Fall Photo Fun Fest & ego gratification

I've just put some new photos online. From the age of fifteen I was a fervid photographer, taking workshops with Ansel Adams, Aaron Siskind and Paul Caponigro while still in high school, spending every waking hour taking photos or in the darkroom, living and breathing it. Edward Weston was my teenage idol. I majored in photography in college, got a teaching fellowship, taught, and finally burned out but good.

Now, thirty years later, the muse has suddenly waltzed back into my life, shrugged her shoulders like it was no big deal, and settled on my head. I'm seeing photos everywhere, starting to carry the camera every day, having a blast. Most are in color, which I would have considered totally gauche in my 'serious' days, and all are digital. My 4x5 view camera sits idle. No darkroom, but Photoshop.

The current batch falls into three rough categories; photos of my frowsy autumn garden, my carousing mutts, and some arty stuff that just kinda snuck in, because I can't help it, plus a few odds 'n' ends. Easiest way to get there is to click on the title, "Fall Photo Fun Fest' above, or here's the URL



Teacher as student

Just back from an all-day class in the aesthetics of editing (film and video). A two-hour drive each way to SF, and seven hours of class time, but it was worth it. The teacher, Matthew Levie, was wonderfully articulate and interesting, as were many of the class members, so we had lively, intelligent discussions, and watched examples of films and videos that illustrated various points.

He also gave us an overview of the history and development of film, from the very first pioneers, Edison in America and the Lumiere brothers in France to MTV, and how people built on the innovations of others and added their own to gradually get to where we are today, step-by-step.

One particular facet that emerged for me was that in the US, early films, in the form of one-minute nickelodeons, so called because they cost one nickel, were really entertainment for the working classes. Wealthier people went to the theater or opera. I hadn't thought of early movie viewing being confined to any particular class.

In France, early movies were projected on the walls of cafes, and several short movies were shown together to form a montage. Their audience tended to be intellectuals rather than workers. There weren't story lines, they were movies of things like a train arriving at a station. The novelty of seeing moving pictures was enough to sustain interest.

Another huge difference was that the camera Edison invented and used weighed 500 pounds, while the Lumiere brothers' camera weighed about twenty pounds, so they could be portable, while Edison was confined to doing studio shoots.

Edison owned all the patents for film and movie cameras in the US, and when D.W. Griffith wanted to make a longer film with a story, which hadn't been done, Edison wouldn't let him, so Griffith made his movies with film and equipment smuggled in from France.

All this just in the first half-hour or so, so you can imagine how packed seven hours was. We saw a huge variety of film examples and analyzed them, looking at all sorts of clever ways movies can manipulate viewers to tell a story and evoke complex and subtle emotions.

Matt used another great example as a starting point for discussion, the beginning of Orson Welles' "A Touch of Evil." As the opening credits roll we see a city street at night. A man in front of the camera sets some sort of timer on what looks like a bomb. We hear laughter as a group of people leave a bar, and the man runs to a convertible and quickly tosses the bomb into the trunk just before the boisterous group rounds the corner, gets into the car and begins to wend their way through the city streets. They stop at several intersections, and all the while the bomb is in the trunk, and we viewers know it and keep waiting for it to go off. Will it go off now, just as a vendor crosses the street in front of them, with his cart? Now, just as a woman and child walk beside it? Now as a small herd of goats passes? (Now we know it's South America.)

They arrive at a border crossing. The camera has not yet blinked. This is all done in a very smooth, seamless three-minute shot with no edits and we are getting very tense waiting for the inevitable. There is a brief exchange of pleasantries at the guard house between the people in the car, the sentry and another couple on foot. In just a few sentences; "You'll have to call me MRS. now you know.: and "Hey, congratulations on catching so-and so (a criminal)." " Unfortunately, he's just one member of a big family.", we discover that the couple on foot are newlyweds, and the groom has just brought one member of a criminal family to justice.

Now the sentry can get back to business and let the car of revelers pass, and the newlyweds, discovering that they haven't kissed in over an hour, embrace tenderly. Just as they do—BLAM!—the unseen car finally explodes, and we have our first cut of the movie, to the fireball that now engulfs what we naturally (and correctly) assume to be the car. And that first cut, right in the middle of a kiss, lets us feel keenly that the sweetness of romance has been rent asunder by this event, and the smooth continuity of life as they knew it will also be interrupted. We pretty much know who blew up the car (the crime family) and who will now have to go out and get them (the groom). If the car had blown up before or after the kiss it would have had a totally different effect, but because it was during the kiss it set up the scene to be a complete microcosm of the movie, telling you what the hero needs to do, why, and what effect it will have on his marriage. With one edit. I can't wait to rent the movie and look at what other decisions Welles made in telling the story.

