misc

Lunacy

We all knew, years in advance, that this day was coming. Our attention spans are short, so we only really started preparing – with the glasses and the filters and our lunch plans – earlier this summer.

So we took the kids, the grandparents, our fellow students, our co-workers, and we all went outside for a bit this afternoon. Novelty glasses in hand, we looked up, and we saw our sky change.

We watched young and old, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, natural born and immigrant go out into the fading sunlight and watch and wonder. See how the light changes? See how the shadows shift their shape? See that funny cardboard contraption the astronomy students are wearing on their heads?

See how everyone, regardless of background, came outside and shared an experience?

Astronomers have our solar system down pat. They know where the sun and moon and Earth will be in relation to each other from now until Rapture. Barring an unexpected astroid, the future is predictable, thanks to models and observation.

We Americans think we know better. Sure, we show up at an appointed time expecting a celestial show. But when it does happen, we don’t think that makes the scientific method any more reliable. We question and we “fake news” everything, still, even when the heavens dance around us, as predicted.

It’s lunacy.

We rarely get the larger message – in plain view there in the sky, in front of our own filtered eyes – just as we rarely think about eclipses a decade down the road.

We don’t have to “believe” in the eclipse; it happens with or without us. We don’t get that message, either.


Room For Time

Only We Can Rearrange

“What’s clear is that it’s healthiest if we make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.”

Austin Kleon, “The Bliss Station

For me, a simple daily practice is stepping away from my office computer. Take a walk, step away, eat lunch outside – whatever it takes.


Go Outside and Play

Last summer, at our former house, we noticed something more and more: of all our neighbors, we were the only ones who spent any measurable amount of time outside.

Whether for grilling, or for playing on the swing set, or going for a simple walk around the block, our family was largely alone. We didn’t see some neighbors for weeks. Others only went outside to mow the lawn, or get in their car and leave. My wife and I would sit in the backyard, after putting the kids to bed, just to read and drink and watch the birds. Again: all alone, all by ourselves.

Granted, we lived in a rural neighborhood, and most country folks stick to themselves. But we couldn’t shake a thought: how weird that other people in our neighborhood weren’t enjoying the lovely Michigan summer. So far, it’s been the same story at our new house.

Maybe a lot has changed since I was a kid (“Go outside and play!” my mother would shout, and we did – all day long). There are a lot of new time suck options, from Netflix to Facebook, even in rural areas. Given that more people (especially children) are spending less time outside, my values probably differ from my nation’s.

On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into nature worship, and praise fresh air so much that you become annoying. I’ll admit that not everyone craves Thoreau’s “tonic of wilderness” like I do. We sent our son to a nature center for preschool, and he spent most of his school day outdoors in the woods. That’s not for everyone.

But, I do think that if you have a yard, you should spend time in it. If you live on a road, you should walk up and down it from time to time.

And if you’re a photographer, getting outside should be a part of your practice. Take your camera, grab your kids or pet, and go outside to see what the season has accomplished.

(Coincidentally, a recent Roderick On the Line podcast episode had a discussion about this subject, specifically about people playing sports outside. Good listen.)


Lack Of Agency

Lack Of Agency

Seth Godin’s recent post hit a nerve:

There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don’t have much choice in the matter.

They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.

But you have more choice than you know.

In our recent move, I’ve twice dealt with corporations and utilities that have made me feel like I have no agency. Most recently, Apple Support left me hanging on an Apple ID and iTunes issue. Apple! A company I’ve supported each of my adult years!

Call support centers are a form of capitalist nihilism. There’s no reason for any of the decisions made except to make the company’s situation better, and to help you feel powerless. It’s rare that a support interaction has a positive outcome – so rare, that we marvel at Creation when it happens.

My Apple interaction was especially galling. From 2005-2008, I purchased a bunch of music under an old Apple ID. From 2008 on, I’ve been purchasing music from a different Apple ID, unaware of the consequences, so now I have a bunch of music in limbo. The support center’s solution? “Switch Apple IDs each time you want to listen to that music.” Helpful! And silly. What they don’t tell you is that each time you switch Apple IDs in iTunes, it locks the previous Apple ID for 90 days.

Three months! Unacceptable. And completely arbitrary.

So now I’ll be sticking to downloading my music from companies with fewer arbitrary restrictions (as Godin writes, keeping the “ability to shop around”). It’s one of the reasons I don’t rely on subscription-based music services. There is, by definition, no agency involved in that transaction. If you unsubscribe, all the music goes away.

The larger point can be applied to creativity and photography, of course. There’s creative agency – that sense of not being held hostage by expectations and self-imposed pressure. On the technology side, by submitting our work to Instagram and Tumblr, you’re giving up a bit of agency. And if something goes wrong, your only recourse is a faceless call center, if that.

