The One Place You Must See Before You Die

Rustic Idyll

Forget 1001 historic sites/gardens/natural wonders/architectural feats you must see before you die.  I’ll tell you the one thing that you really must see before you leave this world  for the next – the here and now.

I’m not talking here of a cursory glance around, so you can check it off that mental list of things seen and done.  To my mind, unless you give yourself completely over to experiencing the moment, this exact one happening right now, it won’t matter if you’re seated outside the Taj Mahal, touring the pyramids by camel, standing at the viewpoint overlooking the steep cliffs of the Grand Canyon or climbing the many steps ascending the Eiffel Tower.  To fully experience life, it must be lived, not measured, evaluated and checked.

Here’s a quick exercise for you to try:

  1. Walk for no more than 5 mins from where you are sitting now – this may take you to your living room, your garden, a local park etc. – and bring with you a notebook, a pen and your camera.
  2. Find a good (safe!) place to sit, and close your eyes for a few minutes and just breathe.  Allow your body to relax and your mind to unwind.  Push to one side all those concerns about what you still have to do today,  the money worries, the work woes.  They’ll all still be there when we’re finished, so they can be ignored for the time being.
  3. Still with your eyes closed, give over to your senses.  Feel the grass tickle your fingers.  Smell the honey-scented blooms.  Hear the sweet chirp of the birds.  Of course, depending on where you chose your spot to sit, your senses may convey something entirely different from that which I’ve described here.  The important thing is to give yourself over to it and to experience it for what it is.
  4. Now, open your eyes, and look around you.  Take in the whole of the sight, allowing your eyes to drink in the unique beauty of what surrounds you.  You may be viewing tall oaks, rolling grassy hillocks, colourful flowerbeds, or, if you stayed inside, maybe you’re viewing overfilled bookcases, softly draping curtains, and finely grained floorboards.  Whatever the sight, accept and appreciate it, without longing that you were somewhere else entirely.
  5. After absorbing the bigger picture, it’s now time to zero in on the details.  Pick up your camera and, turning on your macro setting, get up close to your subjects and start capturing the intimate curves of the petals, the gradation of colour in the leaves, the textured grain of the wood.  Try new angles, new perspectives, new takes on the familiar.  Make the known, new, fresh and strange.
  6. Time to uncap the pen and open the notebook.  Find a fresh page and begin to write about what you’ve experienced since you first sat in that spot 5 mins walk away.  Remember to try and capture the sensual experience of what you felt, heard, and smelled as well as the sights you saw and photographed, and really try to use as descriptive language as you can.  Write as truthfully and as mindfully as you can – try and express the truth of the moment to the best of your ability. Wax lyrical!
  7. Optional: What I do following this exercise is, I upload my photographs, cropping and editing them to make them more clearly represent my perspective, and then create a post combining my words and images.  A record of that time and place to be shared and experienced by all who come across it.

I think you’ll find that if you follow these steps, you’ll have see the one place you ‘must see’ before you die – the present moment.  But do you know what the great thing is?  Life is just full of these moments!

I’m reminded of this wonderful quote which my mum used to keep on her fridge:

Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had my life to live over, I’d have more of them in fact I’d have nothing else, just moments, one after another instead of living so many years ahead each day.

Nadine Stair age 85 in Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself by Sabrina Ward Harrison

I couldn’t have said it better myself 🙂

If you do decide to give the exercise a go, why not report back here with how you got on?  I’ll be posting about mine tomorrow!  If you decided to take the option of blogging about it, leave the link so we can all go and share in your experience of a moment.  Also, you could contribute one of your photos from the exercise to the Photography Less Ordinary time capsule. If you’re planning to do so though, you’ll need to do it today, as the deadline for entries is midnight (your time) tonight!


June 4, 2008. Creativity, Environment, Inspiration. 18 comments.

Time Capsule: Flickr Group Project

Blushing Bride

It has been one whole week now since I launched the Flickr group, Photography Less Ordinary, and I have been blown away by just how many of you have embraced the project, and have been willing to get involved. In Monday’s post, I mentioned the possibility of some group projects, themes, treasure hunts etc. Well, I have decided to launch the first of those today. With 71 members currently, I’m hoping to get a pretty good turn out!

Ok, the details of the project are as follows: your mission, should you choose to accept it, (and I sincerely hope you will!) is to take a time-specific photograph and contribute it to the group by midnight (your time) next Wednesday (4th June).

