Welcome, everybody, to this week’s art challenge. In honor of Valentine’s Day, our theme is–you guessed it–LOVE.
Meet Wendy and Peter, affectionately named for two of our most beloved storybook characters. They’re nesting in a fuchsia, alongside our front walkway. At 19 and 20 days old, they’re still too young to fly; but within a week, they’ll take to the skies on shimmery wings, as hummingbirds are wont to do. Love, ongoing and everlasting.
Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” That quotation goes to the heart of who I am: a child of God who views the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonderment. It also speaks to the joy that comes of taking field trips with my camera.
In the gauzy hour before sunrise, our shuttle pulls into the circular driveway of Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Streetlamps twinkle on shiny poles, and polished travertine gleams in our headlights. My husband collects his pre-op instructions; I give his hand a gentle squeeze. Sirens wail. Paramedics lower a gurney from an ambulance, and the hospital doors whoosh open, bathing everyone in light.
Hollywood-style glitz, more often associated with its namesake than your typical hospital
Here, staff members treat surgical patients with the same accord as trauma patients, who get the same level of care as celebrities who roll up to the entrance in chauffer-driven Bentleys. Stretched by limited space and overwhelming demand, staff members nevertheless find a way to share a deep appreciation for the human beings that occupy their beds. “What’s your story?” finds its harmony in the oft-repeated, “How can I help you?”
Several hours later, I find myself pacing the length of the recovery unit. A grizzled man clings to an IV pole, winces as he shuffles past me, pivots, and matches his steps to mine. “Way to go,” I say, and he gives me a wan smile.
“I was born in the original UCLA hospital,” I say.
“Don’t date yourself,” he warns.
We walk together in silence, but before long, he’s describing for me a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam. He’d signed up for the military after high school—same as his daddy, and his granddaddy before him. But while he didn’t expect a hero’s welcome when he returned home as a decorated paratrooper, neither did he expect to be pelted with glass bottles, verbal expletives, and spit. He shrugs, scratches the tattoos that span the length of his arms, says his heart transplant was probably caused by stress. But he is quick to reassure me that the protesters hadn’t broken his spirit. He is proud of his children, and several grandchildren look up to him, now.
We linger in my husband’s doorway, talking softly while he emerges from his anesthesia haze. A nurse swoops in, repositions the cotton gown around his shoulders, offers him water, and fluffs his pillows. Eric opens his eyes, gives me a weak smile that says, roughly translated: “I love you. We made it.”
They are worlds apart, my husband and this wounded veteran. Their paths converged in this hospital because of health concerns, nothing more. Their prognoses are good. They have everything in the world to live for, and they know it.
Believe it or not, the same can be said for the people who huddle inside these temporary quarters, parallel-parked on a road less travelled.
You’ve perhaps seen this kind of encampment on your way to work: a derelict dwelling that afflicts the comfortable. Most people avert their eyes as they hurry past…but I don’t.
What I’m about to tell you might come as a surprise to some, given that I most often blog about hummingbirds and butterflies, wonders of nature and writerly stuff.
As the daughter of an itinerant preacher, I’m intimately familiar with the musky odors of makeshift quarters like these. I’ve experienced poverty so severe that it creeps into your psyche, have endured hunger pangs so severe that they feel like a shank to the belly. I spent a good portion of my childhood in the margins, wholly dependent on the kindnesses of strangers. Despite–or maybe because of all this–I cling to the comforting words of my Nana: “In the darkest nights of winter, watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
Nana taught me to lean in the direction of things that are “lovely, honest, and true,” to believe, without wavering, that “joy cometh in the morning.” She never stood in the pulpit, but by her example, I learned the simple elegance of the Golden Rule. It’s the gold standard, when it comes to taking the measure of your life.
I’m not afraid to venture into neighborhoods best known for crumbling sidewalks, ghost signs and hazard cones, and curbs so steeped in garbage that you turn your ankle when you step into the street against the light. Call me reckless if you will, but I’m not afraid to venture into darkness to serve “the least of these.” I love the whirr of iridescent wings, but this is the pulse of my life.
