Tag Archives: content

as time goes by

In my youth, a classic education included the obligation to learn how to draw. It was part of the curriculum. There was no mention of creativity. That was a characteristic of god. But drawing was considered by some as learning to see; taking  notes as it were of what we saw. We started with a tree, a horse, or a flower. It was a pleasure watching someone as their eye traveled from the subject of their drawing to the paper in front of them and back again. We called it a study. In those days, it was common, especially for those who were not satisfied with their renditions on paper, to put a flower in a book and press it. Life did not start with the digital age. There were delights that disappeared at every stage of progress.

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the type of library I remember and love

For the young, change is exciting and enlivening. It’s a challenge, and healthy people enjoy challenges. And it’s an opportunity to see the world created anew within our own lifetime. I remember the words of a sage who said, ‘the creation of the world wasn’t finished in those famous six days; god continues to recreate the world every minute… and if that were to stop, our world wouldn’t exist’. I didn’t understand it at the time. It seemed a poetic phrase, an expression of the praise of god. But in old age, the phrase has returned with understanding. Change is an integral part of both our world and ourselves. To deny it or to fight it is to stop our inner world.

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As a student, I spent most of my time in the study hall of the seminary, where I was fascinated by history and philosophy in the holy books. I didn’t just sit and learn. I stood at times, with my book on a reading stand (a lectern), and took walks now and then to digest what I had read. It was an adventure for me to walk to the local library, which was my second home for many years. Many of the writers I read mentioned other books, either to agree or disagree with them, and so I always had notes in my pocket, reminding me of books I wanted to open. But sometimes while visiting the library, I would wander through the aisles and gaze at the stacks, picking up a book just because of its title or the way it looked.

My father was a scientist, which gave him access to a computer as early as the 50s of the previous century. In those days the computer was as large as a couple of rooms in a house, and belonged to the university. He used it for complicated mathematical computations. But as he explored the possible uses of this relatively new instrument, he managed to translate the image of my mother to a printout using the letters of the alphabet to provide the shadings of her face. The printout had the standard holes on both sides of the page, and the paper was cheap and discolored as it aged. Enthusiastic about the ‘human aesthetic’ captured by a machine, I hung the picture on one of my walls. And when it grew old and ugly in my eyes, I threw it away. I regret that now. As a matter of fact, I can’t understand how it happened that I, known to hold on to used shopping bags till they become an obstacle in the laundry room, could possibly throw such an article away. In any case, that mechanical portrait heralded the digital age for me.

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the newer libraries look like this… not too many books
and open for just a few hours

Now, as a photographer, I am often asked for my opinion regarding smartphone cameras. People often suspect that one still needs a ‘real’ camera to attain quality photographs. I don’t use my smartphone camera for a number of reasons. But I really like them; they’re wonderful. For the sort of work I used to do, every camera was a part of a set of working tools. For an enthusiast, the choice of one camera demands compromise. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I am one of those people who walk around with a Swiss pocket knife in their pants’ pocket. I’ll admit it can be bested by someone who carries two knives, two screwdrivers, a can opener and bottle opener around with him, plus scissors, a corkscrew, a punch and a few other items. I came to photography because I loved it, but it was a lot of hard work. Aside from taking the picture, there was the endless choice of possible emulsions, chemical processes, developing films, and printing on paper. Digital photography made most of the techniques I learned and mastered over the years irrelevant. It was cheaper and easier, and it soon became available to almost everyone, thus greatly reducing the need for professional photographers. And as amateurs began to take advantage of the new tools, they demonstrated that imagination and invention need no diploma. But still, easy isn’t enough. When things get a little easier, we unconsciously search out difficulty. For instance, I’ve noticed that with the digital camera, it’s so easy to take a picture that people amass an infinite number of them… and then go through the agonies of hell deciding which ones to show their friends.

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this basket of books was found on the street, asking for adoption
some folks just can’t bear to throw a beloved book away

After moving to my new home, I started taking long walks to get to know the neighborhood better. Found the public library, a beautiful new building with large windows and a very modern design. It was a little hard for me to visit, because it was only open from 2:00 to 7:00 pm. I usually rest from 2:00 to 4:00, but no matter… I finally got there when it was open, and looked around. It was very clean and orderly. They had computers there too. The isles were wide, and the rooms were brightly lit. But strangely enough, there seemed to be less books than I expected. I searched out subjects that interested me, and was disappointed to find the book choices few. It turned out that the library was relatively new. The head librarian with whom I spoke seemed a very congenial woman.

