community, Learning

CrazyTown and the Ambassadors of Acceptance

Cranich Begin Within

We are the compulsives. The chameleons. The deluded. The wounded.
Addicts. Bigots. Enablers. Aggressors.
Gossips. Accommodaters. Over-sharers. Fixers.

We are the guarded. And the stuck.

We are passive. People-pleasers. Avoiders. Myopic.
We envy. We compete. We keep secrets. We give up.
Liars. Caretakers. Impulsives. Fanatics.
Re-enactors of traumatic events.
Prisoners of mindsets we refuse to reject.

Continue reading “CrazyTown and the Ambassadors of Acceptance”

Art, Determination, Purpose, Writing

Core’s Correction


We frame resilience. . . as the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.

– Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

Having hit all the deadlines for Phase 1, I steered eagerly into Phase 2.  Blocks of writing time for the season ahead peppered my calendar.  Accountability buddies jumped on board.  To celebrate the milestone as well as the momentum, My Mister dipped into the Treat Jar and agreed to host a game night.

Then on the second-to-last day of the first month, my project ran aground.

Continue reading “Core’s Correction”

Choices, Determination, Purpose, Writing

Treat Jar


The professor wears plaid clogs.  She strides into the conference room, bold black and gray swimming around feet sheathed in silver-threaded socks.  I tell her I like her style.  She tells me that every time she hits a professional milestone, she buys herself shoes.  She can stand in her closet and scan the trajectory of her career: her first publication shoes, her first edited volume shoes.  The plaid clogs?  Tenure-track shoes.

“What’s next?” I ask.

“Full professor, going up next year.”

“Have you scoped out the shoes?”

She shakes her head.  “Oh no, that would jinx it.”  Then she grins.  “Which is a total lie.  There are these boots,” she sort of moans.  “Boots and a whole new outfit to go with them.”

This concept mystifies me.  One friend picks out a fancy purse for every promotion or raise.  Coach, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton.  Another takes herself on a cruise.  I clap along but something rankles.  We’re dogs now?  We get cookies for every well-timed wiggle?

Continue reading “Treat Jar”

Brain, Determination, Learning

Free Refills


Contrary to the ego-depletion hypothesis, participants in the depletion condition did not perform worse than control participants on the subsequent self-control task, even after considering moderator variables. These findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting ego-depletion is not a reliable phenomenon. . .

– John Lurquin et al, “No Evidence of the Ego-Depletion Effect across Task Characteristics and Individual Differences: A Pre-Registered Study,PLOS One, February 2016

Over the past several months, a number of studies have surfaced suggesting the popular idea of ego depletion may not be a real thing after all.  Possibilities of bias are showing up in the analyses of of studies from the 1990s and 2000s.  At the very least, no one has been able to replicate widely cited studies that led to the notion that willpower, like a muscle, grows fatigued with overuse.

This may be background noise for most of the thinking public.  After all, pop psychology is as ubiquitous as wellness and mindfulness.  The various trends are often jumbled up together, adding to the incessant self-improvement chatter that populates our news feeds.  The nuances are for the researchers, clinicians, and educators.

Maybe, too, for college personnel.

To a person who works with graduate students, this is a sonic boom.

Much of the advice I give students has to do with setting themselves up for academic and professional success.  Students who move steadily through a doctoral program tend to do little things well.  This involves putting in place many small systems across a life’s numerous and unique dimensions.  Implementing basic organizational tools, for example, and actually using those tools are tricky for most of us.  Effective students set up spaces that are conducive to studying.  They outline projects and manage time in a structured way, mapping out hours, days, even years.  In this way, they break a doctoral journey down into manageable chunks.

Students also perform better when their finances are in order, their families on board, their workplaces supportive, and their mental and physical health care structures sturdy.  Taking full advantage of the resources available to them at the university, successful students master research tools and set up study and writing groups with their peers.