Rarely has any of this made its way into my blog–not explicitly, anyway–for reasons I’d rather not go into right now. Mary Oliver once said: “Write for whatever holy things you believe in.” I’ve always done that, sometimes in broader strokes than others. But the events of this past weekend have inspired me to put a finer point on things this morning.
All that to say: when I sprinkle candies over a swirl of frozen yogurt (to celebrate my husband’s homecoming), I also toss a large wedge of gourmet Swiss cheese into the grocery cart. An impulse buy, for total strangers.
I keep a respectful distance, smiled as I peer into the shadows. “Hi, my name is Melodye,” I say, “Do either of you like cheese?”
Four hands, light and dark, stretch beyond the portal of the tent. A wordless answer, easily translated.
We exchange names, share a few pleasantries, and then I retreat to the warmth of my car. New friendships need oxygen, and grace.
In Inky and Starr’s mirrored sunglasses, I see reflections of our shared humanity.
Storm clouds cover the sun with a wooly-gray blanket. Heavy winds lift the edges of the tarp. My husband’s discharge process takes longer than expected, and as I tap-tap-tap my fingers on the steering wheel, my heart tugs me in the direction of their curbside home. Again. I cut the engine, shove my keys into my purse, grab my camera, and cross the street.
“May I sit with you for a while?” I ask. The answer is yes!
We warm ourselves around a makeshift grill, spin yarns about our childhoods, and muse about the events that brought us all together. They’d met two years ago, Starr tells me, at a bus stop in Hollywood. Inky gives her shoulders an affectionate squeeze, “I’ve been looking for her for all my life,” he says, “and we’ll be together for always.”
“Would you mind if I take your picture?” I ask. “And maybe take a short video, so I can share your story with my friends?”
Inky flings his arms open, fingers splayed, and flashes an open-mouthed grin. “Sure,” he says. Starr nods, with no hesitation whatsoever. So I switch my camera to video mode, and press the shutter button. The result is this unedited clip–not inclusive of everything we covered in our earlier conversation, but enough for you to get better acquainted. Roll straight through to the end, and you might learn something new about me, too. I’ve never fielded this question publicly, but his curiosity was genuine, and disarming…
Call them serendipitous, call them happenstance or good luck. But the truth is, these seemingly random encounters occur more often than anyone (aside from my closest friends and family members) might guess. My husband calls them “a Melodye thing.” I call them shivery magic–miracles that come of flinging your heart’s door wide open, and basking in the light.
Time and again, my camera leads me to the threshold of discovery, that shimmery place where boundaries dissolve and new worlds reveal themselves to the willing traveler. Today’s photo challenge, liminal, is new to my vocabulary. I explored its depths and breadth by reading, took notes, and then translated my findings into words and pictures that make sense to me.
Liminal comes to us from the Latin word limen. In the literal and figurative sense, it refers to some kind ofboundary or threshold. And as you know, we encounter lots of jumping-off, stepping-over, and slipping-through, liminal moments in our lifetimes.
Sometimes we find ourselves drifting in a place that’s neither Here nor There, perhaps waiting on some unseen hand to lift the misty veil of uncertainty. So it is with many things, the creative process among them. It’s a shallow place, with dangerous undercurrents. Our inner critic calls out from the rocks, sings to us the siren songs of despair and disillusion. If we’re the impatient optimistic sort, this quickly leads us to the liminal point where we haul in the anchor and set sail for the Uncharted Place where anything is possible.
Weathervane on red tile roof (San Clemente, California)
Forest openings and locked gates, prison towers and poisoned apples…the hero’s journey is fraught with choices. Real and imagined dangers lurk around every corner. Read another way, it’s these liminal moments that shake us awake at dawn and–assuming there’s a fairy tale ending–lead us from Once Upon a Time to Happily-ever-after.
Saddleback Mountain, silhouetted by the dawn’s early light
Liminal points can also be literal. Stucco archways that frame the ocean, mosaic tiles that arrest your eye, and the staircase that meanders down a flowery path before finding its sandy terminus at the water’s edge…all liminal.
