Wild Dunes 72 HOURS

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS by Ara Hagopian is a 20-piece photography exhibit covering the Isle of Palms beach resort in South Carolina. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens.

My 72 HOURS exhibits cover popular United States destinations such as New York City, Manhattan Beach CA, Perkins Cove ME, and Isle of Palms SC. The pictures are not intended to be a highlight of the best, or most famous, of the attractions’ sights. As such, today’s exhibit is not a collection of what a visitor must see if they’re staying at the resort.

What viewers get is this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during three-plus days on site. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.

Once again, and perhaps for the last time, I present the photographs in their shooting order. Why is this worth mentioning? When I took the pictures, I had no inkling to consider their order. Now that I’ve arranged two shows this way, I will never shoot innocently again, if I for a moment think I’m filming the series flow.

Wild Dunes 72 HOURS.

ABOVE: First steps. Monday, ‎June ‎17. Here’s what it’s like to step out at 7 AM. Have a fruit breakfast on the balcony, and decide what wonderful things to do today. In fact, how about we explore this beach, together, right now?

ABOVE: View. The week had several short, heavy rain storms, plenty of sun, and wind–lots of wind! The only sun umbrella that withstands the force is the kind the housing authority can set up for you. It’s the only way to go, if you want to read near the water. Believe me, there is nothing in this world like reading a good book on a beautiful beach, where you’re not fighting with your drug store umbrella and sinking-sand chair. A cold drink at hand, and you’re on vacation baby.

ABOVE: Layers. Here we can see the four textures from sand to sky. I wish I’d shot it in landscape but portrait brings focus. What’s missing from the photograph is the hissing sound as the foam rushes us, and retreats, both movements in victory.

ABOVE: Front six. What caught my eye was the beach, so white and clean from the constant wind. Then the homes looked smart and beautiful, their colors adding to the casual walkers’ pleasure. What made this photograph an inclusion to this exhibit is the sky. That perfect sky, a drop-in complement to the structures and the sand.

ABOVE: Storm coming.

ABOVE: Interlock. Have you read their story?

ABOVE: Three old souls. I love the splay; they are laying like cats on a sunny rug. The turtle with the most-dry shell has been enjoying the warmth the longest. He wants me to go. I obey.

ABOVE: Condense-tension. A funny thing happens when you carry a camera from an air conditioned living room, out to the humid morning– the lens fogs up, on the outside and inside of the camera, too. One simply has to wait about twenty minutes for equilibrium to take place, naturally. Most of the time, condensation-lens photography is a waste until the glass is clear. In this case, the fogginess has added a pleasing haze.

ABOVE: Party’s over. A beach ball has lost its mojo. The kid or the parents have moved on. Maybe they didn’t realize their possession had become trash. An exit question, at their moment of purchase in the store that morning: “How long before you stop caring about this beach ball, and where it’s going to end up? Seven hours from now? Six?”

ABOVE: To be removed. An old ribbon marker on a long-gone branch. Some time ago, maybe a decade or longer, a city worker marked this branch to be removed, like so. The wood was cut, the ribbon remained, and everyone has moved on. Except, the trace that remains tells the story. Was the branch removed because it was unsightly? Isn’t leaving the ribbon at least equally unsightly? Respect your work. Finish the job.

ABOVE: Pelican run. A serious storm is approaching Isle of Palms and this bird is heading home. I wish I got a bit more of the beach houses into frame, but this photograph is full of tension and energy, and the moment came and was gone– one picture only. Cropping the rooftops added nothing to the composition so they remained, grounding us in this uncertain moment. How will nature pummel us? We will see!

ABOVE: The Wild Dune. The thing with the world is, you’re going to miss most of it. If you really understand what I mean, you would look around, a lot more than you do now. That would be fighting our nature, which regulates on the routine. And the routine is an artless world.

This is the money shot. Take a look at the prettiest thing I saw all week. What we’re looking at is a scrub brush after a night of heavy wind. The wind blew so hard, and so long, it left a trail of sand ten feet long.

See this dune. Not only is this a deposit of the lightest, finest sand, but look at that lay. Look at nature’s design, so fragile but created with such force! If it were even possible, this wedding gown train could only have been made by the gentlest of human hands, and where would they plant their feet! –but we know Man had nothing to do with this arrangement. Except perhaps, to share it.

