Spinning Fall tails

Vince Lombardi famously called football “controlled pain”. Given everything that has been going on over the past year here, I don’t think any of us would disagree with that. Clearly Lombardi meant that in a very positive way.  I agree with control as an aim, pain, not so much.

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A couple of weekends ago, Geoff and I headed off on a photographic safari to continue a series I am working on for my Flickr photostream.  Completely without thinking, I planned it for a Saturday on which a USC home game was scheduled.  Also, ironically, there was a Dodger baseball game that day.  That meant nightmarish traffic going and coming, parking problems and crowds that I hadn’t bargained on when I decided we should hit this particular venue, in Downtown Los Angeles.

From serious concussions leading to deteriorating cognitive functioning, to children dying on the field from injuries to developing bodies, to domestic violence in the NFL, we all know that American football is a controversial “sport”.

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Still, while I don’t subscribe to competitions for the most part (see my earlier posts on this topic) and while I feel football should not be a program for anyone younger than 21 (and should be separated from higher education), it does foster two things I endorse: self-discipline and perseverance.

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Probably because I like both those traits and think they should and can be developed starting at a fairly young age, in a developmentally-appropriate manner, I have recently read a couple of books that dovetail both with this season, the return of Fall meaning Football in the US, and with my interest in continually improving and upgrading my own modus operandi. [When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life].

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Those things may seem completely unrelated but they both involve the principles that guided Lombardi, Jesuit-educated in High School and at Fordham, and the Order of the Society of Jesus, whom I have admired for years.

For one thing, I grew up Catholic and as all Catholics know, the Jesuits are teachers who are reputed for excellence. People familiar with the history of South America, know that the Jesuits have played a key role in the development and progress of the masses on that continent.  They have been the good guys in the long and tortured story of the Conquest and colonization of that continent.

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I was raised by a Jesuit-educated parent.  My dad is a stickler for discipline, sucking it up, never allowing a tear to escape one’s eye, even when no one is around. He would make Patton look like a slacker.  And, of course, he took it too far. Curiously, he was an amateur boxer and later a golfer, and now a tennis fanatic, played some baseball, but never played football.  But, if pain was involved, my dad believed it was good for you.  He and I are worlds apart on this topic.  I do not believe in inflicting deliberate pain on anyone or thing, including oneself, and above all children and animals — for any reason.

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While we were in the process of rolling out our photographic plan for my upcoming series, we could not help being sidelined for part of the day by the USC game.  To be honest, I have paid as little attention as possible to USC and anything to do with it.  I am a huge UCLA and Cal (UC Berkeley) supporter and fan. Both are top science schools, for one thing — with gorgeous campuses.  For those people who don’t know the way these things fall out here socio-politically, I am a supporter of the excellent public university system in California. The UC System is on the whole superior to the private schools.

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USC also has a reputation for attracting privileged, partying kids. [Forgive me USC-lovers, hence its nickname: University of Spoiled Children. OK, we can debate that some time, but  I have direct experience of this with a key family member.]

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As I battled to find parking and then had to make the long and circuitous walk to the place where I wanted to take my photos, I was forced to take a good, long, slow look at what transpires at tailgating parties all over this country. It is elevated to an almost maniacal obsession in Los Angeles by dyed-in-the-wool USC fans.

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The USC campus and stadium abut the venue we were headed for.  In every direction, as far as the eye could see, were the scenes in these pictures.  Everything and everybody for blocks in every direction were festooned with and clad in Trojan (a fitting moniker) Cardinal and Gold.

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Now, I went to a big football college back East, with a long and fierce game history.  But, I will confess it now, I went to one and one only game, my freshman year, because we were forced to do it and to engage in placard cheering.  I could probably write a whole post just about my mishaps with that one, seemingly simple, but deceptively annoying task.  I will spare you for now — just remind me if you ever want to hear it.  I should be used to what goes with the football season, boosters, fanatics and of course the licensing explosion that has occurred in the I-won’t-tell-you-how-long since I said goodbye as an undergrad to that whole world.  I couldn’t even tell you what my graduate school team was called, that is how little interest I took in it.

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Geoffrey loves football and played in high school, but not in college.  He still watches it and, even though we have discussed the drawbacks of the sport along the lines that I mentioned at the top of this post — with which he largely concurs — he still has a steel trap mind for every minute detail of scores, records, seasons, coaches, assistant coaches, scouts, training camps, plays and secret strategies all the way back to the Stone Age (there was probably football when Cro Magnon man fought Homo Sapiens).  But, even he was overwhelmed with the scene that apparently unfolds at USC every time there is a home game.

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So I don’t turn this post into too much of a long read, let me sum it up by describing: thousands of parked cars with elaborate equipment and furnishings — largely in the school’s colors — making a vibrating sea of red and gold; fully tricked-out barbecues and propane-fired stoves with chefs and chefesses whipping up feasts that were spread on red and yellow tablecloths, laden with, natch, red ketchup and gold mustard bottles; plumes of blue smoke and the steamy fumes of corn dogs, pork ribs, burgers, fries and chicken “parts” (!!!) floating on the hot, humid air like a low-slung fog; satellite dishes (yup, in red and yellow) and big-screen TVs operated by generators behind each group of cars; folding chairs, loungers, hammocks, tents, recumbent bicycles, buses, trucks, SUVS, every kind of transportation, often in team colors were in front, beside, behind every group of celebrants.  Even the row of Port-O-Sans behind the adjacent stadium were in: Cardinal and Gold.

