circular breathing


i was trained as a symphony clarinetist. part of that defines a whole lot of who i am.

a mentor of mine was known for his skills in circular breathing. being able to play music (exhaling through the mouth) at the same time breathing (inhaling through the nose) to produce a continuous intonation without interruption… this concept fascinated me. not just his flight of the bumblebee without stopping for a single breath, but the thought that from looking at him, it appeared he became the instrument. the music flowed in, around, and through him. he was the vessel for the notes. he wasn’t just in the zone, he was creating the zone.

i think of this when hearing my best friends recent birth story. i think of this when hearts race and blood pressures rise, when babies arrive faster than midwives can drive.  i think of this circular breathing as a way of circular self care. when the outside world blurs, and you simply get down to it. (my mother would say get your ass in gear.)

sometimes we question our paths. we second guess ourselves, our strengths, our abilities to tread water for extended amounts of time. for some reason today i started thinking about this timeline of four years. with conversations about mom and long term health care coverage and the basic fact that she is outliving her insurance… well, it took me back to a place in time when i could not even fathom being here, where i now stand. four years ago i knew i wanted to move. four years ago i had a date in mind and an application for my MFA. four years ago i thought i knew my path. better yet, i thought my path knew me.

from where i stand now i look back and see it was for the best. but i remember the phone call interviews. i remember the portfolio reviews and the dates set and the waiting for what i thought was supposed to be. and then the letter, the explanation that their decision had no basis on the truth of my prior schooling. the confirmation that based on my portfolio alone, i would have been accepted, but the fact was that i simply  didn’t know what i wanted to do.

how could this be revealed in my application? my voice? my photography? how could this person i had only just met months before, know this fact about me? and how could this bit of information keep me from getting into grad school? doesn’t everyone not know what they want to do? granted, i was not a 21 year old applicant. i was 35 with a career, i should know what i want to do with my life.

what hurt the most was that he was absolutely right. i thought i knew what i wanted. or rather, i thought i would get there and figure it out, as i have done for most of my life. his statement knocked the wind out of me. my transparency to others through my art was like a tattling little sister. and worse yet, she was me.

what does my photography say about my perspective of the world? what does it say about space or community or love or envy? how does what we see through our lenses reveal about our most intimate selves? as artists we give away more than what we know. i’ll never forget working with a company who needed specific images of togetherness (from a portfolio or archives only, they could not pay to shoot new content) and i had to turn down the job due to the fact that at the time (before, during, and after my divorce) i unknowingly shot only solitary images. single flowers. solitary birds. expanse of loneliness, not the gathering of groups.

i find that fascinating. of course at the time i felt naked and bummed to have lost that job. but the inward glance at my own life through my own lens was shocking. it was just the place where i was, and it was how i saw the world. we create what we know. from experience. art comes genuinely from real life.

we are often loved for it. we are not often judged for it. and we continue to pull back these layers time and time again, with new or different creations. with steps in different directions under different mediums. we put ourselves out there because what else are we to do?

four years is a long time. my mother has outlived what everyone inferred as the “typical lifespan” of her specific terminal illness. i have moved and moved again. love and loss. anger and tenderness. i don’t often shoot single images of anything perhaps because my life is very full these days. where once there was silence, there is now a symphony of sounds and personalities. i stand at the coast and let the tide pull at my legs. the chaos at my feet, i become the vessel for the music, the breath, the path.