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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Hawken, our Irish wolfhound, cornered another opossum tonight, or possibly cornered the same opossum he encountered two weeks ago.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
You know what I love? …
“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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?”…
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
“Everybody in this town knows you, and knows who you are and what you do.”
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.
There was a time in my life, around my college years, when I imagined that total isolation, on a mesa in a home built into the cliffs at the end of the Boys Ranch Road northwest of Amarillo, would be the way I wanted to live.
*** As I wrote this, the phrase “no contact with the public at all” floated by through a television program. ***
But I am not that college kid any more.
There are news reports of people feeling isolated, and a lot of people are creating memes for social media that express isolation.
But for Abby and me, and the next door neighbors, the Nipps, life hasn’t changed all that much. They cook out and cut the grass. The next day, I cook out and cut my grass. I walk the wolfhound and the Chihuahua past them as they put ribs on the grill, and we chat or a few minutes. Mike is building a chicken pen, and plans to get some chickens, which I look forward to naming and photographing.
What has changed dramatically for me is work. I still have a job, but everything about it is different, because of what my newspaper covers. Sports have stopped. There won’t be any graduations this month. There are a lot of parades and gatherings designed to get people together, yet keep them far apart enough to check the possible spread of the coronavirus.
At an evening event I covered Thursday, 15 people called me by name.
At Walmart today, in the egg aisle, with both of us wearing Rona masks, “Hey, aren’t you here to take pictures?”
My community knows me, which I love. It’s also something that lets me do my job better.
So, here we are, May 2020. We are trying to “reopen” America bit by bit while the pandemic still rages, and while I hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I expect something in between.
My mental health has been contaminated by the pandemic. In my head, everything is “covid.” Did you try the new covid oranges? Would you like covids with that? Look Hawken, that covid tree is covering the ground with covids. The covids are in bloom this time of year. Who’s hogging all the covid sauce? That’s a lovely covid you have on. Is that a covid in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?
Journal, March 16, 2020: What happens to a population under stress? The world implodes under the inevitability of its arrogance, its greed, its ignorance, its pride. Institution like public school, air travel, sporting events, and tourism wither in ghostly retreat because they considered themselves untouchable. No one is untouchable.
Journal, March 31, 2020: Something inside me doesn’t trust the reality of this situation. Simulation? Biowarfare? Invasion? Alien invasion?
Journal, April 11, 2020: I got my seeds in the ground today. Tend them when I am gone.
Journal, April 13, 2020: If you don’t come out of this crisis stronger and more grateful, maybe you don’t deserve to come out of it at all.
I am close to madness because my hair is getting so long.
We have all faced stress in our lives. My sister Nicole, for example, lost almost everything she owned when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. She seemed to handle it well, and bounced back to be the first to rebuild in her neighborhood, but I know it must have taken an emotional toll beneath the surface.
I thought of this on this Easter Sunday as I watched a video from a fellow professional photographer Nic Coury (from whom I bought an 85mm last year), who came to us via Facebook live video from his henhouse with his pet chickens, encouraging us to do what we have to do to survive, but also to pay attention to our feelings and how this unprecedented situation must be effecting them.
I have always been pretty good at deferring and compartmentalizing my feelings. I do that partly so I can do my job when it gets rough (just this week, I covered a double-fatality car crash that killed a two-year-old), and as a pillar for my wife Abby, for whom I must care.
Nic’s video and the ever-increasing bad news about the pandemic got me thinking: am I just going to fall apart one of these days? I can’t just switch off compartmentalization and fully integrate my feelings; I’m not constructed that way. I guess time will tell.
I am not firstly a political writer, but sometimes I fee I must speak my mind about politics. One meme that made the rounds this week is about candy (in this case Skittles, a kind of jellybean)…
This is what we call in the real world a false equivalence. It implies that you are willing to take a small but real chance of dying in exchange for something that is essentially worthless, candy.
But alas, we live in a real world of hard choices. Does a battalion commander send his unit to capture a ridge, risking two percent of his troops, for a handful of candy? No, of course not. But his attack might save 50,000 lives. That two percent is potentially traded for something valuable.
The question is centered around the current coronavirus pandemic, and some have suggested that we need to allow, or at least accept that, two percent of everyone who gets the disease will die. People are not Skittles, of course, so the question is an absurd and overly simplistic view of a very daunting task ahead of us.
I got half of my garden planted today. I went to town and got three kinds of tomato plants, pepper plants, and onion sets, all of which are now in the ground. I also bought seeds for cucumbers, cantaloups, rainbow carrots, and marigolds, which I hope to get in tonight or tomorrow.
In the current pandemic climate, we are constantly hearing about shortages, mostly on social media.
There is a scene in the not-very-good 1965 epic The Battle of Bulge in which a German tank commander, played by Robert Shaw, speaks to his general.
“General, do you know what this is? It is a chocolate cake. If you look at the wrapping, you will see it is from Boston from two days ago. General, do you know what this means? It means the Americans have fuel and planes to fly cake across the Atlantic Ocean.”
One generation’s privation is another’s luxury. Think about that this week when you can only find vegetable soup or rye bread.
I have gone back and forth about this issue as more information becomes available about this disease. At first I thought I sure had it. Then a blood test indicated I did not have antibodies to it. But the news is very complex, and many of those who had the disease do not show antibodies to it. We may never know.
There is a substantial growth of conversation on social media claiming that a round of coronavirus already passed through us last winter. Yes, I know that chatter on the web is hardly scientific, but I also know that life and pathogenesis are confoundingly complicated and inconsistent.
Readers might recall that I was very ill, as ill as I have ever been as an adult, in February (here) and (here).
At the time, I saw my doctor twice. On the first occasion, he did a test for influenza that involves a nasal swab, which is read in a few seconds. It is a cheap, bottom-tier diagnostic that, in some ways, is intended to reassure patients that they know what they have and they will hopefully recover.
The second visit was four days later when I not only didn’t seem to be recovering, I could feel rales or rhonchi in my right lung. Pneumonia? He ordered a chest x-ray, my first non-dental x-ray since a car crash in 1990.
In the middle of it, I experienced a mild shortness of breath. It wasn’t difficult to breathe, but I found myself for hours on end making every breath a deep breath. My cough didn’t seem “right” either, and I noted in my journal.
Viruses are invisible and difficult for even the best scientists to understand. We tolerate them because we have no other choice. Could I have already had coronavirus in February? What are your thoughts?