here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis

Twenty-seventeen.  I like the sound of it.  Three-hundred-sixty-five days, each offering possibilities. Or at least invitations to take small steps here and there.

 “The days are long, but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin

I’m a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, or, better yet, Intentions.  I always have been, although my success at achieving them is about as good as anyone else’s.  Still.  I love to dream.  If the day ever comes when I stop dreaming, I might as well call it quits.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Perelman Building
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Perelman Building

I have a long list of resolutions that cover a wide array of categories: education, health & fitness, finances, household projects, spiritual & cultural growth.  I use the same categories every year, written in a large bound periwinkle-colored book full of blank pages. At the beginning of each new year, I write: Cathy’s 2017 Resolutions (or whatever year it is) and then I tape a copy of 2017 Yearly Horoscope: Scorpio (which rarely holds any truth in its predictions).  At the end of each year, I evaluate what I did and didn’t do (no rewards or punishments necessary), clip together the pages of the old year, and close it out. It’s my method, and I enjoy the process.  I love the bulk of those years of resolutions, some met and some not. My periwinkle book of wishes and dreams.

Urban hiking in Philadelphia
Urban hiking in Philadelphia

It has taken me a long time in life to figure out what’s most important to me, but now that I know what lights my fire, my intention for twenty-seventeen is to focus on the things I love, to expand on them and to delve deeper, to let the full expression of them bloom.

a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

These are the things that set my heart on fire: inspirational and creative travel, writing & blogging, photography, walking (urban and nature hiking) and reading. I’ve also been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship as opposed to career-seeking in a world that seems infused with age discrimination.

I guess pedestrians go that way....
I guess pedestrians go that way….

Because I’m interested in so many things and I have so many ideas, because there are so many choices, I often feel overwhelmed; in fact, I feel utterly swamped.  When I read this passage from Robert Clark’s Love Among the Ruins (p. 162-3), I recognized myself in Jane:

Jane, “having resigned herself to the fact that a Ph.D. was not in the cards … for a personality, a character formation, that, truth to be told, has felt itself ‘swamped’ since perhaps the age of four — no, longer still, since before she seemingly alone rowed herself ashore and landed in this life.

“It is, Jane must admit, a curious thing to be so overwhelmed by obligations and duties — to have unfinished chores hugging at her hem while lined up behind them is the impending sense that some fundamental necessity has been completely overlooked — but also to experience moments of terribly clarity in which she sees that she is not busy, that in fact she is doing nothing.  And that ‘nothing’ is perhaps the substance which swamps her, the flood that threatens to sink her altogether.  For it is not merely nothing in the sense of a moment of inactivity, of respite or pause.  Nor is it the nothing of ‘nothing in particular,’ neither this nor that.  It is, Jane sees when she looks up to see it hovering just above and in front of her, her thumb holding a place in a magazine article whose subject she has already forgotten, the index finger of the other hand clawing in the near-spent cigarette pack, ‘nothing at all.’ It is the kind of nothing that is a force in its own right, that precludes all the possible somethings one might try to put in its place; that marks the fact of everything one is not doing and, looming stupidly, heavily like humidity, renders starting impossible.”

How I love it when I read a book of literary fiction (which I read to the near exclusion of anything else) and recognize myself.

following the glowing path
following the glowing path

The nothing that I’m doing, that nothing that has a life of its own, is so physically oppressive that starting something, anything, becomes a force to be reckoned with.  How does one start something when “all the possible somethings” remind me every moment of what I’m NOT doing? I often feel smothered by all those possibilities, and rendered inactive.

Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner
Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner

Yet.  I do continue to search.  To seek.  A good friend of mine once admitted to admiring me for always searching.  For what, he didn’t know.  Neither do I.  But I do believe it is important to keep searching, even if you don’t know what for.

urban hike through Philly
urban hike through Philly

In the excellent memoir-writing book, Writing Life Stories, teacher Bill Roorbach asks one of his 85-year-old students, coincidentally named Jane:

“Jane, tell us, what’s the secret of life?”

Jane smiled benignly, forgiving me my sardonic nature, tilted her head, and said without the slightest pause: “Searching.”

An indignant Chuck (one of the other students) said, “Not finding?”

“No, no, no,” Jane said emphatically, letting her beatific smile spread, “Searching.”

Searching is what keeps us alive, gives us hope, keeps us moving along, step by step, through our lives.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  ~ Vincent van Gogh

enticing shop window
enticing shop window

In the areas of life that excite me, here are my intentions for the year ahead:

Reading: I intend to bask in my love of reading, using Goodreads extensively, adding to my to-read list and writing reviews of every book I read.  My goal is to read 40 books in different areas: literary fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories and travel memoir; books on the craft of memoir, travel and fiction writing: and inspirational books on creativity. Last year, my goals was to read 35 books and I achieved that goal. I was enriched by every page I read. 🙂

a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly
a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly

Photography: I intend to read books on photography, push myself to play more with my camera, possibly take a photography workshop, and challenge myself to be more creative. I will try to participate in several photo challenges on WordPress.  I would also like to get and learn a new photo processing software.

diagonal walkways
diagonal walkways

Walking (urban and nature hiking):  I intend to continue my 3-mile walks 4x/week, but also to take local urban hikes through cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, and Richmond and natural hikes in the Shenandoah mountains or elsewhere on the East Coast.  I also hope to do three official 10K walks this year.  Of course, I walk a lot whenever I travel abroad because I believe it is the best way to fully experience any destination.  I also have a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in the fall, possibly September-October. If I do it, I want to do the whole thing, The French Way, all 780 km of it.  I hope I can swing it this year.

