Photography: A Little Storytelling, A Little History

The history of photography has been covered by many people over many years. What else is there to add? Well, I’ve recently been reading some biographies (Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci, among others), and I’m struck by the ability of writers to bring distant history and historical figures to life. I’ve been wanted to write about photography for some time, ever since digital took over and print photography became a thing of the past.

I spent much of my childhood hanging out in darkrooms watching my father work. He gave me his rejects, and I had a collection of horse photographs that was the envy of my little girl peers. In high school I was the photo editor for the newspaper and yearbook, and my fingers turned brown from being in the developer for so long (I could never stand to wear gloves). Then in college I spent more time taking and printing my own black-and-white photographs, the last being a series of photographs of my son about eight years ago. That was at the tail end of the availability of film (although you can still buy it online), and I haven’t touched a film camera or set foot in dark room since.

Nostalgia, and also a sense of curiosity, has propelled me to explore the history of photography for interesting stories rather than obvious facts. I will begin with Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in Italy in the 13th century, more than three hundred years before the invention of photography. What does he have to do with photography? I’ll tell you in the next post.

Updates! Inktober, NaNoWriMo, Photography, and More!

Hello again! Those that follow my blog (who knows why), will be happy to know that I have many posts incoming. This is an exciting time for blogging, and I plan to write a post (however brief) for each day of October. This is part of two events that happen this time of year, Inktober and NaNoWriMo. Inktober is actually for comic book artists and illustrators and requires them to do one doodle or drawing for each day of October. However, I’ve decided to do my own version, which is to blog about the history of photography. I’ll also be doing some blogging about NaNoWriMo prep and a tiny bit about teaching, travel, and family stuff.

As most of you know, I’m no longer on social media, and I love it. I don’t miss Facebook or Instagram at all, and it has been very freeing and relaxing to go about my life without having to make it look good for Facebook and Instagram likes. I know some of you miss seeing the kiddos, and are looking forward to Halloween costumes, so I will be posting a few updates about the kids this month.

I also have a novel update! Brace yourselves, this is big. My novel is currently at 51,000 words! I have written the ending, and have what is effectively a rough draft, but it’s pretty messy right now and not quite ready for readers. Typical publishing length for a mainstream novel is about 70,000-80,000 words, so I’ll also be fleshing it out and adding scenes. However, I’m spending October getting it in shape and hope to start sending it out soon. This is the closest I’ve ever been to finishing so I’m pretty excited.

First post about the history of photography coming soon!

Once More, with Feeling: Why I’m Leaving Social Media

At the end of December I took a month-long break from Facebook and Instagram, and it was great. I actually lost the urge to post, although I occasionally peeked in to check for notifications and messages. When I found myself browsing I remembered why I wanted to leave in the first place. Then, last week I went on Spring Break, and for the first time in YEARS I did not post during a vacation. It was heaven. When we got back, I reflected a bit, and then just flat-out deleted my Facebook and Instagram. I couldn’t be happier.

My problems with social media:

  • Social media is a waste of my time
  • Social media turns us all into dopamine addicts
  • Social media steals our data and makes money off of it
  • Social media perpetuates lies about our lives
  • Social media creates a false sense of intimacy

I’m closer than ever to finishing my novel, having written 250 pages and knowing the ending has made me super excited that this is the year I will finally finish. I’m also working harder at my job and taking on more responsibility, and I hate the way social media sucks away both my time and my ability to concentrate.

One way that social media accomplishes this is the through the manipulation of a brain chemical called dopamine. Every time you get a notification: someone likes or comments on a post, you get an email in your inbox, or you hear a ding–your brain gets a hit of dopamine. This is a powerful and very addictive chemical and your brain will do anything to get more. This is why when you’re active on social media you are always thinking about your next post. Your brain knows how to get its fix.

