It’s Impossible to Bring a Photographer to Sanity

I’m trying to get your attention with this title but like most attention-getting stunts, a grain of substance exists. Photographers can get crazy when it comes to getting the right shot. When travelling in a motor vehicle with a photographer, this can mean steeling yourself for unexpected U-turns on both deserted and busy streets, sudden jolting stops and a seemingly endless amount of gazing around in all directions except the one you would expect the driver to be looking in. Due to scary experiences in the past, my photographer partner has made a solemn oath that he will never again try to get a shot while driving! To the more cautious people out there this might seem like a given but let me tell you about something I witnessed the other day while standing at a pull out on the winding road of the Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. A guy on a very big motorcycle came around a tight corner with one hand on his bike handle and the other hand holding a very large camera that he was shooting continuously as he drove. I mean a big camera, folks – not a little hand-held job like mine. Photographers don’t consider danger in the same way the rest of us do.

If you travel with a photographer you will be regaled with endless talk of the wonders of the light during the golden hours – just after sunrise or before sunset. You can expect to be rousted out of a comfortable bed in the predawn light in order to arrive at some point where the sun is rising. You will see your travelling companion scrambling over barricades, beyond well-marked boundaries, and up dangerous looking slopes – all in the pursuit of the perfect shot. Expect endless delays while various antics take place. My partner demonstrates behaviour that could have a person who wasn’t carrying a camera locked up in a home for the hopelessly insane. Consider what I saw the other day, out of the corner of my eye – he was crouched low to the ground, running wildly across a yard with a large orange pylon under his arm. When asked later what the hell he was doing, he nonchalantly replied, “It was in way of the shot.”

Another important thing to  keep in mind – it is always the photo that got away that haunts the travelling photographer. My partner is worse than a fisherman when it comes to endless lamentation about how the photo he missed would have been the best one he could have ever taken.

The other day my photographer partner jumped out of the car with a wild smile on his face and said, “I love the smell of snow on the mountains in the morning.” He sounded exactly like Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now and looked just about as crazy. I came on this holiday to California for a bit of heat. That morning I was standing outside in a wind that brought the temperature below zero so he could photograph snow-covered peaks. The mountains are breathtaking but it was still freezing out there.

The delays used to get on my nerves but I have come up with my own coping method. I now take advantage of this time to write hurried notes in my writer’s journal – blog ideas, little tidbits of this and that, impressions that I hope will spark my imagination at a later date. All I ask is to be parked in a spot that is safe and hopefully inspiring. I have feared for my life while waiting in a car pulled precariously over on a busy street, to say nothing of time spent with only a concrete abutment to stare at.

To be fair, I own up to the fact that I am no photographer. I love to take pictures but I have an eye for a different type of picture than my partner does. I like to take pictures of signs and odd things that I think will make my four-year-old granddaughter laugh. My observations of travelling with a photographer come from the place of the non-initiated, the non-passionate, the outsider. I’m sure all the photographers out there will say – what is she talking about? That guy is behaving just as I would in his situation. Everything she is describing is perfectly normal.

Since we crossed over into the US we had been searching for a camera store where the photographer might purchase a polarizing filter. In Bishop CA we got lucky. We walked into a quiet store on the main street and chatted with a soft-spoken man. He had the right filter for my partner’s camera. In the corner I saw a really nice tripod, very reasonably priced. I convinced my partner to buy it. His tripod is vintage 1970 – a heavy clunky thing held together by black tape. Days ago he accidentally forgot it at a rest stop and when we rushed back two hours later it was still standing in the same spot he had left it. No one in their right mind would steal that tripod, unless perhaps they were in need of a heavy murder weapon.

While in the store, I had a short and poignant conversation with the man behind the counter. He had been a professional photographer with his own studio but he told me it wasn’t a way to make a living anymore. “Everyone’s a professional now – ,” he said with a sad smile, “ – press automatic and shoot, auto adjust on the computer and there you go. No one needs a professional photographer anymore.” I looked up at him and said, “But you still need an eye.” He nodded thoughtfully and agreed, “Yes, you still need an eye.”

