A Faraway Gaze
My friend Alan Levine who blogs with his dog out of Strawberry, Arizona, had a fun and interesting challenge up the other day. He and other blogger friends of mine are finding it fun to do a random blog post search of their sites, then interrogating that random post thusly:
- What, if anything, is still relevant?
- What has changed?
- Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
- What is my personal reaction to it?
So let me digress briefly into the alien guts of the English/Writing teaching profession. During my quarter century flapping my clipped wings in that particular zoo, it was very popular to have students collect their writing in portfolios–nowadays, e-portfolios. The one thing all the free range chicken writing instructors seemed to agree on was the value of metacognitive writing, which you might call reflective writing, but no, we gotta call it metacog ‘r nuttin’.
The concept here was that it would be good for students if they reflected on why they made certain writerly choices in their portfolios and not others. This is supposed to push them to do synthesis, the highest order of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and, in my observation, students hated it pretty much across the board. It was just another bloody hoop to jump through on the way to their dental hygiene or sustainable energy certification where most of them hoped to God they’d never have to either write or self–reflect on another essay in their lives.
And I don’t blame them. It never did much for me to read that pained and painful writing, and after a long, downward spiral of disillusion, I gave up on portfolios altogether. Now all I do in retirement is teach Technical Writing online. Students like it because to them it is more cut and dried, seemingly more objective than the navel gazing of the Frosh Comp writing sequence.
Okay, end of crawl through the murky craw of Alien.
Back to our regularly scheduled programing. I may have lost faith in the value of metacognition, uh, I mean navel-gazing, uh, I actually mean thoughtful self-reflection for students en masse, but personally, I find it interesting and useful.
That said, I spun the wheel of Mind on Fire. The arrow made distressed clicking sounds as it went back in time, but it finally hesitated and jolted to a stop, pointing firmly at Dec. 30, 2011, a blog post called “Boketto.” “Boketto” means “a faraway gaze.”
What were the chances?
Life likes to rhyme.
Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979. I am deep into archiving his legacy in a variety of forms–prints, books, and front and center is a new website Warren Brown Photography
This is a huge project I only dared begin after I retired. Although I have made stories about my dad before, this sorting of his slides takes me deep into my Myth of Psyche place where Psyche (who represents the soul–her animal aspect is a butterfly) is given the first of four tasks by Aphrodite to sort all the seeds in a pile of grain. The seeds represent all the possibilities that ever were for my dad and for me; they are all the emotions I have to sort through as I bring his legacy to order and to beauty.
Both the inner and outer challenges are overwhelming. I have to wrestle the great Bear of Guilt to the ground with every slide I throw into the “reject” pile.
But Psyche gets help from–of course!–the ants. Like the ants, I sort slides into piles called “Mountains,” and “Flowers,” and “Family,” and the heap of rejected slides grows like a giant ant hill in the center of the table.
So that’s where I am right at the moment I spin the blog random-o-matic meter and come up with a five year old blog post called “Boketto,” or “a faraway gaze.” The faraway gaze is in the photo of my father, and I write in the blog post about a dream I had that night about my father, who died of a brain tumor in 1979 at the age of 54.
When I woke up, I made a page in my art journal illustrating the dream, My dad is entering the Museum of Modern Art of MOMA, which is his soul mate connection to my MOM. (It was also five years ago that I began reviewing art on the radio for KLCC four months after this dream. So there’s that…)
Life likes to rhyme.
Now to the metacognitive questions:
- What is still relevant? I am still haunted by my legacy responsibilities to my father. He is still in my dreams, and I am still doing dream art.
- What has changed? Five years ago, he was still far away and ill. In my dreams since then, he has come back to us but still thin and not vibrant. However, now he or his spirit or how I internalize his memory, is much more with me on a daily basis watching me shoot, giving me advice on composing shots, clearly an active parental muse.
- Does this reveal anything about my discipline? I have had a lifelong connection with my father and have never given up on trying to provide a legacy for him. Before blogging, I kept and continue to keep, handwritten journals, so my discipline extends back to April 1964 when I first got serious about blogging uh journaling at age 14.
- What is my personal reaction now to the Boketto blog post? I value this piece of art a lot because it expresses and recalls what has been going on at the level of dream. Part of my father’s legacy website will be my videos and art (and that of other family members, too) about him, and I would have forgotten this piece.
This is just another piece of evidence showing how valuable the Daily Create is, and how valuable it is to have creative friends like Alan Levine to spin off new posts, new lines of thinking, and, dare I say it? Self-reflection.
My dad’s gaze is no longer boketto or far away. It is focused and interested. He’s pretty excited about having his very own website!
Strange Falling Out Among Relatives
The rumor sifted up out of the layers that settle on the muddy bottom of the lake of time. In the 1940s, two families, the Brightwells and the Touchstones lived across a vivid lake from each other, each with seven children. The oldest two, Autumn Apple–she was a Brightwell–and Cougar Blue, a Touchstone, married.
But apparently there were a few other connubial pairings going on in the many secret love bowers afforded by the almost grotesquely lush vegetation surrounding the sparkling green eye of the lake.
