Saturday, October 31, 2015

Through Her Eyes - The Writings of a Photographer

The Idea

The idea first came to her on a gray, washed-out Friday afternoon while sipping hand-crafted cocktails with her daughter at a new distillery in the city.

The morning had been spent shopping for necessary girl items, followed by an early lunch of shareable delicacies such as: charred eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and the best shrimp cocktail she has ever sunk her fork into.

After lunch they prowled some nearby antique shops. Neither of them needing a single thing, but always on the lookout for that unique treasure they couldn't live without.

What she had been waiting for all day though, was their visit to the distillery. Her daughter had been there a couple of times for work events, and raved about their unique, hand-crafted cocktails. Being still fairly new to the hand-crafted spirits world, she was eager to continue to expand her horizons.

The distillery is located on the city's west side, a section she had never explored before, at least not yet. She had only, in the last couple of years, mastered the east side of the city. She found there, an endless array of things to photograph and write about, including her favorite coffee shop. She had settled in there quite comfortably. But she had a feeling that was all about to change, as they drove along streets that she had always been curious about, but had only ever viewed from the highway overpass.

She easily found a parking space behind the distillery, it being only mid-afternoon, it was a little early for the after work crowd. Entering through the side glass door, she was greeted by a modern, open space, filled with warm tones in the polished wood floor, and wood tables and chairs. The warm wood contrasted beautifully with the modern black metal trim. There was an overall cozy neighborhood pub feel.

She and her daughter seated themselves at a two seat, high-top table near the large plate-glass picture windows at the front of the restaurant. She loved all the soft, diffused natural light coming in through them, it was her favorite kind of light.

Their server was soon over with the speciality drink menu, and the happy hour appetizer list. With so many choices, she defaulted to her daughter for suggestions. Finally she settled on one that sounded like her, Oliver's Ocean, maybe not the Oliver part, but definitely the Ocean part. The drink consisted of gin, fresh squeezed that morning grapefruit juice, lemon, rosemary, and a salted rim. Oh how she loves a salted rim, her tongue can flick out, capture a few granules of salt, and be back in her mouth before anyone knew it. While her daughter ordered her drink, she pondered the appetizer menu, she was afraid the eggplant, heirloom tomatoes and shrimp they had for lunch might not be enough to stand up to the hand-crafted spirits, and she had to drive home yet. So she added to their order a tempting mushroom spread.

While they waited for their drinks and appetizer, she turned her attention to the world outside the plate-glass windows. Across the street was a small, square, brick 1960's building housing a BBQ joint. At the large, front window counter sat a man and his son, each simultaneously taking a bite of their bbq sandwich, and then each wiping their mouth with a white paper napkin with their right hand. There was a story there.

Next, she noticed the older teenager sitting on a bench inside the plastic bus stop enclosure in front of the BBQ joint. He held an iPhone in his hand and had ear buds firmly planted in his ears. There was a story there.

Suddenly around the corner of the distillery building comes a hi-lo bearing an enormous plastic bin filled with a sloshing brown liquid. Her daughter spots the hi-lo as well and states that they make all their spirits for the distillery here on site. There was a story there.

The final image before she turned back to the table, and their soon to be arriving drinks, is the image that ignites the idea. A weather-worn man in a tattered, gray tweed overcoat rides past the window on his bicycle, heading the opposite way of the automobile traffic in his lane. Behind his bicycle he pulls a laundromat-style wire basket on wheels, inside the basket is the fine wire frame of a once ornate chandelier. There is a story there.

The idea finds oxygen and bursts into flame. She has grown bored and uninspired within the safe confines of the coffee shops. The experience, with only slight variations, was basically the same no matter where she went. What if instead, she sat at the lunch counter in the big front window of the BBQ joint, wiping her mouth with a white paper napkin after each bite, and recording what she saw from that side of the street. What if she sat on the bench inside the plastic bus stop enclosure and wrote about what she saw, and maybe even be brave enough to take a ride on the bus. What if she sat at this very same table by the large plate-glass window, inside the warm, wood-toned distillery and captured life as it rode by outside. There are stories here.

She makes no promises, there will be no numbered editions, only the stories, as they come to her.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Podcasts - A Source of Inspiration

I first truly fell in love with podcasts when our daughter decided to go to a college that was eight hours away, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have always listened to podcasts on vacations, but then I always had new and interesting things to look at out the window, so I tended to be only half listening.

In the Upper Peninsula after you cross the Mackinac Bridge, you are rewarded for a little while with beautiful winding vistas along US 2, and occasional peeks of Lake Michigan. Once you turn off of US 2 though, and head into the interior of the Upper Peninsula, the only vistas are pin-straight country highways, bordered by pine timber forests on both sides. Usually, one or two of the four trips each year, the view consisted of pin-straight country highways, timber forests and snow which covered everything. About an hour and half into the three hour crossing of the U.P. to get to Marquette, I am fighting with all my might to keep my eyelids open. This is where the podcast has become a life saver, literally, if I happen to be driving. I will scroll through my husband's iPod options for podcasts, of which there are many, and pick something that I know will engage my mind for the next 30 minutes to an hour. My favorites are: This American Life with Ira Glass (I love Ira Glass), Stuff You Should Know with Chuck and Josh (always good for a laugh), or The Moth Story Hour. Occasionally I will try something new, but I always return to my favorites.

