My little wooden Buddha has the best spot in the house, in terms of keeping an eye on me. He rests right above my TV, facing the couch, in the living room.
And it’s a good thing, too, because I trust his insight.
Or my insight, as it were. Because my little wooden Buddha reminds me to develop that insight through an on-again, off-again meditation practice I’ve tried to keep up with since 2006.
When I am practicing, I find it helpful. I can relax, concentrate, and unspool the tangled wires in my mind. But finding the time, as with anything, is hard. And even when I think I’m starting the habit again, it doesn’t take long for me to fall out of practice.
I often share the National Geographic story that helped me tinker with meditation as a way of life. I figured, if a Buddhist monk was, on paper, the happiest person alive because of meditation, surely it’s worth a try.
There’s also something about a philosophy/religion that tackles attachment and confronts desires that appealed to me. It still does.
So my little wooden Buddha sits up there, eyes closed, palm in palm, waiting for me to sit my butt on a cushion and close my eyes for 10, 15, or 20 minutes. And breathe.
I picked him up in a little gift shop on State St. in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2005 – when the idea of some sort of meditation practiced first took hold. Now, all these years later, he’s still sitting there calmly, waiting for me to begin again.
At heart, I’ve always been a photographer. I was the one snapping pictures on family trips, at fraternity parties in college, and on cross-country vacations.
But besides some disposable Kodak film cameras (remember those?), it’s always been digital.
As I got more into photography, the more I toyed with the idea of playing with a film camera. There was a local camera shop in town that still processed film. Film is still relatively cheap. All I needed was a camera.
Then, last summer, we were cleaning out the attic at work when one of my co-workers stumbled on his old Pentax K1000 – the camera our communications department used before we switched to digital.
So I gained a whole new side hobby: film speeds, new lenses, not-quite-automatic exposure controls. Pretty cool.
I definitely use the Pentax differently. The shots are a bit more thoughtful, more composed, and (I’ll just say it) more artsy. With film, there’s only one shot to get it right. So maybe it’s a bit more my methodical speed.
It did take me three wasted rolls of film before I learned how to load the thing probably, though. So there’s that.
But the first developed roll turned out just fine. I stuck to fairly boring landscape shots, but I’m getting the hang of it.
All of my “Things I Like” photos were taken with a Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 lens, pictured here – except this one, obviously, which was taken with an 85mm.
But the 50mm is my favorite. I, like a lot of beginning photographers, cut my teeth on the 50mm prime lens. Originally, I had the f/1.8 model that served me well for two years. In fact, I took a lot of my favorite photos – hell, maybe a majority of my photos – using that “Nifty Fifty.”
Over the holidays, I found Canon dropping the price on the f/1.4 model by $100 or more. I thought about it, and thought about it, and finally pulled the trigger in January. Canon has been updating – and raising the price on – their other primes, like the 28mm. I figured with the recent 50mm price drop, Canon would refresh it next. So I pulled the trigger and took advantage of the deal.
I use a 50mm f/1.4 almost exclusively at work, with a Canon 7D. It’s my go-to portrait and classroom lens. I love the quality, the color, and the contrast the lens produces. And I’m super glad to have one of my own now.
There are tradeoffs to having a 50mm lens on a cropped-factor camera like my T1i: you need space to work in, and you can’t capture a whole lot in the field of view. But I find it often takes intimate photos that can’t be beat.
The dream is to someday hook it up to a full-frame Canon. Some day.
For now, though, it’s still my go-to and favorite lens.
One time I got something stuck in the headphone jack of my iPhone 3G.
Being the DIYer that I am, I decided to fish it out with a Q-tip. Bad move.
From then on, no audio jack plug worked with my iPhone. The fibers from the Q-tip became stuck inside the audio jack, preventing a secure connection. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
This meant I couldn’t listen to albums or podcasts on my morning commute. Thankfully, my trusty iPod Shuffle came to the rescue. I used it every single day as my on-the-go audio device until I purchased an iPhone 4S.