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Talk about control, pain, discipline and perseverance.  I would say it applies to the tailgaters as much as to the team.

This was at 10 am, when we were just getting to our destination.  The game was not until 4 pm!  So, they make a full day of it and many if not most of the people there were not even going to the game!  The din was audible from blocks away where we were forced to park our car.  As we approached, to attempt snaking our way through the crowds to the photo-site, it became a rising and falling roar. USC fans take this stuff dead-seriously.

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Meanwhile, at least a couple of photos here will give you a hint of what the real goal was for me that day. I don’t know which was more fascinating, the subject of my next photo series or the tailgating before that game.

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By the way, USC won — no surprise there — 35/10 over Oregon State.

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Stay tuned for more on my new photo series, upcoming.

Oh, and Go Bruins! Go Bears! :-D

Images: Beth Byrnes archives; click on them to enlarge, if you care to.






Bearly Oktoberfest

Despite any appearances to the contrary, this is not primarily about photography. Oh, photographs will be involved because they figured heavily into the plan I dreamed up last weekend to catch an early Oktoberfest somewhere here in the Southland.  How can it feel like a Bavarian alpine autumn celebration, complete with dark, warm beer, when it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside as it had been for months and was last weekend, too?

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Well, the answer was to find an Oktoberfest far enough away from LA that it might change the thermometer and close enough to drive in one day so we wouldn’t have to schlep the animals or get them a sitter. There were several choices: Pine Mountain Lake, up the 5 Freeway, just an hour north from our house; Wrightwood, our closest ski resort, 90 minutes away to the east; or Big Bear Lake/Lake Arrowhead (which are just minutes apart), 2 hours and change east as well.  Big Bear won.

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I should mention at this point that Geoffrey and I have spent a lot of time in the past in Big Bear.  When we were first living in LA,  right after we were married and babysitting  their house at the beach while my parents-in-law were back East, we endured a bout of sand flea infestation in all the plush carpeting. It was hideous — we were being eaten alive, especially Snowflake, our Westie.  I did a bit of sleuthing and decided we would rent a cabin for a month (while the house was de-flea-ed) at one end of Big Bear at a resort near Snow Summit, one of the ski areas, called Escape for all Seasons.

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The cabins were literally at the ski complex, in the woods, multiple level chalets, brand new at the time, individually owned and rented out.  We had a ball.  It was the early winter and there was snow almost all the time, as well as those famous bright, sunny California days when snow does not mean you have to bundle up during the day. I came back absolutely in love with Big Bear.  So much so, that my MIL decided to buy a chalet and take people up there in groups for various holidays.  We got to know the area really well and it just got better all the time.

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While I am at it, I should also point out that all these mountain communities in California are very similar.  When you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all.  Geoff’s family used to own a cabin in Mammoth Lakes, so I got to see that beautiful town and ski resort — bigger and maybe a bit grander than Big Bear but far to the north and east of us, an eight-hour drive on a good day.  We also spent time, he and I, in Lake Tahoe where he has work periodically, so I got to know Tahoe and the charming Donner Pass town of Truckee, as well as Reno.  Tahoe may have wealthier residents but the town itself is not as nice as Big Bear. And, of course, I have been to ski resorts in other parts of the country as well as abroad.  So I think I can say with some confidence that Big Bear holds its own with many of the prettiest, cleanest, and most versatile resorts around.

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Anyway, we are up very early every day of the week, so it was easy to hit the road by 7 am. I was a bit nervous about leaving Ricky and Psyche alone all day, but they each have their own entertainment (classical radio for Ricky, smooth jazz on DTV for Psyche) and toys to play with.

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It was beautiful at that time in the morning.  No one was on the road.  From our house, we cut across Santa Clarita and hopped on the 14 north that heads up to Palmdale and Lancaster, then turned off on Pear Blossom Highway, a two to four laner that heads east to the California 138, which loops its way back and forth, high up into the San Bernardino Mountains.  On the way, we passed the turnoff up to Wrightwood where we go every winter to be in the snow, do a little snowboarding (very little, for me) — Geoffrey getting a bit of skiing in when Deanna and Al are in town — and basically get my northern climate fix. That keeps me from going off the deep end when the winters here are too mild for my taste as they have been, increasingly.

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It would be hard to describe the terrain between Valencia and Big Bear.  Valencia is about 1700 feet above sea level.  Big Bear comes just shy of 8000 feet, with the town and the lake closer to 7000.  Once you leave the Palmdale area, you are in the high desert for the rest of the journey.  That means stark, wild and haunting landscapes with flinty tundras that harbor the unusual twisting Joshua trees (none of my pictures of them came out well, so I will take a better set of them for another post on Big Bear in the winter, as we plan to go back as I will explain below) and mountains of boulders and weird rock formations. It was also 90 minutes of virtual silence.  The eerie quiet of wind-scrubbed sands.

