This past week, I spent a marvelous time exploring parts of Oregon and even more of Washington.
Now, as I sit typing in a cozy studio bungalow by myself, I can hear the ocean from Ediz Hook just a few feet away. I can hear a friendly bay horse whinnying for attention not far behind me, and a variety of birds (even an owl!) fussing to their neighbors. I now love the smell of real pine trees (a novelty in Dayton, Ohio), and the Olympic mountains make a fantastic backdrop to this serene setting. I feel at peace. I feel at home.
Yet, my family and most of my friends are back in Dayton, Ohio. My home in Ohio is far from the majestic mountains and relatively peaceful sea of Puget Sound, but it is hardly without charms of its own. The friendly smell of backyard firepits and evening grills, the sound of my children laughing and jumping through a sprinkler, my lovely garden and collection of books, and family and friends who are welcome to stop by any old time (and do!) I have missed while here.
In both Oregon and Washington I have met new friends, visited with family, and enjoyed aspects of nature I’ve not been able to enjoy in a very long time. I feel stronger than I have in years, and I’ve done much, much more than I have in years. I feel more peaceful and adventurous than I have in years. I feel invigorated, renewed. I have changed in subtle but important ways this week, and am excited about those changes.
The sea and the pines call me to stay, but my children and family are calling me back. Which way is home?
My oldest daughter came home with a simple glow stick bracelet from her teacher for Valentine’s Day, with the accompanying message, “You light up my life!” Tonight she wanted to activate it, but upon doing so, she found that only the tip came to life in a neon blue. She was of course disappointed and began to complain, when I took the little glow stick and said, “Follow me. I want to show you something.”
We walked back to her room and I said, “This little broken glow stick doesn’t look like much when all the lights are on, does it?”
“No,” she sighed.
“Well what if I turned out the lights and shut the door?” I turned out the light, and the little broken glow stick seemed instantly brighter. I shut the door, and in the complete blackness, the little broken glow stick looked like a beautiful beacon.
“Wow,” my daughter admitted, “why is it so different?”
“Because of contrast,” I replied, leaning on my photography knowledge. “The bigger the difference between the light and the dark, the brighter the light appears.”
I went on to make my moral point, “Good is like this tiny, ½ inch bit of light; you may not notice it, or think it makes much difference when there are many other “lights” around, but this broken bit stands out for all to see, when surrounded by darkness.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
See more “misty mountain” photos from my trip here
These communities rely almost solely on the dying coal industry that operates mines in the Appalachia mountains throughout Kentucky, Southern Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Not only do these areas struggle with economic depression, and an aging population, the heroin epidemic has hit these communities particularly hard as well.
The mountains here have been dynamited over the years to make room for better, wider, and safer roads. Shale rock breaks easily, so “steps” and ditches have been formed to prevent accidents from falling boulders and rock-slides.
Remains of the Sidney Coal Mining Company, now defunct. Images of the dying coal mining industry are tucked everywhere in the Appalachia mountains near Pikeville, KY.
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I was originally going to title this post: Why the Art World is Loathe to Admit the Emperor has No Clothes. Then I realized the problem I was going to discuss is not an art-world one, but a universal one. The problem is how we tend to define things as good or bad, right and wrong. We flatter ourselves, crediting our choices and beliefs on our brain power, intellect, and research. Now some people do frequently make informed choices, and most people make at least some informed choices. If we’re being honest though, it must be admitted that more often than not, our declarations of good and bad, right and wrong, are based on how we feel about them. Then our intellects kick into gear and fill in the blanks. For example…
As a writer and parent, I like to stay up on the latest book trends. As my “About” page notes, I am fascinated with human psychology. I am insatiably curious about people and the choices they make. Whenever someone declares a book “good” or “bad”, I always ask why. Invariably, the person’s answer is based on how they feel about the book, or rather, what emotions the book brings forth. Is it exciting? Is it sad? Is it a page-turner? Is it short? Are there too many big words? Is it informative? I always tell my students really important concepts to ask themselves are, “What does the book teach? What is the moral? Is it a good moral?” and “Why?”
I’ve noticed a similar trend when my friends and I debate on the worth of a film (I suppose I could have also titled this, In Which I Reveal My Media Snobbery). I love a film based on the cinematic qualities of setting, film technique, costuming, originality, acting, storytelling, and moral lessons. Ergo, The Lord of the Rings films are among my favorite films. Some of my friends love a movie because they like looking at a beloved actor (ok, I’ll be honest, I’m not above this one), or they want to enjoy a simple escape from reality. Maybe they want to laugh, tickle their dark side, or get a scare. These are all valid reasons to watch movies, but can we go any deeper with them? What else (if anything) are they teaching us? Does it even matter?
As a photographer, I follow a lot of blogs, read a lot of art books, and visit a lot of museums and art galleries. I have seen the work of both acclaimed and up-and-coming artists. I feel that many of the most praised photographers…well, stink. Their work is not all that great, technically speaking. It isn’t beautiful (to me), it doesn’t teach (me). Usually it’s just bizarre (to me) or perverse.
Morals and Life and Religion, Oh My!
I have noticed over the years, people tend to apply emotional judgements to determine bigger, more important life questions as well. When I ask others why they chose a particular religion (or no religion), they usually say, “it felt right”, or they “felt peace” about their decision. When asked where they stand on certain moral issues, people often respond with what they believe, followed by an intellectual answer like, “it just makes sense that…”
Usually, one’s religion or lack thereof, colors one’s moral beliefs about life. How then, can a potentially life-changing, emotionally-based decision such as religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs), proceed to intellectually inform one’s morals honestly? If one’s morals are truly intellectually based, it suggests that if facts change or new information is brought to light, one’s morals would likewise change. Yet, that rarely happens. Information is often suppressed in tight-knit groups, and morals are colored instead by cleverly disguised, emotional dogma.
What do you find true, noble, or praiseworthy?
These opinions of mine are precisely why I like to ask others what they see. Different people have different sets of eyes, ears, and minds that interpret the same piece of material that I see, hear, or consider. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you have not seen that classic Twilight Zone episode, you can correct that in 25 minutes here. 🙂
Still, there is also truth to search out. It is overly simplistic, pacifistic, and erroneous to simply claim that everyone is right (ever see Bruce Almighty?). It is fine, even necessary to be entertained and have fun, but it is important to exercise our brains by asking questions and thinking carefully about the answers. Why is something appealing and what does it teach? Can it be proven or disproved?
I like this quote from the Book of Philippians chapter 4, verse 8 in the Bible, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I used to think that meant whatever I found noble, pure, lovely, etc. was, obviously, what everyone should find noble, etc., as well. After all…