Lean In

A month ago, I considered the uncertainty in my life in the light of Schrödinger’s Cat, the completely theoretical feline of physics fame. As often when I write, I found clarity in the process. I managed to leave many boxes alone, cat and questions in superposition until the time was right. I’d mentally shoved some boxes to the side, glancing occasionally to see that they were still there before looking away before my curiosity could get the better of me.

To some degree, that mental exercise worked. I left alone some issues that needed — or still need — only time. But what remained was this heart and mind tug when tripping over the boxes (some just don’t move aside so easily). Sure, I could send them back to their corner, pushing them out of my head at the same time, but there was still a flaw to my system.

Then this quote came across my Facebook page. It’s a bit from Pema Chodron, Buddhist monk and writer:

“The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrul gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering- yours, mine and that of all living beings.”
(Pema Chodron, Taking The Leap)

Change the way you see it, and lean in. I’ve worked on changing the way I see a situation. (see Spinning Stories — yes, I’m obviously working through some stuff) I’d yet to try moving toward the situation that is causing me emotional upset. Honestly, it seems counterintuitive.  After all, if I brush my hand across a hot pan, I’d hardly leave my hand there, experiencing the pain. By nature, we avoid pain. It keeps us safe to move away from what hurts.

But some hurts don’t fit in boxes, or they sit in them but remain omnipresent. Alive. Dead. Alive. Dead. It wasn’t always the final state that bothered me but the being in between, the superposition. I’d find myself preparing to grieve the dead cat one day while pondering the celebration if the creature lived. While I stopped trying to break in and force the universe to go a certain way, I certainly wasn’t waiting with equanimity.

Lean in. Change the way you see it, and lean in.

So that’s what I’ve been trying, while sitting there with those boxes. I’ve tried a bit of the Buddhist way of being present, which doesn’t just apply to eating, walking, meditating, and the other joys of life. It means leaning in to the discomfort and just letting it be. Uncertainty, sadness, anger, confusion, disappointment, or fear are all fine candidates for leaning in practice. It’s not about leaning in with gritted teeth and an anguished look. It’s about leaning in without a wrinkle to the brow or gritted teeth and held breath. It’s not easy. I don’t do it well. But when I do lean in, the relief is palpable.

The first discomfort I leaned into was a struggle with my older son. We’ve been having a rough time as he works on becoming more organized. I’m impatient, grumpy, and resentful about the slow development of this skill, which he counters with quiet stubbornness and inconsistency. I’m not so much at odds with him as I am with my own expectations and worries. He’s only 15, but I worry about how these habits will play out this school year and the ones five years down the road. I even worry about how he’ll hold a job or find a mate. Yes, I’m borrowing from the future. No, that doesn’t get either of us anywhere except for upset.

So one day, when I was again rankled with the disconnect between my expectations and reality, full of anger and post-rant, I tried it. I leaned in. I looked from the outside at the situation and felt every bit of anger and concern. I sat there, leaning in. And while leaning in, the emotions passed. Now, I wasn’t taunting them, as I had been when expressing my discontent with my son (read: yelling and otherwise not helping the situation). I wasn’t ignoring them either, pretending this very real problem didn’t exist. I acknowledged all of that in a matter of seconds, and nothing about that act changed the situation at all. But my mental and physical response to leaning in was profound — the calm it brought, priceless.

So I tried it again, this time in a time of sadness. I wanted to turn away from the sadness, preferring to look for away around or away rather than see it through. I can often stay with sadness, letting it wash over me and move on, but this one had a different quality. I wanted to run from it. But instead, I leaned in. I stayed present with the very uncomfortable sensation. It roared in my heart, filled my eyes, and drowned out everything else. But I stayed, leaning in and trying to watch the sadness rather than rip away from it or wallow within it. Unlike the calm I felt with my experience with my son, this time I felt only sadness. But it was a sadness unjudged and not fought. Thus respected, it worked its way through.

