Or sells eternity to get a toy?

William Shakespeare asks, eloquently –

What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?

I wasn’t thinking of Shakespeare when I stopped at Laughing Planet for lunch.  Apart from ridiculously good eats at more-than-affordable prices, I like Laughing Planet because of the decor – and, specifically, the cases of tiny Action Figures….miniature Monsters….

And just plain Toys.

Like these two.

"Blue and White", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Blue and White”, 17mm Zuiko lens

Nearby, a mutant warlike Crustacean kept company with what looked to me like a camouflage spotted Kangasoar.  But they seemed peaceful enough –

"Crustacean & Kangasoar", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Crustacean & Kangasoar”, 17mm Zuiko lens

Their neighbors, a strange Poodle and a winged martial Dragon, appeared to be monsters.

"Poodle & Dragon", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Poodle & Dragon”, 17mm Zuiko lens

But Friedrich Nietzche notes that –

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Of course, when it comes to gazing back from abysses, Edgar Allan Poe was no slouch.

"Poe & Monster", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Poe & Monster”, 17mm Zuiko lens

Poe notes, wryly –

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

But even insanity has its laughs.  Or, as Lewis Carroll asks, in “Alice in Wonderland” –

“Have I gone mad?  I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

It seemed to me that these three chappies probably agreed with both Carroll and Poe –

"Laughing Toys", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Laughing Toys”, 17mm Zuiko lens

But all is not smiles and laughter here in this world of tiny ferocious beings.  This crab is no ordinary crustacean; with his multiple claws and toothsome snarl, he’s more a tidepool monster –

"Pissed-off Crustacean", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Pissed-off Crustacean”, 17mm Zuiko lens

Friedrich Nietzche (remember him?) asks –

“Is it better to out-monster the monster or to be quietly devoured?”

A good question to ponder as I quietly devoured my spicy Southwest burrito.  Toothsome hungry snarls seemed to be catching, as a nearby miniature Dragon attested to.  Tolkien admonishes Bilbo to –

“Never laugh at live dragons.”

"Dragon", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Dragon”, 17mm Zuiko lens

But, I told myself, he isn’t really alive. And though I hadn’t spoken the words aloud, they still garnered me an incredulous stare from this…..uhhh….what would you call him?

"Mystery Humanoid", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Mystery Humanoid”, 17mm Zuiko lens

Nearby, a strange pair cavorted.  A sentient 3-eyed Hand hung back while a long-armed simian seemed to ready himself for….leaping up, perhaps.  Or rising up the evolutionary ladder.

"Ape & Hand", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Ape & Hand”, 17mm Zuiko lens

The brilliant English fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett notes that –

“I’d rather be a rising ape than a falling angel.”

But the nearby toy monster was definitely no angel.  And whatever else he was – or wasn’t – the one thing that seemed abundantly clear, to my burrito-filled brain, was that he was….mystified.

"Mystified Monster", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Mystified Monster”, 17mm Zuiko lens

But lunch was over.  And so it was time to say farewell.  Two of my favorite toys – a green-headed helmeted Alien and his Cactus-Hound – stared at me belligerently.

"Alien & Cactus Hound", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Alien & Cactus Hound”, 17mm Zuiko lens

When I was young, sometimes, my favorite toys wound up bent and broken….played to death, as it were.  I think the same was true of my sons, when they were very small, and some of their toys.  The poet e.e. cummings says –

“You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of”

"Green Alien & Cactus-Hound 2", 17mm Zuiko lens

“Green Alien & Cactus-Hound 2”, 17mm Zuiko lens

– but this pair – and their comrades – were anything but broken.  And now that lunch was finished, it was almost time for….a nice, relaxing post-prandial siesta.

The filmmaker Werner Herzog asks –

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”

As I lie back for my siesta, I wonder….who will I dream about?  The Crustacean?  The Kangasoar?  Edgar Allan?  Or my new favorite, Cactus-Hound?

If I can remember, I’ll let you know.

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Supermarket Buddhas

Went shopping yesterday for the basics.  Soy milk, eggs, tuna fish.  Chips, salsa, cheese.  And then, to my surprise, as I neared the checkout area, I saw someone I didn’t expect to see.

The face of a man.  Who once said –

“You only lose what you cling to.”

"Supermarket Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

“Supermarket Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

Of course, that made me stop.  And think.  About many things.  Including the purchases I was just about to make – did I really need them?

