variations on a theme: vintage signs on the jersey shore

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme challenges us to find the endless variety that one thing can contain.  Here is my take on vintage signs on the Jersey Shore.  These were taken in winter, when most of the places were quite deserted.

Beach Shack – Cape May, NJ
Laura’s Fudge – Wildwood, NJ
Island Breeze – Wildwood, NJ
Bird of Paradise, Wildwood, NJ
Scoops, Wildwood, NJ
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a labor day walk in cleveland park

Monday, September 4: The first Monday in September is Labor Day in the USA, and the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend marks the unofficial end of summer.  The federal holiday honors the American labor movement and contributions that workers have made to the well-being of the country.

Because Mike has the day off, we drive into D.C. to walk around Cleveland Park’s Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Northwest Washington neighborhood, a collection of over 1,000 structures, is “a visual textbook of the changing taste in domestic architectural styles between the years 1890 and 1940,” according to the Washington Post‘s “No hiking boots required: 6 great city strolls in Washington.”

As we walk around the neighborhood, we see art deco and modernist facades, as well as homes built in the Arts & Crafts style, brick rowhouses, mission-style homes, Colonial revivals, and neoclassical mansions.  We see fabulous porches, turrets, columns, screened-in porches, white picket fences, pergolas, as well as beautifully manicured lawns.

Cleveland Park

In the 1890s, when electric streetcars arrived on Wisconsin and Connecticut avenues, Cleveland Park became a popular upscale “streetcar suburb,” according to The Washington Post.  President Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908), the USA’s 22nd and 24th president, also built a summer home on Macomb Street.  He was the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office.

Many of the homes here are extraordinary.  It’s fun to walk through this shady and hilly neighborhood.

Cleveland Park home
Cleveland Park home

Reflecting our divisive political climate, we find signs in yards such as: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The signs are written in several languages.

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

Or: “Comb Overs don’t hide Racism * Arrogance * Cruelty * Prejudice & Willful Ignorance.  Words Matter.”

Comb Overs don’t hide…

As part of the resistance, I’m happy to find like-minded Americans who don’t want to be associated with our current president, his base, or their white supremacist notions.

Cleveland Park home

After a while, we reach Wisconsin Avenue, where we decide to stop for lunch.  We have several options, including Cactus Cantina and Cafe Deluxe.  We choose Cafe Deluxe.

Cactus Cantina

At Cafe Deluxe, we sit outside on the patio and eat Apple Brie Flatbread and assorted sides including mac & cheese, succotash and asparagus & corn.

Apple Brie Flatbread
Cafe Deluxe on Wisconsin

After lunch, we walk down Wisconsin to Washington National Cathedral.  We always come here to see the crèche collection every Christmas Eve; this is one rare time we see it during the summer.

Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church cathedral of 20th century American Gothic style closely modeled on English Gothic style of the late fourteenth century. The foundation stone was laid on September 29, 1907 in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and a crowd of more than 20,000. The “final finial” was placed 83 years later in the presence of President George H.W. Bush in 1990, according to Wikipedia: Washington National Cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral

We even see the Bishop’s Garden in bloom, which we never see when we come at Christmas.

the garden at Washington National Cathedral

While walking in the garden, I overhear a frumpy old white man say, “I don’t know what the problem is with Melania wearing high heels down to Houston after the hurricane.  It shows she has some class.”  SMH.  Dream on, Mister.

The Cathedral is both the second-largest church building in the United States and the fourth tallest structure in Washington, D.C.  The scaffolding seen in the photo is for ongoing repairs since the 2011 earthquake.

the Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

We walk back through different streets in Cleveland Park to return to our car.

back through Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park
me in Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park

My novel, still unpublished, is set mainly in this neighborhood, as well as in Egypt and France. 🙂

Steps today: 12,759 (5.41 miles).

philadelphia: the south mural arts walk

Friday, December 30:  This morning, we have two goals before we need to return home to Virginia: 1) walk the south Philadelphia mural walk and 2) visit the Magic Gardens.  We don’t have time today to do the north mural walk; that will have to wait for another visit.

