It’s Simply a Matter of Perspective

Wrought-iron railings adorn the bridges of Venice and provide unique views of the canals.

Wrought-iron railings adorn the bridges of Venice and provide unique views of the canals.

I’m in heaven when I’m meandering through the confusing and mysterious streets, alleyways, and canals in Venice. I can’t imagine ever tiring of the discoveries every one of my journeys there yields – especially when I change my perspective. The world transforms.

Early on in life, when I was a mere teenager beginning to plumb the depths of creative possibilities, my dear artist mother began teaching me about the power of perspective. With me, and with her other students I always marveled out how she could coax, so adeptly, a person from a rigid way of seeing things to a different perspective. Suddenly the world would take on new life. And, well before a camera became my regular companion, Momma Liz taught me how to use my hands to create a makeshift viewfinder. I’m fortunate this was part of my early training, because it has stayed with me ever since.

I’ve chosen the photo above because, for me it demonstrates a completely different vantage point – one that came about by moving from my usual perspective and being willing to reposition myself. Often times this means getting out of my comfort zone – literally and figuratively.

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May the Stars of Possibility Light Your Way

Stars in Treviso, Italywise

My extraordinary artistic mother lit the fuse of my imagination.

My brilliant engineering father taught me how to construct a plan and a path towards making something happen.

I am indeed fortunate that such beautifully intertwined influences (and gene pools) came together to create this being called Jed Smith (and my two enormously talented sisters). Though Liz and Ed already have taken flight from this earthly realm, they remain the two brightest stars illuminating my path and the journey towards an endless world of possibility.

Last evening, a stroll through the magically lit streets and alleyways of Treviso prompted this realization. I was overcome with gratitude, and my subsequent meanderings through the city left me contemplating the following questions:

Just who and what are the numerous stars that illuminate your path?

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What Are Your Intentions for the Journey?

Abruzzo, Italywise

Photo by Jed Smith ©2016

I’ve been staring at a blank page (for this week’s post), and a blank canvas (for my next painting). Both are usually intimidating, and I still can’t quite get over asking myself “Do I have it in me to do this again?”

I certainly hope so. But, as I start any new creative endeavor, I’m learning to ask myself a very important, and helpful, question: “What are your intentions?” And, even though this post is written with an artist’s perspective, I do believe this question can be a valuable tool in all areas of life.

I picked the featured photo in this post because, for me, it aptly represents moving through life with intention and purpose. When I’m cruising into my nineties (yes, I plan on living that long) I want to be able to look back on my life, and say that I didn’t shrink from heading into the metaphorical mountainous terrain of life and the wilderness of the unknown.

I also want to know that I didn’t move through my life unconsciously. I want to have lived life with passion and intention.

So here I am, solidly past my half-century mark, and challenging myself to spend more time checking in with my heart (not my head) to understand if my intentions will result in a life of authenticity.

Some of the questions I pose to myself are:

Am I doing this for love?

This one’s the mother of all questions. You know why? Because I think many of us are taught to feel a tad (or a lot) guilty when we’re able to do something for the pure love of it. Which leads me to the next question….

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In the Face of a Sheep

Abruzzo, Italywise

 

My recent sojourn with shepherds, goats and sheep in the stunning Apennines mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo left me musing about what I had learned about myself while communing with the flock.

On the day of the journey, we had arrived early morning at Nunzio Marcelli’s La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, a good forty-five minutes before the trek up the mountains was to commence. I wandered around the property, first stopping to observe the goats being milked (an upcoming post). The shepherd dogs were lounging about, getting their last respite before a full day’s work, while staying faithfully close to their charges, who were safely contained in pens. It was then that I captured the photo featured in this post, and this singular, arresting face of a sheep. Only later, when I was doing my editing, did I realize the reason the image resonated with me so much…

I saw myself in the face of that sheep.

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Finding Respite in a Shepherd’s Journey in Abruzzo

abruzzo, Italywise

A Shepherd’s Journey

As most of you know, I recently had the good fortune to go on a “walkabout” with shepherds in the majestic Apennines in Abruzzo. This is the fourth in a series of photos that chronicle my experience. As I perused the multitude of images to choose one for this post, this one leapt out at me.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating this special experience in Abruzzo, the area just above the heel of the boot of Italy. It was a dream opportunity for a photographer. And, it was a golden opportunity to escape the madding crowd of relentless digital and media onslaught to which we fall prey on a daily basis. I confess I’ve willingly allowed myself, all too often, to be sucked into this vortex of distraction, and angst. Yes, angst. I believe it would take a supremely enlightened being to deflect the anxiety-inducing effects of the

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The Opportunities in Boredom.

