Before Grey

I’ve been thinking about Darcie a lot the last couple days. This year will mark 10 years since she passed. I think about her when I sing on stage, which I did on New Year’s Eve. She lived loud. She loved loud. She was full of joy, laughter, and encouragement. She lived with her whole heart. We weren’t too great about keeping in touch the last few years of her life. But losing her felt like losing a sister and I feel her presence a lot more since she’s gone.
Her energy is still here, her memory lives on and encourages me. She inspires me to live more fully, more out loud.
We spent a lot of time together on the court, and also in the van, driving to games. My volleyball teammates often doubled as subjects for my photo projects.
These grainy black and white images which are now sweet memories. These moments captured while waiting…maybe at a gas station or outside a restaurant on the way to or from a game or tournament. How many times did the 11 of us pile into or out of a 12-passenger van? How many hours on the road did we spend singing, talking, laughing? How many hours did we spend in silence, contemplating the game we just played, our wins and losses, our triumphs and failures, every play? I miss being on that team, with those girls. What a gift that time, those bonds and experiences were.



I miss the dark room; the way time passed in 10-minute chunks between the dim, red light of the dark room and back into the white light. I miss the smell of developer, bringing an image into focus on the enlarger. Exposure. Watching it slowly appear on the photo paper in the tub of developer. The dark room was magic.

Dark
Light
Dark
Light
Red
White
Black & white
 

Until I opened the photo lab door to find the sunrise.


Film stips hanging on a line, photo paper hanging out to dry. Images of friends, teammates, roommates, my fellow art majors, all that youth and beauty and fun.


This year will also mark 10 years since the end of my marriage. A relationship I was in for 20 years, which is now less than half of my life. It’s now much less of what defines me as a person. He shows up in those photos too. Young and beautiful and strong. Before all the poison and pain, or at least the effects of this hadn’t shown up yet. We were young and naive and so carefree.
 
Photography was so different then. It was more expensive. A roll of film. One shot at a time. You didn’t know what you had for days after, until you finished the roll and developed the whole thing. Time was cheap, we had so much time back then. These things have now flipped.
 
Contact Sheet…a high-level view of your projects over the course of 24 frames.


Each photo taken was recorded in a journal so you could track the settings, reflect, and improve for next time. Meta data was captured by hand; pen to paper in a composition notebook back then. Image 4 of 24 ISO 400, F11, 1/60. Every failure and success contemplated. Was the sky exposed correctly, or was it blown out? There was no auto-correct, no dimming the highlights while brightening the shadows. Just black and white and grey. Maybe a little dodging and burning. There is always a workaround I guess.Photography notes
I didn’t know much about grey back then. I didn’t realize nearly all of life is there in the grey. Is there even such a thing as black and white? I painted shades of gray once as part of a painting project. We couldn’t use black paint either. Black was made with a mix of ultramarine and brown…burnt sienna maybe…I can’t remember. The assignment was to create a continuum of grey from white to black in 10 steps. I wish I had learned the deeper lesson then. Does black or white even exist? It’s mostly grey.Art majors
 
Just looking through one contact sheet, I see my boyfriend about to surf Newport Beach, flexing shirtless for some photo project, a photo taken from the back seat of the van of my teammates on the way to some game. There’s Sunny’s overalls reflected in the window with L.A. traffic on the other side, the Kent Twitchel mural with a Biola runner on the 10. Rameson, Roberts, Darcie, Yvette, Sunny and Deb, Lyons and Melanie Michelle Denise Smith Johnson (depending on which parent showed up to the game that night). Jed. Nate. Angela. Brian. Emily. Sheryl. Robbie Halleen. College was fun.

Death. Loss. Change. These all help us let go of something and make room for something new, and usually in the end, it helps us grow and brings us to a place where we become more us. It is meant to be.

Evolve

In the not-so-distant past, I had this idea in my head that changing my beliefs about something was negative and wishy washy. I remember thinking about this at the time. I’d read a book and gain some new perspective on something, and it would open my mind to new ideas and there would be a mental shift. This happened often. I remember judging myself for this, as though it would be better to have more solid convictions about everything and not keep changing.A path in the woods

Now, I see this shifting as growth. Of course it is. And of course that is as it should be. I should always be learning, and with each new insight, I shift into something hopefully more aware. It’s astounding to me that the belief system I grew up in caused me to think of this as a negative and that certainty in a set of rigid ideals was the right way to go. This causes a person to stay stuck, unthoughtful, immature, and ultimately unloving, as it’s impossible to consider other people’s lived experiences and perspectives without that soft front. 

We’re continually building a picture of reality. As we perceive through our senses, we’re updating our picture of the world. As Maya Angelo said, when we know better, we do better. I hope to always be growing to know better and in turn do better.

