The Caretaker – Watercolor by Jed

watercolor, Jed Smith, Italywise

The Caretaker – Private Collection of Shelley and Ed Hobson

Just a few days ago I returned from a short trip to the beautiful town of Sulmona in Abruzzo. The experience was incredibly rich and warm (thanks to my amazing host and new friend Novelia) and I am hard at work on writing a blog post (soon to be published) about this amazing slice of paradise here in Italy. While I enjoyed many things in Sulmona, it was impossible to really scratch the surface with all the area has to offer. One thing, in particular, at the top of my list for my return trip is to do a “walk about” with a local shepherd. Novelia already has made calls and is working on possibilities to make this happen. What an artist/photographer’s dream to be able to camp out with and walk the sheep herder’s paths!

As I contemplate and look forward to such an experience, I remembered this watercolor that I painted several years ago, called The Caretaker. I love painting this, not only because of the unique perspective and composition, but because of the theme of a shepherd looking after his flock. I believe I inherited my fascination with flocks of sheep and goats from my highly influential artist mother, who frequently made them the subjects of her paintings.

I am drawn to the theme of the shepherd and his sheep, also because of the metaphorical meanings of having a benevolent force in my life that always is looking out for me, and always on my side.

I’m anything but conservative or fundamental in my spiritual beliefs, but my soul does respond to images and metaphors that become inspiring companions when fear shows up in my life. Currently, I am reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she speaks, quiet effectively, to how fear can stop creative pursuits in their tracks. She doesn’t reserve the concept of creativity for artists. She speaks to creating a life that allows a person to express their unique gifts and ideas. This resonates with me as an artist and writer who, all too frequently, can let the voice of fear talk me out of plunging ahead with a project. Ms. Gilbert wisely counsels each of us to not fight our fears, but to allow them to coexist. However, she advises not to let fear have a say or a voice in how we proceed.

As a person who has altered his life dramatically, these sage words of advice also come in handy. Leaving the security of the known can invite some pretty big catcalls from the voice of fear.

Read More

A Moment of Meditation – Photo by Jed

meditation, Italywise

A Moment of Meditation

The woman in this photo represents something important for me, especially these days. This woman is someone who is practicing meditation as part of daily life.

As I am learning to be more present and more observant of life as it unfolds around me, I am struck by the magnitude of people escaping the present moment. Let’s be clear, this includes me much of the time, as my hungry, over active mind constantly is looking for something to chew on. A diversion from what is right here, right now. How can I possibly fully take in life if I am constantly glued to my digital devices checking emails, Facebook posts, news feeds, or playing games? Busted!

Often, those of us of the generations that have grown up and embraced the digital revolution shake our heads sadly at the “older” generations who haven’t seemed to “get onboard” with the same vigor. Maybe they actually are our teachers for learning to be present more often and for not seeking to fill almost every waking moment with a diversion.

Yes, I’m waxing philosophical again, and my blog often is a place for me to journal publicly about what life is teaching me. More often than not, I’m learning to ask questions…and to let those questions just percolate, rather than seeking to find some hard, fixed truth.

A big question for me these days is:

What IS meditation, anyway?

An excellent question. Mostly it conjures up ideas of sitting in an upright posture in a quiet room, and stilling or working to discipline the mind. It can become a structured activity that requires yet another set of ideals for doing it the “right” way. How quickly it becomes yet another impossible something to perfect, a task vs. a place where you can let go from all the doing and trying. Krishnamurti was outspoken in seeking to free people from traditional concepts of meditation.

Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen… – J Krishnamurti

Mindfulness has often been used interchangeably with meditation. Be present for what you’re doing vs. being swept along on the autopilot of our conditioning. I have to chuckle at the word “mindfulness” as it seems to mean “full of the mind”. I don’t know about you, but I very much would like to not be ruled by the mind – well, at least not the chatty, persistent left brain interpreter.

I do believe there are benefits to having a structured practice and a time set aside to just “be” and to allow the thoughts to float by, much like debris in a stream. But, I’m very much intrigued and attracted to using the in-between moments of daily life as my real practice of meditation. This is turning my world upside down, as all too often I’ve learned to discard these in-between moments as being mere stepping-stones to a better, happier place.

Waiting at a traffic light, sitting on a train, being in a long queue (plenty of those opportunities here in Italy!) are all plentiful opportunities for me to explore meditation in my daily life. This often means leaving my iPad or iPhone at home, or safely tucked away in my backpack. Instead of reaching for one of these devices to stay connected, perhaps I can steer into the space of beingness.

