Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sink or Swim


The Road We Should Not Have Taken

The March day Brian and I learned the hard way not to go down an unknown road during mud season, we eventually arrived at a beautiful pond which provided the photo opportunity whose results you’ll see in this post. First, however, we foolishly committed the car to a challenge it neither desired nor required to prove itself as a true member of the small army of Subaru wagons enjoying the title of “Official Car of Vermont.”  Our brief but seemingly endless time lurching through deep ruts of thick muck proved not only the car’s mettle, but that of its occupants. It was one of those sink-or-swim situations, only this time the metaphor was a little too literal. 

 Broken and Unbroken

Memorial Day weekend at the end of May in the States is the unofficial beginning of summer. Here in Vermont, it’s the official end of mud season as roads and trails previously off limits open up again for safe passage. Of course, this being Vermont, the first official week of safe passage began with huge fast-moving storms, complete with flood and tornado watches, and, while nowhere near as bad as last year’s Irene crisis, (whose results are still sadly visible even as the one year anniversary draws closer), still with sufficient downpours to set us temporarily back to pre-end-of-mud-season conditions. Fortunately the June sun is a lot more powerful than its March cousin, and no one need fear losing a shoe – or a car – by taking a wrong turn this upcoming weekend.

 Sunlight in March

Even though there was no real option to stop or turn back that day in the mud, I like to think that our continuing to move forward in a manner more like directing a small boat through stormy waters than driving, said something about our perseverant spirit. It was clear that immobilization could occur at any moment, and that being in that condition on a completely deserted and highly unstable back road would, in more ways than one, really suck. I could not even allow myself to think of this happening. As Brian gripped the steering wheel, I kept my eyes focused ahead, looking for signs of better conditions. I think more than once, and only correctly the final time, I pronounced “we are through the worst of it.”

 Down the Drain

There have been times in the not so distant past when I had the distinct feeling that we were not through the worst of it, that, in fact, the worst had only just begun its foul work and was silently and deviously working on even worse bad things to throw our way, things with the power to take any remaining good things right down into the sinkhole with them. Even so, there was no choice but to move forward, and it had very little to do with wisdom, maturity, patience, courage or faith. Just like that car stuck in the mud, stopping was not an option, and the possibility of a better road ahead was all that mattered, whether I actually believed in it or not.

 Washed Ashore

About the only good thing about bad times is putting them behind you.  I for one do not believe that hardship builds character or that suffering is in any way good for you. Grief and worry are a big waste of time, second only to regret and guilt as useless energy-sucking emotions. The only reason we call the crises we endure learning experiences is that otherwise they would seem to have no meaning or purpose whatsoever. Okay, maybe after the first few times you toughen and smarten up, but most of us have all our lessons straight within a few decades and really don’t need all those refresher courses to teach us how to appreciate our loved ones, recognize the fragility of life, or answer our highest and healthiest callings on this planet. Hardship does not draw its value from being in the muck, it’s about what you do once you’re out.  Like a white stone washed ashore basking in the springtime sun.

 The Other Side

Although I have no tangible proof upon which to base it, and no news to report to substantiate it, lately I have been sensing that I am about to come out the other side of difficult times.  I’ve been optimistically declaring this imminent shift in my fortunes for months, but this time I really can see, or rather feel, the existence of better conditions ahead.  I am indeed through the worst of it. And this time I believe it, because it’s true.  May all of you who are on your own difficult stretch of road, and you know who you are, soon come out the other side and bask in the sun again.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

South Street Seaport in Black and White

 
In fulfillment of last week's promise of another post in which images take center stage, here are highlights from the second roll of film I shot on a recent rainy day in New York City.  As you may recall from my last post, I spent the morning at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden trying to protect my Holga camera and myself from a steady rain, results of which you see above. By the time I was back in Manhattan, there was nothing to do but to retreat indoors for lunch at one of my favorite sanctuaries, New Zealand cuisine restaurant Nelson Blue.


I passed the time waiting for the weather to improve with the unbearable sacrifice of consuming three glasses of red wine and a large plate of grilled lamb chops.  To my mixed relief and regret, the rain stopped.


It was still cloudy outside, but I decided to set aside my preference for stark contrasts of black and white in high sun and go for as many shades of gray as I could find. Looking up....


...and looking down. Then I headed over from the sidestreets to the waterfront itself and was thrilled to find a picturesque sailing vessel seemingly waiting for me to arrive and take its picture.


First the wide shot....


...then the profile.  Ships at the seaport are not necessarily the most original of subjects, but I for one will never tire of them.  At this point the rain returned in the form of a misty drizzle highly appropriate to such a romantic maritime setting.


