I allowed my creativity to atrophy, so please consider this the first step in my therapy. For the past three months, I’ve been quite busy. I cannot say with whom or why, but rest assured it is for a good cause. But that work came with consequences. Returning home tired. Maybe frustrated. Lacking the motivation to write, tell stories, and fulfill my passion for The Word.
I painted visions with letters on a palette of keys, sandwiched between cold metal and a black screen. Some visions were true, some were fictitious; some tales were joyful, while others were pearls pried from oysters of raw pain.
I wrote while alone. I edited while broke. And felt awash in wealth after every posted blog or manuscript chapter. I had the gratification of a blacksmith, a carpenter, or a mechanic.
I tasted the creative fruit of my orchard, harvested by ten rapid digits pounding the trees for nouns, verbs, and the occasional adjective. Adverbs were left to rot in the grass. No harvester worth their basket would bother with an adverb. Leave that for composting the soil for another day.
So I’ll give you a page at a time. One can’t sprint on a fractured tibia. Let’s take our steps together, for a day and then another. I’ll stretch before we go. I give my word. So seeing how we have less than a month left, and I’m not sure if I’ll still be on the continent by January, stay by my side as I create as many one pagers as possible. One day, I’ll spin a yarn of comedy abroad. Another day, I’ll produce a page of horror. And who knows, maybe I’ll write about Christmas, because that’s an obligatory topic for any blogger in December.
Yet all that ambition begins with commitment to The Word and to that uncharted place where ideas grow, mapped somewhere between the heart, the mind, and the soul. A perilous trip indeed in finding that peculiar soil. That place where every writer goes native to find his or her true self. Let’s go native, at least for a month.
Last month, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This museum, along with the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, is one of the newest additions to the Smithsonian Institute, offering a more inclusive depiction of American society across the centuries.
Now to be fair, I know very little about Native American culture. One of my best friends, an anthropologist, introduced me to stories about the Iroquois and Huron. While in college, I learned about the Inuit and other tribes in general during the three anthropology courses I took. And any fan of early 90s cinema can’t forget The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves.
In my most recent visit to the museum, I arrived for an event called Lumbee Days, a celebration of the Lumbee Tribe, from September 7th to the 9th. Based in North Carolina, the Lumbee are composed of various Siouan, Algonquian, and Iroquoian tribes. They were first “officially” recognized as a tribe by the State of North Carolina in 1885, and they’ve been seeking full recognition by the Federal Government since 1988. Although Congress acknowledged the tribe as “Indian” with the Lumbee Act, passed in 1956, the act withheld full benefits of Federal recognition. The Lumbee’s 55,000 members reside in North Carolina’s Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland, and Scotland counties.
I missed the first day of the festivities, but had the privilege to enjoy a River Cane Flute performance and a brief play about Henry Berry Lowrie, a mid-19th century hero to the Lumbee people and a pioneer for civil rights.
Lumbee members also held exhibitions on quilt-making, pottery, and baskets weaved from pine needles; not dissimilar to the sweet grass baskets crafted by Gullah women, in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
When possible, you should visit the National Museum of the American Indian. Their history is an essential component of American history, and worthy of great respect.
To learn more about the Lumbee, please check out their website at lumbeetribe.com! Although the following images aren’t of the Lumbee, I still felt compelled to add them to further demonstrate the richness of various Native American tribes.
I’m not a mycologist; however, I’ve beheld enough mushrooms during dog walks in Fredericksburg, Virginia to warrant input. The mushrooms I’ve seen grow in different places: vivid green lawns, tree-shaded yards of decayed acorns sprinkled across moist soil, and jungles of tall grass. They appear like odd-shaped sentinels, orange and beige ghouls no bigger than a can of soup.
With each variety, I observe it like Charles Darwin on the Galápagos: he studied finches and tortoises, while I see mushrooms and take samples with my phone. All the same, I’m enthralled by the little things, so please enjoy these lovely pics. I’ve taken the liberty of creating names for each form of fungi. And no, the names weren’t peer reviewed.
All jokes aside, if there’s anyone who can identify a few of these, I’ll post the answers in the comments section. And If you see any mushrooms on your daily walks, take a photo and send it to me! I’ll be sure to post those as well.