My next post will be turned over to my photographer partner and travelling companion. He will share some of his favorite shots from the trip so far.I told him to limit it to ten and he countered with, “Why not an even dozen – like the apostles?” What the apostles could have to do with the number of photos is beyond me. I do hope you will enjoy his work. I admit to often enjoying the product of his endeavours to a great degree more than the process – but not always. Would I have these wonderfully funny memories if I wasn’t along for the process, too? Nope.

The Sierra Madre Playhouse

We are always looking for interesting things to see and do in the communities we visit. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to take a short Sunday afternoon drive out of Pasadena and into the city of Sierra Madre. I can hardly describe it as a city – it seemed more like a quiet little community nestled in the shadow of the beautiful foothills. We stopped for a leisurely lunch at The Only Place restaurant. It might not be the only place to eat in Sierra Madre but it’s certainly a great place to eat. I discovered the Santa Fe burger – served on sourdough bread with grilled bell peppers and Swiss cheese accompanied by a delicious potato salad – totally yummy.

    Across the street from the restaurant was the Sierra Madre Playhouse. This funky little 99 seat theatre was built in 1923. It’s now a community theatre run by a non-profit board of directors. They are dedicated to presenting culturally sound and family oriented theatre. We had Googled what’s happening in Pasadena and noticed that something was playing that very evening.

The box office opened for an afternoon performance and we ran across the street to check it out. A welcoming older man took our names and told us he could make a special deal for us, his Canadian friends, if we came back at 7:00 to see the evening show. True to his words we got two tickets to see The Liquid Radio Players for $10.00 each. This improvisational, 1940’s style radio show had been listed as LA Weekly’s comedy pick of the week.  

The theatre was lovely – small, comfortable seating and able to evoke a sense of nostalgia for when such venues were the norm. We were greeted at the door by a beautiful young woman giving out small candy treats. As audience members we got to choose the genre for the evening show – science fiction. Fitting, as this was a special Halloween performance. We chose the title – The Alien from Kentucky; character names – a villainous alien named Gorkan (an audience member’s last name); two young sweethearts named Scarlett Rose and Willy; and three 1940’s type radio sponsors – Shooties Oatmeal, Acme Plumbing, and Condom’s Hair Cream. That one got a good laugh.

The next hour and a half was filled with wildly funny antics as the narrator and five actors, plus sound man and keyboardist, improvised their way through a story of aliens from Mars landing in a farmer’s cornfield. In the end the earth was saved and romance bloomed.

We were pleased to explore Sierra Madre – a place with such a small town feel during a time we had thought would be our big city hustle and bustle part of the trip. If you are ever in the Pasadena area, please check out the Sierra Madre Playhouse. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

What are we doing in Las Vegas?

Lots of people take trips that are characterized by spontaneity – a flying by the seat of the pants approach. Other people take trips that are well planned out – everything booked in advance – somewhat of a regimented experience. We try for a bit of both. To be totally honest, what we are doing right now is not only spontaneous – it is totally out of character for us. We are staying in Las Vegas for a night at the Mirage Hotel.

Let’s step back in time for a moment, to a small motel room in Death Valley – no phone and sketchy internet. We had thoroughly enjoyed two beautiful days in the desert – we didn’t eat a hot meal once – picnics out of our cooler for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No problem – we loved it. But we were faced with a dilemma – where to go next? I fell asleep before the travel plans had been finalized. The last I saw of Bruce he was buried in maps.

This morning, before the first rays of dawn, our car was packed and ready to go. We had planned to see the sun come up over the mountains on one side of the valley and wash the other side with light. Bruce stopped at the motel office to ask about the route he had chosen. The guy at the desk said he’d never driven the road we were considering. He mentioned that we were less than two hours from Las Vegas and if we drove in that direction we could hook-up with a great section of Route 66 back into California and down towards Joshua Tree National Park – our next destination.

We loved the idea of driving a piece of Route 66 – our plan was to set the GPS for the Vegas Strip and drive down it – why not? You only live once – right?

The GPS worked great – led us right to the strip. We decided to park the car. It was entirely my fault. I wanted to see a wonderful replica statue of the Nike of Samothrace which is located by the fountains outside of Caesar’s Palace.  As we walked along the strip, we thought – why not check into seeing a show? I can’t say which one of us had that idea. The next thing we knew we had two tickets to see The Beatles – Love – Cirque du Soleil and a room reserved for the night at the Mirage. As we ate steaks at an Outback restaurant on the strip we both concluded that the madness came about because we were scared to drive the car out of the parkade and back into the non-stop party all around us.

