Ice Bucket Challenge?

Icebucketchallenge
No thanks. Not for me.

I can’t seem to avoid it. And it bothers me. And it bothers me that I’m not sure why.

It’s for charity, right? It’s harmless, right? It’s kind of fun to see people you know playing along and looking a little silly, right? All true.

So what’s the problem then?

Let me just rant for a minute and see if I can sort this out. At least for myself:

I hate being told what to do. It’s peer pressure and it just reminds me of some uncomfortable days from my youth. “Come on, just try it. Everybody’s doing it.” Ummm, no? That seems stupid. Just because everybody is doing something does not automatically mean it’s a good choice.

ALS is a good cause. Absolutely. Fortunately, I can’t think of anyone that I am closely connected to that’s been affected. I’ve seen the videos and stories of those that are and have been touched. It’s tragic and the ice bucket challenge is doing great things to bring both awareness and funding to the issue. Kudos. This one just doesn’t hit close to home for me. I’m thankful for that.

The money. Ten bucks or a hundred bucks. Theoretically, if you DO the challenge, you’re supposed to donate $10 to ALS. If you DON’T do the challenge (within 24 hours of being nominated), you’re supposed to donate $100. Who’s to say that I can afford ten bucks? Or a hundred? I’ve seen several celebrities who have been nominated (and who’ve participated). Don’t you think ten or a hundred bucks is different to them than it is to you or me? Yes, many people are donating a different sum of money that is relevant to their own personal situation. That makes sense. Ten bucks or a hundred bucks is arbitrary. I don’t like that.

Dumping ice cold water on my head? I’ve seen people say we’re wasting ice and/or water for a silly challenge. Probably true, but I’m not gonna stand on that soap box. Whatever. I’m sure I waste more than my share of water. I do my best to recycle and to conserve water but I’m far from perfect here. I think my biggest issue with this one is that it just plain looks COLD and UNCOMFORTABLE! Nah. Don’t think I need to do that either.

Why ALS? Aren’t there other worthwhile charities? Absolutely. Hundreds, if not thousands probably. Livestrong has been another popular charity that I’ve been connected to. The iconic yellow bracelet seemed to be everywhere a few years ago. For what it’s worth? I never wore the bracelet, either. Just seemed too ‘pop-culturish’ to me.

One last thing then I’ll quit my rant. Referrals. I’ve always hated them. If anyone ever asked me for a few friends or family that could benefit from their services? Nope, not gonna happen. I value my privacy and don’t want any unsolicited contact from a vendor. You can bet I’m not going to give up names and/or contact information of those people close to me. Why would I do that? I’ve never asked for referrals in my profession, either. I simply try to do right and trust that people will speak highly of me if and when the conversation turns to a subject in which I might be involved.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a good thing overall. It’s raising money and awareness. I’m honored to have been nominated. That means people are thinking of me. In fact, the second time I was nominated, it was from a video in which three of my high school basketball teammates were participating. I have fond memories of those three (and all my teammates) and I was sincerely flattered that they would think of me. Bob, Kevin and Tony? Thank you. I need to do better and catch up with you fellas someday soon.

Basketball has been central to my life, and I’ve been touched by cancer. Which is why I’m taking the opportunity that the ALS challenge has presented, and donating an amount that’s relevant to me to a charity of my choice: The V Foundation.

Not gonna nominate anyone else. If you’ve gotten this far? Pick a cause that’s meaningful to you. Do your research. Here’s one link to check out: Charity Navigator.org Donate your money, or your time, or your talent, whatever makes sense. And do it on your own timetable.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Advertisements

An Intimate Portrait (part 6)

“To complete a project.”

This was his answer when I asked “What makes you happy?”  Is it any wonder, then, that I’ve got this underlying uneasiness knowing I haven’t yet finished my Intimate Portrait series?

I must come by it naturally.

“Tell me about your father.”  He described a story in which his father had told them ‘he could do anything his kids could do, until he turned 50 years old.’  At first, it sounded a little like a competitive thing.  Then as I thought more about it, perhaps it was meant to serve as motivation or a challenge to the kids?