Beauty, Italywise

Sometimes we label the ordinary as boring, and we miss the beauty and opportunities in front of us.

Becoming bored is one of my biggest fears. I resist it like the plague, and instead I jump into an activity, or a diversion…and most assuredly my thoughts get ramped up like a loud radio station. Anything to avoid that dreaded “non-activity”, silence, or a sense of empty space. I’m afraid of living an ordinary life.

Why do I run from boredom? Why do I judge it as being bad, lazy and unproductive?

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Embrace the mystery of life, and prepare for things to change…

Mystery of life, Italywise

Contrary to a life-long desire to figure “things” out, and arrive at a metaphorical destination in which I finally can relax, I’m learning that constant seeking…a constant insistence on being able to explain things, instead keeps me stuck and limited. These days I keep finding myself being invited to embrace the mystery of life, and to trust that, when I do, life will carry me along to unforeseen, and unimagined places of creativity and possibility.

And, I’m reminded that I don’t know squat. Most of the time, that’s actually is a huge relief, and I feel something inside of me let go, and relax. My, what a price we pay for being on high alert while simultaneously trying to lasso life and manage it to our liking.

Might life have better plans for us than even our most lofty ideas? I believe so.

This is the scariest part for me – actually to keep moving forward while trusting in the mystery of life. Moving to Italy and throwing myself headlong into all my creative passions (writing, painting, photography) feels like a huge roll of the dice. My inner judge tells me I’m being indulgent and irresponsible. It then tells me “Well, if you insist on this path, step aside and let me manage the process.” Yikes. Talk about a creativity killer.

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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.

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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.

The Stories We Tell – Our Playground or Our Prison?

The Stories We Tell, Italywise

A dear friend recently complimented me on my patience and thoroughness in planning for and making the move to Italy. The grand re-envisioning and re-building of my life wasn’t something I could have approached without research and a plan. My vision served me well, and though there were course corrections as new information came to light, I could not have completed the journey without having a “North Star”.

In the process of following my dream I created a story of how it was “supposed” to all unfold and look. Being in my fourth year of residency here, now I can tell you that becoming fixated and insistent on MY preconceived story was the least helpful and most anxiety producing posture or mindset. When I metaphorically set down my pen, and began to allow the story to write itself, and to evolve and change (often significantly) I found myself in a much better place.

Things happen differently for different people. For some, things just flow and fall into place, and they have a natural ability to go with the flow of life. I suspect these folks are the exception rather than the rule.

The stories we tell are a manifestation of an evolutionary, conditioned need to explain life and the world around us.

The earth is densely populated with 7.4 billion individual brains looking outward at the world, and interpreting events through unique filters and conditioning. That means 7.4 billion variations on the story we call our world and universe. Yes, we may agree on some things, but every person is a unique story-teller. Our interpretive left brains, through the evolutionary process, rule all too often, how we respond to the world. Looking through the metaphorical periscope at life, and surveying the landscape for potential dangers, indeed have served us well when we were in danger of becoming some creature’s next meal. Yet, I believe this interpretive function has run amuck, dominating our lives, and telling us stories about everything. We then take these stories to be true, and our psyches and physiologies get thrown out of whack.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE storytelling. I love how stories can approach or hint at truths that never can be contained or articulated with our small human brains. I love how changeable and creative we can be with our stories – as long as we approach them lightly and as long as we don’t make them hard, fixed and literal. If we do, judgment can rear its ugly head determining how to respond, and then we tell ourselves further stories about what everything means. I believe this marriage to our stories can create a prison – one that isn’t “out there” but in our minds.

We never really know what everything means.

Personally speaking, I’ve spent far too much of my life insisting on have an explanation, or at least an answer, NOW. That’s pretty demanding and pardon my expression, rather ballsy. Like most of my fellow Earth inhabitants, I feel God or the Universe owes me an explanation. But, in my life, I’m finding that is a complete trip into futility. While some of my stories are playful, creative and exciting, too many of my other stories are judgments or indictments of the events around me that do not fall in line with my vision of how things “should” be. My imagination is a potent force. But, it can get a bit out of control, and can start trying to create a story or non-stop commentary about everything happening around me. I share this not as a dramatic confession, but as a breakthrough of understanding how my mental circuits get fried on occasion. It’s like the interpretive, storytelling throttle gets stuck in high gear.

All too often, we have a thought, and then we create a story and decide, because these thoughts and stories have appeared in our heads, they must be real…they must be true. They must be dealt with. We’re saying “I know better.” Consequently, when we find ourselves under the sway of dark emotions, often it’s because of the story we’re telling ourselves as to the “truth” of a situation.

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