Once again the reward of photography is delivering something new to someone like you. You weren’t there but you are here. For another view of this gorgeous creation, go back to the title graphic of this exhibit.

ABOVE: Fill ins. The beating rains of the night have hardened the dune. Then the winds fill the grooves with light, dried sand. Incredible to see; irritating to feel as it hits your body; decibels louder than city traffic; and wilder than anything else worth seeing.

ABOVE: Being. I think about the highest being, and the lower beings too. How one made the other, and one makes the other. This crab was walking the beach, as I was. He looked at me. He didn’t seem afraid. Oh, the gulls love his kind.

I study this picture and I look at his claws. What I see is this. His two arms are perfectly suited to bring food to his mouth. It’s that simple. Look for yourself. How can I be disgusted with him? How can I fear him? A fragile creature wanting to nourish himself, and I can say, I get it. I understand. I am beginning to understand.

ABOVE: Right here. The beating force makes you hold your hat, then maddeningly you take it off for the duration. The white grains rush past you like they’re in a race and you are a useless overpass. Don’t bother about getting out of the way. They’ll go right around you.

The color of the sand can be captured but not encapsulated. It is this color you see here and is not one hue or even a themed palette. Are you ready for the truth? The color is shaped by the sound, and what you hear is a forced whipping, that alters intensity depending on where you happen to point your head. And on Wild Dunes beach, you are looking all over.

There is a fine place you’re going to, but this isn’t the way. This is a diversion from a worthier destination. You’ve chosen this time but it isn’t the best time, you’re filled with thoughts that are out of place here.

Yet, by the time you’ve finished this end-of-day beach walk, you have been to the one place you needed to be. You have turned to look at what’s exactly important, heard the one kind of quiet that the wind has carefully filtered for you. You have well-filled your footprints. It started out all wrong but you stuck with it. Not because of your superior judgement or intuition, but the superiority of right here.

ABOVE: Time laps. Ten pelicans scrape the water, always stopping people in their tracks, to stare.

ABOVE: Storm. Here it comes. The rain and violence push you away. Yet, we stay. Because, it will change. We won’t want to give up our place. We don’t want to be harmed, so we cover up and take it. To claim what’s to come after. And here it comes.

ABOVE: Sun shadows. There’s a moment you can’t recreate, set up, or plan for. You can only be ready, if you haven’t fled or hidden yourself. This is why we stay– and for so much more.

ABOVE: Your pace. Southern birds have longer tails than their Northern cousins. The South Carolina flourish makes me happy. I know you, kinda. Show me more, at your pace please.

ABOVE: The one question on everyone’s mind. How do you stay so clean on the beach of Wild Dunes?

Posted in 72 Hours, Photography | 6 Comments

Interlock

I can’t see you; can you hold my hand? Your voice is assuring and your presence is appreciated.

Can you help me get steady? I promise, it will only take a moment. Even though I know, you need steadying yourself.

I was shaken so badly last night. Yes by the wind, but that’s nothing new to oldtimers. What shook me was a change, in me, something I can only describe but can’t explain.

The forestry people have checked me and tested me, tested my trunk, asked me to tell them again: “What happened to you Sunday? But you were feeling normal Saturday?” And after listening to me, and me listening to them, they told me the odds. There’s a 33% chance I won’t be right again.

Hold my hand. I can’t hear you. Your sureness fills me up and our interlock secures. To what direction?

Thankful that you’re here.
Posted in Fiction, Photography | Leave a comment

Charleston 72 HOURS Part 2

Charleston 72 HOURS Part 2 by Ara Hagopian is a 30-piece photography exhibit covering the historic seaside city of Charleston, South Carolina. The work was captured with the Sony A7R full-frame camera and 55 mm Carl Zeiss lens.

The 72 HOURS exhibits cover popular United States destinations such as New York City, Manhattan Beach CA, Perkins Cove ME, and Isle of Palms SC. The pictures are not intended to be a highlight of the best, or most famous, of the attractions’ sights. As such, today’s exhibit is not a collection of what a visitor must see if they’re staying in Charleston.

What viewers get is this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting during three-plus days on site. To be free to wander the area with a camera—and without a checklist—is the heart of 72 HOURS.

