Saturday, April 30, 2016

Story Telling Saturdays: Passing the Torch

The year was 1983. Earlier that Summer I had been reuinited with my dad after not having seen him since I was 4 years old. Now it was my first Christmas at the age of 13 with my dad since I was 3. He gave me two packages and I opened them up.

One was a copy of the Joy of Photography and the other was a real 35mm camera with several rolls of black and white film. It was a Pentax K-1000 that I still have to this day in perfect condition. My father used to be a freelance photographer. His work appeared in catalogs, magazines, stock photography, galleries and even Playboy. His specialty was jewelry ads. He knew almost every hand model in Chicago and Dallas in the 1970's. Privately he loved doing landscaped and sunsets.

We would spend the rest of that Christmas break with him teaching me perspective, the rule of thirds, shutter speed, f-stops, using filters, lighting, developing and seeing the world through a new lens.

I fell in love with the torch that was passed. Not only did I get to share a passion with my father, but I soon developed my own style and perspective and I love how the world looked through the lens of a camera and the ability to share perspective.

The following year I would be a freshman in high school and spend the next 4 years as the photographer for the school paper and many of the yearbook photos. The teacher who ran the paper thought I had a great gift at bringing people alive and making them shine. I loved what I did. I loved student of the month, games, events, homecoming and prom court photos and so much more. My passion was growing and it was exercised almost daily.

By the time I was a Senior in HS I was taking pictures for cash in two local papers and sometimes saw my work in the Tribute or the Sun Times. Two of Chicago's landmark newspapers. I even got hired to do some stock photography and saw my work appear in ads. It was wondrous, but I never thought of myself as a photographer. I had other things to do. This was just my passion...the same was true with writing.

After college I would work full time jobs and get married and become a parent. The camera would be cared for, but not used. I would take a shot or two for someone's marketing literature or website here and there over the next 15 years after college, but nothing special.

Then came one session with my therapist in the wake of my divorce. She looked at me and asked me what my hobbies were. I gave her a blank stare.

A few weeks later I was shooting with my old camera again and I ordered a used and slightly beat up Pentax K10D digital SLR that could use all my K series lenses. I was seeing the world through the lens again and I could almost feel my now deceased father over my shoulder guiding me and helping me get back in the groove.

I kept the shots in my hard drive and shared almost none of them. Then I decided to step out and showed them to some friends who are artist and professional photographers and they are not just good, you are great. You have perspective and talent and I feel the stories not told in many of these.

So now, here I am, sharing my work and my stories.

Tonight, I will be in my very first art gallery opening with two pieces. They are based off of songs and I will be among wonderful artists. I am an artist. We are artists.

My dad will be there in spirit looking over my shoulder. I have a guardian angel/muse (google Anam Cara) that cannot make it, but the inspiration given to me that created this moment will have the important people there in spirit. I am so glad to have my dad and the muse there even though absent.

The torch has been passed and I have 2 guardian angels over my shoulder.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Home Is Where You Hang Your Hat

Hat at Home
I was talking to a dear friend yesterday who is a transplant. Used to live in one place and now lives in another. This friend was talking about how some of the old friends always ask,"When are you coming home?" Not for a visit, but to stay. The response was, "I am home." In the conversation we were sharing some hurts and frustrations in life, and in that simple sentence I heard something neither one of us expressed the entire conversation. Certainty and peace. I have lived many places, but I have had few homes. Home is where you hang your hat, but it is also where you feel at peace. It is where you have community. It is where you feel you fit in and belong. Everywhere else is a bed and a place to live, but it is not home.

There is nothing wrong with those other spaces. In the places I have lived that are not home or used to be home but no longer fit, I have people I care about and spaces I love to take part in, but they are not home. I do have a home of sorts that I do not live in yet. I used to think that home was tied to something else or someone else, but it was not. It was tied to me. For the first time in years I felt not like a stranger or an alien, I felt at peace and like I fit. 

Our homes will change from time to time. In my childhood I had a home. In my adult life I have had two places that I can think of that I truly called home. They are no longer and I can never go back and that is okay.

I am not at home right now, but I know where home is and I hope to hang my hat there. 

If you are home, stay there. Know that what you have centers you and comforts you. Know that the places you used to call home are no longer and that is okay and there does not have to be struggle in that. If you are not home, be patient and find a way. It is a journey worth taking. I have heard the peace and the certainty of one who says, "I am home."

It's beautiful.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Beauty From Neglect

Beauty From Neglect
I am kinda a junkie for abandoned spaces. Ruins and assorted neglected areas fascinate me and I love to explore. It is not always safe and I do not recommend trying these things at home. For me, no trespassing signs are an invitation. Creaky floors and broken stairs in ruins no longer structurally sound may someday lead to a broken ankle, or worse. I am saving those pictures for another time and in another space, but many of my shots I do share reflect some of this.

I love how beauty comes after neglect almost without fail. 

When something is first neglected of care, it falls apart. As petty criminals realize it is ignored, they tag it with graffiti making the worn stone and concrete look even worse. Given enough time, though, nature does its thing and starts to grow from every crevice and crack and restore beauty. It is a process that takes time, but it happens. The things we build and neglect can only stand so long.

It is often the same with people.

When we suffer from neglect the signs of a crumbling spirit are apparent. We become weak and vulnerable to those who would further abuse us and leave their marks on us. It is almost like a shark smelling blood, they seem to instinctively know the signs of neglect and come to do pointless and horrible things for no good reason other than they can. The neglected and crumbling life now bears the marks of vandalism and is seen as less attractive and less beautiful. But then something amazing happens. Through the cracks and crevices of neglect, life can spring forth. If left alone and allowed sunlight and some rain, that life coming through the cracks will replace the crumbling structure we built and time will fade the marks on us to be replaced with lush beauty. The in between state is when we see the contrast of the crumbling neglect, the marks of abuse and the growing beauty that was within and could not be contained. 

