Trying to Learn to See

During the last few years I’ve taken on a couple of different hobbies. These have been writing (as evidenced by this blog) and photography. Since starting these hobbies I’ve found that while in some ways very different, they are also very similar.

They are both deceptive hobbies. When you’re on the outside they seem like such easy ventures. You put words to paper or a screen and “voilà!” Or you venture out and purchase a DSLR and you’re pretty much ready to start your own photography business. Well it’s not quite that simple, or at least I haven’t found it to be that simple. Maybe some people do, but I’m certainly not one of them.

Another area that they are very similar, and where I want to focus on, is they both require an ability to see the world around you. This may sound like a rather obvious statement, and to some degree it is, but it takes a good deal of intentionality to actually perceive what is going on at any given moment. It is one thing just to see what is going on around you on a surface level and a whole other thing to see what is going on underneath, to sense the stories that are taking place around you as you live your own.

We have two fairly young children and it is easy to rush around through life focused on the needs and wants of those children. You may see other people and events going on around you, but often I find myself so focused on making sure our kids aren’t in anyone else’s way and actually content themselves, that it can be hard to really see what is going on with the people around you. I don’t think I’m alone in that reality, and we’re not even people who have super busy schedules three-quarters of the time.

However, in both writing and photography it requires being able to see. To perceive not just what is on the surface, but also what is going on behind the surface. To be able to weave a tale out of interactions that may on the surface seem mundane and average. To see more than just a pretty setting, but also see the emotion and mood that can be produced from such a setting. I know this, and I wish I could say that I’m good at this, but I’m still very much trying to learn this.

In some ways it is hard because so often I am at home with the kids, and even if I went out with them I feel that I would be needing to focus too much on them to really see what is going on around me. I want to see, but this is no easy feat. It takes an intentionality that is difficult and that life doesn’t always easily allow. However, I do think that being able to see, both what is going on inside myself and around me will make a better writer and photographer out of me.

Even beyond this though, it would probably make me a more thoughtful person and Christian as well. It is so easy to focus on the externals or the momentary glimpse of a person when we see them out in public. We make our decisions about them and move on. We only see the outside.

I don’t know, I guess I think that having eyes to see what is going on around me in a deeper sense is something I want to work on. Maybe it won’t make me a better writer, after all that’s not all there is to writing, I still have to communicate what I’m able to see. Maybe it won’t make me a better photographer, there are skills there too beyond just seeing. I hope that it will, but if at the end it just makes me willing to stop and see the people around me better, then it will still be worth it.

 

 

Words Like Glass

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Have you ever heard that saying before? I know I have, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before as well. Words will never hurt me? I wish that were true.

It’s funny though, I’ve been thinking about words for a number of reasons lately. In part, because of the fact that I put out words on a regular basis through this blog so you have to think of words in some ways. I also think about how we can see people use words, often poorly, when we interact with each other either online or in person. All this thought of words brought to mind a picture of glass.

I envision glass because I feel that words are simultaneously fragile and dangerous. I think of how often I worry about the words that I write because I worry that someone will barge in, shatter my words, my thoughts, and opinions with little care or concern that I’m a person just like them. Even worse I worry that nobody will care enough even to do that. When we tell people how we feel or our thoughts about something and our words are either dropped to the floor to shatter on the ground in apathy or actively shattered in antagonism, it displays just how fragile our words are.

The truth is in thinking about that, I wonder how often I’ve done the same. The times I’ve shattered words in my attempts to be right. The times that I’ve just not reciprocated at all and let the words crash to the ground shattering into a million invisible pieces. From the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, I’m assuming this is something I do more than I would like to admit.

For some I think we hold our words in because of how fragile they are. We don’t want to ever run the risk of those words being broken so we wrap them in layers and layers of protection and keep the stuffed deep down inside. They’re intact but never used, always in storage to stay safe, but I wonder if that is better or not.

After talking about the fragility of our words, it may seem contradictory to view them as dangerous as well. However, we can break glass fairly easily and still be cut by it at the same time. In a similar way our words can be fragile, but can also be dangerous and hurt us despite what the nursery rhyme quoted earlier implies.

