Haven't posted since late April. I got a digital camera and went wild, taking between fifty and three hundred photos a day, this while teaching full-time, plus night classes, plus a hundred other things. I stated posting more and more photos on flickr.com, and hope you take a look here.

So instead of communicating with words, I've been saying it with photos. Today I had enough leftover to both write and photograph, because I needed to face something very sad and empty.

Today one of my former students died, the results of ingesting meth amphetamine. He was a tough nut to crack, too smart for his own good. He wore his brilliant potential like armor and dared us all to draw it out of him, while he seemed to do everything in his power to stall for time. He was going to be great, we all saw it, it was just a matter of growing out of his angst and attitude. He hung out with the best and brightest. Not the academic kids, but the edgy writers and artists and poets. He could write, that's for sure. And play the sax. And he was funny, a brilliant wordster. He'd hang back on the edges, quiet and self-contained, unless he could make a sarcastic remark, or crack a small smile at something one of his friends added.

I kicked him out of my class because after trying and trying to accommodate and draw out his potential, letting him do independent projects, anything so long as it was creative, he tried to placate me with a little animation he said he had made. I watched it. No, no way. I clicked on 'get info' and saw it had last been modified three years previously. Even after that he used to show me his writing from time to time. I still have a folder of it.

He and his friends graduated a couple of years ago, and they're all out in the world, designing, writing, making music, but he never got a grip. No school, no job, nothing beyond the good intentions stage. I think he was just too damn burdened by that damn potential everyone kept mentioning, too scared to try. And it's a damn shame, because it's nothing now. Before he had a chance to give it back to the world with his own stamp on it.

What a damn waste.


Art among the rubble

I was supposed to drive to Berkeley today, two hours away, to see my friend Matt, a former student who I think the world of. I wanted to show him the amazing, wonderful art show out in the marshlands, atop a landfill. A group of people named SNIFF have been making art with found objects out there for a long time. It's not cutsey, it's gritty and bawdy, but it IS art in a big sense of the word. It's inspired.

So anyway, I slept badly because once again, in defiance of the nature spirits, I have insisted on walking in the land of poison oak with my dogs, and as punishment, I am covered in itches in the most nasty places, like my eyelids, behind my knees and the undersides of my arms. My face. My everywhere. And so I slept fitfully and was tormented mightily by demons of itchiness.

I got up and took benadryl and then I felt like I imagine chemotherapy feels; all hollow and fried and on edge. Didn't want to do anything, least of all drive and drive, but finally I made myself leave.

The plan had two other components; to walk the dogs while exploring said art, and to photograph the art, because it is out in the open, and won't last forever, so I want to document it to share with others, because it's so amazing. I went one other time, but the light was terrible, glaring right into my camera, the nerve! and I didn't have a good camera then, and then the battery died.

I set out and traffic was just horrendous, and then it started to rain, and then it started to pour. And the traffic went from horrendous to 'parking lot.' I got drowsy and had to pull over and get coffee, and the only coffee was in a cigarette store and it came in a styrofoam cup and was just gross and I was a miserable wretch and I ITCHED. Yes, without being really life-threatening my day was managing to feel like its own special hell, the kind that happens to middle class white girls in consumer-oriented democracies, not the real hell that leads to maiming or loss of life, not like that.

Got to Berkeley in almost twice the time it usually takes, almost four hours, and it was still pouring. Managed to find Matt and his girlfriend, Kara, stuff them into my VW bug with three dogs, and make our way through Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic to this special place called the Berkeley Bulb.

And suddenly everything changed, as if I had passed some magical test and it was time for my reward. The rain stopped. We started our walk out to the point along the water, and the air smelled like fennel because it grows wild there, along with wild mustard and phlox. Matt and Kara were instantly enthralled, and sharing a special place with friends who 'get it' really amplified the pleasure and magic of it.

We walked and the dogs romped and cavorted. Mrs. Beasley walked about the same amount as we humans, Bunny ran back and forth, going about double the distance we did, and Bosco dashed madly everywhere all at once, and must have covered ten miles for every one we walked.

We found a whole sculpture area I had never seen before, full of amazing sights, especially a magnificent bigger-than life-size figure of a winged man about to take flight. Icarus? Gabriel?

We visited the paintings and the other sculpture area, and Matt found a small clubhouse right on the edge of the water, overlooking the whole Bay. Now I'll stop writing and let the photos speak.

Needless to say, I drove home in much better spirits.

I'm not ready with the photos of the SNIFF paintings yet, but here are some from our outing, including some of the sculpture, and later interlude in Berkeley late at night.


Birthday Beast

It's my fifty-third birthday today. I'm one of those people who love their birthday, and will tell anyone how old I am. I've earned it.

Tomorrow night a friend is cooking for me, and including a few close friends ranging from eighteen to fifty-eight, so today was a pretty quiet day, with a few calls and emails, and my friend Thor's annual birthday ode arriving with the mail, which is always hilarious and full of teasing references to various quirks of mine.

