Flashback Friday: Fall at Miniwanca

One of my favorite fall excursions took place in the late 1980s (88, 89 or even 1990) when my friend, Sue and I drove from Iowa to Michigan. There we met Chris (our friend from grad school) and Shawn (their friend from summers working at camp) at the American Youth Foundation’s Camp Miniwanca in Michigan. The camp, situated on sand dunes right on Lake Michigan, was breathtaking in its fall colors.

We spent the days sightseeing and tooling around the area in Shawn’s red jeep. It was perfect sweatshirt weather.

We spent the night on the beach – literally. Blankets, not sleeping bags, directly on the sand. It would be safe to say that not a lot of actual sleep happened. But there was just no way we could bring ourselves to leave the camp fire and the moon, lighting a path across the lake, to head indoors to spend the night on musty camp cots. Needless to say, the morning was a little rough.

The weekend was one of those moments in life that stands out as unlike anything else you’ve done. This particular group of four people was only ever together that one time. We were only ever at a deserted summer camp in fall that one time. As a trip, it wasn’t meaningful or important in the way some events are – your first trip overseas, or a family reunion to celebrate a 50th anniversary, for example. It was an idea that we all acted upon, unlike so many impulses in life. The times when you think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to…” then you just stay home. For whatever reason, this time we didn’t just stay home. And that decision to act rather than not act, was completely rewarded.

Flashback Friday: Happy Girl

Last fall, I visited my brother Matt and his family in Chicago. After a busy Saturday out and about the city, we returned home to chill for a while before heading out to a party. I snapped these pictures of my niece, Zoe, as she expressed her inner butterfly exuberantly and wordlessly.

Flashback Friday: Celebrating A New School Year

Here in Iowa, school started in August. But as most communities and states have different calendars, I’ve been seeing “first day of school” posts on my social media feeds for weeks. Now that Labor Day 2012 is history, I think everyone is back at it (just as we are on my university campus).

This can only mean one thing: school pictures are about to happen all over the country!

When my friend Wendy’s oldest child had her first school picture taken, Wendy reported that she was very concerned. “I think I’m going to have her take it again. There’s a mark on her face, and that hair over there is out of place.” My reply, “I think it’s adorable!” was answered with Wendy’s concern that, “I don’t want her to be embarrassed by it when she’s older!”.

What?! Clearly, Wendy did not understand the purpose of grade school pictures – to capture the real child – bumps, scrapes, self-cut bangs and all! Embarrassed? My siblings and I love all of our school photos, especially the bad ones. They so readily capture the zeitgeist of childhood, when living in the moment meant a carefree approach to appearance. There is no place for perfectionism in childhood, nor is our “perfect” look what we celebrate when we think of childhood. So here’s to bad school pictures that capture the heart of childhood!

Exposing the Soft Belly

My friend, Emily, wrote a thoughtful and revealing guest post for Jenion a few months ago titled, “Why I Love Tolkein‘s Writing”. In the process of crafting her post, Emily confided a certain hesitation about revealing too much of herself. She didn’t want to feel too exposed. Too vulnerable.

I’ve had occasion to ponder the idea of vulnerability this week for several reasons.

First, I’ve written about vulnerability before (here, for example). However, earlier in the week my feed brought me this piece, from Kathy over at “Lake Superior Spirit” which speaks more eloquently, and with specificity, about the vulnerability of blogging and the inherent dangers of sharing too much before you are prepared for the consequences: insensitive comments, intemperate judgements and labelling among others. I wish Kathy’s post had been available before I published this gem (especially the “gasbag” part) for example. Or before I sent some notorious emails in which I emoted dramatically and diarrhetically. When we’re roiling with emotion is not the best time to write cogently or thoughtfully – that’s a better time to stop and think about how much, or even whether, we truly wish to share.

The second event which has had me ruminating on the idea of vulnerability took place at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturday. While meandering around Green Square Park, we happened upon a demonstration of belly dancing by a local troupe. The group consisted of seven women ranging in age from (I’m guessing) late teens to 60ish. They were not all equally sure of the specific steps in each dance, and on one occasion all but the troupe leader turned the wrong direction and a chorus of self-deprecating sounds came from six embarrassed mouths.

Each dancer was in full garb and make-up. The costumes, as dictated by tradition, bared the dancers’ midriffs. These were midwestern women in the middle of their lives. They all had bellies. My friends and I commented to one another that it took courage to dress that way in front of so many strangers. I heard more than one person suggest that it didn’t do much to forward belly dancing’s claim of whittling the midsection. And while I heard no comments more cruel than that, had I been one of the dancers I would have been sure they were being made at my expense – whispered behind hands or in private, judgmental thoughts.

In spite of their initial self-consciousness, the women kept dancing. And as they danced, their comfort level increased. So did their enjoyment of the experience, easily evidenced by the expressions on their faces and the loss of timidity in their moves.

That is the gift hidden in the choice to expose our vulnerabilities: the experience of openness.

Some of us will risk vulnerability only in small amounts under tightly controlled conditions – with a loved one, for example. Like a cat, we make an assessment of the other’s trustworthiness, and only when we feel reasonably sure that we’ll be petted and cosseted, do we expose our soft core. This is understandable – we’ve all experienced being hurt at vulnerable moments. Sometimes this kind of risk takes great courage, either because of the depth of past hurts in general or because we haven’t learned yet if this particular person is worthy of our trust.

