14 December 2012

Sorrowing, sighing

One of the advantages of making photographs over a long period of time and the discipline of maintaining a simple catalog is having -- and being able to find -- images to draw on to illustrate stories, concepts, thoughts.  This one, a bas-relief in old Montreal commemorating the first school in that city, isn't perfect for today, but nothing could be.

Likewise, one of the advantages of remembering phrases of songs and bits of poetry is that one doesn't have to come up with original words to express the inexpressable.  So, I offer two words put together by John Henry Hopkins (1820-1891) which he likely drew from biblical the prophet Isaiah or Jeremiah.  They appear together in the Christmas carol, "We Three Kings," in the fourth stanza about myrrh's significance in the Jesus story.   

Sorrowing and sighing is about all we can do in the face of this morning's events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT.  The fabric of life has been torn top-to-bottom with "beautiful little kids" and adults who loved and nurtured them dead, and we know not why.  Sorrow and sigh we must.

11 December 2012

Happiness: a definition

After yesterday this single sentence was a welcome find this morning, both provocative and sweetly settling.

Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
-- Margaret Lee Runbeck


I know nothing about Ms Runbeck aside from her being a US author born in Des Moines, whose life span was 1905-1956.  But, I like the quote.  It's enough for now.

10 December 2012

A new view

This image doesn't have anything to do with today being overcast or our region's longing for rain.  It is grey outside and precipitation would be welcome.  There's no need to illustrate or to elaborate on that.

The reason I'm showing off these dark clouds is that they're descriptive of how I am feeling.  I know ... yikes for poor Tal.  Realizing I was somewhat less than cheery, I did manage not to act out.  Fortunately.  And, I was able to ascertain the reason for my interior storminess.  Turns out my normal Sunday evening list-making for the coming week, rather than helping me feel organized and ready, sent me into a state. 

I know I've written about it before, the dotting of "i's" and the crossing of "t's."  I neither have to defend that tendency nor to be dismissive of it.  Attention to detail is a good thing.  But, maybe not always. 

From my years of list-making I know I don't sort very well and have a way of giving pretty equal weight to every task on the list.  And, I seem to put everything on the list that I might ever want to do no matter how long-term, along with the everyday things that keep our household running.  Prioritizing?  I know what it means, but I'm not good at its practice. 

Beyond those bad habits, however, there's another problem, a much more critical one, I think.  I really like getting things done.  Yes.  But, the truth is I dot "i's" and cross "t's" mostly out of fear.  I am afraid that if I don't take care of all the details someone somewhere's going to say something to me about it.  Or, worse yet, they'll say something to someone else about it.  So, I work myself into a dither.  Talk about ludicrous and a waste of precious time. 

How different it would be to act out of love.  There's a commercial being run this season that has charmed me.  I can tell it's a good one because I don't remember what its an ad for ...  The main character seems to be obsessing over everything from how far the coffee table is from the most comfortable chair to the height of the flowers for the center of the dinner table.  She's a bright whirling bundle of activity.

The twist comes when her event gets started.  Come to find out she's not running scared or sorry she's having people in.  An elderly man sits down in that comfortable chair and wearily lifts his feet to the coffee table that's just in the right place.  At dinner time our hostess looks across the table and receives a beatific smile from a tiny little lady who can actually see over the flower arrangement.

Yes, the main character wanted everything to be just right.  But, she wasn't put out or scared or inconvenienced.  Every task in advance of that event was an act of love.

Maybe I need to rethink my list.  While some of the tasks can go and never be missed, most of them can probably stay right there.  What really needs some serious "surgerizing," though, is my outlook, my attitude. 

Why do I do what I do?  Because I have to?  Because I'm afraid of what someone else is going to think or say?  Or, can I make what I do  -- even the most mundane task on the list -- an expression of love? 

If I dare say yes to that impossible question, I'm going to have to be intentional about changing my ways.  Not an easy prospect by any stretch. 

09 December 2012

When a lesson is presented

Those who know me and my husband are aware that sports has become part of my life over the past 22 years.  For someone raised pretty much to denigrate all sports -- neither participating nor observing, I am surprised and sometimes even delighted at my interest.

Take this weekend, for example.  We watched the Army/Navy game yesterday afternoon.  It was an engagement of epic proportions.  This was a game unlike any other, largely because of the two teams playing.  One of the announcers made the distinction clear when he observed that for the men on both teams playing football was the easiest thing any of them did.  They were not essentially hired to play ball the way is seems some college players are; they are, in fact, students first -- good students, students who happen to play football. 

I didn't want either team to lose.  But, I rooted for Navy since a former parishioner is a student at Annapolis.  It was a heart-breaker for Army.  At the end, despite the dejection on one side of the field and the jubilation on the other, all the players stayed on the field for both schools' alma maters.  The Navy coach sought out the Army quarterback.  Opposing players spoke to each other.  There was dignity both in winning and in losing.