Mural Arts Philadelphia was established in 1984 as a Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, encouraging graffiti writers to redirect their efforts into constructive public arts projects.  According to the website, the “collective mural-making process proves to be a powerful tool for generating dialogue, building relationships, empowering communities, and sparking economic revitalization.”

The work of the project serves a “larger movement that values equity, fairness and progress across all of society.”

“Women in Progress,” by artists Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston, depicts the progress made in women’s rights.

“Women of Progress”- artists Artists: Cesar Viveros and Larissa Preston, 2001

Kenny Scharf  is known for “using images of cartoons from his childhood, as well as inventing sometimes wild designs inspired by graffiti and club culture” (Philly Mag).

“Philly Chunk Pack” Artist: Kenny Scharf

HOW and NOSM are twin brother graffiti artists born in Spain, who grew up in Germany and currently reside in New York, according to the Mural Arts website.

“Personal Melody” Artists: How & Nosm

In a mural by Gaia, Philadelphia architect and urban planner Edmund Bacon gazes down at those traveling the streets of the city that he helped so much to shape. The use of light colors such as white and grey help the portrait to stand out for blocks.

“The Father of Modern Philadelphia” Artist: Gaia

I’m not sure what this one is, but it doesn’t seem to be on the official Mural Walk.  Today, some earth movers are doing some heavy-duty digging in the adjacent parking lot.

Unidentified mural
Unidentified mural

“Building the City” by Michael Webb shows the builders and planners of the city.

“Building the City” Artist: Michael Webb, 1992

Some of Philadelphia’s urban art is not listed as part of the Mural Arts program, such as this one shown below.  With over 3,000 murals, the city is known as the world’s largest outdoor art gallery.

Unknown mural
Unidentified mural

I don’t know that the building shown below has actual murals or simply panels hanging on it.  There is one mural listed at this location on our mural mile walk map, but this doesn’t look much like the other murals we’ve seen.

Murals?
Murals?
Murals?
Murals?

My favorite of all the murals we see today is “Garden of Delight” by artist David Guinn.  The artist returned to the neighborhood where he grew up to create this lush mural overlooking a community garden. “Two trees in the center lean into each other, symbolic of an embrace.  The garden spills out from the space between them. This is to symbolize the spirit of community gardens and the people who work together to nurture these gardens,” according to Mural Arts Philadelphia.

“Garden of Delight” Artist: David Guinn, 2010
“Garden of Delight” Artist: David Guinn, 2010

“Pride and Progress” by Ann Northrup shows today’s unconventional families.  According to Mural Arts Philadelphia, “the artwork occupies the entire west wall of the William Way Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community center in Philadelphia. The 55’x165′ mural depicts a gay pride festival in the midst of nearby landmarks, including the Drake Hotel.”

“Pride and Progress” Artist: Ann Northrup, 2003
“Pride and Progress” Artist: Ann Northrup, 2003
“Pride and Progress” Artist: Ann Northrup, 2003

“Taste of Summer” by Ann Northrup is set in an idealized landscape – a combination of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and “Perugia, Italy. The people are outdoors on a terrace eating, drinking, arguing, flirting, climbing trees, and sleeping. There is an element of indulgent comedy, within a garden of earthly delights.”

The mural is on the side of Vetri Ristorante, owned by James Beard award-winning Chef Marc Vetri.

“Taste of Summer” Artists: Ann Northrup, 2009
“Taste of Summer” Artists: Ann Northrup, 2009
DETAIL:
DETAIL: “Taste of Summer” Artists: Ann Northrup, 2009

In “Spring,” David Guinn “designed the mural to connect the trees on either side of the wall, on Pine Street and in the backyard of the house, as if there were a park in front of the wall rather than a parking lot.  The artist wanted to paint the trees crisply and in detail but at the same time have a soft and organic feel.  He was inspired by the idea of making soft forms out of discreet, hard-edged blocks of color.” (Mural Arts Philadelphia)

“Spring” Artist: David Guinn, 2000

David McShane’s “Mural at Dirty Franks,” a local watering hole, is painted with pictures of people named, or partially named, Frank.

“Mural at Dirty Franks” – Artist: David McShane, 2001

“Theater of Life” by Meg Saligman is about the many roles we play in our lives that make up who we are.

