Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Creativity in the Time of Covid

Creativity. Creation. Creators.

Growing up, I was taught that I was called into being by a Creator and that I had the ability and the responsibility to become a co-creator. It seemed like a very daunting future. What was I to create? What could I offer the world?

I started with trying to discover what I might be good at. I majored in Music/Voice Performance in college, and I married my High School sweetheart in my senior year. By graduation, I was pregnant. I had a talent for producing children, turns out. I had four children by the time I was 28.

I met a celibate priest and author, Rev. Martin Smith, at a church event. He spoke of how people would always wonder at his sacrifice of creativity and fatherhood. He assured them that while he was not making babies, he was making meaning.

“Making meaning” became a phrase that stuck with me. When I was 30, I began to write poetry. I self-published a book of poems and parables and sold 50 copies in our church bookstore.

When I turned 50, I bought myself a digital camera and started blogging. I had been using the Canon AE-1 that my high school sweetheart and late husband had bought me as a teenager to develop a photographer’s eye. Having the ability to see the frames instantly fed my appetite to produce images.

All this time, though, I wasn’t sure if I was really “good” at creating anything. I felt like I dabbled. I thought that I might not have earned that co-creator status that I was supposedly destined for.

During “the Time of Covid”, I clicked through a lot of psychology videos while sorting out some major life transitions. That is how I came across the very affirming words of Brené  Brown, who maintains that we are inherently creative and that shame is the major obstacle to our living out that creative purpose. She and Scott Barry Kaufman (co-author of Wired to Create) did a podcast in which she shares this quote from one of her books:

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastisizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” -Brené Brown

Wow. So, on top of all the grief and rage of “the time of Covid”, not using your creativity will cause another layer of unhealthy detriment to your soul.

Must. Create.

I had re-entered the community theater scene last year after 14 years. I was in a musical last summer and a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in February. In March, I played Irish fiddle (badly – having first picked up the violin only two years ago) in an improv comedy act, but the last performance, on St. Patrick’s Day, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Via the magic of Zoom and Discord, I have been able to connect with folks to do reader’s theater versions of plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder, and others. I do voices – English accents, Russian accents, old people, young people, men, women, and storms.

I started trying to learn to speak Spanish yesterday. My youngest daughter is teaching herself Russian. Together we are also addressing income insecurity and racism and politics in our precious face-to-face discussions. For me, making meaning in this “time of Covid” and after a cross-country move is about affirming life, affirming values, creating community, and living wholeheartedly into an uncertain future while braving the vulnerability and shame that always hovers around my humanity.

Creativity in the Time of Covid is essential for all of us. It is a practice for our individual mental health and the health of our shared humanity. We need to see ourselves as beings called to make meaning together and hard-wired to connect around our vulnerability. We are navigating in treacherous, uncertain waters. If we can make ourselves into a human life raft, we might just stay afloat. 

Thank you, Tina, for inspiring creativity and self-reflection with this challenge, and for the very kind “shout out” to my previous post, Under the Sun.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Under the Sun

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiates 1:9

The Sun, our home star, energizes the life of our planet from 93 million miles away. It has been doing that day in and day out for a very long time. When my perspective of change is tied to my own lifespan, it is easy to feel tossed about in dramatic arcs. To feel the peaceful constancy of the Universe, I need only to look up from my life.

While there is nothing new under the sun, there is more than enough that is new to me. If I ask around, though, I may find connections to the processes that continually have influence here and learn from them. That, I believe, is where wisdom is found. King Solomon might have been thinking about that when he set down the thought which opens this post. 

“Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

― Hafiz

May you discover joy under the Sun and spread love generously, beginning with yourself! 

Thanks to Amy for the inspiration for today’s challenge!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Sanctuary

Home is where the heart is
No matter how the heart lives
Inside your heart where love is
That’s where you’ve got to make yourself
At home” – Sally Fingerett

On the first day of this month, I moved into a new home, a quiet sanctuary surrounded by tall evergreens nestled in the foothills of the Willamette valley in Oregon. My four children were all on hand to help me move my belongings upstairs into the studio apartment above the garage.

“Between every two pines, there is a doorway to a new world.” – John Muir

This is actually the first time that I have lived by myself with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and dining room that I share with no one else. The residents of the main house generously share the laundry room, patio, and garden with me.

“A home is a kingdom of its own in the midst of the world, a stronghold amid life’s storms and stresses, a refuge, even a sanctuary.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But sanctuary is more than just a place to be. It is also the shelter of connection and hospitality. My daughter-in-law hosted a welcome picnic for me on the shores of Fern Ridge Lake. 