Your photograph could relate to a specific season or you may choose to photograph an actual timepiece. You could contribute a photograph that includes the date in some innovative way, or you may decide to take a photo of a time-specific event. Or you could even capture and share a personal milestone, although perhaps not a milestone as major as the photographed one I’ve included in this post, which is me on my wedding day nearly 11 years ago. However, I would prefer that the photo you contribute is one taken during the course of the week, as it will form a part of a Photography Less Ordinary time capsule celebrating the group’s launch and all its fabulous members’ efforts to date!

A few technicalities:

  1. If you are not a member of the Flickr group, but you would like to be, add me as a contact, and you will be sent an invite.
  2. Your photograph should be time-specific in some way.
  3. Preferably, your photograph will have been taken between the 30th May and the 4th June.
  4. When contributing a photograph to this project, please include timecapsule as a Flickr tag, to make it easy for all contributions to be collated. Please ensure that you enter the tag exactly as I have here, all one word, otherwise your entry may get lost!
  5. Add a description giving details of your photograph including the date it was taken and why you have chosen to submit it to the time capsule.
  6. Submit your photo to the group by midnight (your time) on Wednesday (4th June) to ensure your photo’s inclusion in the round-up post.
  7. Have fun!

I plan to write the round-up post, the format of which will be dependent upon how many entries the group receives, by next Friday (6th June).

Please do give it a go! In particular, if you are one of the members who has yet to contribute a photograph to the group’s pool, why not use this as a good excuse to give it a go. If you are unsure about any of the technicalities of contributing a photo, send me a Flickr Mail, and I’ll talk you through it. Some of our less confident members have already plucked up the courage to share a photo with the group, and have been greatly encouraged by the supportive feedback received.

Your photo does not have to be perfect – it just has to be yours!

How are you enjoying Photography Less Ordinary so far? Do you have any suggestions for future projects? Do you have any suggestions for the group overall? All feedback will be greatly appreciated!

May 30, 2008. Creativity, Photography. 11 comments.

Figure 5 in Gold

When I was walking in the centre of Edinburgh recently, I came across this remnant from bygone days painted on the side of a building.


Perhaps it’s just the way my mind works, but I was immediately reminded of this painting:

'I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold' by Charles Demuth

It’s a painting by Precisionist, Charles Demuth, which was inspired by the poem ‘The Great Figure’ by that wonderful Imagist, William Carlos Williams:

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

Isn’t that a fabulous poem?  Carlos Williams had an incredible talent for conveying such rich images through so few words.

Like I said, maybe it’s just the way my mind works, but when I wander around cities, ramble through forests, window-shop down the high street, I can’t help but be reminded of paintings, poems, lyrics, novels etc.

I’d be fascinated to know, however, what creative works you are reminded of as you make your way through your city, your hometown, your local parks and woodlands.  Perhaps it’s the work of a local artist or songwriter?  Or maybe it’s a personal association?  What are the narratives that call to you when you’re out and about?

May 29, 2008. Creativity, Environment. 8 comments.

A Powerful Combination

I just love going to garden centres.

I love to walk along the aisles of ordered plants: a shelf of petunias, a bed of pansies, a row of ornamental cherry saplings.

I love how the fragrance subtly changes as you move from one display to another.

I love how my eye is first attract by the mass of colour, but then becomes entranced by the individual detail of the petal, the stamen, the leaf shape that truly delights.

I love to be surrounded by well-cared for plants; clematis, magnolias, ranunculi and azaleas draped with an aura of nurture, love and consideration.

Salmon Pink Ranunculus

Pink Clematis

Purple Stripe Clematis

Pink Rhodedendrons

Purple Parrot Tulip

Magnolia Heart

Orange Ranunculus

It’s this heady mixture of sensual delight with the awareness of the loving attention lavished upon each individual plant that inspires my love for the garden centre.  Although the garden centre is certainly not the only place that I find this intoxicating combination. I experience similar delight when I visit the farmers’ market, where the products on sale are presented with the justifiable pride of a producer who has had hands-on involvement in bringing the product to the eager customer. I find it in craft fairs where knitters, beaders, binders, and painters all ply their trade while simultaneously practicing their craft for all to see: a community demonstration of the time, intention and creativity which goes into each individual item. Lastly, I find it in blogs which display well-crafted writing, provide food for thought, and give me information, entertainment, and aesthetic pleasure. The time and effort which has gone into each to provide sensual pleasure translates as a powerful positive intention to connect, to communicate, to create.

