Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Close and Closer

“Let each dawn find us courageous, brought closer, heeding the lights before the fight is over.” ― Amanda Gorman

This photo challenge is about moving closer to the subject and letting it fill the frame. There is something in this exercise that resembles the challenge of intimacy. The fear is – what if I find something up close that I didn’t expect? That I can’t control? That I don’t like? And what if I do find something I get very fond of…and then have to move away? Or it moves away…and dies?

My first subject is my sister-in-law’s Pomeranian dog, Kimahri. This little guy is an absolute charmer. He looks like a Teddy Bear and lives his life in the adoring arms of a human. But his health is not robust, for many reasons. He’s as small as a little baby, but he’s actually rather aged.

“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” ― Saint Augustine

Two weekends ago, my housemate noticed a cat by the side of our dead-end country road, drenched by the rain and terribly skinny. We guess that she was dumped by her previous owner as she was obviously an indoor cat and very affectionate. Yesterday, they had to put her to sleep due to congestive heart failure. I feel like my housemate braved the pain of getting closer and did the right thing. She works as a social worker in hospice care, and this pandemic has been exhaustingly difficult for her, but she still choses to move in closer and be a caring person. I very much admire that.

“With consistency, we become one step closer to our dreams, while witnessing small victories on the way!”
― Purvi Raniga

My next subject is some mushrooms growing on the side of a tree. Getting closer up to the face of death and decay is a scary prospect. And yet, you might be amazed at the beauty there. I am reminded of caring for my mother during her hospice journey alongside my two sisters. The intimacy of that precious time brought us all closer together and seemed like an eternal and mystical experience.

Thanks to Patti for hosting this week’s challenge and daring us to get close and closer.

Advent Day #13 – Touch

This morning, I happen to be the featured writer at Into The Bardo (or The Bardo Group), and my post for Advent Day #19 is showing there.  If you’re a follower here, I encourage you to check out Bardo; I guarantee that you will be edified by the writers in the group.   If you’re visiting here from Bardo, you get an extra gift to open today (and Divinity will show up again on the 19th).  The idea is this: in lieu of an Advent calendar with a little icon or chocolate or something to count down the days to Christmas, I am posting reminders of the fabulous free gifts that we enjoy every day in this marvelous Universe.  Who says that Christmas comes once a year?  Every day, every moment is full of the incarnation of sacred Life.  I’d like to be in a “holiday mood” every day of the year and reverence every day as a Holy Day.  I created this daily series two years ago, when I had a handful of followers.  Today, I have more than 500.  So I’m re-gifting!  (for someone in the used book business, you have to expect some of that!)  Here’s the original post for today:

I’m Touched

I have an image in mind as I parade out these gifts for each day of December.  Described beautifully by D.H. Lawrence in The Plumed Serpent, it is that ritual wherein the devout remove the icons and statuary from inside the Catholic Church, bedeck them with flowers, and hoist them onto portable platforms so that they can move about the throngs of people and allow them to worship, touch and reverence these symbols of their blessings.  So here is the thirteenth symbol of a holy experience – we write it ‘touch’.

It occurs to me that taste involves a certain amount of touch.  Foods caress your lips and taste buds.  That involves direct contact with substance, as opposed to sight, hearing and smell which seem more indirect.   Touch is all about that direct contact with substance, and it can happen anywhere on your body.  Fingertips are often the first touch sensors that come to mind.  They are sensitive and yet resilient.  They detect temperature, pressure, texture, shape and probably a million other bits of data.  The temperature sensors are interesting.  I remember an exhibit station at the Exploratorium in San Francisco that alleged that you could not tell the difference between intense cold and intense heat by touch.  It sounds like nonsense, but here’s how they proved it:  two metal coils were intertwined evenly.  One coil was extremely cold.  The other was vaguely warm.  When you touched them individually, that was evident.  When you touched them together, you immediately drew your hand away because it felt like it was burning hot!  Apparently your brain combines the intensity message with the heat message and warns you right away to back off.  Of course, I wanted to test how long I could endure the sensation, knowing that I wasn’t being burned.

My sister and my daughter are both certified massage therapists.  I think they are perfectly suited to this profession.  They are caring, intuitive, kinetic, and highly skilled.  They are also whip smart at math and able to comprehend systems and memorize terminology.   You probably don’t think about that as you enter a spa, and maybe you have stereotypes of “massage parlors” somewhere in your consciousness.   That’s the mystery of the grace of touch.  It transcends all that scientific knowledge and meets you on a very intimate level.  “How’s this pressure?” they ask you, and you only need to respond by relaying your comfort.   “I don’t know what you’re doing or why, I just know that it feels good.”  And I’ve also learned that it feels good to them, too, in a different way.  They get in touch with their own bodies, how they perceive what’s going on beneath the skin, how they balance their own weight against you, how they move down a long muscle or manipulate fascia.  It’s very rewarding work.  It’s also tiring.  Schedule a massage, enjoy the experience, and tip your masseuse well!  If you live in San Francisco or DeKalb, I have one to recommend.

