Inviting Life

I am troubled by the dialog (or lack thereof) in our country. Never have there been so many topics off-the-table when chatting with people I love but who see politics quite differently than I do. Even a conversation about fanatic football fans becoming violent quickly turned to a divisive political statement the other day. There is no middle ground. No rational discourse. Only sides—each believing the other side is idiotic and delusional. It’s depressing.

Yet, as soon as I indulged in complete hopelessness, a miracle happened in my front yard. My friend and native-plant expert, Chet, created an amazing “habitat garden” (as I have dubbed it) in our tiny patch of a front yard. It includes an even tinier decorative pond. Surrounded by overgrown sweet coneflower, butterfly weed, bee balm, and dozens of other plants I have to ask Chet to remind me what they’re called, this tiny bowl of water surrounded by stacked rocks carefully placed to create a space for birds to wade in and bathe, somehow attracted a frog.

It is an amazing mystery to me. There are no sources of water that I know of for at least a mile from our house. We live in an urban residential neighborhood near the peak of a steep hill surrounded by many other hills—in fact, it’s an area that was once called “Hill City.” I know very little about frogs, but I didn’t think a water-loving frog would be in the neighborhood.

Did it get air-lifted by a bird? Perhaps a bird that drank out of someone else’s pond and swallowed a tiny frog egg that it deposited in our pond? And from that bird visit came a tadpole that we somehow never saw that grew into a full-grown Green Frog that just one day appeared among the rocks surrounding our pond? I think of Occam’s Razor and find my explanation doesn’t really pass the test. Is the appearance of a frog in our front yard that complicated?

What strikes me is that we built it and they came. We built a space and brought in life forms that would invite more life forms. And more life forms showed up. I have been introduced to tiny, orange aphids that seem to live harmlessly on our yucca plants, beautiful orange and black bugs called “milkweed bugs” that appeared as mysteriously as the frog, more types of bees than I knew existed who seem addicted to the bee balm, and, of course, the butterflies that have found our patch of wilderness in the midst of mowed lawns an oasis.

There is something god-like about having a patch of land that has been transformed into an oasis for wildlife. It’s as if life truly can be created by molding clay. I look for my frog eagerly every morning and every evening. I giggle each time I find him or her sitting on the rock ledge around the pond. Today, I discovered a smaller frog sitting on the rock ledge. I don’t know if my frog invited a friend over or if he somehow managed to reproduce without a second frog around. Or, perhaps another bird delivered another fertilized egg that grew into a tadpole in my pond without me noticing? Occam would not be proud.

I cannot stop wandering over to the window that overlooks the pond. There sits a symbol of hope I never imagined. The concept that by merely inviting life makes it show up is so joyful, so hopeful, so inspiring. I wonder if inviting love in the midst of divisive times works just as well?

Gender and Stomach Flips

I am struggling with what it means in 2017 to be a woman in America.

It wasn’t all the men being accused of (and/or admitting to) sexual misconduct of late that was the tipping point for me (although they certainly contributed). It was a random series of events that caused me to end up sitting through a continuing legal education requirement with an attorney-friend that motivated me to finally sit down at the computer and write.

I was surrounded by about 50 attorneys in a 1-hour class on legal ethics. (Were you aware that attorneys have ethics?) The question was raised regarding the case of Mark Giannini, a Memphis businessman who was accused of raping a woman. Giannini’s defense attorney made the following statement during his closing argument: “People can be very good at lying. Women can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker sex.”

From the Tennessee professional rules of conduct for attorneys, this is an excerpt from rule 8.4:  “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . (d) engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” In the comments to the rules (which are meant to explain the intention of the rules), it says, “[3] A lawyer who, in the course of representing a client, knowingly manifests, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status violates paragraph (d) when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice.” (You can look these up here: http://www.tba.org/info/tennessee-rules-of-professional-conduct).

Yet, in this room of about 50 attorneys, there was a great deal of skepticism that the defense attorney had violated this rule. What struck me most painfully was the moment when the presenter said, “What if his comment would have been about race?”

I imagined that quote again. I imagined it saying: People can be very good at lying. African Americans can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker race. My gut did a flip. The kind of flip that your gut does when the core of your being is reacting to something you know innately is horribly, horribly wrong. I imagined that quote revised one more time to say: People can be very good at lying. Jews can be especially good at it because they’re the weaker race. My gut flipped again.

I’m glad my gut flips when I think about people having such ridiculous, prejudiced beliefs based on someone’s race and/or religion. What I found so disturbing was that my gut DIDN’T do the same flip on the actual quote. Intellectually, I was outraged. But in my belly, the true test of what I really feel, I remained calm. Why? Why would the core of my being feel OK with being accused of being better at lying? Or, of belonging to the “weaker” sex?