I’m doing something new for this exhibit, I’m presenting the photographs in the order they were shot. I usually arrange the photographs into a flow, with subgroupings. Today I wanted to change that. The decision for chronological order wasn’t planned, and as a result, the layout is completely natural—you’ll see the shots as I saw them. We can both be surprised together.

Charleston 72 Hours Part 2 is my 6th photography exhibit of South Carolina. I hope you find the experience worth your while.

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ABOVE: This is Maiden Lane. IMAGE# 354, SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:07AM. I stayed at the Andrew Pinckney Inn and this tiny road called Maiden Lane greeted me each morning. The cobblestones date back a few centuries. Will you step along with me?

There are three forms of history: Recorded, remembered, and unobserved. What’s recorded is but a single page and what’s lost are the thousands of thick books of facts that could tell us who was here, how they lived, and what they did. The accounts of past eras are gone, as we stare after Maiden Lane.

When I look at this picture, it is easy to imagine older times. The clock works backwards and the cycles of sun and shadow pull the age out of frame. The 1960’s fade to the ’50’s and the Lane, with her stone and green coloring, looks universal from then and now. The years wind further back, still.

Clear your mind, and watch for it.

Forget where you happen to be sitting right now, and look at the picture. Let go of who you are. Your identity is the anchor to the present.

Look to the far right. An early-1800’s man is hustling at full-walking speed on stones that have a rougher look than the worn curves of today. His left hand clutches a piece of paper, on it is evidence exonerating a lady friend from a heart-breaking family matter. He’s worked hard to gain this evidence and is moving quickly to share his discovery with her cruel father. Our eyes follow our traveler, to witness his success, but he passes into the next street, and oblivion. We have seen a glimpse of what happened here.

The sun moves faster and a warm breeze takes hold of us. Maiden Lane has preserved everything ever done in her dominion. Take you time, stop, and she will show you. Let her walk you back through the old days.

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ABOVE: White Horse. IMAGE# 403, SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:22AM. The white horse stepped into frame. Sunlight on furry feet and a unicorn ear add to the moment. The palette of white, grey and green was in step with the start of the day. This touristy sight is seen every hour all over Charleston but you, dear viewer, have never seen her before. A question for you: Where is a spoonful of sugar most appreciated, sprinkled into a sugar bowl or on top of  your breakfast cereal?

If you have never visited Charleston, then good morning. The sugar analogy is an example of how photography distributes what’s plentiful to where it’s needed. Ladies and gentlemen, a treat for your breakfast.

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ABOVE: Male House Sparrow. IMAGE# 438 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:30AM. No one will ever care about this particular bird, but I did. I had to travel 2,000 miles to give regard to the ignored and uncelebrated.

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ABOVE: Walk down street. IMAGE# 454 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:34AM. As regular and routine a day it was to everybody else, it was extraordinary for me. How can I show you?

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ABOVE: Broken wall in parking lot. IMAGE# 457 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:36AM. When you come to the South and cause damage, you’re being rude. Guess what? The damage will be repaired. The artifacts belong here; you do not. What you’ve destroyed was put in place by better men than you.

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ABOVE: Flag. IMAGE# 490 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:40AM. Always respected by the good; always welcomed by the grateful. The fabric of the highest standard, our flag of the United States.

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ABOVE: Colorful buildings and tree. IMAGE# 508 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:42AM. Like nowhere else. 

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ABOVE: Big tree and brick building. IMAGE# 515 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 9:55AM. Screaming, “1910! 1910!”

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ABOVE: Run down space between buildings. IMAGE# 527 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:01AM. We’re not allowed near the building, there are warnings posted on the property. A close examination of the picture shows structural damage to the upper deck near the support. Rot and disintegration have taken residence. The home’s best days are gone.

A towel, set to dry, waits for the owner’s return. If this towel was ever to be reclaimed, brought to a good home, washed, dried and folded, it would still bear the sun-bleached band of these days. The towel’s renewable moment will never come. The home in this photograph will probably be demolished, and its items thrown in a dumpster.

I wanted to explore the space between the homes. The alleyway was an overgrown area leading to an intriguing fenced-in backyard, also overgrown. Welcome to a place in Charleston no one wants to look at. Except us, of course.

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ABOVE: Top of building and church. IMAGE# 536 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:07AM. What is immense, grounded, and weighty? Versus, what will last, and encompass all?

