Friday, January 21, 2022

Using 6 Words (and an Image) to Tell a Story

Sunset, facing East, reflecting off Queens.

I'm fascinated by six-word stories. (I consider hyphenated modifiers two words.) 

Entire website ecosystems promote the practice.

There's a masterclass for hopeful practitioners.

Then there's me and my photos. Following are twelve six-word captions. There's more at #6wordcaption on Instagram.

Reflecting on First Avenue's infinite possibilities.

Returning home in March 2020, forever.

I stood alone, surrounded by history.

Gazing at Bethlehem's Star over Teaneck.


Suspended between NYC and New Jersey.

We all used to be puppies.


Mom, waiting for me to return.

I will never understand my cat.


Morning drama at the East Balcony.

Found a waterfall on 51st Street.


Pedal swans waiting for tonight's storm.

My grandfather's workshop, which never ages.


Saturday, January 8, 2022

I Can Be a Hero...

On exhibit at Fotografiska NY in 2020:
Ellen von Unwerth's photo of David Bowie and Kate Moss.

... Just for one day.

Have you ever had a social media post go viral?

I experienced that on a small scale earlier today, with this Twitter post of a throwback photo of the epic Jersey City mural by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra:

Bowie's artistry deserves universal praise, so tributes on what would have been his 75th birthday meant something to many.

What I particularly admire is how Bowie remained productive, provocative and relevant as he grew older. I only wish I could be as creative.

His song "Life on Mars" gives me chills. I parroted it (without reference to Hermione Farthingale's hair) as part of a writing exercise this past April (read more here and here). New Jersey poet Alicia Cook had provided a prompt to write a poem with the line "life only exists where there's water."

I naturally thought of Mars. It was also days after the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Minnesota. So for my exercise, I wrote this "Eight Line Poem," named after the song that immediately proceeds "Life on Mars" on Bowie's "Hunky Dory" album.

Is there life on Mars?
Life only exists where there's water,
in lakes hidden below the icy surface.

Here on earth,
it's a God-awful small affair.
Life only exists where we let it:

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy.

As I grow older, I've grown to appreciate the limits of my creativity... and relevancy. But every once in a while, I write something or post an image that means something to someone else.

I love the magic of that.

Social media—as dangerous as it's proven to be—is also empowering.

One of the most extraordinary things in my life is that I'm able to publish without permission.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Enzo the Sloth Is the Artist We Need in 2022

A sloth painted this.

Upside down, on his back, holding a brush between two toes.

One grown daughter had ordered this painting by Enzo the Sloth via Etsy as a Christmas gift for my other grown daughter. She loves sloths (and dogs and black cats and T-Rexes) in the same whimsical way her dad loves penguins.

This proved to be the perfect gift for her.

Enzo, naturally, took his time with the project, and there was a bit of a scare he wouldn’t finish by Christmas.

The artist came through, though, to the delight of our entire family.

I’m no expert on sloth art, but I believe this might be Enzo’s masterpiece: a wonderfully expressive self-portrait of the “Enzo” the artist dreams of becoming.

It looks like he’s skateboarding, bringing to mind a BuzzFeed story about what Emma Watson said made her fall in love with Tom Felton while making the “Harry Potter” movies:

“I walked into a room where we were having tutoring,” Emma explained. “The assignment that had been given was to draw what you thought God looked like, and Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard.”

In Enzo’s self-portrait you can see his two curved toes with arms spread as he speeds through mid-air toward a magnificent, graceful landing. He’s blithe and unencumbered by physical limitations.

There’s no looking back for this sloth.

Enzo is my inspiration for 2022.

A photo of Enzo, masterpiece in progress.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: Paterson

On the way home from visiting Mom, I often stop off along Route 80 to visit the Garret Mountain overlook of Paterson, NJ.

On Halloween this year, I stayed with Mom so she wouldn't have to get up and down to greet trick or treaters. It was an impressive bunch of kids this year, with an impressive bunch of costumes... everyone was in a celebratory mood, as if in pre-pandemic times.

At dusk, Mom decided to call it a day. Heading home, I stopped to spend time at a favorite place. It was raining lightly, and then more heavily as I slowly drove up the winding road at Garret Mountain Reservation.

It was worth it. I was greeted by the sight of a double rainbow over New Jersey.

It's my favorite image of the year, so I'm posting it here to close 2021.

Merry Christmas!


Here's a Google doc with these recent "12 Days" blog posts gathered in one place. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: Waterloo Village

This Christmas Eve I’m thankful for the people who inspire and encourage me.

One group I belong to, the virtual Black Glass Gallery, is a supportive mix of amateur and professional photographers led by Suzanne Spitaletta.

She loves arranging group meetups across New Jersey, and sometimes in New York City. We’ve had to cut back on in-person meetups during the pandemic, but in 2021 we did manage a few.

One favorite outing was in October at Waterloo Village. As described in Wikipedia, this is a restored 19th-century canal town in Sussex County, near Stanhope. It's at the half-way point in the 102-mile trip along the Morris Canal, from Jersey City to Phillipsburg.

At the present-day site are remnants of an inn, general store, blacksmith shop, and watermill. There’s a still-active Methodist church, a small garden with some farm animals, and renovated spaces that accommodate weddings and other gatherings. Only traces remain of a restored Indian village up the road, a place I visited when I was a Cub Scout.

I didn’t stick with the group as we took photos that day in October. I almost missed seeing my friend Beth entirely. I’m an odd bird: I most like the idea of being part of a group.

I’m forever grateful that the Black Glass Gallery crowd accepts me, tolerant of my quirks without reservation. Looking back on these images reminds me of the many good, talented, and creative people in the world.

Artists are curious souls. Sometimes, they just want to go outside and play.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: Weehawken via NJ Transit

The view from Weehawken (from top) in May, July, October, December.