Stepping into a public arena with our soft bellies exposed is risk on a completely different level. In those moments, it is as if we are saying to the world, “Bring it on! Because the joy of sharing my passion, my art, my suffering – the joy of being authentically and wholly who I am – is greater than the possible exposure to hurt or ridicule.” Artists, musicians and writers know this. So do activists and athletes – anyone, for that matter, who dares to share a piece of themselves with the world. As Gregg Levoy says, “We move toward a kind of divine presence because, through our passions, we are utterly present. We are utterly charged and focused. We are oblivious, we forget ourselves, our troubles, our day-to-day…lives.” (from Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life). As we become more present, we experience less discomfort with our vulnerability – it isn’t that it goes away, it’s just less central to the experience than the exhilaration of openness.

It seems fitting to end with some photos of the dancers. I hope you can see, as I do, their progression from hesitancy, in the first shot,  to enjoyment!

Flashback Friday: Year of the Canon

January 1, 2011, New Year’s Day. Perkins, Mason City, Iowa.
December 30, 2011. The Blue Strawberry, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Please take note of the dates listed in the photo captions, above.

These photos capture the fact that 2011 was the year I developed a love for photography.

On New Year’s Day, Mike and I met in Mason City (roughly halfway between our two cities of Minneapolis and Cedar Rapids). We met to exchange belated Christmas greetings and gifts, and to purchase my first “real” camera. We spent the morning comparison shopping between Best Buy, Target and WalMart. Mike knows cameras – he owns seven (at last count). He helped me narrow down the options and select a camera that really works for me: the Canon Powershot SX130 IS. Mike liked the camera I selected so well that he bought one too! In the photo, above, we were opening our cameras and playing with them for the first time. It was -35 degrees and icy that day, so we went to one of the few warm places we knew would be open – Perkins!

The second photo is a shot of my friend, Emily. While I have a number of friends who inspire me when it comes to photography, Emily and Mike are the only people I’ve had “photo dates” with. Almost exactly a year after purchasing my camera, Emily and I met on a bleak winter’s day to shoot street shots downtown. I love a number of the photos I shot that day – playing with the black and white function on my Canon – but this shot is so descriptive of Emily. If you knew her, you’d recognize her from this picture!

So here’s to photography, photo dates, and incredible people who share your passions in life!

An Hour, A Trail, and a Camera

August 21, 2012. Twenty one days down, ten to go. On-lookers may reason we’re on the downhill side, but August is a lopsided mountain in student affairs – the climb, the long-haul, just keeps going until it suddenly stops somewhere in the vicinity of Labor Day (if we are lucky and our students stay sane, safe, and sober).

I was at my desk. I had reached the limit of my ability to reason clearly and push forward with the paperwork that has piled up while I’ve been training the Resident Assistants. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:20 on a beautiful afternoon. No evening session planned. I wasn’t on call.

So I bolted.

I was possessed by a sudden, single-minded energy. I had not planned it, nor had I thought of doing it until that moment. It just popped into my brain as a whole thought, and I practically tripped over my own feet in my attempt to move quickly (the fear of getting stopped by someone’s need as I try to leave campus is a very real one in August). I was home, changed, and on my way within minutes.

I saw others setting foot on the path as I pulled into parking at the Indian Creek Nature Center. But once I set out on the trail, camera in hand, I did not see another human being for a full hour. As I walked, I felt my entire body relax. My breathing deepened, and I felt my soul open up, not like a flower to the sun but like a jack-in-the-box, swiftly and all at once. I have never been a  “granola” girl, but as my physical fitness has improved I’ve discovered that getting out in nature, on foot or by bicycle, has the automatic effect of releasing any tension I carry. I relax completely.

I’ve also discovered that taking my camera has an interesting impact on my experience of nature. I feel myself expand as the tension leaves my body. And the camera exerts an opposite pull: that of focusing my attention. It would seem that expansion and focus are opposites. But in the context of nature photography, they not only coexist, they paradoxically enhance one another. As my being reaches out to the natural world surrounding me, my camera lens selects something on which to focus and I see the place and the moment in striking detail. I see light, color, texture and find I am also more grounded, able to use my other senses more extensively.

I spent one hour on my own – just me, my camera, and a few critters (both seen and unseen). By the time I returned to the parking lot, my shoulders were no longer hunched up to my ears, I was breathing normally, and (best of all) no sense of panic or worry remained in my head or thumping heart.

And now that I’ve used my words to describe the experience, I thought you might like to see some of what I saw on my short journey of expansion and focus (I took 100+ photos, so this is truly a sampling):












Flashback Friday: In My Wheelhouse

Iowa City, circa 1987.

Everyone seems to use the buzzword/phrase “in my wheelhouse” these days. Generally, they mean that something they’ve done or acquired is appropriately within their scope of expertise (or, if used in the negative, something that isn’t within their scope). In this photo, I was in an actual wheelhouse – a little house in a park, the inside of which is a moving wheel, like the wheel in a mouse cage. The idea of this playground toy is for children, who are short enough to stand erect inside the wheel, to run off energy by running the wheel in a circle.

In the first two years I lived in Iowa City, I spent a lot of time in this wheelhouse. The park was situated halfway between my apartment and the house my friend Martin Oliver was renting. We often wandered over to have a go at staying upright in the wheel (I never made it for long). Then, when I met Cathann Arceneaux, who took this photo, we went there to sit in the wheel and have rambling conversations about the meaning of life.

What I loved about living in Iowa City, and being in graduate school full-time, was the sense of developing purpose, growth in knowledge and ideas, of discovery – trying to determine where my own figurative wheelhouse was situated. My favorite thing about this photo is that I am relaxing in the wheel, taking a moment to enjoy just being. Those were rare moments at a time in my life when I had a full course load, a full-time night job, and a graduate assistantship. But what’s the point of having a wheelhouse if all you do is run? Sometimes, you just need to relax and breathe!