Late spring, before the summer vacationers, when the sun warms the sand and skin just enough to barefoot walk the beach at near sunset. I’d say it’s my favorite time of year, but if you’ve read any of my posts over the years, you know how fickle I am. Every season, when I’m in it, is my favorite on Lake Michigan.
The giant, blooming lilac bush between our cottage and the neighbor’s is humming with life, bumblebees loud as tiny drones busy collecting pollen, honey bees, too, and yesterday an early monarch. Oh how I love the sounds and the smells coming from this bush! I could watch this microcosm all day.
Right now there are wildfires in Canada, and so the sunrises and sunsets create an odd haze, orange creamsicle orb rising behind the cottage and fading into the haze well before it reaches the horizon over the lake. Even the sliver, waxing moon and Venus are a soft, hazy orange.
The beach was quiet last night as we walked until we heard—well before we saw—this low-flying flock heading north over the lake. We stopped to watch and listen, falling quiet to fully take in the language of the geese. Are they shouting directions at each other? Comments, like in a group of cyclists where leaders point out road scrabble, bumps, holes? Is it encouragement, I wonder?
And then it was quiet again.
I finished a roll of film after work yesterday, something I think I’ve only done twice in the past several years, using busyness and lack of inspiration as excuses. I brought cameras with me, too; I have a dozen or more rolls of film just humming with potential. The world is heavy and beautiful, but hasn’t it always been heavy and beautiful? Isn’t there a defiance in celebrating the beauty in the midst of the heaviness? I might try that on for a bit.
Does anyone else feel like this right now? I feel so itchy. I want a change of some sort. I’m at the start of a new term, and classwork isn’t heavy yet. It’s spring—a weird in-between that currently is bringing greenery but not enough sun and warmth. It’s raining and grey, and I want to be outside. Work is busy, of course, but not hectic. Is it weird that I kind of like hectic? I love a long to-do list, even when I can’t tick everything off. Maybe especially when I can’t tick everything off.
I’m trying to be more mindful of money and stuff, what I do and don’t do with those things, how I respond to stressors by using those things. Wanting change makes me want to buy something to make it all feel better. “I need a new set of paints!” I tell myself, when the paints I have are sitting on my non-work desk, waiting for me to use them. “That handmade paper will make my painting so much better!” my brain shouts, when I’ve got a box of paper waiting to be used. “I need a new book!” when I’ve already got multiple books in progress. Oh, and I start perusing the internet for cameras that I don’t need (I’m barely using the ones I have). Art supplies. Online classes. A new hobby. Clothes. A haircut.
I don’t love that I look to outside sources to fill these holes, but I do, and I don’t think I’m alone. I think it stems from my youth, when money was so tight and those little extras were rare (but always celebrated and appreciated). I sometimes feel like I deserve them now, these little treats. But amassing more stuff while not using what I have? That’s not what I want. I used to marvel at people who said they felt bored. But, here I am, bored with my very existence and wanting change.
Last summer, in a small burst of creativity, I used a bunch of Cokin filters with a roll of color film, mostly taking photos on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Bold color filters and a super-speed filter (a chunky prism-looking thing that distorts half the frame, evoking movement). I love the muted colors in this image and the bright line created by the sun.
What I can do, I think, to appease this itch and make use of this weird energy:
Read the books I have
Make art with the supplies I have (I do not need more!)
Unsubscribe from emails to retailers that keep offering discounts on things I don’t need (I can always resubscribe later)
Use the cameras and film I have (and experiment more with the filters I have, because… fun)
Write a list every day and put the little, non-work things on it (make one postcard, read one poem or chapter, do this one self-care thing, etc.)
Declutter and offer things I’m not using to others who want or need them
Explore this feeling in writing (hello, ignored blog)
Cook more (and no, I don’t need any new pans or baking dishes or serving bowls thankyouverymuch)
These things sound fair, and doable, and smart if I do say so myself. And, since I drafted this post early yesterday, I even took a lunchtime paint break and made myself bookmarks for my class reading. I also used my favorite dutch oven, a pretty green Staub, to cook dinner—a one-pot cheesy lemon-ricotta pasta dish my daughter turned me on to.
So, do you feel like this right now, too? Are you exploring or ignoring that feeling? What are you doing to work with it?
