Category Archives: Me

Truth in Development

There is nothing more poetic to me than watching an image slowly emerge from a spotless white sheet of paper, floating in a shallow tray in the cast of a red light in a darkroom. The image is fuzzy at first, a blur of grey slowly appearing on the solid white background. The shadows come first. The dark before the light. The shadows fill in, illuminating the image in a contrast of black and white; illuminating a world of grey. The vivid spectrum of the greyscale is never more visible than on a floating piece of photography paper, developing before your eyes.

Photographs taken with an actual camera and film, especially black and white film, have an element of truth and virtuosity technology simply can’t recreate. Truth, beauty, and talent must stand on their own. With film maybe you get it, maybe you don’t—it might be blurry, or your finger covered the lens, or you captured a stranger’s crotch or ass when they walked in front of you—but you take one or two and move on, content with the memory it makes, whether it’s perfect or not. And they all went in the photo album, at least my Mom’s photo albums.

But sometimes the shutter closed at the exact right moment, and the lighting was perfect, and everyone wore the perfect expression. A moment otherwise forgotten but forever encapsulated in this photograph. A black and white, 8×10 print I found stuck in an old faded brown album. An injustice to its beauty; it belongs in a frame, mounted on the wall next to reprints of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Adams’ Rose and Driftwood. Six people sitting around a table at a long-closed German tavern; six pints raised, not in posture, posing for a photo, but captured, frozen in a hearty Prost! The joy that emanates in their faces—the smiles, the twinkling eyes—you can almost hear the laughter.

My Grandmother and great-aunt sit across from each other at the far end of a rectangular table pushed up against a door marked, “EXIT.” So young, vibrant, full of life, happiness, love and friendship. A bit tipsy from the lager. The best of friends, always sitting across the table from each other, talking, laughing, drinking, playing cards or dominoes. On the left side of the table, sitting next to my Grandmother, is my mother, wearing the most fabulous glasses. The lenses have to be about 3” wide and 2” tall; they look thick, but they don’t distort her eyes at all. I’m sure she hated them at the time—I hate my glasses when I have to wear them—but she had no idea just how fabulous they looked framed by her shoulder length brown hair. She looks beautiful, and so chic for 1976, and even chicer for 2016. Next to her, my father; he’s slim. I don’t remember him ever being slim. He’s always had a ‘Santa’ belly; he’s not fat overall, but he has a jolly ole belly full o’ oh so much jelly. In the picture he has a mustache but no beard and, I can hardly type the words: mutton chops. On the opposite side of the table, next to my great-aunt, sit the minister, pleasant company in his casual clothes without the collar, and his wife, the only person not wearing glasses that reflect the flare of the flash.

Photos remind us of moments we may have forgotten, relationships, emotions and memories we question, heightened or hardened by time, the good times, and the bad, because even in the happiest picture, we can see the future that awaits the ignorant bliss of the subjects. Pictures can be deceiving. My parents, separated. My aunt has passed on. The minister abandoned his flock in search of selfish gains. But this is the picture before the storm. No foreshadowing to be seen of the pain or deception to come. The joy was there; it isn’t fake or omniscient. It knows not what the future has in store for these 6 people. And it is captured, there for all to see, how much can change in so short a time.

But, can pictures lie? Do they mock the present? We can see the smiles but we can’t know what anyone was thinking. What’s that look on my Mom’s face? She’s smiling, but there’s something missing. The corners of her eyes aren’t turned up and though she’s smiling wide, the corners of her lips go straight, they don’t turn up into the full smile I know. Is it simply time? Age? Or was something already missing? Is this photo actually revealing something, a truth long withheld? I could ask my mom; but I don’t think it’s really necessary, we know how it ended: 2 kids and a divorce.

The bottom left corner is washed out. The edge of another table set with ivory tablecloths and gleaming wine glasses disappears in a burst of highlights. The flare of a flash on porcelain and glass. The light was too hot. I can see the photographer in the darkroom—manipulating the negative, aperture, exposure times, contrast filters, processing times—to balance this hotspot and get the full range of the greyscale to recreate the scene he saw through the lens. Filters used to make the picture look real; not perfect—no Photoshop or Instagram-filtered pretenses here. To crop out or diminish this flare would have diminished the highlights, the life of the subjects. And so it was left, an imperfection in honor of truth. This white-fog is the evidence of an artist who knows that life is art and respects the subject and what was really there at that moment, when the shutter clicked.

There is one place where I don’t need light. I don’t need sight. My hands know what to do. My body turns instinctively, reaching through the dark void. This is the real darkroom. No red bulbs in here. Completely sealed from any light. Blacker than you can imagine a black hole to be. I feed the film onto the reel carefully threading it in a 3-inch spiral round and round 24, 36 frames. Thread another. Placing one atop the other in their cylindrical metal house tightly sealing the lid. Chemicals, time, and some gentle sloshing will turn this film into negatives: the truth that was inscribed when the shutter clicked. The work is done but the creation has yet to begin.

The darkroom is the one place where I do not fear what is unknown. Not knowing what will emerge on the paper is part of the magic and beauty of developing film and processing prints. The walk from the projector to the developing trays is filled with anticipation—and not just for the fumes that waft off the trays. Did I do it? Did I get it? Is it going to be what I saw in my head? If you do all the math right, you might get it on the first try. But the art isn’t in the math, it’s in the journey and the discovery. Working with the negative until the image finds you is the art of photography. Creating a final image is a process, a slow rediscovery of the moment. This first trip to the trays is the first of many to come to find the perfect balance of negative and positive, dark and light. To create the perfect memory. Because in the end, all we are left with are pictures and memories.

