Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life is Elsewhere

Objects in the Mirror

Many people know Arthur Rimbaud’s famous declaration that life is elsewhere from its use as the title of Milan Kundera’s novel but do not know that the full quote is "What a life! True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world."  This line has always resonated with me but this past week I have been particularly haunted by its continued relevance to my life.

Next Flight Out

There have been times in my life when things seemed out of balance, even upside down. It seemed that the people I spent the most time with were strangers with no values or tastes or drives in common with mine, while my best friends were in other cities or found in books through characters and authors from other centuries. Times when music understood me better and embraced me more warmly than any human being. Times when my past successes or future hopes were far more real to me than anything going on in my life at the present moment.  I once thought this was my own fault, or the fault of the human condition, and that my task was not to correct, but accept this imbalance.

 Vermont's Longest Covered Bridge

But instead these periods of imbalance have provoked first the desire and then an enacted plan for great change in my life, compelling me to examine why and how things had come to such a point and make a move either to bring meaning into my life, or bring myself to where the meaning could be found. When I left my job last summer, it was one of those moments of taking a huge risk to effect a change I hoped would restore balance to my life. It has been a long twelve months, with much progress in the right direction, but it has occurred to me this past week just how long and slow a journey I am on, and that while I am further away from the unacceptable life I left behind, I am still very far away from living the kind of life in which I can look around and feel that life is right where I am and not still elsewhere.

Eyes Wide Shut

There are those who might think I expect too much from life, that the majority of people never do find the right companions, living conditions or work. They merely become accustomed to a mild sense of disappointment and lack of fulfillment in their lives and in order to cope with it, find means of escape, distraction or rationalization to make it tolerable. I mean, who said life was about satisfaction? Who said dreams can come true and that the human condition can rise above regret and longing through action, instead of oblivion? Who said striving for meaning with no guaranteed results could be preferable to just making things stable and comfortable?

 Dreamer in a Garden

I did, that’s who. I’ve been told I was born without a small piece of connective tissue in my right side. I have also come to understand that I was born without any concept of the urgent necessity and intrinsic value of money, material possessions, and impressive titles one can use in conversation to send people away secure in their knowledge of who you are with no need to inquire further. For as long as I can remember, all I wanted was to be that most elusive of things – happy. Numbers with dollar signs in front of them don’t make me happy. Watching someone’s eyes light up when I name the prestigious institution good enough to pay me for sitting around angry and frustrated all day doesn’t make me happy. A home so beautiful guests are afraid to touch anything, two shiny cars in the garage, and any item of clothing that costs more than a week’s worth of groceries also do not make me happy.


The day I arrived in the Boston area from New York, my new apartment was not yet ready for occupancy and I spent the night at my brother’s house with a moving van parked outside containing all my worldly possessions protected only by a small fragile combination lock. I remember thinking that if someone broke into the van and stole all its contents it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not one thing in there was unique or irreplaceable because they were  -- things. The thought of this potential unburdening actually made me feel happy.  And so it seems happiness for me is more about enjoying what I’m doing and who I am. I like beautiful places, and beautiful souls, and have been fortunate enough to be finding them lately. But not here. Always and again – elsewhere.

 Table for One

Some of you have read of my longstanding love affairs with certain places like my native New York City and more recently Vermont. When I first moved here almost 10 years ago, it took a long time to make connections with people. I have found some good friends here finally, exceptional folks who are indeed the exception rather than the rule, but I never have felt tied to this place. I only managed to live here this long by enriching my life with the planning and taking of trips to other places. This past year thanks to Blogger I have met some of the best brightest and most sympathetic souls I have ever known, some of them in other cities, some halfway around the world, whose friendship will continue to sustain me wherever an Internet connection can be accessed.  I always felt that leaving this place, my residence for nearly one fifth of my life thus far, would be easy, both practically and psychologically. I’ve never really felt I was HERE, so relocation would take effort, but no internal struggle as it does for so many people. From the day I arrived I was on a path to being elsewhere. It does seem that I am coming close to the end of this path, and I am full of hope but also sadness, not for the quitting of this place, but because it should be so easy, and will so quickly become a memory of an experience only important as a launching point to something else, for which I will always be grateful, but also always wonder – what took so long?

