Hammering with a Crescent Wrench

My grandma always used to tell me the story about when I was two years old…

It seems I would go get the badminton racquet and the birdie and bring it to her. Then she would throw the birdie at the racquet that I was holding and I would hold really still and let it hit. Sometimes I would try to swing the racquet, and would miss the birdie. I would look at her very sincerely and say “You’re doing it wrong Grandma”. She told me that story every time I saw her like I had never heard it before…

Fast forward ten years and now I’m driving my dad crazy. I love my bike and it’s pretty clear to me if I wait around for him to fix it, well it’s probably not going to happen. So I have gotten pretty good at fixing my bike, building new bikes out of bike parts scrounged from around the neighborhood, and general tool induced mayhem.

My theory at that time was crescent wrenches are awesome because you can do just about anything with them. In fact, often my only two tools would be two crescent wrenches!

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The part that drove my dad crazy (beside the fact he could never find his tools) was the fact that I would use a crescent wrench as a hammer all the time! Why get up and go find a hammer when I had a perfectly good pounding device in my hand already? He was not a handy man, but he had that “the right tool for the right job” mentality. To me, if pounding on it with a wrench got the job done – well that was good enough for me. The job was done, and I saved a few steps.

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I talked to Mike on a dock in Tacoma – I wish I could tell you where I was. I stopped and parked the car after driving past the Glass Museum so I could walk back. I started talking to Mike and never made it.

He was sitting in just the right spot for me to take this photo, so I asked him if he minded. He was cool and gave his consent.

While I was setting up the shot I casually asked him “What kind of fish to you catch here?”.

“I don’t know” he said, “I’ve never caught one.”

And with that he started reeling in his line, and up and out of the water came a chartreuse spinner that had been sitting on the bottom of the inlet. He looked at me to make sure I had seen what he was fishing with, reached back and cast it back out and let it sink to the bottom. Then he turned and smiled at me and went back to just sitting there holding his pole. His spinner just sitting there on the bottom.

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While I took a few photos I had to ask him why he fishes with no bait. After all, he was clearly “doing it wrong” (didn’t share that sentiment with him out loud). He replied “my doctor told me to fish, but I don’t like to catch them”.

He suffers from anxiety attacks… stress related he told me. He went to the doctor and was told that he needed to find ways to relax. At the time I still couldn’t get over the fact that he’s using these tools in all the wrong ways – so I asked him if it’s working. He answered that he had been “fishing” for about an hour at that point, and he had sat there the whole time. Before he went to the doctor he couldn’t sit still for longer than 10 minutes.

“So it’s working… I guess” he said offhandedly.

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He put his pole down and stood up to get a 7up out of his cooler. We stood there and talked for a while. He works in IT for an IT security firm – he had to be to work at 4:00. You can see his name tag sticking out from under his jacket in the photo. He lives just down the dock in a condo there, and he loves Tacoma and living on the water like that. In fact, his whole life was going great until the anxiety attacks started. Now he comes down to fish several times a week – “it’s a nice way to sit and think about things” he said, and it seems to be working.

Using the tools of fishing to relax, without any of the worry of actually catching a fish – it’s almost like MIke’s pounding out the stress with a crescent wrench.

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And I Thought of Africa

Why is it when a “homeless” person starts to approach we start to feel uncomfortable? I think about that after I’ve spoken to one of them, wonder why I reacted the way I did as they came up to me…

I have this thing about expectations – and I wonder if it’s linked to that. When they make that little move that lets you know they are heading your direction, I find myself wondering what it is they want – what is it they think they need. Is it more than I want to give. It’s hard for me to think about refusing them, letting them down. Am I concerned with how I will be perceived?

I’ve been taught all my life that when someone asks for help you give it. If they ask for money, you give it. Simply asking for the help/money is enough to justify sharing what you can with them – and the question as to their motive and what they actually do with the money is between them and God.

So I try to give where I can -

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A few years ago Matt and Lynne decided to go on a mission for the Mormon church. Imagine their surprise when they were asked to go to Africa. They decided they were up for the adventure and got on a plane and left their family, their home, and the lifestyle that they knew and headed out at their own expense for two years of a grand adventure.