“Theater of Life” Artist: Meg Saligman, 2002
DETAIL:
DETAIL: “Theater of Life” Artist: Meg Saligman, 2002
DETAIL:
DETAIL: “Theater of Life” Artist: Meg Saligman, 2002

“Gimme Shelter” by David Guinn was sponsored by the City of Philadelphia, Morris Animal Refuge, and individual donors.

“Gimme Shelter” Artist: David Guinn, 2004
DETAIL:
DETAIL: “Gimme Shelter” Artist: David Guinn, 2004
Mural in South Philadelphia - near Magic Gardens
Mural in South Philadelphia – near Magic Gardens

One of the most iconic of the city’s murals, “Philadelphia Muses” explores today’s diverse artistic disciplines. “It features newly imagined, contemporary muses of the arts taking part in a gigantic game of artistic vision,” according to artist Meg Saligman.

“Philadelphia Muses” Artist: Meg Saligman, 1999
Random mural
Random mural

We end our walk on South Street at the fascinating Magic Gardens, Isaiah Zagar’s unique mosaic art environment.  I’ll write about this magical place in another post. 🙂

visiting museums: in search of inspiration at the barnes foundation

Sometimes you need to take a departure from what you do to something that’s slightly different in order to get inspiration. ~ Tori Amos

I love to find inspiration in unlikely places. On our trip to Philadelphia, I was inspired by art, architecture, photography, observation, and even by an encounter in a restaurant.  I’m always seeking an answer to the question: How do I live my life more creatively? How do I travel mindfully and create art?  Whether it’s photography, a short story, a poem, a novel, a blog post, or an essay — even a cocktail hour — how can I make my daily life more fulfilling and give something of myself to the world?  How can I express myself and be utterly true to who I am?  These are questions I grapple with, and my blog(s) and other creative outlets are the way I express myself and hope to connect with others.

on the way to the Barnes Foundation
on the way to the Barnes Foundation

Since we were on a roll through the museums of Philadelphia, we made a beeline at 4:30 p.m. for the Barnes Foundation, practically next door to the Rodin Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Even though we were burnt out on museums by this late afternoon, we decided that if the museum was open for at least one more hour, we’d make a quick visit.

Albert Coombs Barnes (1872-1951), “established the Foundation as an educational institution with the goal of using art as a teaching tool to foster critical thinking and analytical skills.”  The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and many others.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

The walls of the museum are unconventionally displayed, with art arranged as composition or “ensemble.”  Each wall in the permanent collection mixes art and craft across cultures and periods.  Barnes experimented with arrangement according to light, line, color, and space, rather than chronology, nationality, style or genre. Walking through the permanent collection at the Barnes Foundation is a very different experience than one at other museums because of the unusual and creative displays.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

When we found the museum was open until 6:00 because it was a Friday, we paid the admission and went in.  We headed directly for the special exhibition, Live and Life Will Give You Pictures: Masterworks of French Photography, 1890-1950, in the Roberts Gallery; the exhibition was to end on January 9.  We would do a quick walk through the permanent collection if we had time and energy, as we had heard amazing things about it.

Though we were allowed to take pictures of the special exhibition, we weren’t allowed to do so in the permanent collection.  So if you want to see the magnificent paintings and art so creatively arranged in this place, you’ll have to visit here yourselves. 🙂

View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway
View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. ~ Ansel Adams

From the late 19th century to the early 20th, photographers and painters traded aesthetic ideas and were interested in many of the same features of contemporary experience.  These photographers focused on Paris, which was radically transformed in this period of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and class stratification. As with the other visual arts, progressive photography tried to innovatively represent these developments in the modern-day cities.

This exhibition was titled after a remark by Henri Cartier-Bresson and displayed vintage prints of nearly 200 classic images made between 1890 and 1950 by French photographers and photographers working extensively in France. The salon-style hang was organized thematically.