To say the iPod Shuffle is simple is to be coy. There’s no visual interface. Just a few buttons and a clip. But its simplicity is its beauty – and its usefulness. I use mine all the time.
The blue one was my first one. It was a refurbished model, all of $50, that lasted until I left it in a pants pocket and it took a trip through the wash cycle (I’m hard on my iPods). Try as I could to save it, it was done. Retired.
But I didn’t want one of those goofy 3rd generation Chicklet models. No, I wanted real buttons. So I bought a 2nd-gen model on Amazon – a low-key silver one that works like a dream.
These days I mainly use my Shuffle for gym workouts. The clip is everything: it helps the iPod stay out the way, stay secure, and stay with me. And it does one thing well: plays audio. Boom.
The one complaint I have is that, if you accidentally his the Reverse button, you erase all the progress on a podcast – meaning you have to fast forward through to the point you left off. It’s annoying, and it happens enough that I’m complaining about it.
But despite the abuse, despite it’s simple nature, and despite being a two-generations-ago model, I do appreciate the little bugger.
When I bought my first iPod, it opened me up to an idea: instead of carrying stacks of CDs in the car with me on road trips, with an iPod I could carry something the size of a pack of cards and have all of my music with me.
No more fishing for CDs, so more jewel cases slipping between the seats – everything about it was better.
The same thinking has not occurred to me with books, however. Maybe it’s that I don’t have a dedicated e-reader, so I don’t know what I’m missing. But I haven’t felt compelled to buy an e-reader, either.
So I still buy books. Good ol’ fashioned bound, paper, heavy books.
My favorites range all over the place: Carl Sagan takes the cake, of course, but also John Irving, a few political biographies, and a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. I like the heft of books, being able to open one anywhere and continuing where I left off. The smell of an old bookstore, the feel of the paper, my notes scribbled in the margins.
Some of that you can replicate with e-books. But not everything.
It’s not just books. It’s everything involved with books: libraries, book stores, “free books” carts in the classroom hallways. There’s a lot of infrastructure around books, and I like all that, too.
I understand that a lot of it is not necessary. Libraries are already evolving into “media centers.” Book stores are having a helluva time. Just as we don’t read scrolls anymore, the days of the book may be limited.
Unlike when we upgrade our video media, however, you can always pick up a book. It always works. It’s never obsolete or incompatible.
Maybe someday I’ll grab an e-reader and switch full-bore. Maybe. In the meantime, though, I’ll keep reading Dr. Sagan as I always have.
It had been so long since I booted up my Newton eMate that, before taking a photo of it, I had to recharge its meager battery.
But like clockwork (and like all of Apple’s Newton PDAs), it started up like no time had passed – it’s familiar grid of app icons hinting at future Apple products.
It used to be that I ran a decently popular blog, Newton Poetry, writing about the eMate and its MessagePad cousins. There used to be not a day that passed that I wouldn’t scribble on one of these green screens, hacking my Macs to get them to install new software, or discovering some long-abandoned app that still, after all these years, seemed useful.
But now my eMate sits on a shelf in my office, along with my Newton MessagePad 110, a few non-working iPods, and other miscellaneous Apple products. It’s joined the assorted classic Macintoshes that I just haven’t found room for in my life.
Not after buying a house, and not after taking up photography as a full-time hobby.
The truth, though, is that booting this little green guy up made me happy. It made me happy to still see it working. It made me happy to see all the apps I installed to monkey around with. And it made me happy thinking about all those fun blog projects, from 2007 to 2011, that I tackled.
I keep thinking I’ll kick-start the blog again, instead of leaving it languishing with a few random photo posts here and there. There’s a collection of articles just waiting for commentary. The project stuff, though – there just doesn’t seem much room for that stuff. Not any more.
Still, my eMate and I? We had a lot of fun together. And now that I brought it back to life, maybe we’ll have some more fun.
[Here’s something new: a series of things I like and use an awful lot around the house.]
I like coffee, so liking coffee mugs seems obvious.
