Monday, November 4, 2013

The Wearing of Many Hats

We’ve all heard the adage of “wearing many hats” and that is definitely true for me. But the wearing of many hats is not just about putting on a baseball cap where one says Writer, the next says Photographer, etc. Each hat is as different as the type of work that goes with the project.

Hats come in many styles and are made from a multitude of materials and, as such, each “job” on the label has as much variance in its style. The writer’s hat would not look like the photographer’s hat, Some hats styles immediately come to mind when one things of certain types of jobs. I’ve already mentioned baseball caps, although those cover a wide variety of jobs including truck drivers and farmers.
With the title of artist, one pictures a French beret; cowboys wear cowboy hats; helmets are worn by football players, race car drivers, and deep sea divers, to name a few. It would be interesting to list a number of jobs that are associated with specific style hats or headgear, but at the moment, I can’t think of more.

My writer’s hat, if I wore a hat when I wrote, would be totally different from the ones worn I’d wear when out shooting photos or painting or drawing. Yes, even painting and drawing hats would be different because the jobs themselves are different and have different requirements.

A writer’s hat, for instance, would have to have a hatband into which I could slip pens, small notebook, and reading glasses. It would have an all around, small brim to help hold these items and would maybe be made out of felt. (I’m not fashionable enough to know material.) Maybe the pen would even have a feather. The small brim would be so there wouldn’t be much shadow when I was writing.

This hat would have to sit on the head tight enough so when I bend over the table to write, the hat won’t slip off, but not too tight to stop the creative flow. Finding the right words is hard work. Even with working on a computer these days, I still take notes by hand. Pens are my favorite tool.

A photographer’s hat must be of different material with some waterproofing because getting caught in the rain sometimes happens. It would probably have a string tie (I don’t know the proper term) to tie the hat under the chin. This way, the hat can be pushed down onto the back when taking pictures. I take pictures in all kinds of weather and I must be able to adapt to conditions – cold, sun, precipitation, and such. Sometimes when I’m out, I am so focused on getting the shot, that I don’t pay attention to other things. A photographer’s hat must be tough. It will take a beating.

The different projects (jobs) that I work on require a total change in how I am thinking and sometimes I go from one to the other in minutes. Instead of musical chairs, I play musical hats… although I do move around depending upon what I’m doing. For instance, in working on my books, there’s the story-writing/reporting/research aspect. I study, search my mind for the correct words, comb through the word catalogs in my brain trying to find the right descriptions and rework the research so I’m not always quoting someone else’s text. Then there’s the proof-reading and editing; many times.

Then I have to put on the photographer’s hat to edit the photos. My brain has to shift into a different type of focus. Here, it isn’t so much about words, although I do have to come up with titles, but the concentration is on color and contrast. Pictures that will go into a book take different editing than those I use in prints or cards, (which is even another hat.) I have to consider the size of the photo and how it will go onto the page of the book.

Next comes inserting the photo into the template where I’ve put the story. I try to match it to fall in with the proper place having to pay attention to margins and whether there will be text wrapping depending on the size of the picture. And finally, I have to make sure the Table of Contents is correct along with the List of Photos. Sometimes I am exhausted from all the “thinking” to make sure everything lines up (swapping hats many times during the course of a day.)

The work I do for the newspaper, even though it’s also writing with occasional photos, calls for a different type of hat. My mind set has a different focus when reporting. I am no longer writing from my point of view and the guidelines are strict for journalism. The editing (as I’m also the assistant editor) has its own rules, its own hat. This hat would come with a magnifying glass (metaphorically) with the need to make corrections. And the photographs for the newspaper are handled differently.

This just shows a couple of the hats I wear. Of course, it would be fun to actually design are real hat for each instance.

What kinds of hats do you wear and what would they look like?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"The Fire in the Song"

The Fire in the Song

He said, “If you only stop singing, I’ll make you safe.” And he repeated the line, knowing you would hear “I’ll make you safe.”  - David Whyte in his poem “The Fire in the Song”

There’s something about that line that ran through my mind this morning as I contemplated the plight of our society. If you only stop singing, I’ll make you safe. I hear the words in Whyte’s voice and in his inflection, And he repeated the line, knowing you would hear “I’ll make you safe.”

Whyte is talking about creativity, but I am hearing the words to now mean something more. This year has been a time of question for me as I’ve researched and studied certain aspects of the past. A lot of what we were taught as history is now being found to be untrue. People, who we were taught were heroes, often had a darker, not-very-nice side. (The media, even before it was known as media, played up aspects “they” wanted the public to know. We know that goes on today.) People we were taught to look up to as having our best interests at heart, more often than not were only following their own agendas. Yes, there are those who mean to do well, but a lot of the times, the best of intentions goes by the wayside.

“I’ll make you safe” is a want in all of us when we hear about the terrorism that goes on in the world, when people kill for no good reason (that we can see) or when kids shoot up schools. The media plays up the horror until we are afraid to leave our homes. We cry out our fears and organizations are developed to make us feel safe. Mental illness or mental instability is blamed. Drugs are used to control with often horrible side effects. People are locked down, locked up, and locked in.

But do we really feel safe? I can’t help but wonder if all the hype is just a ploy to still tongues. How do we balance protection versus lack of privacy? With everything being done to “protect” us (sounds kind of mafia-ish,) terrible things still happen, have always happened. I don’t know the answers. What are we willing to give up to feel safe and how much is really necessary?

