Interesting Times

When I feel like I am getting into a creative rut, I sometimes turn to the rather large cadre of work I have created in my journals over the years. Just in the last few days, I picked up a journal from 2002 and read in it some, putting little Post-It® notes on the pages with notes like “Kay said she loved me on the phone,” or “OU practice light gun,” about getting the control tower in Norman to use the signal lights as I climbed out on my way back to Ada in the Cessna 172 I was renting all the time back then.

These notes are from 2001-2002, right around the time I tried to date Lisa, and about six months before I started dating Abby.

I love it when she says my life is better than hers. I could listen to her voice for hours, but not for days.

Misty told me, “We’ll never forget these endless nights on the balcony.” (We shared a balcony at my apartment.)

Balcony party, early 2000s.
Balcony party, early 2000s.

Laughed and laughed all night long with Kay online, both of us joking that we’d meet in Joplin tomorrow at midnight. Such tender feelings for her. I adore her.

Wayne is playing Quake III Arena on my computer and Misty is contemplating cutting her own hair.

In Norman, I decided on Thai food for lunch. It’s the anti-Ada. Excellent volleyball later on in a clear afternoon with Misty and two kids from across the street. We ended up on the balcony in the warm night air, trading stories.

I called Kay after her computer crashed, and listened to her go on about the stupidest stuff, captivated by the way her voice trails off and the way she pronounces her Ps.

Jamie called to tell me about getting run over and breaking her hand getting her friend’s car out of ditch.

Ten years ago was dirty and pure. It was just before Pam in the middle of the whole MP infatuation thing. In a way, I miss those times, and in a way, I know I never want to do that again.

I saw Anna (not the Norman one) at the store, and as I left, I thought, “I can’t believe I ever went out with her,” and I’m sure she was thinking the same thing.

Ostensibly for Cinco de Mayo, I took Wayne and Misty to Norman for dinner with the gang. Thea cooked and did a great job, and everyone laughed and had a great time.

Marilyn has been trying to set me up with someone named Amy. I called her today and asked her out, and she said, “I don’t even know you!” Why even try?

Instant message with Kay tonight…

K: I’m sorry, it’s not you. I’m just very mellow tonight.
R: If I were there, I would brush your hair.
K: I wonder why my husband never thinks of that.
R: Some guys are hair-brushers, and some guys aren’t. You are a great person and a great friend.
K: Thanks. I haven’t felt worthy of it in the last few days.
R: You have my permission to sleep well and wake up in a positive mood.
K: I’ll do my best. Thanks for cheering me up.
R: I love you. Good night.
K: I love you.

May 15: So much emotion arcing between Kay and me tonight. We admire each other. Today in an email, she said, “that’s why you’re my idol.” I’ve never felt closer to her.

Kay called to say she wouldn’t be online tonight. In some ways, she’s my defacto girlfriend. I probably talk to her as much as anyone, including her husband. Maybe it’s just as well that she lives 450 miles away. Or maybe if she lives close, this relationship wouldn’t exist. Sometimes I really hurt for her.

“It feels like I’m fighting God, that God hates me.” ~A

She wants her love life to be like a book, but it’s not a good book.

“When I wasn’t looking, you became my closest confidant.” ~Kay, May 29

She’s spending the evening with her husband, and it feels like she’s cheating on me.

“Have I said ‘I love you’ lately?” ~Kay, June 4. She called me four times today, and during the last one she said, “That’s why you’re my mentor, my hero.”

June 8: Jamie and I laid down together on my futon, where she slept for an hour while I read Quiet Days in Clichy. I could feel her body unwind as I held her. Afterwards, I could smell her on my clothes.

June 11: I had an excited message from Kay. I called her, and she was excited because she had processed her film from class. “I wanted to tell someone,” she said, “but no one cares but you.”

Women all around, all out of reach.

D told me that “kids suck.”

June 17: A told me she masturbated six times yesterday.

Kay isn’t who I think she is.

June 20: K and I just talked and talked and talked. She told me it was no accident that she calls all the time, and she really likes “talking to someone who has something intelligent to say.” I told her I hope I was a good listener. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” she added. “Maybe that’s why I like talking to you so much.”

I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne's send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.
I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne’s send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.

Kay, why didn’t this happen to us nine years ago? She is so much on my mind. I seriously doubt she understands the depth of my feelings for her. After all, what woman ever has?

“Your scrapbooks?” I told Kay, “they’re your style!”
“Ugh,” she said. “Can I have your style instead?”

June 27: “Kay, you can’t dispute what I am about to say. You were adorable in junior high.” …followed by the sound of a frustrated sigh on the other end of the phone.

She called me later on the phone in a foul and furious mood, repeatedly referring to herself as “stupid.”

“And it would be better if I could just go home and go to sleep,” she said, “but my husband will be there, and I don’t want to explain to him why I had a bad day. So you’re getting it all. I’m really a bitch on days like these.”

July 23, 2002: “You know why I like being with you?” Jamie asked. “All my other friends are noisy. You’re quiet.”

I ran into Allison, another woman who I asked out but wouldn’t go out with me.

July 31, 2002: Looking at my logbook, I realize yet again what a shame it is that I’m not flying much any more. Years ago it was so easy: the keys to the Cessna 150 were in my pocket, and Vera sent me a bill every month at $30 an hour. I practically had no choice but to fly a couple of times a week. Now, though, scheduling is a pain, and it’s more than $60 an hour for the Skyhawk. My flight instructor and the airport manager both haven’t flown in years.

I was flying a fair amount during this period.
I was flying a fair amount during this period.

August 3, 2002: At last I got my biennial flight review in the T-34. I didn’t fly especially well, but it was only my second hour in the model. Its splendid handling and power are easily offset by its awkward control layout and ergonomics. Still, it was a joy to fly.

Kay called me “Sweetie” on the phone today. Later she was online only long enough to tell me she was pissed off at her husband and “wasn’t handling it very well.” I re-read her December 1994 letter about how much she is in love with her husband, but she never says that about him any more. For the first time, I heard her use the phrase “seven year itch” to describe her marriage.

