The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

We All have Our Preferences

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Red. Delicious?

The apple of my eye is bound to be unlike yours. Even among apples, the almost bewildering array of would-be favorites almost catches up with the endless variations in personal character; together, these have the exponential potential to create such a multiplicity of possible tastes that it’s amazing if any small group of people have predictably identical loves.

On top of that, our own tastes are bound to change over time. I’ve lived long enough to have had several ‘favorite’ apple varieties, never mind had enough life experience to know that what I prefer for one use or recipe is not the universal solution for all of my cooking and eating wishes. Even the longtime favorites can be supplanted, eventually.

So while I currently favor Fuji apples for eating plain, a mixture of bright, crisp Granny Smiths with soft and über-sweet Golden Delicious and an in-between variety like Jazz or Braeburn for pies and sauces, and something with interesting color, shape or texture on its peel like a heritage variety to ‘pose’ for my artworks—any of those could change at any given moment. Why, I’ve even been known to draw Red Delicious (a variety that while I’ll grant its being among the reddest of apples I think hybridized to the point of being utterly insipid and flavorless rather than actually delicious) simply because it’s bright and shiny and stereotypically apple-y.

For the most part, life is more interesting to most of us because it offers so much variety and the possibilities inherent in change excite and intrigue our senses. But sometimes it’s perfectly okay to be predictable, too. The comfort of the familiar is also a gift. And once in a while, there’s the amazing possibility that we can surprise and shock others—even our own selves—precisely by choosing the safe and predictable thing when we have all of the options in the world right before us.

Maybe what I relish most of all is simply that I can’t guarantee from one moment to the next, let alone one day to the next, that my own tastes will remain the same, my choices the utterly expected ones. How do you like them apples?

Color Me Surprised

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Big News, Everybody! Read all about it!

I stopped by Michelle’s blog at The Green Study, because the other day I managed to find an unexpected four minutes glued together that weren’t jammed with must-do things and there’s nothing I like better than wandering around the inspiring nooks and crannies of my friends’ homes in the interwebs. I just went there for the great reading and brain-jolting goodness that seems to be forever hovering at Michelle’s fingertips, and as I went through the post at hand I was busy enjoying the anticipation she created in me to visit some other blogs she described along the way. That’s how I’ve found nearly as many good blogs to read and follow as I have through connecting with commenters on my own blog: looking at others’ suggestions and finding new ideas and interests and friendly ‘study groups’ and kaffeeklatsches of endless variety in so many unexpected lanes and forests and classrooms everywhere.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to meet myself there. But thanks to her open door policy, there I was in black and white. I hope I at least had my fly zipped and the lettuce brushed out of my teeth when I appeared in The Green Study. In any event, I am delighted to flounce further [farther? I’m unclear about whether the applications of these two cousin words differs from ‘earth’ grammar when met in the binary world…] around in cyberspace and explore yet more new worlds. You, on the other hand, if you haven’t already met Michelle, should pop by her place and have a look around as well. I never come away from there without some new and piquant angle from which to view my reality, and the fact that she can make me collect and inspect such intriguing items with such a perfect brew of intelligence, outrage, insight, hilarity and compassion means I can promise you won’t be sorry for going there either.

Meanwhile, she has encouraged me to shine a little light on a few other bloggers I’ve perhaps neglected to introduce to you here before or at least recently. Herewith, in no particular order—starting, appropriately enough, with Random Rose.

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Random Rose’s Blog: http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/17201311/ —This lovely Rose brings everything around her into bloom with intuitive artworks and magical prose and poetry. I sensed sisterhood the minute I stepped into her blog space, yet never find her the least bit predictable, so it’s always a joy to pop in and see what’s new in her garden.

Meticulous Mick: http://meticulousmick.wordpress.com —A day spent with John in Ireland is a holiday, no matter what he’s up to at the moment: chasing The Hound, his hilariously handsome companion, over hill and dale or exploring the everyday beauties of the nearby towns and parks or musing, gently, on what is important in life.

Dreams to Reality! http://afsheenanjum.wordpress.com —My instant-little-sister Afsheen blogs family affections, artful crafts, inspirational contemplation, and numerous other forms of happiness that prove her education, her Muslim roots and great upbringing give her a heartfelt appreciation for what binds all of us together in joy and love.

Belsbror: http://belsbror.wordpress.com —Another contemplative fellow, Bror Blogger has a heart for what inspires, a mind for contemplating what can make us better, and an eye for inviting imagery that makes me want to visit and linger at his place.

My Life as an Artist (2): http://jcrhumming.wordpress.com —Janet’s sumptuously dainty (yes, that’s possible; just go and see!) artwork is blended skillfully with tales of fact and fiction, and some fact, like the stories of her idyllic former home in Wales, almost too pretty and charming not to be fiction, too.