Intimacy.  Touch is a wonderful conveyance of feeling and thought.  It may take a while to trust it for many of us.  It’s sad that in our society it is often manipulative, dishonest and damaging.   The touch of someone I truly trust can instantly change my mood.  When I was in labor for the first time and about to deliver, I was approaching a very intense experience of the unknown.  I knew that I would have to surrender my control in order to get through it, but I was scared.  Jim was very interested in all that was going on down at the doctors’ end, the episiotomy, the vacuum forceps, the bells & whistles.  I felt a bit abandoned by my “coach” until he came close to my face and laid the back of his hand on my cheek.   I relaxed completely in that instant, and Susan was born.  I will always remember that touch.  When I stand at the sink washing dishes, I love it when Steve comes up behind me and kisses the back of my neck.  It sends a shiver through me every time.   To be in contact with someone I love gives all my labors meaning.  My body doesn’t live in a vacuum; I am interconnected with everything in the universe.  I like to be reminded of that.


Pinkle Purr: warm, furry, soft, silky

With all the holiday greetings being sent around the world this month, it’s nice to know that people “reach out”.  It would be my hope that we also get the chance to really touch.  I’d take a hug above a twitter every time.   And I miss having a cat to stroke, big time.  I admire animals for the way that they instruct us humans in some basic lessons in touching when we are often too uptight to understand what they know instinctively.  For all the cuddles that they elicit from us reluctant brain-heavy types, I am in awe.  Especially from men who are often not permitted to indulge in touching.  I love seeing my son being physical and affectionate with the dog and cat he lives with.  It reminds me of when he was young enough to have stuffed animals.  He had quite a collection, and he enjoyed their softness openly, frequently nuzzling into a huge plush dog named Buster.  Today, he is interviewing for a job at a kennel.  I think it would be great for him to have an opportunity to spread that gift of loving touch to some lonesome boarders.

I am grateful for the ability to feel the universe around me in so many different ways, externally and internally.  Thanks be!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

The first thought I had about this Weekly Photo Challenge word was of Simon Schama in “The Power of Art” DVD describing Bernini’s sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Teresa”.  The delicate touch of an angel, the intense and spellbound concentration of presence, distills the vulnerability of human existence.  It is a very spiritual moment of intimacy in which the soul is liberated and comes to the surface.   Bernini illustrates it masterfully in his sculpture.  I have not photographed the sculpture, nor have I seen it, even though I have been to Rome.  The best I have to offer is this shot, taken one luxurious morning at a historic hotel in West Virginia.  Yes, those are my legs. 



How well do you know me?  How well do I know myself?  How well can any two people know each other, accept each other, celebrate each other, or be open and honest with each other?  Do you really want to be that intimate with someone?  It sounds like a lot of work.  And there are some things that might not be pleasant to know.  Even about myself.  Maybe especially about myself.  I want to present the pleasing face.  I’ve worked on being able to do that.  Is that not me?  Are you sure you prefer the genuine me over that pleasing mask?  Why?  

My partner Steve and I go around and round about this.  He maintains that he is honestly working toward a genuine intimacy that is non-judgmental and completely open.  Whether that’s attainable is another question, rather like a Zen koan.  I find that my brain is hard-wired to make a million comparisons, a million analytical assessments, a million judgments all in a short time…about everything.  I turn that brain on myself all the time, without being terribly conscious about it.   I want to practice being aware of those thoughts and communicate them honestly to Steve.  He promises to practice accepting, appreciating, and honoring them, holding a safe space open for me to continue my practice.  What might that look like?

We go on a walk together.  His long legs want to stretch; I can’t keep up.  I assess myself and feel slow and out of shape.  I begin to feel like I am a hindrance.  I blame myself.  I blame Steve.  I decide to communicate.  “I want to walk more slowly and take pictures.”  “I want to keep up a good pace and get more exercise.”   “Let’s just do what we want and meet up later.”  Sounds reasonable.

There he goes.  The Walking Man walks.  James Taylor sings in my head.  I wander toward the river, away from the parkway, the bicyclists, the dog-walkers, the joggers, the strollers and baby strollers.   On a sunny Sunday, the village moves outside.  I find a spot by the river’s edge, alone with my camera.  I watch the water glide over rocks, reflecting light.  What do I reflect?  Is that me?  Is it genuine?  Is it a costume, an act?  Maybe I am everything — change and movement.  Maybe communicating is so important because this change and movement is constant.  You will never know me if you’re thinking about what I said a minute ago.  You can never step in the same river twice.

If I take the energy I might have spent on “formatting” myself for presentation and apply it to communicating myself “as is”, will I get closer to knowing my true self?

I am still learning how to be what I am.  Just that has taken half a century almost.  This conscious brain is cumbersome, manipulated early by social constructs and patterns, weighty now with baggage.  The simple forming and blossoming of a bud reminds me that life can be much freer than I make it. 

I dreamed last night that I could fly.  It was like swimming in air, gliding where I wanted to go, my feet never touching the ground.  I have had this dream my whole life.  I’ve always known how to do that, effortlessly.  But only in my sleep.