Wayne and Misty decided to move out.

It was that week that I got an email from a mutual friend that Lisa, a long-time hard crush for me, was divorcing, and that became my primary focus.

Kay called and told me she felt “protective of” me.

“Lisa was in my arms tonight!” ~Journal, August 11, 2002

In the middle of an my emotional conflagration, in the middle of the night, there is a knock at the door. It’s Jamie, who is a mess. “I just needed a few minutes with somebody sane,” she tells me, and I am secretly amused by the irony.

Kay called and listened to my self-indulgence for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I don’t understand what she gets from “us.”

September 16, 2002: I certainly haven’t been a Buddha these last few weeks. My thoughts are allover the place, in other times and other’s hearts.

Great flirting with Kay on the phone. Very affectionate. At the end of the conversation, she said she loved me.

A called in her usual funk of dissatisfaction. Jamie called in a miasma of heartache. The comfort of tears, and the night.

When asked to pick one word to describe me, W said it was a tie between “intense” and “passionate.”

Kay on the phone, miserable with allergies. A on the phone, miserable with a toothache. Richard (me) on the phone, miserable with self-indulgence and ingratitude. Lame is too lame a word to describe it.

This chapter sort of ends in October 2002, when I took a trip to Caprock Canyons in Texas, then just a month later, a longer trip to Utah.

This was my apartment in 2002.
This was my apartment in 2002.

 

Euphoria

Journal, March 1997…

“You sounded really euphoric on the phone,” she said.

Alone in the four-seat Cessna Skyhawk, I climbed quickly to 4500 feet to find a very special layered sunset. I did a couple of hard-breaking power-on stalls, and handled them perfectly, then headed back for my required three night full-stop landings to remain current.

I fly in the pursuit of perfection.

The sky awaits.
The sky awaits.

National Pickle Day

Robert wears a pickle suit and holds "The Pickle" in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.
Robert wears a pickle suit and holds “The Pickle” in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.

Our long-time photographer friend Robert visited today, both to see Abby, and because today is National Pickle Day, and he brought The Pickle.

Wait, “The Pickle”?

Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.
Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.

Well, it’s a long story, and I haven’t talked about it much because really, it’s not my story. The Pickle has been on television and in newspapers, and, as pickles go, it is famous.

The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first "pickled" in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.
The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first “pickled” in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.

Abby enjoyed her visit, for which Robert dressed in a pickle costume. He brought her flowers, and said she looked good.

Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.
Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.

As always, Robert and I did photography together.

Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.
Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.

Abby and I were glad to see him.

Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.
Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.

Chapter Ideas / Titles (from the blue spiral notebook)

How can winter be coming again?

Everything in tenth grade was blue and grey.

“The pain comes in waves. Soon they will wash me away.” Did Anna write that in a letter from Puerto Rico in 1983? I want to know, but I don’t want to reread those letters because I was such an asshole to her.

Do you know where I am?

With Tomorrow / Last Goodbye

“Swirling toilet of despair.” I can still taste the despair.

Was I really standing here with her on her front porch, asking her to go steady with me? I can remember every detail from that day 47 years ago. But did it really even happen?

“I put out your hand just to touch your soft hair…”

With her covering the scene of a shallow grave

Saying goodbye in the snow

Old Land / Driving through Saint Louis

The Pain Unbearable

It’s broken and I don’t know if I can fix it.

You can’t have your hand back

The trust of a child

Movieland

“When the winds of forget-me-not blow…”

“As of this moment, I am a stranger. I never existed. I’m gone.” ~Love letter revised eight years later.

Ice

All we really have is ourselves

The Bridge / first hug / the moon

Vamoosa / power plant

Killing time

Flag Day

Ben Casey

Swing set talk as the storm approached

Heart of Glass / Single Wish

Forever

Mismatched socks

Still Return

Driving music

“Hey, you’re that girl!”

Moving away

October fight

“Cover the ground with ashes…”

“My love will keep you warm.”

“I didn’t think it could hurt this much,” ~K, journal, November 1983

I bought a super-cheap box of cassette tapes to send single songs to her.

Somewhere in the distance, so far and separate that it shouldn’t matter, the horn of a freight train sounds as it crosses slowly through the city. They go slower now, to stay away from limbs and things.* On nights like tonight, it’s nice to walk. All the words and images inside are the same, just twisted around in circles. But since there is no one here at all, I’ll have to make do with the materials on hand. So it won’t just do to walk on this night. You see, there’s nothing out there at all any more. And it isn’t that tonight I roll in teardrops, for it seems that freedom too has escaped me. And it doesn’t help to close my eyes, for I still see the the same things, since there’s nothing there to see anyway. My hand scratches silently along, the air gets colder, and the days get shorter.

“Whipping wind whispering songs of silent seclusion…”

There are those of us who spend their whole lives waxing rhapsodic about autumn.

“It never worked.” Holy, crap, did she really just reduce our two years together to three words?

I don’t want to write.
I don’t want to itch.
I don’t want to feel useless.
I don’t want to seem like a burden.
I don’t want my eyes to itch.
I don’t want to make anyone hurt.
I don’t want to forget.
I don’t want to lose myself.
I don’t want to throw up.
I don’t want to burn up.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t want to break a leg.
I don’t want arthritis.
I don’t want to bite my tongue.
I don’t want to shake.
I don’t want to be forgotten.
I don’t want to ache.
I don’t want disease.
I don’t want to be hungry.
I don’t want to be mentally ill.
I don’t want to be in an asylum.
I don’t want to cough.
I don’t want to be an asshole.
I don’t want to seem insensitive.
I don’t want to lose touch.
I don’t want to lose face.
And I don’t want to lose you.

* My college roommate’s brother lost his lower leg when he walked across the tracks and got caught on something as the train arrived.

A Different Kind of Intimacy

A beautiful woman with a pony tail and a camera in her beautiful hands? So very.
A beautiful woman with a pony tail and a camera in her beautiful hands? So very.

I feel sad for people who are incapable of genuine intimacy.

