Friday, December 19, 2008

an update long overdue

Today is day +486. It has been awhile since I have blogged about myself not because I didn't want to or because there wasn't anything to share. The reality is far from that. First, I found it a struggle to say anything meaningful immediately following Derrick's passing. Secondly, I've been busy focusing on other matters and perhaps at the same time needed a bit of of furlough from the blogosphere.

This absence of mine has been mirrored in at least one other area as well: photography. Until several days ago, I hadn't gone on a photo shoot for about one month. Since I began snapping the Harlem River over a year ago, I don't think I've let my camera remain idle for more than two weeks. So, what happened recently was really out of the norm. But it was expected, I imagine, at some point. Part of why I didn't pick up my camera from late November until very recently was a consequence of fatigue. I have put so much energy into this project (I've joked that it's the job that doesn't pay) on a weekly basis - waking up many times before dawn to catch a stunning sunrise, walking miles from shoot to shoot, enduring bone chilling temperatures at night, requesting permits from the NYCDOT, keeping a watchful eye out for the suspicious police and paradoxically at the same time, people who may want to do me harm - that many times I felt it was all that was going on in my world (which of course wasn't true). At times, I felt like it has been all that I talked about to friends and others. Of course, there are a lot of other things happening but since transplantation as I struggle to find where I'm going, this project has remained a pillar of creativity and inspiration in a world of confusion. I have become so attached to the idea of what I've embarked upon that when I'm away from it for no more than a couple of days, I feel the unease that many gym rats express when they haven't exercised. Like them, I feel an incredible magnetism.

What stands as a pillar now began as an surprise. When there was (really) little going on during the first year following my transplant, photography served as the perfect pastime. Now that I'm 16 months post-transplant and feeling stronger, it's only natural, I suppose, that the place of this project would change as more responsibilities compete for the same finite time. As a consequence, although this undertaking continues to be a source of tremendous wonderment and personal satisfaction, my drive has been tempered a little bit (at least during the past month). As the fear of relapse and death has loosened with time, that original, urgent need for an immediate escape has weakened a little. Despite this recent furlough, I don't see myself turning away from photography or this project. I continue to believe that this project has gravitas. Moreover, in photography I think I've found a hobby for life.

Yesterday's shoot wasn't particularly great, but it served as a good study for a future one.

I took this - my first shot - of the Ward's Island Bridge from the Manhattan Waterfront (East River) Greenway around East 94th Street. A few weeks ago, to my surprise I learned that this bridge had been unaccounted for in my project. I had considered this pedestrian bridge between Manhattan and Randall-Ward's Island to be an East River not a Harlem River crossing.

However, according to the NYCDOT and other sources, it is in fact a Harlem River span. My mistake was in believing that the start of the Harlem River started farther north around the Triborough Bridge. This is such a fundamental oversight, but I'm so glad I learned about it now. So, there are 15 spans across the Harlem River not 14.

The Bronx Tourism Council is working on a publication in which they're seeking positive images of my home borough. I'm working on submitting several images. This may also be the first publication in which I may even earn a little money.

On a different note, I continue to search for employment. However, with regards to looking down the road, just recently I've resurrected the idea about going for a Ph.D. Since returning home from Chicago last year, I've been on a vacation from any serious study of Arabic, sultans, Crusaders, medieval trade, and the like. In thinking about a Ph.D., I pulled out my master's thesis and read it for the first time in over a year. Subsequently, I've been reading books on Islamic and Mediterranean history, some of which I didn't get around to using in writing my thesis. I've spoken to a just a handful of people about my personal doubts about embarking on such a path.

My last volunteering session before the holiday break was Wednesday. It won't recommence until early January. As you know, I'm assisting in the proctorship of the math entrance exams for an adult literacy program, but my real interest has been in teaching. In late January, the four-week training program to become an adult literacy tutor will begin.

Over dinner about two weeks ago, I shared a few of my observations about my volunteering experience so far with a few friends. It wasn't my intention to express a somber tone, but I fear I did. Perhaps I was expressing the obvious: how amazing it is to know that in the wealthiest, democratic nation that there are adults, a proportion of whom are natural born citizens, who can't read at the expected level. It goes to the same outrage that many of us experienced when the gross poverty and stark inequality that exist in New Orleans and the surrounding areas of the Gulf Coast was exposed following Hurricane Katrina. These depressing revelations only raise questions about the chasm between our national mythology and the historic reality, between what we are told to believe and what actually is. Yet, what I failed to convey to my friends more than anything, was the optimism shared by these students. They could have chosen to remain in the shadows of our society, but with great courage and sacrifice, they decided to take an important first step in improving their lives and achieving their dreams. Despite the unfortunate circumstances and poor decisions that placed them where they are today, they continue to dream and press forward. It's their hope that I find to be so inspirational. Their example serves as an important reminder to me in the moments when I have doubts. More than the disillusionment expressed in the inequities of our great country, it is the inspiration of their stories that I had hoped to impress upon my friends.

Finally, I've thought about dating again. I suppose this is a natural evolution of events. Despite whatever concerns I may have about my image - the mild GvHD and the fact that I'm still a bit above my normal weight - I'm entertaining the idea. Recently, I've been in increasingly more social settings. For the past several Fridays, I've been attending free art gallery talks for twenty-thirty somethings at the Frick, where there are a couple of attractive girls. And then, last week I attended a friend's art gallery opening in SoHo, where again I got the opportunity to scout the field and wonder. I'm planning to pick up yoga again in January at which time I'm sure I'll meet more women. 2009: a new year, new possibilities.


Comment Blogger Kelly Kane said...

Duane, you always seem to impress me. You think you're not doing much, I think you're doing lots :)

Too bad we don't live closer, we could be unemployed, volunteering, singletons together!

Hope you have a fabulous holiday and damnit, let's hope 2009 is a new year filled with lots of great possibilities!


5:45 PM  
Comment Blogger Jennifer said...

Hey Duane,

It's nice to hear from you about what YOU have been up to. It's a lot more than me! So you should be proud of yourself and thankful. I know you are thankful and grateful to be alive and you do live each moment to the fullest. You need to listen to your body. It's not like you're going to be doing a triathlon any time soon. The treatments you have gone through are brutal. Your body has been through the ringer! One day at a time. You are such a fighter, you will get what you want out of life for sure. Why? Because you deserve it. Believe. I thought last year was my last Christmas and here we are, I'm still alive. That's a Christmas miracle. Don't let anyone ever bring you down. Keep Smiling, Fighting & Laughing!

Love & Prayers,

9:59 PM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...

Thanks Kelly and Jen! 2009 is going to ROCK!!! :)

10:36 AM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are doing a wonderful service by volunteering. It is rewarding to help others, isn't it?

Look out ladies of NY. Duane is a catch that you won't want to let get away!

3:36 PM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Duane!

Sarah-formerly-up-the-street here. I have been crazy busy lately and I've strayed away from you and your goings-on for far, far too long.

I got your e-card today, and I wanted to wish you happy holidays as well. My mom is doing great, and I will be able to see my whole family in a few weeks.

My door is still always open should you care to chat. I'm on yahoo IM and skype, if you'd like to talk that way too. Just let me know and we can work the details out.

Sending much love and hope,

Sarah :)

6:44 PM  
Comment Blogger Candace Kuchinski said...

Hi Duane,

Really like the new shot of the Ward's Island bridge! You didn't think the shoot was anything great, but you got a great image from it so it was a success. I am taking a super long hiatus from photography. Waiting for the next inspiration, I guess, oh and I'm freakin' busy! Good luck with yoga. I started yoga after cancer and love it, wish I could do a class everyday.

8:44 PM  

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