Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Light

Twelve years ago I was applying to medical school.  I was three months pregnant with Evelyn.  At my interview the Stanford director of admissions said it would take something radical for him to accept me, a 28 year old Russian literature PhD program drop out (he didn't know I was pregnant).

"Some guy would be pumping out blood in the ER and you'd be trying to figure out what happened instead of acting.  You," he said, "are an observer and an analyst.  You're not a doer."

Twelve years later I am still stung by this and pained by the way I handled it.  My brain froze.  I was unable to remember anything I had done.  I became the person he said I was, not the person who jumped out of an An-2 airplane over Leningrad without any training.  Three times.  Hey, I'm a doer.  A stupid doer, maybe.  But a doer.

I tried to reason with the guy, analyze his opinion.   Probably I should have climbed up on his desk, or taken him by the collar and said, "I've worked too hard for this to have some jerk turn me away because I think too much and don't act on impulse enough."

But I didn't.  And I didn't get accepted.  And really, wasn't he pretty much right?  The reason I like and that I like to observe and analyze.

The last few months my posts have gone from every four or five days to every ten.  Too much to do.  And a lack of thoughts.  No desire to observe.  I stopped toting my camera.

The Sunday before we set off for our camping trip I saw the light.  We were at the car grabbing jackets and water for a short hike.  And I saw the light--through the trees.  Perfect light.  The camera was at home.  But wait...there was the little point 'n' shoot water camera.  I grabbed it.

As we came into a clearing deeper in the woods I snapped the photo above.

Clementine turned to me and said, all breathy with excitement, "Look at the light hanging through the seems like you could just part it like a lace curtain."

And isn't it true, don't I have to admit, that one of the reasons I wanted to go to medical school was for material?  To be a doctor turned writer like Bulgakov, like Chekhov, heck, even like Crichton.

We went on another hike this weekend and I took my camera and all my lenses.  There was a lot to observe.  The girls looked under our favorite rocks.

I kept thinking of the book Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists.  It's a nice book if you haven't come across it.

With the macro we observed:
Dozens of mushrooms,

two scorpions,

two slender salamanders,

and a jerusalem cricket.

Turn over a rock in California and you may see these unusual insects or their telltale holes.

While Mike and the girls scrambled among the cave rocks

I switched to a telephoto lens and went after birds.

Don't the bushes look lovely against the sky?  All bare and innocent.  They're poison oak.  Can you believe birds eat poison oak berries?

I switched to the plain ol' lens the camera came with for a landscape.

I have a little bit of sorrow for that life that didn't happen, but among my regrets is not that my life now lacks material.  It's just a question of focus, angle, light.  Everything is material in the right light.


Carolyn said...

Criminy, if not for observers and analyzers the medical profession would still be using leeches on us. (And yes, I have a few comments like that from my past still banging around in my brain with sharp, pokey edges).

Yay for observation! Yay for analysis! And yay for your gorgeous photos and prose.

Lise said...

What a beautiful post.

maria said...

: )

Laura said...

My goodness, that first photo takes my breath away! So very lovely, thanks for sharing.

Kristin said...

Your a fantastic photographer that's for sure. I'm so glad that you became inspired again. I always enjoy both your writing and your photos. Where were you?

Kat said...

Love this post. I'm too tired to analyze and come up with a better response...but I loved it. Along with your light picture. Incredible.

Susan said...

Carolyn, I love how you put it--comments with sharp, pokey edges. For some reason writing about it helps me lay down some pearl on those edges.

Lise, thank you! I popped over to your blog--so many great ideas! I'm making the same resolution to start earlier on gifts next year. Love your button letters.

Laura, thanks! I looked at your lovely blog and saw you are in Maryland. I grew up in Arnold, Md. on the Magothy river. Fantastic place to be a kid.

Maria, :)

Kristin, it is Sunol Regional Wilderness. I bet you guessed! I think I have improved my eye over the years, but I don't understand my camera at all. That's a resolution for this year.

Kat, thank you! Some photos just take themselves. I really wish I'd had my good camera and yet, I bet the picture would have come out so different.

gina said...

I think every blog has and ebb and flow to it- being so "turned on" creatively 24/7 365 would probably burn everyone out rather quickly. Glad you found so material to reinspire you. :) Your photos are beautiful.

Kat said...

Susan if you are looking for a great place to learn more about your DSLR. Check out It is a paid forum, but such a wealth of information. I love it and am finally learning my camera (slow as it might be).

J.G. Wilder said...

The idea that you are not a doer is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Picture this scene -- a Russian literature conference is just beginning, a day-long affair at which lots of stiff, convoluted papers are going to be delivered, some in Russian. The grad student idiot in charge of the food (me) has forgotten to turn on the coffee urn to get it percolating. I stand there, completely petrified, because I don't have a spoon with which to measure out the coffee, and if I don't measure it, it's going to be terrible, and all these illustrious scholars are going to spit it out and have a terrible day . . .

And you jump onto the scene, rip open the coffee bag with your teeth and start dumping coffee, any amount of coffee, into the percolator. The day is saved, the papers are scintillating -- or at least everybody nobody falls asleep because of the excellent strong coffee pumping through their veins. You are a doer.

Susan said...

Jennifer, see, I didn't remember that either. It could have changed everything. I'm putting you on my speed dial. Next time it comes up I'm going to ask if I can call a friend.

Susan said...

Gina, I like how you look at it...ebb and flow. I think part of it was my laptop was full...I'd have to delete pictures to upload any, and it would seize up all the time. The laptop and brain are now so linked, I guess, that when the laptop is bogged down, so is the brain.

Kat, thanks for the rec, I'll take a look!

Stefaneener said...

Well, doing is different depending on who's observing, n'est-ce pas?

Gorgeous gorgeous. I love Sunol. I'd like to get out there soon. But Jerusalem Crickets? Erk.

Lisa said...

I love this post, Susan! As soon as I read the part about your allegedly not being a doer, I immediately thought of your jumping from a plane over Leningrad. It's one of those things I tell people about from time to time and then wonder to myself if that really happened in the way that I remember it. I'm glad to read that it did! :) You're an amazing person, both as a doer and as an observer.

Susan said...

Stefaneener, we should go sometime! I promise I won't make you pet a jerusalem cricket.

Lisa, hey, thanks! Sometimes I wonder if all the crazy things that semester happened, too. So nice we have each other to confirm that they really did!

Catherine said...

You've finally done it Susan. You have reduced me to tears! I am not a writer and I am afraid I don't have anything better than this over-used adjective to describe your post - beautiful!