The Next Great Photographic Artist

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We took Emilio to a “Go See” in Manhattan today.  Adrienne signed him up with an agent who handles baby models many months ago, and he periodically gets called to go have a couple of quick photos taken for different customers — Huggies Prints in this case — so the client can see if they’re interested in using Emilio for an ad.

On the way into Manhattan I sat in the back seat with Emilio (of course) and chattered with him and let him play with my iPhone.  When I got it back from him, I saw that he’d shot a number of photographs and his first bit of film.  He’s clearly exploring the interplay of light and dark, and how textures break up our visual comfort, encouraging our minds to move between the left hemisphere and the right.  His mastery of flow, sound, shadow and motion is amazing. Yes, he’s a genius.  His photographs are here for you to see, and you can follow this link to see his film.  It’s called “Crossing Into the Light, Letting Go of the Refrigerator and Standing On My Own.” 


Columbus, Ohio

I’m in Columbus, not that I have any idea what the city is like, and I won’t by the time I leave either.  Here to do a day of training for domestic violence advocates on working with child protective services (I developed an expertise over the decades of my work at the Coalition on the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect), I came straight to the Fairfield Inn in the big box store outskirts of the city when I arrived yesterday, the conference center is directly behind this hotel, and I’ll leave directly for the airport when I’m done today.  I hear it’s a nice city.

I did get to ride with a friendly and interesting cab driver yesterday.  He’s from Ethiopia, fought as a guerilla rebel and got injured, and came to this country in the 80’s.  Although he’s 62 years old, he has three children under the age of 14.  “I was late to marry,” he said.

He asked where I’m from, why I was here, how were my travels?  I told him about leaving my job in June, that I’m still doing some work in the field of domestic violence and sexual assault, but that I’m also writing and spending as much time as possible with my grandson.  “He’s the most beautiful baby boy in the universe,” I said and he laughed.

It was a sweet laugh, because the cab driver understood, Emilio really is.

Yes and No

David and I hiked to Flat Mountain Pond on Sunday, with Betsy and Cathy.  It was a lovely hike, to a long, remote pond in the White Mountains, made more delightful by the chance to spend time with our friends — they enjoy being active and outdoors, like we do, and they are also among the most intentional people we know.  They pay close attention to how they spend their time, where they’re putting their energy, how they’re living their lives, and make sure all of that is lining up with what they really want.  As a couple who “dropped out” for a year and traveled across the country, they were among my most enthusiastically supportive friends when I told them, over a year ago, that I was going to be leaving my job at the Coalition.  They thoroughly supported my willingness to try a new life.

Given how hectic our summer and fall has been, this was the first chance we’ve had to hike with Cathy and Betsy for over a year.  I was eager to talk with them about my ever-shifting ideas about how to best use my time, how to balance acceptance of consulting jobs I’m being offered with my desire to write, how to structure my days, how to figure out what exactly I’m doing.   It’s not that I expected them to have answers, but I knew they would understand the questions.

And coincidentally, I had just gotten an offer from Cathy’s sister Anne, who I know well from her work on violence against women at the national level, to represent her organization at a U.S. – Russia Civil Society Partnership Program meeting in Moscow in three weeks, taking part in the gender equity workgroup.  I’ve been to Russia twice to do training on domestic violence, and have planned programs for two delegations of Russians visiting New Hampshire, so I was an easy choice for Anne to approach, knowing she wouldn’t be able to get away and accept the invitation to participate herself.

But do I want to go to Russia in three weeks?  Do I want to get involved in what might be an ongoing project?  How much exactly do I want to work, and stay engaged in the movement to end violence against women?  Do I have the energy to spare that a quick trip to Russia will use up?  Do I really want to do this, or do I just not know how to say no?

“Work begets work,” was one piece of advice Betsy gave me.  And she also said she always asks herself, when considering whether to take on work for her own consulting business, “Is this going to help me get where I want to go?”  This was all bouncing around in my head on Sunday night when I went to hear Kay Ryan read her poetry in Concord.  In talking about coming to know that she wanted to be a poet, she said it came down to asking herself, “Do I like it?”

