write picture.jpg

So I guess I pretty much took July off.

I didn’t plan to, but you know what they say about plans? Well, they’re right.

We had a little health situation in my family around Memorial Day weekend. Everyone is fine now, but it was definitely a reality check. The immediate aftermath was a little like if you were to take everything that you’d been thinking about and working on and toss it up in the air and just stand there, waiting and watching while it all flutters about and lands wherever it’s going to land.

We’ve been sorting through the stuff that landed here and there, putting it all back into some kind of order, finding our footing. It’s going to be OK, and I’m starting to get back on track.

Next on the agenda: Get back to writing. Laser focus. No more procrastinating.

So last week, packing to go out of town for a work training, I thought it would be good to take some writing books with me. One of the books was given to me a few years ago by my husband. I’d forgotten that when he gave it to me, he included a lovely note – that’s what the picture above is – telling me how much he’d liked this particular book when he first found it, and encouraging me to read it. And to write. Generous and supportive, and the picture on the front of the note was exactly the sort of thing I love.

“So do it,” he said. “You know, write.”

And I will. Next week I am running away from home, hiding out in a cabin in some woods. Just me and my computer. My only job the whole time will be to write. I hope – no, I plan to finish the book I started last year during NaNoWriMo, and to play around with some other stuff, and to get my feet firmly back under me.

Wish me luck. And good luck to you, too – with your plans, and with everything else.



(Stretching the definition of a challenge? Me? I suppose so, but I promise that my focus and intent are quite narrow.)

Posted in Challenges, Miscellany, Stories | 8 Comments

Look Up


Posted in response to the WP Photo Challenge Look Up, this is what I saw one day when I looked up at the sky from the parking lot of my veterinarian’s office. Apparently there is a perfectly logical explanation for this kind of cloud formation, and it doesn’t have anything to do with spaceships. I don’t remember anything about the logical explanation, though, because I prefer to imagine that it was a spaceship. Maybe some day I’ll get the real answer.

Posted in Challenges, Photography | 3 Comments

Mary Ellen Mark


Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) was an award-winning American photographer and photojournalist who specialized in photographing people, particularly those on the fringes of society. She worked for major magazines (Life, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the New York Times) as well as doing portraiture, advertising and unit photography for numerous major motion pictures. The 1984 documentary film Streetwise (directed by her husband, Martin Bell), grew from ‘Streets of the Lost,’ a Life Magazine assignment to photograph Seattle street children. The material was later used for a 1988 book, also called Streetwise, and several later projects that followed up on the children in both ‘Streets of the Lost’ and Streetwise.

Mary Ellen Mark 2

Her work is by turns glamorous and profoundly troubling – particularly the photos of street people, children, and the dispossessed. When you have seen her work, the word that comes to mind is ‘unflinching,’ which is to say that while you might flinch, she never did.

Mark, in her own words:

  • “I feel an affinity for people who haven’t had the best breaks in society. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence.”
  • “I just think it’s important to be direct and honest with people about why you’re photographing them and what you’re doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul.”

You can find photos by Mary Ellen Mark here and here, and here you will find a 2012 interview with Mark and Martin Bell, re-published after her death in 2015, that includes photographs and clips from Streetwise.

(Top photo via Waterjunebug via wikipedia. Middle photo via Devyn Caldwell via Flickr.)


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Taken today, using my phone, under the kind of overcast sky that can make statues look like they are glowing. Posted in response to the WP photo challenge Partners.

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On the Hill, Behind a Door(way)

Today I bring you a few pictures, including several doorways, one door, a bunch of rubble, and a sad story.

Just as I have mentioned that I have a soft spot for urban decay, there is also something about a building in the process of being demolished that is  fascinating to me – especially older buildings. (Here’s another one.)
Don’t get me wrong, I take no pleasure in the demolition of a building that could (should) have been saved. But what is revealed in the process of demolition can be remarkable and weirdly beautiful. 
It’s a chance to see inside a building that you might otherwise never have seen. And it’s not just the stuff you would have seen if you had gone inside when it was still whole and functional. 


If you catch the demolition on the right day, at the right time, you can also see the structure, bits and pieces of how it was put together when it was originally built, as well as subsequent additions and changes.

