Archive for December, 2011

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Stirring Up the Leaves

You need patience when shooting film. You must wait until the film is developed before you know which (if any) of your images were successful. I love it when I develop a roll of film, scan the negatives and discover keepers.

Click to enlarge

I took this picture of Maddy and Livvy, sitting on the curb, playing with the leaves, back in November. The occasion was a party at Sue’s for the twins’ third birthday. The girls were too busy with the leaves to pay attention to me and I captured the moment with a nice candid.

My camera that day was my Bessaflex with the 50mm screw mount Takumar lens attached. I love the 50mm focal length and this lens is premium glass. I think of this camera/lens combination as a poor man’s Leica. The lens dates back to the early 1970s when Pentax was in direct competition with Zeiss. If you were to buy a new lens of this quality today it would cost you well over $1,000. It’s a great people lens and I find the 50mm focal length perfect for candid shots of kids.

The film was Tri-X, still a great film even after Kodak has changed the emulsion a few times over the years.

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You might do a double take when you see the first photograph. Are you looking in a mirror or are the girls twins?

Say hello to Maddy and Livvy, our three year old twin granddaughters. The occasion was a Christmas concert at the local grade school. Two of our older granddaughters, Sara and Emily are in the school choir. They were scheduled next. Maddy, in the background, standing on her chair, conducts the school band. Her performance was stellar. Livvy was only standing for a minute, probably because Maddy was standing.

Here’s a shot of the band for context. These kids were pretty good too.

The photos were shot with my Bessaflex and 50mm Takumar screw mount lens. The film was Tri-X @ ISO 1,250 — no flash.

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Stories have been a fascination all my life. When I was a kid I read constantly. Story time, when the teacher would read to us, was my favorite part of the school day. I enjoy good stories, read nearly every day and can’t imagine life without books.

There would be times when I thought to myself. “I wish I could write stories.” I never did. I’d think I didn’t know how, was afraid to try, didn’t have the time or some other excuse. A few years ago I made up my mind that I was going to write creative fiction. Maybe I’d start tomorrow, the day after or next week. I’d tell myself “John, you can do this, you can write stories.”

Well, I finally did it. Two weeks ago (give or take a day) I kicked my butt, hunkered down and wrote the first draft of a short story titled “An Emerald Ring.” Nine drafts later, the story is finished and here’s the opening paragraph:

“Aunt Nellie never missed a chance to be the center of attention even if she had to drop dead in the middle of dinner to get it. What had been an ordinary Sunday dinner suddenly became Aunt Nellie’s last supper when, fork halfway to her mouth, the old girl fell over stone cold dead, face down in her mashed potatoes.”

Have I tempted you? Not to worry, you can download the complete story, An Emerald Ring (right click on the link and save to your system) with my compliments.  After you’ve read the story, please stop by and leave your comments.

I offer the story as a pdf file and recommend you download to your computer and print it out for a professionally typeset four page copy. Open the file with your pdf reader (probably Adobe reader) and select print. Of course you can read the story on screen if you like.

“An Emerald Ring” isn’t the end of the story, simply a stop on my journey as a creative writer. I’ll be working on my next story as soon as I figure out what that story will be. Maybe I’ll discover what that is as I write. And I plan to write a series for The Aware Writer describing my journey as I wrote “An Emerald Ring.” Enjoy and do come back and comment.

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Wishing all of you, my friends who come to visit (and your families), a Christmas season filled with peace and love. Thank you all for your kind words, for enriching my life and for the opportunity to share our passions for photography, writing and life itself with each other. You’re the best.

Merry Christmas from John

This photo was taken in 1947. The kid in the short pants sitting by the Christmas tree is me when I was a wee lad of three. I scanned this image from an old B&W photo about a month ago. I restored it, cropping it a bit to get rid of the worst damage around the edges and cleaning up the rest. Then I adjusted the tones (using curves) and gave it a sepia tint to warm it up and inject a touch of nostalgia along with the magic of a child’s Christmas. Kudos to the family photographer, whoever it was.


New Section —  Photo Books – where you can download a free copy of Saigon 1966: Volume One – Black & White, the ebook version (pdf).

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Two good things about my Christmas spent in Vietnam in 1966: When any of us received a care package from home we shared and I didn’t have to shovel snow. Phila., my home town, had a massive snowstorm on Christmas Eve that year. We, on the other hand worried about sunburn (among other things).

Merry Christmas from Vietnam 1966

Here’s a shot of three of the guys in our outfit digging into a Christmas care package someone received from home. Did I mention that we always shared? I converted this scan from an old color slide because I prefer the B&W version.

Merry Christmas to all and please share. Speaking of sharing,  I added a new tab to the Aware Writer this evening Photo Books  where you can download a free copy of Saigon 1966: Volume One – Black & White, the ebook version (pdf).

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Once again, I scoured my archives for old images that reflected the spirit of the Christmas season. Today’s photos were taken on Christmas Eve, ten years ago with my now obsolete 2 megapixel Olympus digicam.

