Hate It to Death

I saw a meme on social media a few minute ago that read, “Make racists afraid again.” You are so in love with hating racists that you don’t realize that they are already afraid. They would have to be to be racists. Maybe I’m asking too much to say, “Make racists realize that we are all human beings,” or even better, “Love racists and help them becomes better people, and eventually not racists at all.”

And if they did, could you forgive them? Your hate goes pretty deep. You are eager to hate non-racists for single moments of racism they showed 40 years ago.

I know most of the people who hate racists are supposed to be on my side, but hating something never made it better. Even “hate racism” misses the point. What if we tried to understand racism? Maybe if we got a handle on its causes, we could make strides toward ending it.

If you could change humanity tomorrow, would you burn it to the ground, or nurture it into beauty?
If you could change humanity tomorrow, would you burn it to the ground, or nurture it into beauty?

 

Open Mic Nyte Revisited

An Open Mic Nyte participant reads from a book in August 2017 at Mojo's Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.
An Open Mic Nyte participant reads from a book in August 2017 at Mojo’s Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.

This was a story I wrote for my newspaper two years ago, before Open Mic Nyte disbanded. I found the files when I was cleaning out some folders on my laptop, and wanted to preserve it here.

Open Mic Nyte

by Richard R. Barron, Chief Photographer

The scent of coffee drifts through the air as Steve Brogdon gives the microphone a tug to make it a little taller. “There,” he says to me, “is that good?”

I thank him, then awkwardly clear my throat. Though I am not nervous, since I among friends, I still want to sound prepared and professional.

“Three strings walk into a coffee shop,” I say, and I can see eyes rolling from the crowd seated before me. I like to open with a joke before getting to my more serious material, and my “three strings” joke is, well, a great joke.

I pause and make eye contact. Not only do I consider uniform eye contact the mark of a good public speaker, I am happy to look at the people around me, as I have, in the past year, forged friendships with them, thanks to Open Nic Nyte.

Originally organized by Rhonda Ragsdale, who goes by the pen name Lisa M. Pyre, Open Mic is now largely run by Brogdon and Sterling Jacobs, who is a long-time area artist, poet, and, if he will accept that I am calling him this in the most flattering way, eccentric. I think I can get away with calling him that, since I feel a fair amount of eccentricity myself, and I own that and let it feed my artistic expression.

We are all eccentrics when we stand before the microphone.

Open Mic Nyte takes place on the last Monday of most months (breaking for the holidays) at Mojo’s Coffee. It is sponsored by the Happyland Music Alliance, and always has a featured artist.

You might be surprised how many painters, sculptors, charcoal drawers, graphic designers, actors, performance artists, fine art photographers, singers, dancers, conceptual artists, poets, novelists, and musicians live in the Ada area.

I feel happy to be in their midst as I tell my jokes, read from my notebooks, and show off some of my photographs. I finish and say, “Thank you. Thank you very much,” in my best Elvis impersonation voice. The crowd, sometimes just 12 or 15 of us, but sometimes nearly 30, applauds.

Jacobs takes the microphone and thanks me again. We’ve been friends for years, but Open Mic has taken that to the next level.

He next introduces my next door neighbor Jenn Nipps, who reads the next chapter in her newest novel. We all listen as she spins her story.

Since my younger days of reading Henry Miller, Albert Camus, Anaîs Nin, and Jack Kerouac, I’ve dreamed of being part of a café culture, of having a venue to share our ideas, feelings, and creations.

Timothy, who did not wish me to use his last name, is next, and to our amusement has crafted for himself a tinfoil (actually aluminum) hat. He smiles as he dons it, telling us what many of us already know, that he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He talks about the moon landings or the shape of the Universe. He shows us his codexes, small notebooks he’s been curating for most of his life. I can relate, since my own Open Mic kit includes some very similar notebooks.

He is welcome among us. The Vietnam veteran and his poetry are welcome among us. The guitar-playing college kid is welcome among us. The middle-aged novelist and the geriatric poet and the awkward teenage author and the pottery-making recluse and the young actor are all welcome among us. You are even welcome among us if you just want to watch and listen.

By the end of the night, nearly everyone has taken a turn at the mic.

So. Three strings walk into Mojo’s Coffee.

The first string says, “I’ll get us some coffee.”

He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please.”

“Sorry, but we don’t serve strings.”

Stunned into silence, the string sits down.

The second string sees this, and defiantly approaches the barista.

Without hesitation, the barista says, “Look, I told your friend, we don’t serve strings!”

The third string is having none of this, so he bends himself into a loop, then takes out a comb and teases and rats his end.

He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please!”

“Look, I told your friends, we don’t serve strings. You’re a string!”

“I’m a frayed not!”

Your host takes his turn at the microphone in April, 2018, during an Open Mic Nyte session at Mojo's Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.
Your host takes his turn at the microphone in April, 2018, during an Open Mic Nyte session at Mojo’s Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.

Your Hatred of Science

“Why is NASA spending $1.1 million* to send a probe to Jupiter when all they have to do is open up their Bible to see how all that was created.” ~Citizen at town hall meeting, Ada, Oklahoma, August 2011

A frightening aspect of the recent political landscape is the idea that science and the educated people who wield it are an enemy of truth. At the core of this distrust is the whirlwind of climate change and all the deception it is said to involve.

You hate science, but depend on it every moment of your life. You wouldn’t be reading this sentence without science. Listening to radio without science. Television? Science. The internet? Science. Telephones? Science. Cars and trucks? Science. Food? Science. Medicine? Science. Firearms? Science. Entertainment? Science.

Finally, finally, after almost a year of rudderless leadership about the coronavirus pandemic by the current administration, President-elect Joe Biden announced a task force to fight the virus, headed by scientists.

So why do you hate science? Is it that science disagrees with your entire core of beliefs? If so, do your ever question your beliefs? To do so is incredibly difficult, but to not do so is to remain stagnant, ignorant, even a slave. A great question to honestly answer is: who told you to hate science?

*This actually cost $1.1 billion, not million.

How many of us enjoy the spoils of science every moment of our lives, but claim to hate science only when it disagrees with us?
How many of us enjoy the spoils of science every moment of our lives, but claim to hate science only when it disagrees with us?

My Name at the Top, or “Amazing and So Real!”

Alternate title: Unsigned, Sealed, Delivered

This item was updated November 2020.

I use social media, including Facebook,  to stimulate interest in this web site, richardbarron.net.

The biggest reason social media is popular in the first place is that it gives Everyman a web presence, while at the same time preventing him from ruining it with his terrible taste and lack of creative talent (vis-à-vis MySpace in 2006).

Facebook also seems, it appears, to be the place for vapid, childish idiocy…

To me and those who understand reality, an obvious trick of reflection in camera, but to others...
To me and those who understand reality, an obvious trick of reflection in camera, but to others…

Here are some actual comments about this image…

  •  Woah!!!!
  •  That gives me chills all over!!!!
  •  Wow!
  •  Lord trying to say get ready to do his work here in Eureka Springs AR.
  •  That’s awesome
  •  Amazing
  •  Wow that is great! How exciting! Things are fixing to change!!!!!!
  •  Amen It gets you thinking, could have been an angel watching
  •  Awesome!!!
  •  Amazing
  •  That is beautiful I love that it is so amazing what Jesus Christ can do for his children
  •  Amazing…
  •  We were just talking about this today. Planning to come see it real soon.
  •  I think everyone needs to share this. Let’s let this go viral!!!
  •  I just got chills. Amazing. Amazing!!!!
  •  Wow!!!
  •  Amazing
  •  I’m sharing
  •  these things happen.
  •  wonderful!
  •  Wow! Signs & Wonders
  •  Wow that is awesome. I work at the play and enjoy every moment of it. I wasn’t on set for this part but that is truly amazing.
  •  Wow!!!!
  •  Awesome!
  •  This is wonderful! What a beautiful sight, I wish I was there to see that! I have a pic of myself with several other Ladies with me, and there is an angel covering   hovering over us. When I asked the Lord about it when I picked the pics up at Walgreens. He told me it was my guardian angel! I was brought to tears and awe!
  •  Pretty neat. I shared your post.
  •  That’s amazing and so wonderful!!
  •  Awesome
  •  GLORY BUMPS FROM HEAD TO TOE!!
  •  Beautiful
  •  Wow…
  •  God knew we needed to see this & be reminded that he loves us & is with us !! Thank you Lord 
  •  Awesome
  •  Wonderfull
  •  It’s amazing and so real! I Believe
  •  Even the real GOD loves the Great Passion Play. You should come see it for yourself. You never know you might just see the real GOD there. I know you will feel HIS Spirit there.
  •  Nothing is impossible with God in our life
  •  But wait is that satin in the lower corner of the picture??
  •  Whoa!
  •  Amazing I wish I had been there.