I only hope I can get my students a tenth as excited as I was about such revelations. It will take time, and I'm thinking it will be more effective if I use contemporary examples that they can relate to more directly, but if I teach video long enough, I'm hoping to really open some eyes to the cool, intelligent artistry and subtle manipulation possible in filmmaking, and then hope that they use this knowledge to promote the forces of light, not Pepsi Lite or Marlboro Lites.


Mongooses and self-pity, a deadly combination

I was innocently doing the Times crossword puzzle. It's one of my addictions, and I do it when I'm trying to procrastinate or generally relax and get completely absorbed in something that shuts out the world. For several years I've done them online, and even though I don't like to use Google to find obscure answers, sometimes I have to admit defeat, and as a last resort, I'll look something up. I must have done just that some time in the past couple of weeks, because why else would I come across a PDF on my desktop with a mysterious name, click on it, and see the following title:

'Spatial dynamics of mongooses in the rain forest of Puerto Rico: implications for rabies transmission.'

I'm NOT making this up. I do remember a question about a rainforest mammal in a puzzle, and this is the only explanation I have for why this was on my desktop. Just glad I'm not dating the author! I can so picture some guy going on and on about this very subject over dinner at a fancy restaurant while his date tries to stay awake until the entree arrives.

My own boyfriend is obsessed with swimming, swim meets, the water temperature of the pool where he swims, which is a whopping two degrees too hot for his taste, and therefore a source of hours of discussion and indignation. I'm not sure what mutant gene it is that makes people think their obsessions are interesting to others past the thirty second mark, but there it is. When I called him at work last week to tell him I was going to the hospital for tests, I found myself listening to the details of a re-scheduled swim meet within fifteen seconds of saying hello. I tried again, to touch on the subject of BEING SICK AND GOING TO THE HOSPITAL, but it was no use. He just didn't get it. Sympathy was not happening. Maybe the mongoose guy would have stopped in his tracks and said,'Pooooor thiiiiing' but not Mr. Swim Meet.

I actually trained one erstwhile boyfriend, Thor (yes, really) to say it. POOOOOOooooor thiiiiiing. It was a joke at first. I'd tell him about something at work, or some unfairness, and instead of getting the requisite sympathy, he'd take the other side just to play devil's advocate, which made me even more upset.

I just came out and told him that he was getting it all wrong, that when a girlfriend told him something, his job, his absolute mandate at that moment, was to say, 'Pooor you. You're right and they're wrong. Stooooopid ol' them." or something to this effect. I pointed out that to do any less would be to court danger in the form of an angry girlfriend, not just me, but any and every girlfriend he would ever have. I had him repeat it a couple of times, until he could do it with a straight face. He began to do it totally in jest, but when he saw the amazing results, that we fell for it every time, no matter how insincere, he began to get it. Twenty-some years later we're still friends, and he has thanked me many times over for teaching him this important lesson.

And by the way, I pride myself on seeing the other person's side and admitting it when I'm wrong. It's just that psychological salve on the initial wound that I need. If someone else feels sorry for me I don't have to drown in my own self-pity, and I can then be rational and go about my business.

Well, sorted the huge pile of papers that had accumulated in my classroom, I've rambled from Mongooses to sympathy, and now I must go home and feed my poor neglected dogs, after which I will try to make sense of the latest school paper and try to get it patched together so we can get it published before Halloween. Or maybe I'll just do the Sunday puzzle...


Not for the squeemish

Thanks to anonymous b... for the kind words that arrived at the perfect time. Very sweet.

And Dad, I know you read this occasionally, but you should definitely skip this entry. You know how squeemish you are. You really don't want to go any further.

It's almost four in the morning on Saturday, and the puppy has woken me from strange dreams to noises of peristalsis. She had the sense to jump off the bed and make it halfway to the door before throwing up some mysterious thing she had managed to wolf down on our evening walk in the wilds of the deserted army lands. Nothing out of the ordinary, and we both shrugged it off and went about our business, she back to sleep and I restless and blogging.

It's been a dramatic time here in land o' bean. It started innocently enough, a couple of weeks ago, with a yearly visit to the doctor for an 'OK, little pinch now....AAARRRGGG...." internal exam. Always surreal to lie there and WILL your body into submission while a relative stranger does what would usually be considered wildly intimate things while urging you to relax, and ninety percent of your entire being wants to clamp your knees shut like a bear trap even if someone's head happens to be in the way. But oh well, all part of being a girl.

The surreal theme continued when this same doctor called me at school, in the middle of my busiest class, surrounded by teenage boys, to tell me that my test results were fine, except, uh, "There were some cells present where we wouldn't expect to find them. Probably nothing, but I'd like to just be sure..."