And so I begin the process of “coming home to a place I’ve never been before”, and settling into the sanctuary of being myself, connected but independent. 

“Within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse

Moving cross-country during a pandemic is an enterprise riddled with uncertainty. There is no way to predict the outcome of any encounter along the way. I figure that the best practice is to exercise reasonable precautions, be kind and courteous, ask questions politely, and be grateful for what the Universe offers. My anxieties have been offset by unprecedented delights. I am surrounded by beauty and acts of loving care. I wish these blessings on all travelers on this globally historic journey.

Thank you to Lens-Artists challenge host Xenia for inspiring this post with a timely theme. 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Winter

White-Eyes

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last…

The cycle of seasons in the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge has come around to Winter. I have spent all my winters living in the northern hemisphere, the last nine of them being in Wisconsin. I have heard residents remark on how the winters have gotten milder in general, with less snow.  

I have, however, heard a new term since moving to Wisconsin that I don’t remember from my childhood: the polar vortex. There were two occasions in two different years that this term came up. What it meant to us was that temperatures hit -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, not factoring in wind chill. During that first polar vortex, my housemate was working as a Postal Service carrier. He was walking around delivering mail in those temperatures. He found it absolutely thrilling to be able to do it and revel in the superlative extremes of Nature.   

I marvel at the robust character of animals who over-winter in this climate – deer, cardinals, field mice, and all the rest who tough it out. I learned another term while volunteering at a local Nature Center. In the ‘sub-nivean zone’ beneath the snow, small rodents make trails to their burrows, accessing stores of food. Imagine all that activity going on under inches of frozen precipitation! Then imagine all the humans that complain about a dusting that makes their morning commute more inconvenient.

I appreciate the way Winter teaches me to accept what is and live in the moment. If it’s cold, it’s cold. You have to deal with it. Complaining and wishing do not make the Earth move closer to the Sun. Only Time can relieve you of Winter, so you might as well slow down and enjoy it.  

Our host for today’s challenge is Ann-Christine, who lives in Sweden. Her photo story shows that there are numerous ways to enjoy the beauty of Winter. 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Autumn

In autumn, the trees start to sing once again
of the bittersweet mystery of change.
Is it beauty or pain
now attached to my soul?
Is it grief…or relief…or nostalgia?

In the scarlet and gold,
the blood red of life’s hold on my heart
and the warmth of its love
mingles memories and years
into afternoon tears
falling softly as leaves to the ground.
— Priscilla Galasso,from “The King’s Gift” ©1997

The Lens-Artists challenge subject for this week is the season of Autumn. It is my very favorite season for color; the muted tones of greens, golds, oranges, reds, and browns in all shades of light create a tapestry woven of beauty and pain so exquisite that it makes me weep. The poem above was my attempt to describe the feeling of Autumn as it washes over me each year. I have lived most of my life in the Midwest where the deciduous trees undergo a spectacular change in their life cycle every Fall. I will be moving to Oregon next week, and in a few months, I will get the chance to witness the season in quite a different way. I’m looking forward to photographing it!

Thank you, Patti, for hosting this week and sharing your beautiful Autumn photos. 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Spring

The weekly Lens-Artists Photo Challenge is taking a tour of the seasons. Last week, it was Summer; today, it’s Spring.

Last week, I featured a song by John Denver. I became a huge fan of his at the age of 12, just two years after seeing a mountain for the first time. A few years later, I got into the Jazz Choir in High School and became a huge Ella Fitzgerald fan. I found a very fitting song for Spring 2020 in her repertoire. It’s called “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”, by Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman. 

“…Spring, this year has got me feeling
Like a horse t
hat never left the post.
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling.
Spring can really hang you up the most…

Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers,
And to them I’d like to drink a toast.
I walk in the park j
ust to kill those lonely hours.
Spring can really hang you up the most…

All afternoon
Those birds twitter twit.
I know their tune –

This is love, this is it.
Heard it before,
And I know the score,
And I’ve decided that Spring is a bore.

Love seem sure around the New Year.
Now it’s April; Love is just a ghost.
Spring arrived on time,
But what became of you, dear?
Spring can really hang you up the most…”

This Spring was really tough for me for several reasons, only one of which was the Covid 19 pandemic. However, I am continually reminded in Nature that life goes on, changes become new horizons, and beauty and joy are renewed each day.

Thank you to Tina of Travels and Trifles, who hosted this week’s challenge by sharing some beautiful shots of her home island.

May the spirit of Spring bring us all hope in new life to come!