 

Photography, Perfection, Apertures, and Hospitality

“f8 and be there.” Renowned photojournalist Arthur Fellig said this when asked about how he captured such great photos. It’s a basic photo setting. You won’t get the dramatic depth of field like you would with a larger aperture, like portrait mode on your iphone. And you won’t get super crisp landscapes like Ansel Adams did with f64. But f8 is good enough to get your subject clear while letting in enough light to avoid motion blur in a majority of photos. The point is, to “be there”.

In a world of automatic camera settings, this point is still profound in other areas of life and how it relates to perfection. Perfection is the enemy of productivity. I think often about the 80/20 rule where 20% of my effort will result in 80% of my impact. The other day, I was sharing this with a couple friends who were at my house, applying this idea to cleaning. Rarely is my house spotless. I have three teenage sons. My goal is 80% clean. The “be there” part of this is in the hospitality. I love having people over and I don’t mind them seeing a little mess, as long as it’s 80% clean.

The past couple years have been socially strange, as the term “social distancing” entered our lexicon. We had social bubbles, and we sheltered in place. We spent weeks in lockdown and felt guilty meeting the eyes of neighbors we passed on the street for fear that eye contact alone might spread the virus in those early days.

It might feel a little strange to invite friends into your home. But if we’ve learned anything through this strange social experiment, I hope we have realized how precious our friendships are. Precious enough to practice hospitality, even if your home is only 80% clean.

Shop art at BeckyDavis.art

 

Time Travel

Alamo Creek
Time travel at Alamo Creek. Click to shop this print at www.beckydavis.art

I found this magical spot near my house shortly after moving to this side of town last year. I often walk or jog here and stop for a few minutes, scrambling down the rocks to the river’s edge, to watch the water trickle and the birds frolic. It’s my place to pause, breathe, and enjoy nature. I often imagine I’m taken back to a different time and consider how this place looked and who walked through these trees before I came. 

Yesterday, as I jogged past, I saw someone painting this same scene. She later shared her painting with me. It was such a perfect moment, I stopped to ask if she wanted her picture taken while she painted. 

On a recent morning run, after chasing the pink and orange sunrise, brilliant ahead of me, I turned back toward home as orange light washed me from behind and lit the trail like a dream. I stopped on a bridge over this creek. Tiny drops drizzled on me and the water below as I looked out at the massive expanse of sky above. I watched the raindrops create ripples in the water as they took on a new form. Droplet to stream. My eyes followed the stream until my mind’s eye continued its path to the ocean. These tiny drops continued to become something different…a stream to an ocean. Eventually they evaporate back into the atmosphere and fall somewhere new as snow. 

I looked up into the rain clouds, still edged pink with the sunrise and I spoke to the divine creator who I understand now to be so much more than the  male deity that I imagined before. Hearing God only referred to with male pronouns, to me, minimizes half of the attributes of the divine. I told her, for this full moon, I release those limiting beliefs. I watched as my old identity fell to the water below and drifted down the stream, to become something new and continue to change.  

I released seeing myself as fundamentally bad, needing something outside of myself to help me be good and loving. I have been given this beautiful gift of living the human experience, the divine within me, and the point is to love. I recently heard someone say “religion is training wheels to spirituality”, and that felt like a good description of this evolution, taking off those training wheels. 

Einstein once said, “I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.” The answer has profound implications. If we believe the world is intrinsically unfriendly, and we are intrinsically evil people with wicked and deceitful hearts as I was told so many times growing up, then we’ll use our resources and technology to create bigger walls and weapons. 

If we believe that the world is intrinsically a friendly place, we’ll use our resources to deepen our understanding. I believe love is at the source, and I’ll keep looking for the beauty of that every day.

Vietnam 2000

Originally posted October 2015

We spent Thanksgiving in Ho Chi Minh City with Megan who was spending four months teaching English there. Kia and I flew in to Seoul, South Korea and spent the night in a Korean style room with mattresses on the heated floor before boarding a plane to Vietnam where we would spend the next couple weeks. We shopped in Korean markets which had cell phones with color displays, as yet unheard of in the states at the time.

Taxi ride
Taxi ride

Megan met us at the airport with rice hats. We took a cab to her house which would be the only time we rode in an actual car for the rest of the trip. The city runs on scooters and motorcycles.

We had clothes custom made for us, including some silk qipao dresses. There were plenty of pre-made dresses to buy, but none of these fit my 5’10” self. We bought material at a fabric shop while playing patty cake with the local kids.

Custom Qipao
Custom Qipao

Then we went to a seamstress. She took our measurements, looked at some of the pictures we brought from home, them made us awesome outfits.

We toured the Mekong Delta. But before that, we got food poisoning from an upscale Chinese food restaurant serving drunken prawns. I’ve never been so sick in my life. That night president Clinton made the first visit to Vietnam from an American president since the war. The streets were going crazy in celebration and I didn’t have the strength to stand at the window and watch. Still, it was cool to hear and witness that.