Now, I’ve let that cycle happen before with sadness, with similarly positive results, but I’d not thought of it in the light of leaning in. Happiness passes as well, although it’s much more tempting to tug at it and force it to stay. So I’ve tried that as well when a markedly good-feeling emotion comes my way. I’ve tried to objectively lean in, looking in from the outside and maintaining awareness that the feeling will pass. I can’t say I like that so much, perhaps because it raises my awareness of the temporal nature of a feeling I like. It’s been worth the exercise though.

Cats in boxes. Stories spun over. Leaning in. They are all slightly different ways of reminding oneself that point of view matters, and that a longer and slightly more distant point of view. And to some extent, they’ve all helped me retain a bit more equanimity and peace in the face of emotional and mental turmoil or just some reason in the walk through life.


Running With Ambulances

The first ambulance made me smile. Two and three-quarter miles into what would be my first three-mile run, I heard the siren behind me. I’d only planned to run the two-and-a-half, but three just seemed too close to stop. My breath was ragged and my gut was protesting this last half mile commitment. The ambulance roared up the street, sirens blaring and lights ablaze, and I was certain someone had called it for me. If I looked half as bad as I felt at that point, that seemed like a logical conclusion. As it streaked past, I turned my last corner toward home, half chuckling and half wondering if this was a sign I’d pushed it a bit too much too soon.

Per the advice of my esteemed running mentor, I backed off on my next run and promised not to increase my mileage for another few weeks, and then only by ten percent. (I also promised to take a tissue since it seems blowing snot onto neighbors’ lawns violates running etiquette. Why spit is acceptable by snot is not, I am not sure, but I follow the advice of my mentor. From shoe selection to tech shirt decontamination, she’s my go-to woman for all things running.) I’ve committed to running three times a week, weather and body permitting, with a goal of increasing cardiovascular fitness and running a few 5Ks this summer. I’m following no particular program or schedule but do check in with my expert and friend.

A few days later, I set out on what was to be another 2.5 mile trek. By the two-mile mark I was feeling something akin to sweaty moxie, and decided to go for three again. That’s when I heard the ambulance. Rather than coming from behind me, this one approached from the front, perhaps in an attempt not to frighten my in my fragile state. I stared it down and wondered if I was missing a message. I’m healthy and fairly fit for my age. I shook off the question, turned the corner toward home, and finished the last leg of my run. I arrived home far less fatigued than after the first three-mile loop the previous week with the confidence that the first time hadn’t been a fluke.

I’ve been feeling my age lately. Thus the running. At  >42.5, I know there’s still likely plenty of life ahead of me. I also see how much is behind me. I’m not one to live in the past, but I did spend a significant part of my younger years planning my life far into the future. Children and divorce taught me both are futile paths, although learning from yesterday and preparing for tomorrow are essential for growth and assure there’s enough milk for tomorrow’s cup of coffee. I am, however, wondering when I’m going to get to it.

Now if I only knew what “it” was. Homeschooling and home maintenance fill much of my time, and the moments between are flashes too easily filled with phone class, errands, social media, and other distractions. I’d like to be writing more, doing something larger and longer, but I can’t summon the sustained time, attention, or energy. Inject a fair amount of doubt about what in the world I’d have to say of interest or importance in this vast world, where nothing is really new, and the result is an uncomfortable ennui. That ambulance may not be heading for my decently healthy, somewhat fit body but for my fatigued and discouraged heart and mind.

So it’s time to turn the corner and stop listening to the whining in my head (which could easily be confused with that of an oncoming rescue vehicle).  There’s a road to run, one that for now is paved with homeschooling, home maintenance, work, a bit of writing, supportive friends, and perhaps too many distraction. I can work on decreasing the distractions (no, the kids are staying) and carving out a bit more concentrated time to think and write while remembering that much of the rest of the list is worthy and necessary work. This is my road. It’s been the right road, although sometimes a bit rougher than I liked at the time. It’s part chosen and part chance, and while I don’t know what is beyond the next  corner, I’m sure I have the breath and sweaty moxie to make that ambulance up the street unnecessary.


