Is my passion worth an hour a day?

By Neva Knott

My life has been a frazzled mess for a couple of years. Or five years, to be specific. Or the last decade since I made a huge career move not knowing the recession was coming and having not yet totally gotten back to full-time, professional employment. Or for the last twelve years since Adam died. He’s not the only one… my mom died in 2012 and left a messy house and decades worth of crap for me to deal with, and then my lover–the man I’d fallen in love with in 1984 and just recently entered a relationship with–was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2016. The glue that has been holding my life together is a toxic concoction of loss, grief, and despair.

Yet I believe in the future. I believe in positivity, and I struggle to put my belief in myself into action. In this messy timespan, I have completed two Master’s degrees, both of which I cherish. I finally got hired to teach at a college–my life-long dream. I keep adding amazing people to my life, and I have reconnected with long-lost, important friends and family members. I have learned to ask for help, I have learned a lot about my deeper, private self. There have been moments of extreme beauty in between all the big failings.

All of this is the backdrop for this hour this morning. A friend asked me yesterday, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I replied, “I don’t know… just home stuff I guess until I come to work. I keep trying to find time to write, but I don’t.” He said, “You just have to do it. Every day. One hour a day.” As an English teacher, I’ve told students that so many times. I’ve told myself that so many times. I’ve made that hour a day my practice so many times–when I feel settled, and until some next life tsunami knocks me ass over tea kettle. I told my friend that I’d read somewhere that no one made time for Wallace Stegner to write. Stegner was prolific in both fiction and non-fiction, founded the creative writing program at Stanford, taught full time for decades. And I’m sure he had his messy timespans; don’t we all?

So what do I want to write about today, in this hour?

1. I returned from Iceland on Thursday. A short trip, just four days, to celebrate my birthday. I met my aunt & two of my uncles there. We drove the southern coast, saw a varied and mesmerizing volcanic landscape–some of it barren, some of it lush. In Reykjavic, the urban forestry caught my eye. Here at home in Portland, Oregon, I volunteer for Friends of Trees, an organization that works to grow the urban tree canopy of our city. (I’ve written extensively about the science-y aspects of the program on my other blog, The Ecotone Exchange). Iceland is an un-forested country. What timber was originally there was cut for human settlement. The patterns of planting in Reykajavic are thoughtfully done. Stands or copses of a variety of species, a different pattern that the usual city streets lined with mono-species planted more for ornamentation than what trees have to offer. Along the countryside I noticed that farmers had surrounded their property with similar planting, stands of trees that can grow to accommodate lumber needs.

2. When I think of trees and air travel, and all of the natural disasters going on right now, I think of climate change. Ok, truth be told, I am constantly thinking of climate change. Not only do I think about it, I evaluate everything I do in relationship to it. Climate change is directly related to–caused by–human activity. Flying is a huge negative, and I am one who has been flying to travel my whole life. Iceland is my only plane trip this year, and I know soon I should stop flying all together.

When I travel, I practice what I call “trash-less travel,” (also the title of a post on The Ecotone Exchange). I refuse as many single-use plastic items as I can. I take a fork and spoon in my cosmetic bag, I carry a reusable drink bottle–that I used on this trip for in-flight wine, coffee, water, and tea. During my Iceland trip, I only wasted one plastic plate at the airport–I thought the food I ordered was going to come in a paper box like the display–and one plastic smoothy cup/lid/straw. Everything adds up.

3. The third thing on my mind this morning is why it is so hard to find this hour each and every day for my passion (s)–writing and photography. Simply, I get distracted. By the strong and ugly emotions that I awake to in my mess of a life, by the stress of not feeling settled, by the story I tell myself that I have to write something good and clear and meaningful, and sometimes I am distracted by sheer exhaustion. These are all bad habits, signaling that I don’t put myself or what I know to be my meaningful work as a priority in my life. I’m glad my friend gave me such a good reminder yesterday. Today, I put words and images on this page.

 

Advertisements

Zihuatanejo Fishing Boats

By Neva Knott

Easter, 2011. I traveled to Zihuatanejo to spend nine days by myself on a beach. I wanted to hear another language. I wanted to feel a different culture. I was in graduate school and bartending and burned out. I stayed at a little place called Treetops in a little palapa of a cabin. I spent most of my days on a beach chair under a palm-front umbrella, reading and napping and watching the ocean roll along.

When I travel, I like to make photos that show the essence of the place, that narrate how life is lived there. While Zihuatanejo is just down the road from Ixtapa, a major tourist resort area, and is famous as the filming location of The Shawshank Redemption, it is also a fishing village.

Trees and Trash, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

By Neva Knott

Easter, 2011. I traveled to Zihuatanejo to spend nine days by myself on a beach. I wanted to hear another language. I wanted to feel a different culture. I was in graduate school and bartending and burned out. I stayed at a little place called Treetops in a little palapa of a cabin. I spent most of my days on a beach chair under a palm-front umbrella, reading and napping and watching the ocean roll along.

Every few days while in Zihuatanejo, I walked this mile-long dirt road from my beach cabin at TreeTops to get to the highway and bus-stop to go into town. The trash dumps under every tree stood in sharp contrast to the lush beauty of the flora. As with the tide-line trash I depicted in my previous post, this problem is not unique to Mexico.

This is my first sketch of an environmental photo story.