Not only do we want to post, we want to make ourselves look good, so we spend a lot of time thinking about what we should post that will make us look good. Let’s show the rest of the world that we are busy, happy, well-traveled, and well-liked. How can we make ourselves the envy of our neighbors, friends, and family? Or, at least, show them that we are as good as they are. It has been interesting for me to witness the real lives of some people who post on social media, and let me tell you, their posts do not reflect their reality. And while most of us know this on one level, I’m sure we all still feel a little bad, a little behind, and a little left out when we scroll through social media.

I’ve noticed that social media also creates a false sense of friendship and intimacy. I’ve made a lot of connections with people on Facebook, and my posts are often well-liked, but this doesn’t translate into real-world warmth and friendship beyond the scope of what I’ve posted. I’m looking to foster deeper connections with a smaller group of people.

Although a blog is also a curated look at life, and only skims the surface of intimacy, it does have a few benefits. My blog belongs to me, not Mark Zuckerberg, and I’ve disabled comments to minimize notifications. It’s more of place for me to publish my thoughts and some pictures rather than add to the endlessly scrolling newsfeed filled with people trying to prove something to each other.

There is a concept in marketing called “the bottomless bowl,” which is the idea that, as humans, we will eat more from a container that is constantly being refilled than we will from a set portion. Social media and news outlets have taken advantage of this with endlessly scrolling newsfeeds filled with misleading clickbait.

I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I want to be more conscious of how I spend my time, and I want to model that for my children. I’ve decided that the negatives of social media far outweigh the positives. Instead, I will focus more on reading books, writing, spending time outside and with my kids, and writing emails and texts to friends and family who don’t live near me. The few people who will miss my presence on social media know where to find me.

Back to School (+novel progress)

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Aria reading at the library.

The kids started school last week, and I started teaching this week, hence the lack of blog posts. We’ve been busy, busy, busy! I’m taking some time during a busy teaching day to write this post because I’m determined to keep up this blog.

This semester I’m teaching my usual ed theory and writing methods courses, and I’m also acting as coordinator for my area (English Ed), which adds an extra level of responsibility (and stress) to my work. However, one of my classes is online, which is nice because it gives me a little extra flexibility for things like hanging out with the kids after school while they are still young enough to want to hang out with me. Their new favorite thing is to go to the library after school. I love this too, because it’s such a nice, friendly little library. The librarian in the kids’ area actually used to babysit Oscar when he was a baby.

Now that I’m done prepping for the first few weeks of classes, I’m ready to turn my attention back to the novel. I’ve managed to slowly ratchet the word count up a few thousand words, and I’m telling myself that slow progress is better than no progress. Baby steps!

Novel Progress report for January 15th, 2019

Suit of Coins: 21,786 words

Excerpt:

They left Lem’s house and headed back to Anna’s. They were silent for the first few miles as Maria drove deftly through LA traffic. Then Anna said, “I think he’s hiding something.”

“You can be your sweet ass he’s hiding something,” said Maria, suddenly merging across several lanes of traffic. She never took her eyes off the road, but smiled as Anna began bouncing in her seat like a kid.

“Ooooh, this is exciting. Do you think he killed her?”

“No, nothing like that,” said Maria, “but I do think he saw something. Something he’s not telling us. I’m just trying to figure out how he never got interviewed by the cops.”

Novel Progress

My novel, working title Suit of Coins, has been in progress since NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2008. Yes, that’s ten years. However, a few things have happened since then. I had two babies, went up for tenure, and found myself snagged in a hopelessly complicated plot tangle that caused me to ignore the novel for an entire year. I got the plot untangled at the end of 2016, but 2017 was pretty eventful, with a ten-day trip with the kids to Disney World, looking for and buying a house (no easy feat in a HCL area like Flagstaff), moving out of the house we’ve been living in for twenty-one years, and planning a wedding. These are not the conditions for writing a book.

What about 2018? Well, except for recovering from 2017 and also trying to unsuccessfully jumpstart my pathetic academic career, I don’t really know what happened to 2018.

