Wednesday, March 31, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 90

Taken: March 31, 2010, 9:20 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

Here's what I thought today: how do you show sorrow in a photograph. This is the best I could do.

Ah, fuck. I'm so sad.

What is a person supposed to say on days like this?

Today happens to be a close friend's birthday. She's the same friend who is mourning the death of her cat and of course, I planned on calling her today. But when I woke up this morning, there were a half dozen messages on my iPhone (the one I don't sleep with anymore) -- two of them from my friend telling me the most awful news, that late last night we lost a dear and good and far too young friend of ours. That our friend was dead. It was sudden, as unexpected as a tornado down Sunset Blvd.

There is nothing that can prepare you for this kind of news and after a day of staring blankly into space and crying my eyes out, of writing about him, about nothing, of commiserating with friends and just trying to make sense out of one damned thing, I still don't know how I feel, exactly. Except sad. An overwhelming, aching, blinding sorrow.

Our friend, David, wasn't just any friend, he was a light in the universe kind of person, who touched more people than he'll ever know, who made the world a much more interesting place.

I am so sad that the sound of the cursed rain pounding outside is welcoming. I felt like running out the door with no shoes on, and standing in the middle of it, letting the cascades of water sink in, soaking into my skin, all the way to my bones, until I don't give a shit anymore.

It's like having parts of your heart removed. Literally. Like the doctors came to your house overnight and surgically cut out a whole section. What's left has to beat harder and faster just to keep up, making your breathing shorter, like half hiccups, like you've been holding your breath underwater for a week, like catching it and breathing out is the same damn thing.

I realize there's never a time more suited for selfishness than when someone you love dies. Let the pity party begin. I feel bad, that's for sure, but I haven't yet been able to shake the feeling of shock, of bewilderment. Is it really real?  This is what happens when you hear about the death of a friend who just a couple days ago you were trading emails with, who was in a really good place (after not being in a very good one for a time) who was in many ways larger-than-life and who was only 48.

Dammit.

All I can say is that if it's true that nature abhors a vacuum, then we all better just duck for cover. Because there's a big freaking black hole in the universe today.

I think I'm going to go get drunk.

RIP David Mills


It's with enormous sadness that I interrupt my 365 Project. I awoke to the terrible news that my friend and colleague, David Mills, died suddenly last night in New Orleans. He was only 48. My heart has just broken into a million tiny little pieces.

His hometown obituary is here. His great friend and colleague, David Simon, also a journalist-turned-tv-writer/producer, reportedly penned the HBO obituary released by the network today.  It's worth a read -  here's a link to it as published on the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.  If anything can sum up the man, this comes pretty close.

David was a dear friend of mine. We've known each other since our early journalism days at the Washington Times. His talent was undeniable (and his credits show this) but his grace and intelligence, enormous wit, encyclopedic knowledge of R&B, soul and jazz music were legendary. He had a true willingness to learn new things even if sometimes they became minor obsessions once he did.
It was David that got me to blogging here in the first place -- he encouraged me along the way and sometimes spotlighted my posts on his blog, especially when I was doing a lot more culturally relevant or political stuff.  His blog was a must-read every morning for me and I loved that as often as I agreed with him, there were tons of times I didn't. That's David for you -- the last true independent thinker. Loved that about him. Loved that when you asked him a question, he gave you a blunt, honest answer. Always. 

And his blog was important because like everything else he did, he jumped into the deep end and started swimming for his life. The blog was successful because he took it seriously and worked his ass off on it.

He had a gentle soul, never suffered fools and while he was a true loner, he had more lifelong friends than any man I've ever known. You can get a little sense of who he was by checking out his blog, which has become required reading on the cultural roads of what he would call the Internets going on at least two years now. He was proud of his blog and he was proud of his work, including the show he was currently writing and producing on, HBO's Treme, which is scheduled to premier week after next. His friendship with creator David Simon ("The Wire") goes even farther back than mine -- they met at the University of Maryland where they worked for the college newspaper.  I believe it was Simon who convinced David to come out to Hollywood to write Homicide with him.

David could be so quiet when you were with him and I always felt like I was talking too much whenever we hung out together. But he was such a great listener and even when you didn't think he was hearing you, he was. He was a sponge that way -- and if you read his dialogue you would understand how closely he paid attention to the way people talk and how they talk.

Knowing David was to know a sweet, proud, wonderful, serially curious person who would do anything for a friend in need and didn't care who knew or who didn't. I'll never forget our trip to Vegas or the drive back when he made me stay at the speed limit for the whole trip back. Or stopping at a motel halfway and discovering our mutual fear of tarantulas and love of greasy spoon food.
I'm going to miss Dave in the worst way. 

This is just a big blow to those of us who loved him; our hearts ache. Gone too soon doesn't even begin to cut it.

Photo: David Mills

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 89

Taken: March 30, 2010, noon
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Two posts back-to-back and no time to say anything much. I'm just taking a short break before launching into my next writing session, which is likely to take me well into the evening. Outside, we're getting pounded by a heavy rain storm. I can hear water beating loudly off the metal roof of my office, which is in a renovated old winery building.

I talk to my parents several times a week by phone. Sometimes it's just to say 'hello' or check in, other times to share news or just to chat. We always have something to talk about. Today I called to relay a funny bumper sticker I saw (turns out it wasn't THAT funny) and my Mom told me she is now reading my blog.

This started when they called me shortly after I wrote about them here and me saying "hey, I wrote about you guys today" turned into me reading it to them. I love reading to them and they seemed pleased, if slightly embarrassed. They shouldn't be. It's all true people. All of it.

Now that I know my Mom is reading (hi, Mom!), I wonder if it's going to change what I write, even subconsciously. The truth is I hardly think about my blog when I'm not writing it. I do think about the photo part a lot though -- it's practically really as I have to keep my camera with me, batteries in and charged and make sure I have that damned memory card in too (can't tell you how many times I've taken "great" photos only to discover I forgot the memory card).  But the writing part, what I'm going to say here, I almost never know until I'm sitting at my desk writing it.

I'm sure this is not a revelation to my regular readers (I notice I make mistakes a lot) and frankly, I'm not sure how much I write here will have any lasting value. It's more an exercise than anything else. Like I've said here before, I like to empty my head of junk and B.S. so I can concentrate on the daily writing stuff. So far, I think this blog has made me a better writer, but again as I've said before, it's going to be a few more weeks, maybe a couple months before I really know how and how much it has helped.

Speaking of writing, I must get back to it. Today's image is of a new hotel called H2O, that's going up in my small town. They closed part of the main street through town last week so they could put up those balconies. Not sure I'm loving them or not, but I've wanted to shoot them ever since I first drove by. This morning, I had to make a run into town and the sun was poking out in between the heavy rains. The shadows cast by the balconies were just the sort of effect I was after. Edited very slightly with Photoshop.

Programming Note: Just wanted to point y'all to the upper right hand corner of my blog where I've just put up a link to my Flickr Photostream. There you can see a whole bunch more of my photos, including a few blog rejects, as well as all of the blog photos collected in one place (that would be the set called "365 Project").  And for you pug lovers out there, there's a seemingly endless amount of photos of Louie and Chamuco, too. 


And while I'm talking shop here, I'll also note the experiment I'm trying with advertising -- clicking on them sends me pennies. So click away why don't you? Please forgive me, those of you who hate to see ads all over the Internets. You may ignore them -- I'm hoping it won't be intrusive but if it starts to be, I'll remove it. Thank you to my few, yet loyal readers. Your visits are appreciated and your comments always welcome. 