August is not my favorite month. The air is oppressive, humid, and overbearing. The sun follows me like a fire balloon, and time in the shade offers a poor respite from the sweat, thirst, and lethargy. This is not the month for a moonshine review, but like most Ohioans, I’m a smirking optimist so let’s give it a go.
I’m not that familiar with Ole Smoky: Tennessee Moonshine, but as far as spirits go, it checks off all the right boxes. Distilled in Tennessee? Check. Social media presence, with their website on the side of the jar? Check. Nice rustic aesthetic with the labeling? Check. And seeing how it’s a flavored moonshine, the folks in Gatlinburg made sure the hooch is a bright Jolly Rancher orange. Oh this’ll be fun.
Whenever I’ve sampled moonshines before, I tend to drink them neat – preferably chilled. But since it’s been 90 degrees Fahrenheit (or 32.2 degrees Celsius) for the past few weeks, I decided to take this orange flavor a bit further and mix it with ice, orange and grapefruit juices. The result: not bad. Admittedly, Ole Smoky Orange is more sweet than citrusy in flavor, but that’s okay. We’ve all had popsicles, right? Grape soda was never meant to taste like grapes and Cherry Coke mildly passes for anything remotely cherry in flavor.
The point is: if I were chillin’ at my friend’s back deck, grilling salmon or burgers, this would be an enjoyable anti-cocktail cocktail. Squeeze a wedge of lime if you feel guilty. It’s okay. Score: 3.7 out of 5 stars.
Oh, and look who else came to the party: Bacardi Black & Coco Blast Coconut Water. I’ve been to Key West, Jamaica, and Tulum Mexico in my travels and developed an affinity for rum. Going full Cuba Libre was never my bag. It seems sacrilegious to mix any spirit with Coca-Cola. So I’ve always preferred coconut water or pineapple juice as an alternate mixer. This is the Western Hemisphere, to each their own. Add Bacardi over ice and a splash of coconut water. Invite a friend over and listen to Marcos Valle’s song Estrelar. You’ll feel 10 times better.
If I had to form a new religion, I would classify it as Creativism, and its believers would be the Creatives. I pulled the name from a conversation I had with my friend Rachel and her pals during a karaoke cocktail night. And yes, I’m well aware that I’m not the first to use these terms, but let me explain why I choose this path.
I mentioned to one of her friends that I’m a writer. The guy, an executive with a great smile and crushed peppercorn hair, said, “Oh, you’re a creative type? At my office, they put the creatives in business development.”
I understood the sentiment. In most companies, especially in the Washington D.C. Beltway, writers are corralled into the proposal-writing division. With a committee consisting of an office-based project team, field-based team, “thought expert”/chief of party, and the head of business development, all determining the best way to complete a Request For Proposal (RFP) before the deadline established by the client. In my case, those clients were either the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the U.S. State Department.
My job often consisted of taking the ideas of a thought expert and editing the prose to fit the prerequisites of the client’s RFP. If the thought expert crafted a proposal narrative that was 40-pages long, half-inch margins, 10-point type, Arial font, with grammatical errors, my job entailed revising the narrative into a 20 page, one-inch margined, 12-point type, Times New Roman font document, with the final approval of a committee scattered across several time zones.
Oh, and the turn-around time was often four weeks, with a deadline of December 24th, or January 2nd, or July 3rd. You know, the practical dates.
In my experience, if a Beltway writer was lucky, instead they got the chance to write online articles, technical reports, and briefs discussing best practices of a project. Those who were most fortunate received the opportunity to travel for a site review, where they took photos, maybe filmed a bit of videography for the company’s blog, Twitter, or YouTube channel, and wrote a compelling story for a fully immersive experience. All for the purpose of validating the company’s work to its shareholders, external clients, and the general public.
Creatives are at their best when given the opportunity to create; otherwise they’re as fulfilled and useful as a fish on a unicycle. During half of my career, I’ve been a tuna, a trout, a catfish, and a flounder. And I can only pedal so fast.