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. ~ Buddha

urban hike in Philly
urban hike in Philly

Inspirational and creative travel:  I intend to travel more intentionally this year, and to make something creative from my travels.  My plan for this spring is to try to volunteer at a bed & breakfast in Croatia for a week, travel solo in Croatia, and then meet Mike, where we will explore Hungary and Czech Republic, focusing on Budapest and Prague.  In the fall, I hope to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago.

urban hiking in Philly
urban hiking in Philly

Writing & blogging:  I’d like to stop being lazy in my travel writing and blogging and to push myself to be more creative and inspirational.  I intend to travel more intentionally and observantly, keeping a detailed travel journal and taking more creative photos. I hope to make something from my travels, whether the stuff of memoir or fiction, poetry or storytelling photography.

still decked out for the holidays
still decked out for the holidays

As for my fiction and memoir writing, I’d like to self-publish my novel and finish my memoir by year-end.  In addition, I plan to take classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  I’ve already signed up for three classes: How to Build Complex Characters, Building Better Characters, and Character Building. I know, they all sound alike, don’t they?  However, they each have a slightly different focus and are taught by different teachers.  I’m interested in this subject because I want to create characters to take with me to Croatia and on my other travels.  I’m also interested in creating a course on how to create characters and bringing that character to …..(fill in the blank with a foreign country name).

Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments
Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments

Entrepreneurship/Career:  Finally, there is the issue of work.  I’ve been reading a book by Gail Sheehy called Sex and the Seasoned Woman.  I started this book years ago, but I finally finished it this year.  What I found most interesting were the stories of older women who decided to reinvent their lives and bring their passions into fruition.  I found a story about Elaine, who started out as a schoolteacher, to be funny and inspirational (p. 232-235):

Elaine’s husband asked her: “What are you passionate about?”

“Books,” she said.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller.”  Now she is the proprietor of a large bookstore in California.  Later, her husband asked her again if there were anything she was missing in life.

“Teaching,” she admitted.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but what if we started a conference for travel writers?”  Now their bookstore has expanded into a small university of sorts.

Elaine says “But these things didn’t start as smart business ideas.”  They started with Elaine saying to her husband, “This is probably a dumb idea, but….”

So, THIS is probably a dumb idea, but I hope to start a new blog where I don my teaching hat and write posts about how to immerse oneself more creatively and intentionally in travel, how to approach travel with awe and with an eye to inspiring creativity in oneself.

The Church of St. Luke & The Ephiphany
The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany

I’m hoping that eventually this will lead to me offering creative travel retreats.  Slowly, slowly.  As a teacher, writer, and traveler, I know I am perfectly capable of doing this.  Yet.  And of course, there is always a YET!  I’ve never been an entrepreneur before, so I know I will have a steep learning curve. I intend to climb that curve, even if it involves backsliding down that slope as I learn.  I will need confidence and courage.

Philadelphia urban hike
Philadelphia urban hike

In that vein, I’ve written a lot of notes about defining my business and my market, signed up for a course called Starting Your Own Business, and have subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine.  Now I need to come up with a name!

I will reveal more about my ideas for this business on a new blog at some point soon, I hope.  I have lots of ideas. 🙂

southside Philly
Southside Philly

As for my ESL career, I will cut back on my job applications, but I will periodically apply to jobs abroad or at home.  My heart isn’t really in the work itself, except for the travel opportunities offered.  If I get a job, it may waylay my aforementioned plans, but I’m open to any adventure the world throws my way! 🙂

facade in Philadelphia
facade in Philadelphia

I hope everyone continues to dream and grow in twenty-seventeen, and I hope all your wishes come true. 🙂

(All photos were taken on urban hikes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 29-30, 2016)

twenty things i learned about storytelling photography

Sunday, March 2:  Today, I attend a fantastic day-long seminar hosted by National Geographic on “Storytelling Photography.”  The two speakers are Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow, photojournalists who tell emotionally powerful stories through photography.

at National Geographic
at National Geographic
at National Geographic
at National Geographic

Ami Vitale’s work as a photojournalist has taken her to 85 countries.  According to her website, Ami Vitale Photography, she has “exhibited around the world in museums and galleries and published in international magazines including National Geographic, Adventure, Geo, Newsweek, Time, and Smithsonian.”  She’s done photo stories about protecting rhinos in Africa, rickshaw drivers in India and the conflict in Kashmir.  She knows it’s important to show the darker stories of life, but it’s also vital that she tells the story our humanity and the things that unite us.