They were assigned to a “village of 80,000″ in Matt’s terms. Dirt roads, one room huts where entire families live, no sewer system, and every day the women head into the jungle to collect wood and water so the family can live another day.

Oh, did I mention 90% unemployment? Yeah. 90%.

Matt and Lynne rented a house there, one of 15 houses in that town with indoor plumbing. One day their landlord told them he was going to start a business in their front yard and soon a truck came and dumped a huge pile of rocks in the front yard. Matt holds his hands up to indicate the rocks were about the size of his head.

Later that week two women showed up with a 5-year old, a newborn, and two hammers. They had no food or water. They sat down on that pile of rocks and started breaking them into gravel – as soon as that pile was all gravel someone would buy the gravel from the landlord to make concrete… and you thought your job was a thankless task.

Matt and Lynne were working at home that day, and as the hours moved on, the “pink, pink, pink” of the hammers striking rocks continued. The child played and tended to the newborn, the women broke rocks into gravel, and Matt and Lynn felt more and more sick with each passing hour about the working conditions of these poor women.

Finally they had to do what they could. They took some refrigerated bottled water, a couple of “biscuits” (small cookie-like wafers) and a banana out to the women. After some charades (neither group spoke the other’s language) they convinced the women to let the child and the newborn sit in the shade of the porch. Then they watched as the women enjoyed the food and the water and continued with their work.

The next day Matt and Lynne were surprised when five adults and four kids showed up. Still just two women breaking rocks, but more people hanging out. The men had taken over the porch and sat there in the shade playing card games. When Lynne took out some food and water for the women, there was a scuffle over who actually was going to eat the food and drink the water…

Then the next day Matt and Lynne were dismayed to see 20 adults and several teenagers and many children hanging out in their front yard, with only two women still breaking rocks. The teens were running around the house trying to look in the windows (if they saw anything good they would break in and steal it Lynne told me) and there were more men than could fit on the small porch.

Word had spread of the charity, and every day more people were showing up to receive their share.

At this point in our conversation Matt and Lynne both throw their hands in the air at the same time, they both sit there shaking their heads silently at the memory. Even now they feel helpless in the face of all that poverty. Mike tells me he knows they are rich in comparison to any of the people of that town, and Lynne chimes in that they would love to help all of them if they could – but just two people helping a community that grew exponentially every day was just more than they could do. The need was too great, their resources nowhere near large enough, and so they had to ask everyone to leave.

The crowd left and it returned to two women and a child and a baby working in the brutal heat. Matt and Lynne couldn’t figure a way to help them without it getting out of control again.

Lynne and Matt and I spoke for two and a half hours – I can tell there are hundreds of stories of people they encountered, the need of the people and the small things Lynne and Matt did to help. Everything they did helped, but there is always the feeling of “we just wish we could have done more”.

It’s fascinating to hear the adventures that they have had. It’s heartbreaking and humbling to hear of the poverty of the people who live there.

Since our chat I’ve been approached by a beggar. He came up to me.  He asked for money – I gave him what I had. It wasn’t much. Hardly any help at all…

And I thought of Africa…

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Models

I ended my last post talking about finding a model and copying it, adapting it to your needs. I’ve been thinking a lot about that word “model” since then.

For my eleventh birthday my dad bought me a membership to the “Model of the Month” club. For one year I got a package once a month with a new model to build. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned a lot about the mechanical world by assembling engines made of plastic and tiny rubber hoses. Helicopters, cars, battleships, aircraft carriers, funny cars – I modeled them all. I’d dream about the real world and how these amazing machines were used.

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For a school project on Vietnam I put together this paper mache landscape with a Huey Cobra flying over the top. The cloud to cover the coat hanger mount was the part my teacher went on and on about. I got a very good grade on that, and found that overall models were very good for me. They taught me a lot and got me an A in the sixth grade and that’s all right by me…

Then just the other day I heard that word again… on NPR I heard this line “So and So is the model of a compassionate doctor.” There it was, that word. but different. Now it’s not a smaller thing that represents a big thing – it’s a role model. It’s the very definition of something that I want to be… a goal to shoot for.