Growing up, I remember stopping by the telephone office in town, then racing him the two or three blocks to the house.  Also, of occasional games of one on one basketball against him in the driveway after work.  Was that competitive?  Or motivation?

Image

This is Bill.  Fifth in the birth order of seven children.  My Dad.

He’s both a competitor and a motivator. And prideful, and smart.

As I got older, taller, and better at basketball games, he quit playing against me.

I asked him to look back on his life, if there was anything he wished he could do over?  “Useless exercise” was the reply.  He’s also extremely practical.

Look again at the picture above.  Do you see what I do?  The slight smile?  The twinkle in his eye?  My dad also has a tremendous sense of humor, a strong playful streak.  It was hinted at when I interviewed my other subjects.  One said, “Your dad was a little wild, you know.”  Unfortunately, that interview ended before I could get some background or details on that comment.

Image

Even in this picture, there’s a mischievous hint of a smirk.

Or maybe he’s just happy that he’s been married to Sandy, my Mom, for 54 years?

Image

“What’s the key to marriage” I ask.  “Many” she says.  “Be willing to forgive.””Always kiss goodnight.”  Really?  Always?  “Well, sometimes you don’t want to.”

I feel like my mom glows.  She seems genuinely happy.

What are you most proud of?  “My family.”  I kept pushing.  “The person I’ve become.”  It’s true.  I’ve witnessed her become more confident the past several years.  I feel like she’s comfortable in her own skin.

My mom and dad.  Beautiful people.  Awesome parents.  Tremendous role models, as are each of the subjects I’ve profiled.

What started out simply as a photography project has turned into something so much more meaningful.  I got to spend quality time with fascinating people; to hear tiny tidbits of their lives; to weave together a little background of their childhoods and understand more about who they are, as well as who I am.  I am grateful for their openness and willingness to share with me, and with you, the reader of this blog.

My project is complete.  I am happy.

An Intimate Portrait (part 5)

Not as planned.

If I’m supposed to be writing these in birth order, well, I’ve mixed it up.  Sorry, this one doesn’t follow the script.

Jean is actually the sixth of seven children born to Ira and Edna Hammond, the “baby girl” of the family.  If you’ve been following along, you can thank (or blame?) her for these words and photos in front of you right now.

See, I’d had a concept brewing in my head to take photos of people.  To practice, really.  If you’re just starting out, why not start with some of the people you know best, that you’ll be most comfortable with?  As long as you’re doing that, how about maybe documenting a little bit of family history along the way?  That thought process led me to my father, his siblings and their spouses.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do or how to go about it, so the idea simply percolated in my mind for a month or two.  Can I get everyone together?  Will they cooperate?  What will I ask?  When and where will it be easiest to assemble a makeshift studio?  Lots of questions I needed to answer, which was fine, since Jean and Robert and both my parents were still spending the winter in Florida anyway.

Then Jean changed the plans.  More accurately, her heart changed.  Out of sync.  Both her heart, and my project.

Jean

Life (and death) happens.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Jean’s the youngest; she’s not ‘supposed’ to be one of the first to go.  Don’t you know that by now?  Of course you do.  So what are you waiting for?  Get your butt to Florida and start shooting and talking to your relatives!

Tell me about your father.  (Grampie to me)  What was he like?  “Stern.”  He dished out the punishment.  “Spanked me for something I didn’t do.”  Alright; how about a positive memory, what do you recall?  “He was the one who took us places.”  Educational trips.  He was the one who always took us to see and do things.

What about your mother?  “Loving and gentle.”  “And strong.”

I admire this generation.  They seem to set a great example.  So I asked:  “What is the key to successful marriage?”  Jean replied that many people say it’s communication.  “That isn’t it, we never communicate.”  Really?  “Well, we both have the same values.” We’re both the sixth child in each of our respective families.

Next I bring in Uncle Robert.

Robert

I ask him the same question:  What’s the key to a successful marriage?  “Keep breathing, I guess.”  “That, and communication.”

