Layers upon Layers

 
Aaaahhhh, Italia.

Italy seems to be coming up for me a lot lately. Just little remembrances, here and there. It’s like a soft realization that my time in Italy has been absorbed into the layers of me, of my history. No longer the most important layer, or the most fragile, raw layer. A layer that’s been safely ensconced by “before” and “after.”

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Sorrento, Italy

Maybe it’s because now — heading on 3 years later — I know there is a “Kat” after Italy. Life has continued to go on. There has been more creativity, more learning. More growth. I’ve reinvented myself again, as a new person, after Italy.

My time in Italy was about reinventing myself. Beyond the scope of my normal life it was this chance in a new place to dig deeper and find who I am at my core. I uncovered the creative, artistic part of me again. I found confidence in myself outside of my previous frames of reference.

But it was still with a frame of reference, and reliance, on Italy. I took my identity as an artist, as a photographer and writer, from the place. From the travels and adventures around Europe. So, coming back I had to reinvent myself once again, in a new context. The context of “after.”

For a while, Italy was still my frame of reference. That layer was on the surface, always to be referred to, compared to, examined against. And then, when it started to get covered up, the top layer was too fragile. I couldn’t dig down to Italy, because I would damage things on the surface. I need to let it go, and move forward.

But now… I can revisit it again. It’s like picking up a treasured object; savoring a special memory. A layer of who I am, like any other. Not one that defines me any longer, but one that enabled my definition. And a layer that, because I found I could transform, allows me to continue to transform. Because of Italy, and the return, I know I can learn and grow and forever change.

I am all layers. I am adding to myself all the time. No one layer dominates. No one layer defines. The beauty is in the strata… Layers upon layers.

Possibility in my Pocket

Three days a week I get up in the half-bright morning, slip my iPhone in my pocket, tie my hiking boots on my feet, clip the leash on the dog and head out.

Every time I get out onto the trail, as my body and brain begin to wake up, I think, I’m not going to photograph anything today. I’m just going to walk. And every time, at some point, I reach into my pocket for my iPhone to take a photograph.

You see, like a child collects stones or leaves or twigs along the path, I collect photographs. Even with no intention to do so, inevitably something comes into my awareness that needs to be collected. I need to pause and revere the scene, the moment, as I frame an image.

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Why does a child collect the stones or leaves or twigs? I’m not sure I know. Maybe because they are pretty or interesting. Or maybe because each one is different. “Look at this one, Mommy,” he says, holding out his hand. Look at this one, I say, taking a photograph.

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Each one is a marker, a reminder, a special moment to later be pulled out and cherished. Each one has the possibility to be compared, contrasted, transformed into something new. Or, as is the case most times, to be filed away, like so many child’s rocks pushed into the corner of a drawer. Coming across them later I might think, Huh, why did I collect that?

Even so, I capture them and I keep them. I can’t seem to stop. I don’t want to stop. They are my collection, the possibility that I keep in my pocket, just in case.

unWasted Effort

Whew. Made it through a crazy week at work. It was one of those weeks that felt like Friday on Wednesday. By Friday it felt like three weeks had passed, so much had happened. It’s a tiring feeling but also a good feeling. We exited the week in a radically different place than we started. We learned a lot and made progress on the problem we were working on, so it wasn’t wasted effort.

If you’re like me, wasted effort is something I like to avoid. There is nothing worse than doing a lot of work to find it’s gone no where.

And yet…

I’ve had to revise that thought in my creative world. One of the things I love about mobile photography is that I can experiment. I throw out the rules and have no goals. Or if I have a goal, I’m willing to let the goal fall by the wayside if it’s not working. Often, I come up with nothing good. Downright horrific stuff. But sometimes things comes together, and it’s magical.

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This flower is the result of a lot of experimentation. Trying to get an iPhone shot from below led to tons of thrown away files. But I got one. Even that one was a bit of a disaster, with my head partially in the frame. But it was enough to play with the processing. The end is not anywhere close to what I had in mind when I started. I saw some possibilities along the way and decided to let them flow. I love it.

So it makes me come back to this idea of wasted effort, and whether it really is something to avoid as fastidiously as I’ve always seemed to. If you learn something out of it, is any effort really wasted? Maybe in the end result, effort feels wasted when I’ve tried five different things until I finally got to something that worked. Why didn’t I start with this the first time, I might berate myself. But could I have gotten to the end result without the dead ends? Often, I think the answer is no.

The “wasted effort” is often really just learning. I have to go through it. It’s fodder for future creativity. It becomes the experience I can lean on in the future to get to a specific result, quicker.

I still think I want to be smart about where I’m putting my energy. Doing the same thing wrong the same way over and over again is probably not going to help me or anyone get very far. But if I’m not “wasting” some effort… running into some dead ends here and there… I wonder if I’m not playing it too safe. If everything is predictable, right the first time and wrapped up in a pretty bow, I’m probably not growing quite enough. That applies to my art and my engineering day job… pretty much everything in life.

As much as it pains me to say it, as much as it exhausts me to think about it after a week like this where I just want to curl up and read a good book, I know I want to be working right on that edge. I want to be pushing myself… because that’s when true creative breakthroughs and growth happen.

Photo-Heart Connection: May

 
Shelter. That’s what I see here.

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In the chilly spring mist and rain, there is shelter here. The branches reach down to encircle and protect what’s below. The soft grass cushions the ground. The magical light filters through, bathing the scene in an otherworldly glow. I can stay here and be protected.

