Categories
Government Movies & TV Politics

Corruptio Optimi Pessima

Corruptio optimi pessima-2“Corruptio optimi pessima. Corruption of the best is the worst.”

I’m a West Wing girl. I mean, I love The West Wing. I think it’s the finest show ever written for TV, bar none. I think Aaron Sorkin is a genius, and if I could have lunch with one person who is alive today, believe it or not, it would be him.

I love The West Wing because it has taught me more life lessons than anything I’ve ever watched. More than any piece of art. More than the movies. It’s The West Wing. I love that the characters are all flawed in many ways, yet spectacularly brilliant and caring in other ways. I love that we can forgive them their daily sins, the same way I would like my own to be forgiven. I love that they go in a room and say what they have to say and then leave. They never repeat themselves over and over again the way I do when I’m not watching.

Fourth of July is approaching, and I wanted to write something about my love of America, and about my realization that we are not living in the best period of our history. We are living in a dark time from which we may not recover. Benjamin Franklin said the government can’t work if everyone in government doesn’t respect one another. I think we can all agree that right now, no one on either side of the political aisle, in the men’s and ladies rooms, or in the parking lots of the Capitol respect one another. In fact, I believe that many of them have no self respect, either. And, truth? What’s that in the beltway?

So, what to write about my country on her fabulous birthday? A call to action for myself and the rest of us comes to mind. So of course I turn to The West Wing, Season 5, Episode 14, An Khe. Leo McGarry, The President’s Chief of Staff, is a Vietnam War veteran. He was shot down and saved by his friend O’Neill, who carried him through the jungles for three days until they were rescued. Leo is loyal to “the finest man I have ever called a friend.” His friend is now the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company that makes things the government uses to do bad things in other places. Specifically helicopters. Leo finds out that his friend has crossed to the dark side and bribed someone to get a contract. I have just made a long, fabulous story short. You get the picture. O’Neill has let Leo down and Leo is stunned.

Fast-forward to Leo alone in his office after his friend confesses. Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s version of “My Country Tis of Thee” starts to play in the background, and the president comes in to see if Leo is all right. Leo begins to cry and tells the story of that long ago day when his amazing friend saved his life in the jungle. Then he explains that others died attempting to rescue them. He says that he and the fallen CEO had an obligation to those who went before — those who died — to lead lives on honor and service that would make those men proud of them. And the President quietly says, “Corruptio optimi pessima — Corruption of the best is the worst.”

Corruption of the best is the worst. Corruptio optimi pessima. Never has this quote been more appropriate than this moment in time. Not just in the presidency but in all the halls of our government. All of them.

We all have an obligation to start checking our facts before we republish the propaganda that clogs our inboxes and our minds. We have an obligation to respect other points of view — and to ask for the data to back up those points of view. And if we are to honor those who gave up so much for our freedoms (and I do not include not wearing a mask as a right of citizenship), we must take action to ensure that every American can vote easily and have access to health care—and also that every American pays the taxes they are supposed to pay and works hard to better their lives and not just to get a free ride; these things and a host of others have gone by the wayside. We need to learn to take care of the environment, to understand the land the way those that were here first did. We are out of control as a nation, and this is a day on which we should take a moment away from fireworks and hot dogs and steaks and red, white, and blue linens, and commit to doing the right thing.

God Bless America.

Post Script:

The plot line about the defense contracting controversy is apparently based on a real life incident. A 2003 lease agreement of 100 Boeing K-767  tankers by the US Air Force led to the imprisonment of a Pentagon staffer and the forced resignation of Boeing CEO Phil Condit. The main opponent of the deal was Senator John McCain – from Arizone like the fictional Senator Hunt; in addition, Hunt has been presented on the show as a maverick who is amenable to bipartisan projects, not unlike Senator McCain. McCain, when informed about the West Wing episode, was amused.

Very little is revealed about the title of the episode – An Khe. The only reference to the name is in the opening scene, when Leo, as a Vietnam War fighter pilot, tells ground control that he is approaching An Khe. An Khe was an actual base camp in Vietnam during the war.

