I moved to New York City from San Francisco to run CBS Records’ Customer Merchandising department, a heady job for a young woman barely two years out of college, producing graphic and photographic merchandising visuals at the recording label that was home to so many musical artists I had loved in my young life.
When I travel, I like to take long walks through the streets of the villages and cities I visit, taking pictures of street scenes and landscapes as I go. But mostly, I like to take pictures of people, stopping them to ask if they would mind. If they don’t mind, interesting things can happen.
What a pleasure it has been shooting a video artist profile of photographer, artist, author, teacher and mentor Cheryl Machat Dorskind. I have spent the last two months driving back and forth between New York City and Cheryl’s home in Westhampton, New York, shooting her in her studio and in her backyard, and accompanying her on professional portrait shoots, a photography boat safari, and random photography walks on the inland wetlands and the beach and marsh landscape of Eastern Long Island.
When I travel, I prefer to take photos of people I randomly encounter, rather than of sites I visit. I have photographed my share of monuments and parks and churches and bridges, and I imagine I always will, but they serve mostly to remind me that I have visited a place, jarring something in my memory about a particular time in my life.
How well do we know our parents? Where we came from? How well do we understand the circumstances and situations that swirled around them at the time of our conception? And not just our individual conception, but the conception of our siblings, the creation of our families?
NOTE: “Woman, Writer, Designer, Wife, Stepmother” is about a remembered conversation with Hartley Waltman, who has read and approved its publication. Hartley has also kindly provided the illustrations that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful.
“You’ve said that twice in the last 15 minutes,” my friend Hartley noted, watching me wolf down a spicy fish taco at Bill’s Burger Bar just off Rockefeller Plaza.
“Said what twice?” I asked.
“That you have two lives. You said, ‘In my New York life,’ as though your New York life is some life other than the one you have with your husband wherever his works takes him,” he explained, like a therapist might to a patient in denial about something baldly obvious. A hint of a grin pulled up the corners of his mouth.
E.B. White’s Here is New York is my favorite book about my favorite American city. Published in 1949, it is considered an essay, most likely because of its short length, a mere 56 pages, into which White packed such timeless observations about the island of Manhattan that this ‘book’ has a permanent place on my desk in New York.
In the Summer of 2006, the day before I returned to New York after using my entire year’s vacation to study Italian at the Università per Stranieri in Siena, Italy, I took an early bus to Arezzo and spent the morning roaming the city taking pictures. After the cool early hours had morphed into lunchtime, I found a little trattoria on a small piazza where I could have a salad and a cold glass of Prosecco to ward off the heat that had begun to rise from the cobbled vicolos.
I ought to have been born between the World Wars, when it was romantic to be sentimental, when having an attachment to the past was normal, when lovers would hand-write nostalgia-filled letters whenever apart, when taking a journey down a memory lane strewn with tales of adventures and friends and events long gone by could rouse a spontaneous and unembarrassed launch into Doris Day’s and Les Brown’s rendition of A Sentimental Journey.
I don’t watch much television, but these past few months I have looked forward to late Sunday nights with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, an update of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980 to mesmerized viewing.
Standing on the barren landscape of what was once Uruk in ancient Sumer, now known as Iraq, in The Immortals (Episode 11 of the modernized series), Tyson tells us about Enheduanna, an Akkadian Princess (2285-2250 BCE) about whom I had never heard until The Immortals aired on May 18, 2014.
Where will you be when you are old? With your family? Your fiends? Alone? Will you be rich? Or poor? In good health? Or ill perhaps? Will you be mentally engaged? Or failing up there in some frightening way? How, and with whom, will you while away the hours of the day?
Women at work: Lyrical Confessions of an Erstwhile Renegade, my first essay as Editor-at-Large for SynaptIQ+: The Journal for Social Era Knowledge, was published online in the Winter 2013 issue.
The news did not exactly come as a shock. I had filed away the possibility that his life would end one day in the part of my brain reserved for things I simply did not want to think about happening. A less willful, less stubborn, less enthusiastically alive man would have long ago succumbed to the many illnesses he had endured over the last 2 decades. His ability to push back had convinced me that nothing could kill him. An email in mid-March relaying that he was in hospice care switched on the emotional regulator that controlled my reservoir of memories about him, sending through a few at a time, as though dropping them into my consciousness in a metered manner would avoid a flood tide the day he finally decided to part this Earth.
When I was 15 Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust had such an impact on me I imagined that were I to venture a trip to Los Angeles, Tod Hackett, Faye Greener and their entire entourage of misfit friends would greet me at the train station. My childhood in Northern New Mexico was one from which I was desperate to escape, where Cowboys and Indians were real, not the stuff of Hollywood movies we would watch at a drive-in theatre with the help of a speaker attached to a rolled down car window. While I knew that the American Southwest fostered a kind of mythic appeal for the endless stream of Easterners arriving to set down roots under its majestic skies, I had grown up under that star-strewn ether and longed for something else, something far less real than the rodeos I attended on weekends, and West’s words had convinced me I would find that reality in the City of Angels.
While certain life experiences are more or less universal – falling in or out of love, winning or losing a job, saying goodbye to one’s parents at the end of their lives – there are times when our individual realities are so idiosyncratic it’s hard for anyone else to relate, times when things can look calm and ordered on the outside, but underneath roils a breeding ground of anxiety. The sort of uncertainty that washes over one in a business meeting for instance, when a casual downward glance might reveal that one’s jacket is missbuttoned, which inspires a swift hand clutch to the bosom, which in turn reveals a cuff button visibly hanging by a thread. And although everyone knows that buttons on even well-made suits are virtually spit stuck in place, this knowledge provides no consolation whatsoever to the afflicted in this case, nor does it offer the slightest barrier against the oblique stares of judgmental colleagues, each of whom begins to free associate various reasons for their missbuttoned colleague’s public dishelvelment.