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This has been a weird year, right? I don’t think anyone will disagree. As I came sliding butt first into December, I was already disorganized and suddenly bowled over by work. By all measures, we did triple the volume of work we usually do and it was no small bit of effort to simply make it through December. But make it through we did.
In the smoldering ashes of 2016, I am working hard to get some order back to the chaos of my life. I firmly believe that being a little bit stronger, quite a bit more disciplined (and organized) and filled with more optimism will carry me through the slings and arrows of 2017.
To that end, I have returned to Morning Pages. If you have read The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with Morning Pages. The idea, according to Julia Cameron, is to prime the pump. Write three pages of stream of consciousness words every morning to get into the creative flow.
Instead of handwriting pages as suggested by Cameron, I use an online tool called 750words. That tool works a bit differently than the Artist’s Way describes, but that is okay too.
So as I sit here now on my fourth day of vacation, hallelujah, I am working on today’s words. I have fallen out of my writing discipline and I can tell I am rusty. Lots on my mind. It’s good to get back into the habit.
The best part of the 750words is that every once in a while, while priming the pump and working through the silt to get back into the flow, some solid words, some bon mots, some worthy thoughts come through.
Wanted to share these, because they may become my motto for the new year (Warning: there is some salty language, it that offends, look away):
…doubt is a persistent little bitch. Hope slides off like you are made of teflon, but doubt sticks like tar, or used up chewing gum or one of those gluey mocos you can’t quite get off your finger no matter how hard you shake. Patience and discipline, that is the kleenex to your glue moco and allows you to fly once more. The sturdy facial tissue that brings back hope.
Yeah, I have no idea what any of that means, but it made me feel good to write it. Like I was really tapping into something, so I decided to share it.
Hope your end of 2016 and planning for 2017 has better metaphors. I’ll keep working on mine.
Inspiring flowers made of kleenex. Is that hope I’m feelin’? Image found here.
Image found here.
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I have found myself in the city of Prague in the country of Czech Republic for only forty-eight hours. Well, a little less than forty-eight, but let’s not quibble.
In forty-eight hours I have learned that the current leadership of the country wants their country to be referred to as Czechia, for reasons I don’t fully understand.
“The Terminological Committee of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadaster officially codified Czechia in 1993 in its publication “Names of States and their Territorial Parts”. Therefore, Czechia is the grammatically correct short name of the Czech Republic…” – from Go-Czechia.com
I have learned that occasionally I can understand a word or two in Czech, but then the diacritic marks give me doubt.
And I have interacted with Czech citizens, mostly the driver of my airport shuttle, hotel staff, and employees of the mall next door to the hotel. The clerks at the grocery store in the mall are probably the most Czech of the Czechs I have encountered. They have little to no English and can’t care that I have no Czech. I admire this.
One habit I have cultivated in my bit of international traveling is that I like to go to grocery stores when I visit other countries. I like to see what everyday people buy and how everyday people procure their comestibles. Also because grocery store clerks are the most representative of the people of the country because they have no enthusiasm for making it easy on tourists. They are just being genuine.
In less than forty-eight hours I have come to appreciate and even feel a deep fondness for the people of Prague. Come with me on this tangent: Over the course of my life I have been fortunate enough to be friends with many Russian people. People from Russia have a very distinct cultural identity. Most Russian people I know can find a way to be unhappy even in the most incredibly happy of times. Not a sadness, but a deep disappointment tinged with world weariness. There is almost an enjoyment in unhappiness.
Obviously, owing to the long history of Czechia (see, I can learn), Russian culture has had a deep impact on the people who live here. I find some of that same slight sadness, irritation and fatigue with life in the people of Prague. At least the people older than say…thirty-five. It’s almost kind of endearing.
Here’s my best example. I went to the grocery to get some water, some chips and some cookies to stock in my hotel room for snack time. I had just a few items and I approached the register, feeling nervous.
I had learned two days ago that if I want a bag, I have to take one (paper or plastic) from the front of the register, and I have to let the clerk know I am buying the bag, and then I have to bag my own groceries. It’s very common in Europe to bag your own groceries. I was proud to have learned the whole bag situation (a nice Czech lady helped me) and was ready to check out. (Czech out? Okay, bad pun.)
My sweet little American self stepped forward when it was my turn, and I held up the bag and pointed and nodded. The clerk sighed and began mumbling in Czech. Then the mumbling took on a ferocity. She riffled through some papers on her table and spoke more loudly, but not to me.
She shouted across the aisle to the clerk at the next checkout station. A conversation ensued. As near as I can decipher, she needed the code for the paper bag I had chosen. The other woman offered a suggestion that didn’t work. My checker kept trying until after several attempts, she sorted it out.
