Early in her internship, Mackenzee Ellen Crosby was using the moniker “Mac,” both personally, and on social media.
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.
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 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.”
I read things she wrote in tenth grade, and they could have been my very words when I was in tenth grade.
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.
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.”
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.
It has been my displeasure to watch charming towns grow up, and as they do, “grow” economically, meaning that they get more businesses, and in turn get more infrastructure. Taos was once small and charming, but it now has a super Walmart, a sign that it has changed into an emotionally dead suburb. Santa Fe and Moab, Utah, have both died in my eyes in this way.
Poverty due to the virus
It was pretty clear looking at the number of closed, and even abandoned, businesses that towns that rely heavily, or even exclusively, on tourism and recreation fared worse than most because of the pandemic.
On at least two days in Taos, I saw a car legally parked in front of First Baptist Church, covered in blaze yellow signs criticizing Vacation Bible School as “brainwashing.” It’s a pretty strong statement, and many people I know would probably find it offensive, but however you feel about the statement, you have to admit that making it was free speech in its purest form.
Food and more food
We had several great meals on our trip, from an amazing pizza in Taos to a great veggie burger and sweet potato fries in Madrid, but honestly, I don’t understand people for whom the best part of travel is the food. The best meals in our lives are usually at home, and I can get a great meal anywhere. I drive to Utah or New Mexico to find things we don’t have in Oklahoma, like mountains, deserts, and canyons, not overpriced appetizers.
Early May was sunny and perfect for the baseball, softball and tennis playoffs I covered, but by the middle of the month, a consistent rainy pattern had set in.
I made several photo walks around the patch after walking the dogs.
At work, I’m shooting and writing well, and feel like I am succeeding in mentoring our intern, Mackenzee Crosby, well. I have a pretty versatile skill set, but I don’t do everything. I couldn’t tell you, for example, the first thing about covering a court case as a reporter.
At my suggestion, she called her column “Ellen in Grey.”
A portion of this was my column this weekend. I added some less-palatable bits to this entry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Thank you everyone who asked with concern about my wife Abby. She had a rough winter and spring, but seems to be very much back to her usual self lately. This morning, for example, she asked for grits and runny fried eggs, which is a long-time favorite or hers.
I was at a public gathering recently, and someone in the group said she’d lost 30 pounds recently, 30 pounds she said she’d gained during the lockdowns associated with coronavirus. She told us she lost the weight using the Optavia diet. I was impressed by her achievement, but that diet involves lots of cabbage and broccoli, and she said she had run out of ideas about how to cook them.
“Those are two of the most nutritious foods you can eat,” I said.
“Everything Richard eats is healthy,” she said to the group. I wish that were true. What is true is that I try to be aware of the nutritional content of everything I eat.
When my wife Abby wants a baked ziti from our favorite Italian place, for example, I usually get a veggie pizza while I am there. The fact that it’s a “veggie” pizza doesn’t change its nutritional content much. It’s an indulgence, but I always make sure not to overeat. Pizza keeps well and reheats easily, so I usually make three meals out of it.
Here are some additional thoughts about diet and health…
Refined sugar isn’t really a nutrient. How I feel when I eat sugar? Since I eat refined sugar so infrequently, its effect is very evident: rising heart rate, a subtle feeling of anxiety, marked mood elevation followed by a classic “sugar crash.”
I stopped drinking sugar drinks like soda decades ago, and if I have a sip of one now, it doesn’t taste appealing in any way.
Why do I like what I like? I never get tired of broccoli and cabbage, beans and rice, fresh fruit and whole grains. I admit that some of this is by choice, and some of it is how I am constituted genetically.
Counting carbs is off base; that’s how we got here in the first place. I believe the answer lies in a more fundamental behavior: eating less, eating real food, and moving more. The minute you look at a real food like a peach or a cantaloupe and assign a number to it, you’ve lost your way.