My new friend
My new friend

The museums in Vietnam show history from a different side than we Americans are used to. We lost that war. The museums showed atrocities committed by American soldiers and the damage done to that country rather than celebrating any freedom we had hoped to bring. It was a different story in Korea where the war memorial celebrated the various countries that helped South Korea escape communism. The Vietnamese museum was the first place I’ve experienced the sobering feeling of being on the losing side of history. Helicopters from 30 years before still littered the airfield.

Head massage in Saigon
Head massage in Saigon

Kia, Megan and I got head massages. They lasted for one hour and felt amazing. I looked like a Qtip after with my short platinum hair sticking straight up and frizzing all over the place afterward.

Motorcycles, Grand Prix, and Monte Carlo

This was originally posted October, 2015

It was raining in Paris, so we left.

Paris in 2000

We headed south for the coast of France and rented a couple motorcycles.  We explored Cannes, I had one of the best meals of my life in Nice. It was there I discovered Gnocchi, with my dad on his birthday.

South of France with Dad in 2000
South of France with Dad in 2000

We wound our way along the coast, through the small coastal towns of Southern France. Every time we rode around another point to see the next inlet of blue ocean and a steep coastline dotted with bright houses it took my breath away.

I had learned how to ride a motorcycle earlier that year dirt biking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I borrowed my friend Mike’s time-worn Honda to practice before leaving.

Dad and me our our Mediterranean motorcycle tour
Dad and me our our Mediterranean motorcycle tour

Italian’s drive a little more aggressively than drivers in the US. Similarly, my dad drives more aggressively than your average driver anywhere in the world except maybe Jeff Gordon. I did my best to keep up, but somewhere near San Remo we were passing a car on this winding coastal road as two motorcycles came at us in the oncoming lane. I was still on the center line and those two remained side-by-side. I think my bike had 125cc’s, so there wasn’t much power to get in front of the car I was passing. No room on the road! Dad had safely passed already. I avoided a head on collision bumping into the car I was passing. My foot hit the car’s front tire, I wobbled a little before regaining control.

I was a little shaky pulling into San Remo a short time later. We may have gone a little slower after that. So there you have the story of one of my near death experiences. Next time, I’ll let dad go on ahead.

Grand Prix practice in Monte Carlo
Grand Prix practice in Monte Carlo

One morning, we were sitting outside eating breakfast and we heard this strange buzzing sound. It was like thousands of bees nearby. We listened for a few minutes before realizing it was the sound of Formula One engines racing through the streets of Monte Carlo. We had passed through Monaco the day before and saw the race course being set up. But today the drivers were practicing on the course. Perfect! We returned to Monte Carlo and found seats on the last turn before these cars floored it through the iconic tunnel. It was loud. The drivers cut this corner so close each time that the banner hung there was torn to shreds by the first afternoon.

A perfect day finished with some Limoncello. Que Magnifico!

Paris in 2000

Uncle, Uncle

This post was originally published in November, 2019.

I started my new corporate job last week. It’s a great company, great people I work with, a fun department and challenging work. I haven’t done a corporate gig since the last millennium, so I’m adjusting to the new schedule. It’s working out well so far.

Today the CEO walked past our row of cubicles. Apparently this doesn’t happen often because there was a lot of buzz about it. It got me thinking about my Uncle John.

John Akers, CEO of IBM
John Akers, CEO of IBM

John Akers would have caused a buzz like that walking past any floor in IBM. My uncle was the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world. The last time I saw him was at my parent’s house during Easter a couple years ago, the year before he passed away.

My new job has gotten me thinking about another uncle lately too. My new job title is “Editor”. This was my Uncle Roger’s title at People magazine. For a couple decades Roger Wolmuth was the senior editor at this major magazine and now, in a small way, I’m echoing that.

Becky with Roger and Sheila in 1999
Becky with Roger and Sheila in 1999

I like my new job, and my new company. I’m excited about this opportunity and getting to know my new co-workers.

Update January, 2022

I start another new job this month. After 6 years at the last gig, and working up to the title, Learning Experience Designer, I’m moving on to see what else there is for me. I worked with great people and learned so much the past six years. I’ve felt very lucky to have landed in that role. I feel very lucky to have the option and opportunity to move on and try something new, too.

So here’s to new beginnings and taking a leap!

In a few months, I’m hoping to take my boys back to New York and visit Aunt Sheila in the same place pictured above. The week I spent in New York with them in 1999 still holds such great memories. Nothing is certain in these pandemic days. But, I really hope my boys get to know Aunt Sheila this spring.

 

Amsterdam Solo

Hollyhocks in Amsterdam
Hollyhocks in Amsterdam. Click image to shop.

