Tag Archives: DPChallenge

A 1000 Words & Too Many Frowns

This week’s Daily Post Writing Challenge is a creative writing prompt: A picture is worth a 1000 words. 1000 words on this picture that the Daily Post provided. See links below and in the comments on the Challenge post for what others wrote about the same photo. Maybe a picture is worth more than 1000 words after all! Here are my 1000 words, a fictional story inspired by the photograph:

It is one of those days — one of those memories — I don’t think of too often, but when I see that photograph, my sister and I standing there holding my father’s hands, I’m sure that I will never forget — have never forgotten — that day.   But, the thing is, I don’t know if I really do remember it.  Maybe I only remember the photograph from its perch on my mother’s dresser.   I wonder if it helped her to remember.

The three of us in front of our building on a cold Spring day.   My dad never wore a coat after March, so it must have been early April.    Years later — during my punk rocker days in the 80’s — I had a skinny, grey tie just like his.  My hair was dark like his too in the 80’s.   Without the Brylcreem look.  I thought it looked natural. Never would have had a sports coat, though.

In the photo, I’m wearing a coat that had this stupid velvet bit around the neck.  It was really itchy.   I remember my mother leaning over me to button the coat and straighten my tie.  Her perfume was strong and she was careful not to get any of her makeup on me. She kissed the top of my head before she put on the hat.  I got lipstick on your hair.  Now you have to wear your cap so it doesn’t show in the picture she said.  My sister had a new coat too.  She could barely say the word pink but we all knew it was her favorite.  Pink is still her favorite color.  The two of us haven’t changed that much I suppose — she loves pink. I hate coats and ties.  My father?  I don’t remember my father any other way except how he looks in that old photo.

The old apartment building.  Mother used to send us to the basement to play among the storage units and the washers, avoiding the Super, in the days after this was taken.  Later in the Spring, there were flowers growing up that trellis, though she wouldn’t have planted them.  Mother wouldn’t have noticed those bits of pink and red that showed through the window of our street-level apartment.  I don’t know.  Maybe she never opened the blinds.  It was always dark.

My sister says that she remembers her coat.  Pink with white pearly buttons and a bonnet to match.  No, the roses in front weren’t pink, she tells me, but she doesn’t remember what color they were.   I remember the color; she remembers the flower.   And that coat, she exclaims.  My first new coat!  Her chubby little legs must have been freezing.   I think she only remembers from the photograph too, but she insists.

My mother’s handwriting scrawled on the back:  Easter Sunday, 1961.   The year is certain, but I don’t ever remember going to church.  Isn’t that what families do on Easter?  Go to church?  Maybe that was the last Easter we went.

Or maybe we were only going to my grandparents.  Mother would have made me wear a bow tie for that.  My perfect little gentleman! my grandmother would sing.  Maybe I was that way in first grade.  But I can look behind my eyes in that photograph and see the truant, the troublemaker, the punk that I surely always was but had not yet become.  I wanted to run and play, get away, not smile for a silly photo.  Even  at age five I knew it was all crap.  I’m sure of it.  I must have known.

Do I remember my father that day?   Do I remember his frown?  My sister and I were mimicking him.  Did we really look that much alike?   Do we always have a look of fleeing on our faces?

Daddy yelled at us to be still, my sister states.  She tells me that I kept squirming out of the frame until he took my hand.  He yelled at Mother too, telling her to hurry up and press the damn button.

Would he have said ‘damn’?  I asked.  She remembers it that way.   I see it in the photograph.   Perturbed.  Annoyed.   Press the damn button, will ya?  That was what made my sister cry.  In her pretty pink Spring coat and being yelled at.   I remember it now that she mentions it.

No wonder I wanted to pull away.   Wanted to run away.  Away from my sister.  Away from my mother.  Away from my father.   To the playground or the ball park.  Later to some parking lot where I could smoke a cigarette and talk about chicks with my friends.   Run away from all that stifled and cramped and itched like that grey coat and hat.

Yea, I remember it alright.   Like it was yesterday.   Because, after that day, it was my whole life.  Wanting to run, just like my dad.  Away to someplace mysterious where there weren’t ties and suitcoats and hats and wives who wanted to take pictures and drive to the grandparents on Easter Day.

Runaway to places where I could smile.  To places where I could be free.   Just like my father.

I remember that photo in its place of honor on my mother’s dressing table for years.   I wondered if it helped her to remember him or to forget him.  My sister says it was to remember him.  The whisky was to forget.

