Whee Hee! Its the bank holiday weekend! That never means much to me in terms of travel because it is the weekend that Llwellyn Vaughan Lee comes to town. He is always here around Easter and the August bank holiday weekend. You might ask who is Llwellyn Vaughan Lee – he is a sufi Sheikh and Jungian psychologist and leader of the Golden Sufis. I don’t know that he is my guru, but I love him, I love the sufi group that he leads and I love to sit with him in meditation and hear him speak. I share his devotion to working with Oneness and so he is a big part of what I like to think of as my tribe. Last year I didn’t get to sit with him at all, and this year, when the 2-day April retreat sold out in minutes, I knew that no matter what else happened, I had to be in London for this weekend’s talk and meditation. I can’t wait!
(Although I suppose that I better calm down in order to be able to meditate, no?)
I am feeling much better than I was a couple of days ago. I had a couple of days of rest but what really helped was getting re-engaged. I talked with someone that said that no matter what is going on with me, I am able to cope as long as I am engaged in things that I enjoy. That doesn’t have to be 24/7 but it has to be some of the time. This week I have been able to write, to read, to research and to go out and take some photographs. Last night I was supposed to go to an art opening (I hate those things, if truth be known – unless I am in the market to buy a piece or meet a particular artist, I would rather go when nobody else is in the place) and I was asked after by a couple of other people. It was lovely to be asked after and I will go to the next event so that people don’t come to associate me with a no show, but last night I just couldn’t do it. I’m not ready yet to socialize. I needed “me” time.
On the way to the art opening (a big happening, as it appears on Facebook today – glad I missed it), I hopped off the train. It was dusk. The golden hour through dusk is my favourite time to snap photographs. I am rubbish at night photography. I don’t have a tripod, I fiddle with the settings as if I know what they mean and my hand could be used as a gauge for an early warning of an earthquake, it shakes so much. So…I end up with….hmmm….arty?…night photos. I didn’t care…I wanted to try night street photography. One of the best photographers I have come across on Instagram – in fact, my favourite photographer on Instagram – is a night photographer (among other styles). Edo Zollo is incredible. He can shoot social documentary, street photography, low light, studio, you name it. I wish I had his skill and looking at his work inspires me to want to learn and play. And so, I did. It was shockingly bad. But I had an amazingly fun filled evening.
I noticed a few things: I’m not good at street photography. I don’t know how he gets close enough to his subject to snap them without intruding. Maybe his sense of space is different to mine. I tried. I just couldn’t walk up with a camera, a phone or an iPad mini in someone’s face and snap. Firstly my phone seems set on a delay for some reason, so there would be enough time for them to punch me in the teeth and run before I even snapped them. But I just can’t get close to them. I’ve done some nice street photography in Trafalgar Square with the bubble man, but I had a zoom lens. I don’t know how Edo does it.
So, I thought about it. Maybe he just sets up a perch somewhere and stands still in the shadows. I mean if you’re going to be a wildlife photographer you spend a lot of time in a hide. Maybe he is in an urban hide. So I tried that. Problem is that if you’re going to hide in the shadows, you’re going to get some pretty um…NIGHT…night shots. So, I had to find somewhere where I wasn’t going to be immediately noticed but the subject might be well lit. I found a spot at the bottom of a set of stairs on the Southbank and I used my iPad because it was easy to prop up on an electrical box behind which I could stand in the shadows. I liked the shadows of a barrier that the light created and so I remembered reading that street photography could also be about the architecture. I’m better with things that don’t move. So I decided to shoot that. I took the exposure on the settings right down and clicked. And then I noticed something so incredible. People began to emerge from the black and to walk into frame and disappear into the black. It was like a live ballet of life as people were born into the light and faded into the darkness as they walked up and down the stairs. I was enthralled and I remembered why I love to play with light so much. It was my own private theatre and it made me want to go home and write a dance/theatre piece again (I didn’t – I came home and ate a pizza, but the thought was there!)
I had a great time and just like I’ve said many times – the act of looking, and really seeing is the most mindful thing I have ever encountered. It is a meditation but one that – even if I only get one shot I can work with – always, always leaves my heart light. I knew I was going to go out shooting something – I had intended to get to Covent Garden for the lit balloon sculpture but I was just taken by the people. Edo shoots much later at night and I’m still a bit scared to be out alone too late at night. I’ve had bad things happen and when I’m out at night I wear a psychic armour and am hypervigilant against threat. I don’t think I could get to the place of openness of ‘seeing’ what is before me, if I was on guard. And at the same time, seeing what is there and being present to it might make me vulnerable to those with ill intent. I don’t know. I’m willing to experiment if for no other reason than to continue to take back the night.
And so, today I am grateful to Edo Zollo for the inspiration to skip the social events and to be with myself in an activity I love, to experiment and stretch myself and in so doing, to help me to open a portal to see – really see – the circle of life at the bottom of the stairs to the Southbank Centre. I hope he knows how much his sensitive and artful eye inspires others.