I ponder this one all the time: nobody wants to be obese or diabetic, so why is it so prevalent? Is it that the machinery of industry makes too much money too easily selling sugar and fat to us, or is it that we are too easily tempted by these things?
Stop thinking of food as a reward, and start thinking of food as a choice.
On weekends or other days off, the next thing I do after a meal is walk our dogs.
One trick that works for me: if I don’t think it should be in my diet, I won’t bring it into my house. When I have a desire for a mid-afternoon snack and look in the pantry, I find what I brought home from the grocery store. Is it apples and steel cut oats, or snack cakes and doughnuts?
I want to end this on a positive note: everyone and anyone can eat a healthier diet, it’s easier than you might imagine, and it has the potential to turn your health and your life completely around.
For the past few years I have observed a mysterious puddle come and go near my orchard south of the house. I suspected it was a leak in the main water line leading from the water meter to our house, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem to be getting worse, and would sometimes disappear entirely.
Then in February, we had the worst winter storm in recent memory. A foot of snow covered the ground, and temperatures dipped below zero on two nights. We were careful to open the cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around our water pipes, and, unlike hundreds of area residents, we avoided a messy and expensive plumbing problem.
The extreme weather was not without consequence, however. The mysterious puddle at first shrank to insignificance, but in the last few days, it got much large, and I dubbed it “Lake Milligan,” after George Milligan, Abby’s first father-in-law, who installed the water line when Abby moved back to Byng in 1993.
It grew so quickly this week that it was apparent that the water line would have to be repaired, and Abby and I were certain it would take forever, and cost a fortune.
Enter Nickerson Plumbing. They were able to send out a friendly pair of young plumbers, one of whom remembered me from when I covered his Ada Cougar basketball games, and the other recalled being bitten by our neighbor’s dog last year.
The two determined that we did have a growing leak, and set out to find it. At this point, Abby and I were sure we would be leasing a backhoe for days, and this repair would completely consume our income tax refund.
Then, the Miracle on Main Street.
“We found your leak,” one of the plumbers announced after a 20-minute search. It was right where the puddle had come and gone over the years, and at this point, the leak had gotten large enough to see and hear. One of them showed me the joint that had cracked and leaked very slowly, but had, in the last few days, turned into a pinhole, then a larger hole.
They patched it up and buried it, and turned on the water. One of them had a billing app, and added it up: $204. Wow.
I know it seems a little early to be getting the garden in the ground, as in years past I have frequently dealt with mid-April frosts and freezes, but if you can get plants in the ground early, then have a little luck with the weather, you get a longer growing season, and a better yield.
I might have to replant some if we do get a freeze, but it’s only about $20 worth of plants.
My soil has gotten depleted over the years, so prior to planting, I tilled in a large bag of organic tomato/vegetable garden fertilizer.
Yesterday I planted…
Ten Early Girl tomato plants
Three Big Boy tomato plants
Five red bell pepper plants
One green bell pepper plant
One orange bell pepper plant
Three Sun Sugar cherry tomato plants
My variety selection was based entirely on what was available at the garden center Sunday.
That leaves cucumber, radish, and marigold seeds to plant, hopefully tonight.
I got my second coronavirus vaccination this week. My arm is very sore and I have some muscle aches, but that tells me it’s working.
I posted on social media this week that my peach trees had gone straight to leaves this year, and did not appear to be making blossoms, which, according to my photos from previous years, almost always happened before the first day of spring. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have peaches, though I was encouraged to see that I did have plum blossoms.
Then today, as I walked Hawken, I caught sight of a few peach blossoms on a couple of my trees, and I felt encouraged, both because I might actually get peaches, but also that it seemed to me that nature, after years of cruelty to it by humans, seemed, in the last 15 months or so, to be fighting back.