Categories
Government Politics

MacArthur Park & Cake Out in the Rain

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh no!

The lyrics to “MacArthur Park” come to mind now as I realize that we left the cake out in the rain. We Americans treated our freedom, our success, and our ease of life without sheltering them, appreciating them, and it took so long to bake that perfect recipe that we can never get it back. Oh no.

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 2.56.13 PMI always turn to music, or Aaron Sorkin’s body of work, when I can’t stand it anymore. I think we can all agree that “MacArthur Park” is one of the greatest songs ever written. “No, no,” to quote that literary genius Anna Wintour, “it’s not a question.” It is the perfect recipe of lyrics and notes, it’s long and meanders, and it is precisely what we need right now.

So I turned to one of my favorite renditions of it. David Letterman brought the largest orchestra ever into the theater that launched the Beatles in America, and he added to the mix the composer Jimmy Webb, and bassist Will Lee on vocals. If you haven’t seen it, click here. If you have seen it, check it out again — but this time, instead of paying attention to the camera’s focal point, which is mostly Will Lee, watch Jimmy Webb, who is playing the organ, and Paul Schaeffer, who’s playing the piano. Watch the passion with which they do what they do. Take note of the other musicians and their commitment to the performance. Notice how each of them focuses on what they’re contributing to create what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest moments in music and late-night television. I love the talent and passion with which they are giving their all to their craft. That is what we all need to do right now.

We must ignore the diversionary explosions of the world around us and do what we can to change things. We cannot let anyone else, let alone our government, take from us that which our forefathers built. Nope. Not on my watch. Not today. Let’s get to work, each of us within our own power.

Watching this video twice renewed me. It reminded me that while we left the cake out in the rain, we can bake another one simply by doing whatever’s in our power to put back together the pieces of our broken nation, our shattered souls, and our aching hearts. Yes, turn to music or Aaron Sorkin. It works every time.

There will be another song for me
For I will sing it
There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it

I will take my life into my hands
And I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes
And I will lose it
I will have the things that I desire
And my passion flow like rivers through the sky
And after all the loves of my life
I’ll be thinking of you.

Categories
Government Politics

Memorial Day 2020

photo-1-300x225My stepfather was an Infantryman in the 11th Armored Division of the 3rd Army. We’re talking Patton’s army. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being injured in the Battle of the Bulge. He and I were not close (I say kindly), and while I knew he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, I never asked him about it. Like so many other missed moments, I’m so sorry I never did. My daughter Sarah did. And, she told me this story. I share it with you on Memorial Day with the hope it will move you to ask someone who has served our country to tell you their story before they are no longer able. Especially at this moment in time when we are all so vulnerable.

It was late on Christmas Eve, 1944, and George Ilse was lying on the ground with hundreds of others. He thought he was dying. I’m not sure what the injury was, but he was ‘tagged’ as not able to survive and left with whatever comfort they could give. He had a small compass with him that my daughter now has on a chain. He told her that his uncle gave him the compass for Christmas just before he was deployed. I have the Christmas Card that accompanied the gift and added it to this blog. It has the following message: To help you find your way home. Tom. According to George’s story, it had stopped working.

A man walked by, stopped, looked at him and said, “Are you George Ilse?” My stepfather said he was and it turned out to be a medic from George’s hometown. He knelt over George and worked on him. He saved his life. He told Sarah that he took the compass out of his pocket while the stars shone over the snow covered ground later that night so long ago, and it was working again. He told her in that moment he knew he’d make it home.

I’m sorry I never thanked you for your service George. I do it today, on Memorial Day, 2020, so many years after that cold Christmas night. And, if I meet another person who has served in the future, I will ask them about their service rather than simply thanking them.

Categories
Personal Essays Relationships Women

Mother’s Day 2020

34edb4313fd81bb294b820721b41c629I got the following email from a friend.

Did I tell you about my mom?  She uses a walker, but for some reason decided to try the tread mill at her apt building last week, hit the wrong button, sped up, she went flying, got battered, had to have eye surgery last week for a torn retina ….laugh or cry?

