Blogging in Brief: Bed Selfie

Wednesdays are my long days–I teach at night and am literally at work for twelve hours. When I get home I pretty much just put on jammies and get into bed with the kiddos to hear about their day and read with them. I had planned to get a post ready ahead of time, but I’ve had a terrible cold plus an extra busy work week. So for today’s blog you get a selfie with me and Aria hanging out in bed.

Novel Update (52,300 words)

A novel is a huge, unruly thing. I was about to compare it to building a house, but it’s actually more like designing a town, along with the people who live there. Is my novel done? YET? (I know, I know, it’s been YEARS). Well. If I gave you my current draft you would probably be able to follow it and say that yes, it’s a complete-ish novel. But there are a few twists and turns that need straitening out. A few holes that need filling. Some set decorations and a little clarifying dialogue here and there. I plan to send it out by Thanksgiving or Christmas at the latest.

Because revising is a completely different process than writing, I spent some time casting about for help and advice. I finally found this book, which has been super helpful.

lastdraft

Current word count: 52,300

Excerpt:

I set my book aside and leaned over to turn on my desk lamp, since it had gotten too dark to see. The wind was really kicking up, an ominous sound that made it seem as if the entire building was going to lift up over the trees. I burrowed under the covers when I heard the thunder, and for some time I just lay there, perfectly still, as I heard the storm get closer and closer. It seemed to roll along the ground, the sound getting deeper and louder, until I could feel the rumbles with my body. I tried to relax and tell myself it was only a storm; we used to get them all the time in Tucson. As I child I would crawl in bed with my parents, but now they were too far away, in every way.

A storm in January? When it was snowing? Was it normal to have thunder and snow at the same time? The windows shook and the storm seemed to be gathering a ferocity and power that I had never experienced before. Finally, it storm was directly over campus, with lightning and thunder crashing down simultaneously.

I got up and raised the window blinds, startled to see the girl from the library standing under the light pole with her head tipped up to the sky, her long brown hair streaming behind her. When lightning struck a few feet away she didn’t move. She didn’t even flinch. I sighed and lowered the blinds and got back under the blankets and started reading Hamlet again. I would have to do what most normal people do when they saw a ghost. I would go see a priest.

A Kodak Moment

The daguerreotype made photography popular, but it was still costly, and being a photographer meant own and hauling around a great deal of heavy equipment. It was difficult and time consuming to prepare and develop photographic plates, and the results were inconsistent.

After attempting and then canceling a trip to photograph Santo Domingo in the Caribbean islands, a young twenty-four-year-old photographer named George Eastman began researching how to make photography more convenient and less expensive. He developed and patented a gelatin-coated paper that came in a roll he called photographic film. He patented the emulsion process and the camera he invented to use it, and started the George Eastman Company of Rochester New York. Later, he renamed his company Kodak. He and his mother invented the name Kodak after playing around with an anagram word game. Eastman settled on the name because he felt it was simple and easy to pronounce, had a strong sound, and gave the company an identity separate from its founder. Later he would change his mind about that and amend the company name to Eastman Kodak.

Although the Kodak name would become synonymous with photography, George Eastman would die before the company became a runaway success, before the invention of Kodachrome and the Instamatic, before “Kodak Moments” and long before the company’s precipitous decline in the wake of the digital revolution.

In March of 1932, suffering from a painful and degenerative spinal condition, the same condition that left his mother wheelchair bound during the last years of her life, George Eastman shot himself in the heart, leaving behind a suicide note that said only, “My work here is done. Why wait?”

He was the first to take photography and make it something more than a profession, more than a special occasion. He changed the way we thought about capturing everyday moments, and in doing so we started to preserve these glimpses into the minutia and magic of life, capturing them on film for all time.

Fall in Flagstaff

As promised, I will be writing about things other than the history of photography during my October blogging streak. Today I wanted to give you a little glimpse into what the kids have been up to. Last weekend we went to the Cornucopia Festival because at the last minute the kids’ school asked for volunteers to play violin and Aria wanted to go.

The exposure here is a bit weird because although the kids were playing under an awning, the sun was shining directly at me when I took the picture.

This is Aria’s last year playing the violin. Her big concerts are in March and May, and that will be it. Neither of the kids expressed any interest in continuing the violin after second grade (when they take it during the school day). Oscar did just take up the clarinet, which he loves, and next year Aria wants to (among other things): join choir, learn guitar, take ballet, take art lessons, and become a scientist and astronaut. I’m sure she’ll do anything she wants to do.