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed for them being so stupid, angry at them for being so manipulative, or admire them for turning a brilliant false flag.

Look! A ghostly image appeared near a very bright compact fluorescent bulb! It must be a miracle! Praise Bulb!
Look! A ghostly image appeared near a very bright compact fluorescent bulb! It must be a miracle! Praise Bulb!

I can’t make up this stuff.

Christians, it makes you look so ignorant and silly when you believe and assert that simple optics is, “amazing and so real!” This isn’t a sophisticated extract of the possible nature of the Universe. It’s a bunch of hillbillies who think a cell phone camera captured a miracle. They are the overwhelming resonant voice of the faith.

So let’s run some stuff up the flag pole and see who salutes it…

Do Christians think that hating me will change me? Do they think hating gays will make them straight, or hating Muslims will end terrorism?

Do the Christians who commented on that photo think I will change my wicked ways when I see its testimony? That anyone will?

Answer me this: if god is real, why do you have to argue for it? Why would you even need to teach your children about god, for if god is real, would he not be completely self-evident?

So, anyway, I got an unsigned letter from a Christian. From my chair, any unsigned letter just looks like stalking. And for what it’s worth, when you send an unsigned letter, I can cherry pick and quote mine all I want.

Dear Richard:

As a blogger and reader of blogs, I was thrilled to find the “photographer of my youth” at richardbarron.net. I began reading, observing, watching, and viewing. Then, I was saddened. I suppose in Oklahoma, we assume the friendly neighborhood photographer is a believer in God, a believer in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and heaven-bound like “the rest of us.” After all, it is Ada, America. Lesson Learned.

Yes, lesson learned. It is sad that we have religious freedom and diversity in Ada, Oklahoma.

“The rest of us” is thrown in there as part of the “appeal to popularity” logical fallacy.

Seeing many of your posts tainted with the opposite of my assumption, I knew what I had to do. After all (again), if someone had good news for me, promises that were true, and a bright future but failed to tell me, well, that would be just plain rude. I’m not rude. But I am skeptical. I’m skeptical to the extent that I sought out God. I researched for myself. I read for myself. I bypassed Sunday School lessons to figure out on my own what God said, did, promised, was, is, etc. Here’s what I found.

The use of the word “research” here is an interesting misnomer. “Research” implies looking at a number of sources for information that can be verified in some kind of an independent, scientific and logical way. Our anonymous author did none of that, of course, though we in the world of logic never find this surprising.

God sent his son, Jesus, to die for me. Why? Well, years (and I mean YEARS) ago, people of Israel had to sacrifice a lamb for their sins. Pretty brutal. Ugly. Angry. Jesus was the ultimate and final “lamb.” And, just to prove that He didn’t just die for our sin, He came back to life so we could LIVE.

Ah, yes. This silly children’s story is still with us in the 21st Century. As decades of ponderance have sharpened my thoughts on this, I see more and more how so many, too many, adults think is this very troublingly childish way. Magic story. Sky daddy. Happy place for me and my kids and my dogs, unspeakable horror for everyone else. We are lambs. We are sheep.

I devoted another blog entry to addressing The Sacrifice of Jesus (link).

Live with promises from Him. He’s “got our back.”

Let me just add that the Bible never says, “He’s got our back.” That, too, is updating and upgrading god.

I’ve no doubt you have a Bible. You’re an educated man, so… here’s a few verses from a former “prove it to me” researcher to you:, 2 Peter 1:4Jeremiah 29:11Isaiah 40:29-31Matthew 11:28-29Romans 8:37-39Proverbs 1:33.

I love this part, because, as you can see if you look up the Bible verses, none of these items is any kind of proof of anything. I find it odd that in a world of ever-increasing certainty of the nature of the world, theists still seem to cling to the thinnest fallacies, these “believe it because it sounds comforting” ideas.

Don’t take my word. Click the links, read the verse, then copy and paste the part of the verse that proves something in the comments section here.

“…but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm…” Proves. Nothing.

But, if you don’t believe in the Bible, then that does you no good, right? So let me say this. I’ve experienced these promises first hand. I’ve been healed. I’ve seen others healed. I’ve seen marriages saved, jobs restored, diseases cured, joy returned, and the impossible become possible. Not because I go to church (which I do) and not because every day is sunny with Barney singing a theme song.

Experience isn’t evidence. Testimony isn’t evidence. Incredulity isn’t evidence. Feelings aren’t evidence.

No, it’s because I trust in the God who loved me so much that He went to a lot of trouble to prove it.

Actually, it’s quite apparent that god has gone out of his way to hide it, not prove it.

I have personally witnessed the failure of prayer: man prays with all his might for his wife, who is trapped in a vehicle after a crash. She died right then. Christians have brilliant rationalizations for when this happens: god’s will, her time, god needed another angel, blah blah. It’s so thin.

If this hits home at all, if you want to accept these promises, it’s as easy as believing & confessing something like… “Jesus, I believe you died on a cross. I believe you rose again. I believe in You and want to make you ‘King’ of my life. From this point on. Forgive the life I’ve lived without you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

As always, the faithful seem to think that it’s possible to believe something that is not true or believable by simply deciding to believe it. “…it’s as easy as believing…” This might be the most damning thing of all about theists. They don’t believe things because those things are true. They believe them because they believe them. Their logic is a brilliant mirror of, “The Bible is true because The Bible says it’s true.”

Signed, well, you know I’m not going to sign it. You wouldn’t know me from Adam (ha!)

That’s the punch line, really. No signature. What is this? Ashamed of your beliefs? Afraid of them. Embarrassed by them? Afraid of me? This all points to what I think is a terrifying perception: the religious can’t actually believe what they claim. It’s too silly, too absurd, too shallow, and too fictional. Unicorns. Hobbits. Demons. Dragons.

“I truly believe” doesn’t make any of it true. The “why” of it, though, resonates repeatedly with me. Is the answer really as simple as fear? Fear of emptiness, loneliness, meaninglessness, eternity, death? Or is that too deep? Fear of not fitting in, not obeying?

So thus the name of today’s entry. That’s my name at the top of this entry, at the top of every entry. I am Richard R. Barron, and I am not afraid for you to know who I am and what I think.

Oh, meme, how well you know me and my intentions.
Oh, meme, how well you know me and my intentions.

Autumn 2020

Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.
Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.

2020 has been a difficult year, for reasons I don’t need to rehash because we’ve all been through it.

Abby and I have been lucky; we haven’t been exposed as far as we know, and we haven’t been sick.

The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.
The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.

Mother nature is somehow responding to 2020. It might be a coincidence, or it may be in response to a reduction in atmospheric, noise, and light pollution because of the pandemic, but this summer was pretty and green, and this fall ranks as among the most beautiful I can remember on our patch of green in southeastern Oklahoma.

This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.

Scanning in 2020

This was my column for October 10, 2020

Journalists are a nosy bunch, and one of my earliest nosy journalist experiences was listening to the police scanner in the newsroom. I wrote a bit about it previously, but today there are a couple of wrinkles in it.

