Friday, May 3, 2019

le sacre du printemps

“I am reminded of spring by the quality of the air...
It is a natural resurrection, an experience of immortality.”

~ Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 24 February 1852.

Perhaps we have yet something else in common: a sensitivity for the signs in our midst. In this context, such signs are far less subtle than the posted arrows and titles we see along roads. Though we could also think of these as directional, the sorts of signs we can only sense are untitled- at least initially. At this time of the year, the seasonal transition is tangible in the elements. The span of daylight lengthens, temperatures increase their margins above freezing, and there are noticeable changes in the landscape. Such signs tell us to look ahead.

Above: A melting stream, near Portland, Maine
Below: Beacon Street, Boston

Beacon Hill, Boston

In this part of the world, the early stages of Spring have been unusually protracted. Northern New England, now in May, still has frost at night. With natural signs so slow to take shape, it’s certainly easier to savour the transition. My corner of Maine is damp and chilled. But I happen to enjoy this very much. Rather than bothered by cold, this January-born Portland Mainer wilts when the temps exceed 70° (roughly 21° C), and I find it easier defending myself against snowflakes than against bugs. Indeed, I’ve surely learned to appreciate the big picture’s many facets, and to see the differences in the ways seasons manifest. For the observing writer and photographer, there is much to notice- both the subtle and the grand.

Above: Spring in the West End, Portland
Below: Meanwhile 120 miles away in Back Bay, Boston

Thoreau, living along Walden Pond, about 110 miles southwest of Portland, wrote beautifully about the reminders of spring air. 40° in early May is quite distinct from a 40° oddity in December. There is an inviting quality to the Spring rendition of that air. One obvious difference is how the temps abruptly drop as the sun sets in winter; warmer evenings are evidence of Spring’s arrival. The air also has the aromas of awakened strata. To better appreciate these low-forties, I’ve already put coats and jackets away. My experience of Spring air is an immersion, reminding me of freshwater swimming. I remember a sweltering summer day, during which I’d been driving through Grafton Notch, in western Maine. Stopping to hike to a swimming hole I’d heard about, I found the location- at the base of a waterfall. It was a very hot day, and that mountain water was very cold- but I jumped into something as startling as it was invigorating. After a short time of surmounting the shock, I got used to the water and thoroughly enjoyed it. A good saunter through cold Spring air is a similar kind of soak to be savoured.

Above: Portland, Maine catching up
Below: Spring wonderment in the Boston Public Garden

Associating the wafts of Spring with resurrection, as Thoreau observed, is especially meaningful after the dark winter months. A community that is very close to the elements of New England wilderness is that of the Benedictine monks of Weston Priory, Vermont. Among their lyrics is the refrain, “new life, new creation; alive our sense of wonder.” It is easy for me to call these words to mind, given a chance to leave the beaten track of commuting, and to simply observe the melting streams, the changing tides, and even to slow my paces along downtown Boston streets. I can fairly well predict that with this extended liminal neither-nor season, the forties will immediately become seventies- as it happens in these climes. All the more reason to hold some written thoughts.

Above: Seeing through the trees in Portland
Below: Seeing through the trees in Boston

Appropriate to our theme, aperch atop the Printemps department store, Paris.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

familiar places

“In the clefts of the rock
I delight to be.
In the covert of the precipice
You would find me.”

~ Song of Solomon, 2:14

Spring returns in much the same way as it happens when visiting with a former colleague after a long absence. There is as much to recognize and recount, as there is the air of the strange and somewhat out of touch. When chatting with an old friend for the first time in a year, care must be taken not to imply too much mutual understanding so as to sound rude. The oddly unfamiliar will re-familiarize, and the past impressions and inside jokes will return. We adapt and find ways to take the remarkable for granted. As winter becomes spring, temperatures in the forties, iceless sidewalks, and light clothing are suspiciously novel. In a short time today, I drove from sleet into coastal fog, rolling the windows down and savouring the swirl of spring air, I stopped along the road at a coffeehouse I like to frequent.

Journal-writing became something permanent and quite natural for me, just as I began my graduate studies. There were fits and starts through earlier schooling, stiffly answering compulsory assignments. Journaling reached a continuous trail for me, as writing developed into an unprovoked stream of thought processes. Accompanying writing and advanced studies, the effects of environment upon creativity were at once obvious to me. There are times for solitude, and there are times for the buzzing of a bustling café. Writing, as with athletics, is kept buoyant with momentum. Scraps of paper are at the ready, when a running start’s worth of thoughts come to me.

