Layers of Solitude

 

photography, Italywise

Layers of Solitude – Jed Smith © 2017

I’m enamored with the emotion and scenes of solitude. When my mother, who was also my life-long art teacher, began exposing me to the bountiful world of artistic expression, I found myself drawn to the likes of Edgard Degas and Edward Hopper, and their depictions of people steeped in solitude. Think The Absinthe Drinker by Degas, and Nighthawks by Hopper.

I love solitude.

Yes, at my core, I am an introvert. A psychological test I took years ago confirmed this. BUT, it also confirmed that I was just left of center on the scale. This means I also have important extroversion needs. Yes, I love being with friends, family and small groups of people. It feeds my soul. As for the introvert part, I now recognize having the balance of significant alone time is crucial to my overall sense of well being. I think of it as important time to pause, reflect, and process all that I’ve taken in when I’m with other people.

Perhaps, by sharing this photo, I’m also taking you behind the curtain and helping you to understand what makes this artist tick. Maybe I’m also sharing this to prompt you to ask similar questions about

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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 leaped 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.