When I was a very young girl, I was immersed in a magical, light-drenched natural world. I lived by the wild and undammed Wenatchee River. The mountain range called The Enchantments floated above my childhood home like an Avalon in the sky, seeming to be untethered to my little earth. The snow-covered mountains soared high and free above me and my family, guardian of all I was, protector of all I would become.
My dad photographed all this high country wilderness–macro, micro, telephoto and wide-angled lens and eyes.
My sister became a watercolor painter of trees and skies with a fine brush for the details of the snowy owl, the raven, the vultures and the eagles.
We were a family caught up in a shimmering net of the beauty of place, and each in his or her own way struggled to live up to the emotional privilege of being somehow allowed to exist there for so many years in the wide arm of the river, under the great wing of The Enchantments.
I found my own way into the heart of this enchanted world through poetry and story and was lucky enough to stumble upon a career that sustained me in those passions. It was through poetry I first learned the power of what my photo teacher Laura Valenti calls, “Magical Seeing.”
Like poets, photographers immersed in exploration of soul must consider the contrasts between the elusive light and a rich and suggestive dark. In both word and image, poets and photographers like me struggle to capture the haunting, evocative mood, that sense of timelessness and nostalgia.
I like that these years I live in now are called my “golden years.” I can look back at that young girl and see that she spent her entire life in pursuit of this magical seeing. She understood with her heart what I can now not only feel but explain: that we live mythic lives thrumming with the vitality of light, and, as Valenti puts it, “Rich with meaning and mythology and magic.”
Valenti’s challenge to me is the one I have always put to myself, “What can I do to express ever more profoundly a magical way of seeing and being in my world?”
I still live in a natural world so explosive with beauty and detail that I could weep with despair over my inability to photograph it in a new and “more magical” way.
I read a book once on designing a Romantic garden. The primary tip my husband and I implemented in our garden is the concept of using arches to create receding vistas that open up to little rooms in the garden. Even a small lot like ours became extraordinary when we thought through adding these layers, these glimpsed views into other little secret gardens within the garden.
Earlier this week, I was out specifically shooting for “Secret Places,” and now I add this memory about building a garden to Valenti’s thoughts on seeing opportunities to photograph layers–through archways, under trees into remote and beckoning meadows, through the scrim of a rain cell moving fast across a sunlit valley.
“Tell me,” asks poet Mary Oliver, “what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I am trying to answer this question as best I can: I’m trying to give back the magic to the world it has given to me.
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!
Choose a time in your life of emotional upheaval and change. Write about an event at that time that reflected the inverse of the feelings of loss, confusion, or despair; where you observed something, heard something, read something, or did something, that provided a glimpse of contrasting light against the darkness. Take us into that moment of possibility.
In our “Seven Stages: Story and the Human Experience circle with Joe Lambert this week, we were challenged with that writing prompt. I went back to the bad old days of the late eighties; this story took place in 1990.
The art work is from the dreamwork blog that my artist sister, Cheryl Renee Long, and I keep off and on over the years: The Mysterious Night Vision Journal. I give credit to other media sources in my credits at the end. Otherwise, I generated all media, since inquiring minds always seem to want to know!
Other people have been asking if these are true stories; the answer is yes, absolutely this is how it happened.
In our Seven Stages Storywork class, Joe Lambert showed a digital story that once again sent me down the rabbit hole of memory and personal mythology. I know I have told this story before in the digital story called Shared Vision, but the wonderful thing about memory and personal mythology is that those stories bear telling and re-telling. How many haystacks did Monet paint? How many self-portraits of Frida Kahlo?
This story as my imagination has shaped it over the decades, is Source Imagery of the narrative kind for me.
The music is an orchestral version of “Bright Eyes” from the movie Watership Down.”
This week in my Seven Stages Storywork class, Joe Lambert spoke about how story is embedded in the body, and then he challenged us to tell scar stories. For some reason, this is the story that bubbled up from the Great Cozmic Soup for me:
KIMCHI AND ME: A Glen Ivy Scar Story
Once upon a time not so 1970s and 1980s ago, I lived in an intentional spiritual community that had taken over the old Glen Ivy Hot Springs inn with what ended up being a big commercial kitchen. Every day, I went to work in that gleaming city of stainless steel putting out great food for great people.