These folks aren’t more intelligent or “better students” than their floundering counterparts.  They are simply more organized.  They persist with the systems they implement.

Organization and persistence are not qualities in an of themselves.  More like mosaics,   they are a collection of many small habits coalescing into a general way of being.  These are  habits of mind as much as behavior.  Many students come into a PhD program with skills suited to passing courses on the fly or excelling in their jobs.  Developing a scholarly MO is a different game with different rules.  Setting the pieces in place takes dogged attention to detail.

In order to advise my students effectively, I’ve immersed myself in literature on habit formation.  That branch of psychology has been awash in ego-depletion for the past 10-15 years.  It’s a compelling idea.  I bought into the paradigm that self-discipline, as a limited resource, must be conserved for the important things.  Barack Obama only wears his blue and gray suits and he has someone else select his outfits each day.  He has a country to lead, right?  He shouldn’t be tapping his store of willpower for fashion picks.

Because of this thinking, I’ve developed guidance for students that has to do with putting the hardest work in the early part of the day and reducing the number of “intersections,” or places where a choice is required.  To reduce decision-fatigue and keep that discipline muscle focused where it needs to be, students should cut out the complexity and stick with certain rules.  Pack the same lunch every day.  Take the same route.  Study in the same place.  Carry the same backpack, wear the same shoes.

All of these are great bits advice as long as two conditions are met: 1) ego depletion is a real phenomenon; and 2) a life is predictable enough to support invariability and routine.

I’ll get to point #1 in a moment.  Regarding point #2, let’s ask the next question, with the understanding that a PhD program is a commitment of anywhere from 5-10 years.  Has any of us ever lived through a  5-year period free of change?  Jobs change, rents go up, recreation morphs into addiction.  Partners come or go or get sick.  Families grow, shrink, move. Children need IEPs or swim lessons.  Bus lines get terminated, cars break down, knees blow out.  Libraries close.  Stock markets crash.  Babies are born.

Far more effective than simplicity and routine are adaptability and resilience.

Perhaps I need to look differently at my effective students.  They may have structures in place, and organization is still a critical skill.  That said, a focus on habits may miss a key contributor to the ability develop and stick with habits.  Underneath the external behaviors may be an effective mindset.  Self-concept unites with a particular framing of the world, creating the way we respond to change.  Yes, successful students implement sound structures.  They also adjust those structures as the ground shifts.  They dismantle the parts that were fixed in one place, then redesign and rebuild them to function on new terrain.

How can a person cultivate a growth and adaptation mindset?  It may be time for a new approach in my advising.  While habits are critical, the perceptions from which those habits grow may be equally, if not more, important.  Clearly, I have some work ahead of me.

Regarding point #1. . .

. . .it may not even really matter that much whether ego depletion is “real” or not. What matters is how you think about your own amount of willpower. A very intriguing direction of research is finding the power of a person’s own beliefs about willpower may be what makes the difference here. When people believe their willpower is limitless, they’re more likely to go after personal goals, they’re less likely to burn out, and they’re happier. In a sense, when people believe their willpower is limitless, it turns out to be true.

– Melissa Dahl, “If You Believe your Willpower is Endless, It Is” in New York Magazine

Students who persist and finish a PhD are most likely those who see themselves as capable of maintaining momentum under any circumstance.  It’s true for the rest of us, too, right?  What happens when we think of ourselves as fundamentally resourceful?  When we picture ourselves having a consistent and bottomless capacity for working through the tough stuff?

What happens is this:  As if by magic, the source delivers.  We find a way.

Image: Martin Klein, “Unwavering”



Brain, Mindfulness, Purpose

Add In the Good Stuff

fairy pot

When we stop trying to find the solution, the solution finds us.  The idea of “adding in the good stuff” is all the rage healthy living.  Don’t worry about giving up cheese fries and soda.  The pull of the food industry is powerful, and fighting it grinds our sense of efficacy down to sawdust.  Instead, do a few leg lifts while brushing teeth.  Put leafy greens beside whatever else is on the plate.  Keep the focus on adding the wholesome.