For me, I remember that as the last time I saw my father although history tells me something else.   But, the photograph, the three of us standing there in front of our building trying to look like it was a happy occasion:  that I remember.   Mostly grey, a bit of pink, but no details about what types of flowers colored my Mother’s world.

How can you remember it that way? my mother protests.  It was a happy day!  My sister smiles.  I guess I never could talk to them.      I remember the photo, Mother, I reply.   On your dresser.  In a brass frame.  

A few other Picture Worth A 1000 Words for the DPChallenge:

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words (bouhaha-access)
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words (My Sanctuary Journal
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words (Pride in Madness)
Weekly Writing Challenge (S1ngal)
The Easter That Wasn’t (NRHatch)

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Photography

10 things I’ve learned in the three years since I began taking pictures:

1) There’s more to photography than snapshots. There is a reason that I never liked taking snapshots and didn’t like any simple point & shoot camera I’ve had since the time I acquired my first Kodak Instamatic. I haven’t figure out exactly why it is, but capturing moments or attractions is not something that appeals to me. That’s what postcards are for. If I ever go back to Disney, I’ll likely take a picture of the sign stating that it’s a good place for a photo-op, rather than standing in the directed location to take the picture. (Do they even still have those signs at Epcot?)

2) Posing people is difficult. Posing people ranging in size from infant to 6’6″ is never easy. After that, getting them to smile naturally seems like a cake walk. Getting them all to have their eyes open at the same time is pure chance. Continuous shoot comes in handy because you’re never going to show them all of the bad shots.

3)  Some advice to novices is not useful and may be counter-productive.  I used to think that photographers saying that they could “see light” was pretentious.   It’s taken me awhile to truly understand that statement and to apply it to my photos.   Maybe that means I’ve joined the ranks of the pretentious, but I hope someone slaps me up the side of my head if I say it aloud to a new photography enthusiast.  Instead, help them to understand how to adjust for different types of light sources and differing amounts of light.  The best example of aperture and shutter speed I ever heard was from a photographer who compared it to filling a vessel with water.  You can have different size containers and your water source could be a trickle or a gusher.  In the end, 1 cup will always equal 1 cup, but the way you get there can make all the difference.

4) “My what a big camera you have. You must be a good photographer!” People say uninformed things about your equipment, assuming that expensive or expensive-looking equipment means you’re a great photographer. That isn’t an unreasonable assumption: who would spend lots of money on camera equipment if they didn’t enjoy photography? Who would continue to take pictures with that equipment if they hadn’t had some degree of success or improvement or enjoyment with photography? If you look at every shot and think “That sucks” every time, you either need to find a new hobby or a psychologist. Maybe both. Likewise if you think that the person making the comment is stupid or the big bad wolf.  Get over it; they aren’t trying to insult you.

5)  A smile and a nod is always a good response.  I still haven’t found the best, most polite way to respond to comments about how I must be a good photographer, especially if someone hasn’t seen my work. Sometimes what our mothers taught us is best: “If you can’t say anything nice, best not to respond”, and “‘Thank you’ is the only appropriate response to a compliment”.

6) Everything looks sharper when you use a tripod.  No matter how steady your hand is, it isn’t as steady as a tripod.

7) Sometimes tripods are not very practical. I want one that will hold any weight lens, has great stability and yet folds up to fit into my pocket or fits in a something I can carry on my back without causing pain or discomfort. I can dream can’t I?

8)  Expect to move.  Expect awkwardness.  When you are of a certain age, you may find that to get the perfect shot, you have to be a bit more athletic than you anticipated. Be prepared to move ungracefully when you get out of that position .  Relax! You’re the one with the camera, not the passersby who may see you struggling to get to your feet! Besides, why care if they laugh!

9) There’s always going to be a better camera or lens — and you will want it.  There will always be equipment that I will want to add to my camera bag.  There likely will always be a new camera bag that I want too!  There will always be better photographers. Yet, I can always work to become a better photographer. Nobody will see the same shot as I do in just the same way. But I can learn from the work of others.  Looking at works of photography inspires me.

10) There is always something to photograph.  Every sunset is different.  Every flower is different.  Every day the light on the trees in the woods is different.  Every smile is different.   Carry your camera with you whenever you can.

