'Finding Home in Solitude' ... Alex

This interview, where Alex talks of 'finding home in solitude', there at the end ... that's what I'm doing these days.

It's an interesting process, after years of having this constant dialogue in my head ... 'What does this person need from me?'  

'How can I help them?'  there is this new process where I'm learning to consider what I want.

2 husbands ... and I lived 2 lives that were shaped, so completely, around their lives.

2 divorces ... and I lost everything, twice, including countries.

I am living in interesting times.  My book is begun, the professional photography has been put to bed for the moment.  

And perhaps ... this interview, with Alex, will give you a sense of the solitude.  The gift, and the difficulty, of learning to be alone.

Some Scottish Views ...

Blog1.jpg

Scottish Landscape,

A little bit of Ice while out walking ... 

A little bit of Ice while out walking ... 

Miss 12 has a passion for stepping on icy puddles ...

Miss 12 has a passion for stepping on icy puddles ...

We could have skied Scotland but we opted not to and, to be honest, I was just trying to survive what I felt was ... an icy terrible freezing cold:-) 

We could have skied Scotland but we opted not to and, to be honest, I was just trying to survive what I felt was ... an icy terrible freezing cold:-) 

We met this local and chatted a while .... I think he wanted to come home with us but there was an electric fence involved. 

We met this local and chatted a while .... I think he wanted to come home with us but there was an electric fence involved. 

It's been so good to see Miss 12, although walking to the standing stones wasn't exactly her idea of a fun thing to do on that freezing cold day  :-)

It's been so good to see Miss 12, although walking to the standing stones wasn't exactly her idea of a fun thing to do on that freezing cold day  :-)

The roads we're walking.  The air is clear, if cold.  The scenery, winter but still beautiful.  And quiet ... so very.

The roads we're walking.  The air is clear, if cold.  The scenery, winter but still beautiful.  And quiet ... so very.

And so I follow.  Quite happily.

And so I follow.  Quite happily.

Happy New Year ... from Scotland

It's been one hell of a year but here I am, relatively relaxed and writing from a pub over in Scotland.  I have two weeks to spend with my favourite people.

They're living way out in the back of beyond, and so we're forced to pop in to pubs in the area for internet connections.  Not wanting to be rude, we also sample the whisky and play pool too.  

The locals are lovely. I'm adjusting to the weather ... kind of.  I can finally feel my feet today but the guys here just assured me that there's snow due on Sunday.   We've already had snow.  The 26th was quite white. We've also had two big storms ... Storm Barbara, then Storm Connor (I think).  

I'm not sure about all the granite here. But even so, the architecture is cute ... as seen below.   I love my Ligurian life and will be glad to get back to the colour and noise of Genova but it's good here too.  And so very superb to catch up with Miss 12 and her mum.  

I've been clearing backlogs of photographs, a few sets waiting for time and concentration.

I'm so happy to write that, after 2 months or more of the most disgusting, long-lasting cold/flu-thing I've ever had, I'm no longer sick.  Being here, living quietly, is partially about building up my strength again.   It's the right place for that. 

Wishing you all the very best things in 2017, and let's see where the next year takes me ... 

fb 8.jpg

Letter to Ren ... 4

Dear Ren,

I slipped quietly, almost guiltily, out of my apartment this morning – should I be resting? I was fleeing Cabin Fever. It was so late really, as I am finally embracing sleep and rest as the cure for the long-lasting cold. The cold that is teaching me that, sometimes, one must bow to the needs of the body.

I have been panicking about all I haven't been able to do and so when you said, last week, it's okay, take this week off from our correspondence, I almost cried with relief. I have trouble with the idea of letting people down and, lately, it feels like all I've been doing. Failing to turn up as my best self, having to cancel lessons, not completing the editing of a beautiful but huge set of photographs I took, moving house … everything.

I was trying to do what I had been taught to do … that is, putting my head down, making more of an effort, and working through. But instead of feeling brave and strong, I see that I've dragged this cold out longer. I feel like a bit of an idiot.

