Cold Light

I am an odd person out. I’m certain I shared this in a previous post, namely that winter, the shorter days, the snow and the cold don’t bother me the way I know it really bothers a lot of other people. However, when freezing rain, relentless winds from the north and sleet show up, doubts perk up about my relationship with winter.
My enjoyment of this season is greatly enhanced by a few other small details: no biting insects, most nasty smells are frozen in place, it’s easier to layer up to stay warm versus shedding attire to get cool. Fireplaces are invaluable for the way they comfort our weary minds and bodies.
And then there’s the light. By late October, shorter days manifest that longing for days that end at 9:30 in the evening, versus 4:15 in the afternoon. But for me on any given day, winter light can be nothing short of amazing [well, to my eyes anyway].

For those enamored with snow, it doesn’t matter how you enjoy it, just as long as you get out to enjoy it. Snowshoes. Boards. Skis [alpine and cross country]. Insulated tie-up boots [aka “moon boots”]. Building snow forts, a snowman/woman/sculpture. Tubes, sleds, and toboggans. They all generate smiles at one time or another.

Even the most ardent worshipper of other seasons can understand why winter can be a favorite. There’s a sense of solitude, even in the busiest of urban environments. Indeed most folks are rushing—as it’s often said—to get out of the cold, to get inside to warm up. And yet there are those who look to get out to be invigorated by the cold air. When it’s cold, it’s only natural that you move to stay warm: motion generates heat and heat consumes calories and the consumption of calories means soothing cups of hot coffee, hot chocolate, hot soup, hot tea among other choices awaiting your selection. Admittedly, it is bliss having such hot consumables balance out the chill at the end of a day. The yin-yang of warm & cold becomes apparent.

A cold drink can bookend a hot summer day just as a hot toddy can on a cold winter day. This radiating cocktail of hot water, lemon, honey and a bit of whiskey is also hydrating, indeed soothing since it’s a drink perfect for sipping.

Cold light, winter light, is especially sharp when it reaches across a landscape as far as you can see. The shadows are longer and details stand out like bas-relief etched into tree trunks. On ski trails, the tendrils left by carving skis add to that dimension of depth, or even height, as if lengths of dark thread randomly lie atop the snow.

Winter’s light—especially later in the day—can feel cathartic and the sun’s warmth enhances this catharsis. A cup of hot chocolate, a banana, a comfy, large Maine Adirondack chair and a pit fire are all good company.

Cleansing Breaths

A benefit of changing seasons is precisely that: change. Here in New England, the 4 seasons do more than adjust amounts of daylight, colors of sunrise and sunset, the appearance/disappearance of flora, the transitions of both diurnal and nocturnal activities, owing in part to the amount of daylight/nightlight available for particular pursuits from tennis to star gazing. The change in seasons are as much physical as they are metaphysical, philosophical and experiential. The seasons are what you make them to be.

25th Floor–Just after a rainstorm

Often my cleansing breaths are interpreted as sighs of disappointment, or relief, a reaction to someone or something that gives purchase to both feelings. Since the arrival of Covid, I’ve made a conscious effort to use more cleansing breaths. I’m reminding myself there are far worse things to be disappointed with, and using some calming behaviors can make a difference.

25th Floor–North

The benefits of regularly using cleansing breaths has a way of taking edges off of things [vis a vis, the stress produced by today’s level of uncertainty]. Deep breaths and exhales do have physical and mental benefits. Gentle stretches [another cleansing breath, please] coupled with a proactive mindset that focuses on out with the bad, and in with the good has a lasting effect on our overall demeanor.

Ground Floor–Cape Cod

By extension, whenever I see a changing sky—especially one with clouds or on windy days—I attribute these shifts of clouds and air to cleansing breaths. However these are done by Mother Nature on behalf of our troubled planet. Earth is having a hard time rejuvenating much of what humankind has taken for granted, even wasted or destroyed.

Colorado

Whenever I’m out and about, feeling that need for solitude and distraction-free thinking, I load up on cleansing breaths and allow myself the chance to attain “groundedness” a term, I believe, coined by Stephen Hayes, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Nevada. To avoid any confusion, I’ll merely say that attaining a semblance of groundedness means accepting and facing the here and now [however uncomfortable], and to make a commitment or shift of working on things that can mentally/emotionally help you.

Boulder, CO at sunset

The simplest example I can think of is this feeling or acceptance that one’s worklife/career is a dead end and wouldn’t be a dead end if the company your worked for was “better.” There are a myriad of other reasons to choose from. Instead of losing yourself and using up energy on this discontent, nurture a way to make yourself stand out. This isn’t about writing the great American novel or closing on a stupendous sale; it’s more in the line of working from your known strengths to optimize your “here-and-now” going forward.

Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Now, before you do anything else, take that cleansing breath….

Catskills

There are several places I always look forward to visiting. The Catskills is one of those places. Marketers have positioned it a number of ways, two which I can refer to: the first being that author Mr. Washington Irving created a mystical dimension about these mountains and valleys as demonstrated in two of his works, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleeping Hollow. The second is that these same mountains are the birth place of American fly-fishing, this, toward the end of the 19th century.

The eponymous short story tells the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who after accepting a drink or drinks from other Dutchmen, went into a deep slumber. A twenty year slumber at that. And to think that suspended animation had yet to be imagined. Like Irving’s other short story, The Legend of Sleeping Hollow, there’s no denying the intrigue and fascination with the dark arts as it were, an ethereal construct of feeling displaced, out of touch and powerless. The spells, debauchery and intrigue hold the reader captive, and the Catskills is both crucible and container to the kind of narrative that keeps young and old awake at night.

