Sun, May 31, 2020

 “I chose to create some magic, as I love to do, while keeping my camera skills fresh and my heart open.”



As a photojournalist, it’s always easier being situated behind a camera, a laptop or a microphone. It’s in the role of Clark Kent that I find myself a superman – using the power of words and art to lift others to a better place. That was my calling for a long time and I loved it. I won national awards, had thousands of followers on social media, and was the proud, blushing recipient of chanting crowds across Massachusetts, including on the hallowed grounds of the Boston Garden. “AD-AM EL-LIS!” Nowadays, you’re my only audience. And if anyone is yelling, “Baxsen Paine!” well, it’s me, because my back has been in pain for quite some time.

I left the comforts of that promising career to follow my longtime girlfriend, a Division I women’s basketball coach, to a university in Baltimore in 2016. A job is a job. And as spectacular as mine was, it couldn’t replicate what we have together. So, I chose love and moved some 400 miles down the East Coast. Or for those of you familiar with the Boston-based movie Good Will Hunting, “I had to go see about a girl.”

I didn’t find immediate work in the field of journalism, so I took my photography skills to the likes of Under Armour and Amazon. Somewhere along the way, my back gave out.

Arthritis, two bulging discs, degenerative disc disease and sciatic nerve pain turned me into an old man at 33. But I didn’t want a life-altering spinal fusion, nor was I big on painkillers. I grew up sheltering my younger siblings from substance abuse, so I’ve always preferred the natural remedy of Cannabis. It alleviates pain, loosens tight muscles and lifts my mood when I’m not feeling quite like my happy-go-lucky self.

When I got my medicinal card, I immersed myself in the Maryland medical Cannabis industry. I served as a budtender at two dispensaries, becoming well-versed on products and more importantly, you – the patient. In 15 months of service, I brought a kind heart and listening ears, delivering more hugs than dime bags. My belief that medical Cannabis saves lives was confirmed on a daily basis. I bore witness to that miracle for as long as I could until my back tired once more.

My spinal issues intensified this past winter, requiring the use of crutches to walk. So I turned my talents to impact the world around me, creating an animal sanctuary in my backyard that just so happens to make for an excellent Cannabis lounge. Residing just a few miles from Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, it is aptly named Birdland.

He did what?

Yeah, you read that right. It’s still a rather strange story to tell. I get some puzzled looks on the faces of family and friends when they hear about it. But as this nationwide lockdown persists, they’re gaining an understanding of the desire to do more than watch Netflix or turn to the news during darker days.

I chose to create some magic, as I love to do, while keeping my camera skills fresh and my heart open. And well, once people see it, the mood of the conversation changes to awe.

With a pair of anti-gravity chairs to recline in, guests can kick back and watch as over a dozen species of flying creatures breathe life into a quasi-deserted Baltimore neighborhood – and they arrive by the dozens!

The acoustics provided by surrounding row homes make for a beautiful symphony – a cacophony where wildlife and city meet. It is a peaceful oasis, an urban jungle that has the potential to serve as a lounge, a studio, an interview set and much, much more.

It was supposed to make its debut during the National Cannabis Festival’s CannaTank Contest this April, but that was postponed due to the coronavirus. Should good fortune allow, perhaps we’ll be revisiting this lounge again in the Fall.

The virus however, is why I jumped in as the Patient of the Month for May. We here at Maryland Leaf Magazine didn’t want to jeopardize the health of our patients, many of whom may be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill.

So we agreed it was a good time to introduce me as a writer, having been onboard since the New Year.

Next month, I’ll happily return to writing about another superhero I think you’ll find inspirational. I like sharing those comeback stories because they tell us what the view from the mountaintop looks like. Like so many of you I’ve met over the past two years in this wonderful community, I’m still climbing that mountain, fighting to improve daily. I’m still working on crafting my own comeback story.

And if it turns out to be about a nationally-recognized sportswriter turned Cannabis activist who runs a wildlife Cannabis lounge, well then, that sounds bizarrely brilliant.

And if it’s just about a guy who uses Cannabis to overcome health issues and helps others share their Cannabis story, that sounds fantastically wonderful, too.

Either way, as long as I’m here on this page, you have my promise that you have a Cannabis advocate, a friend, a fellow patient, and a guy who prides himself on making his corner of the world a little brighter. Be safe and stay awesome, Maryland.