Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude


Gratitude is an interesting day - a characteristic highlighted on this particular national day of celebration, but one which should be an every day thing. Gratitude and thankfulness should be felt and expressed every day.

As a Christian, the Bible tells me to:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, 
for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT

On this Thanksgiving day, I'm grateful for rheumatoid arthritis. But I don't think that's as simple as it may seem. How can I be grateful for disease?

Because of the RA so many good things have happened, and I seem to be headed in a good direction. I like my life. Because of the RA, and the aggressive progression of it, I resigned as counselor in Wendell - not a good thing. But leaving that job brought me back to Nampa, close to my family - and that is a good thing. Since I left that job I'm free to pursue a doctorate - a good thing. When I moved to Nampa I found a new rheumatologist and he's taken very good care of me. That has been a really good thing. After moving here to Nampa I joined the Nampa Rec Center, which is helping me physically and mentally. After moving here I started playing the ukulele.

It's possible I may have done some of these things if I had remained healthy, without RA, and stayed living in Twin Falls. But some (most) of them wouldn't have happened.

However, being grateful in the results does not feel the same as being grateful for the disease. So what does it mean to be "thankful in all circumstances"? Yes I like my life, I am content with my situation. But am I grateful for RA? I don't know how to answer that.


We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
~ Romans 5:3, NLT



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Princess Bride as a Metaphor

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. I've been watching it for 25 years. When it first came out, we watched as a group, those of us in the Hillsboro Nazarene Youth Group, usually at Dawn's house. We watched often enough that we had the movie memorized.

If you've watched the movie, you might remember the scene at the very end, when Grampa is getting ready to leave. He pats his pockets, his jacket, all the while repeating (or mumbling), "Okay ...... okay."

For years now I've done the same thing. When I get ready to leave the house, I pat my left pocket to make sure I have my phone, pat my right pocket to make sure I have my wallet and keys, pat other places to make sure I have glasses or hat or pen or grocery list, all the while mumbling to myself, "Okay ... okay ... alright ... okay." I crack myself up when I do it because I picture Grampa doing the same, which reminds me of the Princess Bride which reminds me of some of my favorite quotes, which makes me laugh, usually out loud. I love it so I do it every time I leave the house.

This last week I had an epiphany (I don't really know what that word means, but I've always wanted to use it). The Princess Bride has provided a loose metaphor for my life.

When I first started watching the movie, I pictured myself as Westley. I was young, good looking, adventurous (sort-of) and I imagined the day I would meet my princess "rescuing" her from her circumstances, making one of the top 5 kisses of all time.

Now, I'm Grampa. I read the books to kids, hoping to pass on some of the wisdom I've gained through life experience. I pat my pockets, I mumble, I love my kids, I love my family.

I suppose my next phase will be to morph into the King, Prince Humperdinck's father.
"Isn't that nice. She kissed me!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What does it mean to live in the moment?

Over the last decade I've spent countless hours and energy simplifying my life, my possessions, my activities - eliminating the clutter. Much of the simplification has been tangible objects and items. But some of the simplification has been really abstract, enough so that I have difficulty understanding what I'm doing, or trying to do.

For example, to eliminate the clutter of my time, I'm trying to focus on now, living in the moment. Which means I have to eliminate the clutter of past and future. I certainly need to remember my past. I've done some wonderful things (and some not so wonderful) and I want to hold those warm memories in my heart. I don't every want to forget my time in Wendell. But I don't want to dwell in the past or get stuck in the past wondering, "what if?"

Likewise, I need to plan for the future. I make plans, schedule appointments. I have infusions scheduled six months out. But I don't want to live in the future, constantly looking for what's to come, hoping it's better than today. I can expect the best and plan for the worst, but the only things I can do can only be done today. I'm applying for a doctoral program, but I'm not going to start planning my life around the class schedule. I have no idea if I'll be accepted to the program or not.

But here's where the real difficulty in living "now" creates confusion for me. I'm unemployed, on disability. There are days when I  really want a job. I want to be doing something. And yet, I am so busy. I don't have time for a job.

  • I'm teaching as an adjunct professor at NNU
    • Building a class
    • reading text books to prepare
    • writing assignments, rubrics, tests, quizzes
  • I'm learning Spanish
  • I'm learning the ukulele
  • I'm working to improve my photography
  • I'm writing a book
When do I have time for a job? I'm really enjoying not "working." I really like doing all these life-enhancing activities.