My readers might be aware that I previously owned two small gasoline-powered tillers, also known as cultivators. The second one, Tilly, was purchased exactly eight years ago, worked properly most recently three years ago, meaning its useful life was five years. I consider that a complete rip-off, since that boils down to about ten hours of actual garden tilling, since I only need it once a year.
I thought about last year, when I dug the garden by hand. Not only was it slow, back-breaking work, it didn’t get the soil really chopped up like a tiller could. I am all about working hard, but I was not looking forward to another five-hour hands-and-knees session.
Local retailers had that exact model for an insulting $300, so I poked around on the interwebs and found an electric tiller for just $133, minus a small discount from rewards points. “Buy Now.”
My Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator arrived in just two days. It was easy to assemble and ready in minutes. The question would be one of electric vs gasoline, which is why I opted for the more robust 13.5 AMP plug-in model.
At the first turn of dirt, Tyler dug like a champ, including some very rough areas that had gone to grass several years ago. We’ll see how long it will live, but so far, the newest tiller in the family is working well.
I asked Abby what I should name it, and she said, “Tyler.”
My social media followers know that Abby was released from the hospital last week, and while she was sketchy for a day or two, it seems like she is fine now.
It was nice to return to work, and a normal life. The stress of missing Abby and not knowing the outcome of her illness was overwhelming.
From social media…
Also also, thank you technology! Abby lost her iPhone on her way to the hospital in the ambulance, which I didn’t know until today. I went to iCloud and the Find My iPhone feature, put it in lost mode, pinged it, found it at another hospital, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, where it was in lost and found. My guess is that she dropped it in the ambulance, and someone found it and turned it in on a later EMS run.
Abby and I are watching the Bourne film series. We think the sixth installment should be, “Bourne in the USA,” followed by “Bourne on the Fourth of July,” “Bourne Free,” and “Bourne to Run.” The final installment? “Natural Bourne Killers.”
Dream: we had a house full of teenagers, some of them drunk, when I discover a bloodhound has scattered hundreds of pounds of popcorn through the house over a period of weeks, and everyone was simply pushing paths through it like plowing snow. We decide to make pizza, then decide it would be easier to order pizza, but every time I lift my phone and look at it, it is a different brand or ever from a different era.
Good news: today I got my first coronavirus vaccination. I received it at a vaccination event sponsored by The Clinic and the Pontotoc Technology Center where I teach photography. It was the Moderna brand. So far, the only side effect has been the most common: soreness at the injection site.
Abby is still in the hospital, but fortunately got vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer brand weeks ago, so hopefully she is protected in her situation. She sounded much better on the phone, and might be able to come home in a day or two.
In the meantime, her Chihuahua, Summer, is still moping.
Abby is in the hospital, and she and I are both very stressed by the fact that I can’t join her. Like people across the globe, including Abby’s daughter just two weeks ago, hospital stays are in isolation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (a phrase I have learned to type in my sleep.)
Abby is not in any immediate danger. It became necessary to call EMS this morning when, after several days of difficulty, she was unable to walk or even stand on her own. The initial diagnosis is hypercalcaemia (link)
The Wikipedia article says, “The neuromuscular symptoms of hypercalcaemia are caused by a negative bathmotropic effect due to the increased interaction of calcium with sodium channels. Since calcium blocks sodium channels and inhibits depolarization of nerve and muscle fibers, increased calcium raises the threshold for depolarization. This results in diminished deep tendon reflexes (hyporeflexia), and skeletal muscle weakness.”
She was tested for coronavirus and flu, and does not have them.
As she got sicker, she experienced some cognitive difficulty, but, as is often the case with her, intravenous fluids bring her right around, and on the phone just down she sounded clearer-headed, and aggravated with the situation, which I take as a good sign.
I’m not really eating or sleeping, which is what I do when I am stressed, though as I wrote this I made myself eat a bowl of soup.
She said a doctor said she might be there three days, so that tired clichéd Tom Petty song lyric, “the waiting is the hardest part,” is mine today.
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.
