Lyon

As a 17 year old, I spent part of a school year homesick and lonely in Lyon, largely missing the city’s charms. Living with a French family who spoke no english and attending a local “lycée”, I was so far out of my comfort zone that I truly couldn’t appreciate it. I arrived just after Christmas to snow on the ground, which, in Seattle, is a rather rare treat. In Lyon however, the snow sat on the pavement of the sidewalks and streets getting filthy and smelly (think lots of dogs, few parks and lots of poop mixed with melting snow on the sidewalks). It was cold and gross and I had no one to talk to as I walked to and from school trying not to slip in the brown slush. With only two years of high school french under my belt, I sat through eight hours of philosophy a week, falling asleep in class nearly every day from the sheer exhaustion of trying to understand what was being said.

Returning to Lyon as an adult, I’m always surprised at how much it offers. For the last 20 years one of my Irish cousins and her husband have lived just outside the city, giving me reason to come back on several occasions. Usually, its been a stopover to meet her and her family to head off on some crazy adventure with our combined lot of six children. But this time, with the kids all well on their way to grown, I arrived to spend some time with her, her husband and sister. It had been over 10 years since I’d seen any of them, so we had a lot to catch up on. No grand adventures were planned, just being together.

Mornings usually found us long at the kitchen table munching croissants and drinking coffee regardless of the schemes concocted the night before. Whatever it was seemed to take on less urgency on the heels of yet another 2am bedtime. Some time after noon, we’d all of a sudden realize that the day was escaping and come up with an improvised plan based on how many hours remained until dinner. On one outing into town we checked out an area called “the docks” – previously warehouses along the river – which is being completely redone to house clubs, cutting edge furniture and interior design stores that cater to a hip, young, multi-cultural, international set.

An orange cube building initially caught my attention, but at further inspection, the buildings on either side matched the orange cube with their own innovative but less outrageously colorful elements.

We wandered through the medieval warren, “Vieux Lyon”, with its narrow alleys, covered walkways, and secret passages built to protect bolts of silk, (an industry for which Lyon was known up until some time in the 19th century). Theoretically, we were trying to decide where to eat dinner but got sidetracked by ice cream in a central plaza near the river, which gave us the opportunity to spend more time teasing each other, laughing and telling stories. But this is Lyon, and meals are serious business here, so after wandering and window shopping a little more, we retrieved warmer clothing to ward off the evening chill and launched ourselves into the evening’s next culinary adventure.

Some time since 1979, Lyon became home to a collective of artists who paint giant murals on the walls of the very ordinary urban residential buildings that line the banks of the Rhone and Saône rivers. Now, every other block sports a building or two painted with elaborate trompe l’oeil designs and enormous pictures of life in Lyon. I’d seen a few small, decrepit versions of these in the old part of town, but crossing the river, I looked up, stunned to see the playful, colorful paintings ornamenting the same buildings I had trudged by daily lamenting to myself the dreariness of this town where I’d landed.

After four days of hanging out with cousins, exploring the country lanes near their home as well as the contrasting newer and older parts of Lyon, I headed off on an early morning train to Italy, the second leg of my pilgrimage to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in too long.

Saying goodbye, we vowed to do this again sooner. It was a new way of being together for all of us. No major plans, no destinations, no need to entertain young children, just hanging out, talking, eating and being. As I’ve said, I’m still learning how to do this thing, and I can’t say that there weren’t moments when I looked at the clock and thought, “Are we going to do anything today?” without an accompanying feeling of anxiety that indeed, we might not! In retrospect, I look back and think how silly that thought was. The idea behind it is that “if I’m all the way over here in France, shouldn’t I be doing something?” And being all the way over here in Seattle, I look at that and think, “how ridiculous.” Those memories of watching the royal wedding at 1am after finishing dinner somewhere close to midnight, sitting at breakfast until after noon and grilling steaks in the back yard are the ones that will stick with me long after I’ve forgotten the images from the cool trompe l’oeil paintings.

Two Different Lenses

Friday Afternoon

After dragging my camera all over town with me today, it wasn’t until late this afternoon on my way home from a long list of errands that I found anything that inspired me. The warmth of real spring sunshine was distracting and I just wanted to wander aimlessly. I wasn’t really interested in finding the “great shot” for the blog.

After yesterday’s photographic excitement of the Aquarium with its coral and jellyfish, even the Arboretum, in the full glory of spring’s blossoming trees, wasn’t doing it. I love the Arboretum. Its a comfortable, familiar place. I loved walking through with my camera this afternoon, but its like being in the mountains, the photos never seem to quite capture the magnificence of the scene. Continue reading

St. Paddy’s Day

Camellia

Today’s title really has nothing to do with the writing, its just that I’m a good Irish girl and its St. Patrick’s day. I thought all along, while I was writing tonight, that something of that would show up, but it didn’t, so I’m taking the liberty of honoring my heritage in the title, with almost no reference to it beyond that point. I didn’t even photograph the lamb and potatoes I made for dinner. (My kids don’t like Corned Beef.)

Instead of coming home from taking my charming 13 year old to school this morning and sitting down with my morning pages, I sat down with my camera. 13 year old girls can be merciless at times, and I simply didn’t feel like rehashing the details of the morning and previous evening in words. Better just to let it slide away while slicing open flower buds and seed pods with a razor. Continue reading

Familiar and Unfamiliar

Warm and Sunny

Slowing down and allowing myself to feel the fatigue that I have resisted for a long time has side effects I wouldn’t have foreseen. Opening the door to disavowed feelings and sensations means opening a can of worms. I can’t just choose what I’m willing to feel that’s inside. The last couple of days I’ve run up against an uncomfortable and unwelcome feeling of discouragement. Continue reading

The Carrot

Waiting

Did I succeed in being in bed, lights out before 12? Yes. This reward thing could be the hot ticket for getting me to actually get more sleep and more rest.

Am I succeeding in feeling inspired tonight? No. But I did get to ski in a foot of new snow for the day. Continue reading

A Birthday

Washington Square Arch

It may not appear to be the case, but I have actually taken some photographs here during the day. The night ones are my favorites though. Its amazing because all three of them have been shot without a tripod. I’m not sure why I lugged that thing all the way from Seattle, but I suppose if the weather had been better and I were actually out on specific photographic missions, then I would bring it along. As it is, I’m kind of shooting when I’m not inside someplace warm and dry. Continue reading

Juice It!

Fresh Spring Greens at Juice It

So… how does this relate?

Actually, its the name of this place in the bottom of the Convention Center where I went with my brother for lunch. Brown rice, fresh raw veggies, yummy sauce… a perfect no-guilt way to fill up. We could have added some by finishing off our lunch with some fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies, which were part of the conversation, and might have, had the topic not taken a more serious turn. Continue reading

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

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.

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!