Earlier this year I bought a used Canon 5D MII. Best decision ever. I’ve actually never owned a *real* camera, one that takes super nice photos, where you can control things. There are obviously more advanced cameras than this one out there, but the Canon 5D MII is a Very Good Camera.
Not only does it take gorgeous photos, but it also shoots beautiful video. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked with professional camera people, and rarely shot my own footage. The fact that I can shoot video now is significant. It gives me a freedom I haven’t experienced in a long time. With this camera, I am re-training my eyes, learning a new instrument, practicing how to capture the world around me with both still and moving images.
It’s by far the healthiest move I’ve made in a long time.
Here are some still images from the past few months… I’ll post videos in the next post.
For most creative types, creativity is not a choice. It’s a must. Like breathing, we need to create in order to function and maintain a sense of emotional and mental balance. On a practical level, this means we need the space, time and necessary equipment to do our art.
One of the things I love about writing is that it’s something I can do anywhere. I don’t have to rely on anyone else or any fancy equipment. All I need is my computer, or a pen and paper, and my imagination.
Filmmaking, on the other hand, requires technology – a camera at the very least, sound, lighting and editing equipment. This all takes money and usually a lot of planning. Often it requires working with a team, even a small team.
These days, the filmmaker in me is a little lonely and antsy. It’s been a long time since I’ve directed anything or even visited a film set. I’ve met some filmmakers in upstate New York, but I miss Los Angeles in this respect.
The one thing that keeps me going, however, is photography.
Like with writing, photography is something I can do anywhere. I’m not a professional. I take most of my photos with my cell phone while walking or hiking with my dog. But what it gives me is so much more than that. It’s my new creative outlet.
These are some recent photos I took of the Catskills.
I’m lucky that where I live is very photogenic. The light is quite dramatic and it changes throughout the year. Winter light is even and diffused. Summer light is bright. Fall light creates these very long shadows.
Taking photos has developed into more than a hobby. It’s a way for me to practice my directing eye. When I take a photo (and edit it), I try to say something with it… convey a mood, a feeling, a thought, even a very, very tiny story.
The animals around here are also photogenic starting, of course, with my favorite model, Ruby.
I hope to get back to moving pictures soon, but in the meantime capturing these still moments is keeping my filmmaking spirit alive.
Before moving to upstate New York (and once I got here), the main question people asked me was, “Have you ever lived through a winter there?” It seemed to be the main concern. I shrugged it off, “No, but I grew up on the East Coast and lived in Vermont for four weeks in January. I’ll be fine!”
But I was a bit apprehensive.
Living in Los Angeles, a city that fluctuates between warm and hot, for 19 years was long enough to thin my blood. I became one of those people who shivered when it was 60 degrees out, and froze when it was below 50. I had visited the East Coast in wintertime, and even seen some snow in Joshua Tree Desert once, but it was fleeting (and freezing).
I tried to mentally prepare myself for winter by reading three winter-based books last fall: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (star-crossed lovers try to kill themselves by sledding into a tree), The Half-Skinned Steer by Annie Proulx (old man gets lost and freezes in Wyoming blizzard), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (two sisters – one a murderer – struggle to survive in old, haunted, cold New England mansion). BRRRR!!!
Then the first major storm hit New York in mid-November, dumping 5-7 feet of snow on Buffalo (a nightmare). But where I live, 350 miles to the East, we got nothing.
Since then, we’ve had snowfalls of several inches and temperatures low enough to freeze an entire lake. This is pretty mild compared to what it could be. People keep telling me the worst is still to come. To which I say, BRING IT.
As it turns out, I have sort of fallen in love with winter.
I live in a rural area, which is different than living in a city, and if I had to drive to work, I might feel differently (to be fair, they clear the roads pretty quickly here, even the smaller country roads). But I think winter is gorgeous.
The patterns, textures, skies and colors… I haven’t experienced it in such a long time, I’m actually fascinated by the fact that everything nearly dies, or seems to die but actually doesn’t. It reminds me of the desert in the way it’s so harsh, but still teaming with life.
The beauty of seasons, something I used to miss in LA, is that they are literally Nature at work. They’re also a marking of time. When you live in an area that’s sort of the same every day, you can wake up one day and suddenly realize six months have gone by and you hardly even noticed.
I still can’t handle being cold so I am EXTREMELY bundled up when I go outside. I wear at least two of everything and lots of thick cotton, wool, down and silk, which is very warm. For extra cold days, I wear a fur babushka hat over my normal hat. I look ridiculous, but it keeps me cozy even though it’s freezing. I still read outside, take long walks, hike, and do everything I did before except ride the motorcycle.
