Saturday, July 04, 2015

the fauxtographer

I was just thumbing through my latest copy of Click Magazine, which came in the mail yesterday, along with a reminder that my subscription was about to run out. I almost let it lapse... but ended up renewing after all. I feel like I'm not getting as much out of the magazine as I used to, but I still like getting something delivered to my doorstep filled with beautiful photographs. Sometimes they spark inspiration or help me learn something new. Other times they serve as reminder of how little I use my camera nowadays, how in some ways I feel like a fraud to my beloved hobby.

Several months ago I posted something on facebook about how I want to do something meaningful with my photography one day. Not sure what and not sure when, but just... something, sometime.

I got a bit of scolding from my mom, who was outraged at the insinuation that my photography has not been meaningful all this time... And she is totally right, it has been incredibly meaningful and special for me to be able to so aptly and beautifully capture my boys growing up, and it's provided me with a creative outlet and fun hobby. And I like to think that others get something out of the photos I share, as well.

But I also feel a pull to do something more, to go beyond capturing our own lives and do something that gives back to others (beyond immediate family members enjoying the pictures of my boys). I've thought at times about trying to make this photography hobby into a career, but have hesitated because a) I still feel like I have so much more to learn before I could promise consistent results and feel right asking people pay me for it, and b) I don't want to turn something that is fun into something that feels like an obligation. It's also just intimidating-- it's one thing to have fun taking cute pictures of my kids (and it being no big deal if none of them turn out well). It's quite another to have someone depending on me to do a good job.

But still...sometimes ideas go turning in the back of my head. I've wondered about pairing up with nonprofits to volunteer photography services. Or somehow offering portraits for low-income families (are portraits of your kids and families over the years a frivolous luxury, or something everyone ought to have even if they can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars per session?). Or birth photography. Or teaching photography basics. Or... I dunno.

And yet, I hardly ever seem to pick up my big camera anymore. It sits for weeks or sometimes even a month or two at a time just collecting dust. When I do use it, more weeks pass before I get around to sorting, tagging, editing, and uploading the photos. I still get a thrill from producing and sharing a beautiful photo, but many of the steps between pressing that shutter button and uploading the finished photo kinda feel like a chore (hence my attraction to film photography, and aversion to shooting in RAW). Soon after getting my first dslr, and for many years after, I averaged about 1,000 "keeper" photos every month. Most of the past year or so, I have maybe 200 photos from each month, mostly from my phone. It's a significant drop-off.

I can think of many reasons/excuses for this slowdown. For one thing, parenting has in many ways become much easier or at least less overwhelming than many of our early days of no sleep and round-the-clock breastfeeding, but the kind of parenting I have chosen to do, especially with homeschooling, requires that much of my energy-- mental and physical-- be devoted to my boys. Supporting Zach in his studies and career has also become more intense since he switched from his engineering track to business and consulting (it's almost strange looking back and remembering a time when he didn't leave for work till close to 9am, and was home in time to cook dinner most nights). All of this leaves me with very little time and energy for creative endeavors.

(there are also other roadblocks that I can identify, like that our current house doesn't have as good a quality of light as many of our previous homes; the rhythm of our days being different and the boys being older and more conscious of the camera mean needing to move to a different style of shooting altogether; my trying to be more present in the moment, at the cost sometimes of not capturing the moment in a photograph; all things of which I can be mindful)

To be frank, I know I'm good. I have a good eye, and my technique isn't half bad. I feel like the things that stand in my way as a photographer are things that could be within my grasp-- it is mostly a question of taking the time to slow down, to think through each shot, to sit down and learn proper editing skills and techniques for fixing things like tricky white balance or skin tones. Ah, but there's the rub-- taking the time.

But if I were a TRUE photographer, I would MAKE the time, right? I would find a way, somehow, somewhere. Right?

(this is where that "feeling like a fraud" thing comes in)

This struggle of the creative parent not actually being able to create because they are too busy being a parent is certainly not unique or new, it's been written about eleventybillion times before I'm sure (hell even I have bitched written about it many times before). Like most other people who wrestle with this same stuff, I have complicated feelings about it. Much of the time I feel ok with just letting go, realizing that this phase in my life is temporary, and that I (hopefully) have many years ahead of me when I can focus more on myself and things like writing and photography. I also know that life is short, that we never know how much time we really have, that I don't want to look back one day with longing or wishing for things I never took the time to do. And also too, I mean, I love being so present with my children right now, in their present ages and stages. It is a unique and precious opportunity. I am not wishing for a different life, as contradictory as that may sound.

