Sunday, December 18, 2011

From February

She stopped subscribing to the past by demanding a cessation of all back-thinking. A change of direction, after all, was as simple as suggestion taking. For all the outlookings and future considerations had to take a break. The faith and hope needed a sabbatical from forcing her on. Truth and tradition entangled themselves so entirely that she couldn't separate the dream from the dreamer.

So there she sat with the task of separating her agreements, mmotivated because the attempt was something life depended on. She couldn't go on without exerting both will and want. The jumbled condition spread a haze of drunkenness over the day-to-day, dulling her will along with her direction. She had to separate it all before she could put it back. She would remove the threads, ever so carefully. Threads that were discolored and disingenuous. Threads that spoke near talk and yet lived far away. The thread of the ingrained. The culture thread, the shoulds and should nots, the past strings, the sick feeling, the sad feeling, the fear of being misunderstood, the fear of not fitting in, the fear of being tethered to the convincing, the science threads, the God reliance, the soul mated thread, the rejection thread and the abuse threads. 

These dissections were momentous monotones attempted in hopes that a naked canvas would give her a second start. This separating act, was just like anything else. Once you sat down to do it, no matter how beautiful the "it" was it was still just an it. A mortal "it" accompanied by work. She felt postured and poised in the labor as she landed herself in the first familiar place of intended triumph- the bottom. A mountain at her feet. 

She repositioned as she moved under the great weight of finding occurrences. The occurrences sounded like crashes as they separated. The lulls between sets of waves increased a little, giving her thin gasping gulps of fine air. Real air. Freezing and desperate- hopeless and vulnerable for the first time. And the colder and more quiet, the more clear and empty it all bleached out to be, the more her lungs could expand. The more she could exercise a will that she took on but didn't gather.  

As all of the essentials lay still she saw them for what they were. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

and its motion

“It was not the feeling of completeness I so needed, but the feeling of not being empty.” - Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

I am resilient. I bounce. My answers to heartache and hardship have almost always been the "right ones". Move on, improve, don't look back, onward, upward. 

Some of the impact from painful and pressuring times has been blunted by this resilience. It served me well on my mission when people rejected the messages of what was so important to me. It served as a protectant as I experienced life with an alcoholic mother. It has helped me modify and restructure my business as I find things that work and don't. Sometimes this "good" mechanism, this personal positive has had an unintended, undiagnosed disease effect.

The very act of a bounce changes an objects direction from the thing from which it bounced. You can talk and talk about the past, the hard thing, the experience from that caused the bouncing but though your lips draw you close to it, your heart and your soul have bounced on, and are far from it. There is a certain disconnect making it hard to revisit and recover from life's harsh blows. 

The last few years have opened up opportunity for reflection, time that as a young twenty-something I simply did not have the desire for. I can see the follies of my youth with such staggering, embarrassing, and painful clarity now. The lack of faith, the loneliness, the running. I see my mistakes and at times, unlike the confident, I regret huge portions of my life. Mostly because in my aforementioned bouncing I bounced uncontrollably without recovering from the thing that sent me in motion. 

I have been revisiting and returning to my hardships through deep conversation with dear friends, intensive weekly therapy and consistent thought about my life. It has been the most therapeutic and transformative 9 months of my life. I have, through the process figured out who I am. Yes, I'm 30. Yes, I'm a late bloomer in the personal identity department. Yes, I have an incredibly long way to go.  The process of therapy is therapeutic. Therapeutic in that it uncovers symptoms and seeks, not only to heal them, but to understand their origins. 

As I taught on my mission, man's first orienting move toward enlightenment and salvation is understanding the nature of God and his relationship to his maker. I can list the history and characteristics of divinity, the trinity, Father and Son but I do not understand my relationship to them. And so one of my biggest challenges is with God. Who is He? What are His intentions for me? Is He truly a caring parent or a non-intervening observer? Is there such a thing as destiny or a personal plan for each of us? Does God care about our lost keys while children suffer? Does he forgive? How do mercy and justice play out?  Is God calling me to come closer, to knock, to ask? 

Each time I have asked these questions I have been answered the same, "...your heart is far from me." 

It's sad. It's sad to write that and to feel it. Its lonely and disoriented. Doubt needs to be visited. Doubt is the great catalyst for everything great from scientific discovery to personal triumph. I, like so many others, find that doubt isn't something that is warmly embraced in our culture. Our first Sunday ritual is saturated to the point of deafness with the phrase, "I know". I understand that feeling. I've said and I've felt it. I've felt that burning fiber conviction and I loved its warmth but it but the truth is "I don't know"feels more powerful to me now. It is more needy and needing and for now, I am needy and needing.  In fact, as a Christian I intend to need and not know for the rest of my life, so I'm choosing to embrace it. 