But then I feel guilty for enjoying myself. I should be feeling miserable, after all I am an unhealthy, unemployed, aging, fat, balding, out of shape, often lazy middle aged man.

I go back and forth, too often, wondering how things could be different if only I had done things differently, or wondering how things will work out since I don't really have a 100% sure plan. Both of those extremes are clutter, life clutter, living in the past and living in the future instead of living in the present.

So I try to live each day, doing what I can do on this day. There's nothing I can do about yesterday, and tomorrow will take care of itself. But living in the moment is easier said than done.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

the quiet musician


The musician leads a life of contrast, and this image seeks to capitalize on contrasting elements.

Music encourages movement, and yet this musician is stranded. She has no legs - movement isn't an option. She's stranded in the frame, literally stuck in this particular moment. Of course photography captures a moment in time, as this image has, but because of the cropping, her position is solidified in the frame.

Music is inclusive and full, filling the environment with sound, rhythm and warmth. But here, she’s surrounded by emptiness. Her quiet hands create silence from her instrument instead of sound. The emptiness of the scene is emphasized by the vastness of the negative space surrounding the protagonist.

Music is inviting, but this musician is looking out of the frame, as if ignoring the viewer. She’s inviting isolation instead of involvement. Her body language is not saying, "Listen to me." It seems as if she's lamenting, "There's no one here to listen."

I also like the contrast between the hard, harshness of the wall and the soft humanity of the girl. It seems to me that her presence in the frame - her mood and potential - are sufficiently strong to balance the otherwise overwhelming wall.

Lastly, the image is so static and stationary, but contrasted by the implied line of the guitar. It points up, foreshadowing a dynamic energy. At any point the music might begin to fill all that emptiness, inviting us in to join her. Her eyes will open, her mood will lift and her voice will sing, "Listen to me, sing with me."

Maybe, in this brief moment of a musician's quietness, we're witnessing the calm before the beautiful storm of musical emotion.

miss e.


I rarely take portraits, and the ones I do take are informal. They are more often candids that turn out looking like portraits. But I have some very attractive friends. Their photogenic faces help me take good images.

Here I tried to deemphasize everything except her smile. And that smile is in her eyes and mouth. Therefore, they are the focus of the picture.

The curve of her smile rhymes with other lines in the image: the line of her collar, the line of her chin, her lips, her nose and the bottom of her eyes all mirror the line of a smile. Then going further up, the top of her eyes, the eyebrows and the hairline (even though most is implied) turn that smiling line into an arch.

Lastly, I like that her expression is so natural. Her smile is comfortable and relaxed, and shows a fun part of her personality.

i walk alone


Here I tried to create a feeling of loneliness, using multiple elements to drive that feeling.

The anonymity of the person lets me imagine it could be anyone, even me. This anonymous person is walking out of the frame, rather than the more acceptable practice of having a person walk into the frame. The horizon is tilted, breaking another principle of good photos. But the slightly tilted horizon implies a downhill energy that is also driving the person out of frame. I know that in a few moments, the frame will be empty and I - the viewer - will be alone.

While beach scenes are often framed horizontally emphasizing the vastness of the landscape, this image is framed vertically, adding to the feeling of isolation. I can only see a small portion of the scene. I know the beach is long and wide, extending in both directions, but I can’t see those parts of the beach, nor interact with them.

The sky is emphasized here, taking up most of the scene. It’s an empty sky, devoid of detail or interest. While there might be detail in the beach and water, the majority of the scene is empty.

The tracks at the bottom lead out of the frame, further emphasizing the feeling of disengagement. Leading lines should lead the viewer into the scene, but these take my eye out of the image as soon as I see them. Lastly, the messiness of the scene - the light leaks along the edge, the dried chemicals in the field, the dust, the blobs - mirrors the emotion. Loneliness is a messy, uncomfortable feeling. While it’s possible to “clean up” the emotion and the image, it’s not easy or necessary. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept the value of the messiness and learn from it.

I like several things about this image. First, I like that the bottom part of the image is itself divided into three parts: dark beach, wet beach, and ocean. Second, I like that the image has so many things wrong. It’s messy, dark, tilted, blurry - and yet I keep looking. It affects me, draws me in, makes me ask questions.