LSS: Move your feet

“And, the no. 1 rule is, ‘Move your feet’,” she said to me at the end of our informal photography lesson.

We were, of course, rushed. We were always rushed. At the time, we were both working beyond full-time at the The Daily Advertiser. We were standing in the newsroom with at least 18 things to do before the day was done. Claudia Laws, photographer extraordinaire, knew I needed help.

“What do you mean move my feet?” I asked.

She glared at me. She didn’t have time for that. I had broken a cardinal Claudia rule by asking a stupid question.

“Move around. Don’t just take the picture from where you’re standing. MOVE YOUR FEET,” she said. “Look at everything from somewhere else — not just one different place, but from many different places. Move. Your. Feet.”

As was her way, Claudia took her responsibilities to help me take better pictures seriously. I was leaving for Thailand in a matter of days to complete a journalism fellowship from the International Center for Journalism. My task was to compare Thailand’s recovery from the tsunami to our recovery from Katrina and Rita. I had to take my own pictures, and Claudia wanted me to do the opportunity justice.

“You can’t report and take pictures at the same time. Dedicate at least two hours each morning and afternoon. Don’t take your notebook. Focus on taking pictures alone,” she said.

She gave me other tips involving horizons and the rule of thirds, but it was the Move your feet and Dedicate time lessons that really stuck.

Once in Thailand, I did my best to channel Claudia. During the first few days, I emailed a few photos to her. She sent feedback like, “This one would be good, but you cut off his feet.”

For that one, I had not moved my own feet enough. One step back would have offered a new and better perspective.

I started moving my feet more and began to see the rewards of listening to Claudia. Even I could tell my shots were looking better, and I was grateful.

While there are many ways to apply her photo lesson to improve life in general, adopting “Move your feet,” as a rule for living is a good thing.

It speaks to the wisdom of getting up and doing things — going places I might not have gone and looking at anything from more than one perspective. The philosophy goes beyond feet and affects the mind.

People often say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to fill-in-the-blank?”

They might fill in the blank with: go to Europe, drive across the country, go see James Taylor, take a dance class, do a writing retreat, try out for a play, cruise through Panama Canal, float down the Colorado River, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, etc.

My words to them are simple, “You are right, it would be. Move your feet. Do it. Chances are that it’s really not that complicated.”

The question to ask is: What is stopping you from doing the big and little things you’d like to do — even the things you dream of doing?

The answer is probably nothing more than the same old story you’ve been telling yourself or the fact that you’ve never done it before. Find a different perspective. Tell a new story. Move your feet.

Jan Risher’s column appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: Native Americans, Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Focusing on gratitude sometimes prompts the questions, “How much do we need?” or “How much do our children need?”

For most of us, the answer to either question is probably, “Less than we have.”

As much bounty as so many of us are grateful for during this season of Thanksgiving, last week a friend’s daughter reminded me that there are those out there who would answer those questions differently.

Camille LaHaye, 22, is a 2008 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Coteau and a 2012 graduate of LSU. Upon graduation from college, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

“Jesuit Volunteers are called to the mission of serving the poor directly, working for structural change in the United States, and accompanying people in developing countries. Based in four core values—social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality…,” according to their website.

“Living simply in intentional communities of fellow JVs, they work in education, advocacy, direct service, and community service in 39 U.S. cities and in six other countries. They reside in the same environs as those they serve: people who are low-wage earners, homeless, unemployed, refugees, diagnosed with AIDS, elderly, street youth, former gang members, abused, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and others who strive to find justice in their lives. Almost 300 schools, nonprofit agencies and grassroots organizations across the world count on JVs to provide essential services.”

Camille left for her post in Montana in August. Her responsibilities include helping to care for a group of Northern Cheyenne children in a group home. She’s barely been gone three months, but when I spoke to her Wednesday, in her voice and across the miles, I was able to hear a little girl growing up.

“Last night it was 12 degrees,” she told me. “It’s a different part of the country — a different culture. Being so far away from everything I am familiar with is hard, but luckily, I drink Community Coffee every day, and I have my Tony’s. I miss gumbo though. Mom sent me some roux.”