Why I Write Nonfiction

They walked me down the hall to the campground’s small infirmary: they have to tell me something—it sounds serious. I could smell the alcohol and peroxide as I sat on the sterilized examination table. Oh Mylanta, who’s dying? Wait… I’m the one sitting on the exam table… is it me?? “We want you to know, this in no way affects how we feel about you…” Oh lordy, I’m not dying, but I must have done something pretty bad—I wonder what it was… My dad saw the terrified look on my face, took a deep breath and let me have it: “Pam’s pregnant: you’re going to have a baby brother or sister.” Before he could finish “baby brother or sister,” I burst into tears; like a torrential downpour from a salty waterfall. Both my dad and stepmom began to try to sooth me but stopped short and stared at each other for a moment as I choked out, “I’m… so… happy!!” in between sobs. Confused, but relieved, they both threw their arms around me as I started rattling off baby names.

I cry about everything. Happy, sad, angry, surprised, it doesn’t matter what emotion I’m feeling, if it’s strong enough, I cry. The day my mom told me I could have a phone in my bedroom: I cried. I could have a TV in my bedroom: I cried. I just got home from the most amazing 6 weeks of freedom a 16-year old girl can imagine: I cried. Got the part I wanted in the school play: cried. Didn’t get the part I wanted in the community play: cried. Emotion overpowers me and the only way I can sort out my feelings is by writing them down, digging into the deep recesses of my brain to understand why I feel the way I do.

Tears help me recognize the presence and strength of my emotions, but they don’t always tell me why they are there. I can tap my temple and think, think, think, but until I work it out in writing, I don’t fully understand what I’m feeling or why. Why was I so happy to hear I was going to have a younger sibling? Was it pure relief that I wasn’t in trouble? Or was it that after 13 years of being picked on by an older brother the idea of having a little brother or sister to pick on was empowering? My older brother was also coming and going, in and out of my life and I was definitely excited to have another sibling to share childhood with. Why did I cry when I was given a phone and TV? Was it simple id satisfaction or pride because my parents were telling me I was growing up and they trusted me to follow the rules unsupervised? Or because I would no longer feel alone at night and wouldn’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore? Why do I cry when my husband plays video games all day? Because I can’t enjoy it with him and that’s how my mother pushed my father away before the divorce (not with video games, mind you, she used the television show M.A.S.H.), and I fear he’s doing the same thing to me. By confronting these questions in writing, I not only discover the answers, but force myself to face reality and accept the truth about the situation and myself. I write to express myself because there is so much I can’t say out loud. I have to put my thoughts in writing in order to make sense of the situation and clearly present my point of view to my intended audience, even if that audience is only me.  Through writing about my experiences and sharing them with others, I am better able to understand my reactions, and hope my own revelations might help someone else understand something more about themselves.

So, why do I write creative nonfiction? Why do I do anything? Because I am passionate. Passionate about truth, human experience, expression, and knowledge. I write when I’m emotional: sad, angry, joyful, confused—any emotion works, but I have to feel something. I like to share and learn, communicate and inform. I write to understand my own thoughts and feelings. I’ve been through hell and came out the other side, but I’m still not sure what I’ve learned from these experiences. By writing about them I hope to find answers, insight, and maybe even some closure.

In Memoriam

IN MEMORIAM

OCTOBER 17, 2000

Before I Forget

Into the Light of the Dark Black Night

My slightly, hrmm, abstract shall we say, statement of purpose for grad school:

Who am I?  I am the Walrus.  When my creators handed me over to my parents they laughed and said ‘Good luck figuring this one out.’  I am a lovely little puzzle not meant to be solved, but to incite curiosity, bewilderment, even frustration and anger.  I open doors to thoughts and possibilities others are too afraid or ashamed to seek.  I challenge myself and others to dig deeper, go beyond the expected to find the spectacular, and think in new ways.
I returned to school to complete my Bachelor’s degree in nutrition to supplement my knowledge as a personal trainer.  I wanted to open my own gym.  I wanted to continue teaching gymnastics and children’s fitness.  I wanted to keep walking around on my hands instead of my feet.  But Maxwell had other plans for me; his silver hammer threw me into a wall and changed my life forever.
They called me Broken Wing.  It amused them to play off my heritage, but at least it was better than ‘the injun girl’ as I was often called.  But although the name was given in jest, Broken Wing is not an insult or a nickname to me.  It is a part of my identity.  Although I still try to fight it, I am no longer the woman I once was: physical, athletic, always running, looking for another challenge; physically, I am broken.  But maybe this is the moment I’ve been waiting for: though bound by physical limitations, I have learned there are no limits to my mental abilities.  My mind is still free to explore, create, and grow. I want to learn.  And I want to share what I learn with the world.  I want to express myself, understand myself and others, and share the joys and sorrows that are the essence of life.
Who am I?  I am Broken Wing and I am a fighter.

I Heart Analog

My Nikon N65You know what I love most about my 35mm Nikon N65?  When I look into the lens, I know no one is looking back at me.  Between the built-in webcam on my laptop, the dual cameras on my phone and tablet, and now the omnipresent watching eye of the Xbox One, I can’t help but feel like someone is always watching me.  With my N65 however, I am solely in control of what the shutter captures and who sees the resulting images and I just find that fact very comforting in this age of cyber spying and digital identity theft…