Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

flinging dirt in the face of others

I don't know what it means that most of us don't have enemies. Because, gosh, it seems that you can't read two paragraphs of an ancient piece of literature (think David's Psalms or Homer's Iliad) without encountering the protagonist pretty much wishing death and suffering on an enemy.

Philosophers and moralists don't lack for reasons to explain our relative lack of personal enemies today. They might reach into their bag of ever-ready and infinitely malleable explanations for all things unpleasant and blame the easy-going relativity that comes along with liberal democracy. We don't hate, they'd say, because we don't care. We lack honor and a sense of pride that must be defended. We value niceness over principle. We have embraced decadent 1960's values at the expense of 1360's virtue, and who are we to judge other people's values any more than we should judge their taste in music? How can you have an enemy, they'd say, if you can't judge right from wrong, or good from bad.

And maybe they're right. Or at least have a point. This isn't the post to make a case one way or another.

But even if we don't have enemies most of us know rude or obnoxious or just plain hateful people who take pleasure in flinging dirt in the face of others. Through gossip. Through rudeness. Through backstabbing. Through the breaking of confidences. Through the delight they take in embarrassing others, of delighting in seeing them fall. Through speaking ill of others in the absence of any evidence for that judgment.

I teach my daughters that it's wrong to take delight in others failing in an innocent task. The world is much the better when others use their talents well, and we ought to be generous in recognizing the good traits in others. When actions are praiseworthy we ought to praise them, and when they're not we ought first to offer encouragement to do better. Envy is natural, of course, but it's a sin, especially when it becomes a regulating impulse for one's actions. The world is more interesting and delightful when lots and lots of people are doing lots of different things well, even when they're doing things we value and wish to do well ourselves.

The poor will be with us always, and I suppose we'll also have the hateful and petty with us right up until the end. But what a shame. Dang if they don't make life the worse for everyone else. And crazy modern liberal that I am, I can't help but think that as often as not it's fear and insecurity and not plain ol' evil that makes them that way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I'm going to ruin this post, but i can't stop myself. I posted this a little bit ago and as I scrolled down the page just now (a couple of weeks after I originally posted it), I couldn't help but think of the board game, Clue: "It was Miss Scarlett in the parlor with the candlestick!!"

the partial girl

We're psychologically subterranean beings, and that's that. We're hidden, and that's what makes us interesting. Worth thinking about. Worth reading book after book about. Worth looking at a thousand paintings of persons. It's why we love faces. We want to know people, but we can't do it with certainty. So we study outward clues to glimpse below the surface.

Like many people, I once flattered myself that at least I'm not hidden from myself. I'm a keen observer of others, and I'm keenly aware of my inner life. Or so I once thought. Most everyone thinks that they understand themselves, that they enjoy perfect self-awareness.

To which I say, using the PG version language, that's...baloney.

Ironically, in some respects the parts we want most desperately to keep hidden from others are utterly transparent to others. Think about how we try to hide or minimize our physical imperfections, and yet how poorly we succeed in our task to fool others. It's not that different about our personalities and desires. And that's a tough realization to accept.

Though I dare not do it, my guess is that virtually all my blustery psychoanalyzing of others in this blog is little more than unconscious self-confession. I'm not going to reread any of my posts to affirm or deny this judgment, but i bet it's probably the case.

I show photos of parts because that's all I know. Of others. And of myself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

three reactions

challenge: provide a plausible caption for each of the three young women.

whee!! (being young is fun!!!)

Already I'm not as fond of amusement rides as I once was in my youth. When will I no longer like to swing? It's probably inevitable, but that will be a sad day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

fiction is truer than non-fiction

Why the poets and not the damn philosophers have it right.

Hold your breath. It's coming. In a few days.

it's going to be okay

In The Rhetoric, Aristotle speaks briefly of the character of young people. He does so in service of equipping the reader with a better understanding of how to more effectively address that audience. I’ll spare you the specifics of his comments here except to say that for those folks who deny that there is a more-or-less stable human nature they best not read these passages. The timelessness of his account is genuinely extraordinary. I read the passage to my students without informing them of its author and ask them whether it accurately describes themselves and their peers. Inevitably they agree that it does.

I find this encouraging.

Attach what certainty one may to our future success as a nation, or as a civilization, or as a species of creatures, but I think we can say with confidence that it’s impossible to snuff out once and for all the desire and hope for more and for better that engines all human change and progress. I also believe that so long as nature asserts herself that it’s also impossible to permanently snuff out that fundamental force that expresses itself most effortlessly and unselfconsciously in the actions and faces of the young—namely that the going up makes the coming down all the worth the while.

