And That’s Why You can All See Right Through Me

Under Wonders

The measure of a man when he’s

undressed down to his BVDs

is neither like to leave impressed

anyone more than when he’s dressed—

nor less, in truth, than womankind

in underwear their measure find,

and neither males’ nor females’ worth

has any price at all on earth

determined by the clothes they wear—

or, Emperor-like, when nothing’s there—

no looks reveal, nor can they hide,

our value, for it lives inside—

and gender draws an “I don’t care”

in terms of styles that people wear

or of their color, shape, or size,

for naught of value in that wise

is clearly shown. Small are these parts,

compared to what lives in our hearts.Digital illo: Vitruvius Imperator MMXV

No Surprises Here

Digital Illustration from a Photo: Baby Carriage

Kids have an amazingly flexible sense of time. The week at the lake, playing with cousins, is so shockingly short that the suggestion of leaving there provokes crying fits of desperate sorrow over its unbearable brevity. The twenty-minute regular doctor’s appointment, with a quick squeeze from the blood pressure cuff and a thermometer swiftly passed across a healthy forehead, well that might as well have taken ten years, because the same child is now certain she’ll die in a matter of seconds from the prolonged trauma of it all.

But to be fair, isn’t this exactly the way we see time as supposed adults, too? I may not want anyone to catch me whimpering over the end of a holiday or the beginning of a doctor visit, but generally, I’m not less inclined to feel that way than I ever was in youth. The real difference, for adults, is that we have the perspective and experience to recognize the true brevity of our lives within the broad arc of time. We have, if anything, a deeper desire to cling to and attenuate all of the good moments and avoid the bad. It’s not childishness for a kid to abhor pain and sorrow and crave ease and pleasures, it’s an innate wisdom that tells us the clock is ticking.

I won’t tell you to stop wasting your precious time reading my blog posts, no, I am far from that angelic and selfless. But I hope that time thus spent is indeed a refreshment and pleasure, however small. And that, in the larger scheme, it serves to remind both you and me, if gently, to value our limited time of life enough to choose those things that reduce the ills of life and expand upon the joys—for self, for others—forever. Or as close to it as we can manage to stretch.Digital Illustration from a Photo: Carousel and Other Horses

Beings without Substance

The measure of a human is not in her wealth, or success, or any of those worldly attainments to which we so happily ascribe great value in the popular realm, but in her simplicity. So much can be accomplished by the reduction of focus on unimportant things, the removal of distractions, and reverence for the smaller and more ephemeral stuff. This, this is how we shine.Photo: How We Shine Best

Elsewhere

Digital illustrationMy mind is one place. My body is elsewhere. Isn’t that just the way of things?

Today, it’s not problematic, signifying only that I’m privileged to be on holiday with my beloved and friends, yet attempting to keep a small corner of my normal schedule in the mix, i.e., posting to my daily blog. (So, Hi!) The way that any holiday’s events, from traveling exotic and remote lands to a simple ‘staycation’ involving no travel, only a change of pace, change our entire thought pattern almost instantly right along with the alteration of the days’ expectations, and that makes it easier to find change of spirit and attitude. That’s the real reason to take a holiday of any sort in the first place, isn’t it.

So I’m beginning to feel a seeping sense of the lassitude and restful forgetfulness that I always find so welcome on such breaks. But there’s still that edge of wariness that comes with fearing I’ll forget or fail to do something essential at the required time. This, too, is the way of things in real life. Letting go is harder than we think.

This week, the only essentials in actuality are being present at the right times and places for wedding-related events today and tomorrow, our primary reason for being together and on holiday with this group of dear friends. So I will endeavor to let the other stuff happen however it does or doesn’t happen, including that if I should slip up and fail to post every day in the coming week, and know that when the wedding has been properly feted with all of its events and all of the players in them equally joy-filled, then what was necessary to the days has been fully accomplished.