 Missing the Friend - by Denise Scaramai
Please take a moment this week to visit the site of one of my dearest blogfriends Denise Scaramai, whose recent interpretation of one of my photographs you see above. I have never met this woman face to face but the strength of her great intelligence and heart carries across continents. I am better for her presence in my life, wherever she or I may be.  I’d also like to draw your attention to a wonderful project sponsored by The Minneapolis Institute of Art whose exhibit "Facing the Lens : Portraits of Photographers" (http://artsmia.org/index.php?section_id=2&exh_id=4026) runs through August 2011 and features works by classic and contemporary photographers. They have established an accompanying Flickr group (http://www.flickr.com/groups/facingthelens/pool/) to which any photographer can upload their own self-portraits. The images will not only be viewable on Flickr, but will also be projected on a screen in the actual gallery space in Minneapolis for the duration of the show. Some of my images were recently accepted to the pool and I intend to add more. It thrills me to think that my images will appear in the same room as those by some of my favorite masters from past centuries, and that as I sit here at my desk, the eyes of strangers fall on my photographs, and indeed on my face. Perhaps through their sensing of the person behind the work, I will be in that room too. Life is elsewhere.

Longview 2

This post is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness and the wonderful places I hope you will all find along the way.


  1. funny i'm reading 'Life is elsewhere' at the moment, came across it in the thrift shop few weeks ago.

    i'm touched by 'Next flight out' and can relate to 'Dreamer in a garden' :)

    for myself; I have the feeling there are things in live you can't change and others you can, the things you can't change are the challenge, they make you ask many questions about many things and about yourself,they give you hard and difficult moments. But you explore life and it makes you inventive, searching and... discovering. The things you can't change yourself can be changed by others or/and events, often unexpectedly, but looking back afterwards always just at the right time. After you did just the searching and discovering you needed to do. How hard and how much pain and struggle sometimes, life is a wonderful journey, always changing. Real happiness hasn't something to do with money or possessions.

    (just sending you some thoughts after reading your ever interesting posts and wishing you well and all the best,always,xx)

  2. Beautiful, evocative, thoughtful post as always. Thank you lots. I love the space, calm, hope beauty (so much beauty) in Longview (1 & 2). For me, the places I feel most at home are my head and my heart. Not always happily it is true, but home just the same.

  3. Beautiful words Gabriella. You are life. Thank you.

  4. Dear Renilde - your words touch me deeply, so wise, so beautifully expressed! I thought of you in your garden when I took the photo of the dreamer! I should also tell you that the paper crane in Next Flight Out is a monthly ritual - every month at the time the moon is new I write my intentions for the next 28 days on a small piece of paper and then fold it into a crane. It's a way of envisioning what progress I hope to make, and then later a way of seeing how far I've come and what still needs to be done! A reminder too that just as the moon has her cycle of waxing and waning, so too do we all grow and diminish and grow again. It is so true, life is challenging for one who questions and strives for change. I know no other way, so in spite of the pain, I go on. And yes, there is always a moment of looking back and realizing everything happened exactly in the right way! Thank you so much, my dear friend.

  5. EC - the Longview shots were taken at the beach in Provincetown last week - a beach I last visited in 1966! The sea has always had a hold on me, so tranquil and so formidable at the same time! I could take photos forever and never capture all its moods. I agree completely about home being where the head and heart are, and not always happily! And of course finding a home in someone else's head and heart can be wonderful too. What else do we have in the end? Everything else can be so uncertain, so elusive. Thanks so much for your comment, my dear -- your visits here mean so much to me!

  6. Luis - that is one of the best things anyone has said to me. Ever. Thank you so much! Your daily photographs are one of the things that I am happy I can always bring with me wherever I go and a computer is available! Like hearing a friend's voice saying "welcome home."

  7. Dear G,
    the pursuit of happiness - always seemed so difficult and present! Grow up and understand that the life is no longer automatic, I mean, completing high school, college, get a job, a family ... are not guarantees of happiness, as taught me as a child.
    The empty place of happiness, is briefly occupied, and equally vacated.
    An eternal circle, like everything in life!
    The 'wheel of fortune' of the tarot.
    "What a life! True life is elsewhere.
    We are not in the world."
    I think that happiness too!

    I admire and like very much your words full of life! I am glad to keep this 'communication' so beautiful that crosses continents!
    It's very nice to meet you, your thoughts, reflections and your artistic vision through photography, is a light for the soul!