Boyfriend came by and took me to breakfast and out for a dog walk. By the time I got back there was a call from Bosco's little schnauzer friend, or at least his social secretary, asking if they could have a play date, so I had two puppies wrestling and tumbling all over each other continuously for a couple of hours, a combination of comedy show and tornado.

Even after all that, when six o'clock rolled around it became clear that the dogs still expected their afternoon romp, so we drove over to the deserted army lands where we go for rambles. It's quite beautiful these days, walking by fields of tall grass laced with purple lupin and live oak dripping with spanish moss.

As we came to the last field before getting to the road where we park, Bunny spotted a large coyote and took off after it. Mrs. Beasley sprinted fifty yards or so half-heartedly before giving up, and the puppy, who had been busy elsewhere, came along too late to join in.

Bunny re-appeared, WITH the coyote, loping along side-by-side! Maybe she told him about the life of luxury she leads and he wanted a piece of the action. He saw me and stopped. I took his photo. He finally took off.

As we walked to the car several coyotes began howling and doing that high-pitched yipping they do, and it was close-by and eerie. Maybe they were singing happy birthday?

The coyote photos came out very blurred and strange, but I like them a lot. I didn't do anything but crop them and intensify the color a bit. The second one looks almost like a person in a wolf suit.


Folly on a theme of Dogs

Dashed home from school and did some last minute cleaning because a friend wanted to bring her husband over to see the house. I really like these friends, and they're both fantastic artists, so I wanted the house to look especially nice, because I'm vain about it, and also because I knew they'd appreciate my own particular aesthetic more than most people.

I was determined not to fall into my usual pre-visit frenzy, where I try to clean and fix everything to such a ridiculous degree that I use up all the time set aside for our daily long dog romp, and the dogs are stuck with no outing or exercise that day.

The time came. I had an hour and a half before my friends arrived, and I made myself stop bustling and get in the car. We headed out to where we hike, and ten minutes into the walk, Bosco charged into the tall grass barking. She usually doesn't bark unless she's scared of something, but I couldn't see anything through the grass except my small dog jumping straight up in the air like she was on a pogo stick.

Mrs. Beasley joined the fray, and so did Bunny. I still couldn't see anything, but I called them and kept walking, and eventually they broke away from whatever it was and caught up with me. And so did the smell. Yes. Skunk.

Of all the days to get skunked! We headed back, and a few minutes later I turned to see Mrs. Beasley on her back, flipping and flopping, rolling in manure. Yes, the dog girls were certainly going all out to get ready for our guests.

I stuffed them in the small car and rolled down the windows. As I drove home, an overture from a Rossini opera came on the radio, full of energy and frenetic dashing, pompous flourishes, and clownish folly, and it suddenly came to me that it perfectly illustrated the absurdity of my life at that exact moment. I began to laugh out loud.

They got baths outside with the hose and lots of Wood's Oil Soap, which made them fairly bearable, and me soaking wet and covered with fur. My guests were due in five minutes.

This is why I don't have to watch reality TV. My own life is a sitcom, complete with a musical score and guest stars.


my glamorous life, if you don't count the itching

I was so busy feeling sorry for myself on account of the ITCHING (see previous post) that I forgot about the glam part of my weekend. For the first time in the five years since I've taught at this particular school, I actually went to the student fashion show. I had NO idea...

Dashed out on Saturday night to walk dogs, and then, mud-spattered and funky, I showed up at school fifteen minutes before the show. The parking lot was mobbed, and each and every person in it was dressed to the hilt, except yours truly. I was in my usual NYC black urban uniform; black jeans, black tee shirt, black clogs, black leather jacket, black ironically nerdy glasses and shaved head, all coated with the usual layer of mud and dog hair. Charming. Really.

I got out of the car and was being swept along with the crowd, when I heard my name shouted. Thank goodness. Two of my very favorite arty students, Ashley and Will, appeared and let me tag along with them.

Ashley had designed the logo and program for this year's show, so she had free tickets. We brushed past the hoi-palloi waiting in line and sashayed right up to the front, smack dab under the catwalk, just like we were Mick Jagger or something. There were tables for the fancy folk, and folding chairs for everyone else. Our table had a bowl with gardenias and candles floating in it, and the cloth itself was dusted with red rose petals and a metallic star that caught the light and glowed in the dimness. There were cookies and pastries in fancy wrapping donated by a local bakery. Not too shabby for us poseurs.

It's late, so I'll skip the details, but it was a very glam, very slick production. Local stores had lent clothes, the wife of a teacher who had been a model coached the kids on how to walk, the lighting was done by a professional, as was the music. It was choreographed. It was the real deal.

I liked that many of the models were boys, many football players. I liked that proceeds went to charity. And I took over 200 photos, even though I hadn't planned on it. It asuaged my guilt about sneaking into the front. Here are a couple.

heaven and hell

Woke up with horrendous poison oak yet again. I get it because I can't stay away from the beautiful place where I walk with the dog girls, and even though I stay on the paths, they dart in and out, tearing through underbrush, springing through fields. And then I pet them. And then I pay.