Magnifying Mirrors

I recently received an email from a friend in appreciation of a post on my homeschooling blog, Quarks and Quirks. I’d written about how our family has handled studying war. She commented on how things in my life seem to work out somehow noted her own feelings of parental inadequacy. (That’s certainly not my intent when writing about my experiences with the underbelly of life. Quite the opposite.) Ironically, the day I received that message I was struggling with a serious case of that same malady that day — the feeling like I’m getting it all wrong.

Okay, not all wrong. When I objectively step back and look at my life, I don’t see some overarching failure or anything close. But when I sit too close, I’m apt to see only what seems awry. It’s like staring at your face for too long with those magnifying mirrors: rather than seeing the whole face, all that stands out are the crevasse-like wrinkles, Mt Vesuvius zits, and errant wiry hairs. Eek! A short survey of that amplified visage can be informative. (Time to wear sunscreen daily and cut down on the potato chips. Oh, and put better tweezers on the shopping list.) Too much time studying the parts, and one begins to consider large-brimmed hats and oversized sunglasses as indoor winter attire.

I tend to tempt the mirror fates with long examinations of the minutiae of my life and relationships with others. My mind’s eye strays to predictable places: my boys and our homeschooling, my productivity outside of homeschooling, and the messiest places of my house and yard.  Regular, short looks into life are healthy, desirable even. It’s in these moments I see what is working and what is not. In those glances, I see the dust bunnies under the bed and the diversionary tactics that keep me from writing bigger projects. Those looks help me reorder priorities if needed and remind me what is important and what isn’t. (You will live another day, bunnies.)

The longer looks take my breath away and can reduce me to panic and tears. Attention to detail is good. Obsession about detail is not. With a bit of attention, I can see the pattern of my frustration with my teen, notice my parenting mistakes, and reflect on what part of our struggles is his responsibility and what is mine. With too long of a look, the relationship between us seems fatally flawed, with rents and rifts made by me forever damning him and us. I can shift from constructive self-criticism to scathing self-loathing in a few blinks. He’ll despise me when he’s older. He’ll run from this home and never return. I’ve ruined it all, and there is no redeeming this relationship.

Yeah, I’m good.

Fortunately, I’ve  peered often enough into the magnifying mirror to know that those panicky moments, hours, or days are more calisthenics of an overactive imagination, some inherited tendency to assume guilt, and a flair for the dramatic than reality. Not that the initial inklings of concern aren’t important messages that can inform me that my ways of being in the world aren’t working as well as I’d like, but perseverating on them isn’t useful for him or for me. It doesn’t even help the dust bunnies, who tend to get rather matted and muddy when exposed to tears.

Despite these mountain-into-molehill looks at my life and self, I’m generally optimistic. Like my friend noted in her email, things tend to work out for me. I think this is true for most people, although tallying success by the day is likely not the way to find this. Scorekeeping life a bad idea, and it’s far too easy of an activity for an introverted, internal, continuous improvement sort of person to do. The path from a single bad moment to a hideous month is short and leads to nowhere productive

So as self-flagellating as I can be, I’m not a believer in bad days. Bad moments, challenging mornings, trying afternoons, exhausting evenings, sometimes all in the same 24 hours, but not bad days. My viewpoint may be partially a product of semantics and partially protective, positive attitude. I’d hate to mark the day as “bad” at any point along the way, since each moment is a separate moment, and all those moments can’t really all be bad. After all, if we’re still all here at the end of the day, how bad could it have been? The label of a day negates the good, the amazing, the profound, and the vast majority that just is.

The brief look in the mirror shows what is. That’s the look that’s long enough to honestly assess the situation, assign responsibility, and ascertain a course of corrective action.  Too little time of self-reflection results in too little data to foster growth.  Too much time results in a serious magnitude of one’s actual affect on the world around them. It may be a miserable, jet-lagged, luggage-losing fiasco, but assuming one is the blame for all the world’s wrongs (or even all one’s teenage son’s misery) is an ego trip. Ouch.

And that’s part of why I write. I write to sort out what I see in the mirror. I write to give myself some distance from the magnified view I tend to see on sleepless nights or after difficult conversations. I write to see that generally the moments that make up life are fine. Perhaps they don’t all work out in the neat way I’d prefer. Perhaps more angst, drama, and failure than I’d like occur along the way. I write to sort the chaos, failures, missed opportunities, success, hopes, and joys and find that even at the hardest days, the latter three win out.


