Saturday, 17 August 2019

Reflections on Celtic Wisdom

“May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.”

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, opening page
 By John O’Donohue (1956-2008)
 Irish Poet, Author, Priest

Over the last few days, I have been paying my annual visit to John O’Donohue’s engaging book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (1997, HarperCollins). (The phrase 'anam cara' means ‘soul friend’ in Irish Gaelic.)

John O'Donohue (Unknown Photographer)

Sadly, John O’Donohue died far too young. But his books live on and testify to his wisdom, discernment, and muscular spirituality. Anam Cara speaks as powerfully today as it did twenty-two years ago when I first read it.

O’Donohue helped me reclaim important elements of the spirituality of some of my ancestors – the Celtic people of southwest England, along the Cornish coast. O’Donohue was Irish by birth, but he also recognized the power of other Celtic traditions: Galicia, Brittany, Normandy, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. These pre-Christian ancient peoples worshipped the power of the earth and the power of the ancestors. Their voices can still be heard today, sometimes just beneath the surface. O’Donohue brings their wisdom alive in very contemporary ways, often whispering profound alternatives to accepted understandings.

Here are some quotations from Aram Cara that speak most eloquently to me:

“The human journey is a continuous act of transfiguration. If approached in friendship, the unknown, the anonymous, the negative, and the threatening gradually yield their secret affinity with us...the imagination is the great friend of the unknown. Endlessly, it invokes and releases the power of possibility.” (p. xvii)

“Love is anything but sentimental. In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other.” (p. 15)

“True listening is worship.” (p. 70)

“The imagination has a particular rhythm of vision that never sees directly in a linear way. The eye of the imagination follows the rhythm of the circle.” (p.152)

“The Celts even transfigured the cross by surrounding it with a circle. The Celtic cross is a beautiful symbol. The circle around the beams of the cross rescues the loneliness where the two lines of pain intersect and seems to calm and console their forsaken linearity.” (p. 163)

To honour John O’Donohue and his writings, I’ve included ten images of Celtic crosses, all of them photographed this week in Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery – a fine place for meditative walking. I hope the photos are a calming and peaceful part of your day.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Practice of Daily Delight

“...the more you study delight, 
the more delight there is to study.” 
– Ross Gay, American Poet

My mind switched into gratitude mode this week. 

Several streams flow into the river: 

• wandering around what used to be my family farm and being reminded how beautiful it is;
• preparing for my family’s annual picnic and being reminded how blessed I am to be part of this remarkable group;
• having coffee with a dear friend to discuss a workshop I’m planning and being reminded that we’ve been meeting like this for 50 years;
• holding suffering friends and family members in the Light and being reminded how much they mean to me;
• reading an evocative essay by an Irish-Tasmanian friend and being reminded how much I love good writing;
• learning of the sudden death of someone I knew in high school and being reminded to never take my health or life for granted;
• watching my beloved husband enthusiastically solve household problems and being reminded how much I love him;
• and listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast interview with poet Ross Gay (link) and being reminded how much I appreciate the nurture I glean from her weekly podcasts.

In fact, it is Ross Gay’s philosophy of recording the daily delights of his life that inspired this blog post. I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gay’s latest book, The Book of Delights, from my favourite bookstore, Books & Company in Picton, Ontario (link). 

In the spirit of Gay’s example, I have begun recording the daily delights in my own life. And Gay is correct – the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.

The photos that follow all come from the Quaker Gathering I attended in Grinnell, Iowa last month. Enjoy –  I hope you find them as delightful as I do!

PS: And, no, Books & Company didn’t pay me to write nice things about them. They’re the real deal. A booklover’s paradise. Amazon doesn’t seem to have noticed that two months ago I switched my book orders to Books & Company. So much for their algorithms! ;-) 

"Russett" by Mary Merkel-Hess,
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Quaker Grey Hair - in the Light

Exterior Wall Detail, 
Humanities & Social Science Center,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Lighting Fixture,
Rosenfield Center
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Roof Detail,
Office of Admissions,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Cherry Picker Operator,
Humanities & Social Sciences Center
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Meskwaki Woman's Beaded Vest (detail),
by Mary Young Bear,
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Forgotten Aluminum Chair,
Noyce Science Center,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Construction Site,
Park Street at 7th Avenue,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Decorated Ford Ranger Truck,
Unknown Artist(s),
Entrance to Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Wandering the Family Farm

“Keep your mouth closed,
and let your eyes listen.”
- Lil Wayne, American Rap Artist

One of the things that I like most about photography is letting my camera do the listening, especially if I’m not talking. I find that wandering in silence with my camera is profoundly calming and fulfilling. The experience is contemplative, even on a busy city street.

