today i saw this …

I am not a photographer. Nor do I aspire to be one.

And while I love the idea of preserving a moment on film – even just until we can show someone that yes, this actually happened, or yes, this truly exists, or yes, I really ate that – I am better at capturing these experiences with words.

So, why I am going to tell you that I recently started a photo blog? Because lately the words just aren’t coming. I think they are bored with me. And I guess I am too.

I am hoping that by training my brain to think a little differently – to consider each missed train, each doorway, each wrong way, to be an avenue of possibility – that I will finally locate my creativity. Because right now it is lost and refuses to ask for directions.

The images on todayisawthis are not meant to impress or inspire you. They are meant to inspire me.  The shots are taken on an iPhone 3G during moments that give me pause. And I admit. Most are poor quality. Most are of ordinary things. Sometimes I cut out important details. Like people. And backgrounds. But that isn’t the point. Because this photo project is actually a writing assignment. It is an effort to salvage my relationship with my words. Because we are stuck in a routine. And routines are good. Until they are bad.

This new blog is an effort to get me to take an alternate route home every day. To look up instead of down. To say yes instead of no. And take notice of the people and things happening around me.

My goal is that by taking the time to capture at least one thing that catches my eye every day, considering it, and then sharing it with you, that maybe I will eventually find my words. Perhaps on a side street somewhere in San Francisco – eating chocolate donuts, wearing my favorite dress, and pretending they were never anywhere but right in front of me.

To see what I’ve been up to you can visit  http://www.todayisawthis.wordpress.com. I am still tweaking the site. It will likely change in the next few weeks. To be honest, I hope it changes in the next few weeks. But I thought I should get it out there and start holding myself accountable to the exercise.

starting for good

How does one begin writing about a man’s life? Do I open with talking about how time takes everything – your memory, your bones, your stories? Or do I start more simply. Do I start with his room? A bright white room in a big brown building on the top of a hill that no one can see. Behind a fence no one knows is there.

Do I tell the story of how he was surrounded by books? Overwhelmed by them. Confused by them. So he painted his way out. Between headlines and photos of people who used to breathe at the same time. Or do I mention his shoes?  Black and yellow and new. And how he uses the word abandoning and says, I am more than a paintbrush?

Perhaps I begin with his voice? Or maybe focus more on what he has to say. Everyone must have a point a view. It must be more than pretty. It must be more than about form. You must have a theme, he tells his students. What is my theme?

I am supposed to write about who he is. I have 400 words. But I want to tell the story of how you get to happy. And it might take longer than that. Because no one else seems to know the way. He thinks he found it between coffee cans of orange brushes and a stack of newspapers no one wanted to throw away but no one reads anymore either.

He studied math. He was good at it. But he needed something a little less predictable. Something with a little more mystery. Something time could bite into and shake around, break down and toss to the side, for someone else to pick up, spread out, and say: a treatise about life. And memory. And loss. Brilliant! When really it is just a piece of garbage someone else found value between the tears.

He painted the news. He made it look like something it is not: full of precision and order, less ads, and more words. Words that don’t always fit together. But I don’t want to write about the news. And how it’s not always accurate. Or anything other than sad. People defending themselves and their name and their right to poke your eye out because it was the wrong color. People defending their right to say all the right things because it gets them further than when they don’t.

I don’t want to write about wedding announcements or obituaries and the people you share your life with and the people you leave behind. I don’t want to follow a formula that is a lede and quote, some background, and a little more detail before you get bored and I blow my way out the back when you’re not looking.

He says he paints in response to events. I write because I feel like it. Because the words have to go somewhere. Or else they stack up and spill over at all the wrong moments. Because there was an opportunity. And someone had to take it.

He tells me he hesitates before painting. I know this feeling. He says he pushes things aside that make him uncomfortable. He walks away from them. Then they call him back. And he listens to what they have to say. And he copies them on the canvas. And then he leaves them for good.

I think I will begin with his shoes.

a little too much

My writing is cyclical. There are times I feel I have a lot to say that is not just noise, or words filling a page, but rather, something of substance I feel like sharing with the rest of you. Something that contributes to the greater conversation we all seem to be a part of.

Then there are times I worry I will never harbor another original thought. I worry that my words have dried up. That my ideas are only repeating themselves like the one joke I know, and that isn’t really funny, but still catch myself retelling at dinner parties.

I consider whether I should start rationing my stories. Give them more time to incubate before unveiling.  Distribute them in longer intervals. Or maybe never. I worry that whatever little muse resided on my shoulder for so long decided she has outgrown me. She’s tired of having to nag me to write, over having to push me towards my laptop at night. So she’s moved on to a timeshare with a little more sun, a little more heat, and a few more free drinks. Where the words come easier. Where everything doesn’t feel so hard.

So, today, I write about inspiration.

Because being inspired is an important part of the creative process. How can you make anything new if you’re doing the same thing every day? During work Wednesday our director presented updated goals for our department. All in all, much was the same just re-purposed in a new PowerPoint presentation. In sum: be better, be collaborative, own your work. I was happy when she unveiled the last bullet point: Seek out inspiration.

I won’t lie. Normally I never speak out in large meetings. Especially in the morning. Especially when I am focused on hating everyone else for having time to get a coffee beforehand. I also don’t really do meetings. I find them largely unproductive and unnecessary. But this, this was something I could get behind.

While others seemed more focused on survey results and figures concerning how we quantify the results of our work, I snapped out of my game of matching people with their respective writing implement.

“I’m a fan of the last point,” I said, getting a nudge of support in the ribs from the designer to my left.

How can you maintain your creativity if you aren’t feeding it? How can you be better if everything you’re doing is the same? If you’re visiting the same places, talking to the same people, taking the same routes to get there? I’m not suggesting abandon your friends, change your dreams, or move. I am just saying, try going left instead of right sometimes. Walk instead of run. And go visit something pretty.

For me, my opportunity came yesterday. I had an interview on the fringe of campus with someone who intimidated me. In a building I didn’t know existed. On a road I never before noticed. I walked up the path, curving along the golf course until reaching a chain link fence I wasn’t sure I was allowed to cross. I was.

Inside the studio, the professor showed me his latest works. Canvases larger than my car, ready to knock you down with their colors. He told me how he came to paint.

“When I was 17 I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “I didn’t find myself very happy. I never worried about practical things, I worried about being happy.”

So he abandoned a life selected for him by national test scores and university offerings, and instead, picked up a paint brush. He began taking pictures of objects that moved him. And then put them in a drawer and forgot about them. Or at least tried to.

“I hesitated for a long time before painting them,” he says. “My hesitation came because there was no formal unity in the images, I thought it was too accidental, without unity of color, or form. It was too busy.”

He came back to his prints years later. Only now, instead of finding them chaotic, he took comfort in their unpredictability. Realized they depicted more how life really is – not so harmonious, but just a series of moments and conflicts between some people who happen to live at the same time. And isn’t that beautiful?

“An idea happens and it lives in your mind for a while. You question it. You dissect it. You define it. You reject it. Then you take a small step,” he said. “You let it be somewhat chaotic and disharmonious, and a little too much.”