Tree Pose

bc trees

I’ve mentioned my grandmother before. She was an  outdoorsy young person, even though she grew up poor on the Lower East Side. Dealing with life, I think she found her comfort in Nature.  In the pictures I have of her as a young woman, she’s wearing a bathing suit with stockings, or hiking shorts and hat atop a mountain.

A story I consider central to my life is the one she often told of the friend who said to her dismissively, “You see one tree, you’ve seen them all.” And that, Gram would always finish, was the Saddest Thing she had ever heard anybody say. I have a passion  the sight of trees, in all seasons. Because I’ve just never known otherwise; I’m fortunate in that way.

So this week I was listening to the On Being interview with artist Maira Kalman. She and host Krista Tippett had this exchange:

Ms. Tippett: Here’s another line of yours I love: “We see trees. What more do we need?”

Ms. Kalman: That’s really true….And so walking and looking at trees really is one of the glories of the world, and we say, “Rejoice,” when we see these things.

Well, yeah.

But a Buddhist teacher I once read explained that we don’t actually look at a tree. We look at ourselves looking at a tree. I bristled at that statement because, hell, I knew how to Look at Trees. But when I really got that he was right, experienced that as true, and my ego died one more death, I learned a lot.

I take many pictures of trees, even though they are surely still pictures of my own Looking: my sense of, and Need for, the world’s Creativity. That is OK. Trees are patient, and waiting, and I’m taking one human step at a time with the intention to see them.

My image is from Dec 24, 2018, on Boston Common.

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“Hope is the thing with feathers”

birds

The Cambridge English Dictionary online defines a metaphor as “an expression that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to possess similar characteristics.”

A metaphor points at a connection perceived, one that, for someone, suddenly arose from the interconnectedness of Everything. The path of one raindrop down a pane of glass deserves noticing; there’s a limitless number out there, but this one is right here and now.

I read a metaphor I’d like to share here at the end of 2018. It’s by Buddhist teacher and leader Pema Chodron, from the book Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, compiled and edited by Emily Hilburn Sell, published in 2003 by Shambhala.

Another image for maitri [loving-kindness] is that of a mother bird who protects and cares for her young… People sometimes ask, “Who am I in this image—the mother or the chick?” The answer is we’re both: both the loving mother and those ugly little chicks. It’s easy to identify with the babies—blind, raw, and desperate for attention. We are a poignant mixture of something that isn’t all that beautiful and yet is dearly loved. Whether this is our attitude toward ourselves or toward others, it is the key to learning how to love. We stay with ourselves and others when we’re screaming for food and have no feathers and also when we are more grown up and appealing by worldly standards.

Wishing Us Loving-kindness and Steadfastness, to and from each other. Wishing Us Well-Being, Freedom, Peace, and Creativity in 2019. Thank you.

 

 

 

Start to Finish

misers

I’d like to post today about two things that happen this time of year. One is what I will call The Rankin Bass Conversations, or People on social media and elsewhere enthusiastically discussing mutant reindeer, earnest v. snotty elves, and Gigantic yo-yos and such. (For the Record: Abominable Snowman, thumbs down. Winter Warlock, thumbs up. Winter is The Man.)

The holiday season abounds with Creativity. Herbie’s cosmetic dentistry, Schroeder rocking the house via Vince Guaraldi, a corncob pipe and a button nose. Boston looks beautiful, and did you know every snowflake is unique. Especially Me. And the weather, remember, is Created by the two bitchy sons of Mother Nature, Cold Miser and Heat Miser, who resemble a blue 1960s TV actor and an orange troll doll. But those songs do Rule. You know they do.

The second thing that happens is the end of another semester barreling down on students and professors, itself like a force of nature. And this situation sometimes requires using Creativity to be silly and have some fun, as you float somewhere between This Pile of Papers and That Pile of Papers. And the Island of Misfit Papers…no, ok, sorry.

So I’m borrowing the bratty brothers to create two more opposite, difficult Siblings, called Beginning of Semester and End of Semester, or BEG and END for short. Imagine something jazzy playing.

BEG: Should I accessorize my Look for class today with layered necklaces or a scarf?

END: Clean is the New Black. (Thanks, Leah W of UNH, for this.)

 

BEG: Now that I’ve Prepped for class tomorrow, let me just get the dishes done and everything tidied up.

END: There’s one mug left for Coffee in the morning. OK, yay.

 

BEG: Done grading for the day? Prop up the pillows and read!

END: Done grading for the day? Punch down the pillows and drool.

 

BEG: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of a goodhearted professor character who will brilliantly help the Oxford police pair solve a complex mystery on the British detective show.

END: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of any character trying to survive in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

BEG: Well, good morning! How nice to see you again by the staff lounge coffee urns! How are you? Yes! I know! You also have a great day!

END: You’re blocking the spigot. Move aside. Move. Aside.

 

BEG: A free weekend day with no grading? Make plans. Take a nice little walk. Read a new book.

END: Sudden shocking abundance of free time after submitting course grades? Curl up to read YA fiction you have long since memorized. Decide Harriet the Spy should be APPRECIATED as a Writer rather than MISUNDERSTOOD by a thick-headed world. Sniffle a little. Take multiple obsessive walks. Buy used books you’re too weary to read. Have anxiety. Sniffle a little more. Consume only popcorn and white wine. Stare at things.

 

I BEG your pardon for this. The END.

Nose to Wall

 

Photographer Minor White told his students, including John Daido Loori who records the instructions in The Zen of Creativity, to “Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you.”

I was actually waiting for the bus.  Behind the stop stretches a tall brick wall coated with ivy, Van Gogh-palette-knife-thick. All summer it spread and shone, and waggled in the street wind like nodding fox heads. I enjoy photographing the same places at different times, so waiting by the wall presented an opportunity.

I kept taking pictures of the Ivy Wall. I kept deleting pictures of the Ivy Wall. I really didn’t like the Ivy Wall. First, brick orange is not my favorite color, and the ivy was mostly a shade of green I would never want with it. Sorry, 1970s, no offense. From a distance, wide swathes of an unattractive color combination. Closer, the large, reptilian leaves that often looked Monstrous later.

It became a frustrating challenge. It didn’t matter, of course: I’m not any type of photographer except for pleasure, and to remember impressions I might want to write about. I thought about White’s advice sometimes, and hoped that if I kept trying, it might happen. I was not being quite Nobly Creative, but I was being stuck there with bags of groceries.

These cold days, the ivy is gone, and still, brown veins thread and tangle along the wall. But I love the forms of things in minimal winter, and I went over. And things kept pulling my eyes closer and closer. It felt as if the photos had just been waiting underneath all summer. How wonderful to see moss in the mortar, tiny oval yellow leaves that wind had tucked behind the vines, and the weary fruit and plant bits left behind.

I like details, forms, and shadows, things that feel like “moments” of space or color. I have no real idea how to take pictures. These photos record enjoying the Looking, and experiencing that, Hey, my subject did Find me at last. That’s a Creative lesson worth considering.

What I want to say about it is best summed up by John Daido Loori:

 I headed back to the school, for an appointment I had with Minor to discuss my work…

He looked at me and said, “You had a good day, didn’t you?” I smiled, and he smiled, too.

“What would you like to talk about?” he asked.

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t have anything to say.”

“Good,” he replied. “Then let’s just sit here together.”