Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Focused on personal photography

      I am taking selfies morning, noon and night like a kid with a brand new toy.
      Holding up my cell phone at arm’s length — that’s the secret to better pictures — I shift it up and down to get the proper proportional background. I swish my short, curly hair signaling the subject is in a perfect frame. I greatly exaggerate my body pose, and smile like a star. No shame. Click. I have a new selfie to share instantly, or not.
     For those of you that need to know, here is the official Wikipedia definition: A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr. They are often casual, and are typically taken in a mirror. (I haven’t tried one.)
     Frankly, it is so odd that I am into posing for selfies.
Ooops. I got caught. 
     For no reason that I can explain, I’ve never liked my face recorded for posterity. As a kid I got scolded because I would put on a sad face or move my head just enough to annoy my photographer mother. I was in the front row in my elementary school pictures because I was one of the shorter children in the class. Still, I never looked too happy about it, and I put on my fake smile — or pursed my lips tightly together when I was hiding a gap in my front teeth.
    I can tell you fifty ways to avoid having your picture taken. I am an expert escape artist when the eye of a camera is aimed in my direction. Just ask my husband and he will shake his head at his most unwilling participant. He’s forever taking photos wherever we go, and I am dancing into the woodwork as fast as my feet will trot to get out of the screen.
     Maybe it’s a control thing, and taking my own pictures puts me in the driver’s seat.
     On the other hand, I enjoy documenting my adventures. I shoot hundreds, and a few I get right, and the majority, I don’t. I am not a studied photographer, and I admit that I am not willing to expend the required time learning about my camera. I do appreciate my acquaintances that are experts in the field.       
     I am horrified at the overall personal image issue perpetuated in the media, especially for young girls. Females are reminded that they can never be thin enough. To say the least, I am quite happy with teen preoccupation with selfies since feeling good about your body is healthy.
     A southern Illinois woman helped put herself in jail by posting a selfie, KFVS-TV reported. A little Internet narcissism lands her behind bars. She posed wearing very distinctive leopard prints that were allegedly stolen goods. The owner of the store spotted the outfit on social media.  Not so smart.    
    Folks work hard to get into shape for a physically challenging journey; others learn a new language so that they can travel in a new country. Me? I surprised myself, with a daily binge on selfies this summer.
     Fellow travelers kindly offered to take my picture daily near significant historical sites, and I refused. They finally gave up with me, though. I am not sure if they understood my lame excuses —. my hair is a mess, my makeup worn off or I look horrible in general — any reason to get them to quit.
     One afternoon when the temperature rose well beyond what was expected, I was at Stonehenge, England looking forward to working with challenging photo angles. There weren’t too many tour busses there, and the place was relatively clear for pictures. I started shooting while walking in a circular path for visitors around the hulking stones.
     I saw a girl taking a selfie, and then a second younger person, like it was the most normal thing in the world. They would laugh while they compared their pictures. That is so much healthier than being afraid of loving your own body as unique and special.
.     Why not, I thought?  I was a little self-conscious at first, and my attempts were not too good. Finally, I gave in, tilted my head slightly and smiled for my birdie, and there I saw a cool picture immediately. No one was looking at me. They were busy recording their own memories.
     I didn’t go to the extreme of scrapbooking my entire trip with selfies like another of my trip acquaintances. She would send them out to her grown kids each day. I used a blog designed especially for the trip with a combination of photos and words.

   Gentle reader, here’s a warning for you: when I write a column about how I am jumping in and photo bombing other people’s pictures, you will know that I have been exposed to the sun too long. Tell me it’s time to step into a darkroom – that’s a term you don’t hear nowadays — readjust my settings and get on with looking at life through a sharper lens.
Everything you desire in a region and more. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Walking the beach

      Before dawn’s rising sun appears over Long Island Sound like a round copper coin, I walk for several miles along the calm morning surf. I am alone with my thoughts in the crisp salt air except for a couple fishermen in a boat near the half-mile rock. It is my mental and physical health best practice. 

     My eyes scan across the sand. A glitter or an odd shape stops me, and I bend down to collect a piece of sea glass or a perfectly shaped shell. I slip a new treasure in my deep pants' pocket, and I open my sweatshirt to let it flap in time with the slight breeze before I continue on. 

     I solve relationship problems, moving location issues, loss and discouragement while fingering the contents of my pocket like chanting a mantra of hope with prayer beads on my soulful journey.

