Chillin’ kittens working through their post-holiday blues before the tree gets packed away for another year…
Here’s to a fantastic 2017 for all!
Chillin’ kittens working through their post-holiday blues before the tree gets packed away for another year…
Here’s to a fantastic 2017 for all!
I have spent days digging through file drawers of material I’ve written through the years, trying to determine what may be worth saving and what is simply a fire-hazard. It’s a long and arduous process, because I’ve found I can’t just pitch without at least skimming. Among the countless pages of “practice”, I have some work that seems to have held up well, and may be worth revisiting at some point. This is one such piece, written over two decades ago, when I was (sort of) finding my “adult voice” in my work. Despite the apparent fence straddling in my literary maturity, I think it’s still an enjoyable and pertinent article. I did make the decision, however, to type it as it was originally written. As such, I’ve ignored my numerous grammatical errors (though MS Word is not so lenient!)- and ask that readers forgive the same. My son, and daughter who followed a few years later, are both adults now, and so much has come to pass- but the sentiment on the page remains unchanged all these years later.
I was stunned. “Are you sure?” I asked. We had talked about making the commitment for the last two years, but the reality of the situation never seemed so… final. Yet there it was, in that strange blue “positive” color. We were soon to be parents.
My wife and I had been married for seven very short years, the official ceremony taking place shortly after college graduation. I’ve regarded being married as absolutely the coolest adventure I’ve ever begun. Unlike the stereotypes so prevalent in our society, our relationship as husband and wife was far from “the old ball and chain”. We each had our own careers and interests and, since we genuinely enjoyed being together, our interests often crossed into the shared category. We lived in a trendy, contemporary condo, threw legendary parties, maintained long-standing relationships with most of our single friends, and traveled as much as possible. Some travel was for work, quite a bit involved auto racing (we both raced), and the rest vacationing wherever we could reach in whatever time we had. Life was great, and we spent as much of it together as we possibly could. Time and circumstance can have a way of changing virtually any lifestyle, though.
When we committed to this married existence, we both agreed that there were no children in our future. My wife’s position as a social worker/ foster care specialist, however, regularly had her dealing with children of various ages. Hours spent with the babies, as well as hearing of the hardships suffered by couples trying desperately to become parents, rapidly coaxed that “maternal instinct” from the recesses of her being. At the same time, I was dealing with friends who were beginning families of their own, and realizing that if ever I were to veer from my path of married coupledom, I should do it now while I was young enough to survive the rigors of parenting. Thus, when Lori (my wife) approached me with the idea of a child, my defenses were weak. I didn’t really want to be a dad, but she really wanted to be a mom. I couldn’t bring myself to stand totally against the idea, so the “negotiations” began.
For two years we stepped to the edge of the water, only to decide it was too cold to swim; We weren’t ready… We couldn’t afford to have a child… We were too young… I was too selfish about my time… and the list went on and on. Then, a couple that we spent a great deal of time racing and travelling with became pregnant with baby number two. We thought ” what the heck”, and decided we’d give it a try. ” After all, my wife assured me “we’ll probably be trying for at least a year or so.” Hah! I had been out of town for a few weeks on business, so we made this momentous decision by phone. I miss my wife terribly when I am on the road, so the romance of returning is always a high point in our relationship, and this time was exceptional! I flew back home the morning of winter Superstorm 1993, and Lori had positive pregnancy test results a few weeks later. Nothing quite like incredible fertility, or lots of luck! Our journey had begun!
