Chaos and Courage


Yokohama

Hi my dear readers,

Sorry to have been away so long.  It’s been a crazy, busy, challenging year.  A roller coaster ride if you will.  I just returned from a trip to Japan.  My sixth visit.  I never imagined ten years ago that I would be saying that!  But my life has changed in amazing, unexpected, and positive ways by embracing this new life of adventure that comes along with marrying someone who is a different background than mine.  I wouldn’t change it for anything.

At the close of this year 2016, there is a lot to think about.  Big changes for this country and the world.  What can we do about it but embrace it?  Dive into the unknown and hope things continue to progress and change for the better.  Continue to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.  Hope in our future.  If there is one constant in life, it’s change.  We can expect it just like taxes.  And when we begin to ride the tide of it, we see some amazing sights and begin to transform in unimaginable ways.

It is hard to let go of all the things we hold dear.  The safe and familiar.  For me, flying halfway across the world, living in a time zone completely opposite of ours, is always an adjustment.  Japan in some ways is the complete polar opposite of the U.S.  Their culture is polite, quiet, and small compared to our freestyle lifestyle, chatter, and super-sizing.  But sometimes there’s a beauty in living a life different from your own.  Like the city mouse and country mouse switching places for a day.  You see the world through new eyes.  You find out the way you always do things is not “The Way” but simply the way you always do things.  You learn to adapt and find new things to treasure.  You also better appreciate the familiarities of home.

On this particular trip, I embraced both flying alone and getting around Yokohama for three days by myself while my husband finished up his business trip.  With the jet lag, feeling under the weather, and not knowing the language very well, I wasn’t sure if I could manage.  But I took up the challenge anyway, even knowing how directionally challenged I am.  I managed to ride the subway a few times, explore the city, shop, and eat out at restaurants.  Sometimes not being able to talk was a welcome blessing.  A quiet I don’t often experience at home.  Other times, especially because I’m a Gemini and love to talk, not being able to communicate was frustrating, lonely, and even a little terrifying.  But luckily, it’s very safe to walk around Japan alone as a foreigner.  And if you’re lost or confused, someone will undoubtedly come to your rescue and try to help, even without knowing much English.  As it turns out, I found many ways to connect with others.  Laugher being one of the best universally shared experiences.

So I challenge each of you dear readers to end the year by stepping out of your comfort zone.  Don’t wait until 2017.  Do it now.  Take that first step toward your dream.  Meet someone new.  Go somewhere foreign.  Experience a different culture.  Learn a new language.  Talk to someone of a different background or faith and really get to know them.  And if things become awkward at any moment, don’t walk away, embrace the moment, and simply LAUGH.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in, if we all laughed just a little bit more.  Feared a little less.  Life is chaos, but we can all join in the dance.

“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”- Paul Cezanne

Meditation: Find Your Power Source

Allie Spring, Missouri in the Ozarks

I’ve been away this summer, spending a lot of time by the water.  No surprise, right, with these balmy temperatures.  Water has a natural calming effect on the body.  Maybe it’s the sound it makes.  Or the fact that the human body is made up of mostly water, and so we connect with it as a life-giving source.  It’s almost impossible not to feel a little zen watching the waves roll in and out in rhythmic harmony.  Even swimming feels like a meditative act, especially when you surrender to the water and allow yourself to float along on the surface.

If you’ve ever had a chance to visit a natural spring, you’ll find the added benefit of soaking up the extra minerals in its depths.  The water is cold, but takes on a mysterious and beautiful bluish-green hue.  The plants beneath its surface are bursting with life and flow along with the current.

But why talk about this?  Because I think water is one of the perfect spots to meditate.  While out for a jog, I often stop at the creek near my house to meditate.  I feel a strong sense of connection there.

Water isn’t the only place where you can feel the healing energy of the earth.  The desert is another favorite of mine.  My husband and I have taken 3 trips to the Southwest and something keeps drawing us back.  Could it be the vibrant color contrasts between the red rock, the blue sky, and the green plants?  Or could it be the twisted trees swirling with energy?  Or just the vast amount of empty space that clears the mind and gives it a rest.

I urge you to find your own power source.  That place that makes you feel all chilled out and totally at peace.  A place where you can reconnect with the earth, with your life path, and especially yourself.  You might not even need to travel very far to find it.  Maybe it’s that weeping willow tree in your backyard, whose branches softly sway in the breeze.  Maybe it’s an outdoor garden, your favorite rosebush, or even a statue carved by an artist out of stone.  Stones have existed even longer than trees and will outlive all of us.

