Since being invited to take a foray into black and white, I’ve happened upon scenes which translate well–metaphorically–into the absence of color.
There has been no unifying theme, but it occurs to me that three were taken looking down at the earth beneath my feet. Two–one of a tentative spring bird, and this shot of billowing pure white beyond black steel twisted into a colony of perpetually flying birds–aimed up at the heavens. Only one, though sunlit, was taken indoors.
The five pictures were taken in three different states. None was taken at my own eye level. Although two were taken downtown in heavily populated cities, not a human is in sight.
I don’t want to read too much into this, and today marks an anniversary prone to plummet me into not necessarily productive solitary musings, but I sometimes wonder why my vantage point so effectively seals me off, even in a city of millions.
“And out on the street, there are so many possibilities to not be alone. . . .” And yet I am.
It can be empty out there, even when the streets are filled.
I chose the picture for its timing, not its content: I took it almost exactly three years ago, in the backyard of the home my husband Jim loved–the place where he lived, was loved, and died. Our children and I would move to another home months later.
I began writing this blog in deep, raw grief. I notice now that photographs I took at the time featured a disproportionate share of broken things–including the colonial-era picket fence that curved gracefully around the front of our home. As I nursed a broken foot inside the house, a speeding driver screeched off the road in light snow and crashed right through it, with enough momentum to fell a granite post that had stood for well more than a century.
But there was beauty in the breakage. Jigsaw shards of silver ice glowed atop sapphire water. Unadorned tree branches withstood hurricane-force winds and laced the white winter sky when the sun came out again.
With my third blogiversary careening down the tracks, I’ve been ruminating about the purpose and process of blogging.
A fellow blogger, Derek Bell, has an evocative blog, Playing in the City with Trains, in which he draws quite a bit on family and memory. He posed some great questions about writing. The new year–my fourth at the keyboard–seems a good opportunity to tackle them:
(1) What are you working on?
My site stats tell me I have a whopping 182 blog post drafts. They’re about everything from the color red to the soundtrack of grief. I’m also revising what I wrote for my children in the months after my husband died, but it’s difficult to revisit and yet more difficult to revise. I had a different voice then, belonging to the person I was at that time; it’s daunting to try to figure out what voice to preserve for my children. Procrastination has in this case generated some unique new challenges.
I also have ancient drafts of fiction in the legal thriller genre–much of it inspired by my day job. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish revising them, but rather than looking upon them as abandoned, I’ve decided to think of them as safely “gestating.”
Last January one of my daughters shepherded me through the relatively minor technical work needed to begin this blog, giving me a nicely calendared progression of posts upon which to reflect.
Recently I found on my husband’s computer the 500 digital photographs–among tens of thousands he took–that he rated highest. I studied them to try to discern exactly why these were so special to him. Some were obvious: pictures of all our children, and other family members, and me (I am a very reluctant subject and he cleverly captured the latter from afar, without my noticing); pictures of nature–from an up-close tiny blue newt on our daughter’s shoe to panoramic mountain ranges–from three continents.
Some–like some of the favorite photographs I am posting here–may require a little bit more interpretation. One I took at a farmer’s market after depositing a child at school on a gorgeous late August day; another was taken at a wedding, on a boat in Boston Harbor; another, an observer would be unlikely to know, is of flags waving atop a white picket fence in the aftermath of a murderous shooting spree just up the street from our home last spring. Our little town’s police chief was shot to death, and four other officers grievously wounded. The town’s lone elementary school’s parking lot had become a staging ground for an armed standoff.
Sometimes the story behind a photograph is nothing like you would imagine.
I decided to take yet another cue from Jim and try to wrap up this year on the blog by finding one photograph and post from each month of this blog’s brief but extremely therapeutic (for me) existence: not necessarily technically the best photograph I took that month, or the best-written post, but the ones which have some special meaning to me. I may not even know yet why, but I’ll take a stab at it.
January is a close call, because the single poem I would want everyone I know to read, Kindness, is found in another of the month’s first dozen posts (The Other Deepest Thing). But the post to which I return most frequently is The Things He Carried. The title is a take on Tim O’Brien’s novel (with the intriguing narrator of self-consciously dubious reliability), and writing this post about the few small things my husband–who was not tied to material goods in the way most people are–carried to the end truly helped me to think about the ways in which an object without any monetary value can be rendered priceless, imbued with stories, with love and friendship and the fondest of memories.
I had the sense that I wrote nearly constantly in February, although in fact it appears that my roiling winter mind churned out only a few more posts than it had in January. Again I have a close runner-up (Renewing Rituals), but it was closely followed by Coletanea de Death Cab–the post in which I reflected on being alone–but not entirely–during the long drive back from a memorial service in New Jersey. Continue reading “Learning Curve”