On Thursday, 84 years ago today (just weeks before what would be my mother's 6th birthday), commuters took advantage of the first full day of driving through the newly dedicated Lincoln Tunnel to travel between New York and New Jersey.

Above is the 2021 view from the notorious Helix, a 4,000-foot sloping loop connecting traffic from Route 495 in Weehawken to the tunnel entrance on the Jersey side.

With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Dutch sailors, this view of the Manhattan skyline is my daily reminder that something exists in the world that for a transitory, enchanted moment makes me hold my breath.
December 1937 opening of the Lincoln Tunnel.
(NY Daily News photo)

The skyline, magically, presents itself differently every working day. Ensconced in a seat of a New Jersey Transit bus, I often press my cell phone camera against one of the back windows to take just one more photo of the view as we pass. The images, captured at the same time (albeit on different days) of the same place, never look the same.

My office in New York reopened, tentatively, earlier this year. My bosses, generously, even paid for expenses if I chose to drive. But, by May, traffic had built up to pre-pandemic levels, and I began to prefer to take the bus.

There's now about half as many passengers on commuter buses as there were in 2019. We're all wearing masks, and most are staring intently into their cell phones.

Except when we pass through Weehawken on Route 495.

Then, from the back of the bus, I notice a few heads turn toward the skyline in appreciation of a sight still commensurate to our capacity for wonder.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: Weehawken via Zoom

It's the last Wednesday night before Christmas 2021.

Usually, during this past year, I'd be on a Zoom call on a Wednesday night. My friend Anna, who runs the adult programs at my local library, has been hosting a weekly "Photo Journaling Club." We're on holiday break now, but the usual Wednesday night has been like this: A handful of us share photos, and then we follow a prompt from my friend Janet, who is a real writer, and write extemporaneously about our photos based on her prompt.

I have a great time, because I never know for sure what photos I'll show, and I don't know what I'll write until the time comes to share. It's magic that, in the end, it always seems to work out just fine.

Early this year, I shared the image on top of this page from New Year's morning 2021, when my wife Nancy and I watched the sun rise over New York City from Weehawken (right next to the Hamilton dueling grounds).

Janet had asked us to show a photo that suggested a metaphor. I wrote that the sunrise was a crown on the New York City skyline.

Janet said that, to her, the clouds looked like a chorus line of Rockettes.

Now, as 2021 limps to its finish line, with the real Rockettes having shut down for the remainder of the year, I wonder where Nancy and I might best watch the sun rise on New Year's morning 2022.

I long for some certainty next year in real life. But, I know, real life is not like writing, and everything doesn't always work out just fine.

Real life is a roulette wheel; each passing sunrise is another sucker's bet.


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: American Dream Mall

American Dream's "Secret Garden."

There's nothing like an ironic visit to a mall in New Jersey to make you question your values.

When my sister visited recently from the Carolinas, I thought it would be a good sight-seeing excursion to schedule a first-time visit to the American Dream Mall. I figured that even if the visit was a disaster (which I secretly presumed it would be), it would be great fun and a story we could laugh about for years.

New Jersey is often known (and maligned) for its shopping malls. Other states took the basic mall concept to another level, on a larger scale with a focus on entertainment (hello, Mall of America). But now American Dream was promising to move the needle on that amp up to 11.

On the site of the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, the sprawling retail and entertainment center was first proposed in 2003. For a while, it was dubbed "Xanadu."

Four scenes from a mall.
Its first backer went into bankruptcy in 2007. Construction started and stopped over the years. There were other ownership changes, financing issues, construction delays, more bankruptcies, and various legal challenges.

Some theme-park attractions finally opened there in 2019, but COVID delayed further openings until just past fall, with many new stores and restaurants... and an indoor ski-slope and giant Ferris wheel to boot.

The current American Dream website lists a panoply of attractions.

I was unconvinced... until I visited with my sister and, unironically, I had fun. I even have photos to prove it.

The "mall" was clean and spacious. There was lots to see and do. It was tech-savvy and family-friendly, and people all around me were happy.

I didn't see that coming, New Jersey.

This must be how Tony Soprano felt before everything went dark.

Me, having fun.

Monday, December 20, 2021

12 Days of Christmas: My Mother's Garden

Mom's garden in May.

I grew up in a black-and-white house in suburban Totowa, NJ. Our backyard was large enough to pass for either a baseball diamond or football field... at least when you're a 10-year-old boy.

It's been many years since then, and it was not long after I went away to college that Mom embarked on an ambitious project to transform much of the yard into a garden.

Mom was born with movie-star good looks, and she has always liked to surround herself with pretty things. She particularly loves seeing her colorful garden in full bloom.

Blooming in July.
Even though Mom is getting older, she insists on tending the garden herself. Beginning this year, I sometimes received text alerts from ADT whenever she was outside in the spring and summer. As she worked in the dirt, she would accidentally hit the button on her emergency-call pendant.

Still, those false alarms have been a small price to pay for the joy her garden brings.

This year, like every other, when I would stop by for a visit, Mom would sometimes say, “Bobby, I want you to take photos of my garden.”

Sometimes, too, she would ask me to post these images on Facebook, so homebound and far-away friends could admire her handiwork.

Tomorrow is the first day of winter, and Mom's 90th birthday is next month. She keeps talking, with anxious anticipation, about wanting to see my Dad again. Dad died 16 years ago, so this refrain is a constant reminder that Mom will soon be planting flowers she will not see bloom.

While this makes me sad, I admire my mother's desire to continue to tend her garden. I also envy her faith in a better life to come.

It relates to something a kindred spirit with movie-star good looks once said.

Like Audrey Hepburn, Mom understands that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

Mom's garden in December.