Instead of fearing my feeble knees and far-away heart and answering it with niceties I am ready to get down with it, get on with it. I need to orient my heart instead of comforting it with traditions and rites that have, for me, become motions. I want to return to the rites with neediness. I want my heart to be filled and close, not tied up with traditions that I can't see the service of. These words all scratch the surface. These words will one day act as an emotional reminder of where I was. I intend to move beyond this and through it to something assured and at rest. I don't intend for my questions to be answered- not all of them. I just want to feel. I am not interested in "knowing" so much as "hoping". 

I have been seeking peace and last night I felt it as I rounded the point of the mountain driving along i-15. I sing while I drive and as I belted out"O Come O Come Emmanuel" something caught my eye to the east. Pronounced and arresting there among Traverse twinklings was the lesser light night-ruler. 

When I saw it I audibly remarked at its majesty, "Oh wow!" And then, I burst into tears. The flood gates were open as "...who ransomed captive Israel" blared out I sang and cried and sang and cried. I apologized to the Creator for what I'm not and I thanked Him for the second chances to be what I am. I felt a reverent awe for the condescension of the Christ child as I felt the hand of God reach down and remind me that He is there. 

I am still unsure of what this means but I am certain that planets moving in their regular form are, as divine witnesses, speaking something to me. Something of our cause for disorientation, something of comfort and mercy and a majesty that, in that moment, was for me. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Music

I could listen to these songs everyday. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas music that doesn't include Christ's birth and these are the best of the best. Most of the tracks are by Sufjan Stevens which shouldn't be a surprise.
Click HERE

Monday, December 12, 2011


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Three years ago I stretched out and staggered through my first experience bringing life into this world. I approached the process with an embarrassing amount of conviction for how raising a child, loving a person, pushing, laboring and delivering was supposed to be done.

Dotter arrived 10 days overdue. Days that dismayed me. My pregnancy was easy and there was nothing uncomfortable about her late arrival. While I was anxious to move to the next stages of nourishing and caring for her, I was not bursting or bitter. I ate, spent time with friends and settled into a new daily freedom that only an unemployed expecting mother can understand. I gave into nesting by painting and priming and requesting lists from trusted mother friends on needed supplies.

Once she arrived I made lists (and still do) of her firsts and other punctuated happenings. Words, sentences, steps, dates with Daddy. But with Dotter those firsts have slowed. She does almost everything by herself and is always excited and willing to learn. Something about this innocence and delight she takes in being alive took me in today. She was jumping on our bed in aqua and fuchsia and I was taking her photograph when she suddenly stopped and moved her hand to her chest, "Mommy, can you hear that? Its my heart beating." Her heart. That is what is growing.

She comforts her friends, strangers and family who are hurt. She can differentiate strangers from family, family from friends, pretty and clean from pretty and disheveled. She has manners and knows how to hold a baby all by herself. She lights up every place she goes. She is persistent and independent and quick. She needs her own time and loves to read. She gets confused and mixed up (as we all do) tangling what she needs and wants and what she feels and senses.

My milestone is that I realize how little and how very very much I know about life, about what is right, about how to love someone. Much more than before she was mine. It is a daunting daring task this mothering thing. A task that is growing my heart with hers.

As many of you know, my husband Cade is an engineer and part owner of Black Pyramid Recording. This Christmas they recorded a great Christmas compilation for Deer Child that is now available FREE! Click HERE to download and listen.

My favorite tracks-
"The First Noel" featuring Lauren Smith, my cousin. What a voice Lauren!
"All I Want for Christmas" featuring Katrina Ricks who was featured on my photo blog yesterday for the Say Yes to Hoboken Sister Style photos.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

third generation interest

 A few weeks ago I used about 10 cubes of butter as I prepared a gratin, pies, mashed potatoes and dips as I prepared my first Thanksgiving meal. As I peeled the waxed paper from perfect rectangular pats of fat, my mother-in-law reminded me that her mother used to fold the greasy wax papers saving them for future greasing. So I'm doing that now, it just makes sense.

Meat is just meat now. Marketing terms and tactics have so brilliantly washed slaughter, corpse and carcass from the public mind that the mere idea of our dinner having had a face, or having experienced death as a means to provide us with sustenance, is generally repulsive and revolting. This sterility is intentional and is generational.

Every country I have ever visited displayed a very different version of plating and presenting. The opposite, in fact, from the whitewashed presentation of foodstuffs I was accustom to. As I visited an Asian foods market in Russia I remember questioning the validity and sterility of the foodstuffs- specifically the spices, nuts and flours because they sat in the open air in large jugs and vats. I was accustom to plastics and texts wrapping my food in an originless security blanket of clean, appropriate, regulated.