I did my best to keep a straight face; he had no idea how his wife had answered the question just minutes before.

Perhaps marriage, like life, is a bit of a mystery.  Take each day and be grateful for it.

JandR

 

Aunt Jean and Uncle Robert?   Clearly you’re doing something right.  Thank you for being you, and for giving me the nudge to get started with this project.

 

 

An Intimate Portrait (part 4)

Grace.  Peace.

When crafting the story of my visit with Aunt Lois, these are the words that bubble to the surface.

Image

Asked what she’s most proud of, “Being a child of the King” was first on her list.  Eager, it seemed, to tell her story.  Lois not only welcomed me with open arms, but she had prepared for my visit.  You could say she’d done her homework.

Fitting, isn’t it?  Since she’d spent the majority of her working days in education, it should come as no surprise that the homework was done.  Lois received her degree from Berea College in Kentucky.  It was in school where she met Garland, her first husband.  Together, she and Garland moved to Maryland in 1965 to begin their careers, both earning their income as teachers.  I had no idea that the date of my visit was also the anniversary of Garland’s death.

Waiting for me on the table in their living room when I arrived, a folder containing family photos and neatly typed stories had been prepared.

Purposely, I avoided the folder.  I wanted to hear the unscripted version.

I could see it when she talked about the picture on her wall.  You couldn’t help but notice in the way she attended to her husband.  What makes you happy?  “Harry.”  “My family.”

Children of the King

Due to geography and circumstances, Lois was the first person I reached out to when I actually took steps to begin this little endeavor.  Harry’s health is declining, so they travel less these days.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I arrived.  Harry is still plenty sharp to share stories of his childhood.  Of days spent growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  Memories of one of his early jobs selling “soft seats” (cushions I presume?) in the grandstand at Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games.

I like Harry.  He’s a baseball fan.  It was fun to hear of him speak of stadiums like Forbes Field and Shibe Park.  Places that exist only in history archives to me, but once were very real places that Harry had experienced early in his life.

Harry reminisces

 

I returned home and have read through the folder that Lois had laid out for me.  Times were different.  Life was hard.

Family was important.

Some things, fortunately, remain the same.

An Intimate Portrait (part 3)

This one’s a little different.

In my grandparent’s house there was an embroidered picture of six sheep hanging on the wall.  Five of the sheep were ‘traditional’ white sheep; the sixth, however, was black.  I’m pretty sure it was never defined who the ‘black sheep’ was, yet there was often speculation as to who it represented.  (I’d be willing to bet the label may have been passed around depending upon when and who you asked!)

Yes, this one was a little different.

Pressed for time, I decided to bring both Alice and Grit into my makeshift studio together and ask questions while the other sat just off camera.  I went into the project really wanting to isolate my subject; to get answers that weren’t rehearsed, or weren’t crafted in such a way so as to please or somehow fit a pre-determined path of what something was ‘supposed to look like.’

With Aunt Alice, I’ve never doubted that I’d get anything but the truth from her, regardless of whether her husband (or anyone else) was sitting right next to her.

Image

She looked straight into my lens as she shared stories of what it was like growing up and working on the farm.  Her parents treated her ‘as another boy,’ expecting her to do the same jobs as her brothers.  Difficult perhaps, but also a source of pride for Alice as she was the one who drove the tractors.  In fact, she was the one who could drive every tractor on the farm.

Aunt Alice didn’t stop to pose or primp for the camera.  She just kept sharing, honestly and directly.  Stories of how she still likes to use a lot of things her mother taught her.  Family recipes.  Quotes.  Pressed for an example, she quipped:  “Do what you want, you will anyway.”

She told the tale of seeing Grit for the first time, walking up the road with her brother John.  “That one’s mine,” she stated as he came over the hill.

Alice and Grit

 

Born in Flint, Grit grew up the oldest of seven kids.  Alice says he fell in love with her family before falling for her.

