It’s interesting to think back on the last 2-1/2 months here in the States. So much has happened in our lives since we moved here. We’ve made more friends in this short time than we ever did after 6 years in Ireland. We’ve found opportunities for our creative work, rented a studio, and learned our way around the community darkroom. We both started 365 projects. I picked up shooting black and white film. We’ve identified Doughnut Fridays, Kringler Sundays, and Taco Tuesdays at our favorite local establishments. We see familiar faces in the grocery store and around town. The lady at the post office knows our P.O. box by heart, and the cafe knows Johnny’s coffee. It’s unbelievable for me to think that we are only locals for 2-1/2 months and not 2-1/2 years. Maine has welcomed us with open arms. I feel very humbled and grateful for that.
On February 1 we will get the keys to our new studio and hopefully begin a light remodel before we move desks and equipment in. It will feel surreal to have a plaque made for the sign outside that has our names on it. I’ve always worked from home (which has its advantages and disadvantages) so this will be a new and exciting experience for me.
Today the thought that continuously resonated in my heart is that the simplest things make me happiest. Sometimes we just complicate life too much.
Less is more.
Sundays are my favorite days of the week. I love waking up with Johnny, putting up the window shades and watching the sun rise over the bay. Sometimes we make a pancake breakfast together with fried eggs and crisp bacon, and sometimes we go out to our favorite cafe for a Swedish kringler (a light, layered pastry with almond) and a coffee. Some Sundays are nap days, or reading a book days, or going on a walk days. Sometimes we go out and take pictures together. It’s a day where we are very purposeful about slowing down the pace of life and enjoying each other’s company.
This afternoon we took a walk to the site of Fort St. Georges (built in 1719). There is a mound of earth still standing that used to be the fort’s defense, where the cannons sat atop. It struck me how much war has changed in 300 years. A pile of dirt would not protect anyone any longer.
Tonight after dinner we are going to have a glass of Montepulciano and some Jarlsberg, and hopefully a warm fire, and talk over the day’s events. I feel so very grateful today for my life. I love our little rituals, the simplicity of our home, the wild beauty I’m surrounded with here in Maine. Sometimes I think about how little we as human beings really need to make us happy, and how unnecessarily complicated we have made this for ourselves. I read a quote by George Washington Burnap recently, “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” I believe he was right.
Adventure called, so Johnny and I packed our cameras and set off for the inland. We drove a scenic route between Rumford and Rangeley, which runs along the Swift River and up through the mountains. It was a ton of driving, I think we were on the road for about 7 hours in total. But so worth it to be able to see the incredible vistas that we saw. The mountains were covered in pines, and each pine had the perfect little sprinkle of snow – as if someone had painted them for a train table. It was really a winter wonderland. We decided that we want to go back for a weekend in February, for more shooting and maybe some snowboarding or snowmobiling.
Despite the vastly different weather and scenery, today brought back memories of our road trip through Death Valley. It’s hard to believe that was almost a year ago already.
I felt better today. I think the worst of whatever bug I had is past, thankfully.
At breakfast this morning a funny scene played out at the next table. A father and his daughter came into the cafe and sat down next to each other. They said a few words and then fell into complete silence, both of them, for a long time. The dad occasionally sipped his coffee with a blank look on his face. The daughter put her chin in her hand and stared out the window in boredom. The dad yawned. Began to fall asleep. The daughter took out her phone and started texting. This went on for about ten minutes. It was like watching a scene from a movie. Eventually the mom came into the cafe and walked over to the table. “Having a lot of fun together I see”, she chirped.
I had to be really sneaky to get this picture without them noticing… otherwise it would have totally ruined the moment. I think it’s a kind of funny portrayal of the difficulty that very often arises in the relationship between fathers and daughters in their teenage years. Their lives run parallel, but they don’t easily intersect. As the daughter leaves her childhood they find it increasingly hard to relate to one another as different genders from different generations. It’s all a normal and healthy part of growing up, but nonetheless a trying time for a parent – which you can see in the father’s face.
I spent most of the day sick in bed, and don’t have much clarity to write. I’m thankful today for ibuprofen, wool blankets, and a husband who gives the best hugs in the world.
I finished Daybook, it was a wonderful read. I wish I could have met Anne Truitt. She seemed like such a wise person.