Great news today: my wife Abby was able to receive her second dose of Pfizer-made coronavirusvaccine 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.
I wrote this after challenging someone to write a story in which nothing actually happens.
Short Story: Breakfast
” … but she just drops her pearl-black eyes and prays to hear him say ‘I love you’ but he tells no more lies … “ -Robert Smith
They sat in total silence. With the windows closed, no sounds of the morning outside could get in. Breakfast was already on the table. A moment ago it sizzled, but now was quiet. Even the radio, usually blaring rock and roll from her favorite station, was soundless.
She simply sat, staring at her bacon and eggs. She made them over-easy because he liked them that way. She didn’t care how they were cooked; she didn’t like eggs at all. She had lifelessly gnawed on a piece of bacon which turned out to be overdone, the way he liked it.
He read the newspaper. About midway through the sports page, he discovered that the Blue Jays had beaten the Royals again.
He took a breath, the kind one takes just before he speaks, but then had nothing to say, and let it out. She heard him breathe and waited for his words, but was filled with the sorest disappointment when he said nothing. She felt angry … no, mad as hell when he did that. What was that supposed to mean? she wondered. Why doesn’t he ever talk to me?
She tightened and took the same kind of breath into her own lungs, but then held it for a protracted moment as she realized she had nothing to say either. Maybe it had all been said. Maybe he wouldn’t understand. Maybe he didn’t care.
After another tense moment, she relaxed her breath in such a way as to be totally silent. She didn’t want to give away her secret. She didn’t want him to think she was doing what she thought he was doing.
Over his newspaper she could see the stove and sink, all covered with the by-product of making breakfast. Skillet, empty egg carton, half-empty bacon wrapper, uncapped milk jug, and spatula all had to be cleaned up, in addition to the dishes on the table.
She’d have to do it. Somehow he was always out the door one second before it was time to do dishes.
She felt the same as she had the night before, when she’d gone out of her way to make his favorite dinner: Swedish meatballs. He piled them on his plate and disappeared into the living room to watch professional wrestling. She was furious.
He found the comics page, and read them in the same order as he always did. When he got to Garfield, he felt like laughing, but instead he just heaved his head slightly, the hint of a grin on his face behind the paper.
She didn’t see it, though. Her gaze was locked on an unoccupied area of the table about six inches to the right of her plate.
Her eyes were glued to that spot as her thoughts slowed down.
Finally they crept to a halt. To her there was for a moment only that dusty brown empty area on the table. It felt good to her for it to all go away like that.
In her head there soon came a song…
” … I dreamed you had left my side No warmth, not even pride remained And even though you needed me It was clear that I could not do a thing for you…”
She took in another breath so she could hum a bar or two of it, but again her voice was silent. If he heard her, he might recognize it, and put with it the same significance she did.
She sat motionless, locked in an embrace with the lover she had made of silence.
He didn’t notice any of this, for he wasn’t watching. Even if he had been, he wouldn’t have seen it. The drama was all going on in her heart.
At last, after her sight had begun to fade, she slowly let out the breath that would have sung. She looked up. Without her even noticing, he had left, and it was time for her to do the dishes.
The most difficult year since 9/11 is over, but the world seems to continue to deliver a steady stream of gut punches. The most recent of these is the unfathomably violent, vulgar and seditious actions by pro-Trump supporters in our nation’s capital.
There is good news, however…
Abby received her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine along with 1000 others in her age group yesterday at the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex. For most of 2020, my biggest worry about the pandemic has been bringing it home to her and her fragile immune system.
I am teaching photography again.
The protests appear to be over, and congress certified the Electoral College votes.
I and many around me were deeply troubled by the protests in Washington. I can’t speak for others, but for me the most disturbing notion is how eager some people are to throw out the constitution in the name of Trump. It resonates so closely with the events in Germany in 1933, and it sounds like a cliché to compare anyone to Hitler, but the parallels are too real to ignore.
