The Angle

Digital illo from a Photo: Gathering StormOpen a Window

Open a window; what’s outside?

Sunlight blazing far and wide?

Branches dancing in the trees

and birdsong lilting on the breeze?

Is it an evening cold with storm,

with indigo cloud banks taking form

in a palisade of lightning, hail,

and whistling ghosts in a screaming gale?

So goes the weather, for a start;

how, now, with the windows of your heart?Photo: Sunny Days

Nothing Wrong with Stating the Obvious

That which is ubiquitous in my life, the thing that I walk by every single day or experience every time I am in a particular, familiar setting, can become invisible to me. For good or ill, I can forget to notice anymore those things that are so close they could bite me on the nose before I paid proper attention to them. They might be so near I could change them for the better with little effort or they could, if I’m too foolish to do that, turn on me and make my life or someone else’s immeasurably worse for having been left unchanged; good things, conversely, can be so near that I could be uplifted by the mere thought of them if I only gave them a thought in passing.

I must pay better attention. My senses should be enough to remind me of all the woe and wealth that surround me at every turn, and my will should follow my convictions enough to make me respond with a hand of aid, a voice of change, or a heart full of admiration and gratitude. The vast majority of the world hasn’t nearly the kind of wealth and privilege that surrounds me in my life—materially, yes, but also in health, safety, opportunity, hope and happiness—and while there is no reason to reject what I have, it should motivate me to take a closer look around me. I ought to take constant inventory and be willing to counter the wrongs and repair those things that I can, or at the least, call upon those who are able to make positive change. And I should be glad at every sign that states the obvious good in my life. Thankfulness is a small enough part of true mindfulness, but looms large in the world of well-being.Photo: Stating the Obvious

Swimming Upstream

Some days are easier than others. Ask any salmon. It’s really amazing, what salmon have to accomplish to make the journey back to their home waters to spawn, fighting the elements, predators, and tough currents all the way over whatever massive miles they’ve wandered, just to get back to where they started, and spawn, and die.

Life is short for others besides us humans.

Some days, I do feel like I’m swimming upstream the whole time, battling my own set of challenges, and know that no matter what the celebrations back in my home waters, the end of the story is always death. The way of all things.

But far more often, I’m thinking that if life is already short, adventure-filled, quite possibly arduous at times, and certainly unpredictable, then I’d better be making the most of the journey. Whenever I can, I should be leaping and laughing, and making a pretty big splash as I go. Anything else is just drowning in slow motion. Bon voyage, everyone, I’m away!Digital Illustration: Fish are Jumpin'

What We Can Learn from Dogs

So it’s Monday. All. Day. Long. One of those times when you can easily believe in the purported accursedness of the day; one unlucky, frustrating, impossible thing after another and not a coffee break in sight. We’ve all had ’em. Rotten, rotten Mondays, no matter what day of the week in reality, are the bane of humankind.

Dogs, however, rarely let a Monday take their essential doggy happiness away. It takes, in fact, quite a lot of horribleness to take the equanimity and enthusiastic canine capering down to a level recognizable as sad, and once cheered up again, dogs are remarkably good at forgiving and forgetting. Barring ill-treatment or illness, every day is the greatest day ever to your average dog.

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Why lie around counting the time until your human will take you walking farther, when you can back-scratch your way headfirst right down the hill?

It’s not that dogs are stupid. Far from it; some dogs I’ve known would beat some people I’ve known at any IQ test, and the average dog is a pretty clever problem solver and able to perform all sorts of magnificent deeds, accomplish numerous astounding feats. It’s more that dogs, simply, seem to have a highly developed power for living in the moment, finding the good in the small and ordinary and letting unpleasantness drift past them as quickly as the turning of the world will allow. They’re not much on sulking, self-pity, or wallowing and very rarely hold grudges–and these, as far as I’ve seen, only when pressed to it by persons or events truly deserving of their scorn.

What dogs seem to hold among their many fine and useful instincts is the one that tells one to be thrilled when a maple seed helicopters out of a tree in his path, to slurp lustily at a handy puddle of water when thirsty, and to leap into the air rather than toddling through the weeds when crossing the parking strip to get to the park for a romp. The wisdom to nuzzle the hand that pets him, to lie like a shaggy, comforting blanket on the cold feet of a human companion when he’s sad and to shoot across the house like water from a fire hose when the other human gets home from her long day at the office. All of this is noble work, and keeping as busy at it as any good dog does makes him far too busy to mope and snarl and bemoan his bad fortune. Even on a typical Monday.

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It’s a good day to be a dog!

Car Crash Bad

I almost crashed the car. While I make no claims of being an outstandingly skillful driver, I do credit myself with being a pretty sensible, legal and even careful one. But I’m not infallible, either. I’m just very glad I happen to be lucky, too.

So my close call was just that, a close call. It would have been my own fault as well, because although I did wait and look all directions and not see any cars coming my way since the one that was was behind something bigger the whole time I scanned that direction, it jolly well was there and it was moving rather quickly. Possibly even faster than was strictly appropriate in that stretch, but I was still the driver that started to turn left at the light directly in front of that oncoming car. Our respective guardian angels were evidently working overtime, because both the other driver and I were able to brake and steer out of the situation fairly swiftly.

