I have found serenity in some odd places. One night this summer in Spain on the weekend of the annual fair, I went out after dark and walked the streets that earlier had been full of crowds. I’d been there that afternoon and watched jugglers and stiltwalkers, bought pastries and considered buying cheese, saw octopus boiled in giant copper vats and got acquainted with a girl dressed like a hunter from a medieval tapestry and her jewel-eyed falcon. I’d wandered happily through alleyways crammed with food stalls and families, and spent a long time smiling and watching teenagers swooping and shrieking on the funfair rides, all noise and colour and flashing lights.
Perhaps it was the contrast between the excitement of the day and the quiet of the night, but the deserted streets were more magical to me than ever before. There’s something special about being alone in a public place, and even more when it’s dressed up and decorated for celebration. It feels like a privilege. I stood out there in the street for a long time in the warm night air, tasting the stillness, letting quietness sink in, and it felt good.
I have a new pen.
It may seem strange but my sense of wellbeing is closely related to the state of whatever I’m writing and drawing with – if my current pen is free flowing and responsive and doesn’t clog up or leak or go scratchy and dry, I feel relaxed, confident, and ready to tackle anything (well, almost). If it’s not performing then I can’t either; I get irritable and can’t concentrate, and not just when I’m trying to use the pen – it’s been known to keep me awake at night.
This is a Lamy Safari Vista (what a nice name – it immediately makes me think of going places) and I bought it for drawing, but as always the first thing I do to test out a pen is to write as fast as possible without thinking and cover a whole page. It’s a good way to test drive a pen.
It’s a good way to test out my sense of wellbeing too, and see if I can make any adjustments – it’s amazing what a bit of fast I-don’t- know-what-I’m-writing-I’m-just-going-to-write-it can reveal.
There are things you can do to make a pen work better; you can change the ink, clean the nib and if all else fails, get a new pen.
There are things I can do to get myself more free-flowing and responsive too. Thankfully, change is always an option.
Weekly Photo Challenge
My neighbour has two elderly cats who live most of their lives outdoors, more by mischance than by choice as they have to be let in and out, and end up more frequently out than in.
The weather has not been kind up here in Yorkshire. Until a few days ago it seemed the rain would never stop, and it was the worst kind of rain to be sheltering from; alternating bursts of heavy downpours followed by fine drizzle blown sideways by a northerly wind. Now temperatures have dropped and although it’s dry, it’s icy and cold.
We couldn’t bear the sight of these cats huddling on a wet doorstep any longer and before Christmas we provided them with a cardboard box under the cover of our open porch. I’ve made catboxes like this before, insulated with layers of bubblewrap and waterproofed with clingfilm so it’s sturdy and warm.
Both cats took up residence without hesitation the moment they saw it and are now curled up together inside for most of the day and all night. One comes out to greet me immediately every time I appear (so it’s hard to photograph them both together in the box) and purrs louder than any cat I’ve ever heard.
If this isn’t the definition of warmth I don’t know what is; they are warm and dry, and we are all the better for the pleasure of their company and knowing they’re sheltered and safe. Warm cats, and warm hearts!
I seem to miss most Christmas events. I’d forgotten to put Christmas At The Castle in my diary, and it was over before I’d realised; I missed the local school choir’s carol concert the same way. I don’t go into town often enough after dark to see the Christmas lights festooned around the square.
I went up to Cliffe Castle anyway, one damp dark afternoon this week. I’d seen a poster about the weekend’s events that I’d missed and wondered what the surprise was that was billed to take place in the old aviaries, empty of birds now the restoration work is going on.
Decorations hung in the cages, still sparkly, but limp and a bit forlorn in the gloom of the late afternoon. A Santa’s Grotto without a Santa, a feeling of the morning after the night before. And viewing these sad twinkly things locked up in cages as if they were somehow exotic and dangerous gave me a strange feeling, as if they were really something else disguised, just wrapped up in tinsel and glitter. Put something in a cage, behind bars, and it changes how you see it.
Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for a sparkly object on a cold wet grey December day; give me half a chance and I’ll be beguiled into drawing close and losing myself in the magic of it – and so it was that I found myself with my nose pressed up aganst the wire and gazing at a enormous glittering orb, all colours of the rainbow and frosted like ice.
