Monday, September 01, 2014

We Own The Night

I've always loved night photography. About five years ago I got a Lumix point-and-shoot that had a night photo setting as well as a very-wide angle attached lens and while attempting to capture a lightning storm, discovered it was also quite good at catching stars and clouds. A a few years ago, necessity forced me to make the jump into the DSLR world, and while my portrait and action photography improved exponentially, I never had a lens that was very suited to wide field astrophotography (which, as it turns out, is the name for what I'd been doing with my old Lumix). So for a long time, I nearly forgot about it. 

Moving to Lebanon in just a couple weeks, I've been taking stock of things I will need and not have the option of buying there. I've refurbished the things that can be refurbished (like my computer, fortunately!) and replaced some things I couldn't. It's also been a great excuse to buy some things I've always wanted but had never quite been able to justify. One of those things was a true super-wide angle lens, and on a recommendation from a cousin (it's amazing how many good recommendations I seem to get from cousins) I decided on one that was almost absurdly wide and had pretty good low-light capabilities as well: the Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II 11-16mm F2.8 Aspherical

The funny thing is, I was not thinking about stars at all, just landscapes like the one's I saw out west last year, or the vistas in the Kadisha Valley I'd never quite been able to do justice to before. This evening though, I arrived home to find the power out and a more-or-less interesting sky shaping up above. So it was that I once again turned my camera toward the heavens. And I got one of the more pleasant surprises in my recent memory:







I think it can see more stars than I can. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Memories of home, thoughts of friends

This afternoon I watched Gladiator. There's something about the story of that film that always gets me.  I think it's the sense of longing for a past you can never return to even as you're pressed to carry on in the present. It's embodied so beautifully in the movie by the visions Maximus has––often at very climactic moments––of walking through a field of barley toward his home in the Spanish countryside where his wife and son wait for him. It's the one thing he wants at the beginning of the story––and the one thing fate will never let him have as you learn early on that his home has been destroyed and his wife and son killed. That scene of him walking home always resonates with me in a way very few movies ever have.

I certainly haven't yet gone through anything quite as traumatic as losing my immediate family––let alone a spouse or child––or having my home destroyed, but there are certainly moments when something causes me to snap back to times in my life that I remember being happier or more content but that I know, no matter what I do, I can never return to. Relationships end. People die. Groups split. We can look back at them, but we can only move forward. 

Watching the film this gloomy Saturday afternoon, it hit me harder than it ever has before. 

It wasn't until this evening when I was looking through some pictures of friends from the past couple years that it occurred to me why. I'm right now on the edge of closing a chapter of my life. In just a few weeks I'll be leaving my home, my friends and my country for a very long time. It's what I want to do––what I have to do, really––and I'm more excited about it than I've been about anything in a long time. But today I realized it may be more bittersweet than I imagined. 

The home I'm living in is the home I grew up in––and it almost certainly won't be mine to return to when I get back. My family is at a time of transition. One generation taking the place of another, and I'd be a fool to think it will be the same when I get back. While the last two years have been painful in many ways, the friends I have right now are the best I've ever had by far. We'll still be friends (I hope) whenever I return, but chances are it won't be the same. People move––very quickly around here––and while I will see them all individually again, the memories we made as a whole group will be just that: memories. 

So, this is all not to say I expect to be stumbling down bullet scarred alleyways in Beirut while having hallucinations of striding through the green fields of Coryland toward a home I can never return to. Just that there's some sadness in a parting I'd not expected. And while watching a Ridley Scott film this afternoon, I realized that. 

The other thing that struck me in the movie as it always has was what a beautiful imagining of heaven those scenes of Maximus walking home are. I know it's not written from a theistic, let alone Christian perspective, but let's just say that if it ends up looking like that––which I (and I think C.S. Lewis, heretic that he was) tend to believe it will––then I will be a very happy man. It means all those moments of wistful longing for people and places we can never return to are really hopeful instead of sad. 

And what could be more beautiful than that?  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Unsureness

This morning I spoke at a church. It was the third one in the past month, and I'm somewhat surprised how comfortable it's started to feel.

Not that I ever disliked public speaking (on the contrary, I really kind of enjoy it––it's talking to people that I struggle with––not at them), it's just public speaking about myself that gets me. There's something about talking about myself with sureness that's really difficult. "Wait!" you say, "You blog somewhat regularly, and blogging is by definition about you, isn't it?" Well, yes, and no. When I blog I talk about things I've experienced, things I've done, and, when I do rarely broach the subjects of who I actually am and what I believe about my life and what I want, I can do it with complete honesty about that fact that I'm really quite unsure that I'm giving the correct narrative of those things.

The kind of speaking I've been doing for the past few months just doesn't have room for any unsureness. So I speak with sureness. About myself. And being sure of myself is deeply dishonest.

