10 April 2016

Walking On Air: When The World Comes Rushing Up At You

Walking On Air

Walking On Air

I have had a tumultuous, sometimes unnerving few years and when I am not paying attention, my soul begins to tell me that my troubles are over, there will be no more surprises, no unforeseen difficulties, I have it in hand, I have it figured out, my feet are on the ground, I have foreseen what I need to foresee and there will be peace and normalcy, no dread surprises. A peaceful time stretched out ahead of me.

This happens to me when I am not paying attention. When I am awake and thinking, then I am working on my radical acceptance, my understanding that suffering and challenge and surprise is not an aberration in life, it is life itself. It is not the exception, it is the rule. It is not crisis, it is normalcy. It is how the cosmos works, the natural life of humans. My friend Eve Marko, a Zen scholar and teacher, says we are all walking on air.  All of the time.

We are not destined to live lives free of shock and surprise, we learn grace by how we respond to trouble, not by how we avoid it.

I have worked so hard to manage money, foresee crisis, made responsible decisions. I am a New York Times bestseller after all, even the most sophisticated people are sometimes shocked to find out that I am a normal human, I bleed the same way everybody else does, and make sure to use credit cards sparingly, or not at all.

I am told often I am a famous writer, I am not really supposed to have the normal range of human problems. That is how we create myths about ourselves. Authentic writing shows that we are all one we live the same lives, in different guises.

Yesterday, walking in the woods, I realized that this acceptance of life, these surprises, unexpected challenges and crises, are, in a way, God or at least my idea of God.

I am told that my tires are bad, and I need $700 worth of new ones. I get a bill from Facebook for a $796 ad I did not authorize or know about. A friend is struck by a car while walking on a country road, and badly hurt. There is a hole in the roof where birds are living.  There is a hole in what we call health insurance, and this month, medication that cost $100 three months ago costs $845 now.No one can tell me why or feels the need to.

A friend has a lump in her right breast. We need new gutters. A young friend – he is 41 – has a stroke and will be in therapy for months. We live against a backdrop of troubling news that falls like rain in a thunderstorm.

I love life, I am grateful for mine, I do not speak poorly of it, but sometimes it feels as if the earth is just rushing up towards me. And I reset myself, I remember we are all walking on air, and this, in a way, binds us more powerfully than any political label, if I can see it that way. I will not speak poorly of my life, or lament it's sometimes awful beauty and surprise. The only safe place is the place inside of us, where the soul sleeps.

And I can reset myself.

No one's life is a straight line, the shadows are always around us, hovering, hiding, waiting to pop up anywhere we go.

Death is not the end of life, it is life itself, a part of the magic and mystery that belongs to being a human being, the only animal in the world that knows we will die one day. Without shadows, light loses its power, without darkness, color would lost its magic, without loneliness, love would be meaningless.

During my open heart surgery, as I lay asleep, I had the most amazing dream, about the time they stopped my heart from beating, I was like a big red hawk, sailing in great circles in the sky, riding a wind trail, soaring above life. Was that me, free of the bonds that tie us to the earth? Or a mystical dream, at the point were I had been killed in a sense, to bring me back to life. Was that a bump on the road, or was it the road?

I am learning not to separate the troubles of life from the joys, but to see them as different ends of the same thing. I think every great spiritual mind I have ever read preaches and teaches us this, but in our world, we take the shadows and turn them into cries of lament and despair and complaint, we become bitter and angry. At all costs I mean to avoid that fate.

I know better than to complain about life. The soul will cry and wither, curl itself into a tiny ball, God does not want to hear this piteous whining.

Crisis and mystery are always just around the corner. We are all walking on air, the ground is sometimes rushing up towards us.


Posted in General

Is There A Carrot For Me, Mister?

Is there a carrot for me, Mister?

Is there a carrot for me, Mister?

When I go out to the pasture, I usually break a carrot into three pieces and give a piece Chloe, and then to Lulu and Fanny. The donkeys wait patiently and politely for their carrots, Chloe, a mare pony, is not long on waiting or on patience. She stomps her feet, whinnies and puts her head through the gate. I always imagine her demanding, "Is There A Carrot For Me, Mister?" Most of the time, there is.

She just isn't big on waiting her turn.

Posted in General

Second Acts: Do I Dare? Fiasco Or Bliss.

Second Acts

Second Acts

Sometimes I think my life consists almost entirely of second acts, and the seconds acts have transformed me.

The most famous and too-often quoted quote about second acts comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said there were no second acts in American life. Scholars have howled for decades that his quote was taken out of context, and been misinterpreted,  and was, in fact,  made just before he had a brilliant second literary act of his own.

We can either be prisoners of history or learn from it.

American public and political life is filled with second acts – the country is of itself a great second act – and many people experience them all the time, from divorce to reinvention.

I am certainly one of those people for whom second acts are nothing less than a resurrection. It is a matter, I think, of faith and will.

People who do not believe in second acts are faced with hopelessness. People who believe in second acts never lose faith or hope.