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We passed through the town of Little Rock, California with its landmark roadside shack complex, Charlie Brown’s. I will be posting a few of the pictures I took there, on Flickr.  There isn’t room to do it justice here. Actually Charlie Brown’s deserves a post of its own.  I have never seen anything else like it anywhere. But, as an aside, when you are in Little Rock, you might as well be in Appalachia (given the environment and the accents), where I have been. More on all this in the future.  Then you hit Victorville.  For anyone reading this who knows Southern California, and haven’t been to Victorville in a while, you will be shocked.  In the middle of nowhere, literally, popping up out of the desert without warning, Victorville is now a sprawling suburbia with thousands upon thousands of big, new single family and condo dwellings, buttressed by strip mall after strip mall. Every major chain of every type is there. Name a store? Victorville now has two of them or more.  We were stupefied. Good!

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But, once you climb up the mountains to Big Bear Lake and its surrounding communities, you are in my idea of heaven: tall old pines scraping against a perfectly clear, deep blue sky, flocked with white clouds.  Sea birds flying overhead, deep shadows spreading across the country roads. And, best of all, crisp, cool air, even in early October.  The minute I get there, I feel like I am myself again, like I am home. The stress just melts off me with the first crisp breeze.

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You may recall if you have read my blog for a while, that I choose places like Big Bear deliberately.  I chose to go to school in Upstate New York, which resembles Switzerland and Austria more closely than anywhere else. February Vermont is where I picked for one of my two Un-y-Moons.  Once when I was taking a course on relaxation for troubled children, we had an exercise that directed us to create a safe haven in our minds (which we would presumably teach the children to do later on).  Everyone else described a warm water lagoon in a beachy island somewhere in the Pacific or Caribbean.  People were shocked to hear my emotional hideaway: a cozy log cabin deep in a snowy forest, with a roaring fire and mugs of hot cider.

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That is why I love Big Bear. That environment dominates the town and the people who live there year round have created a little fantasy world.  Something that Thomas Kincaid himself would depict in his idyllic and nurturing paintings.  As Kincaid said before he died, he wasn’t sorry if people found his paintings to be quaint or smarmy, he just wanted to make people feel happy. And he knew what kind of scene would do just that.  Big Bear is comfort food for the city-weary soul.  Especially in very hot, very dry California.

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Everywhere you go in town, you will see the evidences that it attracts tourists.  Only about 5000 people live in Big Bear full-time, year ’round, but as many as 100,000 people can be there on any given weekend.  There is something to do all year long.  Skiing and all the snow sports are fostered and promoted in the winter.  The rest of the year, the lake is the big attraction.  Two lakes had dried up, we were astonished and saddened to see on our ride up, including the once huge and deep Baldwin Lake.  I took pictures of it to share some time.  But the biggest of the Big Bear Lakes was just below normal and seemed to be surviving our horrible dry spell, largely intact.

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We had planned to go to the Oktoberfest there, but when we arrived, we decided to spend our time instead in the center of town. There are dozens of shops and restaurants — even one specializing in Himalayan food — and quite upscale.  I was planning to do some Christmas shopping for various people there but ended up buying the two of us armloads of clothes and accessories.  I think the relief and happiness I felt being there in such a congenial, safe, lovely, beautiful place again, just went to my head.  Luckily for me, the man I married didn’t say one discouraging thing.  He just walked around getting us snacks and running the bags to the car.

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The best outcome of this trip was that we resolved to get a house in Big Bear as soon as we can manage it.  We both agreed, we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in an inferno that is only going to get hotter and drier with the warming climate. So, that is something for me to look forward to.

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In order to get that ball rolling, we agreed to make more frequent trips up there and to find a place we like, either in Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead, nearby and still at a fairly high elevation. So, stay tuned for more pictures and posts on all of this. Much as I would prefer Northern California, staying here close-by would be more practical and still give me that back-home feeling that I miss.

As for Oktoberfest, we are going to try it again this weekend, a bit closer to home, so look for an upcoming post to see if we pull it off at last.  We still have some time in the month for that and to report on Halloween in our neighborhood.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives – roll over to enlarge; all images edited in Lightroom – some with the same double-vision watermark, inexplicably, Grrrrrr …




Oblivio Oblivias Obliviat

I am no Latin scholar, despite having studied it for four years in high school.  I took Latin because I planned to be a psychologist or psychiatrist and as such it was recommended that one of our two required languages be either Latin or German.  One of my quirks is that I have to love the culture of the language I am studying, so I picked French and Latin. To this day, I think French is the most beautiful language on the globe and I love Paris and France and almost everything French. Especially their pastries and other baked products.  All of our baking originates from France, where it was raised to a high art centuries ago.

As for Latin and the cultures that derive from it, well, we know what they are and most of us, even in the US, are familiar with the languages all Roman descendants speak.  So, in my opinion, while it is a difficult language to learn and perhaps to speak, Latina hodie vivit, Latin does live today in the many roots, prefices and suffices in modern English language. Learning Latin (and I would add, Greek, ideally) is an excellent way to understand English.  It would help us with spelling and it would enable us to be more precise when expressing ourselves. There is no other foreign language that would help us more. It lent me a handy word here, which will make more sense later.