But my coffee mugs tell a story: where I’ve been, where I’ve worked, what friends have given me gifts. My mugs come from Las Vegas, and Chicago (above), and Yellowstone National Park, and even Texas. I have mugs from my alma mater, my former employer, and a marketing company in Columbus, OH.
There are mugs I’ve designed, and mug I’d wished I’d designed. There are Beatles mugs, and NPR mugs, and patriotic mugs.
A lot of my mugs have broken handles. That’s because I’m a klutz. It usually happens when I’m washing the dishes. Either I’ll drop a mug and break it against another dish, or I’ll drop a mug on the floor trying to put it away. I drop lots of things.
There’s another class of coffee mug: the travel mug. These don’t last as long because they get more use. But here again, something always breaks. Usually it’s a seal, and so the mug starts to take on water, and I make a mess on my morning commute.
So I keep collecting them. And using them.
// edited with VSCO Kodak T-MAX 3200+ (switched to color mode)
So it’s with great pleasure that, after digging the spot out my galas with my fingernail, I can put that discolored depression to good use. Into my coffee can it goes, collecting with other vegetable matter, coffee grounds, and crushed egg shells. From there, it goes into my compost pile.
The whole concept of compost fascinates me. But maybe I said that already.
Anyway, now that the garden is finishing up, it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned since March – and since my first garden project last year.
First, though, let me say that it’s a helluva joy to eat stuff you’ve grown with your own two hands – especially when it’s drop-dead delicious. That yellow tomato? Life-changing. The green beans that never stop coming? Tender and flavorful. I was a veggie fan before, but now? Died-in-the-wool, man.
Maybe you’ve heard, but there’s a lot of work involved in gardening. Milkweed plants were a problem. They would sprout up without fail in the middle of the spinach or bush beans. It’s not a pretty plant. When I would pull it at its base, the whole thing would come up easily.
Mosquitos were also a problem. Back in the garden area, the mosquitos were everywhere – especially when I would work out there, near dusk. I would head out to the garden with my gloves and bucket, start picking veggies, and be swarmed. Absolutely swarmed.
There were always weeds to be picked. Grass to tear out. Now, because I’m only out there once a week (if that), the weeds are taking over. Clover and milkweed and random grasses – they’re stealing the sun from the planted-on-purpose vegetables. Eventually they’ll take over, and once again the area will need to be cleared. Next spring, perhaps. It’ll become a perennial tradition.
In the meantime, the beans and tomatoes keep coming. They’re crowding each other’s territory now: the tomatoes are greedy with their sunshine, and shoot stalk into the zucchini plant’s territory.
Soil and sun and water join forces to make delicious. It’s an easy formula, even when you question if it’s going to work out. You plant the seeds and you wait. And you wait some more. And then some green appears, and you’re kind of worried because you don’t know how it’s going to do. It does just fine, thanks, and in a few months you see some produce. The green tomatoes stay green longer than you’d like, and the squash never really comes at all.
“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube,” Hunter S. Thompson once said, and it’s true in the case of gardening. Gardening is, at its heart, a Zen practice: deep breaths, slumped shoulders, and just a little bit of slack-jawed senselessness. You want the damn things to be done already, but Nature says, “Hold on. Be patient.”
What choice do you have? Squeezed out of a tube it is.
Here’s the part where I rap lyrically about the Earth and the soil, and how deep and powerful it is. The truth is, the dirt is vitally important to the vegetables, and not at all to me. I deal well with plants, not with dirt. Sweaty is better than dirty, always. Except for a short period of time when I was toddler and ate mud, getting dirty has never been my idea of fun. I love to work and to put forth effort, to get drenched in sweat and have my hands raw with effort. But I don’t like to get dirty. I leave that to the plants.
But those tomatoes? They make the whole thing worth it. Every bite is a reminder of those weeks and months of work. The little seeds that started as sprouts and then became bushy food factories. Now I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. So I bring them to work, and others enjoy them.
Step by step, food is born. It’s a beautiful thing. Delicious, too, not only in flavor but in appreciation.