I’m overwhelmed by the scale of this project. Today I had the realization that I’m not even 3 weeks in. I have 48 more to go. I feel a little afraid sometimes about how I will accomplish that.
I thought today about how photography has brought many good things into my life, for which I am profoundly grateful. Some of these things have stayed with me and become a part of me, dependable and familiar. Other things have come for a time and gone again. Even so, everything, regardless of its permanence, has left its imprint and changed me forever.
But to be completely honest, photography has also felt like carrying a burden at times. My brain seems to be hard wired to an internal camera or lens. When I open my eyes in the morning, while I look out at the world during the day, even in my dreams I see photographs, one after another, hanging like little prints in space. I cannot switch that off. My mind continuously creates images even when I am not shooting. Sometimes I think to myself, shamefully, wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a drive, or go to coffee or on a walk like normal people do, without seeing pictures everywhere and having the constant internal urge to make them? But then I scold myself for even thinking it. How could I envision a life without this? I need it as much as I need air to breathe.
Photography has been my salvation.
The most beautiful light is always the most fleeting. We had light like that this morning on our drive into town for breakfast. It was the palest apricot color. Sometimes I wish my eyes were cameras. I see so much more than I have the ability to shoot.
I am thinking a lot lately about cultural differences. Reading Johnny’s 365 every day, which is primarily his thoughts about the United States and American culture, is very interesting for me being American. I understand a lot of his feelings and can relate to how he could come to feel as he does, it just breaks my heart sometimes that so many of his experiences and feelings have been negative. I feel somewhat responsible, even embarrassed because I am “from here”, while at the same time I do accept certain things as normal that he does not. And there is a third aspect, that I simply never made myself some of the experiences that he has, and never saw certain things the way he sees them. That part has been very eye-opening, and challenges me. It’s all in all, a rather peculiar mix of feelings.
I’m happy that Johnny has had his journal, now his blog and eventually his book to share these impressions. I had many about European culture as well while I lived there for the past 5-1/2 years. Some things felt better in Europe, some things were quite different than what I was used to, and some things I could not understand or felt very negative for me. I wish I had had the courage to share these feelings more publicly, as Johnny has. I think it would have been tremendously interesting now, to have compared my thoughts as an American living in Europe with Johnny’s as a European living in America.
Living in a different culture than you grew up in is very challenging. Like a 365, it requires daily work and mindfulness, and you are of necessity changed as a person forever because of it. In a way, when you make your home in different countries, you become a person without any country at all.
It snowed a lot today again. I was surprised to see three fishermen out on a boat, pulled my boots on and ran out on the deck with my camera. I could hear them shouting to one another above the throaty purr of the engine, lowering traps into the gray water. It was ice cold and my fingers grew numb within half a minute. A friend of mine told me later that many of the fishermen in our area of Maine fish all year round. With winters as harsh as ours, I think this is remarkable dedication.
This afternoon I did a portrait shoot with a woman who sailed on the first all-women’s team of the America’s Cup. She had shared an essay with me about her father, also a sailor, who died about three years ago. I was so touched by her story. Her father had built a camp for his family when she was young, where she spent much of her summers. She continues to bring her children to this same place to spend their summers, carrying on the traditions to the next generation of her family. We shot the whole session in the camp on film, with her surrounded by her father’s belongings. I hope the pictures carry both the story that she feels from the inside looking out, and that I feel from the outside looking in.
What an amazing weekend. After a full day of shooting yesterday, we spent most of today in the darkroom printing. I can’t even remember the last time that Johnny and I had a full weekend to devote to doing creative work together. We usually have so many other things to take care of. While we have always done our best to make time in our lives for creative pursuits, it was extremely rare in the past 5-6 years that we spent two full days on a weekend doing that without distractions – unless we were traveling for a project. It felt wonderful to be home, living our everyday life, and have that luxury.
This morning we started out the day with a walk in the woods by our house. The snow was completely undisturbed except for coyote tracks (which Timmy explored with great interest). We followed the walk with breakfast, a talk with our new studio neighbors and another local photographer, and then the darkroom until dinnertime. I printed one of my frames from my 120 roll of Tri-X. It was an incredible feeling seeing the print come up on the paper for the first time and knowing that I had coaxed this image from my camera all the way to photographic paper with my own hands.