15 Jan

Isn’t this Someone Else’s Mess?

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We all make bad choices, and often shit happens as a result. Not the good kind but the stuff you’d rather forget. The type of bad decisions that change your life and leave you in a place that you have to struggle to get out of.

My first reaction is always to do a quick analysis: how bad did I screw up, what’s the fall-out and can I minimize it real quick? If the answer to question three is yes, I get on with fixing things and dance all day because I was lucky, if it’s no, then it’s time for some damage control. I start thinking about blame – was this somebody else’s fault, is there a way that I’m not the one who threw the switch and created the mess? As much as that kind of solution makes me feel better though, the truth is, it’s my stuff to own. Once I get past the analysis/denial/acceptance phase, I truly start beating myself up; why didn’t I think of the potential problems beforehand, why didn’t I listen to my wife, why couldn’t I see the writing right in front of me? Usually with me it comes down to two or three habitual screw ups: I was in a hurry, I was being lazy or worst-of-all, I was willing to sacrifice the best outcome for the quickest (read: instant gratification).

I say all this, not because I spend my whole life making lefts when I should be turning right, I think I run a pretty balanced portfolio! I say this because I was reading a post on a blog I like very much and came across a new perspective on our life when things go wrong and we’re forced to deal with major consequences. The site’s MarcandAngel.com and the post I was reading was 12 Ways to turn your Wounds into Wisdom and strength. Number four on the list of twelve was, “View Every Challenge as an Educational Assignment – Ask yourself: “What is this situation meant to teach me?” Every situation in our lives has a lesson to teach us”. 

I thought about my own challenges and some decisions  I’d made over  the past year. They weren’t existence threatening, but they had complicated my life and set me back a few years. Since making those decisions, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about where I’ve landed and how I could lighten the load I feel each day on my shoulders.

Why not, I  opened my notebook and asked myself the same question,“What’s this situation meant to teach me?” I started writing and the words came easy, not the answers that were right or safe but the honest ones, the ones I don’t like to admit or take blame for. When you approach your mistakes as a challenge – an opportunity to learn, it’s much easier to say what your really thinking. It doesn’t feel as personal and the objective is now a positive one; rather than strapping on bad weight, I found myself excited to write down the answers so I could begin to create some value from my mistakes.

Reading back my answers, I realized two things. First, nothing’s insurmountable; the thoughts that have rolled around in my middle-of-the-night brain for the past year, while challenging are absolutely surmountable. Most importantly, our lives are on paths littered with crossroads, we’re never going to get every decision right – that isn’t the point, each intersection is just another step along the way. The knowledge to hold tight, is that life is mostly long and we will face challenges all the way through it. For most of us the results won’t be terminal, they can be a challenge but not often do they signal the end. Our success or failure in navigating these crossroads isn’t getting all the answers right, it’s finding the right answers when we’re wrong. So, do we suffer in our heads and stay imprisoned by our mistakes or do we learn and rise up a better person… the choice is ours.

-Billy

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10 Jan

Art as a Journey

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IMG_1448I’ve always seen art as the key to unlocking a path between our minds, hearts and the people around us. Verbal communication is a direct but fleeting medium; the things we say to others are soon forgotten, or at best survive without the exact context and form we used. Art has given me the opportunity to sit back and contemplate my thoughts and feelings, and then choose how to best express them in a permanent form. With the spoken word, so much of what I say is in the moment and a reaction rather than an expression.

As a child and through my teens, pencil, pen and ink where the tools I used to reflect the images in my mind. In those years, the world around me was new and fascinating, the driving force behind my art wasn’t creating new visions, it was replicating the ones I saw before me. The closer I came to reproducing those images with my own hands, the closer I came to what I though of as excellence.

With experience and age came a desire to interpret. I was no longer satisfied with simply copying the images I saw around me, I wanted to reflect my own unique perspective for others to see. The contrast between shadows and light, the opposing intentions of different angles, the flow of structure all captured my attention, but mostly, it was the contrast between the things we have built and the things we were given. I no longer wanted to produce static images, what I wanted to do was capture a moment in time, preserve it for others to see as I saw.

For the next twenty years I moved from film, to digital then to digital SLR. Often the world would seem an opaque copy of itself until an image would draw me in; then it would bloom in full colour and I would scramble to capture the moment.

I’ve always traveled, and the difference between my world at home and the one beyond never ceases to amaze me. I’ve shot thousands of pictures, looking for that one perfect expression. A few have come close, some, while not what I had planned were good images, most were simply a way of filling up my hard drive.