She’s planning to make jambalaya and a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, and she’s learning a lot.

“I’ve learned that Native Americans are very similar to Cajuns as far as their love of their culture and how important community is to them,” she said. “Even if they don’t have a lot, they still give.”

As is the way of her mother and her grandmother before her, Camille is planning to use the family gene for decorating to brighten the lives of the children she and her JV partner, Natalie Thomas, from San Diego, are working with.

At first, they noticed that giving blankets is a big part of the tribe’s tradition — as a sign of praying for someone or keeping someone in their thoughts. Natalie asked family and friends in California to help make quilts for each of the children in the group home. The quilts are set to arrive pre-Christmas.

Now, the pair is trying to fix up the kids’ rooms.

“When you live in a household of kids, everything is shared,” Camille said. “Plus, kids are messy. I want to help them set up a better system to be more organized and feel like their room is theirs — to be able to display the things they’ve made or are proud of. We want to make this not just a house where they’re living until they get a new place to live, but more like a real home.”

Toward that effort, Camille has asked family and friends to donate to the cause of fixing up these kids’ rooms.

If you’re so inclined, she asks that checks be made out to: St. Labre Youth and Family Services, in the memo line, please write: “Room project.” Mail checks to:
St. Labre Youth and Family Services, P.O. Box 458; Ashland, Montana 59003-0458.

May you enjoy the bounty of the season. Happy Thanksgiving.

(Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.)

LSS: I Heart NY

The first time I ever went to New York City, I rode a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge. Something in that exercise made me realize that the city that had captured so much of my imagination for so long was just as accessible as any other place I had ever been or lived.

Even though I had seen countless movies and television shows demonstrating that New York accepts all types of folks, there was a moment in that bicycle ride that made me know it was a place that could accept me too. Ever since that day, a little part of me has been a part of that place.

Twenty years have passed since that bike ride into the city. Chance had it that in the years that immediately followed, I ended up spending a lot of time working in Manhattan and coming to feel even more a part. Since moving to Louisiana, my time there has been limited to occasional visits. So, in the week before Sandy ravaged the East Coast, my husband and I were both happy to be spending a weekend together in the Big Apple.

One week before the devastation, the weather was perfect. The air was crisp. The people were wonderful. The food terrific and the shows fantastic. Anyone who’s lived for long in south Louisiana knows the way Mother Nature can take charge and change everything.

The workshop that inspired our trip was a quirky gathering of folks from all over the world, and I knew none of them. But the general theme was such that I knew going in that most, if not all, would be my kind of people. I was not surprised to walk in for the first session and find an extra-large nametag, with the instructions, “Write your name and include an interesting detail about yourself on the nametag.”

Beside my name, I wrote the first thing that came to mind, in all caps: “LEG WRESTLING CHAMPION.”

I wore the nametag throughout the workshop. Other people had equally interesting details on theirs, and all provided a fantastic place to start a conversation. When the workshop ended, I decided to walk a couple of blocks to a nearby subway station to go back and meet my husband. I was walking alongside two other workshop participants. The more we walked, the more obvious it became that something about me was attracting much more attention than the two folks I was walking beside.

I’ve always found New York to be a friendly place but couldn’t figure out why so many people were speaking to me. Hawkers were trying to sell specifically to me. People were looking.

When my two new friends and I parted ways, I was still confused. I kept walking and the looks, greetings, and sales attempts kept coming. It was good natured, but intense, and I had never experienced anything quite like it.

As I reached the stairs going down to the subway, I glanced down. In doing so, I noticed the giant white sticker on my sweater.
“JAN – LEG WRESTLING CHAMPION”

In horror, I quickly peeled the nametag off and entered the subway, much more anonymous but feeling even more certain that New York accepts every one.

(In the weeks since, along with many of you, I’ve empathized with the people of New York and New Jersey as they struggle to recover from Sandy. Understanding what they’re going through and having just been there to see the city in such fine shape is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity no matter where we live.)