Go there, find your stillness, watch your breath, melt into the empty space that surrounds and connects all of us.  Plug into your natural power source, and let it all go…


The Reality of Realizing a Dream

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Italy last fall.  It was a monumental trip in so many ways.  Venice was our last stop, and of course, I couldn’t go home without riding the gondola.  Sure, it’s hokey and touristy, not to mention expensive.  BUT it’s also the quintessential Italian experience.  Right?

More importantly, it was all part of the dream I had of one day going to Italy.  It was the equivalent of crossing the finish line in a race.

But what does it mean to actually accomplish a dream?  Is it all that it’s cracked up to be or do you sometimes get to that point and think: hmm, ok, well that was cool, what’s next?  I think that’s why everyone says it’s so important to be in the present moment and enjoy the journey.  That way, when you reach that actual moment of realization, acclaim, success, you don’t deflate.

Allow me to take you on my journey to realizing a lifelong dream and show you what I discovered in the process.

My husband and I decided a morning ride would be just as romantic and quaint as an evening ride, especially since it costs twice as much to ride after dark–and forget about being serenaded, that’s a whole extra charge.  Our hotel recommended a trip around Rialto Bridge and told us we might have to haggle for a fair price.  We found a dock with gondoliers advertising, but decided to check around, since their ride seemed a little short for the price.  But as it turned out, other spots were even busier and no less reasonable in price or time length.  We headed back to our original spot only to watch the gondoliers receive a telephone call and dash away.  What now?

We entered a busy square and found a super tall–I mean gargantuan–male gondolier waving his big hands around and calling out his services.  Well, I knew right away, this was our guy.  He had a friendly face and despite a small concern as to whether he would fit under all the bridges, he seemed the most likely candidate for the job.  I imagined he could steer us anywhere with those hands.  Of course, as soon as we chose him, another couple swooped in like a couple of pigeons, not exactly to steal our guy, but rather to try to get in on the action by sharing a boat and saving some cash.  This is common procedure and even recommended in guidebooks, but I was NOT having it that day.  I mean, this was my shining moment of glory.  I was not planning to share it with a couple of strangers.  Plus there’s only one love seat.  How do you have a romantic moment with other tourists?  Anyway, I waved them away, and the gondolier didn’t seem to mind, so off we went!  But I did feel a little sorry for the couple we left behind, who actually seemed pretty normal and well-intentioned.

Getting into the boat was a feat in and of itself.  And then getting situated.  The gondolier wanted us on certain sides to maintain the balance, but all we could think was: What about our photo ops?  If you know my husband, you know there will be many of those, they need to be just right, and they cannot be dictated by the needs of the person steering the boat even if he’s just trying to do his job and keep us from capsizing or crashing 😉  Well, we got it squared away.  As I say, we had THEE GONDOLIER who was willing to do whatever it took to make us happy and get paid.  So we’re bouncing around trying to pose ourselves and feeling quite antsy and truthfully not really enjoying the moment or noticing much of the scenery except in terms of what would make a great shot.  We reach the Grand Canal, the place to see and be seen, and truly wear ourselves out with photos.

But FINALLY, we settled down, relaxed, and absorbed the sights and sounds of our surroundings.  We cuddled, politely kissed, sailed under bridges, cruised down secluded passageways, listened as our guy chatted about history and architecture while we admired the ambience, and savored every delicious minute.  And even still, it was over too soon.  But again, our gondolier did not rest until he got a few final perfect shots of us in the boat, per our request.

So how did I feel after stepping out of the gondola?  Elated, exhausted, perplexed, complete, and secretly a little bit disappointed although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why.  I’m certain I built up the expectation in my head to a staggering degree that could never quite measure up to any experience in real-time.  But to be fair, I only had romantic, Hollywood movies as a model.  Anything would pale in comparison 😉

So was I totally 100 percent gratified afterwards?  No.  But was it still worth it?  Yes.  And here is why.

Riding in the gondola was a symbolic part of my journey and I couldn’t really consider the trip complete without having experienced this moment. I think for me, it was about honoring the occasion.  It was THE EVENT to mark the rite of passage.  To say I came, I saw, I did everything there was to do in Italy including the gondola ride.  I could then go home feeling certain that I’d accomplished my lifelong dream to go to Italy and discover my roots.

