Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”

Well, this is an obvious one.  After all, I am a widow.  How can I forget the love of my life, my one and only husband, the father of my four children and the man who bought me my first Canon (an AE-1 for Christmas when I was 17)?  I am in a wonderful relationship now with a new partner, Steve, and he’s featured in many of my posts.  But Jim is my first love, the man who was beside me for 30 years, from the time I was 15.  So much of my adult formation took place in those years, even though profound change has happened since.  Shortly after Jim died, I became an empty-nester, I sold our home, and I stopped practicing evangelical Christianity.  Gone are my ‘suburban mom’ characteristics…the van, the mortgage, the disposable income, the salaried position with a Christian company in my home town, the prayer groups and Bible studies, the daily involvement with my kids.  My life is definitely different.  I am much more independent and self-reliant now.  But I haven’t forgotten how well loved I was, how dedicated Jim was to taking care of me.  As his best friend said at his memorial service, he was a Prince of a man.  And he was definitely Charming. 

Photography 101: Treasure

Treasure: what is it?  I’ve worked at museums long enough to know what an artifact is.  Usually, it’s an object that you find or dig up.  It can tell you about the environment, what kinds of things lived there, what they did and when.  Paleontologists like to say that archaeologists study garbage, stuff people throw away, while they study bones and fossils.

Some artifacts get handed down from one generation to another instead of being thrown away.  There is a sense of value in the thing itself.  It’s special to someone in some way.  It carries attachment, and those attachments are preserved along with the object.

So, maybe ‘treasure’ is really about our attachment, the things we want to hold on to.  Many times those things are ephemeral: feelings, living beings, pleasant moments in time.  We know they will not endure, so often we transfer their significance to objects that may last a bit longer. 

And, of course, this is just what we’re doing when we take photographs, isn’t it?  But what is it that we actually treasure?  Life and love.  How do you preserve that kind of treasure?  You can’t, really.  What you can do is be absolutely present while it is within your grasp.  Celebrate it, bring yourself to it, flow with it.  Enjoy it, with all your heart. 

The Other Side of Bliss

This morning, I posted a Photography 101 assignment on Bliss.  (You can scroll down to see that or click on the link to the right under Recent Posts.)  I “bliss out” when I am with people I love who love me.  I am a Lover by temperament.  I get all relaxed and happy and dreamy when my love tank is full.  It feels very nice, and I tend to fall asleep.  This is bliss. 

The other side of this, the fierce energy of love, is not far away, however.  I CARE about my loved ones.  I CARE about the environment.  I have a lot of beautiful landscape photos on this blog.  Those would depict the bliss I feel about loving the Earth.  But it’s not a sleepy bliss.  My relationship with Earth is not in the blissful, dreamy lover stage.  The Earth is in distress, and I am in distress with it.  The election results this week are chilling to me.  I got this letter from the Natural Resources Defense Council yesterday:

“Prepare yourself. Yesterday’s election results will put the Senate under new management, and its incoming leader — Senator Mitch McConnell — has made no secret of his pro-polluter, anti-environmental agenda.

Simply put, come January, both houses of Congress will be run by a faction of climate deniers and friends of the Koch Brothers. A list of the attacks they have threatened to unleash is as long as it is alarming —

They want to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline … cripple the President’s bold plan to crack down on the power plant pollution that is driving climate chaos … open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling launch a full-blown attack on the Endangered Species Act … restrict the government’s ability to protect our drinking water from fracking … slash budgets that promote clean energy … and strip the EPA of its authority to block the disastrous Pebble Mine.

… GOP leaders are making a huge mistake — a potentially fatal mistake — if they think this election has given them a mandate to deepen our addiction to fossil fuels and shred our environmental laws.

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for strong environmental protection. An ABC/Washington Post survey has reported that 70 percent of Americans view climate change as a serious problem and want the government to tackle it.

House and Senate leaders ignore these facts at their peril. …But, historically, there seems to be something about the headiness of victory that makes the fossil fuel lobby overreach and try to ram radical policies down the throats of the American people.

We’ve seen this movie before. In 1994, Newt Gingrich swept to power in the House, brandishing a “Contract with America” that never mentioned the word “environment.” But once installed, the new majority claimed a mandate for undoing 25 years of environmental protections.