Some of the agencies in our area have moved to digital communications, while others haven’t. Some tried it and didn’t like it, so they have returned to analog/FM communications.

I am in possession of a digital scanner, one that a previous employee had and used without much success, the Uniden BCD436HP. This radio is an interesting exercise in successful failure: it scans the bazillion services it promises, but that very feature causes the radio to miss almost all the radio communications it was meant to receive.

Public safety communications are brief and to the point, so when a local firefighter picks up a microphone and says, “I’m en route to that address,” this Uniden radio is listening to Hughes County, the State Medical Examiner, the Wildlife Service, the railroads… you get the idea.

Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.
Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.

The next step to improve use of this radio is to build a “favorites list,” which will just listen to only the services I tell it to.

The BCD436HP is meant to be the radio scanner for the digital age, but is set up in such a haphazard way, it’s hard to configure it in any useful way. Worse, the “best” way to program this box is with a Windows-based personal computer, which I don’t own, though this week I was able to borrow one.

Former Ada News intern and current Stillwater News-Press crime reporter Ashlynd Elizabeth Huffman told me recently that the purchase of a police scanner was one of the best piece of kit she bought since she’s been in Stillwater. Most Payne County communications are analog, and easily monitored with any scanner.

Finally, I am a bit of an old/vintage scanner collector, and sometimes prowl eBay to see what’s out there. An oddity in the last few months is that prices for scanners of all types have skyrocketed, and the only explanation that makes any sense is panic associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunny Sixteen

A young photojournalist friend of ours, Mac Crosby, came to our home in early March 2020 to interview us for her writing class, and made some amazing pictures of us together.
A young photojournalist friend of ours, Mac Crosby, came to our home in early March 2020 to interview us for her writing class, and made some amazing pictures of us together.

Film photographers might be familiar with a handy rule from the days without automation or exposure meters: the “sunny 16” rule. It gives a rough suggestion for exposure, f/16 at the reciprocal of the film speed, which with 100-ISO film would be 1/100th of a second.

I like the idea of “sunny sixteen” much better than the notion of “sweet sixteen” to describe our sixteenth wedding anniversary, as it seems much less of a cliché, and more positive. Sunny.

Abby and I were married on October 12, 2004 at Arches National Park. It was only one day, a beautiful, sunny one, that marked the start of this wonderful marriage.

You can see the story of our wedding day with dozens of images on our adventure blog here (link).

Abby and I pose for a photo on the Devil's Garden trail at Arches National Park the day before we got married.
Abby and I pose for a photo on the Devil’s Garden trail at Arches National Park the day before we got married.

A Good Rainy Day Project

I have a zillion words on paper in my life, and I have a zillion words online. I think it’s a good idea to keep both of these vectors for expression updated and complete, and I happen to think that the printed word and printed pictures are more engaging and meaningful than anything online.

This is part of why I think being a print journalist is so significant. When was the last time, for example, you walked into a home or a business and saw an Instagram post stuck to a file cabinet or refrigerator? Everywhere I go in this town, I see my name under photos that people have kept and displayed. The web is fun and fast, but it vanishes as fast as it appears.

Thus, a recent project: transcribing entries from our adventure blog into a hardback book. In addition, I have allowed myself the liberty to make extra notes, thoughts, additional memories (like Abby sneezing her glassed into a plate of sautéd sprouts in Albuquerque in 2003), and ideas as I go.

Think about it: in 20 years, do you think your Facebook photo albums will still be around? Do you think you’ll be able to go right to that that Tumblr post about your trip to Great Smokey Mountains? Do you think you can bring up that Vine video from 2012? (Ooops!) But 20 years from now, you will be able to pick up a book of photos from Abby’s family’s annual Shoffner Reunion (which I just sent to the printer today,) open it up, and remember.

I’ve been chewing on this for some months, and it will get finished one day soon. The sound of my pen on the page is comforting.

We've gone on a lot of adventures over the years, and even as I write it, this adventure book is fun to visit.
We’ve gone on a lot of adventures over the years, and even as I write it, this adventure book is fun to visit.

The Fragile

Come rain, shine, or pandemic, our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken remains loyal and affectionate. Sometimes when it all seems too much, he listens better than anyone.
Come rain, shine, or pandemic, our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken remains loyal and affectionate. Sometimes when it all seems too much, he listens better than anyone.

Most of my work as a journalist has returned. School is back in session, as are athletics, though both have faced fits and starts as the pandemic spreads.

Our young photographer/writer friend Mac came by my office last week after I offered to lend her my copies of Ansel Adams’ The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, which I have been reading since I was her age.

I told her that one thing I really admire and aspire to in her writing and photography is her ability – or is it her nature? – to embrace chaos. My work seems too orderly and safe sometimes.

“It’s like you take a glass sphere,” I told her, “and throw it on the ground, then pick up the shards, while I’m in the corner polishing mine.”

“My life is like that shattered sphere,” she laughed.

Later in the week, I found this at a flower shop and bought it for my wife Abby…

A rainbow rose is preserved inside a fluid-filled glass sphere. I bought this for Abby at a flower shop when I photographed their business for our newspaper's Readers Choice awards.
A rainbow rose is preserved inside a fluid-filled glass sphere. I bought this for Abby at a flower shop when I photographed their business for our newspaper’s Readers Choice awards.

In some ways, life has always been that shattered sphere, yet we felt too secure, too arrogant, too orderly.

Someone I have known for 40 years is currently dealing with her mother having Alzheimer’s disease. It’s terrifying to imagine losing your mind, but it is a reminder that all life is fleeting, that we are all going in the same direction, and that the only thing any of us has for certain is our next breath and our next thought.

I photographed these dry wheat grass seeds reaching into a hazy evening sky last night. They represent my thoughts these days: vanishing, fleeting, fragile.
I photographed these dry wheat grass seeds reaching into a hazy evening sky last night. They represent my thoughts these days: vanishing, fleeting, fragile.

 

“Men are so insecure”

Note: I have sat on this piece for nearly a year now, and in that time the entire social and romantic scene has change fundamentally because of the coronavirus pandemic. If I were single, I would have no idea how to attempt to hook up, since I don’t want to spread The Rona. Maybe The Rona just gave us the push we needed to become a society of impotent thumb-twiddlers.

Correction: to finish becoming a society of impotent thumb-twiddlers.

I was talking with a couple of friends recently. We chatted for nearly 30 minutes, and it was really fun. The topic of dating came up somehow, and the not-married one of the three of us talked about her bad experience with single men.

“Men are so insecure,” she told us.

It seemed like a valid assessment despite its obvious blunt generalization, one I was in no position to dispute, since I have have only dated my own wife since 2003, and have no idea what it’s like to court men.

I can also positively say that in my days of dating, I might have seemed insecure, since I was the butt of rejection time and again, often in favor of far lesser men. It seemed like an adjudication of my entire identity, and after a while, it wore me down.

I also really love women, and when I was single, there was nothing I wanted more, which filled me with a hunger that was hard to distinguish from insecurity.

It wish it were easier to love each other. I wish people didn’t hate other people for who they love or what they want.

I know. I wish, I wish. Whatever.

More recently, an attractive, single, female friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that married men sometimes leer at her. I told her without hesitation that my wedding ring means something to me, that it is an outward symbol of my devotion to my marriage, and something I wear proudly every day.

Connecting some of these dots for me, a good friend of mine recently told me that her best friend ghosted her, adding that this best friend who ghosted her “has a lot of insecurities.” I’d already surmised that based on her facial expressions, inability to feel empathy, and attention-seeking attire that always featured her large breasts.

So, my friends, are men and women just as insecure and in just as much turmoil as you are? It’s an odd dichotomy that we fight this fight together, but alone.

