I’m into my second year of medicare, have been retired for a long time, have grandchildren, a big dog, a small apartment, a ten-year old truck and a helluva lot of life experiences to filter the lenses on my Canon. I have had many teachers: a career in education which allowed me to be taught by my students, that devastating disease which attacked my son when he was sixteen, a year-long sailboat trip with my daughter, my father’s life, my father’s death, too many homes around the country and not enough journeys to remote places and cultures. All of them teachers. Thousands of lessons taught. Some of them even learned and taken to heart. All of them life changing by some degree. I am grateful and shocked at the same time.
This stream of consciousness is written for my benefit and for those who know me. You see, it serves as an explanation of who I am and how I got here. As my mother slips more and more into forgetting what brought her to where she is, I realize the importance of writing your own story. No one can tell it like you can!
I am a father, a grandfather, a son, and a brother.
I am a teacher, a student and an observer.
I am a musician, a photographer and a traveler.
I am a Buddhist, an environmentalist, and an evolutionist.
I am Gay.
I’m not writing to impart wisdom or create great inspirations for bumper stickers. I’m just writing. You should do the same.
This week, I have been thinking a lot about a story a friend told me while we were hiking in the mountains just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Janet told me about a friend of hers that had purchased a dress that she really wanted, but Janet had never seen her wear it. Her friend explained that she was just waiting for the right event and right venue… the perfect time and opportunity. Then Janet asked her, “You love this dress, right? And you’ve had it for a long time, without ever wearing it? What are you waiting for?”
In 1994, my 16 year old son fell ill with a terrible infection of bacterial endocarditis, which went improperly diagnosed for a couple of months. Then, on March 24th, at 2:15 in the morning, after several hospital stays, much treatment, and terrible fear on his part and ours, we heard him cry out. His life and ours were suddenly, in a moment, changed, never to return to as they were before. We all cared for, and grieved for him as best we could, with an unskillful process that damaged our family even more.
I taught for another three and a half years, then could no longer handle the emotional trauma I suffered, and left teaching. My daughter carried on as best as she could through the rest of high school and two years of college. My wife and I divorced. She became our son’s primary care giver and advocate, and did the very best that she could. The hard and indisputable fact that life is short and fragile never was clearer to us than in those those years and the ones that followed.
My son taught me many lessons… one was that we must live our lives honestly and genuinely in the time that we have. We mustn’t wait to address how we are living our brief and human lives. I’d lived how I felt the world wanted me to for 47 years. It wasn’t genuine..nor honest…nor who I knew I was.
What was I waiting for?
So, my daughter and I climbed aboard our sailboat in the summer of 1998 and fulfilled a dream, sailing from Ohio to Key West over a period of nine months. We both felt that the only way to move forward was to change everything that we were doing. We took care of our vessel and each other and tried our best to figure it all out. I came out to the world (and myself) and started a new life… a truly fulfilling one. She became a strong, independent and compassionate woman. Journeys will do that to you. And our family grew back together as best it could. The lessons from my son continue to this day.
There have been many other landmarks in time over the last 25 years…some wonderful, others tragic. Each time, however, the lesson is presented and the question begs to be answered again and again.
“What are you waiting for?”
We have one, precious human life that we are assured. But that life could end today, tomorrow or in many years. It is temporary and fleeting. We don’t know where the journey will take us, or with whom,. But journey, we must, moment by moment, adventure by adventure, lesson by lesson. Do so as a genuine traveler. Work hard on gaining more compassion and love for your fellow journeyers.
Janet repeated the line to end her story on that hike, with a pointed glance and a little shake of her head at me.
“What are you waiting for?”
Get out of the house…
So, I had the privilege of hiking with a new friend out here in New Mexico. I needed the exercise, fresh air and time in the outdoors. Janet said to come join her and Rosie, her terrier on a hike in the east foothills of the Sandias. Janet is older than I, and I figured I’m in reasonably good shape, so… piece of cake.