Suddenly it's the weekend and here I am, in beautiful cafe, with a cup of thick hot chocolate next to me. It's been two nights of early to bed, waking at midnight, taking those painkillers and sleeping again, and again, and again. I can see now, I had lost a sense of reality about what my body was capable of … in terms of healing while under a huge amount of pressure.

Sense of reality … sense of balance.

Yesterday, some wise and generous Aussie friends wandered down from their home in the Italian mountains, on their way to some place else. They dusted me down, (mocked me as only Australians can mock New Zealanders, and vice versa), unblocked my kitchen sink, made me laugh, cooked a beautiful dinner, and came up with a plan where we three will work together on the books Lisa and I have been writing for a Very long time.

They were gone by 7pm, taking their lovely kids with them, leaving me filled with a quiet happiness that I haven't felt in a while. They are similar to you and I, in the choices they've made in choosing to live in countries not their own. Rather than see me as brave, or slightly insane, or plain foolish, they gently roughed me up, verbally, when I was too hard on myself for those places where I feel I am failing.

Instead they left me with a challenge … a plan.

Lisa is the most talented artist and writer. Practical too but her vision, or her way of sharing her views of the world, are so beautiful that they've always taken my breath. She came on one of my photography workshops and, using her other camera, the shitty little one, in her words, she created some stunning images.

However Lisa and I, similar in so many ways, both suffer from having a million exciting ideas and failing to select that one we will finish.

Sam, on the other hand, is a man of action. What is the task? Okay then, let's get it done.

After a delicious dinner, whipped up by Sam … his homemade sage pesto, my dried pasta supply, crumbed fried chicken, and all kinds of food he foraged for at the local supermarket … we sat round the table discussing the books that both Lisa and I have been writing FOREVER.

Sam did some of his straight-talking. He came up with a plan for accountability. Lisa and I require weekly accountability calls. We know it. Sam's willing to be that person who coordinates our 'no bullshit, finish the books' project. He wants to read them.

And so … it's begun.

And it is time.

I have been traveling toward this life in Genova since first hearing about the city 16 years ago, while living in a small island nation far far away … never dreaming of living here one day.

It's time to share the passion I feel for this ancient Italian city. To shake the dust off the thousands of photographs I've taken here over years … and the interviews.  It's time to finish what I began quite some time ago.

But moving on and slipping back into your previous letter. You wrote of the photograph I took … your favourite from the wedding. That moment of joy shared by a mixed group of your friends … arms around each others shoulders, they were connected by joy.

It was representative, wasn't it? Representative of that beautiful day. Of the joy all your friends felt about your marriage to E. The joy so very present throughout your wedding day … from morning till night.

Remember when you and E came to Antwerp. For the opening of my photography exhibition … and my birthday too? My friends became friends, as they came from all over Europe, originating from all over the world. Like your wedding. We were from everywhere.  The photographs I like best are on the blog ... I see Kim and Shannon chatting.  The French and Belgian husbands of my Irish friends ... my ex -in-laws gathered there at the table.  You and E. 

I loved it. Loved knowing who would enjoy whom, so delighted that some were finally meeting one another. Sad that some others were absent because they would have loved it.

We have friends our friends love … we are blessed, aren't we?

Lisa and Sam scraping me off the floor of sad … I have other friends who would have done it. I have the shittiest time asking for help. I feel like a Leper whenever I reveal how damn fragile I can be.

I think, what I'm circling, is this idea that you and I invite our friends to be more ... Or is it just me? I am always looking for people willing to step into that tribal role, where we are connected by our humanity … the family of man. I smile as I write that.

You wrote, I've been experimenting with haibun these days, and yesterday I read an article by Aimee Nezhukumatahil. She likens the prose of haibun to a chicken bouillon cube: intense. It seems counter-intuitive, since we (or at least, I) tend to think of poetry as condensed expression of experience. But it also rings true: I need poetry to dilute my intense experience of life; through a poem, a single truth becomes bigger than my own observation of it.