After all, the Chap – Buddha – or as he is also known, Gautama Buddha – or Siddhartha Gautama Buddha – also said –

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”

And certainly, looking at both the contents of my shopping cart, and then back to his face, the idea of finding my own light….took on a new….cast.

"Supermarket Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

“Supermarket Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

By this time I stopped thinking about food and started looking around.  And lo and behold, I saw yet another Buddha, this one perched atop a refrigerated cabinet advertising a drink that many associate with energy – the energy to do, to be, to live.

"Red Bull Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

“Red Bull Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

The man also said –

“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.”

But…will Red Bull get me onto that path more quickly?  Or move me down it with more energy, more zip, more joie de vivre?

"Red Bull Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

“Red Bull Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

I didn’t have to think about that one for too long.

Part of the reason why was, I had glimpsed yet a third manifestation of the Buddha, one which resonated with me more than the preceding two.

"Naked Juice Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

“Naked Juice Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

Naked Juice and Buddha.

That made me smile.

And reminded me of the words of the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh, who says –

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”

And when I smiled, things seemed to shift….was it the colors?

"Naked Juice Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

“Naked Juice Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

Or was it me?

Ted Grant, the South African Trotskyist and author – and, parenthetically, how deep is the divide between Buddhism and Trotskyism? – once said –

“When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes. When you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.”

Looking one last time at my supermarket Buddha, I had to agree with him.

"Naked Juice Buddha", 17mm Zuiko lens, Grainy Film filter

“Naked Juice Buddha”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Grainy Film filter

But as the saying goes, man cannot live by bread alone, so it was time to stop staring, and to get in the checkout line.  But even so, I couldn’t – and can’t – help thinking of what John Lennon said.  A propos of belief systems – and religions – and the tendency of people to need to ‘believe in’ something or someone.  It’s a famous quote –

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

Or, as Gautama B. himself said –

“You only lose what you cling to.”

I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t need to cling.  Excessively.  But on second thought, maybe it’s time to be honest with myself – and maybe I’d better go back to the supermarket….for some Naked Juice.

a spin down the road

It’s Spring now.  Warmer weather.  Time to get on the bicycle and head for the bike path.  In Southern Oregon, this means perambulating past mountains, through trees, and alongside the creek.  And sometimes stopping, to look at the water, the trees…the colors.

Bike Path, 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

Bike Path, 17mm Zuiko lens, Pop Art filter

Albert Einstein said –

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

So when you stop…does that mean you have lost your balance?  And how can you tell?  Perhaps one of the subtle indicators….is when all those Spring colors bleed away.

"Bike Path", 17mm Zuiko lens, Grainy Film filter

“Bike Path”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Grainy Film filter

I think Einstein was right, though.

And so was Arthur Conan Doyle, the author and creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Doyle sums it up succintly when he says –

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”

"Bike Path", 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

“Bike Path”, 17mm Zuiko lens, Dramatic Tone filter

Okay.

Enough words, enough ruminations.

Time to get back into the saddle, and keep spinning down the road.

Rafe & Lina

Two of my favorite people in this world and probably any other….my son Rafe and his wife Lina.

We went out to a local Irish pub the other night.  And…

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And people were happy…

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And silly…

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And beer was drunk…

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And did I mention, these are two of my favorite people….ever?

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Sometimes…life is good.

Speed 45

It’s Spring here in Talent, Oregon.  Which means, among other things, grabbing my small Olympus Pen camera and walking up the street by my house, to see what I can see.

And one of the things I see….is clouds.

Clouds on Rapp Lane. Taken with the in-camera 'Dramatic Tone' filter.

Clouds on Rapp Lane. Taken with the in-camera ‘Dramatic Tone’ filter.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:

But under a tall tree will I lie
And let the clouds go sailing by.

But the clouds I see with my naked eye look different to my camera, depending on what filtration I choose to apply. Cameras see things differently than we do….there is no one reality or one truth, but, presumably, an infinity thereof.

Rapp Lane, 17mm Zuiko lens, 'Pinhole' filter effect

Rapp Lane, 17mm Zuiko lens, ‘Pinhole’ filter effect

But on my street, it isn’t all just nature and growing things.  There are cars.  And, accordingly, per our social contract, where there are vehicles…there are speed limits.

"Speed 45", 17mm Zuiko lens, with "Pop Art" filter

“Speed 45”, 17mm Zuiko lens, with “Pop Art” filter

In “Fight Club”, Chuck Palahniuk says –

“Recycling and speed limits are bullshit. They’re like someone who quits smoking on his deathbed.”

Is he right?  Or is this too much of a black & white view of things?  Are there any gray tones sandwiched between the extremes?

