Whose Picture Is It Anyway?

The composition was perfect; the light, dawn’s slanting, peachy gold; the palette, harmonized and gorgeous, soft blues and luminous greys with fleeting touches of pink; the women and girls in a close gaggle, curious, contemplative, their dresses drawn up around their knees as they waded at the water’s edge. Camera in hand, I resisted temptation.

A woman I imagined their matriarch stood back from the water, sensibly shod, a blanket against the morning chill wrapped around her shoulders. She watched the younger group with a quiet reserve that seemed to share in their appreciation if not their animation. As I walked by we exchanged nods, shy smiles and a cordial Good morning!

On my return trip, the group was still there, although more dispersed. One woman stood alone, exactly as I had seen her last. Others had moved along, exploring the shore. But the scene was disrupted by another passerby, her iPad Mini aloft, filming the group, waving her hands as if to say Keep Doing That. The youngest girl reached out for the nearest hand and ducked her head, no longer happily lost in the moment, but intruded upon, her privacy invaded. I wondered what the matriarch thought.

Would iPad Woman have done the same thing if the group weren’t Amish?

I think not.

It’s a funny thing, our willingness to commodify and strip of their humanity those we consider picturesque. As tourists, we do it all the time, gleefully snapping pictures of Colorful Ethnic Minorities In Their Habitat without much regard for how they might feel about it, how we might feel, were the tables turned. I remind myself I will feel this same urge when we travel in Asia this winter.

And what of the image? If I could really paint, I would love to recreate my memory of the first scene. It was so beautiful, so evocative. Would that, too, be an intrusion?

I like to think not.

hasty sketching, after the fact

I like to think that I could honor the scene as I experienced it without intruding on the people involved as they experienced it. Something about having not appropriated their moment, in the moment, for myself. Something about the effect of distance, in both time and place. Something about the power of interpretation and our ability to create from experiences that are unique — and uniquely our own.

What they saw and experienced was not, in the end, what I saw and experienced. Can I make something of it without taking something from them?

I’d like to think so.


Like Warm Honey and Liquid Sunshine

When I show up at my old office, as I am wont to do since I consult there often, I am usually greeted with some version of “You looked so relaxed!” Amazing what a little change in lifestyle will do.

For true relaxation, nothing beats the hard work of meditation. Sitting still and not thinking may not look like work, but it calls for real effort. It takes practice and I’m definitely still learning.

My favorite guided meditation with visualization involves imagining liquid sunshine streaming down from above, filling me with a clear, spacious glow.SAM_2394

For me, the image is actually more like warm honey — sweet, full-bodied, glistening. Golden. A timeless fortification pouring into and through me. I can feel it filling each toe, rounding off the sharp edges of my ankles, moving up the length of my calf to the heft of my thighs, my belly and chest, reaching my shoulders and cascading in a delicious rush down past my elbows and into each and every fingertip.

It comes up the back of my neck, softening my jaw, warming, soothing, massaging each muscle and surface as it goes. Across the back of my eyes, I feel the last vestiges of tension melting away.

That’s the theory, anyway.

But this is a practice that takes practice, so the reality is often more like:

I can feel it filling each toe, rounding off the sharp edges of my ankles Hubcap. I need to replace the hubcap. Wonder where – oopsy: thinking!  moving up the length of my calf to the heft of my thighs, my belly hmm breakfast isn’t sitting so well. oh – thinking … and chest, reaching my shoulders and cascading in a delicious rush down past my elbows and into each and every fingertip. It comes up the back of my neck, softening my jaw, hmm: a little tense ..uh, stay with me…warming, soothing, massaging each muscle and surface as it goes. Across the back of my eyes …stay with me...I feel the last vestiges of tension melting away…ahhhhh….

I am filled, but lightened. Replete, expansive, spacious, capacious. I feel complete and yet still more receptive. Luscious. Luminous. Lovely.

Life Lessons

My Thirty Day Serendipity Challenge


Beach combing, I’ve decided, is more about ideas than it is about shells. I walk along the sands in a meditative posture, hands clasped behind my back, head nodding forward, as if in prayer. My pace is leisurely, halting. I stop to contemplate pebbly deposits, toeing through the debris in hopes of finding…what? A lovely shell, for sure, but just as often I’m looking for inspiration.

Yesterday I took a long walk on the beach. A strong north wind roughened the water. The sun was newly up, playing peekaboo through the last of the night’s clouds. A lovely spot of purple caught my eye and I picked up a weathered fragment of clam shell, then two more.

Tumbling the shells in my hand, I was reminded of V. who makes art of “found objects” and B. who has taught me a lot in recent weeks about design thinking and building an intentional life. How might I use these shells? I wondered. Then: It’s not about the shells. It’s about the incoming – and the integration.

