Monday, April 16, 2012

A Spiritual Journey through Photography

Well, it has been quite a while since I have written - but I have been very busy behind the scenes.  I have still not read much fiction, but I continue to read books on photography and writing, and know that someday I will return to my reading passion.  Geoff and I are trying to finalize plans for out 30th anniversary celebration, but we are having a difficult time deciding how to celebrate:  New York City - a cruise - a lake house retreat?  That is obviously fodder for another post at a later time.

I have had an idea for several weeks now to write a blog post on the spiritual journey I have traveled through my photography hobby.  It has now become quite lengthy and will probably be a multi-part essay.  But today I feel the need to document my weekend epiphany that came as a result of doing homework for the online class I am taking, Sense of Place.

In the first week of the class we were asked to begin an Inspiration File of travel photos.  There was no limitation except that we needed to collect 20-30 pictures that "inspired" us.  Since I have saved over 300 pictures in the favorites folder on my Flickr account - I decided to start there.  I quickly culled through the photographs and selected 18 pictures that I thought pertained to my "sense of place" and I saved them in a separate folder on my desktop.

When I viewed all 18 pictures at once I quickly found a common theme:  serenity.  Every single photograph left me with a sense of peace and tranquility.  This did not surprise me.

But as I looked closer I realized another theme emerged:  simplicity - a desire to return to a bygone era where life was lived at a slower pace and success was not measured by the number of tasks ticked off the to-do list.  I am drawn to pictures of flower boxes in windowsills - and moleskin notebooks on cafe tables with a half empty cup of espresso on the side.  Technology is a not a part of these eighteen photos, but open air markets with fresh produce is plentiful.  The pastoral setting with sheep grazing in the lush green grass is perfection to me.

And then it hit me.  An epiphany for me - but probably a "duh" moment for others.  If this is what I yearn for:  simplicity, tranquility, a desire to release 21st century technology for a lifestyle more genteel --- then why do I only indulge myself one or two weeks a year?  Why do I feel the need to live a daily hectic life that produces stress and strain when I can make minor adjustments and live that lifestyle year 'round?

While I may not have the opportunity to visit daily open air markets, I am driving distance to several Farmers' markets here in the heart of America.  If I long to sit a sip an espresso while writing long hand in a moleskin book then why I don't give up the computer and head to a local Starbucks and secure a corner table for the afternoon?  If I do not wish to define success by a to-do list, then it is time to give myself a break and say I will teach those classes which hold a passion for me (Brit Lit and English Comp) and release those that bog me down.

Vacation is a not only a physical destination beyond the everyday - it is a mental mindset.  And while I do not envision taking an extended break from life - I do believe it is possible to infuse my life with elements of simplicity that until just recently I thought were only available for one week out of the year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Year of Change...

Brynn's 1st Birthday Party
The following is what I wrote this morning during my morning pages time at 750words.  While I normally keep these journal entries private, I thought perhaps there are a few family members and friends who might be interested in reading my thoughts about this past year.  Warning:  word count is over 1,200.


One year ago today I woke up a grandmother - and spoke at the memorial service of my own mom.  One year ago I had to put a smile on my face and weep tears - when I felt nothing but numb.  One year ago my life changed forever - and yet it continued on as if nothing had happened.  It has been a year of change - and while these external circumstances were certainly significant - I hope that the internal changes have been more so.

When I discovered I was going to be a grandmother - I knew it was something I could not stop, but I did not relish in the news.  But the poem, When I Grow Old I Shall Wear Purple continued to come to mind.  Many older women embrace that poem by joining a group of brash ladies sporting large bright hats that stand out in the crowd.  I prefer to focus on the color purple - quietly proclaiming my new resolve to have more fun in this next half century of my life.  I have since added much purple to my otherwise drab wardrobe of black, brown, and khaki.  This spring I even ventured out to a few more bright bold colors such as coral and turquoise.  Just yesterday I picked up my new pair of glasses that are completely different from any other pair I have worn - and I selected for the sole reason that the customer service rep said they looked "fun"  I accidentally posted a picture of myself to Facebook (meant to send it just to Flickr) and have received more likes and comments on that single post than any other status update.  What began as a silly act of rebellion against turning old has manifested itself into a more relaxed granny who has decided that fun is not an option, it is a necessity in life.