NRDC and our allies fought back hard by mobilizing an enraged public; more than one million Americans wrote or phoned Congress in protest. In the end, the House leadership gambled everything — their budget, their power, their agenda — on an extremist assault on nature. They lost, and found out the hard way that protecting the environment is a bedrock American value.

We must do no less this time.

NRDC will bring everything to bear — the grassroots power of 1.4 million Members and online activists like you, the advocacy clout of our legal and scientific teams and the unmatched effectiveness of our rapid response operation — to stave off Mitch McConnell’s Big Polluter Agenda.

But playing defense is not enough. If we are to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes of an overheating planet, we’ve got to prevail on the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone pipeline, deliver on the toughest possible power plant rules and move America beyond all fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

That is our planet’s last best hope for a sustainable future — and we are not going to let Congress stand in the way.”

I want to use the anger energy that is in my fierce love for this beautiful world to make a difference in the policies and mindsets that determine action.  I vote, I blog, I talk to people I know.  I want to raise awareness, to educate if I can.  Why are we harming the ones we love?  It is madness.  The opposite of bliss. 

Sign along Hwy 137 in New Mexico; near Guadalupe National Park and Lincoln National Forest...and oil wells.

Sign along Hwy 137 in New Mexico; near Guadalupe National Park and Lincoln National Forest…and oil wells. “Generally, any gas- processing facility where hydrogen sulfide is present at concentrations of 100 ppm or more must take reasonable measures to forewarn and safeguard people that have occasion to be on or near the area. Wells drilled where there is substantial probability of people encountering hydrogen sulfide gas in concentrations of 500 ppm or more must have warning “poison gas” signs.”

Poets Revving Engines

NaPoWriMo!!!  It’s SPRING and it’s POETRY and the world is a wonderful place!  I feel the excitement, the bloom of emotion, the fascination of symbol and script!  It’s romantic, pedantic, nostalgic, elegiac, existential and full of potential.  WHOOOOOT! 

Okay, with all of this enthusiasm, you’d think I was about to bust out a whole anthology of poems that I’ve just written.  Sorry to disappoint, but it’s also Spring Break month (because, really, no two school districts plan this for the same week) and things at Discovery World Museum are pretty hectic – meaning that after being indoors with 600 school children for 7 hours, my ears are ringing and my head is aching and I haven’t been in my quiet, creative place all day.  Still, I have looked up the prompt from the NaPoWriMo site and consulted the Bibliomancy Oracle.   It has led me to a wonderful poem called Parable on Fish & Fire.  Coincidentally, I made tilapia for dinner tonight, and after sitting down and offering my thanksgiving for fish, I recalled the saying by Kabir, “I laughed when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.”   We are thirsty fish, we are celebratory poets.  We celebrate the mundane, the environment of being human.  Love, life, beauty, truth, concept and experience…we make it up and tear it down.  We’re social animals with big brains, but we’re only minimally distinct from all the other carbon life forms on this planet.  Isn’t that a riot?  Sure it is.  So let’s riot…but stay a little aware. 😉

— A Poem I Wrote sometime before 1997 —

God is a poem

Infinite in meaning

Economical in expression

Clothed in symbol and harmony

A breathing Word

Engaging all perception

Planet Love

The Bardo Group, which mercifully counts me as a contributing writer and core team member, has invited its visitors to share Valentine’s Day posts in celebration of our love for this awe-inspiring planet.  Planet Love has been on my mind for a week now; I’ve scribbled phrases and ideas on scraps of paper at work and engaged in ardent discussions with Steve about it, but until now I haven’t had time to sit down and write.  “You don’t have time for the planet!” Steve jokes.

Au contraire.  I AM the planet.

I have been thinking about the nature of my Planet Love. It starts with the obvious. Duh!  I depend on the planet. I need it desperately – the water, the air, the energy from edible sunshine.  Without it, I would die!  My survival depends on this environment that birthed me and sustains me every breathing minute.  I am an infant, perhaps a parasite, a needy lover hopelessly driven by biology into the thrall of her.  She is my EVERYTHING! 