The important lesson that I most need to learn, however, is that the same is true when I’m not on holiday: I should sort out the essential from the non-essential and not obsess over things that only fill up my hours and days, not worry that every small item be crossed off the list perfectly without regard to its actual value in bringing joy to my life, let alone anyone else’s. It’s perfectly fine to let down my guard and simply revel in knowing I’ve seen to the true essentials: fulfilling genuine requirements, yes, but first and foremost, spending time with those who matter to me most.

Keeping Watch

Now that everyone seems to have the technology to make cheap watches (which I must designate in my heart mere instruments for marking time, not timepieces), I get to wondering whether the beauty of true clockworks will always be preserved or will only serve as curiosities and fodder for art. That precision we take so nonchalantly to be ours is a museum of measurement and the poetry of a mechanism we should keenly regret to lose if we value something more than the rigid math of time, the seamless meeting of Doing and Deadline.

digital illustration from a photo

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

Waiting–for What? For Whom?

digital artwork from a vintage photo

Her Champion

By the light of the window, pale and solemn, quiet, reticent,

She sat and gazed, the age-old tale of waiting, in this variant

Not for a lover or for change that was supposed to bring her hope–

No, but for something passing strange: a subtly altered isotope

Or subatomic shift of sorts that would reveal to her at last

That she was whole, and all reports that indicated in the past

She’d fallen, lost, or failed, or died were clearly false and incorrect;

That anything she chose or tried was incomplete in that respect–

What she awaited, delicate and silent in her ray of light,

Was just this news she ought to get: already she was fine, was bright,

Was loveable and brave and keen and capable as one could need

Or hope to be; by this I mean just that she was quite great indeed.

If you wait validation too, and sit in patience for the news

To be presented thus to you, get up! There’s not a breath to lose,

For simply knowing that your soul already harbors strength and worth

Is proof enough that you are whole; no greater treasure lives on earth:

Rise from the ashes of your fears, wake up from timid, silent gaze,

And race like a runner, months and years stuffed into the space of weeks, of days

Because your courage speeds and grows–leap forward! No more waiting: run!

And as joyful living overflows, you’ll find you were the awaited one.

Simplicity Itself

 

photoSimplicity, I think, is like most of the virtues and values that we humans might hold dear–those who have it don’t necessarily appreciate it, and those who talk the most about it tend to know the least about it.

The rich and comfortable are so obsessed with the idea or ideal of simplicity nowadays that there are magazines, fashions, classes and whole philosophical movements devoted to its study and cultivation. People will expend massive quantities of energy and spend large quantities of money on trying to simplify their lives and themselves, when very likely simply giving up the energetic striving and letting go of the amassed money would do the trick in a trice. (Perish the thought!)

The poor and underprivileged have ultimate simplicity forced upon them, and tend to choose whether to embrace the unsullied earthiness and quietly hardworking ways thrust on them by their circumstances or to battle against them. Probably a majority of people, both poor and rich, will always think the grass greener where they are not, and hardly give thought to how hard the next person is trying to get over the fence onto their own enviably other property. Dissatisfaction may be an essential part of humanity’s natural state of being, much as it naturally chafes us to think so.

On the other hand, looking at what dissatisfies us with as unsparingly honest a glare as we can might in fact shed some light on how to find better contentment, not necessarily by having more or less of something (tangible or ephemeral) but by giving it all its appropriate due and then saving our true love for the most meaningful virtues and values of all. At the very least, that narrows down the field for most of us. At its best, it frees us up to say that life is remarkably livable where we exist right here, right now, regardless of the shade or tint of the lawn. The simple presence of any one particular leaf of grass or bud of bloom in the one square foot of soil nearest to hand may be quite enough, at least for one simple day.photo

 

Treasure Knows Neither Time nor Place

photo

A memory-driven image by my great-uncle Rolph Bolstad . . .