Along the roadways that weave up and down and around these mountains you’ll see places with names like The Washington Irving Inn, Sleepy Hollow Mercantile, Rip Van Winkle Golf, etc. etc. From eateries to where locals meet and catch up on recent news, to bed and breakfast attractions, there are many hints at Catskills history and folklore.

As for the fly-fishing, there’s enough rivers and streams to keep you occupied. Certainly there’s enough real estate to get you lost as well or put another way, give you solitude and quiet like no other in the northeast. I’m told that Mr. Theodore Gordon is the one credited for starting American fly-fishing in the 1890s. This feeling of where fly-fishing started in the USA is supported by a smattering of fly shops and other related businesses, several found close to the rivers. For many die-hard enthusiasts, these are sirens that are as strong as the waters and fish that beckon us to get our fly lines in the water.

Covid has altered some of our pursuits, but it hasn’t put a dent on my love or time in the outdoors. Factor in the openness and scale of outside and one can understand the fascination, the desire to get up and out of the house/office and do something for yourself or for perhaps someone else. It’s rare to see another person here in the Catskills or in other wooded areas I’ve been in. Social distancing is a non-issue. In our uncertain world, being wrapped in the outdoors is invigorating and yes, even fulfilling.

Social Distance 2.0

Not again. I can’t imagine the number of times I have thought of that remark let alone the times I’ve said it. I’ve been fortunate on many fronts and I’m more than grateful. The past 13-14 months or so, has been a journey of minor inconveniences compared to what others had to suffer through. I have no reason to complain. Then again with the Delta Variant on a rampage, I can’t help but wonder yet hope that common sense will prevail….

Two renaissance men: my son-in-law and his father.

I have a handful of avocations, each having one thing in common: I am comfortable when it’s me and myself involved. That sounds a bit self-absorbed, but it simply means I’m fine being alone. Being alone and lonely are two different things, obviously. Having alone time is important for one’s rejuvenation, at least for me.
Photography, journaling, letter writing, playing the piano and fly-fishing are welcome pursuits for me. Granted the first and last distractions can be shared and done with others. On several occasions my wife, daughters and other family members have kept me company on nearby waters. Our fly rods might look like conductor batons in a free-for-all, an ensemble of asynchronous metronomes, where each length of graphite is tuned to the individual holder.

On those days when I’m out with a camera, my wife keeps me company. In the city, she waits for me to catch up when I stop to take a photo. After awhile though, the distance and the time it takes to catch up get a tad longer. On jaunts through the woods, the converse is true: our pace is calmer, slower than the one we use in the urban environment. Time takes its time [read: less frenetic] in natural spaces; and for me that’s how it should be.

To see something in the wild is often fleeting: the songbird you hear only to take flight once you actually see it; the whitetail deer that suddenly, inexplicably pops out from the background in what feels like a whisper’s distance, only to bound away just as you look to acknowledge its presence.

And then I’m handed a “pause” button. Fly-fishing can put a slight pause in what you’re looking at before the moment disappears. Having a landing net is an appreciation multiplier. It allows an opportunity to add a few seconds to really appreciate what you’re seeing. The Eastern Brook Trout is a jewel among fish. I never tire of catching this wild* freshwater creature that can only live in a healthy river or stream. Healthy, as in cold, clear and running. The existence of wild trout means the habitat we’re visiting is good for the fish and everything else that’s dependent on the river and surrounding area.

Ours is a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Unfortunately, that relationship is out of balance and all things wild and natural are being short-changed by humankind’s behaviors. I find the safest social distance in the outdoors and the time there prompts me to examine the symbiotic and personal relationships I hold dear.

*wild versus native: a wild trout is one that’s been born in the very water it lives in. Wild trout/fish reproduce naturally in their habitat and sustain their populations. A native fish are those that have lived and thrived in areas that have had no or very little human interaction. A stocked fish is from a hatchery that’s typically managed by the state’s wildlife management. Regardless, please make an effort to carefully release these fish [a fly-fishing practice called catch-and-release]. It’s good for the neighborhoods we visit.

Spring Colors in the City

Spring is springing though the thermometer begs to differ. I have one of those old-fashioned stick thermometers encased in a brass sleeve attached just outside a window. It read a chilly 41-F [5-C], at 8:23 this morning.

Whatever the temperature, we know that another season is here, although some of us are still bundled up. I think that’s better than huddling inside whining about the cold. In New England like the rest of the northeast, you expect the unexpected.
An urban environment does have its share of color, especially those on display from flowering trees and shrubs. Yet I’m drawn to other colors which “pop” in front of me.

I find it a bit odd that not more people are out walking whether by themselves, or with a friend, or from behind a stroller or in the company of a dog. In most cases, it’s the dog walking the handler; I’m empathizing from the dog’s POV. More than likely, I have to keep on walking in order to see others coming and going to wherever they need to be. I need to continue my exploring and allow whatever creative divining rod I may possess to guide me.

It’s a bit ironic that in a city so large, not many were out. It wouldn’t surprise me that NYC could be mentioned as the city with the largest number of street photographers per square mile, whatever that number might be. Who knows, my sortie was on a so-so day at a time when more than not, folks just decided to stay put.