Right now, I would guess every one of us is dealing with end of life decisions in one form or another, mostly having to do with the care and management of elderly relatives.  In my case, I just finished overseeing the transfer of a grand uncle to a living facility that seems to be well equipped to make the last years of his life safe and happy.  In a more difficult circumstance, I am grappling with how to care for my Aunt Kate, who is not only being manipulated to some degree by relatives who live in her immediate vicinity, whose motives are unclear to me, but whose surprising mental deterioration has prompted her to obsess about my coming to live with her in her NYC apartment.  She has planned me to spend a month with her in February and I am trying to figure out how to avoid it, as much as I would welcome time in the City.

Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline.

Taking a sharp right turn, what has all this to do with oblivion.  The root of this word is the Latin “ob”, which means about or toward.  And, ‘livion’ refers to forgetting.  Extrapolating (and believe me, I am no linguistics expert), the word “oblivion” refers to being forgetful, unaware, and I would say, unconscious.

None of us think we are oblivious.  But, we all are, no matter how sensitized and “awake” we are at birth, we quickly shut out most of the world’s input and narrowly focus on what helps us survive in our immediate environment. We rapidly build an ego around our emotional core. As highly intelligent animals, this is a vital defense mechanism.  The smarter the animal, the higher the nervous system is tuned. This is why birds are so skittish, certain species of birds (parrots) are among the five smartest creatures on the planet [along with marine mammals (dolphins/porpoises,whales), great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans), and us].


That we will become oblivious in short order is a given and a good thing to get you through childhood.  This process of building a shield against the world continues on a normal and healthy schedule up to the age of about 7 and stops enabling new input.  Thereafter it becomes solidified, rigid and atrophying. The ego is fully formed by seven and then becomes more or less vestigial.  It stops us from being open to new ideas, to growth, flexibility and awareness, and I would also argue, highly developed sensitivity.  As such, post age seven, it is an albatross.  We become largely oblivious and spend the rest of our lives in various forms of that state.

Unless we interfere with that process.

What prompted me to put up this post was an article I just read that I think should stimulate a fair amount of discussion and controversy, in a rather public way, given who wrote it. Zeke Emanuel, “scholar”, according to the Washington Post and Lawrence O’Donnell on whose show I saw him last night, wants to die when he is 75.  He theorizes that those of us who work hard to keep our minds and bodies sharp and to calm our nerves so we can live as stress-free as possible in this frenetic, demanding, mysterious, and sometimes frightening world are misguided in doing so.

I would ask him if he is sure that he has spent the past 50 years working on molting off his crusty old ego? I doubt it. If anything, from his lofty perch as a physician (a body mechanic, essentially) his ego is flourishing and I would argue, he will have a hard time seeing anything clearly, encased in the hard shell of unawareness, unconsciousness, obliviousness. I doubt that he would agree with me, because he is sound asleep.

This unconsciousness, oblivion, in my opinion, is the reason so many people get so much wrong, follow a retrograde philosophy or world view that cannot be used successfully as we evolve as a species. This is why people are still polluting, or voting for corporate raiders who will plunder our resources, or slaughtering each other, abusing living things, especially and above all, human beings.  When we look at depravity, whether it is ISIS or mass murderers gunning down kindergartners, it is based largely on being oblivious to others and the world around them.  Inured to suffering that cannot occur when people are truly awake and aware.

Can someone walking around and talking and studying and living be asleep? I will refer you to two easy places to decide for yourself, depending on which you prefer: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave or The Matrix.  If you like, you can consult the work of Georges I. Gurdjieff (not an easy read) or to simplify things, his student, P. D. Ouspensky.  If those works don’t impress you or seem a bit abstruse, then there is an abundance of literature originating in the teachings of Buddha. If you prefer more right brained material, you can read the poetry of Rumi every day and I am sure eventually (or immediately), you will grasp the fact that we are all, for most if not all of our adult lives, slumbering nicely while going through all the rites of passage from our long, 3 million year old human social culture.

Although brain plasticity persists throughout life, we do not get totally rewired. As we age, we forge a very extensive network of connections established through a lifetime of experiences, thoughts, feelings, actions, and memories. We are subject to who we have been. It is difficult, if not impossible, to generate new, creative thoughts, because we don’t develop a new set of neural connections that can supersede the existing network.

Are there people who take physical health to its logical absurdity? Yes! I may be one of them.  I have, since I was 15 years old, been dedicated to personal health.  That is when I became a vegetarian in a very non-vegetarian household, time, and social environment. For the past 30+ years I have been studying the human animal and among all its social, cultural, emotional, and mental attributes, its physical makeup and needs.  Nutrition is one of my hobbies. I do not base being a vegetarian/vegan on purely moral and social grounds (although these aspects of this practice are important too), but on studying the physiology of our hominid bodies.

Beyond that, I want to be fit.  If I am going to live XX more seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years I am determined to feel and look and be as good as I can for every single one of them.  That includes physical health, i.e., endurance, flexibility, strength, and hygiene. You cannot do that if your attitude is that it doesn’t matter, that we are “omnivores” (false), or that you can sit in a chair, be 30 pounds overweight (BMI>25), smoke, take medicinal pharmaceuticals, consume processed junk, imbibe alcohol, breathe anything but clean air, and thrive.

But more important than physical health, is being awake, aware and working on our psychological, mental, emotional and behavioral well being.  We need to wake up. It won’t be easy and it will take a lifetime of deliberate, repeated, hard work.  But I would contend that there is almost nothing more important that we as individual human beings can do than to work on that project.  We can choose any profession to which we are suited and enjoy, but that work will always be secondary. Tertiary, if we believe that knowing God is first.

