“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Recent Reading

Back in January, jockeystreet reviewed the book Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor. I had read it as part of my Buddhism class in college and was reminded of how enjoyable I found it to be. As summer has taken hold and reruns are in full force, I decided to pull it off the shelf and give it another read.

While much of the discussion about Buddhism and its philosophies was interesting to read and wet my appetite for spiritual renewal, I couldn't help but look at some of the passages in light of my own personal thoughts and feelings of late.

In particular, when I picked it up this evening on page 101 set on finishing the book I came across underlined sentences that really rang true to where I am creatively. From the chapter aptly titled "Imagination":

...we find ourselves hovering on the cusp between nothing and something, formless and form, inactivity and activity. We are poised in a still, vital alertness on the threshold of creation, waiting for something to emerge... that has never happened in quite that way before and will never happen in quite that way again.
I've often found myself struggling with my own future - relationally, spiritually, productively - and feel as though I am a man on the verge; I'm not quite there, I can't make it out yet, but I know it's coming, whatever it may be.

Likewise, a few pages later I read, "Instead of creatively participating in a contemporary culture of awakening, we confine ourself to preserving those cultures of a vanishing past." It is so much easier to do things the easy way, the way they've always been done. There's safety in that. I know, for me, it's been so much easier not to risk the unknown in order to feel the comfort of the known. Instead of truly using my gifts to their potential and pushing myself into living into who I was made to be I find myself sticking with routines and only nudging my limits when it's convenient.

Finally, as I read on, I came across a line that reminded me of a posting from my old online journal which I came across last weekend. The line reads:
Our words, our deeds, our very presence in the world, create and leave impressions in the minds of others just as a writer makes impressions with his pen on paper, the painter with his brush on canvas, the potter with his fingers in clay... the creation of ourself... is not a subjective but an intersubjective process.
It's so easy to be self-centered. Not a day goes by when I don't have a few selfish thoughts run through my head or words pass through my lips. I need to be reminded of my connections to the world around me. I have to remember that I carry "an indebtedness to the past and a responsibility to the future." This doesn't mean looking out for my legacy, forging a positive reputation to leave behind. It's about living responsibly and respectively. Finding balance. Appreciating what has arisen before me, leading up to this very moment, creating who I am, and contributing to the grand progression to follow.

A favorite quote of mine is by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and I will end with this:
...carry on a lover's quarrel with the world so that when we depart this life we will leave behind us a little more truth, a little more justice, a little more beauty, and a little more laughter.

Real American Heroes

A friend of mine just sent me a link to Bud Light's radio commercials. Behold, tales of "Real Men of Genius" and "Real American Heroes."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Weekend Movies

Other than redesigning my website, having lunch with my mom, and going on a short hike this afternoon, my weekend has been spent watching movies. I ran out last night to find a couple of movies that I might want to get and came across some good deals at Blockbuster on their previously viewed titles. I ended up getting 7 for the price of 2 new ones. So, in addition to my Netflix selection and one I borrowed from my parents, here are the films of the weekend:

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I have just finished updating my website. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Also, I have included in the archives listing in this blog a link to my old online journal going back to January of 2003.

Monday, July 17, 2006

One Year Later

It's been just about one year since I last stepped into a United Methodist Church as a member. It's been a strange time, religiously speaking, when I look at what's happened - or not - these past 12 months. And I'm not sure what is over my next horizon.

After taking August 2005 to decompress and allow myself some time to let go before picking up and starting over, I began to attend a somewhat local UU congregation. The music was wonderful, the preaching inspired, the imagery was deeply moving, and the use of silence offered a peace I had thought I'd lost. It was a great place to be. It was challenging and it was comforting all at once, stimulating me on many levels both spiritually and intellectually.

But I stopped going. Maybe it was because of the distance from my new place. Maybe it was the absence of others my age to provide for that sense of community. Maybe my introverted nature and the associated fear of new situations held me back. Maybe I wasn't ready to start something new. Maybe a single month wasn't enough time to move on.

Looking back, maybe a single year isn't enough either. I've been feeling guilty lately that I haven't yet found my place in a religious community. I was a United Methodist for 24.5 years and I'm not certain that one year is enough to adjust to leaving. With work and continuing to volunteer with a UM youth organization, I still spend a good deal of time with United Methodists and find myself feeling like nothing's changed. And I find that frustrating.