Yes, I question. Yes, I am afraid. Life has always been a big adventure in a way. You never know what’s really going to happen. Even those with supposedly mundane lives can experience a drastic change in a heartbeat. I used to swear that I would not live in fear, but I can’t help it, and the thing is, I don’t know what scares me the most; the fear of terrorism or the loss of privacy.

It upsets me that we can’t drive down the street without pictures being taken of us, that our children cannot wait for the bus without a parent present, or that armed guards are patrolling our schools. There’s a part of me that believes the more fear we have, the more we will have to fear. Fear calls to itself.

Whyte’s poem hits home for me on many levels.

The Fire in the Song

The mouth opens
and fills the air
with its vibrant shape

until the air
and the mouth
become one shape

And the first word
your own word
spoken from that fire

surprises, burns
grieves you now

you made that pact
with a dark presence
in your life.

He said, “If you only
stop singing
I’ll make you safe.”

And he repeated the line,
knowing you would hear
“I’ll make you safe”

as the comforting
sound of a door
closed on the fear at last

but his darkness
crept under your tongue
and became the dim

cave where
you sheltered
and you grew

in that small place
too frightened to remember
the songs of the world,

its impossible notes,
and the sweet joy
that flew out the door

of your wild mouth
as you spoke.
            --- David Whyte

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Need for Balance

This morning I was weighing my love of staying home with the falling into sadness. I love what I do! I love the writing, being alone, listening to whatever music and watching whatever tv programs I want to, eating or not eating, and not having anyone else’s noise interrupt my work. I love that I can choose to write or draw and not be in anyone’s way or intrude on someone else’s space.

On the other hand, I have to admit that more and more I tend to fall into depression and grief. Granted, since moving here I’ve suffered major loss in my life. I lived totally alone for the first time and when I had to put my beloved cat down this summer, I was even more alone. Unfortunately, that makes this house hold more sadness than joy. I also realize that it’s not healthy to stay inside all the time and I tend to do that more and more.

Yes, I do go out and meet with other people. I go to breakfast with artist friends once a week. I do occasional interviews and cover events for the newspaper. I will go off on day trips once a month; sometimes alone and sometimes I will have company. I always enjoy these times, but I am also eager to get back home.

Then for the next two to four days I’m home alone as I catch up with all the writing and photo editing. I keep saying, “What more could I ask for? I’m living the life I want to lead.” So why do I keep succumbing to sadness? Sometimes I wonder if it is this house or property. Yes, it’s beautiful here, but because this place is where I have suffered my greatest losses, it’s too much.

But it’s also given me some of my greatest joys! I have a new life direction which is totally exciting and inspiring. So, why do the least little things bring me to tears? And now with the upcoming holidays... and now I always think of Christmas, not as a time of joy, but THE Anniversary of my mother’s passing. The holidays mean nothing to me and haven’t for many years and it’s especially so now that I’m alone. Oh, it’s not that I don’t get invited places. I just don’t want to go. I don’t want to be around happy people who love the holidays. However, I did tell my brother I would go to dinner with them for Thanksgiving this year.

So, where am I going with this? I know the answers. I know what I need to be doing. I just have to do them. I know I need to get out of the house more, but with the writing consuming me, it’s hard to get away from the computer. I realized this morning that with a tablet, I could go someplace to work. Yes, I’d still be working and still be on the computer, but being outside of this house would be good. I could go to a restaurant and find a corner to hang out for awhile when they aren’t busy. Most places have Wi-fi now so I could have access to my writing files which are in a cloud storage place.

I’ve been thinking about getting a tablet for awhile. I just need to make the time to get to Staples. Then, too, I’ll have to force myself out of the house. It’s easy to stay here, easy to stay home. It’s not good for me. It’s okay for a day, maybe two, but when it stretches into three and four… and I notice that the longer I stay home and inside, the harder it is to go out.

Yep, I need to balance the staying home with the going out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Revelation

It’s been eight months since my big journey south this past winter. Some of the reasoning for undertaking the trip was the need to get away from the New Hampshire winter, get out of the house, get away from grieving the loss of my mother, give myself something else to think about, and find and stabilize a life direction.

The adventure was exciting and I saw things I’d never seen before. There was fear and wonder. I visited many places and fit more in during those 33 days than in the past fifteen years and when I got home, I buckled down to put the experience into a book. Words cannot describe the intense joy that I felt over my discoveries and I was eager to share.

I never got a big revelation during the journey about my life’s direction. (Then again, I know it doesn’t really work that way.)  I simply delighted in each experience whether it was exploring a plantation or wild life refuge or feeling homesick and missing my kitty. I bowed down to writing when I got home knowing that it might take up to a year to finish the book. I was a little disappointed to not feel any great life-changing event, but such as it is. The months began to pass.

I ran into obstacles with the book. I had many questions and was finding few answers. I know what I wanted with the book, but was it reasonable? If I could pull it off, it would be amazing! Unfortunately, I had to be realistic and consider what such a book would cost. Then in mid-summer, I was dealt another emotional blow with the loss of my bestest best kitty. I was devastated and I floundered.

