It could happen

Mary Lu

Mary Lu

For most people managing their photograph collection ranks down there with filing income taxes, or remembering to floss.

I encourage people take a more optimistic view. There are so many ways to preserve photos these days including printing beautiful books one copy at a time.

I invite you to browse my photography blog, Click!, to whet your appetite for doing something fun with your photos. The posts are intended to inspire you. They are not technical.

Can you imagine having fun working with your photographs? It could happen.

I find that discovering miracles opens me to expecting more of them.




Labeling people

Harvey Milk was assassinated for being gay. What did the shooter fear?

Harvey Milk was assassinated for being gay. What did the shooter fear?

The LGBT Center at the University of Wisconsin assembled a nine-page list of terms that describe various approaches to gender and sex. One term that was once a pejorative has found dignity. The word is queer.

Queer: An umbrella term representative of the vast matrix of identities outside of the gender normative and heterosexual or monogamous majority. Reclaimed after a history of pejorative use, starting in the 1980s; 2) An umbrella term denoting a lack of normalcy in terms of one’s sexuality, gender, or political ideologies in direct relation to sex, sexuality, and gender.—University of Wisconsin

They also have a guide to coming out that is posted on their website. Regardless of our sexual orientation it seems likely to me that we all have our secrets. Guidance on coming out is probably relevant to all of us.

We are quick to label people, and not just regarding their sexual orientation. We label them for all kinds of reasons, and usually to align with our own biases. I am particularly sensitive to gender bias because men have forsaken their responsibility to be fair. I also have dear friends who are lesbians, and they share stories with me of some of their challenges.

The burlesque community responded recently to the firing of a performer who goes by the name Ruby Rage. She was rejected for being too large. She describes her experience in this interview. Burlesque, for me, is about costumes, talent, movement, and humor. Not size.

Racial prejudice is rampant, of course. And race is nothing more than a label. The differences attributed to race are purely cosmetic. There is a term in the field of mathematics that amuses me: fuzzy set. It means, more or less, that it is difficult to determine if something is a member of a particular group. When we apply it to the question “Are you one of us?” it provides a little wiggle room. Yes, you are one of us because we are all members of a fuzzy set.

So why don’t the majority of Americans stand up against the moneyed interests and get an economy that works for the majority? Because the moneyed interests have done five things:

3. Exploited racial and religious divisions, so the bottom 80% loses sight of their common economic interest.—Robert Reich, posting on Facebook

Racial and religious divisions depend on labels. Labels are creating enormous pain for all of us.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants, such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises, Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstration. As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained.—Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail

The dangers of labeling people are clear enough. Will we ever learn?



Take these broken wings


There are a lot of broken wings among my friends and also in the larger world out there. My own are not broken but they are severely bruised. I am familiar with the pain that can come from wings.

I find a three or four-minute song more inspiring than a book of any length, and I enjoy reading. This post links to three inspiring renditions of songs for broken wings and failed sight.

Paul McCartney sings Blackbird. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. Take these sunken eyes and learn to see. Paul explained that the music was inspired by music by Bach.

This link is to the Crosby, Stills, and Nash version of that song.

Here Comes the Sun, is rendered here by Paul Simon, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. The ice is slowly melting. It feels like years since it’s been clear. It’s alright, it’s alright. The smile is returning to the faces.

In a dozen minutes we can achieve a significant shift in consciousness, thanks to these marvelous people.

Consider the magnificence of these artists working together to inspire us. That kind of thing, expanded and valued by us, could save the world. It could save the world.

We might hear Blackbird played over the PA system while we shop for groceries. It’s not the same as listening to it reverently, and letting it work its magic on us.

We want our broken wings to carry us. We want to encounter the moment we have been waiting for all of our life. These artists assure us that these wonders are possible. These wonders are possible. These wonders are possible.

I’m old enough to appreciate the value of inspiration. I have needed a ton of it over the years. We are in an inspiration drought at the present time, but if we dig a little we can find some.

Let’s all be good to each other, and let’s spend some time being attentive to the great gifts that have been bestowed on us. I am humbled by them.


When the Apple gets bruised

Or not, as the case may be.

