Thursday, August 30, 2018

Photography, Seeing and Connecting

The commentary on the value of creativity has grown louder and increased in the number of variation
on the litany in recent years, but the familiar challenges that creativity presents have not fallen away.

The anxieties about creative processes will remain and they will menace you with the threat of a mythic hydra. Fear, risk, the dynamics of the ego still guard the transition from work, chores and the everyday into creative processes. Procrastination becomes a familiar companion as one tries to get an atrophied creative muscle into shape, but cannot find the proverbial gym or routine to exercise or even identify where or what your creativity actually is.

As the public commentary about creativity and its importance increases in volume, variety and intensity, the recognition grows that it is good, that it has benefits. You might be willing to acknowledge that creativity is like doing the stairs instead of elevators. There may be the familiar inhibition and frustration the occurs when presented with self-improvement, self-help or a dream. You know what to do, know some of the benefits and at the end of the day merely nod to yourself that you know these things. Still, there is reluctance to do it. Worse yet, you may find a certain inner dialogue taking a familiar tone that leaves you in a rut and that may perpetuate a certain dialogue about the willingness to follow through on something, or start.

The ambition of creative expression is daunting. Apart from developing the belief that technical aptitude is required and that it has to be something we are born with, the other myth that may lock up creativity is the sense that it needs to be about something. Songs, movies, poems, painting, movies, books and blog posts all have this stated expectation that they have to be about something. A Statement is to be made. Once you start to work on something there is that expectation that it have a theme and have this impact on other people and communicate with a certain profundity.

No, no, no. Not your first time out. If you wish to pick up the paint brush, pen, or guitar, that expectation looms in the background.

You could probably doodle without the expectation of about. Or is that "ABOUT?"

The camera, be it a refined DSLR or the one in your smart phone, is another mode of creativity that is not going to impose the word "about" on you. There will be no expectation that you connect with a theme or make a statement about the world. Not that the ambition of a theme is ruled out for photographers. However, when you pick up the camera you are simply doing so to take a picture of something. If there is a statement to be made it may occur only out of happenstance or as a happy consequence or accident from a connection between the photographer and the subject.

No single picture has the burden of having to be about something. If it is about anything perhaps it is about, as I said, the connection, or just as importantly, the moment. Of all the things that you could be looking at in that given moment, and for all the times that you have walked through your day inattentive to your surroundings, this was a moment when you saw and connected.

While high stakes loom and weigh upon you with other creative pursuits in music, writing, acting, and other areas, that is less of a case with photography. The changes that have taken place in photographic technology have allowed more people to pursue it and its spontaneity is such that there is almost no time commitment to taking a single image these days. At the same time, the equipment is not that necessary and there is still the risk of fetishizing the gear a bit too much, especially when it is so ubiquitous that anything can be photographed at any given moment. The moment taken, however, to stop and see something and connect with it, whether merely with the eyes or with a camera, is one that can reward you immensely at a very low risk to you.

Without the pressure of having to take a photo about something and the opportunity to see and communicate something that nobody else sees or is able to see in a given moment of your day, creating with the camera is something that poses very low stakes and has the opportunity to offer immense rewards. There will be the occasional pang of fear or risk when making a breakthrough with the camera, but those will be worth it.

For these reasons, the camera is probably one of the most inviting paths to exercising your creative muscles and having those first tentative jostles with the fear and risk that stand between you and creativity. And if you want to wrestle with the question of what a photograph can be about, it is about you.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Having Gone For It

