Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Path To Less, Update 4: A Tough Road!

Simplification is probably the most complex resolution I have ever made. The physical part is the easy part, relatively (see previous post and photos). De-cluttering a space is simply a matter of moving stuff from one place to another -- redistribution and disposal. Simplifying your life, de-cluttering your time is another issue entirely. 

In my resolution post, I stated my passions as:
  • Photography
  • Music
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Work  
With the honest knowledge that in terms of realistic prioritization, work rises to the top and everything else follows. A reasonable expectation. My difficulty, though, lies in the micro-environment of my personal expectations of myself within each of the five passions. I expect myself to be, if not the best, then highly successful at each. At work I want to know more about research ethics and regulation, and to be better able to apply that knowledge than most in the field. In photography I want to have as much knowledge of the technology, along with the capacity to apply it as possible -- to make art in still images that strikes at the core of emotion, and expresses a crystal clear vision. Musically, I want to perform and compose songs that inspire hope, raise spirits, reveal truth, and entertain. I want to write the great American novel, blog, short story, poem or (and) lyric. I want to read sufficiently to learn the great truths, stories, philosophies, histories, and biographies ever conceived. Other than these things, I don't expect much...

So my task is to pick and choose. To limit my expectations. To focus to the point of becoming, even at a year or two beyond midlife, the master of the few rather than the toiler at the many. I suspect that most of us face some version of these choices. Are passions analogous to the the object that we cleared out of the spare bedroom? Do black and white choices always need to be made? Stick around and maybe we'll figure it out. Maybe it's not so..... simple.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Path To Less, Update 4: Day Tripping

We decided that we would plan a pure decompression weekend this week. Make no commitments to be any place, at any time, to anyone. The only commitment was to ourselves -- that we would relax, do it simply and inexpensively, and do it together. So after a light lunch we grabbed the camera, jumped in the car, and headed south from Jacksonville on the back roads with no destination in mind. We ended up 50 miles south, at Ravine Gardens State Park (a place we had never visited before), in Palatka Florida. We were pleasantly surprised to find great walking trails, beautiful north Florida scenery, 70 degree warmth after a week of freezes, and even a few early blooming azaleas. For four bucks and two gallons of gas, we got out into nature, took photographs, got some decent exercise, and made the two suspension bridges that span the ravines over the local springs swing  back and forth...

From the park, we headed across the St. Johns river between Palatka and East Palatka, then northeast on route 207 through Hastings (the potato capital of the south). We then picked up route 13 -- the Bartram Scenic Highway -- part of the famous Bartram Trail, blazed by William Bartram in the mid-18th century. This portion of route 13 is lightly traveled 2-lane road that hugs the winding shore of the Saint Johns River -- until it bursts into four, then six lanes as it runs into suburban Jacksonville. Down here, the small fishing and farming communities have names like Bass Cove, Collee Cove, St. John, Tocoee, Picolatta and Orangedale. We pulled over at Riverdale Park in tiny Riverdale --  a favorite spot of ours for rest, reading, and sunset watching.
As usual, we had the place pretty much to ourselves -- another couple had settled into a pair of folding chairs to river-gaze, a small band of bikers blew in and blew out, a mother and her daughter stopped and chatted for a few minutes. Something about the folks who stop by Riverdale Park -- they never fail to say hello, and never fail to be interesting and friendly. So for the price of another gallon of gas, Mrs. Muse got to sit on the dock and chat with a new friend, I got to wade around in the milkweed with my camera at low tide, and we all got to enjoy the peace and beauty of some of nature's finest work...
No matter where you are, and no matter what your personal aesthetic tastes there is no doubt a similar opportunity for you to leave the rush and stress behind and for the price of the loose change under the sofa pillows spend a rewarding, relaxing, refreshing, and renewing afternoon. Simple....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Path To Less, Update 3: The Healing Power of Music

Some things you just have to deal with. Monday morning I flew to the Philadelphia area on business -- it was snowing and cold... but necessary. I love my job. Really. Every day I have the opportunity to have a positive impact upon the future of pediatric health care through the facilitation of biomedical research. Regardless of the altruistic value of that part of my life, it involves stress. Travel, personalities, deadlines, emergencies, ethics -- pressure to do the right thing. Part of the simplification process is making room for the necessity of job stress, and decompressing as a method of managing that stress. In addition to my love of photography -- this is how I do it...