So am I saying don’t bother going after a big dream in case it doesn’t live up to your every expectation?  Of course not.  Go after your dream with confidence!  After all, my trip to Italy as a whole was everything I hoped it would be and more.  But when you reach the TOP, if the view isn’t quite what you expected, no big deal.  It’s the getting there that’s the real prize.  You might even find that the very thing that had been thrashing around, unsettled, in your heart, becomes still.  And whatever comes next, because there will certainly be new mountains to climb, you can hold this moment of accomplishment in your mind as a testament that dreams really do come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Center

What if I told you there was a spot on Earth that marked the world’s center.  Would you want to go?

The axis mundi is known to be the world’s center point connecting sky and earth where all four directions meet.  There are actually many symbolic representations of this point including structures like lighthouses (no wonder I love them!) and natural formations like mountains.

I was lucky enough to encounter several of these on my recent trip to Italy.  One was at the Pantheon in Rome.  It has a concrete dome with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.  And what a view!  The height to the oculus measures the same as its diameter–142 ft.  And if you stand in the center underneath it and look up into the sky, you certainly feel connected to something higher.

Another axis mundi was seen on a hike in the Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Vernazza.  I couldn’t ignore the spot where the earth and especially the sea met the sky.  It was like I was staring at the edge of the world.  Or perhaps it was the center.  I could not tell, only that it was breathtaking.

A skyscraper can also serve as an axis mundi.  I just saw the movie The Walk about Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I dare say he was experiencing a divine moment when he did that.

One of the greatest symbols of an axis mundi in literature, religion, and myth is the Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life.  Like all trees, this tree exists on three planes–heaven, earth, and underworld (where its roots are)–and symbolizes immortality.  It makes you look at trees just a little bit differently, doesn’t it?

I was also delighted to discover that the mandala represents an axis mundi.  No wonder they’re such a powerful tool for meditation and centering one’s self!

Even more mind-bending is the notion that the human body itself can serve as an axis mundi.  The Renaissance image of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci symbolizes the axis mundi.  Furthermore, many religions view the human body as a temple and prayer as a column from earth to heaven.  Do you see the connection?

Now, what if I told you the world’s center was right where you stand?  Strive to connect with heaven and earth in this moment.  Then you will find the center inside of you.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” –Lao Tzu

“I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” –Confucius

 

Discovering My Roots in Italy


Hello my dear readers and sorry for the long absence!  My husband and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary in Italy–an amazing trip which has been on my bucket list for a long time.  It’s quite gratifying to accomplish one of my dreams!  This trip was far more than just a vacation or celebration.  I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, as I’m part Italian.  One quarter to be exact.  I’d been wanting to delve into my roots and explore part of my cultural background.  Just as my first trip to Japan helped me to understand my Japanese husband better, this trip to Italy helped me understand myself better.

I thought it might be fun to document some of the things I affirmed about myself and share them with you.

  • I understand part of why I was raised Catholic, as this religion played a huge part in developing Italian culture and politics.  The pope and the Vatican are here, which is like a world unto itself.  I can also see why I have an interest in mythology, given Rome’s history which included Greek and Latin influences.  Visiting the Pantheon was quite a unique experience, since it’s been the site of religious worship since about 27 BC!  Even the current building dates back to about 126 AD!
  • I can see why I love learning, knowledge, and books.  So many great minds had the freedom to explore and experiment here including Marco Polo (we visited his actual stomping ground) as well as Amerigo Vespucci and Galileo.  Travel, maps, and stars–all our favorite things!
  • Italians are passionate and emotional by nature but at times disorganized, as am I 🙂  But gratefully, they really seem to know how to enjoy life!  Which brings me to my next point.
  •  The Italian workday typically starts at 9 or 10am with a long lunch from about 12 or 1 to 3pm.  Shops often close in the evening around 7pm with an 8 or 9pm dinner hour.  This suits my night owl tendencies and sleeping habits.  Perhaps I’ve been running on Italian time all along 😉
  • And the last thing I would like to highlight is..well…the art, of course!  From The Roman Empire, to the Medieval period, culminating in the Italian Renaissance, there was no shortage of creativity here.  So many advancements were made in terms of both subject matter and drawing/sculpting techniques.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David statue, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (2 paintings by Botticelli) was awe-inspiring to say the least.  I felt without a doubt that art is in my genes.  It’s who I am, and I don’t ever want to forget that.

