Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Be "Another"

It's been a year of loss. Lots of people whose work influenced our world for the better are gone. Musicians, actors, writers. Artists of all kinds.

The loss of Carrie Fisher--actor, writer, advocate--hits me especially hard. Especially her, especially this year.

So, Yoda says, "There is another." Whatever or whoever he (or George Lucas) may mean by that--all that speculation feels, increasingly, beside the point.

All of us can, must, should be "Another."

Yes: speak/write, especially speaking up when power is abused. But also, find others who are speaking. Stand beside them, listening to and amplifying their work, letting them know they're not fighting alone.

NOTE: I'm not listening backward (or, you know, backwards). I'm no longer interested hearing people speak hate or even ambivalence about people who don't look like they do. I refuse to seek out voices who glorify "business sense" at the expense of compassion and equity, or who think "paying taxes" and "being taken" are the same thing. I grew up where those values dominate every conversation. I've seen how they hurt. I'm done.

Instead, I've been trying to listen outward--finding people who are leading interesting discussions at places like Code Switch, voices like that of Chelsea Vowell, news at APTN.

Listening to people whose experience of gender is different from mine. To people whose history on this continent (and on the planet) is different from mine. To people whose experience of illness and health is different from mine.

Listening also to people who know things I don't. Things about policy and science and ways we can ensure that my grand-nephews and anticipated grand-niece--and YOUR descendants--still have the chance to live on this planet.

As I release the year that's nearly gone, it's hard not to focus on the losses--loss of leadership, loss of opportunities for leadership, loss of skilled people, loss of hopes.

But I'll also celebrate 2016 as the year that showed me how important it is to listen. To be "another."
Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Gift

For many years, I made calendars for my family for Christmas gifts. I live in a place that my siblings and I visited every summer. The calendar was a way to show them photos of our beloved place in other seasons.

As gifts go, it was fine. I mean, printed calendars are still somewhat useful in our age of digital everything. My siblings thanked me and seemed to enjoy the pictures. I certainly enjoyed putting it together every year, but over time, making the calendar became another thing to do--another item to check off my list in a busy season.

Several years ago, in late December, I met a fellow artist for coffee. She was a large-hearted, charismatic woman, an actor and writer, who raved about my photos on Facebook. She had a fractured family and a sensitive soul and, underneath her "show must go on" demeanor, dreaded the holidays. We weren't especially close, but I liked and respected her as an artist and a human being.

At coffee, I pulled out a calendar--I always fall for the "print more and each is cheaper" sales technique, and that year a few extras paid for themselves--and gave it to her.

Really, it was a very small gesture on my part.

She spent the next hour marveling over that calendar. Each image caused her to gasp in delight. She then showed me every single page, talking about the photos as if they were art, asking me questions about how I'd chosen the image for the month, raving about the colours, the beauty, the interesting composition, the juxtaposition and echoes in the images each month, and on and on and on.

She gave me one of the absolute best gifts I've ever received: she devoted her time and attention to experiencing and appreciating something I'd created. I felt seen and heard--valued. Treasured, even.

Our world lost her to cancer a few years ago. I think about her often, especially at the holidays. I keep trying to cultivate her attitude of appreciation for art and artists. Though I haven't been particularly successful, I still try to pass along what she gave me--honest gratitude for creating something in a world that doesn't always reward creativity as well as it could.

In that spirit, thank you, all you dancers on the page, you builders of canvas and snow, you makers of sonic cathedrals, you nurturers of laughter and tears. The world is better for your presence in it.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Will You Miss?

I'm within one package and a few cards of having my holiday obligations taken care of, and I kind of don't know what to do with myself! I'm used to drowning in guilt for missing these family deadlines.

Nobody likes guilt, right? How I've handled that in the past is declaring, "Our Christmas will be in January." Or telling myself "Better late than never!"

But sometimes, receiving the right gift in the right way--under the tree, in the stack of gifts after you blow out birthday candles--magnifies the value of the gift. It's a big part of the fun. Plus, there's a satisfaction in meeting deadlines other than those imposed on me--deadlines I choose for myself.

So imagine my surprise to learn that I actually miss the guilt from being behind.

Similarly, I spent a good part of this past year pulling together a nonfiction manuscript that I've been working on for twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! Twenty. Years.



I've received excellent feedback on that manuscript--part permission to let go of one or two previous visions I've had for it, part counsel for how to proceed, part responses to the value and emotional heft (or lack thereof) of the work itself. So fabulous. I'm really grateful for that.

Now I have a sense of my next steps. I feel energized because This Big Project is no longer sitting in boxes in my basement. It's not whispering "When are you going to do something with me?" Or giving me a false sense of investment--I can no longer think "Well, if all my new work stinks, I can go back to that"--a sort of creative form of money in the bank.

And guess what: I miss feeling the weight of all that baggage. It had been my companion for years. Of course, it's also great--really freeing--to know that I'm allowing those decades to transform it as they have transformed me.

But just as I miss the clamoring guilt over not getting the holidays done, I also miss the poking from this longstanding project.

Of course, I won't miss it for long! For one thing, a novel has taken its place in those boxes in the basement. It's more than whispering to me--it's wheedling "Only three weeks--four tops--would fix me right up!"

And here's the best part: any new space that's opened up from getting clear on this nonfiction project is slowly filling with possibilities--ideas and half-formed thoughts and images and colors and chocolate/salted caramel that may become new work.

Thanks, Big Project; so long, guilt; hello new stuff. Given the rest of the disasters this year has brought, I'm ecstatic to have had this experience this year.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Highly Recommend

Below are a few of the books I've read recently--and OK, three I haven't yet read.

Good gifts!
The top four are available as a boxed set, and of those I've only read Spring so far, but based on that volume alone, they're worth the price. Also, they're a fundraiser for The (UK) Wildlife Trusts. (And no, I get nothing from any links.)

After a respectable-yet-not-excessive amount of dithering, I've decided I will read Winter next, given that that's what's mostly happening outside and the calendar will catch up in a couple of weeks.

I'll write more about Common Ground later, because man oh man. Rob Cowen, like Melissa Harrison (not coincidentally, the editor of the set of seasonal books, above), writes like gangbusters about the natural world--specifically, bits of land in urban or suburban or exurban areas that aren't "nature" in the normal sense, but where natural things happen. Because nature. And people. And us all together.

These are by no means the only books I've read (or read in) during 2016. But these titles have spoken to me, and they might to you as well.