I read it and started laughing with the image of this older woman on a walker headed to the treadmill, and then as I thought about it more and more, I started to cry.

What possesses a woman on a walker to head to the gym in her building and get on a tread mill? I’ll tell you what. A woman that hasn’t been given anywhere else to go to celebrate who she is today, that’s who. If you are not young and in shape, you are nothing. End of that story.

I remember traveling in France with H2 (second husband) in our early years (the early 80’s). Sunday was always a long luncheon, often outside at a restaurant like Pre’ Catelan, where the meal (it was four or five courses) began at 1 and lasted until 5. What brings it to mind now is that there were French families there; four generations sometimes and the elderly people were seated next to the youngest generation and everyone hovered around those elderly people. All afternoon. They seemed to hang on their every word. I think about what I see now – in this country – and there are only those meals on major holidays, and the distance between generations has grown significantly, with little or no contact. People visit their elders in assisted living and the assisted living takes care of the contact. Even before Covid-19 there were no four or five hours meals every Sunday in a sedentary way where an older person could rule. Or at least I didn’t see them.

But now, I see pictures of people visiting the elderly and talking to them through their windows, or on Facetime in a new way. A way that recognizes there is no guarantee that the opportunity to speak to them will be there tomorrow.

So, apres Covid, maybe it will be back to basics. Family. Time together to marinate rather than regurgitate. And, as for my friend’s mother. I have thought of her often over the past few years since I heard the story. I think of how you summoned your strength and add it as inspiration for my own journey. I honor you today on Mother’s Day, and I think you are one special lady.

Categories
Art Travel

Vacation in the Time of Corona; Actually Ten Years Earlier

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019…

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

merserc_day1_-11-300x225I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood – but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Categories
Art

National Geographic: Ms Christine Goes To Washington

Ten years ago I took a vacation to a National Geographic Photography class in DC. I had a great time. I realize as I’m cooped up now that I stopped taking pictures soon after this post from 2009. What a great time to start taking them again. I’m going to go out tomorrow and renew my love of taking pictures and see if I can capture some of what we are now seeing on our daily travels … short as they might be. Here is the post from April 2019… 

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

backrowalley2-150x150Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.

Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it?

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment. We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo hat (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them), hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and head out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

merserc_day1_-11-300x225

I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education. Now we are up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for this vacation depending on whether or not they choose Ivy institutions.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood –  but I feel good about it. Quality over quantity if you ask me.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

shapeimage_1My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and Reggie is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all ‘there’ but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

p10102352-225x300I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do). I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group. Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend. I will research applying for Pulitzers when I get hope. Research up. Edit down.

Categories
Government History Politics

Stoicism in the Time of the CoronaVirus

Yesterday was a rough day for me. Not sure why. In general, this solitary-type of life is not something I find anxiety provoking, but I think that it was about reading three articles in a row that did me in. I now believe that it’s not just Trump that is breaking things, that the divide between the rich and the poor is now irreversibly cemented for a future of being relegated to where you were born and lastly, that the virus itself is taking a toll on those in the medical field that is heartbreaking. And, and, and.

Then I came across an article in The Guardian by Donald Robertsonimages that I have to read a few more times to know how it can replant my mental positivity, but I know it has something that can… Who knew Marcus Aurelius could help me through my funk? And the really good news is that I have The Meditations in my library! I think I bought it last year when I was pretending that I was going to be a smart girl.

Here is the article…

Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help

The Meditations, by a Roman emperor who died in a plague named after him, has much to say about how to face fear, pain, anxiety and loss

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the last famous Stoic philosopher of antiquity. During the last 14 years of his life he faced one of the worst plagues in European history. The Antonine Plague, named after him, was probably caused by a strain of the smallpox virus. It’s estimated to have killed up to 5 million people, possibly including Marcus himself.

From AD166 to around AD180, repeated outbreaks occurred throughout the known world. Roman historians describe the legions being devastated, and entire towns and villages being depopulated and going to ruin. Rome itself was particularly badly affected, carts leaving the city each day piled high with dead bodies.