Although Tal doesn't follow professional football with the same energy he does at the collegiate level, we did watch the New Orleans Saints go up against the New York Giants this afternoon.  In the fourth quarter with the game out of reach Saints #8, Drew Brees, was sacked -- make that flattened -- by Giants #72, Osi Umeyiora.  I think it was the only sack Brees took, but that's not what made me take note.  No, it was #72 stopping and helping #8 up.  No posturing.  No gloating.  No celebration.  Two men on the field of play.

I know not all games go the way of these two and I know collegiate and professional athletes can be crude, vindictive and childish.  What I witnessed during these two games gave me a vision of how people can be with each other. 

I am left wondering why it is nowadays that seems required an opponent be an enemy, to be belittled and disparaged.  Why is it we seem to have to cast as evil people with whom we do not agree, people we simply dislike, people we don't understand?  Is is possible to disagree, not to like, not to understand and still to stay in relationship?

While our government and our churches say an emphatic "no" to that question, football this weekend has hinted at a quiet but hopeful "yes."

At the end of the day, I am grateful for this quiet lesson.

08 December 2012

One block at a time

I'm making slow progress.  The second unit from the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP) arrived yesterday.  This afternoon I pressed on with Lesson Five, bent over the lesson book with the CD playing in the background.

It so happens I am familiar with much of what has been presented in the first four lessons, but I appreciate the methodical and disciplined curriculum thus far.  My hope is that I will be forced, not only into learning new things, but into seeing in new ways and into trying new types of photography that don't come as naturally -- as the closeup of lichen or the veins of a leaf.

Building blocks.  The review will be over shortly.  Reinforcing the foundation's just what I need. 

07 December 2012

In the shadow

Isn't this a dramatic image?  To me it looks like a planet and the shadow it might cast into outer space.  Actually, it's an early-morning photograph of a drawer knob in my mother's kitchen.  Mom and I walked in at just the right moment to catch the sun at just the right angle and the camera was within reach.

I had to go looking for it after a conversation I had this week.  While we talked I searched for a word in the back of my mind, one to encapsulate the gist of it all.  "Attachment" didn't come to me for several days.  When it did, however, attachment ushered me past itself almost immediately.  Ha!  I didn't have time to become attached to the idea of attachment, at least this time around.

What was beyond attachment?  Where did I go?  I think I went straight to wondering about what was in the shadow, to whatever dwells in that dim darkness beyond the concept.  It was then I had to find this photograph.

What's in my own shadow?  In some ways it seems to me that our attachments keep us from taking a peek into the dark.  We're afraid of what's out there.  So, we hang on to what we know.

I suppose if we found out, if we ventured into the murk, we would discover new things.  Maybe.  New things about the world, about ourselves.  It would change us.  And, we all know, if we change one thing, that one thing is connected to absolutely everything else.  Oh my, how messy that sounds ... 

It's easier not to look, I realize.  But, it is terribly hard to live scared.

What's out there? In that cone-shaped space?  In the dark?

06 December 2012

Christmas on the Ridge

Calhoun Street in Johnston SC decorated for Christmas

Welcome to Johnston SC, the peach capital of the world.  Impressive, huh?  The peach capital part and this seasonal section of US23 that goes right through the center of town. 

When I made this photograph, we were returning home from a Christmas gathering in Columbia.  It was approaching 9:30. There was a light mist on the windshield.  Tal pulled to the curb in front of the Lutheran Church.  I opened the car door, stood up and took a couple shots, not even having presence of mind to ask Tal to turn off the headlights. 

Johnston isn't alone in its holiday charm.  Edgefield and Ridge Spring are also illuminated.  Our weather early next week is supposed to be warm.  Maybe I'll take advantage of that and visit all three with the camera and tripod after dark.

05 December 2012

On this day

I don't read the daily newspaper on a regular basis.  That's more part of Tal's morning ritual than it is mine.  But, when I do settle in with the pages crinkling in front of me or arrayed on the kitchen counter, there are items I look to with more interest than others. 

"History Today" -- in The State always appearing at or near the bottom of A2 -- is in that category.  Some would call it nickel knowledge or even trivia, but I sort of like knowing what happened in history on any given day.  After all, today isn't the only time this date has occurred.  Noteworthy things happened on this date:  Martin Van Buren was born in 1782, 35-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on 1791, the Gold Rush of '49 started in 1848 (hmmm), Strom Thurmond celebrated his 100th birthday on Capitol Hill in 2002. 

Taking a look at "History Today" helps me remember that my existence isn't unusual or even particularly special.  I don't mean that to sound negative.   Far from it.  Lots of history has preceded me and lots will follow me.  In many more instances than we're likely to grasp, we are who we are, our world is as it is because of those past happenings.  We are part of a long history; we are connected to all those events.  It matters that George Washington was re-elected president on this date in 1792; it makes a difference that Albert Einstein was granted a visa in 1932, opening the way for him to visit the United States.

But, some important dates aren't going to make it into that newspaper column.  Personally, today is more set aside than most.  For me one event trumps all those listed in today's paper.  On this December day in 1957 my grandmother answered the telephone in the hall outside the kitchen, staying on the line only briefly.  After she hung up she announced to my sister, Joyce, and me that we had a brother.  Even though I was disappointed that it was a child and not a puppy, that news has been among the best I've ever received. 

This is Paul in the winter of 1966.