So I’ve given myself a challenge: for thirty days I’m going to pick a “find” each day — something I come upon: an object, a turn of phrase, a novel food item, whatever random thing might strike my fancy — and I’ll incorporate it into that same day in some way. Could be crafty, culinary, bloggy, anything. The idea is to do something with it — to revisit, interact, integrate, deepen my experience of what’s come into my path.  Let the universe know: I’m paying attention.

I call it my Serendipity Challenge.

If you’re curious, you can check in on me here. Better yet, join me!  Leave a comment on the page, let me know how it’s going.

The Challenge: Every day, for thirty days, “find” something and incorporate it.

The Big Idea: By being awake to the random treasures, novel ideas, new experiences and provoking thoughts in my day, how might my day continue to dawn? What happens when we integrate intention and serendipity?

The Small Print: All “finds” are eligible: visual, literary, sensual, intellectual, spiritual; stuff, feelings, etc. Incorporation must be accomplished within the same day; documentation may be delayed due to internet access. Incorporation need not be clever, artistic, profound or even remotely interesting. But I bet it will be.

One idea, thirty days, infinite possibilities.

Life Lesson #19: Only that day dawns to which we are awake. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Life Lessons, Making a List

Confessions of a Coursera Drip Out

Here are two things that I believe about myself:


  1. I am a good student.
  2. I am not a quitter.

Here are two things I now know about myself:

  1. I am a rusty student.
  2. I may not quit, but I sure can stray.

It’s finals week in Coursera land and I’m cramming.  Not because I actually plan to take the final in Model Thinking – I gave up on the tests some time ago – but because I really do want to learn the material and I really don’t want to have to admit (here or anywhere else) that I am one of those countless people who drop out of Coursera  classes.

I haven’t dropped out, but you might say I essentially dripped out. Nowhere near the scholarly flow to which I aspired.

My intentions were so good. (Aren’t they always?) I began with robust attendance and punctuality. I kept copious notes, took each quiz — and retook them when I didn’t think my scores reflected my enthusiasm for or grasp of the content. I  alerted the TA when study notes were incomplete or inaccurate. I brushed up on skills to support my understanding. I blocked time to study for the midterm.

Then I missed a quiz. And I got a little sick and fell behind in my studying. Next thing you know, my vacation conflicted with the midterm, and what with the day out for illness and travel and  being out of range of all things electronic, I missed the midterm exam deadline.

Or, more accurately: I blew the thing off completely.

Suddenly I am feeling a whole lot more empathy for people who do drop out. It’s such an alarmingly easy slide. A little miss here, a little delay there. The train can be long gone from the station and you can’t catch it even if you want to.

If nothing else, that lesson is long over-due for my judgy old self.

So I’m learning – about mathematical models and myself – and working hard to catch up. I don’t want the train to leave without me.

Life Lesson #18: It ain’t over ’til it’s over – just be sure you’re the one to decide when it’s over for you.

P.S. I highly recommend Scott Page’s Model Thinking class – engaging, challenging and relevant. Best of all, it’s got me thinking about the world in new ways. Way cool.


Shooting Stars and Other Marvels of the Universe

I sat out one night to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Perhaps my timing was bad, or the ambient light too strong, but I didn’t manage to spot any falling stars.

At first I was disheartened. Then I was simply entranced with the sky in all its twinkling stillness.

Sometimes we go looking for exotic zebras and find “only” horses. We ought not be disappointed.

I heard an unfamiliar bird call and stepped on the deck to listen more closely.

I could not place the insistent sharp whistle, but above the trees two hawks circled. Do hawks whistle? They played on the currents, banking, gliding, gently twirling. Luxuriating in what was available.

In the mid-August late afternoon, the dappled shade is lovely, soothing; the sunnier side of the deck, parched and smelling of hot rubber door mats. A cold beer blurs the edges of what seem like endless possibilities. I ponder the art of living large by living small.

UnComfort Zone

It Takes Courage

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ― E.E. Cummings

I am standing among a group of women, all alumnae of the same elite college. We’re gathered at ImpactHubDC,* the local presence of a “global community of professionals taking action to drive positive social and environmental change” that opened here in April. Hours earlier I had contemplated bailing on the evening, not being much of a mingler nor thinking myself any good at networking.  But I am here and I am chatting with a woman who tells me that no less than the Dalai Lama himself has said that Western women will save the world.  Looking around the room, I think, “The future is in very good hands.”

You know that funny coincidence, when you learn a new word or concept and suddenly you see it everywhere?  I had one of those weeks.  Apparently, the Word of the Week is: Courage.