And so, we dive into the practice for the last few days:
1 I am grateful for the strangers I meet in London and the way in which they have, in the past year, helped to provide a sense of small town community that I experienced in NYC. I used to say that Manhattan was really a series of small villages. I am sure that the 5 boroughs are the same but I rarely left Manhattan (as per the cliché). I lived in the gay man’s mecca of Chelsea and I knew my neighbours. I often forgot to lock my door. I knew the man at the deli and he knew my order, I taught yoga 4 blocks away, the coffee guy knew my order every morning and I had my own table at the South Indian vegetarian restaurant nearby. I had a small studio but had enough space for an inflatable mattress and overnight guests and more than anywhere, I came to be comfortable with guests in NYC and perhaps that is because it felt like home. I have lived in London for longer than I have lived anywhere in my life but it hasn’t had a homey feeling until I moved into this place where I live now. It is full of people coming and going and yet, somehow, I feel anchored here. As I meet the same girl in the Starbucks every week and she smiles and asks about my week, what I’m going to write today and tells me about her university course, I begin to feel like I have made a home. It’s a strange feeling, timed as it is.
2. I am grateful that my mother taught me how to dance. I have been remembering this during the past week. I don’t know what prompted it other than looking for a happy song for my daily Facebook posting (online media marketers advise me that a Facebook presence is more important than all other social media channels combined). I found some 1940s music and I remembered surprising my Dad at a family wedding when I asked him to waltz with me to ‘String of Pearls’ after exclaiming the name of the 1940s song to the table. Yes, nerd alert, but given that my Mum had died years earlier and he did not know of our Kitchen Academy of the Lindy Hop where she – an incredible dancer – taught me (a fair to middling dancer) to jitterbug, waltz, chacha, foxtrot and rhumba – I can imagine it was a bit of a deja vu for him…especially as I still looked so much like her, then. I later studied modern dance for awhile as part of my acting and performing training but the real dancer in the family was my Mum. My Dad has two left feet and could only ever foxtrot. What I wouldn’t give to have her flip me over her back and jitterbug with her just one more time.
For all of you who never had the pleasure of the Kitchen Academy of the Lindy Hop, here is a little dance lesson for you. Practice up, all you hep cats. There will be an exam.
3. I am grateful for a budding friendship with a new and really interesting photographer. I think he is unlike anyone I’ve had as a friend, before. Well, I say that, but we haven’t met. We only correspond. I am a writer and so for me, in some ways, that is a better way of getting to know someone. You have to know how to read the lines and sense the spaces in between as well with very few clues. He responds to me in a way that I find interesting. I think about strange things to ask him the next time we chat. Right now I want to know if his dog speaks any foreign languages. I hope we get to meet one day soon.
Joy – It was a joy to try to shoot like Edo Zollo last night and discover that well – I suck at it – and there is a reason why his photos take my breath away. They are incredibly skilful. It was also a joy to find he commented on my effort and encouraged me to keep trying. He is far too kind.
I cheated and posted a couple from my iPad mini. My favourite smudges, however, came off my DSLR. I was trying to shoot some skateboarders and thought oh….they’re moving. I better have a fast shutter speed. (Note: In my defence – this girl is used to shooting in natural DAYlight). Here is the wonderful result:
I clearly need Edo Zollo’s night photography class. I don’t think one class will do it, though.
I love laughing at myself and I love it when others can laugh along with me. I liked that D7606 (also a skillful photographer) laughed along with me at my attempts as well.
Oneness – I have had a lot more of a sense of reconnecting with myself in the last few days and that has helped me replenish my energy. For me, the deepest sense of Oneness I experience is when I am alone. I get moments of it with other people but we are so guarded from each other and even from ourselves. I have been talking with a friend about the concepts of connection, alone, loner and lonely and the topic has captivated me particularly because I get my greatest joys simultaneous with moments of ‘Oneness’ which may paradoxically mean ‘alone’. Watch this space.
Service – Hmm….this one is hard to recall over the course of several days because what I do is small and often like smiling at strangers, helping tourists find their way, photographing tourist groups, chatting with the elderly. It is nothing big and lumpy that I can readily recall. I guess the thing I can remember last night was making my flatmate supper when he came home after a night out with his work colleagues. It was his leaving do, and some people were rather unkind. He was trying to have bravado through the beer but I could see he was hurt, and more, that he would be hurting in the morning if he didn’t sober up. I made him a pizza and he was kind enough to share a slice with me.
All in all a much better few days. I have written in the mean time on Gratitude and Chronic illness, so I didn’t miss writing about my practice, because I focused on it in other ways. I am sure I will settle in to a routine of a pace that feels right for me at this time.
Keep coming back! Tell me – how is YOUR practice coming along?