Our words can be harmful, maybe not in the same way that sticks, stones, or glass can be, but harmful enough. Sometimes this is unintentional. It is done by being careless with our words or in our receiving of other peoples words and it is like dropping something glass. People get hurt because the words weren’t handled properly in the process and we can get harmed by the shards that are scattered around. It’s harming and being harmed due to carelessness not maliciousness.

However, there are times we harm with words very intentionally. We pick up pointy shards of glass and use it to stab and slice other people with. The intention is to go out and hurt other people with words. Sometimes this is done by shattering the words that others have put out there and then stabbing them with shards that remain.

Other times, we provide the words and simply set out to harm. This can be under the guise of being right, protecting our rights, or some other cause we believe to be noble. We can also wound others out of jealousy, retaliation, or dislike for another person. Sometimes it is about power, dominance, and being about to subdue others with our words. We can wound others in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons with our words.

So our words are so strange. On the one hand they feel so fragile sometimes. So easily broken. So easily taken out of context or dismissed without a second thought. On the other hand, we can so easily turn our words into weapons to harm. Sometimes it is the careless comment, other times we craft our words into shivs to stick other people with.

Being careful with our words and the words of others is something that I think we could all do better with. We’ve all tried to hurt people with our words and we’ve all treated other people’s words poorly. Now this isn’t a call to accept any argument without criticism or anything like that. It is about treating people like people. It is about caring about what people say and think, even when you’re trying to change their minds or correct them. It’s about treating other people’s words the way we want ours treated, especially when we disagree. Our words are like glass and I long for a day that the ground isn’t littered with shards of glass everywhere from our smashing of each others words.

 

Sickness and Reflections on Blogging

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet in this space the last couple weeks. Well that’s because pretty much the whole family has been sick with some kind of plague. Fevers, congestion, coughing, sore throats, and feeling rotten have pretty much been the norm around here the last two weeks. So spending time writing didn’t really come on the radar very much.

Despite not actually writing anything or doing any actual work on the blog, I thought about my little space here quite a bit. In some ways getting some distance away from doing the blog for a couple weeks made me realize a few things. The first is I’m not sure I really like the blogging world. I started reading a number of blogs around this time last year and at first it was inspiring and engaging. It made me think about issues I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about and even if I disagreed it felt like it was a good exercise.

Over time though the blogging world has lost its luster for me. There is so much negativity out there, even for good causes, maybe even particularly for good causes. Sometimes it seems to be a successful blogger you have to create some sort of story out of the blog itself. You have the writer as the protagonist/hero with your quest/platform and those who stand in your way  or disagree must be antagonists/enemies. Now this changes from blog to blog. For some the enemies are the reformed section of Christianity, some go a bit farther and place all of evangelicalism as their enemies, while on the other side you have some from those groups making the enemies look like progressives, liberals, women, or whatever type of group they want to fill in the blank with. It just gets more than a little tiresome. It just wears you out after awhile.

This realization led me to the question of what to do with my own blog? Basically, do I want to continue my blog? I thought about being done with it, but to be honest I enjoy it as an outlet, even if it is just an outlet for myself. So you could say my second realization is that I do enjoy my blog. This space isn’t very big or very popular, but overall I can very much say that it displays who I am, what I’ve been thinking about, and what I want to be.

So with that figured out I thought a lot about what I want this space to be like. In terms of content I’m mostly happy with it, but I realized (my third and final realization) that I think it’s time for some relatively minor changes. To start off I think I’m done with my Wanderings of the Week at least in the manner they exist now. I know that it wasn’t that long ago in one of my posts that I said I would keep doing it, but it takes a lot of time to read as many blog posts as I do in a week. It would probably be time better spent elsewhere. Not that I’m completely done reading other blogs, but I’m just not going to try to read so many posts in a week and I’m weeding out some of the blogs from my reader that I don’t tend to really enjoy that much. I may still highlight a post that I really like or something, but there will be no more lists of posts from the week.