I’ve mostly ignored the news about AI, even though I shouldn’t, but I just wanted to continue living in my little world of thinking that writing is produced by actual humans who experience something, or research something, or read other writers and then formulate thoughts and ideas and put those thoughts and ideas to paper or their tech of choice for someone else to read and have their own thoughts and ideas on.
I know it’s silly. There have been ways to get writing done without actually doing the writing well before AI came about.
But I make a living with words. My livelihood depends on brilliant but imperfect (human) writers, because everybody needs an editor, no matter how brilliant a writer they are. Even brilliant writers make mistakes, which editors are in the business of catching before a reader is any the wiser. (I’ve already written, rewritten, and edited this post multiple times, and I bet it’ll still end up with a typo or a word missing somewhere—there’s another truth about editing: it’s hard to edit your own writing.)
We are talking about AI at work. Writing things for our clients about AI and use of it in the workplace. I finally pushed past my (annoyance? disdain? unease?) about AI and got curious enough to create a ChatGPT account yesterday. Nervously, I typed in a prompt for a class assignment—one I’d already submitted, written with my own words and ideas—and watched as a short essay with five bullet points and an opening and closing paragraph appeared in less than 15 seconds. There were no typos or nonsensical text. It wasn’t horrible. The ideas and writing flowed okay. But it was dry, boring, and didn’t sound a bit like me.
I went about my work day and bugged a coworker, a writer who is more open to AI than me has already delved into it, to complain about my findings. I texted a friend and we wondered how teachers would have the bandwidth to weed out the AI from original work. I envisioned professors and teachers everywhere shaking fists skyward while reading boring AI-produced student submissions.
After work, I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about middle aged women and feeling invisible. It gave me some decent points, something I might use as a start for an article about, you know, the reality of being a middle aged woman in America. But again, a regular snooze fest, dull and dry, formulaic, not blog-like at all. (Still no typos, much to my chagrin.)
And then I asked for a poem about Lake Michigan. I’m pretty sure no poets are going out of work due to stanzas like this:
The beauty of your shoreline, Is like a work of art, A canvas painted by nature, That touches every heart.
(AI-generated stanza of a poem about Lake Michigan)
Boring essays, blog posts, and poems aside, what are the ramifications here? Not everyone is a writer, and an AI generated response to a prompt might help someone with ideas or flow for their own work or assignment. In that respect, it’s just another tool in a writer’s toolbox, right? Conversely, if a writer doesn’t add something to their AI-generated work and passes it off as their own, what then? Potential for plagiarism? Dishonesty, at the very least.
There’s already a surfeit (oh I love that word) of content on the internet. Are we going to drown in even more of it, but with less soul and feeling and earnestness? Are we going to stop learning how to write essays, or poems, or articles, or verse, or plays, because all we have to do is type a prompt like “write a one-act play about menopause” and boom, we have a one-act play called “Hot Flashes and Cold Comfort” featuring Linda, a middle-aged woman going through menopause, and Dave, her husband, where one of Dave’s lines is “I know it’s tough, but you’re not alone. Lots of women go through menopause.” Dave, you asshole.
Like I said, I have somewhat buried my head in the sand about this issue, because my hope is that everyone enjoys writing the way I do. I’m certain I’ll only use AI for my own amusement, if I even use it at all. I don’t think AI will be replacing any of the writers I work with, either. And if I ever do end up editing AI-generated copy, I imagine my editing work will shift to adding life and feeling, a human and perhaps flawed tone. I’ll sure miss the typos, though.
I have struggled, like many, for many different reasons, over the last several years. It’s been hard to be creative, hard to assert my voice, hard to do the things beyond what I’m responsible for. This is a weird age, folks. This mid-50s.
I’m still a worker, and will be for a long time. I’ve gone back to school. I’m not a grandparent. My kids don’t need me in the way that young kids do (they’re in their late 20s). I’m trying to reconnect with people I’ve quietly but not purposely disconnected from. I think I closed in on myself for a bit, and I hope they’ll have me again. I hope the world will have me again, or at least let me tiptoe around it a bit, gain my footing.
My late 40s were a burst of freedom and creativity. And by burst I mean small burst, as I’m not a go-big-or-go-home kind of person anyway. I traveled a little, I read more, I wrote some, I made some art just for me, I fell in love with film photography.
But the political climate, the state of world affairs, the heaviness of human life, all of these things have converged and I’ve muted myself. What does my voice matter? What could I possibly create that has worth in times of what feels like such human suffering?
