In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hidden Themes

When I was in college at Northwestern University back in the days when Women's Studies was a new discipline (figure out the years on your own), I had the great fortune to hear Margaret Atwood read to a small group of about 30 women students. I will never forget the question that one of those students asked Atwood:  what are the most important themes in your work?  I have also never forgotten Atwood's reply: I don't think about my themes; I just write.  I leave figuring out my themes to graduate students.

Like Atwood (can I really compare myself to her?), I don't spend much time thinking about the recurring themes in my own work.  However, in the last few months I've had several writer friends point out some interesting observations about my poetry, themes and metaphors I had never noticed myself.  I guess that is why I've begun to think about subjects that interest me most - and not just in my writing.

Those who know me also know how much I love to travel.  In fact, it's become rather an obsession for me.  Like all of my family, I love taking photographs to record those trips.  Recently, I have become aware of my predilection for taking photographs of groups of people going about their lives totally unaware of my presence behind them. There is something I find so provocative about watching these people interacting with each other. I can only imagine what they say to each other, but I love the fact that I can record a snippet of their relationships with each other.  So I have images of school children drawing on the museum floor in Bilbao, Spain.

And a photograph of young Buddhist monks at lunch at a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand as well as a group of school girls sitting on a dock in Zanzibar.

 And then one of the most poignant images - of these women on a ferry to Istanbul. I found it very difficult to talk to the women in Turkey and this group gazing out at the sea seemed symbolic of our separation.

Just why do I enjoy capturing such images while I stay in the background?  Well, I don't know, and I'll leave that to others to figure out.  For now, I just want to keep traveling and finding more groups like these.


  1. These photos are totally amazing! Have you considered creating a photo journal, in actual printed format? As far as watching groups - perhaps you're secretly a cultural anthropologist or sociologist. As a sociologist myself (and an obsessive photographer) groups of people provide endless insight into other cultures as well as our own. So next, it might be time to go to Idaho and observe groups of cross country skiers or snow shoe fanatics? One last thought: perhaps the element of "themes" in our writing is a vastly over-rated one? Nice stuff, Lisa!

  2. There's respect in keeping one's distance, in trying to learn about others without disturbing them, without the assumption that they need an outside influence to interact with. How to do that, and why it's important to you, is both an investigation and itself an insight about each person's value, about privacy, about self-definition through as well as independent of cultural inheritance. It's a deep theme. Casey