Tide-line and Trash, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

By Neva Knott

Easter, 2011. I traveled to Zihuatanejo to spend nine days by myself on a beach. I wanted to hear another language. I wanted to feel a different culture. I was in graduate school and bartending and burned out. I stayed at a little place called Treetops in a little palapa of a cabin. I spent most of my days on a beach chair under a palm-front umbrella, reading and napping and watching the ocean roll along.

Evenings, I walked the beach. One such evening, I followed the trash trail left by the last high tide and photographed it. The next morning the beach was clean again, the trash having been dragged into the sea. This problem is problem is not unique to Mexico–I found the same along the banks of the River Lee in Ireland when I ran there evenings in the summer of 2014.

Jodi Cobb: Telling Big Stories

By Neva Knott

In May of 2013, saw National Geographic photographer, Jodi Cobb, speak. She was the first–and only–woman photographer on staff at that iconic magazine. In her 30 years there, she roamed 65 countries to, “illuminate worlds never seen,” to play a role in shaping our consciousness of people, places, and the human condition.

Cobb showed theatre-screen sized images as she spoke. As her words explained her personal journey through life via photography, the images explained her passion, her perspective, and her heart. Cobb share a childhood photograph of herself, standing alongside her brother. That particular day her brother, age 4, had asked her mother, “What can I do today that I’ve never done before?” Cobb explained that her brother’s little-boy words helped her shape her perspective in finding stories to tell with her camera.

Through her work, I was given passage into her visual stories of American cultures often ignored, into the intimate details of of a commune in the Ozarks, backstage with bands such as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, afloat on the houseboats of Swannee River dwellers, and inside Nashville’s opulent yet dying country music industry.

Then Cobb took us overseas. She explained that she looked for big stories, stories that became about ideas and that made up narratives, rather than being just pictures about places. Her new storied places included Jeruselem, Hong Kong just at the time of take-over and the end to British rule, where she road along with marine police as they monitored arrival of immigrants from Viet Nam. Cobb was the first photographer allowed into China when it opened to the world.

by Jodi Cobb

by Jodi Cobb for National Geographic

And she shared that, as she began to work for National Geographic, she began to notice women were depicted in the magazine as objects. She made it her goal to show more women doing something.

The most heart-wrenching story of Cobb’s, the one with the rudest awakening for the audience, or at least for this viewer, is that of Human Trafficking. Her images of child slaves depict a global problem that touches the lives of all of us–because of the vast amount of goods we unthinkingly or habitually consume are made by these children. Children who are forced to work inhumanely long hours in harsh conditions and toxic environments.

Continue reading

Rhythm and Fade: A Night Walk in Cork, Ireland

By Neva Knott

The Ovens Bar in Cork on a Tuesday in July. Older couples, men and women who looked like they’d worked a day in their lives, sat side by side in booths, facing into the room, backs at the wall. Each he, a full pint of dark beer, each she, a half. The booths were red and the walls dark and trimmed with heavy wood. Eyes followed us as we entered. Low words marked our presence, foreigners in a common place at day’s end.

The nine of us took a table and struck up little conversations in clusters of twos and threes. The World Cup was on the screen. Two happy Irish men tuned, violin and banjo, and made ready to play music. A third man, younger, muscular, jovial, carefully unpacked his tap dancing shoes.

My eyes on it all–the projected energy of the game, the enthusiasm of the band, the constant smile of the dancing man, the contemplation of the drinking couples, the random conversations of my company, the movement at the bar. Unwilling to drink more and unable to sit still any longer, I knew I had to take my leave.

How to explain I had to go, to walk? Not wanting to appear rude or disinterested, but as I watched the soccer players run and watched the dancer click and step, I couldn’t keep my place on that barstool. It was late evening, the best time to walk. I told my friends good-bye and left the bar.

Outside, the city was aswarm. The sky was still blue. As I walked it began to pale to grey, but a brightness remained behind buildings, and the sun still projected light above the church-tops and shop roofs. I walked along Oliver Plunkett Street to the rhythm of footsteps, the beat of young couples going to the pub, of overly made-up girls going for a drink, of tourists seeking entertainment, of shop workers going home. Buildings and shapes and languages.

Two blocks up, a man with a red electric guitar. He was an aging rock star, dressed in hippy-style motley, a man whose musical generation was fading in the same way the light dropped behind the buildings. His guitar shone, the sound amplified down the side-alley and along Plunkett Street, and his voice–mellow and strong, clear and convicted, gave to the fading light the words of a ballad, “Stairway to Heaven.”

The notes from the red guitar, the familiarity of the song, and the walking beat blended into me. I wondered, what, for me, glitters with gold?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rhythm of the city’s dusk carried me past the closed shops, past the pubs with the noise of the World Cup spilling out of each doorway, across the bus mall, and onto Washington Avenue. Half a mile down, the avenue began to parallel the River Lee. I could see the day’s end reflected on the cool glass of the water.

The street was quieter now, though still populated. Shapes and textures of the city took my eye–the glass-scapes of modern hotels layered upon stone-built old churches. The Records and Relics shop with its mannequins in a shoot ’em up western motif. The quick-mart, still open for snacks and liquor, the forgotten milk, cigarettes, a sandwich. Row houses with iron gates, mild-mannered graffiti on cement garden walls, the flora of the college grounds. The ever-present, soft-flowing River Lee.

I felt alive and part of it all; I was walking.