11.  Different media and broadening my artistic sense.  (Because what’s a list if you can’t add to it?)  Photoshop can’t make a bad photograph into a good one, but sometimes you can use editing tools to take a mistake and make it into an entirely different thing, such as this image:

The slight blur caused by the wind didn’t help the original photograph and it was destined for the digital dustbin, but the blur added to the feeling of motion.  Transforming it with an artistic colored pencil filter took advantage of that blur and made the image look like a drawing.  I would no longer call it a photograph, but it isn’t a drawing either. Any ideas on what to call this? Lacking anything better, I’ll call it an image or a digital image, though I think that is a bit too generic.  As I’m learning the various things that one can do with photo-editing software, I’m enjoying turning some photos into images that look like watercolors, or color pencil drawings, or oil paintings — something I would not have expected when I picked up a camera a few years ago.

Which, I suppose, leads me to yet another point:

12. Don’t hold your expectations too closely. Be prepared to be surprised. Break the rules when necessary. That applies to life too.
This is my entry in this week’s Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge. This week’s challenge was to try something different for a change. Although writing is not unusual for me, doing so in this space has become an infrequent occurrence. I usually display photographs here, so I thought something different would be to write about photography instead. It was fun to do so. I didn’t realize how much I had learned about photography that wasn’t technical. That could be another post. Or three or four posts.

A lesson learned

This week’s Daily Post Writing Challenge is focused on grammar, specifically about using the active rather than the passive voice.   While this issue of voice vexes some writers, I do not find to be a writing hurdle.  The DP challenge isn’t to write about the active voice, but to be sure to use the active voice.  The challenge reminded me of a time when I learned about  a grammar problem that I didn’t even realize was an issue until I had it called out in a memorable manner.   You can find other entries into the WP Daily Post Writing Challenge here.  

Over 30 years later, I still remember, as if it occurred yesterday, the humiliation of having my first composition read aloud by the exacting English professor.  I know the sentence that caused my face to burn bright red and made me wish that the floor would open wide and swallow me up, ejecting me forever from the English building.  I surely didn’t belong there.

Filled with pigeons, people roamed in Trafalgar Square.  

I had been warned that Dr. H was scary — scary looking and scary acting.

“She’s exacting.  Never be late to her class.  But I don’t know about scary looking.  She looks and sounds just like Katherine Hepburn!” one of my friends said.

“Katherine Hepburn playing the Wicked Witch of the West” another friend replied.  “Have you seen her riding that bike to campus?  If she saw Toto, she’d have him in the basket in no time flat!”

The snotty girl from my semester abroad in London was in the class on the first day.  I knew I wasn’t in Kansas, but Kansas wasn’t where I wanted to be.

Why on earth are you taking Advanced Composition?  Aren’t you a Journalism major? she said with her little nose crinkled into the air as if my mere presence had tainted the hallowed grounds of the third floor of the building.

I thought it would be interesting.   Maybe I’ll be an English major.  I searched her expression to see if I raised a few notches in her estimation.  The punk-rock chick seated nearby, who I would later find out was my former boyfriend’s roommate — and later, after I had rejected the opportunity to make her an ally, would find out she was a lesbian — looked at both of us and let out a slightly audible but clearly disdainful snicker.  I was never sure who she was snickering at:  the uppity preppy co-ed whose destiny was to be a Wall Street lawyer (or the lawyer’s wife, I don’t recall) or the naive girl who didn’t have much confidence in anything she dared do or dream.

The first assigned composition was an easy task:  describe a town or city that you know well.   I knew little about the city where I had spent most of my life, only the suburban area near my parents’ home and my school.   I didn’t want to waste my words on the nearby cornfields or the big new mall out by the highway.  But, having just returned from a semester in London, I knew that I could write passionately about the city.  I even knew, before I began, how I would end it:  with Jonson’s famous quote When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.   I had no idea at the time that I was a cliché, much less that I would write several in my first essays.

For nearly a week I struggled with the assignment.  I re-read my journals and studied my photographs.  I could close my eyes and walk down Edgeware Road from Warrington Circle towards the Marble Arch, recalling each block.  I retraced my route to the Tate Gallery where I took an art class each week and often sat for hours, mesmerized by paintings by Blake.  The paintings still burned bright, like his Tyger, in my memory.  I struggled to write all of the details, to make London known to the reader, but it was a worthwhile struggle.  I thought I was like Elohim over Adam, creating a masterpiece of the English Department.  I proudly turned in the essay just before the deadline.

