Heart Set


I got some disappointing news today about a job I was hoping, very much hoping, to land.  Truthfully, my news kind of spoiled the lunch I was having with a friend at the Oak Crest Tavern, a pine panelled rec-room of a bar that easily seats at least 30 people, and serves hamburgers made from beef ground at Knoche’s butcher shop across the street.   I cried a little bit, and we both shook our heads.  No matter how innocuously phrased the rejection, it doesn’t change the result:  the ones I want don’t want me.  And I am going to have to move on.

“You should go and make some pretty pictures,” my friend told me.  I knew she was right, but I also knew my heart wasn’t in it.  Still, I did what my friend suggested, if only to be able to point out, at some future date, that on rare occasion, I do take her advice.

When I got home, I plodded earnestly around the ornamental pear tree in my parking lot for a while.  It isn’t my favorite subject – too tall, with branches that point straight up, holding its flowers far above my head,  On the other hand, my mopey mood lowered my expectations, so I wasn’t disappointed, either.  After 10 minutes or so, I tore off a few twigs with pom-poms of white blossoms, and went upstairs.

I said my heart wasn’t in it, but as I shoved the stolen clumps of pear blossoms into a spice jar full of water – an indifferent prop if ever there was one – it dawned on me.  My heart actually IS in it – inescapably so.  The connection between my eyes and what I feel is irrepressible.  My heart wants so much to be seen, to feel recognized, to be included, trusted, and most precious of all, challenged to grow.  When I take a picture, some part of my true self is there, whether I want it to be or not.  When I ask for a chance to give my time and my skill to work that needs doing, my heart is there, whether I want it to be or not.

Now that I know how the storyline for this job prospect ends, I will have to set loose the hopes that have hung themselves on its bones, and see where they land.  I suppose that’s it exactly.  I will just have to see what happens.


Many Happy Returns


Eighty eight years ago, Grace and Lamar spent the first night with their new little girl – Barbara Anne Downtain.  She lived in a caretaker’s house with her 2 brother and 2 sisters, squabbling and playing, and hiding from the adult forces beyond her understanding.  She saw this pitcher on the dining room table, watched her mother fill with flowers countless times.  Sometimes, she was the lucky girl who snuggled under this quilt, recovered enough from a summer cold to sit in the living room with the family, and listen to the opera from New York.  At some point, she made a firm decision that life, for her, required art and flowers.

And she grew up to be my mother.

Happy Birthday, Mom.  I miss you so much.

Bay Light Good Fortune


People like to say that you make your own luck, but tulips and peonies and the particular cast of sunlight bouncing around between the Pacific Ocean and the stucco walls of Berkeley tell a different story. Such luck can be hatched or seized, but never made. Maybe I spend too much effort trying to keep that distinction in mind, and I lose out on the hopeful side of hunger.

On the other hand, I did follow the directions I found in my fortune cookie: You will attend an unusual party and meet someone important. So when an invitation presented itself to follow a friend to a gathering of Kung Fu meets Mathemeticians, I went – hoping, like any Cinderella, to meet Someone Important.

And I will tell you what was so unusual about that party. Perhaps because I wanted to find out if my Dessert Oracle was accurate, I carefully listened to new jokes and stories, following along until there was a moment when I felt a “connect.” And of course the more I listened, the more obvious it became: Everyone there was important. Even, maybe, me.

Isn’t that lucky?

Story Book


If you are thinking it must have been a lot of fun taking the vintage wallpaper book apart, you are one hundred percent correct.

Long before the 1940s wallpaper catalog came into my life, another artist had torn pages of green stripes and calico tulips away from the half-inch long binding staples, leaving stacks of cup shaped scraps clinging to the edge of the book.  Naturally, I wonder what those missing samples looked like.  They were probably the prettiest ones.  What I wouldn’t give know how she used those squares of thick, ink coated paper?  Did her children take them to school to make Valentines or birthday cards?  Did she cover a notebook or line the walls of a doll house?  Or maybe she carried them in her purse as she shopped for perfectly matching carpets and paint, and then, when her decorating was done, laid them on the basement shelf with the leftover cans of paint, and forgot about them?   That’s what I would do.

I started taking the catalog apart as a distraction from making a photograph.  As usual, I was scared, hiding.  If I had known they held a picture, I probably never would have started picking the last little shreds away from the staples.  Isn’t that strange?  Maybe I’m more afraid of finding the picture I want, than not finding one at all, so I mislead myself into thinking I don’t want to make one.  Now that sounds like something I would do.

Grateful Lull


Everybody was happy to see the sun today.  At the pond behind the library, birds still shelter, crowding the trees with silhouettes almost indistinguishable from the curled up leaves that cling to the branches.  They sing enthusiastically, maybe to keep the growl of the wind at bay.  It is a sweet surprise to hear such a thick cluster of voices in the cold, fresh air.

I know exactly how the birds feel.  Everyday, I have so much to do, and I know I’ll never finish it all before this lull is over.  It takes a lot of discipline to make sure I take a walk.  Anything, the slightest hint of an errand, can seem so much more important than facing up to the fact that I can’t do everything.  Even though it is risky to be unemployed three Mondays in a row, I have to remember:  Giant maple leaves matter, too.

I wanted you to see – it really is so beautiful here.

See What You Want to Say


I have spent many hours gazing into this crystal ball, and just because its images appear soft and dark doesn’t mean they are not clear.  Here’s what I think this one might say:
“Your tender spot will always need protection, but that is not the same as hiding from vulnerability.  In fact, quite the opposite.  With the proper protection, you can dance on a bed of nails.”

Or, you know, something wispy and tough like that.  You can make up your own story.  That’s what crystal balls are for.

The High Wire


I found this leaf lying next to my car, in the parking lot of my building this morning.  Now, if you go around picking up every pretty leaf you see, you’ll never make it as far as the grocery store across the street before they close, but this one was especially pretty,  so I scooped it up.

For the last several years, my inner life has been dominated by one theme – a struggle against futility.   My world has been bracketed on the one side with the fear of losing what I have, and on the other by the belief that I can’t have what I want, anyway.  Between these parentheses, my heart has been squeezed.

There’s a part of me that really, deeply, wants you to want to look at my pictures, wants the pictures themselves to be special to you.  I want to see things clearly – see what I love in a world of my making, and in myself.   If I say your perception doesn’t matter to me, that’s a lie.  But I really can’t know if I’ve revealed enough to entice you to see this leaf.  And I’m trying, trying not to answer that question.