“Our communication is almost entirely physical, through looks and, mostly, through touch. What we say to each other seems incidental. Tonight I rubbed her back for a while, then brushed her silky blonde hair for half an hour. She fell asleep in my lap,” I said in my journal in January 1993 about a young woman with whom I had a friendship with limited benefits. She an had extraordinarily soft neck, and her hands were as soft as melted butter, though her heart was as hard as steel.

“I wish I had someone’s lap to fall asleep in.” ~The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t

Thinking about them summoned my thoughts about hands. I love women’s hands, and I love my wife’s hands most of all. Why do I love hands? Is it that hands are our first line of contact, and thus our first line of defense? Or is is that women’s hands are evolutionarily constructed to attract someone like me?

“Hold me tight.” ~Girlfriend from 2000. She had tiny, pretty, soft hands, but a shallow disposition.

The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t told me on a number of occasions that she didn’t like “being touched or tied down,” but she always held my hand. I don’t know if that was because she realized it meant something to me, or she liked it, or she imagined she would get something from it, or even that she was lying when she said she didn’t like being touched. Part of me thinks she only said this to guys like me because she considered us unattractive.

“I’m going through another, ‘I can’t deal with our life/work arrangement another minute longer!’ I feel like my life is wasting away and the next time I turn around, I’ll be turning 50 instead of 40, and I’ll be in the same situation.” ~The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t, who turns 58 in a few days.

I knew several women who had rough hands, and it always turned me off.

And yes, I know that the size and shape of fingers and hands are genetic, but at the same time, it is a mistake to dismiss genetics as a valid criteria for finding our way.

There have been women in my life who didn’t understand hugging, or why it’s good. I am a hugger. One long-ago girlfriend called me “the best” hugger. When I run into someone who appreciates this trait in me – most recently, Jamie – we fall into each other’s arms and soak it up.

Touching a woman's hands is, in my view, among the simplest, most intimate ways we can communicate. In this image by Mac Crosby, Abby and I hold hands.
Touching a woman’s hands is, in my view, among the simplest, most intimate ways we can communicate. In this image by Mac Crosby, Abby and I hold hands.

Take Care of Yourself

Abby's therapy included the intravenous antibiotic ceftriaxone, a powerful, broad-spectrum drug she has received many times over the years.
Abby’s therapy included the intravenous antibiotic ceftriaxone, a powerful, broad-spectrum drug she has received many times over the years.

My wife Abby is back in the hospital, this time for a bout of lower lobe pneumonia. The acute phase is over, but her recovery, like her difficult illness in August, is achingly slow.

It is stretching me thin.

One thing everybody tells me is “take care of yourself.” On paper, I know what that means, but I also know my duty to my wife, and that being true to that means I might not be able to always take care of myself.

Abby was well enough ten days ago to attend the annual Shoffner Family Reunion.
Abby was well enough ten days ago to attend the annual Shoffner Family Reunion.

So I’m eating and sleeping, but those activities are tainted by worry and frustration.

A bright spot in this otherwise cheerless entry is that longtime friend Ann Dicus baked us a pecan pie and sent it along with a kind, empathetic card today. Thank you, Ann.

Ann's pecan pie was a very kind, meaningful, caring gesture.
Ann’s pecan pie was a very kind, meaningful, caring gesture.

Thoughts about Dan Fogelberg

As the years have gone by, I have made a mental note of prominent people, many celebrities, who died at a younger age than I am now, 58 as I write this. Steve McQueen and Michael Jackson were 50. Frank Zappa and Christopher Reeve were 52. Jim Henson and John Denver were 53. John Ritter, Peter Sellers, and Michael Landon were 54. Steve Jobs and Linda McCartney were 56. Prince, Patrick Swayze, and Humphrey Bogart were 57. George Harrison and Andy Warhol were 58.

And Dan Fogelberg was 56.

Recently his widow Jean Fogelberg  shared “All the Time in the World,” a serial memoir, on their website, and I read each installment as she published it each week, curious both about the life of the man whose music I admired, especially when I was in college, but also about what it must have been like to get sick and die at the young age of 56. In the midst of reading this, I wrote her a short, frank email:

Feb. 2, 2021

Dear Jean,

My wife Abby and I love to travel. We got married in Moab, Utah, at Arches National Park. Between our home in Oklahoma and Moab, there is New Mexico, which we love, and Abby and I are especially fond of the Santa Fe area.

In October 2019, we drove up to Pagosa Springs for our 15th anniversary vacation, and in our conversation I said, “I think Dan Fogelberg lived around here somewhere.” It sent me down the path of talking about his music, how I discovered it, and where it took me.

This is one of my images from the San Juan Riverwalk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado in October 2019. In the distance is Squaretop Mountain, just north of the massive Ranch that was once home to musician Dan Fogelberg.
This is one of my images from the San Juan Riverwalk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado in October 2019. In the distance is Squaretop Mountain, just north of the massive Ranch that was once home to musician Dan Fogelberg.

My first experience with the music of Dan Fogelberg was in 1979 when I was in high school, when my first girlfriend Tina decided “Longer” would be “our song.” I didn’t care for it much, but she was young and sentimental, so it fit, as I expect that song did for a lot of kids of that era.

In January 1982, Tina and I saw Dan Fogelberg in concert at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma, when I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. The 11,000-seat facility was standing room only. The thing I most remember about the show was that Tina wanted to hear “Longer,” and when he did play it, he insisted on silence from the audience, so when someone would “woo-hoo” from the seats, he played around the intro again until everyone shut up.

This is my first girlfriend Tina, whose real name was Yvonne.
This is my first girlfriend Tina, whose real name was Yvonne.

Those days were so naive for me. I was learning so much, but it was uncontained, chaotic, sophomoric. I was building a philosophy, but at the same time I was devoting too many hours to hi-fi stereo, fast cars, staying up late and blowing off class. In April 1982, a close friend, Debbie, died in a car crash, and in May, my former college roommate Jeff shot himself in the head. Interesting times.

I listened to a lot more Fogelberg in college than I had in high school, and his work, especially the early work, had an influence on me. If I had to pin it down, I’d say 1977’s Nether Lands was his strongest album.