365 Photo Project - Day 88

Taken: March 29, 2010, noon
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

I likely won't be writing much the next few days. I'm in the latter stages of finishing a writing project and when I get this close to "The End" of a script or novel, I find it's impossible for  me to focus on anything else in my life, my friends and loved ones included. They know me by now I guess but I always feel bad when I run into and/or hang out with my friends during those times I'm bearing down to finish a project. My thoughts are always elsewhere, usually in some far and distant land of my mind where all sorts of weird stuff happens. Not the kind of stuff you want anyone to know you're thinking about, not even your friends. Hell, especially your friends,

I'm a day late with today's photo because we spent our evening last night with good friends in St. Helena. They follow my blog and made a special request to ease up on the pug pictures. But when I went through my photos last night and this morning, this was the one that stood out. That's my young (actually he's nearly 3 years old now) pug, Chamuco aka "The Little Black Devil" giving me one of those looks he gives me when I'm leaving for work. Sometimes I take him with me and let him chew on a bully stick while I work. After awhile, he gets tired of chewing and falls asleep at my feet.

I used to work out of my house and got used to pugs snoring nearby or sitting in my lap (pugs love to be in the same room with you at all times) and cats curled up on top of my monitor -- until flat screens came into vogue that is. I remember when I bought my first flat screen monitor and no sooner had I set it up, my cat, Sassy, jumped up on the desk and tried to take her spot on top of the warm monitor. Unfortunately, she was unpleasantly surprised to discover there was no spot for her to sit on anymore. Who knew you were supposed to consult your cat on these purchases? Let me tell you there was a lot of guilt involved.

Anyone who has a dog or a cat understands how quickly they take over your life and your house. Before you know it and without even thinking about it, you suddenly realize that you make 100 decisions a day with your pet in mind. Decisions, I'll add, you would have made (a lot) differently if you were pet-less. In other words, it's not your house anymore, it's theirs. You are merely a visitor, a trespasser in their domain. The sooner you make peace with this concept, the happier you will be. Trust me, I know. I am, after all, owned by two pugs and a very old and very vocal cat.

I shot Chamuco with my K100D and converted it to B&W with Photoshop.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 87


Taken: March 28, 2010, approx. 7 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Another shot taken during the "magic hour," this one out in our "backyard".  It's two straight days of my nightly separation from my iPhone. So far, so good. I find I'm sleeping more, dreaming more and dreaming more about writing. Now the thing is to figure out how to translate my (very) weird dreams into something I can use on paper.

It's also been more than two weeks since my tumble down my front stairs. Almost all the scars are gone (the ones you can see anyway) and today I spent an hour carting boxes of books from my storage locker to my office. Despite having to navigate up a big flight of stairs with each box (there were seven -- though a friend helped carry one),  my knee seems to have stood up fine. I took a short walk in the late afternoon and tomorrow, I plan on getting on my bike again. Baby steps, I remind myself.

If you're like me, that's hard. I'm one of those people who think it can all be done yesterday. I have somehow romanced myself into thinking that I have much more time in the day than I actually have. This is one reason why I have been known to be late for appointments. Some part of me just can't tell time very well. But when I was younger, I wrote like that all the time. I could write spec scripts in days -- four days is my record -- and they were good.  My hands couldn't keep up with my brain, the writing flowed like water -- all the time. I was unstoppable.

Who knows what happened? Am I older and wiser or just older and slower? Whatever. My Mom told me recently that I didn't lose my talent, I just lost my way. I'm thinking to myself I never thought that. But maybe I did. Maybe this whole self-discovery thing is about understanding myself better?

Whoa.

I have been getting better at planning, about saying yes and more importantly, saying no more often. I'm trying to be more reasonable about time constraints but even now as I plan out the next week of work, I realize I am behind schedule on a couple of things I hoped to finish. I don't love this about myself but I also won't begrudge it either. I believe creative things take time -- it's just a matter of making sure you put the work in. Still, in my experience I've noticed the hardest thing for writers isn't the doing, it's knowing when you're done. Being a good editor of yourself means understanding when you have rewrites left and when it's time to just walk away.

I'm getting close to that point on my latest novel, which is now in it's fourth draft, I think (I've lost count). I'm knee deep in it though and enjoying writing it for the first time in forever. But I can feel the footsteps. I know The End is near. And a part of me cannot wait to get there but still ... well, if you're a writer you know.

If not, well, lucky you.

I shot this with my K100D and edited very lightly in Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 86

Taken: March 27, 2010, 11:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

The bedroom window on my side of the bed faces in a generally westerly direction and in recent weeks, when the night is clear and it's visible, the moon has been keeping me company when I wake up in the middle of the night. Sometimes it's so bright, the whole room is bathed in the glow.

I don't know anyone who doesn't feel comforted and awed by the sight of the moon and everything it means, literally and literarily.

My father, who is still alive and relatively well, and fast-approaching his 84th year on earth, has given me a lot of things, among them my love of baseball, of beer, of bridges and photography. He was the first person to get me to look up at the heavens, to find constellations and name them and stars and follow them, and ask big questions neither he nor anyone has the answers to. My folks might argue but I've always felt I got my dreamer's heart from my Mom (still with us too at 76),  the gift of learning not just to color outside of lines but to forget the lines entirely or draw up new ones. My Dad is a gifted artist but I'll always feel it's my Mom who made me a writer (by first encouraging me to be a reader) and it's she I think of calling when I write something that makes me happy.

My Dad gave me the anchor of critical thinking, the ability to rationalize my day-dreaming with the solidness of the world, the concreteness of things that may or may not be hard to comprehend. He used to tell me in difficult times to not use my imagination but to focus on what's there in front of you, what you know, what's happening, not what you don't know or what might happen. I can't tell you how often his philosophy has saved me from panic, has eased the fear in my heart and made it easier to figure out a sticky situation. My Mom may have ignited my fires but my Dad gave me a way to control them.

And even as he revealed the world of lines and angles, showed me where to find the beauty in the manmade world, the ironwork of a truss bridge, the scale of a building, through a lens or a telescope, he never denied its magic.  My parents were great teachers who taught us to understand the world as huge and dangerous and yet miraculous place. They taught us not to fear it but to respect it, a distinction I'm afraid is lost on too many people. Growing up I knew bad stuff happened, I knew that there was no way we could be insulated from tragedy or death or loss, but I also understood that being afraid was healthy in small doses only. The void, the world -- life --  was out there for the taking but you had to take a leap of faith, you had to jump in and do your thing. And you had to believe in yourself.

Believe me, if you had parents like mine, that part was easy.

The truth is I know there are two disparate yet symbiotic sides to me, neither of which would have been as well developed or made me as (gulp) interesting, if it hadn't been for my parents. To this day, we talk several times a week and I try not to think of that day sometime (hopefully) way in the future when I won't be able to do that anymore

I remember when I was writing my first novel and struggling to find my voice. One night I woke up in from a deep sleep with a picture of the first few paragraphs in my head. I immediately rewrote the first chapter. In the morning, the first person I called was my Mom and it was she who confirmed I was onto something (those pages were published pretty much still how I wrote them that night).

I can't watch a baseball game without thinking of the nights my Dad would let me stay up late and watch Mets games with him. My years of being a sportswriter soured me on professional sports for a long time but the older my Dad and I get, the more I'm drawn back to baseball. Money, 'roids, arrogance, it's changing the sport forever, but inside the lines, the game itself, they'll never be able to take that away from us, my Dad and me.

In a way, I think my parents are a little like the moon. Always there, even when they aren't, pulling and pushing the tides of my soul, leading me home.

I shot this on my K100D with a 300mm prime manual Pentax lens that's at least 15 years old. I used a tripod and a 2 second delay, and a 1/15 exposure time. Thanks again to my friend Glenn Camhi for help editing. By the way, have you seen his sweet short film yet?

Friday, March 26, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 85


Taken: March 26, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

I said there would be days during this project when I would reveal a little bit about myself here, like it or not -- for either of us.  I used to be a big sharer. I talked about "my feelings" a lot.  In my dotage, I've gotten over doing that. So much so that allowing myself to think back on those days makes my neck hairs stand on end and that little voice in my head go "eeeew".

I started writing this even before I had a photo chosen because today is a big day for me. I'm ending a relationship. I'm breaking up ... with my iPhone.