Where do you find this powerful combination of a treat for the senses with evidence of positive intention?

May 4, 2008. Creativity, Environment, Photography. 13 comments.

The New Notebook

There are few things in life that get the creative juices flowing more than a new notebook full of fresh blank pages, as clean and as pure as a bank of freshly fallen snow.

The Blank Page

So Many Pages, So Many Possibilities

As you sit there with pen in hand looking down at the first page, it almost seems sacrilegious to make a mark. And what to write? What to write?

A toododlist perhaps?

A mindmap of a new idea?

A blog post?

Or maybe a little creative writing…

The wet black boughs, their bark slick with rainwater, shimmer in the errant shaft of light which slices through the pregnant clouds. Scattered haphazardly, randomly, the magnolia flowers, thick creamy petals unfurling, gleam illuminated against the gloom. Lush and exuberant, they perch, unfettered by foliage, upon the tree like a flock of small exotic white birds that were merely passing through on their way to warmer climes. A place more verdant where the droplets of moisture hang in the air and form a fine film over flushed begrimed skin. A place where the body moves slowly, stiffly: the limbs, heavy and insect-bitten. Hair clings to the scalp while small rivulets of sweat make their way down the nape, between shoulder blades, tracing the spine, only finding obstacle when they approach the ancient grey elastic of a bra strap which has pressed so tight against the skin that, beneath the threadbare fabric, angry red cries out in a cacophony of itches. A place where the mind can masticate the regurgitated morsels of regret.

What would you write on the first page of your new notebook?

April 28, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 24 comments.

A Shakespearean Sonnet

I’m teaching my class all about the sonnet tomorrow, and so I’ve been pouring over my poetry anthologies, reveling in the imaginative renderings of this much loved form. Of course, one of the main poets that we associate with the sonnet is Shakespeare, and we now use the term Shakespearean Sonnet to describe the type of sonnet he wrote. However, I think one of my favourite Shakespearean sonnets was not actually written by Shakespeare himself. It is, in fact, written by Carol Ann Duffy, and it’s named after William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.

Bed in Sunset

Anne Hathaway
“Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…”
(from Shakespeare’s will)

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love –
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

By Carol Ann Duffy

This poem is from a fantastic collection of poems by Carol Ann Duffy called The World and His Wife in which each poem is written from the perspective of the wife of a famous, often historical figure. I highly recommend it as each poem is such a gem. In this poem, in particular, I love that she chose to write Shakespeare’s wife’s narrative in the form of the sonnet: the verse form which was clearly so close to his heart.

What’s your favourite sonnet? What do you love about this very special verse form?

UPDATE: I’ve had a request to share all the favourite sonnets I gathered through Twitter and this post, so, ever obliging, here they are:

Also if you head over to Autumn Song’s blog, you can read her post on sonnets and read a few by Edna St Vincent Millay.

Thanks go to @lindiop, @dmcordell, @captainstardust and @pfanderson from Twitter, as well as to the following commenters who contributed to this list: Mrs ChilliJoanna Young, DaleAutumn Song and Ellen Wilson.

April 14, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 9 comments.

How Twitter Helped Me Meet My Deadline

Hitting the Books

Twitter is often seen as a distraction – a place where arch procrastinators hang out and egg each other on to new and higher levels of avoidance. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the case. I have found some of the most productive people on the web through Twitter, and rather than encouraging my inner slacker, they actually helped me to meet my deadline for my thesis chapter, which, incidentally, was due in today.

So, having now finally finished my chapter (which is soon to be winging its way to my supervisor), I thought I’d share a few pointers on how you could also use Twitter to help you to increase your productivity, and meet your goals on time.