On the above marquis, the tagline to this church reads, “The road to spiritual success is always under construction.” For most of us, it means no one can attain spiritual success. This is akin to Sisyphus rolling his boulder uphill, only to fail when he comes so close to the top. His pathway to salvation is under construction in perpetuity.

The Pen is More Personal…

A few of us have been [hand] writing for as long as we can remember. More specifically, letters, postcards and greeting cards. Conceit aside, I’m one of those anachronisms [I use fountain pens & bottled ink] and I enjoy writing in all its archaic forms.

Because of the pandemic, there’s a renewed interest in writing, whether a letter, in a journal, even on a page or two of plain paper. I find it all encouraging as voiced in this recent article in The Critic. Writing a letter isn’t what it used to be, but a few of us still find satisfaction in such a personal construct of thought and emotion. A part of me is contained therein. Some days, the pen skims across the paper and other times, it’s hard to get out the first sentence or two.

Decades from now, no one will need an app to read its content. Sentimental as it is, perhaps some of my family and friends will keep them in a shoe box of sorts. Each envelope containing a capsule of time and place.

A journal can capture and hold—albeit brief—a particular sentiment, an observation, an epiphany perhaps more. And like letters, there is an enduring permanence to what’s put into and left on the paper. In a recent [April 13, 2021] issue of the Wall Street Journal, staff writer Ellen Byron wrote, “How Journaling Can Help You Live Your Best Life.” The Byron article reads more like a primer on the hows and whys of writing and using a journal.

Journal writing is cathartic and offers a number of ways to express practically anything. I write to an alter-ego, directly to myself and at times even address myself in the third person. When I move myself from the “I” to “he,” the dynamic changes. Writing in the third person creates a buffer of sorts, a moat if you will which separates the person in the moment from the person that offers perspective.

A large part of the catharsis revolves around time slowing to a less frenetic cadence. The efficiency or speed of the digital realm fosters an expectation of click-it-now, get-it-now. Letters and journals are the antithesis of such expectations.

Go ahead. Take a pen and some paper and write something, anything, that comes to mind. What matters is you’ve made a decision to place part of yourself right in front of you.

The Birdman

By all appearances, he patiently cares for his pigeons. While I cannot verify if he’s out regardless of weather, my sense is he’s devoted and committed to his feathered friends. I have this feeling he’s been at this for a long time. The 3 or 4 times I’ve seen him on the roof is a study in stoicism, or maybe a purposeful, self-administered state of calm and reflection which is part of his daily schedule. Click HERE to learn more about the hows and whys of raising pigeons.

On a cold March afternoon, I was surprised to see a large flock of birds flying closely together, first in one direction, then back toward the direction they came from. When they hovered and eventually landed, I noticed someone walking on a flat roof top, nothing more than his head and shoulders visible from the street below.

Having access to the roof of an apartment across the street, I made my way up and discovered the gentleman sitting on a bench, his back against a column of white-painted brick. His focus was on a rather large screened-in coop housing perhaps a hundred or more pigeons. Having nothing to compare this to, seeing it was impressive.

I only know of 3 reasons why someone would raise pigeons: some enthusiasts race them, another group trains them to return home to their roost and others rear them for special occasions. During some festivals, you might see a flock released from a specific area often during a program within that festival. Or you may witness a blur of white-feathered pigeons take flight moments after an officiant proclaims the union of two lovebirds [indeed, pun is intended].

It’s unwise to assume. Assumptions often miss their mark, but in this case, I believe the birds and their caretaker have a strong connection. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

For his efforts, the pigeons have shelter, food and water. He in turn relishes his role and acquires satisfaction knowing his handiwork allows him a unique form of social interaction.

The Erosion of Social Bridges

There are positive attributes to like-mindedness. It’s a way to find common ground and interests in practically all relationships be it personal, professional, philosophical and spiritual.

We understand that having similar interests can help solidify these relationships. We also know that different pursuits can develop into new perspectives, and these perspectives can present alternative ways of thought and action, perhaps some you haven’t thought of yet.

Unfortunately, the bridges which can connect the like-minded and those diverse in thought and action, are in danger. There is a level of social deconstruction affecting not only the infrastructure of social interactions and preferences, but our individual feelings of well-being [health] and significance [purpose].

Some may like it more than others, but various apps connect us both professionally and personally.

The relevance surrounding social engagement has been noted across many communication channels–magazine articles, academic papers, broadcast news, and more. The absence of in person, face-to-face interactions with colleagues, friends, family, business connections, neighbors, et al, has created varying levels of social isolation.

Some may miss the informal chatter when shuffling the hallways to and from meetings. There’s the interaction during lunch periods and conversations at the water cooler and copy room. I certainly miss some of the gatherings and conversations, either formal or informal. The taken-for-granted expressions of “good morning…good to see you…how’s your kid doing…you’re looking well, feeling better I hope….” and so on, chips away at our own self-perception and emotions borne by experiences. And this includes uncomfortable expressions and experiences as well. The good and not-so-good are inevitable in everyone’s life.

Before the pandemic, on two or more days during the workweek, a small group of us banter about life, kids, work pressures and current events. The time together in the lunchroom is not just small talk or attempts to fill in the question, “So, what’s new with you?” The time, albeit brief, permits a reciprocal exchange of ideas and feelings, or concerns and burdens, and even lighter moments, which on the whole, provide a brief respite from work. I miss deciphering the “Jumble” word game found in newspapers. Just about everyone at the table has had a go at the jumbled letters. Not surprisingly, others who saunter by have also added their own guesses.