I have given some thought to this question. One thing that occurs to me is that in the 2 alternate examples, I cannot be a victim of this thinking as I am neither African American nor Jewish. Is it the innate sense of duty to protect the rights of others that causes my gut to flip? But if that is the case, shouldn’t my gut still flip for the sake of all women? Do I not have the same duty to protect women regardless of the fact that I am one? What scares me the most is the possibility that deep down in my unconscious feelings I feel helpless to protect my own gender.

Is it possible that what I really feel is that it’s every woman for herself? I believe in supporting other women. I believe that women must band together in the face of prejudice and fight it together. I believe in the strength of numbers. Yet, every election, I watch women doing things I cannot explain nor comprehend. In the face of our president being exposed as a self-described grabber of women’s genitalia, I saw women “friends” post things on Facebook like, “boys will be boys.” This is consistent with my personal experience in life–I have found gender to be an unreliable predictor of who will be the biggest supporters of women.

Perhaps then it is a prejudice of a different sort to be emotionally aghast at the thought of someone saying something so offensive about minorities to which I do not belong. To assume that they need me to be aghast. Ultimately to view these categories of people as a whole, homogenous category rather than unique individuals who can also fend for themselves as individuals.

Or, is it possible that our culture is so permeated with subtle messages of misogyny that we rarely notice or, when we do, it seems so normal that people feel compelled to defend such behavior?

I do not have great insight as to why this is. But I am not alone in my gut doing a bigger flip over race than over women. The implication to me is that we, as a culture, are less able to protect women from sexism than we are to protect other groups from other forms of prejudice. And you know what? We really suck at protecting other groups. Where does this leave women?

 

Being 50

Well, here I am. 50 years old whether I want to claim it or not. My life turned upside down in the past couple of  years–losses I don’t care to recount. But I think a half century on this earth gives me the right to give unsolicited advice. So here it goes:

1) Do things that you suck at and that scare you. Do them until you suck a little less and are a little less scared. If you get more scared, stop.

2) Protect your body. It heals slower and hurts more as you age.  Doing things like swimming 4+ rapids in whitewater or a 180 degree flip on mountain bike with pedals attached to your feet aren’t as easy to recover from as they were when you were 20. But find ways to do the things that scare you without permanently damaging your body.

3) Love large. Love unconditionally. Let go of pettiness and complaint. When you hear yourself complaining, stop. At 50, you’ve been around long enough to know that life is good and complaining is a waste of energy.

4) Let go of judgment. This might be the same as #3 because complaining is a sure sign of judgment. Listening and observing with an open heart is far ​more productive than judging.

5) Do not confuse discretion and integrity with judgment. It’s OK to say misogyny is wrong. Racism is wrong. Anything, really, that judges people collectively is wrong. It’s OK to be angry when people are mistreated, misjudged, denied their human rights. In fact, it’s not just OK, it’s imperative.

6) Forgive and accept your own limitations. This is a good time to realize there are some things about you that aren’t rational and never will be. For example, I will always feel like a 50-foot woman whenI am next to a guy who is the same height as me. It’s a misperceptions on my part. But it’s time to stop feeling bad about it and accept it as a preference.

7) Prioritize what matters most. For me, I have to be outside. I have learned that my fundamental happiness and ability to experience joy are dependent on being outdoors as often as possible.  For you, it might be spending time with your children or grandchildren. Whatever it is, make time for it.

8) Believe. Believe that those dreams you thought you would have fulfilled by the time you were 30 are still possible. Believe that your whole life is in front of you. That you can still do and/be what you imagined for yourself.

9) Take action or let go. Sometimes we cling to ideas of ourselves or things we think we *should* do. Letting go of the person we will never be or the actions we will never take frees out energy to focus on what we can and will do.

10) Do yoga. There is nothing quite like yoga to teach being in the present moment. It’s the most powerful lesson there is–after all, we only actually have the present. Breathing, moving, feeling–yoga reminds us that we are alive in a way that carries over throughout the day and reminds us that all we really have is now.

I could go on. But I’m 50 and I need more sleep than I used to.

Saying Goodbye

What to say? I want to pull grief around me like a robe and parade around in it. To make the death of my beautiful friend all about me. I want to curl up in a ball and wail into the wind–to listen to the sound of my agony blowing back at me. I want to wallow.

But that is not what “besties” do. Besties do laundry, wash dishes, restock the toilet paper, and hold hands. And try desperately to think of something eloquent to say about the tragic and ridiculous loss of someone held dear.