The foundation is visible, you can look under the floors, you can see inside jagged broken walls, look at plaster and lathe and brick and tile and twisted rebar and everything. (If you don’t get chased away. )
There is also something about these places that appeals to the little kid me, the kid in thin, cheap sneakers and dirty shorts with nothing to do but explore.
This is a kid who is brave enough to climb around in a pile of demolition debris, who can see worlds in the empty spaces and piles of brick and lumber. 
She can imagine all kinds of adventures in a place like this, which could be anything because it has stopped being what it was. This kid who loves the disorder and chaos of it all – she will spend the whole day here, if she can. 
The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that there is another reason why a building that’s on it’s way to oblivion is so compelling to me. Looking at these spaces, the way they are halfway here and halfway gone, is like looking at something out of a dream, or a fairy tale.
Take, for example, a door, freestanding, almost floating, with nothing around it. It’s slightly surreal, like something magical and maybe a little scary could happen if you go through.
Snapping back to reality, it’s worth noting that the recent history of this particular building – a church, built around the turn of the century – is very sad, and the saddest part is what happened to it over the course of several years. 
It was owned by someone who didn’t live in the area and was not up to the task of owning an old church. Neighborhood people and preservationists tried to save it, but it ultimately succumbed to death by a thousand cuts. First was a series of demolitions, intended to save what could be saved (therapeutic demolition, a term I had never heard before) and then they just took down what was deemed beyond saving. Which was everything.  
The church bell was saved. Today, it’s a vacant lot.
(Posted in response to last week’s WP Discover Challenge – The Story Behind a Door – this is a variation on something that I posted in 2011, at another blog, in another life.)
Posted in Challenges, Photography, Stories | 5 Comments

Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier exhibit 1

Like many people, I first heard about photographer Vivian Maier around 2010. This is when photographer John Maloof started posting her pictures online and they – and her story – began to go viral. Some six years, five books, two documentaries, countless news stories and dozens of exhibitions later, her work and her story are no less fascinating.

Maier was a photographer who shot literally tens of thousands of pictures over the course of about 50 years, but whose work was entirely unknown until after her death in 2009. Now referred to primarily as a street photographer, from the 1950s through the 1990s her subjects included landscapes, street scenes, as well as portraits and candid (likely even surreptitious) photos of both people she knew and strangers on the street. She also made audio recordings and shot 8mm film.

Vivian Maier exhibit 2

She worked as a nanny, and was a very private person who does not seem to have been well known even by those who did know her. Virtually nobody saw any of her photographs during her lifetime. Towards the end of her life, she had shot an astounding number of photographs and accumulated a huge quantity of prints, negatives, and undeveloped film canisters. She rented space where she stored boxes and suitcases filled with her work, but at some point became unable to pay the rental fees, and the boxes and suitcases containing her work were sold at auction.

John Maloof, Jeffrey Goldstein and others have brought her work to the public eye, and other researchers have tried to learn more about her life and her history. For now, what is best known is a significant sample of her remarkable body of work. Unfortunately, I was unable to get permission to include any of her images here, but for those who are interested, I encourage you to click here and here to see some of her work. It really is quite remarkable. You can also get information on the documentaries that were made about her here and here.


(Photos top and middle by Thomas Leuthard via Flickr, taken at the exhibit Vivian Maier – A Life Uncovered)

(Under the heading of ‘Better Late Than Never,’ I am also going to include a pingback to last week’s WP Discover Challenge, Analog, because Vivian Maier was most definitely of the analog world. Can you imagine what she might have done with a digital camera in her hands?)

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White Flowers

white flowers

So, two-thirds of the way through my month of photography, and what have I learned?

Well, about my own photography, I’ve learned a few things:

  1. My new (old) camera isn’t great. It isn’t terrible, but it’s not great*. I can get some decent shots with it – like the white flowers above – but more often than not, it’s just not up to the job.
  2. My hands aren’t as steady as I would like. This is particularly true in low-light and/or high-speed situations.
  3. My eye isn’t as good as I would like. This is one of those ‘practice, practice, practice’ situations, and I haven’t given up.
  4. On the plus side, I’ve become less inhibited about taking pictures when I see something interesting or beautiful or cool.
  5. It’s an easy thing to forget, but in some ways taking the pictures is the easy part. Sorting through what you have, selecting, cropping, and mourning the missed shots can take much longer.