Circa 2013. Interaction: Want to wear blue jeans on a Friday? Contribute to a charity.

Everyone has preferences though our personal constructs, expectations and beliefs can be as different and varied as the objects on our planet. And that’s what nurtures our face-to-face, in person interactions. We know there are differences, but I like to think that deep down, a lot of what matters between us are all too familiar.

Digital communications–Facetime, Instagram, zoom meetings, text messages and so forth have their place and their legions of supporters. Personally, I miss nuances of expression, of feeling connected and relevant in life whenever people are not physically present. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned but for me, being face-to-face validates our humanity.

Snow Dome

On MLK day at Glendale Falls

I was in a different bubble yesterday, away from the angst, the uncertainties, the frustration and disappointment of recent times. It was wonderfully quiet save the waterfall cascading over an edge some 20-yards away. That rushing sound had a soft, roundness to it, a barrier or suppressor of sorts that kept disheartening sentiments at bay.

I was in a snow dome.

With 4-inches already on the ground, a sudden burst of flakes quietly fell, quickly dusting tree limbs as well as foot prints left by other visitors: someone in a Sorel, perhaps a size 10 1/2 which lay opposite the basket imprints from a hiking staff. Only one set of human footprints was there, the other prints from a deer, a squirrel, a group of birds and others I wasn’t sure of or missed altogether.

This kind of place—where the simplest of what is before and around you—covers the burrs of unhealthy tensions and feelings. Indeed, a blanket comes to mind when snow covers a landscape. On some days—for me anyway—it’s more like a comforter. A comforter does not align with what snow feels like. Visually however, is a different matter. There is loft, an expanse of uniformity and balance that can remind one of a comforter. The solitude, the absence of man-made noise, reinforces that sense of comfort. Within my snow dome comes a particular calm that allows me to think and feel purposefully and openly. I consider possibilities beyond the familiar and rote. I dwell beyond the probable, but lie in the realm of things that are possible. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted:

“Put yourself in a state of mind where you say to yourself, ‘here is an opportunity for me to celebrate like never before by my own power, my own ability to get myself to do what is necessary.'”

The saying, “this quiet, this silence is deafening…” runs contrary to my time in this snow dome. I feel reassured, positive, even happy. Embraced by such stillness, you can hear yourself think. You can engage all your senses with minimal distraction. You come face-to-face with who you are and in spite of yourself, you can choose to dwell in what should have happened—and thus remain predictably the same as always—or take a contrarian step, one that could make a difference. I’ll let Martin Luther King, Jr. have the last word. He has captured an enduring leitmotif of the human condition:

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo and has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of something new.”

Beginnings

“Happy New Beginnings!” doesn’t have the same cache as the tried and true, Happy New Year! Yet in many ways the first greeting has some weight behind it. There’s a strong inference to starting over, partially or completely. Everyone has a different take on “starting over.”

The action of a rising and setting sun, is starting over; the former begins a new day, the latter a new night. Starting over can literally be that: it’s an attempt to put in place what’s transpired with a second [or third, fourth, etc.] attempt to make something work.

This business of New Year’s resolutions—depending on whom you ask and why—is often predestined for failure. This is especially true with the “new and improved” ways to diet, to lose weight, to increase your brain power, your stamina and so on. For many it’s deja vu, a familiar redux from the year prior with the same if not similar results and attendant disappointments. Many successes become commercialized, specifically when a product is recognized as “effective.” On the one hand, you have the wannabes, individuals who for one reason or another did not accomplish their goal and likely through no fault of their own. So, the achievers draw the attention and accolades. No surprises there. Their testimonials reinforces product or program efficacy. Quite frankly, it’s marketing.

My notion behind beginnings [aren’t most beginnings new, BTW?] is that sometimes, we make a list that’s unreasonable: too many to pursue. It’s a big enough challenge to succeed with one, so why burden your good intentions with one or two, or even three. More than one is often simply one too many. Think about it.

There is a bigger challenge in starting over, in a willingness to start over with perhaps new or different tactics and strategies. Make goals more realistic. For me, to say I’ll master conversational french in 2021 is a real dream. I must’ve drank way too much wine on December 31st. And while I can read and write a good amount of francais, it’s quite another to hold a meaningful conversation [assuming I have someone I can converse with]. Indeed, make your goals lofty, but ensure beginnings are grounded.

My own journey contains many beginnings across many facets of life. For the most part, much of them are still a work in progress. Ultimately, something’s got to give. Endings contain their own nuances, good or bad, sad or happy. However, beginnings should always contain hope.

I see through a glass darkly…

It’s been noted in different ways, but anything that could be said about 2020 has already been said. There are new normals and our previous ways of living and working have undergone something more than a reboot. I wonder about the sustainability of our modifications to the changes we’ve been subjected to. At present, 2 things loom large for me in our modern ethos: the scale of loss [life, careers, homes, e.g.] and the contraction of education systems for students, Kindergarten through college.

The burden shouldered by first responders, caregivers, allied professionals, physicians, peace officers, firefighters, et al, is without precedent. Supporting them goes without saying. The COVID-19 story continues to unfold, though I hope the developing narrative produces more positive than negative outcomes. And yet I am still looking through a glass darkly.

