April 16, 2002
Everything Looks Worse in Black and White

Lots of things are fun about a digital camera. For instance, they're so tiny and cute, without all that paraphernalia of my 15-year-old Pentax. Some, like mine, are even programmed with cute electronic sound effects. But by far the most mesmerizing thing about them is--you can SEE what your pictures look like now. NOW! Not 10 days and a stint at the photo shop--NOW!

This is a huge plus. But it's also a drawback. With every photo, I'm instantly in greedy instant replay mode--and am almost always reminded how difficult photography is for me.

My problem is I see too many things at once, usually in moving panorama. I get dazzled by the big picture and the details at the same time. I also want sound, wind, and dappled light effects. But when I try to capture the things that stop me in my tracks, I'm not selective enough and the picture becomes a big indiscriminate mess.

The thing is, I already know this. In college in my photojournalism classes I had the same problem. I would roam the campus trying to catch quirky candid shots and end up with lots of clutter. My photos never made it into the weekly slide show critiques, unless they were bad examples. It's no wonder I became an editor--words are easier to edit than pictures.

Finally I got fed up. Took a really nice shot of a single Granny Smith apple on a white sheet, lit on one side by an open window. It was simple, clean, and utterly staged.

Last week of class, it made it into the slide show.

I have to keep telling myself: Look at one thing at a time. Try to see only one thing at a time.

Much easier to do in writing than in pictures.

Posted at 09:59 PM
April 14, 2002
Cycle of Eleven Years

Is 11 years too long for things to come round again? Too long for a cycle?

The memory I keep returning to is of January 1991, and pizza flyers, and WQAX, and the Gulf War. There are more parallels there than even I want to admit.

We were still two years from the demise of WQAX, my little dysfunctional family within a radio station, but the financial situation was starting to become acute. So it seemed like a godsend when a startup pizza franchise called Papa John’s wanted to enter into a partnership with the station.

As I remember, they would print thousands of pizza shaped flyers meant to be placed in students dormitory mailboxes. WQAX would lend its name to the project because we were nominally a student organization and we included directions on how to hook up your stereo to the university cable system (“first you buy a splitter,” etc.) There must have been money involved, but I don’t remember the particulars. What I remember is that the station volunteers were somehow left with the task of preparing thousands of pizza-shaped flyers for distribution.

My journal for that year says we stapled them—maybe we stapled brochures or cards to them?

January 1991: A couple of days after the start of the war, Eric and I sit on the floor of his house on 9th Street and staple flyers. It is an all-day task and various people float in and out of the house all day, stapling and chatting for an hour or so, then leaving again.

March 2002: I spend a lonely hour at the Wolf and Kettle stickering, stamping, and address-labeling 250 brochures for the conference. None of my volunteers have shown up, inexplicably. Eventually I give up hope and haul two shopping bags’ worth of flyers to the street to a taxi. All night long, then, Eric and I sit side by side on the couch, stickering, stamping, and addressing. And the next day, 700 brochures go out in the mail.

January 1991: The background of the stapling party is the Gulf War, which is ever-present in the media and in conversation. The entire country is in a frenzy of yellow ribbons and let’s-kick-some-ass patriotism, it seems. I’m wearing a black armband over the sleeve of my gray tweed winter coat. I march in a peace march with about 20 friends and acquaintances. I write letters to my congressmen and the president. There are people sleeping in the meadow in protest. The media don’t want to acknowledge that these views exist. (Eleven years later, this is still the case.)

Now the war has started and it’s on TV every night, and it’s impossible to see what’s going on or where this might lead. We keep the TV on, because Israel has been hit with missiles and it really does seem like something else bad could happen at any time.

April 2002: I work in a building near the Israeli consulate. On Friday I was heading toward Wacker Drive and the river when I was stopped by a security guard pantomiming that I have to turn around. I can’t understand him at first, then I realize they have blocked off the steps to the street.

Outside the cops are pushing everyone, even the oblivious people with the stroller, to cross the river on the west side, although I always walk on the east side and head north past the Tribune Building. Not today, though; Pioneer Court is filled with a pro-Palestinian crowd, carefully watched by a row of Chicago cops on horseback.

