Promiscuous rest.

One of the lovely things about break is that it's possible to mix up into one's day Lois Lowry, Man with a Movie Camera, Charles Dickens, and The Devil Wears Prada, with some desultory reading of The New York Times and some goofing around with a lonely cat on the side.

One of the less lovely things about break is discovering, at the end of a weekend, that you've barely been out of your own apartment--though, to be sure, yesterday's warm weather (and the ability to open all the un-plastic-wrapped windows in the place) sure helped bring the outside in.

Tomorrow: a long walk, unless there's another torrential downpour.

The contraption!

I happen to know the location of a few things in Cleveland--including A) the two high schools I visited this week; B) Case Western Reserve University; C) a great Thai restaurant near Case Western; and D) the art supply store across the street from the great Thai restaurant. Plus a theatre somewhere on the west side, but for that one I need written directons.

Because I needed to get black artboard and black tape in order to make my Through the Viewfinder contraption, I was especially glad about D. (And because it's been awhile since I had good Thai stir-fried noodles, I was especially glad about the proximity of D to C.) I came home from the big city with both artboard and tape, and this afternoon, I set up shop with my craft knife and my cutting surface and built the thing. Now the real fun can start (as can the process of figuring out the optics behind, say, the doubling of so many things in today's picture...).

I promise that you are soon about to see more than just Trees Through the Viewfinder.

By the way: Keri Smith is a genius.

Late return.

Now I'm home from Cleveland--where you didn't even know I was! I was on a business trip of sorts, visiting a couple of Cleveland-area high schools and observing their English classes (and, at one, the aforementioned famous poet--it's a very well-off high school). It's always a strange, profound pleasure to leave town for even a few days, like a little escape, and that feeling wasn't diluted much by the fact that I was still working--or even by the fact that I had to retrain myself in the ways of aggressive sub/urban driving in order to hold my own against fortysomething moms and overmoneyed twentysomethings in their luxury SUVs and sedans. But just as strange and profound, almost always, is the return to town, and so it is that I'm glad to be back in my crowded, cluttered little space.

Criss cross.

Up one street, down another; up one hallway, down another. Navigating the east side of Cleveland today made me grateful, yet again, for that family trip back in the day, when my father handed me the map of D.C. somewhere in western Pennsylvania and let me know that I'd be the one navigating us into, around, and back out of the city. If you know how to be the navigator for someone else, you have a better shot at being a competent navigator for yourself, too. Profound, no?


You ask can you help them understand what poetry is and why it matters and so I pull out my books and sit thinking with them about macro lenses and the curve of a roof falling down and the wool of his wide brimmed winter hat and the hiss of rocks and the fire behind my retinas when he sang out verses over the wine and I think of the people who have gone the poet's voice coming out of the loudspeaker the day of his memorial service and the box-builder who made world after world in box after box and the boy with the flaming hair who loved writing verses about the girl who left him and the girl who stood up unannounced and chanted stanzas from memory and the woman who declaimed Chaucer to cows and I think

of the spring bleeding into these branches at the side of my road

and I think I will tell them that poetry is nothing less than the mattering of this life's merest matter.

Letting be.

Tonight, right now, even though I am not finished with the work I could stay up to do, I am taking a stand on my own behalf, against the part of me that works under the impression that I might never be able to do enough or be enough, and I'm going to make a bowl of steamed milk in my red latte bowl and take it to bed with me. There is more to be done, for certain, but the most important thing to be done at this moment is that I draw back in and cultivate my little core of strength for the morning.

Every night, I have to make a decision about when I'm going to go to bed. Not since before high school have I had a regular bedtime or a fully settled bedtime routine. Normally my bedtime is set by my exhaustion. That is perhaps something I'd like to change, as I continue pioneering my new strategies for actively cultivating calm--not just when I'm done working, or when I'm feeling crisis-stricken, but all the time.

Looking it new.

I don't have time for this, that's for damn sure, but somehow pioneering off into a new direction with the camera has helped take some pressure off of the week. Funny how creativity works.

It was sometime last fall that I first read about "through-the-viewfinder" photography, a weird DIY Rube Goldberg machine of a camera modification that basically ends up using a vintage twin lens reflex camera as a filter for a digital camera.