Casa Romantica (“Spanish Villa by the Sea” in San Clemente, California)
A liminal space invite you to step over the threshold, to knock on the door between Here and There. Maybe it’s inside, maybe it’s outside. It all depends on where you’re standing when the door swings open.
Liminal things: India ink, spilling from the nib of a storyteller’s pen; plumeria buds, unfurling into snowy white pinwheels with yellow centers; and water that bubbles and bursts, escape and return to their oyster shell existence.
Liminal events are the portals of transformation, the handmaidens of sacred rituals.
Always and Never, Everywhere and Nowhere…liminal points open up for interpretation the concepts of time and space. Perspectives shift. Feelings are transient. We listen for the space between the notes, and the things we once took for granted are now recognized as ephemeral.
Piano tuner at Casa Romantica. I’m fascinated by the placement of his hat. It occupies a liminal space.
Camouflaged as it is by dappled shade, this leaf suggests the liminal qualities of life itself…the interplay of shadow and light, and the interstices between being and not-being. Whoa, that’s deep.
Window Leaf Philodendron
Liminal. I rather like this word, don’t you? It’s mental yoga for people like me, who do some of their best thinking behind the camera lens. I’ve only just brushed the surface, so please, weigh in with your own definitions and examples!
For previous photography challenge entries, click here.
On a more personal note: During my brother’s illness, I didn’t give much thought to my promise to do a write-up about Father Serra’s canonization ceremony. It got reprioritized again, in that liminal time after Roger’s passing. But while it’s more succinct than I originally envisioned, it’s ready now. I’ll post it after the weekend.
A special little boy, looking for all the world like Christopher Robin, dashes through the park in a summer rainstorm
Funny, the way summer seems to pass more quickly, the older we get. Hours, days, weeks…they slip right past us, in the blink of an eye. And then, whoosh! We’re rushing headlong into autumn.
Feels like we just started the #AugustBreak2015 photography challenge, but here we are, at the end of the month. I confess to blurring past a few scrapbook pages. Life intervened, so I flipped to the next page and moved forward. But I’d sign up again, in a New York second! So much fun, to transform the daily prompts into photographs, and to stretch my storytelling capabilities in new directions.
I appreciated your suggestions and encouragement, and most of all, that you shared your summertime memories with me, too. See you in September!
If you want to scrollthrough the entire collection of photographs in my #AugustBreak2015 scrapbook, click here. The last prompt of the month, represented above, isAugust was…
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
Laguna Beach at low tide, height of tourist season
“Wanna go the beach?” I ask my sister, even though I already know the answer. I love walking along the windswept beaches of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives; and she loves exploring the tide pools in the calmer waters of Southern California, equally so.
It’s the height of tourist season–no matter, save for the bumper-to-bumper traffic. As my roadster crawls up PCH, we catch up on the latest. We land in Laguna Beach at low tide, and the waves have long since receded. Clumps of seaweed line the shore.
A sea anemone fills her purse
We clamber over rocks, poke our cameras into rock crevasses. Little by little, the ocean reveals to us her treasures.
The ocean’s jewelry box, tide pool at Laguna
When I spot my reflection, mirrored in the ocean’s shallows, I reposition myself and refocus my camera lens…slowly, carefully, so as not to to disturb the creatures that inhabit these small spaces.
A crab forages for food in the tide pool
Waves froth and then fold in on themselves. We linger in the tide pools as the water drifts lazily toward the shore.
Frothy waves at low tide, Laguna Beach
Salty breezes whip our hair into messy curls, and our shoes fill up with sand. The ocean rewards our patience. Quietly, and without fanfare, she whispers her deepest secrets, presents to us the whole of her heart.
Heart of the sea
We are not alone.
Crab in a crevasse
We are witnesses to a miracle, a pageant that plays itself out repeatedly, here and elsewhere. I’m grateful for the opportunity to watch it unfold with Sheryll, and for the delight that washed over me anew, as I create this photo album for my blog.
Seagulls in the seaweed, Laguna Beach
Linkfest! If you want to see other bloggers’ responses to this week’s challenge, click here, or visit my photographic response to my last art challenge entry, TRICKSTERS.
