Let’s focus on living instead of dying

People are depressed. I mean it, people. People all around me are depressed.

I can’t turn around without someone standing there or writing somewhere that they are in mourning. The people who are having family members dying, or announcing cancer or abuse is all around me these days. I don’t get why it seems to be happening more and more but it’s probably because I’m getting older. Maybe I was in a fog as a kid and don’t remember all the death and tragedy as much?

I don’t know.

Or maybe people simply tend to share more sadness than happiness and that’s why we are all in the gutter of attitudes some days. We need to share sadness and sadness will happen, it can’t be helped, so don’t get me wrong here.

My brother has been going on for a couple of weeks about he and his wife’s plan for deleting their social media. It’s a good thing but you would think it’s a religious experience for them with all the philosophical statements my brother makes. Or maybe he’s just dramatic (thank God I never am. Ha. Ha.)

My brother has been answering some who ask about his reason for kicking the big “fbook” to the curb, by saying he wants to “make the best of his remaining years.”

He turns 50 in June and in his world 50 is the new 80. But it seems to be where we all are these days (including me) – this impending sense of doom and negativity. We remind ourselves so often that “life is short” and “you never know WHEN YOU WILL DIE!!” in warnings that are supposed to be encouraging that we have forgotten to remind each other to simply live.

I get it. We only get one trip around the sun.

We all die.

Life is short.

That message has been drilled into my head a lot over the years and just in case I didn’t get it I lost three relatives in nine months and a handful of community members passed away as well.

Death is coming.

It’s around the bend.

The grim reaper stands at our door.

But not yet.

Being realistic about death is fine.

Being honest about it is important.

Grieving is important and talking about our grief is very important (so this is not meant as a scolding to those who are grieving), but for all that is good and holy stop reminding everyone they are on the path to death, finding ways to weave it into conversations.

About two years ago death loomed over me like a dark cloud. Test results and severe hypochondria coupled with a mental breakdown had made me decide I had blood cancer and there was no hope. Every day I thought of death and how it was coming and eventually I stopped living. My dog of 14-years died, my aunt’s health was not good, and my husband’s uncle passed away.

One day I was out in our yard trying to make a garden, though I didn’t know why because I was sure I wouldn’t be around the enjoy it. Suddenly I heard a voice within me say “Stop focusing on death and start focusing on living.”

The voice of God? I don’t know but I know I hadn’t been thinking any positive thoughts on my own for about three months at that point.

We can’t really live if all we do is think about how we are dying.

We need to remind people they are on the path of life and life is good much of the time. Maybe telling ourselves we are simply walking toward a new life in the after life is a better idea.

Soon spring will be here and flowers will bloom and birds will chirp and the sky will blue again.

Why don’t we all look toward that new life instead of the grave?

He listened to hear. Remembering a Wyalusing treasure

The line to the funeral home stretched down a long sidewalk to the driveway and inside there were more lines, weaving through rooms, people waiting to tell his family what he had meant to them.

We only have one life to live and he’d lived his well.

Was he perfect?

No human is.

But he was loved and loved back.

He smiled and laughed and made days better.

He made my days better when I saw him at council meetings or fire department events.

He made my dad laugh and shake his head often when they were in school together and afterwards.

Sometimes when you read someone has died you feel a twinge of sadness and you mourn briefly and gently because you knew of them but didn’t know them. Other times you read someone has died and you look down to see who just kicked you in the chest. You realize that ache right there in the center of your heart is your spirit cringing in shock and grief.

Tears rising from somewhere deep in your soul and they come suddenly, without warning.

That’s how I’ve felt before and how I felt last week when I read about the sudden passing of Wayne Felter, a friend of my dad’s and the cornerstone of the community I used to work in.

We’d stand outside council meetings during executive sessions, him and I, and Dave, the publisher of the weekly newspaper, the man who later became my boss. Wayne would tell stories about pretty much everything and Dave would often stop him and remind him I was there, young and a female. I guess Dave was trying to protect me from Wayne’s more salty tales, but few of them were inappropriate. 

Many times the story would end with “you ask your dad about that. That’s a true story.” 

And I would ask Dad and he would say “it’s true … for the most part” and wink at me. 

I never made it to talk to his family that day, due to a hot and tired toddler squirming in my arms and the long, winding lines.

I’m not sure what I would have said if I had reached them. I didn’t know them well enough to offer much more than a brief condolence and to be honest I was feeling selfish.

I glanced only once at the casket, only briefly from a distance and saw him motionless there. In those few seconds I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to remember his smile, the twinkle in his eye when he was about to say something inappropriate for the moment or tease me, and his laugh when he’d succeeded in making someone else laugh.