In the course of researching famous photographers, I have also learned a few things:

  1. The paths that noted photographers take are often indirect. For instance, Man Ray started using photography to document his other work, and then began to embrace it as an art form on his own merits.
  2. The ability to view your pictures as you take them can be both a blessing and a curse. Photographers using film cameras had one job – to shoot. Now you can see whether you got ‘the shot’ immediately, which is great, but at the same time it can be difficult to refrain from critiquing your work as you are doing it. And we all know how rough that can be.
  3. Everyone has their thing, the thing that they are really good at, the subjects that really speak to them. Those are the shots that sing.

So. I’ll be posting about at least two other photographers before the month is out, and I will post at least a few more of my own photos.

I’m also working on a plan to get my hands on a better camera, and will continue to take more pictures, and try to develop my eye. And I will continue to seek depth and inspiration from the work of other photographers.

And how is June going for you?


* It turns out that the resolution on my phone is about twice as good as the resolution on my camera. Isn’t technology amazing?


ETA – I forgot the pingback to the WP photo challenge, which this week is curve. Because the flower petals are curved. And, you know, the learning curve. So curve. Yeah. Curve.  (It’s possible that I need a nap.)

Posted in Images I love, Photography | 8 Comments

Brandon Stanton: Human

Brandon Stanton 2

Brandon Stanton. Photo by Jorge Quinteros via Flickr.

If you are familiar with Humans of New York, then you know the work of Brandon Stanton. The concept is (deceptively) simple: A series of photographs of people he sees on the streets of New York, along with the stories they tell him.

The history and evolution of Stanton’s project is well documented. What started in 2010 as a plan to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers has morphed into a cultural and philanthropic and, I would argue, humanitarian force. With over 17.5 million followers on Facebook, 4.7 million on Instagram, and over 426,000 on Twitter, Stanton’s reach is remarkable. His scope has extended well beyond New York, as well, photographing people in – among other places – Iran, India, Mexico, Ukraine, and Kenya.

Stanton’s influence can also be measured in philanthropic dollars, in funds raised to benefit schools, refugees, hurricane survivors, bonded laborers and pediatric cancer research, to name just a few beneficiaries of Stanton’s work – and his followers’ generosity.

It can also be seen in the numerous imitators (Humans of India, Humans of Amsterdam, Humans of San Antonio, Humans of Edinburgh, Humans of Seoul, and Humans of Vilnius to name a few) and parodies (Orcs of New York, Goats of Bangladesh, Pigeons of Boston) that have sprung up.

All this from the simplest of concepts: Walk up to someone on the street, ask if you can take their picture. Talk to them about their life. Get their story. Share.

Brandon Stanton

Stanton at work. Photo by Nathan Congleton via Flickr.

These stories can be funny, or sweet, or they can be heartbreaking or confusing. They are often a mix of all of these things, of course, because we all are, and our lives are.

Stanton is known for treating his subjects with tremendous respect, and following stories through – like when he interviewed a young man named Vidal, who said that the person he most admired was the principal at his school. The story led to the young man’s school, to his principal, who had her own compelling story, and ultimately to an online fundraiser that helped the school pay for field trips and summer programming and establish a scholarship fund for kids in a struggling Brooklyn neighborhood.

Ultimately, Brandon Stanton’s work is a testament not just to the power of photography, but also to the power of storytelling, the power of sharing, and the power of recognizing the dignity and humanity in everyone whose path we cross.

Posted in Photography, Stories, Videos | 9 Comments

Pure Function: Coal Chute

coal chute

It calls itself Majestic, but I say there are not too many things as purely functional as a coal chute.

On Friday (I think) when I looked up the theme for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge and saw that it was Pure, my initial reaction was excitement. It seemed like a word you could do a lot with. And then this weekend happened.

So I found myself struggling with the idea of Pure, and with finding an image that spoke to me. The weekend’s events in Orlando, and LA, and … well, not much is feeling very pure now, at least not in a good way.

And then I hit on the idea of pure function. Pure functions have a special meaning in math and computer science, but that’s not where I am with this. Where I am is somewhere more like feeling that sometimes, when times are troubling, it may be best to go back to the basics, the things that keep us going day to day. Love, hope, peace, determination. Function over form, if you will.

My family and I will be attending a vigil tonight for the people who were killed and injured in Orlando over the weekend. We will bring love and try to find peace and hope and determination. I wish peace and hope and love and determination to you, too.