Or not, as the case may be.

I was making a video for a client on a fairly tight deadline only to discover that iMovie had a problem syncing the sound to the visual. It is quite distracting to watch a video when the words don’t match the shape of the mouth and lips.

The Apple website offered no help that I could find. I did find a remedy through a Google search. It is a sad day when a volunteer posts a video on YouTube to help anxious Apple customers who are receiving no help from Apple. How things change.

I have two concerns here. One is that Apple released a flawed piece of software. The other is that they wait for a crowd-sourced solution rather that facing up to it themselves.

In the matter of my video I should add that I made the recordings with my MacBook Pro. Apple had control over the entire production path.

I miss Steve Jobs.

Most large business organizations are severely bruised. That’s the topic I studied in school at the bachelor’s and master’s level. We just didn’t want to see it happen to Apple.

Businesses will not apply remedies to their problems because doing so requires acknowledging that the problems exist, and that would reflect badly on someone. Managers and executives build impregnable defenses in order to ward off criticism. Most businesses are a house of cards for this reason.

The odds are the organization you work for is defensive and a bit conceited. That develops from being in denial about what is really going on.

If it can happen at Apple it can happen anywhere. Be careful out there.



When it hurts to think

Stormy Leigh always makes me smile.

Stormy Leigh always makes me smile. Looking at photos of her is one of my favorite interventions.

I was impressed with Guy Winch’s TED Talk, so I bought his book, Emotional First Aid, Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts. There is probably no subject in the world that we neglect more thoroughly than the art of healing wounded feelings.

He approaches the task with humor. One of the sections has the title “Honey, I shrunk my self-esteem.” That’s funny if you remember the 1989 Rick Moranis film Honey, I shrunk the kids.

My particular weakness is listed under the fancy name rumination. Ruminate is related to animals that chew their cud. The human version of it involves getting lost in our thoughts, usually about a weakness or error that we identify with, and pondering it more or less endlessly.

Winch’s remedy for the pain of dwelling on perceived weaknesses is first to notice when we are doing it. The second recommendation is to launch an intervention. Taking photographs always takes my mind off my problems and off my rumination. Working the camera fills me with a sense of wellbeing.

His third recommendation is to shift our perspective to a third party role as if we are an outsider looking back at ourselves. That provides some distance, and it can be enough to help us see that we are exaggerating the severity of our situation.

Another element plays into this. I learned recently some valuable things about the nature of thoughts. Thoughts have no authority. They are just ripples in consciousness, something Patanjali called modifications of the mind stuff. I now know them as mental events, not a report on the state of reality. Thoughts have little connection with the outside world so they are not usually very informative about anything except our own agitation. Thoughts are local events in my own head. Knowing this means I give much less authority to the anxieties they promote.

I now know that it hurts to think if the thoughts appear to have authority in my life and if the thoughts provoke anxiety. Moments like that call for an intervention.

I know a lot of people besides myself who did not receive first aid when they were emotionally wounded. As Winch says, such wounds can become infected, and then we can develop chronic problems.

Supersizing our misery: Why rumination and sadness are best friends forever. One of the main reasons rumination is so difficult to treat is its self-reinforcing nature. Ruminating about problems tends to make us even more upset about them, and the more upset we are the stronger the urge to ruminate becomes.—Guy Winch

Dallas is another person who reminds me that I am well.

Dallas is another person who reminds me that I am well.

I’ve been in this vicious cycle for a very long time and I keep learning more about it. I am developing a vocabulary to talk about it in helpful ways, and I am emphasizing creative interventions that pull me out of the ditch.

It would help all of us if we were to inform young people of the progress being made in treating self-esteem issues. It would also help to stop inflicting emotional wounds on people of all ages. Imagine how the world might feel if we did that.




About enlightenment

In this post I reveal my ignorance about enlightenment. I understand enlightenment to be the state of being free of delusion.

Using that definition several things become obvious. The first is that we need not seek enlightenment. We already have it, but it is obscured. Another way to say that is that enlightenment is not being withheld from us, and we need not pray to anyone asking for it.