So what am I going to do instead of it? Well my thoughts are this. I’m thinking of trying to have a sort of rhythm for my blog. I’ve really missed teaching from the Bible so I’ve thought about doing a blog post on a chapter or so every week at the beginning of the week, having a more topical post or a review post during the end of the week and maybe for the weekend having a short post more dedicated to family and what’s going on in our lives (similar to the first part of my Wanderings of the Week posts). I know this is trying to get three posts out in a week, but I’m hoping that this will work out okay.

I also want to change the way the blog looks. Maybe go for a simpler cleaner layout, because I’m just not sure my current one is working out too good. Not a big change, but one I still think I’d like to make.

So all this to say I’ve been sick and that while I’ve been sick I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging. Maybe this is all a bit circular for a blog post, but I at least wanted to let people know I was alive.

 

The Best Stories Include People

We all love a good story. I’ve thought about the story of my life. I’ll be honest I’m not sure if it is a good one or not. It probably isn’t a very interesting one if you lay it beside another person’s life, but it’s mine.

I’ve thought about the story of my life and the moments that have shaped it the most. In that I’ve realized that the most significant moments have involved other people. That’s not profound or anything like that, but it can be a difficult thing to communicate.

How do you talk about the times people have hurt you when they are people you love or are close to? I read enough blogs to know that at some point when you gain followers/detractors you also gain people who start to think they know you. This “knowledge” is often incomplete even when they have a number of posts and thoughts to interact with and try to piece together. How much more incomplete is it of those we include in our stories?

Is it possible to tell of the pain others have caused us without making them a villain? Is it possible to speak of those who have poured life into us without presenting them as having no faults? I think there is, but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try. Plus I think the danger of presenting them as a villain is more of a danger than presenting them as having no faults. At least from a relational standpoint.

You may wonder why I’m thinking about this. It’s simple. I’ve thought about telling some of the stories that have shaped me and the faith that I have, but they involve other people. So I don’t want to tell them because I don’t want to misrepresent and I don’t want to hurt. Which is kind of funny in a way because some of the most harmful times I can think of, at least involving those close to me, have actually helped me more than they’ve left scars or made me bitter. Maybe not helped me attain occupational or monetary success, but helped me figure out how I wanted to approach life, faith, and everything out there.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and just wanted to put in into words. How do you go about telling stories about times you’ve been hurt or healed (be it in conversations, writing, or some other way)? I’d be curious to hear how

Then I’ll Be Able To Do It

The first time that I remember taking pictures all on my own was on my sixth grade field trip. I don’t think it was the first time that I took a picture, but it’s the moment I remember taking pictures on my own. I’ll be honest not many of them were that good. I photographed my fingers many times that day. Since then I’ve owned a handful of different cameras but never really got into learning about how to take good photos or even tried taking the camera off of automatic.

This changed about six months ago when we got the chance to buy a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera with very little financial burden. There was part of me that knew photography was something that needed to be learned and practiced to be able to do well, deep down I knew it. However, there was part of me that thought that buying a relatively nice camera would make me take pictures better.

Now to be fair the pictures I took on automatic looked better than the pictures I took on my old point and shoot, but it wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was going to be. It was during this time that I decided I actually wanted to learn how to take pictures. I read the manual for my camera to try to learn about how the camera and its manual settings worked. I started to look at photography blogs to see what they said. I even signed up for a workshop offered by a high school classmate who owns her own photography studio.

I’d say that I take better pictures now than when I started learning on manual, but if I’m honest I wish I could take even better pictures. It is easy for me to fall into the mentality that I need something more and then I’ll be able to take the kind of pictures I want. That there is a quick fix to taking better pictures, but there really isn’t. Of course, there are certain things that the gear I currently have just can’t do so it’s not that I don’t have real limitations, but at the same time I’m often focused on what I can’t do so much more than what I could be doing.

Am I practicing taking pictures so that I get better on what I can do? Am I learning, figuring out, and mastering what I’m able to do? Or do I simply sit around dreaming of what I think I need so I can do what I can’t do? Sadly, all too often, it’s that last one.