(Posted in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge, pure theme.)

Posted in Challenges, Photography | 1 Comment

Spreading Sunshine


Well, this has taken longer to pull together than expected, but then again, what doesn’t? Life is life, all delightful and messy and complicated, but we do eventually get there, don’t we? Or at least we get somewhere. Usually.


Last week I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award, which is a fun way for one blogger to reach out to another. The way it works is this:

1 – You answer the (usually 11) questions are sent to you, then
2 – You nominate some (usually 11, but not in this case) other bloggers, and finally
3 – Present your nominees with questions (again, usually 11) of your own devising.

So here goes. And big big thanks to DMG Byrnes for nominating me.


Part One, questions from DMG to me:

  1. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, do you enjoy the movies?

I am a huge Harry Potter fan, and I love the books and the movies. My family jokes that the only movies I ever want to watch are Harry Potter movies. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, it’s funny because it’s true. The movies are like comfort food to me. That said, I have read each of the books at least three times, and I’ve read the first four in Spanish.

  1. Do you have a preference for hard copy books or ebooks?

Definitely hard copy books. E-books are great if you are traveling or otherwise want to have a bunch of books with you without causing back strain, but for day to day reading, holding a real book in your hands can’t be beat. For one thing, I’m constantly flipping back and forth between pages, which can be hard to do with an e-book.

  1. Do you have a story you want to write but keep putting it off for some reason? If so, why?

I have several. Time constraints are one reason, and a cluttered brain is another. Some weeks and months are easier than others. If I’ve had a particularly productive month, like when I did National Novel Writing Month or Camp NaNo, the subsequent month is usually not so hot, because of all the catching up I have to do in other areas of my life. Also, of course, there is the fear of not getting the things that have been bouncing around in my head right when I put them on the page.

  1. How long have you been blogging?

Off and on for about five years, but more seriously since last year – and with my current blog, really only a few months. (There has been a lot of trial and a lot of error, but I’m working on it.)

  1. How do you deal with self-doubt?

Mostly I try to ignore it. I know that most everyone experiences it, no matter how talented or competent they are. Some are able to push through, while others don’t. I try to be one of the ones that push through.

  1. Have you been to a writer’s conference? Or do you plan to soon/this year?

Not yet. Maybe in 2017.

  1. Do you have a favorite hat? If so, what is it?

I don’t wear hats, except in the dead of winter. When it’s really cold out, my favorite hat is the warmest one I can find.

  1. What is one writing (or other) goal you’ve set and met so far?

Completing National Novel Writing Month last year. I didn’t finish the book, but it’s about 2/3 done, and I know what comes next. The trick is finding the time and peace to actually do it. (See #3 above.)

  1. What is your favorite medium of visual art? (painting, sketch, sculpture, photo, etc.)

As an artist, probably photography. I’m hopeless at anything else, which has always made me sad. As a fan, it would be hard to pick a favorite – I guess I love them all equally.

  1. You’re leaving the house for the day and are bringing a bag of things you need/stuff to do. What are 5 things you’re definitely bringing. (Assume no catastrophe, just a day away from your home/working area).

My bullet journal, my pack of multicolored pens, my phone, sunglasses if it’s daytime, and a book if I there’s a chance I’ll have any down time. And my keys. Is that six?

  1. Name something on your bucket list.

I don’t have a bucket list per se, but have often said that if I did, seeing the Northern Lights would definitely go on it.


Part Two, My Nominees:

I hereby officially nominate the following folks, whose blogs are definitely worth a visit:

Allison Howard
Kim Bailey Deal
Marge Cutter
A Marie Silver
Charity Rau
Ally McCormick

Part Three, My Questions:

  1. Do you have a motto, or a quote that you try to live by?
  2. How is being an adult different from what you expected?
  3. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
  4. Is there anything you are bad at – really bad at – that you enjoy doing anyway?
  5. Plotter, pantser, or something in between?
  6. What do you remember most vividly about your childhood?
  7. What is the most unusual thing about your blog?
  8. What one thing would you grab (aside from people and pets) if there was a fire?
  9. When did you know you were an adult?
  10. Where was your last vacation?
  11. Did you notice that these questions are in alphabetical order?


And if you are reading this and want to answer my questions, please do!


(Sunshine photo via Brandon Schauer via Flickr.)

Posted in Miscellany | 2 Comments