So – here we are in our 21st floor room getting ready to go downstairs to relax poolside. Then we will see the show and wander around and take pictures and people watch – earlier I saw Spiderman go by – who knew Spiderman was in Vegas? Apparently the Mirage hotel has a volcano that erupts after sunset – every hour on the hour.

Later – the show was wonderful – a fantasy trip into some great Beatles tunes – wonderful costumes and high-flying antics. The volcano eruption was really something – both Bruce and I gasped when we saw it burst into flames.

What can I say about Las Vegas? I think a young woman from England we met before we left Death Valley said it best – “You have to take Vegas for what it is.” I agree – a sensory overload adult amusement park. Don’t expect it to be anything else.

A writer always welcomes the chance to have a unique experience. If I ever create a character that passes through Las Vegas, I’ll have a real experience to draw on when I sit down to describe the scene. That’s invaluable. But I seriously doubt I’ll ever go back. The picture of the Nike sure turned out well though.

Why Not Just Enjoy It?

The first thing I do when we check into a motel room on the road is get my laptop up and running – hook up to Wi-Fi, post my location on Facebook for my daughter, then check my email and my stats on WordPress. The other day I received an email from my author account manager at FriesenPress telling me the editorial evaluation of my novel had been completed and was attached. My breath caught and I felt jittery. I debated closing the email and running out the door into the streets of Ashland, Oregon.

But of course I didn’t do any such thing. I opened the attachment and began to read the thing out loud to my husband, who was sitting on the bed behind me. The first paragraph flowed on with complimentary words.

Ya sure. I know the cookie method of feedback as well as the next person – you always sandwich the bad stuff in between layers of positive – no need to overwhelm the poor, novice hack – right?

I read on – waiting and waiting for the bad layer but it didn’t come. The reviewer was positive right on through to the end – sure there are a few things I need to attend to but in her words (somehow I am just positive the reviewer was female – crazy assumption, I know that) the novel is at an advanced stage of readiness for publication and she concluded by saying she had been absolutely hooked by the characters. That last line, combined with her earlier suggestion that my novel belongs in the category of dramatic literary fiction and should not be limited by a designation of romance, had me wanting to burst into tears of gratitude.

I allowed myself a minute to savor this evaluation of my work – 60 glorious seconds where I glowed with the thought that someone who wasn’t married to me, related to me, or had been a friend of mine for decades really liked my book. Then the voices in my head (just your regular garden variety voices folks – nothing dramatic enough to be really interesting and/or life shattering and sad) began to interject doubt.

The dialogue goes a bit like this:

You are paying them, remember? How can you be sure of anything they say to you?

Well – it’s in their best interest to publish something that reads well – it’s their reputation, too.

Come on – you are always so naïve – they’re out to make money. You forfeited the right to glow like this when you went the route of vanity press.

Well, you get the idea. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to rid myself of this doubter voice in my head that tells me I am sitting in coach, riding in the back of the bus. I feel the way I felt after I had worked so hard to get my undergrad degree – years of community college and distant education courses. Another 60 seconds or so of pleasure to be followed by the voice that told me – a degree from Open Learning Institution – come on now – is that something to be so proud of? It’s not like a real degree at all – is it? After completing a Master’s Degree on campus at a very real university, I realized how hard it had been to do that undergrad degree – but of course I didn’t know that then. The old doubter voice had a field day with me.

Old habits die hard. I admit – I let the voice have its way with me once again – what else can one do with such a constant companion. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. At least a hundred times a day – when the doubter voice is quiet, lulled by my seeming acquiescence, I laugh inside and pinch myself (figuratively, you understand) with glee and tell myself – someone I don’t even know read my book and liked it!

Why not just enjoy it?

A Travelling Guide for Women like Me

Someone out there could make a bundle of money writing a guidebook for the older woman (like me) who wants a bit of adventure but who is not interested in killing herself in the process.

One of my nieces just posted a blog entry about a seven-day hike she and a friend took up Mt. Kilimanjaro. As I read her description, I pictured them almost sprinting up the mountain. I was put in mind of the way people play through at a golf course when she described how they passed other hikers and left them far behind. I am starting to wonder if most guide books are written by people like her.

