Wednesday, May 30, 2012


So I've been feeling a distinct lack of mojo. I admit I've never quite gotten the whole notion of 'mojo', though; if you do creative stuff for a living you don't really have the luxury of waiting around until your 'mojo' is in good shape, you just keep going anyway. But nevertheless, I've felt so hectic, busy and scattered that I haven't had time to focus on much of anything. Creativity has been feeling pretty dried and cracked lately, so in a small attempt to reach deeper to find the ground water I'm starting a small new project (like I need new projects, but so what). Nothing big; actually it'll be focused on the small and daily. The idea is to just take a photo a day, of whatever strikes me that day. I won't be beating myself up if I miss a few days here and there, because what would be the point of that? I have enough things to beat myself up over already. This notion is smaller, kinder; to simply catch a moment on most days that otherwise I wouldn't savor. I'm really big on that notion of savoring the moments; I acknowledge that, I'll own that. I just plan to make an official spot for it in my everyday. It's certainly not a new idea; there are tons of similar projects that others have done, but I have never done it before.
Riley tried on a great top hat with steampunk hatband and loved it (from Pendragon Costumes)
Periodically I have well-meaning people tell me I should just put the camera down and properly savor the moments; that putting the lens between me and whatever is happening is a way of distancing myself from the action. If I'm shooting an event, that may be true because I'm focused on the job at hand, but I think I have a pretty good grasp of when it's appropriate to put the camera down. The bald fact, though, is that when I have my camera at the ready or at least with me, it reminds me to really look and see with an eye for shapes, colors, action, emotions, all of it. I find it enhances my experiences, rather than detracting. Whether it detracts from the experiences for the people I'm around I can't say, though the boys sometimes get annoyed at having a big lens pointed their way. More often, though, they want me to record some silly moment for them, and it unites us in recognizing that a moment has meaning that we want to remember.
It's not always a big moment. For me at least the smaller, sideways moments are the ones I like the most. Those are the bits where most people don't think to take any images, but in my mind they always, almost without exception, hold so much more meaning than the more formal shots where people are 'getting pictures taken'. Take Seanna for instance:
I've known Seanna since she was a tiny little kid. She's always been beautiful, as are all the women in her family. I don't get to see her very often anymore and when I do I like to grab some stolen shots just to sort of make sure her presence in my world gets remembered; she could so easily just flit through half seen and half remembered like an elvin presence sliding through this common world. Who knows when I'll see her again? And even if I didn't manage to steal some shots of her sister, I'll still be reminded of her too, and her mom who couldn't be there.
Then there's Amanda, here, always talking. I have the best conversations with her, and they're always changing, just like her, growing at a frightening rate. I suspect her bemusement at the boys' antics will remain a constant, but I still want to grab a few shots here and now. Freezing time. They're little time capsules, I guess. Snapshots are called that for a reason, and though the name has some negative connotations, it doesn't matter. I don't expect that these snapshots of mine will hold much meaning for anybody but me, but that's okay. I'm doing it for me.
How wild is it that looking out a window and seeing this is an everyday ordinary thing?
Jeff noodling around during rehearsal
Snapshots don't have sound or smells, of course, but they can really trigger them. You can't hear Jeff here doodling around on his guitar while he waits for Paul to find his lyric sheet, but he's idly playing a complicated guitar riff that most guitarists aspire to play someday in the distant future if they work REALLY REALLY HARD at it. You can't hear Maya quietly remonstrating with her IPad for not cooperating on scrolling lyrics at a reasonable rate. I'm not a video person at this point and I like the act of seeing and grabbing one image at a time, so I'm sticking with my camera. It's a purer form for me.
Snapshots: I cut off Paul's head, and actually I like it better that way. I had just gotten off the stage and grabbed my camera (still holding a harmonica) and turned and shot; you can't hear Maya's beautiful voice in harmony with Paul's or the guitars, but it sounds pretty damned good from right here.

I think I get to have a pretty extraordinary everyday, so I'm going to try to relax and savor it and go ahead and pick a shot from most days to just save them up. I don't know what if anything I'll ever do with the collection and it doesn't really matter if they ever have any other purpose; not every creative thing has to lead to money. I don't know why that's such a hard lesson for me, but I need room to just create cool stuff just because it wants creating. I need to feel that on a gut level right now.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Spring is hard.

