hells-canyon-overlook

The search for a ‘peaceful journey’

Last summer camping by the Imnaha River, I had a dream.

Imnaha Blue Hole

the Imnaha at Blue Hole

By Tamara Enz
It was August, but on the river in the bottom of a forested canyon and at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. I slept in the bed of the pickup, curled into my down sleeping bag, with multiple layers of clothing, and a hat. I don’t remember much about the dream except that it terrified me and I awoke as I was about to be decapitated.

Startled awake with the sound of water rushing downstream to join the Snake River, the trees crowding in above me, and the stars brilliantly clear in the gaps between the branches far above, I wondered what had occurred on this site. I lay awake a long time thinking about the dream and whatever energy I had tapped into.

As happens, the year waned. The dream, all but forgotten, left my conscious memory.

A few weeks ago, I was camping by the Imnaha. I had a dream. It was June, but in the river bottom, in an open ponderosa pine park and in the spring rain at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. Continue reading

Of courier bags and man-purses: women have been right all along

I don’t care if you stuff your pockets until it looks like you’re smuggling carburetors. If you’re too macho to carry a bag, that’s your issue.

Timbuk2 Courier Bag

I can imagine how the conversation would go. My father is still alive and it’s Thanksgiving. We’re having dinner at his place. I walk in, say hello to everyone, and he draws a bead on my latest purchase.

“Nice purse,” he says. Continue reading

Jasmine and Buddy

The streets don’t care if it’s the 4th of July…

She was sitting on a Japantown sidewalk, on Webster Street around the corner from Nijiya Market. She looked displaced, like a woman who’d just left a difficult relationship and the apartment that went with it. But she also did not look frantic, and I hoped that meant she had friends who could let her crash on a couch for however long she needed to.

Then there was the dog, Buddy. He may well have been the reason she was holding it together, not freaking out, while she figured out how to use the city to take care of them both…

(Japantown, San Francisco 2016. See more of my work here.)

LeBron

Believeland celebrates

LeBron

LeBron James

Were there really 1.3 million people at the Cleveland Cavaliers parade today? I have no idea. From my vantage point, it was just a sea of people. Every kind of people you can imagine. More people than I could count and it seemed like the largest crowd I had ever been in.

There’s a story I heard once about a Scandinavian King who was in the habit of wandering his capital city without guards. A reporter asked him why he went out without security. The King held out his arms and said, “I’m surrounded by my people–that’s the best security I could have.”

With the exception of a shooting at the end of the day, a collapsed bus stop (from the weight of fans who climbed on top), and an unexpected gaggle of lost children, the rally was friendly, the fans polite, and the crowd well-behaved.

Continue reading

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“Tokyo in the Underbrush”: ArtsWeek

Pictures and poems from Japan’s bubble years…

Introduction
In January, 1987 I graduated from Lehigh University with a B.A. in journalism. By the first week of March I was in Tokyo, Japan to start my first real adult job and the rest of my life. I was 23 years and two months old, and had decided I wanted adventure instead of an entry-level stateside newspaper job. So through some business contacts of my father’s I secured an entry-level marketing position with an American information services company in Tokyo.

ShibuyaMarch1987

What I present to you here are poems and photographs I created while living and working in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. All the images are of Tokyo drunks and homeless people because, at the time, I was naïve and couldn’t believe this aspect of Japanese society existed. I felt I had to document it.

Poverty and homelessness still persist in Japan, of course, and through some strange twists of fate I resumed documenting Tokyo street life four years ago. This has resulted in a book I’m trying to get published called “Tokyo Panic Stories.” You can see samples my recent Tokyo work here and here.

So please enjoy this 28 year-old folio of words and images. And keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still pleased with some of it), the poems were written by a man less than half his current age of 52 years. Also note that each photo is paired with the text right beneath it, and click any image to see it full-size.