I found the thematic arrangement of photos at this exhibition to be inspirational and thought-provoking; similarly, I am inspired by the thematic arrangements of photos on blogs resulting from WordPress and other bloggers’ photo challenges; one blog I especially love to visit for inspiration in this regard is Steve McCurry’s blog. Generally, when I write my blog, I arrange my photos in a logistical day-by-day accounting of a journey, or a place. I feel like I’d like to get out of the rut of doing this and to focus on thematic photographic storytelling.  It would be more time-consuming and challenging, but I think it would be more rewarding.

STREET LIFE

Paris’s population quadrupled during the 19th century, and the bustling crowds became a signature motif for the impressionist painters, such as Monet’s 1873 Boulevard des Capucines. Decades later, photographers explored the possibilities of the ever-shifting crowd.  Others honed in on the crowds, picking out the new spectrum of characters — from the homeless to sex workers, to laborers, shop and factory workers, businessmen and aristocrats (from a sign at the museum).

Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Facade, rue de l
Facade, rue de l”hotel de Ville, Paris (c. 1936) by Brassai
crowds in Paris
crowds in Paris
Hyeres, France (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Hyeres, France (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) - Ilse Bing
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) – Ilse Bing

Here are a few photos of mine on the theme of STREET LIFE:

Rishikesh, India
Rishikesh, India
Street life in Cascais, Portugal
Street life in Cascais, Portugal

COMMERCE

Manufacturing and the demands of a new middle class led to an increase in commodity culture in 19th-century Paris.  The world’s first department store, Le Bon Marche, opened there in 1852, and photography became enamored of commerce, reflected in images of shops, store windows, advertising, and bodies available for purchase on streets and in brothels.

Eugene Atget became intrigued by consumerism — shop windows, the artful presentation of goods, mannequins as uncanny substitutes for the human form — shown in this image of a corset shop on a fashionable boulevard.  Corsets were 19th century fashion necessities.  Their arrangement in rows emphasizes their regularizing effect on the female body, according to a sign in the museum.

Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget
Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget

Here are some photos of COMMERCE from Richmond, Virginia and Santorini, Greece.

vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond

LABOR

The new forms of industry visible in and around cities became important motifs for photographers in the latter part of the 19th century and at the same time prompted a nostalgia for pre-industrial times and the communal values associated with non-mechanized labor.

LEISURE

The middle class grew hungry for entertainment, so cafes and bars began to dominate the urban landscape, as did dance halls and theaters, street entertainers and sporting events. On weekends, trains carried the new leisured classes to suburban retreats.

French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model
French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model

Two working class couples picnic on the banks of the Marne River outside Paris.  Their social status is significant: the photograph was snapped in the year that French workers were first awarded a paid annual vacation.  Cartier-Bresson shoots the group from behind, capturing one figure refilling his glass.

Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Fortune-Teller's Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) - Ilse Bing
Fortune-Teller’s Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) – Ilse Bing

Here’s a photo capturing LEISURE in Cascais, Portugal.

a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal
a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal

REPORTAGE

Henri Cartier-Bresson took his first photographs in 1931, but it was when he bought a Leica in 1932 that he began to capture pictures on the fly, capturing what he called “the decisive moment:” “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

In 1947, Cartier-Bresson co-founded Magnum Photos, the first international cooperative agency for photojournalists.  Under its auspices, he documented international events.  He was perhaps best known in the later 1940s and 1950s for his coverage of Asia.

Budapest (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Budapest (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

In 1948 and 1949, Cartier-Bresson photographed extensively in China, just as the Communists were wresting control of the country from its exiled last emperor, Puyi (1906-1967).  Cartier-Bresson’s photos introduced Western audiences to a mysterious place and culture, and, at the same time to evidence of its transformation.  Here, a court servant, castrated in order to focus his loyalties on the imperial dynasty, grins awkwardly at the photographer.

A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Based on the theme of REPORTAGE, and the photos exhibited here, below are a few photos showing cultures in far-flung lands.  I hope to find more time to create thematic blog posts in the future, because I find them fascinating. 🙂

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

Some early photographers aspired to make images that would be embraced as fine art.  Resisting photography’s documentary competencies, they selected subjects associated with painting — biblical, mythological and historical narratives; landscapes, portraiture, and still life — and manipulated their pictures to approximate the look of painting and drawing.

Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I love being inspired to create stories or themes around photography and I hope I’ll find time to do this in the near future.

If you feel inclined to create a thematic photo collage or blog post around one of these themes, I’d love for you to link your blog to this post!  It would be fun to see what you come up with. 🙂

~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

weekly photo challenge: curve

Saturday, June 18:  This week’s Photo Challenge asks us to get inspired by the curves around us, from curves in architecture to bends in nature to man-made undulations.  I had a fun time looking through my happy memories to find photos for this challenge.

Curvy arches at ruins in Oman
Curvy arches at ruins in Oman
arches in Cordoba's Mezquita
arches in Cordoba’s Mezquita
Lotus
Lotus
sunflower
sunflower
the Li River near Yangshuo, China
the Li River near Yangshuo, China
The Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi, China
The Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi, China
a curvaceous flag at the cowboy museum in Oklahoma City
a curvaceous flag at the cowboy museum in Oklahoma City
curving staircase at a Virginia winery
curving staircase at Creek’s Edge winery in Virginia
Grassy curves at Chanticleer Garden in Philadelphia
Curving grasses at Chanticleer Garden in Philadelphia

the first half of twenty-fourteen: can a person really change?

Monday, June 30: At the beginning of every year, I’m always hopeful and enthusiastic about the chance to change myself, to become a better person, a more caring person, a more successful person.  I make goals for myself. I want to succeed, I really do.  But I wonder if I can ever really change.  Can I change my true nature or am I doomed to continue to fall back into my old habits, into the person I really am deep inside?

I resolved to be FOCUSED this year.  Granted, the year isn’t over yet, but as of the halfway point, I’ll recap where I am.  Not very focused, I admit.

One of the things I didn’t make a resolution about was my photography.  However, I had some nice things happen with my photography this year.  First, I joined the Vienna Photographic Society.  This is a group of hobbyists, most of whom are excellent photographers. I was inspired to push myself to excel, but ultimately, I realize I don’t have the technical expertise to be in their league.  I’m not even sure I want to have that much technical expertise. Neither do I have Photoshop, nor do I do much in the way of post-processing.  I understand now that many professional photographers do extensive post-processing. Maybe one day I’ll get into this, but at this point I don’t have the drive to attain such a level of accomplishment.

Each month the club has novice and advanced intra-club competitions in general photography and in themed contests using trained and experienced local photographers as judges.  I’m always in the novice category.

In my first competition, I won third place in the novice category for this picture.

Blue boats in Pokhara
Blue boats in Pokhara

In another competition, I won first place in the novice category for this picture “Our Soul is a Spray Can,” taken in Cascais, Portugal.  At the end of the year, when the club gave awards to everyone who entered competitions during the year, I also won Honorable Mention for this picture.

My Soul is a Spray Can
Our Soul is a Spray Can

In a PSA (Photographic Society of America) National competition for Nature, Round 2, I got 10 points for this picture of Acacia Trees in Lake Langano, Ethiopia. This meant it went on to the next round of judging, but I ultimately didn’t win anything.

Acacia trees at Lake Langano
Acacia trees at Lake Langano

One of the things I enjoyed doing was a 20-minute presentation to the club on Oman.  I put together a slide show about Oman and told stories about my life there.  I got a lot of compliments on this presentation and I loved doing it. 🙂

One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman
One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman

I also joined Instagram and have been posting a lot of my pictures on there.  At one point I started tagging my photos #natgeotravelpics.  This hashtag put my photos into National Geographic Travel magazine’s Instagram feed.  One week, they featured this photo and it got well over 20,000 likes and I got a lot of new followers on Instagram. It was a lot of fun for a couple of days.

