It started with an Omelette

Spinach and Feta Omelette

This was so beautiful that I actually couldn’t continue eating it without shooting a handful of photos beforehand. And yes, it tasted as good as it looked. Rarely do I go to the trouble of making an omelette.  My family knows that my stand-by, quick and easy meal, often eaten half-sitting, half-standing, and usually before I run out the door somewhere, is some mixture of leftover brown rice, leftover greens, eggs, and cheese. It looks like a big messy pile. It has passed as both lunch and dinner on many occasions. I actually can’t eat eggs for breakfast. I make exceptions to that rule when breakfast comes at noon, after going for a long walk with Cody and Sherlock. Today my mouth was already watering as I attempted to fold the barely browned, still soft egg over freshly cooked spinach and real sheep’s milk feta from bulgaria. There were little bubbles of olive oil sizzling at the edges, and I was so hungry that I almost didn’t run and get my camera. Then Gillian and I played with the light hitting the plate on the kitchen table for a moment, deciding which angle flattered the brilliant green, bright white, and golden yellow best. She’s allergic to eggs and has never eaten one. She thinks feta is gross, and doesn’t like spinach, yet she was captivated by how pretty the omelette looked. Maybe I should be a food photographer after all…

I was actually fortifying myself to go on a shoot this afternoon. I felt like I needed good solid food. Fortunately, I was going with another photographer because I was really nervous. I was going to shoot for Soulumination, an organization started by a local photographer who I’ve known for a long time.  The organization provides photographs for families with children facing life-threatening illnesses. Most of the photographers have businesses where they do a lot of portrait work and are used to working with families. When Lynette asked me if I would consider shooting for her organization, my first reaction was that I don’t do that kind of photography… I really didn’t even have the confidence to say that I could do that kind of work. Within a couple of days of that conversation, I discovered that I needed to prepare myself to say good-bye to my closest long-term friend. I wanted to be with her and couldn’t. I looked back through my old pictures from years gone by, and wished that I could shoot some more photos of her. I was deeply immersed in thinking about her and her family and already missing her. Later that week another friend reminded me about the conversation that I had had with Lynette. It had completely slipped my mind. I realized then that I was being asked to do something to which I could not say no. Lynette had asked me to step up, and it was only my insecurity that was holding me back. I know that I can do the portraits, I did a whole bunch of senior pictures of my daughter’s friends last spring. It was just such a scary idea to face the possibility of stepping into a family where the photographs I was about to shoot might be the last ones taken of a child. What if I screwed it up?  So today I was grateful to be the second photographer on a shoot for Soulumination. I know I will be nervous again when the time comes for me to go by myself, but at least I have done it once now and I know at least a little bit about what it could be like.

I said yes to Lynette because I had too. The timing made it very clear that I was actually being called to do something out of my comfort zone. Behind that yes was something that I reflected on again this afternoon driving home. Life is a fragile thing. I have three very healthy children. Theirs is a life full of the beauty and vitality of youth. This is the life we like to celebrate in our culture. The young, the strong and the beautiful… we all aspire to this, and have a hard time accepting that our bodies age and change, that some bodies aren’t whole and strong, that sometimes our bodies fail us. I have come to believe, and this blog is a part of that journey, that every moment in life has value and is worth celebrating. To photograph people in old age, illness, or physical decrepitude of any kind does for them what this blog is intended to do, to place value, to honor, and to mark that moment as equally valuable to the journey of being human as are the moments we more typically celebrate.

Redefining Revolutionary

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I find myself going off in directions I hadn’t anticipated. One of the great things about this blog is that I get to put these ideas somewhere. I do the same thing with them that I do with the moments I photograph. By recording the twists and turns of my thoughts, I give them substance and value. I get to work out my ideas on “paper”, instead of bending my kids ears or emailing back and forth with friends while ironing out my thoughts on a certain topic.  I did that this morning, but rather than wear out my friendships, I thought I’d move that conversation over to this forum.

