Same Picture, New Eyes

I’ve never been a big one for assignments, but recently I assigned myself a doozy of a project. This past August 10, I began taking a photo a day of a park I drive through almost daily on my way to work, and publishing those photos on a blog called the Water Works Park Project. My intention is to continue to do this for 365 days.

Here’s one of my favorite efforts so far.

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Early morning dew

There are a lot of nice parks in my fair city, but Water Works Park, in my humble opinion, is my favorite. It’s one of the largest municipally owned parks in the country, and it has a river running through it — lots of wildness to be had right in the heart of the city. There are, if course, endless photo ops in its miles of meandering roads, but for this assignment, I chose to concentrate only on my one little commuter corner.

I’ve received a bit of push back on that decision. This is not the most picturesque area of this park. In fact, it houses the business end of running a park like this — two overflow ponds, a big ramshackle barn where the working vehicles hang out, lots of rolling machinery and enormous piles of sand to keep the roads clear in the winter machinery.

Why limit myself to that? Because I feel the urge to go deep now, rather than wide — Micro instead of macro. I’ve driven through that little corner nearly every day for more than eight years now, and nearly every day I see something different, interesting, beautiful, sometimes extraordinary. I’ve learned to approach each visit with new eyes, and I’m never disappointed. Mother Nature (along with some very talented people) can put a lot of WOW! into a very small space. The deeper you look, the more you see, and the more there is to reveal.

It turns out, this effort is a good metaphor for my approach to both language and life lately. As a writer, I find myself drawn to more finite, defined forms. My poetry favors the formal haiku 5-7-5 form, even to use as stanzas to build longer poems, because the discipline imposed by the strict, minimalist structure gives me a framework to go deeper, illuminate complexities, find a better word or combination — like looking at individual facets inside a diamond.

OK, blah, blah, blah. Here’s where I’m headed. As we grow older our lives by necessity grow smaller. The borders of our worlds contract, whether we want them to or not, especially if we live with chronic illness. Traveling becomes more problematic, socializing more tiring, just getting around more difficult. Over time, more and more of our life is behind us, friends become memories, opportunities dwindle. We throttle down and the world rushes by us in the fast lane, oblivious to those left spinning in its wake.

Boo hoo. It clear to me that there is no point in expending precious energy on lamenting what’s gone (beyond a reasonable mourning period, of course). But I’ve discovered at least one other, more affirming choice – to back burner the worst of it by focusing our energies on the best of what we have every day — put on a new set of specs, look into the diamond of our lives, and find a new way tell our stories. Then sit back and see what happens.

At this point, my little photo experiment has become something of a spiritual practice for me, a daily prayer in gratitude to the here and now. The results have been small, but mighty.

I’ve learned to ask for new eyes to see with every day now. This has allowed me to focus so intently on the beauty, joy, love and other good things that are right in front of me, that my inner emotional borders are expanding, and those pesky outer limits imposed by my physical reality seem to matter less and less.

Posted in Aging, Blogging, Corporate humor, Irony, Musings, Philosophy, Photography, Social Commentary, Spirituality, Wiseacre Way Photos | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Mornings Become Electric

A friend of mine recently asked me what time of day I write my blog. This, sadly, is a true and actual photo from this very a.m.

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It seems that in the wee hours my productivity clicks on at a roar

dragging me along with it.

I wasn’t always a morning per……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Hmm… Some mornings are more productive than others.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Blogging, Humor, Irony | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

The Chinese Paint Box

When I was very young, but old enough to fancy myself a painter, I received as a gift three blocks of superb French watercolor paper from a fabulous, larger than life, seriously intimidating bohemian artist that my parents had the good sense to ask to be my godmother.

Coming, as it did, from this sorceress, my young, impressionable soul imbued this marvelous paper with a special, even spiritual significance. It was so beautiful, so fine, that I felt completely unworthy. After a couple of lame tries, I gave up. It was simply too good for me to use, and after many years, I finally gifted it to a young artist friend, who was delighted to receive it.

IMG_8185 (1018x1024)I remembered all this recently when I found a black leather box that contained a Chinese watercolor calligraphy paint set  (pictured). It’s pretty old, and unused, and has a beautiful vintage look to it. The paint blocks have golden dragons on one side and Chinese calligraphy symbols on the other. Magic.

Immediately upon seeing it, I knew two things. One, I had to have it, and two, I would never use it, for the same reason I left the French paper untouched. It is just too beautiful to spoil.

This is when the argument with myself begins. Human beings have always deified things, declaring them, for one reason or another, too good to be used. Heirloom dishes are brought out gingerly only on holidays, jewelry is stashed in safety deposit boxes passed down through generations under wraps, special outfits swaddled in hanging bags fill the closet, artwork and linens are hidden away in boxes and trunks to keep them pristine, frozen in time, appreciated, but largely unseen.

Is that the right thing to do? The traditional part of me believes this is how it should be. Things often used are often used up. It’s important to preserve the things that are special to us.

But then I remember the nuns.

Years ago, I watched a group of silent, patient, serene and extremely limber Tibetan nuns create a sand mandala on a low platform in a quiet room at Wesleyan University.

The photo below is a mandala from the the Freer Gallery of Art and Arther M. Sackler Gallery Smithsonian Institution website.

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The mandala the nuns were creating was large, exquisitely detailed and full of symbolic significance.

Over several days, using little pen-like tools, the nuns, on their knees, gently tapped the colored sand, seemingly a grain at a time, into a design of extraordinary beauty and complexity.

The result was stunning, both in the final product, and in the artistry, skill and dedication exhibited by the nuns.

But the most stunning thing of all was what happened after the piece was done. I knew it was coming and thought I was prepared for it, but it took my breath away, nonetheless. The nuns gathered around the mandala, surrounded by mesmerized spectators, and simply broomed it out of existence. Poof! It was gone.

Watching the marvelous sand painting being calmly destroyed by the very hands that had so laboriously created it set off a visceral reaction in me. I was literally speechless at the sight. That traditional part of me was silently screaming, NO! But another, quieter voice was saying, yes. This is how it is and must be.

Observing the life cycle journey of a sand mandala is a highly effective way to learn the Buddhist lesson of impermanence. Nothing is forever, life is change, beauty is transitory, what we do is for the now, only. There is, really, nothing else.

So I say, bring out the good dishes. Wear the necklace. Display the painting. Celebrate beautiful things now, in the light, and again and again. None of them will last forever anyway.

And, seriously, if you are harboring “too good for you to use” paper or paints or brushes, use them, even if you think you’re not worthy. They exist, after all, for the sole purpose of being sacrificed by human hands in the sacred act of creation.

Posted in Art, Musings, Philosophy, Social Commentary, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Survivors in the Land of the Young

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We are the steel forged by life’s fire,
With an edge honed by life’s trials,
And a spine strengthened by the love of those who
Inexplicably, miraculously, improbably,
Love us back.

 

Posted in Aging, Love, Poetry, Social Commentary | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

98 again…

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Midsummer sun draws
Sharp shadows, dogs and rivers
Slumber in the heat.

 

 

“A dog lying down”: Pencil and watercolor on paper, by James Ward, 1769 – 1859.

Posted in Animals, haiku, Midwest, Nature, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Um…hon?

When I was young, you
Took my breath away. Now please,
Seems I need it back.

 

Posted in Aging, haiku, Humor, Irony, Love, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments