Friday, April 24, 2015

Passion, or Addiction?

I'm starting a new thing.
Or continuing an old thing.
Hard to say.

I've been taking photographs since I was around 7 years old.
I was fortunate in that my elementary school from 2nd-6th grade had a darkroom, and students had free access to it.
I remember spending many hours in there, probably soaking and breathing in nasty chemicals, but I digress.

I didn't do a lot of photography from the ages of around 13-18, but when I was 19, I was given a decent SLR camera, and with that, became interested again.
The problem was that film, and developing and printing the film, were fairly expensive, at least for a young couple trying to live on one minimum wage income.
So I'd splurge when I could, and then have times when I simply couldn't afford to take many pictures.

In order to get good at it, you have to take a lot of pictures.

The invention of the digital camera, especially the digital SLR camera, was the greatest gift ever to photographers.
Now, "film" does not exist, and there is no developing cost at all. Printing still costs- but you don't even have to do that, to see the pictures.
Best of all, there is no time delay. You can see your images immediately, and be able to change settings, change position, or whatever you want, right then. What an amazing learning opportunity!

Since getting a digital SLR camera a few years ago, I have taken a lot of pictures.
And, in so doing, I have gotten better.

Recently, several people have suggested to me that I should look into selling photos.
I resisted, for a variety of reasons. One being that I can't afford to print and frame anything, and one being that adding money, or trying to please a customer, into the mix of ANYTHING runs the risk of changing it.

I found a way to offer photos for sale where I don't have to DO any of the printing, framing, packaging, or shipping. That's kind of cool. It makes it possible for me to do.

So I did.
I joined a commercial site that provides this service.

I also made a facebook page for my photography. Before this week, I had posted photos on my personal page, but not had a dedicated photography page.

The first thing that happened is that a lot of people liked my new page!

The next thing is that I'm in the middle of a steep learning curve, trying to figure out how to manage all this.
It is causing me to devote a fair chunk of time to it, and that time has to be squeaked out of my already busy life.
I've been taking pictures, processing them, sorting through old ones, talking to people about ideas for marketing, reaching out to people I know, and otherwise getting used to the idea of actually presenting myself in public as an artist.

This is a pattern for me.

I become interested in something, and dive in, head first.
It's not an obsession, exactly.

Maybe it is.  :-)

It isn't just me who does this.
It's a typical pattern for MANY people, when they start something new.

That rush of a steep learning curve is exciting, and interesting, and compelling, and can be where a lot of learning happens. Along with it comes a mental state that is extremely receptive to new information.

I think a lot of new unschooling parents get confused by this.

Sometimes, they think ALL learning happens this way, with a sudden, deep interest in something, and with a person wanting all available information and related activities. They are disappointed when their child doesn't seem to "find his passion." I have seen people express this concern, about not having found their passion,  about a FIVE YEAR OLD. I have also seen parents feel like they have to treat every interest this way, and run themselves ragged procuring all available related resources, only to have the child "lose interest."

Sometimes, it's the opposite extreme. They see someone who is fascinated by something, who DOES want to eat, sleep and breathe it, who may stop doing things they were previously interested in, and they are afraid it is some sort of addiction.

Which concern a parent has depends largely on their personal opinion of whatever-it-is.
If they approve of it (or think others would), it is typically perceived as a passion.
If they disapprove (or think others would), it is often seen as an addiction.

I think it would help a lot of people to be able to step back, and just see it as what it is: an interest, and learning about it. No more, no less. Great fun, but not the only model.

And now…
I'll go back to sorting some photos.
This also explains why I haven't posted for the past few days. :-)

If I could have any superpower, it might be not to need sleep. So much to do, so little time!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Plan B, or, Try, Try Again

We drove down to Philly for a couple of days this past week, for my daughter's doctor appointment.

The entire trip had more of those moments than usual. The ones where things don't go as planned, and there is a choice to be made: roll with it, or use energy in getting upset.

First, we got started later than expected.
No big deal, since we didn't really have to be anywhere at any particular time. But still. An omen, perhaps.

We planned to stop at this little out-of-the-way gas station in the middle of nowhere (South Montrose PA, to be specific) because every time we have been by there, they have had great food. This is especially interesting, it being a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and all. The last time we went there, they had chicken gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, and although I've been on a low carb diet for nearly three years now, I decided to "splurge" and have the gravy and potatoes. So I didn't pack food, like I usually do.