What one does is install the TLR at the base of a long, light-proof tube and then take a picture of the image visible in the TLR's viewfinder (which is at the top of the camera--in the image above, I have the camera lying on its back, and the image you see in the top lens is not unlike the image you'd see in the viewfinder if the camera were standing up and facing in the direction that the top of the camera is in now).

At their most stylish, TTV setups involve a lot of black cardboard and black tape and a carefully cut hole for the TLR lens. But lots of TTV practitioners who describe how they've done their work end up saying something akin to "I didn't have the patience for that shit; I'm using a cereal box wrapped in electrical tape!" I suspect that I will end up somewhere in between; I don't have time to mock up a box, and so for now I've just been using an old paper towel tube. Here's my impressionistic shot of one of my first attempts; it gives you a sense of the tube. I think that before I took this one, I hadn't even bothered to pull the rest of the paper towels off of the cardboard. I was that excited.

And then one crops out everything but the square of light, which then gets reworked as the image itself.

When I bounded out of bed this morning (and promptly decided to knock off the lattes for a day, because I clearly still had more caffeine in my bloodstream than was ideal), I decided to try the new camera setup--sans cardboard altogether--to catch the sunlight that floods my bedroom window in the morning. If you click on either of tonight's window images, you'll see one of the things that makes this kind of photography appealing and strange: all the flaws and scratches and accumulated dust in the old Kodak at and through which I'm now shooting--not to mention the curvature of the viewfinder itself--gives a different kind of texture to the end result.

It's my everyday world made strange and new: just the way I like it. And it's a return to something like the raw-edged negative carrier I used in photography class two years ago; one of the tricks of TTV is that you end up with an image much more ostentatiously framed than usual.

You can check out Karen Walrond's project "The Ranch" for further examples of how and why I'm so excited to start playing with this technique. A good part of my spring break is going to go toward getting this baby kitted up for further experimentation.

And then when I'm really settled, I just may have to start experimenting with the wacky stuff people do to modify cameras like my new-old Duaflex so that they'll carry 35 mm film. If I get really daring, I may even roll some 620 in there and see what happens.

Look at me go.

(Also, in totally related and totally excellent news, it turns out that instant film (aka Polaroid) might not die out after all! Check out The Impossible Project.)

Ice and fire.

Heading out to class this morning, I grabbed my camera, which I haven't been using enough; the number of images you've seen lately that are views from my window-side home desks tell you as much as anything about where my priorities have been of late. I had about two extra minutes on the trip to school, but each quick stop repaid me. Just having stopped to see that cardinal blazing out its song would have been enough.

I'm venturing into a new photographic frontier, too, about which I'll say more tomorrow. But here's a first glimpse. I suspect that some of you will know right away what you're looking at... I don't quite have my tools together, but once I do, things are going to get fun. They may even get, as one of my students would say, epic.

Handleless cup.

I have a tiny collection of handleless cups, and today it grew by one tiny cup. I have developed an incredible fondness for Etsy. I suspect that part of my fondness grows from its being a virtual substitute for the walks I used to take through little galleries in Cambridge, and before that through my favorite artists' cooperative in Ithaca. Today, for the first time in awhile, I found myself wanting and needing to be away--just plain away. Looking back at last year, I see that it was on this exact Thursday that I let myself just disappear, skip out on what I was meant to be doing and take off for something without anyone else. It was also right about this time that I masterminded my trip to St. Ives. It may be time to mastermind something similar now, even if it's only something else virtual.

The handleless cup thing started with a person I think about a lot even though I barely remember him: a ceramics artist my parents knew when we first moved to Indiana. He lived in the next town down the highway, the county seat, in the kind of strange vaguely run-down nineteenth-century townhome that made up that town. I could probably still take you right to its door, or to where its door once was. As far as I can figure, that ceramics artist--whom I thought of as a potter--had taken up residence in that little town because it was a good stopping place while he got ready for what he was really going to do. And we were great beneficiaries--my parents, because they had someone to talk to, another craftsperson who was from somewhere else and probably wasn't going to fit in in that weird place; and I because, though I was often bored and restless when we paid visits, I've somehow ended up with many of the pieces my parents bought from him over the years: the big bowls, the strange teapot, and the organically lopsided green and white yunomi.

It was in St. Ives, prowling around the artists' studios and the galleries and shops, that I learned they're called yunomi. I'd always just thought of that mug as my handleless teacup, the one with the improbably narrow ring as its base, the one that requires artfulness and real care in drinking.