Uphill Both Ways

20110818-010804.jpgThis morning, I took myself for a short birthday run. Truth be told, all my runs are short. Now and then, I find my moxie and manage to push more pavement under my feet, but not lately. I run to prevent the downward physical slide that can happen at this point of life and to increase my endurance for my upcoming Black Belt test, so distance and time aren’t really the point. Moving is.

Note: My neighborhood is flat. Aside from the gentle slope of the driveways and what my children call “the big hill”, a slope of about a foot over five sidewalk squares a few blocks from home, there are no hills on my running route. While I’ve been told the fun in running is in the variety hills offer, I’ve been satisfied with my flatland route.

But I’m not home. I’m west, visiting my mother, where the land rolls up and down. My mother lives at the top of the of one of these hills, and my view from her second story deck includes farms interspersed with new housing developments and confirms she’s at the top of all the hills I can see. I’ve walked her neighborhood, another confirmation that it’s all downhill heading out from here.

The run down that first long hill exhilarated me. I ran with a speed and ease I don’t experience on my flatland route at home, although the further down the hill I ran, the more I considered the way up yet to come. There are no gentle routes back up the hill, just steep, long climbs. The flat at the bottom gave me some time to rest, running at my usual pace, and to ponder how far down I’d come. And how far up I had to go to get back. But having gone down there was no other choice but to go up, and while my ragged breathe twice broke through the music coming through my iPod, causing me to walk for a bit, I made it back up.

It’s like that. Sometimes, I stand on top of the hill, seeing all around me, secure in my height, knowing the downhill path before me will fill me with exhilaration. On the way down, I know a climb is coming. Life isn’t all mountaintop experiences, after all, it’s largely long, flat patches punctuated with “the big hill” at the end of the block. But we know the uphill is coming, either slow and gentle but requiring endurance over months or years, or steep but short. Either way, it’s coming.

A bit of planning can help that ascension, although not every hill allows for that. Planning and anticipation, however, can easily interfere with the journey, if that planning keeps us out of the present moment. By nature, I’m a planner and worrier, although with age and some long slogs up unanticipated hills, i”ve learned worrying and planning decades in advance is largely fruitless and destroys the exhilaration of the downhill moments and relief in the flat patches. In fact, staying in the moment of those easier parts of the path makes the uphill a bit easier, or at least allows a pleasant memory when the steep part returns.

So somewhere between mindfulness of the moment and planning for the future tempered with objective recollection on the past seems to be the spot to sit. It’s the place where hope resides and the breath is easy. It’s where there is peace in the journey, even when it seems to be uphill both ways.

Transition Lenses

Truth be told, I don’t transition easily.  That’s no shock to my friends and likely explains a bit for my acquaintances and meeting cohorts, but somehow, my reaction to shifts in routine, location, or even the weather still catches me by surprise.

This time, I’m just a few hours back from a fine three days away with my One Good Friend (main squeeze, significant other, whatever).  Three days of hiking through the woods and fields of the middle of southern Michigan, canoeing on the Kalamazoo river, eating meals neither of us had cook, and enjoying general companionship with one of my favorite adults.  While the trip relaxed and renewed me, by the last day, I was itching to write.  While we delightfully drew out the last day, taking the long way home to hike Hidden Lake Gardens and stalled the journey’s end with a meal just minutes from home, I was eagerly anticipating an evening alone at home before my boys return tomorrow morning.  I had it all planned out.  I’d unpack enough to throw a deserving load of laundry in, read through the mail, check for phone messages, and settle into write.  An impromptu trip to a small publishing company in Marshall reignited my book-writing fire, and sleep had challenged me the previous two nights as I tried to recall my outline for my book, a list written last summer and revisited since only by accident when shuffling through my files.  With a few chores out of the way and a full stomach, what barriers between me and writing could arise?