I realize that there are people who live to find themselves in the “family way” … I, however, am not one of them. When the initial shock wore off (for both of us- Lori had not expected such efficiency at our task either), I began to assess the impact that this development would have on my life. The conclusions I reached were not all that wonderful. The first thing that came to mind was the permanence of the situation. Having children was not something you could do “part-way”, or “sort-of”. Unlike a car that can be traded in or traded up whenever you got the urge, a child came ” as-is “, with no options or opportunity to change the outcome. In reality, even a marriage can be ended relatively easily, and not necessarily at the expense of the friendship of the ex-spouses. Being a parent, on the other hand, is forever. Two people created that being, and no matter what else changes throughout a lifetime, there will never be any other biological parents to that child. You have accepted the position for life. Once past that intense revelation, the minor tremors that continued around the main event carried nearly as much force. “A kid changes everything” I’d heard on more than one occasion, and I had no doubt that this was truth. I considered the financial damage: so much for the sailboat, or new motorcycle. I had better be thrilled with the current race car and our daily drivers, because they were going to be with us a while. What of my relationship with Lori? What about sex? I’d heard sex becomes non-existent after a child (though I’d heard the same nonsense about getting married). How would we travel with a screaming baby/ toddler/ child? Heck, I’m just hitting my thirties, most of my friends are still single and career-oriented, and I’m just too busy playing with all the toys and pursuits in my own life- I can it be having a kid! The list of negatives seemed endless, and the worst part was my wife’s sudden doubts about our decision, as well as her inability to be any more positive about our new situation than myself. Though the negatives far outweighed the positives, there were a few gleaming examples that helped me to maintain some degree of enthusiasm. I thought of how awesome it would be to teach a small piece of Lori and me to fly, or to race cars or mountain bikes, or to take camping and share the world with. I considered how incredible it would be just to create a being through the most basic and natural act of love, and provide it with the values and ideas that we believe in so strongly. The possibility that this child might one day make a difference, perhaps THE difference, in the world around us. Though I thought of all these things and more, I was terrified that I would do this “father” thing all wrong. Someone was handing me the raw materials and saying “make a good person of this”, and I was completely lacking the confidence that I could carry out such a task. I was quick tempered, easily frustrated, and highly critical of myself and others- and I was going to be ultimately responsible for this tiny human-in-training. I spent many sleepless nights being totally overwhelmed at what I had agreed to do. This child-to-be growing in my wife was the result of a conscious and planned decision that, though perhaps a bit untimely, we had both agreed to. For nine months I hoped and, though I am not a particularly spiritual person, prayed that the mere sight of this newborn person would instantly transform me into DAD. I continued to ponder the changes.
For nine months, Lori continued to change physically. The “psycho-hormonal” changes that I had been warned about never happened. She was beautiful throughout, and our lifestyle changed little. I joined her in the exclusion of alcohol and caffeine in her diet, and we probably ate healthier than we had in years. The changes continued, then, suddenly, it was time. Thanksgiving evening marked the beginnings of labor, but the contractions came and went without pattern. This went on for the entire weekend, leaving my stomach nearly as knotted and spastic as I imagined my wife’s was. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and sitting still was out of the question. My fears of my future were now intertwined with a fear for Lori’s well-being, and the health of the baby. I knew the chances were slim, and I was being irrational, but I was very afraid of losing my wife to childbirth as so many did in the old books and movies. What of my child? Would he be deformed? Would my indiscretions through the years have been passed on as some mutation in its gene structure? If anything was wrong, I would forever blame myself for his predicament. What have we done?!? I would know soon enough… Late Sunday night/ early Monday morning we drove to the hospital in the first winter storm of ‘93/ ‘94. Consider the irony- conceived in one winter storm, born in another! The delivery room was sterile but comfortable, and the delivery nurse assigned to us was terrific. I felt sick and helpless as I watched the pain of contractions distort Lori’s features, and could do nothing. The entire morning became a surreal blur in my mind. There were doctors and nurses, monitors and needles, blood and fluids, and buckets of sweat from both of us. The hospital where we delivered utilized willing fathers as active delivery nurses, so I scrubbed and worked. My job was to hold, support neck, back or legs (sometimes all at once), and comfort. A friend summed up the process of delivery perfectly; “It ain’t pretty, but it Is the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see!” In the end, it wasn’t, and it was. At 12:23 on November 29, 1993, my wife delivered a perfect 8lb. baby boy. At that moment, it was like the Grinch’s heart melting in Whoville. I cut the umbilical cord, and the doctor handed me my son, our son, for the first time. All the fears and doubts within me simply melted into a sense of awe, and peace settled within my world. I cannot possibly make this keyboard and screen convey the feelings involved in the first moments of life. If one can describe in detail every aspect of each emotion, then a description of my state may exist. I have never had a near-death experience, never seen my life flash before my eyes. Yet the event that transpired was life flashing into existence before my eyes. It was beautiful!