In the middle of this plague, Marcus wrote a book, known as The Meditations, which records the moral and psychological advice he gave himself at this time. He frequently applies Stoic philosophy to the challenges of coping with pain, illness, anxiety and loss. It’s no stretch of the imagination to view The Meditations as a manual for developing precisely the mental resilience skills required to cope with a pandemic.

First of all, because Stoics believe that our true good resides in our own character and actions, they would frequently remind themselves to distinguish between what’s “up to us” and what isn’t. Modern Stoics tend to call this “the dichotomy of control” and many people find this distinction alone helpful in alleviating stress. What happens to me is never directly under my control, never completely up to me, but my own thoughts and actions are – at least the voluntary ones. The pandemic isn’t really under my control but the way I behave in response to it is.

Much, if not all, of our thinking is also up to us. Hence, “It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.” More specifically, our judgment that something is really bad, awful or even catastrophic, causes our distress.

This is one of the basic psychological principles of Stoicism. It’s also the basic premise of modern cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based form of psychotherapy. The pioneers of CBT, Albert Ellis and Aaron T Beck, both describe Stoicism as the philosophical inspiration for their approach. It’s not the virus that makes us afraid but rather our opinions about it. Nor is it the inconsiderate actions of others, those ignoring social distancing recommendations, that make us angry so much as our opinions about them.

Many people are struck, on reading The Meditations, by the fact that it opens with a chapter in which Marcus lists the qualities he most admires in other individuals, about 17 friends, members of his family and teachers. This is an extended example of one of the central practices of Stoicism.

Marcus likes to ask himself, “What virtue has nature given me to deal with this situation?” That naturally leads to the question: “How do other people cope with similar challenges?” Stoics reflect on character strengths such as wisdom, patience and self-discipline, which potentially make them more resilient in the face of adversity. They try to exemplify these virtues and bring them to bear on the challenges they face in daily life, during a crisis like the pandemic. They learn from how other people cope. Even historical figures or fictional characters can serve as role models.

With all of this in mind, it’s easier to understand another common slogan of Stoicism: fear does us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid. This applies to unhealthy emotions in general, which the Stoics term “passions” – from pathos, the source of our word “pathological”. It’s true, first of all, in a superficial sense. Even if you have a 99% chance, or more, of surviving the pandemic, worry and anxiety may be ruining your life and driving you crazy. In extreme cases some people may even take their own lives.

In that respect, it’s easy to see how fear can do us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid because it can impinge on our physical health and quality of life. However, this saying also has a deeper meaning for Stoics. The virus can only harm your body – the worst it can do is kill you. However, fear penetrates into the moral core of our being. It can destroy your humanity if you let it. For the Stoics that’s a fate worse than death.

Finally, during a pandemic, you may have to confront the risk, the possibility, of your own death. Since the day you were born, that’s always been on the cards. Most of us find it easier to bury our heads in the sand. Avoidance is the No1 most popular coping strategy in the world. We live in denial of the self-evident fact that we all die eventually. The Stoics believed that when we’re confronted with our own mortality, and grasp its implications, that can change our perspective on life quite dramatically. Any one of us could die at any moment. Life doesn’t go on forever.

We’re told this was what Marcus was thinking about on his deathbed. According to one historian, his circle of friends were distraught. Marcus calmly asked why they were weeping for him when, in fact, they should accept both sickness and death as inevitable, part of nature and the common lot of mankind. He returns to this theme many times throughout The Meditations.

“All that comes to pass”, he tells himself, even illness and death, should be as “familiar as the rose in spring and the fruit in autumn”. Marcus Aurelius, through decades of training in Stoicism, in other words, had taught himself to face death with the steady calm of someone who has done so countless times already in the past.