As my dad said, Wayne made people who met him feel like they were worth talking to. He would seek people out simply to say “hello” and that made them feel special. There aren’t many people who do that anymore.

Today many people are distracted, uninterested and thinking about what they’re going to say next when someone is talking to them.

They listen to speak but don’t listen to really hear.

Wayne listened and heard and usually found a way to laugh at what he’d heard.

I will have to remind myself now when I visit Wyalusing that he’s not around anymore.

At least not physically.

The people of his tiny community will still see him, though.

Anyone who knew him, even only a little, will still see him.

They’ll see him when someone is sliding down frozen streets when they were supposed to be cindering or when someone is making a joke although others think the moment calls for seriousness.

They’ll see him when someone is laughing with a waitress or joking with the customers at the local diner. 

They’ll see him in his children and his grandchildren.

And they will see him when someone stops and listens – really listens – making a person feel they are worth being listened to. 

Navigating life with “only” two children

We only have two children in our family which means getting out the door to go somewhere 45 minutes away shouldn’t be such an ordeal.

But it is.

“Do you have the diaper bag?”
“Did you get your toys together to take to grandma and grandpa’s?”
“Do you have my camera?”
“Have you seen my Kindle?”
“We’ve got everything? Ok. Let’s go.”

All in the car, engine running.
“Did I lock the door? Let me check.”

Car off. Family waits.
All in the car again, engine running.

“Did I unplug the toaster? I’m going to go check.”
Car off. Family waits. Husband back in car. 

Ten minutes away from house; “did I turn the stove off?” 

Turn around. Family waits in car. Mom decides to check the van to see if that’s where she lost a friend’s bottle of essential oil. Van locked. Mom slips and falls on her backside in mud and wrenches her shoulder.
“Stove was off.” Dad announces.

“I need the keys, I fell in the mud..” Mom says and gestures to mud smear from the top of her backside to her calf.
Back in the house to change. Then finally on the road  . . . again. Yes, like a Willie Nelson song.

A lovely day is spent exploring the woods on a unnaturally warm winter day at the parents/grandparents accept for another fall in the mud. by mom.

When it’s time to leave:
“Where are your shoes?”
“Why isn’t the baby wearing pants?”
“Do you have your toys?”
“Do you have your camera?”
“Where is the diaper bag?”
“I need to change the baby first.”
“Kiss and hug everyone good-bye.”

On the road again. Phone rings ten minutes from home.

“Did you know you left your purse here?”

Arrrrrrrgghh!!!!

 

A Day to be Boys | Child Photographer Chemung NY

It was one of those warm Fall days that reminds you of summer, but not so much you wish it was cooler. It was a day to be boys.

They were boys being boys on a playground and on a path in a small city.

The fountain dyed blue, they pretended it was a monster and threw rocks at it.

Running in the tunnel under the road, into the dark and then into the light again.

Laughing as they ran up metal ladders and slid down slides and then climbed them the wrong way.

Dirty knees, blistered palms, Star Wars themed battles and superhero rescues.

Why I photograph | Pennsylvania Photographer

Recently I’ve been watching photography documentaries and reading about various photographers and why they photograph. Consequently, I’ve been thinking about why I fell in love with photography

It’s pretty simple.

I wanted to document life, my life and the lives of those around me. I wanted to capture a person how they really were in a particular moment.

The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” — Andy Warhol

I still want to document life and since my life now entertwines with those of my children, I find my lens often focused on them.

I document the lives of my children so I can remember the good, fun, crazy, true, and real moments of their childhood and through that they can remember them too.

Photography captures that one specific moment, isolating it from all the others. Photographs tell a story when words can’t or simply aren’t enough.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.

When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” — Ansel Adams

Capturing a specific moment or person and revealing the truth within the frame is something that is so clear in the photos taken by Vivian Maier. Maier never shared her photographs with anyone. Instead her art was private to her and for her. Her images captured the lives of the children she nannied but also the characters of Chicago in the1950s, 60s, and 70s. More than simply “taking a picture”, she revealed the souls of people most of us never see. We see a man on the sidewalk and he’s wearing a torn shirt and his shoes are covered in mud, but we don’t really see him because we are on our way somewhere, or maybe he makes us uncomfortable and we are afraid to make eye contact.

In her images we have the chance to truly see the people, and the world, she photographed. We see them the way she saw them.

The chance to slow life down and truly see it, each part of it, each detail, each person, each place, each memory is what draws me to photography.

