Once upon a time, this blog was going to be all about my pet bird, when I got one. But I never did get that bird. So, now this blog is about the beautiful, curious things that keep me in a near-constant state of happy distraction. Ironically, many people find these writings when they wonder what "peristerophobia" means. It's a fear of pigeons. I've made a bird blog after all.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Now it starts.
Branches are budding all over town here, and I am done with a batch of grading, which means that it's really a break. For real. Which means it's time to dance.
Tonight, right now, even though I am not finished with the work I could stay up to do, I am taking a stand on my own behalf, against the part of me that works under the impression that I might never be able to do enough or be enough, and I'm going to make a bowl of steamed milk in my red latte bowl and take it to bed with me. There is more to be done, for certain, but the most important thing to be done at this moment is that I draw back in and cultivate my little core of strength for the morning.
Every night, I have to make a decision about when I'm going to go to bed. Not since before high school have I had a regular bedtime or a fully settled bedtime routine. Normally my bedtime is set by my exhaustion. That is perhaps something I'd like to change, as I continue pioneering my new strategies for actively cultivating calm--not just when I'm done working, or when I'm feeling crisis-stricken, but all the time.
I don't have time for this, that's for damn sure, but somehow pioneering off into a new direction with the camera has helped take some pressure off of the week. Funny how creativity works.
It was sometime last fall that I first read about "through-the-viewfinder" photography, a weird DIY Rube Goldberg machine of a camera modification that basically ends up using a vintage twin lens reflex camera as a filter for a digital camera.
What one does is install the TLR at the base of a long, light-proof tube and then take a picture of the image visible in the TLR's viewfinder (which is at the top of the camera--in the image above, I have the camera lying on its back, and the image you see in the top lens is not unlike the image you'd see in the viewfinder if the camera were standing up and facing in the direction that the top of the camera is in now).
At their most stylish, TTV setups involve a lot of black cardboard and black tape and a carefully cut hole for the TLR lens. But lots of TTV practitioners who describe how they've done their work end up saying something akin to "I didn't have the patience for that shit; I'm using a cereal box wrapped in electrical tape!" I suspect that I will end up somewhere in between; I don't have time to mock up a box, and so for now I've just been using an old paper towel tube. Here's my impressionistic shot of one of my first attempts; it gives you a sense of the tube. I think that before I took this one, I hadn't even bothered to pull the rest of the paper towels off of the cardboard. I was that excited.
And then one crops out everything but the square of light, which then gets reworked as the image itself.
When I bounded out of bed this morning (and promptly decided to knock off the lattes for a day, because I clearly still had more caffeine in my bloodstream than was ideal), I decided to try the new camera setup--sans cardboard altogether--to catch the sunlight that floods my bedroom window in the morning. If you click on either of tonight's window images, you'll see one of the things that makes this kind of photography appealing and strange: all the flaws and scratches and accumulated dust in the old Kodak at and through which I'm now shooting--not to mention the curvature of the viewfinder itself--gives a different kind of texture to the end result.
It's my everyday world made strange and new: just the way I like it. And it's a return to something like the raw-edged negative carrier I used in photography class two years ago; one of the tricks of TTV is that you end up with an image much more ostentatiously framed than usual.
You can check out Karen Walrond's project "The Ranch" for further examples of how and why I'm so excited to start playing with this technique. A good part of my spring break is going to go toward getting this baby kitted up for further experimentation.
And then when I'm really settled, I just may have to start experimenting with the wacky stuff people do to modify cameras like my new-old Duaflex so that they'll carry 35 mm film. If I get really daring, I may even roll some 620 in there and see what happens.
Heading out to class this morning, I grabbed my camera, which I haven't been using enough; the number of images you've seen lately that are views from my window-side home desks tell you as much as anything about where my priorities have been of late. I had about two extra minutes on the trip to school, but each quick stop repaid me. Just having stopped to see that cardinal blazing out its song would have been enough.
I'm venturing into a new photographic frontier, too, about which I'll say more tomorrow. But here's a first glimpse. I suspect that some of you will know right away what you're looking at... I don't quite have my tools together, but once I do, things are going to get fun. They may even get, as one of my students would say, epic.
I have a tiny collection of handleless cups, and today it grew by one tiny cup. I have developed an incredible fondness for Etsy. I suspect that part of my fondness grows from its being a virtual substitute for the walks I used to take through little galleries in Cambridge, and before that through my favorite artists' cooperative in Ithaca. Today, for the first time in awhile, I found myself wanting and needing to be away--just plain away. Looking back at last year, I see that it was on this exact Thursday that I let myself just disappear, skip out on what I was meant to be doing and take off for something without anyone else. It was also right about this time that I masterminded my trip to St. Ives. It may be time to mastermind something similar now, even if it's only something else virtual.
