest, sauciest ways of speaking that I could muster, fell on deaf ears and dull, blank looks back from strangers and acquaintances alike.

Why?

Well, all I could figure was that everyone else was too paranoid and worried about their own actions and comments on the record and also too busy protecting themselves to notice.

Perhaps they also didn’t want to seem insensitive or intolerant as to impinge on my right to speak my mind—bless their kindly souls.

All I know is, after exhausting all my best efforts at being depraved and dangerous, not a single ripple of reaction happened.

Truth be told, there was just too much competition on Facebook and u-tube and all the other clever electronic outlets anyway for an ordinary, milk toast guy like me to gain enough notoriety by going viral.

It all made me feel like that depraved character in the Bruce Springsteen song “Stolen Car” who was stuck with the lonely fate of staying up all hours at night driving stolen cars while never–despite his best attempts—managing to get caught.

The Foggy, Foggy Blue”

Stanza 2

Now I am older and tireder too 

         And the tasks with the masks are quite trying.   

I’d gladly gladly stop if I only only knew 

         A better way to keep from lying,   

And not get nervous and blue 

         When I said something quite untrue:   

I looked all around and all over 

         To find something else to do:   

I tried to be less romantic 

         I tried to be less starry-eyed too:   

But I only got mixed up and frantic 

         Forgetting what was false and what was true.”

But it wasn’t all for nothing.  As with much of life, there was an unintended consequence for all my risk taking.

It fried my nervous system.

Yes thanks to social media and the ubiquitous nature of public video, I became too self-consciously aware of searching for every type of camera in every room I entered.

I became my OWN police—constantly paranoid in my own head about the enormity of every move I made—even though, perversely, no one else seemed to mind.

Because the big take away from all this was, according to the powers that be–that I presented no viable threat to myself or anyone around me.  Whatever the antic or heist I attempted—it was all pardonable because I had reached that protected age of being a harmless old doddering senior citizen who had earned the right to be irrelevant.

The only tracking that really ever seemed to matter and merit close scrutiny- when it came to me and the outside world-was the SOCIAL SECURITY governmental type record keeping that has tracked me and you since birth.  The one that always makes sure to tax us as much as possible for any and all goods and services digested and consumed.

Yet this knowledge–that they knew where we lived and could find us anytime they needed to—still gave me little comfort.

And all of this acute awareness led me to developing a paralyzing case of stage fright with every routine public act that I did.

In the process I veered further from that universally desirable goal of dancing like no one was watching—like a frustrated dieter who works hard but only gains more weight each time they stand on the scale.

FINALE–

The Foggy, Foggy Blue”

Stanza 3

But tonight I am going to the masked ball, 

         Because it has occurred to me 

That the masks are more true than the faces: 

         —Perhaps this too is poetry? 

I no longer yearn to be naïve and stern 

         And masked balls fascinate me: 

Now that I know that most falsehoods are true 

         Perhaps I can join the charade?   

This is, at any rate, my new and true view: 

         Let live and believe, I say. 

The only only thing is to believe in everything: 

         It’s more fun and safer that way!”

And so I wrap up the last part of the poem “The Foggy, Foggy Blue” by Delmore Schwartz.  Because I have decided to face the information age in much the same way that Delmore makes his concessions with reality.  I decided to join the madcap charade and bent it to my own interpretation.  It is certainly, in my case, much safer and less painful to do so.

In short, I learned how to find the antidote for this miserable state of self-consciousness and began instead—to embrace it!

I learned to stop viewing the proliferation of media access and cameras as being either threatening or aloof—black or white.  I made adapted it to my own needs.

And I willingly joined the masked ball, with all its deliciously duplicitous promises.  The dance that is maddeningly unavoidable for one to sit out on in this information age.  I learned to embrace illusion and naively allow myself to be shamelessly flattered in my own little world of public record.

After all, if I wasn’t going to be arrested or applauded for my words or face or voice or ideas—than I was darn sure going to give MYSELF the acclaim I deserved!

So now I stop longer at grocery store entrances and mug for the cameras.  I confidently stare at bank cameras.  I don’t bother to contemplate the enormity of all the dizzying abstractions; like a new DJ does when first speaking into a live microphone.

And I type up the most preciously important stories and essays that my mind and fingers can muster.  I edit things up to a point that satisfies me but I never worry about it being perfect or publisher worthy.  And it never IS perfect.

And that’s OK.  The journey of doing it is enough.

So I keep striving to keep the demons at bay and all the mortality issues too.  And while I still have the occasional dark thoughts of becoming controversial or criminal—it is only a whim.

My mind paints up millions such scenarios and amusements.  Besides, I’m just glad to be alive and healthy enough to contribute just a verse to the story of my own life.  It makes everything bearable and FUN that way.  Even if the cloak of old aged irrelevance keeps me firmly locked inside its bubble.

Whether I am staring at my computer screen or pulling out my pen, I can enjoy all the unavoidable hypocrisy in all of us clumsy humans, and just be glad that we still need each other’s company!

 

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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