Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent 2014


yourself of coffee, sugar, wine or words.

Stave off the cravings, let the headaches throb without relief and your empty spaces fill with other moments.

Wake early, watch the sun rise. Sip more sunlight each day as it gathers toward summer.

Live through Lent.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Femmeography: A Wake Up Call

I scheduled a photo session with Natasha, even though the photos on her website scared me. The women in those photos were so brave, bold, beautiful. According to the definitions of perfection we all have stamped on our vision, none were perfect. But these photos were better than physical perfection; women who were really beautiful; strong and silly, fierce, tender, joyful. These are virtues I want to see in myself, but it’s so much easier to emphasize the fearful, weak, and ugly parts of myself. 

I feel awkward in photos. Lots of people feel that way, I know. All the same, I’ve never been one who shoves the camera-wielding friend away or creates elaborate ruses to get out of group photos. It’s part of living, being in photos. But it’s been there, that little fear, locked away every time a photo op comes up. It pounces out with an almost-unconscious checklist: 

-check your makeup (I’m probably shiny. Wish I’d put on mascara this morning) 
-arrange your expression (don’t do that awkward smile this time, please) 
-at least make sure your crazy hair isn’t overwhelming the photo. (not much to do at this point...better pull it back) 
-Pose (I’m so not good at this...I’m so not good at this). 

It’s so negative. I’ve developed a practice of thinking about photos of as things that make me look good or bad, instead of simply a perspective of who I am. 

Going into my the photoshoot, I wrote down 4 fears and 3 hopes for the experience. 

I will feel awkward.  
The dancing (I have no rhythm.) 
I will do something wrong, somehow. 
I won’t be brave. 

I hope to feel brave. 
I hope to feel beautiful. 
I hope I am more awake. 

 After the shoot, I wrote down some thoughts right away: 

"This was about paying attention, about being awake to light and movement, conscious of the smallest movements that are usually so unconscious. I did feel awkward dancing, but it helped me let go of picture perfect, doing all of the things you usually avoid in photographs. While stretching and just moving around on the floor, I felt that pressure of tears behind the eyes, like when a poem is stirring but I can’t quite express it yet. It felt natural, but unnatural, the movements were not performance, but the perspective of the observer was there."

They are the essential things; understanding that gravity is there, pressing down on me, holding me close. Being aware of how my arms, hair, and face are reacting to the breeze and the light and the gravity, and the contact points of body meeting the ground, just me being present in the world. 

Just after the shoot, I noticed I felt drained, like after getting a massage or exercising muscles you haven’t used in some time, the way your legs feel a long hike, exhausted but aware of every square inch of tissue. 

After Natasha sent the photos, I had some more thinking to do. One of the things that stood out most to me were the photos where I made funny faces into the camera. It made me realize that beauty isn’t about a static pose. It is more feeling than a way of looking; it’s a surrender, a giving in to being myself, instead of trying to look a certain way. 

I have an expressive face, and while this was great for making friends laugh when I mimic or tell stories, I always felt very awkward about hamming it up for the camera; it’s very different making people laugh in real life because it is about the moment and context. When captured in a photo, it always made me feel foolish and ugly. 

So making faces for the camera, smushing my face around with my hands at Natasha’s encouragement, it was one of the things that really forced me to let go and surrender to the process. It wasn’t about performance or masks, it was accepting the structure and form and the possibilities in my face. 

In the photo that struck me most powerfully, I had been sitting and just stretching, right at the beginning of the session, limbering my neck, trying to relax and not overthink. I massaged the tension muscles in my neck and concentrated on that, on resting, when Natasha said quietly “Open your eyes.” I jumped a little and popped my eyes open; I had almost forgotten she was there. That was it. No preparation. No checklist. No pose. One person being awake, and another there to witness with the camera. 

In that photo I see the poet and the thinker and the listener. I see boldness and vulnerability, and both terrify me. The woman in that photo looks eerily powerful, like she could do anything. 

My friend Corrie wrote me a note when I showed this photo to her: “I loveloveLOVE the photo. It’s the most REAL YOU photo I think I've ever seen...all that I think and know and believe about you in one stunning photo. It's how I see you and somehow captured in a photo. (Isn't that a funny thing. That sometimes our real selves just completely evade a photo.)” 

I often struggle with feeling invisible. Though it feels selfish to me to acknowledge not feeling seen and known, I notice an airless, dangerous quality in my thinking when I’m in an “invisible” patch in my life. The outside perspective is missing; the friend who says “you’re not crazy,” or “yes, you’re acting crazy, tell me what’s really going on?” It’s the friend who sees you, and often simply by having a perspective that is not yours, helps you understand yourself better. That’s what my Femmeography shoot felt like. 

In the days and weeks following, as I thought about the session and received my photos from Natasha and processed through writing about it, it made me want to move more, to do yoga and to walk outside more often. I felt a deeper understanding of how makeup and poses are so far from being the whole story on beauty. 

"She is clothed with strength and dignity;
She can laugh at the days to come." --Prov. 31:25
I’ve only shared my Femmeography photos with a few friends, but the conversations instigated by the photos have been deeply meaningful. They’ve ranged from Corrie, for whom seeing and talking about my photo opened up a deep longing to instill an understanding of true beauty in her daughters, to Luz, who laughed and got tears in her eyes because she said she had missed seeing some of those expressions on my face in recent years, and reminded me not to hide behind my masks, to Anne and Christy who both kept using that word “brave” as they looked through the pictures. Walking away from this experience, I wish every woman could do a Femmeography session; I want every woman I know to do something like this, to make peace with understanding of her own physical presence.