I find myself wondering why Maier didn’t want to share her art with others. We each see the world in our own way and sharing how we see the world can be both exciting and terrifying.Maybe Maier photographed what she saw so she would know she was there. Many of her images featured her in either reflection or shadowed form as if to say “I was real. I existed. You didn’t see me, but I was part of this adventure called life.”

She wanted to remember life in her own way, document it in images, instead of words.

Photography, like any art, is often selfish. We want to capture or freeze a moment in time for our own pleasure, our own benefit, our own need to interpret life somehow.

Artists document their view of life in paintings, in sketches, in photography, in the written word.

  I’ll admit that I compare myself to other photographers too often. Last week I told my brother’s wife (who incidentally has her own blog called Dispatches from the Northern Outpost), that I was submitting to a photography magazine but that I felt my work wasn’t good enough.

She told me: “You have to maybe trust the other voice, not the ‘I can’t,I’m not, It isn’t possible’ voice, but the one that made you pick up a camera in the first place.”

Sometimes that voice is drowned out by the screams of doubt, or the voice of some other photographer or artist.

I’m finding myself struggling to hear my own voice most days and the prominance of social media makes the struggle even harder.

This next month I plan to turn down the volume on the other voices and raise my own voice again.

____________

“I have heard other photographers say things like, ‘I went to photography school and I don’t know what to shoot because when I shoot something I mentally compare my image to so and so or so and so,’ And finally they feel so weighted down by references that it hinders their photographic practices. I don’t have any photographic influences, I don’t have any master, and I prefer to stay a good distance away from photographic culture. What matters is shooting what you feel like shooting, concentrate on that and the equipment comes second.”

Alain Laboile, photographer, France

_________

Find Vivian Maier’s work here: http://www.vivianmaier.com/

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Finding joy. Even in winter.

I’m not a fan of winter. Winter depresses me. It is cold, obviously, void of sun,most of the time and it is long and dreary and yucky and I hate it — so there.
I thought I would have longer before it stretched out its bony fingers but alas, snowflakes started  falling this past weekend, two weeks before Halloween. Yuk.

Before those flakes made their unwelcome appearance, the offspring and I enjoyed some time outside in the sun. I breathed in the smell of warm sun on brightly colored leaves crunching under my feet. I delighted in the sight of my children walking without coats, knowing all too well they would be soon bundled up and constricted in winter fabric.

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Constricted is how winter makes me feel. I feel trapped in my home but also inside myself. I feel like my creativity fades away with the sun and my excitement for life crumbles like the dead leaves strewn across the ground.

But this year I’m going to try my best to find joy in the dreary. I’m going to draw on my son’s enthusiasm for each season. He finds the good in what otherwise could be bad and I want to be more like him. I want to seek and find joy.

Yes, winter is cold and nasty and dreary and sad and all that is bad, but it is also an excuse to have an extra cup of cocoa and stay home to cuddle under a blanket. It is a chance for the world to slow down and families to find each other again as the snow piles up or the cold scrapes against the windows and doors.

I will not let winter steal my joy this year. This year I claim joy even in winter.

And I will enjoy Fall as long as it is here; until the last brightly colored leaf falls from the limb of the naked tree limbs.

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The Week in Focus | Sept. 20 to Sept. 27

The days sometimes seem long, but oh, they are so short in reality. How fast my littlest is growing, how quick she is moving. In two more days she is officially one. Someday I’ll have to write her story and how she was a very unplanned, but amazing surprise for our family, during one of the most inconvenient and dark times of my life. Her birth made me feel like Doctor Who, a soul with two hearts because they are both my hearts, as silly as that may sound. They are my hearts, walking around outside my body._DSC1913 9_27_15grace_sept_2015_DSC1777 9_24_15 _DSC2586 _DSC2559 _DSC2541 gracefeetgrandpa_DSC1939 _DSC2595_DSC2064 9_20_to_27_19_20_to_27_2_DSC1870

fearless | Pennsylvania documentary photographer

Deuteronomy 31:6Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

You are fearless.

But that makes me fearful sometimes.

I see what can happen and my heart pounds when you lunge toward a metal slide

You are exactly like your brother in so many ways. You are even more impulsive and I didn’t think that was possible.

I am determined not to limit you, even if I feel myself inwardly cringe when you quickly dash over the rocks at the local playground or shove a dirt covered hand in your mouth.

You both make my days worth living.

You and your brother made a birthday I didn’t really care about worth celebrating because it means I’ve had another year with both of you.

Never stop exploring.

Never let fear stop you, as it has me so many times.

Never let the worries of this world cloud the joys of this world.

But, please, slow down just a little. You’re mama is feeling every bit her age these days. You have an entire childhood ahead of you to explore the world. It’s ok to take your time and enjoy it, ok?

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