I'm not sure why it is, but I have a hard time in spring. New beginnings, but I associate it with endings, too. My dad passed away in the spring about 12 years ago, after a long hard battle with cancer. I just found out that my aunt, one of my dad's sisters, has just passed away as well, almost on the same day that he did. She was the last one who knew any of the history of their family.

Family is hard. Most of us love our families in one way or another, but isn't it odd how you also get a ton of your major life lessons to be learned and dealt with from your family?

My dad had some tough issues to deal with from his family. He was considered a gifted child artistically; his teachers had him put into a special art program in school when he was quite little. He was the spoiled favorite, from what his older sister told me many years later, his mother's favorite and a darling boy to her. He was probably also dyslexic, judging from his writing and spelling, but such things weren't diagnosed back then.

When he was around seven his mother was taken away suddenly, and in the course of a single day he and his sisters had to pack a small suitcase each, were taken away from home and they never saw her again. They were told at the time that she had died, though it was later found not to be true; her husband and her brothers had her committed to a mental institution for many years and she was subjected to electroshock treatments and eventually a lobotomy. There was never a clear picture of why this was done to her; there may indeed have been some mental illness, but there were family rumors of a plot between her brothers and her husband to get her share of family money. She apparently recovered enough many years later to be released and she remarried a good man, from what my aunt said. My dad only learned of this years later after she had died and he was told by his older sisters.

After his mom disappeared, he and his sisters lived with their father and his new wife, who already had a daughter, her own favorite. Sonny Jim, as he was called, was no longer the favorite and he had a rough time at home; his step-mom was abusive and his father was a cold, distant man who punished by beating. He told me many years later of being chained in the garage for a week like a dog, being told that if he was going to act like dog he would be treated like one. His father resorted to 'farming him out', sending him to a farm during the summers to work, with a fee being paid to his father for him. Being sent off to work on a farm for the summer wasn't uncommon back then, but his descriptions and stories of what it was like would be considered abusive child labor these days.
Sonny Jim was probably around 11 or 12 here,
about the age of my guys now.
I received some old family photos through my sister and my mom recently. There have never been many pictures of my dad, especially not of him when he was younger, so it was a surprise to discover a few early photos of him and a few small transcribed letters from his family, talking about him.
On leave, visiting the family. This was taken in 1944,
so he was about 19 years old.
One of the letters talked about how he had re-upped in the Navy, despairing that he would ever figure out what he was going to do with his life. He looks pretty cocky and self-assured in these early pictures.
He ended up getting court martialed at one point for killing a man when he was a Chief Petty Officer, though he wouldn't talk about it. I do know he received an Honorable Discharge from the Navy, since I saw the papers in his effects after he died. This picture from the deck of the ship he served on was also in his papers, and is also in the archives of the Smithsonian:
From the deck of the USS Kitkun Bay. That is a Japanese aircraft going down.
I posted this picture a while back over in my Flickr site, and it's been the magnet for a lot of comments from others who also had relatives who served on the Kitkun Bay. It's been oddly touching to have this side of my dad's life verified and talked about, since he never talked about his service much when we were kids. He told me bits, many years later, about a kamikaze attack on their ship and how he saw his best friend burned alive in front of him. He ended up going overboard during an attack with several other men, and told me about using his pants for a float. He was the only one rescued, over 24 hours later. He was sent to a VA hospital with severe pneumonia and had a rib and part of his lung removed, with a scar that ran most of the way around his ribcage, and that was the end of his naval service.
1948, soon after he was discharged from the Navy. He was 23.
There was a lost year after that, with no record that I have found of what he did or where he went.
He resurfaced and went to art school, studied ceramics and other things. I have his most prized art book from that time, and it's become one of my most prized books as well.
He met my mom sometime after art school. He was restless, though, and left Kansas City for California and wrote long letters to her. Writing long rambling letters and stories was a life-long habit of his; he often wrote to his sisters and much later, to me, with his idiosyncratic spellings and acidic observations about people. His letters to my mom were convincing enough to persuade her to fly out to join him in California. They got married and started a family, moved around a lot and stayed consistently poor. He didn't hold down jobs for long, getting fed up with pompous fools and bored with following rules and restrictions. His impatience and refusal to settle down caused turmoil not only in his career but with his marriage and my parents had a long and troubled relationship. My mom ended up doing a lot of compromising and making do and working at whatever she could to make ends meet while he went from one job to another with long periods in between.
In the Mojave Desert, with the new car. Around 1966, I think.
We moved a lot when I was a kid. He worked sporadically; my mom was the steady one. He never smiled much and he was very rarely happy. We knew he would never go see fireworks and he would disappear suddenly if a car backfired nearby. We knew him as a dad easy to anger, rarely pleased, frequently critical. I used to dream about running away. Oddly enough, though, I never really doubted that he cared about us; I think he cared intensely and wanted us to do well for ourselves, have better lives than he'd managed for himself.
Around 1976. He was about 51,
though he felt much older to me.
 It's odd to miss someone so cantankerous and grouchy. He was critical of my drawings, even while he encouraged us to draw and work on our crafts and the things we enjoyed. He told me not to become an artist like him, to go into science. He told me to be happy and get well educated; have a decent career. I rebelled and went into art anyway, determined to prove him wrong. Before he died he told me that I was a better artist than he'd ever been, and he was glad to see me making my living as an artist. I think he'd be pleased to see me now with my boys. I suspect the notion of having grandsons at all would give him pause, since he never completely accepted the notion that he had kids himself. I know the boys would drive him crazy with their noise and nonstop talking, but I suspect he'd be proud of them, too, and maybe a bit touched to see that he had smart, kind grandsons. It's hard to know, since he died the year before they were born.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Crazy Making