One of my eyes is almost closed with it, so I look like popeye once again. My arms are red and blotchy. I have great lotions that take care of the worst of it, herbal magic recommended by a friend. But not on the eyelid. I'll just have to suffer the itching and temporary disfigurement philosophically. I sometimes break down and get cortisone shots, but they don't seem to work all that well, and they're creepy, so I avoid them as long as possible.

The heaven part is that wildflowers are carpeting the fields, and this old former army land is such a balm for whatever inner life I can scrape together. The exquisite softness of the grasses that no camera can adequately capture, the wind playing on it, the colors, the quiet, and the constant vaudeville show that is Bosco-the-wonder-dog, hopping and scampering like a little bunny rabbit, digging for gophers, charging hither and thither hoping to catch something, anything.

The two older dogs trot along, sniffing, taking it all in. Mrs. Beasley constantly lags behind, because she sniffs ever-so-carefully and doesn't want to be hurried. And because she's a stubborn old queen-of-a-dog who likes to maintain her dignity. Occasionally she disappears for a while, and when she comes back, she's smeared some disgusting thing on herself, and she has her guilty sly look, and blinks a lot, and tries to act casual so I won't notice.

I saw a coyote today, but fortunately the dogs didn't spot it and it was smart enough to flee. They picked up its scent later, and searched the field furiously, rushing back and forth, but it was long gone.

Time to lotion up. The itching demons have overtaken me. Here are today's photos.

Just as I finished typing this I heard a noise outside and went to investigate. Great, another exciting Sunday night in the 'hood. Things like this are just the reason I need the nature walks so badly. It was a false alarm.


pixel power

My experiment worked, and I can now post photos here. The hard part will be showing restraint so I don't drown my small cadre of readers in a torrent of images. I'm going to put a whole bunch up today, and maybe after this I'll just put pick o' the day. I can stop any time I want. Really. It's not a problem...

photo test

I used to be obsessed with photography, starting in my teens. I took workshops with Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro, Aaron Siskind, Minor White, all while still in high school. I lived and breathed large-format black and white photography, majored in it in college, taught it, and after about a dozen years, burnt out. The muse just said, "This has been a great party 'n' all, but I gotta go."

Suddenly, on a trip to Vancouver last December, with a small, junky digital camera borrowed as an afterthought at the last minute, it all came back. The passion of the hunter. So after thirty-five years, I bought myself a new camera and joined the ranks of the digital, shooting color, which I have a tenuous relationship to. My new routine is to grab the camera as I go out the door in the late afternoon to take the dog girls for our romp in the fields of a deserted army base nearby.

The last few nights I've been taking photos while driving home, too. The roads are so little-traveled that I can stop and snap for several minutes without any cars behind me. The dogs think I'm nuts, but what else is new.

The we go home, they get their daily egg, and I spend the rest of the evening unwrapping presents, or at least that's what it feels like. I download the photos and start playing with them, sometimes doing little but saving for the web, sometimes experimenting wildly for hours to bring out forms or colors in different ways.

Let's see if I can post them here using a Mac. I have some on flickr, but I want to drop them where I can write.


Pop Tart

In the middle of a busy class, as my students clumped into various pairs and groups to work on the student paper, two very blond girls appeared in my room. The leader looked like a short Paris Hilton wannabe, and she had brought her little friend, who had to come with her to keep her company. I could tell they wanted a favor, and even though I didn't know them, one girl held a clue, in the form of a video camera, so I had a pretty good idea what the favor was about.

It turned out to be one of those times when, looking back, I bitterly regretted not having my own reality TV crew on hand to cover what happened next. It wasn't a big dramatic moment, it was just so funny in so many small, detailed ways, that now, many hours and many students later, I can't remember the fine points and subtleties that made it such a rich comedic experience. I'll just deliver some highlights and let your imagination fill in the rest as best you can.

It started when the main girl held out the camera like a burnt offering and asked me if I could fix it, because she had a super important tape in it that she had to finish and send off to a college as part of her entrance requirement, and it was due by Friday. Seems it was working just moments before, but now all it would do was play the tape looking all weird.

I looked at it, and she was right, the picture was just blurry fuzz. I started probing around and as I did I began asking questions, like, "did you do anything to it that might have caused it to break?" She got a sheepish look on her face and mentioned that she might possibly have dripped popsicle juice inside it. " Hmmm. I see. What color? Something like the color on that little thing inside there?" "Yeah. That exact color." Hmmmm. OK then.

It emerged that it was a tape of cheerleaders doing their routine, and suddenly things made more sense. And it also came to light that this was for UCSB, one of the most notorious party schools this side of the rockies. She had another tape, and we tried that with the same results, but after I fast-forwarded the entire tape, rewound tape it and tried to play it again, it began to work. Guess the popsicle juice got spread around enough to stop interfering with the transport controls.

I was drawn into watching her tape. It seemed there was a drawing of a deer with no antlers, and a teenage boy was standing by the drawing, but he did have antlers. He. Was. Wearing. Antlers.

While I fiddled with the camera Miss Cheerleader was on her cell phone. When the camera was fixed she squealed with delighted relief, and she and her little friend left. A while later they were back. She had lost her phone. Nope, not in my room, and she was off for good this time, groaning about what an awful day she was having. Ah youth.