Monday, May 13, 2019

Observations from the road

Travel is a big part of my work. Storytelling isn't a local experience for me; I teach, speak, tell, coach, and consult all over the nation and sometimes the world. While it's sometimes challenging, I generally really like it, not only because I love my work but because it gives me a chance to see places I might not otherwise visit. Whether flying or driving, there is always something to see, someone to hear, something to ponder.

I've started keeping a journal of some of the things I see and hear; I thought you might be interested in a few of these observations. I've scrubbed specifics, so no particular place or person is easily identifiable.

  1. I am somewhere in middle America. I am hungry and don't have time to go searching for a sit-down dinner. Besides, I love fried chicken even though I feel guilty every time. I walk into a fried chicken joint near by cheap hotel. There are no tables, a few chairs for waiting, and a set of metal shelves to one side with a miscellaneous array of groceries. The only decoration is a poster of the American Olympic team and another of the local baseball franchise. Both have prominent American flags. The restaurant is owned by an Indian man, an immigrant. All patrons but me are African American; the owner welcomes them all by name. As I wait for my order a woman tells me she hates fried chicken except for the wings she can get in this place. "They're delicious here," she says. "I don't know how he does it." A family comes in communicating in sign language. The young man deaf and the man behind counter pulls out an illustrated menu so he can order. When my dinner arrives I take it to my hotel. The woman is right, the wings are delicious.
  2. I am somewhere on the West Coast, taking a walk in a park with a playground. I see an older white woman holding hands with a small African-American girl. They are having an animated conversation and clearly love each other. The woman is wearing a "Make America Great Again" t-shirt. The woman glances at me and I smile, "Is she your grand-daughter? She's lovely!" The woman beams. "Yes, isn't she!" She and I start to chat about kids and I eventually say, "I know we live in divided times, may I ask about your shirt?" She looks at me warily then sighs. "I know. I think Mr. Trump is doing good things for the country. He's a business man and will make us great again. Just because I support him doesn't mean I'm a racist. I love my grandchildren!" I nod and we sit in the sunlight, watching her grandchild play.
  3. I am driving through a Midwestern state. The land around me is broad and gentle. I can see plow marks in the soil and smell the fertilizer. It's a sharp odor and I want to wrinkle my nose, but this powers our agricultural landscapes. I see a plume that at first I think is smoke, but then realize it is dust from a truck barreling along a gravel road paralleling the highway. This is flyover country, but I love the details I can see from down here at ground level. There is an abandoned barn, collapsed more than the last time I drove past it. There is a farmhouse protected from the sweeping gusts by a stand of trees that are bent over from the constant winds. There is the road, ribboning out before me, endless and shimmering in the heat. There is the sky streaked with contrails that dissolve into long sweeping clouds, endless and blue and bright.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

The lucky shot

I have always loved the nature photography in publications like National Geographic. Those stunning images give the sense of being right there with the animals, plants, events, and places with a crisp immediacy and vitality. These amazing images have proliferated and are easy to find with a simple search; it gives the impression that those moments happen all of the time, that the shots aren't hard to get.


As you may know, in recent years I've become more and more interested in photography. I have Kevin's good camera and use it often. My most frequent subjects are the birds and animals I see in our backyard and the woods beyond, though I'm also terribly fond of abandoned buildings and close up shots of things. Despite having a good camera, Annie Liebowitz' comment that her favorite camera is the one she has with her at the moment does me good to remember. It's a matter of timing and luck, not just equipment.

A few days ago Charley and I were watching a spectacular sunset from our back porch. I didn't have my good camera with me and was just present in the moment, watching the sky shift and the colors change. I'd been there for at least 30 minutes when our local owl flew by and landed on a nearby branch. I didn't have my camera, I had only my phone, and with it I captured what may be the best photo I have ever taken. Sure, it would have been better had I used my good camera with its wonderful zoom lens, but that wasn't what I had and sometimes you just have to leap for the lucky shot. Here it is, with no filters or post-production magic save trimming and a watermark.

The advent of digital photography means I take literally thousands of photos a month. Of those maybe a hundred are acceptable and a small handful are good. I'm sure those National Geographic photographers would say the same thing. It's a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right mindset.

Is there a metaphor here? Hmm... something about using what you have at hand, being present in the moment, being patient, leaping for the lucky shot, failing again and again and still trying? Maybe. Yes, there is, but for right now? I'll love whatever camera I have at hand, I will watch, I will forgive myself for the poor shots and missed moments, and I will be present in the world. The lucky shot will come again for me, as it has over and over.

It will for you, too.

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