Many conventions, routines and well-defined standards have been poured over with uncertainty. That change takes place, is to be expected, but the fog of what happens or what should happen clouds our view near and far. Supposition greets us through this dark glass of modern life. There’s the world before the new coronovirus, and the one hereafter.

All of this thinking takes me back to much younger days, days of academe, of discussion, of expository writing. This dark window we’re peering through—including windows like broadcast and online news, social media, Twitter, FB, e.g.—does shape our perceptions and expectations. Many are unclear, even misshapen or unrecognizable, perhaps even hinting at what was once familiar. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave posits we should question our assumptions. Thinking across and through assumptions helps nurture self-reliance and problem solving. I like to think of it in more practical terms: use your knowledge, experience and current life stage to shape your own conclusions versus being told what they should be.

None of this is new. Some of you probably realize that this post of mine references scripture.


Now, we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face.
Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Eastern Standard Time

For a few days toward the end of October, there was some fuss about turning back our clocks one hour. The running complaint focused on days getting shorter even though we “gain” an hour of time. Early darkness just made things, well, darker, physically and qualitatively; it gets darker outside and for some, darker within one’s psyche.

I suppose I’m the odd person out; I shouldn’t “suppose” as I am an odd person with such things. Sunsets that announce evenings arriving earlier is not a big deal for me. Like some form of line dancing flitting across the horizon, once again daylight and night trade places, and time marches on without losing a single beat.

Whether it’s 4:30 in the afternoon or 8:30 at night, I don’t tire of sunsets. Some are dramatic in their intensity and expanse, others are less so, their palate of warm colors as soothing and inviting as those found in an impressionist painting.

There’s nothing standard about this light that quickly dissolves into shadows of dark blue and greys. The one constant I’ve felt through the years has been the brevity of the light which morphs an hour before and up to sunset. The times are few when I don’t have a camera by my side, yet on those days when I don’t, I sometimes forget about today’s most ubiquitous of cameras, the ones found in today’s smartphones. And they are amazing tools for photography, videography and more.

The photograph shown here was taken within that half-hour before sunset. The way the light and shadows shifted was a process all too short, perhaps as short as the traffic light that changed to green shortly after I took one photo. Figures. The one time I hoped for a few more seconds stopped at a red light just wasn’t there.

For the various times we use our phones to take a photo, we hope that one shot becomes the money shot. We want just one, a really good one, which connects with everything and anything that courses through our thinking and feeling. I relish the feeling of making this particular shot. The stoplight, the headlights, the reflections on the car hood, the gradations of orange and yellow, blue and grey are a surprising though welcome confluence of order.

A confluence of order. We can use some of that in the here and now regardless of whatever time or GMT standards we’re in.

Space

I am convinced that modern life has boxed us in more so than we’d like. It’s part of the contemporary territory which includes both our professional and personal lives. There’s a surfeit of information, misinformation as well as disinformation. We have data that’s important, partially accurate or altogether inaccurate, the latter done purposely in order to deceive and create confusion.

The spaces outside and within our mind are under siege. This coronavirus pandemic has produced a variety of empty spaces in the form of closed businesses, a void born from a lost loved one, an even larger, emptiness created by becoming unemployed and losing our face-to-face social connections with friends and family.
In addition we see meadows, forests and even arable acres, reshaped with new developments, new businesses, and right-of-way passages for utilities. These spaces, like others, will never resemble their former selves.

The modern mind is challenged with the illusory nature of augmented realities, misinterpreted online interactions, the CGI creations readily seen on the big and small screen and so on. I would wager that ruminating is a regular mental exercise for many, in ways that even the thinker didn’t think possible in the here and now.
It’s not that such spaces are wanting for content. Some of the content in our heads is twisted and distorted, an unattractive morass of schadenfreude and unforgiving defenestrations toward those with authority, power and privilege.

A lot of good space has been replaced with some nasty creations, tangible and intangible, palpable and even unreasonable.
We’re better than a lot of this, each of us capable of individual betterment. I remind myself in my own spaces of thinking and feeling that, at times it’s okay to be embarrassed in one’s journey to be genuine. I think it aids my ability to acknowledge what occupies my internal and external spaces other than what’s so obvious not only to myself, but to others.
As in marketing, perception is reality: it’s not what you’re getting, but what you think you’re getting.

Color

Autumn is my favorite season for a variety of reasons: the cooler, drier air is both invigorating and refreshing, the quality of light is remarkable, at times appearing clearer on even overcast days. Even time feels slower with a more gentle cadence though by mid-November, I wonder how it went by so quickly. Certainly it goes without saying that the foliage change can be magical, even personally restorative.

Many years ago, I attended a photojournalism workshop at what was then called The Maine Photographic Workshops in Camden, now known as Maine Media Workshop located in Rockport, a mere stone’s throw from Camden. Located half-way up the coast of Maine, the town of Camden sits next to Penobscot Bay. I haven’t been back since, so I hope it hasn’t lost its New England charm. It was quaint, quiet and photogenic to be sure.
You can glean techniques and technical knowledge from more places today than back then [now a surfeit of info sits on the web]. Convenience is nice, but for me, being engaged with a like-minded person is all the more rewarding. Levels of inspiration come to me when I visit an exhibition, a gallery or listen to or converse with a speaker whose work clearly validates that person’s passion for his/her choices.