I am extraordinarily sensitive. I was ridiculed for my sensitivity when I was young. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to “overcome” being sensitive—I now know the folly in that. But what I do know how to do in times of difficulty is work, and that’s what I’ve done. Is it partly avoidance? Sure. Self preservation? That, too. Me busy is me not overwhelming myself with the sadness of the world. But, that ignores the parts that are still beautiful; the tiny fact that there is a woodpecker who is insistent upon interrupting my afternoons by knocking at my roof, gutters, and windows. That in my backyard the lilac bush is greening and will soon flower. That I can now walk the Lake Michigan shoreline for miles after the high water devastation of just a few years ago. That there is still meaning, that people are still doing meaningful things. Life in the crazy and unknowable world keeps going on. Us sensitive folks have to find new ways to live within the change and weirdness and uncertainty.
I have to find ways to reconcile my need to know what’s around the corner. I have to approach new things with curiosity, rather than control. I remember when I was open to new experiences, and I have to do that again. I really will try.
While I’m trying, I am giving myself little projects. Art postcards are so doable, fun. I persuaded a friend to join me in a call and response art project, which was exciting and delightful and just enough of a push to get my creative juices flowing again.
Summer feels like the time to be more creative, to me, anyway, and it’s just around the corner. Maybe it’s the longer days and the color and the warmth of the sun on my skin, just the lifting of darkness. I don’t know. But I’ve got to shake off the malaise and find joy and beauty where it exists, create for the joy of creating, and not get mired in worry that my voice is not worthy, or useful. Maybe it’s someone else’s spark to creativity or call to action?
I still have this blog, and while I don’t really know where it’s heading, I’m going to try to pay it some attention. Just for me, maybe. Or you, if you’re still reading.
I’m smitten with this piece of architecture, this battered seawall. I’ve photographed it in all seasons. I love its jagged shapes and protruding planks, the way the incoming rush of a wave moves around or through it.
A few years ago it was in several feet of water. It didn’t have a chance then. The lake was gaining on its borders and there’s no stopping that. Nature says when she’ll give a reprieve, and she wasn’t in the mood to bargain.
As Lake Michigan continues to lower and the shoreline does its normal shifting and scalloping, this seawall is battered less and less. Someday soon, I hope, it’ll be mostly covered by sand, but I’ll keep photographing it until then.
I’m also still attempting to use up a shoebox full of film, much of it expired and of dubious quality. This was a lone roll of Lomography color 100, and I couldn’t tell you when I bought it. Maybe for that Iceland trip in 2018? It’s been carried around, left in hot places, and generally not treated well. The colors on this roll look a little blown out, but that’s okay. I like the pale hues here.
This week there was an unexpected funeral. An unexpected loss for a family that was, for a formative time in my youth, intertwined with my own family. We shared between us music, creativity, food, vacations on the lake, so very much laughter.
She was one of my mother’s dearest friends, and if there is an afterlife, I know they’ve already found each other and are causing trouble. They are drinking wine, gossiping, and possibly cheating at pinochle. Even if there isn’t an afterlife, the thought of them together again makes me undeniably glad, and so I hold onto that. Her husband of some 50+ years, her children and grandchildren, now have the work of learning to carry on without her.
The flurry of death and the activity of a funeral or service of some sort is only ever the start. A distraction for a time. Just after that, your world begins to turn again, but you still don’t quite understand how that’s happening after such a seismic shift. We are resilient and time does soften, but the now is painful.
I read something this morning, though I can’t find it again. An article where the author wrote of loss and grieving and that one does not go through “a period of grieving” and then one day they’re done. The loss remains, the grieving is fluid and changing—the person is changed. I don’t think we do grief and loss very well, our modern society. We experience it and shouldn’t expect to carry on as we were before. How could we?
This is to say that my heart hurts for these people I have known for decades, and while I have the benefit of time softening the edges of the loss of my own mother, it was tough to say goodbye this week to a woman who was like a mother to me, and for whom I didn’t do enough to show my appreciation. And so feelings and memories of my mother also flooded me today. I don’t find myself in that space too often now, of digging in to that loss, but I know enough to be in peace with whatever percolates. Thinking of my mother is like visiting her where she is, somewhere in the ether, in some non-physical realm that is like a constant, too-bright summer.