There’s an infinite world of wonder in a big sparkling globe like this; there are extraordinary wonders in the smallest twinkling decorations on a Christmas tree, and all it takes for these wonders to materialise it is the time it takes to gaze for a few minutes and think of nothing else.
See more twinkly pictures here at the Weekly Photo Challenge
Moving just a few inches to one side or the other, up or down, forward or backwards subtly changes the way we see. And when the light is at a certain angle, at a particular time and in a given place, with the right frame of mind, the right intention and – more than anything else – when paying attention, you can witness the convergence that happens when taking a good photograph.
I say witness, because to me it feels more like that than feeling it’s something I’ve accomplished; it requires so many things that are really outside of my control to come together at precisely that moment, even if I’ve tried or wanted to make it happen. (And when I say good photograph, I mean really good and I don’t think it’s hard to know good from bad; the pictures I’ve posted here are not especially fine and all they do is illustrate a point.) I am technically unskilled at photography and don’t use much in the way of equipment, but I do know about convergence. It’s all about attitude – less about being in control and more about letting go.
This is why the best photographs soar head and shoulders above the rest, and stand out immediately where others are easy to ignore. For me, the best images are completely unselfconscious, without a trace of ownership or artifice, and simply exist as proof of the unique reality of a moment in time, seen and recorded. These pictures are rare and precious things.
There are awesome examples here on WordPress of photographers who combine technical skill and experience with sensitivity of this sort; one of my favourites is The Insatiable Traveler who often posts images I find so compelling that I find them hard to forget.
Meanwhile, occasionally I myself stumble into a happy condition of convergence and find I’ve taken a photo that records it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it fills me with delight – and gratitude.
At the foot of this flight of stone steps is a young cherry tree, as eye-catching now as it is in early spring when it’s covered in white blossom. Every day more of these golden leaves fall.
Sometimes I stop on the path at the top of the steps and gaze down, and sometimes I descend, to stand right under it and be enveloped in the lower branches and have my face brushed by its leaves.
Standing under this tree, with the last of the afternoon sun catching the reds and yellows and setting them on fire, with wet grass under my feet and the sky hardly visible for golden leaves, I can think of absolutely nothing else but being here. Right now, there simply isn’t another place on earth I’d rather be. Right now, this is everything.
Weekly Photo challenge: Descent
Capritx, pronounced capreech; the Catalan word for caprice, or whim.
How tempting it would be to put those inviting little wheels to use and do a quick bit of rearranging, on a whim, to spell – what?
Taxcrip sounds as if it ought to mean something; Catprix and Craptix are dubiously suggestive. Patricx could be a name. My favourite is Pixcrat; it sounds like a diminutive, petty, small town official with self-inflated ideas.
I like rearranging. Recycling, using what’s already there – there’s something creatively satisfying about it, more enjoyable than starting from scratch with a blank page. These days I rearrange thoughts. Cranky, negative, anxiety-stirring ideas that pop up unasked and unwelcome. I observe them bobbing about, agitating for my attention and smile because once I’ve recognised them for what they are – just thoughts, not real – I can rearrange them, play with them, even laugh at them because often they are ridiculous. Its better than trying to banish them because they won’t be banished, they’re too resilient, they bob up again like corks in water and trying to be fierce or stoical or determined just wastes a lot of energy. So I deal lightly with them; it feels kinder and seems to work.
I look for signs that help me tread lightly and to smile, and they’re everywhere when you start to look and think this way. Some people do it naturally but I never did; I’m learning it as I go.
Capritx. I like it as it is. It’s a good sign.
Adventure is anything outside the routine, a change from the everyday. Something that takes you to a place you’ve never been before and offers the chance to explore…
It doesn’t have to be a spectacular journey or an extraordinary place, and every day can include small adventures. In fact they should – in fact, they must.
But now and again you can sieze the chance to go on a small but significant adventure, and do something you’ve never done before.
It’s not speaking, but listening, that leads to dialogue.
I never go out with the clear intention of taking photographs. I wander about. I look, and listen, and try not to think.
I never know when, or often even why I’ll get my camera out; I try not to think about that at all. I only take pictures when suddenly I know that I must.