The handleless cup thing started with a person I think about a lot even though I barely remember him: a ceramics artist my parents knew when we first moved to Indiana. He lived in the next town down the highway, the county seat, in the kind of strange vaguely run-down nineteenth-century townhome that made up that town. I could probably still take you right to its door, or to where its door once was. As far as I can figure, that ceramics artist--whom I thought of as a potter--had taken up residence in that little town because it was a good stopping place while he got ready for what he was really going to do. And we were great beneficiaries--my parents, because they had someone to talk to, another craftsperson who was from somewhere else and probably wasn't going to fit in in that weird place; and I because, though I was often bored and restless when we paid visits, I've somehow ended up with many of the pieces my parents bought from him over the years: the big bowls, the strange teapot, and the organically lopsided green and white yunomi.
It was in St. Ives, prowling around the artists' studios and the galleries and shops, that I learned they're called yunomi. I'd always just thought of that mug as my handleless teacup, the one with the improbably narrow ring as its base, the one that requires artfulness and real care in drinking.
Several weeks ago, I finally brought myself to order a yoga mat and a balance ball so that I would have good tools for exercising in my own home. Last weekend, I took the further step of starting to attend yoga classes at our massive athletic center. Not very long after my first class began, I was already sweating and exerting myself more deeply than I have for a long time, in a way that I am quickly coming to love.
I've resumed exercising, after a long time away from it, because I think I see myself starting to loosen down into my age, and I don't much like it. Slowly, it's been dawning on me that I've been making the creeping non-choice just to start letting go, and it's way too early for that. Yoga on campus is a funny place to make one's peace with age, though: most people in the classes I attend are a good fifteen years younger than I am--and fifteen years thinner and more flexible. But when my teacher made a comment today about how some of us had more years on us than others, I took her comment for the truth it was. And that's the beauty of this teacher and this practice: both are about owning up to what I actually am, rather than what I might wish I were. I have been dispersing myself a lot since coming home last summer--if the process of dispersal didn't begin much longer ago--and I feel as though now it's time to gather back what's gone out.
Those of you who have been reading may remember that three years ago--can you believe it?--at about this time, I was making cryptic comments about how something big was coming, and just you wait, something big is going to happen. I was right: it is. But it's different than what I expected. Then, I expected that if I just kept building up and building up, suddenly I'd become this fount of creative production. Books would get written. Fame might be had. And those expectations meant that I felt as though I was letting everything down when I stayed in the building up and building up stage--as though I were my own false prophet.
This semester, I might be realizing that the big thing that was coming was, in fact, simply my life, and a reconception of my real life not as a big upcoming performance for which I'm always practicing but instead as a practice, plain and simple. I'm not going to perfect it--and even to type those words tonight feels slightly shocking to me.
One mini-revelation came to me right after I literally fell out of a pose during yoga class on Monday. The student who was meant to teach us didn't show up (!) and so another student took her place. Partly because his own practice is far more advanced than mine, it was more difficult for me to follow him (very much a novice teacher) than our regular teacher. At some point, we flowed into a familiar pose by way of an unfamiliar path, and before I knew it, I was starting to topple, collapsing to the floor like the purple cat toy I loved as a child: push the button underneath the black plastic base on which she stood, and her limbs and body bent and crumpled over. But rather than feel embarrassed or self-deprecating, I untoppled myself and tried the pose again. I hadn't hurt myself going down, probably because the whole point of these classes is to attain a state of effortless action, movement that follows from loosening and extension rather than from strain--and so, though I was working hard, I was also completely loose.
All week, I thought about that fall. I thought about it when I just wasn't getting around to posting here for much of the week. I thought about it when I didn't get to practice the piano as much before my Thursday lesson as I wanted to, and then when I wasn't able to be as focused at that lesson as I'd like, simply because it follows hard on the heels of my office hours. I thought of it when I missed a poetry reading I wanted to attend, simply because I couldn't see a way to lever it into the evening without pushing myself perilously close to sleeplessness before an early morning obligation. Every day, I get up and lunge forward and reach and look toward where I'm reaching, and I do my best to be open and to stretch myself as far as I can, and sometimes I overreach and fall down. Everything seems to be going at least a bit more easily as I'm adjusting to this idea of experiencing the falls as part of my real life, not as obstacles on the way to my real life.
After my mother's knee surgery was over on Thursday afternoon, my father pulled the car around to the front of the doctor's office, driving it up over the curb so that she wouldn't have to step down. "We've never seen a husband do that before," said the nurses.
Then they asked my mother, "Do you have any special plans for Valentine's day?"
