Monday, July 20, 2015

Edinburgh, Scotland: Green on Every Side

Edinburgh is a haven of lush living green perfection. The climate is temperate, without any real winter and cool, misty summers. The city invites you in with a kind, thickly accented, "G'mornin, Luve." And let me tell you, being surrounded by a region this vibrant and alive, who couldn't feel optimistic about the world's environment and the general health of human civilization? 

These photographs were taken over the course of two days with no filter added! 

Feeling completely overwhelmed. 

Edinburgh, you were a pure delight. I hope to see you again. 


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Back Again

To Nathan and Brittany by your sister with love

A clock hung on the kitchen wall facing the dining room table. From the twelve, the second hand ticked around the face in rhythmic, perpetual clicks. Outside the night was a gradient of blackness and the moon shone through like a dimly set ceiling light. The sound of ticking echoed off the wallpaper along with the humming of the refrigerator and the crack of the settling floorboards. In a bedroom across the hall, someone whispered, “I love you,” then added, “to the moon and back.” And the second hand on the kitchen clock circled its face again.

To the moon and back again, like ocean waves, never arriving, but always changing, always in motion, tracking the rhythm of the universe like a child letting her head fall back as she is thrown into the air and repeats, “again, again!” Like a tiny bird leaving its perch, clumsily spiraling with gravity, sensing a violent impact beforethere they are. The moment the meaning of flight is understood and wind is felt between the feathered armpits of small magnificent wings. Vital repetition carries the momentum, wings pumping air like two hearts beating in perfect rhythm.

And you will go back again, because you, like everything else, are an infinity of seconds, some capsizing, others beating so subtly they’re hardly real. Like the breathing of the water’s tides and the beating of birds’ wings you will rise and fall back again, a motion like the second on the clock’s face; there, a moment, a snapshot, a long inhale of movement. See the wave, its foaming edges, its sprawling momentum across the ocean’s surface, then back again, into the water, a rush of sound subsiding, giving out an enormous sigh before disappearing into the sea.

And in between a breath, the initial inhale, the moment the wave surfaces and wings feel the meaning of flight, that’s where life and love and possibility exists, where you both exist. It’s every moment your eyes open at twelve AM and she’s laying there beside you. It’s the second a smile spreads across his face when you reach over and hold his hand in both of yours. Inhale, “I love you to the moon,” a moment as thick as the tick on the kitchen clock. Then the respire, the sweet release, exhale, “and back,” a wave merging into infinity, a bird mingling with gravity, before rising up again.    



Monday, December 22, 2014

Acrylic B & W Painting

A special shout out to Ana & Steven Kolb and their upcoming first-year anniversary! 


Painted with love. 


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Summer of 1999 (memoirs from a little girl)

Dirt seems to breath in sunshine and breath out dead leaves. If you hold it close enough, you can almost hear it exhaling. I liked the way it felt, the wet graininess that bubbled and burped and sank between my toes and fingers, or the dry stuff, even if it made my eyes hurt when I accidentally rubbed them with my dirty hands. I used to regret that I could not eat it, or if I did, suffer the ear drumming, gritty texture grinding between my teeth.
The summer before the millennia, 1999, my mom and dad were building their new home from scratch in the ex-corn fields of West Michigan. My aunts and uncles came for a family reunion to help build at one point, I think. All I remember is that dirt was everywhere. My cousin Meg got our van stuck in the long muddy driveway, I think it took about three uncles and my dad and thirty minutes to get her out.
Meg was pretty old, she could already drive, but our other cousins, Jake and Joe, were almost my age (just a couple years older). They both played baseball, not professionally of course, they weren't old enough yet, only about eleven and nine, but they played on a team all year, even during the summer. I guess they didn't get a lot of vacation time, so the fact that they were spending it with us was pretty special. Anyway, the black and gold dirt was everywhere that summer. When I looked at our yard, it reminded me of a marble cake or a desert wasteland with no weeds. Naturally, mud fights were the most exhilarating thing in the world. My two cousins and my older siblings and I scrambled across the packed, never-ending source of ammunition. I never really thought about how Jake and Joe were such good baseball players, and they could throw about ten times better than me on a bad day. I guess I just never bothered to make the connection. Although, one day in particular, I do remember hiding behind a dune half scared out of my mind. If I'm honest with you, sometimes the war became pretty serious and somehow everyone else knew what team they were on and I was just the little fifth one, chucking at whoever came close enough. Except Nate, I wouldn’t ever throw dirt at Nate. I stuck my head just over the tip of the dune.
“Danae, get down.” Nate whispered, chest flat on the ground, dirt in hand.
I turned to look, but it was too late. Smack. I tasted it before I felt it. The hardest piece of dirt in the whole world smeared me across my right cheek and exploded in my mouth. Now, I was not a baby, I knew that if I was going to get myself involved in a war, I was going to get hit. But no one considers how the biggest, baddest, rock-hard chunk of black dirt, bigger than your whole fist, might just nail you clear across your entire jawbone and shatter in a million tiny pieces halfway down your throat. I didn't understand what was happening as the impact threw me down. I felt my body being spun sideways as I skidded face first in dirt. Blood and drool and mud came out like vomit. I started howling like a hyena and holding the mess of red and black dirt in my hands and looking at my cousin like I was going to murder him.
There wasn’t any more mud wars after that.