Bringing a new kitty into my life helped me move on. She distracted me from the grief and I was able to get back to the book. I decided to make changes and dealing with those set me back as I changed photos from color to black and white to save cost. The writing of the book itself is finished and now it’s about fitting the text from the 8 ½ x 11 MS Word document into a 7 x 10 Open Office template and inserting the photos and maps. It’s tedious and frustrating. I thought the hard part would be the writing. It’s not. It’s this other stuff. Plus I have to do Table of Contents and Lists of Photos and Maps.

In the meantime, I took on another project, another of photo and writing. Oh, yes, I realized I’d been bitten by the travel bug big time. So, now I have multiple books going on at the same time even before the first is completed. But, this is exciting. I am excited and inspired!

I still want to do my other art, the charcoal landscape drawings, but I AM foremost a writer and I always have been. I also realize that this new life direction isn’t really new. It’s been on my mind for a couple years. It’s just today it feels like I’ve been hit in the head with a board that THIS IS what I am meant to do! (Almost like a du’uh, I should have known.)

This has certainly been a year of learning about myself. I’ve become a better writer and the biggest thing is that I not only honed my writing style, but I’ve come to accept that this IS my style. It doesn’t matter about all the other writers who have gone on before me. I am not them and I cannot follow their styles. I am me. This is who I am. I have to be able to FEEL my writing and I want to bring that to my readers.

Today, almost eight months to the day I returned from the big adventure, it hit me; the light bulb went off. That trip south DID do what it was supposed to do! I am re-inspired about life. I have a life direction and this new big project WILL take the rest of my life. I’m excited about life again.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Consumed by Writing

“Writing consumes me in a way that no other form of art does.” – Sasha Wolfe

It’s interesting to reflect on how I approach the different aspects of my – talents. The three major components of my art life are writing, photography, and charcoal landscape drawing. Each one is very different although the photography and writing often blend in together.  

When I am working on a drawing, I have to walk away and forget it for awhile. I reach a point where I dislike the drawing and I fill with self-criticism over the work. I have to get away from it before I get so frustrated that I destroy it. Unfortunately, I sometimes leave it for too long, but I almost always go back and finish… eventually.

Photographs are always on-going between the editing and deciding what to do with picture. Those decisions play a part in how I edit. For instance, if the photograph is for the newspaper, the publisher likes to do her own editing so all I need to do is reduce the size for emailing and save it to 240 dpi. If I’m posting to Facebook, I edit and reduce, the size, and if I remember, add my Sasha Wolfe Fine Art & Photography line to it. I leave the dpi at 72. For regular prints, the editing will be determined by what I am printing and which printer it will be printed on. I am still able to easily go on to something else although I can get caught up in the editing and hours will pass.

But with writing… writing consumes me or I become the writing. The current topic stays with me and I’m almost living and breathing it. I relive the journey. I am constantly thinking about how I can improve the story or I’m coming up with more ideas to enhance the project. I think about doing more research or finding someone to interview. I wonder where to go next or how to arrange the individual articles. I think about the pictures; how many I can use and which ones are the best.

The thinking takes on a life of its own. I do more thinking than actual writing sometimes. My mind is working while I’m preparing lunch, doing dishes, or working on other projects. It creeps into my dreams. The writing is all I want to talk about and I have a number of writing projects going on at the same time.

This isn’t just with the current projects, but also fiction stories. Those stories also follow me like the vapor trails following an airplane. It’s like I can put myself in those stories and actually live what I am trying to write about. No matter where I go, the stories are there and at any moment, I can bring myself back to that point.

It’s hard to drag me away from the computer sometimes. I spend hours researching history segments to add to my current writing projects. I go over and over what I’ve written proofreading and editing. I cannot read the chapter without making changes. At this rate, I’ll never finish. But I will. I’m pushing myself.

Maybe this is why it feels like I have a built-in switch in my brain and by late afternoon, the switch is flipped to off and I cannot work anymore. Of course, this doesn’t mean I stop thinking. The thoughts just become more fragmented. I have to read or watch tv to get away from it. Then come 5 a.m. and the I am once more turned on to words and ideas. I want to write and write and even when the words won’t come, I still want to write.

It excites me, inspires me, and gives me a reason to live with joy.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Random Day Trip Project Update

I went off on my longest day trip since I started this project. I’ve dozens of stories I’ve written over the past years. I’m trying to pull some of them together while adding new ones. This is all while also working towards finishing the book of the past winter’s travels.

My mind always fills with questions. Today I am stuck with finding more information about the towns I visit or travel through. The internet only gives me small pieces usually through Wikipedia. A few towns have histories on-line, but the research is time consuming. It’s disappointing to spend a lot of time on the internet and not find any information.

My style of working is to do little planning in advance. I want to visit an area with as little pre-conceptions as possible. The trips are in exploration. I love the surprise of discovery. This is my own way at being an explorer and within the next few days afterwards, I try to dig up more information and history about the area. It’s funny because I always have the “Wish I had…” regrets, but a major part of these trips is about my spontaneity. If I stopped for everything that caught my eye to photograph, I couldn’t get very far.

So, no regrets, right? These are day trips and I can always go back for a second visit or if I pass through a place on my way to somewhere else, I can return there, too. That happened on this recent journey. I passed through three towns to which I want to return to highlight that area.

This is a learning process, and not just about the towns and areas. I’m stretching my mental boundaries, too. Each trip is teaching me to be a better writer. The irony, though, is in not going back and rewriting previous stories every time I get a “new” idea on how to improve the storytelling. If I keep going back and re-editing what’s already been written, I’ll never get anywhere and there’s still so much territory to cover.