Sometimes it’s so easy to go for what you think will be the quick fix rather than putting in the time and work to learn what you can. In part I think I’m expecting too much of myself in just the six months of doing photography on manual, I need to keep working at it and have fun with it. However, I find myself wishing I could take as beautiful of pictures as others do and it makes me look for the quick fix.

I do that with this blog sometimes too. I think that if I would have a better layout, design, or that I hosted in on another option that wasn’t free, I’d be able to have a bit more traffic. The truth is though I had more visitors the times when I actually posted more consistently. I don’t like thinking about all this, because honestly I don’t want to care if this blog is “popular” or not (but sometimes I do). It’s easy to think that if I just did this differently or had this than my blog would be more successful, whatever that means.

Isn’t that the lie we’re always told? If we just had this one thing then life would be different. Then we’d be able to do what we wanted to do. I mean that’s the stuff of advertisements. If we just had this car, clothing brand, or cleaner then life would just sort of click into place. We’d be attractive, popular, cool, relaxed, happy or at least feel that we were for a little while.

Ultimately, we try to break life down into these quick fixes. It is this idea that we would just get better or feel better if we bought something more, Now again there may be times where investing in your dreams may need to happen, but it will take work. I’m not going to learn how to take better photos simply because I buy more expensive cameras or really expensive lenses. It will take time and work for me to get better at photography and there isn’t much of any shortcut with that. The same goes with blogging. Spending money on a domain or design isn’t going to help if I’m not writing consistently.

We just need to be careful that we aren’t defeating ourselves before we really try. It is easy to simply be unsatisfied with how things are when we’re just starting out. We often have grand ideas when we start trying to learn something new or do something. As we start we probably run into the reality that what we’re doing doesn’t look nearly as good as what we’ve seen others make, so we give up or wonder what we need to buy or obtain to become that good. I don’t want to give up. I don’t simply want to keep thinking there is a quick fix. I’ll keep on struggling forward, learning, even if it isn’t as fast as I thought I might at first.

What Would You Do If Money Wasn’t an Issue?

One of my friends put this question up on Facebook awhile ago. It’s a question that I’ve heard before and never really had it affect me before. This time though the question has attached to me. It may leave my thoughts for a bit, but it always returns. What would I do if money wasn’t an issue? The troubling answer is I don’t have any clue.

Sure you could answer the question like it’s about having limitless money. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the intention of the question. It wasn’t play make believe with imaginary money. It was deeper than that, it was about not letting fear stop you from chasing your passions and dreams. It sounds like a question that I should have an answer for.

Yet it is a question I don’t have a firm answer for. Even a few years ago I would have answered that it was becoming a pastor. After all I spent 6 1/2 years of my education with that goal in mind. However, for a number of reasons that answer doesn’t come as fast as it once did.  It is still probably the best idea that I have, but it is also an answer that I have a fair number of reservations about. So while it is a potential answer, it doesn’t feel like the answer to this question.

The problem is I don’t really have any other good potential answers. Right now I stay home with our kids, but I’ll be honest this isn’t necessarily what I have envisioned for long term. I think it is important for one of us to be home with our kids, but at the same time I feel like I want more than just being a stay-at-home father. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a knock on those who do stay at home, but more that I want to be able to use my gifts and education beyond staying at home with my kids. The way this looks may be that I stay home with my kids more than I do something else, it is just the desire to be able to do something else in addition.

Of course, that gets me back to the problem with my question. I just don’t know what I want to do. My faith is very important to me and I love thinking about and discussing issues of the faith, church, and culture so I can’t imagine that what I would like to do wouldn’t have something to do with this, but I’m just not certain if it will look like being a pastor. If it doesn’t I’m not sure what it will look like.

I’ve been enjoying writing this blog, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think my blog will ever take off or be super popular. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong with time, but to be honest I have mixed feelings about it being popular too. This is a place to work out my own thoughts more than it is thinking that others want to or need to know what I think about an issue, a book, or whatever else.