That same summer my brother Nate and I would swim for hours in the pond that giant cranes had dug up behind our unfinished house. I think that’s where all the dirt came from, one single pond. Mom was somewhere else, I don’t remember where, maybe she was working, and dad was busy building. Nate and I didn’t think to bring our bathing suits, so we just took off all of our clothes except our underwear and slid down the mountains of sand piled around the little pond. We slid down the sand dunes until our underwear turned golden and we had sand stuck so far up our butt holes I was sure we’d be pooping dirt for weeks.
When we got tired of swimming, we buried each other under that pond dirt, all but the head, and then get up and laugh until our guts hurt at the soil clinging to our skin and hair. We made beds and chairs and tables and even ink. We wrote on dead leaves or the bottom of the windsurfer that dad picked up for us somewhere. That windsurfer was the most beautiful massive slate of hard white plastic I ever laid eyes on. It didn't have a sail anymore, so it looked like a big sad flat shark. I was terrified of it, partly because of its truly shark-likeness, and partly because it had a sharp little piece of metal sticking up at one end. When you swim in a pond for hours your skin becomes soft and noodly, so a tiny hook of metal like that drives in deep. It didn’t stop us for taking that board out to the middle of the little pond and running off it, though. Sometimes we jumped, but mostly we just ran off because our momentum and the weight of our bodies sent the board shooting in the opposite direction so whoever was still sitting there would get spun out pretty fast.
I lived for the moment right before I hit the water, when I catapulted myself in the air, arms and legs spread out like Tarzan, and I could see the water right beneath me. I hit it like a torpedo, smack, and the world closed up and I shut my eyes tight and let the darkness poor into me. I could only take it for two seconds, then I started feeling panicky and pulled my way upward. I could never tell just how soon the surface would hit, sometimes it took a while, but I’d burst through the darkness and spit out the pond water and wipe it from my eyes and spread the hair from my face. Before I set foot on the sleek white plastic, before I even knew where I had landed, I already wanted to jump in again.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dear Grandpa

Grandpa, you were probably wearing a dark blue jean collared shirt and light blue pants with a toothpick between your teeth when you told me you’d take me for a walk one evening to the big high school across the street.

On the way, I said we should race, you said no, and I meant it when I said you weren’t too old. It was warm then, I remember, but the leaves were falling. You made sure I was holding your hand when we crossed the road. That is one thing. Grandpa, I have always loved your hands. You have such strong hands. I loved the way they swallowed mine up when you took and held them. They felt so rough and warm.

Every time, before I’d go, you held my hands in yours. You’d squeeze them tightly, tucking your chin down just slightly, and earnestly look me in the eyes. “I love you.” You’d say. I’ll always recognize the tone of it, husky and deep. “It is so good to see you, come back again.” And in those words I sensed just a hint of a song, like you were singing the psalm of your soul, and the words came through to me so easily.

Dear Grandpa, thank you for holding my hands in yours. I didn’t know what it meant then, but now I swear to God, those strong hands make me want to believe in something, believe that there’s more than chaos and busy cars in this lonely world you’ve left.


In loving memory.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Traffic Lights

We were staring at the traffic light, waiting for the color to change from red to green. We were silent as the city sounds spoke for us. I liked the presence of these strangerswith them I felt my absence. Like a mirror, I was a reflection of their human face. Mostly, they didn't know they saw meonly recognizing the busy traffic sights.

In the distance I could see the yellow screens of plastic as the lights in the floating lamps moved down. People were starting, slowing, stopping in the perpetual rhythm conducted by our law of light. And I wasn't alone. We were all waiting for the signal to turn. I looked at the man to my left. I imagined he was involved with important affairsyet he could just as easily be falling into some great loss—it made no difference. To me this man was all but invisible. I'd forget him after the street was crossed.

Everyone was starting, slowing, stopping. The little lights moved down their metal frames. I supposed there was some sort of meaning, people truly believe in the traffic light. We believe in the unchanging change of three colors, this belief makes society better. I wondered if other beliefs could work like that. The man didn't notice I was staring. We were all impatiently waiting to return home, to eat, to be left in peace and forget about the invisible faces we saw.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tolstoy's Confession: A Quotable Format

One of my goals for this year was to read something by Tolstoy. Not wanting to dive into anything as long as War and Peace, I chose a much shorter, but no less heady excerpt: A Confession. Within these pages, Tolstoy explains his early life and his struggle for meaning and how he came to find it in his own way. I've highlighted some quotes that I think reveal the essence of this incredible little book, from beginning to end: 

"Judgements on what is good and necessary must not be based on what other people say and do, or on progress, but on the instincts of my own soul" (13). 