The short story in all this is that I said yes, and will be going to Russia in a few weeks. The longer story is that David and I are both deeply involved in helping each other sort out what exactly we want to be doing with our lives, now that the huge structure of demanding jobs isn’t dictating the basic work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, laundry, grocery shop, sleep, work, eat, sleep over and over again schedule.  What we’ve come to affirm is that we’re in a mode of figuring it out.  Saying yes to something for this year doesn’t mean I would say yes to the same thing next year.  Or I may be out there looking for more opportunities like this, rather than waiting for them to come my way. Is this taking me where I want to go.  Do I like this?

There is no Grace and David Four Months Into Having Left Their Jobs Rule Book.  We’re making it up as we go along, paying attention, keeping track, staying present, asking the right questions.  And having fun, like in the photo above.  That was part of Sunday too.

Jardin Botanique de Montréal

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The botanical garden in Montreal is spectacular.  It’s considered one of the most important botanical gardens in the world, due to the extent of its gardens and plant collections, and is also one of the largest.  With over 181 acres, 10 greenhouses, more than 26,000 species of plants, arranged in stunning thematic gardens, it’s a mind-boggling treasure.  Every path David and I followed took us to another visual delight.

While we were taking photographs of the trumpet like seed heads of water lilies in the Chinese garden pool, a man came up behind us and said, “It’s so beautiful.  You could go all the way to China and not see anything as beautiful as this.”  As I agreed he asked if we’d seen the bonsai collection around the corner, which we hadn’t.  We followed a path around another corner, and there was miniature grandeur, perfectly shaped and sculpted tiny trees, some older than 100 years.  The living art of plants exemplified by the bonsai trees spoke for all that this botanical garden represents — finding and holding beauty so that it can speak its own language.




Sky Lights

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Our first night in Montreal, as we walked out of the Hyatt where Jen and Jill are staying, we saw search lights beaming up into the dark sky, crisscrossing each other with rays of white that swooped and turned and created a dance of light in the cloud muffled darkness above.

Last night, walking back to our AirBnB apartment (great way to travel, check it out), we passed the lights again.  Only this time we noticed there was a continuous design being beamed on the side of a large building, changing from a fox face, to a sheep, to sky constellations, to a swirl of back and white, moving lines outward to disappear off the edge, and a sun burst of light that tapered into an open circle.  The upper windows of a building across the street were cycling through a dark to fully lit cycle, and in the square where many of the search lights were standing, there were rows of small red lights in lines across the concrete plaza.

Then David realized there was a tall, white wand, a lever, standing next to one of the black cloth draped search light bases.  The wands are there for people to manipulate the lights.  You push the wand down, the light moves up to shoot straight into the sky.  Pull the wand back, and the light begins to lower.  There were wand operated lights on both sides of the square, their movement being manipulated by people enjoying the show, and mingling with the moving lights set on higher stands, and lights that appeared to be beaming from the tops of buildings.

A plaque on the side of the search light structure told us this interactive installation was designed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art in celebration of the Quebec Triennial, 2011, and shows every evening from October 7 to November 2.  It was magical.

David Has A Blog

Today’s news — David has a blog.  Check it out: oldmanbadback.  Be sure to read The Number 4160 in the grey menu bar.  Otherwise he has two reviews of hiking packs he’s recently tried, and much more to come on staying outdoors, fit and active in the face of aging.  Adorable photo of him too.  Lucky me!

Right Now, A Year Ago

For those of you who haven’t read every word of this blog, including the page The Premise Is Grace, here’s a recap.  My original idea was to write a blog about the succession planning process, right from the middle of it.  So in the spring of 2010, just before I announced my planned departure from my job in June of 2011, I started writing posts for a blog, planning to begin making them public after my retirement as Executive Director of the Coalition was announced.

I wrote, but I didn’t post.  I discussed what I was doing with some Coalition Director friends, and they agreed with my hesitation — though I was writing mostly from my own experiences, what I was writing revealed too much about other people’s reactions.  My friends thought publishing the blog posts a year after they’d been written, with an update on what I was experiencing in my year post-Coalition, would be interesting (to them, especially, to know what it was like to not be working so damn hard) and respectful enough of the people I was writing about.