In the past year I have not only modified my outward appearance, but I have also focused on my inner being as well.  I have taken the study of photography to (perhaps) an excessive level, but I have enjoyed learning the why behind the how.  In January I decided that it was time to take action and I vowed to complete the 365 project (something I have admired for two years now - here's the link to my dedicated blog) and have done quite well with the help of a good friend who is participating in this journey with me.  I have discovered that there is joy in pursuing an interest with a likeminded friend - and I do not feel like such a hermit anymore.  I still enjoy my private time, and I will always be an introvert, but this project has taught me so much more than just the habit of taking a picture a day.  

I have also taken several online classes and have learned that not all are created equal.  Some classes were well worth the money and I was in awe how total strangers could truly bond together in a virtual format.  Other classes did not quite click as well, but I still learned something new and considered it a positive experience.  These classes ranged from personal growth, such as Susannah Conway's Unraveling, to photography, such as Darah Parker's Slice of Life, to writing, such as Dave Fox's Travel Writing.  I am currently scheduled to start Kat's online photography class on Sunday, called A Sense of Place and I am going to be a part of Patti Digh's VerbTribe for teacher in June (some of you may remember the series of posts I wrote two summers ago on her book, Life is a Verb).  All of these academic pursuits are in line with my lifetime goal of becoming a Travel Writer.

While I am at an age in life when a new career is the last thing I want to do - I am hoping to retire in the next three years -  and I have decided that I can pursue this dream for personal rather than financial gain.  Perhaps no one will read what I write - perhaps only family - but I want to learn to capture the emotion of worldwide travels in both photos and prose.  I figure if a picture is worth a thousand words, I will add another 1,500 and create an essay.  

I was blessed to take a trip of a lifetime this year - two weeks alone in Paris, France - and I loved every minute of it.  I am taking my time in reviewing the pictures - learning to use photo editing software such as Photoshop Elements and Lightroom to improve the better photos - and writing essays to accompany them.  While I had hoped to complete this project during November's NaNoWriMo - I am not disappointed in the delay.  While I would normally chastise myself for such a failure, I have learned that some deadlines in life are quite artificial.

And .... I have allowed myself to dream again.  I thought I had forgotten how -- but this year of contemplation and renewal has taught me that dreams are necessary in order to muddle through the day to day.  I not only dream of worldwide travel (specifically to London, Paris, Italy, New York, and California Wine country), but to do so for extended periods of time.  Geoff and I have talked about taking a year abroad, perhaps staying three months in each location.  After my fantastic experience with in Paris last summer, I have no qualms about using that service again in the future.

And we dream of owning our own lake house just as my parents did.  Their house provided so many wonderful memories for my children and I want to provide those kinds of memories for my own grandchildren - and their children.  After doing some online research I have found a place just outside St. Louis, Innsbrook, that I am most excited to visit the weekend of April 20.  It seems like a lovely lake community filled with activities that would accommodate every age group.  Of course, it is easy to be deceived online, so I am trying to reserve judgment until we see it in person.  The purchase of such a house is a long ways away, but short-term and long-term dreams are all part of the equation for a balanced, joyful life.

And finally this year has afforded me the opportunity to develop my spiritual life as well.  The unexpected sabbatical from teaching English 1 provided considerable free time in my schedule - something I do not take for granted and do not want to waste.  Using my iPad for the Holy Bible app was one of the best inspirations I have had (affiliated with YouVersion online).  I currently follow Rick Warren's Decade of Destiny devotional and read the short entry and journal my response each and every day.  This has not only drawn me closer to the Lord, but is also helping me to align my life so that all activities and expenses and goals and dreams are in sync with one another.  I have learned that God also knows that fun is necessary in life - and making time for that must be a priority for me.  It is also helpful that this devotion focuses on the next ten years - a significant decade as I meander through my 50s and approach 60.  There is still a lot of life yet to live - and I want to LIVE not just exist.

That is what the past year has taught me.  And I will not stop now.  I will continue to improve my mind, my body, and my soul for a future that looks bright and promising.
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