I made this gloomy image earlier this summer, but it remains something of a visual representation of the world right now.
I made this gloomy image earlier this summer, but it remains something of a visual representation of the world right now.

Her Quiet

The road rumbles around us. Brilliant New Mexico sun shines through the windshield. Brilliant October blue sky surrounds us.

In the seat next to me, she sleeps. On the truck’s MP3 player is this song, Piercing Quiet by Tritonal. It resonates in me. Listen here as you read…

“The world’s in constant motion
And so are all of us.
You love the glow of sunrise.
My stars come out at night.
Your quiet pierces through me,
There’s freedom renewed.
It takes me to a place where
The solace drops right through…”

I reach over and push my fingers under her blanket to find her hand, her willowy, soft, pale hand. I take it, and as she sleeps, she takes my hand. In a second, she turns her head without opening her eyes.

“Where are we?” she asks, almost whispering.

“About an hour from Cuervo,” I say. She smiles, remembering in her half-sleep state a place we once visited, Cuervo, New Mexico.

She goes back to sleep. I find myself blinking back a tear. This moment together is so perfect in its intimacy, its simplicity, it’s identity. I cherish it, breathe it in, memorize it. I don’t know, after all, if it might be our last chance, our last dance. There is nothing I want more than her soft hand in mine, in a quiet moment in eastern New Mexico, with the wild road in front of us, and I don’t want it to end. Ever.

I see that she is asleep again. I look over my shoulder to see our Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra, are also asleep.

All morning long we chatted happily as home fell farther behind us. By noon we were in the Texas panhandle. By 2 p.m., we were in the mesalands of New Mexico. By sunset, we hoped to be in Santa Fe for the night.

I shift in my seat as another 400 miles of trucks and blowing sand and black coffee await. She shifts in response, and I watch as she pulls her newly-bought cowboy hat down to the bridge of her nose to keep out the sunlight streaming through the windshield. I lift my hand and place it on top of her blanket, and feel how warm the sun has made it.

45 minutes later, I hear her say, “Hi.” She stretches and yawns and looks back at the dogs.

“Are you hungry?” I ask.

“Yes, what do you want?” she asks back.

“A veggie burger sounds good,” I tell her. “Honey, do you remember your first veggie burger?”

She smiles. I knew she would. On our first vacation together, The High Road, we rode the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the landing on the crest of the mountain, then hiked for another mile to the restaurant at the very top. She only revealed to me very recently that by the time we got to the restaurant, she was famished. We both got veggie burgers, fries and iced tea.

Some memories never fade.

By the time we rolled into Santa Fe after dark, tired and dusty from the road, we stopped in the breezeway of our hotel and paused. We looked at each other. When everything else is busy and rough and noisy, she is quiet. She is the quiet at the end of every day. She is the quiet at the end of every road.

Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014
Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014

Know What? Chicken Butt?

This chicken wasn't at all shy about me being in the pen with her.
This chicken wasn’t at all shy about me being in the pen with her.

Our next door neighbor’s efforts to corner the chicken market seem to be coming along nicely. In addition to his 32 chickens, he recently added five guineas and a puppy that he says will grow up to guard the henhouse. They’re all fun and fun to photograph.

These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
This chicken's feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.
This chicken’s feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.

Don’t Change for the Better

A disturbing trend in the news and on social media is to crucify someone for their long-ago misdeeds, especially if those deeds were in the bullseye of whatever is trendy to take offense about.

The message is clear: you have never been allowed to make mistakes, you are not allowed to grow and mature, and “Now I’ve got you, you son a bitch.”

How dare you have been imperfect 30 years ago. How dare you be young and foolish. How dare you fit in. How. Dare. You.

Of course, there will always be some know-it-all in the comments who will explain how wrong it was, so wrong that there can be no redemption, and their friends will rally around them.

This is all part of a bigger constellation of taking offense to everything, all the time. It comes from an angry, empty, spiritually bankrupt society. It reflects a culture of moral supremacy populated by the immoral. It is entirely one-dimensional on all fronts: you’re a sexist! You’re a racist! You’re a liberal! You’re a bully! You’re a label!

There is no redemption or forgiveness. There is only punishment.

Choke on this all of you, from the social justice warrior to the most strident Reaganist:   I am all those things. I have done all those things. I made all those mistakes. I blundered through my youth, my young adulthood, my middle age, making and repeating mistakes, saying things that were cruel and petty and selfish.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Go ahead. Cast it. Where? There is a mirror in the next room.

"They did it without judgement, because it's judgement that defeats us."
“They did it without judgement, because it’s judgement that defeats us.”

The Delicate Arch Paradox

It’s not exactly a paradox, and it’s not exactly ironic, but it is frustrating.

How do I justify my love of exploration and photography in spectacular places like Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, Yosemite, and White Sands, yet still feel contempt for the way these places have become desperately overcrowded?

You can't elope with an antelope's cantaloupe, and you can't really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.
You can’t elope with an antelope’s cantaloupe, and you can’t really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.

Part of my problem with this issue is that I feel oddly outmatched by the crowds photographically, not because they have more talent, but because they have diluted the landscape so much with geotags and armchair photographers, squeezing professional photographers and naturalists into an empty corner.

On the third hand, shouldn’t Abby and I have special Delicate Arch creds, since, after all, we got married there?

Am I being whiney because I don’t want to share its specialness, or has it been made universally unspecial by its discovery and overpopulation by the Instagram crowd?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a month, yet can’t quite solidify it. Help me work this out.

I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.
I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.

Just to Break the Tension

I’m not pushing this one to social media for inobvious, murky reasons.

I read, and I blew.

My sister says she despises the phrase “these uncertain times” and the word “unprecedented.”

Newspapers struggle to survive, and soon we will get all our news from Snapchat. All reporters will look like puppies and baby deer.

A baby deer is called a deerling.

I despise the idea that corporate America is selling it back to me, and that our culture crashes when we can’t have the things I happen to think we don’t need at all, like indulgent entertainment and indulgent products, indulgent technology, indulgence.

All things are held in balance by circumstances we might never understand.
All things are held in balance by circumstances we might never understand.

Assuming you don’t have a real excuse (asthma, bronchitis, copd, ect.), you have no excuse for complaining about the mask. Can’t breathe? Look in the mirror. I’m surprised your lungs can lift all that fat off your heart.

Ouch. So cold and dismissive. Why can’t we all be perfect like Richard?

The racist name for the pandemic is “Kung Flu,” but I prefer, “Flung Pu.”

Fortunately, all covid news is fake, so we can go back to our gun shows.

If I could sneak headlines into newspaper? (Can I? Whoa. I guess I could.)…

  • Local dickhead steals Christmas
  • Oaklahoma changes name to Tinesee
  • Private parts now pubic (pube lick?)
  • Forecasters predict it will snow assholes all day
  • Sneeze guards added to pocket pullers
  • Deranged goat attacks two ex-presidents in one day
  • 15 college girls killed in tickling accident
  • Renegade vegan farts on supreme court nominee
  • A personal look at author I. K. Malloveru
  • Anus management clinic to remain open

Maybe The Rona is Oxlong Penal Camp 2.0? (Now regretting letting that URL expire.) The grey jumpsuits and dusty sunglasses are just one executive order away.

I am amazed by how many people really like me, and how many people really hate me.

Explosive decompression of my colon.

A “fortice machete” if you will…

  • It was a mistake to trim her coochie with a fortice machete
  • Fortice Machete had been named in the fraud case just a month earlier
  • Fortice Machete was Nicarango’s fifth underground nuclear test
  • The wolfhound cornered a raccoon trying to steal his dog food; I chased it away with a fortice machete
  • Fortice. Not fartus. Although, fortis machette literally translates to “cut the fart.”
  • The fourth Matrix, the one that overheated all the time so they had to stop for water at every other Texaco, was coded with fortice machete
  • Fortice machete is a video game centered around making your opponents orgasm
  • The fortice integument was stronger than sea panels for bulge control

When did being monstrously racist and sexist go from funny to unacceptable? I know it did, but I never got the email announcing it.