He played basketball at Alba High School in northern Michigan, graduating ‘in the Top 10’ of his class.  Shortly thereafter he would serve his country in the Army Air Corp, traveling to Japan by boat in a tortuous 18 day journey through extremely rough seas.  Grit worked several different jobs in his day, the most interesting of which I found to be his stint as a prison guard in Jackson.  Making $45 a week, he lasted eight months before a riot caused him to reconsider his line of work.

Grit

When I asked Grit “what makes you happy,” he paused to give thought to his answer.  It wasn’t long before Alice interjected:  “Sex!  Sex makes him happy!”  Yes, this interview was a little different.  And I really enjoyed it.

Black sheep?  I don’t know, think what you want.  You will anyway.

An Intimate Portrait (part 2)

The stories are about them, but they help me learn a little more of who I am as well.

Uncle John, the oldest male, number two in the order of seven, was always ‘the President’ in my eyes while I was growing up.  He carried the title and ran the family business.  John, along with his wife Ginny raised four daughters.  In my youth, interactions with Uncle John were always laced with a slight level of uncertainty.  Was it his position in the company?  My status as the youngest male to carry the family name?  He’d never said nor done anything to me, yet there was often some trepidation when I was in his presence.

As I grew older, I witnessed him suffer two significant losses.  The deaths of both his oldest daughter, Kathy, followed years later by the loss of his wife Ginny, showed me a much softer, more vulnerable man than I’d ever known.

Image

When I recently sent an email to my aunts and uncles asking them if they’d participate in my photo project, John was one of the first to reply with his consent.

He shared with me stories of his time growing up on the family farm; how influential his Dad was in his life.  From a letter that his parents wrote asking for an exemption for him from the draft (John declined the exemption and served in the Army Signal Corp during the Korean War), to the suspected role that his dad had in serving as matchmaker by having Ginny working in the family business when John returned from the war.

I also learned a surprising fact:  when John asked his future bride on their first date together, she was wearing a ring that had been given to her by another man.  I love learning that people are people, no matter the times, and not everything is as conventional as any of us might believe.

When asked what makes him happy, John replied with “Seeing my kids happy and content.  Watching my grass, and my gardens grow.”  The company of his dog Dixie, as he keeps up with the property named “Honey Hill” that he and Ginny bought together in 1979.

How about something that you’re proud of?  His answer came easily:  Creating S.A.F.E.  The Springport Area Foundation for Education. Both contributing to and raising funds for the advancement of kids from his community.  http://www.springportschools.net/domain/111

A few days after our time together, I got a follow-up email from Uncle John.  He wanted to share more, to send me both pages and photos of his days in the military.  Tales of the family business, and how he and his wife met.

This project is giving me more than I ever imagined.  I look forward to both learning, and sharing more.

An Intimate Portrait (part 1)

You start from the beginning.

When faced with all sorts of questions, trying to figure out how best to embark on something, what else is there to do but to take a step?

One.  The first of seven.  Norma.

Norma

Absolutely beautiful.  Radiant.  And she completely ruined my pre-conceived ideas of ‘the project.’

See, the thought was that I would take at least 50 portraits of people this year.  Black and white, shot on a black background.  I need subjects, so why not start with some of the people I know, yet want and need to know more about?  I reached out to my father, his five siblings who are still living, and their spouses.

Aunt Norma is the oldest of seven.  And proud of it.  She’s 86; has already outlived her mother and appears well on her way to surpassing her father, “Daddy” as well.

She seemed both excited about, and perplexed by my endeavor.  “Who would want to take a picture of ME?”  Who wouldn’t want a picture of her?  Seriously?  Look at that smile;  that beautiful blouse that complements her skin tone.  The elegant, yet simple strand of pearls.  The way she just, GLOWS.  Nope.  I can’t use just a black and white photo.

Don and Norma say hello

Don is no dummy.  He noticed her.  In English class, at the University of Michigan where they first met.  In fact, “City Slicker Don” would create some conflict in that small-town, tight-knit family of hers.  Norma’s father wasn’t very fond when Don came calling and married her almost 67 years ago.  So distraught, he didn’t attend his daughter’s wedding.  In fact, he didn’t even speak to Don for 10 years.  That is until Daddy realized that Don wasn’t going to marry, then just as quickly leave his daughter.  Maybe, just maybe, City Slicker Don wasn’t so bad after all.  In fact, Don was pretty smart.  Two degrees from the University of Michigan.  A Masters from Clarkston University in New York.  And someone that Daddy respected and could trust enough to offer a seat on the Board of Directors of the family business.