We middle-aged, adventure seeking women require a guidebook that tells it like it is. Let me elaborate – the other day we did a hike up to Watson Falls – the highest waterfall in Oregon. It was to be a .3 of a mile hike to a viewing bridge with an elevation of 250 ft. over that distance (facts, by the way, you find out only in the parking lot) Several guidebooks described this as an easy walk– do not be deceived – this is not an easy walk. Though I must admit, it was well worth the effort. All I’m saying here is that we need accurate information.

 

Still on the topic of a realistic guidebook – we wanted to explore the Umpqua River Hot Springs – according to some sources an easy .3 of a mile (why is it always an easy .3 of a mile?) walk from the parking lot. An outdoor, rustic and undeveloped spring – a true wilderness hot springs. I was resolved to push my comfort envelope out a bit by going along with the idea of exploring this hot spring.

I love hot springs – the type where I pay to get in and once inside I am greeted with pretty pools of steaming water. I read through the information we had on the springs and the material was very clear in stating that people should be prepared to wear bathing suits – well for God’s sake – that’s obvious – right?

After a few wrong turns and stopping to study the map we located the forest service road that would take us to the springs and arrived to be confronted by the following sign.

We ran into an older couple in the parking lot who had camped out the night before and had already enjoyed the springs a few times. The woman told Bruce, wearing what I imagine was a pitying smile as she looked in my direction (OK – ya, ya, ya – she was probably smiling nicely – I admit to being overly uptight by this time – refer back to the nudity sign), that the hike up to the hot springs was a bit of a scramble. I’ll say – it looked almost perpendicular to me. She naturally made her way up the incline like a mountain goat – no doubt quite prepared to deal with the nudity issue like it was an everyday occurrence. It is times like this that I wonder if I am really suited for adventuresome, holiday travel.

The next day found us in Ashland and very close to the Jackson Wells Mineral Pools. The place is quite beautiful – nestled among tall pines – my kind of hot springs. Imagine my shock when I get there and see a large sign on the wall that reads – Clothing Optional starts at 7:30pm! People of Oregon – what have you got against bathing suits? Thankfully we had got there with a good hour and a half to spare before the arrival of the clothing optional crowd. We had a wonderful time.

Now, I’m going to just go out on a limb here and describe Jackson Wells as a new age sort of place. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for people being themselves. If you are a person who talks in a hushed tone with a startling number of ooohs and aaaahs thrown into your conversation – then I say, go for it. If you are a person given to going into great detail on the subject of crystals, the things your true heart tells you to do and how your aura is pulsing today – well – more power to you. If you are the kind of person who feels the need to twist your body into Circe de Solei type movements over and under the spa waters of the small hot pool you are sharing with at least a dozen other people – what can I say? You gotta be you. If you want to spend your time carefully scooping up each and every bug from the huge swimming pool and throwing it over the high wall while proclaiming that this bug should go in peace – it’s your life. I’ve sure got nothing against any of these people – but for some reason (all about me, of course) I was hard pressed not to double over laughing most of the time. I controlled myself by focusing on the older lady in a Myrna Lloyd type pink bathing cap who took up one corner of the pool and simply closed her eyes. She had to have been at least eight and the serenity on her face as she soaked up the pleasure of the hot mineral water was quite beautiful.

A nice message at the entrance to the hot springs at Jackson Wells

Loving the holiday while bemoaning the need for a guidebook that tells me what I need to know. Still being my good old judgemental and observant self. What more could a writer ask for?

The Terroir of Day 1

Terroir: a sense of place; the soil, climate, slope, weather and many other factors that may influence a wine – or a day’s travel?

Day one of our long-awaited vacation, saw us exit the Interstate amidst a sudden downpour of rain – the first rain this area of Oregon has seen in months. We had planned to drive a section of back roads that would take us past several of the Umpaqua region’s wineries. The rain poured down and at every corner we bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t really appreciate the beauty of the area – the sky had opened up and we seemed to be on the verge of the great deluge.