My helper and ally in this tasty work was my 15 inch knife with the number five engraved on the handle. When knives were parceled out, I chose the number five because in my numerology, five is the sign of life, of
I have posted three versions of the same digital story.
If you don’t have time to think about process (and why should you?), please just watch Missed Star Two.
The main reason I took it was to learn movie editing a whole lot better than I do now–I mean, than I did six weeks ago. After about forty intensive hours with my head inside the weVideo software, I can confidently say I know a whole lot more–not enough, but a big step forward.
I wrote two complete scripts and chose one based on a memory that suddenly popped out of the cosmic soup from 1971. (In the video, I say 1969, but I didn’t feel like re-recording once I realized the error.)
In the script, I braided together my remembered story and a poem by William Stafford called “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” (I’ll put the words to the poem at the bottom of this post). Kim Stafford was kind enough to give me permission to use the poem as long as I don’t try to make any money from it–so please hold back on those big checks I know you were ready to jet my way.
I ended up making three fairly distinctly different interpretations of the story, called “Missed Star.” Here is my first version. I am stumbling around in weVideo, trying to learn the basic software while still getting through a coherent story:
Missed Star One
Rob critiqued Missed Star One thus:
“First of all, ‘hearing’ your script really helped me get a better appreciation for it. It was beautifully read. I was initially worried about the William Stafford poem inserted but I worked for me through your reading.
If it were my story, however, I would edit the visuals. I really wanted to pay attention to your voice and the story but the visuals were a distraction.
Overall I thought they were too literal. Each time you mentioned Estrella you put the image of the young girl. Also these images of Estrella both as a girl and a young woman were awkward for me. I’m not sure who they are, but I’d be very careful using an image of someone that is not the person you are talking about, especially in the context of the story being told. Also the detective and the ABC anchor woman as well.
If it were my story I would cut the number of images and try and stay with a consistent visual theme rather than trying to represent everything you are saying. The images that worked for me most was the jellyfish video (and not necessarily because you talk about moving around with self-absorption like a jellyfish) but it gave me space to hear your words.
The image of the people getting on the boat was also powerful given what you were saying at the time about finding Estrella’s body and seeing the grainy image of the back of her head with the brooch.
Finally almost every image had a zoom which also added to the visual distraction. I felt pulled around by force rather than immersing myself in the image. If it were my story I would be more selective when to add Ken Burn’s effects and also slow the motion down.
What about ‘seeing your story’ as a series of river and/or forest images instead of a literal visual treatment?”
Missed Star Two
I thought that was interesting feedback, but I was tired of learning weVideo. I stretched out on my couch at home, moved all the media onto my iPad and built this version using iMovie:
Missed Star Three
Back the next day to weVideo. I started over with a new idea, and I spent another bazillion hours on this version. In terms of learning tricks of editing, this was the most invaluable version for me. I learned to layer images and control what is called opacity; I learned to fade to black, to control audio, split audio, split clips–on and on. Needless to say, I am THRILLED with the learning that took place with this final version:
“I enjoyed it… for the most part. I love your video choices a lot. I didn’t see the flickers in the transitions or if they were there they didn’t register and maybe that’s a good thing.
Here’s what didn’t work for me.
I honestly didn’t like seeing the performance poet. I liked his voice but not him staring at me ‘performing’ i found myself looking at him his hair, the backdrop and not at all paying attention to the words he was speaking. This was especially acute at the end when the great footage of firefighters trudging up the hill transitioned to him. It killed the impact of that video completely. What if you kept whatever video was playing going while we hear his voice (not see him).
The music at the beginning was too grand. It worked from about the middle on for me. What if you used another piece of music, more spare not so stately at the start.
I still am not a fan of the image of the woman in the pink pant suit. Is she a real person related to the story?.
But as we say these are aesthetic choices we make and have our reasons for. I love that you are enjoying the medium and the process. That is vital. Kudos.”
Which one is my favorite?
Darned if I know! Learning was all for me with this project, and perhaps a year from now, I can revisit these videos and see how far I’ve come from this high water mark!
I don’t expect that you watched them all, but, if by any chance you saw at least two, I’d love to know which was your favorite and why?
A Ritual To Read To Each Other
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
The Siberian Express roared through Eugene followed by a freezing rain and then the wind turned around and became the Pineapple Express. The damage to the trees was pretty dramatic.
This is a photo essay about the storm and its aftermath told using the Storehouse app. A reminder—after you click on the link, scroll DOWN the page!