     The dependability of God’s marvelous creation flows through me energetically, and I feel rejuvenated. I return to the beach house kicking off my sandals and shaking my problems away like fine grains of sand washing back into the surf repeatedly until the end of time. The sun is up warming the earth and my spirit is lifting as dew evaporates from the grass. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Boating museum in the FLX

If you've lived in the FLX region for a number of years, you will remember the Taylor Wine Company, Hammondsport and their tasting rooms that looked a shade out of a Middle Age castle movie. At the new Finger Lakes Boating Museum on the premises (the winery is long gone), the basement is preserved with the wine casks of former glory days.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


My mixture of maple granola and bran drizzled with local honey is ruined by a bitter taste from a few overripe raspberries. I drink a cup of chocolate-flavored coffee for a second attempt at starting my day. Writing concise essays. That's the goal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I remember next to nothing

     More often than not, I start out to do one thing, and low and behold, something else takes me off in a different direction, and I completely forget what I originally intended to do.
     Sound familiar? Ah, you can identify with my problem if you are a Baby Boomer or older, and it is pure rottenness to the core. Well, youngish folks often tell me they’ve had the identical experience once, and yet they quickly make light of it calling it a blip in memory. All I can say is just you wait. Your time is coming.
     What once was a clear and photographic memory is gone, gone gone faster than an auctioneer’s gavel coming down on the podium. I aced more tests and remembered telephone numbers like no one’s business without having to play peek a boo a second or third time with the phone book.
     I don’t care how many crossword puzzles, Sudokus and herbs are on the market guaranteed to keep my wits sharpened. The brain is amazing in its ability to hold me hostage.
     I tell you it’s no joking matter when forgetfulness is part of moving through a day. Memory lapse is like rowing with one oar in the water. How I remember clearly tiny bits of information from years and years ago, like my very first childhood telephone number, and can’t recall the short-term memory stuff is baffling.
     Certainly this is not an essay on Alzheimer’s or senile dementia. I don’t take the topic lightly for in my case my mother had dementia, and it was a difficult period for our family. To watch helplessly as someone steadily declines in language and memory function is not easy, and I truly appreciate caregivers.
     And what did I originally intend to write in this column?
     I wanted to try a new nail polish, chameleon, that I had seen advertised in a woman’s magazine. Sure this is a “fluflu” example, but I want to make a point before I forget. The advertisement shows how it changes colors as a hand moves in the slightest degree. That’s how my brain must be wired, too.
     I made a quick stop at our local drugstore, and it all goes downhill from there.
     Of course, I didn’t write the nail color down, and as I walked in the store I didn’t give it much thought. That’s what iPhone apps are for, aren’t they? Who’s to recall such trivia?
      All the jokes you hear are not funny when you are in the same boat not remembering where you are going down the river.
     I went in the door, turned to the right to get to the first cosmetic aisle, and  I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in ages. We talked and talked.  All of sudden my mind totally went blank. Why was I here in the first place? I looked at all the other purposeful shoppers filling their carts and couldn’t believe it. Rats.
      Wise people say to retrace your steps and relax your mind totally and it will come back. Ha. I went back outside like a fool, unlocked my car and sat down. I took a deep breath, counted to eleven and went back into the store. I noticed the clerk glanced over at me, but fortunately she was busy with a customer. Apparently, I didn’t appear overly suspicious.
     I ambled down the cosmetic aisle before stopping to grab a copy of the weekly newspaper. I remembered that I needed cotton balls, but the ones in this row were not what I was looking for so I wound down to the baby aisle for better choices.
     That took me off on a wild goose chase to the cough drops, and I selected a couple extra for allergy season. I found a basket to hold the cotton balls and cough drops, and recalled that I need to stock up on sympathy cards. Lately I have being going through way too many for comfort.
     A phone call interrupted everything, and when I noticed it was someone I must catch right then I went into work mode. No one was around and I managed to engage and finish. Thank goodness I didn’t forget what the business was about. I’ve been known to stall in my conversation until I can figure out what I am supposed to be agreeing with, or not.
     Since I totally had forgotten my original purpose, I went to check out in hopes that at the last minute when I had a line of people behind me it would come to me. (I am not one of those customers that rudely leaves the counter holding everyone up to find the missing item. The shopper returns to continue checking out without giving a look to the left or right, nor apologizing.)
     Not so. The light didn’t go on in my head. It didn’t happen. And it didn’t occur when I drove off from the drugstore. I wasted my time, gas and now I feel befuddled. My only salvation was to put the problem to rest and think about dinner.
     The very next morning after a restless sleep I woke up saying, “chameleon nail polish.”  That’s it. I reached for my phone and sent myself a note.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing contests and rejection slips

