Friday, December 30, 2016

10 Gifted Learnings from 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, I offer you a gift. A gift not of physical substance, but of thoughts, feelings and actions over the past year of publishing a new book, moving out of my house, dropping my son off at NYU for his first year of college and taking a 3-month sola (but never really alone!) odyssey throughout Europe, that I have experienced, learned from and am so thankful for. Perhaps these will lend a spark to your inner or outer fire as they have for me. Blessed beyond words. 

1.   Take risks for things that matter to you. Even if they’re scary (like scaling a tower’s ladder or a towering peak!). Ask yourself: “Might I be sorry if I don’t do this? What might I gain if I do?” 

2.   Don’t wait for life to fulfill you; take 100% of yourself into whatever you do. That practice in itself is fulfilling. (Take yourself to your edge.)

3.   Smile at people. Sincerely. With your eyes as much as with your mouth. If they smile back, what an added joy; if not, no matter. Enjoy how your smile makes you feel. 

4.   Laugh everyday. It’s easy, particularly when you pay attention to life’s everyday happenings, and when you don’t take yourself too seriously. (Oh, that risqué country of Croatia and Kentuckian Austin and my Thanksgiving turkey offering in Barcelona, somehow stuffing ourselves and my suitcase and backpack into Rafaella’s tiny electric car, Miró chair)


5.   Treat yourself to something special everyday. It needn’t be costly or exotic. Or, it may be. Smell a flower. Eat an octopus,  Amada’s paella, Marc's and Sarah’s divine dinners, vino tinto, queso and jamon topped with foie gras with Ana and Davide, fellow CELTA certificate students.


6.   Stop. Throughout your day.  Notice. Your breath. Your surroundings. People around you. That will reconnect you with yourself and with all the marvel that is. (Like a sunset swim in Mallorca with my friend Elvira and experiencing Chagall’s multimedia exhibit in a 25meter high quarry carved out under the town of Les Baux, France.)

7.   Commit yourself to something, no matter what. For me, it's to be open, everyday. With great anticipation; but not expectation. (Like being encouraged by my Backroads pals, Tony, Karen, Jackie and Richard, to ride back up the long, steep hill we’ve recently descended, and making it to the top! Or, going on Meet-Ups where I met new, now life-long friends like Vandana, Greg and Hilda while foraging for mushrooms outside of Paris, and Karen (pictured with Hilda, left) who started a wine/food Meetup in St. Remy, Provence). 

8.   Be generous: listen to others, honor their thoughts and feelings as well as your own. Share your bounty. (Gaudi masterpieces)      

9.   Use your intuition coupled with evidence to guide you. (Jaume Plensa)(Ocean tornado) 

10. Say Thank You whenever you can. I thank YOU, Hvala, Gracias, Merci, Grazie, Shokran from the sands of Morocco's Sahara and CA (with my son, Jack)!



Thursday, July 28, 2016

CONNECT: Shoot. It's All about Capturing Your Essence Through Her Lens

This month I'm delighted to introduce you to a fellow photographer, NANCY ROTHSTEIN. Whether shooting professional head shots (she recently took mine), individuals or groups, what sets Nancy apart from others is her ability to connect, heart and mind, with her clients, thus capturing the true 'it', the essence of each person. 
Enjoy the following interview I had with Nancy.

DEW: Nancy, what inspired(s) you to be a photographer?

NR: I had my first camera at age 7, a Brownie box camera. My genetic interest surely came from my father; photography has been a deep, continuing theme of our relationship. I've always loved finding moments & vignettes to carve out from the sometimes overwhelming whole. The camera can both record and create moments of beauty. When I was younger, photography was a way to navigate & digest the world, allowing me to be engaged while also staying in an independent space of observation, somewhat protected behind the lens.  The camera still offers this protection.

DEW: What actually happens when you're in this protected place behind the camera?

NR: When I am photographing, I am more fearless in my explorations of the world. There's a zone that happens with photography. In the zone, I'm not afraid to stand in the middle of a busy street or lie down on a dirty sidewalk to get the shot I want. These days I see photography more as a means of connection and empowerment, and I'm inspired by the ability to connect with my clients to convey something true about them. That is truly gratifying.