This delightful place was filled with tradition and history. Colorful spices, textured cheeses and whole dried fish and flesh hung above brilliantly dressed Russian girls who stood dead pan while customers filed in and out hunting and gathering. There, the process is still very much a part of the pallet. The grower, the shape, the weight and texture all play into the culinary decisions of much of the undeveloped and developed worlds. There is a certain transparency that most modern Americans grow a bit suspicious of- we like wrappings and presentation.

Last year Erin and I participated in the full slaughter of a 2 year old turkey. I loved the experience. It seemed right. It was clean and respectful and I never once felt emotions of disgust or the repulsions of gore. I wrote about it as a passion-filled nouveau vegetarian but, after nothing short of 30 or so edits I let it sit in the drafts folder where it has been collecting dust ever since. Rather than experience catharsis through my writings I found solitude in Safran-Foer's "Eating Animals" and realized that the problem of being conscious of what you eat is a weighty one.

Tonight I watched the video below which reminded me. It reminded me of how far we have gotten away from the common, the necessary, the prices we pay to acquire what we want.

The warning of graphic content is rarely attached to things of true graphic nature like stories on the five o'clock news of child abuse, our troops being slaughtered, women being constantly and consistently sexualized and objectified.  Isn't that one of the follies and uglinesses of the modern world? Forgetting? Isn't it one of the most repetitive and punctuated goals of most spiritual works? And yet we embrace forgetting and pass it off as progress. 

We lose something when we forget don't we? We lose something when something else distracts, detracts or diminishes our value of the forgotten. We lose fat on waxed papers giving way to Pam sprays and other such nonsense. We lose color and relationships and we most certainly lose value and appreciation.  We sacrifice spiritual strength and financial fortitude for instant gratifications.

I am not suggesting that progress is harmful or valueless. I am merely suggesting that we not be so excited and anxious for the next best thing. As Dotter opened her pile of three year old gifts today she barely had the wrapping torn when she was looking for the next "heavy heavy hang over" reward. I took her aside and tried to remind her of the delight in the now, in the one gift. God help me teach my children to see something in the now.

Here's the thing about the past. It used to have life there. The breast and drumsticks used to be legs and chests. The uniform box-shaped, genetically-modified tomatoes used to be filled with ridges and rivets that we laughed at and delighted in their season. We saw God and the miracles of natural science in the creation and we appreciated it.

The modern American business is expert at finding "problems" in our work and creating solutions to those problems. We call these opportunists offerings brilliant and we line up out the door in hopes to trade in work for ease. Experts define and convince us of our "problems" and laugh all the way to the bank. Remember the Sneeches don't we?

Take for example Bisquick who, bless their hearts, did not solve the 1930's housewife's dilemma over creating buttery bisquits and pancakes- they created a substitute. A tasteless, bland substitute that most of us are happy to accept. But, pardon me, at what cost? As with anything taking the work from food also removes the reward. For isn't it true that when we know the work (and do that work) that goes into something we become more, and not less appreciative? As we test and try, fix and finagle we enrich our reward and inject value into our experiences? For me- yes.

And so, I am interested. I am interested in what my grandparents were used to. I am interested in the old ways, the old world, the forgotten solved problems. For time has told me that some of the greatest satisfactions of life are unlocked by revisiting discarded processes and practices.

*Many thanks to Robby O Brien who helped me remember that loose is not the way to spell lose. And thank you to the rest of you who turned a blind eye. And thank you to me for writing at 1 am.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

lift where you stand


 This week a phrase has been running end to end across my mind, "lift where you stand". Last month in therapy, as I emptied my tired and over-taxed heart, a problem revealed itself. A problem of priority. I was given an assignment that I approached half-heartedly (as it seemed both obvious and elementary) but, trusting the intention, I followed the prescription.

I drew on a large sketch page with a sharpie. First a jug- my life. Then large rocks- my must-have/do things first, followed by the more moderately important stones and then finally the gap-filling watery niceties/obligations of my life. I named names. I saw my life with a clarity that the difficulties and busyness of the last several years, especially the last 9 months, made impossible.

I sorted and saw.

My life has been charmed. Miraculously, and perhaps divinely, it provides me with enough (and often more than enough) of what I have needed to get by. There are lean times and fat times but my needs, and the possibility of my needs, are always met- even if I don't see it. Which I hadn't. This may be seen as a matter of ingratitude but more precisely it is an issue of spinning wheels and back-breaking reaches.

