Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Thousand Candles

Amira seemed timid and mysterious during my first visits to her home in Luxor several years ago. After all, I was a stranger from America who did not share her Egyptian life or speak her language. What might I be thinking of her poor, humble earth home and impoverished family? Her father, Hagag, and I were becoming friends. Each day I walked on the dusty dirt road along the Nile River to be with him, his wife Edleah and five children.

Mother, grandmother and daughter—Amira. Three year ago in 2014.

Bilal, the youngest, age 3, often ran around with nothing on but a t-shirt. He sparkled like a gem—full of happy exuberance, whether playing with cats, racing about the compound, or being at my side. His mother was amused when he scolded her to go away so that he could have me for himself as playmate.

Mohammed, the oldest son, took me on a sojourn to a nearby village. I sat atop the family donkey while he walked beside. He spoke enough English to allow us to converse. Amira had just reached the age to cover her head with a scarf. She could only glance at me shyly in passing. Nubi, the next oldest boy seemed shy and aloof. Iyah, the youngest girl was bubbly and playful, her reddish-brown curly hair pulled back and tied behind her head. She looked curiously at me while smiling in delight.

I came to know and love the entire family, and the grandmother too.

Three years later, last December, I arrived again in Luxor and stayed for three weeks. Mohammed had gone into the army. He could not avoid it since the family had no money for college. He returned home for a week while I visited. In the army he earns one dollar per day and must pay for his uniform and shoes. The family cannot afford it, but pays for his bus trips home and back to his army post. He only has a few months of his two year service left. After that he said, “I want to work and help my family.”

My time in Luxor was split between my friend Hagag’s family and my other Egyptian friend Abul’ Ezz and his big family. Hagag is poorer than Ezz, but by American standards they both are quite poor. Yet such heart in these people! I feel humble in their presence.

Edleah and Hagag. 2017

Hagag is a farmer with a tiny plot of greens. He has a bad back that needs surgery but labors on. The children have grown and with this visit opened up to me. Bilal wanted to be sure he was not asleep if I were coming. Iyah made drawings—including my portrait. Nubi gave me rides on the donkey cart if I was going on to Ezz’s home. Amira stopped her studies to look deeply into my eyes and speak a little in English.
Women, on bread baking day.
I always had my camera and the families accepted my picture taking.

Amira is coming of age, finishing secondary school. She is bright, honest and pure hearted. Her hope is to attend college and study business or accounting. But it is impossible for the family to afford.

All four children sleep in one small room. Amira’s bed is a straw mat spread upon the hard earth floor. The others sleep togerther on cushions on simple divans. Perhaps Amira sleeps on the earth because of her age—because she is a young woman. There is no complaint in her.

I told Amira I would be sure she can go to college. Her heart soared and it was as if a thousand candles lit within her breast. Such a smile of gratitude. I imagine her at college, ardent in her studies, sharing a room with another student, and with a bed to sleep in.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Long Love Letter

Steven's writing
After the writer's death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.
—Jean Cocteau (French: 5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963)

My oldest daughter Naomi began a diary when she was only nine years old—and kept writing until she died at the age of nineteen. As her father, I did not know she was being so attentive about the intimate details of her life until she was seventeen. She kept her journals private.

After she passed away, her personal writings were indeed like receiving a long letter from her.

I wrote during my youth as well—but not so early in life. My first diary began when I wrote on my seventeenth birthday. I would use the little cloth-bound book as a record; “So that the sentimentalist I think I might be in the future can look back and remember the person he once was and the changes he went through.”

Naomi's writings
Naomi, at age nine was simply taking delight in life and honoring it by writing her observances, dreams, thoughts and feelings. Her first entries are full of incorrectly spelled words—she was terrible at spelling until almost high school. She would try and get her notions down on paper and guess at word spelling. For instance she wrote when 12: “We were playing with the new puppy, (we are thinking of naming her Soffy or Sophia). We were playing tug-of-war and then Sarah put the tug-of-war thing in her mouth and so I grabid it and both of us tuged a wile and Sarah’s tooth ended up gone! I feel really bad about it and stuff!
Just a minute ago I found her tooth!
She lost and I found it!”