As for the cafés, when there is time, I have favorite places for writing and reading. For many years (until they were gentrified out), I referred to a café in the Old Port district of Portland as The Familiar Perch. Numerous journal entries include “F.P.” to indicate where I was writing. With changes in my home town, as well as travels- and similar currents in the various places of my frequency- there are multiple familiar perches of mine. I also have many favorite outdoor perches, too- especially spots that allow me to look up from my books to ocean views. Kettle Cove, in Cape Elizabeth, is one such familiar perch, beloved to me for at least thirty years. The large and angular crags provide for plenty of seating furniture. Where exactly to perch in places like this depends very much upon tidal movement. If the tide is ascending while I’m writing, I have to pay attention! Inevitably, being aperch in the wafts of words is to be nestled in safe clefts in the weatherbeaten ledges of this world. Indeed, a familiar perch can be anywhere, as long as it is a cherished and consoling place. For a cherished place to be familiar to you, a helpful ingredient is to build a positive history with the place- wherever and whatever it is, be it a destination point or a way-station. Among my familiar perches are favorite parks, hiking trails, libraries, restaurants, and even monasteries. I’ll occasionally visit my homework bench, near the University of Southern Maine; it still suits me just fine. A familiar perch can be a recollection point, somehow holding and rekindling memories for us.

A familiar perch as a consoling place serves as a cleft in the rock, a shelter; a place of pause. At the prospect of uncertain exodus, Moses pleaded with God to be certain of the Divine presence that would protect him and the people under his responsibility. As any person- even the strongest among us- he needed to be solidly convinced; he wanted assurance. God actually replied to Moses, and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” The sight would have been overwhelming and devastating for a human, like staring straight into the sun at close proximity. As it is understandably human to doubt, it is equally human to want to be convinced of imminent consolation. It would be good to know that desolations are short-lived, even by human standards. The cleft in the rock reminds us of concealing refuge.

Admittedly far humbler than the grandeur of the ancient Exodus, notebooks can be tiny clefts among shifting mountains and barricading boulders. Journals are my portable hiding places, little tents I can set up, write in, and re-fold as time and duty force me to continue moving. These written words are at once fixtures and fluid, yet safe and ready places for thoughts. While the ubiquitous electronically-lit screens are deterrents to musing, handwriting in small notebooks has an immediate physical sense of context. By this, I mean being clearly aware of place and time while writing, with an inherent patience to await the formulation of thoughts. Journal writing as a cleft in the rock is a cherished and consoling circumstance; it becomes its own consistently familiar perch. If writing is a “place,” then it is a communing encampment that moves with the individual writer. And like the biblical sheltering crevice, the written refuge is both the hiding-place and the conduit of discovery.

Above: Kettle Cove, Maine.
Below: Weston Priory, Vermont.


"graphite today: this place of writing is a portable hideout. it has no address and it moves around. it can be folded and hidden, as needed."

Sunday, March 3, 2019

bucket kick

“I have broken the yoke.”

~ Jeremiah, 28:2

Enfin! It took over four months for me to retro-convert twelve years of La Vie Graphite, consolidated to this site, and it is thankfully now complete. After a number of server crashes of the photo repository I’d been using, trusting, and paying for, I decided to interrupt my essay-writing and put the time and energy into salvaging all my hard work. This meant systematically editing through more than three hundred essays, removing the “photo bucket” links, repairing tags and all coding errors, followed by uploading each and every photograph directly onto the blog’s server. I did the work in reverse chronological order, since blog sites are presented in that configuration, and in the event of more “bucket” crashes, readers would not be looking at imageless essays with broken links. All of this work was done while this blog continued to be “live,” careful not to lose any existing work- or your much-cherished readership. Behind the scenes, I also had to create a comprehensive photo archive to match each essay. Getting that done meant reviewing thousands of jpg files, organizing and consolidating them, re-editing them as necessary. Even for this full-time archivist, it was a complex and major operation.

The author's interface.
Above: Before- the morass of coding, images, and tags.
Below: After- Clarity.

Below: The Public view.

