August 20, 2014
“You’re the cream in my coffee . . .”
— Buddy G. DeSylva and Lew Brown
Hardly a day goes by without my taking the time to savor a cup of coffee. My drink of choice is a two-shot Americano to which I add half and half until the color is a rich caramel brown. Sometimes I splurge on a more fancy (and expensive drink) like a latte, especially if it is hand-crafted by a barista. I love those leaf-shaped and tulip-shaped flourishes on the surface of my drink.
I consider a cup of “good” coffee a small indulgence, and life should be peppered with small indulgences, don’t you think? A good cup of coffee elevates this ordinary beverage to — not quite a sacrament — but a little grace note in my days. You can’t drink coffee fast. I appreciate the slow savoring of the pleasures in my cup — the warmth absorbed by my hands, the fresh ground scent, the rich bitter flavor. All good.
August 19, 2014
“Clothes make the man.”
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet
“I’ve had that raincoat for ten or twelve years now. That’s my coat. I have one coat and one suit because, for one thing, I find it very difficult to buy clothes at a time like this. I somehow can’t reconcile it with my vision of a human benefactor, to be buying clothes when people are in such bad shape elsewhere; so I wear out the old things I’ve got. Also, I can’t find any clothes that represent me. And clothes are magical, a magical procedure, they really change the way you are in a day. Any woman knows this, and men have discovered it now. I mean, clothes are important to us and until I can discover in some clearer way what I am to myself I’ll just keep on wearing my old clothes.”
— Leonard Cohen, from “An Interview with Leonard Cohen,” by Michael Harris, Duel (Canada), Winter 1969
I am most comfortable and most myself in blue jeans and cotton tee shirts. Interestingly, we girls did not wear blue jeans on the farm when I was growing up. We wore dresses and jumpers, and in winter we’d wear corduroy pants underneath. My mother sewed our clothes, and she was a fan of corduroy. I must have started my love affair with blue jeans when I was in college (bell bottoms were the fashion then). I feel fortunate that I can wear blue jeans and tee shirts to my current job at the Seattle Public Library. Today I am wearing a pair of my Dad’s worn Wrangler jeans, which I took back with me after cleaning out his house after his death.
I wear a few favorite pieces of clothing, over and over again, until they literally wear out. I’ve written before about patching a pair of blue jeans. I still wear the mended jeans, but for work around the house. Last week I wore a sleeveless black top that I’ve had for over 25 years. I still wear a pair of black Birkenstocks that I’ve owned for over 20 years. I guess my wardrobe is the outward manifestation of my frugality (and its shadow side, stinginess?). I’ve never really been interested in shopping, so I just don’t think about clothes that often. I find shopping and thinking about clothes a waste of time — time I would prefer to spend on other things, like reading!
August 18, 2014
“A photograph is an attempt to hang on to an experience, to freeze a moment in time and have it forever. . . . You can take pictures, even as you can take long walks, but in either case the experience is a transitory thing, and when it’s done, well, it’s done. Trying to keep it alive is like trying to keep the high school band together after graduation.”
— Lawrence Block, Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir
“What served in place of the photograph before the camera’s invention? The expected answer is the engraving, the drawing, the painting. The more revealing answer might be: memory. What photographs do out there in space was previously done within reflection.”
— John Berger, from “Uses of Photography,” in About Looking
“Memory implies a certain act of redemption. What is remembered has been saved from nothingness. What is forgotten has been abandoned.”
— John Berger, from “Uses of Photography,” in About Looking
My camera is one of my most cherished tools. My first camera was a cheap film camera that I won by selling magazines for a high school fundraiser. I sent off rolls of film in the mail and eagerly waited the arrival of prints in my mailbox. Making the transition to digital photography decades later was a gradual process. At first, I still took a few measured shots and got prints made of my good ones. Now when I leave the house with my camera it is not unusual to return having taken 100 shots or more, and I might make only a couple hundred prints in a year. I’ve learned that I rarely look through the dozens of old photo albums I have on my shelves, and virtually no one else is remotely interested in looking at them. No one asks to see my digital archives either.
It turns out that I would much rather look ahead (and take new photos during new experiences) than reminisce about the past!
So I’ve come to understand that I take photographs for myself. But why do I do it? Why, each year, do I photograph the first crocuses when I already have lovely crocus photos in my archives? Am I trying to save my life from being forgotten and abandoned by freezing all these transitory moments?
I do see taking photos as making art. I love looking at my world with an attentive eye looking for pleasing patterns and forms to frame into balanced compositions. I believe that being a photographer, a seeker of visual delights, deepens my pleasure when I travel or just live in this world.