It was the day after my sister’s wedding when I boarded a plane for my first solo trip. This wasn’t the original plan. But life happened and I was no longer going to a wedding in Finland. Instead I decided to visit the country where my great-grandmother emigrated from. As usual, I didn’t have much planned after the first few days. Thanks to the sage advice of Rick Steves, I had a great room in Amsterdam. From this corner of the world, this old city began to feel like my own.

Bloemgracht, Amsterdam
Bloemgracht, Amsterdam

I rented a bike and rode all over town. I stayed a couple blocks away from where Anne Frank once hid through her adolescence. On my third day, I was flagged down while riding my bike and asked why I was alone.

My mode of transporation
My mode of transporation

They had seen me coming and going over the past few days. I was a regular now.  We visited and kept in touch after I returned home. Traveling alone allows you to meet people and have conversations you otherwise never would.

Martine was a beautiful lady I met on the train heading north to the islands. Her husband, a professor, had passed away a few years before. She loved to travel, but her friends would rather stay home. So she traveled the world alone. I loved talking to her.

I had only a faint idea of my Dutch heritage.

Old school in Terschelling Harbor
Old school in Terschelling Harbor

I knew my family were called Freislanders and that they came from the islands. Not knowing which one, I picked Terschelling and had a lovely time there. This was not a big tourist destination. It seemed mostly Dutch people traveled there for holiday, not foreigners. I inquired about my relatives at the local museum on Terschelling. Upon asking for a last name, the historian

told me instantly that they did not come from that island. She knew from the name. It was a small island.

Island Horses on Terschelling
Island Horses on Terschelling. Click image to shop.

I traversed it on bike and saw some beautiful Dutch horses on the way. She gave me the name of a website which I looked up once I got home. From there I was able to find my relatives and trace them back hundreds of years from marriage license information.

Some of my favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”,

Old ships on the Wadden Sea
Old ships on the Wadden Sea

the group sails to the end of the world where the water gradually gets more and more shallow. This Wadden Sea went on endlessly shallow. A person could walk for ages and not get deeper than the knee.

Becky in front of waders in the Wadden Sea
Becky in front of waders in the Wadden Sea

The last town I visited was Delft, where the famous blue and white decorative ceramics are crafted.

Delft Blue
Even the toilets are pretty in Delft

Here I had a fancy bathroom and a sound night’s sleep before returning home.

It was my first solo trip and a great, life-changing experience. I learned that I’m okay on my own. Even then I’m not alone.

 

 

 

From the Back Line

It’s a mental game from the serving line. I spent many years playing volleyball, which meant thousands of chances to ace or miss a serve, or something in between. It’s a unique position to be in, on that back line, ball in hand, whistle blown, and ten seconds to start the next play. Life lessons come from those seconds, from that pressure, from that pause and those opportunities both missed and met.volleyball sideline

Pause. When all eyes are on you and this could mean changing the momentum of the game, or continuing it. It could mean finishing the game, match, tournament, or season. It could mean just putting the ball in play so the 12 people on the court could set up a miraculous play. serving the volleyballSometimes there is enormous pressure on that line, and other times there is space enough to risk something more. Regardless of the pressure and the pace, you always have those ten seconds. To pause. Breathe. Say a prayer and focus on that one thing. The crowd disappears, the pressure feeds you. Visualize where you’re putting the ball, like you’ve done a thousand times before when no one was watching. It’s muscle memory and mental toughness. It will carry you through life if you remember this lesson, practiced over and over. You proved it to yourself again and again. You’re a gamer. You rise to the pressure. It brings out the best in you.

 

 

What is Creativity?

What is creativity? I don’t know exactly. There are so may definitions. But I’m learning more about how to harness it. It needs space. When we hold space for new ideas, thoughts, expressions, they have a chance to come to us. 

Melissa Gilbert said creativity is “The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” She talks about ideas being a thing outside of us, visiting us, waiting to be discovered and manifested. It’s our job to bring these ideas to life; to give them legs.

Image of illustrated lightbulb with a key inserted into a keyhole.
Unlock creative ideas by making space for them.

“I’m not very creative”, many say. This is a cop-out. It’s the most effective way to shut down creativity. In saying this, you’re refusing to give creativity any space inside you. Instead, try just sitting with a challenge for a while, keeping your mind open to ideas without judgment.  

 

“There is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.” – Ed Catmull

At a conference I recently attended, John Medina spoke about cognitive disinhibition. This means being uninhibited in idea responses: not rejecting things considered irrelevant, and giving weird ideas permission. He added that working memory allows these things, when we can hold ideas and work them out. One of the greatest factors of innovative success, says Medina, is your reaction to failure. 

As Melissa Gilbert puts it in Big Magic, “All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life—collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.” Lovely!

“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”  – Albert Einstein