Me.  That’s the barrier.  Not the house.  Not the return to responsibility.  Not the shift from half of a duo to all of a solo.  Just my general difficulty moving from one mindset to another.  New shoes?  I need several days or more to adjust.  Expecting oatmeal for breakfast and find the canister empty?  Briefly consider a run to the store, ruminate about toast, and eventually make do.  My ex-husband has to swap a planned night with the kids for another night?    Silence.  Long silence.  Perhaps a verbal pause or so, all the while mind whirling and readjusting expectations, with (generally) calm acquiescence.   While I handle transitions far better now than even ten years back, I still find they leave me stunned, either speechless or overflowing with (generally the wrong words).

A few years back, my older son, tired of bright sun in his eyes during soccer games, tried those lenses that transition from sunglass-like in the daylight to almost clear glass inside.  Data indicated that they’d shift in a minute, making for visual comfort in no time at all, no matter what the lighting.  My son was excited, at least initially.  It turns out a minute is a long time when you walk into a dimly lit house after being out in the sun.  It turns out to be too long, at least for my then 11-year old son, who ditched the transitioning lenses for good-old clear polycarbonate at his next annual exam.  Seems the transition time just didn’t work for him.

My brain often feels like those glasses when a sudden change occurs.  I knew that the move from vacation to home would be rough.  I knew I’d likely feel at loose ends and a bit lonely after several days of companionship.  I planned accordingly, parsing out chores and writing, planning for a glass of wine at 7 or so, with a snack at 9.  Surely, with all that planning, the transition would be barely noticeable.

Upon arriving home, I stalled my reentry a bit longer, chatting with a neighbor for a while before even opening my front door.  Once she returned to her gardening, I unpacked the car, cleaning up a bit as I went.  Since that process was surprisingly swift without two boys to prod along, I quickly moved to laundry and guinea pig care before settling down to write.

But my mind went silent, dark as could be.  The stillness I’d sought quickly became unbearable.  Unwilling or unable to let my emotions and thoughts adjust, I read email, surfed Facebook, checked my voicemail, and generally fidgeted in body and mind, fighting the angst.  No luck.  My tension continued to mount, and I continued to fight.  I was furious and took myself to task.  I’d been eagerly anticipating this time without child or One Good Friend to start work on a writing project (at best) or to blog (not a bad choice either).  I’d spent two days with my mind flooding with ideas and energy, and here was my chance.  And I was blowing it.

But I was sad and lost.   A bit lonely, even. And simply out of sorts, dark lenses in a dark house.

When I could acknowledge that pain, the tears came.  Not the long, jagged tears soul-wrenching events evoke, but just some sad tears to honor change.  I also messaged a few friends, sharing a bit of my sorrow and quickly moving on to other subjects.  Before long, the lenses had cleared, just a hint of tint from my trip remaining, enough to remind me and bring a smile.

Like my younger son (although to a lesser degree), change challenges me, stalls me out or induces stonewalling and anger.  Sometimes, that emotion flies out.  Often it turns in, tying me up in knots until I face it and allow it simply to be.  Disapproving of my feelings during my transition today didn’t alter the feeling.  Acknowledging it, sharing it, and letting it pass on its own did.   I’m not ever likely to be free-wheeling and easygoing with transitions, and that’s okay.  Just honoring that part of me makes all the difference and makes that transition time less distressing.





Planning for the transition didn’t ease the transition at all


Doing What I Should…or Not

I should. Those two words begin an embarrassing number of my statements each day and a truly astounding number of my thoughts.

I should clean the litter box and the guinea pig cage.
I should decide what’s for dinner.
I should check the bank account and juggle the funds.

Some of those shoulds are merited. The cat box does need to be cleaned regularly, and the guinea pigs really require daily cage cleaning to stay off hazardous waste lists. Dinner, if my boys are here, is another item needing daily attention, along with its brothers, lunch and breakfast. While the boys are gaining independence, the more able and older doesn’t really care enough about food to prepare it for himself very often and the younger, who has enthusiasm and a healthy appetite, needs supervision with fire and sharp objects. And the bank account? That’s on the “must do” list, too.

I should email the piano tuner and set a date for that free tuning the piano needed in February.
I should schedule my own routine health care appointments.
I should dust. And vacuum. And clean the bathrooms. Even the shower.