That's me in the Middle, Michelle the goddess of vocal harmonies and fretless acoustic bass on the left, and Al, the king of Florida songwriting on the right -- three of five members of the Ashley Gang. This past Saturday we performed at the Women's Club in Eustis Florida -- a charming little town with a great music scene. There was a time when we did this virtually every weekend -- we were younger and gas was cheaper. But there was something special about this one.. I got lost in the performance.. in the music... found new meaning in the playing, in the singing, in the friendships. What a blast! The place was pretty much full -- friends and family from Orlando showed up -- we received a standing ovation at the end . Refreshing and fulfilling -- a wide awake meditation...
So here we all are... Michelle, me, Al, Mrs. Muse, and norm -- the most dangerous man in folk music (wielding an accordion or playing percussion on pans and assorted kitchen utensils and African instruments). This, above all else is what refreshes me and stirs my creative juices. If you're ever in Florida, come out and hear us some time... Simple.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Friend I Never Knew - Andrew Wyeth

I consider Andy Wyeth to be a friend. Someone you know, who knows you, and who inspires you to be better at what you do -- to see the world close up. I never met him face to face, though I had hoped to -- on one of those business trips to the Brandywine Valley when I'd jump into the rental car and head out route 52 to US 1 into Chadds Ford, then left on Creek Road past the Historical Society, miles out into rural Pennsylvania along the Brandywine Creek. Perhaps I'd catch a glimpse of this icon of American Art, painting the land of his heart, of his life, from the back of his SUV. But it never did happen. Andy died today --- after a lifetime of recording his vision on canvas until the very end.

Three or four years ago, I turned right off of US 1 into the parking lot of the Brandywine River Museum. I'd been there several times before, admiring the Wyeth exhibit on the third floor. This time, at the front desk on the first floor I was approached by a young woman with  short blonde hair, asking me if I'd like to tour the Wyeth exhibit with Andy's granddaughter. Well of course. "Hi", she said, "I'm Victoria Wyeth, let's go!". Along with a few other visitors, I was privileged to gain the personal insights into an amazing painter's creative process that only family can know. In the years since I have met Victoria 4 or 5 more times, most recently this past October, the last time Kay and I visited the museum.

Four Wyeth prints are hung in our house. Three small ones, a field detail and two of Koerner's farm in our entry, and a full size reproduction of "The Ides of March" over our fireplace. I lingered over each of them when I came home this afternoon. Kay had called me at work to deliver the news that Andy had died in his sleep. A fitting departure.

The image above is from a photo I took in winter, 2007 on the Brandywine Creek, behind the museum. It's called Andy's Creek. We never did meet -- and I shall miss the fact of that lack in my life -- but his work will always be with me (and countless others), on my walls and in the museum that I shall continue to visit when I'm in the Brandywine Valley. So long, Andy -- see you later...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Musique! -- (My Space Music for Folkie Geezers)

My long-time partner in music Al Scortino (that's Al on the right below and me on the left), being the tech-savvy marketing guru that he is has created a MySpace page for our band, The Ashley Gang...

If you're interested you can find (and listen) to us here. I wrote (and sing) song numbers 2,3, and 5 on the play list -- and Al wrote and vocalizes on the rest. I've been looking for a way to embed audio in this blog, but haven't figured it out (let me know if you have) -- so this is the next best thing for now. Two posts in two days... who knew? Enjoy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Path To Less - Update 2

De-clutter a room, simplify your life...

After we became empty-nesters this room has variously served as a guest bedroom, music room, computer room, photography room, and, obviously, and over-loaded junk room. It took me two full days, but the effort was worth it in order to create a peaceful space for music, reading, meditation and rest. My oldest daughter took some of the no-longer-needed furnishings for her new house, we donated literally hundreds of pounds of books and clothing to local charitable organizations, and have kept a few items that will be sold on ebay or Craig's List. Finally there wwere 150 pounds of garbage and recyclables that were set out at the curb.

There is certainly something about making this kind of space-cleaning progress. It was stress relief during last week's high craziness activity, and will require so much less effort to take care of going forward. Not to mention that we can now leave the door open when we have friends over...

More to come as the year goes on -- and I promise also to get to more photography, too. Simple.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Path To Less - Update 1

So we're 5 days into the new year -- and I'm facing one of the most stressful periods of my work life. External accreditation of the program I run starts tomorrow, internal auditors wrapping up their end-of-year assessment for 2008, goal setting for me and my staff, business travel coming up.... These are among the reasons I have vowed to simplify my life. Task one: quiet the mind. So here's what I (we -- Mrs. Muse and I) have done:

  1. Less TV, more reading. Not much less, and not much more, but in increments we are reducing the over-stimulation of the tube and increasing the intellect-stimulation of the written word. I'm working on a biography of James Madison, and learning more about...
  2. Meditation. Spending quiet time -- even just ten minutes a day -- listening to myself breathe. I have been doing this during lunch while I'm walking alone in our beautiful north Florida winter weather, and getting some sensible....
  3. Exercise. After a light lunch (dietary simplification will be the subject of another post), I have been walking about 3 easy miles, focusing on my breath and the scenery, while avoiding the stress of the work day. I have always (mostly) exercised regularly, but as I will do, often over-did. Last year I did intense workouts that helped me to loose over 30 pounds, which turned out to be too much and did more damage to my health in the end than good. Now I exercise moderately while cooling down the noise in my head. On the weekend, Mrs. Muse and I discovered some near by trails that we hadn't hiked before and enjoyed the outdoors together -- while I indulged in a little photography (my major joy and relaxation). The photo above is the reflection in a small stream in the wetlands along the Bayberry Trail on the campus of the University of North Florida...
So... time well spent, without expense, with my wife (when possible), improving my health and engaging my passion. Off to a pretty good start. Now about that mess in the spare bedroom... well, maybe next time. Stay tuned. Simple.