In defense of the Right, the vice president and the senate majority leader, both Republicans, stood against the mob and the president to certify the election results. Even a very right-wing acquaintance of mine posted on social media to the mob: “At easy, assholes!”
Is this really the world we have made? Have we built this glistening tower of technology just to descend into ignorance and bloodshed? Imagine what we could do with the internet and global connectivity if we applied it to exploration, science, health, and medicine.
My thoughts on this are incomplete, so I will just leave this hear and see if anyone comments.
This item was originally penned in 2011, but I updated it January 2021.
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.
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 recently elected to add some fish to my diet in hopes of getting my wife Abby to eat healthier, or in some cases at all. Important caveats include the idea that the fish is noted as nutritious on its own merits, is caught in a sustainable fashion, and is prepared in a healthy manner (as in not deep fried.)
Note: there is no such thing as a vegetarian who eats fish. Therefore, I am no long a vegetarian. Need to call me something? How about dynamic healthitarian?
With the stress of the Rona on Abby, who is already somewhat isolated, she tends to turn down my offers of food, saying she’ll just eat some crackers or that she isn’t hungry at all, but if I prepare a big meal with something she loves – recently it was Alaskan salmon, saffron rice, and steamed Brussels sprouts – it makes her smile and appreciate it, and, of course, eat it.
A new social media friend of mine, who showed up in my feed by posting a picture I took of her as a first grader in December 1988, says she wants to lose 50 pounds, and, “has been making excuses and displacing the blame from myself this whole time. But this time is different.”
I wish I had some genius to share with her, but I think my success with diet and weight discipline is more about who I am than it is about any tricks up my sleeve. It’s easy, for example, for me to stop eating when I’m full. I seldom desire foods that are outright bad for me, like candy, doughnuts, or soft drinks. But I know plenty of people, maybe even most people, who pass by the fruit tray at the sports watch party and dig in to the Doritos.
I am also very, very lucky that my current level of health allows me to move, work on my feet, walk dogs miles a day, and feel like it energizes me. Part of it is luck that I don’t have arthritis or bad feet, but part of it is that my choices lead to better outcomes. I don’t have type II diabetes because I eat right and exercise, and I am able to eat right and exercise because I don’t have type II diabetes.
I saw a meme on social media recently that read, “Make racists afraid again.” You are so in love with hating racists that you don’t realize that they are already afraid. They would have to be to be racists. Maybe I’m asking too much to say, “Make racists realize that we are all human beings,” or even better, “Love racists and help them becomes better people, and eventually not racists at all.”
And if they did, could you forgive them? Your hate goes pretty deep. You are eager to hate non-racists even for single moments of racism they showed 40 years ago.
I know most of the people who hate racists are supposed to be on my side, but hating something never made it better. Even “hate racism” misses the point. What if we tried to understand racism? Maybe if we got a handle on its causes, we could make strides toward ending it.
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!”
“Why is NASA spending $1.1 million* to send a probe to Jupiter when all they have to do is open up their Bible to see how all that was created.” ~Citizen at town hall meeting, Ada, Oklahoma, August 2011
A frightening aspect of the recent political landscape is the idea that science and the educated people who wield it are an enemy of truth. At the core of this distrust is the whirlwind of climate change and all the deception it is said to involve.
You hate science, but depend on it every moment of your life. You wouldn’t be reading this sentence without science. Listening to radio without science. Television? Science. The internet? Science. Telephones? Science. Cars and trucks? Science. Food? Science. Medicine? Science. Firearms? Science. Entertainment? Science.
Finally, finally, after almost a year of rudderless leadership about the coronavirus pandemic by the current administration, President-elect Joe Biden announced a task force to fight the virus, headed by scientists.
So why do you hate science? Is it that science disagrees with your entire core of beliefs? If so, do your ever question your beliefs? To do so is incredibly difficult, but to not do so is to remain stagnant, ignorant, even a slave. A great question to honestly answer is: who told you to hate science?