Hot air balloons in Cappadocia
Hot air balloons in Cappadocia

Finally, I entered a photo competition at the Vienna Community Center, which was open to the public.  I won third prize in Architecture for this photo of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque

It’s clear where I focused most of my energies!  Below are the goals I set on January 1, 2014.  As you can see, I seemed to FOCUS more on my photography than on the goals I actually set for myself. 🙂

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

This is one goal I haven’t taken any steps toward achieving.  I started with an idea for the Washington Post Travel Section about a crazy trip I took from the chaotic spiritual city of Varanasi to the chill yoga capital of India, Rishikesh.  The story, already written in my blog, was about 12,000 words.  The Washington Post Travel Section seemed the perfect place for this story because they often publish personal experience stories. However, they do not take unsolicited pitches.  You can send a full story and they’ll decide if they like it and are interested in buying it.  But the word count on their stories must be from 1,500 to 2,500 words.  Mine required a LOT of cutting.  Besides, they generally don’t want to look at a story over a year old, and my story was from 2011.  I thought they might consider a story if it was  timeless, as mine was, so I worked on it for a while, cutting and cutting, until I got down to 5,000 words.  Still way too long.  Then I just abandoned it, slowly at first, as I continued to mull it over, and then all at once, as I dropped it altogether.  That was the only article I even attempted to write.

Why am I so easily waylaid?

Probably because I’m not sure I really want to be a travel writer.  I’m not interested in having to work on my holidays!  I want to enjoy, soak up the culture and the sights.  I want to enjoy the food and wine and the experience.  Travel writing is a job.  I’m not sure I want to make a job out of something I love doing for its own sake.

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

I didn’t quite make my February deadline.  I did however finish my novel in May. Finally!  A dear friend of mine read it and gave me some great feedback.  I even came up with a title, The Scattering Dreams of Stars.  So most of the work is done.

The next step is to send out query letters to agents.  I wrote numerous drafts of a query letter and I posted a draft on a forum where fellow writers critique query letters.  Mine got ripped to shreds.  After many efforts to capture the essence of my story in a short two paragraphs, and to write a captivating hook, I let it sit.  And sit.  And sit some more. I have two friends who have offered to edit the letter, and I’ve made another attempt, but I’m still not happy with it.

I’ve decided it’s harder to write two paragraphs than to write a 350 page novel.  Some people say they write the hook and the summarizing paragraph before they write their novel.  Maybe I should have done that; it would have helped me to be more focused.

My goal is to finish that query letter and send it to agents in the next two months.  Oh dear.  Again, why am I so easily thrown off track, and sometimes by the simplest of setbacks?

As far as being a full-time writer, I now remember what I don’t enjoy about it.  During the last 6 months, while I took off the semester to write, I felt isolated and antsy.  It hit me that I function better with a schedule.  I need to get up in the morning and go to a job.  I need to interact with people.  I do better getting out and about, being around people, being accountable to someone.  I’m the kind of person who needs to squeeze in writing during the down times of a busy life.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

Yes, it was as painful as I thought it would be.  I applied for 40 jobs in the U.S. and after getting no response from any of them, I started putting feelers out abroad.  Even though I matched job descriptions exactly, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement on most of my applications.

As it’s very time-consuming to apply for jobs these days, I got disheartened very quickly.  It used to be you could send a resume and a cover letter, but these days, applicants must often fill out online applications, completing every detail of your job history on each company’s website.  It’s so ridiculous.  What’s LinkedIn for, anyway? I think there should be one central place where you post your resume and you can download from that central place to a company’s website.  You go through this cumbersome process and then you never hear ANYTHING back!  It’s so frustrating.

Finally, I got sick of never getting any acknowledgement and spending so much time spinning my wheels for nothing.  I don’t know the reason I don’t get short-listed.  Some people have told me I’m overqualified.  Others have told me I’m not qualified enough.  Or I don’t match every single qualification.  I have transferable skills, but employers seem to want you to have worked in that particular job, and they seem to want you to have no ambition to move from that job.  Also, there are so many young people with Master’s degrees in International Relations coming from the big schools in the area: George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Johns Hopkins.  Why would they hire an older person when they can hire a young person fresh out of college?

While I was in Oman, a woman contacted me through my Nizwa blog because she was considering working for the University of Nizwa. She ended up taking a job in China.  I wrote to ask about possible jobs at her university and she told me they had just instituted a mandatory retirement age of 60.  As I started looking at jobs in China, I saw many jobs with an age limit of 60. I figured since I only have one more year to work in China, I would focus my job search there.  I’ve always wanted to teach in China for a couple of reasons: 1) Asian students in general are hard-working and 2) there are a lot of amazing things to see in China.  I focused my job search there and in one week I had four interviews and I got three offers.  I accepted an offer to teach at SCIC (Sino-Canadian International Colleges), Guangxi University in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  It’s not far from Vietnam and about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Guilin, where the movie The Painted Veil was filmed.

