Quotable Tuesdays

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Cold Hard Cash

There’s something I want to say. I haven’t dared because, well…it’s complicated in my head, and being able to share it with you means working through the complications. Also, maybe you won’t agree. Maybe you won’t care. Maybe something else. But it’s important, so here goes.

Let’s start with this. Asking people for money is hard. There’s an aspect of judgment and also an aspect of worth. Do  you like what I’m creating? Does what I’m creating move you or offer you enough that you want to invest the currency that your hard work and effort brought you?

Asking for money brings up a lot of emotional stuff about me. Why do I keep making things? What is the value of art? How do people perceive me as an artist, as a Buddhist, as a person? It’s a muddy river to wade through, and it’s awfully preoccupying. It’s also only about me.

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And I didn’t create this project just for me. Partly, yes, to force myself to grow and practice. But I also created it to bring people together, and to put into practice Shamar Rinpoche’s teachings. If I have a role in any of this, it’s as a conductor. I find it hard to describe, conceptualise, or concretize what Shamarpa brought to my life that was so important and what makes the loss of him, as a physical human being anyway, so upending. But I think the simplest term is confidence. Confidence in my own ability to be joyful, loving, and of use in this world. And equally as much, confidence in others’ ability to do so as well. He brought a sense of not-being-aloneness that completely surpassed all of the divisions I normally create between myself and others. The purpose of this project is to try to tap into that confidence, and to spread it, and grow it, and share it.

In the realm of the world, this activity is a small thing. I show up. I write a thing. I sometimes draw a thing or photograph a thing. But it takes a bit of gumption every day to do that. To say to myself, “Whatever I’m living, some one else out there is maybe living the same thing or something similar, and if I can just–bear witness, and share it, maybe that helps.” I do it in the hopes that the willingness to go just a tiny bit beyond my borders can connect others to their own ability to do so. This is the gift Shamarpa gave me: to be bolder and braver and less trapped by all of my ideas about me. To put myself forward despite my uncertainty in the hopes that I can benefit others.

Part of the benefit of this project lies in its financial aspect. I could have found quieter, more comfortable ways to pay for this journey. I could have stuck to the writing and images as ways challenge myself to be a little brave and share. But it didn’t seem right. Donating money is making a commitment. It’s giving up part of our own hard work and effort for some thing other than ourself. Doing so, when we truly want and are moved to do so, helps us develop a mindset of prosperity, trust, and care for others. Shamarpa had an infinite care for all of us, and it only seemed right to conceptualize this project in a way that lets us connect directly to that.

**This post is part of a larger project culminating in a week of creative journalism in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal chronicling the cremation of the Tibetan spiritual master Shamar Rinpoche. To find out more or make a donation to this project, go here.

Pictures from the Past

Carla con cactus: an anomalous heart-shaped prickly pear!

Carla con cactus: an anomalous heart-shaped prickly pear!

I just spent half an hour going through my iPhoto library. I’m not much of a picture taker, so it’s rather an arbitrary journey. Seminal times of life go completely undocumented, while random instances my camera was left on the table get recorded. And yet, there’s something really wonderful in having moments of life that you might not otherwise remember thrown back at you. Like night I processed a bunch of prickly pear cactus fruit with my college friends, one of them in his underwear, because…that’s his style. Mostly naked near danger (sorry, those aren’t going on the internet). Gotta love it. Also the episode that involves numerous people wearing a watermelon rind carved into a shark. It had been filled with fruit salad for Sunday brunch. We’re real grown-ups; we make brunch…about sharks.

Me...laughing hysterically, wearing a shark watermelon and a really terrible shirt, which later got cut into headbands for my cook uniform, phew.

Me…laughing hysterically, wearing a shark watermelon and a really terrible shirt, which later got cut into headbands for my cook uniform, phew.

There are also early food photography experiments and snapshots of nature and still lifes from sudden bursts of pictographic fervor. Some of them are pretty decent. Some are even beautiful. Some are not that great but kind of funny. It’s nice to realize that when I take the trouble to use a camera, I’m actually not terrible with it. I have so many photographer friends who know about manual focus and light setting and things involving numbers by other numbers that I don’t understand – I’ve taken to identifying as not-a-photographer.

My very first batch of macarons, in terrible light, but somehow so hipster that it works. Thank you, Superman.

My very first batch of macarons, in terrible light, but somehow so ironic and hipster that it works. Thank you, Superman.

When I started blogging, I made an effort to post pictures that I wasn’t embarrassed by. At the same time, taking photos has felt like more of a chore than any other part of the blogging process. But perhaps that’s because I doubt myself, not because I don’t enjoy it and not because I’m not capable of it. Anyone can take a good photograph with reasonable lighting and a basic sense of composition.

As I’ve gotten into this thing, I’ve even come to enjoy taking pictures. I still fret over the quality, but these days I just post ‘em anyway. Right now I’m working solely with an old iPhone 3, and while it’s much better than the original picture phones, it’s not quite up to the level of “real” camera that the iPhone 4 and beyond reached. Light capture is pretty mediocre and graininess poses serious problems. But I’m still clicking away, and it even takes some of the pressure off me to be able to say, “the camera’s not great; I did what I could.”

An actual nice photo! Anyone can take good flower photos; there's so many great flowers! These are tatsoi.

An actual nice photo! Anyone can take good flower photos; there’s so many great flowers! These are tatsoi.

Aside from my own little personal journey through photography, one reason I’m sharing this is that I took a bunch of photos today to share with you. These are special photos. Monday is the Tibetan New Year and this week at the center, we are celebrating the end of the year by doing a practice called Mahakala. It is old and powerful, ceremonial and beautiful, and I want to do it justice. Unfortunately, the light in the temple is more-or-less atrocious and well…my camera quality could be better. But I did my best, and I’ll do my best to describe to you what’s happening here, so that you can feel the strength of it too. Keep any eye out, should appear tomorrow or the weekend. Thanks for listening. Thanks for looking.