You see them at the top of just about every post on this blog: professional, evocative photos that are not just illustrative or pretty, but are tied to a deeper idea related to the topic. I choose them for various reasons. Sometimes when I am not sure what I’ll write about, looking at a photo with a certain depth, mood, composition, tonal value, treatment of subject matter, or abstraction of subject matter will pull those thoughts into better focus, help me to know my own mind. Other times I need a certain treatment of the subject matter, and request a photo of it. In both cases, it helps to be married to the photographer, Steve Johnson.
The Guy Behind the Camera
The Minimalist Photographer is the latest product of Steve’s long career in the visual arts. I first got to know his work as a member of an online artist support forum back in the year 2000. His bright, energetic, colorful expressionist paintings appealed to me immediately, as did his observations and interaction with everyone on the forum. He was unpretentious and really thought things through; there was also a consistency in his approach that was practical and honest. By the time we met up a couple of years later, I knew I wanted him in my life for keeps. Read more »
Just about everything casts a shadow, and it’s not a bad thing. Shadows help us perceive a third dimension in two-dimensional images like paintings and photographs. The length of a shadow tells us how tall something is, or perhaps the time of day. We learn early in life that shadows can provide a lot of information. I remember playing marbles during afternoon recess in first grade and then suddenly planning my escape when a long, wide shadow came up from behind me. I just knew it was the loudest boy in class, who took great joy in chasing little girls and making them scream. Of course I ran and screamed.
Shadowy scenes set dark, intense moods, as in scary movies and suspense novels. “It was a dark and stormy night” might be the biggest cliché in literature, but it still evokes ominous portents. In a less melodramatic way, shadows also suggest depth of some sort, an emotional or intellectual third dimension, and not just a physical one. Since shadows are darker areas, they also reduce clarity of whatever is within them, and words like “obscure” and “hidden” are often used in the same sentence with the word “shadow.” Thus writings about dreams and memory are also fraught with shadows, and realizations are often described as things that come out of the shadows and into the light, becoming clear and known. Read more »
Are the years going by too fast? Are there likely fewer birthdays ahead than what you’ve already had? I have a possible solution to this problem: more birthday celebrations. Today is my half-birthday, making me 57 1/2. Maybe I’ll even celebrate quarter-birthdays in a few years.
Lost my marbles, but then found this one!
Think about it: the older we get, the more amazing it is we’ve survived another decade, and then another year, and then another six months, etc. Why not celebrate? I know that from 35 to 55 I wanted to forget about my birthday, to ignore that another one had snuck up and was marking my path toward decrepitude. But around the time I gave up trying to convince my body that it was anything near young, and friends started struggling with and even dropping dead from heart attacks and cancer, it became clear that Time was now in a reverse mortgage. I don’t know how much it is worth–is my lifespan a mansion or a cardboard box? But it’s my half-birthday and I’ll party if I want to ;D
Time cannot be stopped, and it seems to go faster because we’re so familiar with it. The more familiar it is, the more we live on autopilot, doing things by rote. Routine is really good for getting tasks done, but it’s a lousy way to live life itself. Changing things up, whether in small ways or large ways, becomes challenging and absorbing, and keeps us too busy to notice the passing of time, or at least not notice it so much. But it can get harder and harder to change things up voluntarily after, say, the age of fifty, and certainly after sixty; even changing the way you watch t.v. can throw you for a loop, let alone deciding to sell the house and move to Costa Rica. Not that it can’t be done, but circumstances and inertia can have a tremendous impact.
It is easy, however, to simply meet the passing of time head-on. By celebrating my half-birthday I’ve automatically doubled the number of birthdays I have left, right? No, I don’t know how many that is, but I figure if I only have one actual birthday left, I’ve now got two, and if four birthdays, there are now eight, etc. If my actuarial numbers say I have 25 birthdays left, why then I now have 50! And if I have fifty birthdays left, that’s like still being in my thirties, hmm? A saggy, baggy, wrinkly thirty, but not so much if I don’t wear my glasses in front of the bathroom mirror. Whoever said Time is an illusion has nothing on me. I’d rather hang with the one who says that Age is a state of mind.
