Do you have a photo which invites the viewer to look beyond? Are there hidden depths in the background? Is the focal point just a framing for the rest of the picture? If it’s not clear why we should look beyond, tell us! Lead us through the story in your photo.
December 22, 2012, just at dusk. I am upstairs, in bed, cold, alone. The world did not end, even though the sun is far away. I feel disconnected from warmth. I look out my window. The neighbors advertise their jolly associations, but I do not belong to that club. I look beyond…the sky is aflame, fire licks around the turquoise expanse of our atmosphere, the sun invites me to the outer edges of my vision. There is the belonging, there the community, there the warmth. Beyond. The Universe is bigger than we imagine, and so are we.
“What’s in a love letter, anyway?” he asked.
I was in a mood. A little pouty and weepy, my inner 4-year-old whining, “I just don’t feel special!” God, why does this keep happening every month? It’s so ridiculous. Okay, rather than stuff it and wait for it to go away, I will wrap that little girl in my own arms and listen to her. She wants to feel loved. She doubts her self-worth every once in awhile and wants someone to show a preference for her and please her. “Little One, you are precious,” I tell her. I am taking responsibility for caring for this vulnerable one. Me. Passing that burden on to anyone else is manipulative and fosters a kind of co-dependency. I don’t want that any more. Oh, but I used to rely on it pretty routinely. I had a husband who, for 24 years, lavished me with gifts and compliments and love letters. I have been with Steve now for 4 years. He has never even bought me a greeting card. I do not want him to be other than he is, and I believe he loves me profoundly. So, what is the love letter game about? “What’s in a love letter, anyway?” Steve asked.
Six parts flattery to one part youth…or is that a martini? So I began to make a list of the elements of a love letter, Cat Stevens’ song “Two Fine People” running through my brain. In one column, I put the parts that I know Steve would never embrace. In the other column, I put the bits that I think he does communicate, albeit in person and not in writing. The list began to resemble another amusing song: “Title of the Song” (by DaVinci’s Notebook), which you really must click on and listen to if you never have before. …Now, wasn’t that fun?
So I showed Steve the little orange Post-It note that carried this weighty list. On the left, I’d written “flattery; promises: to rescue, for future, to provide; declaration of desire”. On the right I’d written “honesty, appreciation, gratitude, description of how I love”. I told him that his description of how he loves is unique and authentic to him and doesn’t resemble Cat Stevens’ (“…though Time may fade and mountains turn to sand…’til the very same come back to the land”). He walked to one of his bookshelves and took down his “Bible”, a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “How’s this for a love letter?” he asked and read from “Song of Myself”:
The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
The little girl opens her wet eyes and looks wide. Wondering, feeling alive, an equal to the sun and the trees and the birds in the sky and every playmate in the Universe. Is this not Love, this embrace? I reckon that it is.
I’m not a media watcher. I don’t even own a TV, but for some reason, I found myself drawn to Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards this morning. I read the transcript online, then did a youtube search to see her performance of it. How do you get to be a gracefully aging woman of 50? How do you leave behind the fluff and come out real and wise and honorable? That’s what my blog project has been about, so I wanted to see Ms. Foster’s take on it. I was not disappointed. No doubt the lady is intelligent. No doubt she has compassion for the human race. What essence did she distill and pour for us in those 6 minutes of impromptu address being recorded for millions to see? Art is significant work. Media without privacy is exposure and becomes ridiculous and dangerous. Gratitude is important. Relationships are essential even though understanding is fleeting and loneliness is inevitable. And change is the atmosphere we live in, grow in, and die in. Resisting it is a waste of energy. Embracing it is mystically regenerative. I get that. I concur. Maybe I could be her soul sister, too.
In my post a few days ago, (Oh! The Humanity!) I sent out a plea for examples of admirable human beings as an antidote to the kind of internet sensations who fail to inspire and instead make me nauseated. You know what I’m talking about, right? The rampant dumbing-down of our species, “urgent” stories of greed and fear and violence and stupidity and pettiness and the like are probably a dangerous toxin to our culture. Where are the role models who will help us do better and why aren’t we using our advanced media to promote them more often? For every “Who Wore It Better?”, we could be viewing 5 “Who Lived It Better?” stories. Why not?
I have enjoyed a morning at work in the kitchen and with the book business while listening to the music of my Mensch of the Day. This is an artist who has inspired me since my pre-adolescent days, and I’ve only just discovered this live recording from 2 years before his death. He is the recipient of the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the only non-classical musician to be so distinguished. His humanitarian efforts supported the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, The Cousteau Society, and the Windstar Foundation. The CD I have was a concert for The Wildlife Conservation Society’s 100th anniversary. Ladies and gentleman…….John Denver: a singer and songwriter whose lyrics ring with authenticity and passion, whose music spans genres from country to pop to blues to rock, and whose commitment to peace and preservation permeated his career. As a cultural ambassador for the U. S., he visited China, Viet Nam and the Soviet Union and recorded a duet with a Soviet artist, becoming the first American to do so. In my mind, he follows in the footsteps of another hero of mine, Pete Seeger, who, at 93, is still active in the same kind of musical ambassadorship that promotes cultural tolerance and environmental responsibility. I did have the privilege of hearing him give a concert for children when I was in my single digits.
Who will carry the torch when he passes away?
