Truth

Early on as a photographer I struggled with which editing tools to use. As a newbie I thought I had to use something big and important, like Photoshop, or one of those other Adobe things. I took workshops and tried to wrap my head around all the tools and possibilities. In the end it wasn’t so much because I’m not hugely tech-savvy that I ended my relationship with those kinds of editing options, but my nagging sense that life is … messy, blurry, confusing and so photography should be, too.

I remember once encountering a team of photographers who worked for a man who sold his photos in places like Aspen and Miami. He (or, apparently, his troupe) took pictures of the natural world then hyper-saturated them with color, blew them up to sofa size and sold them for a boatload of cash. People seemed to love what he did. I remember these fancy-dressed people in a small bar in a small town in Alaska asking me where to find the best shot of the Norther Lights. I remember thinking … God almightly, you’re in Alaska, for christsakes, take a look around.

That must have been the early seeds of my church ministry—notice all the religious invocations there.

I’ve probably been taking pictures for about twenty years now, in a kind of organized, quasi-professional way. In other words, sometimes people pay me to take their picture. I have occasionally sold framed photos I’ve taken, but a moment of great delight for me came recently when I was giving a bunch of my stuff away and a woman came to church for the food shelf day and saw the pile of my pictures there against the wall and took all of them. I wasn’t there but I heard that what she said was “I have never had anything to hang on my walls …”

It brings me absolute, infinite glee to imagine her taking all of my stuff home and hanging it in her living space.

One time a business in Burlington hired me to fill the walls in their fresh new office space with my photos. It was a funny thing, imagining people in their cubicles looking at my photos all day every day. They must be good and sick of them by now.

We have become people who craft personas, curate our living spaces and present to the world a glossed-over version of ourselves. No wonder our kids are afraid to make a mistake. We have all forgotten about the great teacher called Failure, the beautiful muse named Humility, the deep river of Possibility that runs through all of our beautiful imperfections.

Not to mention it’s often really funny—the mundane minutiae of our lives.

In a world filled with boob jobs and Instagram-filtered sunsets, where everyone appears to be on the Most Perfect Vacation Ever and life is one incredible hand-crafted cocktail after another, I’ll take the blurred image of the baby being nuzzled any day, the cropped forehead, the teenager on the verge of a meltdown because Mom needs another shot. When I am doing a photo shoot it’s most often the stuff I capture before and after all the posing that tells the story, Dad pushing the kid on the swing, Mom checking to see if Dad’s collar is straight while he looks at her with both frustration and love.

The camera has always been a kind of technical encumbrance, taking up space between me and the moment. I’ve made my peace with that, but I refuse to believe that it requires a lot of editing work to make a picture presentable. In a world filled with digital perfection, I prefer human imperfection—the terrible, gorgeous truth of who we really are.


Web

The two people I meet at the church service in Peru live in Vail and know my good friend there. I ask them to say hello for me when they go back.

The woman I meet in the hallway of a nursing care facility in New York knows the man who was the doctor in the small town where I lived for many years, in Vermont. She gets teary-eyed when we make this connection and asks that I tell him hello for her.

“I ran into someone who knows you,” my friend in California tells me, “she was sad to hear you are leaving your church, but wanted me to tell you she says hello.”

The person who sells my friend his first house in northern Vermont knows my friend who has just died in southern Vermont.

Right after she dies another friend notices a dragonfly mysteriously flitting nearby, at the catering venue where she was working in Massachusetts. “It was funny,” she says… “everyone noticed it.”

My neck has been sore for days—my sorrow and fatigue manifesting as pain in my neck. Two nights ago, after I collect my sister at the airport and we finally make it home, I am settling in to bed, so very happy to have her near, when I feel a hand on the place on my neck that had been aching. Because Daisy has paws and not hands, I assume it is someone from the other side reaching across to tell me “It’s OK.” When I wake in the morning the ache is gone.

This is the internet upon which I wish to spend my time, the www of life. Deeply connected are we, all of us: the air we breathe, the birds that fly through it, the living and the dead and all the people who make this earthly walk with us. This is the place where I wish to spend my life’s energy, direct my loving attention, foster connection, seek out people and deliver messages of friendship.

I encourage you, fellow human beings, to do the same. In the real world … to pay attention, to remain curious, to speak gratitude, to open your heart and your life, not to the artificial and meaningless world of your devices, but to each other and the infinitely magnificent world around you, seen and unseen, every day. Amen.


For Jen, who would have understood the greatness of this. Would that I could invite you over for coffee today.

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Jennifer Stetson Johnston Redding
March 28, 1967 - October 5, 2019

It would be useless to even begin to try to describe you. You were Jen. It was amazing. Amen.

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Fireworks

It was a day of fiddles and fireworks and the Fair, and let’s face it … is there a better way to spend a Saturday?
The mighty Peru Fair provided the requisite mesmerizing visuals, excellent crappy food and all of the usual Vermontesque run-ins with old friends.

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What I’ve noticed is that more things change, indeed, the more they stay the same. Thank goodness.

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In the evening our neighbors put on a terrific fireworks show. It was the first time I had the chance to ask the million questions I have about how fireworks work. Who makes them? How do you prep for a show? How much does it cost? How dangerous is it? I learned that a lot of the explosives are named for flowers, which made me love fireworks even more, something I never imagined possible.

There is nothing I love more than learning how something is done. Except perhaps what has drawn someone to that work. The very patient and kind gentleman doing his job answered all of my questions and even offered me a job.

I’ve always said I wanted to be George Plimpton, or at least live a life like his in which curiosity propels one into all kinds of funny and interesting situations which then become terrific stories. Maybe my time has arrived.

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I love the sort of ghostly twin image of the fireworks that popped up in different places in each shot Coco took with her fancy new iPhone something something.

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It was perfect closure to a good fall day and a terrific way to say good-bye to the hill we have loved so dearly for the past 20 years.


Conference

For the past 22 years Senator Patrick Leahy and his staff have encouraged the growth of women-led businesses and the success of female entrepreneurs in Vermont through an annual conference on economic development. The Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference, a full day of speakers, workshops and presentations, is free and this year takes place at Vermont Technical College in Randolph on Saturday, October 19.

It speaks volumes that as part of this year’s offerings I will be giving a workshop on the cultivation of “inner wealth.” We cannot, nor should we, expect that a one-sided life of chasing an economic or entrepreneurial dream will lead us to peace or satisfaction. Life is a multi-layered, complex, magical mix of physical, spiritual and emotional well-being (with a fair measure of darkness thrown in an effort to re-route us when we’re off-path) and to ignore or elevate one part of the whole over others often leads to … dis-ease and/or disease. Join me in the afternoon to talk about ways to cultivate one’s inner life even as the world asks us to be more and make more and do more.

Indeed, come join a whole bunch of smart, funny, clever and engaging Vermont women in what will most certainly be a day of connection and growth. You do not need to be launching a business to benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge at this great event.

You can read all about it right here (and register).
See you soon!

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