They didn't have gravy and potatoes on that day. No lunch for me.

Then, due to being later than planned, we hit traffic. LOTS of traffic. 

And then… our exit was closed for construction. The detour took us WAY out of our way. The GPS kept trying to get us to go back on the main highway and try to get to that (closed) exit again, so it was not much help. Fortunately, we've been in the area several times now, and sort of know our way around.

We had originally planned to stop by our hotel, settle for a few minutes, then go across the road to a national wildlife refuge, but by the time we got there, we were way too tired. We decided to watch a movie instead... only it turned out, there weren't any on.

We arrived at the hotel, opened the trunk of the car to get our bags, and discovered that there was some unidentified oily substance now soaked into some of the bags, apparently having been in the carpet of the trunk of the rental car. NO idea what it was.

We checked in at the front desk, and went to our room, to hurriedly unpack our bags, hoping that whatever-it-was hadn't soaked into anything inside the bags. It hadn't.

Then we realized that the room we had been given had only one bed, not two, like what I had reserved. Back to the desk for me. Sheets and a blanket for the pull-out couch. I was not happy about this- pull-out couch mattresses are typically not very comfortable, and it would have been nice if they had told me WHEN I RESERVED THE ROOM that there was not one available. Or even when we checked in, to be sure we wanted to check in AT ALL. But no. Surprise!

The next morning, we drove into the city for the appointment. On our last trip, we had discovered that there is a parking garage that connects directly to the building where the clinic is, AND that they have a parking validation machine to make it cheap to park there. Before then, we had driven into the city earlier in the day, to get "early bird" parking prices, and parked quite some distance away. We were psyched that we had it all figured out this time… until we saw the "garage full" sign.

After the appointment, we stopped at the 7-11 so my daughter could get a slushy. Except the machine didn't work.

We headed out of town, but the GPS wanted us to turn onto a road that was an overpass above us (?!?) and we ended up driving around in practically a figure 8 to get back to where we needed to be.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a horticultural center, to see the cherry blossoms.
Which we promptly discovered that I am very allergic to!

I'm exhausted all over again, just writing this! :-)

Overall, it was a great trip. The appointment went well, we found Spring and the flowers were lovely, the days were warm and pleasant, we met nice people, and were able to go to our favorite neighborhood-that-isn't-our-neighborhood grocery store.

It would have been so easy to get caught up in that string of not-quite-as-planned situations.
Especially with my daughter, who, when she was young, had a very difficult time with transitions, when things that didn't go as she expected them to go.

I think we've learned.

What we've learned is this:
If you don't have a Plan B, you don't have a plan.
If things don't go one way, they'll go another.
It is not worth the energy to get upset over things you have no control over.
Things will work out okay, somehow, as long as we keep trying.

I saw this red tailed hawk just in time to catch him taking off.

This is why we went there! Trees are not blooming yet where we live.

This is the one I am allergic to! The bee apparently loves it, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cooperation: On The Road

There's something that I really love to witness.
It's a small thing.
A thing most people probably don't pay much attention to.

It has to do with driving.

I love finding places where the traffic pattern requires people to cooperate, especially in ways that involve "unwritten rules."

One such place locally involves a one-lane bridge, where the custom is that three cars go across, and then the next one waits, so the cars from the other side can go.

Another local one- my favorite- is a hairpin turn, on a hill. It requires the downhill car to stop about 20 feet back from the stop sign, so a car making the turn to go uphill can cross into the opposite lane safely. It also requires cars from all three directions (downhill, uphill turn, uphill straight) to coordinate taking turns so that it works smoothly.

What I like about these situations is that the "rules" are not stated anywhere. They have developed over years of travel.

So how do new people learn them?
There aren't signs.
I've never seen anyone tell anyone. No one rolls down a window and yells, or anything.
I have seen a few cranky looks at the fourth car on the bridge, maybe, but at the hairpin turn, people smile and wave.

And yet... people learn.
They watch other people do it.
They take their turn.
They do what makes sense.

And there are rarely accidents at either location. I can't think of any for the past several years, at least.

I think it works because... it's what works. People don't try to manage it other ways, because those don't work nearly as well.