In closing, I want to share a quote that I adore, and one that most perfectly, for me, expresses how and why meditation can be so powerful!

Meditation is like taking a bath to wash the mind. – from Meditation in Daily Life, theartofliving.org

To see this and other photographs, be sure to visit my online gallery.

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

Remembering Morris

Watercolor of Morris

Morris – Collection of the Artist

I’m still getting familiarized with the holiday schedule here in Italy. Many of the biggies correspond with those in the U.S., but others, like Father’s Day, vary significantly. So, since Italy’s Father’s Day was celebrated in March, and since I’m not receiving a barrage of advertisements for the U.S. event, Father’s Day, as I have celebrated it, almost passed me by. Tributes to dads, ramping up on FB, reminded me to pause and be thankful for being blessed with not just one, but two great dads. My birth dad, Ed Smith, died twenty-three years ago, and his passing came too soon, and the pain cut me to my core. But, soon, another wonderful dad came into my life, and his presence helped ease my pain – especially since his presence brought so much joy to my mother Liz Smith-Cox.

Morris Cox, was an extraordinary man, and a wonderful stepdad. Mom married Morris in her early 70’s, a few years after my dad’s death. I remember Liz remarking, after the first years of being married to Morris, how fortunate she was to have experienced “love like this” twice in her life. Morris made a point of telling her, everyday, how much he loved her and how fortunate he was to have her in his life. This was a powerful lesson to me, as Morris exemplified the belief in gratitude. Studies show (check out this article from Greater Good) that our brains “light up” when we remember and practice gratitude.

Morris also demonstrated an engagement with life and with keeping one’s mind and passions engaged. He was an English professor (and Dean of the Liberal Arts College) at Clemson University, yet in his 60’s he became a student again, this time of law. He practiced law (this is how he met my mom) into his 90’s.

Morris was the epitome of a fine, southern gentlemen. Whenever he and my mom were out and about (often in his baby blue Rolls Royce), he would race around to Mom’s side of the car to open the door for her. He was keen on having impeccable manners and always being kind and generous.

I am incredibly grateful for Morris’s loving presence in my life. His marriage to Liz also brought three wonderful step-siblings into my life, and we enjoyed many “big family” gatherings.

In 1999 I painted the watercolor above of Morris, after a trip with Mom and Morris, and my sisters Shelley and Dale, to Santorini, Greece. I always loved watching Morris. I found his face rich with character, intelligence and kindness. Painting him was my expression of love for this remarkable man.

Morris, I miss you. You lived an extraordinary life, and you gave handsomely.

A Decidedly Italian Wedding

Cortona Wedding

Cortona Wedding is a photo by Jed Smith.

 

Years ago, I was having a nice leisurely lunch in Cortona, Tuscany, with friends who were visiting from the States. We were dining outside, and overlooking the square below and the city hall just opposite. The restaurant was La Loggetta, one of the best restaurants in Cortona.

If you aren’t familiar with Cortona, it is widely know for being the setting of the book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Many years before Frances Mayes published her widely successful book, I studied art in Cortona for a summer with my alma mater, the University of Georgia (they still maintain a campus there). While there, I fell in love with this old Etruscan village – well before wide-scale fame and tourism was dropped on Cortona’s doorstep.

As we were lunching, we realized we had front row seats to a wedding party descending the steps of the city hall, presumably after the act had been completed. Fortunately, I had brought my zoom lens, which I promptly put to use as I endeavored to capture this unique wedding experience, and one that says, we’re Italians and we take pride in expressing ourselves. For this reason alone, more often I’d love to play the role of a paparazzo (that’s a singular photographer) to capture, furtively, such beautifully and naturally orchestrated scenes. I can imagine it now, a version of The Wedding Crashers, but with me as a photographer who shows up, and tries to blend in.

In this particular scene from an Italian wedding, I invite you to zoom out to see the full image (if you haven’t already). I love the movement of all of the characters coming down the stairs, and leading to a focus on the bride and groom. Girasole, or sunflowers, are the chosen flowers of the wedding, giving a nod to the proliferation of these beauties throughout the area in the heat of summer. Even the groom’s boutinniere is a small sunflower. Brilliant.

Now my favorite part – the formality has been toned down with how naturally the bride and groom seem to be attired and styled. I particularly love how the groom is wearing hip sunglasses, and sporting a sexy open collar (yeah, with a couple of buttons unfastened). I looked at this scene, and thought to myself that these newlyweds wanted to be themselves, rather than conforming to a strict and formal matrimonial expression.