This project is going to take my whole life. I may never get it all done.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Working Styles

This morning while doing my writing, a realization came to me. Oh, I have known this, but I often didn’t talk about this one aspect of how I work because… I was a bit ashamed to admit it. This realization came to the forefront while I was trying to figure out how to describe, after the fact, some of the sights that I’ve seen in my traveling and in my photography. How do I describe things for which I have no names?

My revelation is that I tend to get in, get out, and move on. I visit a place and only take time to scratch the surface. I take many photographs of what catches my attention in the moment. I don’t plan or study the situation.

Why do I feel guilty? Because most of the professional photographers I know take their time to study the light, plan their shots, and concentrate on preliminary work. The “real” writers spend hours researching an area and talking to locals.  I feel these types of people will look down on me if they know I zip in and zip out; that I do my work later in cropping and editing on the computer and doing a little research on the web for bits of history.

But why should I have to feel ashamed of my working style? I don’t have to. This is the way I work and I enjoy what I do. There’s nothing wrong with that. In further thinking about this and writing in my journal, it’s brought to the surface that my travel writing and photography styles are similar. After all, this is who I am; it’s how I work. Why should I expect one to be different from the other?

I visit a place and because there are so many other places I want to visit and so many miles to travel and because I limit myself to a few hours a day, I do tend to hurry. It’s who I am, how I work. Yes. I get so excited about what I see. I want to share this excitement and joy with everyone! I can’t wait to get home to write all about it and look at and edit the photos.

So many times, because I don’t always do preliminary research, I get to an area and don’t have the names for the flora and fauna. I get stuck on trying to describe something for which I have no names. But isn’t that what describing is all about? Hey, I’m a writer. It’s my job to describe, so why don’t I take the time?

One of the reasons I take a lot of photographs is to help me remember later what I saw. With digital photography, I can take the time for photos that won’t be used for prints and will only be used for reference.

Why am I struggling with descriptions in my writing? Why am I struggling to find words? Again, here’s an admission – I’m in too much of a hurry. I hurry to write the story without looking at the photos. I will edit the photos and sometimes put them with the writing, but at that point, I don’t take the time to look close at the photos to get down to that detail for writing better descriptions. By the time I’ve written the story draft, then proofread and edited a couple times, I’m ready for the next adventure. Like those adventures, the stories are “get in, get out, move on.” Not that the writing goes quick. I often spend hours writing one and that’s without trying to be more descriptive.

I envy those writers who have the ability to be wonderfully descriptive in their narratives. William Least Heat Moon in his book, Blue Highways, wrote beautiful descriptions of what he saw along U.S. back roads. Duncan Dayton followed the trail of Lewis and Clark in his book, Out West. Lewis and Clark certainly had to be descriptive in their traveling as white men had no names for what they discovered.

For the most part, I want my photographs to show what I saw. However, there’s a cost issue in putting numerous photos in a book with a lot of text. I have to be aware of the print costs, which means watching page counts and comparing the cost of color to black and white.

So, this is where I am today. I have six books in process at the moment. The big one is the adventure south that I took this past winter which is taking me months to write. Cost is one of the biggest issues with this book as I’ve had to re-vamp my original goal of having many colored photographs along with the story. I wanted to have the photos show what I saw along the journey, but no one would be able to afford to buy the book. Now I am removing most the photographs and the ones I’m keeping will be black and white. I do plan to do a color picture book sharing photos of the journey.

I am also working on another travel book, plus I have four other themed picture books in the works.

Am I crazy for taking on so many projects? Probably. BUT, I get such joy in sharing the wonderful sights I see from the beautiful scenery to animals and birds to run down buildings and more. There’s so much I want to see and do while I’m still able. I am in the later part of life and I want to celebrate the beauty around me. It’s said, “Stop and smell the roses.” I say, yes, that’s great, but also appreciate some of the other sights, too, like things that are rusty, things found on the ground, look up, look down and let yourself wonder.

Every day I look out my window and say, “How beautiful the countryside.” I want to share this beauty, this love of life and of what’s around me.

My working style is “get in, get out, and move on.” After all, there’s so much more to see and more adventures to undertake. Life is good!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Success Plans and How-to Books

I’ve never been one to follow written directions well. When I was younger and worked a “real” job, I always found it easier for someone to show me the process and let me take notes so the directions would be in “my” words. That is true for today, too.

In learning and developing my artistic talents, I’ve never taken many professional workshops. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t want my head stuffed with information I am not currently going to use. It’s a waste of time and money as what’s not used is often forgotten. (At least this is my belief.) So, when I need to know something, I find someone to teach me that little bit.

Today, there are many DIY (do it yourself) and how-to books out there. This is definitely a DIY world now and of course, all the ads make it look easy. It’s never easy for me and I wonder if others have troubles, too.

The latest how-to book I’ve read started out very well with explanations for some simple things like the importance of copyrights and the differences between ISBN and EAN numbers. There was even a list of terms and their meanings. However, as I got further along in the book, there were other terms used which I felt I should know, but didn’t. Then there are sections that don’t pertain to me or my project, but there was enough gray area and I sometimes couldn’t really tell. I began to wonder…

There’s a lot of money to be made in self-help and DIY books. There’s a big market for that now-a-days.
I began to wonder about some authors’ intent on writing these books. (And I don’t mean all, but some, if any… okay, maybe this is my own thinking and it comes from my trust issues.) People who work hard all their lives and come up through the ranks, so to speak, how willing are they to give away all their secrets? How many feel that as they worked for years to get where they are, why should others get a free pass?