I did not expect that the essays would be read in their entirety to the class.  That painful exercise took several sessions.  There was no jockeying for position, no volunteering to have your essay read.   Like my classmates, I searched for an order to the essays.  Alphabetical?  By grade?  Were the A‘s first — or the F‘s?  Although no names were spoken,  all the students knew the author of each composition by a few furtive glances around the room.

Finally, mine was read.  Had Dr. H been saving the best for last?  Did this mean that I received an A?   She began:

London.  She looked around the room, snapping a rubber band at her wrist.  What an interesting title, she said dryly. 

I winced.

The first paragraph was read while my brain blurred.  I tried not to give away the authorship.  Sweat gathered along my hairline.  And then came the bolt of lighting that zapped me out of my seat:

Filled with pigeons, people roamed in Trafalgar Square.  

Oh my, Dr. H said in her quavering Kate Hepburn voice.  Did they have squab for lunch?  She laughed for the first time that semester at her joke while I fought back tears.

What the hell is squab? I wrote in my invisible notebook, too embarrassed to be seen writing a note on paper.

Dr. H continued with a brief statement of the unacceptable nature of dangling modifiers.  As if that were needed.

I have been aware of modifiers at the beginning of sentences ever since that day. Modifying clauses elsewhere in a sentence make my internal grammarian sit up and pay attention as well.  I somehow survived the entire semester, passing with an A and would take two more classes from Dr. H before I graduated.

I owe much to the classes I took from her.  One lesson was to never intimidate or humiliate someone eager to learn.  Another was to be sensitive to jokes at the expense of a student.  But there were positive lessons as well.  If it weren’t for a brief five-week summer class she taught, I never would have read and fallen in love with Moby-Dick.  I’ve never seen squab on a menu or a pigeon-filled plaza without thinking about her with a smile.  And, I’m a better writer because of her — even if like all writers I occasionally make a grammatical mistake here or there. Rarely do those mistake involve dangling modifiers.

As I was doing the housework…

You know the 5-second rule?  The one about how food is still okay if you retrieve it from the floor if 5-seconds hasn’t elapsed?

I have a different kind of 5-second rule.  I better catch whatever I’ve dropped 5 seconds before it reaches the floor.  Or at least it seems that way sometimes.  But not today.   My kitchen floor is so clean you could eat off of it, although the table is much more comfortable — with plates and utensils, of course.

As I was scrubbing the floor today, fighting the temptation to stop halfway because it was hot and tiring work, I smiled thinking how some might think my current life out of the corporate workplace is a bit like a page out of The Stepford Wives.   Let me assure you that I have no super cool sexy 60’s pantsuits, nor am I obsessive about all things homemaker.

Yet, keeping a really clean house was something that I was never able to do when I was working full-time and raising my child.   I often worked from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed with the ever-present blackberry on the night stand.   Homework and after school activities and sports and cooking dinner and all sorts of other things fit in between when the alarm sounded and lights out.  I was lucky if I found time to use a damp mop on the floor before the tile’s light beige color developed a brown-shoe patina.

I don’t expend  much energy thinking about the “culture wars” between career women and stay-at-home moms.   I’ve been both.   Working, for many years, was not a choice for me.  What was a choice was my decision not to complain about options that I didn’t have.  I worked with some women who complained that they “had” to work, but would have rather been home.   Yet, had they made different choices, they likely could have lived on one salary as I did at that time.  But, it would have come at a cost, a different style of living.  Who am I to make that choice for anybody else?  Had they decided to stay home, I would have respected that choice as much as I did their choice to work.

I overheard someone say to a new mom recently:  I don’t know how you’re going to do it when you go back to work.  It will be so hard.

I seethed inwardly but kept my opinion to myself.   The woman probably had the best intentions, but the tone of the conversation implied that it was unfortunate that the new mom had to work.  What I should have said was It is hard to stay home too.

Raising kids is difficult.  Entrusting them to a caregiver for a large portion of the day is difficult as well.  Staying home knowing that you’ll enter the workforce in the future is hard.   Entering the workforce after not working is hard.  It’s all hard.

My advice to that new mom?  Be kind to yourself.  Do what’s best for your family. Be comfortable with your decision. And hire a housekeeper.   A clean house is nice, but you won’t have much time to do it and it isn’t why you’re staying at home.  Use all those 5-seconds catching your children’s smiles.

This post is my contribution to today’s WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge:  From Mundane to Meaningful.   Find links to what others have written in the comments here.