Well, not exactly totally completely. Our relationship remains strong and viable and when those penguins at AT&T finally give us its blessing, we plan on entering the "3GS" stage of our courtship. That part of our togetherness is still strong and viable. But we're going platonic.

That's right, my friends, my iPhone and I will no longer be sleeping together.

I'm kicking my iPhone out of my bed -- and out of the bedroom. The charging station is going to the kitchen, as far away from where I sleep as possible. I've decided my gadget love needs boundaries. No more reaching for the comfort of that hand-held goodness, no longer will I be lured away from my sleep by the false security of that lovely little screen,  no more goodies and games and Facebook and Twitter in the wee hours of a sleep-deprived night -- all that which conspires to occupy my brain and keep the makers of Ambien in business.

I know this is not going to be easy. I yet I stand up to admit my addiction: "My name is Elizabeth and I have a problem."

I am addicted to my iPhone. I can't stand not being near it at all times, even at night. I've long known this has been killing me in little pieces every day -- I mean don't get me wrong. Having the iPhone has been wonderful in so many ways, improving my production and allowing me to concentrate a lot of business into one device. But it has also altered my life in ways that are not productive, have screwed with my sleep patterns, turned me into one of those people who pulls out their phone. In truth, the internet is my drug and the iPhone is the needle, but no more. No. More.

At least no more at night. Beginning tonight, I break the addiction. I'll let you know how it goes.

The image I used today is another in my series of shots of my Converse sneakers. I shot it with my K100D, using the camera's internal flash. It's edited in Photoshop.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 84

Taken: March 25, 2010, Noon
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

I'm afraid I don't have much to say today, either. It's Thursday and I had to really bear down to get my allotment of pages done so I can make my personal deadline by the end of the week. Now, I'm running home to make dinner. For anyone who knows me, this is a risky venture to say the least as my cooking skills border on the nonexistent. But my husband, the gourmand of the family by a good measure, put down the gauntlet. He challenged me to make the sweet and sour stuffed cabbage rolls that I used to make when I was in college. The best way to get me to do something is to say I can't do it. I'm a sucker that way.

Credit my parents. They made me a believer, always telling me there was nothing I couldn't accomplish, always reminding me the world was my oyster, out there for the taking, out there for whoever wanted it more. So okay, I'm way more cynical about life now. I'm not going to ever play shortstop for the New York Mets. I realize there are forces at work that want to crush your spirit, that do not care how pure your heart or noble your cause. People lie, they cheat, they fail you. They also die. Shit happens and it happens at the most inopportune moments and lightning, when it's bad, does strike twice. At least. Assholes and dickheads get rewarded. You can work hard, leave it all there on the page and still end up unemployed at the end of the day. The school of hard knocks spares no one.

My friend says everything, good and bad, is an opportunity for learning and growing. I realize there's a bit of Zen in that, that it requires a view of the world that isn't beaten and world weary. It requires a certain amount of charity for humanity, which if you've lived through the Bush Administration for example, you know can be a very hard idea to wrap your head around. Seriously, it's hard to view the world that way. Everybody knows the losses can suck and suck the life out of you. And the really bad ones can drag you down with their weight until you're trapped at the very bottom of the cold and dark ocean floor of your life. Some days it seems impossible to swim upward. Some days it's just easier to stop fighting. Some days it feels like the rats win.

But where's the sport in giving up? I mean as corny as dusting yourself off and picking your ass up actually sounds, if you consider the choices out there, it's not like there's better options. The hard way highway is the only way.  But that's the whole point. As Garrison Keillor once said when he was still writing the Mr. Blue column for Salon.com, "It's a shallow life that doesn't have a few scars."

Remember my favorite 13-year-old? The one who loves baseball? Well, his Mom told me today that he likes to say, "If you're having a hard time, just think of kittens. There isn't anything bad about kittens." Now that's a philosophy I can get behind. That's a view of the world worth having.

I shot this with my K100D. It's a shot of one of the oaks in our "backyard" at a very interesting time of the day today. It was sunny and yet still raining and the storm clouds were sitting low -- above them you could just see the coming rush of blue skies and sunshine. A lovely thought I think. That and kittens.

365 Photo Project - Day 83


Taken: March 24, 2010, 7 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

I was too tired to write yesterday and since I have to do a lot of writing for my day job today, this is going to be very short.

My shot of the day is of a local church. It's one of the few churches I pass by that's a building that interests me. I find most modern churches bore me architecturally at the very least. I like the simplicity of the white wash clapboard, how it harkens back to another time and place.

I couldn't resist trying this capture last night, what with the storm clouds brewing in the background and a weird light on the steeple. I want to thank my friend Glenn Camhi, an excellent photographer in his own right, for helping me tweak this in Photoshop for the effect I was after. Glenn is also a writer and we bonded on a writers board over words, food and photography. He has not only become a dear friend and confident for all sorts of life discussions, but he is my go-to guy when I can't decide on my photo of the day.  Take a minute (actually 3 minutes) to watch his funny and endearing L.A. Magazine short film contest entry, I've embedded below.




Tuesday, March 23, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 82

Taken: March 23, 2010, approx. 7:10 p.m.
Location: Eastside Road, Healdsburg, Ca

I'm in love with the Magic Hour.

Photographers call it the Golden Hour and there's all sorts of physics about the placement of the sun and specifics of time but I claim it for daydreamers like me.  Generally, the Magic Hour is the first and last 60 minutes (or so) of daylight.  I think of it as the first and last gasp of the day, illuminating or muting, capturing and enhancing the details of the world or giving us one last look before letting everything fade into the dusk and, shortly after, the darkness of night.

I admit I don't see the morning arrive too often (I'm a late sleeper to put it mildly) which I know is a shame.  However, I rarely miss it in the evening. I don't see how anyone can. The world changes as the sun escapes the da. The way the light, well, lights, is different somehow and everything gleams in its magical, mysterious, multi-colored luminescence, like something important is about to happen, something good. It's like the light itself is character come to pay a last visit on the fading day.  And if you stand in the right place, the glow envelopes you too. Like I said, it's magic.

When I lived in Santa Monica and was single, I liked to walk in the evening. I would start out an hour or so before sunset and would walk West toward the Pacific, stopping at fourth street before turning around and walking back. Mid-summer the days would hold on forever and it was still light up until I one or two blocks from my crappy apartment in West L.A. It was like night and day at the same time.I'll never forget how those walks felt -- how everything seemed more intense. The smells of sweet flowers,  cut grass, the sounds of nearby Santa Monica Blvd., dogs parking, children playing, the way the phone lines above my head would buzz like you could hear everybody talking all at once.

That's the gift of the magic hour. It illuminates everything like an electrical charge but like electricity, it ebbs and flows like a wave, changing by the nanosecond until suddenly it's over and you're surrounded by the light of a new day or the dark of night. The good news is it will return again. You just have to be ready for it.

This shot is of Eastside Road, just south of Healdsburg and west of Redwood Highway. I shot this with my K100 and edited it gently with Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 81


Taken: March 22, 2010, 11:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

Writers write. Obviously. But I don't just mean putting pencil to paper, hands to keyboard -- it's not always about filling a blank page. I know it's not for me. I'm always thinking about writing. Always. It remains the best and worst thing about the way my brain works. In it, I'm always writing, creating, thinking about writing or creating, making up words and characters, dreaming up plots, people, places, words, ideas, and on and on. I couldn't shut it off even if I wanted to.

A favorite cousin once impressed upon me to never go anywhere without something to read. He's right; you never know when you're going to get stuck somewhere -- in a line, waiting for a meeting, or a meal, or at a doctor's office -- only to discover the only reading materials is a Readers' Digest from 1980 or a pamphlet about your colon. PDAs are one thing but even I get sick of staring at my iPhone screen 24 hours a day.

That's why I always have something on hand to read (usually a book).  And because I'm a writer, I also take a notebook with me everywhere (and hopefully a pen too). If you know a writer personally, you may know we can be particular about our writing supplies. (I fear this comes from too much time spent alone in dark rooms with only our own thoughts to keep us company.)  My loyalties lie with micr-fine point uniball pens and Moleskine notebooks.