I was also a devoted Pink Floyd listener, and was discovering Kansas, Phil Keaggy, James Taylor, Todd Rundgren, Journey, Simon and Garfunkel, Alan Parsons, more.

It would be decades before I expanded into genius like Brian Eno, the Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, and years later I would follow the downward spiral of Nine Inch Nails. It all points to the powerful influence of music.

But back to Santa Fe. I got a big kick out of your description of living in and around the Plaza, and recognizing every landmark you mentioned. I even have a nice image of Abby and her Chihuahua Sierra in Burro Alley.

Abby walks her Chihuahua Sierra along Burro Alley in Santa Fe in 2016.
Abby walks her Chihuahua Sierra along Burro Alley in Santa Fe in 2016.

You may have been to Madrid south of Santa Fe on SH14. We always make time to stop there and eat at The Hollar. Abby always says she would love to live there.

Abby and her Chihuahua Summer enjoy lunch in the sunshine at The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico in 2019.
Abby and her Chihuahua Summer enjoy lunch in the sunshine at The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico in 2019.

When Abby and I got home from Colorado in 2019, we bought “A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg,” and listened to it together in one sitting. Like his music in general, some of it was brilliant, and some of it missed the mark. That’s true for all musicians.

My favorite Dan Fogelberg cover isn’t on the Tribute, but the title track from Ashton, Becker and Dente’s 1994 cover album “Along the Road.”

Jean talks about Dan sailing alone in the last few months of his life, and while there is a certain romance about going off to sea and disappearing forever, I think this was a serious mistake: pilots aren’t allowed to fly on all the drugs he was taking, and I’m not sure driving is even safe in that situation. If the argument is that it was his business how he wanted to live and die at the end, fine, but search and rescue is costly and dangerous to all involved.

“Stress and physical wear and tear had begun wreaking havoc on my own body,” she writes in the chapter called Living with the Enemy, and I am certainly in synch with this feeling. When Abby is at her sickest, I stop eating and sleeping, lose weight, and my stomach hurts. You can argue that I should take care of myself, but it is a very fundamental reaction to that kind of stress.

Like a lot of artists, it would have been better for Fogelberg’s music to disappear without a trace rather than get drawn into the corporate music mill. As I wrote this, I listened to his entire catalog, and I remembered fondly his amazing early music, and cringed with embarrassment for us all when I got to 1987’s Exiles. This album sounded like the culture at the time, from the Entertainment Tonight-like soprano sax solos to the drum machines. He became the hair band of easy listening. Exiles is as derivative as any music I’ve ever experienced.

It didn’t have to be that way, of course. It wasn’t his sound. It was the sound (and bad advice) of some popped-collar producer who wanted to ride the industry tide.

In some ways, it’s tempting to forgive individual musicians for the dreck they pumped out during that time. 1987 was, after all, the year that gave us Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, I Want to Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) by Whitney Houston, Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car by Billy Ocean, and … oh, it hurts my brain to even type this … (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

Dan Fogelberg’s best songs, in my offbeat estimation, are the ones that take advantage of his amazing guitar skills and triharmonic vocals: Scarecrow’s DreamThe Last Nail, The Innocent Age, Sketches, Souvenirs, and Along the Road.

Same Old Lang Syne and Leader of the Band are often cited as great, but they don’t reach me like they do most people.

The chapters of Jean’s account drift off-course fairly often. I know it’s meant to be an intimate tale of their lives together, but I got really bored with the banal chit-chat about which wine they chose to go with which pasta.

Speaking of wine, there is a chapter in which she talks about their wine collection being ruined by a dehumidifier, and they would have to go to the wine shop the next day to replace their expensive Italian wines. Wow. Those poor little rich people had to replace their precious, pricey wine. Sometimes the wealthy can really lose sight of themselves.

I want to add that I thought very highly of Fogelberg’s music when he was really at the crest of his talent and popularity, from 1972’s Home Free through 1983’s Windows and Walls. It’s quite a musical achievement to have such a long run of great music, especially in a world of one-hit wonders.

I would have liked to meet and photograph the man, but I’ve never liked the paparazzi photography scene, and I’m not certain I would have been the photographer for him. Still, I feel I might have been able to express something about his amazing musical talent, and something about how his music and vision influenced me.

My first Dan Fogelberg albums were vinyl records, later replaced by CDs, later supplemented by MP3s.
My first Dan Fogelberg albums were vinyl records, later replaced by CDs, later supplemented by MP3s.

My Name (jotted in journal, November 1990)

My name
Band names
Baby names
Baby lotion
Emotion lotion
Emotional rescue
Rescue helicopter
Attack helicopter
Heart attack
Heartburn
Sunburn
Sunstroke
Stroke of genius
Genius at work
Men at work
Hard work
Hardball
Softball
Soft sell
Sell your soul
Soul mate
Cell mate
Mating game
Dating game
Dating service
Service with a smile
Smile when you say that
When you say
My name

Blue 56

Over the last year and a half, I’ve made an effort to write more by hand in my journal.

When I first started keeping a journal, I married it to a rigid style: date and day at the top of the page, standard block paragraphs, at least a page a day.

I tried to break out of this mold in my 20s by allowing myself to draw, write poetry, and be more abstract, but the one thing I wish I’d done more is make notes about life.

During my recent push, I have done exactly that. I note everything in my journals these days, and use them as more than journals, but also as records of events, travels, media, vaccinations, gossip, weather, entertainment, notes for stories, photos, and columns, and even medication notes.

In the next day or two, the purple journal book, number 55, will be full, and I will start writing in number 56, which is blue.

Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.
Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.

The Golden Age of the Internet

No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can't make people put down their smartphones.
No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can’t make people put down their smartphones.

In the last 15 years, we have all witnessed the internet deteriorate. What at first seemed like a gleaming futurtopia of the “information superhighway” has become a place for intellectual and spiritual poison.

I’ve been getting nostalgic recently about that golden age: Nyan Cat, Amber Lamps, Double Rainbow All the Way, Badger Badger Badger, Salad Fingers, The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, Teen Girl Squad, and others have served to remind me that there was a time when the web could entertain us without the appalling obsession with money.