If you have been neglected and your life feels like it is crumbling, if you bear the marks of reckless people who took advantage of that, be patient. Use the cracks and allow the beauty within to grow. It will replace what was with something amazing. It just takes time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Protected Beauty

Protected Beauty
In the middle of Chicago I came across this little gated wonder. Birdbath, flowers, small table for two and other charming things. What struck me is the fence and gate. We really love creating, curating, and caring for beauty and then we lock it up so others may not enjoy it. It is ours. 

Have you noticed how often that happens to people? If they are a romantic interest, they swiftly become beauty we care for to lock away. Sometimes we are the gatekeeper holding the key and other times we are the one locked in while others are locked out. 

What good is that? 

What does that do to people?

When we are protected with bars and gates, we are well tended prisoners. When we hold another person, we have them as not them, but our will and our possession. 

If we are secure. If we are healthy. We will embrace autonomy and healthy freedom found in what my friend David calls willful interdependence as opposed to co-dependence. In that, we can find even more enjoyment because life together exists in a larger area than the contained and constrained area. It does not have to be so cramped and contained. 

If what is served at the table is truly good and if what is in the patio garden is truly lovely, the right people will come to it and still be able to go about their day. If loss prevention is what motivates you and you need to cling and contain, you may not be ready to invite anyone into the garden patio of your heart and life yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Not everyone gets to taste mortality. It tastes like rusty blood in your mouth as broken ribs constrict the lungs and a punctured lung leaves you unable to breathe. It feels like the warm flow of blood down your shirt as you realized the knife did not miss and consciousness slips from you. It feels like a clenched jaw and right arm seizing. I cannot speak to any of the other feelings and tastes that go with it. I can only go with the things that have I have experienced.

It is like a car wreck. You have a destination and a direction or just cruising in the journey of life and in a blink of an eye....a moment...the world changes. The trauma of just one moment of mortality can leave someone with PTSD, scars and other things that can last a lifetime. Those who have had more than one brush with the grim reaper see life differently. Sometimes the lens of life is so dark you wonder if the person is even human. Other times they live each day and moment and think that their dreams are worth the fight. 

The human spirit is a curious thing. No matter how dead you think you are inside, when the world changes in a second, you determine to live and all you think about is survival. You want to live to have another day and another moment.

You may think you are wrecked. But you fight on to live another day. But for what? To make money? To have a great job? To have a nice house? What matters? In those moments of mortality we fight to live for something that matters to live on and we forget the lesson too often and go back to the things that do not matter.

If you have a dream or a passion reach for it. Strive for it. Go for it. If there is someone you come home to, be it a lover or child(ren) or even a pet that mattered to you in that moment, make sure they know they are valued. Whatever it is that keeps you alive in the moment of the precipice of death or shines a light when things are dark, make sure that what you do in the day to day brings you closer to as opposed to further from.

All it will take is another moment or blink of an eye that you could be wrecked again. Don't lament the moments you did not take.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Our Furry Friends

Our Furry Friends
Pets are the most interesting companions. They make messes, they are work, vet bills can get expensive and they become a part of us. They are our friends and our companions. I think there is something we can learn from our relationships with our pets. Some of it good and some of it bad.

Online, I always know when someone gets a new pet. The pictures and the stories are everywhere and it is all they talk about. This new love in their lives. I always know when someone has lost a pet to the grave because they mourn the loss of the pet and they miss them. I do not, however, hear or see a lot of the in between. We want the world to know about this new friend in our lives and we want the world to know that we have lost this dear relationship, but we sometimes take the in between for granted when the relationship is no longer new. In the mourning that is apparent when the loss is spoken about. How much we would give for one more day that we could appreciate that which we did not. We are unsettled because of the daily moments we did not cherish and the moments we did not make the most of. 

The other thing that I see in our relationships with pets is how healthy they often are compared to our human relationships. The care of the needs is constant. We feel badly if we neglect them too long. We forgive quickly if they do something that upsets us. When we are down, instead of pushing them away, we draw them close to us to feel the contact of another being and speak to them to be heard. 

What would be different in our lives if we appreciated the moments when they are happening instead of late in life when we mourn loss? What would be different in our lives is we forgave more quickly? What would be different in the world if we all cared for one another more consistently and recognized when we were negligent? What would be different in our lives if we drew others close to us for comfort and support in hard times as opposed to choosing isolation?

There is a lot we can learn from the way we interact with our furry friends. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Story Telling Saturday's: The Truth in Liminal Space

I am friends with a dear man who I do not talk to much anymore named Ryan Bell. He is known for being the man who lived a year without God and now lives a life after God. In his time of discovery he lived in what he calls liminal space. I never looked it up until recently and learned that liminal comes from the Latin word for threshold.

This is a time of transition for many. Where what you were no longer holds true and you go through a period of deconstrution and then rebuild to be defined as something new. It is a time of facing the shame of the past and embracing discovery and enrichment and formerly forbidden ideas and desires and passions. That in between space is liminal space.

Liminal space is the river that we take a ferry from one side to the other. We cross over. This brings me to the most profound moment I ever had when I was a taxi driver. A driver named Mark who was so wise and zen and profound looked at me and asked me a question. He asked me if I was all right. I said I was, but I could not understand that I was beginning to like the life of a taxi driver in the night. He looked at me for a moment and said, "You are Siddhartha." He knew somehow that I would get the joke.

Long story short, Siddhartha tried to find contentment crossing the river from one state of being to the next and met a ferryman. In time, Siddhartha would join the ferryman and find more pleasure living in the river. He found the threshold to have more beauty than the destination. Siddhartha found peace and enlightenment by studying the river and helping others cross over. Most of his truth was found in the river. In the threshold as opposed to a destination or need for a new label.