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ABOVE: This is Charleston Blue. IMAGE# 551 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:08AM. Part one of three motifs, capturing the spiritual colors of Charleston. If you think it’s mamby-pamby artistic bullshit, randomly-grasped and shoved forward by a navel-gazing Outworlder, then it’s too late to turn back. Those blues have got you.  

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ABOVE: Meet Judy, the ugly tree. IMAGE# 567 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:13AM. Have you read the story DERELICTION OF JUDY? Oughtten you to?

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ABOVE: Old shed. IMAGE# 580 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:15AM. Private property—has this lot been touched in years? What’s inside? Dear Public, just keep walking. Don’t look, unless you want to see the ultimate shell of prevention. Because here you are forbidden from seeing what’s even worse.

No one plans for junk. A property loaded with forgotten items started out as a perfect structure on a sunny day.

We let it fall apart. We allowed ourselves to walk away from a moment of tidying up, thousands of times repeated. The sum of moments is monumental. I can tell you this: It’s far easier to leave a situation, than to resolve it. Easier still, is to live with it.

It’s the same way with relationships. This decrepit shed is our personal failing, every cluttered corner a nasty word.

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ABOVE: Sidewalk date. IMAGE# 585 SUNDAY 6/23/2019 10:17AM. Thank God for Fred. Fred, buddy, you were feeling so carefree that day thirty-eight years ago, weren’t you? Just look how you signed your name in the cement! What flourish!

I remember December 17th, 1983 very well. It was a Saturday, and was my first day home from my first semester at college. That finals week in western Massachusetts had been magical for me, I remember faint, swirling snow, a romantic campus walk with a girl on an impromptu night and on my arm, and feeling the thrill of burgeoning young love. In two weeks we’d made plans to get together again, with the campus empty of students, save for a certain private townhouse. I asked her, “What do you want from this relationship?” And she answered, “You.”

And Fred, here you were, thousands of miles away, crouching over wet cement with a stick in hand, and a plan all your own.

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ABOVE: This is Charleston White. IMAGE# 628 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:43AM. If you see the two thrusts then I’ve succeeded. If there’s nothing special for you here, then you have failed the photograph. Move past it, like everyone else walking by that day, who didn’t look up and see the sacred movement of the building’s edge and the reach of the tree.

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ABOVE: Tree and house, in the Buroughs. IMAGE# 636 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:46AM. The Buroughs are a fun place to walk, but you don’t want to be caught feeling out of place there. The camera protected me, it provided interference from trouble and was the most powerful weapon I could possess. Powerful because of the bold beast it made me. 

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ABOVE: Moonlight. IMAGE# 638 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:56AM. I want to talk about the upper window, and who might have been up there in the old days. I imagine hundreds of years ago a daughter was punished, held prisoner suspected of being wicked. At this moment the man from Maiden Lane was hustling with evidence to free her, he’s successful but it doesn’t go how everyone thinks. And then I want to talk about the building’s cracks; what’s caused some and what’s prevented even more. Lastly, I want to celebrate the plant that found its life high away from soil. My love of the loner, of supernatural survivors, and the brave who are living differently, caught in the moonlight. (These words were my sketch notes for what I wanted to write for the caption. In the end, I kept them as the caption itself.)

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ABOVE: Judy’s friend, Judy’s fear. IMAGE# 654 MONDAY 6/24/2019 8:59AM. Judy’s friend had no voice, and no warning.

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ABOVE: White house. IMAGE# 671 MONDAY 6/24/2019 9:10AM. Haunting, the white finish is the finest shade of green in sight.

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ABOVE: Discarded table in Harleston Village. IMAGE# 679 MONDAY 6/24/2019 9:21 AM. Useful for decades, thrown away one day; cared for and cleaned many times, but not this time; card games, to grass stains; upside to outside; friends gathered ’round to no one around; family’s laughter to a stranger’s shutter; lady’s luck to dump truck; hidden scrapes’ ugly swirls, immodesty for the leering world; family gave you care, family gave you up here; solid and sturdy on four, no good reason anymore; no feelings, left leaning.

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ABOVE: Spikes. IMAGE# 692 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:12AM. This is how we forced human property to stay in place. Unfettered weeds were allowed on the streets, but not Black slaves.

