The Dawn of 2017

 

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The sun at last has set on 2016, and I’m glad to see it go. It was a year that saw a seemingly endless cavalcade of personal, cultural, humanitarian, and political horrors. From my mother’s cancer battle, to my father-in-law’s suicide, to the protracted shit-show of the US election, and so many other individual and collective struggles, the last twelve months have been simply brutal.

www.winterwindphoto.comAnd although it is tough to summon up much optimism for the coming year, the dawn of 2017 nevertheless found me watching for the first light of a new year, having returned Camp Ellis, where I shot my Solstice vigil photos. There were other places I might have gone, but after my dispiriting Solstice dawn, I wanted to try again for a joyous sunrise, rather than the miserable one that ended the Long Night.

There are two reasons why I shoot the sunrise of January 1st every year, and they are both so vitally important to me:

The first is that shooting the sunrise is itself a profound act of hope. Against a black sky, it is difficult to know what a sunrise will look like. Even with weather radar and satellite maps, the sunrise is something of a mystery until it happens. When I am packing up my gear and loading everything into the car, I am committing to a course of action based solely on the hope that the sunrise will be worth the effort. And if there is one thing above all else that I have to hold close to my heart going into the new year, it is hope.

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The second reason is intimately linked to the first. It may not be possible to live without hope, but it is equally true that it isn’t possible to succeed without making the best of the hand that the Fates deal us. I made a commitment both to shoot the sunrise of the new year, and to share that sunrise with all of you. With that as a given, I have no choice but to make sure the results are worth being seen. That puts me under no small amount of pressure, but I need to be able to use that pressure to make myself and my art better.

In the divination system of the magical/mystery www.winterwindphoto.comtradition I belong to, we talk about the Left Hand, in which we hold close the things that we use to shield ourselves from an often harsh world, while in our Right Hand we hold that which we put out into that world. Making an effort to be mindful of what I’m holding close to heart and what I’m putting out into the world is a perspective I find particularly useful to my mental and emotional well-being.

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And so as the sun rose on the first dawn of 2017, I held hope in my left hand and hard work in my right.
I suspect that we all will need an abundance of both before the last sun sets on the coming year.

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Through the Long Night in Three Photos

Of all the celestial holidays, none resonate as strongly for me as the Long Night of the Winter Solstice. Poised at the cusp between the waning and waxing year, the Long Night is a pause in the flow of time. That moment between birth and a baby’s first breath when all things horrifying and glorious feel equally possible, when the world holds its breath, waiting for an answer to the eternal question of “what’s next?”

For several years, photographing the sunrise that ends the Long Night has been a tradition of mine. It is my way of acknowledging the return of hope and light in a dark world. This year however, I decided to incorporate my art into the fullness of my Long Night vigil.

Part I – Into the Dark

The sun is already near to kissing the horizon when I arrive at the Camp Ellis pier for the first of my three shoots of the Solstice. The night’s cold fingers are already caressing the dock when I get down to the place I’ve chosen for the first of my photos. Against an almost painfully empty sky, save for a few flaming clouds in the west, the dying sun’s warm rays fight a loosing battle with the cool blue of fast encroaching shadows.

Then, so fast one could blink and miss it, the sun is gone from the world; the Long Night has gripped my little corner of the world.

Part II – Heart of the Night

The midpoint between dusk and dawn sees me back at the pier, but this time I haven’t come alone. Despite being unwell, my husband has elected to join me for this part of my photography-vigil. Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in the deep of the Long Night, when tradition holds that we gather with friends and loved ones to shelter against the darkness.

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.@TheMarySue Casually Smears Romance: Twitter and I Respond

I am a huge romance fan, and particularly adore the work of Heidi Cullinan. This well-cited take down of The Mary Sue’s poorly thought out screed against the genre is a must-read for fans of literature, romance, or actual research.

The Amazon Iowan

Today we’ll unpack an article from The Mary Sue. “Tropes of Love: Gender Roles in Romance.” Sounds like a wonderful topic. We need more discussion of romance, and gender roles, and tropes are the best! Let’s go.

“I’ve always felt a strange fascination with romance novels. There’s no genre that the general public will associate with bad books faster than romance, with their bawdy covers and superficial plotlines. Of course, that’s an enormous generalization.”

Yes. That’s quite a generalization. It’s also disrespectful, it’s perpetuating an insulting stereotype, and it’s demeaning. Wow. Awkward start. But do go on.

In truth, romance has its good and bad books just like any other genre. Some are brilliant and some will make you feel ill. But there is something special to be said about bad romance novels: they illustrate gender roles better than any other form of media. It’s the books where the…

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Memorial Day [Picture Tells A Story]

Note: This was originally published on 5/24/14 as part of the Picture Tells A Story feature on Bilerico.com

shoots_PTAS

It’s Memorial Day weekend. In the resort town I live in, that means a return of the tourists (and their money), and the true beginning of summer, for all that it will barely break sixty degrees. But of course, Memorial Day is about much more than the local supermarket going to longer hours, or a day off for school kids and bankers.

Memorial Day was created out of “Decoration Day,” during which people cleaned up and decorated military graves, although the 1968 move from observing Memorial Day on May 30th to doing so on “the last Monday in May” in order to create a three-day weekend may have done much to undermine its traditional meaning.