Perhaps the biggest reason I’m enjoying winter, though, is Ruby. We spend no less than two hours outside every day, and her joy is absolutely contagious.
The big open space above is the frozen lake, btw.
If you live in a big city and have warm clothing, I highly recommend going outside, even in the cold. Take a walk to the nearest park, river or lake, enjoy the fresh air. There are still a few birds singing. How they survive the temperatures, I have no idea, but it’s lovely to hear them.
I am very much looking forward to seeing spring. In the meantime, I hope you’re able to enjoy winter’s beauty… and of course, stay safe and warm.
After a 3-week, 4500 mile road trip across the U.S.A. with my dog, I’m finally in the Catskills of upstate New York. Yay!
And OH MY G-D.
Ever since arriving last Tuesday, I’ve been in a pleasant but no less real state of culture shock. Not surprising for someone who just traveled from a city of roughly 9 million people to a town with less than 5,000. I had fantasized what it would be like to be here countless times. Now I’m here and it’s… sort of everything I imagined it would be, and a few things I didn’t.
It’s only been a few days but these are some initial impressions (and images):
It’s quiet. So quiet I can literally hear the buzzing in my ears. This is great for concentration (why I came here), and also great for sleeping. Oddly, I’ve been sleeping like a rock and waking in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Unable to fall back asleep, I get on my computer to write (tonight at 2:30 a.m.) then go back to bed a few hours later. During the day, I’m full of energy.
It’s loud. Yes, it’s both quiet and loud… with the sound of insects, birds, wind, rustling leaves and the occasional passing car, truck or motorcycle.
It’s remote. The other day I had to drive 45 minutes (one way) and pay $2.00 in tolls to get to my bank. So much is done online these days, it might not be that much of an issue, but it’s definitely an adjustment. I’m thinking I’ll have to coordinate trips into the larger towns to coincide with other errands.
It’s beautiful. I’ll post some proper pictures later, but let’s just say I’ve had to stop the car a few times to take in some of the scenery. This is only a small hint of what’s to come.
It’s green, so very green. I’m grateful to have arrived in early fall so I can witness the leaves turning. Right now, I’m really enjoying all the lush green.
It’s alive. Farm animals, wildlife, critters… even the dead skunk on the side of the road was interesting.
It’s clean. I haven’t seen one piece of litter or trash — which is not to say I haven’t seen junk in people’s yards, but that’s different.
It smells good. The air is pure and fresh. On rainy, chilly days like today the air was filled with the scent of burning firewood and wet grass. The other day I walked by someone’s house and smelled the sweet buttery scent of an apple pie baking. I actually paused in front of the window and when the lady inside looked at me, I waved. “Smells delicious!”
It’s motorcycle friendly. There are bikers everywhere. In fact, this weekend there was a motorcycle festival in town, complete with live music, spaghetti wrestling and other activities. I didn’t go. But my bike just arrived yesterday, and I can’t wait to ride!
It’s really dark at night. The other night I drove home after dark and needed my high beams the whole time. I try not to think of slasher movies when walking at night. Actually, I try not to walk at night.
It’s friendly. Some people are quicker to talk to me than others, but those who have were extremely friendly. People have given me their phone numbers, invited me to events and introduced me to other folks within minutes of meeting.
It’s intellectual and creative. I’ve received more bookstore and library recommendations in the past five days than I have in 19 years living in Los Angeles, and heard there are many other writers and artists up here.
It’s cheap. Not only are the prices of necessities and services lower, but there are fewer opportunities to spend money. I’m not eating out, going to the movies, walking by stores or cafes. I literally haven’t reached for my wallet to buy anything in three days.
I’m excited to learn more about my new home, meet more people, and get a ton of work done.
Traveling across the country is bringing up all kinds of emotions. The epic beauty and expanse is almost too much to process. I find myself grateful to arrive at the bland motel at the end of the day and rest my brain from the sensory overload.
The beautiful vistas make me think of the people I’ve loved and lost, my mother and Kaz, both of whom loved the outdoors and nature. Both of whom would have absolutely loved this trip I’m taking now.
It also makes me think of others who are alive and suffering from all the atrocities, hate, injustice and violence happening in the world right now. My heart aches for the innocent children, mothers and fathers, old people and animals caught in the middle of the madness, unable to enjoy the basics of life.
Nature’s beauty is humbling, evocative, poetic and touching. It makes me think not only of people, but also spiritual mysteries, music, art and history. I’ve often wondered how this land might have looked before people arrived, or the moment when people first saw it. What must they have thought? Did they fall to their knees in appreciation? Or did they shrug, like it was no big deal?