  • Accountability: Announce your intention and the time frame that you intend to complete it in. Once your time is up, report back on how you did. I found that when I did this, I not only made myself a promise to do the work, but I also promised my 162 followers. I also discovered that when I did announce my goal, I received replies wishing me luck, and when I reported back, replies of congratulations. Greatly encouraging!
  • Support: Of course, I didn’t always meet my goals. Sometimes life got in the way, sometimes I had a set back in the research, sometimes the words just wouldn’t flow. When I reported back that I’d hit a stumbling block, I was sent such wonderfully supportive tweets, that it became easier to forgive myself for my lack of progress, and to start anew the following day.
  • Called Out: If you have stated your intention and your time frame for completion, and then you loiter around, your followers will call you out. I actually so appreciated this, because as much as I know I’m capable of getting down to work, sometime I need someone else to nudge me into action. Actually, I know of no greater cure for procrastination than being caught doing something when you’re supposed to be working!
  • Downtime: I’ve heard Twitter being compared to a water cooler for those who work from home, and, when you need it to, it can certainly work like that for you. If you’ve been plowing through books of dense literary theory, as I was, it’s fun to drop in and engage in some light chitchat. In fact, I’d go further than that, and say it goes towards recharging the brain cells, and helps you to return to your task refreshed.
  • Celebration: Once you’ve achieved your goal, you get to report back the good news, and that, in many ways, is a great reward in itself. Reading congratulatory tweets was a lovely way to celebrate all that hard work 🙂

Now, of course, there are a lot of other offline supporters that have helped me get to my goal this week, and they know how much I appreciate them and their relentless encouragement. But with this post, I wanted to redeem a little of Twitter’s reputation as an instrument of idleness. Twitter is merely a medium – you are ultimately the one who determines how you use it, so make sure you use it well!

I also wanted to use this post to say thank you to the following folk from my Twitter network who held me accountable, gave me encouragement and support, and who have shared in my achievement: Joanna Young, Captain Stardust, Xarah, D Mcordell, Chris Garrett, PetLvr, Roland Hesz, Tom Breeves, Evil Angel 277, Nick Cernis, Karen Swim, Anna Lenardson, Linda R. Moore, Alina Popescu and WendiKelly. Thank you 🙂

What unexpected uses have you found for Twitter? Where do you find support online when you need it? Do you use Twitter to increase your productivity?

UPDATE: If you are new to Twitter, then you might want to check out my post on lessons from my first week of Twitter. Oh, and if you want to follow me, click here.

March 31, 2008. Creativity. 14 comments.

There Is No Blue

Van Gogh apparently said, “there is no blue without yellow and without orange”. I took this photo of Grandma’s African Violet last week, and, after discovering Van Gogh’s colourful perspective, I couldn’t agree more.

African Violet

Who is your favourite artist? Who makes you see the world with fresh eyes?

PS Sunday was Van Gogh’s birthday, so to celebrate I posted some links, images etc. over at the Tumblr.

Painting details: Starry Night, oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh, 1888; in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

March 30, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 7 comments.

Culinary Memories

As I’ve already said here before, I am not a very good housewife. I am, shall we say, domestically challenged. However, I absolutely love cooking. I enjoy mixing together different flavours. I love coming up with new tastes. I find joy in sourcing good quality ingredients.

I recently purchased some cookery books, one of which my mum has had since I was a child, and flicking through it I found many of the recipes that evoke my childhood. What a pleasure to sit and read, and allow my taste buds to remember!  One recipe in particular, Apple Custard Pie,  as I read down the list of ingredients (apples, yoghurt, honey, cinnamon, vanilla) I could actually feel the texture in my mouth, and catch the scent of its warm sweetness.  I find it astonishing that the act of reading a recipe can have such a  sensory reaction.

Anyway, here are a few of the ingredients that I purchased today so I can get to stirring, boiling, peeling, baking, chopping, and trying out a whole host of recipes both known and much cherished, as well as those new and experimental.


Sea Salt


Pair of Onions




What recipe evokes your early years for you?  Do you enjoy cooking, and if you do, do you prefer to cook from a recipe or would you rather make it up as you go along?  What’s your most vivid culinary memory?

March 15, 2008. Creativity. 14 comments.

Playing On The Emotions

My parents went to a Scottish music concert the other week there, and when I spoke to them about it, they mentioned a track that Phil Cunningham played on the accordion. It was one he had written in memory of his dead brother, and my parents said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. In fact, my dad wrote a post about it here, in which he includes a clip of Cunningham explaining the composition of the track, and discussing why it’s so emotive.

I’ve been thinking about this off and on, and so when I was on Youtube yesterday (looking for clips of violinists to show my daughter, who is currently learning the instrument), I was drawn to these three wonderful examples of music which are just brimming with emotion. In each case, the clip features a different instrument, but they all showcase truly incredible performances. See what you think:

So, which one was your favourite? Or do you prefer a different piece altogether? What do you think it is about music that evokes such strong emotions?

PS I added a 2nd item to the prize draw bundles – click here to check it out!

March 6, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 8 comments.

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