Yard-wall implements like this get me thinking. When we invent ways to hold people back, we’re only demonstrating our own containment.

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ABOVE: This is Charleston Red. IMAGE# 700 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:16AM. As authentic as I could translate it for you.

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ABOVE: Bike. IMAGE# 701 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:17AM. A man can enjoy his life as he wants it.

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ABOVE: Discarded brick at the Slave Mart. IMAGE# 720 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:23AM. I’m sad to say history dissolves, piece-by-piece.

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ABOVE: Dogs in scooter. IMAGE# 746 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 8:41AM. They came down King Street very fast and loud, too. The dog’s ear, flapping in the wind, is the clincher.

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ABOVE: Another Touch. IMAGE# 747 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 9:37AM. You don’t need to read the story TOUCH from several years ago, to imagine how this tree felt underhand. The essence of two beings can heal, both.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 1. IMAGE# 772 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:15AM. The most magnificent tree in the South.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 2. IMAGE# 784 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:17AM.

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ABOVE: Angel Oak 3. IMAGE# 803 TUESDAY 6/25/2019 10:19AM.

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Posted in 72 Hours, Charleston, Photography | 4 Comments

Dereliction of Judy

The public works manager said to Judy, the ugly tree, “With a little help, you’ve kept your part of the bargain. The city complies with standards, and you’ve adapted to the space we’ve provided for you.”

The tree said, “You’ve said nothing of my beauty, my age, or my being a home for birds and animals. And providing welcoming shade for tourists.”

The manager said, “None of the creatures you protect are anything exotic or special. To be honest they’re considered nuisance animals. If they’re gone, more will simply move in. If you’re gone, they’ll find another home.

“As far as beauty goes, well, you’re awkwardly shaped where most people view you—at the trunk—and to be honest they hardly look up at all. You’re not a visitor’s attraction, not a destination. Unfortunately for you, Charleston has beautiful trees. And we do protect the habitats—the homes—for desirable animals. You are neither beautiful, nor that kind of home.”

Tree: “Here’s how I ended up being oddly-shaped. I gave up forty-percent of my roots to a worker with an axe and a sidewalk layout order. From someone like you. And this was before the benefits of a leaf tree could be explored. Before conservation was a word that applied to one’s actions.”

Manager: “That happened before,”

Tree: “Before conservation was a word.”

Manager: “Before my time. That was long ago.”

Tree: “Allow me to tell you. Right after the axeman left, I went into emergency mode. I flowed extra growth to my remaining roots. They bulked up. They held. I’m here.”

Manager: “It’s funny how nature is asymmetrical. And buildings have specific design. Town planners have employed branch trimming, essentially tree reshaping, to accommodate tenants’ wishes. We’re sorry but your top-half shape was never a classic tree form. Blame nature for that. Not the city. Not man.”

Tree: “The only way my roots were going to support me was by my growing disproportionately large branches to establish a center of gravity. I had to compensate—a lot!—to grow most of the mass on my right, where I wasn’t cut. The asymmetry was not what I wanted to do, not what I wanted to grow up to be. This was why you didn’t get your pretty classic tree.”

Manager: “I’m sorry.”

Tree: “Counterbalancing over my intact roots has kept me from falling over in storms or from saturated soil.”

Manager: “We built a courtesy fence that arcs around you. Our accommodation. Your guarantee for the free earth you need.”

Tree: “The people who built the courtesy fence barely looked at me. I have seen trees removed for lesser intrusions than what I impose on this block. So when will I be gone? I shake every time a city worker cocks his head at me. What’s the basis of his evaluation? Who’s my advocate? Does the city man think I’m an eyesore? Because I admit it. That’s exactly what I am.

“Does he know that cannonfire sailed through my branches when our city was bombarded? And that I deflected some of those shots? Destroyed their destructive energy? And I would do it again, gladly, for Charleston.

“Like all of the other legacy out-of-favor oddballs of the world, I’m banking that I’m not worth the resources it would take to remove me.”

Manager: “I understand—I understand now. You are part of this community. You will not be removed. We will take consideration for any future municipal work. Not just for you. For all our living things.”

Tree: “From my height I can see far. I’ll be keeping watch. What is said today grows weaker tomorrow.”

Manager: “I’m just a public works manager with a clipboard and no political pull. What can I do?”