We decided to make one actual winery stop and we chose the Becker Vineyard – no regrets there, folks. A short drive up a picturesque and winding road took us to the wine tasting room. We were greeted by Peggy Becker coming toward us, smiling warmly and accompanied by her very large part St. Bernard and part black lab dog named Mueller – no lie, this dog was as big as a small pony – 160 pounds! Peggy ushered us into the wine tasting room and treated us like royalty. We could have tested all the wines but we aren’t big fans of red so we chose two of their very popular varieties for tasting – the 2011 Dog’s Drool – a very dry red (fruit forward, cherries, and soft tannins) and the 2011 Pinot Noir Rose (strawberry, refreshing crisp finish).  We fell in love with the Rose and promptly bought two bottles. One of which we are enjoying as I write.

 

If you are ever in this region of Oregon please visit Peggy and Charlie Becker – they are one of only three Oregon Artisan Family Wineries – you won’t regret the trip and hopefully it won’t be pouring rain. Their testing room has the sweetest little balcony overlooking the vineyard – the rain kept us from trying it out but maybe you will get to sit out there in the sunshine and enjoy a sip of a wonderful wine.

So – what does this have to do with being a writer? Well – I learned a new word today – terroir. Always good for a writer. Peggy made me think about a wonderful, earthy, red-haired woman who might be a great character in any number of upcoming stories. All and all – not a bad writer’s day.

Three Writing Wishes

Imagine a Genie pops out of an old lamp and says you are to be granted three writing related wishes. What would you wish for?

At first, I thought this would be a great blog prompt. I am well along the road of my self-publishing journey. My novel has been submitted to Friesen Press  – they have my reworked book synopsis (the first time around I said too much – I needed to write this piece in such a way as to tease the reader with hooks without giving anything away! Tall order right? Someone commented that it sounded like dating and I replied – Ya, like dating a really big pain in the ass). My author bio has gone in. My author photo has been uploaded.  (I take the worst pictures ever and I am thankful to my husband for insisting on taking hundreds of photos of me – though when this is happening, I literally want to strangle him – but due to his persistence, he does get a decent shot now and then) The photo that I want to form the background for the book jacket, as well as some of my ideas for how the cover should look have gone to the design team. My manuscript is in the hands of one of their editors for a complete read-through. I am basically done for now. I thought it would be a good time to dream. But it seems like dreaming about where my writing could go is more scary than fun. Who knew?

Genie: Come on – dream big. It’s just between you and me and the old lamp here. Give it a go – why not? What have you got to lose? (I picture this Genie to be like the Disney genie from the movie Aladdin – all blue and manic with Robin William’s voice)

Me: I’m embarrassed to make wishes – everyone will know what an ego-maniac I am about my writing and think – good grief, that woman is really living on some sort of fantasy island – da plane, boss, da plane.

Genie: They’re wishes – it’s supposed to be fantasy island stuff. Relax – let your hair down – get your wishing groove on.

Me: OK – well – here goes then.

Writing wish number one – I want to be able to write novels for the rest of my life. I’ve never done any other type of work that made me feel so motivated and alive. I’ve never felt that any other way of spending my time fit me so well.

Writing wish number two – I want disappearing in plain sight to be a success (a pretty relative term – success – could mean many things – I’ll leave even my wish for success vague). I want to gain the confidence to pitch the sequel to an agent and maybe get picked up by a traditional publishing house – I guess I want to have both kinds of experiences. Only then would I be able to judge what worked best for me.

Writing wish number three – I wish that people will read and enjoy the books I write and that they will discover insights that help them move forward with their own lives.

Genie: There, that wasn’t so hard was it? Of course I am just a pretend genie and possess no powers to make wishes come true.

Me: That’s OK, Genie. I believe that imagining what our life could be, creates possibilities and opens doors. They may not be the doors we wished to be opened or even any kind of door we could have imagined – but we imagine ourselves into being every single day of our lives. Wishes and dreams keep us plugging away.

I invite you to make three wishes today – bring three possibilities selves into the world by imagining what your life would be like if these wishes were to actually come true. Are you afraid? Good – you should be. Are you excited? That’s good too. Do you feel like you dreamed too big or maybe the only wishes you could come up with were narrow and tight? Think about that. Let me know how it turns out for you.

Image courtesy of  disneymoviefacts.tumblr.com