Sunday, January 31, 2016

Benched Week 94: will it go ‘round in circles?

When I looked at the hotel for tonight on Google maps, I saw that it was only a block and a half from the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. Unfortunately, I had already posted from that spot. I considered waiting for another trip, but when I arrived and saw the snowy landscape, I decided to wander down and take another stroll.
After all, there’s value in revisiting familiar territory. There’s always more to learn. It’s true in art. In love. Certainly, in landscapes.

For instance, there was a statue I had missed on my first sitting. Feeling compassion for its bald head, I loaned it my hat for a minute. A woman passing laughed and said, “He would have liked that.”

Old Glory fluttered over Federal Hill Park.
Two benches caught my eye. First there was the wildly optimistic one.

And then, the bench that invited me with its bright colors. I sat on this one for a while.

The Inner Harbor is always an impressive view.

But today, it looked as if Banksy had just run by with cans of shaving cream.

In my mind, I kept coming back to the theme. Which was, in fact, the theme: coming back. How many times can one return to something before it grows stale? Before there’s not much left to glean? I think these Benched posts are running out of steam. I press on to reach 100, but often feel like I’m humming tunes I’ve picked up from previous musings.

Much like the carousel just off the harbor, covered up for the winter, sometimes revisiting familiar territory is a circular journey. It provides comfort in the familiar. A favorite book. The same spot for vacation. A church worship service.

No harm there. Until it becomes mindless repetition. Until it becomes simply a habit, yielding little more than a vague sense of safety in the recognizable. Mark Twain called this entrenched habit custom. And custom, he wrote, “is petrification; nothing but dynamite can dislodge it for a century.” That Twain – a jester with a point.
We don’t have to be trapped by our carousel of custom. If we walk away replenished from the encounter -- or better yet, changed by it, then it’s not truly circular. It moves us forward.

That’s where the rubber meets the road, at least for me. It’s about moving forward. Continuing the journey.
Even if sometimes I look back to where I’ve been.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Benched Week 94: how can this be?

 Every January, I start the year giving myself a pep talk. In one sentence. Call it a personal slogan – a simply-put idea to focus on throughout the coming months. This year, I’m charging myself to wonder about wonder.

I recently attended a performance where a magician brought a  young girl on stage and had her throw invisible coins into a metal bucket.  He look of utter astonishment with the first clink of a coin was priceless.  (I drew this from a photo I took a bit later, when he was making coins drop from her elbow.)

This old-time photo from the web captures the expression.


Pondering what constitutes wonder, I’ve decided that a key question drives it: “How can this be?” Incredulity is necessary for our reaction. But there’s also an essential abundance required for the cause: something is good over and above the norm. When good happens, we are grateful. When something extraordinarily great happens, we wonder.

Which brings me to my bench. I was on the sidewalk in Manhattan on Tuesday night, having finished my all-day capture of a visioning session. Dreading the drive home in rush hour traffic, I was fully focused on the problem – a “grim-faced and fell” road warrior (as Tolkien might have described). Striding my way through the crowds.

Then I passed the New York Public Library with its majestic lions. As I stopped to take a photo of one, realization crept into my mind like moonlight under a pulled shade: Dude, you are in New York City! (Apparently, Realization speaks like a frat buddy.) Here I was, not in the days of desperate hawking of my portfolio thirty years ago, but by invitation of a global company. This was no mild career improvement. This was an incredible, unexpected turn-around.
I had to find a bench, just to sit and wonder for a while.

Abundance in some forms is easy to spot. There is the abundance in beauty – seen easily in nature. Like the orchid I captured recently at the U.S. Botanic Gardens.

Or seen in man-made beauty, like a Lord & Taylor’s display. (Though, note to L&T: brighter isn’t always better.)

It’s harder to recognize abundance in situations. The everyday graces. The surprising blessings. Why are these harder to see? Our sense of entitlement blinds us. If we want to be wide-eyed with wonder about a coin in a bucket, we can’t expect it to be there. The first step toward amazement is to stop looking at the extraordinary as mundane. Stop seeing lions just as overgrown cats.

Sometimes that will require to cease our purposeful striding. Find a bench to sit on.
And look up in contented disbelief.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Benched Week 93: what time will tell

Time is a curious thing. It’s so changeable. Sometimes the clicks of the clock are like ants marching in a long line. Then suddenly, a moment will soar skyward, giving us a dizzying bird’s-eye glimpse of the span of our lives.

This happens often when I read my old journals. Present Me coexists in the same instant with Younger (and often Clueless) Me. But this also happens when I reconnect with long-lost friends – something I’ve been doing a lot lately.

Here I am with my long-lost childhood friend, Paul. He’s just one of a half-dozen of old friends who have recently stepped out of the past with a warm embrace. Each one has handed to me precious reminders of who I was. And perhaps, still am.

Which brings me to my bench. With a suitable compression of time, I return to the photos I took a month ago in a park outside of Washington, D.C. where I discovered two interesting visuals -- metaphors of the past.

On one modern bench lay a wilting bouquet of roses. It was startling to see such luxurious red in a drab landscape.

And nearby, another bench…

…gave me a view of the stone foundations of a farmhouse.

This is the time of year when I take time to reflect on recent history. I love that we have a reset button in our calendar, when we all give ourselves fresh starts. As I use my bird’s-eye view of the past year, my hope is to celebrate those glorious, yet fleeting, moments and successes – the memories of which fade like the bloom of roses. And to find those rock-solid lessons on which I can build.

That’s the challenge. Cherish the good of the past. But never stop building. Keep creating. Constantly grow.

Celebration and anticipation. Looking back and looking ahead.

For me, for now, the best vehicle for that dual perspective is the visual journal I’ve been keeping for the past year. In some ways, it is the outlet for my personal creativity I’ve searched for on all these benches.

For though it slowly fills with memories, every day starts the same way: with an invitingly blank page. And like the time remaining for each of us, blank isn’t simply the absence of content.
It’s the presence of unlimited possibility.
Time to get started!