Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Over Christmas break I was lucky enough to vacation in Tahoe. On a hike, I came across this vision of Lake Tahoe completely frozen with the snow-dotted Sierras in the background. Sure, I took other more exciting photos of the Sierras during my trip, but the sheer expanse of the ice-filled Lake was probably my first Wordsworthian encounter with the “sublime.” Its size, emptiness, and shimmering beauty filled me with awe—it appeared infinite.
And yet, my mind immediately skipped from Wordsworth to Langston Hughe’s iconic poem “Dreams” Why “Dreams?” Well, poetry really began for me with Langston Hughes. In the 9th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Sheppard, asked us to write a 2-page essay on the poem. We were learning at once how to write an essay and how to “read” poetry—to interpret it. What Mr. Sheppard didn’t know was that at the time he assigned the poem I was one of those people who actually hated poetry.
Despite my hatred of poetry, something about this particular poem registered with me. And I honestly can’t remember working as hard at anything before as I did analyzing this poem. I turned in my essay. A few days went by. Mr. Sheppard finally passed back our graded essays. When I received mine, there was no grade only a note at the bottom asking me to see Mr. Sheppard after class. The bell rang and I approached Mr. Sheppard with a tentative smile on my face. But his face turned into a menacing grimace:
“Lynn, how did you write this essay?”
Blinking quickly, I responded stupidly, “What?”
He said slowly, “Did someone help you write this essay?”
My smile flattened as I blinked again, “No.”
“Lynn, I’m going to ask you one more time. This time you need to answer me truthfully. Did your parents or someone else write this essay for you?”
My voice went up, “My parents??? No.” (I guess he missed the memo about my parents being drug addicts.)
“Okay, then, did you plagiarize this essay?”
“Did I do what?”
“Plagiarize. You know, borrow someone else’s words when you wrote this?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well you are lying because you couldn’t possibly have written this.”
And so it went.
How could I explain it? How could I explain why words written by an African American poet in the 1920s spoke so clearly to me? That in so many ways, I was living this poem. I may have been a white, middle-class teenager, but decisions my parents made had pretty much taken away my ability to dream—and that at the tender age of 14 my life was already a barren field frozen with snow. Only a few weeks earlier I had been pulled out of my history class and escorted to the principal’s office with a police officer. It seems my parents were being formally investigated by CPS (Child Protective Services) for child abuse and neglect.
(The irony of this whole encounter hasn’t gone unnoticed by me as I think of the times I’ve had to have the same uncomfortable conversation with my own students at Berkeley and Davis, essentially accusing one of them of plagiarism. Life is indeed some weird circular joke. The farther we get from the beginning the closer we come to where it all began.)
So this “field” of ice in Tahoe this week reminded me of something I had forgotten. It reminded me of poetry. For it was Hughes’s poem that helped me to imagine that life might still have something left to offer me. To try once more to live. And even to dream again.
[Note: This year Mr. Sheppard committed suicide. And I don’t think he ever knew that he was essentially the teacher who sent me down a path to study literature and bring the beauty of poetry to my students.]
Even though I’ve shot the Eiffel Tower many times, I don’t usually share my Eiffel Tower photos. This photo, however, was taken when I was in Paris last January during the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I was there during a period of violent, civil unrest as innocent people were killed for publishing cartoons that offended someone’s religious convictions. Cartoons. Yes, they died protecting our freedom of speech.
Within minutes of the massacre, the people of Paris came together under a single mantra, chanting “Je Suis Charlie” in solidarity. The city was plastered with “Je Suis Charlie” posters, graffiti, and candles that burned throughout the night, serving at once as memorials and micro-sites of resistance. Yes, people were shouting and they were crying, but they were also singing. Their protests became the very means of mourning.
I’m sharing this photo then mostly because I think it illustrates the power of the Eiffel Tower. When you first see the Eiffel Tower, you’re almost immediately struck by a profound paradox—that something created out of metal could look so graceful—even delicate. Almost as if lace were woven from steel. The Eiffel Tower’s raw power and sublime grace linger with you. Indeed, they change a small part of you forever. Because the Eiffel Tower speaks. It speaks about the power of human ingenuity, and it never lets you forget that although humanity often stumbles, we are also capable of stumbling toward perfection.
This past week terrorists attempted once again to silence France. To silence all those who stand up for freedom. But what they fail to understand is that the Eiffel tower will always rise up from the Paris skyline with its radiant light and continue to speak -- Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Writing today to commemorate a major milestone. I started thinking about doing my photography business in 2012. For some reason I kept putting it off. I didn’t open my store until July 2013, and I opened it in response to financial stress given I was now a single mother, and I had no safety net. I worried and still worry constantly about the future and not being able to keep a roof over my children’s head. So I opened my store simply because I could no longer afford to put it off. Being a parent and a mom means doing whatever it takes to keep them healthy and safe.