Like any worthwhile project, this was a learning experience, too. While refining my HTML skills, I saw how the markup tags have evolved through the years. I also saw how the “bucket,” now properly kicked, embedded advertisements for itself within each individual image tag. All such links are water under the bridge, now. Having had the chance to read back through more than twelve years of essays, I learned a few more things- much more useful than the tedium of editing and repair. I was reminded of books I’d read which had left my proximate thoughts. I saw adventures and ideals well worth continuation. I was also reminded about how much I love to write and create photographs. Well, the prow of this ship is pointed forward, good and early for an upcoming season that happens to be my favorite, "winter-into-spring".

Returning to the swing of essay writing is taking some time, even though I’m a daily journal-writer. When I had more time (and a lot less stress), I enjoyed years of what I called my “ten-day writing week.” From sketching a concept into a cohesive theme, accompanying my text with photo illustrations, refining the composite, and publishing tended to happen in ten-day cycles. I even had time to contribute essays to other sites. Getting through some major crises, I considered myself productive to complete one essay per month. I hope to land somewhere in the middle, but it has to begin somewhere. The important thing, as I like to tell my writing students, is to write- and write authentically. Teaching and Doing have always gone together for me. During the latter ten years of my fourteen years in commercial photography, I taught photo in an art college. For nearly three years, I’ve been teaching journaling, and teaching philosophy for nearly four. The latter has helped provide an additional connection with Oxford for me. All the while, studying and writing have continued; simply reading back through chapbooks and daily journals, there are numerous themes for me to cultivate. And photographs.

My new year begins about two months late. Better March than never. Emerging from the “maintenance hiatus” feels a bit like a restart, albeit upon a foundation. There’s still plenty of snow and cold, here in northern New England, but daylight spans are lengthening by the day. That is, simply in itself, a subtle sign of hope. Just as writing across a page is a succession of words, so are paragraphs and essays successions of ideas. Thank you to all of you that read and have been so thoughtful to be in contact. Just as before, there is presently a great need for creative and conscientious artists to continue creating. Even the humblest positive step is still a motion in a constructive direction. I like to think of something I learned from Brother Roger, in the Taizé monastery: “The wellsprings of jubilation will never run dry, when a heart that trusts goes from one beginning to another.”

Thursday, December 20, 2018

leaf raking

“It is pleasant to walk over the beds
of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves.
How beautifully they go to their graves!
how gently lay themselves down and turn to mould!
--painted of a thousand hues, and fit to make the beds of us living."

~ Henry David Thoreau, Autumnal Tints.

Two months ago, I wrote about the arduous project I needed to take on, to be able to stabilize this blog, preserve more than twelve years of work, and have the peace of mind to continue here. Specifically, it's been the major, systematic process of my retro-conversion of all my photographs from "the 'Bucket," to this server. Essentially, I've been kicking away the 'Bucket! Well, now about nine weeks on, I've completed the recent ten years of work, working backwards from the most recent- leaving me two years' worth of writing still to go. I'm almost done. And so is the autumn season, which is a beautiful time of the year, here in northern New England. Amidst this blog re-con and strenuous fulltime employment, I found bits of time to photograph outdoors- and certainly to journal-write. There are many burgeoning themes, which I've had to hold back during these recent months. But I'll get there, and the accomplishment of stabilizing my work will provide an energy of its own. I'm looking forward to this!

At this writing, autumn has but a few hours remaining, with the winter solstice at the doorstep. Green leaves steadily gave way to red and bright yellows.

Then, in a few rapid weeks, the progressively colder winds between inland mountains and the Atlantic loosened the leaves. I watched a great many feather their ways into local streams and rivers.

Leaves I saw wafting into nearby rivers- the Presumpscot, the Kennebec, the Saco, and the Androscoggin, along with shortened days and snows bring me to turning the leaves of books indoors. There are always new studies to find in well-forested libraries.

Along the journey, reading and writing are ever in tandem. Occasionally, I'll make my own notebooks- just to my tastes: about an A5 size and paper without lines.

Words continue to waft, even through complex and time-consuming projects. Liminal seasons, such as autumn, generate quiet energy reminiscent of the dormant woods in winter.

Persevering with notebook and camera, a new year awaits. The only appealing direction is to go forward.