Despite all this, I’ll be the first to admit that business development divisions need craftsmen – not creatives. A craftsman can listen to the thought expert or project head and retool the proposal to format and read exactly as it should. The craftsman can churn out the work, with precision and within deadline. Craftsmen are essential. And although I can write as a craftsman, within the context of writing a proposal, I’m at least honest enough to now admit that I no longer wish to write proposals.
There’s no creative way to craft a horseshoe. There’s a specific way to curve the steel shoe to the horse’s hoof. There’s an exact way to nail the shoe to the hoof. And before the shoe is set, there’s a proper way to clean and scrap the hoof to best fit the shoe – all before December 24th, or January 2nd, or July 3rd. Accountants, engineers, plumbers, mechanics, proposal writers, and blacksmiths: God bless the craftsmen, one and all. But let’s get back to creativity.
One of the travesties of adulthood is the belief that creativity is a luxury for children, artists, and people of leisure – the elite. Once, while on an escalator, I heard an improvised melody. A random collection of vocal notes sung by a little girl in the company of her parents. The kid, no older than six, sang joyfully, not even caring if any of it made sense, not even caring if anyone saw her. In twenty years, she might be persuaded to sing a karaoke tune if coerced by her friends and a Long Island Ice Tea. In thirty years, there’s a 75 percent chance that she’ll forget there was a time when she could sing without a care in the world. I pray that she protects that small creative flame within her. I hope her parents fan her flame.
We all possess the capacity to create. I know writers, musicians, illustrators, a wondrous yoga instructor, cooks, DJs, and seamstresses. Each have found creativity, whether as a hobby or as their profession. I may not always appreciate the aesthetics of their creativity; however, I still value the inherent beauty of it. But let me add that this religion, this spiritual practice, isn’t restricted to the bohemian, the hipster, or the Brooklyn, Berkeley, Portland resident that conventional wisdom expects to promote this belief. No, far from it.
About a century ago, in the mountains of Appalachia, after a hard day’s work in the coal mine, folks sat on the porch of their homes and played fiddles and banjos to express their world, to glorify their culture. Sharecroppers, who had grandparents as slaves, sang Negro spirituals to pass the time, find the joy of the sound, and if for a moment to vocalize their connection to God. The coal miner, the sharecropper, they were Creatives; they just didn’t slap that name on their artistic expression.
Creativism would be my religion, and it would require no priests, no rabbis, no reverends, nor clerics; although I do generally respect the holders of such titles. The only two edicts would be: 1) To Create, and 2) Not to claim someone else’s creativity as your own. I’d say those were two fairly simple commandments.
Each person with a creative outlet experiences inspiration in different ways; sometimes the Muse whispers and sometimes she smacks you across the face with an idea. For me, inspiration is rare, but I seldom need a reminder of the moment’s significance.
Once, I ran through an early evening thunderstorm, one of those weather events in which the air is pregnant with humidity and the scent of grass just before the first fat droplet. While hurrying to my friend’s apartment, I notice a young woman in a nice car. She sat in the driver’s seat, eating what appeared to be a burrito, while raindrops performed a concert against her windshield. I felt awash in thought about her:
Those are the types of thoughts I held for months until the moment I recounted the girl from my mind to my tapping fingertips. And now the questions are at rest; they found a vessel to swirl around for a reader to drink and wonder. Creativism.
One of the fears of stating an epiphany is that the declaration could be obvious, common, or hampered by some logical flaw. Maybe people don’t have time to create. A single mother of three kids has more immediate concerns than opening her old painting kit and canvases. An 80 year-old man may have convinced himself that he’s too old to take ballroom dancing. There are a lot of folks who justifiably forgot the exhilaration of turning an idea into a visual, audible, visceral result. It is a beautiful sensation; it’s almost divine. And there are times when I wished people would feel that joy again, to have an oasis from reconciling expense reports and completing invoices.
Like a prophet wandering in from the wilderness, wrapped in garments of camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey, I challenge you to create something this week. I don’t care if it sounds horrible, looks shitty, tastes like ash, or smells awful. It’s okay. Create, refine, and create again. Create from a moment of love. Create from a moment of hatred. Harness your mind, listen to your heart, and create.