Which brings me to the most popular use of “model” – those images we see in our magazines. I think that meaning of “role model” seeps into us, and we look at those people, at their pretend lives, and we feel a restlessness with our own- we want a model life too! Those images breed discontent with our lives – make us want to buy something to fill the void that the model has actually opened up by being a model…

It’s crazy. Crazy I tell you.

I’ve worked with aspiring models for many years now – it’s more than making beautiful images of them, I get to know them… their fondest hopes and their terrifying fears. So many have this intense desire to simply be validated… and being in front of the camera gives that to them for a moment. Others use it unapologetically as an escape from the stress of life. In front of a camera it all goes away for a few hours.

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I got to know Hali on Facebook. Her mom was my friend, her mom’s friend was my friend, and they both gushed about how beautiful this girl is. How I simply must shoot with her.

Then one day Hali’s mom posted a very sad status update. Hali’s fiance had passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. All of her plans for the future shattered in one phone call. Can you even imagine? My heart aches just writing about it. To love that deeply and have it torn away…

And then mom and mom’s friend talked her into a shoot with me. Just like that it was scheduled and I was… well I had no idea what to expect. I knew she was beautiful, but what would we talk about? What if I said something that made her cry? I was grateful for the chance to give her a couple of hours to shoot and think about other things, but I wondered what would happen in the gaps… the places where we weren’t shooting.

Hali is amazing. Those three words don’t even come close. The reality of who I met, of who I worked with that frigid day makes those words completely ineffectual.

There was no dancing around the touchy subject. Jonathan was spoken of by name, with pride and love and heartache. Tears would flow out of her beautiful eyes, and she would not try to hide them, she cried with strength… she seemed to embrace that reality, faced it. The tears would flow for a minute, and then would be gone and we’d move on with what we were doing.

We laughed a lot – talked and joked and froze and made beautiful images. I tell my models that “by definition” anything they do is perfect. I need that kind of confidence to make images of strength and beauty. And here is this girl who has had her entire reality ripped away from her… and she’s just remarkable in that brutal cold wind, the very embodiment of confidence and grace and strength.

Her images are amazing.

I didn’t tell her, but it moved me to tears watching her model – watching her be that strong, that confident, that beautiful, knowing what she was facing in her life.

Later when I was working with the images in Photoshop the tears came again. Not tears of sadness, or of pity. Tears came as I wondered if I could be that strong, If I could handle that kind of adversity with grace. If I would have the strength to cry without being ashamed…

And I realized…. this is a model. A model of the kind of person I hope I am deep inside. A model of the personal strength I hope I have.

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The Seed of Creativity

I’ve always had this independent streak… those who know me will tell you. I don’t like people telling me what I “have’ to do. I’ve found in my life that it is very seldom the case that I “have” to do anything and have always quite resented those who would impose their will upon me.

This did not bode well for gainful employment. Oh yes, my internet friend, i have been fired a time or two. What is it about people who pay you that makes them think they are the boss of you? Seriously.

So as I started to discover my creative side, started to understand that it might be the ticket to a place where I could “be my own boss” (a term that I will riff on further at another time to be sure) I realized that I needed a portfolio to start showing people my capability. Sadly I didn’t have any paying clients at the time, so no projects to show to others so I could get work… talk about a Catch 22. I felt like I was kind of stuck. I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Fred and I talked about that very thing – having a problem and not quite knowing what the solution is.

In fact he and I talked about the Bangerter Highway here in the Salt Lake Valley quite a bit. As his occupation, Fred would purchase the land needed to build roads, Bangerter Highway was one of the biggest of his career. He smiled as we talked about the first time he knocked on people’s doors to explain that a highway would run right through their driveway in a few years…

We talked about the huge construction project that Bangerter Highway is going through right now – Fred knew quite a bit about why they were converting each intersection to be a “continuous flow intersection”.