Some shoulds are a bit more, well, flexible and timing. Yeah, I never had our new (in January 2010) piano tuned at the six-week mark. Obviously it isn’t an emergency today, but I feel remiss not having this routine service done. My healthcare? I’m a healthy woman, aside from a temperamental neck and thoracic spine and surrounding musculature, and I do see my chiropractor for that stuff. The mammogram is done, but the other…not yet. The housework is omnipresent, and it’s not a health risk. But company comes soon, so attention before too long is warranted.

I should make more time to write. I should write for publication submission and work on the book that can’t escape my head and become pixels on a page.
I should read far more, more breadth of subjects, more news, more often in front of my children.
I should run, walk, swim, or something more active that will fight the muscle loss that comes to us over-40 types if we spend too much time writing and reading.

This is where the shoulds do more harm than good. Yes, I want to write more. I spent summer convinced I’d have more time in the structure of fall and the school year to write. Ha. If I really wanted to, I’d find the time, I chide myself. And despite the precarious tower of books on my nightstand, I rarely feel I’m reading the right book, article, blog, newspaper, or magazine. Should I read what might better me or better my children? Do I read the fluffy novel and skip the news? And why am I laying about reading when I should be sweating hard and preserving muscle? I’m not young anymore, and while right now I’m not too flabby, I know that stone is rolling downhill with disturbing velocity.

I should stop saying, “I should.”

That’s the conclusion I draw the mornings after a run of sleepless nights, the nights when I weigh the contents of my day, judging how I spent my time the previous day, month, year, or decade. It’s the conclusion that comes after living so much in the future and past that I’m not even sure what’s happening NOW.

It’s not a matter of dropping what needs to be done. Paying bills, doing laundry, taking care of my health (including my mental health with that fluffy novel): these are all things that need to be done. But it isn’t the needed-tos that are causing my problems. It’s all those shoulds that are really coulds. I could write, run, knit, organize, or, gasp, just be. And with change of a few letters, some tension melts away. Life seems a bit more manageable and less oppressive.

With a bit of work, I could keep it that way.

It’s Still Sad Sometimes

It’s still sad sometimes. Usually not, especially when I’m caught up in the current of life. Rarely in a tear-producing way. Generally when I don’t expect it, although it almost always passes quickly. It’s still sad sometimes.

Yesterday, the sadness hit as I returned to my car after a delightful Friday night intergenerational church service.  Most attendees were parents of children under age 8 or so, although I know I wasn’t the only single adult in the room.  I sat with a friend and her son while we participated in chant, meditation, song, and storytelling.  It was a captivating hour and a half that left my spirit light and my soul at peace.

And then it was time for refreshments.  I considered bugging out as soon as the service ended, avoiding mingling with all these people I didn’t know well.  All those families, looking intact and full.  But I took a deep breath and wandered down to the refreshment area.  After several minutes of relative silence except for reminders to children to wait a turn for snack, we started to converse.  The five children quickly inserted their laughter, which seemed to loosen the tongues of the adults.  We talked of what parents do when first meeting.  We talked about our kids.

Except that I didn’t have mine.  They’re generally with their dad on Friday nights.  Not always.  We’re flexible with the schedule, but since he works weekdays, I often work Saturday, and Sunday is church for the boys and I, Friday night is almost always a dad night.  I really hate explaining all that, so when the question of my children’s whereabouts arose, I simply said they were with their father.   When asked later if I’d bring them next time, I let the rest out.  I’m divorced.  I don’t have my kids on most Friday nights.  My eyes fill just typing that.

To be fair, no one ran screaming.  Admission of recent divorce is quite the kill-joy, as people mutter apologies while hoping the divorce cooties don’t rub off.  Instead, the conversation turned to jobs, kids, and then the late hour.  We went our separate ways, and I quietly headed to my car.  Alone.  And then the sadness came.

Sadness at being alone at a service filled with parents and children. Sadness at the loss of being one of two parents with kids at any event.  Sadness at the shuffling back and forth my boys do, twice each week, and will continue to do until they leave both nests.  Sadness that the promises of marriage and family don’t always get kept.  No anger.  No wishes to turn back the clock.  No remorse, blame, self-recrimination, or frustration.  Just sadness.

