Sunday, March 27, 2016

Blink Of An Eye

During the magical and carefree time of my early life, when I was barely seven years old, I remember one spring day playing outdoors with neighborhood kids. I thought about when I would turn eleven. It seemed so far away as to be an impossible dream to reach. Time was within the framework of moments, not years. 
Eventually I reached eleven, and now, looking back from the perspective of six decades of life, those five years it took to reach eleven seem as a blink of an eye. 

There have been many milestones that I have reached along the way from birth toward the end: first steps, first day in school, first job, high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, children, opening an art gallery, traveling around the world, artwork completed. Also painful benchmarks, such as a teenage mental breakdown, the death of my first daughter, my marriage breakups.
Miraculously and unexpectedly, I have reached another benchmark today. This is episode number five hundred of my blog.

 When I started writing My Fairy-Tale Life, I had no thought to its duration. Somewhere along the line, the posting became a discipline that I took seriously. It is now a treasure of experiences and photographs reaching back over nine years in steady weekly progression. I have written from every time zone and from thirty countries. Posts have been personal, thoughtful, whimsical, philosophical. I try and get a picture of subjects mid-week and have something done by Sunday. Sometimes I have not known what to write about. I am fortunate that besides writing, I am a painter and photographer. The visuals I include are good companions to the words.

Now, as I look forward, I wonder what the next five years might hold. The dreamy child still lives in me. Moments can be vast, but now, I have perspective, and I see years go by rapidly. In the end, I believe the perspective of childhood, that all is magical—a fairytale.
 Here are some interesting views of My Fairy-Tale Life:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Chorus Of Song

Every created thing has strength to transform. It is spring, and metamorphosis is occurring. For me, it is time to quiet the voices from outside and inside and listen to a pure chorus of song. It is possible.

I am primarily an artist. Painting is how I have earned my living for decades. Along the way, I became a photographer too. My work has appeared on book covers, in magazines and on gallery walls. I am grateful for the life I have lived, and now, I am giving more time to writing. 

I have had so many adventures that just one year of my life would make for a memoir. Thank God, my memory is good and I can draw from a grand storehouse of experiences to write about.

Here is a fun episode:
In February of 2010 I traveled to Rio de Janeiro to attend carnival. It is one of the biggest events on the planet each year. I knew in advance I would be in for a wild ride . . . and had some trepidation, mostly because I have a wild side.
During the trip, I focused on photography, not painting. Each day, I went out in the streets, taking photos. I bought an expensive ticket for one of the premiere nights of carnival in the Sambadrome, when upwards of 50,000 costumed participants parade from sunset to sunrise. I also bought a ticket to one of the samba balls that occur on several nights previous to the parades.
One day, I wandered far from my hotel. I was in “the zone” as I like to say. That is, my body is absorbed in the world, so that the world becomes my senses. I am not conscious of myself as a separate entity. I am not male or female, American, old or young, black or white or any race—all barriers vanish, everything flows in a great current. My eyes look for an opportunity to catch some poetry from the world.
I came to a blanket set out on grass by a street curb. Someone had carefully placed an assortment of objects there; a clock, sandals, torn photograph, fan etc. The things placed on the blanket seemed odd, fascinating, and personal. They looked as though they stayed there day and night. Leaves were scattered over everything. I took pictures. Suddenly, from behind me, a door crashed open and a crazed, bare chested black man with huge afro hairstyle dyed bright fluorescent pink came charging at me. I had no time to say anything—he was livid and yelling non-stop. I managed not to be intimidated by this rabid dog and stayed calm, although a bit fearful of his mental state. Did he sense that I found his objects whimsical and tragic? Soon he was insisting that I pay him for taking the pictures. With a tinge of chagrin, I took some coins out of my pocket and put them in his hand. He started yelling at me again. He wanted more money. At that point, I toughed it out. Holding firmly to my camera, I turned my back to the fellow and walked away. The vision of his crazed countenance stayed with me.
I walked toward my hotel and took more photos. A couple young ladies came up beside me. One of them touched my arm. “Sir, do you speak English?” I replied yes. She held her friend's arm in hers, and said, “I must tell you. What you are doing is dangerous.” At that point, I had left “the zone”, and felt a tinge of danger pass through my veins. “Thank you”,  I replied.
I hugged my expensive camera tighter, feeling torn between needing safety and experiencing the full impact of Rio de Janeiro's street life. I wanted to go into all the places.