I spent a lifetime trying to find a space a belong and placing my life and my relationships into categories that made sense. The truth is, I have found my space for now to be in the river, in the threshold. A space with no labels, no definitions and no plans. A space of acceptance of the flow. The river is not the in between, it is the river. Others can build their bridges and ride their ferry, but there is joy here. There is peace. There is no need to define friend, lover, enemy. There is no good and evil. There is just the flow.

In the threshold and the river I have learned that there are some things that do not have definitions because not only are they too beautiful for convention, but words are limited and can never communicate the wonder. I can never explain some of the things I experience well. Letting go of the idea of plans and definitions have made the world more amazing. Enlightenment is not something that can be described. The joy in what some call liminal is seeing that the river flows out into lakes and oceans only to be returned by the rains and melting ice of mountains. Life and death and pain and pleasure and happiness and sorrow and good and evil are so beautifully interwoven into the current and there are so many more lessons to be learned here.

The truth in liminal space is acceptance without plans or agenda or definitions...merely wondrous acceptance. For now, there is no threshold to another space, there is no shore. There is only this space and I still have lessons to learn here and I like it here. The truth of liminal space is freedom from the shores and destinations.

As you cross the river, think kindly of the ferryman and know that he loves where he is at. He used to seek shores and plans for contentment and now enjoys the Liminal River.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Be You No Matter How Weird That Is

The Comfortable Doctor
It is not every day you see someone looking remarkably like the tenth Doctor perched on a rooftop terrace 3 stories up in a downtown city for no reason. But when you do see that and you happen to have your camera, you take the shot. Whomever this young man is who has a great sense of balance, he looks genuinely comfortable and peaceful. 

I remember in life how many different versions there have been of me over the years. I was never comfortable as myself. So I pretended to be things I was not. I always tried to fit into molds that I thought others would prefer and accept. Sometimes that was my imagination and other times I got cues of the expectations I was to meet. Somewhere in life my give a damn broke. Oh, I still worry about what others think about me sometimes. I think we all do. I suspect body image issues, self esteem issues, and a feeling of being unworthy are normal in the course of the lives of many of us. 

I am at peace sitting in my boxers reading a book while listening to Coltrane with incense burning. This guy perches on rooftops looking like The Doctor. We are at peace. 

Whoever you are. Whatever you do to unwind. Be that. Be comfortable as that. Some are not gonna like it. Who cares? Well...we do care...but we need to stop that. 

Be you no matter how weird that is.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Pirate Life For Me

Sloop of War
This is the USS Constellation in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It is a sloop of war (corvette) class warship. The sloop of war is one of my favorite classes of ship. From the 1700's all the way into WWII, the sloop of war class was used by the British and US and others. It was a design that was ahead of it's time. It was also one of the two preferred classes of ships for pirates.

Pirates liked them because they were small, fast, nimble and heavily armed. It could handle itself in combat and flee fast into shallow coastal waters that larger warships could not go giving them time to hide in coves. Pirates took excellent care of their ships and kept the hulls as clean as possible to keep them fast. 

I have been fascinated by pirates since I was a child. Most pirates usually started off as conscripted sailors by their governments. To be a sailor was usually a death sentence and the governments did not provide health care, disability or a fair wage. They had a lot in common with slaves. So much so that when they took a slave ship, one of the first things they would do is offer the slaves a job with equal pay. 

When a conscripted sailor died, he was listed on the ships's roster with a skull and crossbones. When they committed mutiny, it was a cry of freedom from oppression, abuse and death. They believed they were worth more and deserved the dignity of fairness and good treatment. Pirates were paid equally and if they were injured and unable to work, they were given not only compassion, but disability compensation so they could afford a life without work. Everyone was an equal and they had a voice and dignity. 

When they took to mutiny and were free from oppression, they would hoist a flag of the skull and crossbones. It was a statement that said, "We are dead to you, your rules, your abuse and your lies that we are not worthy. Even if you kill us, you cannot take that away from us." 

In life, many of us are told we are worthless. In many ways we are abused, neglected and not treated fairly. Fighting for your freedom is hard and it is sometimes risky and dangerous. When you win your freedom there is an opportunity to have a merry life and a good life. Regardless of how long that life is, it can be passionate and wondrous and good. You will surround yourself with others who feel the same way you do. Should you win your freedom, if you can, make your life like a swoop. 

Stay nimble. Stay fast. Stay strong. Take care of yourself. If you have to, there is no shame in finding a safe space where the bastards who hurt you cannot get to you. That is not cowardice. Like your life, it is choosing to go to places they can never go with people they can never understand and live a life that they will never see the value in. The pirate's life has value. It is a life of dignity, equality, fairness and decency. Sometimes you have to be a rogue to be civilized in an uncivilized and unjust world. 

I do not know about you, but it is the pirate's life for me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


I am in this stairwell about twice a month. It is in a building off West Deming Place in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. The elevator is slow and it is good exercise. Great excercise when I get there, check in early and then decide to go back down for a coffee at the Starbucks next door and come back up. 

I will admit, compared to the colorful and accommodating elevator area, it is sometimes intimidating and feels dark and a little gritty. 

When I get to my floor and open the door I am greeted by lovely imitation wood flooring, brightly colored walls, great lighting and good people. 

Slightly related to this is life when we are at the ground floor..the bottom. We think there is nowhere in life to go but up when we are at the bottom. We are told that by motivational speakers, preachers, psychologists, shamans, 12-step folk and others. But there is a truth they forget to mention all too often. It can get worse. There are basements and cellars and subterranean levels to get lost in and lose light and even life. We can always go lower. It can, however, also get better. 