I also love documenting the ordinary lives of ordinary people (quite often that person is me!). I dislike family photos that are taken only during celebrations like weddings and birthdays and anniversaries. I’d much rather look at photos of people sweating at work, wearing everyday clothes, and going about their daily (seemingly uninteresting) routines.
I love having this blog as a platform for sharing my photos. They are freely shared by me for your enjoyment; I am not forcing them on you. You choose to check in. I love that this exchange is voluntary.
I would love to make the transition to making sketches or watercolor paintings during my travels and adventures closer to home rather than just taking photographs. I find it much easier to snap a photo than taking the slow, focused time to paint. Another goal is to become better at taking photos of people — portraits. So I see myself staying committed to photography in the years ahead.
“Photographs are one of mankind’s most profound expressions of stillness. They allow us the ability to hold time in our hands . . .”
— Dan Winters, Road to Seeing
August 17, 2014
“One book has always led to another with me . . .”
— Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man
“Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know
Are a substantial world, both pure and good.
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.”
— William Wordsworth
I wasn’t a particularly precocious child. I didn’t learn to read until I started elementary school, and our reading program was based on the Dick and Jane readers. But reading soon became a most pleasant pastime, a way to escape the narrow world of the farm where I grew up. I remember that we had a small shelf of books at home, including a well-thumbed Uncle Wiggly book with glossy color plates. And my mother made time for library visits during her trips to town for shopping. In the summer, we walked a mile to Union Hill, where the bookmobile made a regular stop. Books in my childhood were read over and over.
So my library card is one of my most valuable possessions. It gives me access to more books and information than I could ever absorb in my lifetime. I recently looked at a pile of library books and noticed that the call numbers ran the range of the Dewey decimal system. My interests vary widely. When a good writer or author mentions other books, I often jot those titles down and add them to my “To-Read” list.
I wish there were more hours in the day to read. I am so addicted to reading that I worry I live too much of my life in my head, and not enough out in the physical world.
“A truly good book . . . teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. . . . What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Winter: The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 8, February 19, 1841
“A purely mental life may be destructive is it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for action. The activity proper to man is not purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it.”
— Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Reading is my default when I am too tired to rouse myself to go do something or when I have too short a time to start a project or task. I usually read in bed until I fall asleep. Stories transport me. Interesting points of view give me food for thought. Reading gives me ideas for things to do and inspires me to live a more interesting life.
August 16, 2014
“People’s possessions speak of them: they are resonant and betraying and reflective.”
— Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir
After compiling my list of 10 objects that tell the story of Seattle, I started thinking about what 10 things among my possessions might articulate something of who I am at this stage of my life. This starts a series of 10 posts, each devoted to an object that somehow helps to define me.
Qualifying for a driver’s license is one of the key milestones on the road to adulthood in the U.S. And it is an important symbol of independence for me.
Anyone who has gone through the excruciating task of encouraging their elderly parents to give up their driver’s licenses knows how much independence and self-worth is represented by this document. We had a family meeting to force my mother, who was suffering from the early stages of dementia, to give up her car keys and license. She was not happy with us. Several years later, when we reached the same point with my 94-year-old Dad, he refused to give in to family pressure. We were taking the necessary steps for the state to re-test his competency when he unexpectedly had to go into a nursing home, and he never drove again.
After bemoaning my experiences with my increasingly frail, elderly parents, I have resolved to voluntarily give up my driving when I turn 80 and use other means — public transportation, grocery store delivery, taxis, hiring a driver, online shopping, etc. — to stay independent, or inter-dependent actually. That means I have just 20 years left to fit in all the road trips and driving vacations I dream about!
I was the first “girl” in my family to buy my own car. Very much a feminist, I’ve always paid my own way in my marriage, and owning my own car gave me the freedom to go where I wanted on my own schedule. I’ve owned four cars over the decades I’ve been a driver, and I suppose I will have to go car shopping at least once more in my lifetime. I suspect that none of my sisters have ever purchased their own cars — this would have been a family purchase with their husbands — but I’ve always been wayward, headstrong, and independent and buying my own car with my own money seemed important to me.
Apparently I am not the only one to feel this way: “He sold his dad’s old Saab 92 to pay for it. It was only marginally newer, admittedly, and quite a run-down Saab 93 at that, but a man was not a proper man until he bought his own car, felt Ove. And so it was.”
