Smoke and Reflection

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On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.

People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.

To see. To see, and to breathe.

The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.

This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.

How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?

Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?

What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.

Desuppression

Seven hours of sleep, and the alarm sounds.

Seven hours of sound sleep. I could keep sleeping.

I press snooze.

Anticipating the snooze alarm.

I do not keep sleeping.

Waiting.

I could sleep like this every night.

Coughing gets in my way. It feels like a month of coughing, my abs punching my lungs to expel air at random times, at inconsistent forces. Attempting to tame a lingering tickle in my throat.

Coughing annoys, distracts. Steals sleep. I feel the tickle right now.

Breathing has been shallow lately in this past month. This morning I exhale deeply, and my ribs tighten. Sometimes the spaces between the ribs cramp. Like I have been running and I get a stitch in my side, but I cannot run through the pain until it subsides.

I am not running. I just lie here. Not sleeping.

But the cramps. Am I out of oxygen? Has it been so long since inflating my lungs through deep, meditative breaths? Have my ribs forgotten how to expand, to compensate for my body’s deficit in breathable air?

What is breathable?

Winter sits on the air, spits in it. Sometimes she brings snow and wind and chilled rains and replaces the air.

Winter is heavy and often merciless and stingy, not only with the air but also the sunlight.

I realize more than one cause facilitates my suffocation.

This early in the morning headlights slide across closed blinds: One thousand one, one thousand two. I try breathing again, and it still hurts.

Darkness penetrates the room. Darkness is space, but it does not expand. It constricts. I cannot breathe the space, but it breathes into me, occupying too much of my lungs. The pressure also surrounds me from the outside, hugging my ribs tight.

Darkness leaves just enough air in my lungs to cough. Cold medicine suppresses the cough, helps me sleep.

Now, if only I could breathe more than a teaspoon at a time without pain.

Yet when my child and my husband cough, all I want to do is absorb their coughs. They need to be cough-free more than I.

Ten minutes later. The snooze alarm sounds. I turn it off and sit up. I could keep sleeping. I could keep overthinking this cough. I slip out of bed and begin getting ready for the day, grateful at least to be breathing, albeit heavy, dirty winter air.

Grateful for the full night’s sleep.

————-

Disclaimer: Obviously I’m rusty with writing, but bear with me. I should be doing this more often and finding my voice. Beneath the coughs. Fingers crossed.

I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.

Knee-Jerk: A Few Wonderings

“Whether the photograph is understood as a naïve object or the work of an experienced artificer, its meaning–and the viewer’s response–depends on how the picture is identified or misidentified; that is, on words….But one day captions will be needed, of course. And the misreadings and the misrememberings, and the new ideological uses for the pictures, will make their difference.

“Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feelings, is the conviction that war is an aberration, if an unstoppable one. That peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception.”

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I have been working my way through this essay for the past year. I’ll pick it up at random and catch a paragraph or two, and if I’m lucky, these moments will coincide with the phases in my life when I’m angry at particular aspects of the world. War photography and photojournalism that captures human suffering: How do viewers react to/experience it? (How) Do their feelings change as this form of expression evolves? What effects does the photographer intend? In what ways do s/he and the audience share a conscience?

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

“Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

–Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk

I wonder about God as a photographer, if what I see in the world requires anything of my conscience. I wonder whether captions are necessary, or if the experience itself provides sufficient commentary. I wonder how much of the experience I am in control of.

A Couple Nifty Finds

Thomas Traherne and Cat Power have some things in common. I’ve had rather spiritual experiences with the both of them in the past couple of weeks. You’ll see their expressions and tones are quite different, but the ideas are pretty similar. Hopeful and nostalgic. Poignant and inspirational. I didn’t find these gems so much as they found me: Traherne is from a class, and Cat Power is from a friend.

This is an excerpt from Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations. He’s just uber-optimistic, but he lived right smack-dab at the beginning of the 17th Century when religion and science were about to really-really clash,  and politics and philosophy and individual thought were emerging. He’s very … light, compared to Donne and Bacon and Hobbes and Herbert.

This is a winter song, and of course it’s rather melancholy. The simple piano and the lyrics are especially powerful.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Cat Power- Colors and the kids (pics and lyrics)
, posted with vodpod

Lyrics here

Dishes Poll Results

When I returned to the apartment Friday afternoon, the sink hadn’t changed. While it didn’t shrink, it also didn’t grow, and I can be grateful for that.

Sometimes I use that task of doing the dishes as a way to clear my mind, to meditate. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions.

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

There’s been a lot on my mind lately, and being able to focus on the dishes helps lower my anxiety. Same goes with handwashing my whites.

So. Yeah. When I washed the dishes on Friday, I noted that I might have contributed a butterknife to the pile.

When I think about being maliciously passive aggressive and contemplate leaving piles of dirty dishes on respective roommates’ beds, I also wonder how the apartment would react to a swarm of New York City rats crawling around the sink.

But the girls are busy, and I can understand how dishes aren’t a priority. They’re nice, and generally cheerful, and it’s nice when we all happen to be home at the same time and can talk for a little bit. As I rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher last Sunday, someone thanked me, and it was nice. I think I grunted, but not in a mean way.

Maybe I was too focused on the task.

Thanksgiving Morning Observations

I wake up at 6:15 this morning. I set my alarm for 7:30, but I can’t go back to sleep. I listen to the quiet rumble, the muffled echoes of occasionally passing vehicles bouncing off the buildings that form a labyrinthine cavern. I am in that cavern, and the sounds are like a blanket.

Dusk. I look out of the window, and barricades line 6th Avenue, and people have started gathering along Broadway. I hear more cars. I see more people. It’s not too cold outside; it’s actually a perfect day for a parade to celebrate gratitude. History. The sky fades into morning, and the clouds are translucent, like a twilight mist, except they decorate the sky.

My roommate is spending Thanksgiving in London. Interesting situation. Thank you, Britain, for letting us get fed up with your restrictions on worship and commerce and teas. We needed more variety of teas. We got fed up, crossed the pond, established a country I love with all my heart.

The rising sun rouses the east facades of this concrete canyon, New York City. The natural and manmade fuse, and the glow from the buildings isn’t artificial, quite. It’s other-dimensionly, and it’s magnificent.

Police cars are testing their sirens. I’m switching between VH1 and GAC while waiting for the parade to begin. I see cameras flash from neighboring buildings. The crowds are growing.

My head still hurts. The bump is virtually gone, but it’s still somewhat tender, and the pain radiates toward my left temple. I’m grateful that it didn’t get any worse. It’s nothing a little time and good company and food in abundance won’t cure.

family
friends
food
shelter
gospel

However many hundreds of subcategories apply to this list, I’m grateful for them all. Everything. My gratitude reaches through the internets and across the country and around the world and hugs you. I am thankful for you, for all you do, for all you are. I hope you feel that, and I hope today isn’t the only time you do.

It’s almost time to put on another layer or two, camp out on my balcony, watch some floats and giant balloons pass by (hi, Snoopy!), listen to music, feel grateful evermore.

Happy Thanksgiving.