Christmas Traditions

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I know Christmas is done, past, let’s move on. But I couldn’t resist this bizarre, surreal, wonderful story. This is how traditions are started. See this link for the story of the traditional goat burning in Sweden…

As a followup, apparently this year the town council was able to find a fire-retardant chemical that was waterproof….

Doug

Magnificent Failure

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pine burst

October was quite awhile ago. The other side of the solstice. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote an entry. There are all sorts of things floating through my mind to write about, but sitting down and actually writing hasn’t happened. Finally the voice in my head that keeps me sane said “stop thinking about writing and write something”. So here it is. What am I writing about? It seems I’m writing about not writing…. However, I’ve included a recent photo I was happy with, so I’ll talk about that.

It’s part of what I call my ‘Leica rebellion’. If any lawyers from Leica are reading this (‘get a life!’ springs to mind) it’s meant as a backhanded compliment. Modern lenses are SO good, they leave NOTHING to the imagination. Point-n-shoots compound the problem by automatically setting the exposure and shutter speed, focus, etc.. So I’ve learned a number of ways to ‘trick’ my camera into giving what some might call ‘less than perfect’ results. One great way to isolate a subject is to make everything else out-of-focus. In this case, to make a close-up of the end of a pine-bough, I stuck a magnifying glass in front of the camera and shot through it.

What does this have to do with writing, or not writing? I think comfort must be the antithesis of passion. The more comfortable your existence gets, the easier it is for your passion to become hidden. Layers of soft plush pillows and soothing TV’s all cause it to recede into the distance.

But with time, the mind and body become restless. My restlessness begins to rear its head and I fidget. I get shack-whacky until finally the voice in my head comes to the rescue and says something sarcastic.

“You’ve been sitting there so long you’re growing roots.”

“Are you sure you still know where all the letters on the keyboard are?”

“Stop trying to write and write.”

I keep coming back to that last line, in some variation or another. It’s been a background thread in my thoughts for years. TV society (what we learn from watching sitcoms) wants us to get points for ‘trying’. But trying is a slippery word. It’s like one of those taco dinner mixes that comes with everything you need. It has a built-in excuse, an escape from failure. “Well, I tried.” My sarcastic little internal voice, the one you can’t let out in company, says a try is a practise. Do or don’t do, succeed or fail. There is no try (apologies to Yoda for the paraphrase….).

Thomas Edison said “I know more ways not to do something than any man alive”. That’s part of succeeding or failing. You fail at something, you learn something and move on. Maybe in failing to do something you unexpectedly learn something else. To fail 10 times makes the success that much sweeter. To say “I tried” 10 times just has a trivial sound to it. Maybe it’s because tried can be made to sound like a whine? I failed has a harsh, anglo-saxon sound to it (yeah I know, I looked it up. French from Latin). A lesson was learned. Well, I suppose that’s an assumption. Failure isn’t much of a teacher unless you learn from it.

Ok, the whole failure thing has other angles, especially in the artistic world. There is an inspirational, and somewhat surreal, interview with Malcolm McLaren on This Spartan Life. A lot of people would say he is best known for a string of failures. Or even that once something becomes successful, he shifts gears and goes elsewhere. He sums up his take on things creative by quoting a professor from when he was a student.

“Any kind of benign success was never worth having. Much much better to fail magnificently.”

Now, I’m not a fan of failure for failure’s sake. By being so against something, so passionately, you still believe in it. Otherwise it would be meaningless to you. But the thought of being willing to fail, magnificently, stikes a real chord. Unless you are willing to embrace the prospect of failing, to accept it, until it doesn’t matter one way or the other, then you are free to do, instead of try.

Ok, enough preaching, thanks for listening and I hope all my new friends in the WordPress world have a Merry Christmas!

Obsession

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Sunset sail

Well if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about provocative keywords, it brings in the views from google! But this post really is about ‘obsession’.

I’ve been absent for months now from the virtual world and it relates to the topic. Something clicked, some tuning fork in my head rang sympathetically to a sequence of events and I became ‘obsessed’. It all started as I tried to wrap a story around a series of images I created called the ‘Hapless Photographer’. That story starts with ‘Hap’ going for a sail. As I immersed myself in the character I recalled how much I loved sailing my canoe when I was a teen, then sailing with my dad in his sloop during university. All of it came to a head as I breathed life into this characters motivations for the trip that causes him to be marooned (and thus ‘Hapless’) in the first place. But then my significant other, who has also been vicariously around other peoples boats all her life, lit the fuse with an offhand comment like ‘we should get a boat’.

It turns out my library has a LOT of books about boats. Not to mention that the dormant salty virus had ensured I’d picked up a few myself over the years. So I’ve spent a good portion of the last two months reading everything I could lay my hands on. I now know the difference between a lazy-jack and a spreader, between gunk-holing and ocean-passage… Didn’t get my feet any wetter, but I’ve found an undiscovered country in my head that I didn’t even realise I’d been living in. It’s like you wake up and there’s suddenly a whole new room in your house.

When I was young I always imagined myself as an explorer. When I look back at the things I really enjoy, they always have an element of exploration. Museum’s and bookstores, travel, biking, hiking, camping, photography, I’ve always enjoyed them when approached as facets of exploration, making the unknown world a little more known.

So, while I was getting PADI certified as an open water recreational diver, my partner in craziness Lisa went out and bought a little boat. It’s an old 20 foot sailboat, when you look at the hull from the inside you can see a couple of patches where it was probably bashed on the rocks in its time, and even signs the mast once went overboard. But it was floating and the price was right! Now it sits in our backyard on a makeshift cradle while we strip it down, replace all the rusting bolts with stainless steel, clean off the accumulations of previous owners and make it ours.