My current favorite its the reporters' notebook which opens from the bottom up -- though the one pictured above is a small version of the classic. I admit to being romanced by the legendary history of Moleskines. The originals were said to be favored by Hemingway and Picasso among others. One has to be romanced by a blank notebook that costs a ridiculous $12-15 each (because it sure ain't gonna help you write or paint like those guys).

Ah, but yet could there be something more? 

I believe it. To hold a Moleskine in your hand is to understand the love. They have a perfect weight, are sturdy and practical (the ribbon bookmark and elastic band are genius) and yes, they inspire thoughts of mid-20th century Paris and New York, Spain and Venice, of the Algonquin, El Floridita and the terrace of Deux Magots of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker, of Graham Greene. Of smokes and extra dry martini's, scotch neat and the clickity clack, whiz of Underwoods. Like it's part of the writer's uniform. Romance indeed. (And no, the Moleskine people are not paying me to say this. If they were, though, I'd ask for more notebooks.)

I write in them all the time, all sorts of things from notes and outlines to pages and chapters of my novels to my non-artistic scribblings. They are filled also with notes to myself about character names, songs and movie titles, musings, mini-diary entries and phone numbers, addresses and favorite restaurants.  I own dozens of them. They are scattered all about my life, in my office, my car, under my bed, on bookshelves, in boxes, big ones and small, hard cover and soft. Like in the image above, they are all filled with the writing I do when I'm not really writing (that nonsense above was a grain of an idea for a movie I wrote years ago). And though my not-so-legible personal shorthand code may or may not make sense later, even to me, they are necessary to my crazy creative process. They are, literally and literarily, the seeds I scatter on the ground as I walk through my own dark forests, so I can find my way back home again.

Monday, March 22, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 80

Taken: March 21, 2010, approx. 3:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Pretty much everyone who knows me, knows I'm not a morning person. I usually rise between 10 and 11 a.m. and by the time I get my shit together and get out the door, it's at least noon. I usually don't get down to the nitty gritty of writing until after one, but I've always done my best writing late in the day. If I could stay up, writing all night long would be okay by me.

I usually knock off around seven; By the time I'm driving up my road it's nearly dark. The place we rent is at the end of a dead end road, which narrows and winds a short way up to end at a local vineyard. We're the last driveway on the left, just before the vineyard's wrought iron gate, and the last few hundred yards is a moderately bumpy up-hill paved single-lane, shaded by oak trees and lined by a wooden fence on one side and rich foliage on the other.

Just before I get to where the road narrows -- at a line of rural mailboxes at the bottom of the hill --  I usually pop my clutch into first for the ride up. For the last several weeks, just as I've started to downshift, a rabbit has appeared at the side of the road. It shows itself in the beam of my headlights, almost always on the right side, waits to make sure I'm not going to run it down and then hops across the road in front of my car, taking one last look in my direction before disappearing into my neighbor's vineyards.

I'm getting used to seeing my rabbit. I always slow down and wait for him and so far, he hasn't failed to show. I don't know if he's on his own schedule or if he's waiting for me, or if he's got a watch in his pocket and a date with a hole in the ground and a girl named Alice. I don't know if it's a good sign or even a sign at all, but there's something about seeing him that comforts me.

My Mom had her own rabbit once. We have a modest summer place in New England and my folks spend summers there now. Like here, there's a short walk to the mailbox and one day one recent summer,  a rabbit appeared and followed her to the mailbox. The next day, he was there again. And the next day after that, until my Mom felt her daily walk for the mail wasn't complete without her rabbit.

I'm starting to feel the same way, that my drive home each evening isn't complete until my rabbit appears in my high-beams. I like having my rabbit. My buddy, shadow, my omen, my vestige.

Or maybe I'm his?

Spring is here and the Russian River is ready for the river rats with their canoes and kayaks.  There's a canoe rental place at the foot of my favorite local bridge (the one y'all now know so well) and they're getting everything ready. I didn't get out on the river last summer but I'm planning on going this year for sure. On my way home tonight, I stopped to shoot this stack of canoes. I used my K100D and edited it in Photoshop.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 79


Taken: March 20, 2010, 12:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

Another shot of my old man pug, Louie.

The origin of pugs is still in some dispute. We know they're originally from China and they were bred by royalty for royalty, that they were mixed with mastiffs along the way, that they were intended as companion dogs and they are brachycephalic or flat-nosed dogs.  I've heard it said that Tibetans believe they are reincarnated monks. I don't care if that last part is true -- the idea is so wonderful I prefer to believe it.  My favorite term about pugs is the Latin multum in parvo, which loosely translated means "big dog in a small package."  They are every bit of that. For members of the so-called Toy Group, they are tough as hell,  smart, funny, motivated by food, stubborn as the day is long and, at times, among the most peculiar of man's best friends. They have personality to burn. Really knowing a pug dog is loving a pug dog. No two ways about it.

I'm biased I admit. Louie is the first dog I've had as an adult and I got him when he was at least five years old and had already lived most of his life on the street. He's had one illness or another almost the entire time we've had him -- is now completely deaf,  blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other. His cost and care have been a challenge to our hearts -- and our wallets -- but he has also been a light in our lives, an integral and ever-present member of our family, the ruler of the house. The day he leaves us will open an enormous hole in our hearts.

Since Louie is a rescue, people often say how lucky he is to have found us. I always say without hesitation that it's we who are fortunate to have found Louie. He changed us in ways deep and lasting. He brought love into our lives when we were struggling to find our footing in difficult times. He gave us a purpose when we were floundering, he gave us strength and as crazy as this sounds, brought us luck.

We've come to rely on the certainty of his being and his idiosyncrasies, his tightly curled tail and the happy dance he does when it's time for supper or a walk. His particular manner of being under foot without being in the way, his gentle snoring at night,  the way motorcycles turn him into a junk yard dog and how he used to tilt his head when he could still hear us say "ride" or "cookie". He's such a huge part of our lives that he is at one with us -- there is no knowing us without knowing Louie the King of All Pugs.

Chamuco, our recent pug addition, is making his own name among our friends and in the hierarchy of the household, but Louie will always be the man, our first, our one and only, our heart. I sometimes find it hard to believe how deeply Louie has taken hold in our lives, how much a part of us he has become. Perhaps part of it is because we don't have children but I know in my heart that there's something else at work here.  There's just something about Louie, something special and wonderful and magic. I just don't think his finding us (and vice versa) isn't somehow the work of fate -- that there isn't some grand design in play here that is beyond my comprehension.

On those days when believing in the void is almost impossible, I only have to look at Louie to rekindle my faith in things unknown.  A reminder that some gifts come in little packages with big hearts and flat noses and curly tails.

I shot this with my K100D and edited it slightly in Photoshop.

Friday, March 19, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 78

Taken: March 19, 2010, approx. 7 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

I pass this house on my way to my office every day. I don't know who lives here but I've always like the way that rusty old chair sits on the porch. I don't like taking pictures of other people's stuff. It feels like I'm invading their privacy.

Today as I was leaving my office at the end of the day, I saw that chair on that porch in the fading light and I pulled to the side of the road and snapped a couple of quick photos. The day was nearly gone -- this was the only shot that was anywhere close to in focus.

I've always wanted a house with a front porch. The place we rent has a classic wrap-around, eight feet wide and at least 100 feet from front to back. The pugs love it. In the warm weather, they sleep on the sun-heated planks and have their little flat-nosed pug dreams. Our youngest pug, Chamuco, hops up on our chaise lounge like the royally bred dog that he is and then, my husband tells me, as the late afternoon sun breathes its last gasps, he gets down and sits near the front gate, waiting. My husband thinks he might just be waiting for me to come home. It's a nice thought anyway.

I've talked a little bit about my being a cancer survivor. It's going to be 20 years since my diagnosis and surgery and I can't even begin to say how much and how the experience changed my life forever, how much it's still changing me every second of every day. I find people generally get the whole idea of how a life-threatening illness can alter your entire world view but it's also true that it's one of those experiences that you have to go through to really understand.