I read the following article this morning: Never Underestimate the Power of Your Camera. The author begins with the statement, “Every time you pick up your camera, you have the potential to perform a revolutionary act”. I was hooked. I’m not sure that the author thinks of revolutionary in the same vein as I do, but I stand firmly with him. I would even go further and say that every time I do anything, I have the potential to perform a revolutionary act – to actually live in a revolutionary way every moment of every day. I don’t believe that we live in a culture that supports living radically. We live in a culture that idolizes and idealizes the rugged individual, but in which it is a fearsome thing to challenge and change the status quo. Ok, now I don’t want to sound preachy, so what does that look like in my world?  Can I be a revolutionary stay-at-home mom, moonlighting as a photographer/writer, and make it in this world? I like to think so. Can I be 48 years old, just stepping out of 20 years of child-rearing and housework into the big bad world, with my camera and pen in hand, and expect not to get laughed off the streets? Does anyone want to know what my vision is? Does anyone want to hear my voice? Those are serious, and scary questions. Yes, is a revolutionary answer. I want to point that camera lens back into my life and share its value, but not idealize it and make it look like something that its not. I also want to point it out at the world from inside that experience. My journey through parenting and caring for my family has shaped my vision and my voice, and I like to think that by sharing what I see and think, I create a connection with people who may think or see things along the same lines as I do but either haven’t had the support, energy or courage to share it and believe that it is of value. I believe that each one of us has a unique perspective and each perspective is valuable. I like what I read in the above article, which is challenging and controversial in that it demands of photography that it be an “act of defiance against banality and conformity”. I like to think that each day that I wake up determined to choose my own path, rather than an easy one that was laid out for me by someone else, is an act of defiance. From talking to other women in my peer group, I know that its not unusual for stay-at-home moms to feel that their voices aren’t heard, and that they don’t have a lot of value. This creates a kinship, like I was thinking and writing about yesterday, with other groups who feel marginalized. In the last several years, as the demands of my family have started to diminish, I’ve had the opportunity to be among certain groups with my camera where this feeling of marginalization is also familiar. No one is ever going to pick me out in a group as a marginalized person, but I can relate to that experience as a stay-at-home mom. Writing these words, I cringe, and I almost don’t want anyone to read them, because who would ever say that an educated, white, upper middle class woman in a city in the USA is marginalized. But, I’m being radical,  and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that in my experience, for most of the last 20 years, I felt more powerless than empowered. That’s changing, but only through the revolutionary act of laying claim to my vision and my voice.

All that said, its a radical notion to think that I can launch myself from this place, and make a difference in the world by sharing my vision and my voice. But I think I can, so every day when I pick up my camera, I try to see the world with clear eyes, unencumbered by fear and uncertainty. Maybe its only by catching the glow of sunlight as it makes a halo of a child’s hair, but paying attention to that detail, noting it, and sharing it makes it special, and that is radical. If you read the above article, you may scratch your head and wonder why I would choose it to share here. I am not sure that the author would think my photographs revolutionary, but when I pull my camera out of my pack, I do so with the intention of performing a revolutionary act. I took my camera to my son’s soccer game on this cold rainy Saturday morning.  I knew it would be easier to not try to shoot any photos, to leave it at home. Did anyone really care if I shot those photos? But I recognized that kind of thought. Its a challenge to banish it. So I grabbed a cup of coffee and a plastic bag to protect my lens, and drove to the field. After half-time, with the score 0-0, I decided to walk behind the goal and shoot through the net, thinking that that might create an interesting effect. I never watch soccer games from that angle, and standing behind the keeper gives a very different perspective.  The game ended with a 1-0 victory. I was back there and caught this through the net when the shot went in.

The Winning Shot

Reflections on Connections

Editing swimming shots for the college swim team website

It was that kind of day. I spent a chunk of it glued to this screen, along with running up and down the stairs to the laundry room to wash sheets, to the kitchen to make food for a kid and do dishes, and to the car to deliver kids to school and ski stuff to kids, all between tasks at my desk.

Photography today requires a lot of time in front of a computer. That’s probably the area in which I find the biggest challenges. There’s the part where I’m out there in the world, interacting and acting… the physical, more obviously creative part, and then there’s this other part, the sitting part. Some photographers love it, and are amazingly skilled in what they can do with photographic images. I can’t say I dislike it, its just more challenging for me to sit still, and I consider myself a baby in the technology part. For people my age, its a new skill, but some are more technologically savvy than others. All of my younger years were film years, and then there was the hiatus when the kids were little, and I only shot film even though digital was fast becoming the coolest new thing. I couldn’t stand it, so I think I only shot on special occasions or vacations. There were no digital slr’s, and it drove me crazy that the image you thought you were capturing was not the image that you got. So what do you photograph on a day when you are basically parked in front of a computer? Me, parked. I considered, for a moment, driving over to my friend’s house and photographing her. She was sharpening pencils and cleaning out the drawer they live in. She filled half the garbage can with felt tip pens that no longer worked. Instead we decided to make a break for it when neither of us would be missed and met for dinner – without my camera. I considered bringing it when I went to pick up four 13 year-olds at the ski bus drop off, but I couldn’t figure out how to shoot at the same time as carry two pairs of skis and a pair of boots. Another opportunity missed. So instead, its me, glued to the screen, editing swimming shots from last weekend. The coach was anxious to get them. I realized why when I looked at the Athletic portion of the school web site and realized that “Swimming and Diving” was the only sport without a photo gallery link.