I wouldn’t be against writing a book at some point in my life, but I’ve got reservations about that too. I’m not sure what I would want to write about, I don’t want to just write a book so I can say I’ve been published, and well I guess I feel that I need to live a bit more to really have something worth writing about. It could simply be that these reservations are excuses, but I’m not losing sleep on that.

In all this I can’t figure out if I just lack passion or I lack the imagination and insight to transform my passions into something tangible. I’m not entirely sure, and maybe I’m not supposed to know the answer right now. That’s a frustrating proposition, but maybe the answer will come in time. Honestly, it seems like I’m thinking more about this question than was intended, but I guess I can’t help it. I don’t have a good answer to that question. Do you? What passion would you follow if money was an issue? I’m not sure I know, but do you?

 

The Struggle Towards Creativity

I don’t know if I’ve ever really considered myself a creative person. I’ve never really been able to draw very well, didn’t have much of a musical talent, and while I do remember writing poetry in high school I never considered it very good. Through college and graduate school, it felt as though creativity wasn’t of much use. Academia seemed to have very little use for creativity. Maybe that is a harsh sentiment to have, but as I reflect, it is the sentiment that is there. During the years of college and graduate school, I’m not sure that I ever found this bothering me all that much, to be honest I didn’t think much about it period. However, in the years since I’ve been done with my schooling, I’ve found this curious ache to be more creative, but I’ve also found this oppressive voice telling me that this will never come to pass.

My ache for creativity has really had two springs. The first and longest lasting one has been this blog. I started writing it mainly just to keep up on my ability to think and write about what I was thinking. In many ways I’ve come to realize that my writing is still so influenced by the academic model. I go for the heady, essay style of writing more often than I’d like. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not all I want to be able to produce. Especially after reading other blogs that are able to add so much heart to their writing, it makes me feel a bit more inferior and envious than I’d really like to admit. That oppressive voice has a field day with those feelings:

“You’re never going to be able to be as creative as these people.”

“You’re pretty boring, why would anyone what to read what you’ve written.”

“Maybe you should just give up.”

Not to mention deep down, I know I shouldn’t be comparing myself to others this much. I know that, but sometimes it is hard to divide being inspired by others from looking at how poor your writing is in comparison. It can be kind of overwhelming at times, but clearly here I am still trying. I haven’t given up yet, but neither has that stupid voice.

The second spring is that I’ve recently been getting into photography. In so many ways it has been fun and I am enjoying it. It other ways it is like cutting down a whole forest to serve as fuel for that oppressive voice. I didn’t realize there was so much to photography. I’ve been a point and shoot camera guy for a long time. Recently picking up a DSLR camera has been very rewarding in some regards, but oh boy it is also confusing, discouraging, and expensive. You see so many beautiful pictures, and then you see your pictures with poor lighting, wacky colorization, and just lacking the beauty that others achieve and it can be very discouraging.

I’m working on figuring out how to use it, I took a beginners workshop earlier this year and I’m happy to say that I have been using my camera on manual since then. So I’m learning, but it comes slowly and I struggle. I particularly struggle to apply the aspects of art and creativity to my photography like the rule of thirds. I’m so much a centered type of person that this is a huge adjustment for me. Not to mention a lot of my photography is for collecting memories and since I take a good number of pictures of our two children most of the time creativity is hard to add to everything when you’re just trying to catch the moment.

The thing is though despite the difficulties, I want to learn. I want to be able to write with heart and creativity. I want to take beautiful pictures. I guess in part because I feel the need to be creative. Even though I may always be more inclined to essays and philosophical musing, I want a place for creativity, for humanity, for heart to come through. I guess because I think we need both. I may never be as creative as a lot of people, but that’s okay. I don’t feel that I have to be. I’ll probably never be a professional writer or photographer and that’s okay too. If I do by some wacky chain of events, that’d be awesome but I’m not setting my hopes there (my money would probably be on the writing side if any were to happen).

I’ll continue to struggle towards creativity, even when it isn’t easy. Even though the oppressive voice of discouragement may want me to give up. Despite all the feelings of inferiority, confusion and discouragement. It will be a struggle, but I don’t want to give up on it, at least most of the time.