So I kept writing, though less and less frequently, and then finally just stopped.  Making most of what I was writing public wasn’t going to work no matter when I posted it.  But there are posts on that still-private blog that are worth looking back at, as a counter to what I’m experiencing now.  The short story of what I’m experiencing now is a great sense of relief and freedom.  I stepped off an edge, and there is plenty of ground under my feet.

From October 6, 2010:  I’m at a meeting of the Coalition’s member programs and Peggy is providing an update on the search process.  The amount of energy that’s going into finding my replacement makes me feel guilty.  We have so much other work to do!  Now there’s this whole transition process on everybody’s plate.  Is this the best way to be doing this?  Sue J. asked me last week, when we saw each other in Chicago, did a year’s notice feel too short or too long?  I think the board, staff and member program directors would say, “Not enough time!.”  It’s feeling too long to me.  I’m sitting in the middle of a process that involves me letting go of a huge part of my life, convincing everyone else it’s okay to let go of me, and all of us stepping together off the edge, trusting there will be someplace to put our feet.  I’m feeling so ready to take that step.  And yet, right now, here I am, in it.

Crossing Art Boundaries

My friend Andi was touched by my Yom Kippur post, and sent it to several of her relatives.  Her Uncle Jerry tried to comment on my post, but had trouble making that work, and sent me an email instead.  His comments about my blog are wonderfully flattering and complimentary, and I’m copying what he wrote here not just because it’s so positive (although that’s certainly part of it), but also because he draws a connection between what he read in my words and his own art of photography.  “Here is a truly brilliant and sensitive human being who has honed her craft by education, insight and the mystical gift of genetics to paint spectacular images with her words.  She is indeed an artist and we have so much more to learn by seeing the world through her eyes. In Japan they have individuals with exceptional talents that are declared national treasures by the government.  Grace certainly qualifies for that accolade. In photography I continually search for new ways of “seeing” but never thought of looking to a poet for guidance. In the words of Marcel Proust:  ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in finding new landscapes but in having new eyes.'”

While I love the idea of being a “national treasure,” I’m most flattered that my writing speaks to how he tries to capture images through photography.  (Check out his photographs at his website.)  When I was at Vermont Studio Center in the summer of 2007, one of the most nourishing aspects of my time there were the conversations with visual artists.  Over lunch one day a painter said to me, “I think poetry and painting are the most closely related arts,” and we talked about that for an hour.  One evening after an artist’s slide show, a young man and I talked at length about how we do, or don’t, put ourselves in our art, what is self-referential, how do we make that universal, what exactly is art?

Whatever it is, art feeds art in unexpected and important ways.  Last week two friends from my writing group came here so we could all work on some visual art, as a way to use a different part of our brains than writing taps into, hoping to open that writing tap in new ways.  Anne painted her dog, Pat made a 3-D collage, I worked on an altered book collage (using the pages of an existing book for collage, writing, drawing, structural cut-outs) and David worked on photographic images at his computer.  We went from a lively, chatty dinner into the studio, turned to our art, and were silent.  For over an hour we were all absorbed in our creation, intent and focused, bringing something out of our brains and into the world.

I love that my writing can bring something out of my brain, then explode into new ideas and creativity in someone else’s brain.  Art, whether painting or writing, photography or collage, sculpture or ceramics or drawing, is best when it brings us to a new understanding, whether of the world and how to see it, or a puzzle in our own minds.  Whether or not we articulate that new insight through words or painting or collage doesn’t matter, it only matters that we let the expression into the world, and see what it can make happen.

The Northeast Kingdom

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We just spent two days in the Northeast Kingdom, and while I bristle at male gender references to almost anything, it is beautiful country.  The term is used to describe the northeastern corner of Vermont, and is reported to have first been used by George Aiken, a former Governor of Vermont and a U.S. Senator, during a 1949 speech.  Not surprising, that the term “kingdom” came from a man, but it is a gloriously scenic area, and I was there visiting one of my most brilliantly feminist friends — by that I mean her gender analysis is spot on and constant, underlying her fundamental views of how the world operates, which is probably why I was thinking about the “kingdom” thing in the first place.  But what do you call the land a queen owns and governs?  A queendom?