My love with Maria is a second act, so is my marriage. My farm is a second act, my dogs are fourth and fifth acts. My photography is a second act, my search for a black and white camera is a second act, so is my new book contract with a new publisher.

So often, in my life, as in yours, I faced the darkest storms. They all led to second acts.

My blog that you are reading now is most surely a second act, perhaps my most creative. The art of Ed Gulley is a second act. So is Scott and Lisa Carrino's Round House Cafe. And Maria's Schoolhouse Studio. In one sense, second acts are the point of the hero journey. All around me, second acts blossom and bloom and shout like a summer carnival at night, lighting up the world around them.

In life, we often meet a challenge at the threshold, it is often the encounter with the dark shadow, the fateful choice. Will we live a loveless life, or a hollow one? Accept work we hate? Live a life that is unfulfilled? Surrender to fear and regret? Hide the creative spark? Or will we choose a second act, try to fulfill our destiny?

Joseph Campbell writes that these encounters vary, they might be with a uncaring boss, a dragon, an supportive spouse, a malignant enemy, a hostile family, financial desperation.

We have to face the dragon or return to the ordinary world to bow to our fate. In myth, the symbol for surrender is dismemberment.

Or the hero – you, me – can choose a different fate, accept the call to adventure, and have a resurrection from discouragement and the death of a real life. We can choose a second act. We can live in our own myth.

The whole idea of the second act is to recover that which you lost, the unrealized, un-utilized potential in yourself. The whole point of the hero journey – our mythical and historic second act – is the reintroduction of our potential in the world. At age 61, I undertook my hero journey second act.

I found my myth and sought to live in it – a life of meaning, of life, of creation, of honesty, of generosity, I wanted to bring the elixir back and hand it to those who are setting out.

My world fell apart then, I was overwhelmed by storms and shadows, I was nearly lost. I declared to myself that I was going to live in the world. I was going to find love and restore my moral purpose; I would bring my new treasure of understanding back into the world  and integrate it into a rational life.

I will not lie and say that this was easy, or painless, it nearly tore me to pieces, and the truly difficult days had just begun. But then, I was resurrected, I was reborn in a sense, pieced together.

I saw the sanctity of the second act, in my life, in Maria's, we were blessed to share the hero journey together, magical helpers to one another, holding each other's hand through the storms, reassuring the other that we were good, we would survive, we could come out to the other side, out of the darkness and into the light.

And then, there is the second act of the artist, who takes the plunge. If you take colors and put them on a disk and spin the colors, they will sooner or later reveal white. The colors of the world can be so manipulated. they can be arranged in so creative and artful a way that they will reveal the true light.

That is the role of the artist, to reveal the true light. The artist is meant to put the objects of the world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, are revealed.

In a sense, the second act is the process through which this radiance shines. A good life, said Joseph Campbell, is one hero journey after another. A good life, says me, is one second act after another, and I think we may are saying the same thing.  You are never there, you are always on the way.

Each time, there is the same fear, the same question: Do I dare?

And then, if I do dare, the dangers are always there, and also the joys and the rewards.

There is always the possibility of fiasco.

There is always the possibility of bliss.

Posted in General

Getting The Monochrome M. Going For It (Almost)

Monochrome M

Monochrome M

Asking other people for money should never be simple or thoughtless or taken for granted.

For the past few weeks, I've been considering launching a gofundme project to raise about $15,000 to purchase a new Leica Monochrome, considered one of the first and best – though by no means the most expensive – digital black and white cameras in the world.

I feel comfortable doing this sometime in the next few weeks. I'm not going to be coy.

I don't charge for my photographs or watermark them, the ones I publish are free to anyone to use in anyway they want. They are my small gifts to the world, each one, and I revel in seeing them used as screen savers or printed out to hang on refrigerators. I've given away more than 50,000 photographs, and if I had charged even a small amount for them, I would have earned a lot of money.

But I wish to keep them free.

I have no wish or intention to give up color photographs and I need to get my main camera – my 1Dx repaired, I'm not sure how much that will cost. I am comfortable asking for help in purchasing equipment for work that will be shared, and without outside help, will not be possible. I am 68 years old, I want to grow as an artist, and am not likely to have $15,000 to spare in the next few years.

I like many things about crowdsourcing, it is democratic and individualistic.

To those good people who will inevitably and predictably jeer a bit and wonder why they should help me or anyone to buy an expensive camera, my answer is simple and heartfelt: this project is not for  you, don't contribute to it. I asked my good friend Ed Gulley, the dairy farmer, what he thought of it and he said "people can send a buck or not. End of story." Well said.

I consider it manipulative to seek money out of desperation or terror or anxiety. This is not a drama.

Crowdsourcing is being used by writers, artists, singers, photographers and filmmakers all over the world to launch and execute projects since the Great Recession, when money for the arts in all fields has dried up and corporations are far less generous. I have no apologies for seeking a camera in this way, and complete respect and understanding for anyone who doesn't have money to spare or doesn't wish to use it in this way.