Tree: “Value me. Understand my worth. Spread the word. Grow your numbers.”

Meet Judy, the disfigured tree of Charleston. How did she get to look this way? Care to know?
Posted in Charleston, Fiction | Leave a comment

My book is reviewed in Classic Images magazine

My 2013 book of short stories, WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES was reviewed by Laura Wagner in the June 2021 issue of Classic Images magazine.

Ms. Wagner called my book one of the few gems in the self-publishing world.

“I enjoyed all the pieces,” she wrote. “I felt like I was getting to know the author personally, his often poignant words coming from somewhere deep inside him.”

Ms. Wagner went on to say, “The title of the volume is also the name of one of the book’s longer stories. This one really had me thinking. The route this story took did not lead me where I thought it would. Two days after reading it, I am still puzzling it out in my mind. A writer who can do that is one to treasure.”

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Petey’s Reflection

In 17 years I’ve never known a force so powerful as death when it stopped you. Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you calling to us? Your sheer will to live makes me ask this.

Remember when you’d sit and stare at your reflection in the oven?

You never hissed, you just sat on the kitchen floor and looked at the reverse image of yourself.

When we’d see you planted there, we’d joke and say, “Petey’s looking at his brother in the oven.” These days I wonder if you knew exactly what you were doing. Yes, I think it’s true. You knew that what was there, was you. How exceptional!

You were taking an opportunity on your own terms to see who you were, not being forced to look in the bathroom mirror, held up awkwardly in my arms against your will.

Instead, you took a quiet personal moment and used that oven’s door as a means to see yourself. Oh, what a clever guy you were.

You worked it privately, not aware of an audience. You sat at attention, a foot from the glass, and thought, “That’s me. That is who I am.

That is the cat those two people love.

Wow I’ve come a long way. I’ve done pretty good.

Look at the guy who was born feral in Puerto Rico in June of 1999, sent to the USA as a kitten with his siblings, and was the last to be adopted from the kennel.

Look at the guy who never tried running off, never made a break for an open door, all I ever wanted was to be with my owners, to love them and rest with them.

I’m not looking too shabby, not looking too bad at all!”

Petey my boy, my first cat, my favorite animal in the world, who I knew as long as I knew my own father– today we bought a new appliance, and your personal reflection system will be taken away soon. It’s just one more mourning of an inanimate object, as if throwing away your bed, your toys, and your towels wasn’t hard enough.

How the world is changing with you gone.

Posted in Cats | 2 Comments

Bringing Him Forward

Al would want me to order two ice cream cones. “Get one for me,” he’d say, so I would do that. I’ll buy two ice creams and give one to a friend. I don’t tell them it’s from my buddy. He wouldn’t want it that way. It’s a just a wink through time, from him to us.

Stan would want me to make a friend in a new state. We were in San Francisco on leave, on our bikes in a densely-packed neighborhood, when I heard a lady’s sharp voice. She was leaning out of her third-story apartment window, calling to her kids in Armenian. I’m a Lawrence, Mass boy, but our language is our language, so I called back to her: “Hey, I’m Armenian!”

She looked at me and said, “Come on up! You want some lunch?” And I said, “I have my friend with me.”

“Bring him up too.”

Later as we relaxed with her two children, she said to me, “Any time you are in a strange town, and you need something to eat, or a place to stay, you open the phone book for an Armenian name. Even if you just need a friend.” And like that the room became very warm. Stanley, the Polish kid, was smiling at me, ear to ear. Beaming with pride, for what I’d learned that day.

Rick would want me to read that book. I told him I loved stories but hated reading. He patted his haversack and said that’s because I’d not found the right writers. He was in one campaign, near the end of the war, Okinawa. I’d been through four. He was picked off by a sniper on a trail that’d been cleared, and his CO gave his book to me. I’ve shared that book with two-hundred and sixty-five readers since.

Buddy would want me to enjoy my time in the shade. I was wounded way worse than him, I got evacuated and they propped him under a piece of canvas to keep him out of the sun.

The medics worked on the worse-injured, lying all around him, while he laid patiently for his turn. Which never came.

When I’m in South Carolina and sitting at the Hilton’s Homewood Suites pool, I grab a nice shaded spot. I have my sweet tea on ice and enjoy the sounds of the children in the water. Buddy: I’m doing what you’d dearly want me to do.

