Friday, March 28, 2008

from a moving train

I took the train from and back to campus, the first way passing through new york city, the second, passing through Albany. I've found that I can't really read on the train, it often results in headaches. I can't get much work done, for the same reason, since work--for me--is primarily related input and output of words.

I tried something new this trip, taking photographs of the view outside the window. It was an interesting choice, since it gave me only a moment to search for and react to whatever I found interesting as we whizzed past.

On the way back, a man stopped at my seat, orange checkered shirt and jeans. He was somewhere between thirty and forty, glasses, brown hair.

"Getting any good pictures?" he asked.

"Of course not," I said, grinning, "we're on a moving train."

He looked puzzled for a moment, and then he smiled.

I did manage to get a good amount of photographs of conspiratorial trees.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

a castle in Bollingen

Every time I come back, the house has changed a bit more.

My return from the first year of undergraduate was unspectacular. My parents had just divorced and my old room, the room I shared with three sisters, was full of boxes-- my mother's attempt to deal with the mess we'd left behind after heading off to college. I slept in my sister's bed, since mine was covered and blocked off by the boxes. My sister stayed with my father who'd moved out to live in my late grandfather's eastwood home.

By the summer, the room had been gutted, our leavings boxed and sealed away in plastic in the basement. My mother worked to get a heated water bed, queen sized, and new dressers. Knicknacks started tiptoeing in, shelves and stained glass. I slept in the nap room and lived out of my laundry basket.

It was two summers like that before the renovations began in earnest. My father got married and moved in with his new wife, leaving behind the failing house in eastwood. Back at the blue house, where I'd grown up, the bathroom was redone by my mother's new boyfriend.

The old bathroom had a laundry chute, a worn white door with the temporary tattoo of a green owl. The shoot would often get clogged with towels, and we'd use bent coat hangers and broom handles to jab at the clots of laundry.

It had a medicine cabinet with floury tracings on the top center, swung out to the right. Tan, speckled sink top. I'd sit on it to wash my feet after running around in sandals in summer, when my heels were too black to take to the sheets. Blue checked curtains, swirled blue tiles, white trim. The lock on the door was simple. It could be picked from the outside with a little patience and a tiny screwdriver.

The new bathroom is coral, with stone tiles inspired by my mother's trip to hawaii... her first time really flying anywhere I think. I remember her calling me from hawaii, just to tell me about how they left a chocolate on her pillow. How she'd bought a coconut and watched a man slash it open with a machette so she could drink straight from the shell.

I didn't come home for the next summer. I'd found research work at the university that paid better than tending the gas station at night. I did visit for a few weeks though, and I helped lay the stone foundation for the addition that would double the size of the first floor.

By Christmas, the beams were in and the walls stood. They worked by floodlight to tile the floor in green-gray, black and red.. a matching backsplash, french doors to a "family room" with a fireplace..and a new laundry room, with a drain built right into the floor.

There are pictures of my mother's boyfriend taking a sledgehammer to the old kitchen wall climbing through and tearing it, breaking it down to unite the space. There are pictures of nearly everything.

That spring, they reshingled the roof and repaneled the house, trading in the bright blue aluminum siding for a muted maroon grey. That summer, I did come home. I was heading to graduate school and couldn't keep my research position. The kitchen was done, as was the family room and laundry room. I still slept in the nap room.

By christmas, the stone fireplace started to form. They'd found and split the rocks, some from hawaii, and some from my mother's recent trip to maine. She'd wanted to dig up a stone from my grandfather's driveway--one of the huge regtangular rocks he had taken from Acme, when he worked there--but my father wouldn't allow it, and my mother wouldn't just take one.

Finally, they've repainted and furnished the nap room. New carpet, new dresser, new lamp. Fuchsia trim. Yesterday they started work on the last room left, the toy room. And as of today, there's nothing in this house that is as I remember it. Even the red star in the basement is gone, paneled over after rainwater pooled in the cellar, damaging much of my boxed posessions.

It's only recently that I've tried to be less selfish about this. It made me feel... a little bitter and homeless I suppose. I never thought enough about what it might make my mother feel.

In dreams, houses stand as the body or the self. That's Jungian, freudian... but stay with it.

I don't know how hard it was to make the choices that she has; the choices that tied her down, like staying home to care for the kids, us, me, and the choices that opened her up, like the divorce.

But I have to respect that she's just trying to rebuild.

This all comes to me via a photography assignment called "spaceship." We're to pretend we're heading to space, in a white capsule with no decorations, no mirrors, and we can take ten photographs with us. Ten personally meaningful photographs. I thought about photographing while visiting home over this spring break but what's left to photograph?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

thoughts on a weakness in my left hand

For the past five days, there has been a crunching vice-like cramp in my left hand, below my index finger, near the thumb.

I've done nothing extraordinary in the past week. I do nothing extraordinary with my left hand. I don't write with it. I type with it, but only incidentally. I don't even brush my teeth with my left hand, though it is passingly involved in flossing.

My left hand holds the glass I pour into, supports my camera, gestures vaguely in the air while I think.

But of course it worries me when it seems to fail. I'm sure it will be fine. The incidents are fewer, less intense and no barrier to doing work. And I'm glad to feel the function restored. It's nothing bigger than that.

On second thought, I'm selling my left hand a bit short. It has always been an outstanding model.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two notes

one: the blog is named for the part of the brain associated with object recognition and form representation.

two: the blog is black because I was inspired by this. Sure, it only saves a tiny bit of energy. But everything helps.

ROTC Water Survival

I'm going all historical here, but what's a blog without some entries out of order. On Feb 22nd, the photography class went to go cover MIT's ROTC Water survival training.

They had to jump from the high board, fully clothed, blindfolded, with a rifle.

And learn to use their pants as flotation devices. (the trick? get the pants off, tie the end of each leg into a knot and whoosh it over your head while treading water, kind of like playing parachute a kid. Tie a knot in the waist and put the inflated pants around your head like a life preserver)

Crushed Ice at the Charles Hotel

For my photojournalism course, we were assigned to go find a place or situation that might turn into a good photograph. So I headed over to Harvard Square, where so much is going on that no one even knows you're photographing them.

My streetwork was fairly bankrupt, but I managed to catch a decent session with a Harvard professor ice skating with his son, in the rink outside the Charles Hotel.

That last one is another woman's child, but I think that picture may come closest to working, out of the bunch.

It can be nerve wracking to take photographs of strangers. Half of them stop short of crossing into the frame, not wanting to get in the way of the camera. They don't realize that they are the subject of the photograph. So... I take a fake photo, a quick snapshot, so they pass into frame and I can get the photograph I want. It takes me some time to get into the right mood. Not long, ten, twenty photographs. But once I hit that mood, I sort of forget that they can see me at all and my photography gets a lot looser and a lot better.

That wasn't the case with the skaters. I introduced myself, asked if I could photograph. Forming a relationship, even a casual one--like I did with the skaters--helps.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

almost spring

I'd been walking home and I ran across the MIT baseball team (yes, we have sports teams!) so I ran through a hundred pictures or so. This is the winner of the bunch. The light was bright, and I had to deal with the setting sun. I'm still shooting on auto, but I'm working on taking more manual control of the camera.

The MIT baseball team warming up in the late afternoon on a spring day. You can see the dome of lobby seven and of lobby ten in the background, as well as the EAPS building.