The world encourages overextension. I feel the pressure of it. To take my business to the next level, to befriend another person, to offer another hand, to invest here, save there, spend there, jump on this chance. We are a marketing rich generation and that mentality leaks through into everything. These leaks remind me of the great everything while excusing the tangible now. Every diversion and day is colored with a shameless promotion of possibility. Neon flashing ridiculousness of limited time offers followed by more once in a lifetime discounts.

Reality, as it always does, catches up with the glamor of getting what we want. The sheen of new things wears out and is always replaced by a lusty new appeal or promise. While shimmers vanish, the reality and responsibility of where we stand is persistent. Reality is deep and wide but most of all, it is satisfying.

I stand in a place where two tiny mouths, hearts, minds and spirits need me. They require my hands to clean and nourish, rest and work them. Lifting here means holding and creating and being privileged to introduce them to the "weightier matters" (see Matthew 23:23)  of this place.

I stand in a place of marriage. Where two broken people are tethering themselves to truth in order to get bigger and better. Lifting here means commitment and repentance, forgiveness and openness. It means patience and pleasure in each other's company.

I stand with my camera and my words. I only have my own. I have this lighting, this perspective, these experiences. Lifting here means slowing down. It means photographing and writing about what I see, what I want to see, what matters to me. It means being my own audience and my own performer and welcoming guests as just that.

I stand as a sister and daughter and friend. I see hurts, needs, wants and possibility. I lift by giving what I can. I lift by feeling the weight of yes and no and then living for that commitment. I lift by being present where and when I can. I lift by being flawed and forward and by being me.

I heirloom a life filled with importance and intention when I lift where I stand.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This table makes me happy. I am, as previously mentioned, in love with it. It has already held hot plates of food made with care and intention. Hosted conversations and spills.
This view makes me happy. It is the view across my house. It takes in the atmosphere and lighting of my home perfectly.

I love the color, the lighting, the boy mostly though. 

My experience taught me. It was a mind-lost moment like so many before children, and so many with them. I was shaken alert, shaken into perfect understood awareness that I am their parent. The one they get their world view from, the one who scripts out their reality. I am her mother. Mother. Like the one I had and didn't have. The one my mother was sure to have wished to be more often. I am lucid and sober. I am young and inexperienced.
Everything done and gone is illuminated. The frustration of immaturity in this role, the sighs and escapes. Parenthood, after all, is the most taxing and requires temperance and I see how much I don't have measuring inadequately against what is required. As my dad said, "You didn't come with a book of instructions."
I love being a mother. I feel like after 3 + years of these exercises in selflessness and service, sanity and insanity, I am beginning to blossom and grow. I love the holding. I want more holding. I want more projects and quiet times. I want more us and less me. I want soothing selflessness rather than quick occupation for relief that never seems to quench.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Through Objects

Gertrude Stein said, "Human beings are interested in two things. They are interested in the reality and interested in telling about it."

Many argue for creating a shined, shimmering, outfitted, concept driven, well-presented image. To show lips and eyes and nice light. I get it. I see the attraction and it has its place, but there are two kinds of photographs that I appreciate- those which depict reality and those that call attention to the reality that the photograph is, in fact, an image.

This can be done really nicely by using natural filters and objects that call the viewer back to the image and away from the subject, especially in portrait work.
In Russia a small milk truck visited tall grey housing apartments from the country delivering locally farmed cheese, farmer's cheese, yogurt, sour cream and milk. Old scarf-topped women would cross the yard to this metal truck with arms full of recycled plastic jugs and glass jars. My favorite was the sour cream. It was thick like butter and sweet. Slathered on a slice (or six) of black bread and dipped in a fuscia bowl of borscht- it became my far from home comfort food. When I changed areas I left the milk truck behind and never saw another one again. I'll never see a dairy truck again. I'll never be 22 again. I'll never slather sweet, barely sour cream on black bread again.

I appreciate those reminders of impermanence that life outside of America offers. Yekaterinberg had a milk truck, Chelyabinsk had Katya, Surgut had money. Every transfer offered up all new nostalgia and pride at having been a part of something you just simply could not get anywhere else.

America prides herself on an abundant and constant supply but I do my best to reject this boasting. Last year I didn't eat a tomato all winter, all spring, all early summer. My first tomato of the year came in early June from the soil my Dad long prepared and lovingly maintained. Aren't things better when remembered and savored rather than always at the ready?
I'm heirlooming. I am caught between memories in the making and memories that delivered me here.
I am writing. Jotting things from now and reviewing notes from the past.
I am recording. Things that are said and done that these records may accurately reflect the abundance of beautiful imperfection in my search for creating a home, a life and art.
I am photographing. Beauty and life, art and light.
I am cooking. Good meals that I make. Some meals are created in my mind and others are the love children of other food lovers.