"Speed 45", 17mm Zuiko lens, 'Grainy Film' filter

“Speed 45”, 17mm Zuiko lens, ‘Grainy Film’ filter

Or maybe it’s not a question of extremes, of bullshit and deathbeds, of black vs. white. Maybe the essential question needs to be reframed in terms of desires vs. rights, as Milan Kundera does so eloquently –

“the world has become man’s right and everything in it has become a right: the desire for love the right to love, the desire for rest the right to rest, the desire for friendship the right to friendship, the desire to exceed the speed limit…”

Looking at it this way, it’s not so much the numbers on a sign….but rather a question of where, exactly, one places one’s focus.

"Speed 45", 17mm Zuiko lens, 'Diorama' filter

“Speed 45”, 17mm Zuiko lens, ‘Diorama’ filter

Which brings me back to clouds.  And light.  And the road I am standing on.  There’s something about this place…

"Speed 45", 17mm Zuiko lens, 'Dramatic Tone' filter

“Speed 45”, 17mm Zuiko lens, ‘Dramatic Tone’ filter

Maybe it’s time to go home now.  As Tolkien says –

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.

Tear it Down

 

The poet Jack Gilbert died this week, in Berkeley, California.  He was 87 years old.

 

 

I don’t recall how many years ago I started reading Jack Gilbert’s work.  I should say re-reading, not reading: the thing about his words, his poems, is….once you read them, you have to re-read them. At least, I do. If there is a better way to pay tribute to a writer than by needing and wanting to re-read his or her words, I can’t think of what it might be.

This poem is among my favorites.

 

Tear It Down

We find out the heart only by dismantling what

the heart knows. By redefining the morning,

we find a morning that comes just after darkness.

We can break through marriage into marriage.

By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond

affection and wade mouth-deep into love.

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.

But going back toward childhood will not help.

The village is not better than Pittsburgh.

Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound

of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls

of the garbage tub is more than the stir

of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not

enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.

We should insist while there is still time. We must

eat through the wildness of her sweet body already

in our bed to reach the body within that body.

The Pittsburgh of Jack Gilbert’s youth

Once again, I re-read his words.  And wonder if they grant me some glimpse of my own life, my roads, the choices I have made…and have yet to make.  “We should insist while there is still time,” Gilbert writes.  And: “by insisting on love, we spoil it“.

I think he’s right.  And right again.  To reach that place we are going, wherever it may be, a literal place, a piece of work we think we must accomplish, a piece of music we must master before we can perform, a recipe we are dying to cook….maybe we need to dismantle it first.  To destroy it.  And then….what?  Redefine it from the ashes of the old?  Recognize that by letting go that which you thought you couldn’t live without….it somehow will be given to you?  Yeah, I know.  Sounds like the dude was more Zen master, more Taoist practitioner, than wordsmith.  But I still don’t quite get it yet.  I think I’m going to have to re-read it….once more.

In the meantime, I raise my glass – literally and metaphorically, to Jack Gilbert, and all his words – from raccoons licking the inside of garbage tubs to the constellations above – muchas gracías, Jack.  Really.

R.I.P. Martine Franck

 

The gifted photographer Martine Franck died on August 16 of this year, 2012.  Born in 1938, in Belgium, she grew up in the United States and England, studied art history at la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and at l’École du Louvre in Paris. Her photography spans decades and genres; she was married to fellow photography legend Henri Cartier-Bresson for many years. These are some of the facts of her life….

Her photos speak for themselves.

In an interview, she speaks of the unpredictability of photography and its strange subjective nature, halfway between truth and falsehood –

“A photograph is not necessarily a lie, but it isn’t the truth either. It’s more like a fleeting, subjective impression. What I like so much about photography is precisely the moment that cannot be anticipated; one must be constantly on the alert, ready to acclaim the unexpected.”

She also spoke of the stories she read as a girl –

“My mother gave me Mark Twain to read as a child, also Conan Doyle.Sherlock Holmes and Hitchcock are still a passion of mine, and that brings us back to the mystery of life, the unexpected side of reality that is constantly taking us by surprise, off our guard.  I think, basically, that is why I never get bored photographing.”

It is impossible to sum up the life of a gifted person in a few or many words – or in the case of Martine Franck, in all of the many photographs she took.  So I am limiting myself to one here, a remarkable photo, taken at a monastery in Nepal, in 1996.

Schechen Monastery, Bodnath, Nepal, 1996

Martine Franck, rest in peace.  But your images and words will live on.