I use social media, including Facebook, to stimulate interest in this web site, richardbarron.net.
The biggest reason social media is popular in the first place is that it gives Everyman a web presence, while at the same time preventing him from ruining it with his terrible taste and lack of creative talent (vis-à-vis MySpace in 2006).
Facebook also seems, it appears, to be the place for vapid, childish idiocy…
Here are some actual comments about this image…
That gives me chills all over!!!!
Lord trying to say get ready to do his work here in Eureka Springs AR.
Wow that is great! How exciting! Things are fixing to change!!!!!!
AmenIt gets you thinking, could have been an angel watching
That is beautiful I love that it is so amazing what Jesus Christ can do for his children
We were just talking about this today. Planning to come see it real soon.
I think everyone needs to share this. Let’s let this go viral!!!
I just got chills. Amazing. Amazing!!!!
these things happen.
Wow! Signs & Wonders
Wow that is awesome. I work at the play and enjoy every moment of it. I wasn’t on set for this part but that is truly amazing.
This is wonderful! What a beautiful sight, I wish I was there to see that! I have a pic of myself with several other Ladies with me, and there is an angel covering hovering over us. When I asked the Lord about it when I picked the pics up at Walgreens. He told me it was my guardian angel! I was brought to tears and awe!
Pretty neat. I shared your post.
That’s amazing and so wonderful!!
GLORY BUMPS FROM HEAD TO TOE!!
God knew we needed to see this & be reminded that he loves us & is with us !! Thank you Lord
It’s amazing and so real! I Believe
Even the real GOD loves the Great Passion Play. You should come see it for yourself. You never know you might just see the real GOD there. I know you will feel HIS Spirit there.
Nothing is impossible with God in our life
But wait is that satin in the lower corner of the picture??
Amazing I wish I had been there.
I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed for them being so stupid, angry at them for being so manipulative, or admire them for turning a brilliant false flag.
I can’t make up this stuff.
Christians, it makes you look so ignorant and silly when you believe and assert that simple optics is, “amazing and so real!” This isn’t a sophisticated extract of the possible nature of the Universe. It’s a bunch of hillbillies who think a cell phone camera captured a miracle. They are the overwhelming resonant voice of the faith.
So let’s run some stuff up the flag pole and see who salutes it…
Do Christians think that hating me will change me? Do they think hating gays will make them straight, or hating Muslims will end terrorism?
Do the Christians who commented on that photo think I will change my wicked ways when I see its testimony? That anyone will?
Answer me this: if god is real, why do you have to argue for it? Why would you even need to teach your children about god, for if god is real, would he not be completely self-evident?
So, anyway, I got an unsigned letter from a Christian. From my chair, any unsigned letter just looks like stalking. And for what it’s worth, when you send an unsigned letter, I can cherry pick and quote mine all I want.
As a blogger and reader of blogs, I was thrilled to ﬁnd the “photographer of my youth” at richardbarron.net. I began reading, observing, watching, and viewing. Then, I was saddened. I suppose in Oklahoma, we assume the friendly neighborhood photographer is a believer in God, a believer in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and heaven-bound like “the rest of us.” After all, it is Ada, America. Lesson Learned.
Yes, lesson learned. It is sad that we have religious freedom and diversity in Ada, Oklahoma.
“The rest of us” is thrown in there as part of the “appeal to popularity” logical fallacy.
Seeing many of your posts tainted with the opposite of my assumption, I knew what I had to do. After all (again), if someone had good news for me, promises that were true, and a bright future but failed to tell me, well, that would be just plain rude. I’m not rude. But I am skeptical. I’m skeptical to the extent that I sought out God. I researched for myself. I read for myself. I bypassed Sunday School lessons to ﬁgure out on my own what God said, did, promised, was, is, etc. Here’s what I found.