Last night, I had dinner with a fellow survivor. She's fresh off her battle still waiting for the words "you are now cured." I actually followed her story third-hand through through a mutual friend. She told me about this woman's courage and spirit but I didn't really understand until I met her last night, until I heard her talk about her experience. She has come quite a long way in a short span of time and I marvel at she's embraced everything that happened to her, the good, the bad, the scars and all, and turned it into -- dare I even say it -- a positive. She's learned lessons in a few months it's taken me years to figure out.

It's hard to imagine having cancer could make you a better person and maybe not every survivor believes it but I do. What doesn't kill you, you know?

I think about this a lot and I think it's maybe why I find the world so damned interesting all the time.

This woman I met last night? She had surgery and chemo and radiation and it was so bad she hardly had the strength to walk across the room. Next month, she's running the Big Sur marathon. Take that cancer. Take that.

I shot this with my K100D and edited in Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 77



Taken: March 18, 2010, 10:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Was just too tired to write anything last night. It was a full and rather pleasant day but a long one and I was exhausted by the time it came to thinking up something clever.

I did spend my evening a 13-year-old, the son of a good friend, who I've come to adore in the mere two years or so we've known each other. He is a sweet and kind kid, smart and funny. Like many boys his age, is also a sports fanatic, most notably for baseball (I only sometimes hold his love of the Yankees against him. After all, he got it from his Mom.) And, like most boys his age, he is obsessed with trades and free agency and all ways of player movement. I was about to say "in my day" which is going to make me sound like my Dad but, um, back when I was his age, trades were the exception not the rule. We didn't have a 24-hour-news-cycle-countdown-to-the-last-nano-second-of-the-trade-deadline with everybody from ESPN to the sports blog-o-sphere speculating on who is going, who is going where and for who in return.

Not that it has in any way dampened my young friend's love for the game. I'd rather hear his speculation any day. For one,  he never takes money or salaries into account and his proposals are far more creative that anything that actually does happen. Makes me wonder what professional baseball would be like if 13-year-olds got to run every franchise for one day. That would be something to see.

But see, we have the love in common. I've been a sportswriter, have lived through scandal after scandal, have seen my share of the parade of knuckleheads, both in uniform and out, have witnessed the worse of sports, on occasion from a front-row seat. But I'll never lose the love. I'm just not built that way.

I'm one of those people who, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, still believes in the purity of the game, remains loyal to my favorite franchises  (Mets and NY Giants) even as they have not always showed the same loyalty in return. I know all that bad stuff exists but when the games start, I just don't allow myself to go down the dark alleyway of cynicism. I will not enter the House of What's Wrong With Sports Today. I prefer to believe that the game matters to most guys who play it and they do their best, they try hard and they try hard to win.

Sports is really the last refuge of the true gladiator, those aforementioned knuckleheads aside. There's almost always a winner and a loser and the outcome is as concrete as you can get -- even if some matches dominate "what if" discussions for generations (that's part of the fun too). The scoreboard tells the tale and every game is like its own mini story of drama and intrigue, life and death. I often wonder, actually, what life would be like if it worked more like sports. Do your job well and get paid, be judged on merit and ability, not by the what you look like or where you're from or who gave birth to you or who you happen to love. Now, that would be something.

The image today is another one of my experiments. It's an ostrich egg, set against a white background and lit from above. I used the K100D with internal flash and turned the image to B&W in Photoshop.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 76

Taken: March 17, 2010, 11:30 a.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

It broke 70 degrees today and it's gonna keep on breaking it for the next week. I don't know about you but I'm ready for the sunshine. Feels like I've been living under the ground, like I've been hibernating, waiting for that moment when I can open my eyes again, come out of the darkness and step into the light once more.

I'm not complaining. Just happy to be warmed by real sunlight, to feel like spring is finally here. I can't help it. It gives my heart a wonderful weightlessness, like gravity is everybody else's problem. I'm a sap that way. I mean in case you haven't noticed by now.

Got a pretty good day's work in today, another  benefit of the upturn in the weather.  Managed to step out for a few minutes late in the day. Just long enough to get a good whiff of things to come. I'm such a sucker for this time of year when winter is nearly dead and buried, and there's nothing but possibility in the air. Everything is out there for the taking, anything can happen and maybe, just maybe this is going to be my year.

Told ya' I'm a sucker.

I wish I could bottle that feeling and take it out whenever I needed a little extra motivation, a little pick-me-up from the daily grind of going nowhere fast. It's like a great song you haven't heard in forever. Those first few bars remind you why you loved it when you first heard it and maybe even where you were at the time you fell in love with the melody.  For me, music is like the smell of freshly-baked bread. One whiff of it and it takes me directly to a specific moment in my life when I first smelled bread out of the oven. One minute you're focused on something in front of you and the next, you've built an entire memory off the smell out of the oven

For me it's bread, maybe yours is ground coffee or horse manure. Whatever.  It's that thing that tickled your senses, that hung in the ether at that moment when you were having one of those life-changing experiences. Nobody forgets that stuff.  Maybe we think we do,  but then that something in your nose or that sound or taste -- whoosh, it all come back like it was yesterday.

It's a good thing to remember, how your senses can take your mind by the hand and lead you along a twisty trail of memories and moments that are so real you could, well, you could smell and taste and see and hear them. I  rely on senses when I write all the time. Scenes have people in them and things but I always try to ask myself what does it feel like, what's on the nose, what sounds, sights ... it's all good fodder for selling a character's experience. And it's often the best way to the heart of what you're writing about. Put your audience in the moment, with your character, seeing and feeling everything he does.

I'm not saying it's easy but the only place to start is to make sure you're using all your senses. Take note of your own world and keep it someplace safe. You never know when you'll need it. Speaking of, excuse me while I close up shop for the day. There's something in the air. I can feel it.

Took this shot of my two pugs this morning with my K100 D and edited it slightly in Photoshop. That's the old man, Louie on the left and little devil Chamuco on the right. My favorite subjects.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 75

Taken: March 16, 2010, 9:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

Another long day of running around doing stuff. I wasn't sitting at my writing desk until nearly 4 p.m. though I did make the most of it. I started into some work on my novel and by nearly eight, I had almost 2000 words. That's a good writing day no matter how you measure it.

As much running around as I did, though, I didn't really have a chance to get a good photograph. I tried a few things but nothing came out. So I set out to "create" one tonight, using my pug Chamuco, a single white rose (that's the same one here) and a little lighting. It was a challenge to get the black pug and the white rose in the same shot but I sort of managed it.

A little editing in photoshop was all it too.

I'm too tired tonight to write more -- I left it all on the page tonight which is the point anyway. But I will have some stuff to talk about in the coming days.

I'd like to end with a good wish for my good and dear friend, Susie, who had to put her cat Molly to sleep today. Molly's been sick the last few months but it's always a sad day when you have to say goodbye to the beloved creatures in our lives. Y'all know how I feel about my animals. The ups and downs of dealing with my older pug Louie, who has been ailing himself, has put thoughts of the end in the front of my mind. I just hope he'll let me know when it's time. Like I've said before, he's a fighter. And right now, he's hanging on with all four paws.

Rest in peace, Molly. I hope there's a cat heaven waiting for you and it's filled with lots of fish treats and bowls catnip, claw scratchers and cozy spots by the heater.

Monday, March 15, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 74

Taken: March 15, 2010, approx. 5:30 p.m.
Location: Geyserville, Ca

This might go down as the weirdest shot of this project but I couldn't resist shooting it.

I was in neighboring Geyserville (it's the next town north of Healdsburg) for dinner at a great little Italian pizza and salumeria there called Diavola. It's next door to the relatively new very cool firehouse and on our way back from dinner, I stopped to take a photo of it.

They were running some sort of exercises in the back but this training dummy was all alone in the driveway. Too good to pass up, especially with the firehouse as the backdrop.  With the sun setting behind me, it made for one creepy image.

