Friday, June 21, 2013

The Power of Perception

Mom and me, laughing our butts off at Knotsberry Farm, circa 1988

The strangest revelation I’ve had since Mom passed away is that I am able to control my mood much of the time. I’m suddenly acutely aware that my state-of-being is contingent upon the choices I make. For instance, if I choose to stay at home, sitting on the couch, watching TV under the guise that I need to “relax,” my thoughts will inevitably turn dark, sad, and I will end up crying. However, if I put on upbeat music, get some caffeine flowing through my system via iced coffee, take a nice shower and get out of the house, I actually feel good. Yes, even in the midst of coping with death, it is possible to feel good. Kind of mind blowing, right? The truth is that I know this is what Mom would prefer. If she saw me wearing pajamas at 2:00pm on a Tuesday, holding a framed picture of her in my hands, and listening to old voicemails she left me in January 2011, she’d probably smack me upside the head. There are times when the sadness comes anyway, when it feels like I am standing on ground that has suddenly given way to a landslide. And I know that it is important to just give in and let these emotions overtake me from time-to-time, because avoiding them or denying them won’t get me anywhere. But still, I am happy to know that I can still be happy, and that I do have some control over how I feel in any given moment.

One factor in choosing to feel good is drastically limiting what I allow to infiltrate my sphere of perception. Sad music, tear-jerker movies, and disturbing web sites have all been nixed from my life for the time being. Why exacerbate the situation by wallowing in other people’s misery? No, I have been careful to instead watch, listen to, and look at those things that inspire and delight me. From upbeat music (Talking Heads!), to animated movies (Lilo & Stitch! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how damn cute this movie is?), to inspiring web sites, I am finding blissful moments any way I can.

This is why I am so excited to see that the Google Doodle for today, the first day of summer, was designed by one of the most innovative web presences around, Christoph Niemann! Do you know about Christoph Niemann? He’s an illustrator who has a New York Times blog called Abstract Sunday. He also has his own wonderful web site, and has published a number of books including I LEGO N.Y. I have been in awe of his work since I first stumbled upon it about a year ago.

Niemann is clever, quick-witted, and profound in his observations of everyday life. He hails from Germany, but lived in New York for many years, and his outsider’s perspective on America and Americans can be hilarious. But he is also unfailingly kind, a quality that is sorely lacking in much of what is seen on-line. Take, for example, his ambitious project from November 2011, in which he ran the New York City Marathon and live-illustrated the experience. That’s right – Niemann strapped a shelf-like apparatus to his chest that allowed him to work in his sketchbook while running a course that would undoubtedly kill me, even if my sole focus on running. Oh, and he also live-tweeted his illustrations so people could follow along in real-time. He had some humorous run-ins with Security, which initially wouldn’t let him in to the race with his drawing equipment, but allowed another runner in with a huge Italian flag and flag pole. He drew portraits of the more colorful characters he encountered, including Luana Liverpool who ran the race in curlers. And when he became emotional due to the spirit being shown by spectators and fellow runners, he used a John-Boehner-Alert-Level system to describe how teary he was. Classic.

"Security won’t let me in w/ utensils. Will I have to live-expressive dance the race?"

Among my other favorites of Niemann’s: a meditation on Debussy, sheep, and Mitt Romney’s hair that he doodled while waiting “On Hold”an illustrated essay about the difficulties of getting a good night’s sleep; and taking cloud-spotting to a whole new level via autumnal leaves, in “Bio-Diversity.” See? Clever and kind.

Another site I can always count on to perk me up is Color Me Katie by photographer Katie Sokoler. Though Katie does not post too often, I find myself looking back over her photo essays time and again when I feel the need to look at something beautiful. She has a very childlike, carefree spirit that infuses everything she does. When I first came upon her blog, I was a bit skeptical of her seemingly bottomless well of happiness. So many bloggers show only the good times and paint an unfair portrait of their lives which can sometimes leave readers feeling inadequate. But Katie explains, “Many people in my family suffer from depression. It's one of the main reasons I decided to become a photographer. I wanted to create colorful, positive, feel good images.” I think that is admirable and brave!

This looks like fun. 

Katie does not hoard her joy in her Neverland-like Brooklyn apartment. She takes her positive vibes to the streets in order to brighten the days of strangers. She once filled plastic eggs with tiny toys and hung them, with cute notes, around the city for children to find. She planted a tiny garden in the square of soil in front of her apartment building. She painted rocks with hearts and put them back outside where people could discover them. Katie also photographs weddings and other NYC events, is involved with the group Improv Everywhere, and she has the best interior decorating advice of anyone. It’s a pretty wonderful life she’s made for herself, don’t you think?

Life is never going to be a cake-walk, but I take solace in the fact that I will have countless more beautiful moments before I go. I feel hope in the realization that even when the unthinkable occurs, laughter will still come. Feeling joyful will forever be my daily tribute to Mom. That is how she would have wanted it to be.

1 comment:

  1. You nailed the way I'm feeling and thinking with this beautiful piece. So love your work.