My friend Noel, whom you know, is a great photographer. She takes all the photographs for the Bloodroot cookbooks and calendars. She just has that photographer’s eye. Long ago, before the radical feminism, not to mention the lesbianism, she was a model. Maybe that experience—being looked at so critically, reduced to an object, all that, led her to a certain sympathy for and understanding of what taking photographs really means. She gets inside her subjects, and you can feel her glee at witnessing that perfect crocus peeking out of the snow, the grasshopper caught mid-bite, the cat stretching in the sun.
When I worked at Bloodroot with Noel and Selma and so many other fascinating women, we did a lot of talking about meta life theories—how we chose to live our lives, why we did certain things and not others. Why this woman wore a bra and this woman didn’t. Why you shouldn’t get a PhD in Women’s Studies, or move to Brooklyn, when deep down you really wanted to farm.
Bloodroot is a good place to go when you’re figuring all that out. While you’re picking blueberries for the Blueberry Pie with Selma in the backyard, you couldn’t help it–all your secrets would come spilling out, and Selma would interrupt and listen and get impatient when you weren’t seeing the important parts of your own story, and it would be frustrating and illuminating and everything at once, and when you left work that day Selma would press a baby loaf of rye bread into your hands and grab your wrist with those ridiculously strong 73-year-old hands and look into your eyes and say: “Don’t go back to college next semester. You’re not learning anything good.” and on the drive home you would realize that you’d had a Major Life Moment.
Noel’s approach is slightly different.
Noel’s the secret mastermind of the whole Bloodroot machine (Selma is the more public face of the restaurant), and as such is usually too busy running the show to listen to your life issues. She whirls in and out, remopping the floor because no one ever does it to her satisfaction, straightening, planning, plotting, consulting with Selma, everything. But when things are calm and there’s a moment to talk, she lays her theories on you.
One day she came into the kitchen with a new batch of the beautiful photo cards she makes to sell in the bookstore attached to the restaurant. The kitchen staff was admiring the gorgeous images when she said, half to herself, “When I’m taking photographs, I’m always thinking about two things: focus, and cropping.* One day I realized that not only was that a good philosophy for photography, it’s a good way to run your life too. Focus. Cropping. You focus on what you want, and crop out the rest.”
I think about these words a few times a week, when I’m on the internet too much doing stupid things, when I don’t call Selma enough to chat and feel bad that I’m not a good phone talker, when I worry too much about how my bangs look and not enough about oil spills.
What do you want out of life, and what can you toss out in order to get it?
*Being a neo-luddite, Noel’s photos are exclusively analog. But, being open to new wonders and experiences, I’ll still be able to forward her this blog post. It’s a good combination. Take what you like from the technological world and leave the rest.