I often wonder if I'm standing in my own way. Is my participation in a group that is associated with something I no longer belong to keeping me from walking my own path? (Let alone asking if it is appropriate for me to be an advisor to such a group.) Am I just creating excuses to not look further at my religious options? Or am I just not ready? And what are the implications on the other areas of my life?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Photography Tips

I'm going to be leading a photography workshop at a retreat this weekend for youth who might want to learn how to take better pictures. I'm going to be talking about framing your shots, paying attention to elements of the subject, light and shadow, etc.

Since I wrote up a handout for the participants anyway, I thought I'd share the tips with you. There's nothing too fancy here, just some basics. Hope it helps.

  • Have an idea of what you want to get before heading out, but leave yourself open to unexpected opportunities. (Some great things can happen by accident!) Ask yourself these questions: Do I want shots of people, landscapes, still life, or action? Will it be rather traditional or more artistic? Do I want the finished image to be in color or black and white?
    What do I want to say with this picture? What do I want to express?
  • Pay attention to details: Colors, Textures, Lighting, Shadows, Background, Contrasts, Combinations
  • Framing - Finding Balance: Rule of Thirds: Mentally divide the viewfinder into thirds vertically and horizontally. Place the focal point of your image at one of the intersections. Align edges with the 1/3 lines. If you are shooting a group of people, align their eyes with the top 1/3 line.
  • Safe-Action Area: Choose what is important in the image (the subject) and focus on it. Avoid what is unnecessary.
  • Keep the sun behind the camera. To keep the subject from being in silhouette, unless you’re going for a specialty shot, keep the sun (or other light source) to your back so the subject is properly lit. Try to avoid casting your own shadow on the subject – again, unless you’re doing a specialty shot.
  • Be as steady as possible. To make sure you have the best focus possible, try to stay very still as you are hitting the trigger. Use a tripod if possible. If you don’t have one, support yourself with a tree or wall, etc. Take more than one shot of the same thing so you have a choice later. (This is also a good idea as you’re learning how to frame things. Take shots where the subject is framed differently so you can see what looks best.)
  • Give your shots personality. Make it your own. Try to show something ordinary in a unique way. Look for things you normally wouldn’t notice. Look at things from a different angle. Look at things a little closer. Try to capture elements of something instead of the whole thing.
  • Have fun with it!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's Official (and Sorry Beth)

Today I will be mailing in my entry form for the New York State Fair Photography Competition. Judging will be taking place in about a month once all submissions have been mailed/dropped off and I should know on or around August 18th if my works have placed and/or will be displayed at the fair. I'm optimistic but I am trying not to get my hopes too high.

I'm fairly confident in my abilities as a photographer. I've always had an eye for framing and composition and I've only gotten better over the years. It's impossible to know what the competition will be or what the judges will like on the particular day. Though it would be great to place or, dare I even mention, receive "Best of Show" I know that this, being my first competition, will be a learning experience and I'd feel proud if I would be selected for display even without a prize and ribbon.

About a month or so ago my brother was talking with a colleague of his who works in the visual information lab and she was taken by a number of my photos and wanted to know if I would let her make prints so she could decorate her apartment. As payment I would get prints made for myself. Upon receiving the prints, I looked them over and chose the two that were of the highest quality and represented well the intended look.

My two selections are:

Hinge - Clay, NY
: To be entered in Section A: Class 2 (Professional: Color Print). And, much to the chagrin of Beth:

Bridge - Liverpool, NY
- To be entered in Section C: Class 1 (Non-Traditional Photography - Professional) because of the amount of work I did in Photoshop.

Thank you to those who offered input and opinions. Other than the shot of the old hinge, it was tough to decide on the second entry and it wasn't until I saw the physical prints that I was able to choose.

Wish me luck!

Monday, July 03, 2006


Upon passing my first blogiversary over the weekend and reading this post about the disconnectedness despite the advances in modern communications technology my mind once again turned to my own struggles with feeling the separation that comes with time, distance, circumstance, and personal evolution even though I am more reachable than I have ever been.

