Sitting just off 8th Avenue along 14th Street is a portal through time. A place untouched by decades chain stores and gentrification. The Donut Pub exists much as it did in 1964 when the doors opened. A little slice of individuality in a generic cityscape. A row of round stools line a marble counter, with glass cased confections behind. The coffee pots churn out hot, black java (You have two options for your coffee, black or not.) while New Yorkers sit and dunk their non-Dunkins.
Whenever I pass by, I always peak in the window just to make sure there aren’t time travelers sitting at the counter, drifting in from the 60’s and 70’s to get a cup and Boston Cream. When I stop in to get one of my own, I am always careful when I step out to make sure I am returning to my time and place. Though, I am not sure if I DID step out into 1964, I might not choose to stay.
This is not a new phenomena, time carved the cultural trope of traveling hundreds of mile at great inconvenience to spend time with people you really don’t like into the American psyche like a badly hewn slab of breast meat. It’s not a by-product of the Internet age, I recall my parents grousing over the schlepp to my extended family long before Facebook made screaming at your family over inconsequential issues as easy as clicking a button. The arguments were the same, politics, sports, who was a drunk, who was cheating on their spouse and how no one took care of their damn kids. Here we are gathering to celebrate family and give thanks with people we would never allow into our homes any other day of the year! Or worse, you are forced to spend time with someone you loathe because they or you married into the family
I really wonder if this a uniquely American idea, or if people from Seoul travel down south to Gwangju for Chueseok and argue over Songpyeon with Uncle Kim, who fought in the war, about normalizing relations with the North? It’s absurd, really, how we force ourselves to socialize with people we barely know all because two hundred years ago our ancestors did so out of the relief they brought in enough food to eat through the Winter. Why do we do it? Hell, I can’t even blame Hallmark for this holiday, we do it because…because…I am really not sure why.
I’m not advocating not seeing your family for Thanksgiving, I’m saying maybe scale back the big holiday dinners to the people you actually want to spend time with. Instead of every branch on the family tree, including those everyone wants to prune, invite people you actually LIKE. We don’t need to fill the house with every single person related by blood and law to enjoy a family event! We don’t need to go through the annual ritual of grimly drinking enough wine to tolerate our relatives, we can happily drink enough wine with our friends and family to mock those people behind their back! I am advocating a peace treaty in the Turkey Day Wars! Next Thanksgiving, everyone stay home and enjoy your actual family not the one you endure by technicality!
Today, I am going to sit down to an amazing dinner with people I am not related to, most of whom I don’t even know. We will eat, drink, watch Mitchell and no one will need to argument about politics or sports, or any of the other things families spend Thanksgiving carefully avoiding yet never manage to pull off. The difference is we all WANT to be there, no one is family by fiat. You can do this with your ACTUAL FAMILY! Imagine, good food, good friends, good conversation and you never need worry about offending Uncle Bob, or having Uncle Bob piss in the coat closet because he was so drunk he thought it was the bathroom.
Uncle Bob, by the way, is why the coats are always on the bed on Thanksgiving.
I am a man of many words, I make no apologies. I believe words possess meaning and if one wishes to accurately convey meaning, one should use the sufficient number of words necessary to clearly do so. This is not to devalue brevity, which remains an indispensable tool in the writer’s inventory, but is so often used improperly leading to confusion. In essence, if you are saying important things, you should say enough to make oneself understood.
This is why modern forms of communications actively encourage misunderstandings. I don’t care if you are the Oscar Wilde, you simply cannot speak with accuracy or meaning on a substantive issue in one hundred and forty characters. To wit, your Tweet on a substantive issues is MORE likely to be misinterpreted than if you spent a few hundred extra characters to explain. Twitter is no more a suitable platform for crafting thoughts than the Play Dough Fun Factory is a suitable pottery studio.
Worse, we continue our drive to distill complex issues into #hashtag activism. Allow me to take a moment to demonstrate the absurdity of compressing deeply complex issues into 140 characters:
Certainly, you can fire off quick statements, summaries of an idea, but there is no nuance, no real meaning in the content. Marc Antony DID come to praise Caesar, which one finds out as the quote continues. Martin Luther wrote volumes on the meaning behind his words in the effort that everyone who read his words understood that anyone may come to understand the words of the Bible. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” says not just what but WHY the American Revolution transpired. The Gettysburg is notably short at 13,607 words, or ninety-seven tweets, to communicate some of the most powerful thoughts in human history. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address told a nation in the throes of the Great Depression they not only could but WOULD rise again. Reagan, well he was pretty much a hashtag before they existed.