This same bubbly counsel showed up in a recent parenting class.  When an attendee began slipping down the shame spiral about their ineffective parenting, the instructor reminded us not to worry about what we’re doing wrong.  “Do more of the good stuff,” she said.  Put special time on the schedule.  Focus on connection over correction.

Eventually (the theory goes) these little bits of goodness will crowd out the destructive patterns.

If this works with diet and family, why not mental health?

Continue reading “Add In the Good Stuff”

Brain, Things I Can, Writing

87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is

Volunteers in the study were asked to hold a grip sensor as they heard a variety of verbs related to manual actions, like ‘throw’ or ‘scratch’, in different sentence structures. The researchers observed a significant increase in the strength of participants’ grip when words were presented in an affirmative sentence, but no such reaction when the same action words were presented in a negative context, such as ‘don’t throw’.

Writing advice from an unknown source: Replace any negative statement with an affirmative one.

“He does not go” becomes “he stays.”
“The delivery hasn’t shown up” becomes “the package has yet to arrive.”
“I haven’t showered” becomes “I need to shower” or “Let me clean up” or “I’m a fragrant mess.”

It seems simple enough. A game, really. It starts as play then becomes imperative. Then mission. Continue reading “87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is”

Choices, Relationships

Choice Words

We must appreciate the power of redescribing, the power of language to make new and different things possible and important — an appreciation which becomes possible only when one’s aim becomes an expanding repertoire of alternative descriptions rather than The One Right Description.

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

You ask the color of my day.
I ask where will we go.
You say when we are old.
I say you show me this.
You ask what is exciting.
I ask which words
you want to hear instead.

The shadow question could steal
in. Does sometimes
into form, flesh
into golem. Why are you so
Wrong with
Don’t you see
See why you don’t?

Yes is a synaptic response
to stiumli and also
a stimulus itself, an anatomy
not unlike that of
and Will.

It is a fallacy
of misplaced concreteness
to claim we are
this way
or even that we are.

You and I are not us.
We make us.

I say this
(touch you here)
is why I do.

You ask what we choose.
I ask what will it take.


Shot in the Dark

“Are they going to give me a shot?”
“I don’t think so, baby. It’s just strep throat. They’ll give you medicine. The kind you drink.”
“But are you sure? Do they ever give shots for strep throat?”
“Not that I know of. But I can’t say for 100% sure. You know what you do get at the doctor’s? You get stickers. And they put the cuff on your arm, and we find out how tall you are and everything.”
“But are they going to give me a shot?”

It would be so easy just to tell him what what he wants to hear. That “no” would ease his mind and get him off my back. Nevertheless, I refuse to submit. I will answer his question 147 times as truthfully as I can even though a single lie would quiet his fear.
The mind has a way of spinning out of control once it has fixed on a worst-case scenario. Untangling the knot of obsessive thoughts becomes even more difficult if a past hurt has laid down an association between experiences. Rock climbing = broken limb. Making art = ridicule. Professional risk = debt. Love = heartbreak.
Doctor = pain.
Mystery ailments haunted Bug from his first birthday until his fourth. On top of the bombardment of normal childhood immunizations, the poor kid had blood drained from his arm several times a year. Is it any wonder he starts fretting about injections before we even make it through the door? He clings to my leg and urges me to ask about shots. The nurse smiles and gives wheedling reassurance. “Oh, no, big guy, no shots today.” I feel Bug relax his grip and begin to look up. We stride down the hall to the exam room.
Then the doctor comes in and checks his chart. “Oh, we need to take a little blood,” she tells him. Bug contracts into a fist. His eyes flash in my direction. Sighing, I shake my head. “I’m so sorry, buddy.”
This contrition. For what? For his having to feel pain? No, the needle is not the real hurt. My apology is for the falsehoods of grownups. It is for those of us who choose compliance over presence of mind. Maybe the adults of the world are just too rushed to speak the uncertainties. It’s easier to zip on past a hard conversation, scoot the kiddo to the next room, and keep everything humming along. We have a schedule to keep, after all.
Every time this occurs, I see one more brick in Bug’s foundation of trust crumble. While I understand the argument that life is not fair and kids need to learn that the world does not always deliver on its commitments, I do not agree with the premise. What is this need we have to make promises we know we cannot keep? Living with unknowns is a much more powerful skill than living certain that people will lie.
I want my son to learn how to orient his attention in the face of his demons.