I think most people thought the end of the world would be a lot quicker, like a nuclear war, or a lot more fun, like the zombie apocalypse.

What is this, anyway?
What is this, anyway?

Another Flat Tire Sob Story

In my travels as a photojournalist yesterday, I drove down to Tupelo, Oklahoma to cover a baseball game, but found that it had been suddenly rained out by a rather spectacular, and spooky, thunderstorm.

It was a beautiful summer thunderstorm that left water standing ankle-deep on the Tupelo Tiger's baseball field.
It was a beautiful summer thunderstorm that left water standing ankle-deep on the Tupelo Tiger’s baseball field.

I turned around and head back toward Ada, thinking I would stop in Stonewall and photograph their softball game so the outing wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.

As I drove, the pop-up thunderstorms all around me got really interesting-looking. I saw a long shaft of rain to the south, and turned down a county road to get a better look. Just a few hundred yards down the road, I heard, “fsst, fsst, fsst, fsst…,” the tell-tale sound of a rapidly flattening tire. I turned around quickly and drove back to the intersection with the highway, and got out to find the left rear tire of our Nissan Frontier LE 4X4 Crew Cab pickup completely flat.

It turns out that I had never changed the wheel on our truck, so I actually had to consult the manual about a couple of things. By the time I had the spare ready and the jack set, the key for the anti-theft lug nut was nowhere to be found. This happened to me once before in 2010 in Utah, and on that occasion, a wrecker service actually chiseled it off. Fortunately, our friends at Ada Nissan drove out with a key, and I was then able to change the wheel. The tire was damaged beyond repair and will need to be replaced, and when they do, I will ask them to replace those stupid anti-theft lug nuts with standard ones.

I know everyone has some sob story about car trouble. I happen to think everyone should know how to change a wheel (not, as most people say, a tire, since it’s impossible to get a tire off a wheel by hand – so you don’t change a tire, you change a wheel), how to add coolant to the engine, how to jump start a car, and so on.

Yeah, I was a sad sad sushi roll, but I sucked it up, buttercup.
Yeah, I was a sad sad sushi roll, but I sucked it up, buttercup.

The Story of the Mask

Abby and I pose for a photo after getting our hair cut. Her hair looks amazing.
Abby and I pose for a photo after getting our hair cut. Her hair looks amazing.

My wife Abby and I got our hair cut today. I gave her a lift into town at lunch time. When she was done, our haircut professional, Layce, cut my hair. On the way out of the house, Abby and I grabbed the mail, which included a small padded envelope. When we saw it was from China, we excitedly ripped it open. It was a face mask I ordered way back in March when the COVID-19 crisis began. It says, “Photography is Truth.”

Is photography truth? Well, no, of course not. Truth stands above it all; above opinion, above research, above even journalism.

My photography is often the truth, but not always. For example, there is a small red spot above my left eye which a dermatologist told me is a vein very close to the surface of the skin. It’s harmless, but somehow it feels like a flaw. I use to clone tool to remove it all the time.

I recently met our de facto office mascot, a chocolate skunk named DaeDae. A day or two later I photographed Abby’s pony tail on a fluffy pillow. She immediately quipped, “I’m a caramel skunk.”

"I'm a caramel skunk," Abby quipped.
“I’m a caramel skunk,” Abby quipped.
Summer Time Lane steals a cucumber. I was so proud.
Summer Time Lane steals a cucumber. I was so proud.

Despite the roughness of 2020 and the bad news that feeds bad news, we still remain, and try to find our way. I know, for instance, that our young friend Mac recently deactivated her Facebook profile, and I am with her all the way.

The mirrorless experiments continue, and my intuitions about it have merit. For example, the SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 lens is quite an amazing lens, especially since it got its start as a reporter’s camera at small town newspaper. A lot of those lenses were sold as newsroom pool cameras because they were so basic. The 50mm f/1.4 is at the top of any heap you’d be willing to pile; it is sharp, well-built, smooth-focusing, and delivers nothing short of spectacular bokeh. It is a sublime lens.

Your host makes a self-portrait with the excellent 50mm f/1.4 from Pentax.
Your host makes a self-portrait with the excellent 50mm f/1.4 from Pentax.

Life and Death in the Night

Hawken, our Irish wolfhound, cornered another opossum tonight, or possibly cornered the same opossum he encountered two weeks ago.

Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.
Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.

Hawken’s bark is unique to the situation: it is forceful, loud and urgent, and is meant to get the attention of the animal he is addressing as well as us.

I have no desire to kill animals like this, but I can’t have them stubbornly staking out Hawken’s food, and I am quite sure this animal or others like it are responsible for killing our next door neighbor Mike’s chickens recently.

I tried and tried to shoo it away, but it was too determined to dine on Hi-Point “Highly Active” 28/15 dog food, and wound not retreat. I shot it with my M&P 15/22. Once it was down, I gave it one point-blank to the head so it wouldn’t suffer.

Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.
Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.

The Masked Man

For much of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic crisis, I have been thinking even more than usual about human immunology. I have, over the years, read with fascination about smallpox, polio, plague, ebola, hantavirus, dengue fever, malaria, Spanish flu, tuberculosis, and on and on.

Along comes coronavirus in an age in which we should be able to handle it. Or, now that I type those words, maybe the idea of an extremely technologically sophisticated society being able to hand difficult problems is a conceit.

Wearing a mask is simple and can help stop disease, but will it have long-term consequences?
Wearing a mask is simple and can help stop disease, but will it have long-term consequences?

We all have concerns, but I have yet to talk to anyone who shares my own exact perspective. Some of scared to death of getting sick. Some think the whole thing is a scam. Others express suspicions, but are on board with measures being taken. Almost everyone seems to understand the economic and social consequences of shutting down the country again like we did in March.

In my thoughts, there is another consequence: overall immunity in humans. We build our immune systems through exposure to pathogens. Who will we be, immunologically, in six months or a year of obsessive mask-wearing and hand washing? Will we be more and more disease-naîve, until one day we will have to gown up just to survive the common cold?

Where would we be today if a less-lethal version of this virus made its way through the nursing homes and daycares three years ago, instead of being killed again and again by bubblegum-scented foaming hand sanitizer?

It is entirely possible that humanity’s difficulties with coronavirus is a consequence of obsession with not getting sick. Commerce is full of hand sanitizers and antibacterials. They interrupt the path of germs into the immune system. I would love to hear from an immunologist about this idea.

I will immediately concede that I am not a doctor or a researcher, and that I don’t have the answers, but now, nearly seven months into this crisis, no one seems to have answers.

A Narrative about Rights

Our neighbors the Nipps have begun raising chickens, and last night they gave us a dozen eggs, and refused to take money for them. That's the way it is in the country. We do for them, they do for us.
Our neighbors the Nipps have begun raising chickens, and last night they gave us a dozen eggs, and refused to take money for them. That’s the way it is in the country. We do for them, they do for us.

During the recent months of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen an increasing number of social media posts claiming that requirements to wear a mask in public to help reduce contagion are a violation of our Constitutional rights.

It got me thinking about a few years ago when I was watching a prepper’s YouTube channel. He was showing us his gear. AR mags, single-point slings, body armor, ham radio, c-rations… wait, ham radio?

If I made the mistake of chiming in (which I did once) about the fact that to use amateur radio frequencies, you need an amateur radio license, I was set upon by foul-mouthed, angry, selfish jackasses, whose entire point seemed to be that they could do whatever they want.

I’ve written on this theme many times before, but the mask thing brought it all back into focus: far too many people in our society never grow up. They are like the two year old who grabs anything he wants from the candy aisle while his mother isn’t looking, because he wants it. Fine. That’s a reasonable survival strategy for an infant.