— Frederik Backman, from A Man Called Ove
Over the years I’ve taken long road trips, sometimes alone, back and forth between Seattle and my childhood home in Minnesota. My husband and I like to take long road trips, too. I’ve noticed a big drop off in my personal driving in the past ten years or so after gas prices have risen so high. When I started driving, gas was about 50 cents a gallon. Now I think twice about driving to Oregon or the coast because filling the tank is a serious dent in my budget. I marvel at how thoughtlessly and frequently I took off in the car with my daughter, for camping, day trips, and other outings when she was young and gas was cheap. (I miss those days.)
I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my dreams is to drive, in segments if necessary, the entire coastline of the lower 48 states. I picture frequent stops for photographs and/or painting. Exploring trails and footpaths and natural wonders.
I do prize my independence, but the shadow side of that virtue is alienation. So when I pick up my car keys, I need to remind myself that staying connected with people, especially building closer relationships family and friends, is something valuable, too.
August 15, 2014
“The incidental items of reality remain without value or common recognition until they are symbolized, recreated, and imbued with value. The potato field and the auto repair shop remain without quality or awareness or the sense of community until they are turned into literature by a Faulkner or a Steinbeck or a Thomas Wolfe or into art by a Van Gogh.”
— Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content
“The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized.”
— Charles Simic
Yesterday’s post about objects that tell the stories of cities has me thinking about the deeper meaning of objects. How they seem to absorb something of the life of their owners or creators. How they can be so cherished, so beautiful even if worn and well-used. How you can’t take them with you! These days I am thinking that it is time to start letting go, not of the meaning or memories, but of the physical objects I’ve come to own. Perhaps it would be a worthy project to photograph them or paint them before getting rid of them, turning them into another kind of value.
August 14, 2014
I recently read about Leonard Lopate’s “The Story of New York in 10 Objects.” The listeners to Lopate’s radio show in NYC created a list of possibilities and then voted, with the following 10 objects garnering the most votes:
- Greek coffee cup
- Subway token
- Food cart
- 18th century ship excavated from the World Trade Center site
- Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems
- The Brooklyn Bridge
- Wall Street sign
- Manhattan Schist
- Subway map
That list started me musing about which 10 objects might tell the story of my city, Seattle. Here is my own personal take on the Story of Seattle in 10 Objects:
1. The Starbucks to-go, disposable paper coffee cup. New York City might have its Greek coffee cup, but Starbucks coffee cups are now ubiquitous the world over. Its world domination began in 1987 according to this article in Bon Apetit. I took this photo outside Starbucks’ first retail store in the Pike Place Market.
2. The Washington State Ferries. The state of Washington runs the biggest ferry operation in the United States, and it is the third biggest in the world, transporting 22.5 million riders in 2013. Several routes go in and out of Seattle. They are part of the Seattle landscape.
3. Seattle Public Library Card. Seattle always seems to make it on those lists of “most literary” cities. We like to read! The Seattle Public Library has 26 neighborhood branch libraries in addition to its Central Library downtown and mobile services.
4. Salmon. Local and fresh, I am so glad that this native food is healthy, too.
5. Space Needle. The Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, has become a unique and recognizable silhouette on our Seattle skyline. It’s been years since I’ve eaten at the revolving restaurant at the top, and I now consider it more of a tourist attraction than a destination for locals. (It’s rather expensive even to take the elevator to the top.)
6. Native culture and influence. Seattle gets its name from Chief Sealth, a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish native tribes. Several other tribes are native to the Seattle area: the Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie, Tulalip, and Puyallup Nations. We see their influence in place names, totem poles, powwows, heritage sites and museums.
7. Microsoft applications. We think of Microsoft as a Seattle company because its founders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen grew up here. I can’t imagine going back to life before Microsoft Word (think typewriters and white-out). I’m sure I use some aspect of Microsoft technology every day.
8. REI hiking boots. Seattle is home to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. The Cascade and Olympic Mountains with their miles of trails, campgrounds, and challenging peaks are just an hour or two away. We are surrounded by water for boating and fishing enthusiasts. The ocean is three hours away. Last year I replaced my decades-old REI hiking boots with another pair which still don’t feel broken in. I expect I will wear them for the rest of my life!
9. Floating bridges. Seattleites rely on two floating bridges to access the suburbs east of Lake Washington — Hwy 520 and I-90. You can follow I-90 clear across the United States and milepost 1 is just on the west side of this bridge. It still amazes me that these major traffic arteries float on pontoons.
10. I don’t have a clear object for # 10 on this list. Should it be the Boeing 747? A Douglas fir tree? Chihuly glass? Himalayan blackberries? What do you suggest?
Or better yet, what 10 objects tell the story of your city?