I have been scanning and digitally restoring a number of photos out of our family’s trove, a heap that resembles the disorganized and neglected stores of many other families. I make a small dent in the stack from time to time, then get distracted by everyday life and often don’t revisit the project for quite a while again. While many of us obsess over parting with beloved memorabilia of any kind, the truth is that the majority of us don’t do much with it when we have it.

All good things are that way, I suppose: love, joy, peace and happiness of both the material and the intangible sorts are seldom given their full respect when we have them, only mourned when we think they’re out of reach. And from what I’ve seen and heard from friends around the globe, this is a foolishness that transcends all sorts of differences and makes us more alike than not–no matter what our location or culture, our beliefs, hopes, and dreams, we all seem to wrestle with this forgetfulness about appreciating what we truly value that we have right in hand, and the minute that we suspect we’re about to lose our grip on those gifts, whether by our own decisions or perforce, we get panicked and become certain that it’s a sign of apocalypse. Surely the end of our own self and sanity, and very possibly, that of the universe as we know it.

I come across that box of yet-to-be-scanned photos from time to time and get a pang: what if I don’t get back to this project before I forget who’s in the photos, where the shots were taken, before the images are too faded or decayed to be rescued at all?

Well, what if?

Honestly, I know full well that it will not be the end of the world. Not even the end of my pleasurable revisiting of those memories–what’s more significant than retaining this flimsy physical repository of memories is whether I use the versions of them in my head and heart while they last (head, heart and memories, all three). Once gone from there, the data held in a picture is only cold, meaningless data after all, and it never contained the warmth and soul of anyone or anything depicted in it. It’s merely a shadow-play version of the husk that is my human form and will no longer be me when I die.

So I’ll keep leafing through these paper and binary mementos of mine as long as it pleases me to do so, remembering mostly that what is seen therein is always more beautifully carried inside me. Change is indeed the only constant, yet in the photograph my great-uncle took, probably in Johannesburg, around sixty years ago there is the ephemeral prototype of the photograph I took in New York less than a decade ago. Fifty years or fifty centuries, it matters little if we learn to respect and rejoice in what remains true and crosses the boundaries of place and time as long as we keep it alive inwardly.

photo

New York City lives in my own memory as much as in a physical place . . . its beauties, like all things loved and valued, lies in me, in others’ hearts, far more than in itself or any image we can conjure of it . . .

Calling All Knights: To Each His Own Grail

digital photo art

If you don't have a dragon handy to defend your treasury, you may have to put on your own armor . . .


Never Give Up Your Holy Grail!

Just because some genius expert says the object you treasure is kitsch, the popular song you adore is cheesy and off-key, or the person you date is too dorky for you doesn’t mean you have to live by the so-called expert’s standards. If the object is radioactive, the song causes neighborhood riots and shatters windows all down the block, or the significant other is a part-time serial killer, then you should definitely be revisiting your values. Otherwise, winnow down your oddities to the ones that serve and please you well, and keep a relatively low profile with them where it keeps the peace. And then enjoy your little eccentricities. You are, after all, unique.

digital photo art

No matter what you treasure, you may be called upon one day to make a choice . . .

Never be Unwilling to Throw Out Your Holy Grail!

If the time comes when honest reassessment of your most treasured effects, whether they’re objects or ideas, leads you to the realization that they’re not what you once thought they were, can you do the brave, smart thing and amend the situation? Can you not only let go of your sacred cow but give it a firm boot in the behind and get it out of your barn altogether? Things, beliefs, even people—those ingredients of your life that once had a revered place in you—can change. You can change.

The past never snuffs out of existence, but you can put it in its appropriate place and give yourself permission to turn to better, more present things. Only if you’re willing to haul off and pitch away what you once held dear, vigorously and decisively, can you start afresh. The loss stings madly for a bit, and discarding anything you once adored generally tends to feel like misbehavior, but if you’ve really embraced the transformation, when the pain recedes that missing part can be replaced with better and richer possibilities, and your new life and new self are infinitely worth the trouble.

mixed media collage

One man's treasure is another man's trash . . . one woman's trash is another's treasure . . .