Allysson pointed me towards this article in Salon about how people who work in creative fields get treated. It's long, but an interesting and revealing read. And as she said, it's somewhat depressing, at least for those of us who try (or even just dream of trying) to make a living in fields regarded as 'artistic'. The article points out:  "The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. ... A working artist is seen neither as the salt of the earth by the left, nor as a “job creator” by the right — but as a kind of self-indulgent parasite by both sides. Why the disconnect? ... Essentially, these are working-class people – a lot of them have second jobs. They’re highly trained – dancers, singers, actors – and they don’t make a lot of money. They make tremendous sacrifices for their work. They’re people who should have our respect, the same as a farmer. We don’t want a society without them.” That's not to say farmers or anybody else don't deserve respect, but that artists do also.
 That article goes hand in hand with this little number, found through Hazel: "We'll sign the picture with your name!" which applies to creatives of all sorts. Go ahead; I'll wait. :)

Then there's this one, from Talis, about how the London Olympics plans to not pay the pro musicians playing for the Olympics. They've spent a ton of money for corporate sponsorships and the costs are mounting up, so where do they find a place to cut costs? The musicians. Of course. Like the musicians don't need or deserve to be paid for working, they should be glad to get the exposure. Right.
My dad used to tell me that I shouldn't become an artist because artists don't get paid, and even when they do it's not much. I (of course) rebelled, and told him something along the lines of, "Oh yeah? Just watch me." It's only taken me 30-odd years to realize that if my kids ask me about becoming an artist, I'm tempted to say just about the same thing that he told me. Now I'd say, 'Become whatever you want, kiddo, but you need to be realistic about the economic realities too. You have to be able to eat and pay your bills. And working for the exposure, for free, won't pay the bills.' The little video above with the talking critters says it well: "Getting credit and exposure isn't compensation. If I create an image, credit is my right, not something that you grant me."

Damn straight.
I do a lot of work for free, for various groups and causes I believe in. The problem is that my time is limited and so is my energy. And there's always the money issue looming over me; I need to bring in money even if I am not the main breadwinner these days. The gaming industry is extremely volatile and as Paul's job history proves there's never a certainty that he will keep the job he has. My main job right now is an energy and time consuming one of raising two little boys who deserve a fair chance at a good life. That leaves very little time and energy to do work as an artist or to do any 'building' work that will take me towards a place in the future doing work I like, that's fulfilling or advances my own goals.

Part of my problem these days is figuring out what my goals are, what road I want to travel down, rather than being pulled blindly along where ever someone else with a strong vision wants to go, with me along as the hired (but frequently unpaid) talented wrist. It feels too much lately like I'm being pushed and pulled about by promises of money or exposure or good causes and I haven't taken the time to stop and look around and figure out where the hell I am and where I want to go. So I'm going to be pulling back from some things and trying to schedule in some time for myself to figure out what's what and which road to go down.

And I'll be taking time out to enjoy the boys, too, because they're growing up a little too fast for my taste.