A split second’s difference, and our cars could have been demolished, our selves injured or even killed. That accident being technically my fault would have been utterly irrelevant outside of legal terms and in practical terms: both of our lives stood a hair’s-breadth from being forever altered, not to mention the effects on all of the life-dominoes that would inevitably be downed or redirected by that incident. All because of a single mote’s difference.digital collageAnd we two, and all of those around us at the intersection, in the following second or two regrouped and continued just as though nothing had happened at all, if perhaps with a dash of adrenaline pumping.

Isn’t that the way that we live every day, every moment, though? Whether through wickedness or stupidity we go astray, or merely by happenstance or sheer momentary bad luck, we are at risk every instant we’re alive. As a person who copes with exaggerated anxiety (thankfully, mine is treatable), I could easily find excuse in that for any amount of paranoia and become anything from a perpetual pessimist to an emotionally crippled hermit. But besides being impractical, that’s a hideously unappealing plan for existence.

My solution is to keep working on my vigilance as far as paying attention to the details in day-to-day life, hoping that others are doing the same and we’re all generally watching out for each other, too, and assuming that my good luck, guardian angels and/or serendipitous circumstances will always tip in my favor. Beyond that, knowing that I can’t control any such things, I know it’s best to just turn off the switch, to let go. I even like to think I can be on the lookout for more excuses to be delighted with life and let the accidents be ones of tripping over unexpected joys. There’s far too much fine and happy stuff in the mix that should not be missed or wasted.

Life, that’s Good.photo

What if I Never Grow Up?

digitally doctored photoAside from the fact that all of you know already that this is a given rather than a question, I can still pose it rhetorically and ask it of all people in general. See, I think about this a fair amount, and not just because of my own level of maturity at any given time or in any given category. It’s simply a question we all get asked in one way or another at some point, or should jolly well ask ourselves, at the least.

This marvelous Möbius loop of inquiry and insistence begins the first time we are told, as children, that we need to Grow Up, and it can be applied to any number of circumstances. The irony that this mandate is almost invariably handed down to us by a person or persons barely older and more grown than ourselves is of course lost on all of the parties involved, because we’re all too inexperienced and naive and, conversely, too full of ourselves to understand it. The bigger kid tells the littler kid to Grow Up mainly because the elder wants something that the younger has or has simply lost patience with her.

It doesn’t change. When we’re older, the toys and privileges may have changed to different brands of money and power, but as long as we think someone else has more of whichever kind we desire than we do, we’re just as inclined in adulthood to nit-pick at that someone for his supposedly lower maturity levels both as cover for our covetousness and in shallow hopes of shaming him into being more generous than we are ourselves. The failure of this silly system doesn’t change either, but it doesn’t stop the less magnanimous and less mature from nagging at those who are more so, no matter the age or the occasion.

There are perfectly good reasons to wish anybody, including ourselves, would think and act with maturity and keen sense and the wisdom of experience. Those things tend to lead to our being more level-headed in emergencies, more practical in the everyday, and more inclined to share those traits and all sorts of other things with other people–and that leads to better community. Who knows, even World Peace.

But isn’t it grand, all the same, to forever retain a large enough pinch of immaturity and, if not childishness, then at least the ability to be childlike, that we can still look at the wide world with the awe and wonder it requires. We should hang on, with youthful enthusiasm and gleeful tenaciousness, to innocence and hope, to curiosity and rambunctiousness, to unalloyed silliness whenever the moment permits. Maybe we should even be willing to get down there with the actual kids and roll around in the grass once in a while without batting an eye over how dirty it’ll get us or whether it might make our old joints sore tomorrow. If we can’t still do somersaults, then we’d better find other ways to regain and retain our not at all grown up point of view, because the world, especially while it’s still short of outright Peace, can really use a healthy splash of the ridiculous now and again.

 

Black & White in a World of Color

digital painting from a photoI was just strolling along and running errands, minding my own business, when I spotted this little twosome toddling along a nearby lawn. The way that they bobbed in unison, then in counter-rhythms, then in unison again, side by side, made me think of piano keys. They were like visual music, these birds, unselfconsciously creating a silent but cheering melody as they made their way across the grass. And they were in sharp contrast, being mainly black and white, to the Technicolor world all around them which suddenly seemed a little dull and plebeian by comparison.

And I thought, that’s how art works for me. It’s not that it’s always spectacular in its showy presence, brilliantly executed or wildly original–just that it strikes me at the right time and in the right way to make me see both the art and its context a little bit differently. It’s one of the reasons that I so love black and white visual artworks, in fact: that the simple removal of the known and expected colors of the subject can make me see the mundane as magical and contemplate the distinct wonders of things that ordinarily I might pass by without noticing. I suppose it would be good if I could learn to do this with a whole lot more of my world a whole lot more often, and perhaps I would refresh my sense of wonder enough to truly appreciate how fantastic ‘ordinary’ life really is.photo montage