When We Didn’t Know it Was Coming.

IMG_255672. This is Lake Mead, in Nevada. I had picked up my friend in California, and we were venturing back to DC the long way around, through as many mountains as we could climb. Having just left the megatropolis of Los Angeles, we were happy to just be on the road, still reeling from the big city pulse, expecting nothing but highway and sprawl for the next hundred miles. But just around the bend, the sky opened up with the most unexpected beauty. I slammed on the brakes, flew into the trunk for my camera, and captured this incredible scene … knowing full well I had only a few minutes until it was just another sky, just another lake, just another rocky beach. But for those few minutes at golden hour, the sky and water lived in a golden rhythm with my very spirit. I’m sitting here this morning, hunkered down in my house for an indeterminate amount of days, work and opportunity cancelled like dominos, feeling stress and uncertainty over what it means to be a self-employed creative in the days of a pandemic that is bringing our worlds to a grinding halt. I’m sitting here thinking of the makers, creators, cooks, servers, bus drivers, homeless. The teachers, the nurses, the cashiers and the builders. How we are all in this in the very same, vulnerable way, manifested differently. We didn’t know it was coming. But it was just around the corner. And at some point we will be beyond this, back to the hum of work and the known. So for now, as I hear my neighbors outside offering to go to the store for the other, as I listen to birds chirp where there used to be the sound of cars. As I sit in the quiet unknown of our near futures, I’m going to look for the golden hour in this time. What can we create, how can we find sky and water and a reflection of spirit to feed us, right now? What will we do with this, when we didn’t know it was coming?

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.

 

A Cold and Cloudy Day

STORY_2019_WatchingTheWorldGoBy63. It’s dreary, cold and cloudy out. A temporary pause in the springing of summer here in Seattle. So today I’m going to work on my computer, and glance out of the window occasionally. Peek beyond the monitor to see what doggies walk by, the tree branches blowing in the breeze, birds landing on the wires. And wait until those blue skies come out again.

Art and the Adult

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62. I was visiting my best friend and her kiddos a few weeks ago. In the seven year old’s eyes you can see a sparkle, no, more than that. A quiet fire. A spiritual/creative freedom, uninfluenced by the needs of survival, the pressures of time. A talent and imagination that made me yearn to be unencumbered once again. One of her many ongoing projects is in creating these little cards. Scraps of paper (she finds beauty in that they are scraps, so do I) filled, sometimes to the edges, sometimes sparingly, with color and movement and figures so small and intricate that they demand you pay closer attention. I had only been in town for an hour when she showed me these, and instantly knew that, like small things and childhood growth, they would get scattered to the winds before long. So I had her choose her favorites – an afternoon project of sorting and evaluating unto itself – and then help me lay them out on a sheet of paper. She was highly concerned of my motivations. Was I going to tape them down? Glue them down? Keep them? I assured her no. I was going to make art of her art. So we laid them out in rows, made patterns, and I photographed the whole thing from above. She didn’t understand the intention, but played along. I printed the photographed piece, mounted it, and mailed it to her a few days ago. A 12×18 collaborative project with her aunty. I was proud. Her mom wrote me an email this morning, entitled: “Off-label uses of Aunty Stacey’s present”.  After love and greetings, she wrote: “The art photo you sent is so lovely. To my adultish horror, I found that they [her son and daughter] had drawn on it with markers within 5 minutes of taking it out of the box, but then, I guess it’s their art, so maybe it’s all good, and I’m the one with the creativity problem.” I had to laugh out loud. They say that youth is wasted on the young. Maybe creativity is too.