But my ego shrinks from this debasing posture. I would much rather be the poetic admirer, the worshipful devotee who praises her and charms her, caressing her with ardent words of love. I would describe her in vivid, pleasurable detail. My senses delight in her. I rub against her textures: sand beneath my feet, bark under my fingertips, meadow grass against my back. I inhale her fragrance: sea air and pine and sulfurous volcano. I taste her bounty and drink in her landscapes, satisfied and still wanting more. I strain toward the whisper of her winds and dance to the rhythm of her tides. Her specific excitements are too numerous and various to be composed. She is more vast than my words. The vaulted roof of the cosmos lifts away, and I am exposed. 

Suddenly, I realize that the cosmos is not only endless, it is edgeless.  There is no ‘It’ and no ‘Not It’.  It is integrated.  And here I am.  Not ‘I’, not ‘It’. WE.  We are. The planet, the cosmos, and me – together.  We are. What kind of love is this, without borders? Without egos? Is this perfect love?  Perfect love casts out fear.  I am not afraid, not of death, not of survival. But I know suffering.  We suffer.  We suffer desecration.  Everywhere the planet is fouled, I am wounded.  I am sad.  I feel a lover’s pain. I stand with her in this pain and take my vows.  We are one.  We must be at one.  At-one. Atone. Heal. Integrate. Become whole.  Forgive my ignorance.  Forgive my ego. Forgive my parasitic need.  I will love without borders.  My life, my time, my energy is cosmos – and I will remember that. 

Sky over Lapham Peak

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

     

 

Advent Day #24 – Love

This is the last entry from my series of posts two years ago.  Not much has changed in my love for my family, except that those “significant otters” have become more formally (and legally) incorporated into the clan and that the arena of family celebration has moved from my duplex to my daughter’s house (and will take place on Saturday).  The snow is deep and sparkly here in Milwaukee.  Steve was out the door before 6 a.m. to deliver mail and packages for the US Postal Service.  Last night, he didn’t come home until 8:30 p.m.  The temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit (without the wind chill factor) this morning.  If you get a mail delivery today, give your carrier a warm smile and your gratitude and appreciation.  Remember the free gifts that come to you each day, regardless of season, with no carbon footprint.  Live life in gratitude and happiness and peace.  The world will benefit.

How About Love?

My December countdown was completed yesterday.  I did not have a chance to post about the gift of love because I was living it.  My four children plus two “significant otters” came over for feasting and gifting and sleeping over.  All six of them ended up on the living room floor under mountains of sleeping bags and pillows and blankets, just like they used to when they were kids in a cousins pile.  Except now, they’re all adults — beautiful, interesting, caring, amazing adults who actually like each other.  And me.  How did I get to be so blessed?  This morning, I repaid them all for years of running in and jumping on my king-sized bed full of eager energy at an early hour on Christmas.  I dived onto their sleeping bags one at a time and gave them a great big hug and kiss.

We have lived through a lot together.  And we have lived through a lot separately.  Their lives matter to me in a way that I can barely describe.  Steve keeps challenging me to come up with ways to articulate what this is.  He has no children, and philosophically wonders why family is esteemed so highly.  “Oxytocin,” my daughter replied one day.  That explains one level of it, I suppose.  My biology has loaded me with hormones that make me love my kids.  My religion loaded me with beliefs that urged me to love my kids.  My experience of life has loaded me with the joys of loving my kids.  And my kids are just plain lovable.  I can agree with the reasoning behind his argument that all people are equally valuable, but I just can’t help feeling that my kids are more valuable…to me.  Yes, I’m playing favorites shamelessly without really understanding why.  Is it possible that evolution favors fiercely loving families?  Do they tend to be larger and survive better?   This might have negative effects on the planet in terms of population.  Would it be better for the world if we were less filial and more agape in our love?  Less sentimental and more altruistic?

 

Table fellowship

I don’t think that I am going to do justice to the topic of love in a scholarly way when I am full of mince pie, chocolate, and happy memories of the hours I just spent.  I am starting to sink into that melancholy that bubbles up when all of the guests have gone home and you ask yourself if you can be truly happy without that rush of energy and affection.  Of course, I am happy and even more peaceful living without all my children still under my roof.   I am in love with the world, in love with my partner, and in love with my children every day.  And it is marvelous.

Reckoning Love

“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. 