Donald Robertson is cognitive behavioural therapist and the author of several books on philosophy and psychotherapy, including Stoicism and the Art of Happiness and How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Categories
Government Politics

Walls & Corona-19

breaking-down-wallsThere has always been a divide between the rich and the poor. Some say that it was easier in the past to cross the divide, and others say it’s not any harder now than it was before. I have always believed the divide was more than just cultural or political. It wasn’t just that you were born in the poor section of the Bronx, but also which first-grade teacher you got, or whether one parent liked you better than your siblings, or even if your siblings were too involved in your life — or not involved enough. Or you moved too much as a child. (Have I ever mentioned the fact that I moved 15 times by the time I was 16 and that they taught multiplication tables in the third grade in Cleveland and in the second grade in Pennsylvania, so I was screwed?) I have always believed that whether we were to the manor born, or birthed in the basement of an apartment building in the Bronx, we all had walls that surrounded and squelched our ability to be our best selves. We either tore down those walls through our own strength, determination, and, of course, luck, or they became cemented by some moment in time or a series of moments. Cement walls never break down, and you can’t alter them once the cement is dry. At that point, one becomes stuck behind them, like the Jews were in the Warsaw Ghetto.

My real fear at this moment in history is that COVID-19 is cementing those walls for so many Americans and that they will never be able to break them down. Think, for example, about a kid in the Bronx, whose parents don’t have Wi-Fi or understand that classes are being taught online. Even if they did have Wi-Fi and their child had a computer (God bless those who are trying to make that happen), the environment in their home would not support the learning that must take place to continue breaking down the walls that surrounded that wonderful child at birth. Think about a young man who was attending Trinity in New York City, learning without disruption, who is now moving further and further away from the child who lives in poverty from public school who will now never break down the walls of his birth. Think about a woman who will now never leave her abusive partner because she has lost her job and her savings are gone, gone, gone. Think about a depressed, isolated teenager who was trying to make a friend at school, but who now is cemented in her aloneness and will never find the light of day.

My fear is that this virus is drying the cement that could have been removed, and there is no time to finish the job started by so many people who have now been rendered immobile. Immobility is not just in the home confinement; it’s in the lack of resources that help the most helpless to travel their roads to success without the walls closing in on them along the way. Are we doing enough to keep the cement from setting during this time? What else can we do, not just to protect against the virus shutting down our hearts, but also to ensure it doesn’t shut down the dreams of those less fortunate?

Categories
Government Politics World

Citizen of the World

downloadOn Saturday night, at the conclusion of Lady Gaga’s “One World Together at Home” concert, I wept as she and a host of brilliantly talented musicians ended with “The Prayer.” Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, John Legend, Lang Lang on the piano, and Gaga herself stunned us all, stopped us in our tracks as they gave us a vehicle for our grief as well as a path to the hope we must have to continue in this moment in history. She said we are all citizens of the globe.

It made me realize that we are all citizens of the globe. Those in Africa and Europe and everywhere else are just like you and me. They are trying to find their place, as we all are. How can I be of use? How can I protect those whom I love when I am so far away from them? And, most importantly for me right now, how can I let go of the hatred that wells inside me toward our president and the millions who mirror him. The day after he was elected in 2016, I couldn’t imagine the blanket of uninterrupted corruption and lack of humanity that he would bring about. But last night, in that moment at the end of the program, I had a flash of being a proud citizen of the world regardless of the actions of some of my fellow global citizens.

I have always cherished my American citizenship. I have felt a strong obligation to it ever since my grandfather spoke to me of our great fortune and our resultant responsibility to others. I tried very hard to instill in my child and those within my sphere of influence my belief in our responsibility to our country. I have given my time, my thoughts, and my money to furthering that which matters to our country. I shed tears over the assassination of President Kennedy and when flag-draped coffins returned from Vietnam. I just cried a few weeks ago when two soldiers came back from Afghanistan in boxes. I have been both proud and ashamed. I stood in the back of a resort in the Catskills, right out of “Dirty Dancing,” watching Nixon resign on television. While others cheered, I sat in the back, filled with shame that our president was having to leave office in disgrace. I felt it was my disgrace. Then years later, I proudly voted for our first black president, believing we had come so far from the racial division of the 1960s. The highs and lows of citizenship.