I was fortunate to have heard and seen in person Jay Maisel, Ernst Haas and Dick Durrance. Titans of their craft, I learned more than just technique, but a whole lot more about this passion to see things in a new way, to transcend the connections of light, color, subject, interpretation and meaning. My brain needed to do some real lifting and learning, and was thus able to do so when my soul became the catalyst to assist with that lifting and learning.

I like to think of seasonal transitions as a form of recalibration. It’s more than a reset, because to reset anything is effectively returning to its default state. Recalibration is a nuance in alignment. If I’m not sure of what I’m feeling when I look through a viewfinder, I move a few or more steps to one side or another, as well as toward or away from my subject. Recalibrating.

There are similarities in writing, but they’re a bigger challenge for me to describe. I suppose the very title of this post lends itself to recalibrating: adjust the “color” of your words such as tone, passive versus active voice, even a tweak in aliteration to keep your narrative—and your thinking—interesting.

Autumn just doesn’t land here in the northeast; when it does arrive it’s akin to that sense of belonging, of knowing that your journey—in spite of personal hills and valleys—continues with the expected and as well as the unexpected. I like all the seasons, but fall is the one which captures the zeitgeist of the rest of the calendar. It’s a short period of time, that in its most fundamental form, feels like the comfort food that’s been sorely missing for more than half the year.

Connections

I love Cape Cod. The season doesn’t matter, but late summer is often a great time. There’s less traffic and a more laid back atmosphere. The beaches and wharfs hold less people, though there are those hearty souls who continue their routines swimming parallel to the shore.
I watch the few on the beaches, most in their chairs, some sitting or lying across a large towel. Others are involved in conversation or quietly engrossed with a book in hand.
You can always count on walkers tracing their steps first one way, then on their return trip to a starting point. The most jubilant are often a dog and its owner. They’ve waited for the moment when the beach was available to them and their joy is clearly displayed. This is the kind of connection that’s about as simple and straightforward as it can get: get out and spend time with good friends, family, your dog—even yourself.

The men enjoying their cocktails aboard a boat speaks of many types of connections: family, work colleague, college room mate, best friend, and so forth. Between the “remember when….did you hear….whatever happened to…” are those moments of hilarity, some brought on by something long past, others in more recent times. Nostalgia connects with the present.

I love the Cape, especially for the many connections its made for me.

Time elasticity

To be a master of something–musician, painter, composer, fine art photographer, athlete, dancer, among others–one must be willing to dedicate 10,00 hours to become a master. Author Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller, Outliers: the Story of Success, offers that requisite number in order to reach the pinnacle of your skill set.
Gladwell has a point, but his critics have also noted that time and practice are only part of the formula required to achieve mastery.

Firefly and Fan on a Plate

It’s been said that the 10,000 hour rule is not a complete answer; in fact it’s only part of an even greater whole that involves, an individual’s patience, persistence, motivation and commitment to arriving at that zenith of expertise. And then there’s the detail about the ambitious student and the environment she/he lives in. Dynamics in culture, support, the actual starting age [5 vs 35 years of age], the type of discipline being pursued and so on. I know I’m missing some important research areas, but I’ll admit my interpretation in becoming a master of something is duly influenced by past and current understanding.

The Hare with Amber Eyes

You’re looking at buttons, or Netsuke, each hand carved to represent some aspect of Japanese culture. Many of these small pieces offer an amazing amount of detail, some of such complex design, I wonder how any of the work could’ve been done long before laser and water cutters were invented.

Mouse on a fish [the white dot is a reflection on the glass]

At the turn of 17th century Japan, these buttons or toggles were crafted to hold pouches and small items onto the sash [“obi”] of a man’s traditional attire. Seeing no pockets were fabricated in the clothing, the only way to carry a pipe or talisman or something else small, one needed a netsuke.

A stirrup fashioned from hardwood.

A myriad of designs and materials were used to create them, and the cognoscenti of these artifacts cherish them as not just statements of culture and tradition, but as pieces of art, of craftsmanship and a tangible expression of patience. I’ve read that some of the more valued netsuke have actual layers layed up onto the main body. Some of these additions included gemstones and other esoterica pertinent to Japan and/or the creator.

A fish vendor with an octopus.
A resting mollusk.

Indeed, good things do come in small packages.

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Japanese Wood Block Prints

I’m sure many know that life’s journey produces a few, “….well, I didn’t know you did that….” Through the years, I’ve worked with a lot of talented professionals who have made me look good because of their skills and various competencies. I’m a practitioner from the, let-them-work-from-their-strengths school. There are some things better left to those who really know what they’re doing.

Recently at MAP Gallery in Easthampton, MA, David Kutcher, the principal of Confluent Forms, had a show of Japanese wood block prints. Together David and I have worked on corporate communication projects through his digital and website firm. He sent me an invitation to this opening. I knew something about his interest in Japanese prints, but as I told David at this show, I simply said, “…I didn’t know that you were involved with collecting actual Japanese wood block prints.” It’s a fascinating art form with a long-standing tradition that not many folks hear about, let alone having an opportunity to see an actual print.

All pieces are original, some signed by the artists and others being initial production proofs that have an attraction all their own for aficionados and collectors. The details, colors and registration of the art are nothing short of incredible. I’m oversimplifying, but each color on the paper is made from an imprint from a series of wood blocks. If 4-colors are required, then 4 specific wood blocks containing details would be created. I wouldn’t be out of line if I thought the entire creative process was painstakingly purposeful and lengthy.