You made me think.  It may beyond me to grasp your words and meaning correctly today.  Here's my attempt.  My camera doesn't protect me.  I wondered that after reading your, 'If I were a photographer, the camera would be my tool for self-protection: a way in, and a way out' 

I try to make it protect me, sometimes. Once upon a time, my daughter's pony bolted off into the distance with her holding on. Oh how I pressed the viewfinder into my eye that day. But mostly, the photographs are all the more intense if I can channel my feelings or responses into capturing the moments unfolding in front of me ... it deepens the experience. 

And coming out of it ... is like coming back from a huge emotional journey.  I'm emptied. Often joy-filled but completely empty.

If I'm fortunate, the result is the 'wedding' photograph you love. Where I capture something representative, something big, in a single image. I have often taken photographs, at events, with tears quietly rolling down my face. Mostly weddings. But where ever there's love. Love undoes me when viewed via a telephoto lens. When E made his speech about you, in Norwegian … I didn't understand a word but I saw and felt the intensity of his love for you, and I cried. Of course.

But anyway …

I am still learning the discipline of replying to what is written to me. Do you see how I veer off, all over the place? It's as if your letter is a door that opens something in me that hasn't been opened lately, and I whoosh off through the door, and want to dance through all the others that magically open once I begin. I guess that's the luxury … the point, of letters. The lack of need for discipline :-)

Lisa and Sam challenged me. I didn't tell you but somehow the conversation turned to reminding me that my photography and writing are important. They're things not to be put down as I work my through my need for some kind of financial security. They reminded me that there's a need for balance in every area of my life. That I don't need to stop with photography and writing ...

And this cold has been teaching me to listen to my body. I was exhausted when I finally stopped.  Let's not even go into the fact it's attacking my throat because, honestly, there's so much I haven't been saying these days. So much I've simply been swallowing. What's this throat chakra thing all about anyway.

The first time pharyngitis hit me was not long after my mother died. And now it returns, periodically, when life is difficult and I am quiet about important things.

Thank you for gifting me time and space last week. I think you had to tell me because I didn't quite now how to take time off, without feeling like I was letting you down. I was too far gone … too lost in this dreadful sense of failure in being so damn ill.

I'm back, although I just had to take another painkiller and perhaps it's time to head home and nap again. I look forward to hearing from you.

Much love

Di

From the Antwerp Photography Exhibition.  Anchovies, Genova.

From the Antwerp Photography Exhibition.  Anchovies, Genova.

This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.

Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life

A Note & 2 Photographs ...

I feel like I've been running in sand lately ... if I were to measure the level of effort requiredversus the distance achieved.  My cold has gone on and on; a milder cold becoming a second more exhausting cold.  Silvia got me checked by a doctor and my chest is clear however ... rest was required and I was unable to rest.

I've reached Saturday and I'm shattered but there is much to be done. These last few weeks have been more about putting out fires, as one thing after another came knocking on my door.  I probably just need to sit down and make plans, now that the coughing has finally calmed itself down.  I just need to sit down, actually.

In good news, I've continued to meet good people, and have smaller, but still excellent, adventures.

I'm enjoying teaching English but I miss my photography.  My students are lovely.  They're clever and interesting, and they blow my mind some days.  And my knowledge of Genova has increased hugely, as I've raced all over it lately.  

I am becoming fluent in 'bus', although still far from perfect.  And better at knowing when to include my umbrella because it might rain.  I have all I require for breakfast.  I'm less good at lunch, and dinner but getting there.  

Sitting here, I was awake just after 6am on this rainy Saturday, I'm realising it's been a year of making-do.  Photographs of my London life have been coming up on my 'year ago today' Facebook timeline.

