Personal work

Welcome (Back) to Texas: Some Portraits

Most of the time I’m not sure if it’s Texas that I miss so much, or just the people who live there (or who used to live there, back when I did). It’s probably some sort of combination of the two; I have yet to figure out the proportions.

Anyway, part of the reason my pre-job vacation was as fantastic as it was was the simple fact that I got to see said people…some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost three years (see: Anishka, first photo). Reunions are the best. [note: these are not ALL of the wonderful people I visited. that would make for a very, very long blog post…]

Not a portrait per se, but I like this picture a whole lot.

New Eye Day!

This is me, 22 years ago!

The photo was taken the day I got my very first fake eye. I didn’t get another one until I was nine. And after that, I went fifteen years without a change. So it had been a while.

But I have a new one now! I went to my ocularists in Boston today, and decided I wanted to take photos during my appointments (Joyce and Kurt probably thought I was crazy). I actually made a job profile video of the eye-making process (at an office in St. Louis) for Picture Story, but a) the video is not very good at all and b) I wasn’t a patient then.

I usually don’t like turning the camera on myself; it makes me feel like a serious egomaniac. But I really wanted to show this process the way I experience it, not the way somebody doing an actual Journalistic Story would shoot it…so l didn’t ask to go watch some parts of the process just to photograph them (if you’re curious, you can watch the bad video), because that’s not what I would do during a regular appointment. All of the photos were taken while I was sitting in my chair watching the magic happen (except the last one, which I took just outside of the office (hence the odd lighting)).

Joyce and Kurt made the new eye by building around the first one, so I went without for a while (got to walk around with a badass patch on when I went to get coffee). It is a very strange sensation, like the feeling you have when you lose a tooth and that gaping space is left behind.

They didn’t have books like “Monocular Max” when I was a kid. I feel old.

I’m still deciding how I feel about this eye.

The old one used to be a bit too small for the socket; it would get all squinty, and my glasses prescription was adjusted so that my useless left lens has a magnifier in it to make the eyes look more balanced. Now that I have a larger eye, it looks huge through my glasses (then again, I’m probably the only person who notices these things). Time to get a new prescription, I guess!

Also, the toning on a couple of these images is driving me crazy. I’ve given up for the time being, but will probably update later when I get the color balances more in sync.

My Favorite Holiday

We spent Thanksgiving in Napa with my sister-in-law’s family. For Molly and Liza, my nieces, this meant Thanksgiving with four grandparents, one auntie, and Mommy and Daddy. I hope they’ll remember the day as just as wonderful as I thought it was. If nothing else, they’ll at least remember the key lime pie!

Here’s what I’m thankful for:

when the man comes around

This blog post has very little to do with photography. Also, it is very long.

This has not been an easy week.

On January 15, my knee was hit by a car when I was crossing the street near my house. It wasn’t a hard hit and I walked it off, only to decide for going to the ER an hour later, because the knee was swelling and stiffening up. I had an avulsion fracture; the outer ligament had pulled away from the joint, taking a small chip of bone with it.

On Monday, nine days after my knee had been hit, we went to the MU Orthopedic Clinic to check up on everything. The swelling had gone down a remarkable amount; I could see the bumps of my kneecap again, and the bruising had faded away.  I went to get an MRI to double check the injury, and was told that nothing adverse had happened to my other ligaments–my ACL and PCL, which was what I had been worried about. The joint had been pushed in a little bit, but not enough that it too wouldn’t heal up.

I left the MRI place amazed by the resilience of my body and how well it was healing. I knew the initial hit could have been infinity times worse than it had been, but I liked the idea of my knee holding up to the titan of the SUV that hit me. We were winning, somehow. Man over machine.

And as I was in this state of mind, marveling at the intricacies that would heal my knee and get me back to 100 percent again, the intricacies that kept my grandfather’s heart going failed him. He was seventy-one, two and a half months shy of his birthday.

I thought of death as a process. My great-grandparents had passed away after months and years of slowly fading. There was no shock there. They were nonogenarians. That, I thought, was when people were supposed to move on. It made sense.

(my cousin, not me)

Nothing about this makes sense. In the back of my head I know that life is transient and apt to flame out without warning. And I know that my Papa was far from being in the best of health. But it makes no sense in my brain. I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth when I called my best friend, the family’s honorary granddaughter, to tell her, and finally choked them into the receiver. I felt wrong saying ‘passed away’. There was no slow, gentle passing here, no softening of the blow. There was no other term for it but the worst and harshest, and this was the one that didn’t make sense to me. Papa died. It doesn’t even make sense written out. It makes me cry when I see it and when I say it.

The rational part of me knows how lucky I am, because for some people grandparents are ancillary characters in the play of life. Maybe they send a birthday cards or come for the occasional holiday.