And what does this surety involve? Oh, just a little biopsy of parts usually unreachable, and for good reason. "Be sure to take some ibuprofen." I call to make the appointment, and the nurse tells me to take a LOT of ibuprofen. "No, really, like 600 milligrams, honey." I ask around, and the best anyone can tell me is that at least it's over in about 30 seconds, OK, maybe a minute really. But pretty quick.

The day arrives but there are complications because it seems a previous adventure in malpractice has left me almost without a cervix, which I mention to my doctor. He doesn't seem all that impressed sitting at his desk, jotting it down, but when faced with the real thing he lets out a 'Holy smokes!" as he realizes I wasn't exaggerating. Holy smokes isn't something you want your doctor to say in relation to any part of your anatomy, ever. And naturally, this previous assault upon my being now makes it ultra difficult to do this latest procedure, and results in the thirty seconds of pain thing extending into many more minutes of "You're being very brave now....very brave...." and a motherly nurse offering her hand so I could grip it instead of putting the doctor into a headlock. Yep. VERY brave.

Feeling like a newly-cored apple, I rushed home, herded dogs into the car, rushed to a vet's appointment, then to their walk, and onwards to teach night class. I was feeling fine until about eleven, when suddenly I spiked a fever, which lasted all night and made sleep scarce at best. Got up, dragged myself to school and called the doctor who told me to get to the hospital for blood tests and then come see him.

Finished school and did as I was told, giving enough blood to fill a Worcester sauce bottle. I thought I was just going to have a chat with the doctor, but no, another exam, little pinch....AAARGGG. Blood test came back and my white count was up. Back to the hospital for more two more bottles of Worcester sauce, one from each arm, and a prescription for major antibiotics.

Rushed to take dogs to dog park so puppy could get her fix, then to my pharmacy, which was now closed. Went to a second pharmacy, but after a long and involved computer search, they found that they no longer took my insurance. It was now 8:30 p.m.. I paid cash, got my drugs and crawled home.

The next day I called in sick for the first time in two years. No, not because of the medical things so much, although that was part of it, but something much worse. An inane piece of paperwork due to the state which turned out to be 27 pages long, about how politically correct I can be when teaching English learners, of which I have none. Yes, for this I missed a day of teaching ACTUAL students.

Next week I will get test results, and until then I take bright blue capsules twice a day and carry on, a bit tired and tingly in places I would rather not think about, but unbent. Time to look at what passes for the student paper this month and tweak it before it goes to press next week. Time to clean the house, which means undoing all the little touches the puppy has added, like pieces of twigs all over the floor, half-chewed, toys in various stages of destruction, and good old-fashioned dirt that she has brought in after digging in her sand box, which was once a planter. Time to catch my breath and wait for the next chapter, and hope it doesn't involve any more adventures in medical hi-jinx.



Yikes, for someone who likes to write, it's sure been a long time since I've posted.

I meant to write about the baby whale that washed up on the beach a couple of weeks ago. Nine months old, fifty feet long. She was a blue whale, and every part of her was a sculptural masterpiece. Seeing her made me really wistful and sad, and I couldn't really put my finger on why, but it just seemed very tragic. The ecological implications are pretty scary. Lots of death rolls onto that beach, sea lions, huge moonfish, pelicans and lesser birds, but this was the first time in about twenty years a whale has come ashore.

It's Sunday night, the last night of nine days of vacation, and I have to say, I'm still feeling burnt out.

I'm getting really tired and cranky trying to be a good teacher and getting stifled at every turn by inane paperwork and the need to raise money to furnish my lab with basic equipment. I would have to say those two things each take up about a third of all the time I spend working, leaving only a third of my energy to try and keep up with my field, which is changing like wildfire. That's obscene.

This week's paperwork is a portfolio the state wants of special lesson plans and case studies specifically designed to help non-native English speakers in my class. I have none. And they have to be detailed to a preposterous degree, cite chapter and verse about what state standards they address, yada yada yada. AND I HAVE NO STUDENTS TO APPLY THEM TO!!

Meanwhile, I desperately need to write tests for my real students and grade their work so they get feedback on how they're doing in my classes. But no, I have no time for that now. This is so typical.

And my lab computers are old and need replacing, and it's up to me to figure out how to fund this, and buy video equipment for a class of 26 kids who currently have three cameras. It's just too much. I'm going to start looking for other jobs. I want to teach.

Sorry, this isn't much fun to read. Like I said, I'm burnt toast. The comic relief is my funny little, OK, not-so-little anymore puppy, who now weighs in at over forty pounds. She is very obviously part bulldog of some sort, and she's looking more and more like a sumo wrestler. Her antics are just the antidote I need to the mountain of paperwork.

OK, more when I can be a bit more positive and upbeat, and find my sense of humor, wherever I put it.