And I can do 'making do' but will confess that I wouldn't mind a week or two in a hammock some place simple where everything works  ...  :-) 

Letter To Ren ... 3

Dear Ren,

Today's mail will surely end up being about my cold. It may even be ALL about it. The virus that has made me forget red wine exists. The one that sees me forcing down gallons of ginger and lemon tea, sweetened with good Italian honey and soured by real lemons. The bug that has made me cough until my voice is gone.

As I begin writing, I'm making a family-sized pot of chicken and vegetable soup. I'll freeze some portions. Now seems like the right time to begin my letter to Ren, only one day late, accompanied by the sound of chicken soup bubbling on the stove.

I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow. A Genovese friend got it for me. A miracle really, as I'm not quite 'in' here. The same friend who invited me to her place on Friday night, after a coughing fit took my breath so seriously that I needed to phone out from this space where I live alone.

I jumped in a taxi, so grateful for her invitation. The taxi driver was delightful. An ex mountain-biking guide. We talked all the way across the city and up into the hills. The Genovese often apologise for their poor English but if they can create sentences, I am in awe . I know words, and so I weave words and body language into understanding … sometimes. I can't create sentences in Italian yet.

We couldn't find the apartment. He drove around a bit. I laughed, there in the back seat and confessed I was sick. Maybe she didn't really want me to come over after all … I said to him, maybe you'll drop me off, thinking I'm a normal adult who can find the address alone in the night, and I'll just die in the gutter somewhere.

We both found that amusing.

Me because I think I deserved it for being such a child about being sick.

Him … well probably the same reason.

But then we realised we were looking for the actual apartment number and not the building number. He was a good man, who made me laugh.

And I spent the night at her place, feeling safe ... or safe knowing my body would be found quickly.

I have learned to stand the coughing fits now. The first was quite the monster experience but I understand my body is simply ridding itself of the stuff that is foreign.

Silvia also took me to her pharmacy the next morning and talked to her guy about my symptoms and what might be required. I was then convinced to try all these new-fangled cold and flu medications. Apparently they've been around for ages and are not so new-fangled really.

Mmmhmmm, I am the worst when it comes to medications. It's a love/hate thing. I know I need/I wish I didn't.

I took a big 12 hour cold/flu tablet today. Oddly enough, I feel quite good as I write this. Exhausted, no voice, but otherwise not as bad as I have felt lately.

Silvia called me a dickhead this morning, when she phoned in. She said something like, You will take that medication, won't!?? You're quite a dickhead about it. You know that, don't you?

I had to laugh. I do know that but oh the leap of faith I have to make when I take medicine without being able to read all the 'paperwork' that goes with it. It's trust. It's about trusting people, isn't it.

I'm sorry about the book recommended in my previous letter. And I just finished another truly delightful one. It's simply written. I can't believe how simple it is. And yet it's so beautiful. Or it was to me. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf.

In your previous letter to me, I really understood when you wrote:

I crave attention.

I want to observe.

Perhaps I am slightly different, in that I want to connect. I want to observe.

I love to know people. I see each individual as a book waiting to be read.

I want to connect, I love to observe.

I don't know if you realise the test your wedding would have been for me if I had obeyed you. You so generously invited me but said, No camera, you're not working. You are our guest.

Oh Ren. I was … I don't know. I love to work with my camera at events. I love that moment when I am both out and observing but in and accepted as part of everything. Trusted.

Being a photographer gifts me such a rich experience of life. Being an observer deepens all. Winning the trust of those I'm photographing … that means the world.

I'm invisible, I exist, I am trusted. 

You wrote, I think I’m an interpreter at heart. Not an actor, not a director. I see metaphors where no one else does.

I wonder what I am then? I need to think on that, when my head isn't so full of this cold. I can't believe I'm writing this in this state.

The football … being allowed to be part of that group of people, gathered for a football match. I believe I crave that feeling of belonging. I'm happy to wander alone, to live alone but like a cat, I seek the warmth of human company. Those desires war in me when I'm 'in'. But when I'm 'out', I see that I prefer being 'in'.