I encourage all of you to explore what makes you unique.  If you don’t have the ability to travel, then head to your nearest library or bookstore and do some research.  Check out your genealogy and family tree online.  I think the more we can understand where we came from, the better we can know ourselves, and the more we can connect to others.

Ciao for now!

My word for the year: 2015

On Top of Stone Mountain

Happy new year dear readers!  It’s getting off to a marvelous start, don’t you think?  Every year needs a theme to help propel us forward.  My friend got me started on this practice of creating a word for the year.  I began with possibilities in 2013 and then confidence in 2014.  So what’s my word for such a stellar new year such as this?

CHANGE

This could be the most exciting and intimidating word I’ve chosen yet.  Nobody likes change.  I think it’s part of our defense system as humans.  We’re taught to believe change equals something bad, when in reality, it often doesn’t.  In fact, by welcoming change, we invite all kinds of unique experiences and opportunities into our lives.  When we learn to embrace change without fear, that is when we are most likely to grow, soaring to new heights.

As my husband finishes up his masters program, I can see all kinds of change for us on the horizon.  Part of me hesitates, as I sit on my comfortable perch.  But being comfortable doesn’t always mean better.  And I don’t want to miss out on all life has to offer simply because I’m comfortable where I am.  Leaping into the unknown is scary, but it’s the kind of uncertainty that will set you free.  Let me offer you an example or two.

My husband and I recently took a road trip to the South.  He lived there for three years, but I’d never spent any time there, mostly because I felt it was too different.  Given the history of the culture characterized by racial inequality and differing values, I assumed I wouldn’t like it.  But I realize now that by not going, I was harboring my own set of prejudices.  Defining an entire culture based on one moment in time.  And as it turns out, I was missing a lot!  I saw a part of the country that was not defined merely by its mistakes but by its ability to claim them and move through them.  There is integrity in that and hope.  It also made me recognize more clearly the separation that still divides us close to home in the North.  I hope we can recognize and own that, too.  My husband and I are grateful we live in a time that allows for more differences and hope that trend will continue to grow in the future.

But getting back to the South.  That southern hospitality reminds me of the politeness found in Japan.  It feels genuine, too.  The cuisine blends the comfort food of the past with the modern trends of farm to table and foodie culture.  The warm climate, the Spanish moss, the charming squares, historic buildings, and the country/jazz/blues music all found their way into my heart.  I was also impressed by the diversity found in major cities like Atlanta and Nashville.  We even found a Japanese bakery, which felt like home.  Consider me a changed person already, and the year is just getting started!

Now as I sit here typing on my Dell, I face my next big change.  A new computer.  My first Apple.  I haven’t even opened the box, yet.  Ha!  But you can trust that I will.  Because it’s a new year and I’m embracing the change that is all around us.  The only constant.  I feel myself expanding in every direction.  Welcoming all the possibilities with confidence.

In the coming year, how will you embrace change?

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, CHANGING yourself, CHANGING your world.  You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”  —Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and Coraline

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Photographer Katherine Carver

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I recently had the honor of interviewing my longtime friend, photographer Katherine Carver.  Read on to learn about her love of dogs, passion for travel, and current creative project photographing shelter dogs.  Prepare to be inspired!

1.  What/who are your influences?

My major influence in my work is my curiosity, my dogs, and my need and desire to work through and communicate my ideas visually.

Photographers I admire are: Diane Arbus; Sally Mann; Francesca Woodman.

2.  Explain your process as a photographer. 

I am drawn to creating images with wonderful lighting that simultaneously go beyond the literal.  My goal is to create layered and didactic images.  I want to leave viewers with a new way of looking at dogs in their natural world.  If I am not working on my photography, I feel uncomfortable.  I am always thinking about my work.  I am enjoying the journey, trying to stay present in each moment, and I will see where things lead.  I do believe that I will always be examining our human relationship with animals.

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3. Tell us about your current project.

I have been working on a long-term photography project with dogs as the subject matter and focus of this project for the past two years, and I am still working on this project.  Biscuit, our first dog who was a rescue, is the inspiration for this work.  The goal of this body of work, once it is completed, is to raise awareness — to connect the dogs to circumstances where humans fail to act in a responsible manner and to further study the relationship between dog and human.  I want to leave the viewer with a new way of perceiving dogs and our relationship with dogs.  This body of work is still evolving as I am currently in the midst of this project.  I am hopeful once this project is completed, it will lead to an exhibition and to publishing a book.