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this is the newest type of library here; run by volunteers and offering
free books to anyone who wants them

For the first time in my life, I started thinking of what would happen to my own sizable collection of books. It occurred to me that I could leave them to this library in my last will, and contribute something tangible to my neighbors after my death. But when I asked the librarian if the library would be interested in a gift of books, I saw embarrassment in her face. Well, she said, they were always pleased to receive a present but the library was only interested in new books. New Books? I asked for clarification. Surely people still read Tolstoy and Shalom Aleichem? Well, of course, people are welcome to read whatever they choose, she explained, but the library only accepts books that have been published or printed since the turn of the century. Yikes!

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books and writing

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Let me share some thoughts I had yesterday, as I was taking my daily walk. I finished reading ‘Drop City’ by T.C. Boyle this week, and I consider it a really fine book. But strangely enough, I almost stopped reading it about a quarter of the way in. And since that book, I’ve been reading another one; ‘A Ticket to the Circus’ by Norris Church Mailer. This second one is basically an autobiography, in which Norman Mailer plays a very important role. And so, a lot of my thoughts were related to Mailer as a writer.

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But first, let’s look at ‘Drop City’. This book did not get a lot of rave reviews, and even before I started reading, I encountered a some criticism concerning the way he described the hippie commune. As it happened, I spent some time in California during the 60s, and had the advantage of visiting a number of communes at that time, as well as making friends among the hippies. When I started reading his book, I too felt that the descriptions of the hippie commune was inaccurate, and that the commune members seemed closer to the stereotype of the lazy hippie who’s interested only in sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

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But as I continued to read, I realized that these weren’t the hippies of the 60s who’d tried to build a new culture based on alternative values. These were the hippies of the 70s, at a time when there was a drift towards decadence, and many of the original pioneers had already gone on to build their personal lives, and had given up on some of the original ideals of the 60s. What’s more, there was a counterpoint in the narrative. Alongside of the hippies, Boyle presents us with the highly independent and slightly anarchic pioneers in Alaska. What we get is really a comparison between two paths towards a more ‘natural’ life style, where freedom is most important, and there is less need to accommodate the conventions of the establishment. By the end of the book, I felt that he had offered us some very important lessons in self reliance, freedom, and the commitment needed to going ‘back to nature’. I liked the resolutions of the different problems and conflicts in the story. It’s a book I can recommend.

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As I have said previously, Boyle has a way with words. He expresses himself beautifully, and can paint a fascinating and intriguing picture in words. This has been true in all three of his books that I read. And after reading this one, I will be reading more of his work. There are some writers whose talent lies chiefly in their ability to bring a scene to life; in their elegant use of the language. I have read works where the writing itself was more important than the story; where the prose was so beautiful, that reading was as much a pleasure as listening to music. But to me, what is more important than all the rest, is having something to say. I’m not looking for a ‘page turner’. Nor do I wish to sit on the edge of my seat. I like something to think about.

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Among the criticisms that I encountered regarding ‘Ticket to the Circus’ were complaints that Norris Church had written too much about herself, and in too great detail. That what was interesting was what we could learn about Norman Mailer, the celebrity author. I can understand this complaint, because there are parts in the beginning of this book that just aren’t that interesting. But I do believe that Norris was very straight forward and open with her readers, and we get to know who she is as a person. And so it is easier for us to understand how she saw Mailer, and gives a lot of credence to her narrative. And of course, once she starts describing her life with Mailer, it becomes very interesting; especially for those who read a lot of his writing. It’s the sort of book I would only recommend to those who really loved Norman Mailer. And to the rest of the reading public, I’d suggest reading Mailer himself.

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To those who are unfamiliar with Mailer, I would recommend, as in introduction, the first column of ‘Quickly: A column for slow readers’, which was included in his book ‘Advertisements for Myself’. And after that, maybe the fiction that is listed in the second table of contents of that same book. Mailer could tell a story well, as he did in ‘Naked and the Dead’, ‘American Dream’, ‘Why are We in Vietnam’, and ‘Harlot’s Ghost’. But he was always thinking, and had a very crystallized set of values, which could be found in all his writing. I believe that he revolutionized the profession of journalism by writing about topical subjects from an extremely subjective point of view. Before that, journalists tried to present themselves as objective… even if they weren’t. And since his pioneering efforts, most of journalism has become subjective, and often we are exposed to an egoistical display. I don’t think the change in journalism was great, though. But it did encourage writers to make a commitment, when it came to values. Some criticized Mailer, saying that he was such an egomaniac, that he indulged himself in casual pronouncements, when he should have dug deeper. But though I don’t agree with all of his ideas or values, I do think he was thought provoking.

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This week’s photos are from my walk in the park. I got a kick out of watching the shy rock badgers visiting the public park to enjoy the grass. This is rather rare. When they see people, they flee.