I was just getting ready to dash to the subway before the next downpour when I spotted this view and could not resist.


And then, another. I don't know what it is about a rainy day when there are few or no people around - inanimate objects seem to be having silent conversations only I can hear.


The best part of this photo for me is the sign reading "Prohibited on Pier : Bicycles - Rollerblades - Skateboards." Even better if the other two outlaws had somehow also been in the frame!  I hope you all enjoyed this little vacation slideshow. I'll be back next week with news about some new items I'll be offering for sale, and the redesigned image shop where you'll be able to find them! Until then, wishing everyone a good week and for those of you in the U.S., a long, relaxing, fun Memorial Day Weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Brooklyn Botanic in Black and White


 I am a Camera

After some recent posts dealing with matters far too mundane for my tastes, I thought this week I would celebrate the reason I am here in this space, by which I mean both the blogosphere and the planet, and that is to indulge, explore and share my love of photography. Most of the time in this blog I use my photographs as an accompaniment or contrast to my text, but occasionally I let the images take center stage. Here then are some photos I took recently in my native New York City.  

 Chance of Rain

It was a rainy day, and I had two cameras with me as I set out to do some shooting at the Brooklyn Botanic.  By the time I emerged from the subway, the light drizzle that I welcomed as a guarantee of a deserted setting and some interesting lighting effects had turned to a downpour.  I decided to keep my good old SLR dry in my knapsack safe in its case and an extra protective bag.  That left it up to my Holga to once again prove that bad conditions and clumsy handling are apparently the keys to great photos – see the happy result of incorrect film loading that begins this post! I haven’t used my Holga in many months, and what little I did know then I’ve forgotten.  Besides, I was too busy trying to keep it dry between shots, tucked inside my jacket like a rescued bird, to be bothered with any attempt at controlling the settings. 

 Wagons Waiting

The day I visited the garden they were holding their annual plant sale under huge white tents along the full length of the Cherry Esplanade. Little red wagons were available for customers to carry their purchases. It was one of the few times I wished I had color film handy! The deep tone of the wagons had an almost floral quality in the midst of all that rainy day gray. 

 Wishing Well

To escape the rain I moved indoors to one of my favorite parts of the garden, the room in the Conservatory where they keep the Bonsai trees. This time, however, I turned my attention to the inanimate residents of the space.  And yes, I did make a wish!

 Guardian

Then it was on to the other indoor exhibits, including the areas for temperate, desert and tropical zone plants. I had to move against the current of several school groups that were occupying every inch of available space inside and between rooms, to the consternation of the guards and the teachers trying to direct them safely and swiftly. At one point I simply flattened myself off to the side of a path and aimed my camera upwards, which was the only position I could assume.

  Sanctuary

Then I joined the stream of children and followed them out, temporarily becoming part of the group. By this time, my Holga roll had run out and I did not want to risk re-loading in either the humid greenhouse atmosphere or the drizzle outside, so I took one more overhead shot with my Pentax, and then packed everything up in my knapsack and left the garden happy I had not been discouraged or dissuaded by the bad weather, and ready for the next part of the journey.  

 Things Are Looking Up

Next week:  Part Two:  South Street Seaport in Black and White.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Openings

Grand Opening

This morning as I gazed at the new gaping hole in my bedroom ceiling that brings me closer to my new upstairs neighbor in ways I never expected nor desired, I started to think about openings and connections and their roles in both our daily living and the overall course of our lives.  This is a topic close to home, not only because of the unwanted addition to my bedroom d├ęcor, but because as many of you know, I’ve been seeking employment for the past several weeks, and when looking for a good job that not only pays the bills but also leaves your dignity intact and your spirit free, it’s all about openings and connections.

Patience and Panic

For a long time I’ve had a heightened sense of the phenomenon of cause and effect in my life, the little choices and circumstances, both of my own making and those beyond my control or knowledge, that have brought me to certain pivotal points, what we all think of as being in the right place at the right time.  For me this has always been a long tortured and twisted process, with many instances of wrong places and wrong times required to get me where I was meant to end up all along. Of course, I don’t have the benefit of that perspective until I have actually arrived at my destined end, and every step along the way is, at the time of the stepping, an agony of raised and fallen hopes, a rollercoaster ride in which willed patience alternates with helpless panic. 

