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Day at the Museum

At the beginning of April, when my daughter was out of town, I went out of town to visit my friend.

This might not sound significant, but it was remarkable for me for a number of reasons:  I rarely am able to spend time with my friends, I rarely go away for weekends, and I hadn’t seen this particular friend for over a year.  There’s nothing quite like mothering an adolescent to make you feel a bit bogged down by routine & schedule, as well as the Least Important Person on Earth.  A glorified chauffeur, assistant, chef, servant, and whipping post, yes, but not particularly significant beyond that. But while the cat’s away, this mouse got to play.

We went to see Sally Mann’s A Thousand Crossings.  This was also remarkable for in that for once I actually managed to see an out of town show that held some degree of meaning for me.  (I know very little about Sally Mann, although I often get the feeling that this isn’t something I should admit. I was ready to join the Club of Those Who Seem to Know.)

While I am glad I got to see the exhibition, just the wonderful experience of visiting the Museum of Fine Arts with my friend would have been enough.  Austin doesn’t have anything like it, and having been spoiled rotten for a number of years living in places like London and New York (within walking distance of the Met), I really miss having a big museum to visit regularly.  I had forgotten what a heady thing it is. Setting aside the works of art, which are terrific of course, I always find the museum buildings themselves to be so visually stimulating, with beautiful light reaching into nooks & crannies, and the people are always so artfully placed by time and circumstance into that light.  

Photographing inside a museum’s doors would be enough for me, even if I wasn’t allowed to look at anything on the walls.

But really the icing on the cake was being there with my friend.

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(Who hopefully won’t hate me for sharing this photo)

All photos Canon P and Kodak Tri-X

Don't Wait

April 15 was a day of joy in our house:  a 40th birthday. It was a day of sorrow beyond our walls, as the rest of the world watched Notre Dame burn.  I found out about it on social media, and could hardly bear to look at the news. I love Paris - it’s been many years now since my last visit, but my memory is that it is a joy just to be there.  I’ve been waiting for the day I could take my daughter to see the city. . . . waiting for her to be older, waiting until I had plenty of money saved up. I am done with waiting.

We started talking about it a few years ago.  Soon, we will go to Paris. Two summers ago, we didn’t really travel at all; I can’t recall the reason for this but it must have seemed like a valid one at the time.  I promised my daughter that we would go on a Big Trip, something amazing, the following year.

We didn’t.  In the months between, everything changed for us, so when that promised season rolled around all we had was a week or two here and there, with most of that being spent preparing for the next school year.  A trip of any significance would have eaten up whatever precious days she had to spend with friends, something I didn’t want to take away since I know how much it means to her, even if it would have been for a fun reason.

I am not one to harbor regrets, but I feel it keenly now:  I wish we hadn’t waited. I wish I had thrown responsibility and whatever excuses out the window, expedited passports, booked tickets, seized the day when we had the chance and the luxury of copious time.  That time is gone now. Maybe I can still take her to Paris, maybe she can still see Our Lady’s gorgeous facade, maybe she will be old enough to remember it when she is grown. Maybe from here on out I will make the choice not to wait.

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This takes me to something I just recently came upon, from a college friend who is a Yoga teacher, therapist, and mentor.  Thanks again to social media (have I ever mentioned that I love Instagram?), I get to see her posts that include daily thoughts, inspiration, etc.  In the one on April 17, she brought up the notion of “get(ting) to yes,” which refers to a practice advocated by Richard Rohr.  It hit me that this is what I have been rolling around in my head while I’ve been thinking of the idea “don’t wait.”  During my daily run, as I made decisions to not put off travel plans any longer, I thought about the word Yes, that Yes was what I was after, more Yes, less Maybe, and far less No.  Obviously not everything should be an impulsive SURE WHY NOT! (eating candy at 11pm, for example, or eating fried food for the 2nd time in a week), but when it seems like a good idea, then yes, why not?  I do believe in the goodness of timing in life - everything has a season, everything happens at the right time - but I have an active part to play in that as well. Often a road can go either way, depending on my choices.

So my heart tells me:  less waiting. More yes.  Let’s go to Paris.

All photographs included here are from the last time I was there, in 2004.  All made with film in a Canon Rebel. Most I have not shared before.








