Coping with the Madness of 2020: Shut It Down!

Grainy Black and White: Fallen Magnolia Leaves

Plans for my “Coping with 2020” series were slightly derailed because, as one of my former students put it, this week was “ugly.” There’s no other way to put it. I worked 14-19 hour days almost every day this week. COVID-19 numbers rose daily. Zeta knocked down trees and power in NOLA and other places. And it seemed the whole world expressed anxiety about what we might wake up to November 4. By Thursday, I was livid because there was no relief from the noise.

One part of 2020’s madness for me is too much doing, too much noise all the time. Everywhere we turn. Noise. Someone or something telling us what to do, how to do it, how to think. Noise. Piling up our plates. Vying for control of our time and energy. Noise. Noise we seemingly can’t escape because doom and Zoom are everywhere.

Grainy Black and White: Impatiens

So how do I cope? I shut it down. Everything. Computers. Phone. All of it. And I sit, drive, or walk in total silence.

I’ve always loved the early morning and late night quiet and the rare but not impossible moment of respite from the daily noise in the middle of the day. But silence is different. We can always find quiet. Silence, ever-present and always within reach, seeks us, but we have to be intentional about being found.

Silence. When there are too many words and too much doing. Silence. When it’s easy to grab the phone and chat away whatever spare moments we can find. Silence. When we can put in our earbuds and tune out the world through music and podcasts. Silence. When the world is loud and boisterous and simply too much.

Grainy Black and White: Begonias

So this week—in the middle of the umpteenth multitasking Zoom meeting, just after the department’s student assistant knocked with one more issue she couldn’t address—I hit mute, closed my eyes and sat in silence.

I’m sure I was on the brink of screaming, “uncle!” That moment in the midst of the chaos saved my sanity.

When the world feels like too much—get off social media, turn off the tv, turn off all screens, ignore the phone and all the doing, and hit mute.

There is freedom and calm right in the middle of the silence.

Grainy Black and White: Magnolia Pods

#ThursdayTreeLove | When Tree Love Meets Creative Auto

For the last few weeks my campus walks have been taking me in directions I don’t normally take, and I have thoroughly enjoyed other sights and sounds of campus. As always, there’s no shortage of trees to love.

A couple of weeks ago, my walk started with the tree below:

I pass this tree twice a day–on my way to and from the office. In fact, it’s had a moment on the blog before. But as I was on my way to a different tree, this lone tree and its shadow caught my eye. The photo is a bit boring because I was really photographing the shadow.

Then…just yesterday, my camera wanted to play and found the tree again!

Again, I was drawn to the tree’s shadow. 😉

I’ve had a DSLR with a Creative Auto (CA) setting for at least a decade, but until a few days ago, I had not even attempted to play around with CA. Gasp! Don’t judge me too harshly.

There are various fun settings–toy camera, vivid, monochrome [of course], fisheye, soft focus, miniature, ambient, and more–but the grainy black and white stole my heart. I don’t know what it is about this setting that’s made me go ga-ga! The images are nostalgic and dramatic and artsy and moody all at once.

The really cool thing about the CA setting is that it captures a normal [color] version of the image as well as the “creative” image, so there are no regrets about missing the opportunity to shoot a particular object in color.

Thus, we have my two favorite photos from today’s escape-the-screen photo walk:

Yes. I walked to the willows today.

Be sure to take some time away from the screens and have a weekend filled with joy and creativity!


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

There Is Joy…

But
isn’t it funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

Guest Post | “Tightrope” by Elle Arra

Photo by Elle Arra

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by my friend, Elle Arra. I met Elle Arra through her poetry blog here on WordPress. She is an amazing poet and visual artist, and I was delighted to learn she lives right here in Northern Alabama. In fact, we know many of the same people! We have made plans to get together for tea when meeting and greeting are safe again.

In this post, Elle Arra combines poetry, photos, and reportage to share her experience of participating in a protest over the Alabama District Attorney’s refusal to release officers’ body camera footage in the police shooting of Dana Sherrod Fletcher last November.


Suspended above the day’s mundanity and slog,
an ever-present tightrope
black bodies traverse in tandem.
It’s like navigating an ocean built
almost entirely of undertow
while maintaining stride and heft of dreams.

We are not permitted our hysteria
not without it being labeled non sequitur rage.

We walk this tightrope
lilting between full bloom
and languish,
walk with bullets in our backs,
twine around our necks,
asphalt under our skin,
knees on our windpipes,
tree branches in our hair,
blood like rubies cascading,
splayed bone like smooth porcelain,
black skin – ribbons and ribbons,
afro confetti––

Photo by Elle Arra

Sunday, August 16, 2020. I walked the four corners of US 72 and Wall Triana [in Madison County, Alabama] where giant signs were hoisted in peaceful protest of the shooting of Dana Fletcher 10 months earlier. I took photos and spoke with his wife and mother who have had to wedge their grief and mourning between breathing and fighting for justice. I cannot imagine having to take moments meant for private sorrows to fight publicly for transparency—the human and decent thing being denied them.

Photo by Elle Arra

I watched Dana’s now fatherless daughter playing in the grass while her mother, grandmother, and a sizable group gave everything they had to this effort. I took it all in–the focus on their faces, the bullhorn call and response, and the raised signs calling for justice.

Photo by Elle Arra

It was extremely hot and humid that late morning/early afternoon, but the dedicated group spent three hours occupying the four corners of the intersection adjacent to the lot where Dana was killed. People from all walks of life honked as they drove by and elevated their fists through car windows in solidarity. Several vehicles pulled up and gifted cold, refreshing, electrolyte drinks to the protestors. There was beauty in the coming together despite the bitter reasons for the gathering; there was beauty in the union of people of all colors and lifestyles for one common goal.