However, the end justifies the means. You need to see, even touch, one of these beautiful prints. Nothing compares to seeing these prints in person. It’s taken years for David to build a collection and working knowledge of the who’s who of this medium. In fact, his knowledge has been sought after by collectors, museums, art dealers and galleries.

Surprise! Surprise…!

One of the more unique acquisitions he owns is a candy tray, a wooden candy tray. For years its sole function was just that. I can see how a family could use this pretty piece of wood as a repository for wrapped chocolate mints or lifesavers. However, it was more than just a pretty tray to hold a postprandial treat.
Flip it over and note the bottom was designed to purposely create a print. After scanning the block and tweaking the digital image for clarity and legibility, David did some research and discovered that the block he owned was part of a series that made up a leaflet or booklet.

The “candy tray” wood block and the cover of the leaflet that holds that page.

This was quite a find and a unique bridge tying both the finish artwork and a block used in its creation. While his day job keeps him quite busy, his time studying, collecting and marketing wood block prints is an endeavor that keeps his mind, body and soul in an enthusiastic and balanced way of managing life’s uncertainties.

Mr. David Kutcher
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Analogies

They’re all around us. Analogies are everywhere. This morning several analogies appeared after an overnight snow powdered trees, shrubs and bare ground. There is value in being part of your surroundings, and depending on your frame of mind and mood, the time spent can be cathartic. The morning’s analogies are fleeting, ephemeral. For the most part, the majority are short-lived.

My waking-up-time leaves much to be desired as I totally missed a fiery sunrise. From a window in the dining room, the bold orange and red brushed across the eastern sky is a familiar calling card for this anachronism with a camera. However, by the time I was ready, the sky instead gave me an anticlimactic pale blue. Gone in the blink of an eye.

I’m reminded of the proverb, “He/she [my pronouns] who hesitates is lost.” I had lost my opportunity earlier this morning when I failed to get outside to photograph that spectacular burst of color. This adage comes from playwright Joseph Addison’s play, Cato in 1712, and its adaptation is as universal as any other truism.
I’m not the least bit surprised at the lesson the saying delivers. In an attempt at action and decisiveness, there seems to be a lot of hesitation. And when one hesitates, that window of opportunity often closes in short order.

Hesitation can infer caution just as it can suggest a lack of confidence. For the former, it means we’ve avoided some form of discomfort or harm, as for the latter, I believe that having little confidence is what causes most of us to choose not to do anything. Hesitation–whether in avoiding some perceived element of danger or wanting some level of certainty and sense of purpose–means either choice denies us any affirmation of what could have been.

After several minutes, the snow started falling away. Pine boughs loaded with snow started lifting just as the snow fell. Clumps dropped from many of the trees, the branches were once again dark and monochromatic against the blue sky. It seemed the snow vanished in the blink of an eye. Ultimately everything appeared as they were before: familiar though dark, even mysterious.

The fast-melting snow was like time running its course in the last minute of a hockey game or any other sporting contest. Was there an opportunity early on to change the game’s outcome? Ultimately it comes down to an either or decision. Actually, the third action is not to do anything at all, but the complexity of choosing inaction is an essay for another posting.

I’ve lost count of the moments I hesitated making a decision. Similarly, that count is lost on the moments when I did not hesitate, only to wonder if my action was perhaps just too fast.

Many things go pass us with nothing more than a slight pause of time. Sunrises, sunsets, snow melting, a game played in overtime and so on. Time for me to do something else.

From a Distance

……From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war.
From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting’s for.
From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man
It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man.
God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance.

Excerpt from the song, “From a Distance” by Julie Gold ©1985*
*Songwriter Julie Gold composed this song when she was working as a secretary at HBO. She wrote during her free time. The song has been covered several times by other artists such as Nanci Griffith and Bette Midler.

Springfield, Massachusetts

On a recent flight home, 2 songs came to mind. An epiphany of sorts became apparent as I looked down on Springfield, Massachusetts and Ski Sundown in New Hartford, Connecticut.

Ski Sundown in New Hartford, Connecticut

In light of the Ukraine-Russia war, it’s not a stretch to understand the effect of distance when watching something from afar. Things are not always as they seem, but up close, enough details emerge to create a clearer picture.
Most of us see what’s happening from a distance, from the safety of our screens playing out “breaking news” of the terror and the maddening reality of one country imposing its incorrigible intentions on an independent nation.

At 29,000 feet [8,839 meters]

At altitude, it’s easy to “not see” the actualities of what’s coming and going at ground level. And yet what impacts me the most is how the innocents and defenders suffer and die, of how the children struggle to understand this detestation that arrived from nowhere. Modern journalism can report events as visceral and undiluted, anywhere at anytime. In that sense, we see more than what we want to.

I leave this post with the words Enjolras sang during the scene At the Barricades, from the musical, Les Miserables.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again.

When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums.
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Les Miserables, the London Musical, trademarked by Cameron Macintosh Overseas.

A Change

Yes, I made a change to this blog.

courtesy: Shakespeare & Co.

I’ve essentially distilled it down to 2 things: life with a pen in one hand, a camera in the other. I dropped the nav tabs on marketing, personal branding and emotional branding [that 3rd one, I’m not 100% certain of]. Did I do a screen capture of the previous home page before making these changes? Heck, no. And it doesn’t matter quite frankly.