Sometimes in life, the way up can look a little scary. It can be a little dark and the stench of the bottom can sometimes make it hard to breathe. All it takes is a deep breath and a first step to begin climbing from the bottom to where we need and want to be. After that first step, you take another. You keep going. You keep climbing. As you get higher it can often look exactly the same as where we just were the last flight of steps and the flight of steps before that. The difference between the bottom and the second or third or fourth floor is a number on a door exactly like the last door. We may be getting closer to the top, but it sure does not look like we are going anywhere. All it takes to see the difference is to open the door at the top, bask in the warmth, and look out a window to see how far you have really come.

In the stairwell, we do not always see the progress made. We just see the next step and the next flight. Progress is being made. We are climbing. 

Don't stop climbing. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Getting There

Getting There
I love gardens and gazebos. This is from the bird conservatory in Joliet and I have lost count how many weddings I have officiated and or attended there over the years. I prefer it on days there are not weddings. Children run back and forth and you know the gazebo has become a fort or a castle or some other wonder. Young couples seem to see the romantic beauty that I do and they will enter together to stare at the garden or steal a kiss while holding hands.

In this case it is the path to the gazebo that fascinates me. There is a destination, the gazebo. To get to the destination you have to go through the trellis. There is a gate, if you will, that takes us to the destination.

This trellis is not fulfilling it's purpose. A trellis is not only a gate to a path to a destination. A trellis is so much more. It's lattice is supposed to be a supporting structure for something to grow upon, such as vines. Vines will grow, but if they have a structure to grow upon, they can take form and shape. The lattice does not create the growth, but it gives the growth structure. Without the structure there is a mass of uncontrolled mess on the ground.

We all need support to grow and the lattice of the trellis will complete the gate that will make the destination and path more lovely. We get that support from each other. We get that support from a philosophy. We get that support from many spaces, but wherever we get it from, we need it to grow upon. When the vine grows upon a structure, it flourishes and thrives. It becomes the beauty that makes the path to wherever we are going more beautiful. The growth is up to the vine, the lattice form merely helps it and supports it. We can be autonomous and still have support. That support can be friends, a belief, an idea and so many other lovely things.

Find your lattice, find your support. Grow, thrive, and make the path to the destination lovely and vibrant. 

You are getting there. We all are. We just need a little support to grow. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Perspective Shift

Downtown Baltimore
Sometimes you need a perspective shift. Every year for two years now I go to Baltimore with my child to attend an anime convention. As a former cabbie, I am fascinated by gritty urban landscapes taken in Joliet. One evening while in Baltimore I decided I would do some of the same. I only took a few pictures of the urban landscape. It was too clean? I was in too good a mood to find the grit? I had a perspective change. 

I usually only have these perspective changes when I am in Colorado or Disney World. Baltimore is no cleaner or dirtier than Chicago or Joliet or any other average city in America. What was different was me. I was with my child who was having fun. I was surrounded by people celebrating art and imagination. I was at peace. The lens of my camera could only capture the lens of my heart. My heart only saw clean and pure contentment. 

Nothing in that moment had changed in my life. The bills were still there, the bank account was what it was. I still weighed the same. So much of my world was exactly as it was a few days prior. The only thing that changed was perspective, contentment and focus. 

I think one of these nights I would love to return to the dark streets where I shot some of my best gritty urban landscapes in the new perspective I have on life and see if the lens reflects differently. 

Maybe we all need a perspective shift where we are at. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Storytelling Saturday's: Self Doubt

If I am being honest, I am struggling with today's story. It is part writer's block and part worrying about whether or not the stories are any good.

The writer's curse is that they are often filled with angst and self doubt. We can write something that others will look at and say,"This is amazing. How do you do this?" While they say these wonderful accolades, you are sitting there thinking..."This sucks. It is pure shit. I cannot believe I let anyone read this second rate trash. You keep reading, I will be over here huddled in the fetal position wondering why I did not become a podiatrist."

One of the hardest things for me to see is people that I love and care about not believe in themselves. If you are a friend of mine and reading this, please do not think I am "vaguebooking" you. I know a lot of people who do this. Things go wrong or a mistake is made and we think we are worthless or stupid. We think the things done to us are our fault or maybe we deserve them. We think we are horrific mutants to look at when we might actually be lovely to behold.

Self doubt in some ways is self abuse. We hurt ourselves and perpetuate the lie others may have told us about us. 

I once heard about a motivational speaker talking about belief in self and attitude. At one point she poured water in a glass and filled it halfway. The expectation was the question as to if the glass was half full or half empty. Instead, she asked how much water people thought was in the glass and how much it weighs. There was only about 4 ounces in the glass and it did not weigh very much. She pointed out that right now, holding the glass in her hand with her arm elevated was pretty easy. If she kept holding on to even this 4 ounce glass of water long enough, if would strain her arm. It would weigh on her and she would be sore even though she works out regularly. 

The weight of self loathing is something we carry with us and even if it is small, it will eventually hurt us, hinder us, slow us down and cause pain. 

A lot of books and seminars have been sold by many a guru to tell us the secret to let go of these things. If there were a singular answer, no more books would need to be written. I do not think there is a singular answer. I wish there were. I wish I could write the key to tell all the beautiful people I care about how to let go of it. When they tell me they are worthless or dumb or unattractive or a failure I wish they could see themselves through my eyes and my heart. I suspect when I go through those times of darkness and the glass is weighing on me, they wish they could do the same. 

I do not have the answers. I do know that the weight we carry, the lies we believe about ourselves, and the hurt caused from it sucks. 

May we all learn how to drop that damnable glass and move on to see beauty when we look in the mirror. May we all be free of the weight that holds us back. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Mother's Trust

Mama's Trust
For a time I had an amazing privilege. A friendship with a protective mother bird last Spring. The nest was originally more robust than this. I should know. I sat and watched day after day while she made the nest on my balcony. I saw the eggs in wait and the first noises of life when the babies hatched.

