Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shift in Focus

One of my favorite aspects of photography is how even the tiniest change in focus yields a completely different image. The subject may seem the same at first glance, but then you notice your eye is drawn to different things in the two pictures. The shift in focus becomes significant.

I've noticed such a shift in the focus of my life lately. I knew it was there, that it was happening, but until this week, as I spent time moving and rearranging and purging and organizing my office/studio, I hadn't really been forced to take such close notice of it. It's been alternatingly startling, saddening and freeing, sometimes all at once.

I am a writer by trade. No, you won't find a novel with my name on it at your local bookstore, but for several years, you might have found my name in the byline of various articles in various magazines. I wrote about summer camps for kids, pros and cons of different prepared childbirth philosophies, how to outfit a layette on a budget, how to choose a pet for your child...if it had to do with pregnancy, infants or parenting, I probably wrote about it. I also wrote about writing, and I wrote about faith, and I wrote about how those two can be intertwined. For nearly seven years, I wrote these articles as a freelance writer, and for the time I had to put into it, I enjoyed moderate success. I was good at it, and I enjoyed it, both things a plus when it comes to your job.

But then something happened. Some things happened. A series of unfortunate, frustrating, maddening events took place in my life. The kinds of events that, as they continue for weeks and months and on into years, they rob you of your energy and your drive and your ability to think. So I spent the energy I did have fighting life's fires and dealing with crisis after crisis, having less and less time and inclination to write. I quit looking for new work. I resigned from regular gigs I'd had. Except for the personal journaling I have done since I was eight years old and the blog I had during that time, I quit writing.

At the time, it was a relief. I'd felt tired, burned out. It felt good to not be writing for the first time in a long time, to not have deadlines zooming at me. And so it stayed for the next couple years. I'd think about it from time to time, knowing that if I wanted to, I could go back to it. Sure, it would be hard, almost like starting over in some respects, but the basic skills and love for the craft would still be there. It would always be an option. It just turned out to be an option I never seemed to take.

And so, as I've spent this week cleaning my work space, it came as a surprise to me that I was so easily relegating my writing books to the bottom shelf of the bookcase when they'd always held a place of prominence up at the top. My folders of published articles moved from the top to the bottom file drawer. And the novels? The ones you won't find in Barnes & Noble? They, in their dozen or so folders, moved to the file cabinet that is hidden away in the closet.

At one point during all this movement, I sat down on the floor and started leafing through the myriad pages at hand. I read. I smiled at the words on the pages. Even the fiction. With each folder's contents, I remembered the storylines and how they'd come to me, what was going on in my life when I started writing them, the endings I'd knew they'd each get to if I was able to complete them. And the yearning to finish them pulsed faintly inside of me, yet I knew I'd only be kidding myself if I was to put them on my desk and tell myself I was going to work on them again. My focus for them just isn't there. Same with the articles that whirl through my head. Old habits are hard to break, even if you've ignored them for a long time, because though it has been over two years since I've sent a query to an editor, article ideas still come to me. I catch myself mentally composing a pitch before I realize I'm not going to put it on paper. Not now, anyway. (That's not to say I wouldn't be tickled to have some layouts published, but to me, that's an entirely different ball of wax.)

From my spot on the floor, I looked around and saw what now was the center of my world...the paper and stamps and inks, the bits of metal and ribbon and buttons and beads, the tripods and cameras and photos that come from them. These things have taken over, both my room and my mind. And as much as it is in my nature to want to write articles about the things that I'm most focused on, for now I'm content not to do so. Not now. For now I'm content just to live these take the photos and work with them and create with use the paper and adhesives and embellishments rather than to write about the supplies. It really is such a different way of dealing with life for me. Being and doing rather than writing. But it's ok. Who knows what tomorrow or next week or next year will bring. But for now, it's really ok.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


"Woe, woe, woe!" called the voice. Woe for my brothers and sisters! Woe for the holy trees! The woods are laid waste. The axe is loosed against us. We are being felled. Great trees are falling, falling, falling."
Voice of the Dryad, Chapter 2, The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

Last fall, our neighbor two doors down came over asking about property lines. He was having his land surveyed and they were looking for a point of reference and wanted to know if we knew of any survey pins from when our survey was last done. Apparently there may have been some dispute of the line between his property and the neighbor in between us. My husband talked with him and showed him where the pins were, and I didn't give it much more thought.

Until a couple weeks ago.

We live in a fairly rural, wooded area, and so it is not uncommon to hear the sounds of outdoor machinery from time to time...tractors doing this or that. I noticed, however, that I'd heard the sound of a chain saw a few days in a row and I started to wonder about it. Then one day, as I glanced down the road, I saw a team of horses in the yard of our neighbor two doors down. I knew these to be the horses of an Amish team of men who clear land and buy the wood for whatever their purposes are. I'm not sure how a chain saw fits in to the Amish way of life, but they use the horses to skid the logs to where they need them to be.

Anyway, I assumed our neighbor must be thinning out his property, as some people do from time to time. My husband does the same here and at his parents' house, taking out the dead and diseased trees to open up space for the younger, healthier trees to grow. But two doors down, the chain saw kept going and going until I glanced out my kitchen window earlier this week and, looking across the property of the neighbor between us, I could see a vast open area where there had not been one before. Dozens and dozens of trees had been felled, their limbless trunks lying all over the upper yard of the man's property.

It was devastating to see. He'd cleared virtually the entire lot. I wanted to cry. The wife from the couple who lives between my house and the tree killer property clearer was outside yesterday and we talked briefly. I felt most the need to offer condolences. "I'm so sorry," I said. "I can't believe what they've done next door!" She shrugged helplessly, clearly feeling the loss of what had been a beautiful area destroyed in the name of subdivision and profit. She and her husband work hard to keep their property beautiful and healthy and alive. I've often been jealous of the gorgeous sanctuary they've created that has most of the birds in the area vying for a spot at their feeders. And while there is still a narrow strip of tall, old trees between their property and the next land over, it will do little -- even after the leaves are full and green -- to buffer them from whatever else the man next door plans to do. I feel terrible for them, like they've been violated. I feel like we've been violated, even two doors away from the destruction. I feel the same way for the land. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that it's been ravaged and it will take generations to begin to mitigate the loss that has been incurred.

Some things, I just do not understand.