If this process interested you, please go check out Natasha's beautiful work at, like her page on facebook and follow her work on twitter. I've been fascinated by the conversations the idea of Femmeography has brought up, and I'd love to hear more. What are your thoughts on real beauty?

I've been shot

Natasha Komoda //

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What not to write

Has anyone ever told you not to write?
That you are toxic, too honest, too much?
And have you, like me, listened?
And slowed, stopped, 
sealing off the cave of your so-called poison-pen,
forgetting the source that rises as tides change, slips around the stone seals
daily washes, refreshes, heals.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Seattle Art

Mirror installation in Carkeek Park, 8/3/13

One of my favorite things this summer has been the opportunity to start dipping a toe into Seattle's rich arts culture. I've been to art walks, corporate creative studio tours and events,  artist lofts and studios, and run across brilliant glimpses of public art (created, found, and a bit of both) around the city, and met some wonderful artists with great stories to tell.

Wheeler street stairway, along my daily commute path

There's a great sense of connection, so far, within the creative community; it's a small world, a city inside a city, but it's lively and smart and vital.

June artwalk, my friend Luz inside a light-and-fabric sculpture

Holly Ballard Martz’ grief knot (grieve not) 2012, 12” x 12”, encaustic and mixed media on panel.
Last Thursday I went to the Pioneer Square first Thursday artwalk again, and ran across the most beautiful and thoughtful series of work I've seen in a very long time by Encaustic and multi-media artist Holly Ballard Martz. The show was a meditation on mental illness, depression, grief, risk, and healing, much of the work rooted in the artists' relationship with her daughter. It struck me deeply, and I'm still figuring out why and thinking about some of her beautiful and heartbreaking narratives.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Time for Home

I have just as much time as anybody else. But time, probably for all of us, feels like the one thing there is never enough of.

A month ago, I got offered a new job. After a week of agonizing decision-making, I accepted it, although it felt like I didn't have enough time to decide.

As soon as I accepted the job and wrote up my resignation letter, I went on a weekend retreat on an island in Canada that had been planned by a friend for her birthday, months before. There wasn't enough time to pack, and once I was there, there wasn't enough time to hike the green-spring mountains, wander the white-shell beaches, sit at the fireside in the Hummingbird Pub or in front of the little stove in our luggage-crammed cabin and talk about stories and deep things, watch the lazy seals below and eagles above, to wait on the cliffside to see if the orca whales would put in an appearance. One evening, several of us sat in the hot tub on the cabin's deck for 4 hours, just talking...and it wasn't enough time. 

The new job was in a new city a couple of hours away...too far away for a daily commute.

Time to move.

I don't have enough time to pack my life up by myself, and so well-meaning friends and relatives have obligingly packed up most things, including the can opener, the corkscrew, salt and pepper, and most of my dishes. I saved the french press--multiple times.

I didn't have enough time to finish all the things I wanted to do at the old job, and it seems like there isn't enough time to cram in all the learning I need to fill my brain with for the new one.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” - Leonard Bernstein

My new employers graciouslly offered me some precious time in the form of my first month's work letting me be in Bellingham on Fridays in order to wrap up all the work on me moving out, fixing up the house to be rented, and helping to manage the details of finding renters.

Friends in Seattle offered to let me stay at their house for 2 months, until my new apartment is ready, precious time with people who are helping me stay sane during this transition.

"We think the opposite of scarcity is abundance--more time, more money--when the opposite of scarcity is enough...just enough." -- Brene Brown

I wrapped up my fourth long weekend with Memorial Day, so I had even an extra day off. The home is empty, clean, and freshly painted, ready for the new vandals renters to destroy live in. I still feel a little bruised when I think of the almost-four years. My lavender bushes and herb garden, raised from seeds. The dark-purple lilac bush start from my mom, which I will never see blooming from my window. The tiny attic room with one blue wall and overlooking the garden. The green-velvet lawn I mowed every week of the summer, listening to U2, or Angels & Airwaves, or Vampire Weekend. The front porch where my sister and brother-in-law got engaged. 

My house was an anchor. I welcomed many dear old friends home from the far reaches of the world at Christmas and during the summers, and I loved that my house was the place to hold those precious gatherings. The walls are soaked with memories from new friends, too, game nights and movie nights, and decadent meals and pies and homemade pizza and the Great Piecaken Caper.

It is enough time...all it had to be. Enough, and the time is past.
It was a home, but I am not home yet.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master; 
so many things seem filled 
with the intent to be lost 
that their loss is no disaster. 

Lose something every day. Accept 
the fluster of lost door keys, 
the hour badly spent. 
The art of losing isn't hard to master. 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster: 
places, and names, 
and where it was you meant to travel. 
None of these will bring disaster. 

I lost my mother's watch. And look! 
my last, or next-to-last, 
of three loved houses went. 
The art of losing isn't hard to master. 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. 
And, vaster, some realms I owned, 
two rivers, a continent. 
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) 
I shan't have lied. It's evident 
the art of losing's not too hard to master 
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.