075

The Kiss

A selection from my file marked “Widow’s Story”:

“I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I found out that he was in the same English class as my older sister, so I gave her a note to pass to him. I fastened it with a safety pin because I didn’t want her to read it. It was decorated with doodles and stuff, like a goofy schoolgirl with a crush would send. Basically, I offered to make him a cassette tape of my parents’ PDQ Bach album because I knew he was learning some of the madrigal pieces in choir and found them very funny. He sent me a note back, or spoke to me, and we agreed that I would give him that gift the next day before he got on the bus to go to the beach with the Senior class for Sneak Day. So, early on the morning of June 8, 1978, I waited outside the school near the cul de sac where the buses would board. He came bounding up to me when he saw me, and I greeted him with a big smile, handed him the tape and wished him a good day at the beach. He smiled back with his dazzling grin, thanked me and then leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. He smiled again, turned and boarded the bus. I stood dazed on the steps for a few seconds before running off to class with a secret smirk planted on my face that must have lasted days. We talked about that first kiss a lot over the years. We celebrated that kiss forever after. At first, it was the 8th of every month that we gave each other anniversary cards and letters. Then, it was the yearly Kiss Anniversary presents of Hershey’s kisses. For 29 years we did that, sharing our chocolate mementos with children and co-workers and whoever was around on that June day to hear the story.

After the kiss came the letters. In the first one he wrote me, he said, “This is the first in a series that I will affectionately call ‘Letters to Priscilla’. In 20 years, you can toss them onto the fire and say to your husband, ‘Well, they were some good after all.’ But then again, in 20 years, maybe I’ll be your husband. Wink, wink.” He wrote that letter the night of that Senior Sneak Day. The day of our first kiss. Did he know?

The energy of that June day returned to me this morning.  Lying awake beside my open window, feeling the coolness of the morning air and the promise of sunshine and heat to come, the scent of freshly-mowed grass recalled to me the old high school lawn.  A certain excitement, the world about to turn in a new direction, the feeling that my real life might just be even more wonderful than my fantasies, and the realization that finally, I didn’t want to be anyone else except the person I actually am, set that energy flowing in a trickle down my face.  This may be the path to acceptance after all.

Photo credit: my little brother, aged 7. I set the shot up for him on my Canon AE-1 (a gift from Jim) and asked him to do this favor for me so that I’d have a picture to take away to college. What 7 year old kid would take a photo of his big sister kissing her boyfriend? A sweet, generous one. Thanks, David. Always grateful.

Art, Time, and Love

In the expansive mist of morning, when my soul takes time and room to breathe and stretch, I gaze around my room and wonder what I might do with myself.  My eyes light on the top shelf of a bookcase, where stands a handmade paper album.  Pages of rough texture wait to absorb something well-constructed, like a bed of rice made to nestle a complicated curry.  What poem or drawing or photograph would be worthy to lie in those lush furrows?  Surely nothing as lowly as what I would create.  Yet I long to put my time, my love, my hands to work, to make something.  I want to slowly blend my life into some material.  The satisfaction is exquisite.  I felt it once, birthing and raising children.  The medium responds, reacts, engages, resists.  It is not a work of power; it is a work of love.

I have begun to notice an impatient annoyance building up in me when I look at photography sites.  I am enamored of the images, but so often the captions leave me irritated.  I do want to know what I’m looking at and where it was found.  I don’t like the flavor of language that suggests violence.  “I captured”, “I shot”, “I took”, “I caught”.  Why not just say that you were there?  It was there.  You made a photograph of it at that place and in time.  Doesn’t that sound more respectful somehow?  It does to me.

I like art that shows that respect.  An artist is generous with time, patient, slow, allowing something to unfold, gently.  There is a generosity of presence in art.  An artist gives herself – body, consciousness, energy, and loveinto a relationship with her work and medium.  That’s what feels so rich, pleasing and compelling in a well-made piece.   Whatever it is.  I am often so task-oriented that I don’t think of that.  I was taught to be efficient, neat and accurate.  In preparing a meal, for instance.   When I began cooking for Steve, he’d ask me about supper, and I’d tell him the steps I planned to take and ask for his input on decisions.  He’d respond with something like, “Just make it with love.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  I think I have a better idea now. 

I have a whole day and a whole chicken ahead of me.  I want to make something satisfying, not just in the end product, but in the relationship along the way.  I’ll let you know how that turns out.  Meanwhile, I’ll share these pictures from Horicon Marsh.  I didn’t take them.  I like to think I invited them, and they came willingly.