My friend Jen and I were at the playground last week on one of those perfect spring-in-the-city nights – the kind where you head home way past dinner time and don’t care. We sat on the bench watching our kids playing and joked about the pressure to be in the moment and the reality of thinking of the milk you have to buy, the work you have to do, the knowledge and fear that you will get these kids home too late and they won’t comply with your requests (demands?) for teeth brushing.
So each of us jokingly admonished ourselves. She, about her son: “He’s dribbling, I need to watch him, don’t miss his dribble. Be in the moment!” And me, about my older daughter: “I’m in the moment! She’s on the monkey bars! I’m not missing it. I’m watching!” We laughed and agreed that we didn’t need another thing on our list to feel guilty about if it wasn’t getting done. Being in the moment should come naturally – not some forced exercise (which is one reason why many of my friends and I loved Glennon Melton’s “Don’t Carpe Diem” piece on The Huffington Post last year).
Still, there are times I have to force myself to stop reading texts when I’m playing with my kids (sad but true). This is when banishing the phone to another room helps. Those are also times I think being a mom circa 1977 was in some ways easier: sure, you were surrounded by people wearing bell bottoms in ghastly autumn colors and synthetic fabrics, but there weren’t so many distractions to contend with (or so it seems to this new millennium mom).
And all of this “be present” stuff isn’t just about parenting. Every aspect of our life seems to call for hyper focus on an almost meditative level. Not a day goes by where I don’t receive some email missive or scroll past a Facebook post reminding me to relish every second (hey, I may even be guilty of sending or posting some myself).
But there’s also some utility and pleasure to being taken out of your moment, which brings me to why I haven’t posted in a month, what I’ve been doing and how I had an Oprah-esque Aha! moment right before my final presentation in my photography class on Tuesday (yes, this seems like a barrel of tangents but stick with me – this will come together in about a paragraph or so).
I hadn’t taken a photo class in about eight years or so – the last one I took was with Harvey Stein at the International Center of Photography - and I’ve been really wanting to take Finding Your Voice as a Photographer, a course I had seen listed over the years in the ICP Continuing Education catalogue. I’ve also been wanting to take a class with Karen Marshall, a photographer who was highly recommended to me by another photographer about 10 years ago. And as luck would have it, this spring Marshall taught the class at ICP, I signed up for the 10-week course and LOVED every minute of it.
It was amazing learning more about myself as a photographer, what others see in my photos and also about visual literacy in general. I loved that we shared our work weekly, critiqued each other, gave suggestions and all saw our own work and each other’s in new ways. (I cannot recommend this class enough!).
Before my final presentation on Tuesday, I was all set to present my work, photos my classmates had seen throughout the 10 weeks but now my photos would be larger and deliberately sequenced. I would be taking the viewers on a journey through a narrative that I shaped and hoped they would connect to it. I thought about the themes that I had explored throughout the second half of the course, when most of us were expected (or were hoping) to have a more cohesive vision of what our work was about. For me it was suspended time, the moments between the moments and the wonders of the every day.
But at the very last moment, as I was putting the photos away and heading out the door to class, I realized that my photos – to me at least – were also about something else. They were about being taken out of your moment and into someone else’s. And yes, I guess you could say that’s just semantics – couldn’t it just as easily be considered being in your own moment, one that includes the very element outside of yourself that you become absorbed in? But for me all the photos I presented were things that either visually, emotionally or in some other way took me out of my moment and made me want to take a picture. So these were all “distractions” that gave photography purpose on that day, in that fractured second.
Tuesday also happened to be the second anniversary of my mother passing away. I went to my class that day, I took a yoga glass and I had drinks with a few very dear friends. I spent part of the day very sad that I don’t have my mom anymore, that I am two years away from the life I did have with her. But I also really enjoyed my last photography class, my hour of yoga and my glass of wine with friends. I allowed these things to pull me out of sadness and I don’t think I honored my mom any less by doing so. I think of her every day and spending the whole day steeped in grief and loss doesn’t bring her back and certainly doesn’t make me feel any better. So I cried when I felt like it and laughed when I felt like it. It was what it was.
Similarly, I don’t think I honor my kids any less or cheat them out of anything when I’m texting a friend finalizing our dinner plans while they’re on the swing or am thinking about a future blog post while we’re playing Monopoly. Taken to an extreme, yes, I don’t want to always be preoccupied with other things and not enjoy my children. But I don’t think we need to be so evangelical about being present. Sometimes we want to be anchored in a moment and other times we want to be pulled out (whether we realize it or not). It all depends on what you need….in that moment.