Help Wanted

Today my third attractive job prospect since the Great Seeking began has vanished into thin air. I am encouraged by the fact that jobs do seem to be opening up, usually appearing just after the last one slips from my fingers and the cycle of despair and hope begins anew, and that I have even made it as far as an interview resulting in placement on the top candidate list, but offers I have had none.  And for every job I don’t get, I am keenly aware that there is someone else out there who did get the job, whose life has just changed, whose rollercoaster ride is over, and that my loss is directly connected to their gain.  And I’m okay with that, because the second I didn’t get the job, I knew it was not mine to get.

Door With My Name On It

It isn’t as simple as “one door closes and another opens,” though this is indeed true of the patterns of my progress in any number of important ventures. So many times, it took a rejection or disappointment to galvanize my resolve or force me to invent and pursue an alternative plan which proved successful. I think of all the doors I discovered that opened for me, doors seemingly waiting for me, with my name on them, doors I would never have seen had I not been shut out by those other locked and impassable ones. It may have been easier, but where would I be today if only x had said yes instead of no?  And what of the person to whom y said no in order to say yes to me? 

Interconnected

Much like my upstairs neighbor who had no idea that her faulty plumbing was causing rain showers in our bedroom, most of us go through life not thinking about how connected we are to our fellow human beings. We are often surprised that our words and deeds affect even our nearest and dearest, much less all the faceless nameless people out there whose lives can be altered because of the decisions and directions we take.   Filmmakers have played with this idea for decades – the endlessly postponed meeting between characters who are already connected without knowing it, missed because of one lapse of attention or timing, the multiple versions of one person’s history, set in motion by the smallest change in action or attitude, the speculative visions of how utterly different life would have been had one seemingly unimportant person not been born.  One day you are not there to do this, and so, that happens instead, and then a whole series of happenings ensues, spreading like roots from trees separate on the surface but interconnecting underground.  

Vacancy

When a job opens up, it usually means that someone who previously occupied that position has moved on. That moving on provokes a whole flurry of activity they may never be aware of. When I have left jobs behind, I have always wondered what that opening meant to the person who eventually filled it, just as I’ve always wondered about the sequence of events that led to the previous tenant vacating the apartments that opened up at just the right time in the right place for me to claim them as my own and what happened, what changed before I arrived or after I left.  Or in another example, the separate winding paths of heartache, each of them joined to other paths, that lead two people meant to be together to find each other.  It’s comforting in a way to think that we are all so intimately connected and dependent on each other, that if nothing is happening in some area of my life, it is simply because my next crucial sequence of events hasn’t happened yet, or hasn’t quite reached me yet. 

The Search Continues

So, I’ve had three jobs elude me, and out there three lives will change because these doors were theirs to open not mine. But meantime the pursuit and release of each of these job prospects has made me rethink exactly what I’m looking for, revising my search strategy and goals in a way that will prepare me for that final opportunity with my name on it.  I’ll know then that it had to happen just this way, and not just for me.  Everything happens for a reason and in its own time.  In place of the ugly gaping hole overhead as I sleep, there will soon be a new smooth clean white surface  – and no more indoor storms.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Travel Notes

Greetings from New York City (South Street Seaport)

This post comes to you from New York City, where I have been spending a few days visiting my parents, something I have not done since this time last year. And what a year! This is also the first time I’ve journeyed to my native city from my new home in Vermont, in fact the first time I’ve left Vermont in the 5 months since my relocation, giving me the opportunity to reflect on and compare my then and now.  As the unlikely goat pictured below in the Central Park Zoo viewed from the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue where I took a long walk Tuesday seems to understand, it’s all about place. One can feel free or imprisoned in a small space as much as in a vastness, and one can feel uncomfortable or welcomed as easily in a new place as an old place. Tuesday as I retraced familiar paths around Manhattan, my mind said “it’s good to be home,” but my heart said “something’s changed – what can it be?” It took a few miles of falling into the rhythm of the New York walker, which is unfettered and brisk, determined and headlong yet utterly natural, for my thoughts to loosen up and give me the answer to my heart’s question.

A Matter of Place (Central Park Zoo)

Until this visit, I had always come to New York from a place to which I did not feel particularly connected, and in which I was not exactly happy, so little in fact that within the decade I lived and worked in the Boston area, my trips out of town went from once or twice a year to once or twice a month.  I reached a point of feeling more confident and comfortable in who and where I was when I was in transit to somewhere else, anywhere else, than I was in the place I begrudgingly called home.  Many people who travel too much or too little report feelings of disorientation, waking up in strange beds not knowing who or where they are, made anxious by the lack of recognizable sights, sounds and routines in their daily landscape. But in airports, on trains, journeying, arriving, exploring, discovering, just myself and whatever necessary possessions could fit in bags I required no assistance carrying, that was my identity, my comfort zone. I had become a sort of human snail or turtle, carrying my home on my back, always on the move. At rest I felt vulnerable and out of place. 

