Is it Kitsch or a Catch?

As a pseudo-artist myself, surrounded by a community of artists, I have traditionally found kitsch rather hard to stomach. Especially in large doses. However, yesterday, as I spent the afternoon perusing the many, MANY booths at the Canton Flea Market, I felt a certain solidarity with the community of craftsmen there and the simple, unassuming humanity that was exhibited in even the lowliest of their wares.

Sometimes it was the most ridiculous, the most kitschy of all the displays that made me stop and smile. That brought to mind images of country farmhouses and family gatherings. They were, perhaps, not as justifiably artistic as “real” art, but they were homey and comfortable, silly and nostalgic.

Maybe I am losing my standards in my old age, but I had more fun photographing these amazing examples of Americana surrounded by funnel cake trucks and snow cone stands, than I would have had in a stuffy gallery quietly making judgements about the authenticity of an abstract modern work (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

There was also something amazing about seeing an entire community come together to create something so immense. Every street anywhere near the downtown square was lined with booths and booths of craftsmen selling their wares. Proud of their merchandise because it stood apart from all the Made-in-China, Big-Box stuff we buy everyday and fill our houses with.

Customers and vendors alike partook in the frenzy of people eager to find something to give during the holidays that was not like everything else they already have. Something unique and hand-made. And kitsch or no, it was lovely.

And what did I bring home from this festival of craftsmanship, you may ask? I found three little gems that made me very happy:

Hand-made wooden toys! (And yes, I did buy my 2 1/2-year-old son a gun, and he LOVES it!)

A vegetable peeler hand-made in Switzerland, that I succumbed to buy after a very good salesman gave me a demonstration ;)

And a very long string of freshwater pearls that I could not resist at their $10 price tag.

And on the long walk back to my car, I couldn’t help but take this photo which demonstrated the intense southern-ness of the town in which the market took place. I don’t even know what chitterlings are, but I’m kind of afraid to ask.

Bon appetite and happy shopping!

Technological Sabbath

I have been seriously considering, as of late, implementing a regular technological sabbath for myself. A day of rest from the myriad of devices that connect us to everything under the sun. From what’s important to what’s completely irrelevant. From the beautiful to the terrible – the heroic to the mundane. We, more than any previous generation, have the world at our fingertips with all of its woes and inspirations, and the weight of it is immense. The burden of knowledge is great and the guilt of inability, although unjustified, can be just as great. We have computers in our pockets that can show us real-time video footage of the most recent natural disaster, civil war, or peace rally. They can look up, at our first thought of curiosity, the answer to any question, and yet we still feel confused. And even with such powerful tools always at our disposal to advance knowledge and personal development, we spend a huge portion of our time using them for frivolous and meaningless tasks like surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Angry Birds, or browsing Facebook to keep up with our “friends.” If ever we find ourselves with a spare moment of quiet or stillness, out come the phones. Walk around in a public place and notice how many people around you are staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. It’s value is immeasurable and it is shaping the world today in ways many never dreamed possible. I just worry that we are attaining its prize at a rather high price. The loss of quiet contemplation and meditation. The inability to experience stillness without trying to fill it. The physical and mental release of curling up in a big chair with an actual book or crochet hook or guitar. Embarking on projects with our families that involve rakes and shovels or paints and brushes instead of remotes and ear buds. Hiking or biking without music or podcasts and simply our own thoughts to keep us company. But, as I contemplate all of this, the devil on my shoulder says, “Yes, those things are all very whimsical and beautiful, but every week? For a whole day? I don’t know. What if someone needs to get a hold of me? What if I need directions somewhere? What if . . . the world stops if I don’t pick up my phone or laptop multiple times a day?!?” My fear wreaks of addiction. There are so many ways to fill a day without the need for buttons. And I really believe I’d be happier if I set one day aside to shut down, breathe, and . . . reboot.

What do you think? Can it be done? Would you do it?

Dear Photograph

I recently discovered a blog so stunning in its representation of humanity, so beautiful in its display of memories, and so poignant in its confrontation of the past, that I decided to feature it here. Its idea aligns so well with that of nostalgia and not waiting until tomorrow to appreciate today. The blog is called Dear Photograph, and it’s concept is to “take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.”