Of course the alternative would be to become ageless, to no longer be concerned with temporal matters. That would truly be a minimalist alternative to birthdays. But I don’t wanna. I’m going to have something spicy for dinner and extra chocolate for dessert, and go wild and have a large glass of wine. The birthday state of mind is just a bit of gratitude and mindfulness, and a big wink at the gloomy fellow over there with the scythe.
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to me. And many more.
Most celebrations I know of are quiet ones, even solitary. The boozy, devil-may-care parties are fun in their time and context, but the ones where you just feel happy to have made it through another year reasonably intact are possibly more satisfying.
There’s Always a Bell to Ring, Somewhere
I was supposed to bring along the bubbly and orange juice for mimosas this morning, but clean forgot about them until halfway through brunch at my son’s. Nobody missed them. The food and the coffee and company were enough. I did throw together an apple-cranberry crisp which I’d planned to make for the solstice party but held off for fear of making too many sweets. There’s some left over for tonight or tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll make Hoppin’ John, to enjoy the silly New Year’s tradition of eating black-eyed peas for luck.
This year laid the groundwork for so many things. I’ve got thousands and thousands of words to edit into finished work, and have spent many productive hours learning the craft of novel-writing, particularly the cozy mystery. I’ve excavated through several more layers of fears and other old emotional traps, becoming more secure with each revelation. Technology keeps improving the quality of life, even as time and aging present more challenges–but I’m adjusting to both (thank heavens).
Letting time and nature take their course is one old saying that keeps coming to mind. Another one is, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. Sometimes these apply to others in my life, and sometimes they apply to me. Letting time and nature take their course comes to mind every time I can’t even get the horse to the water, let alone have him drink it. He’ll either get thirsty, or he’ll perish. So be it.
Not all problems can be solved, but accepting this possibility can prevent us from making more problems. We can only do what we can, each according to our lights. For instance, there are a lot of things I could, and perhaps should, have done as a blogger–more social networking, guest posting, SEO, and writing more minimalism books, but I have been doing the most that I could do this year, or at least do well. Next year? Good question.
One Powerful Word, Sandra Pawula’s annual challenge at Always Well Within, is a nice a minimalist way to deal with New Year’s resolutions. This year I’ll choose “manifest.” I hesitated to choose it at first, because one naturally thinks of Manifest Destiny, an aggressive philosophy that led to no good, but the verb manifest embodies everything I want for the coming year: to bring into completion the rough drafts that were done this year, both in writing and in life. Many other good things will follow naturally from that, so I won’t have to worry about dragging that horse to the water, bringing the mountain to Mohammed, making silk purses out of sow’s ears, or whatever else seems next to impossible. I’ll just focus on solving the problems and completing the projects that are well within my grasp.
And yourself? What will you do?
Wishing you and yours the very best year in 2013.
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered if I should put up a tree or not. Could I be bothered? Years ago I’d deck out every room and window and doorway with garlands and trimmings and lights and bows, and on and on. Presents would be wrapped in gorgeous paper and bows, gatherings would be large and lavish. It was expensive and exhausting and ultimately unrewarding. And of course it would generate resentment, since the skill sets needed for that sort of holiday were not shared by the other members of my family. This is usually the case in most families: one person “puts on” Christmas, the rest lay back and enjoy it (or run and hide).
Ma and Pa Snow
So then I asked myself, what would I do if I was completely alone, without worrying about anyone or anything else? The answer: some sort of tree, to symbolize the solstice; “winter” decorations as opposed to religious ones; lots of white lights on everything because they are like starlight and moonlight on snow, the pretty side of winter; things like pine cones in baskets, bird feeders, candles, mulled wine, soup and bread gatherings, small gifts of food–things that are not specifically Christmas, yet don’t leave out Christmas. Thus I was able to just focus on what I liked best, to make the kind of holiday I really wanted. Read more »