No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away.
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

The misery of children makes most adults uncomfortable. We want to allay it or make it stop. We want to divert it. We want kids to Be Happy! We want these things for all kinds of complicated reasons, but one of those reasons is that we know the dark power of the mind to spill us down the rabbit hole. Most of us have visited its depths before. And we want children to stay up here in the light.
Wanting it is not anywhere close to teaching it, though.
Positive thinking is not as easy as it seems like it should be. Reducing mindfulness to sugar-coated optimism, which is another form of putting on blinders, ignores the effort involved in re-training the perception to take in a wider selection of what is real. Broadening one’s attention requires practicing with the rigor of a marathon runner. It takes serious muscle to sit still in the face of uncertainty and pain, and building that fortitude requires going through the exercises no matter how the winds howl.

“A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. ”
Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

“Let’s breathe together, honey,” I tell Bug. I grow very calm and take him in my lap. We sit in the exam room together cuddling close as the doctor checks his vitals. Bug knows that a needle with his name on it is waiting in the lab. His gaze is narrow and his shoulders are hunched. The grinding of the gears inside his panicking brain is almost audible. He is doing what we all do: seeking a way out or around this thing that terrifies him while being unable to resist its pull.
As we listen to the machine beep, I talk in a quiet voice into his scalp. “The doctor is listening to your strong heart,” I tell him. “It is pumping blood all through your body, giving oxygen to your arms and legs, your stomach, your brain.” I touch him here, and here, and here.
The doctor places the stethoscope on Bug’s chest and he pulls in great swallows of air. This is his reserve. He is filling his well. I whisper and keep my hands gentle on his legs. “Everything is working just right to keep you growing and swimming and singing and playing.” Bug does not respond but I can feel his back seeking the comfort of my belly. We will go together to face the blood draw, and he will cry. I will remind him that the hurt is fleeting, and that he is well, and that everything is working exactly as it should. Even the pain. We will talk about this later in the car, about the wonder of nerves and how they send messages to the brain, and how the sting is one way the power living inside his body makes itself known.
Instead of hurling past the uncertainties to find solid ground, I want my son to learn to slow his gait and feel where he is. It is good to sense ourselves suspended above that crevasse. Even children need to learn to stay inside the questions. What holds us? Perhaps just trust. What becomes of us? Perhaps nothing at all.
I only hope that by pausing with my boy here in this place of no answers, I am helping him lay down another pathway in his busy neural network. This one is about orienting to what is right here. Needles, yes, but also breath. Skin and blood, health and a comforting embrace. Pain and fear.
Also love.


