Hard to remember when the world had colour

- Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012
– Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012

Granted midwinter in my part of the world is not the best place to find colour in nature. Branches are bare, grass is bunched and brown, snow is patchy and grey. But when I look back over the past year I can see how difficult it has been for me to register any enthusiasm to take my camera out. I walk a lot but I seem to want to stay in my head, maintain a fast pace, measure the rhythm of my boots against the ground. I circle the neighbourhood, walk with purpose on errands, but avoid the pathways and parks I have documented season after season these past few years.

Photography was a diversion, a relaxation and an isolated activity against a busy life at work and home. I would wander forest trails, across grassland parks or along the edges of rivers and lakes, framing and reframing the view and listening to recorded podcasts – discussions about books, philosophy, current events. It was a meandering, escapist pursuit. If I look back I have to wonder what I was escaping and where I had lost the capacity to dream.

Madness, mental illness if you prefer that term, brings back the capacity to dream because all the parameters are changed. For me it has brought words to the foreground but pushed the pictures to the background. Walking has become a means to expel restless energy, drive out the demons of anxiety and despair that keep reaching in. If I want to drown out the city noises I listen to music, the words in my head are my own.

Without being able to return to work at this time, I do feel a certain loneliness. But when I reflect on the years I devoted to a job that I believed validated and defined me, I realize that I was never more isolated than when I was working. Invisibility and an unwillingness to call attention to myself was not a measure of my successful transition. It was denial. To hide the fact that my past contained realities inconsistent with the man everyone knew, I believed I could not afford to allow anyone to get close. I captured colour in the outside world but painted myself with the blandest palatte possible.

A manic episode and all of the reckless behaviour and poor judgment it entails has left me with a professional legacy that I may never be able to salvage. I don’t even know if I want it back. Reclaiming my identity, being comfortable with my own history of sex and gender is a work in progress but I have to trust that it might lead me to a better more authentic place. It might even bring some colour back into my life.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

11 thoughts on “Hard to remember when the world had colour”

    1. There is a lot of loneliness in this city, in a very different way than Jo’burg. I do have an online friend from the Pentax Forum who is a pastor in Johannesburg and he photographs the city constantly. His camera is old and his computer probably is too so his pictures come out over saturated but they are great because he loves that city so. Me, I think it would make me a little edgy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah Jozi is magical, I wouldn’t want to live there again, though I’ve lived there twice and am glad of it. I’m v fond of your prairie/tree/city/sky stuff. Always interesting to see what you do next and what that expresses. Beautiful stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m not sure how you’ll take this but until I read this post, I thought roughghost to be a woman. It just shows how I gender stereotype as I did not expect a man to engage and reflect the way you do.


    1. Years ago when I was coming out as trasngendered and trying to explain how I had, for as long as I could remember, felt at deep odds with the sex I was born people were skeptical. Even among LGBT people gender stereotypes can be very binary in their structure. But in truth there is a wide variation. I am by nature a sensitive introspective person but I have encountered many men that are similar and I can promise you that I am more comfortable engaging with the world as a man (and no one who sees me questions gender) than I ever managed to be before.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know there are men like you and, as a woman who has hated gender stereotyping for years, I try not to practise it myself. This assumption I made showed me how ingrained it is. Even in one who wants to avoid it. I hope it didn’t offend you but I have a sense that you like honesty.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 14 years ago I would have been sensitive. After all these years I know that my choice and journey is right for me. And as difficult as it can be at times in my philosophical moments I think that my differently gendered life history affords me a special way of being in the world. I hope to be able to explore that in writing, in mid-life now but better late than never.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, so now I’m poking around your blog too.

    This post resonated with me on a couple different levels. ” I captured colour in the outside world but painted myself with the blandest palatte possible.” This line reminds me of the 30+ years I spent living as a lesbian. I wasn’t really closeted but I never shared my whole life with very many people. I heard all about everyone else’s weekends and family adventures but never felt comfortable talking about mine. I only showed people the bare bones outline of who I was so very few people (straight people that is) really knew me.

    And then there’s the depression piece for me. When I went through a major depression in college (many many years ago now) I felt like the color went out of my life and time stood still. I feel like that episode changed me in a dramatic way and I’ll never be the same because of it but at least the color has gradually come back over the years. Some days are brighter than others but, in general, most of them are muted compared to before the depression.


    1. Welcome! If I have learned anything since transitioning, it is the danger of thinking you can just move to manhood and not honour or build on the wisdom of your past and your journey. I became just as isolated and invisible as a man. Happier, but I made the mistake many cis-men do and put the weight of manhood on my career. A breakdown that cost my job left me alone and with no real, honest friends, no identity (and I was far from stealth in my whole life, but entirely stealth at work). I have counseled men who lost their careers due to stroke or brain injury in mid-life for years and I proved myself to be as fragile and short sided as so many of the men I worked with. A wake-up call but when I turned to the LGBTQ “community” I found such division and seams of hatred that now I am taking on challenging those divisions and in the process building a very diverse real life support network within that community. Coming full circle I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for sharing your experience with me on transitioning. My hope with my transition is to come through it as a whole person who is authentic and able to live fully without holding back and feeling like I need to hide who I am. Also it’s really clear to me that the gender boxes of both female and male are so restrictive and unhealthy that I see myself definitely honoring my female past and integrating it into my masculinity. I feel like a hybrid kind of being. Definitely masculine but with a feminine side that I don’t feel a need to hide. I realize this might not be a safe way to be in all situations but, in general, that’s my goal.

        Liked by 1 person

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