One night there was a horrible storm raging outside and there were tornado sirens going off. In the midst of all that, I suddenly wondered about the nest. Was it even still there? I went outside and was instantly soaked to the bone with the wind whipping at my face in such a manner as to tell me to get my ass back inside to shelter and safety.

Mama was nowhere to be seen and the nest was a LOT smaller. I peered inside and the babies were still there, hunkered down and chirping in fear. I ran back inside and grabbed whatever I could find and created a make shift wind shield.

When the storm passed I removed the canvas and was amazed what I put together held. The next morning I came outside to see how everything was and saw what you are seeing now. She let me come in close and take several shots like this that day. For the remaining time the family was on my balcony, I was allowed this close. 

Life is precious and a mother's trust is too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Beauty of the Storm Clouds Against the Light in Life's Conrtrast

Beautiful Storm Clouds Against the Light: Life's Contrast
For the record. This photo contains no filters or post editing. It was not even cropped. It is as it was taken.

Storms and storm clouds and storms rolling in. We see a lot of these. In life, we weather a lot of these. This is not even the first time in this blog's short life span that I have spoken of storms with oncoming clouds. I do, however, think there is something we miss when we think of the storms of life.

There is beauty in life's storms. We miss it so often. 

It is in the midst of the storm that we learn who will stand with us when it gets scary and keep us calm or at least assure us it'll be all right. Who knows you are scared of lightning or will take delight with you in the noise of the rain on the roof? 

In the storms we find out that the structure we have built in our very lives is actually strong enough to take what the storm gives. When the storm passes, unless you are somehow reading this while dead, you are standing strong. 

Then, the storms end. The sunlight that reflected so colorfully off the storm clouds in this picture? When the storm calms, the sunlight pushes through again to shine radiantly upon us. The world seems to smell a little fresher after the storm, too. Fresh rain is beautiful and only comes after the rain and the storm. The water we feared gives life.

The storms are a part of the ecosystem of life. It helps us do so much. We know who the fair weather friends are and who will be with us when the sun gives way to the darkness. We learn we are stronger then we thought we were. The world seems fresh and fragrant when the storm passes. Overall, I would say that there is beauty in that. 

The beauty of the storm clouds against the light in life's contrast.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Portable Wonder

Portable Wonder
A simple planter on a balcony with lovely yellows and greens. It may not be the lush wonders seen in botanical gardens, but it is portable beauty and wonder. A picture in a wallet or locket of a loved one is not that person by your side, but it is portable wonder when they are not around and on your mind.

There is this character in Buddhism. When many see it they think it is a Buddha and call it "Fat Buddha" or "Laughing Buddha". That character is actually called Hotei. Hotei was one of the seven lucky gods in ancient Japanese lore. His job was peace and contentment and also the guardian of children and patron saint of bartenders. 

In Buddhism he appears in many Koans. He carries a bag with him everywhere he goes and within it he has whatever anyone about him needs to be happy in that moment. There is a double edge to that. He carries within him all he needs to find peace and give peace to others. His bag is full at all times and only when full does he have something to offer. 

Why am I talking about him? Simply to say these two things.

What we need to be happy or find peace is within us. Changed circumstances or other things may alleviate our suffering and make life more comfortable, but I have seen miserable people who have everything most of us have ever dreamed of. It is not our circumstance, it is what is within. Sometimes that goodness within is hard to find because the bag is full of the broken glass of shattered hopes and dreams. If it takes a few cuts and some wincing to find that peace, so be it. 

We have nothing to offer others if our bag is empty. 

Back to portable wonder. We do not always have time to go to a park, take a vacation, or see that loved one. If you need a moment of peace, put a planter on your deck, keep that picture in your locket or wallet or phone, keep that momento on your shelf. Look at it, and find peace in the portable wonder and the moment it represents for you.

Portable wonder will keep your bag a little fuller in an empty day. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stop and Breathe

Stop and Breathe
We are surrounded by beauty and wonder every day that we do no see. It is not hidden, we are just moving like blur getting ot that very important thing that is stressing us out that we do not see.

Auntie Mame once gave the world wisdom when her character told us that, "Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death."  We are starving with a feast before us.

The feast that we miss can be anything we are not stopping to take in or embrace and do. In this case, dusk was about to start and the lovely lights of the tower came on. My kid and I stopped because it was such a cool moment, everyone else is on their way to something. Here we are in one of the world's vacation capitals and people are huffing at me for stopping to look at something. They brought their iPhones, tight schedules and stress with them.

There are sunrises and sunsets to see, porches to sit on, hammocks to lay about in, wine to drink, movies in parks, plays and musicals with someone who turns your head or even a good friend. We live in one of the richest countries in the world and have some of the most diverse and robust variety of landscapes to view and we are blind to it all.

Somewhere, elk are cooling off in a lake wanting to amaze you, an ignored mountain is just sitting there (as it has for a long time) waiting to be looked at, a used bookstore or an antique shop is waiting for a treasure hunter to find something wonderful, and a park bench needs someone to keep it company and relax. There is so much right about us that we do not see.

If you are stressed. If you are confused. If you are so full you do not know which way is up and when the to do list will ever end. Stop and breathe. Then look around and see the beauty and the wonder that you were made to feast on. The work and the life will be there. But it is easier to do work when you have feasted and rested.

Don't work hungry, take in life.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Being Myself Being Yourself

2nd Home
There is a reason why my circle is so small. It is because I value unconditional acceptance and kindred spirits. This is one of the few places I am fully myself. It is a bar in Will county. I used to be good at pool. Not so much anymore. But I enjoy playing. I like burgers. I love them actually. I also have an unhealthy fascination with french fries. I like Star Wars. I think in music and pop culture references. I am kinda flighty and a bit of a dork sometimes. I am a hot head and I do not let go of mistakes I have made easily. I need time to process. I am a hopeless romantic. Though I know there is always room for improvement, I like who I am. For the first time in my life, I like who I am and it took a long time to get there.