The Power Elite

Our house is among the 80,000 in Virginia still without power. The number is down from one million, so we are headed in the right direction. We sit in a pocket of about twenty unlit  homes surrounded by humming air conditioners and flickering televisions. Virginia Dominion crews work alongside hired tree services under unrelenting sun to saw through and haul away a giant oak that toppled lines on the road bordering our neighborhood.
“Power, power, power,” Bug sighs as we sit in the back yard. “All anyone ever talks about around here is power.”
We are eating our way through a spoiled-food banquet at a steady clip, trying to stay several paces ahead of the e.coli.  As a mother, I suppose I should be more risk averse. We grill the last of the thawing cow from the deep freeze, playing infarction roulette by devouring steaks the size of catcher’s mitts. Bug and I together plow through half a leftover birthday cake. The rest of it lands in the dumpster. We body-bag the the limp boxes of popsicles, dripping Costco pork chops that had been neatly re-packaged into family-sized ziplocks (sorry, Mom), all the salad dressing and pickles and yogurt, and one entire 10×13 pan of homemade lasagna (really sorry, Mom).
Bug and I read books by candlelight in our living room encampment. We sing songs. He strips off his shirt. “It’s too hot,” he moans. The night finally cools down enough to open a window, but we cannot conjure up a cross-breeze from the sedentary air. I keep reminding Bug to be still and to try not to let anything upset him. Hot tempers make hot bodies. I stroke his back with the tips of my fingernails. He shivers, his giggles a low moan.
In the morning, Bug walks out with me through the garage. “Mommy,” he chokes. “It smells really bad in here.”
It is no small blessing that the garbage service is operational.  Today is trash day, and I am thanking the gods of infrastructure for this gift. Our provisions are now down to a single cooler plus one bin in the freezer. My father has taken on the role of ice hunter. Last night, he had to travel to three stores, but he did return to camp lugging two giant bags. I can keep Bug’s Amoxicillin cold for a couple more days. The lunchmeat, the mayo, and at least four Yuenglings might hold out, too. These events have a way of clarifying priorities.
I see the pinched expressions all around me. Several of my co-workers are also spending their nights stranded on islands of foul heat surrounded by oceans of restored power. Even those who have electricity grumble about being tired and about the slow pace of restoration. No one in the whole of the region had a restful weekend. One  friend reported that her childhood bedroom was gutted by a downed tree for the second time in a year. The desire to help fights against the pull to lay low and conserve energy.
Even such minor tragedies narrow the gaze. The work on our to-do lists languishes on our desks. We are in the middle of something else for the moment. I’m not sure what it is, but it feels a little bit frantic. Primal, even.  We talk and talk of people we know whose houses suffered damage, of trying to find fresh milk or a patch of shade. We take turns being cranky. We map out our routes home past supermarkets or gas stations offering the supplies we need to carry us through another night. Sometimes we are all ornery at exactly the same moment, and we retreat to the safety of our offices.
The misery here baffles me.  We have so very much. I can’t fathom why a few days of heat is so upsetting to those of us who live out in the suburbs and have access to cool amenities just blocks away. Unlike the crews up on cherry pickers re-hanging utility lines at high noon, my co-workers and I pass our eight-hour workday in an office with air conditioning, an ice maker, and internet. Unlike tens of thousands of others, the utility crews and my team are all bringing home paychecks.
This is more than manageable. This is luxury.
Attend to the absence, and the sense of loss become a loss of control.
I keep my mouth shut, though. Nothing worsens a mood more than hearing someone say, “Lighten up. At least you’re not in Colorado Springs. Or Syria.” Each of us has a unique yardstick for comfort. The precise texture of our suffering is based on a corrosion of that comfort. The location of one’s security is not fixed, however. Experience a deprivations or two, and all things rattle into a novel arrangement. Upheaval is a lot like Boggle. Shake, and the familiar text disappears. A new vocabulary materializes before your eyes.
I have to be honest here, though. I can appreciate the vaguely prickling comfort of complaint. It is a little like Bug’s shivers when I run my fingernails down his back. The sensation can become addictive.
When my marriage and camp life unraveled, I exceeded my quota of self-pity. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when I was reeling from a sense of such profound displacement that I felt homeless. The divorce pulled the floor out from under me. I’m sure anyone around me could have said, “Homeless? Who are you kidding? You’re not living under a blue tarp in a refugee camp.” No one cut me with that particular glinting truth, though they would have been right to do so. I am grateful for the friends who endured my relentless moaning.
Now, I have a safe place, a path, a voice, a name of my own. I can live with the unknowns. My son is well. My mind is clearing.
So, it is not entirely fair for me to say, “I can’t understand what everyone’s bitching about. Things are not really so bad.” I have to remember to listen with an open heart and keep my attitude to myself. Privately, I am pleased to notice that riding out this power outage is not nearly as hard as I thought it might be. The lights have been out for a few days, but a few other things are also true.