Complex ideas need time to produce AND consume. A soundbite, two-minute video or a Tweet are not vehicles for thought but rather emotion. It is easy to transmit an unkind thought in just a few words which is why so much of online discourse is patently mean-spirited. Forget the ever-present Trolls, many of whom are distressingly verbose, just the day-to-day commentary trends negative.
Even the most thoughtful interaction is open to offense. Take the incident where the scientist wearing what must be considered a questionable shirt during an interview about the Rosetta mission. (Or #shirtstorm if you MUST!) In a moment of triumph a brief comment about a poorly chosen piece of clothing ignited a shitstorm (that’s the joke) on Twitter. The comment was àpropos, the shirt was improper for the venue and easily construed as offensive, and the person wearing the offending garment admitted the error and sincerely apologized. This, one might think, should solve the problem. It has not. Indeed, the entire episode spiraled into a mêlée of micro-aggressions and hashtags leaving behind the real argument in the dust of patent nonsense.
One could sit down and write a reasoned position on why the shirt was improper, what is communicated and how the wearer place gave a voice to a message he may not intend. The problem is, doing this take time and no one is going to be bothered to read what you wrote. We now produce so much drivel, we’ve actually created a technology to effectively and expeditiously manage said drivel. No one WANTS to read a thousand word essay on socially important subject, this requires engaging their brain. Or, at least this is what purveyors of refined drivel wish you to believe.
At the same time as shirt storm is going on, the podcast Serial is producing hundred of thousands of well thought, well reasons words about a story which is itself extremely long, complex and meticulously researched. Serial cannot be Tweeted, it must be listened to, examined, pondered and reflected upon. Is it possible the public longs to be engaged, actually WANTS to THINK about something?
Personally, I don’t think so. My misanthropy knows no boundaries, I suspect the majority of the population would rather pick the lint from their navel and watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for the third time than every place a brain cell in Drive. (Two hundred and one characters, see I can’t even craft a snark laden insult in less than one hundred and forty characters.)
Allow me to attempt a pithy summary which you may Tweet at your leisure:
Five years are not a career, it’s barely even the beginning of truly learning a craft. All I can is after five years of learning, I know marginally more than when I started. So, I sat down and pulled twenty photographs from each year since 2009 and the genesis of my education and practice to see where I began and where I am now. Over the next few weeks, I am going post them, five at a time and talk a little about the photos. We being with Pill Bottles.
One of the first thing a new photographer does is experiment with their camera. This mean going about taking photos of odd things in odd places. There is usually little rhyme or reason to the images and most of them suck. Pill Bottles is no different, I was at work late one evening, playing my new camera and opened a drawer full of orange pill bottles. I took several shots, using the camera’s pop up flash. (A profound faux pas!) The images were kind of cool but nothing special, an exercise in settings on the camera. Ironically, this photograph stands tied for the single highest paying sale out of my entire body. One Magazine paid very well for the rights to publish, and I am not even sure they did.
Where to begin with self portraits. Unless you have children or a VERY understanding spouse, most new photographers have only the one model: themselves. Let me be clear, self portraits are different from “Selfies”. (An inane term I long to see confined to the linguistic dustbin of history.) Self portraits say something about how you see yourself, a “Selfie” is just says you see yourself, no introspection or understanding, just vanity. Over the years, I’ve done several self portraits and they are universally done in black and white and usually show me doing something self-destructive.
It didn’t take long for me to develop an interest in Street Photography as a genre, though I don’t classify myself as a “Street Photographer”. (Best to avoid labels in life, do what you like and stop worry about what people call it.) This woman, I still don’t know her name, lives in my neighborhood. She is developmentally disabled and wanders the street during the daylight hours. Sadly, I’ve watched her grow progressively worse over the years. Where she once seemed cognizant and connected with reality, I’ve watched her slip to the point of walking about removing articles of clothing. The neighborhood once moved to care for her, now with an influx of gentrifiers and money seem to either ignore of treat her as a scandal. I stopped taking her photo as she slowly grew worse, I simply won’t capitalize on human suffering, particularly when I am not even decent enough to learn her name.