For some reason, that bar where I quietly watch the football, takes me back to my childhood. There is something familiar and I haven't quite worked out what it is yet but I think it reminds me of Dad. Of sitting quietly on the edge of his sporting world, happy to be with him and watching the football that came down the long, sometimes scratchy, distorted tunnel of satellite that was football beamed into New Zealand on those long-ago Sunday mornings. I still remember the strange warped sound of it.

The book I read at halftime...I think I thought it would reassure them, somehow. That it would be clear I was simply there for the team.

Otherwise, you know me, I'll look around a room and start talking with someone. I'm protecting them from my curiosity and my desire to connect … to know people :-)

And my camera ... if I could, I would enjoy the attempt of capturing the emotions I feel and see in that room. It's a place where people are themselves … and I'm sure I could find that same feeling in Istanbul, in New Zealand, in England, in Africa. Watching the football, mostly men, some who have known each other forever.

In fact, I sought it out in England too. I had a favourite pub and a lovely bunch of blokes I used to watch the rugby with. But I talked with them. And once England was out of the rugby world cup, they were there with me, for New Zealand.

This paragraph about me.

.. your ease with putting people at ease. I have been in awe of that since I met you. I think of how you soothed the angry woman I photographed (incidentally) in downtown Stavanger. You immediately made her feel “seen” instead of observed – with just a sentence or two. You would be a good diplomat. But then, that would probably be a bastardising of your talent.

That is a gift beyond that of the shaman, the oracle, the poet. I don’t know what that is. You may say you had no mentors. But you have become one.

You have a way of gifting me these unfamiliar views of myself. Perhaps as I did with you when I photographed you, from all angles, on your wedding day … I remember how that affected you.

I have always negotiated but the way you wrote of it was beautiful. Thank you.

Moving away from New Zealand and into other languages has seen a change in the way I read people though. Perhaps it was simpler with language but I'm not sure. Now I'm like a deaf woman, perhaps. Compensating by watching the language of a person's body. It's not what they say, it's what their bodies do … it's what their eyes and posture reveal. The tone of their voice. The emotions they reveal.

I do know I've always felt I could step into the shoes of another, very easily. I have viewed it as more of a challenge than a strength at times. I felt I could understand why actors often struggled with drugs and alcohol. That need to create a wall that protected their fragile sensitive self from feeling others too deeply.

If I think about it now, it seems like I know some of the stories of being human. Is that too big a thing to claim?

Not all of them but a lot. Perhaps that comes from being an avid reader, since forever … and of every culture. Complicated by living a lot of different lives, with different roles to play.

It's a perfect skill for a photographer or a teacher, or a traveler perhaps … but difficult in other ways.

My inclination, my desire, is always to get down to the nitty gritty with people. To keep it real. I've never been good at conversation about the weather or those subjects intended to keep people at a distance. I want to really know people. And that follows through into my photography. I will not photoshop my clients to 'improve' them. My desire is to capture what is real about them, what is beautiful, and the moment too. My goal is to be trusted enough, so that can happen.

You wrote this ... E. doesn’t anchor me, though; he knows I’m in motion, and he moves with me, or is comfortable trusting I’ll not choose to untether entirely, I love this so much.

You two are examples of what I would like to see in my next relationship. I have decided I'm like Goldilocks and, obviously, my third attempt will be just right.

I'm not someone who loves living alone, without community and sharing. I love nurturing and being nurtured. I love space too but that's another whole story.

God forbid I should ever be settled and satisfied with what I’ve seen and sucked from life thus far.

Yes, just yes. Settled isn't a word I associate with you. Not at all. You bend the world to fit you, in ways that I love and admire. The food you eat, your office/library. Your boundaries. You are defining them and therefore you are a mentor to me.

But I must go. The chicken just fell to pieces and I suspect you might have laughed had you watched me working out how to solve the problems of that. It became clear, suddenly, that this letter to you might seem like the work of a snot-filled, coughing, voiceless woman …

Because it is.

Much love, Di

This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.

Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life