Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

On Sunday, I decided to take a break from getting ready for the photo exhibit. I had been in high gear, and frankly not very pleasant to be around for a few days. I thought some retail therapy might be in order. At the clothing store, I noticed a little book on the table. I impulsively bought it.

That night, I got into bed and picked up the book. Here is the first poem:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

I was dumbstruck.

I've read the poem several times now, and each time something new comes to me. I'm not ready to talk about all my feelings here and now. Maybe later. But the first poem has impacted me significantly.

P. S. I have a book of poems by Mary Oliver, and can't find it right now. But in that odd way things have of happening, I got this in a daily email: "Listen - are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?" - Mary Oliver

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ruffled feathers

See the picture? The alligator swimming with turtles at Bald Head Island? Most of the time he leaves the turtles alone. They surround him at the pier, eager for droppings from the on-lookers; occasionally one of them will climb on his back. But sometimes, every now and then, that alligator turns bad and devours one of those turtles.

The correlation? Most times the posts here are fairly innocuous. Ramblings about me or observations about life. We "swim along" together, la la la. Then, wham! I turn on somebody or something.

In writing this blog and speaking my mind, sometimes I'm going to ruffle feathers. Sometimes I might even say something that hurts. I'm trying to be honest here, but also aware of the reader. And as my readership broadens, my awareness must be keener.

If I say something that irritates or hurts you here, please go to the comments and say something. You don't have to leave your name; there's an anonymous way to post. But don't ignore my emails and calls because you're mad. The silence is deafening.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Theme Post

By "theme post" I mean this will really get to the heart of my ability to "do it".

Last night I was putting together a business card for the Moore Square exhibit. And I couldn't figure out what to put on it. "Photographer"? Well, I'm not professionally a photographer. Besides, what if someone saw that and wanted me to photograph something? What if I'm not good enough to do that? What if what if what if????

Usually my photographs are taken in the heat of the moment, the way the sun is shining or the appearance of an interesting creature, the discovery of something by the side of the road. The only time I was asked to shoot, the pictures turned out really well. But that was just luck, right?

Until the last few years, I didn't think of myself as a creative type. I can balance a checkbook to the penny, file insurance and taxes, type letters, answer the phone. I do a pretty good job leading discussions groups. I'm a great planner, and can cut to the chase on a task.

Then I saw a San Diego sunset from a hotel balcony and started taking picture after picture with my point and shoot camera. I quit drinking and to fill the time started making cards and taking writing classes. And before I knew it, I considered myself a creative person.

But call myself a writer or a photographer as though it is a job that I do? Expectations follow.

I compromised by putting "my name/Photographer/'Picturing Moore Square'" on the business card. Photographer for a night; I can do that.

Preparing the exhibit has turned out to involve extensive research on how to do a gallery exhibit, interviewing people and making a DVD of the interviews, advertising, making posters and asking people to put them up - way more work than just framing and hanging photographs. It has been an intense learning experience.

After the exhibit is over, I'll probably have a better idea of how I stand as a photographer. Ready or not, I'm doing it. But I am very, very scared!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sweet Music

One of the things that drew me to my church was the music. Lively, hand-clapping, dancing-in-the-aisle music. Music that brought a smile to my face that lasted for the entire hour.

But things have changed. And I don't like the way it's going.

So. What to do. There are people in the church who like the direction the music is taking. And the present choir director doesn't have the same music background as the old one. He's doing the kind of music he does best. He's organized and reliable. And the choir is now more organized and predictable.

Then there are people like me who are unhappy with the music. I haven't been to church for a month.

It's more than just being unhappy with the music as it is. It's more that I feel my minister has given up the vision of an exciting, vibrant music program. And if he doesn't have the vision anymore, there won't be anything different on the horizon.

When I first came to this church in 2004, the music is what swept me up. The minister's messages spoke to something deep inside, and the people were full of love. The minister is the same, the people for the most part are still there. But without the music, it's not enough.

I used to schedule the outside groups, and could bring in some of the music I loved. I turned away single performers in favor of groups with a lot of oomph like the Fairmont Gospel Revue. But now that the music director is doing the scheduling, there aren't even many of those groups.

Here's the question: Do I stick around and try to make a change back to what brought me there? Or do I say, "It's working for some people; why make waves?" and move on?

I miss my inspiring Sunday mornings in the worst way.

Friday, March 19, 2010


"As a younger woman, I didn't hesitate to bare my body. As an older woman, I just as freely bare my soul." -- Anonymous

My fourtieth high school reunion is this year, and many of us are starting to hook up via Facebook and email lists. The excitement about getting together is building and it seems more fervent this time around.

I've been corresponding with some of my old friends lately. I met a few girlfriends in Charleston a couple of weeks ago, and I've exchanged emails with one of the first guys I ever kissed. I'm finding that we have no trouble telling the most intimate and soul-baring details of our lives now that we're in our fifties. Right away we find ourselves discussing our drug and alcohol abuse, our secret childhood pain. And in these settings, I haven't felt any of the old insecurities I felt about being honest with myself and friends when I was in junior high and high school.