Don

Don and Norma.  Together, they’ve helped me begin to tell my story.

So tell me, how do you really feel?

Well, I guess that depends on which second you’re asking me?  

I go from ‘everything is normal, what are you talking about,’ to ‘Oh my God I could die at any second!’  Often in the span of the same 60 seconds…

To catch you up to speed, I had ‘routine’ surgery just less than a week ago.  Arthroscopy of the left knee to be specific, the third time I’ve had such a procedure done on my knees.  It IS routine, and I suspect that a year from now I’ll look back at this moment in time with a bit of an attitude of ‘what were you really worried about?’

Yet it wasn’t routine either.  Just as the surgeon had cautioned, no surgery is ever completely without risk, and so far, I’m living proof of that.  Pain.  In the left calf.  Symptom #1 on the sheet of post-op instructions that say “call us immediately” if you experience this.  So I called.  Had another test which confirmed what I was already pretty certain existed:

A blood clot.  

Or is it:  A BLOOD CLOT!?!

Depends on which second you ask me.  Most of the time, it’s ‘a blood clot.’  Yeah, it exists.  Yes, it’s a concern.  Yes, take it seriously.  Yes, there are treatments, and yes, you’ll be fine.

Yet I’ve never dealt with this before.  And it sounds SERIOUS.  And by the reactions of those closest to me, it sounds REALLY SERIOUS.  And from what I know of this life I’ve lived so far, a blood clot DOES sound serious.  It’s killed people before, hasn’t it?  Hell yes, I’d say that qualifies as cause for concern!

It’s this ‘space between’ that I find really fascinating.  You see, I have an appointment with a doctor in an hour.  But so far, nobody that I’ve seen in the medical community has reacted with any sort of increased fear or trepidation.  Until such time as I meet with the doctor and he tells me that I should be worried, I’m not gonna worry.  Or at least try not.

It’s the concern and support and reactions of my family and friends (some of whom DO have medical background or experience) that make me feel like I should ‘Take This SERIOUSLY.’  Ok.  Thank you.  Like how?  What am I supposed to do?

I feel as if I have this ticking time-bomb sitting in my leg, just waiting to explode.  Sneeze.  Bump your leg.  Fart.  Any or all of them could dislodge the clot and send it immediately on its path to your brain or lungs and THAT IS ALL.

So what?  Sit home and worry?  (Ok, I’m kinda doing that).  Go on about your day as if nothing is different?  (Really, that’s what I’m doing because other than what feels like a cramp in my leg, I FEEL fine.)

How am I really feeling?  

If I’m honest, ‘terrified’ isn’t far off.  But of what?  Death?  Life perhaps?  That’s a fun and interesting proposition.  ‘Afraid of LIVING.’  What are you here for?  Are you DOING it?

Newsflash:  If you’re reading this, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.  We just don’t know when.  Is that a blessing?  A curse?  Both more likely?

I’m thankful.  I’ve lived a great life to this point.  I hope and expect to live many more productive and happy years.  But I may not.  And if you’re given a diagnosis or a time-frame, what will you do in that time?

What WILL YOU DO?

I’m scared.  And I’m happy.  A blood clot helps me to think about my life and how I want to live.

We All Have a Story

It was around 6:30 at night; dark, and a busy intersection.

I had just come off the highway, waiting to turn right onto 28th Street.  As I looked to the left waiting for traffic, I saw them.  Two people wearing dark clothing.  In an odd place-that busy intersection, on foot.  

They caught my attention, because I’ve been considering a photographic exploration of the poor, homeless, or otherwise disadvantaged.  As I studied them, I noticed one of them was bearded, wearing a hat.  He was clearly suffering some sort of impairment.  Drunk perhaps?  Maybe.  I’ve been there.  Wobbly and disoriented.  But the other one was there, holding him by the arm and guiding him across the street.  I considered how or if I could photograph them?  I’ve got my camera with me; but no, not the right time or place.