After my teen years I stopped keeping a diary. Instead I kept a dream journal. It filled quickly and then tapered off when I did not remember them often. Then, as my life as a visual artist came to the fore, I married, had children and gave up writing.

Naomi fell ill with cancer at age seventeen, and I began keeping a record of her struggle. I wanted to write about her success in beating her disease. I kept writing until her death, determined to tell her story of courage, grace and spirit. It became the story of her soul and how she transitioned into a magnificent spiritual being. The writing took three years and produced, A Heart Traced In Sand, Reflections on a Daughter’s Struggle For Life.

During her last two years Naomi wrote her observances of life and her surroundings, and was gaining wisdom: “Today I saw myself in my English class dancing with joy because I was cured. I saw myself telling people that the most important thing in life is to bask in it with all of its glory. 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. I feel so much wisdom and I know that I will learn more!”

Naomi wrote many affirmations, picturing how she envisioned her life. She also wrote her fears and sometimes anger. Life was becoming painful and short. Close to the end, she wrote of her pain, anxiety, and a nagging doubt that was with her. Once, she thought of somebody reading her diary after her death and was angry, writing she would rather burn her journal.
The last writing Naomi did was on a small piece of paper two nights before her death. “Dream of a blissful cruise. I don’t remember much of it. I just remember glimpses of it. I am happy.” The note was on her bedside table when she died.

Soon afterward I made my first journal entry: “It has been sixteen days since Naomi passed away. I am still sorting out the pieces of my life. At the studio; I was here yesterday and could not manage to begin painting. Here again today . . .  I will try and begin again.”

My stack of writing books
Eventually, I became single and felt Naomi’s spirit encouraging me to live life fully without fear. Since then I have been around the world twice and lived in many lands. My stack of journals is tall. I write this blog every week and have 587 posts. There is one little book that is special. It is only for my notes to God. Here is an entry from September 25, 2009: Dear God. To look in any direction is to see miracles. Above is the endless sky, and below is mother earth. On every side is mystery. Even the senses I use to perceive my world are miraculous gifts I do not fully comprehend.

Someday my end will come and I will go to be with Naomi again. My writings will be left behind. Sarah, my surviving daughter will find them and read them as a long love letter to her and life.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Looking Into A Face

What is more magical than looking into a face? A sunrise has its charms, as does the flaming spectacle at the end of day. Changing clouds, dark forests, mossy rock and gurgling brook all entice. Microscopic life viewed under microscopes and galaxies seen through telescopes put us in awe. But none of these express as much as a human face.

A face is a poem, a book, a treatise. It speaks every language and conveys in every language. It dances, groans, howls, cries, kisses, laughs . . . it is sympathetic or remote, suspicious or loving.

We can tell the passage of time in a face. Yet eyes do not age . . . they retain their features.

In my photographic pursuits I am attracted to making images that capture faces. Wherever I am in the world I look for the human face to tell its story.

The desert or mountain is splendid, as are the cities and villages, but it is a face that goes with the location that is most expressive.

God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.  —William Shakespeare

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Horizon I have Been Dreaming

During my youth I daydreamed and used imagination to make simple pencil drawings. I often drew a road beginning under my feet extending toward the horizon, getting smaller until at last disappearing there.

Even now, as an artist many decades later, I make paintings with disappearing roads, paths or rivers in a landscape.

I have a passion for street photography. It takes me on thoroughfares across the globe. I begin with a known place underfoot and start traveling—soon to disappear into the horizon of the unknown. I feel free.

Erice, Sicily, Italy

When I am making street photos, surprise is my ally. I look for the odd, or combinations of elements that combined make for a visual poem.

Venice, Italy

As I grow older, my road steadily nears an unseen and mysterious end.

Central India

I look forward to meeting that horizon I have been dreaming of all my life.

More art of: Steven Boone