And that takes us back to this word: oblivion.  Forgetting, being forgetful, forgetting ourselves. Knowing ourselves should be our first or second priority, then.  Jesus spoke of this when he admonished “know thyself”. If I don’t know myself, I will never be centered, never be in control of my actions, let alone the path my life takes. Anyone can pull my strings and manipulate me. Those levers and buttons that other people push are obvious to them and we are largely oblivious to those mechanisms in ourselves at the same time.

At age 75 we reach that unique, albeit somewhat arbitrarily chosen, moment when we have lived a rich and complete life, and have hopefully imparted the right memories to our children. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline.

Gurdjieff said you can test it and see how poor you are at “remembering” yourself.  Just try to do it, look at your watch, and try to remember yourself (be self-aware) for even one minute. Your mind will wander, the monkey in your head will start chattering, stray thoughts will seize your attention, usually within 15 seconds.  It is a sobering experiment.

The idea that we “forget” also implies, logically, that we once “remembered”.  We did! At birth, that potential, that ability to remember was there, fresh, muscular, poised for action. That is why, unless we squelch it out prematurely, children are so good at recall, memorizing, pointing out little details.  They are also hyper-aware of us and our shortcomings.  If we are lucky, we can encourage them to draw the world around them.  See if Mom  and Dad are in the picture. The house? The yard? The sibling? Pets? And, what do they look like.  There is a world of information in the drawings of children, pre-seven years of age.

I don’t agree with Dr. Emanuel on this topic at all.  Like many physicians, he believes in our sick-care system.  The one where you report to the doctor on a regular basis to have needless tests and procedures and have him or her fix you with our Western slash and burn technology (which is highly developed and expert) so you don’t need to take care of yourself. He endorses using that medical system up to the age of 75 and then simply stopping all remedies. No wonder people fall apart around that age! They’ve handed their personal management responsibility over to a third party.

Should we accept our ultimate demise as gracefully and realistically as possible? Of course! But I don’t intend to drift toward it aimlessly.  I want to remember who I am, even if it is a struggle.  Even if I am beset by phobias, hang-ups, appetites, blind spots, weaknesses that could derail my being awake and aware and taking good care of myself. In this I am a true conservative — no one has more responsibility to set my life on a sound and productive, even joyous course than I do.  And if I work continually, keep on getting back on whatever wagon I tumbled off, relentlessly, I should be thriving right up to the very last minute, having few conscious regrets that I coulda, shoulda, woulda, and didn’t live vigorously in every aspect of human existence.

We avoid constantly thinking about the purpose of our lives and the mark we will leave. Is making money, chasing the dream, all worth it?

I want to be, well, truly alive.  There is no particular age at which I would choose to end that process, nor to extend it.  Based on extensive research, longitudinal, clinical, global, and experimental, human beings as we are now structured at this point in our long evolution, could live to be 120 years of age.  Without major interference.  Do you know a fit centenarian? I do!  There are three people in my father’s family who are in their late 90s, are slender, active, mobile and thus far, mentally alert and fairly independent.  My Uncle Harry is headed to being 101.  He can still walk, sing, play a little golf, argue about politics and he may do so for years more, according to his primary care givers.


So, whatever Emanuel is talking about, it fails to address self-awareness, spirituality, and responsibility for our own destinies — all of which, in my considered opinion, are mitigating factors in longevity and quality of life.

And it fails to overcome the simple fact that life is magnificent in almost any condition. Do we think Stephen Hawking would prefer to be fully functioning and mobile? Of course he would. But would he or we be better off if his impaired condition meant ending his life? Or just giving up and doing nothing to improve it? From where I sit, I don’t think so.

There is one thing with which I agree regarding Emanuel’s point of view.  That this is personal, this is an individual choice.  But you are unlikely to make an informed and enlightened decision or choice if you are sound asleep.  To live, to be ‘ablivious’, requires being awake and that is what I plan to work on for the next however many years of my existence in my tiny spot on this planet.

Right now, I am struggling with my own dilemma, trying to step outside myself and my comfort zone especially when it comes to obligations to other people, like my in-laws and my Aunt. The objectivity I am seeking is to offset my blindness, my oblivion and myopia when it comes to making major decisions. Clearly I am not going to live with Kate. But, do I want to spend a month there with her, neglecting everything else I am responsible for and enduring a peppery relationship as Kate is an emotional Centurion.  To what extent do we owe one another this kind of empathy and “sacrifice”? That is where I am stuck and obviously becoming enlightened in this area, would shed more awareness on everything else with which I am grappling.  It is not all about being steeped or absorbed in ourselves, as Emanuel is doing — who is thinking selfishly in my view — that is the missing factor, along with our goal of ‘waking up’, in his calculus on end-of-life decisions.

Images: innerselfasia.com, en.wikipedia.org, bmswc.com, livehappy.com, greenprophet.com

All quotations are from Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel





Let there be Lightroom

For someone who did not want photography to turn into another obsession, I am giving a good imitation of a fanatic, lately. And, some of my photo safaris do not go the way I imagine them when I first dream them up.

