On Sunshine, Freedom, and A Little Flower

I think maybe I'll dispense with the usual Independence Day post this morning.  While I do enjoy fireworks, barbecues and the patriotic waving of our American flag, there will be plenty of time for that later this afternoon. Right now, I prefer to reflect on something sweet and simple.

Every July these little beauties start popping out all over the place, blooming prolifically beside spiky hot pink thistle flowers and elegant Queen Anne's Lace by the side of the road. I never have to go far to find them.  Their bright blue colors wink cheerfully at me if I'm walking and blur into a multicolored watercolor painting with the wildflowers who keep their company if I'm driving on by.  I have found them alongside our busiest highways, and I've found them nestled quietly amid the wild grasses up at the lake.  I stopped yesterday to pick a stem... loathe to do it, as experience has taught me that the clock starts ticking the minute I make that choice. It will not last the hour.. so time is of the essence.  More will grow in its place, but it seems somehow sad, that plucking it from its home shortens its lifespan so dramatically. Still, I do not relish getting run over by a car on the highway, so in the battle between head and heart, the head wins this time.  

I photograph them carefully from several angles, because for me... a flower image is only worth sharing if you can somehow capture a bit of its soul.  I was thinking as I spent time with this one yesterday, that she had a lot to say.  From one angle she looked as if she was dancing.  From another, weeping.  I found her reaching skyward, as though being drenched in the sun drew from her mouth, the loveliest song... and bringing her inside, somehow froze that moment forever.  Through it all, she maintained her softness... right until the very end, when she closed up each petal and bid me goodbye.  

Hans Christian Andersen said, "Just living is not enough.  One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."  On this Independence Day, I am so thankful to be basking in all three.


As a flower photographer, I developed a style early on where one small area of the photograph is in sharp focus and the rest of the image is very soft.. almost dreamlike.  It started with my love for any and all kinds of bokeh and later developed into my own distinct style that eventually became my signature and the way most people identified images that were uniquely mine. I have often heard it said, that the best way to create a niche for yourself, in whatever you do.. is to develop a style that does not even need to carry your signature, because your stamp is so clearly on it that it is recognizable as yours immediately.  I think of Georgia O'Keeffe, Anne Geddes, Ansel Adams, Vincent van Gogh, Steve Jobs..  It's easy to recognize their imprint.  They left a mark that was distinctly their own.

I was thinking about that today.. pondering how my own style has developed over time, and why.. and I realized that in many ways, the way I create is a direct extension of my own personality and inner core.  I do tend to live my life like this... focusing very tightly on one or two details and letting the rest become somewhat soft and blurry.  That is often a good thing; I can completely focus with dedication for long periods of time on a project I am working on.. and sometimes it's really not, like when I neglect everything else around me to accomplish my own agenda.  

I finally got around to watching Jobs about a week ago and thought.. hmm.  He did a lot of wildly creative things while he was alive, but he also did some incredibly hurtful, awful things too.  The good doesn't cancel out the bad, by any means and I think he realized this at several key points in his life.. most especially when he was nearing the end.  Did it matter then that he made a ding in the universe? When he left this life and moved on to whatever came next for him.. did that Apple he dreamed up as a 20 something year old kid, really matter to him?  Or were the things on his mind then, of a far more personal nature? 

I've reigned in my idea of the universe quite a bit in the past year.  Because when it comes right down to it, the one I want to affect, is far smaller and more personal to me than I originally envisioned when I set out on this creative journey.  And it takes a lot more focused energy to take care of it... than I ever imagined.  

Never Let The Fire Go Out

If one keeps loving faithfully what is really worth loving, and does not waste one's love on insignificant and unworthy and meaningless things, one will get more light by and by and grow stronger. Sometimes it is well to go into the world and converse with people, and at times one is obliged to do so, but he who would prefer to be quietly alone with his work, and who wants but very few friends, will go safest through the world and among people. And even in the most refined circles and with the best surroundings and circumstances, one must keep something of the original character of an anchorite, for other wise one has no root in oneself; one must never let the fire go out in one's soul, but keep it burning. And whoever chooses poverty for himself and loves it possesses a great treasure, and will always clearly hear the voice of his conscience; he who hears and obeys that voice, which is the best gift of God, finds at least a friend in it, and is never alone. ~Vincent van Gogh   

In late December of 2010 my main computer crashed.  And I mean IT CRASHED.  My husband spent the better part of a week, desperately trying to save it but it was beyond hope, as far as we could tell.  I had just come off a very moody creative period where I had produced some of my best work in reverse lens macro photography as well as a completely special set I shot at the Senior Social Club I was volunteering at over Thanksgiving.  While he was able to save quite a bit, he was unable to save about 3 weeks of my work, created during that time.  I was devastated and it was a hard lesson learned. 

I had been reading a lot at the time, about Vincent van Gogh.  I find myself equally fascinated and horrified by the man's life.  So much creativity.  So much passion.  Such incredible enthusiasm for both religion and art and a beautiful understanding of color, which he dearly loved.  But also periods of darkness in a deep and lingering depression.  He is often thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder and I suppose today, we'd have considered him an alcoholic, due to his dependence on the toxic drink popular with artists of his day - absinthe. He sold only one painting in his entire career and he ended his life by shooting himself "for the good of all."  

There is a part of me that not only wants, but NEEDS to understand this man and the way his mind worked  ... for so many reasons.   How does so much talent, so much promise, so much incredible beauty inside of a person, end so tragically?  His work was powerfully emotional, as if he was trying not only to explain his internal madness to the world at large, but to force us as human beings to confront our own spirituality and potential madness.  And perhaps ...  he was confronting his own in an attempt to make sense of it for himself. Whatever it was he was working out in his paintings, I find myself wishing so very much, that he could have done it without turning a gun on himself.  

Word to the Wise:
Look at the world from someone else's perspective.  You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself.

I am currently reading the entire collection of Vincent van Gogh letters, written primarily to his brother Theo.  I have to admit, there is a part of me that finds it rather ironic.  I wonder if he ever had any idea that the words he wrote in private, to his brother and to others of importance in his life, would someday be read by the world at large.  Certainly gives me pause....

It's actually Theo I identify with the most.  I think a lot about his role in Vincent's life and how devastating the loss must have been for him.  Clearly, he loved and believed in his brother.  I hope with all my heart, that they both rest, in peace now in a place where the madness no longer has a hold on them.