As a driver I have wondered about these new intersections. Ok, I’ve sworn artfully as I’ve missed the left hand turn lanes that are now about a hundred yards before the intersection. Fred laughed at that – he said lots of people have described their first experience with the CFI (as he called them) the same way. They do take some getting used to.

But here’s the part that interested me. He said that the state was really having a hard time because the highway has so much volume that the streets intersecting it were backing up significantly waiting for the light to change. Then the light would have to be short to keep traffic from building on the highway… it turned into a long wait sometimes to cross the highway. People were complaining. (that is SO unlike people isn’t it?)

He said the state found the same solution that I did as a new artist. They started looking around to see what other people had done to solve the same problem. The state’s solution was found in Mexico City, and they used that model, adjusting it slightly to meet Utah’s needs, and the result has increased traffic flow significantly.

That’s what I found worked for me. A friend told me to simply pretend I was getting paid and do a few projects that I could show around.

So I watched TV a lot (it was “work” you see, research, yeah, that’s it), and I simply would find something on TV that interested me, and I’d work very hard to replicate it on my own computer. I found my creativity always crept in and altered the project so the result ended up being something of my own creation. I got my beginning demo reel, but more important I learned a great strategy…

I learned I could take a seed of creativity from someone else, but the soil of my mind always altered it and made it my own. That was a great lesson to learn early on in my career, and a strategy I still use a lot many years later.

Find a model that’s worked for someone else in a similar situation.

Adapt it to your situation.

Liberally apply your own creativity–and you have your own unique creation that solves your problem in a way that perfectly suits you.

It works for highways.

It works for careers.

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Hidden Strength

You know what they say about when you “assume”? I hope I’m not the only person on this planet that slips into assumption mode from time to time…

For example, I had some pretty major assumptions when it came to “carbon fiber”. That term just conjured up invincibility to me. I swear I thought if something is made out of carbon fiber it’s bullet proof – nearly indesctrucible.

So imagine my glee when I finally bought a carbon fiber tripod! Now my camera could rest securely on the toughest material known to man! Well, that’s what I told myself, that’s how I justified the outrageous price tag. At the time I was shooting lots of architectural images for a great client, so I looked forward to the day I’d actually be able to put it to use.

The day came and it was a glorious day – I opted to ride my motorcycle. I strapped the camera bag and tripod to the back of the bike and headed out onto a freeway that was very packed and moving fast. An hour later I stopped at my destination and the tripod was gone. I was mad because I would be missing the good light as I went back to find it, would have to return on another day, but I had to have a tripod. So I turned around and started scouring the roadway for my discarded tripod.

It never occurred to me it would be damaged. My assumption of strength gave me false hope.

it wasn’t damaged, it was obliterated. The largest piece I found was the size of a house key. And with that, my assumption of strength was shattered like a carbon fiber tripod hitting the freeway…

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Meet Katy. I’ve known Katy for a long time – in varying degrees…

In high school she was a friend of a friend – I’d drop by her house occasionally. Small high school, small church group, we sort of ran in the same circles.

Then she showed up in my beginning photography class decades later. This lady had some chops when it came to photography, and even after the class we would talk now and again – Facebook kept us in touch.

And finally she helped me with a shoot as my photo assistant. I get a lot of people that want to tag along and see the magic unfold. I’m quite certain if there is any magic it’s all hidden very well and difficult to find, but I always appreciate the additional energy on a shoot, and the help bouncing the light around to make fun images.

So I’ve been around Katy. I know her. She’s in my phone list, I’m in hers. We’ve talked, learned, and worked together on many occasions. I assumed I knew her.

Then in a conversation I learned one fact that still amazes me. Katy was born deaf. I pride myself on being pretty observant – granted I do have my blind spots – but this one fact had completely escaped me.

As I sit here at type this I’m still having a hard time believing it. She’s so… normal. I talk, she responds, we misunderstand and restate and find common ground and it’s just… so unremarkably the same as the way I communicate and build relationships with other people in my world.