The city has tried, a couple of times, to force a change of traffic pattern for the hairpin turn. They occasionally voice "serious concern" for that intersection. For a period of time, they put up a sign prohibiting the uphill turn. People HATED that, and eventually, they took the sign down.

They are talking about prohibiting it again, and even prohibiting the downhill turn, but forcing everyone to go half a mile down the road to a roundabout.  I REALLY hope they don't, not only because it is terribly inconvenient, but also, people aren't nearly as polite in the roundabout (often people get confused, since we don't have many around here, and they aren't sure who has the right of way).

Mostly, though, I hope they don't change it because I LOVE the way it works now. It is a lovely nearly-daily opportunity to see people cooperating and helping each other. Why eliminate that?!?

Today, while traveling, I got to see another example of driving cooperation. Several times, there were situations where there was an on-ramp, and both the cars on the ramp and the ones already on the road matched speeds so the merge went like a zipper. Beautiful!

Am I the only one who see these things?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Appearances Can be Deceiving

On my way home just now, I had an interesting experience.

I was coming home from picking up a rental car.
I have to drive several hundred miles tomorrow to take my daughter to a medical appointment, and my car, as much as I love it, simply isn't reliable enough to count on for something like this.

On my way home, I had to stop and buy ink for my printer, so I can print out the forms to pay my taxes. Meaning I had to do it today, since there is a deadline beyond my control.

When I got out of my car, a woman from across the parking lot came rushing over to me, with some story about how she hoped I could help her, she needed to get home (to a town about 20 miles away) and she was stuck there, in that parking lot, short $11.

I KNOW she saw me get out of that nice, new car, and assumed I had money.
However, today, of all days, when I'm facing a tax bill that has me pretty near broke, with bills to pay, right when I was having to spend some of what little money I have on something other than food, was NOT the time to ask me for money!

It's not my car. That car does not represent my life.
She should have looked a bit closer, at my muddy, holey boots, and the ragged flannel shirt I was wearing.

As things often do, it got me thinking.

I wonder how often I make the mistake of making an assumption about someone, based on their appearance? I'm sure it happens, no matter how hard I try not to let it.

I also wonder about the world in general, where, so often, people VALUE appearances more than substance, or at least , so it seems.
The appearance of some sort of diploma or certificate is often valued far more than the knowledge it is SUPPOSED to represent.
Quiet, "well behaved" children are valued by many, without wanting to look at what is underneath that compliance. Is it maturity… or fear?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Not Knowing

I love information.
Living in the "information age" suits me just fine.

I grew up loving to read encyclopedias, and for years, had a fairly extensive collection of dictionaries.
I love trivia games and quizzes.
I enjoy thinking about things and figuring them out.
Add the internet to that, and what a motherlode!

Lately, I have begun to explore the joys of NOT knowing.

I came to this from two different directions at the same time.

One is that constantly having a brain in overdrive was making it very difficult for me to learn physical, rather than intellectual, things.
Too much "thinking about" and not enough "doing."

The other is that I ran up against some things that are not possible to know, and it was causing me fairly significant stress.

Interestingly, as often happens, right when I was in the middle of all that, a gift was given to me, in the form of a friend who "just happened" to mention the value of "not knowing."

This friend told us a story of an experience he had at a monastery in India, where he spent some time several years ago.
He did not give all the details, but I had to wonder if he came to this experience- or it came to him- for much the same reason his story was being shared with me at the time that it was: an attachment to prioritizing "knowing" over "experiencing."

He said that one of the monks there would play a game with him.
He would ask my friend to close his eyes, and hold out his hands. The monk would place some unknown item in his hands, and ask him to share what he felt. Not to "guess what it is," but to treasure the feeling of it, WITHOUT knowing what it was.

I find this exercise both valuable- and charming.
It sounds like a game an adult would play with a child, but typically, in that situation, the goal would be to guess what the item was, and that wasn't what they were doing, at all.

Try it.
Resist the urge to know what it is.
Resist that as the defining value of the thing.
Accept, and enjoy, the feeling of not knowing. How often does that happen in your life, a situation where you really, literally, do not know something?
How does that usually make you feel?

I find that this simple exercise, a method of bringing my focus into the moment, of feeling rather than thinking, of experiencing rather than firing up the "brain machine," that million-mile-a-minute thing that sometimes keeps me awake at night, to be both pleasant in and of itself, and useful, in helping me to approach more things in my life as simply what they are, rather than my over-analysis of what I think they might be.

