Bibelots and the Backwoods

What’s considered high or low culture—or utterly lacking in it—is, like so many of the constructs we imbue with value, determined by our own experiences and beliefs and preferences. We’re all so ready to tout the stuff we do and we like as the world’s best, and to condemn as inferior, ugly, stupid, reprehensible, or outright evil whatever is unfamiliar or not to our taste. A raffish bunch of spray-painting ruffians bring street art to the masses and it expands upward and outward to legitimize graffiti as fine art. Nameless folk art masters labor for decades in their continued anonymity, carving and building pieces out of recycled materials, ragtag odds and ends, and found objects, and some eventually are “discovered” by high-end curators of Outsider Art and get gallery representation, some dying still unknown while their work changes hands until it’s decorating some rich collector’s mansion. Much never comes to light at all. Meanwhile, other artists make millions in a few short, meteoric years despite making works that not every critic respects or every art-lover craves.

Digital illo: Abstract Thinking

Abstract thinking allows us to each see and experience all potential cultural riches in our own ways. Thankfully.

Do we admire and praise a song, a dance, a play, or a novel because it is inherently Good and meaningful, life-affirming, unique, intellectually challenging, or universally considered beautiful? Certainly, there are people who feel that definition applies to one that they prefer themselves, but there is no circumstance in which I could possibly imagine a large sector of any given population agreeing fully on such a thing, let alone the whole world. Our loves must inevitably be seen as provincial or peculiar to those who don’t have an identical context for them. Which is nearly everybody, by nature. I may come from a small farming town in an area with a still vital native American population, set in a highly varied natural landscape and a relatively liberal-leaning political region, and you may come from an urban center where classical and jazz music rule the scene, big business drives the economy, and the artistic trend is funded and heavily influenced by the conservative suburbs where the business moguls’ next underlings and their families live.

Educated or not, religious or secular, youthful or antiquated; every iteration of society and the individuals in it tends to affect the view of what culture is, and what within it is valued. I will admit to being provincial enough myself that I wish everybody on earth generally had the tasteful idea that my creative output is the highest form of written, drawn, sculpted, photographed, invented, designed, and painted culture ever, anywhere. But even I am not delusional and foolish enough to think that the remotest possibility, and short of it, I’d far rather delight in the great range of possibilities that exist in our unbelievably different wishes and tastes and expectations, instead.

Confounded Conversationalists

For all of the talking that we humanoids do, we certainly get very little actual Stuff resolved. Our individual biases and filters make it far too easy to hear things with a skew that makes every verbal interaction less of a conversation and more of a convoluted Baroque dance performance. It’s not just that I often realize, after having haggled at length over any given topic with anybody from my husband on outward to complete strangers, that we are in fact sharing the same view, but stating it so differently that we might as well be talking entirely different languages. It’s also not easily brushed off as a problem specific to age, sex, political or religious affiliations, educational status, culture or any of those other Issues we get hung up on all the time; those can play into the ‘failure to communicate‘ plenty, to be sure, but I think there might be a little something broken or at least unfinished in us that makes us almost preternaturally unable to fully and clearly communicate with each other on a consistent basis.

Photo montage: Grizzolar Talk

Does my commentary seem especially grisly to you, or do you just automatically give it the cold shoulder?

We can do it. If we simply couldn’t, not ever, why then we wouldn’t know the difference. So it’s silly of us not to spend at least as much energy on learning to communicate with each other better as we do on miscommunicating or simply failing to even try. I am past-master at garbling what I meant to say, or saying things in such a way that everybody else on the planet hears something different from what I thought I was expressing—I’ve long since outed myself for having that particular foot-in-mouth gift. I guess that means I had better clean out my ears, open my heart, get my brains in better order, and let other, more skillful communicators do the talking more often, and just sit back and listen and learn. Though of course there’s still the possibility that I’m hearing it fine yet completely misinterpreting the information. It goes that way a lot in my particular part of the planet.

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

I Love Cities

Those who visit here with some frequency know that I am mighty fond of the rural landscape and its many, many charms, but it might not be quite as obvious that I am equally smitten, often enough, with the joys of urban life. Some of my happiest times and most exciting and meaningful adventures are attached to various wonderful and fabulous cities where I’ve been privileged to live or spend time.photo + text

Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite cities where I’ve visited or spent any little amount of time, the first places that come to mind are truly lively, astoundingly adventure-filled places. I’m not big on bravery or constant busyness or the unknown, as you may well know by now, but I always manage to find myself energized and passionate about what these fabulous environs have to offer at every turn. It turns out that there is no shortage of urban places that fill me with dazzling delight. In addition to my hometown of Seattle, there are so many other magnificent cities for me to love wildly, places like Stockholm, Boston, Vienna, San Francisco, Munich, Cincinnati, Oslo, San Antonio, Vancouver, New York, Prague, Chicago, and London—for starters.photo + text

I will always crave my quiet time, and often that’s best found in the sweet, laid-back grace of the countryside, removed from cities’ bustling pace. But besides that it is possible to find moments of peace right in the middle of any major metropolis, if one only knows how and where to look, there is the inherent buzz and boisterous beauty of urban life to enjoy as well, and I am not at all immune to that kind of happiness when I can bask in it. I suppose the root of the whole equation is always, quite simply, to seek my well-being wherever I happen to find myself.

Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

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….