The collision occurs when adults behave in this way. They want, and they grab, but as adults, they have a much longer reach, and since so many people are grabbing, conflict will happen.

This is the essential opposite of patriotism. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Kennedy said.

But what can my country do for me? Feed me candy? Feed me trite tv fiction? Feed me the idea that I have rights I want, or worse, imagine the Constitution gives them to me. Oddly, the Constitution has nothing to say about facemasks. Nothing.

Let me ask it this way: why would it be an important right not to wear a disposable surgical mask in public?

Let me ask it this way: it is mostly illegal for women to bare their breasts in public. Is this harmful? In fact, no, not at all. It is not illegal to publicly expose your nose and mouth. Is this harmful? Presently, yes! (Don’t get me started on the ridiculously of decency laws.)

From a friend I was forced to unfollow on social media recently…

“I’m reading so many conflicting reports on Facebook. I’m sure that’s by design.”

And

“I can’t find any good news sources on Facebook.”

Smooth, “Leslie.” Very smooth.

Also, preppers: the shit is hitting the fan right now, but your guns won’t save you. The splattered mess is far less cinematic and violent than you had hoped. In your grade school dreams, you would “lock and load,” then march down to the riot and … you know what happens next. You fantasize about doing it, but meanwhile you can’t stand the site of your awful wife, and can’t even get it up to jerk off about it because you are obese and diabetic.

I don’t want to be that way.

These very cheap, very cute handheld two-way radios are potentially one of the most dangerous tools in America. Through a technicality, these radios don't just transmit on amateur radio frequencies, they transmit on any public safety and business frequencies in the spectrum.
These very cheap, very cute handheld two-way radios are potentially one of the most dangerous tools in America. Through a technicality, these radios don’t just transmit on amateur radio frequencies, they transmit on any public safety and business frequencies in the spectrum.

Bell Peppered

“You should have seen the look on Mark’s face when he saw those bell peppers.”

It never ceases to amaze or discourage me to see grown men so threatened by something as harmless as someone else’s diet.

He was a huge Coke drinker. Obsessive.

“So why didn’t you and Elizabeth ever get together?” he asked about me and his wife.

I made up some crap about her and me not being a good fit, but she was an incredibly horrible person.

Why so scared?
Why so scared?

My brain now has me using the word “ronids” for the particles that cause covid-19.

Persistent, horrifying nightmares about spiders: it started with a fountain that mines glowing purple liquid from the ground. Then we were surrounded by huge spiders with long black legs and round white abdomens. They were all stealing cherries. Are there really cherry-stealing spiders, or has the Rona finally broken me?

Along came a spider.
Along came a spider.

When the current epidemic matures into a global catastrophe like the 1918-19 pandemic, do you really want your legacy to be, “I bought a lot of toilet paper”? Not me. I want everyone to remember my work, and mostly how well and much I loved my wife.

Wait. A covid is 10,000 covfefe, right?

There is some self-righteous inclination to not wear a Rona mask, citing personal liberty. I’ll bet those same people would wear the mask in seconds flat if the Rona turned you gay or black.

There wasn't a single sheet of toilet paper in the store, but fruits and vegetables remain plentiful. Why? What does this say about us as a people? Not just that we are scared, but it also tags us as emotionally and intellectually immature.
There wasn’t a single sheet of toilet paper in the store, but fruits and vegetables remain plentiful. Why? What does this say about us as a people? Not just that we are scared, but it also tags us as emotionally and intellectually immature.

A drastic panic to buy toilet paper, but there are fresh fruits and vegetables as far as the eye can see. It never ceases to amaze me how silly and ignorant people can be. Why don’t you just curl up in a corner and suck your thumb?

What do I miss? With just seconds to go in overtime… one town on one side of the gym, another town on the other side of the gym. The ball hits nothing but net, and that team’s town goes wild. The gym traps the din, filling all our ears with wild screams and yells. The buzzer sounds, and the game is over. One team and their town loses, one team and their town wins.

Covering this was my job that night, and might have been the most fun thing I did all year.

They were so happy. They didn't realize that the world was about to stop.
They were so happy. They didn’t realize that the world was about to stop.

You know what I love? …

The sun and the sky in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico had no idea the end was near.
The sun and the sky in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico had no idea the end was near.

“Barack Obama is not my president.”

Followed immediately by…

“How dare you say Donald Trump isn’t your president.”

Believe it or not, I had friends in high school pressure me… pressure me… to display a rebel flag front license plate on my car. I never did. Why did they care about the flags I displayed, anyway? I guess in their naive minds, it might have seemed like it made them look like “rebels,” and peer pressure is usually pretty stupid, but the meaning of the Confederate flag has remained consistently negative in my lifetime.

You don’t hate people of color because of who they are. You hate them because of who you are.

Hawken cornered a raccoon last night. Once I got Hawken pulled back, the raccoon shooed away without an argument.

“I can’t wait until Hawken corners me a cooter,” I told my wife. I meant cougar.

Me: I made a mess in the kitchen last night. The rice sort of got away from me.

Abby: Oh, honey, that’s because you bought wild rice.

Okay, maybe I need to decompress. I just had the phrase “white balance” pass my eyes as I web surfed and wondered if it was something racist. White balance is a camera setting, Richard. You’re a photographer.

Help me cultivate a new catchphrase: “That’s not my train to strafe.”

Okay, I can finally put all the conspiracy theories to rest. The coronavirus started with the eclipse in 2017, when the sun began emitting coronids. Sure, you say, light from the sun only takes eight minutes to reach Earth; why is it only reaching us now? Because it had to go around the moon. Duh.

If anyone is running low, I’ve got humidifier fluid I can let go of for $4 a gallon.

Nobody got that joke.

This image leaves so many unanswered questions.
This image leaves so many unanswered questions.

Lost in New Mexico

I was cleaning up some computer files and folders recently when I came across images from our most recent anniversary trip, The Winding Road. I must have been hungry, because I gravitated to an image of a dessert Abby and I shared at our favorite restaurant in the world, Madrid, New Mexico’s The Hollar.

“Honey,” I said to my wife, who was crocheting in her recliner, “the whiskey cake!”

“That was so good,” she said without hesitation.

The whiskey cake.
The whiskey cake.

That’s how really great memories work.

A day or two later, a photographer friend on social media posted a moody black-and-white image of an abandoned store with the title Lost in New Mexico 2019.

I thought about all those great times Abby and I would open a map and just go.

Sometimes I get out maps and just read them. I think about all the places we would like to see.
Sometimes I get out maps and just read them. I think about all the places we would like to see.

Is it time to panic yet?

This was my column for July 2, 2020

I read a comment on social media recently that said, “XX new coronavirus cases. It isn’t time to panic yet.” Fun fact: panic is never the correct response. Action is.

Panic is what led many in our community and our nation to hoard toilet paper.

So, no. It’s not time to panic. But is it time for action? I know that sounds like a dumb question, because if we think about it, it’s always time for action. Why? Because today is all we have. We hopefully learned a treasure of lessons from the past, and we hope our future is wise and prosperous, but today is all we have in our hands.

The next question becomes, what action do we take?

We all have things in our lives that require action. We should all have our spiritual house in order. We should all have our financial house in order. We should all have our family house in order.

What action would I recommend? I’m not a pillar of wisdom, but I can recommend some action without hesitation.

All roads lead to a place of truth, without every knowing that truth.
All roads lead to a place of truth, without every knowing that truth.

• Be kinder to each other. A subset of this would be to be wiser and less angry on the web.

• Try to realize that no one has a monopoly on wisdom. Yelling “2+2=5” doesn’t make it true, and calling someone an idiot in the comments section of their photos of the news doesn’t mean they are an idiot.

• Remember that illiterate, thoughtless, hostile and abusive comments on social media, just like in real life, reflects on the commenter, not on you. Hostility and abuse are the actions of bullies, and bullies are always cowards.