Thanks so very much to all who have been faithfully reading. The rebuilt sections are gradually outnumbering the portions I still must rebuild. I'm raking plenty of leaves, preparing the ground for new growth. A blessed Advent and New Year to one and all.

Monday, October 15, 2018


"It's gonna take time;
A whole lot of precious time.
It's gonna take patience and time,
To do it right."

~ George Harrison, "Got My Mind Set on You."

As if the tribulations of maintaining sustenance and sanity weren't enough, the server site upon which I'd been storing 12 years of La Vie Graphite photographs has been crashing. The photo site is a pay service (famously using the nickname, "bucket"), and has ceased to be dependable. At the same time, I could see that Blogspot's image upload feature has vastly improved in recent years. Therefore, being intensely committed to continuing my writing, several weeks ago I decided to systematically migrate all photos from all my illustrated essays directly onto this blog page. The process is painstaking, and will take at least another month- but it's well worthwhile. This is how I'll be able stabilize this site, so that I can continue writing.

I haven't been able to post anywhere as much as I'd prefer, but need to urgently get the "house" in order. My journal writing indeed continues daily, and I have numerous essay concepts under construction, even during this triage. As it's been throughout my turbulent work life, my thirst forces me to hunt and work harder. I'm grateful for the stability of this site, on Blogspot (this URL will stay the same), and am very much looking forward to completing the full transition of the photo illustrations. But it's taking time.

Many thanks, and a fine autumn season to you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the reach


[the setting is El convent del Carme de Toledo (Spain), summer 1578.]


We were novices together,
ordained and sent forth shoulder to shoulder.
For the new voyage, we named ourselves;
I chose to be known by the Cross.
So many years and discalced miles since.
So many celebrations and trials since.
When last I saw open skies and clear light of day,
our foundations increased with sisters and brothers.
We did not mitigate.
We lived the apostolate.

Yet this moment as I wake,
my back against the stone floor
of a cell barely longer than I am tall- even me,
the humble Fray Juan from Fontiveros.
Somehow my refusal to compromise
was a threat to the unreforming religious.
Somehow they’re afraid enough to torture
and incarcerate.
Walls and shackles surround me,
in these dim and foul confines.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

the reaching

I last knew freedom a year ago,
before these times of degradation and crumbs.
But faith says there are good reports afar,
beyond this fortified tower.
These barriers must be penetrable somewhere, loosened somehow.
The small breach giving light to my psalm book says so,
with the lamplit battlement I see across the hall which also says to me:
Keep picking at the lock, oh so silently;
there is an outside, there is a way.
Love, I am learning, far exceeds forsakenness;
Seek and expect to find, no matter the dense darkness.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.


From this cell, I can remember
teaching the others of belief in the unseen.
And now the teaching must be turned onto me;
the reaching must persevere, with nothing in sight.
In the nothing of damp and crepuscular constriction,
the substance of aspiration and vocation
must be kept to heart,
as though solid.

Sometimes the guard leaves an oil lamp.
He knows, through the taunting and torturing,
that I can absolve and bless, just as I did in Ávila.
Today there is no light, save for what reaches in
through cracked walls and the grate.
But the soul is enkindled from within,
human flesh as this stone keep,
ignited by the Holy Spirit uncontained,
secretly illuminating,
as canticles formulate
for me to remember and write
in a future unseen.
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

night of the soul

The lashes and bread scraps now past,
they returned me to this cell,
and full darkness returns.
Like Moses, I ask how long shall I bear with this evil assembly?
Like David, I ask how long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart,
and how long shall my enemies be exalted over me?
It is undetermined and indefinite;
they cowardly want me to die in here,
without committing the deed themselves.
They don’t want a friar’s blood on their hands,
they don’t see their injustice;
they know not what they do.

But in this darkest night,
there remain embers hidden
yet still bright
deep within.
Saints and angels reach to me in this Castilian cell,
as I reach and imagine and plot,
prying quietly at the iron lock,
on strength of hope,
climbing Mount Carmel.
More walls and a river await below this putrid tower;
but I will embrace them when I can reach them.
Oh, to reach the outside air, the full daylight,
and sanctuary again to write!
Even though it is night,
I know the way and will yet find it.

15 August 1578 is the date San Juan de la Cruz
managed to escape from his captors.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


“Lucio: I believe thee; for I think thou never wast where grace was said.
2nd Gentleman: No? A dozen times at least.”