What does all that mean? I don't know. I want things that I can't have in part because of decisions I have made that I continue to stand behind, and I feel both satisfied and frustrated by it all. That I can sorta kinda see the forrest despite the large trees in the way. That I am trying not to beat myself up too hard for not managing to squeeze more into the 24 hours of each day.

And also, that I stayed up till midnight to write this post, and I am glad that I got it all out, and I will pay for it in the morning, and that one sentence more or less sums up this massively long post in a nutshell.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reunions: Tia Tracy and James

When my mom was around 22 years old, freshly graduated from undergrad at St Louis, after growing up in New Jersey, she had the opportunity to go to Chile for a year under a Fullbright scholarship. While there, much to the dismay of much of her family, she met a dashing young man who swept her off her feet and convinced her to stay for good (hint: that was my dad. They went on to get married and have us four kids). Mom immersed herself with local friends and her new family, but also eventually got involved in the American Women's Club where she made many friends. Among them was Tracy (or Tia Tracy, as we knew her growing up), who became a very dear friend. 

Then in 1991, after my parents' divorce, we moved back to the US. In those two decades (plus) since that move, Mom and Tracy have probably seen each other a handful of times, I believe the last time being in 2004. So when we heard that Tracy would be not only in the US but to our very own neck of the proverbial woods (one of her sons just finished his PhD at Stanford, and she came out to help him and his family prepare to move back home to Chile), Mom planned a trip to come out and visit us and get to meet her old friend.  

Mom arrived to California on Wednesday, and as usual the boys delighted in playing with Lala. She also set to work making plans with Tracy, who came over on Thursday with her two grandkids. The joy between Mom and Tracy as they reunited and began catching up was palpable and so sweet. I quickly realized my goal was not to socialize, but to facilitate these two women getting as much time to just hang out together as possible, which I was more than happy to do, so I set them up with chairs on the front porch while all the kids and I played and watched movies. They spent most of the day together, and then on Friday Tracy came by in the afternoon to pick Mom up and they went off together to spend the rest of the day together, going for a walk and then dinner.

Shortly after her arrival Mom told me that she had also been in contact with James, that he and his wife and toddler, who live in southern california, were also planning to be nearby this weekend and wanted to get together. James was my brother's best friend. They met in school, I think in 6th or 7th grade in Chile. James happened to move to the US around the same time we did (when he and JC were both around 17), so they kept up their friendship over time, with JC visiting him frequently in CA. It was during a visit with James last summer that JC died, so unexpectedly. I remembered James very vaguely from our childhood, and I met him briefly one other time a few years ago. My mom and sisters and I talked with him on the phone some after JC's death, and we had talked about trying to get together in person sometime. So when Mom planned her trip out here she reached out to him, and James apparently was thinking of coming up anyway (they have a vacation home nearby), so we planned to go see them on Saturday.

We met them at their house, where James walked us through the story of the Frank Lloyd Wright design, then drove into town to grab lunch and hang out at a nearby park where the boys could run around while we talked. We talked about many things, but among them James recounted stories of some of the adventures he and JC had over the years, like going to concerts back in high school and getting mugged while walking home through some seedy part of Santiago, to the more recent trips on JC's to see him in CA and the wild antics they got up to, things I never would have guessed my quiet older brother capable of. We met James' wife, who spoke of how fond she was of him, told a few funny stories herself. Their daughter is absolutely precious... she is 14 months old. That last trip that JC took to see them, was to see their then-newborn baby (the last pictures taken of JC were of him holding the baby, glowing). James commented on how much Donovan reminded him of JC, something I marvel at often myself.

It felt very special to connect with people who had been so important to JC, and who seem to value him so highly as well. It was fascinating to be reminded again of how I guess we all have such different sides, that the JC that we knew as his family was in many ways very different from the JC that came out when he was with James. I kinda feel like I am getting to know him so much better in death than I did in life. I am trying to view that as an opportunity, to feel grateful for finding that deeper connection now rather than guilty for not having seeked it earlier.

Sunday, yesterday, we had a last chance to see Tracy and her family. We drove to Stanford, where her son's family were spending their last days in the grad student housing. All the homes with the shared lawn and communal playscape, and the kids all joining together to play, took me back to our Sachem days. The kids played with snapcircuit solar panels and saw a nest of baby birds on the porch. I collected a several large pinecones from around the playground to bring home as chew toys for Pippin. Tracy showed Mom how to set up WhatsApp on her phone so they can text each other internationally.