Tokyo in the Underbrush

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Akihabara—May, 1988

Humor of the ‘surd

When you stare straight ahead, people love you. Continue reading

S&R Honors: Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali: The Champ for racial equality and social justice

Not everybody loved The Greatest: what Muhammad Ali meant to one racist Southern kid

That was always the difference between Muhammad Ali and the rest of us. He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer – he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation. – Hunter S. Thompson

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70 in a rural Southern culture that was stereotypically:

  • racist
  • segregationist
  • sexist
  • homophobic
  • nationalistic
  • jingoistic

And, of course,

  • conservative Christian

As a kid, all you know is what you’re taught. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Tempeh sausages with pepper spray on the side

By Tamara Enz

A few weeks ago in a random historic-site parking lot in far-flung western Colorado I met a 60-something woman from Atlanta.

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative“You’re traveling alone? Well good for you. I always wanted to do that but I just don’t have the courage. Some day I will. You’ve never had any problems?”

This is a common question when people see me alone. A few variables in wording, some more direct language about scary people and places to avoid, but the sentiment is the same.

I’ve worked alone in many remote places over the years. I have occasionally stepped out of sight when I felt unsure about what was coming my way. I’m more often worried about destroying an axle on my pickup, not finding my way out of a random maze of canyons, or falling off a cliff than about other people.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance

On labor and survival of the species

I’ve had a political reckoning, of sorts.

CATEGORY: BusinessFinanceAs much as I hate boxes and labels, I think I’ve finally figured out where my political inclinations actually lean. I’m labor, but we have no party that I’d currently be comfortable with.

Basically, I think the workers should benefit equally with capital, and I’ll work with my own loosey-goosey definitions so I don’t get bogged down by not speaking fluent socialist or capitalist, and trust that a better-read reader will get the gist of what I’m saying. I’m open to correction, but it’s the point, not how I say it that matters. Now, if my gist is wrong, I need to know that for sure. Otherwise, this is what I’m going with.

Without labor, nothing happens. Our labor has worth. Push that idea far enough so that labor takes predominance and one lands somewhere in socialism or communism or some such -ism. But I’m not so quick to condemn the management and financial classes as I believe my comrades on the far left are wont to do. Continue reading

Sam-Smith-Memoir

Cerebellar ataxia and me: trying to live while the brain is dying

Spinocerebellar ataxia sucks the joy out of another day…

As I have mentioned before, I have a degenerative brain condition. It’s called spinocerebellar ataxia, and is essentially an atrophying of the portion of the brain that coordinates and regulates muscular activity. If you read the details at NIH you’ll probably understand pretty quickly just how nasty it really is. It has taken away a lot of what I love in life and is, for now, uncurable. For the most part, there is also no treatment for the symptoms.

My doctors at the University of Colorado Health Center are some of the best in the business, and we have had frank conversations about what this disease means for me. Continue reading

Sam-Smith-Memoir

My Memoir: Dodgeball

It was the greatest moment of my life.

I attended a high school in rural North Carolina that was probably typical of rural high schools in every way, up to and including the sadistic coach/science teacher archetype. At our school it was Coach Kelly. He ran the wrestling program, was an assistant football coach, and, of course, an educator specializing in the lower division sciences. Side note: my high school has never produced a Nobel winner.

Anyhow, it was either my freshman or sophomore year and I had Mr. Kelly for PE. One day, when it was either too wet or too cold to go outside, the activity was Dodgeball. Continue reading

Sam-Smith-Memoir

My Memoir: ice cream

Sam-Smith-MemoirWhen I was a kid my grandparents and I would sit on the couch and watch television in the evenings. We had all kinds of favorites. Beverly HillbilliesAndy GriffithAll in the FamilyHee-Haw, Happy DaysThe Brady BunchThe Rockford FilesThe Partridge FamilyLaverne & Shirley, you name it. Those were great times, even though we only had black and white. And over the air, so usually rabbit ears with enough tin foil hanging off them to wrap a decade’s worth of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Anyway, every once in awhile Grandmother would look over at me and say, “do you want some ice cream?” Continue reading

Sam-Smith-Memoir

My memoir: Sam vs Peaches

I’m the Forrest Gump of apples.

My favorite desserts often involve apples. Apple pie, apple cobbler, apple crisp, apple tarts, baked apples, apple dumplings, stewed apples, apple danish, apple butter, apple kugel, applesauce, apple cake, apple cookies – especially those soft Archways… [sigh] I’m sort of the Forrest Gump of apples.