My one weak spot: Flickr. I rely on Ol’ Reliable for so much of what I do, including image hosting for this very blog. And I have a lot of time and infrastructure wrapped up in that website. If something goes wrong, I’ll be in a bit of trouble. It won’t be catastrophic, but it certainly won’t be fun.

When we keep our agency, in the form of hosted, backed-up websites and blogs, we have a bit more say in the matter. We can always pack up and put up our tent somewhere else.


Going Home Again

Home Sweet Home

After six months of house hunting, we picked our winner and are in the midst of closing the deal.

For those that have never purchased a home, house hunting can be a long, grueling process – especially if you’re selling a home at the same time as trying to buy one. Lots of waiting, making pro and con lists, weekends spent wading through strangers’ lives, cleaning up the house to show it. It’s stressful.

And the idea of packing up and moving is never my idea of fun. I moved a lot (no really – a ton) as a kid, so I equate moving with hardship. Staying in one place helps me feel secure.

Relocating does have benefits. We’re moving closer to town, and closer to family. Our work commutes will be shorter. Trips to the grocery store won’t take as long. Living back in the city means we can be more involved in local culture and politics.

As you can see, the new place has great natural light coming in. The yard is nice, and there’s a bit more room. It’s a good house in a good neighborhood, with lots of opportunity to make it our own. And it’s a quick walk to the local park system, ice cream parlor included. As I said: benefits!

The Lawrences are coming back to Jackson.


Make Time For Beauty

Just Because I'm Weak

Good advice in general, but maybe especially these days, from Jon Ward:

A healthy perspective on politics, and life in general, requires time away from politics…

Creating is a big part of making room for beauty. But so is making time for enjoying and appreciating beauty, through art, nature, music, etc.

Losing yourself in something other than politics is good medicine.


Holiday Break

I’m lucky to work in higher education, where the week between Christmas and the new year are seen as an automatic holiday. This year, I took a few extra days before Christmas off, meaning a lot of time at home with the family.

What did we do? Not much. A bit of repair work on my car, some house showings, a couple of sick kids to contend with, and the busy back-and-forth of family holiday time. I was able to dig into a few photo books – Alex Webb’s The Suffering of Light was a nice Christmas gift – and think about my creative work for 2017.

But mostly, it was just what I had hoped for: quiet time, doing quiet things.

Happy New Year.

 


Holiday Habits

Holiday Habits

I have two habits around the holidays.

One: I take the last day I’m at work and clean my office. Dust, vacuum,  straighten up – I’m going to be gone for a few days, so it’s good to get it tidy. This is a great thing to do right before a vacation, too. That way, when you get back, everything’s in ship shape.

Two: I take a break from social media. This year, it will be an even bigger break than I’ve been playing with the past few months.

The holidays, and this first part of winter, are a quiet time. I like quiet music, quiet weather (snow!), quiet nights at home watching movies and basking in the warm glow of Christmas lights. Peace and quiet.

Twitter and Instagram and everything else are noise, so they’re not allowed. Not for a week or two. Instead, I spend time with family and make things and share in the season with friends and family.

This is a good practice during vacations, too. Save all your photo sharing until you’re back home, and have had time to process your time away.

Soon, I bet you’ll look forward to these habits. Time away does us all some good.


Work With Your Hands

Northampton, Massachusetts

In middle school, my shop teacher was a grizzled old guy. Suspenders, beard, calloused hands – a stereotype if there ever was one. He told us to “make sure you keep things steady” while his hands shook. Neat guy.

One day he told us a story about taking a factory job as a younger man. Our teacher, the new employee, had to work 30 days in the plant without taking a day off. If he worked those 30 consecutive days, he got hired on as a full-time employee. If he missed even one day, he would be let go.

Well, he missed a day because he was violently ill. And of course he got let go from his new job. His lesson, if I remember it right, was that the real world was a tough place, and you had to work hard and pay your dues to make it.

I probably knew it earlier than seventh grade, but after hearing my shop teacher’s story, I figured out that maybe I didn’t want a blue collar job. I wanted to make things, yes, always. But not work in manufacturing – as my father had. It’s not that blue collar work was “below me.” I wasn’t “too good” for a factory job. It’s just that shop class never clicked, and hearing my teacher’s story made me worry about the prospects of working at a place like that. My future was going to be spent doing creative things with my mind.

Luckily, today we can “work with our hands” in other ways: digital projects, hobbies, crafting, writing, etc. It doesn’t have to be a full time job. The stakes are much lower.

At my previous job, there were a few college professors that spent their entire days in the abstract, teaching and reading and lecturing. When they got back home, they got their hands busy doing things like woodworking and car repair. I understood that need. It’s why I enjoy fixing things around the house when I can.

As humans, our best tools are our hands, and maybe tinkering tickles some ancient need we have as toolmakers.

It’s one of the reasons why I love making and pouring over physical things like photo books. Holding something physical, making artistic decisions about materials – I create things with my mind, and then get to hold them in my hands.