This happened one other time. I had started going down concrete stairs into a favela neighborhood, following a trail of fabulous graffiti leading into the heart of darkness. A woman coming up the stairs stopped me. Waving her finger, she frowned to indicate I must not continue. Again, I felt my creative yearning crushed by danger. 
Thumb up . . . streets of Rio de Janeiro

Sunday, March 13, 2016

We Could Have Spoke Differently

A talented writer invited me to a memoir writing workshop she attends once a week. My friend is my counterpart in spirit. I went for the first time. We drove together and after a few minutes, I pulled up to a stately, landmark hotel in Santa Fe, called La Posada. At the entrance, a valet took my keys and we went inside. The class meets at 9AM. We found our way to a sunny lounge with comfortable furniture and seated ourselves among the other writers—all older women except for a solitary man.
The tutor who runs the class is an animated lady, and offers her service for free. She is an artist as well as writer—like me. Robust and nicely dressed with styled grey hair, she stood the whole time, papers in hand, giving us quick projects and tidbits of information. Occasionally, someone would read what they had wrote.
At one point the group was asked to write about a conversation in life that occurred where something was said, and in hindsight, we see we could have spoke differently. What would we have said?
My friend and I, together on a couch, thought a moment and began writing, not looking at each other. After our ten minutes were concluded, I had written about a time 17 years ago I can hardly forget. Here it is:

Naomi sat next to me as I drove home with her from her doctor's appointment. “Oh Dad, “she blurted out, “I am afraid. Sometimes during class I have the thought that I am going to die!”
Fear flooded my normally intrepid mind. I was 47 years old. “But darling, everyone have thoughts like that sometimes.”
I knew her case was not like everyone else. Naomi had bone cancer that started in her hip. It had metastasized to her lungs, and the doctors shook their heads when they determined the extent of the disease. In fact, they had given her little chance of survival. I could not bear the thought of my 18 year old dying. “Look Naomi, if even one person has survived, then you will too! When those thoughts come, just let them go.” I was grasping for words while reacting to my own fear, unable to process losing her.

It has been fifteen years since Naomi died, and almost up until the day she died, I was unable to visualize or consider her death. Early on, she had come to peace with it and embraced her fate with tenderness and love.

I can see now how I might have reacted differently as she shared her fear with me. When she had told me her frightening thoughts, I could have asked what she thought of death. I might have confessed that I too was afraid. The father that she depended upon for strength, was weak at the knees in the face of our formidable enemy. We needed each other and a greater power to pull us through. How could I tell her, and admit my perplexity and weakness?

I imagine she might have said, “Oh well, we will get through this together. God is with us no matter what!” In fact, later, during a time in her hospital room when I had been pacing the floor, she stopped me and said, “Dad, keep your chin up and take deep breaths!” She was always the cheerleader.

The day in the car when she had confided in me, I had tried being the cheerleader, summoning faith for victory, but truth could have set both of us free.

Naomi wrote continuously in her diaries from the time she was 12. She died at the age of nineteen. Here are two entries from the time of her illness:
Hardship is something that will make us stronger. I don't know if I have complete evidence of this, but I think that in every situation there is good in it.
Show up and be lovingly present, no matter what it looks like out there or inside yourself. Always speak the truth of your heart.
I wrote a book about Naomi and I. It is called A Heart Traced In Sand

Sunday, March 06, 2016

At A Threshold

The word portal is at once familiar and mysterious; herein is its charm. When we come to a portal, we are at a threshold. We may be at a doorway that leads from a familiar interior to an outdoors that is limitless and leads to places unknown. Or it may be the reverse, coming from the wild outdoors of bustling streets or primitive forests, to an entrance that welcomes us to the comfort and safety of home. Portals have great variety. In ancient days, most cities were surrounded by walls, and great gates were portals to and from the interior. These days, websites can act as a portal to other domains through links that are gateways

I love experiences that are portals. I have been through many gates, and crossed countless thresholds around the world. Many times I have crossed into the unknown and always felt a thrill at the possibility of surprise and learning something new. Portal experiences function this way—taking us from something known into the realm of spirit, where borders are more obscure and our frame of mind shifts to something new. Such an experience can take us into the heart of creation and the center of our own being.

I have a simple example of just such a portal experience. It occurred last October while hiking outside of Vernazza, Italy, one of the five villages of Cinqueterra, on the Italian Riviera. I was with a friend, walking along a narrow dirt trail hugging a mountainside, with the Ligurian Sea just below us. We had followed the path up and down slopes, amid vineyards and flowering shrubs, when we turned and abruptly came to a man sitting on a bench, accordion on his lap with his dog laying on a rug at his feet. He had the look of old world gypsy—dark, with rumpled but stylish clothing, and a little mustache that perched on his upper lip. Wearing eye glasses under black leather cap, and smiling amiably when he saw us, he began playing his red accordion. His dog rolled onto its back, spreading his legs and putting all four feet up in the air, absolutely content and relishing the music on a fine fall day with the sunshine warming the earth.

At the sudden sight of the old-world gypsy and his dog, and the sound of the first notes of the accordion, I was entering a portal. A realm of wonder and enchantment opened before me. My breathing became deeper and I felt rested and gay. Although in a foreign land on foreign soil, an ancient recognition stirred in my breast. I had stepped through the portal and was in wonderment, spellbound by magic. We stood near and listened to the music, and I made a film with my camera video.