I'm not saying I have serious doubts about anything that people would normally be concerned about, or that I'm intentionally misleading anyone about anything. It's just whenever I honestly think about my life, there are so many competing narratives that I trip over them. They chase each others' tales and weave in and out of their neighbors and sometimes completely contradict one another. They hide behind themselves so I can never see them all at once and swirl around on all sides so no matter how wide a lens I use I can never see the whole structure at the same time. I couldn't ever say which was right unless I could see them all, and I can never see them all because I'm always living one of them.

How can you say for sure what the Milky Way looks like when you're part of it? How can I look people in the eye and tell them who I am when I am me?

It's disturbing, but somehow I've become comfortable with it.

And I'm not sure what I think of that.

Monday, August 04, 2014

How to fix a high-end grill in three steps or less

It is the very height of outdoor barbecue season. Unfortunately, the gas grill that my parents left behind at the house––a very nice grill at that––is not currently working. Something to do with it being hardwired into the central propane system and the central propane system being empty.

So today, I went to work to fix it, employing what locally might be referred to as the Bungarian method. The results were so staggeringly successful that I feel I owe it to society to make it public knowledge.

Step 1: Inspect grill



Step 2: Remove non-functioning components



Step 3: Carry on as usual with functioning components




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ode to Nasal Decongestants

I'm awfully congested today.

I only take an over-the-counter nasal decongestant about once every three years. And that's probably a good thing, because whenever I do I'm always like: "You complete me, Love."

It's just something about it. Like what I'm always hoping coffee will do but never quite does. I'm sure it will probably be illegal in a couple years, though. You know, that's how cocaine was introduced, actually. It was (and is) a nasal decongestant.

But then they outlawed it in the 50s and then cracked down on it in the 70s and 80s, so instead everyone started using meth in the 90s (it was invented in the 40s––but nobody wanted it because they could have coke instead). And then in the 2000s they cracked down on the precursor to methamphetamine, pseudophedrine, which is over-the-counter nasal decongestant.

That's why when you have a sniffle these days you need give them your ID so they can photocopy it and then make you sign it and date it in blood and then wait fifteen minutes for them to fax it to a federal DEA fortress somewhere while everyone at the pharmacy stands there and looks at you like you just stole and hawked their neighbor's daughter's training wheels to get money to buy your Advil Cold and Sinus. 

That's also why I'm afraid it will be completely illegal in a few years. So then, when I'm walking around feeling like I have a hiking sock hanging half out my sinuses, I can comfort myself that it's for the greater good, because there will be no more of the demon meth.

But it's all for naught, because the kids are already on bath salts and sprinting around killing people and eating their entrails. Because they took away meth, which is because they took away cocaine, which was an excellent nasal decongestant in its day.

FDR was actually a fan, I hear. He had terrible sinus problems.

So I would attempt stock-piling Advil Cold and Sinus against the coming prohibition. The problem is, just owning more than enough to get you through one cold is actually illegal now. And because I signed and dated those photocopies of my ID, they know.

They know.

They know!

THEY KNOW!

THEY KNOW THEY KNOW THEY KNOW!*

*Andrew jumps through open second story window and takes off sprinting––oblivious to a sprained ankle––and vaults over a moving car and body slams two unsuspecting Jehovah's Witnesses to the ground while screaming something about Orcs before making a bee line for the nearest forest where he collapses and wakes up 19 hours later, facedown with pine needles stuck to the dried mucus on his face. 

It's how every story ends, kids. 



Monday, July 21, 2014

On Eagles Wings & Gimpy Knees

This morning I went out to get the mail and saw this big boy take off over the windrows across the road from my house.

My knee has been in a bad way for the past week, and I've been trying to avoid running and un-level ground. Two minutes later though––after a frantic search for my 200mm lens, I was dragging my uncooperative leg as fast as I could go across the treacherous plow-furrowed and woodchuck riddled surface of the field.

I caught up with our friend in one of the deciduous trees the lines the border of my grandparents' pine forest. I wasn't able to get as close as I'd hoped, but I was able to get a few shots off before he tired of the paparazzi:







Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pennsylvania & New York As They Ought To Be

This evening I read that the proposal to subdivide California into six separate states has apparently gained enough political traction to be considered on the state's general election ballot. I was previously unaware of the plan, but as I thought about it, my reactions were 1) I'm glad I got to drive through it while was still united, and 2) There's no way it will ever happen, and 3) That's too bad, because it really makes a lot of sense.

But why should only Californians be able to entertain ideas––however improbable––that make sense. Indeed, the West Coast is far from the only place that could benefit from some state-level territory restructuring to make theoretical maps match modern realities.

So, taking into account cultural norms, political leaning, physical geography, tax revenue, linguistic dialect, division of industry, and a variety of other factors; not to mention the simmering frustration of many of my friends in Pennsylvania, New York, New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere, I began in my mind to redraw the boundaries of the two states in what I feel to be a more equitable manner.

And I give this: Pennsylvania and New York State (and a sliver of New Jersey) as they ought to be:



Feel free to let me know what you have any suggestions, or draw your own if you think mine is completely crazy.