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4.  Have you always been a dog lover?  How did this come about?  Tell us about your dogs.  How did dogs, especially shelter dogs, come to be the focus of your photography?

Dogs have not always been a part of my life.  In fact, I did not grow up with any animals.  It was not until my husband and I adopted a Shetland sheepdog named Biscuit, our first dog who was a rescue, that our entire view of dogs shifted.  Biscuit changed our lives for the better and we are ardent supporters of dog rescue.  Biscuit opened up a part of us that is difficult to articulate in words.  He added an entirely new facet to our lives, and we cannot imagine our lives without a little rescue Sheltie family member.  Photography has always been a part of my life, but after adopting Biscuit, I became fascinated with dogs.  Biscuit awakened a desire for me to carry my camera everywhere — creating images that preserve fleeting moments that chronicled Biscuit’s story forever.  Biscuit was the inspiration for my great curiosity and study of dogs in my work.  Biscuit created an entryway into another world, an ‘animal world,’ which I had never experienced.  It changed my life forever in many ways that I did not anticipate.  He taught me, for example, to be more present, aware, and patient.  He also taught me to have more gratitude for the small things in life.  I believe animals have a way of teaching us all about ourselves if we are willing to open our hearts and invest fully in the experience.  Sadly, Biscuit passed away last summer.  Our time together was short, but filled with enough memories to last a lifetime.  Last fall, we adopted another rescue sheltie named Victory in Biscuit’s honor.  Even though at the time we lost our Biscuit, we thought it was unimaginable to love another dog as much as we loved Biscuit; however, Victory, a rescue sheltie, came into our lives and she has stolen our hearts and we love her so much and she is just as much an integral part of our lives as our Biscuit.  We believe that Biscuit sent her to us.  Victory has been a perfect fit and she brings us so much joy and she has really grown in so many ways physically and emotionally since we adopted her.  I am a firm believer in dog rescue.  There are so many dogs who need a second chance.  Biscuit’s (and Victory’s) story is living proof of this sentiment.  When we first met Biscuit he was simultaneously the most handsome and the saddest dog we had ever seen.  He was wondering the streets of North Carolina, abandoned and severely malnourished, and covered in urine with a virtually nonexistent fur coat.  He was timid, shy, and riddled with anxiety when we first brought him home.  Through dog rescue, Biscuit was given an opportunity to blossom and flourish.

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5.  You and your husband like to travel.  What are some of your favorite destinations?  Describe your ideal vacation.  How does travel inspire your work?

My husband and I have been fortunate to be able to travel together.  However, my husband, prior to us meeting, was much more of a world traveler than me!  We have traveled abroad together to France, Monaco, and Israel.  The rest of our travels have been by car as we included Biscuit and continue to include Victory on our trips together.  They are family, and they have been part of any trip we have taken together!  They make our vacations better and we have many fond memories while on vacation.  We have made several trips to Nova Scotia; we have been to Quebec most recently this past summer; and we have traveled domestically as well.  For me, my ideal vacation is similar to some of the vacations we have taken — renting a house on the water for several weeks, taking each day as it comes, with lots of time to rest, time to ponder, time to read, and time to relax.  This past summer we traveled to Quebec and it was very nice to have some down time and spend quality time with my husband and Victory!  It was the first time I did not do any work during vacation.  I came back refreshed and rejuvenated with some new ideas for my project.  I think that rest and a change of scenery is really important for anyone.  For me, it helps get the creative juices flowing!

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6.  Describe your artistic approach to photography.

I am not sure if I have an artistic approach per se with my work.  I am drawn to issues that I am very curious about, and I want to communicate visually through my images.  I think that it is vital to have intellect behind your work to support the message you are trying to communicate visually through the images.

7.  What advice can you offer other artists?

Follow your curiosity and keep going and pushing forward no matter what.  Maintain a consistent daily art practice and don’t be afraid to question, to take risks, and to push your boundaries with your work.  I think it is also helpful to find a few people who you trust to provide feedback on your work while you are working through a body of work.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  The process of making art is uncertain and uncomfortable at times; and this is why perseverance is key and I believe that the Universe will support you in kind.

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You can view her work at http://www.katherinecarver.com/; her blog at http://www.biscuitsspace.com/; and follow along on Instagram @katherine_carver.