Empty Space

Last week I reached up onto one of my bookshelves and cracked open a book I’ve had for years and years, have carried from one home to the next, but have yet to really open. Truth be told, I bought it entirely on a whim, cruising a second hand store, noticing the gorgeous green cover; the title with my initials, Ka; the evocative subtitle, Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. All for only $11.

Finally opening it, years later, I found on the first page, an astonishing paragraph:

Garuda flew and remembered. It. was only a few days since he had hatched form his egg and already so much had happened. Flying was the best way of thinking, of thinking things over. Who was the first person he’d seen? His mother, Vinata. Beautiful in her tininess, she sat on a stone, watching his egg hatch, determinedly passive. Hers was the first eye Garuda held in his own. And at once he knew that that eye was his own. Deep inside was an ember that glowed in the breeze. The same he could feel burning beneath his own feathers.

~ Roberto Calasso

Oh what imagination! The consciousness of a bird who has just hatched from an egg!

Immediately, I wanted to dive into this book, into this world with such soaring imagination… and yet, I know I currently am struggling to maintain the concentration for deep reading.

People who’ve known me a long time know what an avid reader I’ve always been…stacks of books forever by my bedside, several books, both fiction and non, on the go at once much of the time… both parents are English profs, what can I say.

But I have lost this capacity for deep reading – maybe it’s been gradual over the last couple of years? I did really notice my stunted attention span last year at work – I found that, seated by myself in a little dark room for hours on end, day after day, I’d spend so much of that time on the internet. While waiting for a render to complete, I’d check my email, and while that was loading, have a look at my phone, checking for new texts, notifications.

There’s an increasing amount of writing about this problem in the population generally – the addiction to the dopamine hits, the living out of shallow parts of the brain, the inability to access deep focus and concentration.

And then on top of everything, the pandemic… the doom scrolling, the obligatory news information check ins lasting hours longer than was truly necessary.

So, for the moment I’ve moved to audio books, listened to in extended quiet moments with no other stimulants (except maybe the lake or a tree). And I’ve been making the studio a wifi free zone. No phone allowed.

My desk there now has notebooks for writing, but also a few books to read, a few books about writing, so that I have the option of spending time just quietly with my thoughts, or even with the thoughts of otherss…

We can’t fully participate in the mystery of life if, as soon as we approach the depths where ideas reside, our own anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt make breathing difficult. If the depths unnerve us, we’ll search for answers in safe places, where the air is plentiful and the sun scares demons away. But the answers we seek can’t be found in those sun-drenched places. We really must dive.

Eric Maisel

Right. This is why it’s important.

Lens Artists – Negative Space

Film, music, party

Last night we drove to Stratford to a film screening, part of the Stratford Music Festival. It was a film I’d worked on several years ago about Jane Bunnett and the making of the album Embracing Voices with a Cuban music group, Desandann. Desandann were going to be there at the screening and would be seeing the film for the first time. On the way there Elisa, the director, explained the film would be shown on the bare brick wall of a restaurant – a fairly excruciating scenario for any director, let alone one as brilliant with a camera as Elisa…but there it was.
first arrivalWhen we arrived, dinner was just beginning. Things felt a little quiet, a little formal, as if there was something missing – at first I couldn’t pinpoint what. Plates of food came and went – a bit rarified for the Cuban palette, a bit heavy on vegetables and pungent cheeses – but still it seemed there was something else not quite right in the scene… And then it hit me – a table of Cuban musicians and no alcohol! No, no, no – this was not an acceptable state of affairs.
We ordered several bottles for the table, and just then Jane and her life and music partner Larry Cramer burst into the room, a party in a box, and the evening really began.
beerThe film begins with Jane in a moment of despair and doubt about her life in music, a heartbreaking and surprising life passage for a woman of such talent. Just listen to her solo on this track –
Even without subtitles, the folks in Grupo Desandann got the gist of the story, how it was through the love of friends, her love of Cuban music, and her collaboration with them that she remembered herself, slowly got her mojo back, and they went on to make this beautiful album together.
projectionAfter the screening, emotional speeches were given, hugs and shoutouts were passed around, tears were shed, and then sitting there, suddenly, Desandann broke into song.
singing startsIt was so stirring, so moving to see them right there, the rich power of their voices emerging effortlessly, the hairs rose on my arms feeling their sound wash over us in waves, building to the crescendo –

singing full onThis week they’re in Toronto, at the CNE twice a day, and Wednesday night at Hugh’s Room with Jane and Larry. If you can, check them out. Just remember to stay away from the cronut burgers.

Focus / unfocus

egret fishingThe egret was fishing in his usual spot in the river – he can be found there most mornings. So I was taking photos of his strange egret-y shape, gangly and odd and awkward, he flying away further upriver whenever I got too close, moving us both further and further upstream, until I sensed something in the grasses behind me.
unfocus grassThere was a presence – or perhaps a flicker in the peripheral vision – of movement, of something, of someone.
And then I saw him – utterly still in an effort to remain invisible.
bunny in grassForgetting the egret now, eyes focused into the grass, I managed a couple of photos, but when I moved and looked again, I’d lost him.
Wandering deeper into the field, trying to track him down, I realized there were tiny flecks of blue everywhere in the tall grasses around me.
blue dragonflyThe entire field was filled with strips of blue, and now, forgetting the bunny after forgetting the egret, I focused on the dragonflies, many of them having their private moments in flight, hovering, or resting briefly on the stalks.
What an intruder I was to each of these critters, and yet, invasive human, I didn’t hesitate.
double dragonfly
Weekly Photo Challenge – Focus