I’ve always had a fascination with dive bars. They’re cozy, tucked away establishments. A totem of neighborhood culture, where the staff appreciate you for tipping well and the walls are festooned with artifacts revering heroes – alive and departed. A place where friendships congregate to recall the past week, or stressed individuals can unclench their psyche, to exhale – if only for a couple of hours. In a dive bar, folks can enjoy a drink or two while listening to their favorite songs or the wisdom of a barstool shaman. And the smell? Sweet and sticky, hoppy and sweaty, the residue of humanity in serenity or passion. A dive bar is the temple of our vices.
During the past month and a half, I’ve traveled from Emmitsburg, Maryland to Columbus, Ohio. I’ve attended lectures by emergency management experts and I’ve had a pit bull terrier vomit on me while I drove through a thunderstorm. Yet despite the ups and downs of those past weeks, I found time to experience different dive bars. So with my last blog post occurring in April, I felt these tales were long overdue for sharing. With each bar, I had learned a bit more about life and myself.
One of my closest friends in the world is an anthropologist. Whenever we meet for our biannual dinners, he tells me about his travels to Africa, the Caribbean, or Europe. I’m intrigued by his fieldwork, his reverence toward the cultures he studies, and his commitment to retrieving empirical data.
With this blog entry, I wanted to mirror my friend’s approach. For every tavern I visited, I arrived with respect and curiosity. And in each bar, I met an eclectic assortment of people. I talked with bartenders who were as disciplined as Jesuits about their profession and customers who were territorial about their drinking holes. In each experience, I was grateful for what I encountered and I’m only more than happy to share this with you.
The Ott House Pub
Based in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the Ott House Pub is a bar awash in history. The National Fire Academy, operated and governed by the United States Fire Administration (USFA), is a 15-minutes walk away. So the bar itself has patches, helmets, and memorabilia from different fire departments from across the United States. In addition to relatively inexpensive drinks, my friends and I challenged ourselves with some eclectic drinking glass sculptures. Great pool table and the ladies busted out some hardcore moves, during hip-hop dance night.
First off, I love Wonderland Ballroom. Second, it’s best enjoyed when living two or three blocks away. Situated in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Wonderland reminds me of an anthropomorphized circulatory system. The dance floor, at full capacity, ebbs and flows like blood, with each man and woman like a life-sized cell gliding past each other in the dark steamy room, reverberating with the DJ’s beats – a heart pulsing with sound.
What’s equally enthralling about Wonderland is the fact that it has these quirky characters that appear from time to time. A six-and-a-half-foot-tall woman, an attractive amazon, saw me leaning against the way. She grasped my collar, drew me in close, and whispered. “You really need to dance because you’re not having enough fun.”
Twist my arm, why don’t you. A couple of hours later, she and her boyfriend are passing me by. She saw me enjoying the music and dancing. I thanked her for encouraging me and the amazon kissed me on the cheek. Cute sentiment.
The other person I noticed was this middle-aged magician. Guy was probably late 50s, black hair and mustached; kinda has an Eastern European look about him, with a dash of Johnny Cash. He always wore a dark suit and tie; I’ve seen him before. It’s 2:30AM, the bar’s about to close soon. Young customers surround the magician; he rolls up his sleeves. He takes a straw, and then two more, attaching them all into this long tubular wand.
A young woman’s about to take a photo with her smart phone. Without speaking a word, he admonishes her with a single wagged finger. With the same finger, he points at the opposite side of the 21 inches of compound straw and slowly the opposite tip moves. It rises. It bends. Once. Twice. And forms a triangle of straw that the magician fastens at the tips and places on the bar countertop. I’m a fairly attentive guy. I saw no fishing line; I saw no translucent fibers. Yeah, there was a “trick,” but I sure as hell don’t know how it occurred. And the magician dressed in the dark suit drank his cocktail and the girls in their 20s took selfies next to the triangular straws.
Some Random H Street Bar
Okay, so I actually felt horrible about forgetting the name of this bar. I do believe that it’s located on H Street, NE in Washington, D.C., somewhere between 11th and 13th streets, NE. I was having drinks with a friend of mine; we have these seasonal bar crawls with a fair amount of existential conversations about our destiny and life choices, etc. Anyhow, my friend, who’s heterosexual, caught the attention of a young deaf gay man.