The right place at the right time. As an artist and photographer I’m continually amazed at how such captivating and intriguing scenes present themselves. Moments like these seem to be more elusive when I purposefully hunt for them. I’m learning it is useful to have a plan and to be prepared, but even more importantly, there comes a moment of getting out of the way and letting magic happen. And, it will.

For this and other wedding photos, be sure to visit my online gallery.

 

 

 

Biding Time and the Art of Waiting

Watercolor of Biding Time

Biding Time – Private Collection  – Jed is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society

Biding Time is a watercolor I completed many years ago, and is in the private collection of some very dear friends (I love it when my “children” find good homes!). Of the many subjects that draw my attention, quiet moments of contemplation or just “being” is a reoccurring theme. I might have entitled it “At Peace with Waiting”, but that title doesn’t seem quite poetic enough.

Still, waiting is an important topic for me, especially when it is paired with patience. Perhaps this simply is something that comes with age (and hopefully wisdom), because being in waiting mode, and practicing patience have been elusive qualities for most of my life. In these past few years of living in Italy, I’ve been learning the benefits of taking my foot off the metaphorical “gas pedal” of life. When did I buy into the belief that I always had to be straining at the reins, and exerting constant efforts to make life happen in the manner of which I had predetermined? The current shift continues to be “let life happen” or “let life flow” without trying to manhandle how things turn out. On one hand, insisting on effort and control is downright exhausting, and on another hand it demonstrates a lack of trust in life, and in God, the Force, or whatever you want to call the energy that infuses life into everything. And, actually, I’ve had a rather stunning realization, even though it has always been staring me in the face. In my times of impatience and rushing to get somewhere or to make something happen, I’ve been telling myself this present moment isn’t good enough. It is a stepping stone to be endured until I get somewhere “better”. What a crock. And, I bought into this belief, hook, line and sinker – until now.

I don’t want the next chapters of my life to be characterized by a race and an insistence to get somewhere else. Humans beings, as a general rule, intellectually know that we will all die, yet we behave as if we won’t. Time is viewed as plentiful commodity and we all too often overvalue achieving and accomplishing, while discarding the value of the quiet, in-between moments.

I believe most people are not at ease with moments of stillness, and of space. Perhaps we are afraid that “we” won’t exist if we’re not thinking, solving, and doing.

And, then again, perhaps we are most of afraid of being alone with our incessant, and demanding stream of thinking. Practicing the art of waiting, or biding time, can be an excellent opportunity to make peace with one’s inner noise, rather than doing battle with ourselves and/or distracting ourselves by being in constant movement.

In closing, I offer this brief YouTube video of Adyashanti offering an interesting perspective about the thinking mind. Paradoxically it is entitled Don’t Wait for Your Mind to Stop.

Tranquility Often is Just Around the Corner

Venice, tranquility, Italywise

A Venice canal in the Cannaregio at dusk.

Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I love how it is full of mystery, history and paradox. I love its organic, challenging terrain. I love allowing myself to get lost, and the adventure of finding my way and navigating this giant maze. Yet, what I love most is how tranquility always awaits, if you’re willing to venture off the main thoroughfares. And, this leads me to the featured photo for this post.

Just a few weeks ago, I made the short trek from Treviso to Venice by train. I gave myself permission, for the afternoon, to wander, without a fixed time schedule or agenda. Let the journey unfold. This seems to be a major lesson and opportunity for me, especially since moving to Italy. Set preconceived ideas aside, and trust that the universe will lead me. Trying to control my experience, and life’s outcomes has been a yoke that I took on years and years ago. But, that is changing. Scary to “let go”? Yes. But, it can be an incredible relief to step aside from trying to be chief commander and choreographer of one’s experience.

The first time I visited Venice, I was pretty much put off by the throngs of tourists owning the streets. The noise level, and the threshold of activity was just too much for me. Had I attached myself to this first experience, I would have deprived myself of the full dimensions and offerings of this spectacular city. Subsequent trips, purposefully planned to take me off the beaten-track and thoroughfares, yielded a bounty of experience that led me to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with Venice. I found beauty, quiet, and tranquility hidden away.

So, on this recent excursion, I first threw myself into the current of tourists until I found my exit to head to the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, and a trip to Burano. Within just minutes, and in a matter of just a few steps, the noise abated, and space opened up. I meandered my way to the boat stop, relishing the beauty of lonely canals and quiet comings and goings.

