Cameras And Death

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Do I start by saying…I bought a camera? Ahem, with a lot of help from my mother, I bought a camera. A real one—an awesome but not too scary my-first-DSLR kind of camera—a Nikon D3300. If all goes well you will be more consistently overwhelmed with pictorial support for these ramblings. I’m just starting out, thinking about things like aperture and shutter speed in practice for the first time, instead of just wondering how much more precisely I might be able to capture the world around me if I had some power over such things.

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I guess I’ve effectively started with the camera, so now I just have to figure out how to segue into the rest. It’s strange, looking at these pictures. I like them. I’m still working out the whole lighting and composition thing and will be for a while I imagine, but on the whole they’re okay. Pretty snapshots that remind me of my childhood, details from the house I grew up in, flora and scenery that strike me as particularly Californian, plus a couple pensive travel shots from the road home (back to France, I don’t know where the hell home is anymore. I suppose I have more than one and that’s a blessing more than anything).

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The pictures are a little nostalgic, maybe even a tad brooding, but largely comforting. I hope there’s a hint of unease sifting through it all…the sneaky whiff of impermanence permeating all the pretty things. But it’s a far cry from the distinctly unsubtle reminder of impermanence that’s in the foreground today.

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A 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal yesterday morning. The Bodhanath Stupa cracked right through its eyes, from top to toe. The minaret next to Swayambhu Stupa exists only in the form of a pile of rocks. Nearly two thousand deaths have been counted in Kathmandu and surrounding villages have not yet been accounted for. Most of the monasteries are okay, but not all, and the master teachers are calling for prayers and joining in their support for the deceased, wounded, and disenfranchised.

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How strange that this place where I walked less than a year ago should now be so dramatically redesigned by a shudder of the earth. How strange that catastrophes like this happen so frequently and we can do so little beyond join our hands and send a few bucks or even fly halfway around the world to collect the rubble and try to find and feed those that remain. How strange that death is present like a drop of rain hovering over us ready to fall at any moment and we so rarely feel its impending arrival. How strange that devastation washes over this earth regularly and suffering permeates the planet in both visible and invisible ways at every moment and we are so adept at sidestepping its implications.

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How easy it is to be lost in the urgency of what needs to be done without remembering why. How easy it is to adopt a rhetoric of care for others while nurturing frustration and malcontent. How easy it is to speak of focus and deliberation while engaging in distraction and agitation. How busy I manage to keep myself to avoid facing death. Death.

Death.

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It’s coming for me. Every moment is an ending. One that I ignore, clinging to the next moment’s beginning. Every moment could be the ending of the life and self I know. And I’m not ready. I’m trying to be ready, to get ready, to learn to face impermanence and give up the illusion that all I see and know has truth and existence to its nature. To appreciate that what I perceive is as weightless as a dream and as ever changing. And that this is neither good nor bad, but simply freeing.

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But um, I don’t. Not yet. And if I had to bet, I’d bet a lot of the people that lost their lives or their homes in Kathmandu hadn’t quite got that one down yet either. So pray them for them.

And pray for us all, that we learn how to live with our dying, with the ending in every moment. And if you don’t pray, write a poem; sing a song; hug a friend; climb a mountain; do a thing that reminds you how fleeting we are and that the business of learning how to live with impermanence is a shared one.

Love and good luck.

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Afternoon Adventures and Cinnamon Squash Cake

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Yesterday I took myself on a mini field trip. It was partly a failed attempt to buy a government stamp to pay for my visa (which has been issued—hallelujah! Can you hear the bells ringing? Because I can.) that I get to pick up in Perigueux tomorrow, but I turned it into a sweet little afternoon outing. I wandered through town reading the opening and closing times of various establishments and concluding that all errands should be done between the hours of ten and noon on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I sometimes wonder how things get done in France. I stumbled onto a craft show that did happen to be open (and run by some British ladies), bought a felt owl to cover my phone, and strolled around snapping pictures with said phone. Later, I went down to the river to draw. And if you have Alison Krauss stuck in your head, I think it works because making things is a kind of prayer too, isn’t it? It’s a kind of looking for harmony and the internal calm and courage to let a thing or help a thing come into this world.

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I tried to take pictures by the river too, but I struggled a bit with my iPhone, which takes excellent photos when the light is perfect, and when the light is not perfect takes mostly overexposed nightmares or blurry frustrations. No luck with the river photos; I think the reflections puzzle my little Mac camera’s brain. But I did manage to get a shot of my favorite street in Montignac, which makes me chuckle every time I pass it, if only because the name feels a lot like my life a lot of the time: The Impasse of Sentiment. Feelings: you just have to live with them.

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My feelings lately are that I’m grateful that I have a little time to sit around and think about my feelings. To ask myself what images are for, what words are for, what food is for. To find out that my camera takes square pictures and knock myself out taking abstract-y photos of my feet and the tire marks in the town parking lot. I only posted one here—I don’t want to tire you guys out—but trust me, there are many. I’m grateful to get to stop and consider what this little internet space is for: what is does for me, what could be awesome if it does for others, what makes it work and what makes it not work so well.

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I realized that as much as time and organization keep me from showing up more or putting together posts that are more consistent or finished, there are also simple technical limitations. Like, as much I love my iPhone and its newfound capacity for square pictures, if I’m going to be subjecting people to my images all the time, I should maybe consider getting a decent camera. Not just for the viewer, but also for myself, to be able to construct a visual narrative more based on the story I’d like to share and less based on the few photos I managed to snap that are not atrocious.

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Ditto for food. While I admit that there is a diversity of reasons that keep me from posting recipes, two of the most frequent culprits are that my pictures are often deplorable and my recipes are hard to scale because I have very few pans that relate to anything standard. I’m learning a lot this week about how quandaries that feel complex in a busy mind can become rather simple when the mind is posed. As far as the blog goes, the basic prospect that arises is that if I really intend to develop this space as a platform for sharing and communication, I need to invest in it. Which is at once daunting and exciting (really good reasons to actually go to Ikea—buy a decent lamp for drawing. And a bundt pan!). Gonna let that simmer a bit more and see what comes to the top.

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Also, as you can see, I, um, cracked with my baking resolution. Butbut, I had to be in the kitchen for Lama anyway, and then Loïc brought home a potimarron from some one’s garden he’s helping with, and it’s almost starting to smell like autumn in the morning, and well, as much as I say I want to draw more and read more and study more and go outside more, and while away fewer of my hours in the kitchen, this cooking thing might be as ingrained in me as this art thing, and though I don’t really know what to do with that, I know that if you give me something that resembles pumpkin, you inevitably wind up with cake. Pre-autumny, afternoon snack-y, earthy, spicy cake.

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Recipe follows…

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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.