I like who my friends and dear ones are. They respect me and accept me as I am and I do them. They have earned the right to give me criticism when they think I am going in a bad road and they have earned this right through love and acceptance.

They have seen me at my worst and loved it, not rolled their eyes at it with secretly contained contempt over it. They may not have always approved of my behavior, but they loved the core of me and know me well enough to know that I need to process things on my terms. 

I say all this not as a battle cry, but as gratitude for my friends who accept my messed up honest self. 

I say all this because I love the ability to be myself no matter who that is. I also love watching my friends flourish and grow.

We all need those spaces where we can be ourselves no matter how good we can shoot pool or hold liquor or dance. We need those places where we can be ourselves and allow others the same privilege. 

We are going to encounter people and spaces that do not accept us as we are. Those are hard and those are more often the rule and the places to be myself and for you to be yourself are precious and rare. 

When you find them. Hang on to them. The people, the places and the moments. They are a scarce commodity and a precious gift. As you decide to call people friends or lovers or any other such is more than okay to demand full acceptance and permission to be autonomous. It is what we all deserve. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sunday Silence (where the picture tells the story): Tending Passion's Garden

Tending Passion's Garden

Storytelling Saturdays: Luck?

"Do you believe in luck?"

I stared across the table at the young man asking me this question. It was a job interview. "Luck?"

"Yes. Luck!"

"I'm Irish. If you read a history book you will see luck is not our forte'." That was all I could come up with.

"Not Vegas luck. I mean luck."

I looked at him and thought. I gave the only response I could.

"This scar, I am fortunate I did not lose my finger. This one was from getting stabbed. I'm still alive due to skilled EMT and ER staff. I have several other scars and surgical wounds. All have a story.

I believe that when bad things happen to us, they could have been worse and we can learn from them. I believe that opportunity surrounds us often and we all too often do not recognize it. I believe love is more important than money, but I seem to be lacking in both.

But luck? What is that? A mystical force that looks out for some and ignores or even punishes others? If there were such a thing, I would want no part of it."

"So um..." He stammered. "You don't believe in God?"

"God is luck?" I asked.

We would move on to other matters in the interview and luck was forgotten. I'm trying to figure out what the right answer would be in an interview regarding luck.

My answer seemed to change the dynamic and tone of the conversation. It is hard to explain.

The incident did get my brain churning. Is that the idea of God some have. Good luck and bad luck? When is luck good? When a bad thing does not happen or if we survive it? Who decides which luck is good or bad when the story of our life is not finished? One of the scars I showed him almost killed me and has left me with a lifetime of pain. But it was also a turning point in my life. It was a wake up call for a better life. So some would call it bad luck and I would have to say it was a damn good thing. Is his version of the god of luck dependant on individual interpretation of events or peer review? If luck is bad, is that just life or is there some way to win lucks favor?

All I know is that this whole luck thing sounds very complicated and I don't understand the rules. I'll just keep being grateful and seeking opportunities. If something goes wrong, I'll try to learn from it and accept what happened.

Don't know about this luck.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Alleys and Shortcuts

Alleys and Shortcuts
Alleys fascinate me. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are dark and dangerous and essentially a place for dumpsters and fire escapes. Others are wide and lovely like this one. Still others, like in the bungalows of Chicago, are where the garages and backyards are.

I have grown up predominately in the Joliet area. If there is an alley or a shortcut in Joliet or Lockport or other area communities, I know about it and often use it.

Shortcuts in life can sometimes be useful. Sometimes it can be dangerous and foolish. Sometimes it can rob you of the beauty of the "proper" route.

Alleys and shortcuts are not always bad. In this case, the alley can get me to other shops without having to go around the block. If I know what I want, this is great and efficient.

If I am new to the area, I miss the exploration and the wonder of all the unique and charming stores in the downtown area.

We all want to get to where we are going swiftly, but there are times where the journey is as much the part of the story of life as the destination. Why would we want to rush a good story? We could miss a lot.

It's kinda like sex. There is a time and a place for just getting right to it, but there is also a time for dinner and a walk hand in hand with flirtation and then unhurried foreplay to make the experience part of a larger story. There is a balance and there is a time and a place for both.

Our lives are constantly written autobiographies in real time. When you know the story you want to tell, you will know which path to choose and when.

Know when to take the long route and know when to take the alleys and the shortcuts.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The River Flows

The River Flows
I am a planner. I plan out everything and map out a pretend future. I often do it poorly because I set expectations on the impossible or the wrong. Those expectations are on things that are either out of my control or not my right to control as they infringe on the will of others. I am learning to change this. Like any bad habit, some days I get it right and other days I do not.

The river of life has a flow and a current. Too often I try to resist that flow and all I get is tired and frustrated and generally go nowhere in my lack of acceptance of circumstances. But when I let go and allow the current to move me, I can use the rudder to steer myself away from rocks and shallows and change my perspective.

As I travel down the river I can see the beauty of life, take in the scenery, delight in life and relax in the journey. When I let go of the plans and the control and work with the flow, I actually go somewhere. I move forward. I am refreshed and not exhausted. 

Of course there are places we want to go and things we will have to steer towards or away from, but changing currents and resisting the flow are not productive events.

Let go of the illusion of control regarding those things that you cannot control. Accept that life and people will have their own wills and their own currents and this is merely part of the beautiful journey we are on.

Let go, accept, and enjoy the river.

The river flows regardless our wishes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Magic Inside

The Magic Inside
Many will know immediately what this is. There are versions of Cinderella's Castle from visitors to Disney Land and The Magic Kingdom all over social media.