Nearly everyone in the neighborhood participated. We all lined our driveways and walks with candles inside white paper bags and lit them at an agreed upon time on Christmas Eve back in 2001. It made a lovely scene. Here’s a shot of our home that I made from the sidewalk.

Here’s another, closer view of the same subject. I probably used the zoom lens on the camera to move closer. I remember using a tripod and the EXIF data confirms my memory. The shutter speed was two full seconds.

I couldn’t decide which of these images I liked best so I offer both.

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Tracy and I went to the Christmas concert at the JMT school tonight. JMT is the local grade school and both Sara and Emily are in the choir. The entire gang was there — kids (all six), parents and grandparents. It was fun.

Photo of the girls taken by Tracy

Tracy took this group picture of our granddaughters in the lobby after the concert. From left to right: Megan, Livvy, Sara, Julia, Maddy and Emily. Maddy loves having her picture taken. Can you tell?

JMT choir photo by Tracy

Here’s a shot of the choir, another photo taken by Tracy under difficult lighting conditions with her tiny Canon digicam. We didn’t get pictures of the school band. They performed first.

Maddy conducting the school band photo by John

Here’s one I took. It’s Maddy standing on her chair directing the band. She was waving her arms and swaying from side to side. That’s mom (Sue) with the big smile behind Maddy. The people behind us thought Maddy’s performance was one of the funniest things they ever saw.

The kids in the band and the choir sounded pretty good and we all had a fine time. Merry Christmas.

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Imagine a solitary person seated in a huge, windowless waiting room, staring vacantly ahead, life outside passing by unnoticed. Why are they sitting there? Are they waiting for the perfect opportunity that never arrives? Maybe they’re waiting for the ideal person to come along but who never does. Do they huddle alone because they judge themselves not good enough?

Waiting and never accepting. The curse of perfectionism paralyzes the perfectionist, condemns them to a life in limbo and puts a life infused with creative energy on permanent hold because perfectionists are never ready.

Perfectionism is an obsession. WordNet describes perfectionism as “a disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable.” Wow, that pretty much excludes life doesn’t it.

Vibrant life is like a swift mountain stream, sparkling in the sunlight, always changing, forever new. Becoming is the joy of life. Life is change, a journey of discovery and creativity, always reaching for the better.

Perfectionism confuses the goals with the journey. Perfection is the end of all things…really. The universe, indeed all of us strive for perfection, but we’ll never get there and that’s a good thing. If all things were perfect, what would be the point of life? We can savor the deliciousness of life, the thrill of the creative journey, but only when we act.

Action is the cure for perfectionism. Take that next action. Will it be perfect? Not likely and you might even (shudder) fail. No, wait. Failure is impossible because failure is a state of mind. Take an action and no matter what you do, you’ll move closer to your goal. You’ll either find a solution or you’ll discover new information that you didn’t have and never would have gotten by waiting. Each action propels us forward and upward one step at a time.

Perfectionism is ironic because inaction and waiting for the perfect solution short circuit our creative being, remove all options for progress and guarantee failure. All life strives toward perfection, but perfection is elusive and always out of reach. Each time we create something better, we raise the bar. We reach higher and higher and that reaching is the real joy of life.

The why of perfectionism isn’t important. It may come from procrastination, or born out of fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of not good enough or fear of the unknown. Without action, we’ll never know. Perfectionism is the polar opposite of positive living. Perfectionism puts us out of the game of life, sidelined on the bench waiting and that’s a shame. The denial of life and the joys of the creative journey are the real pitfalls of perfectionism.

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Click to enlarge

Today, we set the controls on the wayback machine to minus 50 years for a journey back in time to a prom night when I drove a different machine, my Uncle Walter’s ’55 Chevy. We didn’t drink alcohol, we kept all our clothes on and we had a blast.

The girl on the left, the one with the big smile and bigger eyes is Joanne. Yours truly is standing next to her. I don’t remember the names of the other couple. The other girl was a friend of Joanne’s. The occasion was West Catholic Girls HS Senior Prom that was always held in December. Joanne and I both worked at Woolworth’s. When she asked me if I would be her escort I said of course. We had such a good time that I asked Joanne to my senior prom (West Catholic Boys) a month or so later.

Joanne and I dated on and off during our senior year. One time I borrowed my father’s 1951 DeSoto for a night out to a play at West Girls. That car was a beast and it had a short somewhere in the electrical system. I carried a wrench so I could disconnect one of the battery cables each time I parked the thing. Joanne had a terrific sense of humor and thought this was funny, so funny that our adventure became the talk of West Girls. Good thing my Uncle Walter was kind enough to lend me his super cool, reliable ’55 Chevy for the prom(s). LOL

The photo was scanned from a drugstore print I found in our family album a few months ago. The print had been sitting on my desk since. When I looked at it on Saturday night I realized that prom night was 50 years ago. I think it’s a neat photo so I tuned it up using PWP for a fun Monday Musings.

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