In its broadest definition, a Trickster is an archetypal character who breaks all the rules. His antics are the stuff of legends, at once amusing and edifying. True, they’re mischievous. Given free rein, they can be troublemakers. But while they’re known for their shadow sides, they also offer levity and light.
Lizard suns itself at Shipley Nature Center (Huntington Beach, CA)
An animal’s survival oftentimes depends on the clever art of camouflage. This lizard wears his cloak of near-invisibility well, don’t you think?
Gingersnaps at Salt Creek Beach
According to Lewis Hyde, ” Trickster myths begin with a being whose main concern is getting fed… whose creativity and intelligence allows him to outwit other eaters.”
So much for my bag of gingersnaps!
Monarch Caterpillar, eating milkweed in my backyard
A Trickster is a shapeshifter. In the Navajo tradition, for instance, the lowly Caterpillar is considered sacred for its ability to transform into a winged Butterfly.
Monarch Butterfly, enjoying a royal feast in my backyard
And yet, regal as it seems, the butterfly can be flighty and vain. Tricksy. So the Caterpillar is considered the more trustworthy of the two.
Me, from the About page of my website (www.melodyeshore.com).
Creative beings that they are, tricksters like to shake things up a bit. They color outside the lines, giggle in church and (in subtle and/or outrageous ways), defy convention.
Me, reimagined by the app 小偶 – 我的3D萌偶 (Huanshi Ltd)
They are the visionaries and the pilgrims, the archeologists and the astronauts. Gifted with endless imaginations — and bottomless bags of tricks — it’s the Tricksters who invite us to look beyond the obvious, and who transport us to other worlds, as yet unexplored.
Linkfest! If you want to see other bloggers’ responses to this week’s challenge, click here, or visit my photographic response to last week’s challenge, stars.
an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
good fortune; luck
Coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92), from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (Dictionary.com)
Late last week, I received word from Jennifer Pastiloff that “Grace Notes” was accepted for publication at The Manifest-Station, the hugely popular online journal that published my holiday piece, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.” I promised Jennifer that I’d find and send her an illustration, even though I knew already that nothing in my own photo collection matched the story. Leap, and then look. Not always, but that’s usually how I roll.
Mockingbirds figure prominently in the story, so that’s where I focused my quest. A couple of Google images looked promising, so I reached out to the website owners on which they were featured: May I use your picture, in exchange for attribution and a wider reach for your beautiful work? One blogger said yes, but when I realized she’d “borrowed” the copyrighted photo without authorization, I bowed out quickly.* But wait! I found something even shinier, and more befitting!
“Mockingbird in the Sun,” copyright Pat D. Hemlepp. Used with permission
Pat Hemlepp calls himself a “photo hobbyist,” but his image gallery is as professional as can be. A total stranger, mind you, but what’s to lose by asking if I can use this gorgeous shot? Quite understandably, he said he needed time to Google search this crazy woman consider my request. “No pressure,” I said, “I’d want you to feel 100% sure it’s the right thing to do—that it aligns with your interests & honors your beautiful work.”
It was in that waiting period—where Hope and Awareness pool their resources, and then set out on a quest of their own – that I “just so happened” to land on my artistic friend Veronica Roth’s Facebook post. As synchronicity would have it, she’d “just so happened” to be painting one of her signature pieces (exquisite watercolor images, overlaid on ephemora). “My friend Diana suggested I paint a mockingbird next,” she wrote. “Working on it. Almost done.” And there it was: a sweet little songbird, pretty as could be…bird feathers and musical notes, harmonizing together on a church voluntary called “Improvisation.”
“Mockingbird,” copyright Veronica Roth. Used with permission
I got goosebumps–same reaction as when I landed on the Harlem Gospel Choir’s Facebook page a couple of months ago. Same as I always do, when I stumble upon the shivery magic that old Horace described as “accidental good fortune.”
It’s not like I was born under a lucky star. I most assuredly wasn’t. Why, then, do I always seem to fall into happy circumstances? It’s a mystery, even for this Nancy Drew wanna-be. Miracles can happen. Of that, I feel certain. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the concept of preordained circumstances; don’t know that I’d put all my faith in the Secret; and find challenging the belief that you can bring to fruition certain things in your life by sitting on a meditation cushion, chanting mantras as your fingers slide from bead to bead on a rosewood mala. I don’t dismiss these ideas outright, but I don’t buy them absolutely.