But my childhood was a frustrating one. My grandmother (I lived with my grandparents) was a great baker, and her pies and cobblers were delicious. Obviously I wanted apple pie and apple cobbler. Like, every meal.

But I had a problem: my grandfather preferred peaches. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Paul Kantner and his brainchild, Jefferson Airplane: a personal appreciation

Life is change/How it differs from the rocks… – Paul Kantner, “Crown of Creation”

Paul Kantner, rock star (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The recent series of rock star deaths  in these first months of 2016 has had me, not unlike many Boomers, pondering how to feel about the passing of my era and its music. I took a stab at explaining how it felt after three major figures – David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Paul Kantner – passed away in quick succession and thought I’d reached a satisfactory, if not satisfying conclusion: rock and roll may not be here to stay.

Writing about those figures who played such an important role in my life was cathartic. Saying goodbye, however painful that process may be, is always a good way to achieve closure. It’s a mature, psychologically and emotionally, response to the sense of loss.

Which is psychobabble, of course. And to which Kantner might say, in his own inimitable fashion, that it “…doesn’t mean shit to a tree.”

We mostly connect to our famous heroes because we admire them, because we desire them, because we want to be them. But once in a while we connect to a writer, an artist, an actor, a musician, because we can sense we’re like them.

I’m a guy like Paul Kantner. So sending some love to his brainchild Jefferson Airplane feels like a good way to say thanks to him for giving me so much. Continue reading

Love song: an open letter to Space Team Electra

They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts. – Sapphire, Almost Famous

Photo by Heather Ramey

Photo by Heather Ramey

My Last.FM profile says I have played Space Team Electra tracks 1,093 times. But that’s misleading. For starters, Last.FM didn’t launch until three years after the band broke up. So that’s nearly a decade of playing The Vortex FlowerThe Intergalactic Torch SongKill Apollo and Space Apple Deluxe to death. That number doesn’t include the 30-35 times I saw them live. It doesn’t count all the miles I have logged listening to the CDs on the road. And it doesn’t reflect the times I have been listening on my computer but, for some reason, the scrobbler was turned off.

Gun to my head guess? Continue reading

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Prince: R.I.P. you sexy motherfucker….

“Paisley Park” is my favorite Prince song ever.

This is the song that inspired me to start lugging around a camera when I lived in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. The video is immediately below, which for copyright reasons I had to make a video of a video and YouTube might take it down soon anyway. Some of my Tokyo photos follow it.

Prince inspired me to be simultaneously in love with, and detached from. all of you and our places in this world.

Dig it…

Continue reading

Columbine: 17 years ago today

Columbine

Columbine

April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”

“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.

It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.

This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.

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Prayer in schools: What god? Whose god? Who decides?

By Carole McNall

Once upon a time, a little girl was going to a public school. Her school began each day with all the students reciting The Lord’s Prayer. (This was a very long time ago.)

3561505_f260But the little girl was confused. She knew The Lord’s Prayer, but she had learned a very different ending. Is this the same prayer? she wondered. Was she remembering it wrong? All her classmates and her teacher were saying this other ending.

So she asked her mother. And her mother, who knew about these things and many others, told the little girl there were actually two versions of The Lord’s Prayer. One was the version she was hearing in school. The other, which was also right, was the version she had carefully learned.

Her mother even had a solution to what to do about this different ending. “Just say ‘Amen’ where you always have,” she told the little girl, “and let everyone else finish it the way they’ve learned.”
Continue reading

The duality in Harper Lee…

“…if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As everyone already knows, the iconic American novelist Harper Lee, whose novel about an ethical attorney’s attempt to overcome prejudice and gain justice for his client, To Kill a Mockingbird, is both a signal work of the Civil Rights Era and a classic of American literature, died Friday at the age of 89. She has been widely eulogized already, and tributes and elegies and encomiums of all sorts will flow across media over the coming days.

They are well deserved, but one may rest at least somewhat assured that they will likely not address one of the most puzzling and fascinating aspects of an American author whose penchant for storytelling and privacy give her something in common with that other great recluse of American letters in her generation, J.D. Salinger. Lee was a person and a writer whose mind clearly worked in terms of duality, duality which one can trace across her career and in her work.   Continue reading