Catching steam from a kettle

December 2nd, 2009

Today’s guest blogger is Jen Lee, a writer and performer in New York City’s storytelling scene. She is the author of Fortunes and Take Me with You: A Journal for the Journey. You can find more of her work and information about her upcoming workshops and retreats at

I walked with my girls to the park after school, thinking it would pass the time on a day my husband would not be there to relieve me in the evening hours. When we got there, I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my camera.

These things make me ache: beautiful, camera-less moments.

Our destination was the Long Meadow in the gloaming, and the trees across from us were a blend of bare branches, flame-colored leaves and evergreen boughs. It looked like a painting: a painting we stepped into. I sat on a bench with my tea in hand and I watched two little spirits forget their mirroring forms and spin under a pale sky. Residents of an assisted living center joined us for their daily constitution, speaking in Russian as they passed by on the path again and again or sat near me on the benches.

The leaves were falling as I watched, surfing on the breeze. The color was dropping to the earth as the sun was saying its good night. My daughters’ youth making its own journey across a finite sky.

And no camera. Just the ache of the beauty, the heartbreak of its passing nature, making me look and listen and see with careful attention.

Five old women walked the path shoulder to shoulder, and I thought how happy I would be if I could be with my friends in the gloaming years. How I hoped to be good at being an old lady. To walk shoulder to shoulder, daily up and down the same path, to see one’s scenery with newborn eyes again and again as it ticks and tocks. Sunrise, sunset. Bud, flower, fade. A white blanket tuck-in and a bright green morning.

I knew then – memory is no possessor. Whether we try to capture moments with a camera or with our minds, we might as well be trying to catch the steam from the kettle in our bare hand and hold it. All we can do is this: walk through this present moment shoulder to shoulder, seeing all that unfolds around us and within us with newborn eyes as this moment delivers us to the next one, tiny and new.

Photo of Jen Lee by Susannah Conway

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  1. Karen, Great guest choice!

    Jen, your ability to put experience, essence, into words is a gift. "Just the ache of the beauty, the heartbreak of its passing nature, making me look and listen and see with careful attention." I have SO been here, the anxious struggle between trying to posses the moment and letting myself be completely engulfed by its glory. You have captured it beautifully.

    Comment by Annette — December 2, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  2. This is unspeakably gorgeous. I just blogged last week about how sometimes NOT having my camera, weirdly, allows me to be more present and more participative in my life. I love your words, Jen – just glorious.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Lindsey — December 2, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  3. Jen, these images are so rich, I feel like I'm right there with you. Your words are so wonderful. xo

    Comment by Emme — December 2, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

  4. Take it from personal experience, Jen. Being good at being an old lady is quite effortless! Thank you for noticing.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — December 2, 2009 @ 9:51 pm

  5. beautiful and evocative – i think when you travel without a camera you often see more….and you captured it so well with words….thankyou Jen

    Comment by faerian — December 3, 2009 @ 12:37 am

  6. Ah! Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. Perhaps forgetting the camera can be liberating? 🙂

    Comment by Nichole — December 3, 2009 @ 1:45 am

  7. memory is no possessor! mmmm. yes.

    and plus, trying to catch steam with bare hands… hurts.

    Comment by Terri Fischer — December 3, 2009 @ 4:55 am

  8. I'm loving this, Jen. It's so rich and beautiful. Truly.

    Comment by Jennifer/The Word Cellar — December 9, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

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