But upon further questioning I find that she started at a school for the deaf at 18 months old, that she’s completely deaf without her hearing aids, that she compensates by reading lips…

The more I learn the more I realize I’ve assumed. The admiration I have for this woman turns into awe. I’m humbled.

Another assumption shatters like a carbon fiber tripod…

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Speed Hurts.

I wonder who coined the term “the dog days of summer”. I wonder what they meant by it. I know what it means to me – it’s those days in August where the mercury hovers around the 100 degree mark (37.8 celsius), those days when you can see the heat shimmer off of the asphalt, when the allure of summer has long passed and the prospects of going back to school actually seem like a good thing…

The sun was setting on one of these dog days in the summer of 1979, and I was talking my buddy into letting me try riding his motorcycle. I had never driven a clutch I had confessed, and he had me believing that it wasn’t that hard and I just might be able to do it.

The one condition was he had to go with me. Now I have to admit at this point I see no logic to him wanting to be on the back of a motorcycle the first time I ever drove one, but he did, and off we went.

How can I describe this experience to you? It was religious. A life changing, transformative experience… one that I can feel to the very core of me as I try to convey it to you. Oh man was it amazing!

The hot air blowing past my face, the blur of the weeds along that country road as we flew… yeah, that was it… it was like flying. The clutch was no problem, I had the knack in no time.

We were flying fast! In no time I realized I was going 115 mph (185 kph) and my buddy was screaming for me to slow down. I laughed as we approached the bridge over one of the many irrigation canals, drunk on the speed and magic of the moment…

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All of this came to me as I talked with Chris. He and I were talking in a parking lot, I had mentioned that his car looked faster when it was parked than mine did while it was moving. He was obviously proud of his car, and assured me it was fast–very fast.

Maybe too fast.

He bought the car, a 2006 Mustang, when he was 17 and the car was brand new. He told me with pride that he was 8 payments away from owning it. Then he smirked and laughed and said “that would be funny if I paid for my car and lost my license to drive it”.

He lives about 45 minutes away from his work, and tries to drive it in 30. Well, the tickets have piled up over the years. First his license was suspended for a month, the next time it was three. He told me that if he gets one more ticket they will suspend him for a year. Then he looked at me very seriously and assured me that wasn’t going to happen…

And I thought about that day in 1979, as we approached the bridge, me laughing out loud at my buddy screaming for some modicum of sanity…

That’s when we passed through the cloud of gnats, hovering above the road in the moist air around the canal. Millions of needle picks peppered my entire body – my t-shirt was small protection. The pain I remember most was the gnats hitting the back of my open mouth… I slowed down, I had to. Coughing and choking and sputtering I learned then what Chris is learning now…

Speed is a rush, but speed can hurt.

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A Tiny White Elephant

I’ve been thinking about gifts that aren’t exactly welcome. Like a white elephant. I’ve heard that in India a white elephant is sacred, so if you are “blessed” with one you can’t make it work, but you have to feed and care for it. All the work, none of the pay off.

That’s a serious pet– and a perfect gift for your favorite enemy.

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Whitney came home from college this year with a little smaller gift. Somewhere along the way she had picked up a kitty. It was SO cute, she had to bring it home.

Mom was not amused.

As Whitney is telling this story to me, she keeps cupping her hands and placing one over the top of the other, her eyes softening as she remembers how cute and soft and small this cat was. It was all alone, nobody to care for it. She simply had to adopt it.

But mom was pretty adamant that the cat could not stay. So Whitney took it back to where she found it, put it down and went back home.

Soon the kitty was there again.

She tried several things, but the cat just kept following her home.

So she did what most people would do… wait a minute… she did what nobody would do!

She drove into a neighborhood and found a house. She could see the woman that lived there through the window playing the piano and singing. So Whitney went to the front door, opened it slightly, dropped the kitty inside, quietly shut the door, and drove off.

Yeah, I never would have seen that coming either…

Whitney gave a gift of something that was near and dear to her heart. I can hardly imagine the puzzlement that went through that lady’s mind as she’s sitting there playing the piano, in her secure house, and a kitty walks in…

A tiny white elephant. But a white elephant just the same.

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