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Something to Think About (357 posts)
The first photograph dates from 1982, when the five teenagers decided to pose on a fence, showing off "dark and mysterious faces," shirtless torsos, and a pet cockroach in a jar. Though the friends went their separate ways, they regrouped for a reunion vacation five years later. Someone had the idea to recreate the photo and a tradition was born. According to CNN, "The guys all agree that this trip has been the glue that has allowed them to maintain their friendships." "I look at the photos and think of the relationships I went through. Wedding rings come and go, if you look closely," one of the men told CNN. "We plan on doing this for the rest of our lives, no matter what. Up until there's one guy just sitting in the same pose! Even then, maybe someone will take a picture of an empty bench for us."
That mental image of the empty bench gives me shivers. Think of the empty jar, sitting there, containing all of eternity instead of a cockroach! For as much as we love our photographs nowadays, as much as we all love to immediately gaze at our digital memories of a moment ago, a photograph becomes all the more eloquent when telling a story that's over, documenting a life that's changed, or gone. And the almost-extinct posed photograph has a certain evocative nature all its own. The curator of Who Were They? knows this: the blog is a moving tribute to the stories photographs tell. These pictures are kind of the negative image (to use photographic terms) of the Five Year Photo guys. Here we have the image only, and as Who Were They? blogger does we must imagine or hunt down the life story it tells. "Mrs. Marvel" writes of a grand old dame, "She has the hard face of a woman who has lived a lot of years and the sad expression of a war widow." Or sometimes Mrs. Marvel's photo collection helps to fill in a family's genealogy: "I got goose bumps when I read that Clifford had been searching for a photo of his great-great-great-aunt for 30 years. And I had one. Wow." As she writes on her blog's "About" page, Mrs. Marvel is looking for "a glimpse of those who came before us." Strange to think that some day, we will be someone else's photographic mystery.
When we capture every moment of every day, we think we're seeing more. But are we? What stories do your photos tell -- intentionally or accidentally -- about your life?
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So it was that I joined the grand tradition of accidental solo traveling. And I found what so many solo travelers have discovered: that traveling alone isn't lonely at all, that you find yourself open to different things and much more likely to make new friends as you go. I found myself staying at the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris, and while working my shift to earn my night's stay (yes, I was such a wild and crazy kid that I managed to find myself with a job) I met a fellow Midwestern 20-something who had expatriated to France and showed me the town. I found myself at an all-night dance party (breakfast and all) in small town Spain; I channeled my inner Madeline at a girls-only-former-convent in Venice; a Hawaiian goth became my best friend for few days in Granada; I spent a very strange overnight train ride listening to an Indian med student's techno in an Italian dining car. And when I wanted to be alone, I was, so that I could write and draw for hours in my journal and (sorry, but I was 20), discover myself. In other words, it was an entire summer of experiences I would not have had otherwise, and, I'm sure, never will have again.
But even I have to admit, the idea of doing something like this now sounds impossible, if not terrifying. Where did that youthful bravado go? Nowadays, I just wouldn't feel comfortable bunking in a co-ed youth hostel with rowdy Norwegian skateboarders. I have a mature person's fear of death, muggings, and not getting to shower regularly. And besides, a bit of adventuring is practically de rigueur when you're 20. What about when you're 40? or 60? or...80? Enter the great Solo Traveler blog. The site was born in 2009, when Janice Waugh found herself an empty-nester and a widow all at once. She decided to take what fate had handed her and run with it...all the way across the world. Now, as she puts it on the site, "I travel solo and I carefully observe how I do it."
My thoughts drifted back to that cookbook last week, when I saw NPR's piece on the history of community-based cookbooks. The writer, Jessica Stoller-Conrad, pointed to The Woman's Suffrage Cookbook and 1904 Bluegrass Cookbook from Kentucky. Like me, she recognized their outdated references belonged to a time when women didn't have a lot of personal or professional choices. But she also felt the books were social outlets that "were so much more than just a catalog of recipes—they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served."