Black box warning: clicking on any of the above links may be preceded by, or contain, advertising.

A recent trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on various subjects brought me to this article: the digital dark age. I hate to say it, but I tend to be right about stuff a lot, and I was always right about this one. I tell my students to keep migrating their data to newer technologies, or they will lose them forever.

And of course, you know where I am going with this: it’s all about money. There’s no money in being brilliant. It’s not socially-piercing poetry that gets 10 million likes. The likes, and the money, go to intellectually numbing crap on sites like Tic-Toc.

Of particular annoyance is that so many (probably the majority of) websites have some kind of nagging beg for money. Pop-overs, pop-downs, ads that take forever to load, all make those pages insufferable. Even the Associated Press home page nags us every time with a pop-over that you can’t not see…

You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.
You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.

This web site, richardbarron.net, has been online since 2004, and I am keeping it up. A downside to that is that viewers gloss over links on social media, and seldom navigate to websites based on searches or bookmarks. I sometimes think that no one ever clicks on links when they browse social media because, to be kind, they are brainwashed into consuming their reality in tiny, salty, sugary, cheesy little bytes.

Part of what we web old-timers liked was the idea of flowing freely from one page to the next, following suggested links or search results, in a fashion that made the internet a bit like a scavenger hunt. In 2021, many, maybe most, users, follow only what one app offers them.

The most obvious solution to you and your digital footprint is to find a way to express it non-digitally. Write or type on paper. Print your photographs. Hold on to your phonograph records, audio tapes, and CDs. Yet I remain pessimistic when I see more powerful and complex smartphones used to create mediocre photos and video, open to one app, used for bottom-tier entertainment only.

In conclusion, if you sprinkle Ivermectin on your Tide pods, it works twice as well to prevent the Rona.

Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.
Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.

“Oink!”

By the time I was a senior is high school, I was hanging out with some people who might not have been the best influences on me.

One thing we did all summer long after graduation was to “cruise.” Younger readers might not exactly understand this activity, since it seems so lame, but essentially, we drove around in big circles, showing off something – how cool we were, how much cooler we were, how much cooler we were than (insert other kinds of people like “goat ropers” or “proud crowd”), and, in the case of the people I cruised with, how cool their cars were.

I recently watched a video on a YouTube channel called Audit the Audit, which is about “the right and wrong of police interactions.”

The video that prompted this entry (link) was one about police detaining a group of young people because one of them shouted “f*ck the police” at them from the passenger side of their vehicle.

A nearly identical event happened to me in 1981: I was riding in a vehicle with two other teenagers when one of them spotted a cop and called “OINK!” as loud as he could from the passenger window.

The police weren’t very happy hearing that, and immediately pulled us over. I understand now, as an adult, why this is so offensive, but at that time in my life, steered by the influence of kids with too much money and huge egos, it felt rebellious and event righteous.

The police called us back behind the car one at a time, and I was first. They asked me who yelled at them, and I told them it was my friend in the back seat. Our driver was next, and he also told them it was our back-seater.

The kid who oinked was back there along time, and the driver and I heard raised police voices. When he came back to the car and the police told us we could go, he was visibly shaken, and told us it was because he recognized the officer as one who had allegedly shot a teenager while working as deputy in a nearby small town.

I thought of this encounter and similar ones from my youth after watching the Audit the Audit video, which concluded that the police officer in the video, who was fired from the force after the incident, acted wrongly, and that criticism of the police, even vulgar, puerile criticism, is a right protected by the Constitution.

Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.
Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.

Sidebar: this is a separate entry I have been holding for a few years, but it seems connected to this item in many ways…

I took up with the wrong people in late high school and college, not by virtue of them ruining my life or getting me in trouble, but because they were assholes.

  • J, who moved into my dorm room by trading with my assigned roommate while I was away, without asking me, was something of a sadist, took pleasure in making people look foolish, and constantly made fun of music I liked even though I never asked him to listen to it.
  • A, who set some sort of “trap” to find out if I’d been sleeping in J’s bed, which I had not, and took great pleasure in accusing me of it.
  • On the first day of my sophomore year, A and C brought a dog to our room while I was away, and asked me if they could keep him. When I said no, A said, “See, I told you so.” No you can’t keep a dog in student housing, you four year old.
  • C and J once accidentally skipped the check at a popular Mexican restaurant, and upon discovering how it happened, repeatedly skipped the check in the same fashion.
  • C kept a pistol in his car, and routinely parked in the tow-away zone. Once he fell asleep and his car was towed. About to be arrested for illegal possession of a firearm on campus, his father intervened, possibly with a bribe, to make the charges go away. C had the gun in his car as soon as it was returned to him.
  • C and J made it the duty of passengers to throw any fast food packaging onto the road from the moving vehicle without regard for littering in any way.

 

We Were Lines on a Map

In 2000, I joined a Yahoo! group associated with my high school’s Class of 1981 20th reunion. I got really interested in it for a while. It was like a forum or chat room, only with people who, mostly, attended Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma with me. Like most Yahoo! groups, or anything else from the internet in 2000, it has long since died. It was unsuccessfully replaced for the 30th reunion by a Facebook page, and now is two Facebook pages, Eisenhower Class of 1980 and 1981 class reunion, and Ike 1981 40th reunion. Both sites appear to be hosting the same event.

(Note to self: blog later about the failure of social media to actually be social.)

Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.
Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.

In early July 2001, I attended that reunion. I admit that I really just wanted to see a few people, all women, and that the event was awkward and disappointing.

The only real thing I had in common with most of these people is that I lived within the same boundaries on a map as they did. We owed any “friendship” we had to school board members and the economics of home ownership.

You lived in that school district, so don’t fudge your Huggies because you were a Hokie or a Gamecock or a Trojan or a Tarheel or a Pug. It just happened to you.

Most of the people at my high school, and by extension my high school reunion, were complete strangers, and even the people I sort of knew back then turned out to be as boring and ordinary as I thought they would. Some were, just as they had been in high school, complete assholes.