In all, I applied for 70 jobs, beginning my job search when I returned from California at the end of January and ending on June 13, when I got the offer from GXU.  That was 21 weeks at over 3 jobs a week. I believe my days of trying to find a job in the U.S. are over.  It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Since I can’t get a job in my country, I’m thankful that someone will hire me from foreign lands.  Looks like I’m going to China!  Nǐ hǎo!!

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

I actually did this.  I’ve posted 52 posts in 26 weeks, about two a week. I have neglected my fellow bloggers though, and for this I feel bad. 😦

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

I haven’t been to any of these places.  However, I am planning a trip to New Hampshire this week. 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

I love to read, so this has been easy.  I’ve read 22 books, mostly books on writing and novels.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

I’ve been really good about the walking, but not so good about the eating smaller quantities of food.  I managed to lose 6 pounds, but then I gained back 4, so I’m only two pounds down from where I started.  Here’s a chart of my weight, which seems a kind of metaphor for my life.  I always end up right back where I started from!

My weight as a metaphor for my life
My weight as a metaphor for my life

In a way, I feel relieved to be going abroad again.  Taking a job here in the U.S. probably wouldn’t have allowed me to travel.  Besides, starting a new job in a corporation or a non-profit at this point would mean starting with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year.  Teaching abroad allows me to have both the cultural immersion I crave and to have extensive time off to travel in the region where I’m based.  Overall, it’s a great solution to all my problems.  As I only have about 9 more years to work before I retire, and I still have my health, I may as well take advantage of teaching abroad.  Besides, my kids are nowhere close to settling down, getting married or having kids; by the time they are, I should be back in the U.S., ready to settle down and enjoy the extended family.  And best of all, they’re supportive of me having my adventures while I’m still young enough to have them!

The other thing I miss about being abroad are the expats and foreigners one meets when thrown into a foreign country.  Everyone is an adventurer of some sort.  Being in the U.S., I’m tired of having people’s eyes glaze over when I share my experiences living abroad.  I love the fellow nomads that tend to gravitate to each other in foreign lands. In addition, you meet wonderful natives of the country where you are a guest.  Two of my closest friends in Korea, Julie and Kim, were Koreans.  And I miss dearly friends I’ve made abroad, friends the likes of which I don’t have here in America.  I miss Mario, Sandy, Tahira, Kathy, Anna, Mona Lisa, Seth & Anna, Myrna… and the list goes on.  We share a common experience no one else will ever understand.

chasing freight trains & photos near henryton, maryland

Sunday, March 9:  This morning I get up at the crack of dawn to drive nearly two hours to an area northwest of Baltimore, Maryland.   I’m meeting a group of people for an outing along the CSX Old Main Line arranged by an iPhone Photography group.  I bring along my iPhone as well as my trusty Olympus PEN; it turns out it’s a good thing I have my Olympus along, otherwise I’d have no pictures to show!

CSX Old Main Line
CSX Old Main Line
Railroad track
Railroad track
closeup of the track
closeup of the track

We meet in a muddy parking lot beside railroad tracks that parallel the South Branch of the Patapsco River. Along the one mile path, we walk along train tracks, some of us in the middle of the tracks, some along the edges, and some in the gravely and ice-covered bed beside the tracks.  Suddenly, we hear the long drawl of a train whistle and the ground starts to rumble. We clamber off the tracks and watch as a long freight train barrels past, shaking the earth under our feet.  It’s a thrill to be so close to the overwhelming weight and power of the train.  I tell everyone this experience reminds me of the movie The Station Agent, in which three lonely people form bonds around chasing trains.