My son is nearly 14 months old at this writing. I have just rocked him back to sleep, a stuffy nose keeping him from an uninterrupted night. Lori is working days, and I work nights to avoid employing a stranger to observe his growth and provide his care. Our time together is substantially decreased, though more gratifying than ever. The myths of major change are mostly just that- myths. The positives of my son far outweigh the negatives now, and most of my fears have proved to be unfounded. The first year was a drastic lifestyle change, but, as our son gets older, we’ve begun to get back to the same excitement of old. A quick release child seat on the mountain bike allows me to take him riding during the week, and removing the seat lets me blast through my usual hardcore weekend rides with the guys. Sean seems to share my love of all types of music, hangs out at the airport with me (next year I’ll take him flying), and always sits with us to watch the races. He likes to laugh at me as I work out, but then so does Lori (that does SO much for my ego!). Someday his head will be big enough to fit into Mom’s helmet, so he can ride warm-up laps at the racetrack, or on the motorcycles with dad and his Uncle Doug. I still manage to do most of the things that I want to, and these seem to be changes I can live with. The only real difference is that there are now three Mekindas who will be traveling, attending, hosting, or just tearing the place up- and I can’t imagine it any other way!
I’m a photographer as one of my professions. I have a background in photography, education in photography, and am regularly paid for use of my photos. I have worked as an aerial photographer for an engineering firm, as a wedding photographer, as a photojournalist, and as a freelance photographer meeting photography needs of clients. I’ve been a photographer for nearly 40 years, from film to digital, and have processed my own B&W film and photos as well as having worked as a lab tech processing film for others. I may not be a great photographer, but enough find my work worthy of comment and compensation to validate my skill. I bring this up not to brag, but as point of fact to show my credentials. I am a professional photographer that loves photography nearly as much as I love writing, and I love to share the wonders of photography with others. Over the past few years, however, I’ve grown weary of listening to so many “experts” imparting vast “internet knowledge” upon those taking photos around them- especially when they were never asked in the first place. I bite my tongue as I listen to “advice” that is often unnecessary for the situation, and frequently flat-out incorrect. IF YOU ASK questions about photography, I will give answers that will likely not fit the expected pattern. I know my thoughts will send many photographers into a tizzy, but I’d like to think it will set many more free- call it permission to enjoy your camera again, if you will.
As a long-time photographer, family and friends regularly asked for advice about cameras, techniques, gear- you name it. IF YOU ASK, I’m always happy to talk photography, and will gladly talk with you about all aspects of Photography. What I will not do, is talk down to you. I was a long time Nikon snob, shooting with some phenomenal Nikon gear back in my film days. “Of course you use an FM, because manual is the only way to go- right?” “An FE2 (still a great camera) has a terrific Aperture Priority mode- you should own one”. “F3 is the only way to go for outdoor work”. Yep, that was me- then I found a lightweight Minolta that was easier to haul around, and I found I grabbed that camera way more often- and my photos did not suffer at all. The cameras available today, from cell phones to inexpensive point-and-shoots to full-frame DSLRs are all amazing tools that will take terrific photos. Obviously the pocket-sized point-and-shoot will not take art museum-sized enlargements that will match a full-frame Canon DSLR- but thousands spent on the DSLR to post vacation photos on Facebook is complete overkill. IF YOU ASK, I will tell you to find a camera that fits what you’ll do with it. A camera that fits in your hand the way you like it to. A camera you’ll be happy taking with you often, and that takes photos nice enough for what you intend to do with them. The best camera in the world won’t make you a better photographer- the one you like shooting lots of pictures with, will. So, this is permission (should you need it) to buy the camera you like and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will tell you what I like about your photos, but I will not tell you what is “wrong” with them (unless you ask very specific questions). I will soften my criticisms and tell you how you might make a photo vibrant, NOT what is “bad” in the picture. That photo may be saying exactly what you meant to say, and I’m just not wrapping my head around your meaning- so it’s not my place to be critical of the subject, though I may be able to provide pointers about camera settings or composition. Only you see the world through your eyes, so all I can really offer is help with the hardware you use to collect your vision through the lens. So, this is permission (should you need it) to snap shots of the world as you see it and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for shooting in any of the automatic settings your camera has available. Capturing the photo you want is worth far more than losing the moment by setting the camera horribly wrong. Camera manufacturers devote a lot of resources to the programming and algorithms that allow the best photo with the least amount of effort. Ever wonder the most expensive Pro cameras still have the same Auto settings as consumer cameras? Can a professional take a better photo wresting control from the camera’s internal elves? Probably- though if they’re honest, many will admit it’s getting closer all the time. Can you take a better photo handling things manually? Maybe- if you use the same camera all the time, and know it’s idiosyncrasies and when your input will have a positive impact. It is true that some older