  • The shops have cold drinks, produce, fresh meat. Shipments have already arrived. The restaurants are hopping. The kitchens are busy. The kegs are tapped.
  • I do not have facebook on my blackberry, landlines are down, and the DVD player has no juice. Bug and I play legos without interruption. He has gotten back into puzzles. He pulled out blocks for the first time in months.
  • The postal service is operational and the Washington Post is waiting for us in its dewy sleeve every morning. My own mail-order medication arrived yesterday and today’s news is fresh.
  • The tap water is safe to drink.
  • My house has a pool. Its chemicals are balanced, more or less. We are perfectly capable of ignoring the debris carpeting the bottom.
  • My rec center has a shower.
  • Giovanni has offered up his washing machine, fridge, and air conditioning for when I reach the end of my tether. Or, maybe so I don’t reach it.
  • Tomorrow is a holiday.  A friend has invited me to a picnic. Since I will not be able to prepare the corn-and-bean salad, I will dip into my sufficiently stocked pocketbook and purchase a pre-fab something-or-other from the supermarket.
  • Bears are not eating our garbage. Locusts are not eating our crops. The hospitals have beds and antibiotics. The Supreme Court seems to retain some vestige of democratic principles.
  • I can get to my house, and it is still standing.

I quietly reserve the right to maintain a Pollyanna attitude in the face of DC Storm 2012. It is not pretense to acknowledge that this is not the apocalypse. I actually am thankful for what I have. I am even thankful for the fact that my house is one of the few still in the dark. Without a little struggle, how do we know our strength? When we wake up to find that we are Syria, how else will we know that we can survive? How else will we discover that we have the power to overcome cataclysm, even despotism?
Power, power, power. All anyone ever talks about around here is power.
Practice is good. We need to know we can continue to look with fresh eyes and seek new vocabularies no matter how rattled the foundation, no matter how prickling the heat or the fear. It is good to know how to live without power of one sort so we can tap a greater reserve of the stuff when the time comes. The time will come. It always does.



Giovanni and I keep our cameras handy. We want to capture the cool Allegany waters and the dripping tamarack boughs. He turns the lens on me. I cringe. In those frozen moments, I can see how tired my eyes looked. How stained my shirt, how disheveled the campsite, how absent my son. Giovanni laughs and just shakes his head. “You’re beautiful, baby.” He glances at the photo in the camera then grins up me. “That is a good looking woman.”
In the archive of forever ago live photographs of the first weeks Bug was home, nursing at my breast. Wedding photos. Christmas pictures with Tee and Bug and me in the Colorado forest, cutting our own scraggly pine. Tired eyes there, too, and bright and distant and everything in between.
I ask Giovanni to keep taking photos. I know better than to let vanity scrub history of its texture. Still, it is hard to look at the images of this north country camping trip without feeling a bit of remorse. Where is the open face of a girl with no bitter seed tucked inside her cheek?

Every time you raise a camera to your eye you’re composing a picture – the very act of deciding where to point it is based on a conscious or sub-conscious decision about what you want to include in the picture. – Lee Frost