• Don’t be afraid to be courageous on social media, including being courageous enough to ignore and delete comments from bullies. You aren’t obligated to to listen to people who hate you or your ideas without justification. But we are all obligated to the truth.

There is a group of people who will read this, purse their lips, shake their heads with a huff, and mutter, “Well, he’s not talking about me.”

You might not be ready to hear what I have to say. You might go to your grave believing 2+2=5. But I know so many people who have turned away from that mindset, and have learned to listen, learned to be kind, learned to be civil and, bit by bit, wiser.

Bring Balance to the Force

It was my honor to cover and photograph an energetic and dynamic Black Lives Matter rally and march in my hometown of Ada, Oklahoma earlier this month. This image didn't make the final cut because it would have make some of our readers very angry.
It was my honor to cover and photograph an energetic and dynamic Black Lives Matter rally and march in my hometown of Ada, Oklahoma earlier this month. This image didn’t make the final cut because it would have make some of our readers very angry.

At a Juneteenth celebration Saturday, I interviewed a few people about how Donald Trump’s handling of racial issues would affect how they will vote. They all said they were already going to vote against Trump, but there was no shortage of criticism of him.

After talking to one person who repeatedly called him a racist, I turned off my recorder and said to her, “He’s a sexist, too.”

Her response surprised me.

“Yes, but racism is our issue right now.”

A bit of discourse on the right and wrong of the current narrative.

  1. “The police should have just left George Floyd alone.” It’s important to note here that George Floyd was committing a crime when he was arrested, and the police were called to the scene by members of the public.
  2. “George Floyd deserved what he got because he had a long felony record.” This is never how criminal justice is supposed to work. Police aren’t judges.
  3. “George Floyd deserved what he got because he resisted arrest.” Killing a subject who is resisting arrest is a function of incompetent policing, not suspect behavior. If you and your fellow officers can’t contain a resisting subject without killing him, you shouldn’t be in the police business.
  4. Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter vs Blue Lives Matter. I saw a meme that clarified this for me recently. Saying that “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter” is like asking the fire department to hose down all the houses on the block when only one of them is on fire. Black Lives Matter addresses a crisis unique to the black community.
  5. Cause of death: when investigators find drugs in the systems of black subjects in these situations, or that these people died from causes not related to police actions, it’s untrue, “because medical examiners and/or prosecutors are protecting the police.” This is a mish-mash of logical fallacies and wishful thinking, and is seldom asserted with evidence.
  6. Far too many of these cases involve people who encounter police while drunk or high, and while that’s not any kind of an excuse for police abuse, it is appalling. Do we not, as human beings of any race, owe it to ourselves to be strong, upright, healthy citizens? I know, though, that it is much harder when right and wrong isn’t always obvious when you live amidst poverty, abuse, neglect, and racism. I know I am asking a lot, but I am asking the right thing: love and respect thyself.
  7. Why “defund the police” won’t work: like it or not, the police have been protecting you every minute of every protest, and although they get out of hand sometimes, it mostly works. You can’t protect yourselves from armed robbers, drunk drivers, burglars, and a myriad of other criminals like you think you can. My response to this is rightfund the police.

So. One day it’s Black Lives Matter. One day it’s school shootings. One day it’s LGBTQ+ pride. 9/11. Animal rights. Climate change. Ebola. Poverty. Covid-19. Pollution. Overpopulation.

Every single-issue issue is temporary and destined to fail, because it disregards the wisest and calmest words we ever recited as children: “…and justice for all.” You will never succeed in building a better world until you realize that we all live in it.

When my sister, who lives in New Orleans, saw my Black Lives Matter coverage, she asked, "Doesn't Ada have any black people living in it?" The answer is yes, but not nearly as many as live in New Orleans. In any case, I thought our rally crossed racial lines and expressed unity.
When my sister, who lives in New Orleans, saw my Black Lives Matter coverage, she asked, “Doesn’t Ada have any black people living in it?” The answer is yes, but not nearly as many as live in New Orleans. In any case, I thought our rally crossed racial lines and expressed unity.

Cold Night

It’s a cold night. Rain. Wind blows water onto the windows. Drafts fill the air outside.

Her hands are stiff and slick from the cold.

Breath steaming on the front porch, I enter. I take off my leather jacket. The collar was turned up, stiff and slick from the cold.

I slide in behind her as she reads, huddled around her coffee. I wrap my arms around her. My chin slides over her right shoulder. The wool of my sweater presses into the cotton of her shirt.

Every part of me wraps around every part of her.

The tension of waiting is gone.

I was cold. She was cold. But together, we are warm.

Cold days become cold nights.
Cold days become cold nights.

Tomatoes to the Rescue

My garden hose, locked open, waters my new tomato plants last night.
My garden hose, locked open, waters my new tomato plants last night.

After a rather intense couple of days covering the news, I was able to pad my tension with a bit of good news: the garden center at Walmart had mature-ish tomato plants to I could replace some that I lost to cutworms or the weather. I was able to plant three Better Boy plants and two cherry tomato plants.

This is one of the tomato plants I got planted last night.
This is one of the tomato plants I got planted last night.
Flowers in the pasture take on late evening sun.
Flowers in the pasture take on late evening sun.
The sky takes on beautiful amber hues after sunset last night.
The sky takes on beautiful amber hues after sunset last night.

My Black Lives Matter Rally Experience

Black Lives Matter protesters kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time George Floyd was held on the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer, killing him May 25.
Black Lives Matter protesters kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time George Floyd was held on the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer, killing him May 25.

I had a rather remarkable weekend, connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and a rally in our hometown, Ada, Oklahoma.

It really kicked off late Friday morning when got a report that some camo-wearing  redneck-looking men were hanging out downtown, which fit the social media rhetoric about agitators and radicals bussing in protesters. I talked to them and even tried to bond with them. They interrupted my first sentence with “And you are?” despite my press pass in plain view, then declined to identify themselves, though they did say off the record that they were there to “guard” a local business. If they were armed, it was concealed.

My conclusion was that they were not from Ada, and were there as a provocation by racists. But there wasn’t really a story there. Sure, you and I know who these guys are, but what could I say? Men in a variety of clothing similar to hunting or military attire stand on a public sidewalk? Within a couple of hours, they were gone.

After talking to the camo guys and deciding they weren’t really a story, I walked next door to Gunrunners, our favorite gun store, to see if Darrel Teel, the owner, had anything to say about the situation. The guy behind the counter said, “Darrel passed away last night suddenly.”

I’d known Darrel for 15 years, and Abby had known him for 50 or more years. We liked him, and he knew his guns. Shocked and sorry to hear about this.

I went home and got lunch for Abby and me, and got a few other things done, expecting to work late.

I had some vague ideas about how our Black Lives Matter march would play out, and felt like I was prepared. In addition to my wide angle and telephoto zooms and my phone, I mounted an extra phone (from my office) on the hot shoe of my wide angle camera for video, which worked pretty well.

My Ada News video from last night's Black Lives Matter rally…

Posted by Richard R. Barron on Saturday, June 6, 2020

 

A lot of journalists have been caught up in violence connected to these recent events, and my wife and a couple of coworkers were nervous about my presence, but I could already feel in the air that it was going to be a positive, peaceful, and meaningful event.

My longtime friend Dylan Cunningham had "Fuck Trump" on his Rona mask. It caused quite a stir on social media with conservatives saying it "didn't create unity," and although I couldn't say this in print, I agree with it completely: fuck Trump.
My longtime friend Dylan Cunningham had “Fuck Trump” on his Rona mask. It caused quite a stir on social media with conservatives saying it “didn’t create unity,” and although I couldn’t say this in print, I agree with it completely: fuck Trump.

The march started at the “whittling tree,” but as I explained this to my coworkers, they all seemed dumbfounded. Am I the “old man” who remembers stuff from back in the day? You can see the whittling tree in the early parts of the video.