I had a long, tough day, mostly dominated by my having to take care of some business I've been dreading for several weeks. It's not something I want to talk about in detail but as much as I've been wanting to avoid this, I know I had no choice. Just hoping it gets better from here.  Just the effort itself wore the hell out of me, so this post is going to be short and sweet. And weird, too.

I shot this with my K100D and edited it in Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 73

Taken: March 14, 2010, approx. 2:20 p.m.
Location: San Francisco, Ca.


We spent the day in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. My brother the doctor was in town for a conference and we grabbed him up from his hotel and hit the town basically. It wasn’t easy. Part of the Embaracdero was closed for some sort of street fair which made getting to the famed Ferry Building a tough prospect. We drove around for an hour before finding a lot to ransom the car while I took my bro to some of my favorite spots including Hog Island Oyster (though there was a ginormous line to get anything to eat) and Recchiuti Chocolates to sample some of their carmel and sea salt squares. Heaven on earth people. Heaven on earth.

We ended the day with a full and satisifying meal at Zuni CafĂ© where my brother and I shared the famous Zuni roasted chicken, an iconic meal in a city of food people.

It was a lovely spring day just in time for Daylight Savings, the kind that makes you dream of the longer, languid days ahead. The kind of day that gives one hope for the future.

We laughed a lot, shared bad jokes (who knew there were gynecological oncologist specific jokes) and ate and drank until we couldn’t eat or drink anymore.

All and all a great day.

My brother is a hero to me and not just because he’s my only brother and he’s smart and he’s a surgeon who deals exclusively with womens’ cancers or even that he goes to Granada a couple times a year to give free medical care to women there.

When I was diagonised with Cancer, he was still a doctor-in-training but he took charge of everything and he steered me to the best doctor we could find and he comforted my parents who were scared shitless they were going to lose me. He stepped up beyond his years in a way I will never forget.

I know he’s not the doctor who cut me open and saved my life but he made sure she could be there for me. It’s a gift I can never repay.

Even a great day in San Francisco doesn’t even come close.

This is a shot of the Ferry Building on this busy Sunday. I shot it with my K100D and edited lightly in photoshop.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 72

Taken: March 13, 2010, approx. 5:45 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, CA

I took a spill today. Right down my front stairs landing hard on our gravel and dirt driveway.  Skinned my right knee something awful, scraped some skin off the palm of my right hand and nearly imbedded my elbow in my chest, pretty much knocking the wind right out of me. I'm happy to say I'll live and the only witnesses were my two pugs. Lucky for me, they ain't talking.

Unless you're still a kid, falling down is one of those things that reminds you of getting old. Hard to keep those thoughts of brittle bones and wobbly knees out of your head. Hard not to consider what happens to us all eventually, the slow and steady breakdown of your body from a lifetime of use. I guess it's always good to have these thoughts when you're young enough to do something about it. But no matter how well you treat your body, it's hard not to imagine the helplessness and wonder if anybody really goes gently into that deep, dark night.

Been thinking a lot about the end recently. In my new novel, there's an important scene where somebody dies that happens really early in the narrative. It was one of the first things I wrote when I started this book a couple years ago but I find myself returning to it a lot. Not to make major changes, but just to check its authenticity. Which is kind of funny if you think about it. I mean I've never been in a room when somebody died -- my writing about it is based on stuff I've read, other peoples' experiences and a lot of imagination.

Of course, the "authenticity" isn't in whether the death scene is real, it's the emotions of the characters who experience the death that has to resonate. That's the thing about writing well. You can make anything "real" if you get the feeling right.

I've found that aspiring writers get far too hung up on setting scenes and describing the way people feel instead of working to find a way to convey the emotions of their characters. Your audience will know how a character is feeling if you show them through action and dialogue as opposed to telling them outright.

My best days writing are the ones where the characters take flight on their own -- when they tell me something about them I didn't even know, when they're the ones who tell me what they want to do next. I know it sounds crazy, but the better you know your characters, the more likely their actions and feelings, emotions and choices will show themselves to you -- as opposed to you forcing that on them. The word "organic" is overused in talking about writing but it's something every writer should shoot for; the idea that everything your character does and says comes as a natural progression of their actions and behavior. I'm not saying your character's behavior should be obvious or predictable but it should be in keeping with who they are.

Which is not to say you can't throw wrenches every now and then. You can do whatever you want as long as you lay the foundation for it, as long as you make sure your audience can keep up with your line of thinking (there always has to be a there there, even if it takes awhile for them to get it). When you make it work, it's an incredibly experience. I'm not saying it's easy but show me the person who says writing is easy and I'll show you a hack.

That's why I spend so much time thinking about my characters. Who are they? What do they want? Why do we care who they are and what they want? I make lists about them that will never see the light of day. I do it because it informs me who they are -- it tells me what I can do with them, to them and hopefully, how they'll react to whatever it is I throw at them. The better I get to know them, the more likely they'll start talking to me. Let me tell you from experience: those moments are rare and fleeting but they are gifts from the Gods. Every writer knows exactly what I'm talking about.

But you won't get near that place unless you push yourself, push your character and dig deep as you can until you know where the bones are buried. The fun is in the moments you don't expect, the magic comes when you, the creator, the person who supposedly has all the answers, is suddenly given something new and unexpected.

It's kind of like accidentally falling down a flight of stairs. One minute you're blissfully upright and the next you're eating the dirt, trying to find your breath again. The pain is (hopefully) passing but it lingers long enough. A shock to the system, a moment of clarity if you will. Hell, I'm not recommending falling down your stairs as a path to enlightenment. All I'm saying is it's worth tripping up your own view of the world. You never know what you'll discover.  As the man says, though, just be damned careful out there.

This barn is on the road to my house. I shot it with my K100D just around sunset and loved the perfect clear blue sky in the image. It's very lightly edited in Photoshop. Tonight is Daylight Savings Time which means spring's nearly here and summer's right on its heels. Which in turn means the days are getting longer, a photographer's dream.

Friday, March 12, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 71

Taken: March 12, 2010, approx. 3:30 p.m.
Location: Highway 29  near St. Helena, CA

This is obviously not the best shot I've taken for this project, but it captures a hint of the scene I witnessed today.  A full-on rainbow spanning over a section of road off Highway 29 between St. Helena and Yountville. I saw it this afternoon as my husband and I  drove through some nasty wet weather on our way to see friends in Napa. I made him pull the car over so I could get this shot but his impatience got the best of me (we had an appointment to make). I wish I had lingered a bit longer to find a better shot or to play more with the exposure and focal point on my camera. I'm happy that at least I caught the scene though.

I love rainbows. Not necessarily the pretty colors or the drama of them. It's their ethereal beauty I dig, how quickly they appear and disappear fading into the sky like a distant memory. Like they weren't even here at all. They're also reminders -- often in the midst of lousy weather -- that beauty is all around us all the time. Even on a cold, rainy and miserable afternoon.

Simple things that warm our hearts in the middle of the storm. Like I've said in these pages before, nobody gets out of this life alive and nobody's life line is always straight and true. We all know that. But if it's the bad times that make us who we are, it's the little, lovely moments that remind us we're alive.  One doesn't exist without the other.

If I've learned anything these past 71 days, it's to keep looking for these moments of true beauty. You never know when you'll see a rainbow.

Shot with my K100D and edited in Photoshop.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 70

Taken: March 11, 2010, approx. 3 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

I'm putting up two posts back-to-back due to my missing yesterday. I'm still a bit worn out by this cold so I'm sure there's going to be days where I just don't have the energy to do anything more than slap up a photo. I fear this is going to be one of those days.

In an effort to regain some strength, I did take a short walk around my office today. The sky was bright with only a hint of clouds. This is the railroad bridge I've shot several times already in this project. Since it's across the street from my office, it's turned out to be a fallback for me. I did have some other choices today but this one was my favorite. At least it's a different angle of the bridge.