An online writing contest came in a blog post from a well-respected non-fiction journal. Usually I don't bother to enter, and not for fear of rejection either. Each takes time from other projects on my calendar deadline list, and I don't need the distraction. However, this one had a perfectly simple title, "That Summer," and I already had a couple short essays that could be ripped apart and pasted back together into a lovely memory worth sharing. Why not?

I remember hearing the late Frank McCourt speak and tell how as a teacher in New York City, he would paste all his rejection slips on the bulletin board reminding his students that writing is hard work. Nothing comes easily, and after years and years of denial, McCourt's book, Angela's Ashes, was published and rose to the number one spot on the bestseller list for weeks on end.

Humble as he was in character, McCourt's classroom lesson stuck with me vividly. My rejection slips go in a folder after letting go any negative feelings about my abilities. The magazine and Kay are not a good match at this time is how I rationalize it.  McCourt felt similar with the stories he had to tell. Somewhere, someone will listen, and connect to his thoughts.

Then too, I have a superstition about allowing others in on what I am sending off to publications like it will jinx my good fortune.

My story is almost ready, and with a tweak here and there, tomorrow I will push the "send" button releasing it out into the world for others to make of it what they must. The prize would be wonderful; it's freeing to make the effort nonetheless.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Exploring darkness

Growing up it wasn't uncommon for me to be crawling on my belly and giggled with my friends as we burrowed deeper and deeper into a small cave in the thick woods not far from the shoreline where we lived. I don't remember thinking a thing about it. Certainly I had no early warning signs of claustrophobia and scariness of the unknown.

The hours sitting on the front porch watching the lightning across Long Island Sound on a pitch black night were magnificent opportunities for nature's displays. How vast the universe. It was way beyond anything I could imagine and I realized then that I was just a speck in the larger world. The world didn't revolve around me and my little life at all. I was growing up and figuring things out sitting in the dark.

With more life experiences under my belt, things change and exploring in the darkness comes with more apprehension. It is time to break it down and make sense of it.

Often the way out is the same as the way in.

For safety, cavers understand that they must check behind them every few minutes to establish where they are at as it is confusing in the darkness. When it is time to return, they use markers they have left at crticial points to exit sucessfully.

The period of pitch darkness emotionally after a traumatic experience, death or illness is intended to be crawled through one tiny wiggle at a time until the lightness returns hopefully. How you feel and react during the difficulty is up to you, and it may be frightening or enlightening, or both for that matter. You just don't know what's going on. You have to have a little faith.  You show up day after day.

Transformation takes place in the dark.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Exercising my body and mind

 I would venture to say that where my feet take me usually my mind is ten steps ahead and beyond. Thoughts power stride in and out of my conscious realm, and sometimes it is best that I never know the difference. Fragments might last the entire hike; other times, I never remember a single shred of memory when I hit my porch.

The best bet for a dry fast walk on a potenitally rainy afternoon is strolling along with an umbrella for assurance. The fickle droplets never materialize threatening sky and all. 

About half way along my gait slows and I agonize if I am ever going to make the self-imposed three miles,  and I chastise myself something wicked for believing that exercise is a great healthy goal. It is, isn't it?

Wildlife abound on strolls where I pay attention to what's around my and not at my sneakers underfoot. The birds provide a better melody than my iTunes, and the cool breezes from the rustling branches help relieve the sweat pouring from my back. 

My pedometer announces I've made three-fourths of the walk and the end is possible now. My steps speed up and my emotions are much more hopeful. It is no longer a forced march.