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Summer

“Silently the morning mist is lying on the water
Captives moonlight waiting for the dawn
Softly like a baby’s breath, a breeze begins to whisper
The sun is coming, quick you must be gone…

“…Smiling like a superstar the morning comes in singing
The promise of another sunny day
And all the flowers open up to gather in the sunshine
I do believe that summer’s here to stay…

“…Do you care what’s happening around you?
Do your senses know the changes when they come?
Can you see yourselves reflected in the season?
Can you understand the need to carry on?…

“…Riding on the tapestry of all there is to see
So many ways, and oh, so many things
Rejoicing in the differences, there’s no one just like me
Yet as different as we are, we’re still the same…”

“…And oh, I love the life within me
I feel the part of everything I see
And oh, I love the life around me
A part of everything is here in me…

“…A part of everything is here in me
A part of everything is here in me.” ― John Denver, Season Suite: Summer

Thank you, Amy, for hosting this first week in the Lens-Artists Seasons challenge

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Surprise

The sudden sting of tears, unbidden. Grief leaking out along the edges of a prepared lid, supposedly clamped shut.

I have been surprised by joy often. Lately, it is surprising to find myself awakening to deep melancholy. I am not used to this. I think of myself as an optimist.

But I know that I live in a very protected world of my own design. I am educating myself intentionally. I am letting go of delusions.

“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world…”

― Thich Nhat Hahn 

This morning, I awoke with a visceral feeling of sadness, of uncertainty, of betrayal and abandonment. I imagine it’s a response to the images and knowledge I’m absorbing through news media and films.

When emotions arise powerfully in me, I am taken by surprise. I was raised to regulate them with logic and religious faith. I have now learned to tolerate looking closely at them.

My housemate found a poem for me that helped me put the feeling into words. It is “Dover Beach”, by Matthew Arnold. 

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

“…Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sounds. By such means, …awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world. If we get in touch with the suffering of the world, and are moved by that suffering, we may come forward to help the people who are suffering.”

― Thich Nhat Hahn

Perhaps surprise is simply the evidence that we live in a state of unknowing. We delude ourselves in order to shelter for a time in the idea that we are in control and can predict events and outcomes. The “cosmic 2x4s” of life will whack us upside the head from time to time and wake us up. It can be painful, surely. And it is beneficial as well. Once awake, we can acknowledge reality with greater perception and take actions that will be more specific and appropriate.  

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

It is my hope and faith that the sunshine of awareness can transform the  devastation of our man-made storms into guiding visions of beauty and light.

May we awaken and become wise and kind.

Thank you, Ann-Christine, for inviting us to ponder Surprise.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: A Quiet Moment

“Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself.” ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Patti’s challenge this morning is to capture on camera a quiet moment. 

“All of our great traditions – religious, contemplative and artistic- say that you must a learn how to be alone and have a relationship with silence. It is difficult, but it can start with just the tiniest quiet moment.” ~ David Whyte

I am spending a quiet weekend taking care of my friends’ dogs in their home while they are away. Like me, they don’t own a TV, they are musicians, and they love walking in nature. Walking their dogs is a pleasure. 

Their dogs are very mellow in the daytime and rather vigilant at night. Nocturnal animals in the backyard bring them out of a seemingly sound sleep and propel them downstairs, barking. This is the first time I’ve shared a bed with dogs overnight. Hence, I’m enjoying a very quiet next day to catch up on my rest and take notes on how to enjoy silence and solitude. 

“In the quiet moments of your day, what do you think and do? When you are with your Self and no one else, how does life proceed for you? Who are you when you are alone? Self-creation is a Holy Experience. It is sacred. It is you, deciding Who You Are.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

May your quiet moments bring you the joy of Self-creation.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: One Single Flower

“When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.”
Amanda McBroom

Last week, we Lens-Artists were on the long and winding road. This week, hosted by Cee, we are in search of One Single Flower

In the first verse of the song The Rose (quoted above) there is the line, “I say love, it is a flower…”

 

“May our heart’s garden of awakening bloom with hundreds of flowers.”― Thich Nhat Hanh

What other flowers grow in your garden? 

The Lotus flower is regarded in many different cultures, especially in eastern religions, as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. Its characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition: even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower.

“Practice until you see yourself in the cruelest person on Earth, in the child starving, in the political prisoner. Continue until you recognize yourself in everyone in the supermarket, on the street corner, in a concentration camp, on a leaf, in a dewdrop. Meditate until you see yourself in a speck of dust in a distant galaxy. See and listen with the whole of your being. If you are fully present, the rain of Dharma will water the deepest seeds in your consciousness, and tomorrow, while you are washing the dishes or looking at the blue sky, that seed will spring forth, and love and understanding will appear as a beautiful flower.”
Thich Nhat Hanh