A peak experience in learning how to frame photography as a contemplative act was the “Photography as a Contemplative Practice” workshop I took at the 2016 Quaker Gathering in St. Joseph, Minnesota. The instructor was Peter West Nutting, a gifted photographer from Maine.

The great gift of this workshop, about which I have written before, was Peter’s request on the first day of the workshop for the participants to change our terminology for the week. Instead of shooting, capturing, and taking photos, he asked us to consider saying that we were recording photos or making them. Although it felt odd and forced at first, it soon became easier – and I began to realize that this small change of wording ushered in a whole new appreciation for the process of making a photo – it wasn’t just a smash and grab operation any longer. It was perfect for seeing the elements of photography – photographer, camera, subject – as being part of the same collaborative process. What a valuable insight this change of wording has proven to be. It’s now a permanent part of my photography process.

To read more about Peter’s contemplative photography, please check out his article, “Listening with the Eyes,” in the September 1, 2013, Friends Journal. (link)

Which brings me to the point of this post – my very enjoyable visit last week to the farm in Prince Edward County that used to belong to my paternal grandparents, Norah and Garnet Tayler. I spent countless hours as a boy wandering the farm, often spending more time there than on my mom and dad’s farm just down the road. The property features a picture-perfect location and includes an island, reached by a causeway. When I think of paradise on earth, this place comes to mind.

The farm is now owned and stewarded by dear family cousins. With their permission, I roamed the property for several happy hours last week – with my mouth shut, allowing my eyes and my camera to do the listening. I plan to create a slideshow of the photos for the annual Tayler Family Picnic at our home next Saturday. I hope the extended Tayler clan will enjoy the slideshow. And I hope you will enjoy a small selection of the photos below. 

As always, thank you for reading my blog.

Sunday, 28 July 2019


“Joy will find a way...”
- Brue Cockburn, Canadian Singer and Song Writer

I know I said last week that I might take time off blogging... but this lovely indulgence for creating a weekly post is deeply engrained in my DNA. There are worse things than the discipline of regular writing about photography and the ambiguities of life.

Last week’s blog post featured a lot of heavy lifting. (Let’s hear it for misogyny and homophobia!)

In contrast, this week’s blog post is more contemplative and user-friendly. 

Over the last few days, I’ve just let my camera wander and discover, mostly in downtown Toronto. 

I took the train into Toronto on Wednesday to meet a friend for lunch at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Afterwards, I pursued one of my favourite activities: seeing what Toronto had to offer my camera. And the city didn’t disappoint. It rarely does. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I realized while wandering on Wednesday afternoon that my brain had stumbled onto something special: the word enjoyment is built around the word JOY. That had never occurred to me before. Wow – what a great spin it gives to enjoyment, enjoying, and enjoyable! When I checked the internet to see if my revelation were unique, I found that many others had already discovered this joy-ous insight. Oh well. Sounds like I’m in good company, however.

So, in the spirit of enjoyment, not to mention gratitude, I offer these photos of (mostly) downtown Toronto.

As always, enjoy!

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Quaker Gathering Part 2 - Social Justice & Photography

“Photographs are mirrors, not windows.”
- Teju Cole, “Screenland: A Crime Scene at the Border”
The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 2019

Note – You may find some content in this post to be disturbing. So do I.

Last week, I wrote “Quakerism 101” as an introduction to my reflections on the Quaker Gathering that I attended recently at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. This week, I’m writing about the five-day “Social Justice and Photography” workshop that I took at the Gathering and the significant impact it is having on me. 

Let’s start with the workshop description in the Advance Program for the 2019 Gathering:

#28 – Social Justice and Photography:
How can photography and video contribute to social justice and help resist oppression? Join seasoned AFSC [American Friends Service Committee] staff as we explore the ethics, practices, and challenges of photography based on Quaker values. Explore creative ways to share your work. We won’t stop at theory as we emphasize your involvement.

My heart leapt when I read this description; within 24 hours, I had registered for the workshop and booked my flight to Iowa. Sometimes, the path ahead is clear.

The American Friends Service Committee was founded in 1917 and is a United States-based Quaker organization (link) “that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action.” The Canadian Friends Service Committee, based in Ottawa, has a similar mandate, as do Quaker organizations in other parts of the world. 

The workshop’s three facilitators – Jon, Bryan, and Nathaniel – are talented, committed peace makers who know the value of photography as an important tool in the struggle for justice and equity. It was a privilege spending a week with them and the seven other workshop participants. What a pleasure it was to have rich, daily discussions about photography in the promotion of social justice. I felt totally nourished, supported, and challenged. And I learned so much.

