When my granddaughter Lila was eight, we were at her older brother’s soccer game at a field in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t ask her, but if I had, she would have told me she’d rather be anywhere else in the world than sitting on an uncomfortable slab of lumpy concrete under the blazing sun watching that ‘boring’ game. She begged me to let her play one of those horrible games she’d downloaded onto my phone, which initially dulls kids out and keep them quiet, but ultimately makes them even more irritable. I refused and asked her to help me with something. “Lila, I’m working on a way to teach grownups how their phone cameras can make their lives better. Would you be willing to do one of the assignments?"
“I’m not a grownup and you’re being mean,” she said, angrily.
“That’s garbage, Nana,” she said, even angrier.
“I know, but I want you to find things that are beautiful there.”
“What do you mean?” she snapped back with the angriest face she could conjure.
I took a picture of the whole pile, then moved closer and took several shots to demonstrate, explaining, “I’m looking for pretty patterns, shapes, colors and textures, anything that pleases your eye.”
She looked at the pictures I had taken, and her face brightens and she took the phone and started shooting. I thought that after ten minutes, I could say, Ok, now you can play video games. I didn’t have to, I couldn’t pull her away. She made gorgeous images of that pile of junk and then moved on to a rusty old truck that looked like it was ready to be towed away. Now it’s time for you to do Lila’s assignment.
Find a pile of trash and take a shot or two of the entire mess so you’ll remember the nasty place you found for the interesting photographs you are about to take. As you work, you will learn as I do every time I give myself this kind of practice, we can find something interesting, yes, even beautiful, wherever we look. It depends on how we choose to look at things. Like children, we too get irritable and distracted. The pressures of our work, the things we struggle to accomplish, the problems of maintaining good relationships, our worries about money, our health, all of it, fill our minds every moment we are awake. Our phones, always ringing and beeping away at us, make us even more distracted, more irritable. We need to give ourselves space and time to be quiet, to be observant, to play.