DEW: As a fellow photographer, I know that, like me, your goal is to shoot people in their natural versus a staged (tight, uncomfortable) state. What techniques — besides your naturally open, non-judgmental demeanor that I experienced when you took my head shots — have you found to be effective? 

NR: To achieve a natural portrait requires a sincere emotional connection between the photographer and the subject. That may be very subtle or more obvious, and it may be lightening fast, but even understanding the timing of when to push the shutter requires presence and an awareness of the fleeting emotional expression of the subject. I think that you have to be open and connected in order to read those signs.  Trusting an organic process, being present, listening, being open, playing, experimenting, matching the energy of the subject and then skillfully nudging them toward opening....all of these help.  And love...loving each other as human beings is essential!

DEW: Depth of field (blur factor around a focused person or object) seems to play a prominent role in your head shots. What do you think that does versus keeping both foreground and background in focus? 

NR: I love using a shallow depth of field for portraiture because it allows the subject of the portrait to stand out from the background. Otherwise, when the subject and the background are equally focused, the eye will travel around the frame and be distracted by the small details. I enjoy "painting" the forms and textures of the background.  I can do this by manipulating the objects and then blurring them out to create the texture that I want and to control the way it frames the subject. I love the experience of looking around and translating what my eyes see this into a vision of the final image, understanding how that background will be completely transformed. If the background is part of the story, however, then it should be considered somehow. It may still be blurred, adding both an interesting textural quality and subtle reference, to architectural lines, for example.

DEW: Most of us find ourselves shooting or being part of a group or family photo. Can you share a few pieces of advice about how to both take and be in a ‘keeper’ shot? 

NR: Group photos can be boring. Often we are just lined up and squished together. I like giving each person their own space and letting them pose in the way that's natural to them. If each person, or couple, or family subgroup, is doing their own thing, then the look of the overall group becomes much more dynamic. Often these types of shots happen spontaneously, at a moment that wasn't optimized for photography.  For me personally I think finding the flattering light in the setting is more important than necessarily including some feature of the landscape. If you're at a place where the location is important to the group but using some iconic aspect of the location as the background puts them in horrible light, then I suggest take a snapshot of them in that setting, then moving them to the good light and do a nicer portrait to take advantage of the fact that everyone is together. To create more depth in the image and avoid casting shadows, keep the group away from the background. For example, if there are flowers, trees, a cool wall or a building in the background, leave a good bit of space between the group and the background if possible. 

DEW: Black and white or color: What drives your decision to choose one over the other?

NR: I think a lot of images work well in color and black and white but generally I choose black and white when the mood matches my intention for the image, and when there's the right amount of contrast. Sometimes color can distract from the forms in an image. For clients I provide color and black-and-white versions of all images. 

DEW: If you could photograph anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be, and why?

NR: That's a tough question.  I'm so involved with photographing normal everyday (fantastic!) people that I don't often fantasize about who I would want to photograph. I find it deeply satisfying to give normal people images of themselves that they love. If I had to choose my dream subject, it would be someone whose gaze offers some kind of inspirationhope, or healing to the viewer; someone who's able to remind us of our essential connectedness and move us to acts of kindness and courage.

DEW: On a personal note, can you talk about our process, when you photographed me for a professional head shot, and why the early photos weren't capturing the 'it' of me and then, how they did?

NR: In our session we initially came upon a subtle disconnect between what we were capturing and what you wanted to convey. This is normal; not bad or a failure.  A session is an organic process; you have to be open to finding your way together, learning to communicate with each other and find the way to draw out and capture the version of the truth that needs to be told at that time.  We are multi-facted beings; images can be truthful and be different, but for a client I need to tell the story they want told at that moment.  In our session, what we found was that there was a tension between your answers to my questions about how you wanted to be perceived and your own self image. We were getting images that were very aligned with the message we thought we wanted to convey (through your direct gaze and smile), but there was a missing piece. There is an edginess that's a part of your personality that we hadn't identified in our initial talk. So we spoke more about who you are in contrast with how you were feeling and looked in the photos. Once I understood that, we had to figure out how to convey both the open, approachable, connected you and the strong, adventuresome, edgy you. It turned out that including more of you, your head, shoulders and torso, was key, highlighting the strength and angularity of your frame and the muscular tension in your limbs. That way, we were able to visually achieve all that you are. 

