One of the fun things of being a photographer is that you get to go out in the elements when saner folks are at home, staying warm and dry on a stormy day.
I did take an umbrella on this rainy afternoon, but gave up when I found it impossible to balance both bumbershoot and camera in order to get just the picture I wanted. As a a result, the picture of this massive leaf of the giant agave was taken with rain dripping off my nose. Plant and person mirrored each other!
What I liked was the paradox of wet and dry. Here was this desert plant, designed with thick leaves to minimize the loss of moisture, brimming with water.
Hard to imagine, but we CAN embrace opposites if we just try.
If we all did the things we are capable of doing,
we would literally astound ourselves. ~Thomas Alva Edison~
I was attracted to this spot by a smell that took me back to childhood, the wonderful aroma of grape Kool-Aid. This is a Texas Mountain Laurel, or Mescal Bean plant, native to the southwest.
And then when I got there, I discovered this amazingly beautiful butterfly, a black Pipevine Swallowtail.
One gives pleasure to the eye; the other to the nose.
AND, both are highly poisonous!
The mescal bean has seed pods that make both people and animals sick. Even the coyotes won’t touch them. And the Pipevine Swallowtail is so toxic that other butterflies imitate those beautiful orange spots so they won’t be eaten, either.
You can’t always believe what you see…or what you smell!
If it is true, if it is beautiful,
if it is honorable, if it is right,
then claim it. ~Rob Bell~
I love books where I sense the amazing complexity of human experience. RACING TO THE FINISH, a memoir by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR racer, is such a book.
Let me start by saying I’m not a NASCAR fan. I’ve never been to a race, although I’ve seen them on television. Who can forget the sight of those cars zooming around the track at the Daytona 500?
There are crashes galore in this book. For example Dale describes this one at the Talladega Speedway in Alabama:
“It started a chain reaction that would end up wrecking twenty-five cars…Tony got sideways, fell out of the lead, and slid helplessly up into our pack. He was hit simultaneously by two oncoming cars and flipped into the air…He sailed by me as I started braking to keep from hitting anyone too hard as cars were out of control and all over the place right in front of me. As we all kept sliding and other cars kept smashing into each other…
…When you’re in the Big One, you’re just like a boat stuck in a storm. You can react and steer and dig all you want, but really, you’re just praying for the best. You have little or no control. It’s just screeches and smoke and chaos. What you don’t want to hear is that crunch, that smack that tells you that you’ve been hit.”
What spectators miss is what happens next. Like heavy-weight boxers or professional football players, race car drivers are at extreme risk for traumatic brain injury. And, like other professional sports players, these injuries often go unreported for fear of losing jobs or being considered a coward or weakling. It’s a strange world out there.
The motto from his family seemed to be, “just put a washcloth over it,” or “tape an aspirin to it” and keep on racing. Dale was different, though, in that he started keeping a journal on his iPhone of the symptoms he was experiencing after these crashes that were considered part of his job.
Through the book the reader experiences both sides of his physical and emotional world: the extreme highs of fast-speed track racing and the aftermath of pain and confusion after a bad crash.
In journal entries Dale describes the post-race symptoms:
“Thursday I felt hung over and frustrated all day…Friday, I seemed to wake up really slow and feel groggy and not sharp…The three different hits into the wall that Sunday were 20, 13, and 23 Gs…There’s a lot of things I do today that frustrate me. Mid-sentence, not being able to find the words to finish. ..when in vocal conversation I choose the wrong word or can’t find the word to complete my thought, that makes me so sad and scared.”
Dale gets the help he needs to retrain his brain, but then re-injures it and has to start over again.
He was unstintingly honest about what he did, and why. When he eventually retired, it was to a celebration of people who loved him.
An uplifting book with a strong message for all of us. I thoroughly relished going along for the ride.
I have a fascination with lichen, perhaps because it is so tenacious and tough. It thrives where there are few nutrients, and in the desert, where there is little moisture as well.
For example, notice this desert lichen, a little crackly about the edges, but still hanging in there.
It is hard to predict where life will take root, and how it will thrive under the most unexpected circumstances.
It’s like that for us, too. There is a vast difference between what we want versus what we need in order to build a life for ourselves. It is often not what we choose, but what we are given that allows us to grow into what we were meant to be.