CSX freight train
CSX freight train

As we’re walking, Michael, photography guru and organizer of this group, asks me if I have HDR on my iPhone.  To be honest, I don’t even know what HDR is, but I soon find out it’s high-dynamic-range imaging.  It captures multiple photographs at different exposure levels and combines them to produce a photograph representative of a broader tonal range.  Michael tells me I should download the app HDR Fusion, and then Pro HDR to edit the images later.  I do this immediately.  I don’t have my glasses on to read about the app, nor do I check the default setting, but I do start snapping away.  The app takes two pictures, one exposed on the darkest shadows in the pictures and one exposed on the brightest spots, and then merges them into one great photo. I’m so excited to see the photos, that I just keep snapping away, thrilled with this new discovery.

The train tracks cross over the Patapsco River, and the concrete bridge is covered in graffiti, making for interesting shots.

concrete bridge before tunnel
concrete bridge before tunnel

We then walk through an old railroad tunnel, also covered in graffiti and frozen streams of ice and icicles.  I take a lot of pictures with the HDR fusion on my iPhone, but luckily I also take some with my Olympus.  I know, I’m cheating as this is an iPhone group, but oh well.

Click on any of the images for a full-sized slide show.

After we leave the tunnel, we come upon an abandoned power station.  This place is a photographer’s heaven, falling apart, covered in graffiti and peeling asbestos and probably a million other dangerous things, but we all go inside and snap away.  I’m having so much fun with this HDR fusion because I can take the pictures and the deep shadows inside are corrected by the camera.  I can see the pictures are turning out great.  I take a few shots with my Olympus, but the shadows are too dark and the pictures don’t turn out well.

the power station
the power station
overgrown with weeds
overgrown with weeds
inside machinery
inside machinery
inside the power station
inside the power station
shadows
shadows
decay and delapidation
decay and dilapidation
inside the power station
inside the power station
out back
out back
facade of power station
facade of power station
front door
front door
facade of power station
facade of power station
the power station
the power station

Back outside, we hear the distant bellow of another train and we position ourselves along the tracks to capture the train as it barrels past.  I haven’t had this much fun in ages. 🙂

preparing for the next train
preparing for the next train
the Patapsco River
the Patapsco River
here comes the train!
here comes the train!
Woo-hoo!
Woo-hoo!
the train barrels past
the train barrels past
train and winter trees
train and winter trees

Some people from group are going to go further to the now-demolished hospital complex of Henryton State Hospital, or the Henryton Tuberculosis Sanatorium as it was once called.  It was erected in 1922 as a facility to treat African-Americans suffering from tuberculosis.  However, Michael tells me he has to leave early to teach a photography class at Calumet Photo at Tyson’s Corner.  The class he’s teaching is about learning to use the manual setting on the camera.  I decide on impulse that I want to take this class, so I leave at the same time he does and head to the class.

When I arrive at Calumet, I can finally take a few minutes to look over my pictures.  I can’t seem to find any of the pictures I took with the HDR fusion.  Michael looks at my iPhone as well, and he can’t find them either.  He says they must be there somewhere.  I check the settings on the app, and I find the Auto-Save’s default setting is to NOT “automatically save HDR images to Camera Roll.”  I also find the Save Originals is set to NOT “save original images to Camera Roll.”  What??  Why would a photo app be set to NOT save pictures?  What photographer would ever want to snap pictures only to have them disappear?

When I write to HDR fusion support asking how I can find my photos, I get this email from Cogitap Software: Unfortunately, it’s not possible to recover unsaved photos. Regarding default settings, they were the opposite before but people were complaining. It seems that it’s very difficult to make everybody happy! 🙂

Hmmm.  Very strange indeed.

Oh well.  The great HDR pictures from my iPhone are gone, but I did take some with my Olympus.  The train tracks and tunnel will still be there, so I can go back, but I need to find a partner in crime as I wouldn’t feel safe going alone.  Also I want to go on to the Henryton State Hospital, so I think it will be a full day’s outing.

For anyone interested in exploring this place, the parking area is on Marriottsville Rd, between Henryton Rd and Driver Rd.  The parking area is next to the railroad tracks that cross Marriottsville Rd.

The closest address is 714 Marriottsville Rd, Marroittsville MD 21104, if you want to use your GPS.  This is a private residence so please do not park on their property. The public parking area is very near by.

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