On the other side of the coin, most successful people do want to share their expertise. But, by the time they are “professional,” how many of the steps have become so automatic that they don’t realize that some readers may not fully understand? There’s the terminology, too. The author knows exactly what he means and assumes that the reader will, too. Also, he doesn’t want the book to sound juvenile. He can’t assume the reader knows nothing because that’s a turn-off for those who know something.

Where’s the line? When I started working for the newspaper, I was told to “Write as if the reader knows nothing. Write as if writing for sixth graders.” Okay, that’s for a newspaper, but what about DIY books? Is it assumed that a person buying a DIY book knows something?

When I worked on a marketing plan for my charcoal drawings, I decided to write a step by step article on how I did the drawings and what tools and materials were used. It often occurs to me that most people have no clue about the processes of many artists. They assume that the artist picks up a pencil or paintbrush and just begins to work. They have no concept as to the amount of work that goes into the preparation; how much planning and study goes into the piece before the actual drawing or painting takes place.

Even hearing the first terms, people make assumptions; we all do it. For instance, I mention I do charcoal drawings and people assume I use pencils. (I do, but only a little in the very end for intricate detail.) Someone mentions they do watercolor paintings and most people picture those little watercolor sets we used as kids. A photographer is seen as someone who just takes snapshots, and in this digital world, she only has to download onto the computer and print. Some photographers still do darkroom work and again, most people do not fully understand what that means and the time spent in creating the perfect shot. Editing work on the computer can be very time consuming, too. Nothing is an easy, one, two, three, done process.

So, this week with my purchase of a DIY book about publishing a book, I have found more questions than what the book could answer. The author has been most generous in offering clarification, but even he cannot supply me with all the information I need for my project. (Leave it to me to start off with a huge, complicated piece of work.) What’s been most hard for him, I think, is that I needed explanations on terms that many people probably already know. It’s been frustrating for me because I think I should know. I’ve been a writer and photographer for years and I’ve been using the computer for years and yet, there’s still so much I don’t know, AND I have to understand the terms in my own words.

I am determined not to give up. Once I “get it,” I’ll have it down. I’ve been working on this project too long to let it fall by the wayside. Plus, learning this aspect will allow me to write and design more books. I already have another in the works. I’m excited about being able to do this all myself.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing Between Adventures

My brain is going 'round and 'round with ideas and things to do and project to finish and... Ughhhhh, breathe in, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, relax. I can't even think of the Open Studio Tour on September 21 and 22. I am so caught up in getting the book finished and putting my day trip stories together for the next book. I don't even have one book finished and the next one already has many chapters. Aiieeeee!

What's this doing to my other art projects? I do have printed photos ready to mat and there are two big drawings on the stand-up easels that had been started last year and there's two new ones in process on a table easel. There's the one I had considered finished before I went on my trip in January, but now that I look at it, I may work on it more. No, wait, I have to leave that one be and finish these others.

But what about my paperwork and filing? It's been piling up since the first of the year and I haven't made any effort in recording the information and putting the papers away. The only thing I have recorded this year has been mileage.

My mind is like a north-point needle and keeps going back to THE book. I can't get my questions answered. I know what I want to accomplish, but I don't know if it is feasible. What if I've spent all these months working on this and it turns out it's too expensive to print, let alone have anyone be able to buy it?

I want to go off on more day trip adventures. There's places I want to go, sites I want to visit, and people to meet. I want to explore old ruins and find where the trains once ran. I want to write about these adventures and take many photographs of my findings. I want to research history of the area and talk to residents.

But THE book has to be finished! I can't abandon it. I've put too much effort into it and there are people who are waiting to buy copies... if I can keep the price affordable.

This is so difficult. I am a person who works in-the-moment and I have to do things when I'm inspired or it all falls into the black hole of dreams-that-never-came-to-fruition. Right now I want to jump in the truck and head out, but I have an interview/adventure on the books for Friday, so I really need to stay in and get other work done today.

Oh, life is so fraught with decisions, ha ha. At least I am out of my funk and feeling good and excited about life again.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I have spent months working on my book with the goal to publish through, a division of amazon. I chose CS because of the better marketing opportunities through amazon. My last book was originally done through, but I had to do my own marketing – which meant I'd take the books to shows or sold to friends and people I'd meet. It looked like the CS design was similar with dropping text and photos into a template. I chose the size book I wanted and downloaded the corresponding CS template. I copied and pasted the first sections from MS Word to the template. Then came the hiatus in which I dealt with loss and grief, but I eventually got back to it. I have other books building inside me that need to be written. This one needs to get completed. I feel that if I don't finish this that I will be a loser for the rest of my life. I HAVE TO DO THIS!

For the most part, the writing of the book is finished. It's been edited and proofread a number of times. Nan, who helped with the editing, noticed a couple discrepancies in my math when recording the mileage of my trip. She also graciously drew maps for me. In my, what I was hoping would be, final read-through to correct the mileage errors, add the maps, and copy and paste each section into the template, Word started Auto Recovering every change I made and that was not quick. I'd be in the middle of something or trying to move back to the next chapter to do the final edit, and the template file would do an Auto Recovery. I have a lot of photographs in the book so this made the process and the wait long. Every time I added another section to the template, there would be a long wait. I was not even half way through loading onto the template and if it is this slow now, how would it be the further along I got?