I came to the workshop with an idea that had been nagging away at me. Early in the week, I asked the facilitators for time to present this idea to the group for feedback. They agreed, bless them.

Before describing my idea, I need to describe a pivotal experience I’d had about a month before. In early June, the final report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada was released. Entitled Reclaiming Power and Place (link), the report is a scathing, clearly written condemnation of institutionalized racism against Indigenous women and girls in this country. Its 231 individual Calls for Justice constitute a path ahead for healing and reconciliation. I highly commend the report to you.

It appalls me that some politicians and media outlets immediately criticized the report’s use of the term genocide to describe what has happened – and is happening – in this country. It was clear to me that they had rushed to judgement without having read the report. I encourage you to read for yourself the inquiry’s 43-page supplementary report supporting use of the term genocide. (link) It is eye-opening in its invocation of both Canadian law and international law. Similarly, the report’s view that colonization is a form of gendered oppression is deeply insightful.

However, it was the report’s inclusion of the 2SLGBTQQIA communities – Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people – that struck home for me most profoundly. The report makes the very convincing case that violence against Indigenous women and girls – overwhelmingly at the hands of men – is on the same continuum as violence against members of the 2SLGBTQQIA communities. This connection between misogyny and homophobia is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. It inflicts suffering on the bodies and souls of women and girls – and on the bodies and souls of men and boys as well. It is to weep.

Now here’s the hard part for me: while I read this section of the report, long-dormant memories of vicious homophobia in my own life resurfaced, especially those concerning an incident in downtown Belleville, Ontario, in the mid-1980s. My late husband, Spencer Brennan, and I were leaving a restaurant early one evening when a gang of young men armed with ice picks confronted us. They hurled homophobic slurs and threatened to kill us. We ran for our lives. Interestingly, I have no memories of how we actually escaped – just memories of running down Belleville’s main street with a pack of bellowing men in pursuit. 

The memories of this incident give me a small – very small – personal insight into the enormous tragedy that engulfs the Indigenous peoples of this country. I make no claims for equivalency, but I do claim insight.

So...what do I do with the pain? And the shame? And the anger, especially the anger? And how do I make my anger useful?

In a flash of insight, the source of which I do not understand, but about which I am in awe, I knew what I have to do. I have to explore – with interviews and photography – the pain that men feel and the pain that men can cause.

The title of the project will be, “MEN: why do we hurt?”

That is the essence of the project that I described to the dear people in my workshop at the Quaker Gathering. I am humbled and blessed by the love and support I received back from them. The experience was cleansing, healing, and cathartic. 

And it was clarifying. I realized that if my anger dominated the photography and the interviews, the whole project would bristle with fury and sharp edges. I would elicit from others the same kind of hurtful responses that I had experienced myself. 

That’s when the subtitle of the project emerged: “A photo essay about male vulnerability.” 

By injecting vulnerability into the project, I realized that I was transitioning from anger to love. Love for myself and love for the men I would be interviewing and photographing.

But would I have love for the men who threatened to kill my late husband and me? No, not yet...

Here’s my current five-step concept for the project:

Step 1 – To create a prospectus containing information about me; an outline of the project; thoughts on creating a mutually supportive and safe environment for the interviews and photography; potential questions for the interviews; and whatever release form will be needed for posting and publishing the photographs. I would then distribute this kit to men who might be interested in participating. 

Step 2 – After a careful period of discussion and consideration with potential participants, to interview and photograph those who choose to proceed.

Step 3 – To create a website featuring photos and excerpts from the interviews.

Step 4 – To mount a gallery-ready, portable exhibit containing a selection of the photographs and excerpts from the interviews.

Step 5 – To consider publishing a book, in consultation with the participants.

No one will be paid or have expenses compensated. I will try to cover most of the direct expenses myself, but I may need help with the production costs of printing and mounting the photographs for exhibit. 

My goal is total transparency. 

There is no timeline. 

But the process has begun. And I am terrified. Praise be.

In future blog posts, I plan to write about the evolution of the project. Please email me with your feedback and suggestions. ( Watch the spelling of Tayler.) 

Also, if you identify as male and would like to explore being included in the project, please contact me. 

Meanwhile, I want to thank Jon, Bryan, Nathaniel, and the other people in the “Social Justice and Photography” workshop for their insights and support. They gave me a priceless gift.

Also, I want to thank my loving husband and friend, Bill Stearman. I am blessed beyond words.

And thank you, dear reader, for your indulgence. If you want to receive email notifications of my future blog posts, please sign up at the top.

I’m not sure when I’ll post next. I need time to consolidate and think about next steps. Meanwhile, here are photos of men from my files. Imagine their stories...