Brought Back to Life (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

Some people are born wanderers, never happy at home, taking jobs that require travel, and waiting eagerly for the next opportunity to be on the road. I think I have some of this perpetual wanderlust in my soul, but now that I’m living in Vermont, not only do I feel little desire to leave town, I sometimes spend days with no desire to leave my apartment!  I gaze out the windows at the distant mountains and the beautiful architecture and the trees with their seasonal changes and know I am exactly who and where I need to be, and feel no need to escape either of those conditions.  Which brings me to New York, my first home, my place of longest residence, the place where my parents are lifelong residents, the place I will always come back to but only on quick visits, the place I have long since folded into my heart for safe keeping, a lucky charm I take with me everywhere.  Being here does not feel the way it used to, a sudden sense of belonging  and interconnection, a shocking clarity and energy that served to set in contrast exactly how vague, detached and murky my soul had been back in Boston. I would feel as if I had been asleep in a spell and brought back to life. 

New Balance (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

This time I arrived in the city already awake and alive, and it took me the first day here to realize there would be no rush of reanimation, because none was necessary. Once I adjusted to that realization, I rejoiced. How lucky I am that I now have two places I feel so at home in, and love so much, that I can go back and forth between them and experience no shock, no unfavorable comparisons, no cycles of elation and deflation. There is a new balance achieved between where I used to be and where I am, and room enough for both places to exist in my heart in harmony.

Blurry Field of Bluebells (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)
 
Wednesday I set out to visit my beloved Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the South Street Seaport, and the new Hi Line Park which I am ashamed to say has been there a little too long to call “new” but I had yet to encounter and still can’t say I have. I brought two cameras and many rolls of film, the results of which you will have to wait to see until future posts. Because of the third camera in my cellphone, there are recent and relevant images to go with this post, including the field of bluebells above that deserved a full color capture. Today I’ll be on the train bound for Rutland VT. When I used to take the train from Boston to New York, there was always a moment before the train descended into an underground tunnel for the last part of the route before arriving in Penn Station when the full skyline of Manhattan was visible in the distance, this tiny sliver of island miraculously sustaining an impossible crowd of tall buildings in every age and style. The sight, without fail, would bring tears of joy to my eyes.  The approach to Boston on the return trip always felt like a diminishment or disappointment. I would rarely even look out the window, but instead gather my things and look inward. I have a feeling that today when I know I have crossed the state border between New York and Vermont, and the look of the mountains changes, and I know I am in my new home state again, and finally I emerge from the train and smell the sweet air, there will be joyful tears that say “it’s good to be home.”    

How Wednesday Ended (Nelson Blue)

But New York did make me cry. Yesterday was one of those days of perfect serendipity with nothing going as planned and everything turning out perfectly in the end.  From the unpredicted steady rain and hordes of school children in the Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to the unexpected treasures found in the new South Street Seaport Museum, housed in an old building with much of the exposed brickwork and wood beams left untouched, a true testament to the city’s rich maritime past, to the unimaginable relief of finding my favorite (and the one and only) New Zealand cuisine restaurant in NYC Nelson Blue still open and eager to provide magnificently grilled lamb chops and earthy red wine, the day was flawless. 

Tools of the Trades (South Street Seaport Museum)

It was the film being shown in one of the many beautiful exhibit rooms at the museum that got me. Shot by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler almost 100 years ago, a moving picture in more ways than one, it featured classic timeless images of the architecture and action and humanity that made this city what it was and is, made its best photographers who they were and are, and made me a natural and grateful follower in those footsteps, in that rhythm.  Or maybe it was the museum guard, by whose accent I guessed was a recent immigrant from Africa, who directed me to an elevator and casually commented “you must be a writer – I can see it in your eyes, so wide open.”  Or maybe it was the guy selling t-shirts among the usual tourist- oriented souvenir vendors who caught my eye because he was showing images of subways from the 1970s photographed by his father. I knew every elevated rail line and deserted station pictured. I knew why the trains of NYC are such an irresistible subject and will be, for generations of artists to come. 

Old Sailors Quarters (South Street Seaport Museum)

But mostly I knew what it feels like to call a place home that has such a history of being in so many ways and for so many reasons visited, settled, sought after, stayed in, left, used and loved by travelers.  Things happen to me in NYC that just don’t happen anywhere else. But for the first time in far too long, it will be just as good to be back home.