Let me tell you something about writing. It’s damn hard. There’s a good reason many writers are single white men. Or women with no children. Or alcoholics or drug addicts. Or insane. Just as an example, I sat down to write for thirty minutes last night and was interrupted no less than seven times. I managed two sentences before I gave up. To put my struggles into context, I know several famous novelists (including George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame), who are years and even decades overdue for their novels. George R.R. Martin’s last novel was published in 2011. These are writers who have no end of time and resources. They are rich, have no day job, and have the clout to lock themselves in a room and do nothing but write. And even THEY struggle.

Excuses, excuses.

HOLY HELL I am determined to write this story. The characters are very real to me and keep coming back around, determined to be heard. This may sound like crazy talk but it’s a normal thing for writers. Writing gets under your skin in a way that can make spinning out sentences and scenes intoxicating.

I am trying again. I realized that my plot problems required what they call a “clean sheet rewrite” which means starting over from scratch. That sounds extreme until you realize that the entire novel lives in my head. I just need to get it on paper.

2019 is the year. As Stephen King advises, the first novel is the novel that teaches you how to write. I’m just getting started, and that’s okay. That’s perfectly fine. What else am I going to do?

I plan to post regular word counts (Weekly at a minimum) and little W.I.P. (work in progress) snippets.

Progress report for January 1st, 2019: 

Suit of Coins: 18,272 words (my goal is 80,000) so I’m almost a quarter of the way through.

Excerpt:

When I was a little girl my mother used to read Shakespeare plays to me at bedtime. Without blinking an eye, she read about people stabbing and poisoning each other, about teenagers falling in love and killing themselves, about war, and bitterness, and revenge. Shakespeare used beautiful words to talk about terrible things. She said, “In literature, murder looks like art.” That always stuck with me, especially years later when my best friend in high school was murdered, and there was nothing beautiful or literary about it. Unlike Shakespeare, I couldn’t find the words to talk about it, not then, not now.

2018: A Year in Ruins

If 2017 was the year of moving to new house and getting married (exciting year), 2018 was the year we decided to start exploring the many ruins of the Colorado Plateau.

This year we visited Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Montezuma’s Castle, Tuzigoot, and Mesa Verde National Park. This wasn’t the only traveling we did, as we also visited Monument Valley, Durango Colorado, California, Tucson, and Texas; but for this post I’m going to write about the ruins. Our longest, furthest, and most epic exploration was that of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. I knew it was famous, I had heard of Cliff Palace, I had seen some pictures, and frankly I didn’t have high expectations.

I was wrong.

Spanish explorers were the first European settlers to discover this place in the 1700s, after it had already been abandoned for 500 years. That’s crazy to me. Time is so, so vast and we are just little blips in the timeline. I envy those early explorers traipsing across the wild continent of North America and stumbling upon these silent and empty villages, full of pottery and other artifacts that were long ago pilfered and then spirited away to museums. To see a pot under glass in an air-conditioned museum is not quite the same. I long to sit among the ruins in perfect silence, run my hands along the pottery, and imagine the lives of the people who lived so long ago.

The kids were more fascinated than I thought they would be, and the park rangers were very interesting and informative. They were good storytellers. It’s important to remember that the people who lived here so long ago were just like us–a thousand years isn’t that long in human evolution, and physically the Ancestral Pueblo (also sometimes referred to as the Anasazi) were the same, although we are a bit larger due to increased caloric intake and nutrition. They had hopes and dreams and fears, they told stories and and jokes, they complained, they studied the weather, they gossiped about their neighbors. They loved their children.

Mesa Verde is famous for a handful of cliff dwellings that can be explored through guided tours, like Balcony House, where you have to do quite a bit of hiking and climb huge ladders. We practiced at home before we visited, and Aria was pretty proud of her ability to climb without assistance.

The wood and mortar on this dwelling is a thousand years old. The mind boggles.

Mesa Verde also has hundreds of dwellings which are not accessible, some of which can be seen at various outlooks.

One of the best parts of these visits to various ruins over the past year is that the kids have not only learned about the history of the Colorado Plateau, where Flagstaff is located and where they were born and raised, but they have also learned about geology, geography, anthropology, archeology, agriculture, and climate. They’ve learned that everything changes, but some things remain the same, and we love that we can step away from our screens and busy lives and take in the world around us.