It's been a good 55 years with you in them, brother Paul.  Happy birthday.

04 December 2012

Daytime darkness

After waxing philosophical yesterday about December and our collective leaning toward the light I woke today into a light of a different sort.  Is it possible for light to be dark, I wonder? 

My head hurt so badly I could scarcely lift it off the pillow.  With a lunch in Columbia with friends on the schedule, I knew without even thinking about it that I'd likely not be able to keep the date.

I've been headache prone as long as I can remember.    Normally, those I experience are limited to the right side of my head and face.  Oddly, today the pain has been perfectly symmetrical. 

With my eyes closed I could "see" a pair of wings extending along and beyond the cheek bones; dark, hollow ovals at my eyes; mirrored eyebrow-horns springing from the bridge of my nose, curving up, out and down past my temples .  All rimmed, all outlined in a pulsing, glowing, reddish orange.  A light to be sure.  But, at the same time urgently dark.

While the worst of it was over by late morning, the effects have lingered all day leaving me in a vague, distant, faded state.  Funny that I tend to make pictures illustrating that particular self-description rather frequently.

Here's to a clearer day tomorrow.

03 December 2012

One of twelve

December is only one of twelve months.  Nothing new there.  Not exactly a news flash.  But, there's something about the month of December that sets it apart from the previous eleven.  As firmly as I decide, generally about the time the autumnal equinox rolls around, that I'm going to resist December's mysterious draw, I fail year after year.
It could be the holidays, out of control and over the top as they are.  Several years ago, though, we and our respective families decided to cease and desist the craziness, not to mention the costliness, of exchanging gifts.  So, the intensity of shopping and wrapping and mailing is no longer a factor in December's appeal.  We still send greeting cards, Tal and I.  Maybe that's it.  Partly, anyway.  And, December is easier now that I'm not in full time parish work anymore.  But, even when there was too much to do and I was working when other people were off and with their families, there was no denying some sort of magic.
Maybe what's special about December is the light.  The steadily diminishing daylight as we head toward the winter solstice used to be more worrisome to people than it is in our 21st century world.  But, just because we know shortening days won't shorten into permanent darkness, we sure do light up the place with shimmering, glimmering, flashing, blinking light.  We're just doing our part to insure the return of the sun, I suppose.
No answers.  I'm going to satisfy myself that December isn't a regular month.  I can pretend that it is; I can resist its allure.  Or, I can simply "be" in December and enjoy it.

02 December 2012

Bittersweet anniversary

Twelve years ago today (it was December 3rd in 2000) Tal and I drove to Atlanta.  There we met Whitby.  He was a personality from day one.

William, Tal's grandson, had married earlier in the fall and his new mother-in-law raised miniature Schnauzers.  The newly-weds had driven to Ohio to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with Robin's family.  While there William called and announced to his grandfather and me that he was holding our new dog.  Its most striking nine-week-old feature, according to William?  He looked you straight in the eye and held the gaze.  That he did.  Always.

This is Whitby's first portrait made on Monday morning, December 4th.
From that day on he was my favorite subject!

He made the trip from Ohio to Atlanta with Robin and William that Thanksgiving weekend and we went to fetch him the next.  He captivated us from the very start.  Without question, our hearts belonged to him.

Today marks six weeks since Whitby disappeared.  Twelve years minus six weeks.  Wherever he ended up our hearts are following and searching for him still.  Sigh.  But, how we laugh as we reminisce.  With nearly 12 years of memories to draw on we won't run out anytime soon.   

Thanks for everything, buddy.

Oh, and you can come home anytime now ...

01 December 2012

The long view

A new month.  Christmas looming.  A new year a mere 31 days away.  Geez Louise.

I made this image during the late morning while walking nine holes with Tal at the Pine Ridge Club near our home.  Even though I generally don't like my efforts at landscape photography, to my eye the light inviting and the late fall color palate soothing, this scene stopped me in my tracks and I couldn't help myself.

I like this long view.  The undulation of the land, the winter clouds, the trees, the pond and dam in the distance, the rich brown of the grass. 

Fact is, I think -- just recently -- I'm doing better with the long view.  For many of my 59 years I have been mired up in detail; I have been consumed with the short view.  Trying to get every "i" dotted and "t" crossed.  Not wanting to disappoint anyone.  Striving to keep everything in its place (including me).  To the point that I really do believe I missed the point most of the time.

Why?  Fear mostly, I suspect.  Fear of being caught unprepared.  Fear of being wrong.  Fear of being out of step with the majority.  That and self-doubt.  Who do I think I am?  Someone will be better at this than me.  Anyone would be better at this than me.

That short outlook is paralyzing.  It contracts a person alot more than it expands her.

What needs to be done this month -- between now and December 25th, between now and January 1st -- isn't final.  Those items on the list -- like everything else -- are passing.  So, I'm not going to be hung up on the tree or the food or the cards.  There can be dust on the blinds and not everyone has to be happy with me. 

The question I might dare ask is this:  Over the arching sweep of my life so far and from what I can project about my life into the future, am I happy with myself?

Don't stand too close.  There's potential at least for some lightening ...