I went to the CS website which I found confusing and I had difficulty finding answers. I finally went to the community forum and spent hours reading. Nothing seemed to fit exactly what I was doing, so I posted my first questions in a forum. I received answers, but they confused me further. I don't understand some of the terminology. For instance, what does it mean to “Format/Anchor the photo as a Character?”

The first thing I was told was to not use MS Word, but to download a free Open Office program, which I did. However, when I tried to copy and paste my Word docs with the photos to Open Office, the photos bled past the margins and I couldn't fix them. Further conversations ensued and I was given good advice, however, I became more confused. I was given formulas to figure out margins. I was told I could download a different template, but I'd have to re-configure the inside margins. What? How? Why? I'm even more confused. If templates are available, why would I have to re-do or re-format margins?

I was also confused about the pictures. When I edit and save, I often reduce the size for e-mailing and posting purposes and even though I do that, I can never seem to get it through my thick skull what exactly that means. I've asked often and I never seem to get an answer that clarifies it. If my photos are imported at 5184 x 3456, I'd reduce the size to 2592 x 1728. I also save any that I am going to print as 300 dpi.

So the next question is, what does this do for printing in a book that will be less than 8 ½ x 11 inches? Will these photos still be okay? Or do I have to go back and re-edit the original photo and save it in its full size, still at 300 dpi? The biggest a photo will probably be is 5 x 8 inches if that. One person said that I need to multiply width times length and divide by 300 to know what size the picture will print. Huh?

I spent time during the long weekend trying to decide what my next steps would be. Should I convert everything to Open Office? Should I re-do all the photos? (I have 187, not counting the maps which are also JPEGs in the book. The maps are full size.) During the time of decision, I figured I could keep working in Word and finish the text edit making sure I had the mileage correct and was consistent in the use of route and interstate where appropriate. However, Word kept going “unresponsive” and the program froze.

I was back on the forum after the weekend. I am unsure as to some of the terminology they are using. What I am deducing is that if you are doing a book with just text or having only a couple of pictures, it can be done in MS Word and the CS template used. However, if it's to be a book with a lot of photographs, then it needs to be done in Open Office and “printed” to a PFD creator. “Printed” in the term means created as a PDF file.
I've also come to the conclusion, which was also alluded to in the forum, that CS makes it sound easy, but they are really pushing the purchase of their various publishing services... which is not cheap. So, if you really want to do your own design work, other ways need to be found.

A decision needed to be made. I am so tired of MS Word crashing on me. Okay, so this means I have to remove the photos and maps from my text documents, then copy and paste the document to Open Office. Once that's all set to my liking, I can insert the photos and maps back into the document. I ordered the book one of the guys wrote on how to design a book using Open Office which gives step by step directions with pictures. I am hoping this will answer my questions about templates and photo sizes. He said he does a lot of book designs for people and it's expensive. I figure as I plan on doing more books, I should learn to do it all myself.

Like I need another project!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Portrait Photography

I've never considered myself much of a portrait photographer although I've taken some very good pictures of the kids and grandkids throughout the years. I've occasionally photographed others for one project or another and now, with my work through the newspaper, I am taking more people pictures.

The way I work isn't conducive to good portrait photography. When I go out on a photo shoot, whether for the paper or on my own, I carry as little as possible. The camera is slung over my neck and shoulder and a small notebook and pens are stuffed into my pockets. There isn't any lens changing or flubbing around with a tripod. I don't “set a scene” or use external flash. Seldom do I want my subjects looking at the camera. I prefer candid shots where I can capture a spontaneous moment. That means the photos I take are very in-the-moment and quick. I take dozens of pictures. The notebook comes out for jotting down names and comments. For me, it's like a treasure hunt because I don't know what I'm going to find when I sit down to do the editing. So, when the layers are finally peeled away and a wonderful picture is discovered, I am filled with joy and excitement.

A comment I often hear is, “I don't take a very good photograph.” I usually think that myself. Sometimes I have to convince people, and do so without being pushy. (After all, we are taught not to like our own image. How would cosmetic companies make money if we think we look good enough?) I never want to force people to do anything. But I also totally believe that there is beauty in everybody!

I am an artist! If the person is caught in the right moment, with the right expression on his face, and in an interesting light, the photograph can be beautiful. It may take many photos to get the right image. I love capturing the character in people's faces, especially older people. There is life in these pictures and story behind the expressions. These people have lived through thick and thin. They've experienced a lot. I am drawn in.

I tell people that I never keep a picture in which the person doesn't look good. I don't like goofy pictures or ones that are detrimental to the person. Many pictures are good enough for the newspaper, but every once in awhile, I'll get one in which I feel is a true work of art. I am fascinated. This leads to another side of the subject – permissions.

There are two types of work that I do. One is for the newspaper and the paper's Facebook page. The images are used within a short time frame and usually have to do with area events or interviews. Photos on news print paper are usually grainy and fine details are often lost. Facebook photos are posted at a lower dpi, so again, there is less detail. For these photos, I usually get verbal permission with names to be printed.

