“Live Forever!”

In the middle of a particularly hellish day at work, my phone vibrated once in my desk drawer…a minute missive from the Associated Press announcing the passing of writer Ray Bradbury, on June 5, at the age of 91. I reflected…

I had just recently (in the last few years) discovered the staggeringly beautiful prose and brilliantly engineered short stories of Bradbury. My first thought was sadness, eclipsed shortly by amusement, upon envisioning Bradbury learning that news of his passing had been broadcast in real time across the airwaves through an opt-in text message alert service. People everywhere jumped on their compact “smart” devices, and accepted the news as it vibrated in (I admit, I also posted the alert on Facebook).

In reading obituaries and tributes, others have noted his regard for themes of loneliness and the universal presence of death. Ironically, I happen to be making my way through The October Country, a collection of short stories about mortality. Some are horrific, some are just sad, others are wonderful parables.

Perhaps the most poignant part of this collection is the preface where he explains the moment in his life when he realized how he would die:

“From the age of twelve I knew I was in a life and death match, winning every time I finished a new story, threatened with extinction on those days I did not write. The only answer, then, was: write. I have written every day of my life since my twelfth year. Death has not caught me yet. He will, eventually, of course…” (Bradbury 1999: xi)

That same year, Bradbury was inspired to write his first story after Mr. Electrico, a carnival magician, “touched [him] with the St. Elmo’s Fire sword and shouted sound advice: ‘Live forever!'”

And that he shall. Bradbury had an essay published in The New Yorker the week of his passing.

As an aside, in an interview for a documentary about Walt Disney, Ray Bradbury remarked that he was obsessed with The Skeleton Dance as a child. I think this made me love him even more.



Photos: me reading The Illustrated Man this past spring… Reveling in the rain.


next one.

One of the hardest lessons I continue to learn is being OK with letting go. I’m not talking about “letting go” as it relates to death, or re-imagining how things might have been, necessarily. It’s learning to be all right with missed opportunities… particularly those that continue to be burned in my brain that I’ve watched slip through my fingertips.

Namely, missed photographs. It’s inevitable really. You’re without a camera somewhere, and you can’t turn off your brain. The woman with the neon striped sweater waiting to cross the street cradling a cornucopia of reddish purple flowers… or the moon-faced child with the cut frown mimicking the posture of his father sitting next to him on the metro train. They are split seconds, glimpses, and you’ve just missed them.

I try to “sketch” as much as I can in the full sense of Kerouac’s interpretation. I find that I don’t make certain photos sometimes because I want to get in and experience whatever it is—give an account of the minutia—or the things that I noticed specifically that might have been sidelined in a photo—a person’s mannerisms, the way they hold their emotions behind their expressions, the timbre of their voices. Arguably, these things can be captured by video—but I’d rather tell you—filtered through the lens of my own eyes and brain.

Unfortunately, time isn’t always helpful. I wait—digest—revisit before writing. Usually when I’m trying to pin something down, but then, memory intercedes and drawn the curtain down on the exact hue of someone’s dress and the cadence of speech… until all you remember is that they were wearing a yellow dress (not canary, not lemongrass) and that they didn’t say anything at all?

With those missed “glimpses,” I can always easily say, “I wish I had a camera” as a comfort mechanism. In Indonesia, on the west coast road in Aceh, I sped past moments in a Toyota Highlander with tinted windows, moving with traffic and overtaking trucks and motorbikes, weaving on either side of a single yellow line. We had a system, where I would sit up front with the driver and yell “stop stop” when I saw something, and then would jump out in the shoulder to see if I could get it.

In many cases, with my face pressed against the glass, I’ve pick something out 20 yards up the road, and track it as it got closer. I’d yell, “stop stop” when I could actually see it as it passed. But in many cases, we were already long past the spot, and sometimes I never asked to stop. So, high-speed travel is not conducive to photojournalism, but that’s a whole other conversation.

My operative phrase was, “I’ll get it tomorrow.” We traveled the same road everyday; I thought I was likely to see some of the same sellers and farmers again. No such luck. In fact, it’s never been the case. To convince yourself that you’ll get a 2nd chance to make a shot of something you saw days ago is foolhardy. And yet, I continued to do it for an entire week.

Perhaps it’s a hallmark of a young photographer… learning to let things go, and to change the internal mantra to “I’ll get the next one” (whatever the “next one” is– but it’s certainly not the one you just missed). Nevertheless, some of my missed images are still burned on my brain. My remembrance of them might prove useful as I write and analyze, but they haunt me. By way of a final send-off, here’s a few of my missed shots… remembered:


Rice farmers in paddies… two in particular I remember seeing vividly with triangle straw hats. They sat facing away from the road… their feet must have been drawn up in front of them or dangling over the edge of whatever they were sitting on (a board?)… as I could not see them from the road. They must have been taking a rest from farming…sitting about two-man widths apart—I could not tell I they were men or women. Perfect reflections of their sitting torsos and hats fell behind them into the seemingly pure azure water, dappled with rice that lay on all sides…almost making them into strange butterflies with triangle-capped wings. This is the postcard shot I missed.


Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a toddler clutching a gun. Was it real? Does it matter? I was sitting with our group in the yard of a family in the village of our translator, paying attention to the conversation and events unfolding before me, when I turned my head. Towards the road, I saw a woman with her head covered with a lemon yellow scarf, holding the hand of a small toddler… maybe age two. The boy waddled slowly, his other hand holding a small dark handgun. It flopped in the open air, ill-supported by his baby wrists. It looked like an old-fashioned pistol… something a gangster would own. I blinked. I squinted harder. The woman and the boy strolled along the road behind a hedgerow and were gone. An extremely loud (and demanding-sounding) brown and white goat snapped me back to reality—insistent with his bleating. I was frozen to my chair, only a few seconds had passed, and I wasn’t completely sure of what I had seen. Remembered for so long…fact and fiction blurred… I wonder if I ever even saw it at all.

I’m not immune to fear, I know that now, but I also know I’ll get the next one.

Do you go with the flow?

“Cursive writing does not mean what I think it does.”- Bart Simpson

The other day on the train, my eye fell upon the stack of papers clutched by my seat partner. The text slashed the page; all letters touched together, the rounded curves squashed flat against the bottom line. What language is this, I wondered. I realized at long last that it was English cursive… but a very terrible attempt at cursive. This really did look like chicken scratches or hieroglyphics… it was that bad.

I read an interesting article this morning in the New York Times about the disappearance of cursive handwriting. Many schools do not teach cursive anymore… most stop their instruction by the third grade… which is, ironically, the last year I remember doing cursive in a formal environment.

I was in public school at the time… as a Kindergartner I was given a large landscape-oriented sheet of newsprint with a blank space on top and a block of tri-ruled lines at the bottom. You know the ones I mean… the two inch wide green lines with a dashed demarcation running down the middle… frightening word highways… repositories for the letters I was still learning. At the time, it was not expected that we know how to write in the traditional sense… in fact… we were expected to draw a picture in the blank space and draw squiggles akin to children’s representations of mountains. Up/down/up/down/up/down. It could say whatever you wanted… it didn’t matter. All the pencil peaks and valleys were the same.

Then, once you reached the number grades… the mountains came crashing down… real writing was required. I suppose the mountain writing was a way to acclimatize us to the flow and movement of cursive… just a softer, more grown-up squiggle. I probably was dyslexic, but I was dedicated. A different marble composition book was required for every subject, and I used a new page for each assignment to make it seem like I wrote a lot. I must have learned the cursive letters… one at a time, copying them in my wide ruled note book over and over…but my memory is very hazy. All my elementary school classrooms had cursive alphabet borders running around the room near the ceiling line… they were high up there. I wonder if any children actually paid attention to them, craning their necks, following the 52 squiggles left to right… uppercase and lowercase. Sadly, what I remember clearly is that some of the people in my class still couldn’t read by the 2nd grade… and the first class of the year was spent on a remedial alphabet refresher.

I don’t remember cursive being required… I wasn’t writing book reports in cursive, nor did I have handwriting tests of any kind. As a 4th grader, I transferred to private school where no one cared about cursive… it just wasn’t done. I remember envying one of my best friends for her cursive “M”s… I practiced my own signature over and over again, in case I grew up to be famous.

When I spent time in my mother’s office while on a school break, I took it upon myself to improve my lettering. She made examples of the cursive letters for me, spaced out on a yellow steno pad. I would sit in a leather high-backed chair for hours, chewing on the straw of my cherry coke, forming the letters over and over… row upon row of every letter, both cases. After many long afternoons in her office, the steno pad was completely filled up with dark blue penmanship. It did not resemble my mom’s handwriting, but at least it was a valiant effort.

The Times article mentions that some younger folks can no longer read the eloquent scripted writing… the mythological beast known as cursive. While I may not be an expert in graphology (that’s the study and analysis of handwriting), I feel confident that I can at least READ the stuff… even if my lowercase “u,” “v,” and “w” all look relatively the same. I do empathize, though, with the children who were surprised when they learned that cursive “D” in Disney’s bubbly script at the start of old VHS tapes was actually a “D”!

In college and graduate school, I continued to practice my cursive as a deterrent to falling asleep in class. Cursive, since I was not a born natural, required just that extra bit of concentration. I slanted my notepad… pulled out my disposable fountain pen… and began to script continuously. Whether or not I could read it later when studying was another matter… as the smooth squiggles slipped off the lines from time to time, trailing off into swooping curves.

I understand that times are changing… that word processing skills take precedent and smart phones, IM and text messaging are pervasive ways of communication. My current print is only a more refined version of the print I did as an elementary-age kid. I value my handwriting. I much prefer to write long hand for just about everything. I’m a list maker, a letter writer, and I have my own wax seal. Believe me; the concept of a blog is still very foreign.

Who cares if no job requires cursive… I don’t know many professional scribes these days… but that’s beside the point. Why not learn to do it for the love of doing it? To improve your own print by honing another side of it… or to marvel at the sheer art value if you think it’s otherwise irrelevant? We shouldn’t eliminate these skills from our repertoire simply because they’ve been targeted as “outdated”… ludicrous.

Go write a letter in cursive and spend the money to post it… it won’t kill you. If you’re feeling really racy, see if you can use roman numerals in the process… there’s another thing we’re missing out on these days.