~For every problem there is a solution
which is simple, clean,
and wrong. ~Henry Louis Mencken~
In the back room of a dressmakers shop lived a row of paper patterns. Some had yellowed with age, but the fingers of the seamstress unerringly drew the pattern she wanted from the collection. She knew them all by heart. They were familiar friends.
We all have our own row of familiar patterns. I know which cup I’ll choose for my morning coffee, which Internet news website I’ll read first. My fingers reach for that favorite T-shirt to wear when the stack is fresh from the wash.
Just as there is growth in newness and surprise, there is comfort in predictability. We need both in our life to thrive.
I am an idealist.
I don’t know where I’m going
but I’m on my way. ~Carl Sandburg~
It was a sweltering hot afternoon when I encountered this pond in the midst of the Arizona desert.
What a delight, this surprise of the water where there shouldn’t be any. I valued the clarity of the mirrored reflection in the water where I received the gift of two mountain views, one pointing toward the heavens, the other diving into the watery depths.
Our lives and dreams present such a dichotomy to us. If we only pay attention, there are always two sides to every story–whether we hear or in this case, see, it.
Good ideas need landing gear as well as wings. ~ C. D. Jackson ~
Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing There is a field. I’ll meet you there. ~Rumi
I once went exploring a side road on the Navajo Reservation leading to Leupp, Arizona. The road went up the hill following its own inclinations, sometimes bearing left to miss a pothole, sometimes right to veer around a creosote bush.
The road knew where it would end up. I couldn’t see that far ahead. But I believed it would take me where I needed to be. And it did.
Sometimes we can’t direct where our life will take us. We only can follow what seems to be the best path, hold on, and trust.
As a writer, I use the month of January to reorient my life after the craziness of the holidays. That’s when I plan what I want to do during the coming year and renew my resolution to be as nurturing to myself as I can be.
I visit these eight authors to find new inspiration for the coming year:
VICKI ROBIN. Even though each year I resolve to lower my holiday spending, I’m not always successful, and as a result January can be depressing! That’s when I turn to Robin’s seminal work, Your Money or your life. It’s been called, “the best book on money period.” I like it because it is practical and not preachy. It talks about the best ways to get out of debt, saving money through being more mindful, living well for less.
(Although the mountaintop wouldn’t be bad, either!)
PADRAIG O’MORAIN. Meditation calms me down and gives me clear thinking, which is absolutely essential for good writing. O’Morain is a master at giving ways to be more mindful, even on days when I am crazy-busy. According to the author of Mindfulness on the Go, inner calm can be found “on your morning commute, during your coffee break, or in line at the super market.”
And he’s right!
MIRIAM NELSON. Strong women stay young. Sometimes when the words are flowing, I spend long hours hunched over a computer keyboard, barely breathing, much less moving. I get up hours later moving like a jerky robot!
I’ve found much better way is to intersperse—with a timer set way across the room so I have to move—periods of writing with short bursts of physical activity.
Strong women stay young describes just six exercises using a straight back chair and a set of hand weights that can keep you limber, strong, and young.
I’m a stress eater and a comfort eater and a convenience eater when I’m on a roll, plotting a new novel. Set something in front of me and I’ll eat it. Especially if it contains caffeine or chocolate, or even better, both!
Michael suggests instead, “eat food, not too much, more plants.” I agree.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a brand new one just out, The Healthy Writer. Joanna knows all too well the kinds of stress that creative people subject themselves to in the pursuit of their art.
Here she teams up with a medical doctor to give some practical tips for escaping the unhealthy habits we sometimes construct for ourselves.
A positive read!
And that’s my favorite eight writers on best practices that help me start my New Year in a nurturing way.
What about you? Who are you reading for inspiration right now?
Ever take personal training at the gym? The trainer ignores all your moans and groans, loads you up with free weights and says, “Push, push, push” and then when you’ve pushed ’til the cows come home and your tongue is purple, they say “release.” Feels pretty good, right?
My week is like that. Monday and Tuesday I work really hard seeing clients. Push, push, push. Hard use of emotional energy. Then Wednesday comes and I say, “Ahhh.” I also teach classes for my local university online. I work really hard Monday through Friday, answering emails, grading papers. When Friday night comes, when I have pushed through the week, I can finally say, “Ahhh.”