The second type of work is from an artist's standpoint. These photos may not be used right away. It may take a long time before I am ready to do a book of photographs or arrange a show of portraits. The quality of the paper on which these images will be printed will be higher allowing more detail and beauty. I will still need permission, but in these instances, the names of the people probably won't be used. It's more about the expressions and character in the face that draws my artist's eye with the pictures being given titles, not the person's name. It's not so much about that person as it is about the art of her expression.

I've done research on permissions and there are different views out there on how other photographers go about this topic, which I'm not going to go into here. For me, this is an issue of ethics. I don't like the thought that my picture is being taken without permission. I don't even like knowing that I am being photographed at traffic lights. I feel that's an invasion of privacy and it just feels wrong and intrusive! It certainly doesn't make me feel safe!

I want to honor other people's feelings. I want to show their beauty. My... problem... is when I'm in my shy modes I don't dare talk to people. I don't like getting in people's faces, and yet, I am intrigued by these pictures I am sometimes able to capture and for that, I need to ask. I feel I miss out on a lot when I don't dare approach someone. I'm getting better! I love what I do and when I can see awesomeness in a person's face, I am incredibly pleased. I want everyone to see that beauty.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughts from a Daily Reading

The daily reading from “365 Tao Daily Meditations” by Deng Ming-Dao struck home with me today:

“Chant one million times for world peace, they told me.
Pray three times a day to end all wars.
Practice austerities to liberate all living beings.
But the world’s miseries have never diminished.”

What a vivid vision that brings to me. I’ve often wondered how, with all the preaching that meditating and chanting will bring about world peace, why the world is in such chaos.

I myself, in many aspects, try to pull back from the world. It saddens me and I’ve said this often. I know it’s important to know what’s going on in the world, but for some of us, to immerse ourselves in having that misery put in our faces on a daily basis is detrimental to our well-being. Negativity breeds negativity and the constant barrage of the horrors going on the world is too much to handle. The more terrible things that are publicized, the more terrible things seem to happen.

Okay, maybe they’d be happening anyway, but when the news is so full of this kind of content, what does that do to people’s psyches? What hope for goodness is there when the news is mostly about terror and the horrible things that happen? It is one thing to report the news, but it seems the media just goes on and on about it. They don’t let up and even get into the faces of grieving people. Maybe for some people, reading about the terrible things that happen to other people makes them feel better about their own lives.

For me, there’s a difference between news and personal privacy. Perhaps I’m choosing to wear rose-colored glasses, but I want my life to be surrounded by more positivity. To have that constant barrage of negativity feeds fear and fear creates more horrors and brings disease to the physical body and mind. People start feeling desperate and when they get desperate… So, I choose to stay away from the news and negativity.

To go back to today’s reading, Ming-Dao said “What you do with your daily devotion is purely for your own sake. Once you put your ideals on a grand scale, they are compromised by the contradictions of life.”

There’s a part of me that agrees with that. In my own prayers and such, I start small, with myself and my family, and expand it out to include friends, acquaintances, community, town, area, state, etc. However, it’s hard to think that my daily devotion is only for my own sake. Maybe it’s because we are taught that to think of ourselves is selfish.

There’s also a part of me that doesn’t believe that “I” can change the world. What right do I have to try to force others to believe as I do? I am sorry that there is so much horror in the world. Heck, I don’t like to know there are bad things that happen in my own community. But, I don’t believe that I have the right to make changes to others. All I can do is try to keep my life and what’s around me in a positive light.

I think it’s wonderful that there ARE those out there who really try to make a difference in the world. I commend those who devote their time and money to helping others on a large scale. There are many more of us, though, that spend our lives on a lower level. I choose a smaller community and here I shall do what I can by trying to be the best person, a good person, that I can be.

Ming-Dao ended with, “There is no utopia. There never will be. There is only the valiant attempt of each person to live spiritually in a world where spirituality is almost impossible.” 

That sounds sad, but all you have to do is read history books, (not necessarily the history they taught us in school) biographies, or see programs dedicated to “real” history to know that issues of today are similar to those that peoples have dealt with for centuries. The world and population have grown, but evil, greed, and corrupt power have kept warfare alive forever. There are always those who will try to control others.

Oh, I could easily go off on another bent, but I’ll end with another saying:

 “Evil done in the name of goodness is still evil.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Negative Comments and Art Critique

I love being an artist. I love being able to follow my heart’s passions in creativity. I believe we all have an artist in us and it’s just discovering what path that inner artist wants to take.

Look at the talent out there; painters, sculptors, woodworkers, blacksmiths, photographers, and jewelers along with those who work in fabric, drawings, glass, and more. For some people, their art lies in their homes in decorating or even in how they clean their house. Others turn their yards into beautiful gardens. There are those who like to build things or tinker with machines. No matter where people’s passions lie, there is talent. They love what they do.

One thing I have a hard time understanding about people, and I see it happen all the time, is that some artists or tradesmen feel they have to put others down. I am uncomfortable when someone picks apart the work someone else has done. Does that make them a better artist to find fault with other’s work? Who are they trying to convince? Are they trying to convince a customer to buy their work instead of the next guy’s? Are they trying to make themselves feel better? And to make it sound like their way is the only true way is also a put down to others.

Not everyone is up to “League Standards” (that’s League of NH Craftsmen) although there are those out there who believe that people who do not meet that criteria aren’t “real” artists. There are those who believe that plein air is the only way to paint, that working from photographs and solely in a studio is wrong. There are those who look down their noses at other artists and will make sarcastic comments like, “That’s not Fine Art.”