I’ve both laughed and cried while stopped on the side of the road in the “big sky” state of Montana, while sitting at a lake in Yellowstone National Park, while driving through the gorgeous cowboy country of Wyoming. I’ve gasped and said “wow” a lot. I’ve also said “thank you” silently and whispered into the wind.
I miss my mother and Kaz so much. I’m thinking about them constantly. I wish they could share in this experience, not in spirit, but here, right now. I wish I could see them react to what I’m seeing. I wish we could be together.
[All pics taken by me: Idaho, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming]
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, including a motorcycle ride with my old Harley Davidson instructor and a trip to New York City for the Labor Day weekend. I’ll replay the highlights here as best I can.
My first moto ride, almost a year ago
To the right is a pic of the first time I rode a motorcycle on my own (not in class), in October 2012. Since it had been so long, I was pretty nervous about getting back on two wheels.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Everything came back to me easily, and I remembered why I love this new sport. Riding a motorcycle makes me feel more alive than anything else. It is definitely scary, but in a way that exhilerates and keeps me on my toes. It reminds me of Kaz in a visceral way, the closest I can get to his tough but sweet energy. I used to love sitting behind him on a motorcycle. It boosts my energy and confidence through the roof. I am now ready for the next step – buying my first bike. More about that later.
After that, I went to New York for the weekend, leaving Ruby behind for the first time and miraculously not feeling guilty about it. She stayed with a friend whom she loves, near the beach, in a house with a yard and another older, female pit. No classes, no training, she could sleep and/or play all day. She was on vacation too! And frankly, it was nice to get a break and another reminder: I am more than just this dog’s mom.
To celebrate my first few moments of freedom, I had dinner at Encounter, the spaceship-shaped restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport. If you ever have some time to kill at LAX, this place is worth checking out just for fun.
You can watch planes take off from inside
I flew the red-eye, so the next morning I saw my father, who had driven across country from San Francisco to NYC in his now infamous, new Porsche. At first, he said he wouldn’t let me drive it because he didn’t trust my driving. I was actually prepared to accept this, but about half an hour later, he changed his mind!
Words cannot express how nervous I was behind the wheel. Not only is this car less than a month old and (as I was reminded repeatedly) worth A LOT of money, but it’s also REALLY powerful and loud. I don’t think I ever got over 30 miles per hour. But what a smooth ride. I definitely have to go visit him in SF soon to take it for another spin. Preferrably on a highway.
Once my father left, I spent the rest of the time with my sister and her family in and around Brooklyn. I was there for the re-opening block party of Sunny’s Bar, a dive bar in Red Hook that dates all the way back to the 1890s and was almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
I saw a performance by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman in Pioneer Works, a large gallery space in Red Hook owned by artist Dustin Yellin. I haven’t danced that hard in a long time, and am definitely now a fan of Mr. Souleyman’s.
Omar Souleyman in Central Park, 2011 [photo source: David Andrako]
Below are two pics I took of the large Dustin Yellin piece that was standing in the lobby of Pioneer Works. From the front it looks like a 3D statue, but from the side you see that it’s actually a multi-layered glass structure.
Dustin Yellin piece (front view)
Dustin Yellin piece (side view)
I had drinks in the Red Hook Bait &Tackle bar, which looks like this:
And brunch with fellow blogger Caitlin Kelly of Broadside at the Spice Market in Manhattan, which looks like this:
I was both excited and nervous to meet Caitlin. A) I’d never left the matrix to meet another blogger before, and had no idea what to expect from a real, live person. B) Right before our scheduled time, I discovered that I’d left both my ATM card and my driver’s license in a different purse. Yes, I had driven to the meeting, in my brother-in-law’s car.
Again, turns out I had nothing to fear. Caitlin and I ate, drank and gabbed for a total of 8 hours; the one credit card I did have covered my share of the bill; and I didn’t get stopped by the police on the way home. Very lucky indeed, since I ended up taking pictures on and around the Brooklyn Bridge.
One screening of The Butler and marathon session of Project Runway (all of Season 7) with my 11 year old niece later, and it was time to go home.
Unfortunately, that IS where the excitetment ends, as Los Angeles does in no way compare to NYC. Still, it’s good to be back with Ruby and back in our routine. Here’s hoping I can ride the momentum of this trip for another few months, or at least until I get a motorcycle.