I did not manage eloquence, but I did come up with something to say at her memorial service. Something I hoped would honor and represent Georgia. I’ve had a few requests to post what I said at the service. So, here it is:

All of you know how kind and giving Georgia was. But I don’t know how many of you knew that being kind and giving was part of Georgia’s own form of activism.

Georgia believed that the smallest acts of kindness could add up to big changes. She took action to create positive changes every day. Besides the charitable causes Georgia supported, there are countless stories of both people and animals she has helped. But she also tackled her internal self—seeking to continually improve herself as a human being so that she might be even better equipped to effect positive change. She did this both through constantly learning and through spiritual growth.

Let me share with you advice from the Dalai Lama Georgia recently passed onto me:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

I would like to invite all of you to honor Georgia by choosing one small thing every day that will make a positive impact. Whether it’s as simple as picking up a piece of trash in the parking lot, recycling a bottle, or giving an empathetic smile to a surly grocery store clerk who’s having a really bad day, take on these tasks with loving and kind thoughts rather than resentment and anger. I suspect if we do this, we will discover what Georgia already knew—we get the greatest joy by giving to others.

Just one final thought from Georgia. This is something she shared with me when I was struggling. She thought she was quoting someone very wise. After much searching for the author, I determined that she was right—Georgia was the author of these words of wisdom—they came from her own heart. They are:

“If you want to be happy, notice that you are.”

Georgia could see the happiness in me, in you, in the world. I think Georgia would want to remind us all right now that we each have a precious human life. Not to waste it. To give each other kindness and to remember to notice our own joy.

Highline Trail

Not much time to write this weekend, but thought I’d throw up a gallery of images from the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. This is one of the most popular trails, offering sweeping vistas and a nice variety of wildlife. Of course, even the popular trails really aren’t that crowded in peak season once you get a mile or so from the trailhead.

It was a lovely hike and, unlike the day before (see “A Bear Story”), I was accompanied by 3 lovely ladies, one of whom is an ER nurse, so I was feeling much safer. 🙂

Will Should

It’s amazing how quickly small things get in the way of achieving a relatively simple goal.  My goal has been to make time for the things that make me happy first thing in the morning.  Riding, rowing, yoga.  Seems simple enough.

But then there’s the rush of deadlines that keeps me up late or the early-morning or late-night conference calls with colleagues in far-off time zones.  Suddenly, what I need more than a ride is sleep.  The alarm gets set for 7AM instead of 5AM.

I remember reading once (or twice) that it takes a month to establish a new habit.  I think about the times I have succeeded in creating habits.

There is a mindset that snaps into place.  It’s a mindset that says, “you will do this, no matter what.”  It’s the mindset that drags my weary rear-end out of bed long before dawn even if I’ve only had a few hours of sleep.  Making myself get up forces me to go to bed earlier.  Making the priority to get out of bed is painful for a week or two until I find I can no longer keep my eyes open after 10PM.  But where is the switch that turns, “I should” into “I will”?

I learned a long time ago that the conditional tense is a misleading and manipulative beast that carries with it guilt and shame as poor motivators.  “Should?” my inner self retorts, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

Will changes everything.  The power of grammar is contained in this simple word.  To have the will.  To will.  Both a noun and a verb, will combusts into action.  To say “I will” creates promise and commitment.  To will is to embrace, to drive.  I do not take the word lightly.

Should, however, reeks of meek compliance.  Agreement to a statement that belongs to someone else.  “Yes, I should get up at 5AM.”  The word “should” implies “but I won’t” at the end of the sentence.  That single, irritating word contains the admission of not living up to someone’s standard.  Of agreeing that whatever the task at hand might be, it is worthwhile and good, but not within your reach.  It represents an admission that you are not making good on something you should be doing.

I listen for “shoulds” when I’m talking to others.  In my career, I have learned that “should” means, “yes, that’s a good idea, but I’m not doing it.”  In volunteer organizations, I learned to shudder at the words, “someone should,” although at least it is a more straightforward admission.

Sometimes when will has left me, I have to step back and reassess.  Is there a point in time coming up that will allow me to shift to will?  Is there a project that will be finished?  A commitment completed?  Some other break in time that can get me to will?  I still haven’t found the switch, but I will.

Spring Lessons

Open Arms--does this not make you smile?

Open Arms–does this not make you smile?

With each passing day, the enthusiasm of the birds increases. The volume and variety of their songs grows in direct proportion to the temperature–or perhaps it’s with the lengthening of the days? Their songs remind me that it’s time to come out of hibernation and sing a song or two myself.