I've been wanting to take a shot from the bridge. People walk over it every day but not me. I happen to be deathly afraid of heights (a fear I apparently inherited from my Dad). I keep trying to walk out there but my phobia has defeated me every time. My friend says I should make it a goal to walk across it before the end of the year. I'm not so sure I have it in me, but I'm sure as hell going to try.

I shot this with my K100D and the 200mm lens. Edited in Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 69

Taken: March 10, 2010, approx. 12:30 p.m.
Location: Davis, Ca.

Had a very long and tiring day on Wednesday and I fell asleep before I had a chance to update my blog. I had to drive back down to UC Davis VMTH for an appointment for my pug, Louie and my hopes of making it a quick trip were dashed when the vets there asked to keep him for an hour for some tests and such.

Louie's a tough old guy. I keep thinking his time is going to be up and then he rallies. I have to remember this every time I worry that I'm doing too much, that I should just let nature take its course. But this is a dog who wants to be here and as far as I'm concerned, he's the only voice I'm going to listen to where his care is concerned. Live long, Louie the pug. I'll be there for you, pal.

This is a shot I planned  -- remember a few days ago I mentioned I was going to try doing a series of me and my Converse. I saw these rubber non-slip mats on the sidewalks outside of the VMTH building at Davis and went to work. I used my K100D and the 18-5mm lens. Edited lightly in Photoshop.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 68



Taken: March 9, 2010, approx. 8:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

I'm feeling the spring thing big time, even today when it was as nippy as it gets around here. The weather Gods have been playing yo-yo with us the last week, sometimes within the same hour. We're getting heavy rains alternating with bouts of sunshine, heavy winds and temperatures that been as cold as 40 and as warm as 70. Go figure. I'm starting to feel sorry for the local weather forecasters. Seriously.

I've been messing around with my old school 50mm lens again and experimenting too with lightning at the same time. The truth is that as much and as long as I've called photography a hobby, I know very little about it. My ignorance makes me happy most of the time -- the freedom of shooting for the picture editor in my own heart is liberating and keeps the fun alive. But at the same time, the more I shoot, the more I want to know why something works -- or more importantly why it doesn't. And I look at other photos and think "how the hell did they do that?"  So, I'm testing and trying, seeing what comes out of it.

Tonight I spent an hour with a single white rose that I stole from the vase in our living room. I used the K100D with the 50mm lens, the internal flash and different lightning sources. I was trying for a more even and brighter lightning effect but I couldn't figure out quite how to get that. This is one of the few I was happy with and even then, I washed it through Photoshop and cropped it to get it to a place where I felt I could use it for today's photo.

I had to get something as I'd wasted half the day lying in bed with a heating pad on my sinuses -- remnants of last week's sick out. I'm sure the rapid change in the weather isn't helping. I finally got to my desk late this afternoon and didn't get home until almost eight. 

The days are getting longer and I've been writing more, hustling my ass to beat a deadline of my own. As many of you know, I'm a twice-published novelist and my long-awaited third novel remains (to my utter pain and humiliation) unpublished -- the nearly 1,500 pages of its three whole drafts sitting on the bookshelf in my office, staring back at my like a needy, petulant child. I am writing a new novel but it's not That One, that reminder of my one major failure in my brief novelist career, the only manuscript I've written that went unpublished. 

Why it wasn't published and how I feel about that and the manuscript itself is for another discussion. And, over the coming weeks, I expect to have a reason to talk more about it.  But the burden of going so long without a new book has been weighing on my heart more than ever. My own, personal albatross. I knew it was time to shake it off and there's only one way to do that.  So along with my other writing obligations, I'm working like the devil's on my heels on a new book -- my eye intermittently on that unpublished stack of pages on the shelf, and it's gaze on me.

Someone asked why I continue this blog when I'm putting so much effort into my daily work.  But in a way this project is a life-line for me, a way to draw out the debris in my very busy and distractible brain. I've realized that in large part, these few words I write and the photos I take each day, are helping me keep a daily rhythm, to stay the course. And, like I've said in earlier posts, it's giving my mind's eye an excuse to look around more. The result has added a layer to my writing -- more to see, more to talk about and examine. Whether it makes the final result better is still an open question, but I feel like it's made me a sharper, more attentive and focused writer.

So I'm going to stay the course here too.  Tomorrow's another day to wake up and wonder what words and pictures I'll discover.  Hell, only 297 days to go.

Monday, March 8, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 67

Taken: March 8, 2010, approx. 8:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Wanted to try something a little different today.  I have a boxful of Pentax lenses, accessories and camera bodies. About 15 years ago, I bought a bunch of mostly Pentax stuff from a sports photographer at the newspaper where I worked (it was just about the time when everybody was making the switch to digital).

I think he sold me the whole box for around $150, which was a lot of money for me back in my lean reporter days. But it was a nice haul, including 300mm and 200mm fixed lenses, some camera bodies and other flashes, winders and even an old mini 110 camera.  I always meant to use everything, but you know how that goes. So I put most of it away with the Pentax stuff I've been collecting ever since I was a kid when my Dad gave me a used Sears branded camera (which just happened to be made for them by Pentax).

Flash forward to two years ago when I decided to buy a new DLSR.  I went with Pentax because it's so-called backwards compatible, which means I can use pretty much any Pentax K-mount lens, no matter how old it is. It is the only brand of digital camera that does this. Suddenly all my old stuff had new life.

I discovered through a friend that some of the lenses, which say "Asahi Opt, Co., Japan" on them are actually supposed to be of excellent quality and have a good reputation among serious photographers. Or at least they did back in the day. (Pentax, I believe, introduced the modern 35mm camera design to the world -- back when the company was called Asahi.)  Since many my lenses were purchased second hand and have been lying around collecting dust or just worn from use,  I've been systematically cleaning them up. Some I've done myself, others I had cleaned (and repaired if needed) professionally.

Now that I'm well into this project, I'm thinking the time has come to put them to use. Tonight, I was messing around with a 50mm 1:2 manual lens. My subject the sunflowers my husband got for the kitchen table. I love the sharpness of this shot and how yellow the yellow is, and I'm looking forward to more experimenting. I think my Dad would be proud. I backlit this image and used internal flash, then edited it in Photoshop. Taken, of course, with my K100D.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 66

Taken: March 7, 2010, approx. 5:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

Tonight is Oscar night and I'm watching, which is sort of unusual for me. I've been down on the Oscars for years and tonight isn't helping. It's so awkward. Nobody seems ready to get up on that stage. Hell, I have no idea what it's like but I'll tell you this much:  I got my speech prepared. I've had it prepared since I was like 14 years old. I'll probably never get a chance to use it, but at least I got it.

I actually left the confines of my house today. I was out for at least a half hour. I went to my office and the natural food store and I got a cup of chai tea from my favorite local coffee shop (thanks Jacob) and drove around with the windows down because it was a day even more lovelier than yesterday and twice as warm.

It felt good to be out and about, but it sure wore me out. Be (hopefully) easy to sleep tonight. And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow I'm getting back at it for real. Keyboard here I come.

I shot this on my deck in the late afternoon with my K100D.  This image is very close to one I took earlier in this project but I like them both so much I'm going to try to create a series of similar images. I do have a few pairs of Converse to try it with after all. Them there's my favorite pair of Converse. It's edited in Photoshop.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 65

Taken: March 6, 2010, approx. 5:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.


I'm still hanging around the house. Still hacking and slouching. But I wrote most of the afternoon on my laptop (yay for progress), talked on the phone with the folks and with an old, dear friend, and took a long, hot shower this evening. I'm starting to believe that my old self is somewhere in there. Maybe she'll come out soon. Maybe even tomorrow.

It was a lovely day today. I'm running out of seasonal descriptions but suffice to say the blues were true, the greens vibrant, the scents on a very fluffy little breeze came with a hint of floral. It all feels like a good omen.