Personally, I wish the day retained more of that meaning, although not because I’m a “patriot” or supporter of our country’s wide ranging and ill-defined military activities around the world these days. Rather, I wish all Americans took even one day out of their year to honor the service of people who’ve died fighting our wars, just or otherwise. And beyond that, I deeply wish there was a day when we could reflect on just what war means for all those involved.

In the words of WWII veteran Eugene Sledge:

As I looked at the stains on the coral, I recalled some of the eloquent phrases of politicians and newsmen about how “gallant” it is for a man to “shed his blood for his country,” and “to give his life’s blood as a sacrifice,” and so on. The words seemed so ridiculous. Only the flies benefited. – With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (Sledge, E.B.) p.144

We hear all the time about “drone strikes” and “death tolls” in places far from home. The horrors of September 2001 aside, it’s one year shy of a hundred of fifty years since war has been waged within the continental United States. That’s a good thing of course, but it does mean that for many of us (myself included) war happens someplace else, and generally to other people.

To give a small sense of what I mean, think about this, World War One claimed two more lives this past March. Workmen at a building site in Ypres accidentally detonated a shell that had lain in wait over ninety years before fulfilling the purpose it was designed for, long before its victims were born. For the people who live side by side with killing fields of any armed conflict, the reality of war is perhaps understandable in way that generations of Americans haven’t had to contemplate.

For all that I’m someone who loves cemeteries as a rule, it seems sometimes that the perfectly neat and tidy graves where we’ve buried our own war dead, erase the humanity and the suffering of the real flesh-and-blood people who lie within.

To quote another WWII soldier:

They lay crumpled, useless, defunct. The vital force was fled. A bullet or a mortar fragment had torn a hole in these frail vessels and the substance had leaked out. The mystery of the universe had once inhabited these lolling lumps, had given each an identity, a way of walking, perhaps a special habit of address or a way with words or a knack of putting color on canvas. They had been so different, then. Now they were nothing, heaps of nothing. Can a bullet or a mortar fragment do this?

I mean this soul–does this spill out on the ground along with the blood? No. It is somewhere, I know it. For this red-and-yellow lump I look down upon this instant was once a man, and the thing that energized him, the Word that gave “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,” the Word from a higher Word–this cannot have been obliterated by a quarter-inch of heated metal. – Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific (Leckie, Robert) p. 233

Which then at last, brings us to today’s photograph.

Honoring the dead should be about more than tidying up a grave site or having a veterans parade. Perhaps the best way to honor our war dead is to meditate for a moment on life. There’s something indefinably lovely about spring shoots reaching for the sun with determination that belies their fragile nature.

If I was to tell you that I stepped on those same small plants as I was getting up from taking the photo, leaving their stems broken and their delicate leaves bruised and torn, I imagine the image would evoke a different set of emotions than you might have felt when you first saw it.

And if we can feel protective or saddened at the loss of a few small plants in a forest none of you will ever visit, we surely must feel a far deeper sadness at the loss of human lives, and the widespread destruction that so often follows when we make war.

Stand Up, Straight Christians, It’s Time For You To Come Out Of The Closet.

I’m obviously not Christian, but I do have a horse or two in this race. For starters, I’m weary of seeing my LGBTQ siblings who *are* (or more often, *were*) Christian suffer terrible emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical abuse in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s even an obstacle sometimes as a polytheist pagan in my interactions with folks who follow Christ, as decades of being told by the Christian media that I’m a disgusting, horrible person, whose quest for equality will lead to the down fall of society – and Jesus says so, has left me with an impression that the Christian god and messiah is a hateful, vengeful being who offers hope only to those that fit into a narrow category of existence. That’s such a radical difference in perspective from that of many of the Christians that I know personally that it is hard sometimes to find common theological ground on which to have a discussion. It’s like the opposite of the (probably apocryphal) Gandhi quote: I loath the Christ that I’ve been shown, but quite like some Christians, who are as the saying goes, quite unlike their Christ.

But leaving all of that aside, I’m hoping that more LGBTQ affirming Christians will “come out” so to speak, simply because as a person of faith, I’m dead tired of being painted with their brush. I was raised in an LGBTQ affirming faith, and I belong to a *different* LGBTQ affirming faith, yet simply by virtue of being a religious gay person I’m assumed to be self-hating and/or contributing to a system of oppression, because so many LGBTQ people’s ONLY understanding of religion and faith is that to be a person of faith is to be filled with vileness and hatred towards LGBTQ people. That’s been their experience, both of their milk religion of Christianity, and of how faith is portrayed in American public life by the outspoken Christians whose faith is inseparable from both political activism and their hate of anyone who is different from themselves.

john pavlovitz

Key in Lock


“I’ve been a Christian my entire life, and I’ve never been able to ask these questions, because I feared how I’d be treated in my church. Reading your writing today gave me permission to push back, to start conversations, and to ask for better answers than I’d been given.”
– A reader

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few months that I’ve read a variation of these same exhausted, religion-weary words from people all over the world, from every denomination, every theological tradition, and every church setting.

And though the language and the story and the circumstances may change slightly from person to person, one idea has surfaced over and over and over again; a familiar melody reprised nearly every single day: permission.

Straight Christians, many of whom have spent the entirety of their faith lives unable to address the nagging, persistent, terrifying questions about the way the Church and her theology has laid waste to the LGBT…

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