I've recognized a pattern in my life from these conversations, though, a habit of doing things that made me afraid. This is how I feel about the exhibit (I've decided to call it that, because it's not an opening in the true sense of the word). I'm afraid I'm in over my head. I'm afraid of what people will think of my photographs. I'm afraid no one will show up; I'm afraid that a lot of people will show up.

Is there anyone alive who is healthily immune to the opinions of others? Is this even possible? And if we have to live with this fear of judgment, how do we do it in a way that contributes to our growth and not our aversion to taking on new challenges?

Each little successful undertaking of something frightening gives me courage to try something else. But some days, I wonder if the need to feel fear motiviates me more than the need to feel challenged.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whoa, doggies!

Today is the day it dawned on me that I really don't know alot about having a gallery opening. And I also found out that even if you try to ask the right way, all the things you ever wanted to know about a gallery opening can't be found on the Internet.

I have a beautiful gallery space and I've sent out postcards and posted on Facebook. I have my photographs named and framed, I have the video almost done, I have a play list for the ambient music. I've put together some information boards to tell about the artists and the Moore Square neighborhood. I have a menu and lots of wine; the other artist's husband is making home-brewed beer; a friend is making desserts.

But the thing I realized I didn't know today was this: How does one conduct the sale of photographs at an opening?

So I sucked it up and called an artist friend who loves and doesn't judge me and asked the question. I was embarrassed, really, to admit that I was having this great event and didn't know one of the most basic things about conducting it. She didn't laugh at me (thank you, dear Nancy) and went about giving me all the information I needed. And I had dinner with another friend who augmented my knowledge.

So now, even though I have a new to-do list, and quite extensive, I am prepared to make this show what it needs to be. I want it casual but professional, and I feel confident that on opening day I'll have all the tools to make it just that.

As always, my friends came through.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Aimed High

I submitted a story of mine to the two literary publications I read the most: The Sun Magazine and Narrative Magazine.

I like submitting to Narrative for a couple of reasons. I can submit online; that makes it easy. And until I receive the rejection email, I can check on my submission, where I see "Under Consideration" by the title of my story. I like to think they're at their office, considering the various merits of my story. More likely though, is that some intern read the first line and moved on.

The Sun is another story. You must submit via snail mail and you hear back the same way. I have submitted one photograph that I thought might work (pictured above; I tweaked it in the darkroom) and the rejection for that was fairly immediate. But stories can take months to be accepted or rejected.

I need to quit being lazy about submissions. There are other places that I think might accept my work. But I've aimed high, and that took some nerve too.

Last month I heard Janet Burroway speak at Meredith College. She encouraged a young writer to submit her work to Narrative. I see names like Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bausch, and Ann Beattie, and it seems almost impossible that they would accept the stories of an unknown. But she said they like to publish new writers. She also said she had been rejected by them. Both of those facts were comforting.

I'm not giving up. In fact, I think I'll double my efforts: four submissions this month. The odds are bound to be better, no?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Did You Say?

Some of you know that I spent this past weekend with four friends from high school. And yesterday I had lunch with my college roommate. Both times I heard something that astounded me.

Almost ten years ago, I was in the hometown of one of the high school girls. We tried to hook up with her, and she had already left by the time we arrived at our meeting place. After the trip, she tried three times to contact me, by phone and email. For some reason I didn't get back to her all three times. We usually met in our hometown over the Christmas holidays, but for the next few years after that, my family gathered elsewhere.

My college roommate wanted to rekindle our friendship. We made a couple of attempts at getting together and I had to cancel both times. And though we've danced around each other - mutual friends and careers - we haven't gotten together.

Both of these people apologized to me this week because they thought I was angry and upset with them. And that my feelings were what kept us apart. This stopped me in my tracks, because feeling angry and upset with them was the farthest thing on my mind. But for several years, they have felt that I didn't want to be with them.

The simple truth is that their phone messages and email messages got left to be answered when I could give them more attention, and in the daily shuffle they got erased or deleted. And I carried on my little life of children and work and other friends and activities totally unaware that they were hurt by my neglect.

Girlfriends, listen up: I never hold a grudge. I never stay mad. So please oh please don't ever assume that I don't love you anymore. And this goes for all my friends, present and past. I'm not ignoring you, I'm not angry with you, I'm not irritated that we haven't seen each other in a while. I hold each and every friend, their problems, their families, the love that we've shared for umpteen million years as preciously as I hold my family. And most times, most times, if I'm in a snit, you'll know it. Quickly. Zip zip and then it's over.

I'm sorry that I hurt these people, and I'm going to be more conscious of responding to emails and calls in a timely manner. You can't let a good friend fall by the wayside. There are just too few of them.