Trail of Faith

There’s something to be said for the “religious” nature of travel.  The uplifting of the spirit in the presence of breathtaking natural or man-made wonders. The affirmation that comes from putting yourself in a place where you feel whole, renewed.  The releasing of everyday cares and letting the experience itself strip away layers of stress.

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For the purpose of today’s piece, I am not necessarily talking about this, although all of those things certainly come into play.  The road trip we made last year came at a time in my life where I was broken. Recent life had left me struggling with feelings of vulnerability, inferiority, and loss. In the face of the series of events and realizations that had brought me to that place, there was nothing more productive for me than to throw every semblance of control (which I had never really possessed, anyway) out the window and hit the road: no plans, no maps besides the one on my phone, no agenda, no destination.

I have very few expectations when I travel in general; I prefer not to even have a plan.  Besides photography and the joy of new discoveries, one of the best things about a trip for me is going into it wide open.  However, the last thing I expected, when we decided to load up the truck and head west the next day, was to encounter God. I feel like that is a ridiculous statement for me to make since I usually encounter Him in some way on an almost daily basis, but I had no idea what lay ahead.  The Turquoise Trail, for us, became a trail of faith.

Most of the places we visited had been there for a long time, and they differed from the countless roadside churches we passed in the south on our last trip to North Carolina.  They were worn with many decades of prayer. Exposed in the desert sun, baking in the landscape like beacons, compelling us to pull over. A message from a friend told me we were “too close to El Chimayo not to stop,” so we did.  

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What we found there took us both by surprise.  I’ve been Catholic my whole life, and have visited other pilgrimage sites in the past (again, more by chance than by my own design), but I had never seen anything like El Chimayo.  A quick search on the phone when we managed to have a signal told us it was the “Lourdes of America.” We looked at everything. I watched Walt touched the Holy Dirt; I was speechless when I walked out of that tiny room and saw the crutches that had been left behind.  

The Niños Chapel was too much for me; I took a quick look and was so overwhelmed that I had to go outside, where I stood in tears for a few minutes. It was a profound and emotional afternoon for both of us, and an important part of a trip that ended up having a lasting long-term effect on our lives. (If you’d like to know more, please visit the shrine’s website)

Along the way, I experienced a new grace - or maybe not new, maybe one I had just forgotten, one that needed to be dusted off and brought back into the light. It occurs to me now that the state I was in at the time is precisely where I needed to be in order to receive. Pride, and the illusion of self-sufficiency, closes a person off. With every new day, every new place we visited, every opportunity to pass on kindness to a fellow traveler, I felt it. Each step of the journey was another candle lit along the way.

Peace followed me back home from the road.  I knew that no matter what, no matter if life took everything away from us, that things would be ok.  I brought the light back with me, and have worked to keep it burning. “Give me oil in my lamp.. . . . “

All images are part of my ongoing series Into the West; all are film.








Stuffed with Stuff

I’ve reached the point in my relatively short artistic life where I’m out of room. Or, rather, my rooms are full: all the rooms in my house that have some kind of extra storage available to me are full to the brim with photography related things. Closets, spaces under beds, behind beds, under sofas: it’s all stuffed with stuff. My tiny desk is a nightmare of mess both above and below. Lighting equipment gives me fits when I try to unearth holiday decorations, coats, etc. The poles for the backdrop have smacked me in the head more than once. Frames are stacked everywhere and I can no longer even open the drawers in the chest where I keep prints and polaroids.

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A couple of years ago, viewing a show of large scale sculptures, I wondered what exactly that kind of an artist does with her work when it isn’t on display. Where do you keep that kind of thing, if you are a regular person who doesn’t have land, extra buildings, a studio, etc. What do you do if you don’t sell the work but also don’t have anywhere to store it?

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So I find myself at the point where I am thinking I either need to quit making prints (cyanotypes included because my goodness I have stacks of them) or start giving things away. Selling it doesn’t seem like a possibility, and would require more chutzpah than I currently possess. I am drowning in a flood of stuff, overwhelmed to the point where I don’t want to create anymore. I am reminded of the Oyster shell chapter from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea “It is untidy, spread out in all directions, heavily encrusted with accumulations and . . . . firmly imbedded on its rock.”