But I had twenty-three years of my grandfather believing in me and supporting me in everything I did. How can you doubt anything when your grandfather tells you with ultimate certainty in his voice that everything’s going to work out?  That nagging hole of self-doubt that drove me crazy on a regular basis was always temporarily filled when I talked to Papa. His security became mine. I believed in me because he did. Of course I had other support systems, my parents chief among them, but somehow it was different hearing encouragement from Papa.

He took me to my first and only NFL game, when Jake the Snake still played for Arizona, and to my first…and second…and third…and so on…basketball games. We saw Barkley, Stockton, and Malone, and Shaq when he was a Laker. We saw Nash duke it out against Chris Paul, and we saw the Gorilla catch serious air as he dunked the ball between quarters.  We went to a few Diamondbacks games when my vacations actually lined up with baseball season, and started going to spring training games two years ago. My parents went with Papa to see Michael Jordan play baseball in the minors. I wish I’d been at that game, but I was young and opted for staying home to play and to read my new books we had just bought at the Narnes and Boble in town.

He played a mean game of Monopoly and never let me or my cousins win. We had to earn it. He played Monopoly Junior with me for a few years, patiently sitting through the easy version until I could make it in the big leagues. His strategy was the same in each game, which didn’t stop him from bankrupting everybody anyway. It got to be a longer process when we got older, but, for the most part, ended the same way.

He took us to the Phoenix Zoo more times than I can count, and last spring, when I visited for spring break, we went back again, just the two of us, for old-times sake. We spent extra time at the coatimundi exhibit–my favorite–and at the Arabian oryxs–his favorite. He introduced me to Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, and listened happily when I told him about seeing Chuck Berry in concert. He drank Diet Coke, described tofu as tasting like bathing cap, and still made sure I had Tofurkey when I visited for Thanksgiving.

But there was always the problem of he and my stepgrandmother living in Arizona, far away from the rest of us. For years, my aunt and her family lived in Seattle and visited often. They moved to New England when my own family did, and suddenly everybody but Papa and Kathy was on the East Coast. My cousins and I didn’t have the flexible schedules we’d had before. Arizona vacation times trickled off.

We went to Cape Cod instead.

I could fill a Joycean-length book writing about Cape Cod. It was Papa and Kathy’s idea, and it pulled us, all of us, into one place for two weeks, and then, when houses got more pricey, just the seven days–but the length didn’t really matter so much as the event itself. Cape Cod pulled us together with my great-aunt and second cousins, and made my best friend an unofficial Ashe cousin. It was family time.

My Papa was far from being a perfect person. But I couldn’t focus too much on the flaws because I got stuck thinking about my high school graduation and my college graduation. Papa came to both, and he came despite his ex-wife, my grandmother, being there too. They both put aside their decades-long differences to be there, and they would have done it again this summer when my oldest cousin graduated from her high school, and again in two years, and three years when the other girls graduated. I felt so special, loved, and important on those days. My cousins were cheated out of that feeling. It’s frustrating to think about, and starts the tears up again every time.

He talked to us about our futures and what we were going to do with our lives, or at least with the next few years. Cape Cod meant long discussions on the porch or at the kitchen table about colleges and choices. He was genuinely curious about our lives, and asked questions a journalist would be proud of. There was authority behind his voice, the authority that comes with age, but he trusted us to know enough to make our own decisions about everything and anything.

Sometimes he just told stories. I liked those the best. I wanted to tell stories, too.

Seventy-one is young. It’s too young, too young by about ten years. Maybe in some cases this isn’t so, maybe sometimes you expect the worst and can brace against the inevitable. I don’t know. In many ways, quickly leaving the world behind is the best way to go, despite the mark it leaves on the people who are still here.

It bears repeating that I know how fortunate I am, to have lived this long without feeling this kind of pain. I don’t take that things like that for granted. I thought I was too lucky; I was petrified of the day the other shoe would drop. And now it’s happened, and, like the damn SUV, I never saw it coming. And the pain hurts much more.

So what do you do? You talk to your family every day, to check in on everybody. You cry and you listen to Johnny Cash and you swear that somehow everything your Papa was is embodied in  Johnny’s low rumble as he finishes the title line in ‘When the Man Comes Around.” Somehow this makes sense to you, even if nothing else does. You purposefully start saying ‘passed away’ because it holds off the tears and you can’t break down in the J-Library, of all places. You write a long and indulgent blog post because you want people to know and you can’t send out a mass e-mail; that’s weird. You remember everything and cry some more, and you breathe relief at the knowledge that your family was overzealous about making vacation videos on Cape Cod, because you know you won’t ever forget the sound of his voice.

You recite Papa’s favorite story to yourself. It doesn’t take long.

I’ll tell you a story about Jack and Ory, and now my story’s begun.
I’ll tell you another about his brother, and now my story’s all done.

i love you.