Wednesday, August 3, 2011

bonfire babble, taking the soul stance

We escaped the urban jungle that's been trying to eat us up recently and ran east to the ocean. We swam a number of times, in the bay and the ocean, took a lot of walks, found phosphorescence by the moonlight on the edge of the sea, laid under the stars, and enjoyed great bonfires.

The night before Rory made us this fire out at Bighouse we were at Jay and Jen's house. Where they are up in Springs people have these long rectangular lots and tend to clear the backyards completely of the tall oak and eastern red cedars that naturally populate the area. They install sod lawns and introduced ornamental trees and shrubs from the local garden centers. But Jay and Jen didn't do that. Instead they cleared just enough, or maybe nothing at all, and make a perfect little fire pit, a simple half-circle depression of packed dirt rimmed with large smooth stones right in the center of this small cathedral of towering Quercus and Juniperus virginiana. We sat and stared at the fire in their collection of comfy seats and talked as people do and have done for thousands of years. The conservation ebbed and flowed and at one point we got on the topic of photography, in this, the digital age. Sounding like old people we talked about the fact that the tactile nature of photographs is dying. Let's face it, no one prints their photographs and puts them into albums anymore. If God forbid something happened to our computers all the images of our kids growing up would be lost. And he was painfully right. Even if we talk about it, the reality is that we have less and less of these prints to hold and pass around and lose to find later or store in a safe place for future generations to behold. Only a few months ago did Krissy and I finally print a number of shots from our wedding to hang on the walls and set aside for framing, almost a year later. We of course would go on to talk about the great tangible photo albums we grew up with. That was the era of dropping your film off at Reed's Photo Shop and having to wait days to get them back. Picking them up you'd be hard pressed to get far from the front door before tearing into the package to see what you got and share them with the friends or family that joined you for the trip into town. What came out? Would they all be blurry or did you get some good shots in there? Gosh, I don't even remember what I shot, I can't wait!

It was a gamble, but you went for it.

So since then I guess I've been thinking about that, the tactile nature of things and what it means. Photographs were a finite thing. You couldn't just go and shoot a million shots knowing you could throw away at least half of them without consequence. You were lucky enough if you even got to borrow your dad's camera, let alone have your own. You took the time to compose the shot and make sure it was an image worth capturing on film. You took the shot because it was something. It captured a place or a person that special way. It gave the onlooker special insight even though they may be years or miles away. Certainly this all still holds true for photographs today, but somehow I guess in my romantic mind I like to think they had more value back then. They did. It wasn't about "instant" and "endless", these ideas that so remove us from this finite world today. Back then a photograph wouldn't exist unless the photographer was so justly moved by the image before them that they realized they had to capture it, and did. It had worth beyond money.

Then I got the latest Swell catalog, a surf clothing and accessories company based out in California, a good source to know if you're into that sort of thing. Anyway, the cover image I had never seen before and instantly I was stopped in my tracks. Tom Blake was a pioneer surfer and surf photographer and the image is one of his called "Soul Stance" from 1931.
Tom Blake photo © 2011, Surfing Heritage Foundation
It depicts a young surfer riding a beautiful wooden board on a mellow wave in Waikiki, his skin tanned as dark as his trunks, arms outstretched in focused balance, a pure white sailors cap tilted on top of his head. Though I have seen plenty of surf photography there was something about this image that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. And even though I know there is nothing in the catalog that I need I can't bring myself to put it in the recycle bin. Certainly Swell and the Surfing Heritage Foundation are both very smart because now I am going to buy the print of this classic image, but it goes beyond that.

I believe in the value of process and experiential learning, as I've talked about before. Yes, the focus is the final product, but sometimes the steps that got you there mean even more, and it's worth remembering that and valuing that. At work I have been getting frustrated because a new challenge and goal is building more slowly than I thought it would and quite frankly I am becoming very impatient. I'm feeling like my time is being wasted, or at least could be used in such a more valued way, and it's proving difficult. Everyone else says to relax and take it easy and it only makes me more on edge and antsy for change. I've thought about all the possible actions I could take and reactions that would accompany, most of which I realize are born out of impatience and haste and wouldn't get me anywhere better than where I am right now. So I'm stuck here, going through the motions and looking at this stranger for the answers. Where have you been that you are so tan? What got you here, to this break? Where are you going? How are you getting there? What's at the end?

I think it's about trusting yourself and proceeding, but being sure to proceed with purpose. Have that purpose be genuine and for a greater good, for you and the world around you. Stay focused. In that moment on that wave breathe, breathe again, and take a fresh look. Let the wave guide you. Because you never know, maybe the final destination was where you were going to go the whole time, you just didn't see it.

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