Holy crap!!! Her pace was lightning fast, I’m at high altitude (for a flat lander) and of course, there’s not a single step on level ground. I did pretty well for the first mile, then I decided I “had” to get some photos of the wildflowers blooming. “I’ll catch up! (gasp for breath…) Go ahead!” Well, Janet and Rosie hiked on a bit, then very kindly waited for me. As we got relatively close to the top and time to turn around, my heart and lungs spoke to me in no uncertain tones. I called out again, in as cheerful a tone as I could muster, “Janet, I’ll wait for you here. Catch me on the way down“.
So I hiked off trail up to a little promontory and sat my tired old ass down. Good move. It wasn’t long before I’d caught my breath, noticed the view and was inspired to spend some time meditating in all the quiet and magnificent beauty of this high desert: crystal clear air, cool breezes and vistas forever. I focused on how lucky I am to have the opportunities I experience, the family I been given, and my chosen family, especially the ones that chosen me. Getting away and having down time in the outdoors always allows me to slow down and gaze both outwardly and inwardly. So many journeys have brought me here. Some have been severe tragedies, full of sadness and some have been difficult lessons. By far though, most have been triumphs of love, determination, and support from so many.
I felt that I could sit up there for hours…but before I knew it, here came Janet and Rosie, trucking on down the mountain, having conquered the peak, to guide me back to the trailhead.
The gift of both her company and of our time alone on this hike could not have been more perfect.
I am so blessed to add Janet to my chosen family and I feel so grateful to Kenny for introducing us.
Who? Kenny? Oh that’s another post.
Get Out of the House…
So…. after several months of staying closed up in my house and dealing with one life situation after another, I am one month away from making what has become an annual pilgrimage to Cambodia. As an extra little treat, I am meeting friends in Hanoi for a few days on the way. I have no idea what to expect , but am ready for that next challenge in a remote culture to my own.
I have spent the last last several weeks pouring over the writings and work of one of my favorite photographers/teachers: David Duchemin. Don’t know him? Well. you should! He is a humanitarian of the highest order, bringing to the world his vision of cultures, peoples, our earth and so much more. Look him up! (@davidduchemin.com) I am currently pouring through his course entitled, “The Traveling Lens”. In this most valuable course, he encourages me (yes… it feels that way!) to prepare, but not over plan. I am looking to curate a collection of 12-20 images with a theme and some self-imposed constraints. I am narrowing in on the theme, but it feels like writing a thesis statement…so important to get it right. It needs constraints and focus, but also enough flexibility to allow for serendipitous moments and events..AND not TOO broad! I am instantly taken, kicking and screaming, back to my masters and doctoral writings.
Being primarily a headshot/portrait artist who travels, I guess that’s where to begin my planning. I have my gear picked out and have narrowed it down. (I always take too much and the airline has issued restrictive new weight requirements for carry on bags.)
I am fascinated by the diverse cultures I am fortunate enough to experience, as I have a group of local friends who take me to the Cambodia they know, without the tourists. Places, people and experiences you never see on a tour bus! I’ve shot the postcards…
So now I reach for that Middle Ground between having all the right gear and the perfect, published shot list. Having been a theatre director for so long, I became accustomed to planning my ass off, scheduling every rehearsal, getting the lighting, tech and dress rehearsals just so, and knowing what opening night would look like when that curtain goes up.
It is a very real challenge for me to just wait and see what presents itself. The energy of the people, the weather, the locations, the light…their life experiences…MY life experiences! Those are the things that are in control. I can only have my theme and constraints in mind, and be ready to immerse myself in those moments. As the collection grows, it will tell me what I need to know.
As David Duchemin says, “Trust the process”…
And…Get Out of the House…
The universe offers us lessons and gifts in every situation. My mother is very near to the end of her journey on this earth. I am filled with sadness for our impending loss, relieved for the end to her suffering and grateful for the life she lived and the life my parents provided us. As she has told her friends in these last few months, “It was a really good ride.”.