I attended a photography course, and in the instructor’s opening remarks he asked the class how many good photos they thought they could take from a role of 36 exposures. He then polled the class and the responses, predictably, ranged from a low of 10 to a high of “all of them”. He smiled and said he thought we were maybe less discriminating than we should be. He went on to say that if we were able to shoot a few decent photos from a role, a couple of good images a year and one great one in our lifetime we should consider our work a success. His words have stuck with me for many years and formed the basis on how I judge my own work.

As I approached my fifties, I felt a desire to not only replicate and interpret the world around me, I now wanted to create it; to have a free hand in changing the things I didn’t like or agree with, or simply wasn’t attracted to. I wanted to build stories on the images and themes that I saw before me. There are truly great photographers out there who are able to tell an entire story with a single image, I am not one of them though I wish that I were.

Once again I found myself with a pencil in hand and a blank sheet of paper before me, only this time it was the written word. Through a search I did online, I stumbled on a group called Indie Ink. They were a small community of amateur writers from all over the world who would each week put forth a hand crafted prompt. We would each then be given someone else’s and a week to create a piece of flash fiction from it. Part of the criteria was that you had your own blog to post the pieces to, so people in the group could read your work. The posts were then judged and the “best” ones posted on the site. I did this for a year and found myself increasingly drawn to the mystery of fiction writing. The group ultimately disbanded as these things often do, but my passion for writing carries on. I‘ve stayed connected with some of the people that I wrote with, and am always amazed at how small a place this world really is.

So now I write. And while many think the writer’s path is a lonely one, I once again have the privilege to meet inspiring, articulate people who’s grasp of language leaves me in awe. Great words are more than simply a page in a book, they are physical; when you speak them they manifest themselves in sensation, they engage your mind and your heart and connect you to the world around you.

For me, I now understand that my artistic expression isn’t unlike a competitive sport. I’m not competing with those around me, I’m not even competing with myself; my adversary is in the challenge to overcome the limitations I have in producing a work that truly reflects what I feel.

-Billy

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07 Jan

Chains of Fools

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I’m awake; my eyes aren’t open yet but the rest of my senses are alive. A silent wind carrying the shadows of salt, seaweed and woodsmoke dances across my face. I can see light on the other side of my eyelids but I’m not ready to let it in. It’s chilly outside but I’m wrapped in a safe, warm cocoon of thick, woollen blankets, soft as only the Irish can spin. My head is nestled in layers of down, clinging to the coolness. From the direction of my feet, the sea rises up and hurdles itself at the beach, short of my resting place it throws wave after wave at the tideline, only to slither back like a giant serpent, pulling the sand and pebbles  across the rocks.  A snap to my left and a hot sting on my exposed cheek opens my reticent eyes – the dying embers of last night’s fire gasp and turn over for the last time before they go dark.

This is a memory, and only memories pull us back from the moment we’re in to another. It’s not a choice, it’s a reaction. When the memories are good, we hold on and fight to make them last – the sweet perfume of  our first love, the opening bars of a song, the soft moisture left over from a first kiss.
These are the windows that draw us to our past. As in all guilty pleasures though, there is a price, nothing is ours without cost. For us who give in to the siren call, there is a dark side –  a jealous mistress.

We walk through our lives, sometimes with ease, often with challenge. We look back on our mistakes and shortcomings, we try to turn away and stand tall. We want to be someone better, but just as we crest the hill, we are slowly entwined by the chains of our past, like Gulliver, bound to the land one small string at at time. Our lover pulls us back to our failings, she screams inside our heads, reminding us of who we are, where we belong.

I am tired of this battle. Torn between the steel grip of who I was and the promise of who I want to be – I  find no solace. It’s not because I haven’t the strength to be a better man, it’s because I’m too weak to throw off the shackles of the past. The harder I fight, the tighter they grow.

I awake this morning and before anything else, I check my thoughts to see if she’s still there; every morning she lays quietly, smug in the knowledge that I feel her presence before I even breathe. It’s stifling and hopeless. I look out the window for distraction and see the old maple that protects our home.

I watch the wind tear at the remaining few samara. They hang on with everything they have, hoping for their summer strength to return, all the while wishing they were free to go beyond the roots of their home. The wind strengthens as does the resolve of the tiny winged seeds, they shudder and tremble in the face of the wind, then give in, they release themselves from who they were and fall free of their past. Before they’ve a chance to drift down and see the end their lives at the foot of the tree they were born, they catch the wind and fly.

Billy

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