Friday, January 26, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nikon Gets It Done

A few months ago, my Nikon D70 died with a well-known problem (commonly called BGLOD, or Blinking Green Light of Death) stemming from a badly made part in the early production runs of the camera. Because this was a relatively widespread problem, Nikon chose to fix all the cameras in which it occurred, free of charge. Even my camera, nearly two years out of warranty, qualified.

I FedEx'd the camera just over a week ago, and it arrived at Nikon El Segundo last Monday. Remarkably, it was back on my doorstep early this afternoon. I'd spent eight dollars for shipping to them (nothing for the return trip), and nothing on the repairs, themselves. In return--one week later--I got a camera fixed, cleaned, firmware upgraded.

An amazing job by Nikon, and worth remembering if you're in the market for a camera.

A Powerhouse Poet

I am not generally a fan of poetry. Too often in my reading history, when I've tried to broaden my horizons, I've wound up feeling like a kid forced to drink cod liver oil--I know it's supposed to be good for me but am utterly convinced that the suffering far outweighs any possible benefits.

What's my gripe, you ask?

When I take the time to dissect my dissatisfaction, I find the lingering bitter tang of imprecise, featherweight words and turns of phrase whose ambitions far outweigh their impact.

I was planning to put an example here--taken from award-winning poetry--of the gutless, breathless prose I find so unpleasant. But in the end, I felt lousy trashing a writer who's actually poured his heart into the work. I could, instead, write something I find representative of the work I'm describing, but in the end I'd be running the risk of building a gutless strawman. Instead, for now, I'll leave the work to your imagination. If you read any poetry at all, you'll quickly find what I'm talking about.

The point of the example would have been that, in too many poets' hands, noodle-limp obscurity is actually a badge of honor. It allows the writer to claim more meaning than he ever intended to impart, and it allows for the sense that only the brilliant anointed truly 'get it.'

Bullshit, I say.

Clarity. Strength. Precision. All jobs one for any good writing. Novels. Rhetoric. Screenplays. Poetry. There are no exceptions.

There are of course, exceptions to the seeming dominance of the victory-by-waffling-obscurity gang of poets. One who strikes me as particularly impressive is James Dickey, author of Deliverance. Yes, that Deliverance, the gap-toothed, banjo-playing, squeal-like-a-pig Deliverance.

I've been reading The Whole Motion, Collected Poems, 1945-1992 and becoming more and more convinced, based on the power and precision of James Dickey's writing, that poetry isn't a hopeless endeavor.

Here is a sample, the opening of a poem of his called Adultery:

Note the precise language, the building of mood with exacting detail. In a few short lines, he's crafted a motel room we can see and the tension of guilt we can feel. The closest he comes to telling us how to feel is the 'sad' comment. But that editorial is more than forgivable because he backs it up. He proves it.

I can't recommend his writing highly enough.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Christmas-time Rain

Sunrise On Jamboree Road (Newport Beach)

Why Do You Write?

Lately I've been reading the blogs of artists of many different stripes. Writers, painters, photographers, a quilter (yes, I said a quilter), and an illustrator. One thread at Paul Butzi's site illuminated the meaning of photography for Mr. Butzi, explaining where he found the value, what his goals are.

The main point of his discussion was the fact that the end physical product of his efforts, printed photos, was only a side-effect of the meaningful part of photography, an accident of the learning process. The part of photography that matters most to him--carrying a camera, seeing, learning, figuring out what it is he's trying to say with the things he photographs--exists irrespective of the final output. He claims--and I believe him--not to care if people react well to his work. The value is not in their responses to his efforts, it's in his own responses and growth.

This line of thinking was a revelation to me with respect to my own photography. As much as I cherish the process of photography and the ways in which it makes me see better, I do care how people respond to an image I've made and like. I'm not sure I'll ever entirely abandon caring for an audience response, but the idea (tied to a notion of his that Art Is a Verb, rather than a noun) has certainly changed the way I approach the process of photography.

