The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Writer and Photographer

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A Google search describes a writer as “a person who has written a particular text ‘the writer of the letter’. The same definition continues — “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.” The Wikipedia definition: “A writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate ideas”. I am a writer. It is my job, although it is an (ir)regular occupation and unpaid. It is a job for which I have hired myself, and thus I am self-published on social media sites.

It is hard to keep writing. My blog has awaited my next post for weeks. I have installments of Jacob’s story to write. I have new stories to write. Writing is hard though. It requires a discipline that I have not developed. Books and articles about writers suggest that true writers must write every day. I have not written every day; notes do not count. I have intentions of writing. I think about writing. I am in the car or lying in bed when I think about just the right phrasing of some thought or a new idea that I want to express in my writings. I keep my phone with me in the car, in bed, on walks, at the store, always with me so I can record that sudden snippet of a thought or idea for later development. I have 83 recordings on my phone now. It is time to transcribe the recordings to a document. There are sometimes duplicates of the recordings or random things I want to remember. Sometimes I am driving, and a song comes on the radio that I want to buy on iTunes. I record it to remember. Sometimes a thought about Jacob’s case pops in my head, a new idea that had not occurred to me before. Those thoughts have come to both of us in the months after the trial.

After the recordings come the word documents. Folders and documents are scattered across my desktop labeled as recordings or blog ideas or legal case or quotes or things to remember. I am unorganized; slips of paper and notebooks with pages of quotes and ideas sit on my dresser or lay on the floor waiting for me to pick up and use. Are writers disorganized or do they have a system I have not learned yet?

I like to write letters and words on paper. In grade school the teacher gave us practice drills to learn cursive writing. I still remember writing the big O’s and little o’s on those tablet sheets of solid and dotted lines. My handwriting assignment usually topped the graded stack of student papers. I was congratulated on my penmanship. My handwritten assignments were easy to read. I come from parents with excellent penmanship. Is handwriting an inherited trait? My father’s handwriting was probably the most beautiful of all of us. It had a fluid smoothness on the page yet ornate flourishes of loops and curves. I can still see his signature on the page: Henry Weaver Claypoole. He could have been that monk centuries ago hand writing manuscripts for the wealthy. He was born too late for such endeavors though. This love of writing led me to a love of the instruments of writing. I inspect the pens and pencils in every store. I buy the new ones looking for just the right grip between my fingers and the fluid flow of ink to the page. It is not the cost that matters. Some of my favorite pens have come from advertising giveaways.

I like the act of writing thoughts and ideas on paper. I agonize over just the right phrasing. I write and rewrite. It is stressful and sometimes painful. Writing is work, and I have neglected my work. I must organize all those little notes and make a writing plan. I must develop discipline and use better time management. It has become important for me to write the things that have happened and what I feel about that. I will not earn a living doing this. Yet if someone asks me if I am a writer, I will respond, “Yes, I am a writer.”

Are you a photographer? People have asked me that question when I posted photographs to social media. I have been asked that question when I walked around Pittsburgh with my camera hung around my neck. I answered no when I was asked that question. I said that I just liked to take photographs. I should have answered yes. No, I do not sell my photographs. I may not be a gifted or talented photographer. I have not always been a photographer. Since I received my first camera as a teen, I have taken photographs of travels and family. Occasionally, a photograph was eye-catching. I have one such photograph that I took in the 1970’s along Hinchberger Road in Butler County. It is an early morning shot of the rising mist above a small pond. I loved it after I got it developed. Then we did not have the instant gratification of seeing the photograph on that small camera or telephone screen. Of course, some credit for a good photograph belonged to the developer. Someone recommended that I shoot in black and white and learn to develop film. Does anyone still develop film?

In the last months something changed in the way I took photographs. I was inspired by the documentary Being Vivian Maier. This woman was unknown during her lifetime; now through a serendipitous event, her work is seen and appreciated. Inspiration comes from many places though. I believe that the events of life have changed how I view the world. I see something new in the people, places and things around me that were previously unseen and/or unnoticed. It is not the people, places and things that have necessarily changed; it was me. “What am I photographing?” my daughter asked me a few days ago. I tell her and wonder why she does not see it. It is because we see things differently. I often have thought about what I see in the mirror and what others see when they look at me. I am discouraged by what I see, dissatisfied with my appearance; yet someone will compliment me. White lie? Or do I not see the real me? Do the people looking at my photographs on Facebook or Instagram see what I saw? It really does not matter though. I would like to credit this idea, but I do not know where I read this. A good photograph does not need explanation.

I must begin to work on my craft. Few people can claim pure talent. All things improve with practice, trial and error. The chance (probability–a subject for another post) that I will ever earn a living at either photography or writing is small. That is not my goal, yet I like when someone appreciates my work. I want people to read what I write and understand what I am saying. If the reader understands my writing and can follow my thinking, then I have at least written well. That does not make me an artist or a great writer; it makes me readable. That is the greatest aspiration. When I take a photograph, I want someone else to appreciate that photograph. This is why I have enjoyed Instagram so much these last few months. It feels like a reward to have someone punch that ‘heart’ below your photograph. Sometimes it is just the subject that is appreciated, but sometimes it is the art of the photograph that elicits that click.

I am a writer and a photographer. I add those to my résumé.

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