context blindness

here I am, it’s my third blog post, and I’ve become a little gun-shy. I have things to say, but there are so many, and organization of ideas has never been my strong suit. in college, writing papers was like pulling teeth, as they say. perhaps mining gold is a better analogy (metaphor?). or strip mining? strip mining for gold teeth, perhaps. anyway, you get the idea. it was hard, painful. often it felt destructive. there is no shortage of memories in my consciousness of tearful, eleventh-hour paper-writing crises, often involving a desperate appeal to my mom for help. for me, ideas and turns of phrase are what come easily. I have always been “a good writer” in that sense. and frankly, I seriously doubt that I would have graduated from the University of Michigan were it not for my facility with the language. but understanding how these little “gold teeth” ideas fit together to create a coherent narrative has always been the rub for me. context blindness.

I’ve heard it said that how you do one thing is how you do everything. I think there’s some truth to that. my photography is certainly indicative of that principle. where a photographer like Ansel Adams was particularly skilled at capturing beauty on a grand scale (think of his famous National Park landscapes), a photographer like myself is more focused on capturing small-scale beauty. macrocosm versus microcosm. landscape versus portrait. like the little puzzle piece ideas that come to me, I inherently focus on the singular. this one thing, or this one aspect of this one thing. many of my images are like that. when I was a young kid living in Detroit, I would crouch over cracks in the driveway where little plants grew, and ants went marching in and out of holes. I would study the big green praying mantises that crouched among the tiger lily leaves in the back yard. one thing. this one thing.

on balance, most children are probably like that. but I stayed that way. I got a macro lens attachment for my iPhone a couple years ago, and I have really enjoyed getting a closer look at things. the little worlds within worlds. in the context of writing a paper for school, this way of being was a challenge: crafting one sentence at a time, or focused on just the right word within a sentence. the assignment was always bigger than that, as you can imagine. I have never wanted to write an outline, or even a rough draft. some part of me was–and still can be–fiercely resistant to the messiness of writing down parts of things.

one of my very favorite movies is Amadeus. in one scene, in hopes of helping her husband secure a royal appointment with the emperor, Mozart’s wife brings a sample of his works to Court Composer Salieri. He expects her to leave them with him, for examination at a more convenient time, but she tells him she can’t: Mozart doesn’t know she’s there, and he

“would be frantic if he found they were missing. you see, they’re all originals.”

“originals?” he asks.

“yes sir, he doesn’t make copies.”

incredulous, he pats the air above the papers. “…these…are…originals?


as he steps away to look over the samples, an exquisite variety of music plays overhead. he says:

“astounding. it was actually–it was beyond belief. these were first and only drafts of music. but they showed no corrections of any kind. not one. he had simply written down music already finished in his head. page after page–as if he were just taking dictation. and music. finished as no music is ever finished. displace one note, and there would be diminishment. displace one phrase, and the structure would fall.”

if you have not seen the movie, you must. I share this bit for two reasons. one, to expose you to a puzzle piece of that movie’s brilliance (it won eight Oscars in 1985, including best picture [Saul Zaents], best actor [F. Murray Abraham, who played Salieri], and best director, Milos Forman,  who recently passed away). and two, grandiose as it sounds, to demonstrate how I wish I could write: page after page–as if [she] were just taking dictation.” is that so wrong? no, of course not. probably everyone wants to achieve greatness with a modicum of effort. certainly I am not unique in that.

really, we all have gifts, even if we don’t think so. and when the world we’re born into doesn’t value our gifts, we may come to think of them as anti-gifts. curses. when I was growing up, for example, I was so, so sensitive. I suspect I was known as a “cry baby” in school. and at church. and at summer camp. and at most of my jobs, even well into adulthood. I was always mystified by other kids’ capacity to suppress or “stuff” their emotions. specifically, to not cry. oh, how I would have given anything to be like them. but no, not me. when the poison-tipped arrows of cruelty pierced my heart with their wicked accuracy, I simply could not keep the corners of my mouth from turning down into a sickening frown. and over top, the tears. I felt so exposed; “naked on main street,” as a former therapist would say.

but that was my gift. the same sensitivity that I hated in myself–and would’ve been the first thing I’d trash if I had been given the chance–turned out to be the very thing that has enabled my…wonderfulness. specifically, my capacity for compassion (especially where non-human life forms are concerned) and creativity. I could not be an artist today if I had hardened my heart like I had wanted to. I probably would not spend time rehabilitating a near-dead yellow jacket with a nectarine slice, driving birds stunned from window strikes and cat attacks to wildlife rehabs out in the country, or be able to “hear” the call of a forlorn cut flower on the sidewalk, which needed only to be put in water.

make no mistake, these are things I genuinely love and appreciate about myself. it just goes to show that I often don’t know what’s best for me. my impulse to be rid of “problematic” inborn qualities is short-sighted, and would limit…whatever it is that I’m meant to be and do here on Earth. I cannot see the final masterpiece (ah, master-piece!); only the piece currently in view. (is the word “piece” looking weird to anyone else at this point, or?) have you ever put together a puzzle only to discover that one pesky little piece cannot be found? (how ’bout now?) I mean really, maybe it’s just the way that I happen to be wired, but that would really bug me.

so to the Power whose master’s thesis is this reality, this life, this creation, thank you. Thank you for making me me. as an elder once told me, “God don’t make junk.” so.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. William Mitchell says:

    Enjoying this insightful, introspective journey…


    1. thank you so much for reading it, Billy! 😉


  2. Jessica Raymond says:

    I love how you see the small worlds!

    I too wish I could write out each sentence without every having to go back to it. I hated writing papers in college because I had to go over them so many times to get it “right”. But I was always happy with the final outcome and how it actually changed me in the process of the struggle with it. Part of why I am starting to blog is so I can hopefully be motivated to go back into that struggle again. Its so worth it.

    I’m enjoying your posts. Please keep posting 🙂


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