To read more about the Schweitzer Award, see http://www.anchor-international.org/07.html. For more about John Denver’s career, see http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper349.html. For a good listen, go to “You Say the Battle Is Over”.
“Lights are functional — everyday objects in our rooms and on our streets. Yet lights can be powerful symbols: signs of life, curiosity, and discovery. ” So goes the challenge description for this week. My first instinct was to think of the photos I took New Year’s Eve of candlelight at the table. I’ve been experimenting with low key lighting and how to bump my camera settings to accommodate that. But I’ve already posted some of those. My next thought was to post one I took yesterday, and I think it’ll be my choice. True to my own natural preference, the light I’ve chosen is the very essence and source of life, curiosity, and discovery – the Sun. At this time of year, we drift farther away from our sustaining Star. A gauzy shroud interferes. We are in a state of indirect, ethereal contact. Our longing is enhanced and unsatisfied. We pause to ponder the diminishment. Physically, we may suffer on a cellular level. Emotionally, we may avoid or embrace this spiritual journey into greater darkness.
I was walking through the Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I came to the crest of a hill from the north and descended towards the Visitor Center when I saw this tree lit from the south by the winter sun. I hope you like this interpretation of Illumination:
Internet news gives me a stomach ache. I just feel sick after browsing through photos and videos and stories about cruelty, stupidity, fear, and all kinds of petty, human activity. I really appreciate bloggers and others who post genuine evidence of our more noble capabilities. Although, sometimes this is attributed to “angels among us” or some non-human inspiration. Is kindness not a human trait? Justice? Wisdom? What do we gain by hesitating to credit people for exhibiting these admirable qualities and then splashing our media with all the “awkward” examples we can fit on a screen? Bleh…I just feel like I’ve been gorging on rancid movie popcorn. Humans plugged into more and more machinery, morphing into robo-sapiens, give me the same sour taste.
Please, somebody show me a living mensch! A human being, acting gracefully. Are there so few left? Browsing through my photo file, I realize that only a handful of pictures actually contain people. Is it because I find beauty in nature and form and so rarely in mankind?
Here’s one I did uncover. I took this shot last March. It shows a retired thespian giving a presentation to school kids on the process of making maple sugar one hundred years ago. He’s describing hand made tools, telling the story as if he were remembering his boyhood. He peppers his talk with jokes to make the kids laugh and pay attention. He is a teacher of old ways, engaging with new minds, passing on a respect for trees. He’s not doing it for remuneration or applause, he’s doing it because it’s important to him. And I think he’s a good example. Can you show me others? My stomach will thank you!
Yesterday’s post was about the weekly photo challenge prompt: Resolved. I stated that land use research and getting outside were goals for this year. Yesterday afternoon, we ventured into moraine country and found a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. I’m excited about this discovery as a place to revisit in the different seasons and a starting point for understanding what preservation, restoration, and conservation mean to a particular area. Here are some photographs, then, of the Lulu Lake preserve outside of East Troy, Wisconsin:
When Steve asked me on Sunday if I’d made New Year’s resolutions yet, I grumbled at him, “I don’t jump on that bandwagon.” I had a sore throat that turned into a head cold and was definitely sending out the “leave me alone!” vibe. I make resolutions to do better every single day of my life, and it often becomes an exercise in self-flagellation. Someone I admire does this kind of thing much better than I do: visit her New Year’s post here. (plugging my daughter’s blog – I typed ‘blugging’ first; suppose I can coin a new word?)
Actually, Steve and I had spent quite a bit of time last week discussing and deciding on goals for this new year. We call it “pointing our canoe”. One of the things I put on my list was to submit something to a publisher every month of this year. Another thing on our mutual list was to plan a weekly field trip to learn and research and engage in our love of the land (land ethics, land management, environmental education) and to get outside every day for a walk. I skipped the first two days of this year with a head cold, but I’ve managed in the last couple of days to walk to the car repair shop, the grocery store, the bank, and the cafe where we breakfast with his mom. Now, this might not sound like a big accomplishment, but let me add one bit of info – I live in Milwaukee. And this is what is forming outside my upstairs window:
That, my dear readers, is a tri-cicle (three-pronged icicle; just coined another word – where do I collect?) photographed through the screened window. The center section of this bad boy is about 4 feet long now. This is what outside is like here, and this is where I want to be every day. I don’t want to make it more comfortable, I don’t want to avoid it. My resolution is all about facing the world as it is and appreciating its wonder as a thing that I don’t comprehend or control.
In a display of shameless nepotism, I am using this blog space to announce a new daily blog that I now follow: The Elsewhere Condition, written by my oldest daughter, Susan. Grad student in linguistics, lead singer in a punk performance band, bride to be, and four foot eleven inch dynamo, she is an engaging writer and earnest soul. Here’s a sample from Day 2:
My other goal for this year is to lead a healthier life, which is rather like saying that I want my novel to be about “good stuff.” What’s “healthy?” How do I know if I’m healthier? Healthier than what? Healthier than the grad student grind isn’t hard to do. I’ve fallen into a morose and processed diet, the cornerstones of which are coffee, cafeteria sandwiches, ibuprofen, and the kind of pastries that come out of vending machines. This is offset by forms of exercise which include running after buses, lifting bags of books, pacing the hallways of the English building, and vigorous hyperventilating. Clearly, I can do better than this, but I’m still working out reasonable and helpful parameters.