A lot of my waking time is spent on marketing, which is well and good, but all marketing and no play makes this mortal’s life a bit one-dimensional, don’t you think? I might be struggling with idiopathic post-Superbowl advertising distress which is what likely prompted my actions regarding my blog tweak. Yes, the commercials were interesting, entertaining and in some cases worth remembering, but did you remember the advertisers, and if you did, which ones? Hence, my idiopathic distress, which prompted my attention to simplicity.

We have enough complexity in our world today; think Occam’s Razor, often referred to as the principle of simplicity.

In just the past 2 years, there’s been quite bit of change and we know still more changes are coming. In an abstract yet very real sense, change is always in motion. No sooner when one particular action or event “completes” a change, then somewhere else, another action or event changes.

And we know of some companions that are inseparable from actual change: the shadows of discomfort, frustration, ambivalence and cognitive dissonance that move us out of our comfort zone.
So, we resist or adapt. We deny or cope. We make the best of what’s handed to us and move on as we must.

When I allow myself a moment of observation in the present, or to live in the moment, I may see or sense a common attribute with change. We are creatures of habit, and most reactions to change are defensive: that’s not how things are done around here. The discomfort supports notions such as the saying, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Granted, some actions and procedures may not be broken, but certainly many things can be improved.

No doubt the Hubble telescope still works, but humankind also possesses a good amount of, “so, let’s try this for a change….” in our quotients of intelligence and emotion. If we didn’t, then the amazing Webb telescope would never have been created. Change affords us an opportunity for improvement, the chance to move from the rote and familiar, to a condition of both collective and individual betterment.

Open your arms to change,
but do not let go of your values.

Dalai Lama

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When Nostalgia Visits

James Cain

I started out in search of ordinary things
How much of a tree bends in the wind
I started telling the story without knowing the end
I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again
Something too big to be seen was passing over and over me
Well, it seemed like a routine case at first
With the death of the shadow came a lightness of verse
But the darkest of nights, in truth, still dazzles
And I work myself until I’m frazzled
I ended up in search of ordinary things
Like how can a wave possibly be?
I started running, and the concrete turned to sand
I started running, and things didn’t pan out as planned
In case things go poorly and I not return
Remember the good things I’ve done
In case things go poorly and I not return
Remember the good things I’ve done
Oh, oh, oh, oh-oh
Done me in
copyright Bill Callahan from the album, Sometimes I Wish We were an Eagle.

I’m told that feelings of nostalgia can be dangerous, dangerous in the sense that you can lose yourself enough to miss out on being in the moment. Possibly true, but in an attempt to put balance into my thinking here, I’d like to think that whatever and whenever nostalgia or recollections unapologetically come to mind—whether good, bad or ugly—I can use them to better appreciate what being in the moment means.

The lyrics to Bill Callahan‘s song, Jim Cain, never fails to stir something in me. Jim Cain was an American novelist, an author often referred to as the archetype of “hard-boiled novels.” Three of Cain’s novels found its way to the screen, each receiving critical acclaim: Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

The eponymous song is haunting yet contains elements or conditions which feel relevant. I make no claim to be an expert on Mr. Cain’s life or his work, and yet every time I listen to this specific song, sensations of deja vu slip in. Mr. Callahan’s style, his sound is wholly unique [IMHO], and indeed that character of voice and music composition reinforces key feelings in my ephemeral journey of 4 minutes, 39 seconds .

Several verses strike a chord [pun intended], however three lines ping my empathetic sensors:

I started running, and things didn’t pan out as planned
In case things go poorly and I not return
Remember the good things I’ve done

The photos in this gallery reach back 4 decades to a time that will always mean much to my personal and professional journeys. I’m convinced that most of us are running—some more determined than others—hoping to optimize careers, relationships, and of course, one’s sense of self. And yet in spite of shortcomings that can toss us off the saddle, we get up, and with additional effort we manage to return to the point where we stumbled. We carry on as we must.

When I look at these photos in the company of the music and lyrics of the aformentioned song, I recall the people, events and lessons which remain relevant. I’m reminded that many things in life are good and that some of that good is actually a product of my own doing or in collaboration with someone else or those in a group. Why reflect on the banal, the unpleasant, the incorrigible, among other soul-dampening sentiments? Because without them, you achieve little balance to various positives that fate hands you. Indeed there are plenty of those ill-feelings to weigh down our resolve to do better, day in-day out. Think back to an event ,a person, a vicissitude if you will, that later proved to be a turning point which led you to where you are now, or perhaps pushes you to finish a journey still in progress.

There are some years that snap and engage your entirety as a person, because it clarifies statements such as, “yup, been there, done that” to any number of realizations, each based on a chance or intention: “Yeah…that was stupid…and I’m not doing that again!” Over the years, we hear reprimands from parents, teachers and coaches, even our peers, which we in turn offer to our own children. I’d like to think that most reprimands are lessons filled with hope and expectation. We hope our young charges “get the message.”

To open archives of a time long ago produces a reawakening of feeling, dissonant and concordant. It all depends on context. My cohorts line up alongside nostalgia, in ways that yes, brings up yearning but also that understanding of, “I don’t think I would’ve made it this far if it weren’t for _________.” That blank line between “for” and the “.” has possibilities. For me, the ones I’ve chosen were life-changing. The elements of personalities, a moment in time–and especially at a specific point–are sealed. They are irrevocable and part of me.

Clearly on many levels, I am a better person because of such experiences. Throughout life, we move forward and as people and events become things of the past, of things which somehow shaped you, regardless of where you are and with plans you’ve made, you certainly have done good things worth remembering.

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