So I sat with it.  I wept a bit.  Not much, just what came naturally with the late hour, fatigue, and the sorrow that washed over me.  Not the racking sobs I’d wept before and during my separation and divorce, wept alone and with friends, tears full of fear, anger, and confusion.  No.  These were simply tear of sadness that welled up, flowed down a bit, and passed.

And they always pass, as does the sadness.   And they’ll return, most likely, at least on occasion.  Because loss hurts.  Even when it was the only path left.  Even when it brings better times and greater peace.   Even when love, life, and joy fill life so fully it seems impossible for that sadness to find a way in.  It’s just that it’s still sad sometimes.  And that’s okay.

Firework Photography Failures

Guessing which ones were photo material led to numerous shots like this one.


Like millions of Americans this time of year, my boys and I attended a fireworks display.  We’ve rarely done the firework thing.  I could attribute that to my older son, who, until the last year or so, detested loud, sudden sounds except for the ones originating from his own body.  I could chalk it up to his younger brother, a child who thrives on a regular schedule and is downright frightening without enough sleep.  Those are factors in our late adoption (we started last year) of fireworks around the Fourth of July as family tradition, but I’d be leaving out my responsibility here.  I’m not a crowd person.  I’m not a night person.  I hate the heat, and I’m a mosquito magnet.  So a big crowd on a hot night in a mosquito-infested park with one child who fears loud sounds and another who is asleep each night by 9 (and later than that guarantees a rough next day), and you have a non-firework-attending family. 

Until now.  Having friends near a fireworks site has lowered my resistance.  Parking is no longer a problem, and this year, we watched the whole show from the front yard, bug spray in hand and bathrooms nearby.  And my kids are older now, one much less sound-sensitive and the other a bit more able to sleep in after a late night.  After our first invite to watch with these friends last July, my boys now consider it tradition, so to see fireworks we went. 

The grand finale provided the best chance at catching the uncatchable.


As the show began, the cameras came out.  Now, one woman in attendance is a professional photographer.  She knows what she’s doing and, if it doesn’t turn out as planned, she knows how to fix it on her computer.  I’m quite far from a professional photographer, and as I had my first real cell phone with me rather than an actual camera, I was far from even an amateur photographer.  Turning the camera portion of the phone on left me flummoxed that night, although I’ve accidentally turned it on dozens of times when trying to just answer the darn thing.  Anyway, others were trying to preserve the event in pixels, so I thought I’d give it a try.Thus ends my firework photography career. 

Ha.  Once I figured out how to turn my phone into a camera, I had to master the delay.  This, in my opinion, is one of the few downsides to digital photography.  What you see isn’t what you get.  You get, at least on my ancient digital and on my newer phone, what you saw several seconds before you hit the magic button.  So, as far as I could figure, the only way to turn a fleeting firework in pixels was to guess and push the button when the incendiary device was on the way up.   I persisted with this approach, taking lousy shot after lousy shot, giving up, closing the phone/camera, then forgetting how to open it when I wanted to try again.  

Why persist?  Well, others were doing it, and, lemming that I’m usually not, I wanted in on the fun.  Only it wasn’t fun.  Watching the fireworks was fun.  Listening to the kids’ comments as they watched was fun.  Being with my friends was fun.  Taking cruddy picture with a phone was distinctly not fun.  Plus, it made me miss the fireworks. 

As I wrote recently, I’ve taken fewer photos in recent years and nixed album making altogether.  Most of the photography I do is for my blog, and the rest is so the kids can’t complain in 20 years that there are no pictures of them after 2008.  I’ve discovered I prefer to be watching life as it happens, living it, rather than viewing it in a 1″ by 2″ screen.  After all, it’s the only life I get.  Sure, I want some reminders of what the kids looked like when they were young, but I’m preferring the pictures in my mind lately, and I’m not doing much looking back anymore.  Less looking back and  less looking forward leaves far more time and energy for what is real and now.  After all, now is all we have.   

Now let’s watch those fireworks.  Oooo!  Aahh!