The reunion was a two-day affair. On that Friday, I attended the Blue Ice Cream Social. It was named after a non-sanctioned event on football Friday nights, held at a different rich kid’s house each week, called Blue Ice Cream. It sometimes involved drinking, but always involved a pool party. Except for one time I was assigned to shoot it for the Talon yearbook, I never went to Blue Ice Cream, for both the fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and that I was never invited.

With me on that Friday night in 2001 was Ann Kelley, who seemed to have a lot of fun making video from the affair. On the drive home to Ada, after an odd silence, she said, “Richard, I can’t believe someone as interesting as you went to school with those people.”

In all fairness, I am pretty sure none of them really care about me, either, and if they thought I was an ass in high school, they still thought of me as an ass. Except for their efforts to populate the 30th reunion, almost no one from the class has made any effort to maintain any kind of friendship with me. In fact, looking through my contacts list, I only find Anna and Michael, who were two of my closest friends in high school, and the only genuinely loyal ones.

This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn't give you the first names of more than five people in this image.
This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn’t give you the first names of more than five people in this image.

Goodbye Mac, Hello Mackenzee Ellen

Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.
Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.

Early in her internship, Mackenzee Ellen Crosby was using the moniker “Mac,” both personally, and on social media.

Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a "photo walk" on a rainy day in May.
Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a “photo walk” on a rainy day in May.

As she grew up, her identity matured and she felt more distance from who she had been as a child and as a young teenager, and she struggled with her identity. We all do that. My sister Nicole wanted to be called “Nicci” for a while. My friend Kaitlyn went by “Katy” for a year or so. One of the Ashford cousins used the last name “Smashford” for a while.

Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.
Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.

Then one day I told Mackenzee that I liked her name, especially when paired with her middle name, Ellen. In another conversation around that time, I brainstormed some title ideas for her column, and they included Eye Opener, Truth and Coffee, Dear Ellen, Something to Say, Inside Out, This Reclusive Silence, Between You and Me, Journal of Secrets, Thin as a Ghost, This Mortal Coil, Ellipses, A Woman Alone, Hide and Seek, Rough Draft, Morning Light, and Ellen in Grey.

She loved Ellen in Grey, and for the entire summer, that was the name of her column.

Also for the entire summer, she fell in love with journalism.

Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth "America" Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.
Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth “America” Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.

Mackenzee and I seem to have connections. Photography and journalism are the obvious ones. The next layer is social and religious. At our cores are writing, expressing ourselves emotionally, and a sense that we are outcasts, that people see us as “weird.”

Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in June, do the "finger 'stache" gesture.
Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in June, do the “finger ‘stache” gesture.

I read things she wrote in tenth grade, and they could have been my very words when I was in tenth grade.

On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.
On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.

Mackenzee says she’d love to work for us part time during the upcoming academic year, but wants to leave Ada when she graduates from college. I can’t say that I fault her for that; I despise my former hometown so much I actually don’t call it my home town any more.

I have discovered that Mackenzee is not a “hug”person. I have hugged her on three occasions, including when her internship ended, and they all just kind of bounced off. I have tons of “hug” friends in town, and we fall into each other’s arms like we never missed a beat.

I am far-sighted, and Mackenzee is near-sighted, so each of us always had to reset the diopter every time we traded cameras.

Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.
Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.

We had another great intern in 2019, Ashlynd, and she became one of my best friends. Ashlynd and Mackenzee became better friends this summer, especially after attending the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention, but it’s worth noting that they are quite different from each other:  Ashlynd is into journalism at the street level. She loves ambushing criminals getting arrested or going to house fires in the middle of the night. Mackenzee’s journalism, on the other hand, seems focused on social issues and injustices, although in her goodbye column she said, “Some of my favorite assignments to cover were spot news. I love the exhilaration and adrenaline from working a car accident or crime scene, even though they are often heartbreaking.”

When Ashlynd saw a photo of Mackenzee running across the street at the scene of a car crash with her camera, she told Mackenzee, “I feel this on a spiritual level.”

Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.
Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.

There are people in our lives who we are always glad to see, people with whom we have lifelong conversations that we can pick up after five minutes or six months without missing a step, and I hope Mackenzee and I have that kind of friendship.

“I will cherish the memories made alongside my friend and mentor, Richard Barron,” she wrote. I hope she and I continue to curate memories no matter where our lives, and our journalism, takes us.

Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.
Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.

A High School Graduate

A portion of this was my column this weekend. I added some less-palatable bits to this entry.

This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.
This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.

As I cover graduations this year, as I do every year, I think of when I walked the same walk.

I graduated from Lawton’s Eisenhower High School on May 31, 1981. If you subtract, yes, that is 40 years ago. Wow.

For some people, high school is a cherished part of their lives, and while I have some great memories from that time, I have to say that I didn’t remain connected to very many people from my graduating class, which, at about 640, was quite large compared to the graduations I cover in the Ada area.

On the day I graduated from high school, President Ronald Reagan was still recovering from an assassination attempt. I didn’t own a computer. Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. MTV had not yet been launched. The first space shuttle had just launched. CDC scientists reported the first five observed cases of AIDS.

It was, as they say, a different time.

I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.
I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.

From my perspective as a photographer, I can tell you that “different time” doesn’t begin to describe how much imaging has changed since that warm day in May 1981.
The 1980s saw a lot of important growth in photographic film. In black-and-white, Kodak’s Tri-X ruled at the start of that decade, but by 1987, Kodak reinvented black-and-white with this T-Max films, including T-Max P3200, which changed my world as a news photographer. In color, we saw 400-speed and 800-speed films go from exotic high-sensitivity film with sharpness-robbing grain to the films we reached for every day.

Photographing graduations themselves has changed tremendously as well. On the day I graduated, my parents might have shot five frames of my friends and me, and me in the unflattering powder blue cap and gown. As I walked across the stage, the photographer made exactly one direct-flash shot of me receiving my diploma.
Today’s world of digital imaging means a senior might be photographed hundreds of times at every event, including their walk across the stage.