Melissa Farlow has worked extensively in the American West for National Geographic and more recently, documenting mustang herds. According to the website she shares with her photographer husband, Olson & Farlow, Melissa chronicled “life along the Pan American highway for a National Geographic book titled The Long Road South. Other National Geographic Magazine stories of hers feature varied subjects—culture and climate change in the Alps and West Virginia’s mountaintop removal mining.  Themes of land and people are chronicled in Alaska’s Tongass Forest, Okefenokee Swamp, Hudson Valley, Meadowlands, National Road, Kentucky Horse Country, Invasive Species, and a photo-biography of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. One story required four months traveling to many of the national parks for the magazine, and a separate piece on Olympic National Park.”

Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow
Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow

As the seminar lasts all day, a wealth of knowledge is shared, but for this post, I’ll distill into 20 points what I learned from these talented photojournalists about creating a visual narrative.

  1. Take your time to tell a story and probe beneath the headlines.  Every story has varied and sometimes contradictory stakeholders, as well as people who are impacted.  Sometimes, no matter how much research you do, you don’t know all the aspects and angles until you’re in the middle of the story, so be flexible and open to whatever angles present themselves.
  2. Gain the subjects’ trust.  Be forthright and tell them who you are and what you’re doing, in order to gain intimacy and spend time in the midst of the involved parties.
  3. Weather is your friend.  Make the most of any weather condition;  rain and fog, snow and dust storms can create great atmospheric photos.
  4. Light creates mood.  When the light is bad outside, go inside.  Use the manual settings on your camera to capture light streaming in through windows, or mold the light by using headlights of trucks or taking the flash off the camera and handing it off to someone on the side.
  5. Learn how to use action, motion and timing to your benefit.  Master the manual modes of your camera and think about the effects you want.
  6. Pay attention to perspective and layering.  What’s in the background is as important as what’s in the foreground.  Think of adding value and understanding by layering or by getting up high or down low.  Sit in a place for a long time and wait until the elements come together.  If you’re in a place for a long time, people accept that you’re just a part of the background and they start to ignore you.
  7. Be attuned to relationships and emotions.  Spend time with people so they trust you and allow you to be there for their intimate moments.  Be aware not only of relationships between people but also between people and animals or the natural world.
  8. Go early and stay late.  If you wake before dawn you get not only great light but people who are busy preparing for their day.  If you’re out on the street before other people, then you blend in with the landscape and people don’t take note of your arrival on the scene.  If you arrive early at an event, you can often go backstage and photograph performers preparing for the performance.  At the other end of the day, late at night, things come alive.
  9. Think about the image you will use that distills the story.  Make this your story opener.
  10. Capture subtle changes in time.  Photograph one person at different stages in life.  Go to a place in different seasons or at different times of day.
  11. Create a sense of place.  Photograph sweeping landscapes, people in landscapes, closeups and details, views from above and below.
  12. For portraits, focus tightly on the details that make the person.  Include the environment in the photo.  Include meaningful objects that the person is holding or wearing.
  13. As for details, notice what you notice.  Look for anything that triggers the imagination.  Mystery is good.  Hands and feet, beams of light, bottle caps used as game pieces.
  14. Find storytelling moments.  Mix the quiet with the dramatic.  Juxtapose a life event, like a wedding, with a conflict.  Wander and find moments that surprise you.  Humor is important.
  15. For the story’s ending, find an image that suggests closure: something moving away, a reflection, a time of rest, a person closing a door, frames within frames, images taken at dusk.  Have a visual story that starts in the morning and ends in the evening.
  16. Edit tightly.  Take a lot of pictures and spend a lot of time, waiting for the elements to come together.  Then be ruthless in culling your photos for the final story.
  17. Save all your photos because time tells stories.  Ten years may pass and something may happen that makes the ordinary interesting.
  18. Photograph close to home.  You don’t always have to go to foreign lands to find interesting stories. Get close with people and spend time with them.  Practice your skills on something you have easy access to.  There are beautiful stories everywhere.
  19. Find a story that makes you happy and that you love.  The longer you spend with a subject, the more it reveals itself.
  20. Be authentic.  Find your own way.  Be secure in who you are and what you’re doing.  Follow your heart.

I’m drawn to storytelling like a bee to nectar.  I always have stories brewing in my head, true stories about my experiences in Oman and Korea, about my travels.  Fictional stories about tree-huggers, stamp collectors, people whose dreams are thwarted and whose yearnings pull them to do outrageous things.  Having written numerous short stories ever since I was a girl, and now revising my novel, I can’t deny that I’m drawn to storytelling.  I also love the idea of telling stories with photography.

Inspiration.  I’m inspired to keep working on my novel, trying to make it the best it can be.  In addition I’m inspired to improve my photography skills by taking seminars and learning how to use the manual settings on my camera.  Practice, practice, practice.

Ultimately, I hope to find the way to my heart.

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