Beyond all that, we had a grand time.  We arrived on a sunny and warm October afternoon and enjoyed the view of Lake Willoughby from the camp porch, Jay Peak in the distance.  We ended up spending much of the afternoon sitting on the dock, late season sun warming our faces and backs, snacking, talking, listening to the water slap the rocks. David and I even went for a swim, though the water was so cold I could hardly breathe.

Yesterday morning, while Carol and Steve did camp close-up errands, David and I went to hike Wheeler Mt.  Within a few minutes of starting the hike, we were climbing slabs of granite that form the western cliff face of the mountain.  The foliage was stunning, with hillsides of yellow and orange rolling off into the folds of mountains around us.  It was so glorious and exhilarating, I knew I needed to hike more.  So after going back to the camp and helping Steve and Carol with more closing-down-camp chores, including completing the item on the list “Finish drinking all beverages and eating all the food,” we left to hike Mt. Pisgah.

Pisgah forms the eastern wall of the notch that Lake Willoughby slices through.  From its ridge the views of the lake, a long rectangle of wind streaked water directly below, and the Green Mountains in the distance, were remarkable.  We’d timed the hike so we’d get out of the woods right at dark, not having to worry about being any where by any time in particular.  Afternoons like yesterday are when the reality of having left our jobs is most striking.  Want to hike more?  Okay, let’s do it.

As we walked back to the car, the low sun lit the yellow leaves of the hardwoods at the base of the ridge into a canopy of autumn glow.  Just before the road, we crossed a boardwalk over a beaver bog, and the nearly full moon was rising in the east.  A beaver swam back and forth across the small pond, and twice came to watch us watch him.   We looked out over the silvered tree stumps standing in the still water once more, then got in the car and drove home, the big moon riding with us, feathering the dark ridges with a ghost haze, easing us back into a week that isn’t full of work.  Yes, we are blessed.

Yom Kippur, Again

I just reread my Yom Kippur post from last year, which told a story from two years past on Yom Kippur.   And I recently reread Adrienne’s blog post from last Yom Kippur.  Looking back is in the spirit of this solemn day, when we think about our transgressions, contemplate atonement and forgiveness, and resolve to be as good as we can be, while loving ourselves even in our imperfection, in the year to come.

Today at services, I could feel Eric sitting beside me.  He is so present to me still, and no more so than on days that are rich with all he brought into my life — a spiritual practice that has stayed deeply meaningful for me, with rituals and traditions that keep me connected to friends and family and him.

In a couple of hours, David and I will go over to Mark and Andi’s to continue a tradition we’ve started since Eric died.  In the years before Eric’s death, we had started going back into Concord to attend the Memorial and Concluding Services for Yom Kippur.  In the midst of the thoughtful swoon that a day of fasting and reflection brings on, getting dressed again for services and driving back into Concord was a lot, but we’d come to count on the tradition.

The year after Eric died Adrienne and Sam and I planned to go back into Concord, after the break from the morning service, for the Memorial and Concluding Services.  Being part of the Memorial Service was particularly important to me.  But we didn’t make it.  I don’t remember exactly why but it was probably a combination of grief and exhaustion. We went to Mark and Andi’s and broke fast with them.  We didn’t make it back into Concord the following year either, and by the third Yom Kippur after Eric died, David was in my life and Laura had just died.

“I really want to go to Memorial Services, ” I said to Sam, who was home that year.  “But I really don’t want to go back into Concord to the Temple.”

“Do your own service,” Sam said, and we did.  I have a copy of the High Holy Days prayer book at home, because when I went to see the Rabbi after Eric died, and asked for his suggestions for helpful readings on the Jewish response to death and grief, he said he thought the Yom Kippur Memorial Service in the prayer book was as good as anything, and I took a copy home.  So three years ago I picked out readings and we created our own Memorial and Concluding Service with Mark and Andi.  And did it again last year.  And will do it again today.

The photo above is from the first Yom Kippur after Eric died, just about 5 months after.  The photo makes me think about all that’s changed in the five years, and six High Holy Day seasons since he’s been gone.  Mark and Andi and I visited his grave after this morning’s service, and told stories about our lives then and now that made us laugh.  Eric loves that — all of us laughing and loving and carrying on our rituals in whatever way keeps us connected to Judaism and to him.