To me, though, that photo of me isn’t particularly meaningful. Sure, it’s a moment in my life, but it is emotionless and unengaging. I have tried, as years have gone by, to make my photojournalistic efforts at covering graduations more emotional, more engaging, more memorable.

On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.
On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.

Here is the part I redacted: my posse in high school and I haven’t spoken a word to each other in decades. Part of that is because I was so hard to get along with, but a bigger part of it is that I went to high school with a bunch of turds.

I talked about this at greater length in an entry called We Were Lines on a Map (link.)

That's me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, "You look about eight." I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don't know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey "Chip" Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren't a good fit.
That’s me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, “You look about eight.” I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don’t know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey “Chip” Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren’t a good fit.

In 2001, I attended a high school reunion, mostly just to see one girl, and was very disappointed by who these people had become. I don’t expect to attend another one.

It’s pretty clear also that many of them are contemptuous of me as well, since they refuse to add me to their friends list on social media.

Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.
Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.

Internal Memo

This was my column two Saturdays ago, but I rewrote it a bit for the blog.

I am pleased to welcome my long-time friend Mackenzee E. Crosby as  the summer 2021 intern for The Ada News. I lobbied for her to get this position, and so far, she has delivered.

Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by "Mac" on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called "Ellen in Grey," to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.
Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by “Mac” on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called “Ellen in Grey,” to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.

I believe I first met her when her eighth grade class at Ada Junior High won a bet to collectively give over 100 units of blood products at blood drive, and was rewarded by being allowed to shave Luke Penrod’s head.

Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.
Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.

As the years have gone by, our paths crossed at events like Open Mic Nyte, graduations, and, in early 2020, Mackenzee interviewed my wife Abby and me for a college class assignment.

Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.
Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Mac comes to us with a rich history of imaging, especially for someone so young. Her images are fresh and innovative, yet have a “shoot from the hip” rawness about them that I find intriguing.

Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It's absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.
Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It’s absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.

Her work reminds me that I need to embrace that rawness in my own work, which can sometimes be too safe and habitual.

On a more personal note, which I didn’t include in my column, Mackenzee has endured some devastating tragedies, such as the debilitating traumatic brain injury to her good friend Avery Anderson in 2016, and the suicide of her father in 2018.

I told her recently that I find her a lot like I was when I was her age, especially when I read her personal writing; it is a lot like the things I wrote when I was 22.

Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.
Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.

I expect great things from Mac, and, in fact, have been very impressed with how quickly she caught on to the daily flow of news and newspaper. I think this summer is going to be a great learning experience for both of us.

Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she's going to love real world journalism.
Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she’s going to love real world journalism.

Picking Up Some Slack

I apologize for not posting more often. May is always like that – playoffs, proms, graduations – there’s lots of stuff to cover for my newspaper in a very short time.

But I am not dead or in a mental institution. I’m right here, and here are some images from what’s been going on.

A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don't care, because they are fine.
A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don’t care, because they are fine.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
That's me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
That’s me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.

The Eyes of Age

This was my column for Saturday, May 8

A confluence of conversation this week got me thinking about aging.

“You never change,” someone told me as I was covering a playoff softball game earlier this week.

Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.
Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.

It’s true that I haven’t changed all that much in the nearly 33 years I’ve been at The Ada News. Some of that is by chance, and some is by choice.

“You kept your hair,” a friend told me recently. Yes I have, though I can’t take credit for that. Baldness is genetic, and I guess I got the lucky gene, because I have young-man’s hair. I have also been lucky so far that it has mostly kept its color, but those days are numbered. I already color my beard twice a week, and I am starting to notice my temples are greying.

Wait, Richard. You color your beard? Yes, I do. I got the idea from a years-ago co-worker whose beard turned grey in his 20s. It’s an easy 15 minute chore twice a week.

Is coloring my beard an indulgence? Vanity? Ego? Yes, all of those.

One thing by choice is that I have kept my weight very consistent over the years, through a combination of smart dietary choices, and remaining physically active. Also, I don’t smoke.

The eyes are the biggest tell when it comes to age. Older people’s eyes tend to wrinkle and sag, and look less bright and intelligent. That’s unfair, of course, since the cosmetic appearance of cognitive deficit is different from real loss of mental function.

As a photojournalist, eyes are, of course, my living. You may have seen me wearing glasses. Those are reading glasses, which as anyone my age will testify, need to be stronger and stronger as we get older.

These conversations culminated late this week when I was on the phone with a fellow photographer who lives in Tulsa. As we talked, he walked into a bright patch of light just as he came across a mirror, and was suddenly taken aback by his self-image.

“Wow. Richard, I am so grey!” he told me.

Maybe age is sneaky that way, creeping up on us until we are suddenly old.

So, Richard, how old are you? That 33 years in Ada I mentioned earlier kind of gives it away, but my age isn’t a secret. I’ll turn 58 in July.

A week after I originally wrote this, a friend who had moved away some years ago, and hadn’t seen my column, told me, “You never change.”

It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.
It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.

That Dark Winter

Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.
Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.

Today’s bleak winter weather is bringing back a dark winter for me, 1979.

I was a tenth grader, writing in my embryonic journal, making embryonic images.

The two images I posted with this entry are very much like the images I made back then, in part because I dug out the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens that came with the Fujica ST-605n I bought in the summer of 1978 with some of my allowance and a $100 gift from my paternal grandmother.

I sold the Fujica decades ago, but a couple of years ago I found an identical one on eBay and got it. The lens is mostly plastic, with a five-bladed aperture, but it is remarkable sharp, and gives a look, today mounted on my Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera, identical to the film images I made all those decades ago.

Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.
Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.

In the Midst of the Rona, I Got My Shingles Vaccination

Great news today: my wife Abby was able to receive her second dose of Pfizer-made coronavirus vaccine Friday.

Across the country, health departments, hospitals and clinics have been struggling to meet demand for vaccines to address the historic coronavirus pandemic. I know that I am grateful for every effort they have made, and I am aware that something on such a scale is sure to be difficult, but we as a nation are on our way to taking our lives back from this disease.