I had never done B2C sales or marketing before. So I was unaware that summertime is the absolute worst time I could have selected to open my store. I remember very distinctly thinking that if I sold one print I would be ecstatic. Just one. That’s all I needed. For one person out there to think my work was worth buying.
And then the miracle occurred. Someone bought one of my photographs. I remember thinking “Who is this crazy person who is willing to buy one of my photos? It’s just a fluke.” And then, bang, a second sale happened. And a third. And wow, before I knew it, I had a real store and I was making more sales than I could keep up with.
It’s been 2 years since that first sale. And today I achieved a major milestone. Before I opened my store, I remember doing research and found a very successful photographer on Etsy. I noticed she had made 600 sales. That seemed amazing to me. Seriously, I just didn’t know of any photographers outside of the really famous ones that had sold 600 photos. I’m not sure why, but 600 seemed like a better gauge of success than 500. Well, today I just had my 600th sale on Etsy. Although it’s my 600th sale, it’s actually closer to over 1000 prints sold because I’ve sold over 95 print sets which is another 352 photos and had sales on other channels, including my personal website and Fine art America. 1000 prints! Wow, I honestly can’t believe it. My prints are now in homes, hotels, and businesses all over the world. I have made over 30 thousand dollars in revenue from this little side business. Who would have ever thought that my hobby would be the thing to help save my family and keep my children financially secure?
This level of volume keeps me very busy. I barely have time after I get home from work and put my kids to bed to fill all my orders. I often fall asleep while I’m in the middle of filling an order. But this means that for over 2 years I’ve just been working without any down time after work. My weekends are often dominated by filling orders. Whenever I have a free moment to myself, instead of doing something fun or relaxing I’m taking care of my little side photography business. I don’t’ even have time on the weekends to do work for my day job.
Anyway, I’m not really sure what this all means to me and I don’t know what the future has in store, but right now I just want to be thankful that I’m lucky enough to be making money doing something I love. And I want to say thank you to all of my customers around the world for buying my photos. Thank you!
P.S. why this photo? I dunno. It's a really subtle photo that I took pretty recently that I love. I'm just tired of all the flashy, over-saturated, over-contrasted photos out there. So much of nature is hidden or hiding and even when we come across it, part of the fascination is that you can't see all of it. With birds you often hear them before you see them. You have to look to find them. With this bird, which was black with white stripes on its wings, I really had to search. I wanted to capture that feeling you have when you hear but can barely see something beautiful in nature. I am probably the only one who likes this photo :)
I'm all out of time. As usual, I'm exhausted. A four-day weekend is for me just lots of work. Always more work. And today I've spent the bulk of my time packing and getting everything prepared for my trip. I'm going to Ohio of all places for the Content Marketing World conference. 3000 of the best content marketers in the business networking and learning from each other. Fun parties. Not a lot of cool things to do in Cleveland, but what can I say? I need to make the best of it.
I'm getting on a plane tomorrow and I'm flying back on 9/11. Yes, I wrote 9/11. I didn't think about it until after the reservation was made. If I hated flying before, I am honestly just going to be completely freaked out on friday when I come flying home. But honestly, I can't reschedule it because of paranoia. I'm just going to have to deal with it.
I am writing of course tonight to let Blake and Jade know how much I love them should anything happen to me. I have made arrangements with Lane and Julian to become their guardians if I don't make it back. This blog post is, in some sense, a formal documentation of my wish that Lane should be their guardian.
Above is a picture of Bug -- My Jade bug. I don't have a lot of time. So all I really want to say today is that Jade did two things today that made me laugh with glee and smile with wonder. I took chubber and bug out for a 30 minute walk with the dogs. Jade was running ahead and it's just so cute how one--only one-- of his his arms kind of pumps back and forth when he's running. It looks like some serious business. He's like taking the whole "running " thing very seriously--as if there was nothing more important in the world to him.
The other thing he did was say "Thank you " mommy after I had taken off his shoes. He said it very loudly and clearly. Jade is still speech-delayed. Him foming words is a critical thing. What made me smile with wonder is that he said "thank you" after a routine "mommy" task I completed. It was just really wonderful to have him acknowledge the small things I do for them all the time, stuff chubber always overlooks. It showed again his fierce attention to detail and his careful observation of the world around him. It also made me feel loved and appreciated today on a day I was nervous about leaving them and flying across the country. I luv my little cuddle bug.
This picture above isn't one of the best photos of Jade, but it's very hard to capture him on camera. His special beauty doesn't readily translate to a "flat" image. Jade's face is more dynamic. Something you need to see in motion to truly admire. This is why, the pictures where Bug looks so amazing are always those photos where he's actually smiling.
Anyway, I am too exhausted to write another syllable. Gotta go.
Blake and Jade I love you always and forever. Chubs and bug -- you are my little blue lights who I am grateful for everyday.
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