Music was what really bound my mother and I together. The first recollection of her singing was when I was in the second grade, I’d learned a song on the recorder that I would play as a solo in the all school assembly at Heathcote Elementary School. Mom joined me to make it a duet and sang a descant to my melody.
Sometimes, as we were doing the dishes, we would whistle in harmony, more to our delight than to anyone else’s. We’d go on and on, change keys, throw in an obbligato, and not stop till one of us started laughing and lost that pitch perfect pucker… usually me!
I remember her singing in the church choir at St. James the Less Episcopal Church and was quickly figuring out she was really good. One day, sometime late in my elementary school years, I was searching through the family LP collection, admiring the cover art (miss that, btw!), and choosing what to listen to. So many musicals…”I used to dance around the living room”…that’s another story…never mind! I came across an album, recorded by our church’s choir, of the Brahms Requiem. My mother was the soloist for the fifth movement. I clearly remember that 78 rpm, scratching its way through the work, and there she was, soaring through that movement. Those long lines so beautifully expressed the text:
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice,and your joy no man taketh from you.
Ye see how for a little while I labor and toil, yet I have found much rest.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.
This past Friday, I received an email from a photography client. She is an opera singer and I had shot her headshot a few months ago. She said she was singing the Requiem that night and had a couple of tickets if I wanted them. She was to sing the soprano solo in the fifth movement. I gladly accepted and sat near the front.
The Brahms Requiem is amazing. I’ve heard it countless times, performed it several times and even conducted it once. This performance was with the Master Chorale of South Florida and Lynn University Philharmonia… and, of course, Robyn Marie Lamp. She possesses a remarkable voice, full of nuanced warmth and love… a remarkable instrument and unparalleled musicianship.
As I listened to the movement unfurl, I felt tears running down my cheeks. I was instantly transported back to listening to that scratchy 78 rpm. I don’t think I took a breath during the entire movement. I could feel my mom’s spirit sitting there next to me and holding me as she did so often. I could hear her singing. And Robyn… Robyn had the most comforting, confident and loving expression on her face as she delivered the Brahms in a way that I’m sure he would have loved. I know Mom and I certainly enjoyed it.
Get out of the house…and come home…
Two days ago, I spent the afternoon just outside of Mongkol Borei at the Cambodia Academy. The school year doesn’t begin for four more days, so the grounds were empty of anyone but the principal, the vice-principal and me. The countryside was quiet and oh, so hot! The gentlemen were painting trim around the windows of the cafeteria and I was wandering around getting some B-roll and just imagining the children returning in a few days. Principal So Viet took a break and I asked him if I could see a couple of the homes where the students live. We hopped on his motor bike (something I promised my mother I would never do) and off we went.
The house where we spent the most time was just down the dirt road from the school. I was greeted by a young boy, a student, some family members, some less than friendly dogs, some skinny chickens and a cow! My first impression was one of very deep sadness, hopelessness and a western-minded pity (useless feeling, btw). There are no walls, just a tin roof and any belongings they had were either strewn on a table and some plastic chairs, or hanging on any cross pieces supporting the roof. There were a few flat palettes that were their beds, a pile of cooking pots and utensils around chunks of charcoal, a couple of plastic wash basins by the large earthen jars for storing rainwater, one hammock and the area where the children sleep…adjacent to where the cows spend the night…under the roof and inside for protection.
The parents had moved to Thailand to look for work and the children live with their grandmother. An unthinkably difficult life at best…
After being shown around by this young boy, I asked if I could take his photograph. He nodded, then I asked him what he thought about going to the Academy (So Viet translated…though the boy’s English was certainly better than my Khmer!) The expression he threw at me took my breath away. Amidst this life he happened to be born into, his face reflected hope, confidence, peace and contentment. He is proud and so very appreciative that he is able to go the school, to learn English and to broaden his world beyond the few square kilometers that he knows. Because of the Academy, he is part of a community that values learning, that allows thought and dreams to incubate… he can enter into a safe space to be a child.