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Did I ever tell you about the time that Deanna was staying with my family for a summer while her parents went to Europe?  Our neighbor gave her a goldfish from the boardwalk nearby in Asbury Park.  I had never had fish — just birds, cats, dogs and a turtle.  We knew nothing about caring for a gold fish, so being us, my parents and I studied up on it and learned that you can’t just put a goldfish (or any fish) in a bowl — it is cruel and they won’t thrive or be happy.  I won’t torture you with all the minutiae, but we ended up spending $1500 on a tank, filters, pumps, lights, plants, toys, stones, food, and of course, a companion for the fish, which Deanna named Billie. For a 25 cent goldfish.

That is what I feel happened with this photography gig.  I started out just taking snapshots with a pocket camera and here I am only a year and a half later with an investment for which I could have gone on a luxury trip to Jamaica (one of my fave places on earth, by the way), instead.

The new computer prompted me to take a chance on downloading new programs, including and especially Lightroom 5.  I won’t launch into a long exegesis of my experiences with Photoshop, but suffice to say, I have an older PS program with CDs on my main computer in the office (the one with the shiny new monitor).  Oh, hey, and by the way, when I cleaned out the west end of the office (my side — well, they are both my sides I guess, the other end has my Vaio, which I gave to Geoffrey as his desktop computer when he works at home), I found a brand new program for my older PS, called Chromatica.  It says right on the box (and I believe every word, hee hee): Revolutionary Tools for Photoshop, with over 1000 palettes and cool effects.  Alright! Never even opened it but eventually I will try it on the older computer. It pays to reorganize!

Anyway, I have worked with Photoshop for a dozen years or so, for one reason or another, but I have never mastered it.  When it came time to process photos for the DSLRs, I looked at several programs including Photoshop Elements and Photo Ninja, settling on the latter.  I stupidly bought PE and found it was turning all my 16 bit photographs into 8 bit reduced quality versions.  It was also rather slow processing RAW.  I gave it away.

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Photo Ninja, which is downloaded only, is a different story.  It is a reasonably priced program and incredibly intuitive.  Within a few minutes, I understood almost all the controls and spent very little time on the tutorials. Now, maybe that was a handicap, because I suspect there are some awesome refinements that PN is capable of that I don’t know about.  I will probably learn more after finishing my experience with Lightroom.

When I was reading up on all the processing programs (including the one that came free with the Canon — Digital Photo Professional, with which I have seen people do truly amazing things), I had read that Lightroom was tedious to learn and that it would reorganize all my photos into its catalogue system.  So, I decided not to go with that to start.  For the past six to eight months, PN has done the job quickly and well and I have been happy.  The limitations of my photographs can be attributed to the newbieness of the photographer and perhaps the shortcomings of cameras and lenses that are for amateurs like me.

However, one thing that is a possible drawback of Photo Ninja, is the fact that, for the most part, all the tweaking is done on the entire image file.  You cannot go in and adjust certain areas, leaving the rest of the photo space alone.  Also, you can’t heal or remove flaws.  One thing I was doing was taking the RAW file into my old Photoshop, fixing ugly spots, turning them into TIFs, sending those back to PN, tweaking the TIF, converting it to JPEG and then loading them to Flickr or Shutterfly or whatever, depending on what project I was working on.  There is always the chance that you are losing image quality when you move between programs that way and it makes me nervous as well as absorbs a great deal of time.

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Something I noticed was that people on Flickr who were serious about their work, even as experienced amateurs, were using Lightroom (or Nik) most of the time.  Now, you can get dozens of programs to do certain things if you want special effects.  Like Nina Y, how in the world do people do stuff like this? OK, I can imagine a fleet of software, Illustrator, Corel Draw, of course Photoshop, and on and on.  Well, if you are getting paid to do this or are one of the Sultan of Brunei’s harem (Geoffrey works at that guy’s palace in LA from time to time, lots and lots of gilt and glitz, brocade may be involved, and jewels), you can spend the bank and time. Not I.

So, I finally broke down and got Lightroom 5.  I got the upgraded Photoshop, too.  I put LR5 on the new computer in the solarium upstairs because it has the latest operating system. That thing is still Sanskrit to me.  My desktop now looks like Geoffrey’s iPad.  So, that is my first hurdle.  Just even figuring out where all the programs are, amid the hundreds of apps loaded on that thing slows my work down measurably (I have a Kindle Fire HDX — and I put very very few apps on it, same with my phone.  I really don’t like the clutter and I never use them, once the novelty wears off).

Installing LR5 was no problem.  Using it is another matter.  To say I am merely stabbing around on it would be to elevate the process to something approaching rationality.  I am literally just stumbling along blind.  Hence the pictures you see here with their strengths and weaknesses.

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Last weekend, we decided to get out of Valencia, where we were roasting for the entire month of August and September in 100F heat, and head to Koreatown for the annual Korean festival. We figured it would be colorful — there was a parade last Saturday at 3 pm that I wanted to make sure we stayed for — and of course there might be intriguing food and trinkets to buy. Seemed like a good way to escape the heat and walk around during the day, something we dare not do at home for fear of being fried to a crisp.  Both of us have fair skin. Geoffrey is Irish/Swiss (although, he does tan, infuriatingly, even with his reddish brown hair and blue eyes). With those English/Irish pig-underbelly tones in mine,  I really suffer in midday sun and am dreading the day when I find out what those early foolish years on a beach in mere strings have done to me.  I imagine it all popping out all over me at once like some grotesque Fellini carnival character.