How I felt once it got going really took me by surprise.

It was very hot and humid out. I wore shorts and my “The Ada News” shirt with “PRESS” on the back. As I worked, I would stop and make photos and video, then, because the march was moving at a fair pace, I would run a block and a half to catch up and get in front of it, and do the whole thing all over again. Despite the heat and being loaded with gear, including wearing a Rona mask, I was very pleased with how easy it was, and how quickly my heart rate went back to normal. I’m about to turn 57, so this is significant.

Longtime friend Christine Pappas asked on social media afterwards, “Can I nominate Richard R. Barron for a Pulitzer for this photo?”…

The five young organizers of Ada's Black Lives Matter rally lead the way down Main Street.
The five young organizers of Ada’s Black Lives Matter rally lead the way down Main Street.

It’s a lovely and flattering sentiment, but the truth is that thousands of journalists like me are making great images of this bellwether moment in history just like I am, and I am honored and humbled to be a small part of it.

Thus the surprising part: at one point during the march, with thousands of human voices, many my friends, crying out in unison for justice, I felt like I was going to break down and cry. I had to take several long, keep breaths just to keep myself in the game. I was just so proud of Ada.

It was also a moment of self-doubt: am I getting to old, too emotional, too vulnerable to do the job of news photographer?

In the end, I found the experience to be one of the most moving and significant I have ever covered.

I look at this image and think of a day not all that long ago that this couldn't have happened. I am proud of my town and everyone here who had the courage to do this.
I look at this image and think of a day not all that long ago that this couldn’t have happened. I am proud of my town and everyone here who had the courage to do this.

Thinking About What We Have

A mighty earthworm coils up in the loose soil of my garden this week. It's been rainy, so I am seeing a lot of these.
A mighty earthworm coils up in the loose soil of my garden this week. It’s been rainy, so I am seeing a lot of these.
Your host prepares to donate blood Friday, May 22, 2020.
Your host prepares to donate blood Friday, May 22, 2020.

Here’s a piece of good news: I recently donated blood at the Oklahoma Blood Institute, and they will test it for coronavirus antibodies. My first -blush guest? Yes, based on my sickness in February.

Sure, I could high-five myself into a sprained rectum, but the truth is that disease moves in mysterious way. If I DID have The Rona, my blood could potentially be part of the medical process that creates a coronavirus vaccine.

My thoughts today: most people don’t have what they need and don’t need what they have. What do they need? Purpose. Goals. Love. Creativity. Truth. Purpose. What do they have? Sugar, entertainment, a distorted worldview, suffering.

And then there are things we all have that we take for granted, like blood. There is no other source of any kind for human blood but us, and I will continue to donate for the rest of my life.

Marigolds are among my favorite things to grow, both because the scent on my fingers when I tend them takes me back to my childhood, but also because it's one thing I can always bring to my wife Abby. If I get the Rona and don't make it, please tend me marigolds.
Marigolds are among my favorite things to grow, both because the scent on my fingers when I tend them takes me back to my childhood, but also because it’s one thing I can always bring to my wife Abby. If I get the Rona and don’t make it, please tend me marigolds.

At the moment, despite a fair amount of financial hardship around us, we almost all have a place to live under a roof, and enough to eat.

My garden grows, but with a mysterious development: several of my plants have just vanished. They weren’t eaten to the nub like bugs might, and I haven’t seen any animal tracks. The most recent was a nice cherry tomato plant that actually had some green fruit on it. It was 14 inches tall, so it wasn’t vulnerable seedling. Ideas? I’m halfway inclined to cite pranksters, but it’s an odd choice to steal individual plants and not trash the whole garden.

Small green tomatoes take hold in my garden this week. If they make it and aren't stolen by... okay, sure, aliens... they will be ripe and ready to harvest in another three or four weeks.
Small green tomatoes take hold in my garden this week. If they make it and aren’t stolen by… okay, sure, aliens… they will be ripe and ready to harvest in another three or four weeks.

 

What Did I Want to Be? What About You?

This was my column for Wednesday, May 13.

This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.
This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.

I was recently honored to once again help jury some East Central University Mass Communications students’ senior presentations, specifically those students who emphasized visuals like photography, graphic arts and design.

It got me thinking about my college days and earlier, and about what I imagined I wanted to be as an adult – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

In 1974, I was absolutely sure I wanted to grow up to be a pilot. I had a beautiful model of a Pam Am Boeing 747-200, an aircraft known as “the queen of the skies,” that inspired a whole generation of young people. Although I never did it professionally, I became a pilot in 1993.

In sixth grade, a teacher we all liked and admired, Mrs. Gerber, asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. When no one volunteered an answer, Mrs. Gerber got out her roll call book and started calling our names in alphabetical order, so I was first. I blurted out, “Farmer,” and the class laughed and laughed. But the next kid didn’t have an answer either, and also said, “Farmer!”

Eventually we had a room full of 26 would-be farmers.

That summer, my mom got me a part-time job working for an oral surgeon for whom she worked as an office manager. My job mostly involved mopping and cleaning, but I also learned how to clean stainless steel dental instruments and sterilize them using an autoclave, so for a while I had dentistry in mind.

For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot's license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.
For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot’s license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.

In 10th grade, I was fascinated with the weather, and even wrote down watches and warnings on my journal, so there was a short period when I wanted to be a meteorologist.

Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.
Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.

By 11th grade, I’d been keeping a journal for a while, and imagined I could one day be a novelist, albeit one without a plan for writing even my first novel.

As a senior in high school, I was taking pictures for yearbook, and got addicted to that. Around that same time, I started hanging out with guys who loved hi-fi stereo, so there was a period when I dreamed of working in a stereo store.

I asked my wife Abby what she wanted to be when she was young.

“I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was four,” she told me. “But not like Dale Evans. I wanted to be Roy Rogers.”

She wanted to be a mechanic, and actually did a fair amount of that kind of work as a hobby. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about internal combustion engines, even rebuilding one with her brother-in-law, Ralph Milligan, which she raced.

She played with being a math teacher, a child psychologist or a veterinarian. She worked in a veterinary clinic in the 1990s.

By my late college years, I had settled on being a photojournalist, in part because I was good at it, and in part because the equipment is pretty sexy.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.
Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.

Who Am I: The Idea of Identity

Street trash speaks directly to me.
Street trash speaks directly to me.

“Everybody in this town knows you, and knows who you are and what you do.”

Most people are accustomed to seeing me like this, behind a camera, and that's not going to change. Just don't be surprised when I ask you for a quote to go with the photos.
Most people are accustomed to seeing me like this, behind a camera, and that’s not going to change. Just don’t be surprised when I ask you for a quote to go with the photos.

The 2020 coronavirus crisis has had a crippling impact on the entire world. Entire industries have collapsed. One that comes to mind is the airline industry. Travel has plummeted beyond crisis levels. Some airlines have parked 95% of their fleets, and laid off thousands of workers.

My profession, print journalism, has struggled for more than a decade, and the outbreak has ripped away much luxury, and even some necessity, to the craft of delivering the news.

Readers might notice that in print, I have a new title, Senior Staff Writer. The reason for this is that corporate entities don’t see a need for photographers at struggling, small-market newspapers. Our hope with this title change is that they see me as a multi-role staff member with feature writing, column writing, internet, videography and photography skills, which I absolutely am.

I don’t anticipate taking fewer photographs, and I am already writing quite a bit at my paper. It’s a move intended to do more with less.

No one in my community will think I am no longer a photographer, their photographer.

Fellow photographer Courtney and I are married to our identities as photographers. But she and I have more duties that just taking pictures. Her's is running a business. Mine is writing features and columns.
Fellow photographer Courtney and I are married to our identities as photographers. But she and I have more duties that just taking pictures. Her’s is running a business. Mine is writing features and columns.