Each time that I visit Cambodia and the families in the countryside, it reboots, to factory default, my all too crowded mind and lifestyle. I thank the universe for the life I am able to live. Any one of us could have been born into the situation that these children find themselves. We, like they, would know nothing more of the world than just our few square kilometers. It’s an overused expression to say that we take so much for granted…but come on! We REALLY DO! Take a few moments right now, before reading on, and examine how you do that.
Now… look at this child’s face. No more words. Just look at his home and then at his face. Be still, breathe and be with him for a bit…
Get out of the house….
So… I often spend too much time wishing that I had a formal photography studio. You know…where I can leave all my stuff set up and not have to move all the furniture in my tiny living room to make way for a shoot. Wouldn’t I feel so much more professional with a white room, open space, a polished cement floor, 14 foot ceilings and a Keurig Espresso maker with which to impress my high paying clientele? Hell Yeah!!
But then…..I’d have to lock it up tight and worry about security and leases and insurance and….well… you get the idea!
And besides, it’s almost time to return to my world studios in Siem Reap and Monkol Borei, Cambodia. My studios that are nothing more than a place in the world and the equipment I can carry with me.
There are stories to be told there! This entry will be a run on, no framework stream of consciousness with revisions appearing whenever I get a chance. I have set projects with shot lists and story boards. I have marketing images to get, donor encouraging images, and a story about childhood. And that’s just for starters. I have new sites and sights to discover, guided by dear friends I’ve met over the last three journeys there. And then, there’re all the unplanned adventures that will surprise me…my favorites!
Time to Get Out Of The House!
As I sit here, waiting for Hurricane Irma to finish her assault on South Florida, I have tried everything I can to not hang on to the thoughts rushing through my mind. We are only getting a glancing blow from this storm, but there are 100 mph gusts, sustained tropical storm force winds, storm surge, tornadoes…. Well, you get the idea. The noise is very unsettling. Since we were fortunate enough to board up the entire house, there is no seeing what’s going on outside. We should be getting some relief late tonight as the eye moves up the west coast, 90 miles from here.
We have no power, no cell phone, no wifi. The landscaping is all being torn to shreds. There is, believe or not, looting going on in the city…even during the height of the storm! There will be little fuel or food around for a few days…no a/c…no television…etc. I did prepare and have the supplies I need for several days.
So many people, acting out of fear and stress, were rude and not at all “team players” in the days leading up to the storm. Our lives seem a bit turned upside down. We don’t know what we will find tomorrow or how long the aftermath will affect us.
I feel a great deal of fear as my children are on the west coast of the state and tonight will be dealing with a much more powerful version of Irma. There is nothing I can do for them except wait and hope we get some communication to each other very soon.
When I think of my children and what they will face tonight…
Fear….. what to do with all my fear…
In the days ahead of this storm, I meditated about compassion. In my travels, I have been lucky enough to meet and make friends with some folks in Siem Reap and Mongol Borei, Cambodia. They are wonderful, generous people who treasure their families and do everything they can for them. They live without a/c, Publix, cars, big computers…some of them with only seasonal work. When there is a natural disaster such as a flood or typhoon, their only choice for shelter is their home, built on stilts and made of tin and bamboo. Some have walls, some do not. There is no safety net or FEMA coming. There is no Super-Doppler radar or Max Tracker.
As difficult as it is NOT to latch onto to my fearful thoughts and the stories I imagine, I am trying to catch those moments of compassion. This experience may be a once in a lifetime for us, but for so many people, it happens every year. As I go through the fear of not knowing what those noises are beyond the shutters of plywood, how long this will last or what it will take to rebuild, I will TRY to experience the feeling and think of those who know it better than I. I hope my children will do the same. I hope we all will.
For this one, Don’t Get Out of the House…till it’s over.