I came across the following quote this morning on Phil Borges facebook page:

Women work 2/3 of the worlds working hours. Most labor that sustains life is done by women and universally accorded low status and no pay. ~ Phil Borges

I find it interesting that at this moment in time there is a great deal of attention being paid to the exploitation of women and girls in the developing world. It is amazing to see the progress being made all over the world in awareness about this subject. Personally, I think it is through this new awareness, that women and girls all over the world will come to see their own value and the value in the role of the stay-at-home mom of the developed world. Because, and this is my personal opinion, on a fundamental level, we are doing the same thing. We are tending the hearth and caring for the children. I think that women in the developed world are playing a key part in raising awareness about the plight of women and girls in the developing world because they feel the kinship between them. Because of the way that communications are in the world today, we see the faces and life circumstances of these women. In my comfortable home in Seattle, I know that the biggest difference between a woman who walks miles every day to have enough water for her children and me is circumstances. This awareness make me grateful, but in some way, it allows me to see more clearly that what I do is valuable and that even though no one is going to pay me a penny to do it, it is the most important work. It is the work of sustaining life and the more I am able to value who I am and what I do in the world, the better I am able to support and authentically champion the cause of the exploited and impoverished women and children in other parts of the world. In a nutshell, the more empowered I am as a woman and in the role I have chosen, the more power I have to help empower others.

Affirming All of It

A photograph from my documentary project "Growing Hope in the Urban Center" appears in this exhibition

The above invitation is for an exhibition in New York. If anyone is reading this blog who has family or friends there, its an open invitation.  Please feel free to tell others or forward it. Note the reception on Feb. 23rd.

Yesterday morning in a writing workshop, I mentioned my blog. Someone asked me why I write this blog. Its a challenging question. I know I’ve addressed it already in some of these entries, because I’ve asked it of myself, but I’ve never had to answer the question coming from another person. Today, someone commented that my focus here is struggle, and that brought yesterday’s question back around again to the forefront of my consciousness. I feel the need to take a step back now and check my tone. The last thing I want to do is carry on about the struggles in my life. This is intended as an exploration and a celebration. I want to write and make pictures from inside my life, as a celebration of all that it brings me. And yes, from time to time that includes struggle… But I do believe that the struggles I encounter on this journey enrich it. They are sometimes bigger than is comfortable, but that stretches me, and I grow. I have always said that my children have been my greatest teachers, and I know that to be true. I have grown and matured as a human being because I have paid attention to their teachings, whether they were comfortable or not. And who chooses discomfort? So yes, sometimes the teachings I receive in the role of stay-at-home mom are a struggle to embrace. But, it is a job that entails amazing rewards. I think high rewards often come with big price tags. I would happily go through the struggles again for the rewards that I have received as a stay-at-home mom. So, why do I write this? Not as an apology for being a stay-at-home mom, but as an exploration. I struggle less now than when my family and I were younger and there no longer seemed to be any me. Now I struggle with trying to find enough hours in the day to be two of me… to make up for all those years when the only me was attached to at least one other, both physically and certainly psychically. I am trying to learn to roll with it, and not to struggle. To allow the new life to unfold, as the one that was full of everything from diapers, to birthday parties, to teaching kids to drive, and finally taking a child to college, starts to fold. I don’t always do it with grace. Sometimes I get terribly anxious that they will all grow up, and I will not have done anything well enough or long enough that I can jump into it, even though I want to with every ounce of my being. I think that maybe I will be too old to be a photographer/writer because it will have taken me so long to hone those skills part time, that by the time I’m good enough to make it, it will be too late.  I do not think I am alone in thinking these kinds of thoughts. I am sure there are women out there who share the same fears. Does that mean that I appreciate my children less? Does that mean I want to be less involved with their lives. No. It just means that dinner is late again, the laundry isn’t done, and I forgot to sign another permission slip. That’s why I write this blog. I also write it for myself. I tread a fine line daily when I look at the WordPress statistics to see if anyone else has read it. Then I ask myself again, “Would you still write it if it said zero?” The answer is yes, because in writing, I affirm this life. I affirm everything I do as valuable and in its own way, beautiful. I go to bed overtired sometimes because I’ve stayed up too late, but I don’t regret those nights even now, as I am paying the price… yes, struggling a bit, to get healthy again. I write this blog for myself and for anyone else, stay-at-home mom or not, who has wondered about the value of what they do, and who they are, because I am sure that I am not alone and I affirm not only my fears, concerns and my choices, but theirs as well. All of these things make up the fabric of my life and it is worth affirming.