There are some things that are not knowable.
Most of them, maybe.
And that's okay.

I still love learning, finding out, thinking about, figuring out, answering questions, gathering bits of obscure knowledge, and otherwise playing with knowing.

I love not knowing, too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Getting Rid of Stuff Challenge

As unschoolers, we have a wide range of interests.
These interests have led us to both a large collection of "resources" and a re-ordering of priorities.

That's a nice way of saying we have a lot of stuff in our house, and typically, would rather do pretty much anything other than cleaning. :-)

It's hard to let go of stuff that might be useful, or come in handy, or be Just The Thing that someone needs for a project down the road.

It's hard to stop doing any of the fun and interesting things we do together, to spend time cleaning.
It's even harder when, often, the act of cleaning makes one or more of us feel crappy due to allergies to dust, mold, AND most cleaning products (even the "natural" ones).

But somewhere, somewhen, enough is enough.
Every once in a while, it simply needs to get done.

The middle of last month, I began what I'm calling the Getting Rid of Stuff Challenge.
My Dad calls it my "BAD project." For "box a day."
It works like this: every day, for 30 days, I must remove from our house, SOMETHING.
It could be a bag of trash. A bin of recycling. Returnable bottles and cans. A box of something donated somewhere (hence my Dad's name for the project).

My kids thought I was being too optimistic, setting it for 30 days.
They suggested three days, so it would be more likely to feel successful, and then starting again.
I stuck with 30 because I wanted the feeling of a Big Project.
I also wanted to establish a new habit, that of actively looking for stuff to get rid of every time I leave the house.

This has been one of our biggest problems, actually.
We DO clean, and get stuff ready to take away, for recycling, or whatever… but then it simply never leaves the house. We don't actually TAKE it anywhere.
Instead, we have some storage areas that end up as "staging areas" for… pretty much forever.

The beginning of the project was easy, as I knew it would be.
Empty the storage areas of stuff that we already know we want to get rid of.
No real preparation necessary.
Just a commitment to putting it in the car and taking it somewhere else, or, in some cases, carrying it to the road for the recycling truck to pick up.

So far, so good.

But the part I was really looking forward to is the next phase: what do we do after that stuff is gone?

First, it involved making a list.
What places are there that take donations, and what kinds of things can be donated? Clothes? Books? Household goods?

Second, it involves making decisions: what stuff in our house do we NOT NEED?

One of my first tasks in the project has to do with books.
We are blessed with having one of the largest used book sales in the country in the nearest town, twice a year. This sale has something like 250,000 books, and covers several days, with the price dropping every day of the sale. On the last couple of days, the books are a dime each, then a grocery bag full for a dollar.
It's very hard to resist books at that price. There are lots of interesting books left on those days, and when it might be something useful or interesting or beautiful, and it's only a dime, what is a self-confessed book addict going to do?

The problem is that books take up space.
And, sadder still, there is a limit to how many bookcases can fit in a house.

So the truth is, high hopes and all, some of those books end up in a box, or in a pile, and not in anyone's hands.
And, further, some of them aren't going to be read. They just aren't.

The next sale is at the beginning of May, and the deadline for donations is TODAY. After that, they don't accept more until June.

So I have been going through books and making the difficult decision to give some of them back to the sale. Our local "book recycling" service.
No, really. It is. Some books have probably been sold at the sale a dozen times over the years.
The funniest part is how often I've heard stories of someone buying a book and then realizing they had donated it. Ha! 
I have, more than once, bought a book with the name of someone I know written in it.

But right now, I am more focused on moving books out of the house than on bringing any in.

It has gone well.
I have made the tough decision, many times over, to let a book go. Mostly novels I'm not going to have time to read (and if I get the urge, there is always the library, and if that fails, i can simply go to the sale and buy it back for a dime!). Some have been reference books for a specific interest that none of us is currently interested in.

The sweetest moment in all of it was coming across a box of children's books that I had chosen because I find them particularly beautiful. Most, I have no emotional attachment to, as they were not purchased when my kids were little, but some are copies of favorites, being saved. I had a moment of really, for the first time, looking forward to having grandchildren. Babies to sit and read books to.