The use of the word “research” here is an interesting misnomer. “Research” implies looking at a number of sources for information that can be verified in some kind of an independent, scientific and logical way. Our anonymous author did none of that, of course, though we in the world of logic never find this surprising.
God sent his son, Jesus, to die for me. Why? Well, years (and I mean YEARS) ago, people of Israel had to sacriﬁce a lamb for their sins. Pretty brutal. Ugly. Angry. Jesus was the ultimate and ﬁnal “lamb.” And, just to prove that He didn’t just die for our sin, He came back to life so we could LIVE.
Ah, yes. This silly children’s story is still with us in the 21st Century. As decades of ponderance have sharpened my thoughts on this, I see more and more how so many, too many, adults think is this very troublingly childish way. Magic story. Sky daddy. Happy place for me and my kids and my dogs, unspeakable horror for everyone else. We are lambs. We are sheep.
I love this part, because, as you can see if you look up the Bible verses, none of these items is any kind of proof of anything. I find it odd that in a world of ever-increasing certainty of the nature of the world, theists still seem to cling to the thinnest fallacies, these “believe it because it sounds comforting” ideas.
Don’t take my word. Click the links, read the verse, then copy and paste the part of the verse that proves something in the comments section here.
“…but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm…” Proves. Nothing.
But, if you don’t believe in the Bible, then that does you no good, right? So let me say this. I’ve experienced these promises first hand. I’ve been healed. I’ve seen others healed. I’ve seen marriages saved, jobs restored, diseases cured, joy returned, and the impossible become possible. Not because I go to church (which I do) and not because every day is sunny with Barney singing a theme song.
No, it’s because I trust in the God who loved me so much that He went to a lot of trouble to prove it.
Actually, it’s quite apparent that god has gone out of his way to hide it, not prove it.
I have personally witnessed the failure of prayer: man prays with all his might for his wife, who is trapped in a vehicle after a crash. She died right then. Christians have brilliant rationalizations for when this happens: god’s will, her time, god needed another angel, blah blah. It’s so thin.
If this hits home at all, if you want to accept these promises, it’s as easy as believing & confessing something like… “Jesus, I believe you died on a cross. I believe you rose again. I believe in You and want to make you ‘King’ of my life. From this point on. Forgive the life I’ve lived without you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
As always, the faithful seem to think that it’s possible to believe something that is not true or believable by simply deciding to believe it. “…it’s as easy as believing…” This might be the most damning thing of all about theists. They don’t believe things because those things are true. They believe them because they believe them. Their logic is a brilliant mirror of, “The Bible is true because The Bible says it’s true.”
Signed, well, you know I’m not going to sign it. You wouldn’t know me from Adam (ha!)
That’s the punch line, really. No signature. What is this? Ashamed of your beliefs? Afraid of them. Embarrassed by them? Afraid of me? This all points to what I think is a terrifying perception: the religious can’t actually believe what they claim. It’s too silly, too absurd, too shallow, and too fictional. Unicorns. Hobbits. Demons. Dragons.
“I truly believe” doesn’t make any of it true. The “why” of it, though, resonates repeatedly with me. Is the answer really as simple as fear? Fear of emptiness, loneliness, meaninglessness, eternity, death? Or is that too deep? Fear of not fitting in, not obeying?
So thus the name of today’s entry. That’s my name at the top of this entry, at the top of every entry. I am Richard R. Barron, and I am not afraid for you to know who I am and what I think.
2020 has been a difficult year, for reasons I don’t need to rehash because we’ve all been through it.
Abby and I have been lucky; we haven’t been exposed as far as we know, and we haven’t been sick.
Mother nature is somehow responding to 2020. It might be a coincidence, or it may be in response to a reduction in atmospheric, noise, and light pollution because of the pandemic, but this summer was pretty and green, and this fall ranks as among the most beautiful I can remember on our patch of green in southeastern Oklahoma.