At this point, I would actually have to say that, on a day to day basis, my biggest challenge is how to find more hours to do everything I want to do. I have plenty of memories of days when by 10pm I could count on one hand all of the things that I had accomplished that day and most of them would have to be redone the next. Now its different. I get to choose what I do with most of the hours in my day. I flash back to the old days when a child was home sick. It used to be that when the call came from school, I wrote off the rest of the day. Today, both my daughters were not feeling well, and I picked one up at school before lunch. I talked to the other via phone and offered advice. I brought Gillian home, made her some food and she disappeared. I got back to editing photographs and returning email. It felt nice to have her in the house.

Later, I took the dogs and went to the bank. Some days, they need more tending than the kids.

Cody Making a Withdrawal

Sherlock is being punished for pooping on the dining room floor a while back if you missed that post.  He still has to wait to appear here.

Nothing Grey About a Foggy Day

Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” is a treasure.  This morning, after writing a page or so in my journal, my morning pages, I decided to break my rule that the first thing I write every day is unstructured “brain dump”. I find it valuable to get all the junk out and plop it on the page in front of me to sort through, and see if there’s anything worthwhile, before turning the page and forgetting what was on it forever. This morning, however, I turned the page without looking through the drivel my mind was ejecting. I had my sights set on one of Natalie Goldberg’s exercises. She suggests, very simply, answering the question: “Why do I write?” Five pages later, I was getting writer’s cramp.  I’m sure I wrote for 30-40 minutes without stopping to think once.  Maybe I shook my hand out a few times.  I wrote about the colors of ink, and the shapes the letters make on the page, as well as the crazy ideas that finally get some playing time, and the profound thoughts that will not leave me in peace until they are carefully worded and placed gently on the blank page in front of me. I stood up from the table, looked around, and realized how much I needed to do in order to get just a little bit caught up from the last week. In retrospect, aside from everything else I wrote on those four or five pages, that’s why I write.  Because when I really sink into it, writing transports me to another place, no matter where I am sitting. I zip from point A to point B unimpeded by time and space.  There are no deadlines, no dishes and no dogs that need feeding. I can be anyone I want and any age that suits me.  In one sentence I am 10 and in the next 35. I go from memories to imagined futures and back again within a few sentences.

Now I’m getting carried away again. That’s not what I sat down here to write!  I actually can’t let myself get carried away because I have to enforce the bedtime rule tonight.

After a crazy busy last week, I decided I would stay in my pj’s until I took the dogs for a walk this afternoon, so I finally got dressed about 2.  There was a thick fog this morning that kept the house shrouded most of that time, finally breaking as I got organized to go out with leashes, dogs, camera and a bag for some groceries.  I had yet to find anything that I wanted to photograph, and was wondering what, on this monochrome day, would catch my eye. I shot some very ordinary pretty scenes, with my original idea of honoring the mundane in mind, but nothing that truly inspired me – nothing that “made my heart beat faster”.  Later, as the pale grey sun was setting, I set up my tripod on the upper back deck and tried a light-painting exercise with some weird paper mache birds as my subjects.  I’m not sure whether the results fall into the category of nightmarish or just ridiculous.  When I removed the birds from the scene, the background sang all by itself, and I have to post this photograph because I loved it. Something about the moon shining like the sun…

Moonshine on Mercer Island

While I was up on the porch playing with mythological paper mache birds and a headlamp, there was a ruckus going on downstairs that I could hear, but I wasn’t paying any attention.  It was happy noise, and moms learn to put happy noise on the far shelf of their minds early on, because it means they aren’t needed to put out a fire at the moment.  Meanwhile, I was working at creating a photograph when there were dozens happening one floor down. (Ahem… note to self…)

The action was in the kitchen

and in the living room

There was a full measure of authentic, joyful living going on right under my feet, all I had to do was walk downstairs and into the middle of it. All in all, there’s nothing grey about any of these images.  They are bursting with life.  And though I don’t always recognize it, there’s nothing grey about my life… its bursting with life.