There's a great bit by Ellen Degeneres that I saw when I was spending some time in Texas in March where she describes how terrible call waiting is to the ego. She explains how

It's turned into a mini people's choice awards. Hasn't it? And you find out right away who wins or loses.: You're having a pleasant conversation with what you think is a good friend. You hear the click. They tell you to hold on. You're confident they're going to come back to you. And then they come back and they say, "I've got to take this other call." And you know what that means what they just said to the other person? "Let me get rid of this other call."
Our attention spans have gotten so short. With instant communication, anything other than high speed or digital is too slow or the quality is deemed too low for proper consumption. Priorities are ordered by what seems more immediate and high pressure even though perhaps the more important items are those that offer less or no stress and can be taken at a lighter pace.

Don't get me wrong, I work in communications where I am always designing and maintaining websites so they stay relevant and up to date. With the videos we produce, we try to make the most of our allotted time to get the most out of those few short minutes - not necessarily with the amount of information but with the quality of the content in the story to be told. I have a blog, a website, I'm wireless in my apartment, I shoot pictures digitally so I can see them now and share them more easily, I have an iPod so I can store things and listen to my music any time, and I have the ability to be in touch in one form or another virtually 24 hours a day. It's the world we live in and I am a part of it. I'm not arguing one way or another about the benefits or detriments of mass communication and technology. Rather, I have found that I can easily get pulled into the high-stress and I just need to turn things off and be still. I'll turn off my phone and go for a hike or just sit with a candle or incense burning or watch an old movie set in "simpler" times.

Over this past year, a lot has changed for me: I have moved to a more remote city from work, I've disassociated myself with certain traditions and affiliations, I have grown into a more honest version of myself. Also in this past year, though, I've tried to focus more on the relationships in my life that really matter. I've not always felt like the bonds of friendship have been as strong as I had hoped. After all, as the saying goes, it is the least committed person that has the most control and I have not been the least committed in most. Though there's something to be said for persistence, there are some things that can't be forced.

So I do what I can to be a good friend, not so much an exercise in the Golden Rule, but to do my part in ensuring a positive and healthy relationship. I'm not perfect and I certainly fall short but I try to make the effort. Even with family and friendships I know aren't going away anytime soon I let them know how much I care and what they mean to me. Whether it's a thoughtful card or something more ongoing I try to be the person I want to be.

I have a few friends from college who travel to a greater or lesser degree and we always send each other postcards from wherever we happen to be. More and more my only mail is junk or bills and it's a special treat when I open up the box and find a small card from some distant place from a friend that says, in their own way, "I was thinking of you today." It's something so simple, so old fashioned to physically write a message and take it to a post office when it's so easy to type off a quick two sentence email that goes to everyone in your address book that says "wish you were here" and attach a picture.

Maybe the meaning comes in the time it takes to pick out just the right card, to compose the fitting words for the one person on the other end. Maybe it's the material card that you can hold in your hands. I know I take an extra minute or two to make sure I have found something that fits the particular personality of the recipient. I actually just got a postcard from a friend who apologized that the vendors in the country she was in weren't selling any postcards of a higher quality. As simple as it is, something like a postcard can be quite personal. Each time one arrives I am renewed. No matter what the day's been like or what is coming up next on my list of things to do I can stop, take a minute to escape and remember that someone out there felt that I was important enough to them to take the time to do this. The thought really does count.

Whenever I find myself feeling alone and like I'm somehow missing out on something because I don't have a lot of friends living nearby I look up at the wall where the dozens of postcards are posted that I've gotten over the years from the people who are so far away yet so dear and have made the effort to stay connected to me when it would've been easier to let go and move on.

So, as another year begins I hope this form of communication will be a way for me to connect in some small way as a supplement to, not a replacement for, whatever relationships may exist in my life.

Thank you all for reading!

New Year, New Look

As I start my second year I decided to slap on a new banner. As regulars will recall, this is one of the first shots I took with my Nikon D50 when I got it this past spring. It's a hinge on an old door at the rear of a small shed off a main road through Clay, NY about 10 minutes from work. It's one of my favorite shots because of the textures in the wood and the hinge itself and the depth of focus between the vine in front and the door behind.

In the next couple of weeks I will also be submitting this shot into the photography competition at the New York State Fair.