There is something satisfying about getting something ‘used’. Like a fine violin gets better over time as it’s played, I get a sense of its history. That’s why I love old houses and used boats. This boat could have been Hap’s, somebody found it, patched it up and used it for awhile before it moved along the chain to us.

Over our heads!

Zen and the art of lawn maintenance

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Some of my best ideas come when I’m avoiding work. The lawn is a perfect example. Instead of mowing, I stuck my homemade macro lens on the camera and started stalking in the long grass.

now what

My own interest in this tiny world happened accidentally. I found that a cheap viewer I had for looking at old 35mm slides would fit over my digital camera’s lens. With it I could get close, ridiculously close to things. Cool, I thought. I wonder what’s lurking in the hayfield that used to be my back yard?

on a limb

As it turned out, there was a lot more going on down there than I thought! My first surprise wasn’t that there were bugs. Everybody expects to see bugs in their lawn, but the variety! And the most delicate little flowers, overshadowed by the petunias and peonies.

little blue

Even the dreaded dandelion, uncovered a world of delicate structure.

dandelions

Some of my “discoveries” were comical. From ungainly looking critters stuck at the top of a blade of grass,to a colourful caterpillar, in his “happy place”.

happy place

It certainly made me look more closely at what was happening, literally at my own doorstep. For instance each of these little spiders was about the size of a rice grain. Getting in close, then only colouring one spider, produced one of my favourite shots, an individual among many.

individual

The big guns of the garden usually draw all the admiration from neighbors, but the amazing little blossoms and creatures I found were what drew my interest. And they quickly disappear when you’re contemplating the lawn from the seat of the Yard Master.

 

 

 

 

To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

-William Blake

 

 

Time

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Time

Part of the photo-essay on my father I’m calling ‘Glimpses’. I found a box of broken pocket watches. He worked in an industrial setting, where you can’t wear wristwatches or anything that can catch in machinery. Mum assured me these watches were well and truly “broken”, as they had tried to get them fixed years ago.

It makes you wonder why he kept them. But then he grew up in a different world. You didn’t throw anything away, not if you might need it, or parts of it, someday. Even if there was no WAY you’ld ever need it….

I admit I’ve got a touch of the pack-rat in me. Photography gives me an excuse to collect these little things, these glimpses.  I call them my “prop’s” and hide them in the studio.  What will I do once I’m done with the pictures?  Throw them away?  Seems a shame, maybe I should just store them…

The fine mechanism of a pocket watch provides an interesting subject, and gives me insight into a man I loved but never really understood.

Doug

Memory and the sense of numbers

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mums sunrise

My mum has decided to move into the nearby town, closer to my youngest sister, closer to amenities. She had commited herself to a winter in the old house to see if she could make it. She spent two, but it’s a lot of house and a lot of work for one person.

So I’ve been helping out, running down on weekends to clean out the garage, fix things that need fixing, break things that need breaking. My biggest project was cleaning out the last repository of dad’s memory. The garage that he built from a torn down house across the road. When he built it I made sure there was a room for me in the upstairs. I blocked all the places light could sneak in and made window blinds from garbage bags. It was my darkroom and there I first learned to develop film and print. But it had been abandoned by me years ago, and had become a parking lot for boxes of things that were really garbage but hadn’t faced that reality yet.

Last weekend was the last time I would see the old house. After I finished cleaning out the garage I walked the logging roads I used to explore as a child. They were there, but changed. Other logging roads had cropped up and aged since my excursions years ago. It was the same and different, an alternate reality. Losing that didn’t really affect me. It was like forgetting a dream when you wake up.

The house, well, both parents smoked and I don’t. I grew up in the house but can’t spend a lot of time in it, I get squinty-eyed and raspy. No great loss there in my subconscious.

What struck me was the phone number. For over 30 years the same seven digits were my connection to home, to my parents, then to just my mum. Driving home I realised in another week those numbers, burned into my brain like the menu on an old bank-machine, wouldn’t work any more. There was a brief sense of panic, looming loss. Suddenly it came home to me. There is no going back.

Plagiarism and the sense of smell

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This started as a comment to bloglily about a memory (malformed as it turned out) of something written that she had enjoyed. It involved smell and was a powerful memory. I responded with this:

Scent is so evocative, it really dredges up memories. The smell of roses always reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s house, lilac’s of my maternal grandma’s.

I remember noticing when I was in California, hiking up the Devil’s Post Pile (I think that’s what it was called) and thinking how ‘alien’ the place smelled. Like someone opened potpouri in the other room. For me home is the smell of salt air and pine.

As for correctly remembering things from books, some of my more creative work has come from getting something I remembered completely and utterly WRONG! It’s like I have a copper-tube memory that ferments everything put in it. Apple juice in, cider out. Vinegar if I’m having a bad day!

It’s such a fine line sometimes between creativity and ‘copying’. I myself have had a few creative moments that were the result of an attempt to copy something but getting it wrong! I suppose I would be in trouble if I had a better memory ;-).

What does plagiarism, the sense of smell and creativity have in common? If you read the last post, you saw me whining about the uber-academic discourse regarding creativity from the wikipedia entry. One thing struck me though, creativity is all about connections, especially “off-side” ones. The connections come from our conscious and sub-conscious ‘muck’ that is the great holographic mish-mash of memory. Smell is such a powerful trigger for memory and connection, but so difficult to quantifiy that I think it is always at work making those off-side connections. You don’t sit at a coffee-bar with your friends and talk about the smell of the library yesterday (“I found the mold a bit off, and the BO was giving it a tart edge”). But the smell of coffee triggers all sorts of connections with me. Especially in the morning. Especially right now.

Something to smell:

geranium 2

PS: I know it looks like a rose, but it’s actually a closeup of a bud from our geranium.

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