After college, I moved to New York City and became her citizen. I went to the Simon and Garfunkel concert in the park and took a moment in the dark to consider that nowhere else in our country could one attend something like this both for free and with such a scenic backdrop. On Christmas morning, I went to Dunkin Donuts and loaded up the car to deliver 200 donuts and 100 cups of coffee to the homeless at NYC’s bus terminal. I wanted my daughter to give back on Christmas, before she opened all her gifts. I watched my 7-year-old daughter Sarah as she passed out the donuts and hugged a homeless man who told her he would only take one because he was afraid there wouldn’t be enough for everyone. Sarah has chosen a life of service in the law. I am in awe of her citizenship and her commitment to her work in government, prison reform and women’s issues.

Then there was 9/11, which was a personal shock. I watched the second plane go into the towers. I lost people I knew and cared about. I went to funerals for the police and firefighters at St. Pat’s because my mayor asked me to serve in that way. I took such pride in our response as citizens of this city. I have traveled the world. There is no other New York City. Over the years, as 9/11 faded into the background of more current events, I have continued to take such great pride in our response to the events of that day.

Today, I look at my beloved New York City and those who are risking their lives — and losing them — to save the lives of other New Yorkers they don’t even know but love and cry for all the same. I watch the citizens of my city (how lucky am I to call her my city?) sheltering in place while I see those in other cities that have suffered nowhere near the amount we have, who can’t seem to understand that strapping on guns and storming the capitol steps because they don’t want to stay inside to save others shows that they have no understanding of what citizenship means. I am so proud — so very proud — to be a New Yorker right now.

This morning I woke up still thinking about citizenship, and I realized that I am also a citizen of myself. I am master of my beliefs and my vision and my morals and my ethics. It occurred to me that perhaps the kind of citizen I am to myself bleeds into all the other passports of citizenship I hold. I also get to decide who benefits from having me as their citizen and how I will honor that responsibility. I take a moment this Sunday morning to thank my grandfather John Hinckley (descendent of Thomas Hinckley, the first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), who instilled in a 5-year-old me the understanding of where I belong in the world and my responsibilities as a citizen.

Categories
Government Health Politics

More of Ourselves in the Time of Corona

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 7.44.13 AMWe are so disquieted, my fellow Americans and I. Even if we don’t realize it, we are uncomfortable. Some say, “I’m fine,” but they are baking like they’re a corner bakery, or they aren’t sleeping well, or they’re arguing with friends and family. One friend said to me, “I am not having any issues at all,” but she “for some reason” can no longer sleep through the night. Then there are others who have retreated further inside themselves, totally focused on how this all affects them and believing that it is a bigger hardship for them than for others. So, if you were self-focused before, you now think this is all about you. If you have always been more nurturing of others, you may now be consumed with making or distributing masks or calling people to make sure they are OK. Whatever you were before, you are more of that now.

As for me, I’m very happy at home — just me and my dog, Bayley. The other day, I was returning from a walk on the beach by myself and realized how excited I was to get home. Of course, I then worried that my desire to arrive back at my home wasn’t healthy. Why wasn’t I yearning to get dinner with friends? Or go to a movie theater by myself, which I love to do? Am I on my way to becoming a recluse like my aunt was, or my older sister, who, in the end, passed away from self-neglect? What is there in my DNA that makes this moment in time so comfortable for me?

I don’t really feel disconnected. I feel connected through social media and Zoom (Zoom has become a verb, just as Xerox did in the ’80s; how did that happen so fast?). I have weeded out some people who when their true natures became magnified allowed me to see how unhappy I felt when dealing with them. And others to whom I was less connected have become more day-to-day companions, whom I cherish so much more deeply. Is it possible this reboot has made my life better in the long run? I think it might be so.

Don’t get me wrong; there are some people I long to see — truly yearn to see — but I know that they will be there on the other side of this pandemic. I can’t wait for the moment when we can hug and just take in the sight of one another. Yes, I have those to whom I will run, not walk, toward when all this lifts. But for right now, at this moment in history, when I have to really focus on what is happening in my beloved country, I remind myself that every minute matters – and is a gift that might not keep giving – and I need to spend them on productive endeavors to help create a better future for all who are in my sphere of influence. Or at least that is my daily intention.

Photo by Lucia Buricelli