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I am grateful to have the drive, inspiration, ability, and time to make so many prints and engage so much in photography. (And for the income, small tho it is, that it provides.) I am grateful for the roof over my head and the house that attempts to store all that photographic output. I know that this season of my life will pass, and with it (more than likely) a great deal of stuff. My only child is growing up. Her room (speaking of messes) won’t always be cluttered with toys. There may come a day, in a fit of pique, when I load up my jeep and drive the whole lot of stuff that causes me grief to the local Goodwill. I’ve always found the process of getting rid of excess very cathartic. For now, however, as a woman of a certain age who feels keenly the state of her surroundings, all this crap is driving me nuts.

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The photographs included here were all made last week, when I wrote this at a moment of tear-my-hair-out annoyance. Step one: make pinhole photographs (with Ondu) that reflect my mental state. Step two: write. Step three: prioritize cleaning up and reorganizing.

I was looking at my cat when I made this, I wasn’t going for a “bae caught me sleeping” look, although it definitely amuses me that I kinda got that anyway.

I was looking at my cat when I made this, I wasn’t going for a “bae caught me sleeping” look, although it definitely amuses me that I kinda got that anyway.

Pets

I don’t consider myself a cat person. For one thing, I’ve been allergic to them for pretty much my whole life. For another, I’ve mostly owned dogs. A few years ago, thanks to a friend introducing me to a certain guy, all of that changed. When I first met these two, my first thought was that neither of them would probably ever like me much. And I figured that was ok, because fair enough, I can’t really snuggle up to them without entering into a world of pain.

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Going on 7 years later, I’m happy to say that I was dead wrong about that. Not only have I come to know the incredible force that is kitty cat affection, I also seem to have built up some kind of immunity that lets me snuggle at will. (Allegra also plays a part in this.)

I reckon that pets are akin to the arts, and music: you can’t calculate what they add to your life, but you need them. It’s more than need: it’s something your spirit craves, whether you realize it or not. A dog will wreck the furniture running to greet you. A cat will wreck the furniture, but not for that reason; you might not see it on the surface, but a cat’s love runs deep. It rumbles inside, like the purring motor that seems to come straight from their hearts.

I know I certainly never could have expected or added up how much our kitties have added to our lives - how much the kitties that came into our lives thanks to the arrival of the Man of the House, could have made our home even more wonderful. The love sneaks up on you, like a cat without a bell. Suddenly it’s just there (and you might be tripping over it).

My mom has a photo album full of family moments from a time long before I was born. It contains lots of snapshots, particularly of a gang of dachshunds who were clearly as dearly loved as they are now dearly departed. It makes me sad to look at it, knowing the love that surrounded those doggos, and the grief that will have accompanied each of their trips over the rainbow bridge. Somewhere in my own house, and certainly on hard drives, are many, many photographs of my own dogs. The most recent one, Jimmy, was ridiculously photogenic, a total ham in front of the camera. The ghost of his sweet loyal self rests upon them, so I can hardly bear to look.

Still, none of us can resist photographing our pets! They say that you make pictures of what you love, what you fear to lose. They are beloved, vulnerable, precious.

These days, I look forward to checking on my favorite Instagram cats almost as much as I look forward to my morning coffee. They are adorable and hilarious, and fill my heart with smiles! Cats are kinda like people: they don’t have to love you, but they might choose to. This makes any attention of the feline kind especially poignant, because you can only really earn it through mutual respect. These days, I also spoil the bejesus out of this girl, in part because spoiling “people” that I care about is one of my favorite activities, and in part because of something heartbreaking that happened last fall.

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The handsome fellow pictured below left us. He jumped out of a box one night to skip out the front door - an innocent enough adventure that he had enjoyed many times. Since his sister was out there with him, we went to bed without qualms. And, in spite of hours, days, weeks of frantic & impassioned searching, we have not seen him since.

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He is as missed as he was loved. As with everything else in last year’s string of gut-wrenching losses, we are grateful for the time we had with him. And we hold on to hope: maybe he won’t show back up at our door, but maybe, just maybe, he’s being loved in someone else’s house. In the end, it’s far better to have cherished and loved a pet for a while than to never have had one at all!