When you’re fighting off something like a bad cold, there’s a real tendency to talk to yourself a lot. I mean the inner talking to yourself. There you are, sitting alone in a room that smells vaguely of menthol, sitting all alone because, well, you're contagious and your sinus headache makes reading, watching TV, surfing the internet or even talking at all impossible. You end up your own captive audience. Nothing to do but close your eyes and listen.

It’s pretty trippy stuff, least it is for me. Low-grade fevers always bring a fascinating variable to the game. Sometimes I write stuff down just to look at it later. Most of the time, it just makes me laugh. Every so often, there’s a gem in there somewhere.

The one thing that never changes is how quickly I get sick of listening to that voice. Not very Zen of me, I know. But every time I think I could be one of those live-in-the-deep-woods loners, I remember how bored I get hearing myself in my head. When I finally feel better, all I want is to get the hell out of the house and to hear somebody else talk for a change. Anybody.

I'm a writer so I'm like my pug in this photo -- I'm curious. Everybody's heard that old saw about "writing what you know" but unless you're someone like James Lee Burke and lived several lifetimes in one, you're gonna run out of things you know pretty quick. So, you gotta get out among the civilians and steal yourself some lifetimes. Which means, you can't just listen to that voice in your head I guess.

I sat on the porch during the very last moments of the day today -- that's how near-perfect it was outside. There was a big cloud hanging over the horizon and I thought it would make a nice image. But I didn't like the way the photos I took turned out. I went back out, sat down and waited for inspiration. And then Chamuco, the young black pug of ours, came padding around the corner. When he jumped up to examine what was on that chair, I had my photo of the day.

Shot this with the K100D and a 200mm lens. Edited in Photoshop.

Friday, March 5, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 64

Taken: March 5, 2010, approx. 1:15 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, Ca

I did get out today but only to circle around the wrap-around porch which is to say I didn't get out, not really. I blame it on not getting enough sleep last night due to the onset of a nasty case of heartburn. I swear there's nothing like bad indigestion to turn your dreams into surreal dreamscapes.

The woman who owns this property made a conscious decision to keep the landscape wild, a kind of anti-vineyard view. Instead of acres of neatly-arranged grape vines we have wild grasses, moss-covered oaks, rolling hillside, metal gates and fire roads -- cattle grazing country. My husband fell in love with the view when he found this place last year and it's easy to see why. There is a wonderful sereneness to this place that makes you feel the need to whisper in its presence.

Such a nice change of scenery from the typical wine country landscape -- not that I'm knocking that. This was shot with my K100D and a 200m lens. I played around with it in Photoshop, trying for a dreamy quality in part because that's how I felt all day, walking around in my lack-of-sleep fog. Nothing a good eight hours of shut-eye won't cure.

Tomorrow's another day.

365 Photo Project - Day 63

Taken: March 4, 2010, approx. 3:30 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, CA

Feeling slightly better today. Tonight actually. Wrote three pages just to remind myself I could. It felt  laborious but good. Damn good. Talked on the phone a little. Voice is getting stronger, cough weaker. And hell, I've lost nearly 10 pounds. What doesn't kill you, makes you thinner? I'll go with that.

I think I might even venture out of the house tomorrow, if only to walk down to the mailbox. Don't think I can make it back up the hill without collapsing in a coughing fit but downhill seems doable. My photos were feeling as claustrophobic as I was, so I padded outside in the late afternoon to a dazzling bright partly sunny sky. Those clouds on the horizon portend more bad weather ahead but today was positively springlike.

A gift indeed.

Yes, that is the view off the front porch of the house we rent. This is why I live in wine country. Take a look at that shot (which I took iPhone and very lightly edited).  Intoxicating, isn't it? Like looking into the eyes of someone you love. Really love. You can feel the last-gasp of late winter, the almost-warm sunlight, the crackle of new coming through the softening soil. Just enough to make you think of whatever it is that means spring to you, be it baseball or just-cut grass, Saturday-night barbecues or evenings when the setting of the sun is slow and easy.  Magical, inviting and, full of promise.

Corny I knew but it's gospel to me.  Hell, I know I'm not onto anything new here (see Walden and his pond) but it's worth contemplating these days when life seems so hard for so many people. I'm not very religious but I think the Tibetan monks have it figured out -- the value of a person's life cannot be measured with stuff, on dreams of material things or in career milestones, victories or heartbreaks.

It's all too easy to worry and whine, complain and blame and so damned hard not to feel like the Center of the Universe. As if God happened to pick only you to smite today.

I'm no braver than the next guy, much less so compared to people I know who are dealt the worse of hands. That's the thing about a sad story. There's always someone else's who's a helluva lot sadder than yours. Like my roommate at the hospital where I was treated for Cancer who was in for her fourth operation on a freaking brain tumor. Two kids, no money and her husband had just left her. Talk about putting my situation into perspective.

But it's not the Woe-Is-Me Olympics. It's about your point of view. Or, really, any view.  It's about looking up. It's in the living, the breathing, the experience of being in the world as a part of the world and all that it offers us. It's in the love we share and the friendships we make and if anybody expects to walk a straight line through it, well you're just fooling yourself. It's like the Indigo Girls like to say, "You'll never fly as the crow flies so get used to a country mile."

And even if you're no good at shirking those everyday disappointments (and who is?) all you really gotta do is look up, breathe in, eyes wide, heart open. Not so you realize how small we are compared to everything but how connected everything is to us. You can find it anywhere and everywhere I think. Not just where I live. Up here, it's just easier not to forget.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 62

Taken: March 3, 2010, approx. 3 pm
Location: Healdsburg, CA

Since I'm posting Day 61 and 62 at practically the same time, I figured I might as well stick to a theme. In yesterday's shot, you got one view and today another. That's my bedside table as currently configured. Almost everything a girl needs to get through a hellaciously noxious sinus infection nee cold. Except for a bottle of scotch. But then again, me and scotch, we parted ways awhile back and remain but passing acquaintances.

Got me a cheap-o thermometer (made in China doncha know) and the damned antibiotics, some natural stuff that's supposed to ease my sinus headache (the jury is out on its effectiveness) and sooth one's throat. Oh, and my probiotic acai berry juice next to my mug of freshly brewed coffee (gotta keep the caffeine addiction fed). Over on the right is one of the dozens of Moleskine notebooks I own (and leave everywhere around the house, my car and office) because a writer is always writing, even if it's scribbling fever-addled notes I may or may not be able to decipher later.  The sunglasses came in handy for  that sinus headache I had that was so bad, I couldn't even stand even the light of a darkened room.  Ever eat ice cream too fast? That's how I felt for two days straight. Ouch.

The only thing not in the picture is my iPhone but that's because I used it to take the photograph, an image I edited ever so gently with Photoshop.

365 Photo Project - Day 61


Taken: March 2, 2010, approx 2 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, CA

Still sick, still in bed. I'm suffering for sure so it's gonna be post-a-pic and run the next couple days. This is an iPhone shot of the view I've been staring at since Sunday.  And yeah, that's my faithful pug Louie standing guard. He's got a nasty cough too, so together we sound like a TB ward.

As I write this, I'm starting to feel like maybe I've turned a corner. But then again, I felt that way last night and woke up this morning with a pulled muscle in my chest from all the damned coughing.  This photo as been edited ever so slightly with Photoshop.

Monday, March 1, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 60

Taken: March 1, 2010, approx. 4 p.m.
Location: Healdsburg, CA

Today is day 60. Wow. I should have something special but unfortunately, I'm still sick, felled by a sinus infection and who knows what else. Thus today's photo. I shot it while I was in the car waiting to go inside to see my doctor. That blue near my eye is a reflection from my glasses but the red on my lids, that's real. I wanted to try and capture the moment in all it's awfulness.

Besides, I had absolutely no energy to get out of the car and take a proper photograph. So here's me, feeling like shit.  I know it would have been braver to get the full-on looking right into the camera shot (and believe me, I took that one) but gimme credit at least for not going black and white. I sure as hell  thought about it.  Taken with my K100D. As for the editing, well a girl doesn't give away all her secrets.

Excuse me while I go back to bed.