 

Photo by Elle Arra

On October 27, 2019 Dana Fletcher was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in front of his wife and daughter. Nearly a year later, there still has been no transparency in this matter. According to Alabama law, body camera footage is privileged information, so the District Attorney refuses to release the footage or the alleged 911 call that precipitated Fletcher’s death. Stills from the incident have been released, but these stills do not reveal the whole story.

You can help. Please go to change.org and sign the petition to enact the Dana Fletcher bill making bodycam footage public record.

Photo by Elle Arra

We walk that tightrope,
what a beautiful gait.

––even our dying is a glorious walk home.

To learn more about Elle Arra and her work, please follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo by Elle Arra

[All images in this post captured by Elle Arra with Fugifilm X-E1 f/1.0 1/4000 50.00mm ISO200].

Be Like the Bird | #WordlessWednesday

Be like the bird, who
pausing in his flight
on limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath him
yet sings,
knowing he has wings.

Victor Hugo, Les chants du crépuscule (Songs of Dusk), 1836


About the image: Did you spot the bird? I shot the “birdie-in-tree” a few days ago while checking out the scenery of my aunt’s new home. Even as I captured the image I knew I would [post] process it as a silhouette. The final lines of Hugo’s Songs of Dusk are a perfect fit. Don’t you think?

“She Glories in Being Abandoned”

She says she glories in being abandoned.  –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Earlier this week while out for a drive, I caught a glimpse of an abandoned building I’ve photographed many times over the last several years. I’m always intrigued by how much the building changes, but I was stunned by the beauty of its neighbor [photos #1, 2, 4, 5].

I was pleased to find nature doing what it does–reclaiming what the humans left behind.

I had a difficult time choosing which photos to share for [not-so] #Wordless Wednesday–the originals or the edits. My hubby remarked that color photos tell a story, and the black and white ones are more artsy. Since I can’t decide whether I want to share a story or art, I’m sharing both sets.

Did you ever wonder
Why abandoned houses looked so sad

Much like the people
Their exterior was only for the function

We would not feel so sad
If we recognized

That the spirit of the house
Had already moved on

The dream remained.

Maria Lehtman, The Dreaming Doors

[For earlier shots of the building in photos #3 and #6, check out a 2016 post.  You’ll be able to note some of the changes in the building’s condition].

For Langston | Shatter This Darkness…Into a Thousand Lights of Sun

Today would have been Langston Hughes’ 118th birthday. Some of my Hughes books are in my [work] office; others are unfortunately buried in one of my many unpacked boxes, so I didn’t have the pleasure of revisiting my precious books and slowly inhaling the pages.

Like so many other Black poets, I fell in love with Langston Hughes through the books on my older siblings’ bookshelves. I took a course focusing on Hughes in graduate school and was sorely disappointed by the instructor’s style. He was knowledgeable but not an effective facilitator. He missed Hughes’ brilliance in his focus on the “celebrity” and ambiguity of Hughes.

I accidentally shot the “abstract” photo this morning while finishing up a letter to a friend. It pairs well with the closing lines of Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older.”

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

–Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”

Many read this poem and see disillusionment. The speaker of the poem dismisses the idealism and replaces it with the realization that in America his Blackness stands as a barrier to his dream. However, there is hope here too…He has “almost forgotten” the dream, but he recognizes that thick walls of racism can be breached, toppled even, by his dark hands.

Moreover…

Dark hands united with other hands can “shatter the darkness…into a thousand whirling dreams of sun.”

A Raindrop. An Image. A Reflection.

“Raindrops” by Rebecca R. (aka Beckra)

Each raindrop holds within its entity
an image of the vast and ageless sea.

The quote above was printed on a card I received from a friend when we were teenagers. The words struck me and I committed them to memory. When I received the riveting photo postcard featuring raindrops in the garden from my pen friend, Rebecca R., the words immediately came to mind.

Although I read, memorized, and understood the words, I’m only now seeing the significance of the quote as it speaks to my relationship with Christ. If in a single raindrop we can imagine the vast sea, can others see in my pitiful humanity a reflection of Christ?

So Many Stories | #WordlessWednesday

One of the things I love about New York City is that the city is constantly moving. I can stand in–or walk through–the same location for hours and watch hundreds of stories unfold. I’m convinced NYC never runs out of stories–and that the story is rarely what it seems.

I captured the photo above several years ago as I walked through or near Union Square [I think]. Though we are naturally drawn to story of the couple in the foreground, the more interesting stories take place beyond them.

What words–or stories–do you have for today’s photo?

Possibilities

“Possibilities” by Diane W., Midteacher on swap-bot

The academic year began with far more drama than I expected, and I’m finally finding a few moments on a less crazy night. I’ve been reflecting on the mixed media photography piece Diane W., Midteacher, sent for the “Raindrops” swap I hosted a few weeks ago.

Last Monday, I marched into my office after dropping my son off for his first day of school, happy to have a full seven hours to transform “possibilities” to realities. I had such plans! But one obstacle after another hindered any progress on anything day after day for almost the entire week.

When my own classes began two days later, I was not prepared. I “faked the funk” and pushed through, but by Friday, I was deflated–my only solace was knowing I had the weekend to recuperate.

Today, I took a short walk after my morning classes, annoyed by another hindrance. Through some connection in my thoughts, the words Diane worked into her photo surfaced–“today is full of possibilities.”

Was I going to let one thing gone wrong ruin a whole day filled with possibilities? Was I going to allow my week to be hijacked again?

Of course not! There’s too much at stake.

I shook off the icky feelings, returned to my office and got to work…chipping away at the possibilities.