Anyway, when we got to Koreatown, we found they had (smartly) blocked off all the streets for what seemed like miles around the park where the festival was held for five days.  We had to park and walk for at least two miles, which wouldn’t have been so bad except … wait for it … it was scorching hot and horror of horrors, humid! Worse than Valencia. Yech!  By the time we got to the festival from our parking spot, we were both melting.  We felt sticky and that drat sunblock seemed to be sliding down our bodies and pooling in our sandals.  We were both wearing shorts but that just made it worse.  We got there at 1 and were gone by 2.

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For one thing, I didn’t know this, but Koreans adore barbecue.  We could smell the festival long before it came into view.  Then there was the steam and smoke from all these open pits and grills, adding to the heat! OMG! What were they thinking? Did any of them look slippery and cooked like we did? No! They all seemed kool as kimchee. Maybe this was because, somehow, they all had fans! We kept looking to see where they got them, obviously all these fans were given out free, but no one handed us a fan and we didn’t see any place to ask for one either.

I don’t know what I expected, but there were few non-Asians there at all and those that were, were Hispanics from the neighborhood. It really didn’t and usually doesn’t matter to either of us. I am a veteran traveler, social scientist, an ethnic  culture aficionada, and grew up in NYC. I love being in multi-cultural environments.  It just made the photographing more difficult though, because we stood out like the light in the forest. We not only looked different, we were carrying cameras and camera bags. Plus, my triathlete husband had his “survival” gear pack with the water bottle and spray and all those other tchotchkes he carries as if to be perpetually ready for a competition.  We felt conspicuously out of place, as if we were intruding.

All this is by way of telling you that the pictures I took (haven’t even glanced at what the SO took, if he even downloaded them somewhere), are not that exciting and were taken in relative haste to be as down low as we could.  All around us were Koreans taking pictures, both pros and non, including media photographers.  But, when I tried to stand and take pictures where they were taking theirs, I could feel some frosty glances drifting my way.

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So, I only took about 100 shots.  The ones I thought could be amped, I took into Lightroom 5 and just noodled around.  Some are a bit over-torqued, I know, but I had fun bumping up the color a bit — there was a lot of it around me.  Not in the festival, it was pretty boring, about as exciting as a church bazaar.  But the people who attended were quite interesting and brightly attired.  So, what the venue itself and yours truly lacked, was made up for in LR5. You will see that for the first time I was able to add a signature.  It is way too big but I was afraid to change it for fear I would screw it up. Next set of photos will have a more demure and scaled down version, as I do not need to have my name screaming. Oh, and you will see, somehow some of them doubled — I have no idea why!

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I’m learning, so bear with me.  More of these are coming up on my Flickr page. And, if anyone out there has some tips on this program, please enLighten me! :-D

Images: Beth Byrnes Archives, Nikon D5200, Nikkor 16-85 mm lens, and Lightroom 5! Rollover them to enlarge.





Does not compute

I don’t know what your week was like but mine was strange.  It started with the home invasion scare (all this time later, nothing new, except we changed all our locks to key only and are just paying more attention when we are outside).  Then I had the silliness with magazine subscriptions.

Next, as I was checking all my balances, I saw a weird notice on my PayPal account, something to the effect of, ‘your account is frozen unless you complete your profile’. Say what? I have had the same PP account for ten years or so (can’t remember).  I started it so I could buy things from eBay, and then it became a convenient way to pay for other things.  Some of my clients use it so they don’t have to write checks.  I am not wild about it, because PP does take a percentage, but it has worked effortlessly.  One thing the instructions told me to do was link another credit card to it. So, I did that and I still got the same message.

Now, I would not fall for any of that if it came in an email.  But, as things go according to Murphy’s Law, for the past few weeks I had been getting all kinds of spam telling me my account was about to be frozen.  So, when this was actually a message in the account itself, I took it more seriously. Long story short, I gave it a couple of days and then called them.  It turns out to be a software glitch and they are supposedly working on it.

When you get up at 4 am every day, you are not in the calmest, most rational state of mind — I don’t care how much sleep you get.  I try to get no less than 6 hours of sleep.  All my life, I have been a light and minimal sleeper.  There were times in college and grad school where I was existing on four or five hours. When I go to visit Deanna, Al and Annabelle I get about that because they go to bed late and I get up very early.  Plus it is three hours ahead there and I never seem to adjust while I am with them.

What getting up at 4 means is, the first thing that happens or goes awry starts the day off in a panic.  Well, if you are high strung and maintenance as I am.  Plus, when I wake up, somewhere around 3:45, I immediately start to anticipate what I need to do and any issues I am grappling with at the moment.  You know how people say everything seems worse and more dramatic at 3 am? Well, that applies to 4 am as well.

The Perfect Office - Samsung Door Lock, LG UltraWide Monitor and more

So, anyway, yesterday, I get up, go brush my teeth and hair in the semi-darkness with a nightlight (not ready to see myself with no makeup at that hour in the a.m., lol), and get settled at the computer to see what has come in since the evening before.  This is a lot of email because I have two accounts, work and personal, and I usually don’t check email after 8 pm the evening before.