I did not have a tripod with me when I took the night shot, so I had to use railing and a steady hand and hope for the best.

I have been to the Magic Kingdom 4 times. I miss it terribly and used to tell people that when I am there, I am at my happiest.

It turns out, there is a hidden truth regarding this sentiment. As wonderful as Disney is, it is not their magic that makes me happy, it is the magic inside.

In my life, I have been happy at Disney World. I have been happy when in a relationship or on a date or making love or seeing my kid do something amazing and so forth. The laughter, the joy and the happiness came from within me. I do not need to travel to Florida  or have a candlelit dinner in a restaurant I can barely afford to find what is within me all the time.

These wonderful settings and beautiful spaces and moments give permission and invite what is already inside to come out. But I learned this last day that I can find that happiness in the midst of the struggles of life. I do not want to go into details, but this last day was really hard. In the middle of it I realized I could not change a thing about it. What I could do is laugh and have fun anyway. I determined to enjoy the moment and that is exactly what I did.

In the midst of a hard day I laughed and was whimsical. I had fun and enjoyed life. It was intoxicating. At the end of the day I had a migraine and the end result was what I knew the day was going to be, but I found the magic inside.

We will not always give that part of us permission to come out in a hard day. Most days and most circumstances, the surroundings will not invite the wonder to come out, we will have to give what is within permission to come out. When we do, there is no way to stop the magic inside.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

At Peace

At Peace
Life can get stressful and there seems to be no end to the struggle. The Haitians have a phrase for it. "Behind every mountain is another mountain." The struggle never ends. It just seems to go on and on and on. Maybe that is what life is. A series of struggles.

In therapy you learn coping skills. Hobbies, breathing exercises, aromatherapy and music to name a few. Music and parks resonates with me and has before I ever knew what coping skills were. I am not the only one. I remember being a teen and if one of my cousins or I had a rough time of it, we could find the other at the riverwalk wearing headphones attached to a Walkman.

A few years back when my marriage first crumbled and I no longer lived in the place I once called home, I did not tell anyone. I just kinda went silent. I grabbed my iPod and ear buds and went to the river walk. I sat on a bench and just looked at people as they walked their dogs, fed ducks and held hands. I had the music on loud enough to feel it but not drown out the sounds of the park. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not have to turn around to know who it was. The only person who would know where I was. I smiled, felt the weight leave my shoulders and knew that I it was going to be okay. Not that day, but someday. I was not ready to talk. I just wanted to sit and watch the people walk by. Alone, but among. I was at peace.

As I get older, I have gotten a little wiser. I do not only go to these spaces when I am in crisis mode. I go to them to stay relaxed. I learned this from my trips to Colorado. To walk about a lake and take in the mountains and the beauty of it all, not to deal with a crisis, but because the beauty and the serenity is there and I can be at peace.

Here, I do not have mountains or lakes with elk bathing in them. I do not have gas stations down the hill serving burritos for breakfast. I still have my music and the riverwalk. I have the noises of the river stream, the ducks, the chatter of people milling about, the smalls of local restaurants, trees and flowers, and I have the music to create a mood. I can find a space to sit and take it all in.

The current generation needs neither a Walkman or an iPod. A phone with earbuds has the music they desire. The park, however, still has the people, the dogs, the ducks, the smells, and the background noises. The more things change, the more some things stay the same.

The music and the serene settings do not remove the mountains in life. The situations do not change. The struggle remains. What changes is us. We find a respite and when we stop spinning and breath, we meet the moment and accept the beauty. The churning waters of our hearts are stilled.

For some we find peace in nature, for others music, some need a nice drive. Whatever it is that you do to find peace regardless the circumstances, make some time. Still the waters.

In those moments, we are at peace. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Generations and Traditions

Generations and Traditions
There is only one Irish pub that the West Suburban Irish of the Chicago area will call home. That is Quigley's. I have been coming here for more years than I can remember. Today was the first day I took my son so he could experience craic. Craic is a Gaelic term that relates to atmosphere. Food, fun, gossip, entertainment and good conversation. The Quigley family hold good craic at the epicenter of all they do in the Irish pub experience. As the night gets later, good craic becomes mighty, then savage, then deadly and then it becomes ninety...which is as good as craic can get. 

Go to a chain pub and it will be so void of craic that you may as well be in a mausoleum. 

We had good craic, which is what you will get from a Sunday brunch. You can feel it in the teak wood and custom etched glass and ancient fireplaces that were shipped piece by piece from Dublin to the US in a building erected 3 years before the potato famine. In the very pores of the wood are the stories and laughter of generations drinking a pint, smoking cigars and telling stories. 

I told my child the stories of us and who we are. I told him the history of this space and why it is so special. I told him of Ireland and Lithuania and other places I have never been, but I know them through our customs and traditions and taste them in the food and the people we call family. We shared stories and fables told to me by my grandfather, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles. Stories of lives led and tears shed. The story of us.

My purpose was to bring my child there so we could embrace the passing of traditions from one generation to the next. What a joy it was to see a young Quigley staring out the window as the family opened up the pub. 

I wonder how many generations like her have stared out that same window on a Sunday morning as the family prepares the bar, the kitchen and all the elements of warmth and hospitality for the craic sure to come, without fail. 

Generations and traditions were brought to life this day, as it is every day. 

A new dawn began as I started a process I should have done long ago. Shared the experiences and the stories of our family in a space that understands stories and traditions and clans.

Pass some traditions on to the next generation. If you have no traditions to pass on, create them together. It'll be mighty craic.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sunday Silence: Worn, Abandoned, Neglected, Still Standing.

Worn, Abandoned, Neglected, and Still Standing

StoryTelling Saturday's: Behind Blue Eyes

"I wish I could make take the sadness away from your eyes."

"Your smile does not touch your eyes lately." 