He lost his balance, briefly, as he crossed in front of my car.  Put his hand on my hood but eventually stumbled safely to the other side of the road.  I needed to get to the camera store before they closed.  I turned right, put them out of my mind.

About an hour later I’d completed my shopping.  Making my way back to the highway, I could see lights in the distance.  Police?  Fire? I don’t know, but whatever it is, there are a lot of them.  Closer still, I realize that the lights are coming from the bridge where I’d encountered them.

“No.”  I thought to myself.  Really?  It can’t be.  But what else could it be?  Damn it!  Should I have done something?  Is it really what I think?  Please, no.

As I got closer my thoughts were only confirmed.  A car, with front-end damage, parked in the east bound lane.  Shoes, gloves, and other personal debris, lying in the street.  Marked as evidence.  Damn it again!  What could I have done?  Sick; just a helpless, hopeless feeling.

Who were these people?  What were they doing out there?  Who should help them, and how?  

They’re human beings.  They have value.  They have a story.

I don’t know what it is (or was?), but we all have a story.  Some are cut short; some are untold.

Maybe there’s a reason I’ve got a camera; maybe there’s a reason I’m being pulled in this direction.

They were more than ‘panhandlers.’

Image

http://www.wzzm13.com/news/article/274692/48/Panhandlers-struck-on-28th-Street-near-US-131

I Bought a Car

Image

So, yeah.  I bought a car.  Call it a mid-life crisis; call it compensating; call it whatever you want.  I did it.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve always wanted a red sports car.  A Corvette convertible, to be specific, but unfortunately I don’t fit.  So I bought a red Mustang instead.

Specifically, it’s a 2007 Shelby GT 500.  Yes, it’s a pretty kick-ass car.  But it really isn’t about the car.  It’s about listening to a tiny little inner voice or thought and taking a bit of a leap and actually acting on the idea.

It wasn’t completely impulsive.  I did some research.  I don’t know how long I’ll own the car.  I don’t know how much I’ll get if or when I attempt to sell it.  It isn’t an investment.  At least not from a monetary sense.

It was an investment in ME.  An investment in FUN; in living life, of saying “why not?”

Cars are transportation, aren’t they?  Meant to take you on a journey, or to your destination?  Sometimes they can be so much more.  This ‘trip’ started with a one-way plane ticket with a 6:00am departure on a flight to Baltimore.  Then an hour on a morning commuter train to Philly which led to a taxi ride to finally meet with my salesman somewhere in New Jersey.  Plane, train, and automobile.  Wasn’t there a movie with that name?

Sign some paperwork, slap a tag on the car and then I’m off on the first twelve hours of my experience.  Twelve hours of city, mountains, freeway and learning how to handle a 500 horsepower, six-speed beast of a machine.

Just the beginning.  Since purchasing the car last June, it’s taken me to many unexpected destinations.  A fall color tour through Northern Michigan:ImageTo a drag race track in Mid-Michigan:ImageAnd to several locations to serve as a model in my developing interest in photography as well:ImageMaking the decision to listen to the voice, and to act on a dream has also connected me to some really cool people.  Members of my local car club; participants in car shows far and wide.  Parades-and the chance to have my photo taken with our reigning Miss America 2013:

Image

I’ve even had the opportunity to interact with those whose job it is ‘to protect and to serve’

Image

The car has helped deepen a relationship with my nephew, who came along with me on a 48 hour whirlwind road trip to a ballpark in Kansas City.  Which, come to think of it, also served as a bit of confirmation that it’s ok to move on with life.

Visiting ballparks was a journey that my ex-wife and I had been making together.  Until the marriage ended.  But the dream of visiting all the stadiums didn’t need to, and hasn’t died with the divorce.  The car has been a part of all of these things.

Compensating?  A mid-life crisis?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.

I bought a car.

Oh what a ride!

Image