Begin again. Turn the head. Unhitch, release the remains of the gift freely given but poorly maintained. Gone, the days playing in the mountain creek with the tiny minnows flitting past my little boy’s ankles. Gone, too, the tulips curled deep in their bulbs beneath December frost along the hand-made fence. Gone is everything before.
Giovanni and I walk on.
The residue of a recent conversation with Tee still dusts my skin. We were chatting about their father-son adventures: fishing trips, air show excursions, visiting the tall ships in the Baltimore harbor. Tee is a fun daddy. “I can’t give him the childhood I had,” Tee explained. “So I have to make the best of what is here.” Resignation. A touch of martyrdom. I could almost hear the quiet, cresting cheers at Tee’s strength. The truth is, I listen for them myself when I speak of settling for less in order to provide stability for my son. This is the attitude of survivors.
Is that what we are doing? Surviving? If we start with the premise that we are handicapped, then our fortitude is certainly a strength. I hear the father of my son hint at disadvantage, and I think (quietly, because I am learning to hold my tongue), This pulsing place? The nation’s capital? The diversity of experience and background in every neighborhood? The colleges and museums and historic battlefields? The curry and pho? The political stage? The assembled masses? All of this is a shortage?
Bug’s childhood is not deficient. He is missing nothing at all. Nevertheless, it won’t be long before Bug believes he lacks the golden ticket if we believe he does. The kid is sharp, but it does not take a sixth sense to sniff out the secret Tee and I both carry: we have fallen short. We have not provided our boy with what he should rightfully have. The odor of failure clings to us both. We do not believe we have done enough, that we give him enough. Something is “supposed” to be better, or more, or different.
In another context, Giovanni once suggested that a shift away from wanting and towards appreciating might help us see each other a little better. When we pause to notice the composition of the object before zeroing in on its flaws, something good has room to grow.
Where I aim my gaze determines more than a single point of view. Bug will learn to orient his attention by watching the grownups in his life. Do I want to apprentice my son to a taxonomist of shortcomings? It seems a wiser course to teach him to identify the call of a whip-poor-will from its perch on a cedar’s low shoulder.

. . . by using different lenses, choosing your viewpoint carefully and thinking about which part of the scene you want to capture on film, it’s possible to create successful compositions every time. – Lee Frost

In the snapshot of Bug’s life today, here is what I choose to see:

  • Two homes.
  • A mom and a dad.
  • A lop-eared dog.
  • Woods near his house with pricker bushes and a creek and all kinds of ways to get lost.
  • Public parks, public libraries, and some of the best public schools in the country.
  • Books splitting the frames of shelves in his rooms.
  • Parents who read to him every night.
  • Road trips and campfires.
  • Healthy food in abundance.
  • Quiet time.
  • Neighbor kids who ride bikes up and down the cul-de-sac.
  • Three sets of grandparents who make room for him.
  • A cozy bed.
  • Songs in his repertoire.
  • Questions galore.
  • A floor onto which he can pour his tired body when he wants the world to stop.
  • Dreams about pirate ships.
  • Climber’s legs.
  • Dancer’s feet.
  • Paper and markers, glitter and glue.
  • Wonder.
  • Grit.
  • Anger and sadness and sweet, tender kisses.
  • One bad joke about a duck.

Tee says he cannot give Bug the childhood he had. He is more right than he knows. A childhood is not ours to give. In fact, Bug does not have a “childhood” at all. He has a life. His own. This very one.
As long as I am living with wishes that things could be more X and less Y, and as long as I carry the burden of loss, then I model for my child the fine art of holding off on joy until real happiness comes along.
Begin again. Turn the head.
All we need is right here.
Circumstances will change, of course. We will seek new doors down corridors we have not yet explored due to blindness, fear, or simple chance. But a belief in adaptation and expansion does not require us to disparage the now. We can love possibility while also wrapping our arms around this very whole moment, draw it close to our hearts, and shiver in awe at the perfect fit. So complete, this day, this configuration of things, this this.

The fact is you’ll rarely get the best picture from the first viewpoint you find, but unless you make the effort to explore your subject from different angles you’ll never know the alternatives. Sometimes all it takes is a slight change of viewpoint to completely transform the composition. – Lee Frost

As Giovanni and I walk the trail through the northern woods, I make a promise out loud. When I see a photo, I will find something in it to like. It is a simple act. The practice, I have learned, has a way of revealing the path. In every snapshot, seek something that opens the eyes. Appreciate the image as evidence of riches. Find the pulse. Land the gaze there and call forth the living yes.

Lee Frost Photography.