We need both the push and the release. I had a friend several years ago who had a terminally ill partner. She devoted her life to keeping him alive: doctor’s visits, alternative treatments, special diets. Even though she knew the ultimate result, she couldn’t stop pushing. Push, push, push, with no release. My heart when out to her, and I crossed my fingers that she’d survive after he passed away. There was no release built into her 24/7; she couldn’t afford it, and her own well-being suffered as a result.
One of the most demanding Olympiad events is the biathlon. The Scandinavians excel–they ski at top speed for miles and miles, then stop and shoot for marksmanship with a rifle that they’ve had slung over a shoulder. They have measured the physical ability of these competitors: the best in the world. They are able to go from the adrenaline rush of high-speed skiing to the absolute calm of marksmanship, in other words, the push and release.
I like to go visit the beach; do nothing but walk the sand, feeling in every core of my body the push and release of the waves crashing against the shore. We originally came from the ocean. I am wondering if the push-and-release instinct is hardwired into our psyche.
If so, we need to pay attention to what our body needs. Physical or emotional exertion, and then that relaxation release when we reach the end of the required effort. We need it; we crave it.
When I was little the circus would come to town, and if my folks had the money we’d go see a performance. I liked the horses, didn’t find the clowns terribly funny, and gasped at the tigers and lions. But my absolute favorite were the artists who walked the tightrope.
They had this long floppy pole for balance, and I would hold my breath as they made minute adjustments, sometimes stepping back, then teetering precariously before they walked ahead slowly, testing each foothold. Only when they reached the platform at last, did I breathe again.
Life is like that, too. In difficult situations, the future seems precarious. I find that I have to move back before I can go forward. I tilt one way and then another to find balance.
Sometimes I forget that balance is ALWAYS a matter of making adjustments, depending on the current situation. That finding a balance in life is always temporary. I struggle to be flexible in the situation, ready to teeter and tilt and fight gravity for a toehold.
But that’s not such a bad thing. Kathy Freston, in her book Quantum Wellness talks about the four Rs of balance: Regular, Reach, Relate, and Rejuvenate. Regular is the ‘getting things done’ phase. In this category fit all those things you HAVE to do: work, chores, sleeping, eating, those ‘to do’ lists that multiply like rabbits.
Regular seems to be a strength of mine. Given a firm deadline, I can usually suck it up and get it done. Maybe not perfectly, but somehow, the important things are usually finished.
The second R, Reach, is also one that I enjoy. I’ve always been a reacher. I delight in discovering a new idea, a word I don’t know, a world I haven’t visited yet. It becomes an irresistible invitation. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt is my motto.
But I start to fade on the 3rd R, that Relate part. By nature, I am an introvert. Give me a good book, a warm cat, a comfortable couch, and I am content. I need to remind myself that there are others in the world, and that friendships need maintenance in order to thrive. I forget that, sometimes.
And when it comes to the 4th R, Rejuvenate: Have fun? Take care of myself? Do all those good things like exercise and eat well and sit in the sun and laugh? Ah, those are definitely way, way down the To Do list!
As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
I walked along a favorite creek not too long ago. It is in a pristine slot canyon, with high red rock walls on either side. To get to the spring at the end, I must criss-cross the water a dozen times.
Each crossing is different. Some are easy, with large flat rocks. In some, poles have been placed across the water, and I must balance with one foot on each log, in an awkward, hitch-step fashion to reach the other side.
As I get deeper into the canyon, fewer hikers have gone before me. When there have been rains or frost in the early morning, the crossing rocks are slippery, and sometimes I end up with a wet foot. Or I choose a rock that settles into the mud, shifting uncertainly, and my arms fly out in balance in order to reach the safety of the other side.
Each crossing is different, each requires a different strategy to find balance. Sometimes I misstep and I end up in swift, cold water that jolts me into awareness of the present moment. At each crossing of the creek, I find that balance can be maintained only for an instant, and then a new challenge presents itself.
And I begin to recognize that life is like that, too. A work in progress always moving forward, in balance for just a moment before slipping into chaos once again. I begin to understand that life is all about finding balance and losing it, and finding it once again.