"I've never seen your eyes so alive." 

"Please don't get into with that man. I can see it in your eyes."

"What's wrong. Your eyes."

"I don't like what I see in your eyes."

This is how I know when someone has gotten inside the circle. They can see what is inside through my eyes. It is scary when that happens and I realize that they are in. It is also a relief because I feel safe. 

When we care about others, when we love others, we can look into their eyes and know what is really going on no matter what mask we wear to hide the truth of our hearts. They do not see the color of our eyes when they love us, they see behind the eyes and into the soul or heart. 

There is one in this universe who does not even need the eyes. I can send a text saying I am fine and the person will tell me I am a terrible liar. The connections that run that deep is a story for another day. Today it is about the eyes. 

When you live a life that is hard and have been a lone for most of your life, being able to be seen and known is something you long for, but when it happens, it is unnerving. It shakes you when someone knows what is beneath the mask and accepts it.

How can they? How can they not only see, but dare to accept? Your whole life you have been seen as worthless or bad or less and someone sees what is really there and accepts it. To be seen and to be known and to be accepted. The wish of the heart swiftly becomes the fear of the reality in a moment's notice. The moment of recognition. 

To be known is to be loved and to be loved when you have never been loved is terrifying. We may want to reject that being seen even though it is the deepest yearning within us. Part of it is because we have had nothing but a life of being abandoned and hurt. Part of it is because every dream ever had slips away and turns out to be a lie. It may be that we believe the narrative that we are less. 

When we know that we are recognized, we need to embrace it. To reject it will drive us deeper into the hole. In last week's entry I told you about a day when a friend over coffee told me that I was getting dark and she was scared. She could see the pain in my eyes. I wanted to embrace the concern and have her help lead me back to the light. To accept the love and the friendship and take the lifeline of compassion offered before me, but I was scared. So I held her at arm's length. She knew too much and saw too much and she was right. 

Then came the night that the isolation consumed me. 

I was in downtown Joliet juggling a few things. I slung my backpack over one shoulder and with my cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth I opened the door and juggled my cell phone, drink and bag of food as I closed the car door with my knee. I looked across the street and saw a familiar figure in the night. He was someone who did not like me very much. He was also an addict and homeless and blamed me for his situation.

"Get the fuck out before I call the fuckin cops on your ass.”  I shoulted at him angrily. The darkness and anger owned me, I turned away the last light that saw something in my eyes. He stood there saying nothing and not moving. “Suit yourself asshole. I’m calling the cops.” With that, I turned and as I did I heard the bloodcurdling cry from his lips as he charged across the street, “Paaaaaaaat!” and I saw the glimmer of a blade shine in the streetlight as he ran towards me. In a second my cigarette fell from my mouth as I let go of my supper and my drink and swung my backpack across his face. I could see that his eyes were somewhere else and the hit did not register one bit. His hit, however, registered fully in me as he shoved me against a brick wall. I felt my back scream as the air left my lungs. This was gonna be a fight for the record books, I thought as I drove my knee into his groin and shoved my forehead into the bridge of his nose that exploded in blood. Again the wild eyes did not register the pain of a broken nose or a knee into his testicles. I, however, felt my head slam against the brick wall and my neck muscles stretch in an angle that was going to hurt when the rush of adrenaline wore off.

His knife made its first attempt at my midsection and I twisted away from the clumsy lunge and got a few feet between me and him. It did not last long as I felt his hand slam me against the wall and a thumb pressed against my throat making it impossible for me to breath. With the other hand the knife came up again and my calm anger was gone and fear took over as I swept my arm across his elbow loosening up the grip enough for me to duck as the knife came across the air. I knew this was going nowhere and I started to flee. I turned my back on him to sprint and felt a foot crush into the back of my knee causing me to stumble. Fear turned to rage as I spun and punched him in the throat and the solar plexus and the face rapidly and with everything I had. Nothing. His knife wielding forearm pushed against my chest as I felt my back hit the brick again. I felt my legs bucking as the constant lack of oxygen caught up with me and weaken me. I stared into the wild eyes as his free hand hit me in the stomach again and again. I tried to turn but that just earned me kidney punches. If I lived through this I was going to piss blood for days, I knew it. I also knew I was going to die as he gave me one more pinning thrust against the cold hard brick and started to slice the knife across my throat.

I was honestly not sure how I did it, but I twisted my head at the last moment. He missed me. He released me, knife still in his hand. I thought I heard sirens in the background and there was a ringing in my ears. Why did he stop? Why did it look like part of his knife’s blade was missing and why was there blood on his hand? I felt the sticky warm liquid of my life pour down the side of my neck and down my shirt. That was a lot of blood, I felt dizzy. They say your life flashes in front of your eyes in the moment of death. I did not see my life. I saw dark hair and brown eyes staring across from me at a coffee shop scared of the darkness she saw begging me to come back to light. I remembered every word and every contour of her face from that day. I never told her what being seen meant to me. I never told her how truly breathtaking it was to see and be seen. To accept and be accepted. She was interwoven into the fabric of my life and I never said the words or given the proper gratitude. The warmest part of a cold life. My dearest friend. Warm. The blood was warm. I felt warm all over and saliva flowed in my mouth as tunnel vision closed in on me and as I succumbed to the abyss I silently said...I’m sorry...knowing I was about to die and the words would never be heard.

I did not die. I got yet another scar on my body added to the collection.

I was recently told my eyes were sad. I do not want them to be sad. Running will just kill me.

I no longer run from those who see me. I run towards them and I listen to what they see in my eyes. It can save your life and maybe bring light and wonder to the eyes.

See and be seen.

Welcome to Moonlight From Ashes Media

Moonlight From Ashes Media is the home of PhotoJournalist, Columnist, and Artist Pat Green. Below you will see sample work of Pat'...