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The Inevitable Choices




William A Garnett (Snow Geese with Reflections of the Sun over Buena Vista Lake, CA)

My work with horses causes me sometimes, to think only in black and white terms: good verses bad, hard versus easy, simple versus complex, and so on. This kind of thinking probably seems too constricted and too naive in this age of fifty plus shades of gray: black and white seems so yesterday, you know? However, when your life depends on clear signals because everything is riding (literally) on the clearness of your signals to a thousand pound animal who if scared and confused can cause havoc and disaster, black and white is the only safe and reasonable choice.
 I've been thinking lately about how we go through our life drowning in choices and options; so many things lie instantly at our finger tips should we want them. All the information we could ever want is usually only a click a way. Should we suddenly decide to change our life completely, the tools to help can appear instantly. If a woman gets pregnant, she can choose if a child is convenient and desirable at that time. We can choose who we want to marry or date just by checking their profile compatibility. We can choose to change our diets, our jobs, our beliefs, our moods, our friends, our spouses, our online personas, and even our real personas. The list is almost endless and the fact is, I don't think that this age of unlimited freedom is actually doing us any favors. 
Steve Jobs wore the same black t-shirt/turtleneck and jeans every single day to work. His reasoning? Making one less choice in the morning saved imperative space in his brain for more important decisions later on in his day. If every morning there was even one less choice that took up his brain space and time, it made a measurable difference in the course of a busy day. Now not all of us are expected to make the same kind of decisions such as Steve Jobs did, but I think there is a lot of merit to his theory. I don't mean to propose that we all dress the same all the time, but perhaps we should think about what takes up our brain space and the string of minuscule choices that parade through it all day long. 

Elliott Erwitt (Hungary)

Back before the age of enlightenment and radical thinkers, like way back- think ancient Romans - things were fairly black and white. The choices were few and mostly your life was dictated by your birth and position. If you were born a peasant, you can expect to live and toil the life of a peasant with very few options. If an entitled nobleman, perhaps you may have a few more options what to do with your life, but basically things were pretty much dictated to you by the social and political environment around you. Of course, there were some exceptions in history, but the majority of folks worked with what they got. Any choices that might be present were usually of a higher magnitude and thus resulted with bigger consequences. You could, for example, choose to deny pagan gods by taking on the faith of Christianity though the consequence of this choice often resulted in your death. I know this sounds very far from ideal. What is good about that? Isn't the freedom of our world today so much more preferable? Well...last time I checked the news, people are still dying for their choices in faith and often even for things outside of their control such as birth and race. That hasn't changed, but what has changed is the fact that we are taking up so much brain space with little choices and decisions, that when the big ones come down the pipe as they inevitably will, we are sorely equipped to deal with them. We don't know how! We can't! There is just no room in our brains to discern the virtual reality from the real time reality. Women can justify the murder of children from their bodies by things like convenience. Couples can justify divorce on things like boredom or ambivalence. Born a male but want to be a female? Obviously God or genetics screwed up so the choice of a sex change seems logical. The confusion from no boundaries and no real satisfaction escalates into epidemic proportions as does our sense of entitlement. The pursuit of happiness indeed. What about the pursuit of reason, of acceptance, of peace, of love? We make hundreds, if not thousands of choices during the day, and yet place no real importance on them. The meaning, the essence, and most devastatingly, the consequences become meaningless. Meaningless, but not without effect, though we may be blind to it.  Ever heard of the "butterfly effect?" I can't remember the name of the story, but a time traveller wandering through the paths of time and space, chose to step off the safe path and accidentally crushed a butterfly under his foot. When he returned to his home time and place he found that everything was different; everything was changed as consequence of the death of one butterfly in a time and place were it was not supposed to die. We make our choices so lightly, so thoughtlessly, because we think there is a safety net. A back door. A take back option if things don't work out. But like the simple death of a butterfly in the wrong place and time, or a tiny pebble in a still pond, the effects of which are mysterious and far reaching: there are no take-backsies. 
At some point, we all will have to face the inevitable choice where there are no safe shades of gray. At some point we will have to face something where there seems to be no easy choice or any other option to make something better, and it will be our past tiny choices and insignificant butterfly deaths that will indicate wether or not we will get through it intact. 

Michael Kenna (Swings, Catskill Mountains, NY)
During my art school days, there was one book in particular that I would refer back to time and again in my papers and art projects, and it was mysteriously titled: "In Spite of Everything, Yes." It is actually based on a photography exhibit that took place many years ago at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. The book is a collection of these photos, (a couple of which I put up in this post) along with inspiration sayings and quotes that were put together by the famous photographer Ralph Steiner. (The book is out of print, but you can find it on Amazon, of course)
In his own words (I cut and paste a bit) he explains what it all means: Why, today, a collection of affirmative photographs? To be a Pollyanna in our time is to be a fool. At this moment we are not living the very most joyous slice of the world's history. Glancing at the front page of the New York Times or listening to the news on any day it is overwhelmingly plain that the world is full suffering, violence, and the dark shadow of total annihilation. It seems as if it were not sufficiently dangerous that differing peoples can wipe each other out; we have added the possibility of wiping ourselves out. How can a photographer say "yes" to such a world? Looking at today's photographers I see them responding to their surroundings in three main ways: as "no" photographers, as "ambiguous" photographers, and as "yes" photographers... 
The third group, the yes-sayers? Let me make clear at once that they are not people who keep their eyes squeezed shut to the sinister aspects of the world around them. Some of them have made great images of tragedy and pain. But this is not the aspect of their work with which we are dealing here. We are dealing with the particular ability to see the world and in spite of everything dark and discouraging to rejoice in the evidences of "yes." As the Latin saying has is "Dum vivimus, vivamus"- while we're alive, let us live. This takes a certain faith in at least the possibility of good. I like the wonderful addition to the story of Moses, when he was leading the children of Israel out of bondage. The voice of the Lord spoke to him, saying he must part the Red Sea, so his people could pass over. And Moses raised his hand and sent forth this tremendous command. But at first nothing happened, nothing at all. Only when the first man stepped out into the waters did the sea start to withdraw. It is, then, just because we live in a troubling world that I wanted to collect these images of affirmation. I would like to invite you to join me and these photographers in the ancient Hebrew toast. "L'Chaim"- To Life!
--Ralph Steiner

Awesome right??
Anyway I bring this up, because I think that this is answer to the problem. The only right answer in a morass of questions. What is more black and white than no or yes? If we have cultivated the practice of choosing, in spite of everything, yes, yes and again yes in the many seemingly unimportant choices of our day, then when the big ones come, the answer will be so much clearer, so natural and brilliant, that no confusion or ambiguity can taint, disregard, or disguise. 




Comments

  1. Learning to keep saying "yes" to life after losing four babies in three years has definitely been a journey. But essential.

    [That story is by Ray Bradbury (one of my favorite authors) and is called "A Sound of Thunder".]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course it's Bradbury! Thanks so much for the clarification. I knew someone out there would know...:-)

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    2. Awesome :) Beautifully written.

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