She then began to scan the rest of my items, mumbling and gesturing in Czech. Not speaking to me, but clearly unhappy. Occasionally she’d shove at the papers that had let her down.
In my mind, I translated from a language I do not understand, but I think I understood the moment.
“This person wants a paper bag and they tell me I have to charge for it and if I’m supposed to charge you’d think they would at least give me the code on these damn papers,” shoves papers, “but no, I have to guess and this goofy looking American is standing here, don’t think I don’t know you are an American. Just because you haven’t said a word doesn’t mean I can’t smell it on you from a mile away. And of course the American wants a paper bag. Plastic bag, I know the code for that, but no she wants a paper bag and I don’t know the code and I don’t have the code here,” shoves papers, “I have to scan all her stuff and I don’t even care, I just am trying to make a living here and I have to charge for paper bags and what is the meaning of life anyway, but to be miserable, forced to charge for a paper bag and never really knowing the correct code.”
Or, you know, I could be reading into things…just a teeny bit.
We concluded our transaction and I smiled and said “thank you.” She looked at me like I was a developmentally latent child, and I walked away, a few Czech Crowns lighter, a bag of chips water and cookies in hand, and a story that felt like it needed to be told.
Tomorrow brings the most intense day of meetings, the whole reason my employer sent me to Prague. Once that is concluded, I can hardly wait to finally explore more of this beautiful city and learn more about the people and places of Czechia. I can’t wait!
The Google translate app (using the camera, a very cool feature) tells me that this grocery bag says (roughly) “With 25 years, from us you take away freshness and quality.” You can see how the last word really could be the word “quality.” But beware of thinking you know something now, because you certainly do not. Your Czech is of no kvalitu.
Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone, the Camera+ app, amusement and jet lag. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.
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The photography club I attend monthly has been going through a lot of flux over the past year. A few of the main members have left (retired, mostly) and new folks have joined. We have a new leader and he’s got a lot of ideas. It’s a lot of change. For the good, I’m sure, but change anyway.
I’ve talked a bit about this group. It’s made up of both scientists and engineers and is overwhelmingly male. These guys are very much tech head photographers who are all about gear and photographic perfection. Their photos are technically precise but in my opinion lack emotion…which suits them just fine.
It’s a debate we have a lot in the meetings. Art vs Technical. Let’s just say, my storytelling approach to photographs is in the way, way minority. I can often actually *hear* eyes rolling as one of my photos rolls across the screen during critiques.
I have learned a lot from this group. I work hard to make my photos better. To improve. To get technically cleaner. That said, in some ways, I also like to goad them. Poke the tiger with a stick.
One of the things we seem to struggle with as a group is our monthly theme. It’s hard to come up with jazzy ideas every thirty days. This year’s themes are some good and some weird. All are great in my opinion. I love being challenged.
A few of the more rigid photographers aren’t having as much fun with the themes as I am.
For March, our theme was “wood.” Seems easy, doesn’t it? But it’s harder than you’d think to come up with a good, unique, and well crafted photo of wood. It’s almost too broad.
We get two entries each month. I did one that was a bit more “clean” though it still could use some technical work. And I did one storytelling photo.
Neither were very well received.
Presented for your perusal:
Palm, Pine, Maple, and Telephone
Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth
I presented this as a study of the wood types found in my neighborhood, each pattern more interesting than the last.
Ok, the image has a joke there at the end. And with the title I was yanking their chains, as these nature photographers get quite sniffy about the precise genus and species of flora and fauna they photograph.
This photo garnered four votes in our monthly contest. Not terrible, but not close to winning either.
Here is my other shot. I very much enjoy the story in this one. It got one vote. (At least it got one?)
Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth
When faced with the conundrum of properly conveying the feeling of “random log in parking garage,” I chose to go with moody.
This photograph was not subjected to Instagram filters. A color photo of this wooden beauty was lightly desaturated then pulled into Photoshop for burn and dodge to bring out those beautiful loggy highlights.
The squarish shape is due to cropping out surrounding cars.
I really love this photo. I mean…why the hell is there a log in the parking garage at work?
Also, could this BE any more perfect for the theme of wood? Nailed it!
One vote. At least one other photography club member gets it. It’s something to build on.
Both photos are Copyright ©2016, Karen Lingua. All taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app. First photo also utilized the free photojoiner.net site to combine the photos. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.
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The 26th of February. That what today is. February 26, 2016.
My, my, how time does fly.
Speaking of flying time, I see that the last time words were posted to this space was in November. That was like, yesterday, right?