David Emeron: Sonnets: http://davidemeron.com —Don’t be deceived by the title and subject of this blog; David’s sonnets are full of more widely varied and deeply felt content than many less vehicle-focused authors ever dream up in their worldly wanderings. His beautifully realized sonnets each (and in their pairings) evoke endless musing.

Shivaay Delights: http://shivaaydelights.wordpress.com —Her blog is a marvelously warm place where the beautiful Dimple shares recipes and stories from her Indian heritage and family love, making me feel very welcome and very, very hungry every time.

The Ancient Eavesdropper: http://tylerpedersen02.wordpress.com —Besides being in awe of the enormous quantity of Tyler’s output in photographs, prose and poetry, I am always amazed to find that not only does he do all of that stuff well, he has apparently got several other parallel lives of work, love and play that are equally artful and impressive.

A Holistic Journey: http://holisticwayfarer.com —Diana’s deep compassion and endlessly patient dives into the central topics of our humanity and our ability to expand humanity’s horizons keep me coming back for more and lead me to think about things in ways I’d not yet explored about how I fit into the universe and whether there’s anything I can do to make that more meaningful.

The Vibes: http://thevibes.me —Far more than simply managing, as if this weren’t enough,  to be a top-shelf graphic artist and insightful traveler, Mark is also a music aficionado and expert, thoughtful critic, garden enthusiast, cat wrangler and all-around delightful guy.

Curls and Carrots: http://shannaward.com —If it isn’t enough to gaze upon her duo of exceedingly adorable children (and it is, trust me) or to learn some of the heartfelt history of modern Judaism at the elbow of a gifted sharer (and that’s true here, too), then go over for big helpings of fantastic cookery in Shanna’s inviting kitchen.

DreamPrayAct: http://dreamprayact.com —A Methodist minister who challenges us to shape our mortality with humane graces, Mark uses his gently persistent voice to advocate for justice, hope and peace, individually and between us all.

Blue Jelly Beans: http://bluejellybeans.wordpress.com —The beautiful Giovanna shares cultural and personal history, all cooked into magnificent recipes in both English and Spanish that make me want to eat them all day long, no matter what the language.

Photo Maestro: http://photomaestro.wordpress.com —Specializing in, but far from limited to, location photography, Rhys has a gift for capturing the ephemeral Moment that makes each place, each person and each subject in his work uniquely appealing.

Journey into Poetry: http://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com—Sharing Christine’s journey isn’t merely poetic, though that is pleasurable and insightful enough indeed, but it’s also a journey alongside the gracious, thoughtful and good-humored Christine, who embraces a life-affirming and open-handed hospitality with great intentionality.

Vultureşti: http://atdoru.wordpress.com —Doru reminds me with every post how universal are some qualities of human existence. I am immersed in the stories implied in the human-interest photos, the sense of history contained in details of buildings and hidden alleyways, and the attractions of minute details of frost and bloom.

Hot, Cheap & Easy: http://hotcheapeasy.com —Like the gorgeous recipes she posts, Natalia is certainly Hot, but the cheap and easy aspects she adds on to her cookery make it particularly useful and appealing to study and imitate her ways in the kitchen. Add on a great sense of history and sense of humor, and you’re in a great place ‘over there’.

Earthquake Boy: http://earthquakeboy.wordpress.com —David has a seriously keen eye for fantastic subjects and the skills to make them into photographic art, but it’s often his clever titles that take them over the top to truly outstanding levels.

The London Flower Lover: http://thelondonflowerlover.wordpress.com/about/ —The deep-hearted Team at TLFL brings thoughtful grace to exploring the immense impact that something as seemingly simple and relatively small as a flower, or a bouquet of them, can have. Their musings and artful arrangements never fail to remind me to think about how something as seemingly simple and relatively small as an individual person can have immense impact by being equally thoughtful and kind.

Spiderpaw’s Blog: http://spiderpaw.wordpress.com —I’m particularly in awe of the way Lionel uses the character of light and patterns sharpened by contrasting values to create enormous depth and richness in his views of what might otherwise be missed in the local and personal landscape of home and hometown.

Veggiewhatnow: http://veggiewhatnow.wordpress.com —If you’re a vegetarian, great, you won’t have any excuse for being bored or limited by what you can make under the tutelage of this delightful blogger. But if you’re a meatatarian of any kind, go on over to discover that you don’t have any excuse for avoiding vegetable deliciousness either!

Amazing Pictures by Michael Taggart: http://amazingpicturesblog.com —Clearly I have a soft spot for fabulous photography. But Michael, along with the other photobloggers I admire, has a gift for bringing us far more than mere photos. Even when he’s showing us SOOC kinds of images he’s got a terrific eye, but I’m especially drawn to his inventively processed story images, which really are Amazing.

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And that, my dear reading friends, is what I love about blogging in general. Each of us, though we may share some personal roots or points of view, explores our existence in truly distinctive ways that become art and inspiration. And at the same time, these unique voices and ways of expressing ourselves show over and over how much we really have in common, and that fills me with both hope and happiness.