Fairly early on, I realized the focus of my photography is basically Solyent Green. (IT’S PEOPLE!!!!!) I am not a social person, I have a small group of friends and like to keep my life fairly contained within them. Still, my fellow human beings fascinate me, I find them compelling. I learned the best way for me to work with this fascination is within the confines of the large public event, this photo is from the New York City Dance Parade. The Dance Parade also introduced me to another passion, photographing dancers of every kind and style. There is something about the art of dance, dedicated to motion and stopping that motion, capturing just a single instant of that energy that became a recurrent theme.
And if you want to find interesting people to photograph, New York City does the job. Certainly, there are fascinating characters on every corner of America and someday I would like to devote my time to finding them. For now, I have an entire city full of characters to document. My good friend Blackwolf the Dragonmaster will appear again in The One Hundred. After all, if your town has an unofficial Wizard and protector from dragons, how can you not take the time to document his work?
This is NOT a great photograph, but it’s good. It conveys a nice sense of motion, there is something about his demeanor that tells you is in a hurry to get one from one place to next, it says a little something about life in New York City. It just feels right. Not a gallery work, nothing to sell, just a “good” photo. (You are welcome to disagree with me, I can handle it.) The problem is, I didn’t intend to take this photo. Walking to work this morning, I was having some mechanical difficulty with my camera…frankly it is nearing the end of its shutter life and I was trying to coax it back into working properly. (And don’t think I am not scared to death over this.) I just pressed the shutter more or less at random and manage, by accident to take a “good” photo.
There are days, many days, I go out trying to take a good photo and come home with nothing. Then there are days when I take on by accident. I don’t like this, it makes me feel as though I am just monkey pushing a button hoping to get lucky. Yet, I also need to learn to accept the things I cannot change (thanks Friends of Bill for the philosophy, I am going to keep drinking but I am happy to learn to accept the unchangeable.) You can drive yourself nuts trying to fix the unfixable, or learn to shrug and move on, Tomorrow might be a better day, or worse, just deal with it when you arrive.
Like much of the Internet,I avidly listen to the unfolding drama of the Serial Podcast from This American Life. Serial, is one part investigative journalism and one part serial radio drama. Sarah Koenig’s inaugural story details the murder case of high school student in Baltimore in 1999. A Maryland court convicted Adnan Syed the victim’s ex-boyfriend of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. This is the only certain facts in the story as presented.
As a listener, the story and presentation keep me riveted. I download the podcast first thing each Thursday morning, when the latest episodeposts. I listen to on my ride to work where I know I am able to absorb each detail and spend much of the rest of the day weighing those details in my head. (It is a terribly entertaining way to spend a day.) Then, I turn around a think about the story from the perspective of a former police officer.
Yet, as a former police officer, I listen to the narrative unfold from the journalist and producers of Serial and I must keep in mind they, too, are human and they too, are wiggling ambiguous information and calling it fact. Koenig spends much time trying to keep herself objective, but you feel her desire to believe her perception of the facts is the correct view. To me, this is as compelling as the story itself, the struggle to deal the things you THINK you know.
Still more fascinating is the response to the story from the listeners. Reddit, the repository for Internet minutia, provides a central gathering point for Serialists to savor the little details and put forward their interpretation. (Sadly, Reddit’s history solving crimes is not the brightest moment in the internet.) Beyond that, Serial spawned other podcasts about the podcast, detail “spoiler specials” and theory articles like wildfire. People respond to this story, they analyze and the opine…and none of them KNOW any of the things they THINK they know. The vast majority of the listeners sympathize with Adnan, they WANT him wrongfully convicted! (In interest of fairness, my opinion at this point in time is, he was wrongfully convicted. I am not, however, convinced he didn’t COMMIT the crime.)