To be honest, part of the reason I was tempted to no-show on the networking event is that I haven’t entirely figured out how to talk about my life with a group of complete strangers. Am I retired? Does my “reboot” description come across as a euphemism for something dire? How much about my reasons for leaving work do I reveal in the first rounds of socializing? What’s my new narrative? 

I was nervous.

And I shouldn’t have been.

If I’ve learned anything in these past months it would be that while a few folks are a little baffled, a couple jealous, some downright incredulous, the overwhelming reaction has been admiration – people see the move as brave. It seems l’m living other people’s dream – the one that scares them so much they can’t really contemplate it for themselves. They’re just glad to see someone doing it.

No doubt I raised a few eyebrows, but “reboot” seemed to make sense to people and I found my way through a new narrative. All-in-all it went just fine. Actually, better than fine. Most of our conversations that evening were about clarifying hope and goals, taking action – and how we could support one another in those efforts.

It wasn’t about me and my little side show. This was about all of us, gradually, collectively making our way to becoming who we really are.

I can’t tell you how many people told me they’d taken a step back at some point, gotten off the merry-go-round, taken stock and made, as I like to say, a hard  left. I found in this collection of women some wonderful and unexpected mentors and role models. With each new story I thought, How cool! What courage!

Earlier in the day, I’d had lunch with C. who is recently divorced, recently unemployed, supporting two kids in school and looking great nonetheless. I think it is fair to say it’s taking considerable courage to live her life right now – an entirely different kind of fortitude than anything I need to muster. We sat in a park and contemplated the art installation on the grassy lawn in front of us. An over-sized chalkboard was painted with the heading “If only I have the courage to…”  Across the dusty surface passers-by had scrawled their inner most fears and dreams. After we’d eaten, C. and I added ours – sharing with the world and one another hopes we’d not disclosed before, perhaps not even to ourselves.

Today I returned to the park and the chalkboard and read the latest installments, thinking about courage and what it takes to tap into it, unleash it, let it fly. Like the women gathered over wine and carrots in D.C., each chalky thought seemed like a step closer to being who we really are. With each such step, I think the future is in very good hands.

SAM_2388* ImpactHubDC looks to be a very cool operation. If you are in the area check it out!

Making a List, UnComfort Zone

Diagnosis: Acute Heliolatry Ambivalence

SAM_2073 It’s the height of summer and I’m suffering from Acute Heliolatry Ambivalence (AHA), vacillating between loving the sun and avoiding it assiduously, a dizzying ricochet between cautious and callous about my sun exposure.

The first step is to admit I have a problem. My AHA a-ha moment came a few weeks ago when I was about to spend four hours in the afternoon sun and I genuinely had no access to additional sun screen — and I realized I was both deeply anxious and totally delighted.

The AMA has yet to codify AHA, so I thought I would give them a leg up:

  • Full knowledge of the harm of sun exposure to skin, especially fair skin, co-existing with deep denial;
  • Vulnerability to cultural norms of beauty and “sun-kissed” skin, while being pale;
  • Erratic application of sunscreen, ranging from obsessive slathering to none at all;
  • Feeling scandalized by the deeply tanned or sunburned, with a strong sense of revulsion — and envy;
  • Rationalizing sun-damaged skin as “freckled”, including susceptibility to others’ comparable machinations;
  • Loving sun on face, loathing sun on face, loving sun on face, loathing sun on face;
  • Owning a large collection of hats, not one of which is ever what you want to have on your head
  • “The Familial Answer” – Have parents and grandparents who have had multiple grafts to treat skin cancer. Spend some time revisiting those images. See also: personal history of treatment for actinic keratosis.
  • “The Aussie Answer”Slip, Slop, Slap  – Trust the folks from Down Under to make it look fun for the fair. Slip on a cover-up; slop on the sunscreen; slap on a hat.
  • “The Fashion Revolution Fantasy” – Celebrate and promote the up-and-coming generation of gorgeously un-cooked young women who are setting a new beauty standard. [Editor’s Note: As an aside, and in contrast, the whole tanning bed thing is a complete mystery to me, a business most certainly promulgated by dermatologists of evil intent looking to guarantee their future incomes. Even a hard core AHA sufferer can tell those things are bad.]
  • Treatment? There is no treatment. Get over it.
  • Chronic, requiring regular care and maintenance.
Back Story

Spiritual Homeland Part II

Back in my spiritual homeland, not once but twice this summer, I dipped my bucket into the sweet well of Thoreau’s Walden and drank deeply.  A picture is worth a thousand words, even of the esteemed Henry David.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.