They were memoirs too, I suddenly realized. Every gravy stain and little handwritten comment ("add extra salt!" or "need more clam juice") tells a story. My cookbook, however, is wonderfully blank. My mother did not cook. She was a social worker in the 1970s. She did not have the time, interest or energy. Her lack of comment was a comment: There's a big world beyond the kitchen, honey. The silence of stains on each page may just have resulted in my being a working mother too (though I do love cooking, especially when it's something like "Mooseburger Meatloaf.").
Now that we live in the age of round-the-clock blogging, any lack of commentary (of any kind) seems harder and harder to find. I see these kinds of tell-all-say-nothing moments occasionally when a friend restrains herself from making a political point over dinner or someone shows you a photo but fails to tell the story behind it. I wish there were more of them. These omissions aren't nothing. They're windows into our choices: to cook or not cook, to explain or not explain, to show and see if anybody is ready to understand instead of just lecture and opine.
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Last year, the blogatorium (okay, I just didn't feel like typing "blogosphere" one more time) hummed with talk of "FOMO." That is, Fear of Missing Out, that social-media-fueled sense that you are missing everything good, that the world is teeming with super-cool events and parties and talks and lives you'll never be a part of. Now blogger Anil Dash has weighed in with his counter-phenomenon: JOMO. That is: Joy of Missing Out.
Dash writes, "There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping." It's okay to learn, through whatever human-tracking-app your mobile phone is stocked with, that everyone is having the Best! Time! Ever! at the TED Talk/art opening/cocktail party/perfect summer getaway while you, after putting down your phone with a sniff, roll over to read one more page of your book before falling asleep on the couch. Particularly if you love the book. Particularly if you're tired because you were up early to run, or take the kids to the beach, or meditate. It's okay to miss out on the big things in favor of The Big Things, like time with your family, your friends, even yourself. In fact, carving out quiet time in our so-many-invitations-so-many-options world might just transform your life. Which is more than you can say for most cocktail hours.
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I'm all for cheap happiness. I'll take it in whatever form it comes: gummy hamburgers, drugstore vanilla candles, 50 cent handfuls of food for the geese at the local zoo. Free happiness however is even better and harder to find. Except when it comes to animal photographs. The world is awash in fuzzy-wuzzy, big-eyed, potbellied, snuggly-duggly snapshots of kittens and pigs these days and...I'm in favor of it. My favorite part about this whole fad is that, unlike in some many other cases, animal photographers don't have to be original. Nobody needs a a cutting-edge shot of a mommy dog and her puppies or an avant-garde depiction of a two dolphins kissing. Fireworks, boob jobs, a raw-meat dress adds nothing to baby monkey dreaming on a pillow. And yet...this does not mean that a total lack of originality can't result in surprise, as I found on this slideshow of The World's Happiest Animals on Inspire First. He looked so human to me, this mysterious yet content creature, who as I later found out had never worked in his life and spends 15 to 18 hours a day sleeping Because, after all, he's also one of The World's Wisest Animals too—a sloth.
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I'm a sucker for a niche obsession. Mine have included: dog hair brushes, chicken marinades, tasteful bean bags, not-too-thick but not-too-thin milkshakes, and French songs for small children. I plunge myself into these interests with great attention and vigor—only to collapse later, having acquired some understanding of the subject, but not enough to make a life work's out of it.
Which is why I found Evan Leeson's photographs so inspirational. There he was on photography blogger with 19 dazzling photos of......wet grass. An obscure love, sure, but who doesn't love wet grass? It's the sweet, quiet younger brother of the ever popular, relentlessly successful "freshly mowed." Further, Leeson didn't just take evocative pictures of it, ones that bring back those barefoot runs through the neighborhood, post-thunderstorm, he also managed to take the pictures so that one drop of water on a blade captures larger surrounding landscapes, including barns, flowers, and an entire law. In short, he shows us how the great big world might look like, from the grass's perspective. Now that's an understand that veers into empathy, folks—the first sign that a niche obsession has turned into a niche work of art.
