The Writing Paradox

This was our obligatory Johnson Tower Floors 4 and 5 group photo from 1982-1983. We were a ragtag, fugitive force, fleeing student housing tyranny. Can you find me in this image?
This was our obligatory Johnson Tower Floors 4 and 5 group photo from 1982-1983. We were a ragtag, fugitive force, fleeing student housing tyranny. Can you find me in this image?
July 8, 1985
If I kept a journal for other people… the concept sounds ridiculous. My journal is exactly that, mine. I’ve got nothing to hide, but it’s not made for anyone else.

Most of my life I have devoted myself to writing something – anything – almost every day. The result is that it created an enormous amount of empty writing with pearls of wisdom hidden beneath the chatter.

The alternative is to try to write only when we have something I think is genuinely brilliant. The problem with that is we can get complacent and go for months or years without a single word committed to paper or file.

Most people are like this with every activity, and this paradigm is one reason I like taking pictures (and in latter days writing, editing, making video, working with computers) for a living, since it keeps me on task.

Part of why I am thinking about this is that I learned this week that one of my peers, a 36-year veteran photographer at the Daily Oklahoman, a nice guy named David, was laid off. I learned they gave him a handsome severance package and offered career counseling.

I thought about myself and the way my job gives me more than income. As I’m sure was the case with David, I don’t take pictures for a living to make a lot of money; I take pictures because photography energizes and inspires me. It allows me to express myself in a number of ways, from my involvement in the community and the way I am able to share my images with them, to the way I can creatively explore light and composition.

July 27, 1985
Every night, there’s a blank page.

Very few days have gone by since that first journal entry for English II in tenth grade without me writing something, though I went through a period when I was a freshman in college when I skipped some days. At the time, I know I wanted what I write to be deep, so if I didn’t have any deep thoughts, I didn’t write, but looking back on it, I realize that it was part laziness and part finding my voice. In the months that followed, my writing is so annoying that I can barely read it, since I wanted to write, and I wanted it to be funny, but it just wasn’t.

I couldn’t really shake the smart-ass unfunny comedy from my journal until the summer of 1985 (read a short story about it here), when enough went wrong with my life and I was in enough spiritual pain that I began to express that pain instead of trying to be the funniest guy in the room.

August 3, 1985
Thought. That’s where it all begins and ends. Thought is like water in a pool. It’s always there, the pool. When you are “normal,” there’s a puddle at the bottom of the pool. When you come to your deepest, most intense ideas, the pool is half full. There are two ways to be happy: fill the pool, or empty the pool.
Despite late nights staying up late, writing in my journal and listening to Kansas, polishing and admiring my photo gear, by 1983 I began to actually express myself with that gear, as in this image made in the early spring of 1983.
Despite late nights staying up late, writing in my journal and listening to Kansas, polishing and admiring my photo gear, by 1983 I began to actually express myself with that gear, as in this image made in the early spring of 1983.
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3 Comments

  1. I sympathize completely with these remarks.

    I often did go months without writing anything. Later, I would look back and wonder: “what happened during that period?”

    I also lamented more than once in my journals that big, important stuff happened when I was really busy and couldn’t write. The days I had plenty of time to write, nothing interesting was happening.

    It’s a wonder anything at all came out that was worth reading.

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  2. And the guy in the Mickey Mouse hat looks like Andy Samberg.

    I always thought it would be cool (and I’m sure it’s been done, in some cases) to have a photo like this from college or earlier, wait 20 or more years, and then put a label next to each person, with just a few pertinent details: “journalist”, or “dead”, or “plumber, 4 kids”…

    I look at some of my elementary school group photos and wonder where some of them are now. How many of them got rich, had kids, went to war, whatever. Just as an exercise in curiosity.

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