I sit down, Geoffrey hands me my mug of coffee as he always does, and, being pretty much on auto-pilot, I get ready to tackle whatever inquiries came in during the night, update today’s to-do list, etc. OK! Tap on the keyboard in the office to wake up my main computer. Tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.  Nothing. Ugh. Nightmare.

Since I have a five year old computer, and I have only about 70 gigs of available HD space, it is not unheard of for it to be sluggish.  But this time it seemed to be frozen.  I had left a lot of large files open and some web pages so I could begin without too much prep time (by now it is only 4:15, so who has the brain for a lot of extra work?) so I was really not happy at the prospect of hard booting the computer.  Which I did.  And still, despite hearing that happy Microsoft tune, the screen was black. Re-boot. Ugh, painful. Nothing. Black.

Nooooooo! I have so much to do.  Geoffrey sat down at the computer, even though he was trying to take care of everything he does before he goes to the train. Oh and now he is taking a bus to the train because I don’t like leaving the pets alone (ala Bunny and my suggestible mind) in a dark house while invaders are lurking about.  Poor guy! What a princess I have become (yes, always been, I guess). While he did that, I ran up to the solarium computer and got everything cranked up there except I didn’t have the photograph series there that I am posting on Flickr right now.

Then, long-suffering saint that he is, when he couldn’t solve the problem, he offered to run the tower and monitor over to Staples, where they have free diagnostics (lord, how I pray that store doesn’t close) the minute they opened up, even though he would be late for work. God bless Staples, it was only the monitor. Fried somehow.  They told him that a five year old monitor might as well be a senior citizen. Geeze. Cheap at the price, though.  I feared it was my HD and even though I back up periodically, I am not up to date completely and would have lost some prepared JPEGS that I didn’t feel like re-processing.

Now I have a nice, new, bigger monitor and everything is back to normal.  But, yesterday, the minute Geoff pulled the computer equipment and all its tangled nightmare of cords out of the office, I got to see how dusty the room was. Yech.  In 105F heat (40C+) — even with the AC going full blast, the office is smallish and my vacuum cleaner was putting out BTUs (therms?) like a madman.  Once you change one thing in a space as limited and “arranged” as my office (and by arranged, I mean, filled to the ceiling with bookcases and shelving and files and books and equipment and framed photographs, etc.), it is like that little plastic game where you have only one open space and somehow have to make a sentence with the scrambled letters.

It was exhausting and I was cranky and sweaty as I started filling up bags to toss.  Things like miscellaneous paper goods that I forgot I had and saved.  All kinds of post-it note packages, boxes and boxes of unsharpened pencils.  A huge collection of white-out that is mostly dried up. Useless glue sticks, old, same thing. Packages of markers, boxes of ball point pens we got by the gross at Staples.  To say nothing of three old computers — my precious Vaio from 2007, Geoffrey’s Acer laptop and his older Mac iBook.  Why don’t we recycle these guys? Because they not only have old data that we have never transferred, they have the old programs that open them.  Geoffrey uses Filemaker, an older version that he likes for work.  If there is a newer one, I don’t know but it probably wouldn’t open his old files. Same with some old version of Peachtree.  Geoff has never used a desktop.  He only likes things that he can carry around with him and even though he bangs them around, especially at job sites, they seem to last forever.  I baby my computers and they are as hypersensitive and fickle as I am.

While I am at it, I have to mention that, good as he is about solving problems for me, especially practical ones like changing all the locks or deciphering computer problems, Geoffrey is too casual about security. He took my precious tower and monitor to Staples yesterday and while he was going out the door, I offered to go with him, figuring he would need me to carry one or the other.  He declined. Turns out, he took the monitor in first and left the tower in the car, on the seat, in plain view! Yikes, typical California laid back.  I am the kind of person that won’t even leave a tissue on the seat inside the car because it might attract attention and lead to a costly break in.  It has happened. Deanna left a cheap pair of sunglasses on the dash of her brand new SUV last year and ended up with a huge bill after someone smashed in the driver’s side window to get the glasses and rifled through the other compartments in the car and stole Annabelle’s backpack, which was stashed under the seat.

Not only did I not want a break-in, I sure didn’t want some stranger having access to all the info on that HD, including financial and personal stuff.  What was he thinking?

My biggest peeve is the way you need to keep upgrading everything in order to use it.  I spent a fortune on that Vaio and now it is a dinosaur with Vista OS on it. Why buy an expensive computer when it becomes obsolete within a year? That is why we stopped buying Macs.


Anyway, the week isn’t over yet, so we shall see. Oh, and I would love it if you experts out there could settle an argument G and I have over spraying equipment with compressed air.  I worry that it will drive dirt into the computer and gum up the works and Geoffrey feels it is mandatory to keep the computer clean.  What do you think?

Also, now that I have two new monitors, this site looks more greenish than orangey as it did when I had my older monitor.  I want it to be a soft Buttercup yellow. Can you tell me how it looks on yours? Thanks!

Images: hgtv.com, nycorganizers.com, abduzeedo.com, aspiremetro.com, inool.com, houzz.com, themodernagent.com, catoss.com, designsnext.com

These are all ideal images, except one, of what I am aiming for in every room of my house, especially my office which is now clean and orderly once again, thanks to this upheaval. :-D




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