Then I realized it doesn't need to be grandchildren.
I just want to read books to children.

Then, I realized it doesn't need to be children.
I just want to read children's books to SOMEONE.

So far, the two of my kids who I've asked, are not interested in sitting on my lap, being read to.
I have high hopes that the third will participate.
If he's not interested, I plan to ask his partner, and my daughter's partner.
And if all else fails, I'm going to sit on the couch and read to myself, dang it.  :-)
Or maybe the dog will listen.

I read a lot of books to my kids when they were little. At least to the first two. The third was not so interested.
I know a lot of families who continued to read out loud for many years, but we haven't been one of them.
Maybe that will change.
Maybe it won't.

All this cleaning, this getting rid of stuff, has been its own gift.
Letting go is good.
Moving on is good.
Clearing space is good.
New habits are good.

I'm on day 27 of 30.
We have gotten rid of a LOT of stuff. 
We'll just have to see where it goes.

Oh… one final note.
The box of children's books stays. :-)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Damian's List: Kindness in Action

There's this guy. I could write a lot about him because I find him very interesting in many ways. We were acquainted, slightly, as teens. Had several friends in common, although we never hung out together at all.

At the time, we were on very different paths, I guess you could say.

We connected again a couple of years ago, on facebook, because it turned out that one of those mutual friends from long ago had MARRIED him.


He's an artist.
He's a person who does not quite fit into the dominant culture. He never has.
He is someone who, back in the day, was considered "from the wrong side of the tracks," a troublemaker, lazy, wouldn't apply himself in school, etc. I am not certain he ever graduated from high school. I know that he had a very hard time in life for years.

Now, I find him to be one of the most interesting, fascinating, deep thinking, considerate, kind, and caring people I know.
I very much look forward to reading what he has to say, because I value his perspective and the care he takes in expressing it.

A few weeks ago, he posted something that I enjoyed, and it got me thinking, so I asked permission to use it as part of a blog post.

He said:

There are a few things that should be said at every opportunity.

"You've always looked good in red."
"I'm sorry."
"Keep the change."
"What a cute baby."
"Of course I could be wrong."
"It's no trouble at all."
"I'll get the check."
"Why don't you come and stay with us."
"Pay me back whenever you can."
"Five o'clock will be fine."
"We'll watch him/her. You two go out and have a good time."
"I'll drive."
"Would anybody like coffee?"
"Just another little slice. I want to save room for dessert."
"Nice dog."
"You've got to give me that recipe."

His point, I believe, is that people should, as part of their daily existence, have a generosity of spirit, and express it whenever they get the chance. That many things that often go unsaid, should be said. 

I agree.
While my list of things might be somewhat different, the SPIRIT is very much the same.

I try to make this part of my daily life. I love giving people positive feedback, giving credit where it is due, reaching out and connecting with people who are typically ignored, helping people, etc.

The best thing about it is that it leaves everyone involved feeling good, most of the time.

The ODD thing about it is the frequency with which people are stunned, as if no one ever compliments them, as if no one ever offers them anything without expecting something in return. The frequency with which a positive comment is met with suspicion is very strange, and very sad, to me.

When I read Damian's list, one of the things that struck me about it is how many of the things on it are pretty much things that ADULTS can say, but children often can't. Children can't, as a rule, offer to pay for things, or offer shelter, or to drive. They often can't make time commitments independently.

However, children very much CAN demonstrate such a generosity of heart and spirit in many ways- and they often do.
Especially if such things are said TO them, and offered TO them.

I find it a good practice to make an effort- still, after all these years- to say honest, positive things to my kids as much as possible.
Not flattery.
Not made up, or to be manipulative.
Simply an outward expression of the love and joy I feel towards and around them.
Showing appreciation for who they are, rather than any attempt to make them be anyone or anything in particular.

My list, to add to Damian's:

"Thank you."
"I really appreciate…"
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Would you like…?"
"You're the best."
"You can go first."
"Let me get take care of that for you."
"I'll get it."
"Don't worry about it."
"I love you."
"That's awesome!"
"Great idea!"
"I'll bring it to you."

Of course, the list could go on forever. Once you are in the habit of looking for and doing or saying the kindest thing, once it is part of you, there is no effort required. Be sure you mean what you say, though, and it isn't just shallow mouthing of words. That's all.