I, however, try to limit my singing to the shower as a favor to the rest of the world.

Besides the desire to sing, spring invariably increases my need to be outdoors. The feeling of bouncing off the walls after too much indoor time has struck home and I am looking for outdoor pursuits. Fortunately for me, my friend Dale is willing to help me pursue my growing interest in raptors. We made a play date.

Periwinkle

Periwinkle

This is not really play, it just feels like it. In reality, I’m learning how to train and care for birds of prey. I’m not quite sure where this is going, but I can at least learn how to care for the birds for John and Dale when they are out of town.

So, off I go to the Wings to Soar (new name) facility for some lessons in bird training. I and the birds get to learn together.

Before we get started, Dale has a new project underway. She’s come up with an adorable prototype design that she plans to create in a smaller form as a necklace. It’s called Open Arms–embracing everyone for who and what they are without judgment. If you knew Dale, you would understand just how appropriate it is that she came up with this design. It’s the kind of thing that just makes you smile–this is the effect Dale has on people.

Mystery flowers

Mystery flowers

I have fun trying to get a few shots of it in front of some Forsythia. The Forsythia–a legendary foreteller of spring in the north–adds to the overall cheerfulness of the day. A colorful character reminding us to be open to each others’ differences, blooming shrubs telling us spring really is here, and a fun friend who makes time to teach me. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Dale and Billy

Dale and Billy

John asks me to take a few shots of the Periwinkle in bloom as well. It’s a beautiful color, although it’s one of those plants that’s considered an invasive back home, so I can’t say it’s my favorite. I’ve spend a few too many hours trying to pull out its difficult roots.

 

While I was on a flower kick, I found this interesting vine with yellow blooms that Dale had never been able to identify. I don’t know what it is either, but it was fascinating to watch the yellow blooms bounce and sway in the wind.

Finally, when Dale got out the Harris’s Hawks to get their daily outdoor time, I switched from flowers to birds and took a few shots of Billy on the glove.

It was a great way to kick off a training session.

Appventure

My silly boy "awesomized" by Camera!

My silly boy “awesomized” by Camera!

I tried a little experiment comparing the collection of iPhone photography apps I have.  I picked a vase sitting on a dresser in front of a mirror for a subject instead of trying to capture my rambunctious dog whose immediate reaction to having any form of a camera pointed at him is to either run towards me or start turning his head back and forth.

I learned some lessons I didn’t expect to learn from this test.  First, no metadata is captured in the photos that identifies which app was used to take them.  This made it difficult to identify which photos were taken with which app.  Maybe when someone starts paying me to test iPhone photo apps I’ll do that.

"Awesomized" image from Camera! app (using their built-in editing)

“Awesomized” image from Camera! app (using their built-in editing)

While I did my best to reconstruct this (and in some cases it was obvious), I can’t guarantee I’ve accurately matched unedited photos with apps.  I did, however, do editing one photo at a time so I could keep track.

Another surprise lesson was that some apps don’t save the image you’ve created automatically.  HDR Pro was one that I tested, but then lost the image when I tried to find it after the fact.  Same problem with Camera Plus.  Or else I just couldn’t find the images because of the aforementioned problem.

Camera+ edited version using the black and white slider to make it not quite black and white--also darkened

Camera+ edited version using the black and white slider to make it not quite black and white–also darkened

Tisen did not, as usual, enjoy my photographic experiment.  He started out lying in his bed at my feet undoubtedly thinking I was there for the purpose of giving him a belly rub.  When I ignored him, he decided to try ignoring me and moved into the living room.  When this didn’t result in me following him to the living room, he came back in to check on what in the heck I was doing.

I made amends by taking a few shots of him when I was done with my test.  He seemed grateful enough for the attention to hold relatively still.

Here is my summary:

I tested 5 Apps:  The iPhone default camera app, Camera+, Camera!, Hipstamatic, Pro HDR and Camera Plus.  Since I lost the photos from Pro HDR and Camera Plus and Hipstamatic is more of an “instant photo editing” app than an enhanced camera, I haven’t included images from those two.

There is little difference in the quality of the unedited image from one app to the next with the exception of the Camera! app.  This may be because I turned on image stabilization in this app.  That feature does make a difference.

Camera+ Version

Camera+ Version

"Image Stabilized" shot from Camera!

“Image Stabilized” shot from Camera!

The default camera app on the iPhone

The default camera app on the iPhone

The experience of getting the image is made harder or easier by the overlays available for framing the image.  I like the Golden Rule overlay in Camera! the best.