"It is the question without which life is impossible, as I had learnt from experience. It is this: what will come of what I do today or tomorrow? What will come of my entire life?" (26). 

"I can find nothing resembling an answer. This is not because, as in the case of the clear, experimental sciences, the answer does not relate to the question, but because despite all the intellectual effort directed at my question, there is no answer. And instead of an answer all one gets is the same question, only put in a more complicated form" (33).  

"It appeared that mankind as a whole had some kind of comprehension of the meaning of life that I did not acknowledge and derided. It followed that rational knowledge does not provide the meaning of life, but excludes it; while the meaning given to life by the millions of people, by humanity as a whole, is founded on some sort of knowledge that is despised and considered false" (53). 

"I realized that no matter how irrational and distorted the answers given by faith might be, they had the advantage of introducing to every answer a relationship between the finite and the infinite, without which there can be no solution" (57).

"Whatever answers faith gives, regardless of which faith, or to whom the answers are given, such answers always give an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death" (58). 

"If it were not so frightening it would be amusing to observe the pride and complacency with which we, like children, take apart the watch, pull out he spring and make a toy of it, and are then surprised with the watch stops working" (60). 

"In contrast to what I saw happening in my own circle, where the whole of life is spent in idleness, amusement and dissatisfaction with life, I saw that these people who labored hard throughout their entire lives were less dissatisfied with life than the rich" (65). 

"What happened was that the life of our class, the rich and learned, became not only distasteful to me, but lost all meaning. All our activities, our discussions, or science and our art struck me as sheer indulgence. I realized there was no meaning to be found there" (66). 

"I had been blinded from the truth not so much through my mistaken thoughts as through my life itself, which had been spent in satisfying desire and in exclusive conditions of epicureanism [enjoying life]" (67).

"The thing that saved me was that I managed to tear myself away from my exclusive existence and see the true life of the simple working people, and realize that this alone is genuine life" (71). 

"I realized that if I wanted to understand life and its meaning I had to live a genuine life and not that of a parasite; and having accepted the meaning that is given to life by that real section of humanity who have become part of that genuine life, I had to try it out" (71).

"I recalled the hundreds of occasions when life had died within me only to be reborn. I remembered that I only lived during those times when I believed in God. Then, as now, I said to myself: I have only to believe in God in order to live. I have only to disbelieve in Him, or forget Him, in order to die" (74). 

"What are these deaths and rebirths? It is clear that I do not live when I lose belief in God's existence, and I should have killed myself long ago, were it not for a dim hope of finding Him" (74-75). 

"What then is it that you are seeking? a voice exclaimed inside me. There He is! He, without whom it is impossible to live. To know God and to live are one and the same thing. God is life" (75). 

I renounced the life of our class, having recognized that it is not life but only a semblance of life, and that the conditions of luxury in which we live deprive us of the possibility of understanding life" (78). 

"Man's purpose in life is to save his soul; in order to save his soul he must live according to God. In order to live according to God one must renounce all the comforts of life, work, be humble, suffer and be merciful" (78). [Tolstoy's conclusion. However...]

"If it is to answer to people living in the most differing circumstances of life and of different education, and if there is only one answer to the eternal questions of life--why do I live? what is the purpose of my life?--this answer, although essentially always the same, must be endlessly varied in its manifestation" (80). 

"Religious truth cannot be attained by one man alone, but only reveals itself to a union of all people, united through love" (81). 

"As I rose early in the morning to go to church I knew that I was doing something good, if only in that I was sacrificing my bodily comforts in order to subdue my proud mind, for the sake of unity with my ancestors and contemporaries, and to find the meaning of life" (82). 

"'Love one another in unity'" (82). 

"The question that first presents itself is: why is the truth not to be found in Lutheranism, or Catholicism, but only in the Orthodox faith?...the Protestants and Catholics are equally convinced of the singular truth of their faiths" (90). 

"Then I understood it all. While I am seeking faith, the force of life, they are seeking the best way of fulfilling, in the eyes of men, certain human obligations. And in fulfilling these human affairs they they perform them in a human fashion" (91). ["human fashion" = imperfectly]

"I...was fully convinced that not all the teachings of the faith I had joined were true. Whereas before I used to say that all religious teaching is a lie, I no longer found it possible to say this. There could be no doubt that the people as a whole had a knowledge of the truth, otherwise they would not be here" (93). 

"I have no doubt that there is truth in the teachings, but I also have no doubt that there is falsehood in them too, and that I must discover what is true and what is false and separate one from the other" (94).