Drinking from my water bottle. Stretching. Slipping on a light jacket. I'm good to go for another day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday thoughts

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings. I associate those ascending melodious words with a funeral and the final passage lifting a dear one to eternal heavenly residence out of our earthly realm. Sad and hopeful.
The tears did flow at a service for a friend, and today on a meditative walk out into the countryside, a precious rare sighting of a bald eagle swooping and circling above me like a personal encore one final time gives abundant comfort. And hold you in the palm of His Hand. 
There is freedom in the eagle's soaring in the vastness above that attracts me to seek more beyond the confines of space. It inspires me, and mighty phrases land on a page as quickly as my fingers touch the keyboard like a nest where the mother bird faithfully deadheads to feed her young.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Blogged to a 'wordy' death

     Everybody and his grandmother write a blog. There is nothing private anymore that folks won’t announce in the cyber world.
     Sticking to the facts is iffy. Opinions often get higher marks than the truth. That “gray area” blends together all too frequently and speculation takes the forefront.
     I am going down for the count. Enough, already. You are reading this from someone who keeps a blog, too.
     Blogging is a trendy thing, and supposedly sets you apart from the rest of the guys and gals not serious about promoting what’s on their mind. How in tempo to look at someone in the eye and exclaim, “I have a blog, and by the way, here’s my card. Follow me.”
     If you are like me, you’ve got tons of blogs bookmarked. It takes effort to keep up with any, or all of them, on a regular basis. You would have to be reading round the clock overloading your brain, most of which content should be discarded like lukewarm bathwater.
     In fact, the majority of my blog list goes unread for days, let alone weeks on end. Every once in a while, I go through by category and delete many narratives. While I am cropping the list, it never fails but I find more to add. I know that I defeat my own purpose.
     On the other hand, there is something to say in defense of blogs. I love to reading short excerpts and viewing pictures from family and close friends. It is their scrapbooking method for preserving memories. It connects me with those at a distance.       
     If Twitter has become my quick source for news, then I find specialized blogs valuable that invite me further into my hobbies and interests. Likewise, I read commentaries by various news gurus, and pick and choose what I absorb before disregarding the rest.
     I am weak when it comes to supporting fellow writers attempting to get their work out for others, gain a little recognition and perhaps, an agent for their next novel. Some days I am sure that they are questioning why they chose such a profession in the first place.
     You might be interested, or not, in what I do read in the blog world. These are the exception to the rule in all ways.
     A journalist friend keeps “Peace and Justice Maven,” and her slant on global issues can be alarming and insightful at the same time. When she was living and teaching in the Middle East, I knew that I was hearing about daily life from an authentic source. Her trials and joys from inner city D.C. teaching strengthened her, and I applauded her caring about youth so much that she stayed committed to her assignment.
     An English teacher writes a book blog, “To Thine Own Self Be True,” and often I get my new reading matter from her reviews. If nothing more, I enjoy her thorough analysis with a touch of her wit to boot. I will shamelessly add here that she wrote a thoughtful review about my book, “A Smidgen of Irish Luck.” That’s no easy feat when she and I have been close friends for years.
     “Vagabond Way” is an invitation to the rest of us by a young friend and her husband traveling around the world on a shoestring. They are living on the planet responsibly with a goal of working on each continent. Right now, they have finished a visit to the Patagonian region of Argentina, and I am finding memories through their voyage in their natural way with words and pictures.
     Most blogs are pretty ragged around the edges, too. There doesn’t seem to be any protocol. Certain blogs are cluttered, and others are well designed. There is a virtual audience out there, and it could surprise you. I often wonder how someone stumbles on to one blog versus another.
     If your goal is to express yourself through writing, then blogging is the avenue. I’m not going to discourage you. It is a way to develop your skills as a communicator thinking beyond yourself to a vast audience of potential readers. Envisioning faces instead of words on your computer screen connects what you say with real people.
      Prior to blogging — how modern I am — there was journaling. Folks will say that they prefer notebook and pen best to this day. I respect that opinion.
     Therapeutic journals have been wonderful avenues for expressing those inconsolable feelings that are below the surface. Once in awhile I will read a book that is the outcome of professional help sessions, and it is humbling walking in the footsteps of a person who has overcome adversity.
     If you have read Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, then you know that their journals turned into wonderful books for the armchair traveler.
     When I was thirteen a friend gave me a pink plastic diary with a tiny key to unlock the pages of my overactive imagination. I wrote in it faithfully every day for a month until it was discovered by my little sister hidden in my bureau drawer under three layers of underwear. A little light bribery and all was well again.
      I blog what I need to get off my mind quickly. You might liken it to a writing warm-up exercise; it is as plain and simple as that. Once my thoughts are out, I hope that a reader somewhere in blogsville will make use of my post.