The exposure control in Camera+ is minimal and I found it takes quite a bit more time to adjust the exposure and then have to reframe the subject because the act of changing the exposure causes me to move the camera all over the place.

Frankly, I think a tripod might help more than an app.

Canon on Cannon

One of the great things about Portland, Oregon is its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  Portland, about an hour’s drive inland, tucked inside the elbow of the Columbia River Gorge (and spilling over it a bit), has its own water front, but when you want to see an ocean, it’s an easy day trip.

On our second full day in Portland, we headed to the coast.  Our first stop was Cannon Beach.  Pacific Northwest beaches are right up our alley.  They offer interesting rock formations, sand dunes, and hikes through complex coastal ecosystems with more plant varieties than one typically associates with a beach.  The Pacific coast is also open to the public–no private beaches are allowed–so you always know you can access the ocean.

Cannon Beach offers rock formations immediately off the coast and lots of sea gulls.  Unfortunately, one of the more disturbing memories I brought back was of two headless seagulls, and both heads strewn further down the beach.  I’d rather not think about what would behead two seagulls and not eat them.  I’d like to think a predator like a beach-combing coyote or a large bird of prey (pterodactyl?) got interrupted.

Dead seagulls aside, we walked from the car across soft sand (which is a really great workout for your shins, should you be looking for one) to firmer but colder sand close to the waters edge.  Then, we headed along the shoreline towards the largest rock formation within walking distance.

We discovered an inlet where the ocean hit the beach from two directions simultaneously.  A channel had been created in the beach where the salt water ran far back, creating a large pool.  Since the tide was coming in as we were going out, the channel was deep enough to reach to our knees.  We rolled up our pants and crossed it.

As soon as we sunk our legs into the water, we started looking around for icebergs–it seemed impossible the water could be so cold without any nearby.

Seagulls in the distance flared up into a cloud of wings, rising like a stadium crowd doing the wave and then settling back down to continue loitering in the sun.  Perhaps they were impressed by our daring.

After walking out to the rock formations, we turned to come back.  We walked and walked, feeling like our destination wasn’t getting any closer.  It’s funny how skewed distances can seem on a beach.  When we’d started out, we thought the rock formations were less than 500 yards away.  On the way back, we realized we must have walked closer to a mile.  It was like one of those dreams where you keep running, but you’re not actually going anywhere.

At last, we returned to the seagull hang out in time to watch both a small boy and a teenage girl chase the gulls.  The birds floated barely above the boy’s head, taunting him.  I swear they were laughing.

A Shot in the Dark

I arranged to meet my trainer and his fiancee at the sculpture garden in the Bluffview Art District an hour and a half before sunset.  I have no portable lighting, so the timing is critical.  They have agreed to model for me so I can try shooting portraits on location for the first time.

I get there early so I can walk around and look for good places to shoot.  I discover the tall building across the street from the park casts an enormous shadow and the shadow is growing rapidly.

When my models arrive, the light is not good in the park any longer.  But we take a quick stroll through the middle of the district (it’s a bit optimistic to refer to it as a district; it’s more like a short block) reveals some interesting architecture between historical buildings with a nice gate with an arch over it.  Of course, it’s even darker between the buildings, but we give it a try while it’s still bright enough.

We work our way around the area, trying shooting against a variety of backdrops–Bluffview affords a lot of interesting choices in a really short walk, so it’s perfect for this.  We end up at the Hunter Museum on the porch of the Georgian style mansion portion of the museum, sticking with the historical theme rather than walking over to the extremely modern side of the museum.

We play on the porch with the sun setting in the background.  Some red stripes start to appear in the sky and I attempt to get a few shots with the sun-streaked sky as a background.  This does not work at all.  I keep trying to get my subjects positioned so the spot lights on the building are lighting them, but, as shocking as this may be, architectural lighting doesn’t really work well for lighting people.  My shutter speed is way too slow–I coach my models to hold as still as possible, but let’s face it, I need a strobe.

When I review the photos later, I realize one reason why professional photographers often have an assistant.  I failed to notice when my subjects’ clothing did awkward things (like an errant tie that pops out of the bottom of a jacket like a pet snake).  This makes some of the shots I otherwise like annoying.  While the fiancee asked me to watch for her bra straps showing and my trainer was worried about his jacket not fitting properly, I really had trouble remembering to think about it.

I will have to bring Pat next time so I don’t get overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to use whatever portable strobe arrangement I end up with and watching clothing at the same time.

Tisen was happy to see me when I got home.  He thinks he’s my assistant and was mad I went without him.  I didn’t tell Tisen that Princeton, my trainer’s dog, was at the shoot while Tisen stayed home.