The kid was probably in his early 20s. He could read lips, yet even better he could read text messages. So we communicated via smart phones for the next couple of hours. Although the guy was told that my friend and I preferred women, he still felt inclined to buy us drinks. I didn’t mind, as long as we were open about our preferences. My friend, perhaps fascinated with either conversing with a deaf person – or a gay person – responded to the guy’s questions in a fairly upbeat manner. Ultimately, the guy was disappointed that neither of us was in the mood to share numbers. Hell, I can relate to my earlier years of rejection with certain girls. These moments build fortitude, and I’m sure if that kid kept aiming for the bleachers, then he’ll meet the right person someday.
Oh, and the most unique beverage I had at the bar was a frozen cocktail called “The Awesomeness.” … It wasn’t.
My Peace Corps buddy Brian and his fiancée Stacy came into town in May and one of the bars he wanted us to visit was the Russia House, a cocktail lounge/restaurant just north of DuPont Circle, in Washington, D.C. I’m a huge fan of this establishment. The staff look as if they’re straight out of Central Casting for some Jason Bourne film: the waitresses are Russian and petite, while the male staff are solid and strong as fuck. I’ve never seen a fight at the Russian House, but I’m sure if it ever did occur it wouldn’t last long.
Two words: vodka and caviar, (well I guess that’s three). I’ve known Brian for 20 years. We’ve drank everything together: from Chokachou millet beer in Benin, to … um, vodka in a Russian bar. It’s the company we keep that makes an evening exceptional, not so much the quality of the beverages we drink. That said, I’m very fond of the vodka sampler.
Brewing beer is as much a science as it is an art form, and I’ve known a handful of amateur brewers in my time. Hell, I even tried crafting a couple of batches with my friend Jeff. I would give our two attempts a 7 out of 10: not terrible, but definitely not good. That said, my college buddy Doug has taken to heart the chemistry of making beer.
Usually, I’ll go for the Indian Pale Ales (IPA), with an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) at 7% or more. I don’t like drinking a lot of beer, so whatever I do consume, I want it to efficiently “get the job done.” Doug, on the other hand, will brew a stout beer with a hint of chocolate or some other variation of dark, heavy beers. He’ll also select beers based on the richness of flavor, and not because of its alcohol content; he would be completely fine drinking a 4.2% beer if it were flavorful enough and had a fascinating backstory.
So this brings me to Bier Baron, on 22nd Street, NW near DuPont Circle. Doug and I’ll go there and he’ll “talk shop” with the staff. He’s like a sommelier for beer, or I guess that would be a “certified beer cicerone,” without exactly being certified. So as I’m drinking some beer I randomly selected out of their menu, the bartender is giving Doug the newest scoop on some obscure beer that Beer Baron just ordered for their supply fridge. Doug will ask for a couple of bottles, we’ll sample, and discuss. If anything, these visits have become an education for me. Doug’s a talented guy, and it’s a treat learning from anyone who does anything with passion, whether it’s music, writing, or appreciating well-brewed beer.
The final “dive bar” of this posting isn’t technically a dive bar. It’s the home of a friend, in this case Doug. He was taking care of his son and asked if I wanted to pick up a bottle of bourbon left as a token of appreciation by a tourist who lived in his family’s apartment while Doug, his wife, and son where vacationing in Chicago. The bourbon brand was Basil Hayden’s. It was nice; I’d give it a 7.9 out of 10. I typically enjoy Knob Creek, Bulleit Bourbon, or Maker’s Mark.
While I sipped a bit of bourbon, Doug broke out a bottle of Flor de Caña, a premium Nicaraguan rum. He had a couple of stalks of Malagasy vanilla, infusing the bottle for the past few months, giving the rum a spicy flavor. My conversations with Doug are always understated: we discuss life, careers, current events, etc. Rarely intense, almost always chill. Our personalities are different; our demeanors are different. Yet we’ve synced over the lasts 25+ years. That kinda defines most of my older friendships. And this thought presented an epiphany to me: a “dive bar” can be any place. In the city, in the desert, or in the South Pacific, as long as you have booze, engaging discourse, and (at best) a friend to share those moments.