Update: It’s over and we fared better than many. Now the compassion and assistance goes out to those who need it…and there are many… Namaste
There are a few things that I consider very personal: just mine, with a special, specific and emotional connection. First of all, there are my kids and my grandsons. My immediate family and chosen family. My oldest and dearest friend, Kate, who was in the first choir I directed way back in 19….well, never mind. Just know that I taught a lot of years and have been retired for almost twenty! Then, of course, my dog, Nuada. I also consider some photographic work I have done, and continue to do in Cambodia, very personal. More on that….MUCH MORE… later.
Let’s see….”Duty and Dignity”, a personal project I began about four years ago. I began this to raise awareness, through portraiture, of a population of United States Veterans who, through one reason or another, find themselves homeless.
Duty and Dignity, artist’s statement
Every man featured in this exhibit served his country in the United States Armed Forces.
He also is, or has been, homeless.
For the past few decades, our country has been honoring the Wounded Warriors and Fallen Heroes in great ways. We revere the dedication, service and sacrifices of these men and women, young and old who have given so much to keep us free in this country. There is, however, an underserved population of Veterans…those that find themselves, for one reason or another, homeless. We have dedicated men and women who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness and unemployment.
How many of us look away when we are near a homeless person?
Who of us takes a moment to question their story?
How many of us are careful NOT to make eye contact?
I challenge each person who views these photographs of our Veterans to look into their eyes and consider what they have sacrificed and what their story might be.
The adventure I am on now, a few weeks of wandering through the Carolinas, has connected me with some wonderful, caring folks that want to help my personal project reach more people and raise more awareness. The inspiring team of the Forsyth County United Way (Winston-Salem) will be working with me to create a Duty and Dignity Project for their homeless Veterans population. The members’ enthusiasm and brainstorming bring new ideas to the table. They have contacted the art department at a local college and the students will do the matting and framing for the exhibit, a brilliant idea! Nothing like finding ways to get more community involvement!
I had a meeting yesterday in Transylvania County ( yes, that’s right!) with a retired journalist who has arranged a meeting tomorrow with the president of their United Way. They, in turn, will have contacts with Asheville, NC.
In my last post, I wrote about not really planning an adventure. Let it run its course and be open to what it brings. This adventure has really gotten personal!
Get out of the house….
To plan or not to plan…
Certainly if I am headed to SE Asia, a lot of planning is necessary to get there and back safely. My next big adventure is closer to home. Nuada and I are packing up the camping gear, photography gear and heading to the Carolinas. Family and friends to see, portraits to make and a project meeting with the Forsyth County United Way in Winston-Salem. The only thing that is set in stone is the meeting on 7/13. Whatever happens there will dictate what follows.
When I was teaching, I knew what I was going to say every class, everyday and every year I taught…27 in all! Lesson plans had to be turned in and I had a clear outline for what would happen. Objectives, and techniques and measurable outcomes. When directing theatre, I had a carefully calculated vision of what the production would look and sound like when opening night arrived. I live with calendars filled with details of my working life,traveling life, social life, etc. Seems that everything is planned out carefully!
So after the truck is serviced, the camping gear is checked and stocked with supplies, the presentation for the meeting is prepared and we are on our way, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do! All I know is the adventure is open-ended. Now, I “just” have to quiet my mind, give up my hyper-planning tendencies, and live the serendipitous life. OMG!!!
Years ago, when my daughter and I lived and traveled aboard our sailboat, I’d spend countless hours going over charts, trying to figure out what the next day would hold. Where would we anchor? Where is the slip in the marina? Which way does it face? Port or starboard side to? What REALLY made me crazy was that I knew I had no idea and would just have to wait until I got there.
Enter Buddhism and meditation. How the hell do I quiet the monkeys in my head insisting I plan out every detail? How do I live moment to moment when I have trained myself for a lifetime to do just the opposite? Breathe, Hank, breathe! Time to sit and allow the unknown surprises, lessons and adventures unfold as they will. They’re going to anyway. If I can even attempt mindfulness, I won’t miss them!
So, now I think back on the many, many wonderful, unplanned moments and experiences. Monkey mind, be gone! I have adventures ahead!Get out of the house!