The kids have also been busy with little personal projects at home. Oscar has discovered the art of stop-motion filmmaking and has made several short LEGO films. He loves the process and gets absorbed for hours. Here he is in his little “studio”:

Meanwhile, Aria draws constantly, going through reams of paper. She staples her drawings together into little books, bringing back memories of when I used to this as a kid. I hope she writes more books than her mom!

Finally, last week the kids participated in an annual traditional at their school called the Marshall Mustang Gallop where they run laps to raise money for the magnet programs at their school, which features not only violin, but also dance, gardening, robotics, coding, science, and leadership classes.

The kids love their school and ran their hearts out. This will Oscar’s last year at Marshall. He graduates from 5th grade in May and goes on to middle school, which starts at 6th grade here in Flagstaff. I can’t believe I’m going to have a middle school student!

I see every day how big he’s getting, but seeing him run really brought home to me how old he looks. He’s lost that baby look and I can now see how he will look as a teenager. He is such a beautiful and remarkable child. I mean, every parent thinks so, but there is something extra special about Oscar and even other people see and comment on. He is kind and thoughtful and wise beyond his years, with a healthy dose of goofball.

I’m so lucky to be a mom. I’m harried, haggard, tired, overworked, under appreciated, and can’t remember what it was like to have time alone or be bored; but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Portraits of War

President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan, October 3rd, 1862. Photographed by Mathew Brady.

Long before he invented the single-wire telegraph system and Morse Code, Samuel Morse was a painter. Throughout the 1830s he traveled around Europe painting and studying art, spending a particularly large amount of time in Paris. It was there, in 1839, that Samuel Morse met Louis Daguerre. Fascinated with the daguerreotype process, Morse wrote to the New York Observer and passed along a detailed description of this new technology, word of which spread throughout America.

When he returned to America, Morse was swamped with students, including the young Matthew Brady, who was only sixteen years old. By 1944, Matthew Brady was so skilled at making daguerrotypes that he opened his own studio. Along with taking famous photographs of prominent Americans, Brady also took pictures of soldiers home on leave. It was then that he got what he called “itchy feet,” a great desire to travel around the country observing, and photographing, war.

The task was expensive and dangerous and he was discouraged by everyone he knew, but Brady persisted, and not only did he capture some of the most iconic images of war that we have today, he basically invented the field of photojournalism. His popular shows around the country displayed, for the first time, photographs of dead bodies, capturing the real horror of war in a way written accounts could not.

It is a cruel irony that Brady’s eyesight began to fail him and that the cost of pursuing photography ruined him financially. On a January day in 1896 he was hit by a streetcar and died shorty thereafter, penniless, in the charity ward of a New York Hospital.

Photojournalism took photography to a new level. Once a curiosity, then used for stiff and formal portraits, photography was transformed into a medium for visual storytelling

Photography and the Constancy of Time

View of the Boulevard du Temple

Nicéphore Niépce spent five years trying to create permanent photographic images, few of which survived, because although he could make photographic images appear on glass and metal plates, he lacked a good method for fixing the pictures permanently. Exposed to light, they faded with time. His work was brilliant but ephemeral, and most if it is lost.

Five years into his experiments, Niépce died unexpectedly of a stroke. At the time of his death he was so penniless and destitute that he was buried in a pauper’s grave. Luckily, he left his notes to his partner, Louis Daguerre, a fellow artist and scientist who would perfect the chemical process Niépce started by creating what become known as the daguerreotype.

What made the new process revolutionary is that Daguerre figured out that if you removed the silver halide crystals from the surface of the exposed photograph, the image would be come permanent. To do so, he used a chemical called sodium thiosulfate, known today as fixer.

In 1938 he created the photograph you see at the top of this post. It’s a scene from a street in Paris called the Boulevard du Temple. The photograph required a long exposure of about ten minutes. Therefore, what was at the time a very busy street in Paris is rendered deserted. That’s because during a long exposure, only those objects that remain stationary can be exposed long enough to show up in the photograph. Everything else disappears: the people, the horses, the carriages, the stray dogs. They all moved on with their lives, disappearing into the depths of time.

All but two. At the bottom of the photograph you can see two tiny figures, one standing, once sitting. A man is presumably having his shoes polished. We can’t see any detail, and we’ll never know who these two men were, but they were the first in the history of civilization to be fixed onto a photograph for all time.