Dear Photograph, At the time it was not common for a man to walk behind a pram. I’m still proud of my father. ~Eva Willemier Westra

People contribute photos from all over the world and each contribution is sent with a caption that is a message to the photo’s subjects or a commentary about the time period in which it was taken. The creator of Dear Photograph, 21-year-old Taylor Jones from Ontario, came up with the concept while sifting through some old snap shots of his own. He spontaneously took a picture of one of the photos he found which was taken in the very spot where he sat. And the idea was born. The project is so remarkable because it inspires people to not only revisit old memories, but to physically revisit the location of those memories, forcing them to travel to the past to confront it or embrace it, whichever the case may be. It puts the past in the context of the present and acknowledges what is gone and what has taken its place.

Dear Photograph, It’s nice to know that we loved each other once upon a time. ~Sam

If you spend even a few minutes at this site, you will be struck with an overwhelming desire to call your parents or send a letter to your grandpa. It is painfully obvious why it’s popularity skyrocketed to 1.2 million visitors within 3 weeks of its creation. It is breathtaking. Hope you are as mesmerized by it as I am.

Dear Photograph, For one brief moment, this murky little duck pond became the most beautiful place on earth. ~Greg

Never Alone

I had a remarkable “ah-ha” moment yesterday. One that perhaps should have been obvious before then, but in the silly simplicity of the moment in which I had it, it finally sunk in. I am not, nor will I likely ever be alone. I am SO lucky.

I was having an emotional afternoon (which I will blame on pregnancy hormones even though they probably had nothing to do with it) and feeling rather isolated. My list of friends has been dwindling over the last couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this – Hello! We are not in college anymore; lives change; people grow apart; kids enter the equation – restricting time, energy, and emotions; jobs; hobbies; busy . . . busy . . . busy. I do not pretend to be faultless in my predicament, but never-the-less, I am bothered by it sometimes. Particularly at times when my husband, who is my best friend, has to stay at work till 9 or 10 at night and 90% of my conversations over the last few days have been with a toddler whose biggest concern in life is that he HAS to eat broccoli. Enter yesterday’s “ah-ha” moment:

Not wanting to be stuck at the house all afternoon, I loaded up my son and headed to the outdoor mall where my hubby works to window shop, let Aiden see his daddy before bed, and pick up some food. This is a common past time of ours, satisfying Mommy’s need to shop, Aiden’s need to run around outside, and both of our needs to see Jonathan. However, yesterday I decided to break with tradition and actually go in some of the stores – dangerous territory for someone so broke, I know. But enter I did, with toddler in tow. We went into Ann Taylor, J. Crew, and White House, Black Market. And then, since it was only fair, and since he had been so patient with his silly, clothes-shopping mama, I took Aiden into a sports apparel store called Sand Dollar Lifestyles, that I thought he would enjoy a lot more than what we had been browsing. Inside, there was very little that peaked my interest, but Aiden saw something that completely rocked his world. He didn’t know what category to put them in. Shoes with TOES in them, like gloves!

He kept saying, over and over again, “What’s THAT?” I would tell him and he’d ask again. I figured the best way to satisfy his curiosity was to show him. So we sat down on the bench, measured our feet with the funny rubber foot measurers, and tried on some toe shoes. He stood on the floor giggling hysterically as he pointed at my feet, “Wook, mama!” I would laugh right back at him and tell him to look at his own silly feet. And then it happened. I looked at him as we both sat on the bench trying on shoes, and I realized – I liked hanging out with my son! As a person, an individual. He is now old enough to be a companion and a friend and we have fun together. No longer just a bundle of need, he gives back. Granted, he still takes a lot more than he gives, but he gives! The moment I had this realization, I spoke it out loud to him. “I really like spending time with you, Aiden.” And he replied, “I like you too, Mama!” And I was not alone. I may not be able to have deep philosophical discussions with him (yet), or rousing debates about politics and religion, or toss around ideas about parenting and hobbies, but we can have fun. We can inspire one another to be happy. And that is what’s important. Yes indeed, I am very lucky.

A Fear of Change

I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?

When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.