Recently, I found myself alone in the car for two days of driving to Pennsylvania to meet my friend Andrea for a week of Autumn photography in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon area. I could have done the trip all in one day, but I decided to split it up for the sake of my back, my legs, and my sanity.

Knowing that I would have a lot of time in the car alone, I begged my daughter to borrow her iPod for the trip. Her's has our whole library of music and podcasts on it, my iPod Nano is a bit more limited. So thankfully she agreed, and we traded iPods.

I had recently discovered Elizabeth Gilbert's new podcast series Magic Lessons, based on her new book, The Big Magic. I had listened to all twelve of them while doing the mundane chores related to housework, but I wanted to really be able to focus on them without the drone of the vacuum cleaner. I was halfway across our state before I pulled out the iPod, having stopped at a rest stop for a rest room break. Excited to get inspired by Liz and her various guests, I scanned through the podcasts, found her's, and pressed play. Much to my disappointment, I found that only the last episode of Magic Lessons had loaded. Thankfully though, it was the episode of her interview with Brene Brown. I listened to that interview twice through, which killed an hour of my remaining four hours of travel time.

Done with the second listening of that episode, I was feeling very inspired and eagerly sought out any other creativity podcasts that might be in the queue. As I sat in the second rest stop parking lot and scrolled through the podcast list, my eye caught one in particular, Lenswork --Photography and the Creative Process by Brooks Jensen. I had subscribed to this podcast over a year ago, but had never listened to a single episode. I am not exactly sure why, but I am a firm believer in that nothing ever happens out of the blue.

I started with the latest episode and worked my way backwards. Since I had a year's worth of material, they kept me going for quite a long time. Each episode is only 5-10 minutes in length. Before I knew it I had listened to more than a dozen episodes. Eventually I had to shut the iPod off for a while, my mind was overflowing with inspiration and ideas; ideas for my work, inspiration for things to photograph, and best of all ideas for blog posts.

As I work through these podcast episodes more slowly, now that I am home again, I am taking notes and jotting down creative ideas. I plan to share things that have caught my attention in upcoming blog posts. I am excited to share my thoughts with you, and I would love to hear your thoughts as I delve into these various topics. Maybe I will finally start that FaceBook page I have always pondered starting for the blog, because I would love to connect more with my readers and get some conversations going.


This American Life
Stuff You Should Know
The Moth
Magic Lessons

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Moving Forward

"The only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of creativity."
                                                                                             ~Brene Brown

I have struggled since last spring with what to do with this space. The thought has crossed my mind a time or ten, that maybe it was time to shut this blog down, and move forward with other projects. I felt like everything that I was writing was pointless. If you know anything about me by now, you know that I thrive on inspiring others, especially other creative women. My lack of inspiration seemed be contained to the writing arena. I was thriving in photographic inspiration, but to put together a worthy blog post it is helpful if the photos and the words inspire.

At the beginning of August, I started my temporary 365 self-portrait project. I could feel myself pulling farther and farther away from blogging. I was posting my daily photo on Instagram, and thoroughly enjoying having my project there. The community on Instagram is outstanding.

Shortly into the temporary 365, I found myself developing a character, and started writing in the third person, a style of writing I had never explored before. I found writing in the third person so extremely freeing. Throughout the month of August "She" continued to develop. The project was becoming about a glimpse into "Her" daily life, adventures, thoughts, and fears through small vignettes. Slowly the joy of writing was returning.

At the end of August, I re-evaluated my 365 project. I felt I had finally found the perfect way to combine my photography and my writing, something that I have long been searching for.  But I also knew, to truly the develop the stories I wanted to write, I could not be in the photo everyday for 365 days. At the beginning of September my permanent 365 project was born "Her Life in Vignettes".

Throughout September the words continued to come, and writing was bringing me joy again. But while I was having success writing stories as my character, there were still no words coming for the real me.

photo credit: Mallory Huizenga

At the beginning of October, one small, simple moment changed my writing life. My daughter, Mallory, was away for a weekend of creative time up north in our family's favorite place, the Leelanau Peninsula. She posted a picture on Instagram her first day there, of the view out the window of the airbnb studio she had rented for the weekend. Accompanying that photo was this verse: Galations 6:4-5 "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." 

The words of those two verses moved me in an unexplainable way. I do realize, that it was this particular wording taken from The Message Bible that made all the difference. Most of the Bibles in our house are the NIV version, which are definitely not geared towards the creative mind. I dug out my NIV Bible and here are the verses in that translation. "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." Definitely not as inspiring as The Message translation.

I let those verses sink into me for a few days, then on Tuesday, October 6, I began what I am calling Creative Meditation Journaling. Three pages of journaling each morning using Galations 6:4-5 as my meditation spark.

I realized I had stopped making an exploration of myself. I had stopped seeking inspiration to fuel me that I could then in turn process and share with others. The journaling is helping me explore what I am doing, what I want to do, and the plans I have for moving forward in my creative life.

I started seeking inspiration in the form of some long unplayed podcasts, books, and articles I had saved in my "articles to read" folder on my computer but had never taken the time to read. It is amazing what you find once you start exploring.

The journaling is helping me form ideas for new blog posts. I feel inspired and refreshed. I feel that I can be a source of inspiration for others once again, which, as I make a careful exploration of myself, is one of the things that still matters the most to me.