I sometimes dream about her, and in my dreams she’s breathless, excited, so happy! She has just come in from some adventure (she always wanted to travel, but didn’t really get to) and she asks me rapid fire questions about how I’m doing, my kids, what am I up to, what I’ve seen, what I’m creating. She doesn’t look a day over 40. Her smile is, as always, infectious. I answer all her questions but she won’t answer mine, only wants to hear about me. I know the time will be fleeting so I hold her tighter, try to make her stay longer, but it never works. She’s off to her next adventure and I wake up with a lingering emptiness, but a warmth. I got to see my mom.
So I’m thankful for the remembering, and sharing in the vulnerability of loss with this family. I hope their softening comes quick, although I know she was an awfully bright light, and those take longer to dim.
In August, my cousins came from Pittsburgh to spend two weeks at the cottage nextdoor. It was an upended month already, as I had my dad at the cottage with me and also his cat, who was living out her last moments (she is now in the valley behind the cottage with the other beloved pets that went before her). But I managed to take a few days off while my cousins were here and we had plenty of communing, stories, wine, tequila, and excellent dinners together.
In any case, they bestowed upon me a load of darkroom equipment, for which I’m extremely grateful. Trays, a clock (I love those darkroom clocks), an enlarger, books, more. I haven’t unpacked it all, and I’m still not sure if I’ll build an actual darkroom in the basement or just cover light sources and take over the bathroom every now and then. Now, all I really need is chemicals, time, patience, and the guts to do this.
I’ve spent time in a school darkroom, but I still find the process daunting. Exhilarating, but daunting. It’s easy to make mistakes, and then a roll you may have lovingly shot, or that you have big plans for, just fizzles. That thing that you witnessed that just won’t happen again, that you feel so lucky to have caught on film–you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that your favorite old camera malfunctioned, or that the film wasn’t loaded right or stored correctly, or that you’ll totally just open the lid of the tank in the middle of the developing process (yep, I’ve done this) or something equally foolish, and you’ll have nothing to show for it.
I’m being dramatic, though. It’s just film. It’s just pictures. It’s all a learning process. I should chill out. I can do that, I think.
Yesterday, late afternoon, we left the toasty cottage to hike in the woods behind us. It was only meant to be a short hike, to have a look at the little lake that’s tucked into the trees back there. The woods would offer some protection from the wind that was picking up. When I was little, there was a trail that went all the way around that lake and I knew it like I knew my own image in the mirror. The spots where the trail kisses the edge of the lake, the clearing where local boy scout troops were allowed to camp, the marshy places where you needed to step carefully, the places where locals sometimes fished. The lake was filled with tiny frogs and fish and lily pads, and water skaters carved patterns on its surface. It was magical.
The land went through some ownership changes over the years, including a spell of logging and another spell of an owner who didn’t want anyone in there, so our access became limited. Now, though, a good part of it is owned by a conservancy, and I’m rediscovering it.
After we hiked the ridge that separates the dune from the woods, we made our way down to the water’s edge for our favorite view of the lake. On this occasion, we got to see three eagles soaring and dipping over the lake and into and out of the woods on the opposite end. Luckily, eagles are no longer a rare site here, but it’s never not breathtaking to see one (or three). So we watched for a while before moving on.
After that, we hiked off-trail toward the far end of the lake, noticing that it was getting darker and darker. And then the rain came, and with it a fierce wind that reminded us that the woods isn’t the smartest place to be, with old trees swaying and cracking, so we quickened our pace.
Once back up on the ridge, we could see how wild the weather had become. The wind pushed the remaining leaves from the trees up into the sky, where they danced and pitched and soared like the eagles we’d watched 30 minutes prior. But the sky was filled with them, like a murmur of starlings.
We pushed into the wind as we took our final steps back to the cottage, getting pelted by rain and sand and those soaring leaves, all to the deafening din of a now-roaring Lake Michigan.
The dune grasses on Lake Michigan go to seed in the fall. One variety shoots a tall wispy stalk of delicate seeds several feet above the grasses; another produces these thicker stalks, which are soft and sturdy and remind me a bit of a cat tail (but not the plant called cattail, or bullrush–I mean an actual cat’s tail). The grasses turn from a verdant green in summer to a rather striking golden straw color in the winter.
In the spring, the green shoots of new grasses poke their way up through the golden carpet. This carpet of old and new grasses just layers on top of itself, helping to stabilize the dune. It’s miraculous, I think.
I took this photo last winter on a short hike across the dune near the Little Sable Point Lighthouse with my Minolta SRT-102.