     Is drowsy an emotion?
     Okay, it is just a state, but it is profound and extends to muscle and toes at the moment. They are sore after the marathon but they want to sleep too. Dearly. 
     Given the opportunity to visit the flat course that qualified me for Boston a year ago, I was curious about how I would feel as the morning started. There has probably been a bit of a let down over the last year after qualifying for Boston, but there has only been a slight drop in my training mileage compared to the amount I had put in last year. I've been more meditatively in my training runs for a very long time and there has been a lingering doubt over the last year that there has not been enough of a push in training to get me as race ready as I was a year ago. Still, I wasn't sure how race ready I was then either.
     I am, however, able to say that my fitness seems to be holding despite the lack of intensity in training lately and perhaps the tactical errors today. It being my second marathon of the year and likely the occasion to shut it down for a pretty long time, it wasn't long before I decided to go for broke. After 10K of comfort at a pace that was on par with the time I needed to qualify, I pushed through at the pace I set, conscious of my questions about fitness and a lingering tweak in my left ankle or achilles that, today, kept itself to a whisper.
   Today, however, was not as emotional as the race last year that qualified me for Boston or running the 122nd iteration in April's tempests. It may have been a matter of not lingering long in the starters' area this morning - a mere 10 minutes today, compared to the usual hour or so I usually put in. It may be a matter of the stakes being a little lower for each of the marathons I've run in the last 12 months. One thing that was significant in my recollection of the Edmonton marathon last year was that I was not connecting today with other runners the way I do when a race is going well. There were familiar faces throughout the race but connections did not form for one reason or another.
    In the back of my mind there, is still a desire to run Boston under different conditions from what I encountered this year, but bucket list items usually don't have parenthetical updates. I still went for it and for the better part of the race my mantra for the morning nudged me along whenever I seemed to be flagging.
   The legs, however, surrendered their drive a little earlier than I needed. My stretch from the half mark to the 30K mark was my fastest of the morning and, as I told myself last year at that point, I had one hour to go. Just ease in 12K at a 5-minute pace. I pretty much nailed that last year, running those last 12(.2!)K in 1:00:57. Today it took 1:12 as the legs gave their walking orders (worst pun ever?)         Part of it was tactical today, part of it was also the lack of the long runs through the summer to prep me for the kick needed to get through that last 1/4 of the race.
   For the soreness and the resignation that a break awaits to heal, work on other aspects of my fitness it is comforting to know that, on a day when things were less than ideal, I have managed to run faster than I did 2 years ago.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Twelfth First Marathon

Decisions... decisions...
     I'm 36 hours away from my next marathon and, well, believe it or not, I don't know what shoes to wear.
     I'm not gaping at a closet full and pondering the right colour to go with my go-to ensemble of orange shirt and black shorts. I haven't done the full matchy matchy, footwear-included match up, in nearly two years and that was more trust in the chosen shoes than striking the right look on the asphalt. Most folks are too bleary-eyed at that hour of the morning to size up the fashion statements unless someone is going outrageous with a tri-coleur afro and matching crocs or beyond.
    The shoes aside, there are familiar questions and doubts about the race. What's the goal? Have I trained enough? Where am I mentally? Physically? Can I rein myself in for the start and follow the necessary strategy? Could I run a negative split? Will I push myself as hard as I can or will I leave something in the tank to avoid conking?
    At this point the die is cast. Preparation and training have laid the foundation for what will happen and I can probably -- despite the questions -- guesstimate my finish time. I know that I will have Asian fast food at lunch to begin the carb load and top it off in the evening with the katsu-don and sashimi repast that served me so well one year ago. It is results, not superstition that has set the menu. Sunday morning beverages are identified and the pre-race pacing and bathroom visits are noted in advance without much cause for concern. I'll line up with the 3:45 pace rabbit as I did last year. After 20-40 minutes or so of looking regularly at my watch to ensure I'm not going out too hard, I'll settle in for the race and the close surveying of mind and body to determine where I am at and addressing the unknowns that I bore with me to the start line. The answers will come to me, wordless. I'll recalibrate my will, my hopes and the demands I make of myself as I determine where I'm at and do what I can to focus on the task at hand.
    From there the following 3 hours, give or take, will be the culmination of a day where the stakes are high. The focus is relatively sharp for that time. There will be distractions occasionally, and my mind will meander and occasionally settle on a thought for a while, but the intention will remain undivided. For water gulps and refuelling the stride will be unbroken as I put all my focus into finishing with as little left in the tank as possible. There won't be a number or a red line to tell me how well I consumed what I have with in me that morning. I'll look within and navigate by dead reckoning. Perhaps that is the challenge that makes the marathon such an intriguing race.
    There are few other endeavours, at least in my life, where the challenge is so intense and the result as tangible as it is. The stakes, at least as I set them for myself, make each run new. The uncertainties about what I'm capable of ought to raise the stakes everyday and make me rally my best self to each  occasion that presents itself. There are moments when I can lock in and bring a certain level of intensity, focus and eventually, flow when I'm writing, doing photography or working. A race, though, is an occasion to see if I can set myself to getting into that flow rather than wait for it to present itself to me.
  So, when I get in the scrum with the other runners on Sunday morning, I might try to treat it like a typical morning long, but I'll be keen to push it and see what I got in me. Now... I just have to figure out whether to go with the pair I ran my last marathon in or a newer pair.