Upon my return from Burano, at dusk, I slowed my pace, hoping to prolong a meditative stroll, before abruptly finding myself amongst a sea of activity and noise. I stopped on a bridge, savoring the warm, evolving colors of dusk, and snapped this photo. Nothing can repeat the moment of being there, but this image does serve as a reminder and a beacon that tranquility is often close at hand.

The main streets of Venice, clogged with eager tourists, serve as a metaphor for my mind, and the often incessant stream of thoughts. When I am caught up in the grips of thinking, I really can’t see or experience anything, and I suffer a major case of misidentification. Life feels “flat” and I feel anything but present. When I am under the sway of incessant thinking I often completely forget that tranquility and quietude awaits. And, like this canal at dusk, with its still waters, and warm colors, peace can find me, or present itself, when I take the metaphorical journey away from engaging with or believing the stream of thoughts that stubbornly insist on my attention.

Often we distinguish between talking and thinking. Yet, I offer that thinking simply is talking to ourselves. Thinking can be a marvelous servant, but I believe it has taken over our lives, and obscured our true natures. Kahlil Gibran, often called a Christian mystic, beautifully expresses this in an excerpt from The Prophet:

 

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

 

And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

Caption Contest! Win a Amazon Gift Card!

Italian street life, Italywise

Walk on By is a new photo by Jed Smith.

I’m happy to introduce a scene I captured on one of my recent photo excursions. I’m constantly intrigued and entertained by “snippets” of Italian street life, and I was happy to be quick on the draw to capture this one. The expression of this well-heeled signora is the focal point of this image. Looking at the image now I can imagine countless captions. So, I decided I’d have a little fun and invite you to bring your unique perspectives to this image and submit a caption in the comments sections of this website/blog Italywise.com. One entry per person*, and submissions must be made by end of day Tuesday, April 19 midnight PST. The winning submission will receive a $30 Amazon.com gift card (or the equivalent in the country of the winner).

To see this and other photography and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

*Family/relatives are ineligible (though you can still submit for fun!)

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Seeking Clarity and the Illusion of Reality

Watercolor of Clairty

Clarity – Private Collection

The painting above, Clarity, is one of my favorites. I was drawn to this woman’s face because I sensed clarity and peace in her eyes. I also saw a wise woman who had relaxed into accepting “what is” and the inevitability of living with paradox.

I’m learning to step into paradox. I’ve been doing this somewhat begrudgingly because my bossy left brain interpreter insists on coming to conclusions of reality and nicely tucking them away on the shelf. You might not think an artist would have this kind of struggle since creative types tend to reside in their expansive, non-verbal right brains with greater agility. Yet, often I do struggle to make the shift and, paradoxically (there’s that pesky word again), the struggle itself tends to keep me trapped in the jaws of analytical thinking. The best thing, for me, is to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Soon, thinking settles down naturally, and my insistence on a fixed reality abates.

Why do I write about seeking clarity and the illusions of reality in a blog about building a life in Italy? Because making such a huge life change has asked me, again and again, to let go of my insistence on what is reality and how my story is “supposed” to play out. If you’re contemplating a similar big life change, you might want to ready yourself to live with paradox, and the elusiveness of a fixed reality.

Man plans, God laughs. – Yiddish proverb.

Maybe I would benefit from training myself to contemplate this sentiment every morning, first thing. Then, whatever needs to be done, and what remains to be resolved won’t take on such a sense of seriousness, or insistence on my part. Perhaps this will remind me to do the best I can, while simultaneously “going with the flow”. This can be a beautiful dance, and I’m finding the universe tends to open up a wealth of possibilities previously hidden to my thinking brain.

Italy has proven to be an excellent classroom in dealing with inconsistencies and paradox. I’m an anal-retentive Virgo who likes everything “ticked and tied”. These organizational and analytical skills certainly have come in handy plowing through the numerous logistics of living here, but I’m convinced a belief that you can simply muscle your way through the bureaucracy will only ensure your descent into insanity. I’ve talked to a few “newbies” and a few people considering a move to Italy who have this mindset. I’ve thought “Oh no,” because I can smell disaster coming at the first inevitable speed bumps.

If a person can sets aside their insistence on how things are supposed to “play out” and their indignation at certain Italian policies that seem unfair, they can spend their time and energies on allowing Italy’s riches to unfold for them.

Read More
Page 3 of 812345...Last »