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In my quest to 1) become a better person and 2) survive 2016 intact, several weeks ago I signed up for a mindfulness meditation class.
The instructor is lovely and the class is, well, relaxing. It makes me calmer and a better person in so many ways.
This whole meditation thing doesn’t really jibe with my New Mexico upbringing. Stress reduction is a bit different ’round here than it was there.
For example, where I live now, it’s awful hard to take a three-hour ride upon my favorite horse in order to relax. And driving out to Chopes for enchiladas and a beer is a longer drive than I can make in a day.
Meditation it is, then.
Last week, we had a long class discussion about the use of one’s car horn. How it’s not mindful or necessary to lay on the horn while traveling this world. How it can make things worse by scaring the other driver or making the other driver mad (and bad things come from that).
This is also in line with The Good Man and his rules for better living. Since we live in a more urban city than I’ve ever lived in before, he has asked me nicely give my horn honking a rest. These are tense times and occasionally I travel through tough neighborhoods. Who knows how the ol’ toot-toot will be received?
Really, this is all sage advice, both from the Vispassana teacher and the man I married.
Until yesterday, when I found myself in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. Where the Chinatown in San Francisco is something of a tourist delight, the Oakland Chinatown is a serious ethnic neighborhood. It sits near Oakland’s downtown, so it’s busy, jam packed with traffic, and not to be taken lightly.
I’ve spent many an hour in Oakland’s Chinatown over my years and I love it. It had been a while, and was nice to be there again. I had a couple things on my shopping list that can only be found in that neighborhood.
As I rolled into the area, I made my way past city buses and double-parked cars, and was filled with glee to find a nice wide parking spot on the street just around the corner from where I needed to be. Score!
I carefully maneuvered over, waited while the car ahead loaded her kid in the car, had my blinker on the whole time and as I pulled forward to align and began to back into the spot, some $%^& started to pull head first into my spot.
Yay, verily, there was much laying on of horns. Oh yes. My beloved Jeep is equipped with not one but two bassy air horns that make it clear to whomever is on the receiving end that they have been properly honked. One firm flat-palm press lights up the hearing cavities of all nearby.
I held that Jeep horn with a solid hand, owing my destiny to all of the fabulous people throughout my years here in the Bay Area who taught me how to survive in a city. Indeed. I followed the playbook and hoped to hell this wouldn’t escalate into that driver getting out of their car.
Thus, as the interloper assessed the situation, she surely noticed my sixteen-year-old Jeep was far less shiny than her almost new SUV nosing into my spot. I held steady, knowing even then that the person backing in is at a disadvantage to the person trying to head in.
Finally the fancy car threw it in reverse and left, giving me an exaggerated shrug on the way by.
Here is the true confession: Damn did honking the hell out of my horn feel good. Like, real good. Like cold beer after a hard day of yard work. Like that first bite of a Chopes enchilada (egg and sour cream on top). Like finally getting out the splinter that is starting to fester.
I know it goes against everything my spouse and my learned teacher have asked of me. It wasn’t peaceful, nor kind. But damn did it feel good.
Almost too good.
Okay, okay. The horn honking is over. The satisfaction was quick and delicious. The endorphins rose and quickly dissipated.
Today I’ll rededicate myself to the peaceful life. To being more kind. To being more centered. To let traffic solve itself without the help of two weighty and meaningful Jeep air horns.
They don’t call meditation a practice for nothing. It takes work. Perfection is not expected. (I’ll add this note, I refrained from both cursing and arm waving in addition to the horn. It’s something to build on.)
Given the same situation, would I honk it up again? Hee, hee…probably.
Okay, okay. I’ll try harder.
Recycling one of my favorite photos. Image found here.
Image found here.
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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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Today was my first day back at work after a nice and relaxing weeklong vacation. Always tough to get back into the routine.
Last week, I missed a big event at work. It was The Great California ShakeOut, an annual earthquake preparedness event. On a set day, they sound the sirens and we take cover and hold for a period of time to simulate an earthquake. Then when that is over, all must evacuate the building.
It’s getting us ready for “the big one” that we all keep hearing about. Practice like this has proven to be useful. We do this every year meaning once a year I get to check out what’s going on under my desk.
Since was on vacation and I live pretty close to work, I heard the sirens, but I was driving in my car so I hunkered down in my mind.
Today upon unlocking the door to my office I see my employer has left me a little gift in the wake of the ShakeOut event.
Lemme hear you whistle, baby…
Seeing this laying on my desk, I did what any mature, right-thinking adult would do when presented with a shiny red whistle. I picked it up and blew that sucker.
It’s loud. A little piercing. The sound rattled off the high roof of the building.
You’d think this would be occasion for another one of those “talking to’s” that my boss so enjoys providing to me. But alas no, she was in a meeting and missed it.
Instead the group administrator came over and stood in the doorway of my office, gave me the world record of stink eyes, then walked away.
I mean, if you didn’t want me to USE it, then why didja give it to me?