Patting Myself on the Back

Volleyball season is on the horizon

True confessions:  I posted this at 11:59pm.  It was an incomplete post and now I’m editing it just after midnight, so I have to be quick if I want keep the promises I’ve made to myself…

After getting off a plane at 7:30 Sunday evening and being in class all day yesterday, followed by a day that began before 7 today, and ended when I arrived home just a bit ago at 10:45, I’m ready for a break in the pace. I’m also exhilarated because I feel like I’ve made enormous progress.  Getting through today gracefully was the biggest coup. It could have been a stressful day that left me feeling frazzled, but I knew it was coming and called in resources that I’ve learned to trust and allowed it to unfold.  I didn’t quite make it everywhere I needed to be on time, but I got there with everything I needed to do done and felt peaceful about it.  The dogs didn’t get their usual long walk, but I managed to take them on 3 short walks and they thought that was pretty sweet. All day, I wore my favorite ripped jeans, old clogs and a sweatshirt. That felt just right too. I arrived at today, just as I was, feeling comfortable in my ragged and not quite put together state.  I even managed to appreciate my children and spend a little bit of time with both of them (the two in Seattle).  I’m not sure how that all happened, but I believe that it had to do with the fact that I didn’t ask more of myself than I could deliver.  I didn’t create an image for the day that was unattainable, and allowed it to show me how to go through it gracefully and peacefully.  I didn’t have much to bring to the equation after last week and the weekend, so I just brought my rather beat up self and allowed it to just be as it was. It worked…

The photographs I shot were an experiment with the late afternoon light. The girls were headed out to practice their volleyball skills, and as the sun dropped in the western sky, the light softened. This scene is truly one of those very ordinary scenes, a version of which can be witnessed in cities around the world on most any afternoon. The scenery changes. The clothing, skin and hair color vary. The type of ball differs, but the essence of the moment has the same resonance on every continent. I shot this scene from three different directions.  At this angle, its a photograph about the light. Two girls are hitting a volleyball back and forth on a city street, but I was seeing the way the light played off of the ball and outlining the shape of their bodies.  They started to glow.  The image shows a busy scene, but my eye goes straight to their faces and hands, and to the exchange taking place between them.

At the bottom of the photograph is my new watermark. I’m actually pretty proud of this for a couple of reasons. First, because I tend to be technologically challenged and push things like this to the bottom of the list indefinitely. Secondly, I’ve wanted to create one of these for a long time, as I’ve had photographs that were part of a project used without my knowledge or permission. I wanted it to be something fairly unobtrusive, because I don’t like the idea of my name being plastered across the images, but I want it to be visible enough so that if someone pulls them off the web without talking to me about it, the correct attribution and copyright information is on the photograph. It might be a little big on these small images, but its a good place to start and I like the look of it… One more reason to pat myself on the back…

A Sign in the Sky

Rainbow over Greenlake

So many ideas crowded my mind earlier today for what I was going to write tonight that I didn’t know which one to go with. That’s been decided though, because they’ve all vanished for the moment and I’ve committed to myself that I will no longer do that stay up and write thing.  I know I’ve said that before, but I’m going to write it again. If I look at it written in black and white in front of me, its hard to weasel my way out of.  So the following is the condensed version of what’s on the top of my brain or tip of my tongue:

I have an all day class once a month. After arriving home last night, getting kids off this morning, and running off to class, I may have used up the resources I had that would fuel a lot of in depth reflection on my weekend in California and my return home. What became clear over my three day visit with my daughter, is that we have arrived at a point in time where our relationship is being renegotiated. Its not necessarily a comfortable moment, and will require some adjusting for both of us. Visiting on her turf was an experiment that brought with it a whole set of unexpected challenges and growing pains. The new form our relationship will take has yet to be determined. I see now that the work we did over the past several years to keep the doors of communication open was not just for maintaining peace during the high school years.  That work laid the foundation for the adult-adult relationship that we ushered into being this weekend.

As I was walking during lunch today with a few classmates, this rainbow appeared. Rainbows never cease to make my heart leap. They carry so many hopeful messages and interpretations, all offering us promises of brighter days ahead. When I look at this photo now, of the rainbow veiled by winter branches, I see hope for spring.  I also see it as a metaphor for this new relationship.  The vestiges of the old are still there, forming a structure, but that structure is from the past. We can choose to step in front of the winter branches and create something new, no longer obscured by the old structure and its baggage. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t step in front of those branches today or I would have fallen in the lake. And truth is, I can’t even try to create that new form alone or I will surely fall – in a lake of trouble!