Could be that when you’re traveling the right road, you meet up with the right people. Researchers seem to think there’s a sure-fire formula for serendipity, beyond the simple rules of cause-effect. What I know for sure is that Serendipity is more likely to show up on our doorsteps when we open our hearts, minds and eyes to Possibility—when we’re willing to look beyond the messy inconvenience of scattered breadcrumbs and to venture down uncharted paths, to see where they might lead.
Not long after I saw Veronica’s watercolor image, Pat graciously granted me permission to use his lovely photograph for my story. That deadline had come and gone, so he allowed me to use “Mockingbird in the Sun” for this blog entry. I’m grateful. And I’m glad for the serendipitous chain of events that brought me to his website in the first place. I’ve bookmarked his page, for the sheer joy of discovering the latest additions to his galleries. Same with Veronica’s online studio, which I visit on a regular basis.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say how fortunate I feel, to have my story published on Manifest-Station. If you’ve got time to read “Grace Notes,” I’d love to hear your thoughts.
*In return for these artists’ generosity, I’d like to share with my fellow bloggers the rules for using someone else’s creative property. As with many of you, I’m more aware of the rules now than I was when I first started blogging, so I’m in the process of removing copyrighted graphics from old posts. As Maya Angelou once said, “When we know better, we do better.”
Part of the fun of having houseguests is that you have a handy excuse to play tourist in your natural habitat–to appreciate anew its beauty, and to revisit all the local attractions. And so it was I headed up PCH yesterday to tour Getty Villa with my friend Margaret.
Nestled into a narrow canyon on the coast of Malibu, Getty Villa is home to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. The last time I visited, my kids were attending grade school in nearby Calabasas. The grounds were beautiful, but the museum itself was characterized by dark passageways and crowded display cases, none of which showed off the ancient artifacts to best advantage. In fact, my older son proclaimed it “more boring than church.”
In the interim since my last visit, the Villa has undergone a major facelift. Re-envisioned as Villa dei Papiria, a first-century Roman country home in Herculaneum that was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the buildings and grounds are brighter, airier, and more inviting.
I’ll give you an informal tour in another post, but for now I want to show you just one artifact. It’s about the size of a small juice glass, a single piece in a vast collection of glassware. Insignificant, maybe, when viewed alongside the more ornate pieces at Getty Villa.
But when I read the display card beneath it, my heart did cartwheels. And seeing as how I’ve just now transferred my Joyful Noise blog over from its LiveJournal home to WordPress, I thought it apropos to share it with you today.
All that to say: Welcome to my newly remodeled blog! I hope you’ll make yourself at home here, and that you’ll enjoy repeated visits. We’ve got lots of adventures ahead of us, and so much beauty to explore…
And so it was that we celebrated our anniversary in Santa Barbara last weekend.
Familiarity with an area is at once comfortable and reassuring, same as with a long-term marriage. Even so, we’re always on the lookout for new experiences, and we actively seek out areas as-yet-unexplored. To our surprise and delight, we discovered Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. It’s an urban oasis, truly, so beautiful and tranquil!
Stearns Wharf was more kinetic and noisy, this being the final hurrah for snowbirds who flock to SoCal beaches during the winter holidays.
I didn’t walk the full length of the pie because of the uneven wooden planks. I’m not yet as sure-footed as I’d like to be, and I need to protect my injured ankle. For the most part, I just basked in the peaceful setting, cherished equally by locals and tourists. And thanks to my zoom lens, I was able to bring close the beautiful scenery that’s beyond my current reach.
By the time I write my next blog entry, I’ll have migrated over to WordPress. I’ll give you a heads-up, of course, in hopes that you’ll follow me over there.) I can’t wait to tell you about our field trip to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve in Goleta! If you’ve never seen over-wintering monarchs before, you’re in for a real treat! Here’s a sneak preview–very short, because I’m just now figuring out the video features on my camera.