or less expensive cameras have issues with exposure values, or metering, but you can usually make minor tweaks to improve the output. The market is so competitive to have “The Best Camera” that we’re in an era of “fine-tuning” as opposed to fixing camera firmware. This means the internal camera elves do a wonderful job of turning your vision into art. So, this is permission (should you need it) to leave it in “Auto” and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for not shooting RAW. I stopped shooting RAW a few years ago, almost as an act of rebellion. My publishing clients all require JPEGs, so my need for RAW is nearly non-existent, and I’ve grown tired of constantly hearing “MUST SHOOT RAW”. Is RAW the best way to shoot fine-art or commercial photography? Yes. Is it true it may “save” a photo you blew out highlights or lost shadows in? Yes. Can RAW be processed fairly easily with the right software? Yes, but it still adds time. Does everyone want to spend time at a computer processing photos? I’d say for the vast majority, myself included, that answer is NO. When I shot film professionally, particularly weddings/ portraits, I had a specific lab I sent all my film to for processing. They were professionals who were much better than me at turning my work into printed art. When did we decide everyone should be processing their own digital images? Yes, the software is available and it’s moderately priced (or even free), but few people have large, properly calibrated monitors to work with. Few people have the time and wherewithal to spend hours after shooting to tweak each and every photo- and even fewer have the desire. I use Adobe Lightroom, and I have a few presets I use while importing, but I use it primarily because it’s a fantastic piece of software for archiving and organizing my photos. Occasionally I have a photo I might like enough to “improve”, and Lightroom is more than capable, but I try to get my photos “right” when I take the picture. Yeah, I know tweaking JPEGs leads to image degradation (use copies!)- yet I’ve tweaked JPEGs that have still been high enough quality to be used as magazine covers- so I’m not sold on the “horrors” of manipulating JPEGs. While I agree RAW may be best, and I’m not saying not to shoot RAW if that’s what you’d like to do. I am saying that shooting RAW is somewhat analogous to shooting film and needing time to process it in your basement lab- albeit with fewer toxic chemicals. So, this is permission (should you need it) to stick to the JPEGs your camera hands you and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for posting a blurred action photo, or a grainy low-light photo of a compelling scene. I know you have a slow, inexpensive lens, and you needed to shoot a high ISO to capture the action under poor lighting. It’s still a cool picture, and I’m glad you shared. Your eye for the scene was spot-on, and I can’t look away from the image, the content. That’s what photography is about- capturing the moment, and that’s exactly what you did. Could you have done better with a better gear? Absolutely- the photo shows your skills. Did you give us a great image? Again, absolutely. When did we decide photos must be technically perfect? Some of the greatest photos in history are grainy and shadowy, and that’s part of what makes them compelling. A different camera may have helped, but ignore technical perfection if you must to give us a compelling picture. No one ever told a brilliant artist “hey, you used the wrong pencils/ chalk/ paints/ material/ whatever to create that masterpiece”, so your camera, flaws and all, is just fine. Lomo (look it up!), anyone? So, this is permission (should you need it) to use any old camera and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for using your cell phone as your primary camera. Despite what Apple wants you to believe, there is a bit of post-processing necessary to make building-sized photos from your iPhone- but the photos posted on Instagram or websites are incredible. This is the age of the cell phone, and we always carry one. There’s a reason cell phone makers now compete to make the “Best Camera Phone”- because we all want one! A beautifully composed picture is still a pleasure, no matter what it was taken with. Yes, there are limitations to the tiny sensor in a cell phone, and the “lenses” leave much to be desired. But we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in cell phone technology, and manufacturers still need some reason to convince us to upgrade- so they’re competing on the photo tech, a big win for photographers! So, this is permission (should you need it) to use your cell phone and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, this was not meant as a definitive how-to about being a photographer. It’s not even particularly instructive. It’s merely a topic that’s been troubling me for too long, and one I feel needs to be addressed more often. Most folks will never hang a photo on the wall of a museum, yet many take gorgeous photos that deserve to be shared. There is no reason for the process to be painful or overly complex, or for a photographer to feel their work is, somehow, less worthy. Photography can be merely collecting and archiving a moment or event, and it’s a great medium for doing so. Photography is also art, and art is from the heart. If the art for you is time spent manipulating photos digitally, that’s fantastic- you have a skill and sensibility I am often jealous of, and I find those photos fascinating. For those who find their art is in the composition and collection of images through the lense and into flash memory, keep taking pictures, keep honing your skill, keep feeling those snapshots in time. Collect those snapshots by whatever means works best for you, and revel in their perfect imperfections. Borrowing words from Neil Gaiman, “Make interesting amazing glorious fantastic mistakes. Make good art”. His words, like mine, give you permission (should you need it) to just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
Always remember to find, and share, the joy in your photography- and thanks for reading!