CREATIVE HEROES: Marie Constantin

11 02 2016

Marie Constantin, photographer, home renovator, fiddler, lives a creative life. She lives in the present moment, sees the holy in the world around her, and infuses her life with joy. She has a loud laugh and her friends hear it often. We also hear righteous indignation when she sees injustice. Her creative soul radiates her humble joy. I immediately thought of Marie when I thought of starting a series on Creative Heroes.

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Mother Teresa
As I start to write this, Marie’s photo of Mother Teresa is on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The journey of how it got there is about her living a creative life. Marie makes a living as a photographer. I met her when I hired her for a photo shoot, when she was fresh back from a trip to India where she went to volunteer for Mother Teresa.

She learned early in her photographic career that she needed to spend her volunteer hours doing something other than photography. Marie would often volunteer at the soup kitchen run by Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. Her helping out at the soup kitchen led to friendships with the nuns. They invited Marie to go to the Mother House in Calcutta. She went as a volunteer to do whatever was needed. What later evolved was whenever Mother Teresa was in this country, Marie was asked to photograph Mother Teresa attending to the business of the order. She got to know this remarkable woman up close and personal.

Not long after Mother Teresa died, Marie got a message from someone with a thick Spanish accent, which she promptly ignored. Fortunately the caller was persistent and they eventually connected. It was the Vatican and they wanted to use a photo she had taken for Mother Teresa’s Beatification. CBS Sunday Morning told the story of Mother Teresa through Marie’s eyes. I watched Marie on this national news program the morning of the Beatification. She was in St. Peter’s Square being interviewed with the huge billboard size photo she took, behind her hanging from the Basilica. Now that Mother Teresa is being fast tracked to sainthood, it’s still Marie’s photo that is the official Vatican image.

Marie's photo at Mother Teresa's Beatification

Marie’s photo at Mother Teresa’s Beatification

What makes Marie’s Mother Teresa story so powerful as a creative journey, is that it started a recharge from her day job as a photographer. That down time from work enhanced her professional life in a huge and unexpected way.

Living a Creative Life
The same creative energy she brings to her professional life fills her whole life. She bought a run down craftsman home in Baton Rouge’s oldest neighborhood that she saw potential in. Today she sees her home as living in a work of art and it’s on the Historic Registry. She’s bartered her photography skills for things like a stained glass door and she used color experts, designers and craftsmen to help actualize her vision. One of my favorite spots in town is sitting on the big swing on her wraparound porch, having a glass of wine, watching the world go by, while we solve the problems of the world. She has built a community of creative people who inspire her and who are inspired by her.

She also loves the rich culture of south Louisiana. She turned a fishing camp outside of town on the mighty Atchafalaya River into a Zen oasis and named it the Flying Alligator. It’s complete with a swinging bed and an outside shower. It took her a year, with her chain saw and lawn mower, to cut a trail through the woods. It’s a magical place where one can find solitude and meditation within nature.

Marie on stump

Marie Laughing

Marie at the Flying Alligator

It’s also a place where friends and family gather for eating, drinking and music. She decided to learn the fiddle a few years back. She went deep into Cajun country to find authentic teachers. She’s now friends with Grammy-award winning musicians and it’s common for a bunch of musicians to jam together on her camp’s big screened in porch.

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin' Alligator waterfront lounge

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin’ Alligator waterfront lounge

Marie can be seen in a traditional Mardi Gras costume made by her Cajun friends at the pink-flamingo-filled Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade that rolls by her craftsman home. Or she can be seen taking a photographic portrait of Louisiana’s new Governor. She brings the same joy and passion to both.

Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Marie’s life is a joyful, creative net. She is a creative hero.

Click here to watch an extended conversation with Marie on creativity.

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CREATIVE HEROES
Click here for
The Birth of an Idea

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The Importance of Doing Nothing

19 05 2013

I’ve been told that I do nothing better than anyone else. I usually have a very full schedule. My lunches and evenings are filled with need-to-do-this or need-to-meet-them. I’ve lots of interests outside of my day job and I’m admittedly, very social. I never turn down a meal or a glass of wine with friends. My brain is always whirling and my sweetie has come to dread the phrase…”I’ve been thinking” because it usually involves some task for him.

doing nothing

But I also know that I need quiet time to counter that. The quiet meditative time, when I still the monkey mind chatter. I also know that my sweetie and I need quiet time together. As a couple, we need time to just be.

I’ve written about my friend’s camp before.  That special Zen oasis she calls the Flying Alligator, less than an hour from my home.  It’s perched on a quiet bluff overlooking a mighty river. The Atchafalaya River is one of the deepest rivers in the world and from her pier; I can sit and watch it’s fast moving current flow by for hours. It’s too fast for waterskiers or even fishermen, so only occasionally does a boat go by. You don’t see other homes or people from that pier. You can only see the mighty ancient trees that line it’s banks. It’s a real connection to the past as we quietly sit and listen to the sounds of nature surrounding us.

This is how this spot has looked for eons. We watch the eagles and the hawks and the rosy-headed spoonbills soaring high in the sky, as well as the tiny chickadee hopping on the branch that shades the pier. We’re in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin  which is the largest swamp in the country and it still feels primal. I’ve seen migratory geese flying over so high in the sky they looked like hundreds of shimmering ribbons that undulated with wind currents; those ribbons appearing and disappearing depending on the wings catching the glow of the sun on their journey.

We watch the frogs and the lizards and the snakes and see the occasional fish jump out of the river.  We see a bird dive into the water to catch its dinner. I feel connected to the world as I watch how nature has been since the beginning of time.

I’m still connected to technology and it feels appropriate that I see the words of the Dalia Lama being posted by friends.  He’s only a short ways away—as the bird flies—in New Orleans, his first visit to my favorite city. (I hope he eats well while he’s there). I read Tamyra Bourgeois post about his Holiness, “the recipe for happiness is pretty simple, sleep well, eat well, meditate and connect with people who value your opinion.”

I know I’m where I’m meant to be in this moment of time. Feeling connected to the larger world. Sitting in happy silence with my love, occasionally touching hands and yes, a glass of wine in the other hand.

Part of my doing nothing is reading the book “My Stroke of Insight” from a powerful TED talk. This neuroscientist talks of recovering from a stroke and how important sleep and quiet and the kindness of others were to her healing and recovery. Her words and the Dalai Lama’s, being content and happy in the presence of love and being connected to nature, have all resonated with me this weekend.

I’ve come to believe that I’m meant to help people connect to their creativity. I’m still working on exactly how to get that message out. But maybe it’s by showing someone how to do nothing—something I’m very good at. It sure has connected me to the glorious, creative world today.

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