Great Grandma Brightwell let it slip before she died that the family of Autumn Apple and Cougar Blue had a double cousin, a child born of two younger siblings, Unholy Annie and Bear in the Air (so called because he was very light on his feet), a child born in secret, given away and forgotten.
Why fifty years later did this rumor or remembrance bubble to the surface like gasses released from organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the lake?
Or was it a collective dream they were all slowly swimming through like green bottle glass? Because with strange inevitability, the adopted child, Angelica, now in her late fifties, began her search for her roots and found the Brightwells to glad cries of reunion and jubilation by her newfound cousins.
The Touchstones grew angry at the accusations that Bear in the Air might be the father of this sudden stranger in their midst. “You are slandering the good name of our brother, father, grandfather!” Dragging his name through the mud.
However, these are modern times, and the DNA test proved negative for Bear in the Air’s possible paternity. It was Angelica’s mom’s husband all along.
Yet that wasn’t the point to the Touchstones, and that side of the combined family withdrew without discussion or confrontation. The outward silence was inwardly fueled by gossip until the imagined slight achieved the status of epic insult.
This peculiar boulder lodged in the streambed of the once freeflowing river of the Brightwells and Touchstones, the extended two family family.
It was twenty-four months before the four Brightwell sisters found out about the silence they had suspected but only recently confirmed.
One night, they began to text each other, brainstorming a solution. A letter of apology? A phone call? The texts flew back and forth until they had woven a kind of counter-dream that floated above them all, misted out over the lake, the mountains and over the Touchstones, too.
That night, each Brightwell sister dreamed of speaking to a Touchstone uncle. In the dreams, barriers fell; the old camaraderie returned.
In every dream, the dreamers walked by that shimmering lake, and the overgrown leaves and branches reached out to brush their backs, their shoulders, to tangle briefly in their hair.
They passed through the old love bowers and finally came to the shore. They stood together on the wooden dock, looking out across green water.
It was so deep and so still.
Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
I went on a Gratitude Walk yesterday on what was supposed to be a cloudy day, but the last mile and a half, I got thoroughly rained on. This videoito is my thankfulness visual journal entry for A Rainy Day in July.
On Gratitude Walks
Sometimes it is just super important to hear other people validate that what I am doing is a process that others value, too.
I loved hearing my instructor, Laura Valenti, talking about the spiritual value of a Gratitude Walk. I realize I was raised doing these daily walks with my photographer father and family. I have continued the family tradition into making these little videoitos of my walks 2-3 times a month probably.
Sometimes I have gotten discouraged because I think, “Oh, there is no story, no action,” but then on the next great walk, I can’t resist making another one. They are like daily journals. I post them on Facebook, on my Tumblr, and on my Mind on Fire blog. I might get a few comments, but then they just wash under the bridge in the great River of Time.
I love having this new name, “Gratitude Walks,” for them.
I’m excited to get out and see the world all over again!
McKenzie Lavender Festival
Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rise weeping.
Petre and I joined our friends, Paul Hawkwood and his wife, up the McKenzie River for the Lavender Festival. Festival events were happening up and down the river, but we homed in on the McKenzie River Lavender Farm. The fields were in full bloom and real camera candy. The smell had everyone in a state of happily suspended animation.
It always seems to me as if the lavender was a little woman in a green dress, with a lavender bonnet and a white kerchief. She’s one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people, who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away.
As an assignment in Laura Valenti’s class “Meditations on Gratitude,” we were asked to find some way to celebrate or honor our visual mentors–those who have inspired and informed our own efforts at photography.
I know Laura said we didn’t have to go all-out, but too late! All of yesterday got swallowed up (creatively, just the way I like to get swept away by a challenge) as well as a couple hours this morning. I easily have eight hours in this little four minute video–there was just so much to think about, process, and, of course, my original file was 10-15 minutes, so the agonizing editing!
I originally included my husband and my artist sister, but then I started to think about large family politics and reluctantly deleted them. Same with Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe and Ansel Adams and Andrew Wyeth–too many white guys, thanks to my father’s influence and generation. Paul Klee, Kandinsky, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Goya…the list goes on thanks to a lifetime self-education in the arts…and the historical lack of women.
However, many years ago, there was a three-nation traveling exhibit of Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr, and Frida Kahlo, and that single day in the museum shaped my thinking and my vision for the decades to come. I have studied all three intensively and journeyed to the wellsprings of their visual inspiration to find my own.
More recently, thanks to an inspirational video Laura posted, I am being inspired by Jay Maisel not to do something I’m not already doing, but to do it more intentionally.
Jay Maisel was asked what two words would make a person a better photographer, and he said, “Be open. Be open to what is happening around you…”
This is my third class with Laura, and her visual aesthetic never ceases to astonish me because it is so different from my own; yet, it is beautiful and evocative, so I have opened my visual range to include images with that unique “Valenti effect.”
I am grateful to all the great artists, including the ones right here in my own home, who have informed and continue to educate my eye to what is most beautiful in this world.
Who are YOUR visual mentors?