DEW: Nancy, what a perfect ending! Of course, you used the pronoun 'we' throughout your final answer. What a mirror of your and commitment and ability to connect with your clients. That is why and how you bring out and capture the essential 'it'. Thank you for doing so for me! 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Travel? Why Write?

I didn't know I was going to write a book. I only knew that I wanted to be immersed in an alluring country. Both happenedThank you, Morocco. You, Morocco, were so generous, so open, so heart, mind and spirit enriching. I had to share you with the world. (And thank you, Cross-Cultural Solutions for ushering me in to the world of volunteer vacations, new friends and invaluable experiences) 
Dying to travel? No need to purchase a ticket or buckle a seatbelt (still need help figuring out how to lift and insert?) You can travel right now. Purchase a copy of exploring morocco; discovering ourselves. Delve into Morocco and, if you dare, into yourself. Who knows what writing you'll be compelled to do. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Beware of Volunteer Vacations!

Beware of Volunteer Vacations. That is, unless, you’re prepared to have your eyes, mind and heart opened wide. Almost to bursting.

Last year, I longed to ignite my inner light. What could I do to make that happen? The answer came like a flash. Within an hour, I investigated the web for volunteer vacations and signed up for an adventure that took me to Morocco, and so, so much more (like my just released book: exploring morocco; discovering ourselves. That's ALL about the so, so much more).

Cross-Cultural Solutions just posted a story about my so, so much more experiences with my students, my teachers, my touchstones of my trip. I share it below. Beware. You WILL want to go on a volunteer vacation. With Cross-Cultural Solutions. Prepared to be ignited? 

Opening Eyes

One morning, Dana Whitaker woke up and, before getting out of bed, decided she would journey alone to Morocco. Here's a story about the people she met that changed her perspective on cultural differences and shared humanity.
“I don’t know how I am going to handle this for a month.”
That was Dana Whitaker’s first thought when she arrived at the airport in Morocco.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


     Uprooted from a job. From a relationship, a marriage or a friend thought to be bound by trust. From a home. From a body that used to glide through moguls and hungrily chase down a ball. Uprooted, again and again, from what we understand about the world and our place in it. 
     On my hike this morning, I left the dirt path and approached a walkway next to a closed gate, just like I always do on this route. Something was different. I looked down to see six of the walkway’s bricks still pressed into the moistened dirt, but instead of lying flat, they’d been lifted sideways creating a low, bulbous wall. Sticking above this mound was a bowed metal pipe, like a dulled silver rainbow, one that carries wires to a light fixture hanging above the driveway. Upon further inspection, I noticed a pinwheel of tangled roots, clumps of drying mud clinging to each tendril. Protruding horizontally out of the root's center was a trunk, both it and its branches extending fifteen feet beyond the unscathed gate. Uprooted. How sad, I thought. But then I scanned up from the roots, from where the tree had stood until this week’s saturating storm blew it down. In its place was an opening, something I’d never noticed before because the tree's bulk had blocked it from me. Now before me was a vast view of the forest below and in the distance, a large swath of the bay, its water glistening in the sunlight.  What a blatant and beautiful lesson nature imparted to me that morning.
Life gets uprooted, 
but it doesn’t have to uproot us.
    Particularly if we choose to come from a place of wonder, curious about what we can learn both through what came before, and as, if not more impactful, from views that are now available to us now. If we choose to explore versus ignore these views, harnessing our courage and vulnerability to see and feel what’s really going on, both externally and internally. If we choose to let go of what already happened, what and perhaps who used to be, what or who could have been. If we choose to connect with new possibilities and with people who can support us in our growth. And if we choose to expand, tending, pruning, grafting, replanting and perhaps uprooting as we go, and offering to share our presence with others even with the impermanent view in which we will always find ourselves. That is a lesson in itself; life's impermanence. 
     My upcoming book filled with photos and questions, exploring morocco; discovering ourselves (Spring 2016) is an invitation to create vibrant, meaningful lives, relationships and businesses by embracing wonder, exploration, connection and expansion personally and professionally, in all that we do.