Ultimately, Mr. Butzi's thoughts have got me thinking about what writing really means to me. In the end, if I do it entirely, or even mostly, for the audience, I'm left with nothing should I fail to be published. And, even if I do get published, the meaning of the work comes so sporadically and unreliably that I'd have to wonder at my sanity in the chase.

I don't pretend to have any answers. All I do have, at this point, is a drive to actively question what the process means to me and then to pursue than meaning with vigor.

So my question for you is Why Do You Write?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Photographer In Me

Part I of a III part short story

I was nine years old when I took my first meaningful photograph.
My older brother Paul hated the picture from the first, because it wasn't, in his view, perfectly flattering.

I still remember the satisfyingly distinctive click-whiz of my mother's Polaroid SX-70 as it took--and spat out--my first masterpiece in the shape of a foggy square sheet of film. I wasn't able to stand and wonder at the two-minute transformation to come, that milky-to-distinct morphing, a process I had studied so many times before as my mother worked the camera at family events.

I was too busy running from my brother, who seemed to know without even seeing that he wasn't going to approve of his likeness. First, he chased me down the stairs. Then he followed me through a slamming back door and out into the yard, bellowing my name as I darted for the magnolia tree that served as a living ladder over the back fence to the alley behind us.

Ultimately, he caught me trying to climb into a ragged fig tree at a neighbor's house, but not before I had shoved the picture under an unused trashcan by their back gate. I cried a good deal and suffered multiple wretched titty-twisters before Paul ultimately gave in to defeat. Not only had I created my first important photo, but I had, for the first time, defeated my brother.

That night, as I lay in bed, awake long past my bedtime, I studied the Polaroid by the sickly light of my bedside lamp. Even as a nine-year-old, I understood that I had captured a moment of my history, and my brother's history. For eternity, I could resurrect this day at my whim. And even with so little life experience, I felt the picture was more than a document. I felt, instead, that it was some sort of portal, a time-traveling celluloid escort.

I fell asleep that night dreaming of the flood of big moments I would capture in the coming days, of all the life I would forever be able to resurrect.

The following morning, however, it was only an hour after I awoke--having run out of film four shots into my photographic career--that my unbounded ambition collapsed under the weight of zero budget. Thankfully, in addition to three pointless shots I'd taken before 7am, I still had my previous day's masterpiece to sustain me.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sad Times Turn Tragic

Until a couple months ago, I'd gone something like twenty years years without attending a funeral. Then my uncle died in late October, and my wife's aunt died just this month. Each was a sad loss, but both had lived good lives. Neither had gotten cheated.

Late today, though, I took a call for my wife from a friend of ours. She was delivering the awful news that her second-born son, only 18 months old, had awakened with a fever that turned into febrile seizure. After a call to 911, a trip by ambulance to the hospital, and extended attempts to keep his heart pumping, he passed away.

At first, when I heard the news, I couldn't wrap my head around what she'd said. I fumbled incoherently as my brain tried to grasp the cruel impossibility of the words. After that, when I understood the truth of it, I could utter nothing more substantial than an incredulous I'm so sorry.

Words are hopelessly underpowered for some of life's challenges. What I'm left with, in their impotent vacuum, is wordless prayer... for the child, for his brother, and for his grieving parents. I will think of them constantly in the trying days ahead. And I will pray for strength for their wounded family.

Waiting For Spring

A flowering plum in my backyard (from last spring). This is, essentially, the only living thing out there, since we recently had a pool put in and our sprinkler system decimated.

It's bitterly cold these days in Southern California (down into the low-thirties at night) and windy as often as not. We've had cold Santa Anas more often, and for longer stretches, than I can ever remember. Neither the cold nor the wind is a happy-making thing.

In the next few days, I will get back to writing. I have a short story and a know-it-all-ish bit of advice on writing dialogue waiting patiently for me to get around to completing them.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sunrise From Office Window

Exploring with my new point-and-shoot, the Fuji F30. It's a very capable, usable little camera for anyone who occasionally wants to take more control of their shots than most cameras in this class allow. It's also the king of low-light shooting for this class. The image quality is very solid, the battery life spectacular.