Night Moves


Friday evening I was running late. I needed to finish photographing some guitars for Coop Guitars before I could head out the door. Isn’t that great? “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late. I had to finish up some shooting before I could call it quits tonight.” (I wonder if someone who’s been a full-time pro photographer for a couple of decades would find it amusing to have this as an excuse for tardiness: “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late, I had to finish up a conference call.”)

Even better, what I was running late for was another shoot! A group of adults got together on the riverfront to play with their very expensive toys–or, as I like to think of them, our boxes of crayons.

We met at 7:45 and shot through sunset and twilight and then really went nuts after dark.

Do you remember summer nights when you were a kid when all the neighborhood kids would get together and play hide-and-seek when it finally got dark? We would swear we’d only been playing for a few minutes when parents would suddenly appear out of the dark saying things like “Where have you been that you couldn’t hear me calling you for the past 10 minutes?”

Friday night, no parents showed up to tell us it was getting late. By the time people started realizing they needed to leave, it was after 10PM. Several of us shot on. “Just one more shot” we said to our internal parents reminding us we had other responsibilities.

We swapped tips on getting night time effects. We threw around words like “high-speed sync,” “hyper-focal distance,” “aberrations,” and “stopping down” and we understood each other. We zoomed our lenses at bright bridge lights during long exposures and giggled at the results. We got out flashlights and created ghosts and swirls just for the fun of it.

Suddenly, without warning, it was 11:30PM. I realized I was cold, I’d had no dinner, I’d had nothing to drink for at least 5 hours, and I’d told my husband I’d get home before 11PM. Yet, I still had to convince myself that those were strong enough reasons to pack it up for the night–there were so many more ideas I wanted to try!

Oh, there was also the fact that I needed to get up at 6AM the next morning to teach a workshop.

But feeling that creative spark and losing myself to it for a few hours was a great reminder of what I love best about photography–and life. Getting out and shooting with a bunch of people had the added benefits of both learning from each other and getting to socialize with people with a similar vocabulary.

Equinox

I wrote a really long, rambling post of over 800 words and decided it would be easier to just start over.
Here are the pertinent points: my staycation is ending. My 6-month leave is starting. So is my new role of working on my husband’s business and balancing that with my other pursuits like photography and getting myself from adequately healthy to ridiculously healthy.

I immediately feel the need to go on a rant about how long I’ve had a job, been self-supporting, yada yada yada. Basically, the need to justify slowing down, even if only temporarily, as if I have to prove I am deserving of this time.

I have suggested to friends that we should all stop cleaning our houses when we’re visiting each other. Then, we would all just be accepted as we are, clean house or dirty, and we wouldn’t drive each other to keep wasting time pretending that we’re neat nuts for people who are supposed to care more about us than about the cleanliness of our homes.

I suggest we do the same when it comes to using over-work as a way of saying we’re important. Let’s just drop the judgmental tones and patronizing comments about people doing things for fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s plenty of research that suggests people who play more are also more creative problem solvers and more effective and efficient at work (and healthier). So, let’s start bragging about making play a priority instead.

The next time someone says, “Oh, I don’t have time to do x,” let’s remind one another that we all have time to do what we choose. Sometimes we’re willing to make the choices to prioritize that time and sometimes we’re not.

In the end, we only get one lifetime (at least in this form, depending on what you believe) to create meaning. A universal truth I keep reminding myself of is that people never regret not spending more time at work at the end of their lives. People regret not laughing more, crying more, playing more, connecting with loved ones more.

So, here I go into the next stage of my journey. Perfectly timed with the spring equinox. What better metaphor than spring to begin anew? I might have liked having 13 weeks of winter to rest and recuperate from the past 30 years, but I suspect not. After all, it can be hard work getting rest.

Staycation

Week one of rest and recovery is already behind me. It’s an interesting thing to tell yourself you have two weeks to do only what you feel like doing. There’s a certain restlessness that ensues. Voices in my head tell me I’m supposed to be doing something productive. This has led to signing up for a couple of online classes–one for my future work and the other for enjoying life.

But which class have I spent time on? Well, it’s not the one on enjoyment. Ironically, the topic I’ve been procrastinating is separating self-worth from exhaustion and productivity.

I suspect the idea of not exhausting myself through productivity is scary.

After all, what’s one of the first questions we ask one another when we meet in a social setting? “What do you do?” How many times have we asked that question? How many times have we answered it? How often do we answer with our jobs?

“What do you do?” has all kinds of implications. We don’t ask “What’s important to you?” or “What do you like the most about yourself?’ or “What do you most want to be remembered for?” Can you imagine someone asking you something like that upon first meeting? It would feel far too personal. Instead, we ease our way into finding out what really matters to a person by asking them about their career.

Yet, what do we actually learn about a person by asking about what they do? I think about the mothers and fathers I’ve known who have chosen to stay home with their children in favor of a paid career and their discomfort with this question. Whenever I have blundered into asking a stay-a-home parent what they do, they have usually answered with a self-conscious, “Well, I don’t work. I stay home with the kids.” To which I have inevitably replied, “Well that’s certainly work! There’s nothing easy about your job,” in my attempt to make them feel valued.