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But Dietrich had had enough. She did what most teenagers do these days when they have anything pressing on their minds: she took to the Internet. She outed her assailants, sharing their names on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, tweeting, "There you go, lock me up. I'm not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.” By making her story public, Dietrich has also started to rally thousands to her cause, inspiring Change.org and other petitions to drop the charges against her. After all, her rapists are the guilty parties, and they made their attack on her public. By that reasoning, she's just completing what they started.
Slate has a thoughtful analysis of the story: "But here [on the Internet] Dietrich is the editor of her own story. She has the power to delete the comments she doesn’t like and promote the ones she does. Thanks to a few brave tweets, a 17-year-old rape victim is now curating an international conversation about sexual assault in America...And she’s speaking out not only about the details of her own assault, but the ways that the justice system is failing others like her."
It's incredibly upsetting to think that these things happen, but how resourceful of this wronged teenager to turn the story around, and in a situation that was always about taking control away from her, to take it back.
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Now, I'm no hydrologist (it's a thing; I looked it up), so to me rivers basically count as lakes. They are connected, right? The key component of this species of beach-going experience is the inclusion of some degree of shade. True, the lake shore and the river swimming hole may count a mass of dead fish and the occasional plague of mosquitoes among of their charms, but they also offer a bounty of sea glass, grassy sands, fairy-rafts of driftwood, the respite of shade. This is summer swimming on the human scale: best of all is a lake you can see the other side of (no offense, Great Lakes), ringed by a lush fringe of pine trees. It's a diorama of an experience, a swimmy microcosm. Even better if the waters are tepid and still. Summery, Americana-infused, relaxing perfection. I suppose it's clear by now which side of the beach debate I spread my towel on.
My husband, on the other hand, stakes his beach umbrella firmly on the side of the ocean. He loves the epic horizon, the eyeball-busting sunlight, the drama of the ocean in all its crashy, splashy glory: knee-scrape-searing salt water, seashells, the glistening carcasses of jellyfish. The thing about the ocean is that you can't gaze out into those vast waters without contemplating eternity. The ocean is spectacular. A lake is pleasant. The ocean will carry off your children and burp up a whale. A lake maybe swallows your toe into some sludge. The more I think about it, the more our watery preferences seem to say about us.
So which beach are you? Here's a quick diagnostic question: when you think "summertime" do you picture a picnic basket or a clam shack? A canoe or a surfboard? Here's another way to truly know your summer vacation inner self: take a dip in this refreshing Flickr pool, Water...Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks, and see which images make your heart flutter. Bonus: you don't have to take any of your vacation days to do it.
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Besides, we don't actually need to do anything drastic like travel overseas or lose wi-fi just for a moment of stillness, as this interactive map proves. Created by the Guggenheim Museum, this Still Spotting map allows users to upload their own peaceful places in that known mecca of tranquility, um, New York City. It's a useful tool for residents and tourists alike, compiling not only the expected parks and beaches but also quiet building lobbies, underpopulated coffee shops, and hidden green nooks. And it's a useful reminder, too -- no matter where you live, no matter how hustling-and-bustling your existence, you don't need a field full of sunflowers to experience a pause, a breath, a piece of peace. Where's your still spot? It might be under the bleachers at a Little League game. Just remember -- it's somewhere nearby, maybe somewhere completely unexpected, and it will be there waiting for you when you need it.
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Chair #1: Dining Room Chair - 1940's - Red Velvet Seat - Nice - $25
When I went to pick up this chair, the gentleman selling it brought it out to my car and helpfully wedged it in amongst the car seats. As an afterthought, I asked what the story was with the chair. He told me it had been his grandparents from when they were first married, in the 1940's, in St Louis. But my grandparents lived in St Louis at the same time! For some reason this shared history felt like magic. "My grandmother was in the League of Women Voters!" I told him. "Hm," he said, "I don't know what mine was into. Probably a Yiddish Theater Troupe or something." The chair-seller explained that he had recently inherited tons of gorgeous furniture from his grandparents' home that was now filling his tiny apartment, and that he counted among his roommates an enormous china hutch, a creepy dress-maker's form, chairs and chairs and chairs. I felt this sounded very poetic. He felt crowded. So it goes, with someone else's life story.