Across the street by the Wrigley building are 20 or so less organized pro-Israel protesters. One of them is a young woman hotly arguing with someone else. "Don't tell me about Gaza!" she says. I can't hear what the people across the street are saying because the cops aren't letting pedestrians over there.

Everybody holds signs. I notice that among the Palestinian side, somebody’s holding a sign with a white swastika on a black background. That ought to go over well.

These protests have been going on since last year and it’s not going to get any better any time soon. It’s always hard to know what the right response is, and I feel befuddled, like a lot of the other office workers around me look. It’s cold and I’m sad and worn out from the week and I just head home.

Next day, I read in the paper that the Palestinians marched across the river, protested at the consulate, then marched back and protested in Pioneer Court some more. Apparently the only time things got out of hand was when one of the pro-Israel people ran across the street into the crowd and tried to grab a sign. It doesn’t say which sign, but I bet I know.

March 1991: The war is over. Although we didn’t really solve anything as far as I can see. Iraq is out of Kuwait and now they are slaughtering the Kurds. Meanwhile the pizza-shaped flyers have been distributed. WQAX is waiting to hear from the new listeners this bold promotion will no doubt bring us. Eric and I are preparing to go to New York for a radio conference. Eric’s dad seems worried. It’s a big bad city and there are stories of gang-related shootings. “I hope you’re not wearing the wrong color coat,” he says.

April 2002: No end in sight for the war, and it looks like things may well get worse. Here at HQ we are waiting for the response to the brochures to come in, and to date about 30 of those 700 recipients have registered. This is not good. Indeed, in no way, shape or form will this attendance cover our expenses, but I try not to think about it. In a week Eric and I are planning to go to New York. We’ll sleep in a hotel with Belgian linens, not on Darrell’s floor. And we won’t worry, at least, about what color of coat to wear.

Posted at 09:51 PM
April 04, 2002
Attack of the Mary Kay Women

There’s a new reason why I walk with fear on the street.

It’s not the street people. It’s not the annoying people with cellphones. It’s not even the people on scooters.

It’s the Mary Kay Women.

This is the second time in two months I’ve been ambushed, while innocently minding my own business, by A Representative from Mary Kay. That’s how they describe themselves to me, of course. Then, before I can run away screaming, they ladle on some compliment such as, “You look like a model.” “You look so pulled-together.”

It is unclear what they want from me, these friendly, yet strangely aggressive, women. What they seem to want to get across is that they want to offer me a job. Yes, that’s right!

They know nothing about me--except that I have blonde hair and a camel coat on and was standing alone at a cross walk. They have no idea of my qualifications, police record, or whether or not I speak English. But they want to offer me a job.

Quite a good job too, not a sales job, they are at pains to say, more of a “director” job. It’s tricky, too; they keep throwing around the words “six-figure salary” although it’s never quite spelled out WHO will be making the six figure salary.

“We’re looking for people…not to sell makeup! Ahahaha,” chuckled the woman this morning. This mystified me even more. Why is the assumption that Mary Kay employees sell makeup funny? Conversely, why do Mary Kay representatives want to DISABUSE me of the notion that the majority of their employees do, indeed, sell makeup?

The complexities baffle me. I'm also fighting back a whiff of class snobbery at the mention of the word "Mary Kay." Somewhere along the line, at the knee of my department-store-saleslady grandma, I picked up that it was somehow declasse to have a makeup salesperson come to your house. Real women of substance buy their lipstick as god intended, at the makeup counter.

And then there's those parties you have to have.

And that pink packaging.

Oh, my.

Anyway, the woman on the corner is still nattering. She wants to know where I work. She also wants my business card, if I have one. She wants…she wants…who ARE these people?

I have learned to keep a chilly, yet polite reserve during these conversations. I am not sure, however, that I have learned to completely conceal my dismay when I am swooped down upon by some total stranger who seems bent on talking to me in the street. And all the while I am resisting, with all my might, the urge to question the lack of logic the whole encounter entails.

To me, any job that you have to recruit unsuspecting strangers off the street to do, without any concern at all for qualification or ability, must be the worst job in the world.

Unless, of course, your job is to ambush unsuspecting strangers in the street. Like that woman. Poor thing.

Posted at 09:14 AM