Hello, trees, I whisper, I’ve missed you. For me, you are hard to see when you put on your leaves. But this reminds me that your strength is still there beneath the summer finery.

And in addition to strength, you now offer shelter. Perhaps I need to sit beneath you for a while, and take what you offer.


The coming of the leaves has left me without one of my favorite subjects… bare trees. Oh, I haven’t missed them terribly. I love the sunny weather and the new growth of spring, so I’ve found many new things to photograph. Just not the trees, not quite as much. So it was kind of a surprise that a hike in inclement weather turned my eye back to the trees, revealing this month’s heart connection. It is kind of a surprise to realize that shelter is exactly what I need right now, as I try to remain in the space between. Shelter from my own self, if I’m truly honest, as my Photo-Heart Connection practice enables me to be.

How about you? What’s your Photo-Heart Connection this month? Share it with us, and then visit your neighbors in the link up. The connection to each other is as important as the connection to the heart.


Photo-Heart Connection: March

It’s all lines and light.

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That’s what I see. Curved lines, straight lines. Diagonal, vertical, horizontal. How best to frame the lines? That’s the only question I have to answer.

And then there’s the light. Light highlights lines, creates shapes or forms. Soft light, hard light.

It’s all lines and light.

I can’t tell you how many times this mantra has popped into my head this month. It started in Singapore, the whisper about lines and light. And almost every time I pick up a camera to take an image since then that’s all I think, all I see. The lines and the light.

Maybe it’s because it’s been a crazy month. Away more than home. No time to stop and think, no time to breathe. Instead of deep contemplation, I experience the world. I do. I photograph.

And I boil it down to the essentials: lines and light. That’s all we really have to work with.


This is an interesting Photo-Heart Connection for me this month. I literally could have chosen almost any photograph I’ve taken, because this mantra was in my head for most of them. Getting home from our Spring Break trip to the California Redwoods yesterday afternoon, I didn’t even know how to begin approaching the Photo-Heart Connection for March. I have been working my way through piles of laundry, trying to transfer photographs, and getting ready for a very busy week following a very busy month. But this morning, I woke up with my “It’s all lines and light” mantra in my head and I knew that was it. My Photo-Heart Connection this month is about cutting it down to the essentials. In my photographs, in my life. That’s what has to happen sometimes. Sometimes there are periods of intense doing to feed the thinking that will come later. Right now I’m focused on lines and light. I’ll look back and pull the meaning out of that later, when I’m not so busy. I always do.

This month’s photograph, by the way, is from the Botanic Gardens in Singapore. From the Orchid Gardens, actually. I was more interested in the fantastic lines and light in these leaves than the unique, colorful flowers blooming everywhere.

How about you? Where have you found your Photo-Heart Connection this month? Share it with us.


What are you apologizing for?

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
— Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

If you’ve heard at all about BrenĂ© Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly, you’ve probably heard this quote. Ever since reading the book it’s been swimming around in my head. We enter the arena in so many different ways, each day. When we share our truest selves with someone else, or when we put our art into the world, we are daring greatly.

It’s easy to get hurt, when you make yourself vulnerable in some way. We protect our hearts by pre-rejecting ourselves, not stepping up to participate at times. I almost did that this weekend, for an exhibition submission that was out of my comfort zone. I took a deep breath and submitted anyway. We protect ourselves by apologizing in advance. In order to avoid the hurt of someone else criticize us, we apologize for the things we fear.

I see this all of the time in online sharing. “So sorry,” someone will write, “Just one more shot of fill-in-the-blank. I promise.” I hear that as fear. Fear of bothering other people with something we love. Maybe fear of abandonment. As if everyone will completely desert the artist for sharing just one more image of something he or she is passionate about. Apologizing gives an out. So if someone says, “Yeah, I was getting tired of seeing fill-in-the-blank,” we are armored up and ready to hear it. It confirmed our fears. That may not be why they write those words, but I identify with them, and see my own fear reflected. I see myself in them, wanting to apologize for sharing just one more image of trees, or scooters, or whatever I’m really excited about at the time.

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But here’s the deal… The passion someone has for what they do is usually what draws us to them in the first place. We resonate and reflect that passion back. It inspires us. It’s fun to see.

I don’t think we should ever apologize for sharing something we are passionate about. I think we need to take a deep breath and stand tall and say, “Here I am and this is what I love. When I share this, I am sharing part of who I am.” It’s time to dare greatly, and stop apologizing, stop pre-rejecting ourselves and stop all of the other little things we do to keep ourselves safe. If someone stomps on that, after you’ve nursed your hurt a little bit, I encourage you to look very closely at where it came from. Treat the person who stomped on you with compassion: It’s probably their own issue; their own fears talking.

So what is it you would do or share, if you wiped away your fear? What is it that makes you feel like you are daring greatly, putting yourself out there? For me, it’s submitting to an exhibition outside of my comfort zone. Or agreeing to do something that puts me in the public eye. Or maybe, just maybe, sharing a tree image for the hundredth time.

But one thing I’m not going to do anymore… I’m not going to apologize for what I love to create and share.


One of my activities this weekend was to create a gift for the folks who worked on my team on big project I talked about last week. We had an intense and stress-filled few months, right up to the deadline last Thursday, and they gave it their all. I had shared the “daring greatly” quote with them a couple of months ago, and decided to make these framed prints as a gift to give them at our celebration lunch today. I had no idea I that the art I’ve been creating these last couple of months that would look so good with a quote on them! I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. These 8x8inch frames are available in a 4-pack at Michaels and were perfect for simply finishing the prints. This is another great example of why I love to be able to print my own work.

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