Yes, we need to believe in our art, promote our art and try to make sales, but does it help by finding fault with other artists? Yes, it’s important to show passion for what we do and with so many talented artists out there, it is tough. BUT, it’s important to do what you enjoy. What right do we have to find fault with someone who is passionate about their art?

Maybe I’m too sensitive. I am often told, “Artists need the hide of an armadillo,” but I also believe sensitivity can be part of the creativity. Maybe it’s my stand against bullying because of my experiences when I was in elementary and high school. Finding fault with artists feels like bullying to me. As a sensitive and an artist, it doesn’t take much to rip the rug out from under me.

For instance, last year I received some negative critique on my drawings. I was devastated and could not even stand to look at my drawings for months because I kept seeing what they saw. Yes, some of those comments will make me a better artist, BUT those words sucked all the joy out of me. I love drawing and it makes me so happy to finish a piece. To have that happiness crushed was horrible. What a terrible thing to do to someone. If the goal is to help someone improve, how could that critique have been given in a more positive way? It’s been almost a year and I still haven’t finished another drawing. I’m not giving up, but it’s been hard to get back on that horse. What right did they have to kill something that made me so happy?

How necessary is it? Don’t tell me that negative critique will make me stronger. Yes, it probably does, but is it really necessary? Negativity breeds negativity. Do we really need to find fault with one another? Who does that really benefit?

That said, I can be honest and say there is a lot of art out there that I don’t care for, but I can still allow that the piece is a work of art. Sometimes I will look at a painting and wonder what the artist was thinking. I may not like it, but there’s a part of me that also wants to understand. I can allow that artist the right to his own creativity. My opinions don’t make the artist. If it’s in her heart, she IS an artist and I have no right to take that away from her, nor would I want to.

I was at a gallery not too long ago and I didn’t like the work on the walls. The artist happened to be there and as I asked about his work and listened to him explain his techniques; I was fascinated by his process. We had an enjoyable conversation. I still didn’t care for his work, but I walked away feeling really inspired and happy. Art isn’t just about what’s hung on the walls. The artists put part of their souls into the work.

I love that there are so many forms of art and feel blessed to be around talented people. I am fortunate to have artistic friends. It’s important for artists to support one another. There’s camaraderie, something in an artist’s make-up, an understanding that other people cannot grasp. Artists are a breed unto themselves.

For me, it’s not about the particular art, technique, or style. After all, we are free thinkers and we don’t have to like everything that others do. It’s about supporting the creative process and finding out what goes on inside an artist for her to be able to do her art. To fully celebrate art, we must encourage one another in whatever creative process drives us. We don’t have to personally like the art. It’s about the artist and the creativity.

This all said, we need to reconsider what we say when we talk about our work and others’ work. What is the point of negative comments? What and who do they serve? Wouldn’t it be much better to make note of all the positives? I would much rather hear an artist talk about his process and his joy about doing his work than for him to be pointing out the negatives of the work in the next booth. I want to hear her expound on her passion for how she works. That is so inspiring! It makes me want to run home and be creative… never to do what they do, but to follow my own desires.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Monday, August 19, 2013

I haven’t taken time to meditate in a very long time. This morning, I ran out of things to write in my journal before 6 a.m. and as it was still too early to go downstairs (or I don’t want to go downstairs this early,) I decided to stay where I was and do a little meditation.

I sat up straighter, (instead of being hunched over the notebook) relaxed my body, and allowed my breathing to deepen. I chose to use a mantra to quiet the mind.  I relaxed further and my body filled with white light. It still works in spite of not having done this in a long time!

Over the mantra and with the further relaxation, I realized how tense I was on the inside.  It dawned on me that I’ve been this way been for the past month and more. As the tension released, the abdominal pains I’ve been having lately lessened. I realized that the pain has been because my stomach has been constantly in knots from grief and worry. It was like I’ve been holding myself tight against further hurt and that, in turn, caused my innards to stay in a state of constant tension. Remaining tight like that causes physical ailments.

The same thing can be said about my heart. The sorrows of the past few years have not been fully dealt with and I continue to hold barriers in my heart against further hurt. That, in turn, helps create physical issues and pain. Again, there’s this holding firm, afraid to move – forward and to let go. And when there is no movement…

The entire body moves and breathes and when parts are held tight, disease sets in. Every part of the body needs to breathe and move. Most movement is subtle, but there needs to be that allowance to expand and contract. If the body is held in tension, the parts turn brittle. It’s like a tool that turns rusty from disuse. This is one of the reasons why exercise is important and it doesn’t matter how strenuous the work out; going outside for a simple walk “gets the juices flowing.”

My Healing Tao training taught me how to be more… in tune… with my inner being. I’ve learned various meditations; for relaxation, dealing with emotions, and enhancing good health.  Tai Chi brings physical movement to meditation in which every organ, system, and energy pathways in the body are worked. Learning these techniques was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself!

I know all this and yet, most of the time, I choose to continue to sit and worry and feel sad. No wonder I’m having physical pain! I no longer do Tai Chi unless I am teaching and I haven’t taught since last summer. Tai Chi is the most amazing thing you can learn to do for yourself, but I don’t take the time. I make the choice to spend almost the entire day at the computer. I have got to change!

Anyone want to learn Tai Chi?