Of course this photo is a kind of lie, as every photo is a lie. Every one of these kids is troubled, if not tortured, by his or her own phantom fears and anxieties. They have all suffered from broken hearts, or plain old loneliness, or fears about failing the expectations of their peers and friends and family. Some are coming to accept the fact that they're not all that and a bag of chips like they thought they were. Some are coming face-to-face for the first time with their own limitations. But despite it all, here they show that laughter and an abundance of being is still there for the taking.

And good on them, I say.

Friday, September 12, 2008


the last image was made by taking a chunck of the staircase and replicating it many times in decreasing size.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

After Hours in Times Square

Here I try to capture the simultaneous harsh and dreamy feel that comes from staying out way too late. I remember as a child coming home from trips with my parents late late at night. Too tired to stay awake. Too close to home to try to sleep. I'd just patiently drift through soothing darkness until my wonderings and reverie would be punctuated by bright lights flooding the car. Neon signs. Vehicle lights. Street lamps.

Dreamy and harsh, both.

Of course here the photo suggests that more than fatigue alone is at work here in contributing to that dreamy hazy swimming feel.

Monday, September 08, 2008

pig and waterfall and two questions

Dead pig head with dead pig eyeballs.

pretty little waterfall.

okay. so what ya got here is a photo of a pig head that i took in Chinatown, NYC. And below it is a picture of a little waterfall street sculpture here at home. i turned the photo into a negative and kind of lightened it up and amplified contours and whatnot. so here's my question. Photo number one is representational and a little harsh to look at. Photo number two is almost perfectly abstract but serene and lovely (to my eyes). Which leads me to these questions: 1. Which of the two is a better photo? 2. Which one comes closer to approaching art? (No, I'm not pretentious enough to think either is art. But one may be closer than the other.) discuss.

the original waterfall picture is below. it was a nighttime shot.

from the other side

Sunday, September 07, 2008

field on fire

painful to look at. and yet...

Friday, September 05, 2008

the dude's a stud. so sue me.

see? studly pose number one.

and studly pose number two. look at him. a stud.

okay, so he didn't like my photo tyranny. again, sue me. and, no, that's not a "we're number one" sign.


No photo captures a person in all their complexity, and this photo certainly falls far short, too. But it does capture a few of his leading characteristics: Independence. His existential courage; his willingness to look at truth into the face. His love of nature and the big vista. His readiness to go his own path. His desire to take it all in. His steadiness.

He's a good man, and I love him. I cannot ask for a better father.

Taken two or three years ago in the winter outside of Manhattan, KS.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

the little stain glass window

A friend's mother-in-law passed away, and his wife inherited this little stain glass window which measures roughly six inches by nine inches. As you can see, it hangs from a small chain, and I suppose its purpose is to decorate a window. She, in turn, gave it to me as a lovely gift, and I took it out one evening and had a friend (another friend) hold it in front of one of those uberbright floodlights that lights up a building. I positioned the camera so that the stain glass window blocked any direct light of the floodlight from hitting the lens. The result is something that looks decidedly phony but in fact is a true representation of what the camera captured.
This is not one of my favorite photos because it's too static, too stain glass-windowy.
"Stainglass" or "stainedglass" or "stain-glass" or, my preference, "stained-glass" window feel better than "stain glass"?


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

natural grooves and violent cuts

beauty of black

This one comes close.
Almost, but not quite. What I want (as if you couldn't tell from my gazillion pictures) is to reveal concealed forms while keeping them concealed. In fact, while keeping them almost entirely concealed. To capture the feeling of seeing something out of the corner of one's eye. Or a reflected flash in a window. Or sights in the dark before your eyes have adjusted. Or a shell in the ocean just visible between two waves. I'm looking for the emergent, something more suggestive to mind than to the eye but yet still satisfying to the eye. (Or at least to mine, and that's enough for me.) That's why I love "parts." Eyeballs. Hands. (And eyeballs.) Those parts suggest more than what they are, and yet in a way they become the whole of the photo.
It turns out I like taking photos. Of eyeballs.

Monday, September 01, 2008

dear love of mine, hold on.

"Man springs out of nothing, crosses time, and disappears forever in the bosom of God; he is seen but for a moment, wandering on the verge of the two abysses, and there he is lost."--Alexis deTocqueville.

And for this, some natural consolations: love, friendship, pleasure, beauty, and play.

And the consolations of our pursuits: of truth, accomplishment, self-improvement, shalom, and making oneself useful to others.

The spiritual consolations: faith, hope, and, for some, self-abnegation.

Above all, the consolation of distraction.