[in response to the Daily Post: Tell us about the last thing you got excited about — butterflies-in-the-stomach, giggling, can’t-wait excited]
What was the last thing that got you can’t-wait excited?
If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I love getting away from the city to Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas. I’ve written about it here, here and here. This past weekend, a national holiday here in the States, I went to The 29 Palms Inn, a motel where Kaz and I once stayed for his birthday. Quite a different experience travelling with a canine companion. For one, the motel didn’t feel quite as romantic as I remembered. I also noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the dozens of rabbits, lizards, birds, and hundreds, if not thousands, of ant hills, all of which Ruby gleefully pointed out to me.
We arrived just after sunset, a little later than expected but a beautiful time to view the hundreds of wind turbines near Palm Springs, part of California’s effort to use natural energy.
The next day we woke up a little after dawn to catch the sunrise.
Ruby stared at the vista for a while. We were clearly very far from the city.
I was a bit nervous bringing her to the desert in July, when temperatures can soar as high as 105 Farenheit. Before leaving I read some articles about how to manage with a dog in extreme heat. They all said to keep the dog out of the sun, hydrate the dog often, walk the dog only in the morning and evening, pay attention to signs of heat stroke and, if the dog is pale, apply sunscreen (dogs can get skin cancer too). I ended up taking her on a couple of early morning hikes and with lots of cold water and ice rubdowns, she managed pretty well.
We saw some amazing scenery.
My city friends often ask me why I love going to the desert so much. I suppose it’s one of my favorite places to think and write. While I’m not a religious person, I have often felt a certain something while in the park, similar to how I felt at Mount Sinai in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula years back. Joshua Tree might not be as historically and religiously significant as Mount Sinai, but it contains a silent power nonetheless, and inspires a feeling I can best describe as oneness.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. All I know is it’s a special place… and not without a sense of humor.
Joshua Tree is a favorite destination for rock climbers because of the incredible rock formations, formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the weathering that created the spheres from rectangular blocks. The most famous formations include Skull Rock, which looks quite a bit like a human skull.
There’s also Jumbo Rocks, Split Rock, and the Hall of Horrors rock formation where someone actually fell to their death last year.
Kaz and I used to play this game of naming the rock formations we would come across. I think if we had seen this one, we would have called it Listening Rock.
This one might have been Hamburger Bun Rock.
Overall, it was a great weekend. Hot but restful. I missed Kaz, missed having a person with me, but was grateful to not be entirely alone. Ruby made a good companion and charmed everyone she encountered. She seemed content to slow down, sleep in the shade and be near me in this hot, dusty, windy, wild-looking place. Times like these I feel very grateful to live in California.
In Los Angeles seasons basically vary from warm to warmer to slightly less warm to warm again. Which is to say, they are subtle. It can actually be challenging to notice the passage of time because days often look and feel the same for weeks or months at a time. One day its January something, the next it’s mid-April. Weather is an anomaly. A cloudy day is something different. A rainy day is altogether exciting and the buzz at work. The lack of weather is one less thing to worry about in the daily grind of life. But it’s also one less thing to remind us of the awesomeness of Nature.
There are seasons, however, and my favorite out here is Spring because this is when you see the most change in the seemingly changeless environment. My favorite place to witness Spring is in the desert, where the renewal of life is bolder than in the city.
This past weekend I went with some friends to Joshua Tree, not to the National Park but to the city itself. I’ve written about coming to Joshua tree with my late husband, but (other than one camping trip) we always stayed in motels. This was the first time I’ve been behind the tourist line, where the locals live and raise their children.
Joshua Tree, CA
At first glance, the landscape reminds you of pictures you’ve seen of Mars. Miles upon miles of dirt, rocks and (unlike Mars) small desert shrubs. But once you go a little further, get out of the car and start walking, you discover an entire world teeming with LIFE.
Desert fruit, budding flowers, rabbits, lizards, beetles, ants, snakes, pheasants… there is actually constant movement in the stillness, plentiful sounds in the quiet.
I have always loved the desert for its purity, its cleansing, spiritual quality, its mystery. There is a reason so many prophets went to the desert to think and not, for example, the beach. The desert is as close as one can get to no distractions. Time seems to slow down. 24 hours feels like longer. And your mind is free to breath.
If ever one needs inspiration that even from something barren, life can grow… that life is cyclical and ever-renewing… that there is an almighty power in this universe called Nature… it is here, in the desert at springtime.
Took this pic three weeks after K passed away, late May 2011, from the spot where we got married at Griffith Observatory. It took my breath away then, and still takes my breath away today. I thought I would share it here with you. Can you feel the warmth?