    What binds us is to be inquisitive
    and eternal non-conformist!
    thanks for putting me here, in your 'home'!
    Thank you for sharing this great reflection,
    thanks by the partnership ...
    baci :)

  8. Cara Denise - to start my morning with a cup of coffee and your warm and wise words to begin the day is such a delight! You understand, as so few people do! You are welcome in my "home" anytime! Mille grazie - e baci!

  9. inspiring isnpiring inspiring.....

  10. Many thanks, Caio! You are an inspiration also!

  11. Gabriella....another beautiful post! Without the constant questioning, striving, seeking...well, life would be like a paint by number and so uninteresting. I too am not drawn to money (security yes,) or fancy things, but my days are spent trying to get "it" right...whatever the "it" is and knowing I probably won't recognize it anyway....because it seems to be about about the movement and the process. Thinking of you and cherishing your friendship across the miles. However, if you do happen to find yourself in Minneapolis, you must tell me...it's only a half a day's drive!! I'll try to get up to see that exhibition! Cheers!

  12. Patti - Thanks for understanding! My anti-money stance probably seems naive to most - I definitely see the benefits of the security money can provide, it just seems that too many people out there are so focused on "securing" their lives they never quite live them. Maybe they don't have an "it" to get right (such a glorious bloody battle!)and must pour their energies where they can.

    I do wish I didn't have to think about it at all! But unfortunately getting to the state where you don't have to worry about money requires giving yourself over to it to a degree, so I guess I'd rather be poor and free than well-off and enslaved.

    It makes me smile to think of you there at that exhibit! All the best to you, my dear.

  13. Great post! I wish I could express my feelings as well as you. With words and photography.

  14. Ah, you're a right coaster--I live on the left coast!

    I enjoyed your text and your photos. I hope Denise won't mind, but I so enjoyed her painting that I made it the background on my desktop.

  15. Hi James! You are too kind - and too modest! So many times, your photographs have been full of feeling, and spoken more eloquently to me than any words. Many thanks for your comment and have a great weekend!

  16. Snowbrush - Greetings, from the "other" coast! I'm happy you enjoyed this post. I think Denise's drawing will make an excellent desktop background! If you visit her blog she has once again made magic from one of my photographs. We seem to have a very similar aesthetic sense for two women from different countries who have never met in person! Enjoy the weekend.

  17. What's the saying, it's the journey, not the destination? Something like that. But more importantly, you're on your journey and as you noted, many people don't even do that. Your post hit a personal chord today, a decision I've been trying to make - thanks.

  18. TB - It's good to know that my post hit a chord with you. Best of luck with this decision you are trying to make! Not only the journey itself, but staying focused on it can be a lifelong process, constantly in need of renewal and reaffirmation. Far too often I am beset by doubts and anxieties when outcomes are unclear or elusive and I worry needlessly - but deep inside I know I am pointed in the right direction, however slow going it can be, however my standards and values differ from those of others. It is such a great thing to have sympathetic souls here on Blogger to remind me I'm not alone! All the best to you.

  19. Hi G/TT - I wasn't sure what to say about this one - it hit, and it felt like it hit hard. I think I was worried for you and hoping that in amongst all the struggle things are OK and that moving on is a good thing, and not a sad thing. We celebrate 5 years since we arrived in our small town today, and spent dinner reflecting how wonderful and much simpler life is. So I say go for it, follow 'it' and your heart and you won't go wrong. Best to you F

  20. Fiona - thank you for taking this post so seriously, and taking it to heart! There is struggle, even with my attempts to always put things in a positive light I cannot deny that - and yet things are indeed also OK and pushing me and Brian in the direction I know will take us where we need to be. I don't think I have ever moved on from one situation to another without it becoming quickly and abundantly clear that it was a good thing, the right thing. Dear friend, I hope one day we will be celebrating just as you and Barry did, and in similar circumstances! Much work must be done to get to that point. But it is essentially happy work. Go well.

  21. Come see what I've written these past few years, I think you'd like it. I enjoyed the thoughtful nature of your writing. :)

  22. Many thanks, Kieran. This post now seems so far away in both place and time - and quality! I am finally fully settled into a new home in Vermont after five very busy weeks, and maybe one of these days I'll be able to compose some posts up to this level again! I will have a look at your site when I get a chance - good writing is always worth finding time to enjoy! All the best to you.