Abby is a little older than I am, so she was eligible to receive her vaccine in the first phase of Governor Stitt’s four-phase plan for vaccinating Oklahomans. But I am in phrase three, so I won’t be eligible for some time yet, and while I wait, I remain aware that there are many other health issues that didn’t go away just because “the Rona” is here. For example, Abby and I both got influenza vaccinations last fall.

So it was that a television ad caught my eye: Shingrix, a vaccine against shingles, is now recommended for adults 50 and older who had chicken pox when they were young, which is most of us.

I’ve known people who have suffered through shingles, an awful, painful illness, and even someone whose shingles damaged her vision, so when I heard it was available, I couldn’t wait to get Shingrix in my arm.

Social media informed me that this vaccine would rough me up a little bit, and they weren’t wrong: just 24 hours from the first of two shots, my side effects were pretty textbook: my arm is super sore, and I even had a little bit of fever, both of which made it difficult to sleep, but which responded to Tylenol.

I am a proponent of vaccines, since I am old enough to know people who had diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and smallpox, just to mention a few, which plagued humanity for centuries until being brought under control, and in the case of smallpox, eliminated by vaccines.

I would also encourage my readers to have some common sense when it comes to vaccines and the absurd conspiracy theories surrounding them.

When I become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, I will take it, and hopefully one fine day this year, we can reclaim our lives and routines, thanks to the science of vaccines.

Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.
Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.

The Journal Unplugged, or, uh, Replugged

This item was originally penned in 2011, but I updated it January 2021.

The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?
The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?

The reason we spent all those dark hours scratching our thoughts onto Mead notebooks are as individual as we are, but at the core is this: we recorded our intimate thoughts.

98% of the creative process creates useless, self-indulgent drivel. Only through that creative process can we cull diamonds from our fires, cut statues from our mountains.

My journal started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade…

Fantasy. There is a great enemy in my spirit. That enemy lingers on forever, never ceasing to attack and condemn. I am my enemy.

I had just turned 15, and I was the kind of kid who listened to instructions and obeyed them. Our teacher told us to write half a page three times a week, which at the start I did assiduously. Within a few weeks, though, I discovered that I had more to say, or at least wanted to have more to say. By the end of the semester I’d given myself a standard of writing one whole spiral-bound notebook page each day.

In 1982, I went through a period of intellectual and creative silence. I wasn’t ready to admit I wasn’t writing as much as I expected from myself, so I left pages blank in my notebooks, and filled them in later with memories of those days. I can tell where because the ink is different.

These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.
These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.

By 1998, I was beginning to travel more, and wanted more portable books, so on my journal’s twentieth anniversary, September 5, 1998, I switched to smaller journal notebooks that were popular at bookstores at the time.

In high school Michael and my then-girlfriend Tina and I named my journal Lord Byron O’Malley, though the name never really stuck. For a while in the summer of 1980, we imagined I would publish my eleventh grade journal and get rich, so we typed up a few dozen pages. (I say “we,” but I didn’t know how to type, so Michael and Tina did the actual work.)

In college, I went through a period when I thought my old journal entries were an ocean of self-pity, which they were, and almost threw them all out. I’m glad I didn’t.

When I was 24, I became nearly obsessed with my journal from when I was 15, imagining it held the key to filling the emptiness that stood before me.

As I started blogging (which as we know is slang for web log, which itself is slang for an online journal) and expressed myself online more and more (including private entries only I can read), I wrote on paper less and less. However, I have recently made a concerted effort to write more by hand.

I still have more than enough hardbound volumes that are blank, and I guess I am saving them for the end times when the internet is no longer available and I need somewhere to write. Their potential is inspiring. All those blank pages are waiting to be filled.

Lately I’ve been feeling at least a little regret at not writing the right things in my journal. For example, if I had it to do again, I would write down every movie and television show I ever watched. I’m sure the list would be frighteningly long and boring, and there would be a lesson in that.

I will always write.

Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?
Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?

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.

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.

 

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.

The Self in a Time of Crisis

“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all.” ~Albert Camus, The Plague

I miss my indulgences. I want to get back to my self pity. I want to walk the wolfhound and think sweetly about my napping wife, or hear a song on my phone that brings me back to high school, or summons nostalgia about a first date or a breakup.

I want to smell the flowers in spring and think of hope.

I wonder when we will start to feel like we are walking out of this instead of walking into more of it. When can I get back to expressing myself instead of expressing myself under stress or in a crisis?

The old truck way back at the back of the property has always been a sign of my long winter walks with my wolfhound. But now, is it a portend? Is this us in ten years?
The old truck way back at the back of the property has always been a sign of my long winter walks with my wolfhound. But now, is it a portend? Is this us in ten years?

What Are You Writing?

This is a couple of pages from my journal in November 1979. Of note is that you don't see any dates on these pages, meaning this was all written in one day. When I was young, I thought writing a lot meant I was a good writer, but the truth is that most of this is unreadable dreck.
This is a couple of pages from my journal in November 1979. Of note is that you don’t see any dates on these pages, meaning this was all written in one day. When I was young, I thought writing a lot meant I was a good writer, but the truth is that most of this is unreadable dreck.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to write novels and short stories for a living. I imagined, as young people sometimes do, that it would be easy and that everything I wrote was solid gold. In reality, I penned a quippy, smart-assy journal that often ignored or missed the mark, and when I look at it now, it seems like a giant waste of my potential.

Flash forward to today, and my writing has matured, though I’m not sure it is where I want it to be. I just finished a short story, Agua Fria (link), but it feels incomplete. My short stories tend to be shorter than most because I am not writing to an audience like my wife or some of my fiction-loving friends who like to disappear into long, involved stories, but to myself, and to say what I want to say in the most economical fashion.

I am also actively engaged in writing more things on paper, which to me seems to evoke a more primal sense of what I’m trying to say.

Maybe my takeaway could be that it’s okay for me to write what I want to write, how I want to write it.

One of my favorite pen-to-paper projects at the moment is this book which is a handwritten record of our travels over the years. It presents itself so differently than the source material, our travel blog.
One of my favorite pen-to-paper projects at the moment is this book which is a handwritten record of our travels over the years. It presents itself so differently than the source material, our travel blog.