"With a husband like this," she said --
On the phone, I cut her off. "You said, 'With a husband like this, every day is Valentine's day,' right?" We were talking on the phone while my father picked up her Vicodin at the pharmacy and their pizza at the Pizza Hut next to the pharmacy. Though she'd only been out of surgery for a little while, she was completely lucid and not at all nauseous, the beneficiary of apparently highly advanced anesthetic technology.
And what's funny is that I know so many perfect things that she could have said to those nurses, and that she has said over the years, that I can't even remember what she told me she did say. In my imagining, she told them that in her love, every day is special; every day is Valentine's day; and she and my father celebrate being each other's Valentine every time they see each other.
I told one of my classes some version of this story on Friday and said, "May you all have such love in your lives." I'll say the same to all of you tonight, too. May we all.
[A third day away, whereupon not posting starts to feel like negligence.]
High winds ripped through my part of the world the other day, carrying away our glorious mid-February heat surprise and also doing things like taking the dragon down. Hurtling him, even.
By the end of today, and the end of this week, I am feeling vaguely blissed out and tired--but in an excellent way, perhaps because of my continued efforts to exert myself in centering activities, about which more tomorrow.
Here is a moon for my friends who can't sleep and for my friends who are lonely and for my friends and loved ones who are sad or worried or grieving. Tonight my whole world is noisy and misty with snow-melt, but the night of that moon, all was clear and quiet and still.
Though we had already sweated through an intense yoga workout this afternoon, when my flaming-sworded friend and her excellent husband invited me to join them on a sunset/moonrise hike at the environmental center, I did not say no. And I'm glad I didn't: I realized that I've never seen the prairie in the snow before, because two years ago we didn't have much in the way of snow (and when we had it, I didn't venture down there). Today's outing gave us prairie snow, foot-slipping iced snow up wooded hills, and then a view of our whole world with a moon on top. If I had to call it right now, I'd guess that I'll still be able to walk tomorrow. But we'll see about that.
The end of the week would seem to have thrown me for yet another loop, but I'm continuing to try to continue to try to do my best not to lose the thread altogether. I find myself wondering what Freud would do with my fingers' just having put "lose the threat" down, seemingly of their own volition.
On Saturday, after I stretched myself from head to finger to toe, after I photographed the ice outside, after I read some things and watched some things, after my brain had ratcheted down from the week, I picked the three greeny-blue ones out of my carton of organic eggs and I broke them together with some water and whisked them up and cooked them into a cheesy omelette, forgetting for a moment that a year ago I had no idea how to do this very thing.
Too often lately I'm feeling as though the best I can do is keep my head in the neighborhood of above water. The good news is that most things are less emotionally fraught than perhaps ever before in my life, as I finally accept some of the things that people tell me about myself and where I fit in the world. (I did not tell you that a few weeks ago, I faced the question of what word I wanted to have guiding this year. You may recall that last year, I decided that 2008 would be the year of writing--and lo and behold, it did go in that direction in a couple of surprising ways, as witness the article whose proofs I returned yesterday, and the project from which that article comes. But when I confronted this year's question, I was startled by how quickly "power" surfaced as what I wanted this year's word/whatever to be. As in: what if I actually dared to step up and take full hold of the power that I know I have? We'll see where that goes. It's such a different idea than "control" or "strength"--the former of which I gave up even wanting, years ago; the latter of which I already hold firm in the look of my eye and the pit of the small of my back and the spread of my toes. And I know that part of the reason I want to feel out this idea of power this year is that the fall will see me up for tenure, and I can already feel transitions taking place that are making me ever more aware of the ways in which I could just donate my life away if I'm not careful and deliberate.)
That paragraph? That's how it is these days: on the surface, I get my things done, I eat my meals, I walk to my office, I teach my classes with as much depth and gusto as I can put into them, I go on to my meetings, I walk my way back home. But underneath and around, lots of parentheticals await my fuller attention, lots more even than what's here tonight.
While I cooked up those eggs, you would not have believed the way the world was shining.
Tonight might be the last night when I'll only be able to give you an image with little or no caption: I've just mailed back the corrections to the proofs of that article I began working on almost exactly a year ago, and if the journal accepts the changes, it's possible that that sucker will be in print in a month's time. And that is good news indeed--for more reasons than I have time to talk about here, especially given that there's still all manner of class preparation to do for tomorrow.
Annie Dillard could have been writing about me when she said (of herself), "I like the slants of light; I'm a collector." Or Willem de Kooning: "I'm like a slipping glimpser." And don't forget Brenda Ueland: "I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another." But the Beastie Boys might have said it best: "When it comes to panache, I can't be beat." There's a reason I wear a ring that says Badass.