Goodness

003471. Goodness.

It’s not what we do for others, it’s the relationship that we have with others. The goodness in my life, the richness of the everyday, happens when I’m in communication. A result of years of listening, speaking, and understanding. Knowing what will feed the other when the other needs to be fed, but there are no words. At the moment, sitting in the fleeing Seattle sun, in my newly painted plant living room, I feel the goodness from friends sisters in New York and Vermont, as we exchange texts. Goodness spreads through quickly typed words, dictated questions from our innocent god children: “why does Lady Gaga come in many forms?” “Why does snow look like fog when it’s falling?” “What is a food hub”? The levity spread by these innocent beings on a day that is also laden with grief and sadness….may we be here for it all. Be in the mix of good and hard and light and dark, simultaneously, and forever. Buoyed by this foundation of history.

Care for the Other

2369. I stood out of view but close enough to hear. A town meeting in my rural community in the highlands of Guatemala, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The meeting was about me, a debate over whether I could use water from the well, a valuable right handed down from generation to generation. I was an outsider, the first in the community, so the question had not been broached before. Dona Vicenta stood up and proclaimed no. No outsiders could use a right that was inherited. I would have to figure something else out, or leave. Another community member stood up and countered: “Listen. If we were in the United States and in need, Dona Stacey would welcome us into her home. She would give us food, water, a bed to sleep on.”

A few days ago, 120 miles from home after our 1600 mile road trip, my partner and I stopped to view the setting sun over the Columbia River. We marveled at the beauty of nature, wondered about the endless flocks of Canadian geese honking their way through the valley, and laughed at what good gas mileage we were getting. Driving away from that view, the warmth of the setting sun still on our skin, the car began to lurch and slow. Riding on the shoulder of the highway, coasting in neutral we glanced at the gas gauge, reading 1/4 tank full, and realized all at once that it had gotten stuck. Sputtering to a halt, we called AAA, to find we had both let our memberships lapse. We donned our headlamps, put on our running shoes, and began to jog the 2 miles down the highway to the nearest gas station. Dark now, hundreds of cars zoomed past our bouncing lights. A large truck carrying two other cars pulled over in front of us, offering us a ride. Igor was his name. A barely 20 year old immigrant from Ukraine, with about 10% english fluency. He drove us to get gas, telling us he had arrived into the US 2.5 months ago, and had already driven 30,000 miles, delivering cars. As we got out at the gas station, he said “I’ll wait and take you back”. We returned, he gave us cookies and water from his stash, and returned us to our car. Sacrificing his own time and priorities, Igor gave us safety, comfort, ease, and a memory of goodness.

How do we care for each other? Do we just care for our precious few? Or for the perfect stranger? I have no answers, but in my life, I’ve often found that it is those with the least who give the most.

You’re Welcome

DSC_813568. I worked with my most colorful clients yesterday. It was a perfect fall day, the light was glorious, and the family looked awesome. In preparation for the shoot, this little one picked out her (and ahem, EVERYONE’s) favorite unicorn dress days before. Just before heading out, I helped her mom pick out a necklace, and, overhearing us, she added some jewelry of hers as well. We walked outside, and this is the first capture. Within ten seconds, she was spinning around to show her skirt fly, got a bit dizzy, and fell down. And just like that, the session came to a halt. She was so tired and so over excited and so, well, four, that she was also so done. After grabbing some quick and sweet shots of her exhausted tears and swinging desires, we followed her lead and returned to their home to play in the living room, where the world is calmer and the promise of a treat and no one training a camera on you is closer to reality. Leading the way into the front door, she made an immediate left to her room, crawled under her blankets, and asked her parents to turn out the light and make it “really, really dark.” You know this feeling? From running a thousand miles a minute to just yearning for sweet sleep. Before leaving, I said to her “you know what? I really love working with you each year. You are so smart, and sensitive and colorful, and it makes my job so much fun.” And she replied: “You’re welcome.” Indeed.

Marination

RedwoodsBlackandWhite.jpg62. As a working, commercial creative, I am called upon to create every day. Whether it’s 7am or 10pm, I’ve been working for 10 hours or have not shot for 10 days, I sign up to create in the moment. When I look at it I have to laugh, in that it feels like an impossible task, but one that I’ve worked hard at and can achieve it for my clients. But when it’s a slow burn…it’s a different story. For the last eternal year, I’ve been marinating on a product line. It was driving me crazy…ideas that felt lackluster. Perfection and inspiration aspired toward but never nearly achieved. There was a force, a to-do list attribution toward the effort. So I began to drag my feet. But today I met with the ideal printer. Yesterday I was with my sister and baby nephew and toddler niece. And something has unlocked. It all seems easy now. I’m giving myself permission to create again. Just because I can and I get to. So here we go. From painting walls to making products that I’m proud of, I can feel it all coming forth. And am pretty excited to feel clarity and inspiration once again.

Buenos Dias

DSC_269966. About a year and some months into my Peace Corps service, my good friend Maria, a neighbor, a part of our women’s group, and a participant in our greenhouse project, taught me a whole lot one day. I was walking down the dusty road, my body doing the work of moving from point A to point B, but all of my effort applied to my brain, juggling a to-do list, feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. That I was taking up too much space and too many resources and not giving back to this small community. That I was fallible. She and I made eye contact as we neared each other, holding the gaze with soft smiles until we were close enough to greet. I opened with: “Dona Maria, mira….I have the wood and piping and cement all ready to pick up, the remainder of the plastic and nails and rebar, they’ll be ready at the end of this week. In our next meeting, we’ll schedule the greenhouse construction…..”. She interrupted me. I don’t think she actually put her hands on my shoulders and shook me, but she did as much with her words. “Buenos dias, Dona Estacey”. Good morning, Stacey.

Her words shook me out of my head. Into my body I returned. Feet planted, the breeze gently blowing. The dry, warm air. A beautiful, young mother standing in front of me. Good morning.

This was a seminal moment in my life. One that I remember often but often have to remember to reintegrate, because I forget.

In that moment, I wanted to be valuable. I wanted to be integral. I was going to give her reasons to view me as a contributor. What she taught me through this interaction is that I was all of those things. Just by the very nature of being alive, being a friend, being in her community, I was seen, valuable, integral, contributing. That was enough, and by starting there, so much more authenticity could flow.

On the Beach with the Stars


DSC_021765. I don’t often bring my camera around when I’m with friends. When shooting, my brain moves and shifts, focused on the images to be created, as opposed to interacting with those around me in a wholehearted way. But when camping along the beach, accompanied by the the metronome of Pacific Ocean waves, the setting moon, and the streak of the milky way, well, then I might make an exception.

Charlie Brown’s Teacher

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64. I once heard this brilliant This American Life episode, in which the subject of the story was something like 80% deaf, yet didn’t wear hearing aids. She worked at a clothing store, helping customers and folding clothes. They simulated what sound was to her, and it sounded just like the teacher in Charlie Brown. Muffled. Tonal but indecipherable. She was asked: “How can you possibly answer questions that you cannot hear?” Her answer? “Well, it turns out that humans are amazingly predictable.”

I think about this when I shoot. As a visual storyteller, my goal is to find what is truly unique about the day, the subject, that particular moment in time. The smallest details can tell the whole story. I challenge my mind to wander and expand. To really look. During the most everyday moments, there is a story to be told. And if my images look like Charlie Brown’s teacher sounds….well, then it’s time to get to work.