Yet even this response points to our cultural expectation that hard work is what makes a person valuable. Acknowledging that parenting is hard work may be accurate, but it still values work first. Imagine if someone said, “I try to do very little. I spend most of my day just being.” Wouldn’t we immediately want to know how to “do” being? What does that even look like?

I have spent the past week spending more time relaxing, but this tends to mean a combination of being more active and then vegetating. I’ve ridden my bike more, walked more, hiked more, done more yoga, done more shooting, and laid on the couch more. I’ve also played a lot of euchre (it’s a card game) on my iPad and napped.

The paradox of letting go of my career identity seems to be that I find other things to do instead. Is this progress? Or am I just distracting myself from deeper truths that can only be revealed in stillness?

Socks and Sandals

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I’ve allocated for myself two weeks of vacation before I start working on Coop Guitars. I have decided to spend this time taking care of myself by doing only what I feel like doing.
Today, I felt like riding my bike to a yoga class a 20 minute ride away. So, I rode my bike 20 minutes across town and took that yoga class at 10:30 in the morning–a time I’ve never been free to go to yoga class before.
I breathed through the class with the presence of mind I always want in yoga class but rarely achieve.
As I rode my bike back across town, climbing a hill into a head wind on surprisingly fatigued legs, I wanted the traffic light mid-way up the hill to turn green. I was determined it was going to change. And it did! But it changed to a left turn arrow and I was going straight.
Had I trusted the strength of my will to control traffic lights less, I might have unclipped a shoe from my pedals. Instead, I crashed to the ground in one of those humiliating moments I have become all too accustomed to. On the plus side, I have gotten pretty skilled at falling. I managed to fall slowly enough to only scrape one knee slightly.
This just goes to prove you can’t always get what you want. Not even when you’re on a vacation to do only what you please.
I popped up quickly, hoping to avoid alarming any drivers who were probably wondering how on earth I managed to fall in the first place. I pedaled home surprisingly non-plussed. After all, it was a moment and it was gone.
I returned home to a quiet dog who had been home alone for 2 full hours. This is a new record. My husband returned for lunch at the same time. We sat on the floor with our ecstatic dog running in circles, flopping himself over periodically on top of us, and giving us stinky dog kisses whenever we didn’t move fast enough. We laughed at his antics and sheer joy that we had returned safely.
Then, I felt like walking the dog. I slipped my Chacos over my socks. I felt like wearing socks with my sandals. I walked around the park for the 2nd time today feeling my feet in my socks, warm and comfy. I listened to the frogs singing of spring. I looked for the Flicker calling loudly in a dead tree. I watched a turtle swimming slowly through the wetland. I saw a friend and chatted with her about the joy of walking in socks and sandals.
Then, I made myself a smoothie. Full of goodness–local honey, whey protein, frozen organic berries, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Then, I decided I felt like writing a post on a day when I don’t write posts anymore.
It’s funny what can feel like an adventure.

Free Range


Free Range is defined by dictionary.com as:
1. (of livestock and domestic poultry) permitted to graze or forage for grain, etc., rather than being confined to a feedlot or a small enclosure: a free-range pig.
2. of, pertaining to, or produced by free-range animals: free-range eggs.

Last Sunday, Pat and I delivered bags of sawdust from Pat’s workshop to Pastured Penney’s Free Range Eggs. They have about 500 chicks that love my husband’s sawdust. In a few weeks they will be joining about 400 other hens already enjoying life on a farm where they can forage for food in the grass, the scrub, and the woods.

When we walked out to meet the adult hens, I expected them to, at best, ignore us and, at worst, run from us. I did not expect the greeting we got.

Instead of running from us, the ran to us. They
surrounded us, fascinated with our shoes, pecking at our legs and were intent on untying Pat’s shoelaces. It was hard to walk with hundreds of happy hens hanging at our feet.

There is something magical about seeing well-cared for animals contentedly pecking at the soles of your shoes. I cannot explain it–it is just a sense of rightness with the world that these hens should run across a field, compelled by curiosity, nearly frantic to be the first to discover just what kind of shoes their visitors are wearing.

Having just done something rather extraordinary for me–I decided to take a 6-month leave of absence from work–the sheer joy of these hens instantly became symbolic. Unconfined, unconstrained, free to travel wherever their two feet and wings will take them, they flourish.

I found myself thinking of the difference between corporate hens stuck in tiny cubicles they can barely turn around in and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive and producing eggs in horrible living conditions versus these hens, full of joie de vivre.

I could not help but think of my own range having expanded from the virtual cubicle to the pasture, the woods, and and the world. I have been asked several times now how I feel knowing I do not have to boot up the corporate computer on Monday morning. I’m not sure how I feel yet. But Monday morning . . . well, Monday morning will be the test. That will be the day that everything feels different.

What do I feel? Well, there is the fear of being replaceable, interchangeable, just another laying hen. There is the joy of suddenly owning my own time for the first time in about . . . my lifetime. There is the simultaneous wonder and terror that anything is possible. Free ranging means both endless possibility and endless responsibility. I own my future–at least for 6 months. I am left with no excuses, no hindrances, no scapegoat. I wonder how a corporate hen would feel being let out of her cage for the first time?