And then, finally, it was time to say goodbye. Tracy would be leaving for Chile again the next day (today), and Mom back to Texas. They hugged each other tightly and vowed not to let too many years pass before their next meeting.

Life works in funny ways, and it seems like more than mere coincidence that we had these opportunities to meet up and catch up with these people who have meant so much to members of our family, so closely timed to the one year anniversary of JC's death (a week or so ago). I don't have anything very profound to say about that timing, it just seems worth noticing. And to feel grateful for these chances at (re)connection, after a year with so many reminders of the fragility of life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

rabbit food

Getting Pippin has inspired us to grow our own herbs as a supplement to his diet. I've never exactly been a gifted gardener, but so far we're doing ok... I even remember to water them most days. ; ) We have a couple pots of parsley and basil, a bit of wheatgrass (the cats enjoy that one as well), and I recently got a small rosemary plant. Our neighbors care for several rose bushes in our communal yard, so Pippin has also been enjoying a few occasional rose petals. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A few thoughts after Charleston

I've been thinking about how to talk to my boys about the Charleston shooting, or the McKinney pool incident. I'll be honest, I don't want to tell them about it at  all. I shout about these things online, yet I hesitate to mention them to my boys because who wants to tell their kids about those atrocities? That this is the world we live in, where a man walks into a church, sits praying with the congregation for an hour, then stands up to shoot at them and kills nine of them, all just because they were black?

I want to keep them in their safe cocoon. And that right there is proof of our white privilege. I COULD keep them naive and innocent if I wanted to. They don't HAVE to face these ugly truths, at least not till they are older and find them for themselves.

And then there's that 5 year old girl who survived the Charleston shooting because she played dead. What five year old should EVER have to do that?

There's Tamir Rice who was shot dead at TWELVE because he was playing with a toy gun and the cops couldn't be bothered to find out if it was real or not before opening fire. Black mothers and fathers have these talks with their kids at such young ages, because it is necessary. Because even as children they are not safe. They don't have the luxury of shielding their children from our racist world.

My oldest son is 7 years old. He is exploring his independence, and I am trying to provide him opportunities for that. Little things like letting him walk over to the bathroom across the park by himself. There is a part of me that loves seeing him become more responsible and capable, and there is also always a small knot in my stomach wondering if anything will happen to him or, more likely and thus more scary, that some other grown-up will see him doing something by himself, freak out, and call the police on us. I see enough stories of that exact scenario playing out that it makes me hesitate, makes me want to hold his hand for many more years, but I know his sense of self is more important.

But I also fully realize that as a blond-haired, pale-skinned kid living in a nice neighborhood, he will be much safer than way too many other kids out there. Kids who have been shot while playing at a park or walking home with a bag of skittles. Or the kids who get slammed to the ground by police officers for being at a pool party. Whatever my small fears about letting my kids out of my immediate sight, the fears of parents of kids of color are much bigger, and all too real and justified. I cannot imagine that daily terror. I cannot imagine what that does to you, to live with it every day.

Today marks one year since my brother's death. One of the many things that has changed for me in the aftermath is that death, which seemed so abstract before, is so much more real and concrete to me now. I know exactly what it feels like to lose someone who matters to you. These shootings-- by police, by white extremists, etc-- feel so much closer. They hit me harder because of having experienced death at a much more intimate level. I can understand the pain and sorrow of the victims' loved ones a little bit more closely. I think of the anger I felt at the illness that claimed his life, and can only imagine the rage that must come from knowing it was another person who stole that life.

No one should have to live with this. No one should have to look their kid in the eye and warn them about how white people may harm them if they don't walk exactly on that fine line of expectations (and even then). No one should have to fear being attacked in their own place of worship. And these things often get painted as an issue of people of color, but it is the rest of us, we white people, who are perpetrating this culture and who need to stand up to it. We can't let racist jokes and comments slide, because that is what fuels the beliefs and actions of people like the Charleston shooter. We need to talk to our kids about white supremacy. We must examine our racist past, our racist policies, our racist justice system, and do the work to fix them. Only then will this cycle of terrorizing (yes, that is the appropriate word) people of color come to an end.

EDIT: Here is the link to the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund, which will help with funeral and burial costs for the victims of the Charleston massacre. I was astounded last year to find out just how much it can cost to post an obituary, hold a funeral, and bury or cremate a body. And it's the last thing anyone mourning a loved one should have to stress over.


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