~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act I.

This summer is surely conducive to writing outdoors, and on a fine day aperch it occurred to me that La Vie Graphite is now twelve years a work in progress. Noticing this reminds me of how I fill a journal book and set it on my bookshelves as I begin another. A filled notebook always feels somehow heavier than a blank one. In 2006, I hadn’t yet purchased a digital camera, and began with writing short paragraphs in a blog application easily available on MySpace. With the development of Blogspot shortly after, I moved some of the original blog to this venue, and began the exploration of reflective essays and poetry. Adding digital photography to the still-film media with which I had made a career since high school, along with scanning typed and handwritten pages, the blog’s ambience formed. The title I gave to the blog is my longtime nickname for idea-jotting in pocket notebooks. Holding a thought and recording it begins with a few words scribed in pencil on a palm-sized page. Subsequently, as time permits, those graphite sparks of life become essay elements.

The little books of pencilled ideas are in a parallel continuum with two other strands of journals I maintain- one in fountain pen ink (the “full-dress” Journal), and the other by typewriter. Indeed, creative processes are essay themes in themselves! Separately from these, a small box of index cards is reserved for “BTs,” known as Big Themes. There’s still plenty to write about; surely more ideas than time permits these days. The essays continue, and albeit at a slower pace than I’d prefer, the commitment remains. Recent years have required some additional and major commitments involving basic economic sustenance, housing, and caregiving. As a writer and artist, it’s been all the more vital for creative pursuits to continue- even in smaller measures.

Many of you that reflect and write know how even the most peripheral memories stick to our thoughts. My elementary school is called P.S.13 (New York City public schools are numbered), and our school newspaper was called The Baker’s Dozen Review. Well then, my baker’s dozen year of essay blogging is now underway. On this embarkation, the number 12 does need its due. Twelves and dozens are identifiable across literature, history, and measurement. If it makes little difference to you, you’ll take six of one or a half-dozen of the other. The philosopher Cassiodorus liked how the number 12 referenced twelve tribes of Israel, twelve Disciples, wind directions, signs of the zodiac, hours of the day, to name a few. He also famously said, “He is invited to do great things who receives small things greatly.” And with this, I return to the expressive potential of the written word and the photographic image. These are the still, small elements that are needed to compose and communicate thematic works. The small things to be greatly received are the nascent ideas, the inspiring glimpses, the graphite jots that can be built into the greater things. With time, the journey becomes increasingly unique as well as voluminous, and thus the value of our narrative is able to intensify.

As the days proceed, so must the writing. A faithfulness to journal writing opens paths in a number of ways. Though I cannot claim major successes as a writer (at least not yet), I can speak for profound satisfaction. Expanding my journal writing into web-published essays began as a way to “bring out” the work to the public, as many of my fellow visual artists seek to do. Some of the consequent fruits of this work have manifested as published pieces in print, lecturing, reading to audiences at events, travels such as an extraordinary invitation to sojourn at the home of my lifelong favorite poet, a writing and study fellowship at Oxford, along with a continuing string of retreats and residencies, and the grace that I continue to love to write. Without the practice of the written word, these doors would not have opened for me. I’m certainly grateful for the milestone efforts, but more importantly there remain ideas to formulate and the will to carry on.

Artists, generally speaking, dedicate their energies to their art media for the purpose of expression. We create because we want to explore. I’m among those that has always needed artistic exploration, even since childhood. With these forays into words and images, there is the parallel line of exhibiting the work to be received by others. During an online interview, I was asked about what is essential to personal writing. My answer was that writing must be honest writing, no matter the emotion, recollection, or subject. I recalled this comment while teaching a journaling class- something I’ve been doing for two years. The latter is another grateful outworking of writing and exploring, and it has coincided with having begun teaching philosophy three years ago. The two intertwine, and occasionally the lesson plans affect each other. Regarding philosophy, I want everyone to consider and articulate, discovering their sources of inspiring thought. With writing, I want the burgeoning writers to observe and write with the fluidity of the spoken word. These are all things I want to do myself. And get the writing out. It’s very important. As for me, I’ll add here’s to more. I’m still looking for the audience that is looking for what I’m writing. There are many ideas and angles to flex with my aspirations.

Above: Sad Clock Face;
Below: Happy Clock Face.