Nope. 26th. Of February. Of 2016. Whew.
Well, okay, gotta try to shake that off and keep rolling. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this little ol’ blog. It used to be that I’d knock out a post every weekday. Then three times a week. And then nothing since November.
Been wondering what got in my way.
Three things, really. First, I got a little worn out. I’d pushed The Muse and it was getting harder to think of interesting ideas to write about. Eventually The Muse asked me to give it a rest.
Another contributor was starting a different job. I used have a free lunch hour where I both ate and knocked out the words for this blog. In my new job, I am in so galldarn many meetings each day that my lunch break is now me eating while my staff streams in the door to grab a few moments of my time.
Finally, I started wondering a little bit about the fate of so-called long form blogs in an ever-shortening attention span world. I read an article a few years ago declaring blogs dead in favor of tweets and Tumblr. I kind of took it to heart.
So I let my word field lay fallow. And maybe that is okay. It needed some rain and some decay and some time to become fertile again.
One of the most compelling reasons that I started this blog was to be a place for writing practice.
Practice, practice, practice. When I kicked off these pages back in 2007 I felt like I had something to say and needed a venue, so I made my own.
Over many years I wrote something every weekday and watched my writing both inside and outside the blog become stronger, sleeker, and more concise.
While I still benefit from all of that work, the last few times I’ve been working on a short story, I’m noticing the flow just isn’t there. It’s always an uphill climb but without the many days a week practice to keep me limber, the hill got a little steeper (and a lot more pedantic).
There is a widely debated theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master at something. I am not sure that is true because any artist I know would say you never master your medium, no matter how much or how hard you practice.
But what I do know is that as of the moment I am putting these words into print, there are over six hundred thousand words that I created and added to this blog. That hasn’t taken me ten thousand hours to create, but it’s still not nothing. It’s something that matters and something I am proud of.
Last weekend while I was sprucing up the blog and giving it a Spring cleaning (I’m kind of in love with this shade of blue) in preparation for my return to the words, I looked hard at that number in the footer of this page and thought to myself “I’m not done.”
And so I’m not.
One added benefit is that I get to grab those crazy thoughts from my mind and get them down. There’s good stuff in there. No more trying to blog it out loud to my kindly understanding spouse or my long-suffering coworkers.
So here I am, back for today and hopefully back again soon. I want to push out my elbows and make the space in my world for the words, the practice, and the ever wonderfully agonizing quest to get better at what I love to do most.
Carnegie Hall cartoon found here.
Blogging out loud cartoon found here.
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Last month I found myself in Chicago attending a writer’s conference. The event was sponsored by a large publishing house and I went to learn more about the publishing industry. Boy did I.
Part of the weekend also had us working on some writing exercises. We were given a topic and told to write about it for ten minutes.
I’m pretty good at these off the cuff wind sprints, so I was sailing along nicely creating the words and feeling all of those blocks melt away.
That was until we got to the prompt: “What’s the one thing you won’t write about?”
Ugh. Well. The snarky voice in my head kicked in, saying things like “well if it’s something I won’t write about, why would I write about it here? In this uncomfortable chair. With 500 of my closest friends in attendance?”
Then I started thinking, what really IS the one thing I won’t write about?
I know what it is, but I’m still not ready to write about it.
It’s grief. My overwhelming grief is the one thing I just can’t write about. Not yet.
Both December and January ushered in tremendous losses for me, one after the other, and though I’m told I have to “just grieve” and “get it out” and “go through the stages” I find myself a bit at sea. There are times it shows up inappropriately and I cry so hard I wonder how I will ever stop crying.
When I do finally stop, I become near catatonic for the rest of the day.
There are times I know it’s sneaking up on me and instead of trying to head it off, I am able to find a way to hide in the bathroom or outside or in my car and let it happen. A little.
And sometimes I simply have to tell the freight train that no, it doesn’t get to run me over today. When I head it off, push it down, it only means the grief builds up a bigger head of steam for the next time.
It is a demon and I am wrestling with it. And no, I’m not ready to write about the details. It’s too tender, too fresh, too painful.
One might argue that since writing is my thing, I should be writing about it. I should be writing it all out furiously and fast and working through all of those darn steps, up and down the ladder until I’m free.
As if one can ever really be free of grief. Actually, that’s part of the problem. This fresh and overpowering grief has ripped the lids off of the many other losses I have experienced so I get to go through all of that again. As if it’s new and present and today.
So yeah, letting it all out, that’s probably what I should be doing.
But I can’t. Not yet.
And it remains the one thing I won’t write about.
But I will write about it. Someday.
Maybe this post is just one small step in the right direction.
Image found here.