As Ed said, enough said. This is not an argument.  People are free to support the idea or not.

I want to go to the next level in my photography, that means exploring black and white portraits, of animals, people and of scenes. Leica lenses, considered the best in the world, are also expensive, with this money – the estimate is from B&H Photo –  I will be able to purchase one camera body ($7,450), one 35 mm lens ($4,532), insurance, batteries, etc. I don't think it's smart to buy a camera this expensive that is used. And there are very few around.

Why not use my Canon and simply convert to black and white?   Because digital cameras were built for color, not black and white.

Patrick Clarke, a highly regarded photographer and equipment review, wrote on stevehuff.com: "As a black and white film shooter, I've looked at digital cameras as hindrance to getting to my final monochrome image. Even the best DSLR doesn't have the dynamic range and clarity of a good black and white film, and there is a lot of time spent editing color photos to make them look like film. And since I spent my work days in front of a computer, the last thing I want to do is edit color photos in Aperture all night."

I've seen photos taken with the Leica Monochrome, they are remarkable, the  photos are very much like black and white film. There is great detail and shading, I understand why the Leica was Henry Cartier-Bresson's favorite camera.

I am confident this exploration of black and white would help me see the world anew.  And it might do the same for you.

If I don't do it this way, it will never happen. I am still researching this project and one thing I want to explore is the possibility of converting one of my two existing cameras to monochrome, there are companies that do this, I am going to talk to them this week and see if it is either affordable or plausible.

The photographers I have spoken with recommend the Leica, if I can get it. It is simply the best and the toughest. It can handle the rough and constant use. I have learned to fall on my cameras so they don't get hurt.

So, that's the update. We live in a new world. Just a few years ago, I would have explained the need for a camera like this to support my work to my publisher and they would have helped me to purchase it. I wouldn't even think of asking them today. I am committed to sharing my work and the creative process as it develops.

I am not writing this in terror or crisis. It would be great to have this camera, I will survive and exist and create without it.

A Leica monochrome will advance my art, but this is not a matter of survival but creativity. I think many of you would benefit from seeing the process and the photos, animals are much on my mind with a camera like this.

This week, I got a number of messages online and off from readers of the blog and my books in support of this idea. One came from Claudia in Florida. She enclosed $20 towards the purchase of the camera, two $10 bills. "I remember way back when you were at the first Bedlam Farm and you first started taking pictures," she wrote. "My comment online was something to the effect of "Never mind writing, Jon. Take more pictures." The photos above the valley where your farm was located were perfect, colorful and timeless.'

She wrote that "I believe the right camera can make someone look like a great photographer but there has to be someone with an eye for great subjects, lighting, mood and story. You definitely have that "eye." So I have no problem supporting your purchase of a new camera or repairing the current one."

I remember that message,  Claudia, and thanks for this one as well. I was insecure about my photos and messages of encouragement mattered to me.

To me, it is reviews like that one that matter the most. I have some more homework to do – I want to be sure this is the right approach for me – before I ask anyone for support. If I decide to go ahead, I will launch the project site on a couple of weeks and link to it from the blog.

Thanks for following along with me on this, whatever happens.

Posted in General

Lulu And Fanny: Witnesses

Lulu and Fanny

Lulu and Fanny

I got Fanny more than ten years ago, when a donkey mystic told me my first donkey, Carol, was lonely. Then Carol died and I got Lulu to keep Fanny company. they are sisters, they have been together every day of their lives since Lulu came. When I broke down in the first Bedlam Farm, I sent the donkeys away for a year to live with a farmer who was a good friend.

Lulu was bitten by a dog then, a Pit Bull and injured. When I recovered I asked to have the donkeys back and the farmer, who was not enamored of donkeys, gave them back to me. It took Lulu a year or so to forgive me – donkeys gave very long memories. I see these two girls as witnesses, they welcome Simon, and they have welcomed Chloe.

When I go outside, I often see them standing and watching me, observing me, wondering about me. Donkeys are very smart, the most intuitive and spiritual of the animals I know. They are patient. They are loving, in need of attention. They love to work, as guard animals, giving rides, hauling things. They are hardy and resilient, they eat almost anything green.

Everything has to be their idea, if you want them to do something, they generally won't, at least not away, and they won't do anything they think is stupid or silly. They love to be touched, groomed, talked to They will open gates, gnaw on barns, pick pockets, open bags. They are curious, and can be playful if they are the mood. They are willful, and can be quite stubborn. Generally, if you want them to do something, ask them to do the opposite. If they think you don't want them to do it, they might.

On those occasions when they open gates and unlatch chains, the thing to do is ignore them, pretend you don't notice and don't care. That will piss them off and they will come rushing back into the pasture, just to show you. I love donkeys, I never imagined having one and now, cannot imagine living without them. They and Maria have a big love thing going, they all adore one another.

I love them too, and they love me in the donkey way, They know me very well by now. If I am in a bad mood, they will walk away. If I have a carrot hidden my pocket, they will come up and snuggle until they get it. They know.

Posted in General