Thanks again, Michelle, for reminding me of it so often and so powerfully.

Just a Different Stripe, or a Horse of a Different Color Altogether?

Does it really matter whether our differences make us varied members of the same family or citizens of separate countries entirely? At the bottom of it all, we remain genetically bound to each other as disparate parts of the same species. What we choose to do with and in response to that simple truth is what really defines us as individuals and as parts of the human family, not how different we are from one another.

Working for respect, kindness and peace toward and among all the people whose paths cross mine in life seem to me like perfectly viable ways to respond. That’s the choice I’m going with, and I hope that it will be seen as defining my true colors always.

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Our differences may be subtle or they may be tremendous, but they’re still contained in remarkably similar packages.

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It’s a gift and a privilege to see the beauty in those of a different stripe than ourselves.

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What, are you really so concerned about the cut of my hair or the color of my hide?

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I should always try to get a leg up on what challenges my expectations, whether it’s my nearest neighbor or someone from worlds away.

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After all, some of my best friends are zorses….

A [Mostly] Black & White Photoessay from the Road

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Farm Frames.
I loved the sweet repetition of gorgeous farms of all sorts, in parts of every state.

Some of the images yielded by five weeks and six thousand miles’ worth of rambling cross-country seemed to want expression in my old favorite black and white imagery. And, not coincidentally, this set particularly showcases my obsessions with seeing patterns, repetition and commonalities.

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Towers
Monolithic bare trees and sculptural bridges seemingly imitate each other.

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Twisted Trees
Driftwood. A helical trunk amid Douglas-fir and vine maple companions.

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AmeriCars the Beautiful
Car culture in the US may have long grown old, but it hasn’t stopped being a classic.

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Boarded Up
Fruit growers’ packing crates. A burned house.

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Shake Your Tailfeathers
Hawk? Maybe. Mallard, definitely.

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Sunday School
The old shed behind the parsonage, the inner workings of a portative organ, and a vintage church.

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God is in the Details
Small stuff, large impact.

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Radii
Spokes that speak for themselves.

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Elephants
An older model pachyderm and an older model Packard? (Nah, I think it was a Rolls.)

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Strange Geometries
The wonder of a weird homemade aerial and the magic of a zebra.

 

Equilibrium

photo montageOne of the things I enjoy most as an artist–as those of you who frequent this joint know–is playing with all of the commonalities I find in the visual world. I am very much an analogous thinker; what I see is tested, examined, recognized and theorized on the basis of what it reminds me of at first glance. I suppose it’s the virtual equivalent of judging a book by its cover, but what it allows me when I’m thinking in strictly visual terms is the opportunity to fiddle with the ideas of what I imagine to be the links between one subject and another and as patterns emerge from it, use that for creative fodder, learn something about these pet subjects of mine, build images based on them, and in turn, learn something about myself along the way if I make even a little effort.

It’s very easy to become a collector. We all have our idiosyncratic passions and interests, to the degree that when we’re not actively gathering objects and concrete stuff that reflects them we are still busy building our internal storage of ideas and images related to them, and we end up with personalities shaped by, and like, them. People associate us with our sets of tastes and ways of thinking. Me, I am addicted to patterns and repetition and all of those other characteristics that seem to me to express the wholeness of the world. I like the unique iterations that make each part of the larger network have its own personality or meaning yet remain subservient in one way or another to the more visible and outspoken qualities that are held in common.

I strongly suspect that this simply showcases my longing for a wider world wherein the beauty of each individual is respected and nurtured yet the things we know we have in common are celebrated above all else because we treasure our place in a bigger picture. That’s a work of art that we shouldn’t have to take art classes to appreciate.

Kindred Spirits

line drawingEven when I meet them in places of common interest I am surprised to encounter like-minded creatures. I suppose that’s part of the human psyche, to imagine ourselves so individual as to be unique in all ways. What we really are is unique combinations of characteristics, so we might be better explained as having innumerable subsets in common with others, but not all with anyone else.

And that makes for practically infinite possible serendipitous discoveries of the shared traits, ideas, bits of history, likes, dislikes and curiosities. The potential for finding ways in which we are like others is probably greater, when it comes right down to it, than for finding differences.

Of course, having desires in common means that, like siblings, we still find our shared interests a reason–if not an excuse–to compete with each other, even to fight. We might get a bit too busy comparing ourselves with each other because of our commonalities as well, and whether we think ourselves superior or inferior the imbalance in the equation can lend itself to conflict. We are contentious beings, we humans.

But all told, the advantageous delights of finding others with whom we share views and loves and hopes and pleasures far outweigh the complications. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, worldly or otherworldly, there is great happiness to be found on discovering kindred spirits. It is possible to live our own fairytales when we find the right characters with whom to share them.digital artwork