The power of compelling storytelling, of well presented characters and personable narrators shapes this story far more than the facts presented. There are deep and troubling flaws in the evidence we’ve been given so far, yet objectivity requires we wait until everything is on the table before we decide. The jurors in the case, the only objective parties to review ALL the evidence unanimously and quickly decided it was sufficient to convict Adnan Syed. Koenig’s interviews with the jurors find no second guessing or regrets about the decision. (This is something I think deserves some serious thought and discussion.) The appeal in the case was heard and denied. In every meaningful way, the facts stand as decided
So, why are we all listening? What do we think we know that drives us to examine THIS case? Do we really think the criminal justice system inadvertently or intentionally miscarried justice in this case? Was Syed’s lawyer incompetent or corrupt? (Which is information forthcoming, I assume.) Or, do we just WANT to believe because the story is damn compelling and the characters so likable?
Does it even matter?
It matters only if you are looking at Serial as something more than entertainment. If, as Slate’s Mike Pesca fears, it is a commentary on the “nature of truth”, then it asks us as an audience to step away from our perception bias and really look at how we see facts. I strong suspect, even hope, Sarah Koenig will ask us to see our acceptance of incomplete facts, slanted evidence and personal prejudices in a new light. It SHOULD be a commentary on the nature of truth, because if it is not we are complicit in the failure of our society to embrace the truth.
I don’t know if Adnan Syed killed his ex-girlfriend in 1999. I will never know, all I can do is weigh all the evidence in as an impartial manner as possible and try. I can do this, and remember I am hearing the story, not part of the story. I don’t get to influence the ending. Nor, do you good reader. This is possibly the one thing you think you know but don’t, and it will probably make you very angry before the story in done.
Life has gotten complicated. I spend more time at my “job” than doing my Job. I used to spend my time chasing the good photos, now I spend my time doing…something, I am not sure what. I am a writer, a poet, a joker, a smoker a midnight toker, I get my loving on the run, I am picker, a grinner and midnight sinner, sure don’t want to hurt no one…but damnit, I am SUPPOSED to be a picture taking man!
Sorry, I spent a lot of time on this blog doing anything but that.
Ah, the Post Election Day Blues, where the losing side laments the impending doom of the nation. The inevitable threats to move to Canada and dire predictions of rampant change for the worse. As a member of the losing ideology, I get it, I really do. As a pragmatist, I see things slightly different. Dudes, relax, this shit happens.
For the winners, congratulations you took both Houses of Congress. I know your pumped, you feel like you can REALLY DO SOMETHING! Right? Except…you don’t have a 2/3rds veto over ride, your own party is still significantly fractured from the Tea Party straining against the Establishment. Indeed, most of your new sitting congress critters had to run to the LEFT to get elected this year. Your Base is still wants to drown DC in a bathtub AND you need to prepare for 2016 where your electoral map is not nearly as friendly. You’ve got two years, good luck. You’re going to need it.
For the losers, I know you are freaking out right now. I’ve been keeping on current events , and you just got your asses kicked pal. You’re freaking out right now, but I gotta tell you, reee-laxxxx look at the pretty picture. Everything is fine. Read over the paragraph about the Republicans. Frankly, you didn’t deserve to win, you ran some shitty campaigns, frankly the most of you are pretty much Republicans yourselves. You failed your constituents, you failed your party and you failed yourself. BUT, 2016 is right around the corner. You have the stronger electoral map, and a VERY strong presidential contender. (Though I would REALLY like to see someone equally strong who isn’t a legacy appear and change the discussion. That’s not going to happen, but a guy can dream.) On top of all this, you guys ran some really strong elections in places where you traditionally never had a chance. Georgia, man, Georgia! You almost booted McConnell, that would’ve made losing the Senate almost worth it.
I was commiserating with a fellow Libtard yesterday, worried about losing the Senate. I just kept repeating “Relax, gridlock isn’t going anywhere and in the big picture, we’re winning”. The country is changing, demographically, progress is slow but inevitable. As much as friends across the aisle would LIKE to stop it, even they see the writing on the wall. Why do you think they are fighting so hard to deny the vote? Relax, tend your own garden and eventually, it will flower in places you never expected.
Until then, sit and watch the incredibly entertaining show of the Republicans trying to appease their base. I predict an amusing defeat trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and if we are REALLY lucky, an impeachment! They know they won’t win, but can’t help themselves. Enjoy the show, nothing is changing until 2016.