Anyhow, my pretty red whistle is now safely stowed in a drawer. Guess I won’t do that again.
Pretty whistle photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ App.
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Do you remember the Sting song “Russians” from way back in 1985? An overly somber commentary on the state of the Cold War, Sting implored “I hope the Russians love their children too.”
I have had occasion to listen to this song a few times over the past months. It keeps coming up in my consciousness. I do readily admit that in 2016 the song sounds almost quaint and old fashioned. I remember the first time I heard it in 1985 it felt deadly serious.
As a GenXer, the Cold War is certainly a part of my formative years. Growing up in New Mexico, I was acutely aware that “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” was largely created in Los Alamos. My dad was employed by Sandia Labs and he worked on nuclear weapons. Hell, my dad was one of those guys in the 1950’s out on some Pacific island in the middle of nowhere setting off nuclear explosions just to see what would happen.
So the Cold War was a little more real to me than perhaps many of my classmates. I remember on the playground talking with some friends about this list that apparently the Soviets had. A list of the first places they would hit if the war began. We all agreed Los Alamos would be on the list and debated if Sandia was there too.
I remember saying to a friend that I’d rather be nearby if a nuke was dropped. I’d rather be vaporized than have to live with radiation poisoning. I was just a kid but I had worked out how I would get as close as possible to Kirtland Air Force Base to control my own destiny.
That was some heavy stuff for a little kid, but it was the reality of the world back then.
So when I learned in April of this year that I would be traveling to the Czech Republic, I was incredibly excited. I love international travel and Czech Republic is a really old and quite historic city. The Good Man calls it “deep Europe” and it sounded so dark and mysterious.
But I also pulled up short. Hesitatingly, I asked The Good Man, “Didn’t…uh…Czechoslovakia used to be Communist?”
Then I took a look on Google, I searched “Iron Curtain” and found this map. There it is, Czech Republic behind that heavy line.
Map found here
I had a startling realization that I was preparing to travel to a communist country. This brought up an amazing amount of fear and almost guilt. Like I was betraying my country. Like I was letting down my father and all of those people he worked with back in the day. Or that I would surely find myself taken prisoner and subjected to intense KGB scrutiny simply for being an American in the wrong place.
Of course, all of that is patently ridiculous. The Czech people had taken back their country in 1989 and Americans visit Prague all the time. One of my coworkers had just been there and she loved it.
My weirdness was not helped when the guy who heads up the property team at work dropped a letter on my desk and told me to keep it with my laptop when I traveled. The letter assured that my employer owned the machine and that I was authorized to carry it.
I said, “This is my fourth international trip for our employer. I should admit I’ve never had a letter like this before.”
He quickly replied, “That’s because you’ve never traveled to a former Communist country before.”
Back in the day, I loved that movie “White Nights.” What more could a movie do to pander to GenXer fears around the Cold War? Plus, I had enormous teenage tingly feelings for Gregory Hines (I can confess I actually got to meet him once and he was even more handsome in person, and also a true gentleman). Mikhail Baryshnikov was not exactly hard to look at either. But I’m wandering off topic…
That scene where Baryshnikov’s character, a defector from Russia, realizes the airplane is going to make a crash landing in Siberia had a big impact on me. As he’s tearing up his passport and flushing it down the toilet, I was terrified. When the inevitable straight out of central casting KGB agents arrived to harass our hero, I just knew that was EXACTLY how it really was. This was more documentary than fiction, right? <*smirk*>
It was with all of these thoughts and fears that I boarded a plane headed for the Czech Republic. Of course what I found when I landed was a beautiful country and very kind people.
My first foray into the center of the city of Prague was to attend a formal dinner at the historic Rudolfinum. One of my coworkers who knew her way around suggested we get off the Metro a couple stops early and walk about half a mile to the venue. Well of course, I was excited at this very idea. My first real exposure to the heart and soul of Prague.
I was immediately enchanted by the lumpy cobblestone streets and the very old buildings. We soon came across an odd building with four statues over the entrance depicting what appeared to be, to my eye anyway, communist era workers. The kind of thick neck and heavy features you’d find in a Diego Rivera painting.
A very bad screen grab from Google maps because I didn’t take a photo while there
I had kind of a “holy shit, look at that” moment and kept walking. There was a remnant of Soviet era Prague right there. Right there!
As we kept walking my eyes landed on souvenir shops with colorful marionettes, crystal shops, many pubs, restaurants and even a big ol’ Burger King, and I knew that it was okay. I was not somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t need to rip up my passport and toss it into the murky blue waters of an airplane toilet.
No, rather, I was exactly where I needed to be. Instead of fear I felt proud that my ten New Mexico bred toes felt the pulse and music and life of one of deep Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Now, in hindsight, of course I was being ridiculous. I mean, my brother has traveled right into the heart of Moscow, Americans are free to visit Cuba, and Dennis Rodman gets to visit his bestie in North Korea. It’s a different world and a different view.
At the end of the day, it turned out that the Russians did (and do) love their children too.
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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.