With My Eyes or a Camera?

“Are you taking lots of photographs?” my friend Mary asked during a telephone conversation with her granddaughter, Melissa, who was traveling in Italy.

“No, Grandma, I’m not taking photographs,” the experienced, young traveler replied, “I decided on this trip I’d be in the moment.”

Her response highlights my dilemma: I don’t travel with a camera and rarely take pictures with my phone. I tell myself I prefer to use my senses to soak up sights and experiences, that a camera would require me to frame, focus, consider lighting, and tell people where to stand.

Seeing with my senses rather than a camera has advantages. A few years ago, Joel and I drove home to Craig from Denver and saw a tower of gentle flame on top of a mountain pass at dusk: a great pillar of rainbow standing tall among snow-glazed trees, its vivid hues illuminating the the shadowed sky and mountain. I focused on the sight for several long moments, memorizing its details and capturing its splendor.

I still see the vibrant column; and it’s brighter, bigger, and more colorful in my mind than than in the photographs Joel took with his phone. Photographs sometimes disappoint.

tower of flame on Rabbit Ears

On the other hand, I spend long minutes studying the excellent photographs taken by others; and I enjoy the glimpses of a photographer’s mind my blog friends provide when they explain their planning, processes, and problems. I happily peruse pictures my friends post on Facebook and treasure the photographs I have of my family and friends.

Photographs record more accurately than my mind. Too often, when I look at an old photo, I discover my memory deceives me: The battered family car my sister and I stood in front of was blue not green; and, though I smiled as I held Barbara’s hand, it was not the sweet moment between sisters I remembered: instead, Barbara was acting like I was Godzilla: struggling to escape my iron grip and scowling defiantly.

Frankly, old though I am, a few years ago when I saw the photo, I wanted to pinch her.

Photographs also allow me to experience sights I will never see.Without family picture albums, I would have no idea how Mom and Dad looked during my early years. I have a sense of them — their presence and voices — but it is through photographs I see the people they were when young. I used to scrutinize the photographs of my parents, looking for signs of myself in them, so I could be sure I wasn’t adopted. Like Barbara.

I seem to need both photographs and the freedom to exist  in the moment. So I’ll continue observing as keenly as I can and spending time reflecting on the photographs taken by others.

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Perfectly Said

When I discover quotes that succinctly state an idea I have entertained, but never solidified, I appreciate the person who captured my vague notion in brief, concise words, whether its Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, Mark Twain, or Eminem.

Some of the quotes that strike me fade with time; but many have staying power and I readily recall their insights.

Following are six quotes from my collection preceded by my reasons for liking and remembering them.

I exercise and will continue to do so as long as I’m able. Sometimes it isn’t easy, and I consider crawling into my recliner to snooze, snack, and read. But I drown the self-defeating thought in laughter by remembering this quote:

“You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is.”
Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres

Anna Quindlan’s brief explanation of aging captured the process and emotion of doing so. I frequently think about, write about, and talk about aging with others who share my defeated skin, reluctant joints, and challenged eyes. As I watch my circle of friends and loved ones grow smaller, I understand I could be the next to surrender my space among the living. Thus, my kinship with this quote:

“Mortality is like a game of musical chairs.”
Anna Quindlan

Anna Quindlan

Anna Quindlan

Most women I know struggle with insecurities in a culture that emphasizes beauty. A common saying, designed to comfort those of us who don’t look like Princess Kate, irritated me no end when I was young and unhappy with my appearance; so I enjoyed seeing it skewered by the lady who wrote Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.

Jean Kerr

Jean Kerr

“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want — an adorable pancreas?”
Jean Kerr

The seasons in transition fascinate me and I often write about a new personality forcing its way into the world: spring’s lighthearted playfulness, summer’s amiable offer of friendship, fall’s colorful briskness, and winter’s implacable nature. I’m particularly fond of describing the battle for dominance waged by the seasons in March; but I’ll never equal the master:

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

 Yogi Berra quotes abound and make sense in an offbeat way. I repeat his words when I find myself moving full-speed ahead without knowing what I’m doing, as I did when starting this blog, learning to be a principal, and driving around with my husband in a strange city looking for a small restaurant because a man at a gas station recommended it.

“We’re lost, but we’re making good time.”
Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra

Finally, when I can’t sleep, I ponder this quote by comedian Steven Wright. Feel free to use it when you’re awake and alone in the middle of a dark night:

“If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?”
Steven Wright

Steven Wright

The Worth of Mirth

I read that laughter lowers stress; but I already knew that: an unflappable first-grader gave me the gift of laughter when I was a first-year principal.

It was a tough day to be in charge. The temperature hovered near zero. Heavyweight snowflakes fell as though poured, and freezing winds whipped an icy playground. So I imposed indoor recess and discovered, as the day and the storm dragged into the afternoon, that young students don’t respond well to captivity.

Next, the copy machine gave up; the central office notified me the buses would be late; and the cap fell off one of my heels so when I walked, I clacked like a riveter.

Clicking along a hallway to check on demented laughter coming from the boys’ bathroom, I spotted Gus, a first-grade student and a favorite because we spent time together. “Guess what?” he yelled in his indoor voice, “I went to the dentist. He checked me and all my teeth.”

Scared cartoon boy visiting the dentist.

“Wow. Are you perfect?” I asked.

He furrowed his brow, considered my comment, and bellowed,  “No. He didn’t say I’m perfect. But I’m pretty damn good.”

Stress flees in the face of laughter.

I also read laughter promotes health and healing, but I already knew that as well, having learned it from my dad years ago. At eighty-five, after a bicycle accident and two surgeries, my optimistic, active father, who considered taking aspirin a sign of weakness, began to shrink and withdraw. Mom and I sat with him and watched his zest for life decline as one dreary hospital day followed another with no good news.

One afternoon, I went to a bookstore to buy a book Mom wanted. I also picked up a new book by Roald Dahl,  Revolting Rhymes, a retelling of fairytales. If Mr. Dahl wrote it, I knew I’d like it.

IMG_0844

At the hospital, Dad, with closed eyes and sunken cheeks, didn’t return my greeting.

When I showed the book to Mom, she suggested I read something from it to her as she crocheted. I chose Cinderella, and we were soon giggling at the unusual retelling of the classic tale. Dad opened his eyes and turned his face toward us. I continued:

“Quickly, in no time at all,
Cindy was at the Palace Ball!
It made the Ugly Sisters wince
To see her dancing with the Prince:
She held him very tight and pressed
Herself against his manly chest.”

Dad laughed. I increased the drama. By the time Cindy ran out of the ball in her underwear, the three of us were laughing at length and volume. During the following days, we read all of Mr. Dahl’s poems and repeated our favorites. Nurses began dropping by to join the merriment.

I know laughter hastened my father’s healing. He soon mended to the point he could leave the hospital and eventually travel home; and when he did, he took Revolting Rhymes with him.

If we want to live well and age well, we need to look for opportunities to laugh each and every day.

A Timely Break

egg hatching just in time for easterFor the first time since her blog’s inception, Aunt Beulah will not post this Tuesday. She’s frolicking: running about willy-nilly in northern Nevada, indulging in merriment with nary a moment to spare for her computer.

She hopes you will resume your visits to her blog next Tuesday when she will return to her stodgy, reliable ways.

In the meantime, please enjoy the comment-free zone created by her absence.