A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.—Wikipedia

Mary Lu

Mary Lu

I can now trace a path, of sorts, to being free of delusions. Let’s start by taking a quick look at dreams.

I notice when I wake up from a dream how real the dream seemed while I was “in” it. Dreams are, for me at least, quite delusional. The one last night was typical, and I became deeply involved emotionally with the activities in the dream. Robert Bly said enlightened people do not dream. That makes complete sense to me being that enlightenment is freedom from delusion.

The dream stream, so far as I know, operates continuously whether we are asleep or not. What influence does it have on my view of myself and the world when I am what I so optimistically call awake?

There is a force equivalent to dreams that operates in the waking mind. It is thought itself. I have a constant stream of thoughts floating through my mind. A common mistake, according to The Mindful Way Through Depression, is assuming that thoughts have power. They only have the power we give them. It is easy to assume they have some authority and are in our heads to reprimand us.

The effective approach to dealing with depression is built on affection—for ourselves. This excerpt from Mindful Way is informative but somewhat intense:

Mindful awareness and learning to be with unpleasant feelings are not about striving for some ideal of happiness in the face of the difficult—that would be just another goal we are fixating on. Rather, it is as if we are bathing the difficult situation, and even our aversion to it, in an open, compassionate, and accepting awareness, just like a mother embracing a suffering child. We can take this stance not only toward physical discomfort but also toward emotional discomfort.

I experience unpleasant thoughts as twinges that I feel physically, and which provoke anxiety. Mindful Way tells us that thoughts are passing mental events, not reality itself. That is a very helpful bit of information.

The exercise involves noticing as many of the twinges as possible and remembering that the accompanying thoughts do not define reality. I now notice that I have dozens of these twinges in a typical day, and more if I am confronting some kind of hurdle.

The path to freedom is described in the previous quote from the book. The authors suggest looking for patterns in the thoughts that pop up in our awareness. I have a cluster of thoughts that accuse me of being ineffective. That might be why I was inspired to launch the Rosie the Riveter series of portraits. Anyway, for now I am calling this cluster of afflicting thoughts Sourpuss.

Patanjali called the mechanism we are discussing here modifications of the mind stuff. Swami Satchidananda tells us in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: “The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection.”

The swami tells that ending the modifications results in an “extraordinary” experience. That sounds good to me.

I will close this post with something I wrote many years ago on the title page of the swami’s book.

We all have buried treasure on this earth. I was fortunate that mine was buried only one foot deep. I was also fortunate that I started digging from the far side.

Peace, y’all.

On being small

Coleman Barks is one of my heroes. He is known for taking stiff, brittle translations of Rumi poems and giving them heart. He did a wonderful job of it. This is his work. It is my current mission statement, and it’s hard to do, at least for me. I struggle with the notion that sorrow has been sent to guide me.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Stormy Leigh

Stormy Leigh

I watched him on YouTube speak at a gathering where he told the audience that a common fear is that we are too small to contain great love. That is the big problem when we are told we are small, and almost everyone tells us we are small. The exception is young lovers. For a while they see the whole universe in the eyes of their admired one.

I use photography to express my admiration for people. People who have serious doubts about being big enough to contain joy, beauty, and wonder tend to avoid being photographed. Being told they were small has shaken their confidence. My first task when taking pictures is to coax out the model’s self-confidence.

There are exceptions, people who want to celebrate who they are, and feel large enough to contain the experience. I celebrate them, and I am profoundly grateful for their courage. I have photographed Stormy Leigh on many occasions. I enjoy her spirit and confidence tremendously. She sets a great example for us, as do many of the ladies I have photographed.

This TED Talk is remarkable, easily among my top 10 of all TED Talks. It features psychologist and author Guy Winch and is titled Why we all need to practice emotional first aid. He uses the phrase emotional hygiene. I like that.

He tells the audience, “Our mind and our feelings are not really the trustworthy friends we thought they were. They are moody friends who can be totally supportive one minute and really unpleasant the next.”

I’m deeply involved in learning to apply his advice, and based on what I read in my Facebook newsfeed many people could learn from him.

Winch added, “When you are in emotional pain treat yourself with the same compassion you would show to a really good friend.” That’s a good lesson for all of us.