Al, Stan, Rick, and Buddy. We bring you forward because we need to live well. That’s your lesson for us: Make this count. And we do. We remember you.

Posted in History, The Literate War, WWII | Leave a comment

Perimeter

I want you back home. I want you to walk the perimeter of our town’s public park again, Glens Falls New York. Remember how it felt, to get out there in the early morning, when it was just the birds and squirrels at the break of sunlight? You’d walk the park, where all your ideas fell into place, and sit and write them down–every last one as they’d come to you. You kept that notebook filled and would share it with anyone, anyone who had any bit of life in them at all.

I want you back home, but none of my thoughts exceeded your wishes. You wanted to come home, too.

When you come back, you’ll get going on that plan to be married by twenty-three and a homeowner by twenty-eight. Mary’s dad owned a company that insured half the businesses in Warren County, and he really took a shine to you.

Your job wouldn’t be simply selling insurance. Selling insurance would be just a start, a small piece, you told me. Your real task would be linking others’ ideas to get the brightest people mobilized, to improve our city.

After listening to you talk for nary ten seconds, who wouldn’t be onboard? The kindness in the slight arch of your eyebrow, and the honesty built into your tone, showed us what was in your heart. Mary’s dad was an old stodge and if he saw the good in you, many more would as well.

It wasn’t about selling your aims, or convincing others of a plan. You had the ability to encourage others to step forward with their own dreams for the County.

For your homecoming, I wanted to hear you talk again about everyone taking care of their corner of the street, starting with the family and working their way downstairs. You said, if our work inspired others, then we’d get a charge out of it, as well.

With a reputation like that, the legacy of our city’s history would be honored and continued.

I wanted to see you in the early-morning park again, smiling, the cold air invigorating you, the warm air alighting you, nothing bringing you down.

We gather here in the center of Glens Falls every May and October. We, your community family, kneel before a monument and our country’s flag. Then we stand, with pride, many holding hands. We are in tears. We wonder what would have come, had you come home.

Posted in Fiction, History, Uncategorized, WWII | 2 Comments

Why is Yes So Hard For Me to Say?

Fighting the tendency to say “No” is something I say yes to every day. I don’t want to say No when I’m asked if I want something, or if I want to do something. I don’t want to respond to you in that way. I hear my mouth saying No and I’m regretting it as I walk away from you.

Saying Yes is big and free and open. No is safe and less costly and in bed early. Boy, do I love being in bed early! Boy, do I love free and open, too. Why is Yes so hard for me to say?

I was getting into my car for work one day and was asked, “Do you want your gloves?” I said “No.” There we go, and for the first ten minutes of the drive, my hands were freezing. On the way home, three inches of snow covered my car and my fingers stung, again.

“Did you need your gloves?”

“Yes, I did. I should have listened to you.”

One day not long ago I was about to leave the house for a forty-minute drive to drop something off, and was asked, “Do you want some company?” I responded: “No.” Ten minutes into the drive I was on the phone. “I should have said yes to your offer.”

“Which time?” she asked.

I know I speak too rashly, and I think I can fix it. So much of Yes is in my artistic method. Yes I want to try these discordant materials in a new process. Yes I want to beat the hell out of this finish to get it right. Yes I will destroy a $60 item to improve a $20 piece, on a regular basis. Yes I want to go there, and drag you there, electronically if that’s the only way to grab you.

Unfortunately for the world, artistic method is centered on the artist, not on him agreeing to an offer. That’s got to be it, or at least, a part of the reason why I shut you down. My No’s are artistic F-You carryovers. Oh I feel so much better.

A few summers ago I was eating crackers at a pond. It was a tough season at work that year and any break from the office was worth the time away. I stood near the water and a few turtles swam over. It seems, people have made it a regular thing to throw food to the wildlife here.

I ate my crackers and one of the animals looked at me. Are you going to throw the cracker? No.

So he thought about it, and cautiously came halfway out of the water. Are you going to toss it to me? No.

He thought about it some more, and emerged completely from the pond. Turtles are No beings, too. I understood completely, this was a big deal to him. He was risking historical precedence. He was not used to doing this. At all.

I crouched with the peanut butter cracker and he came forward, grabbed a bite and like lightning he was back in the water, scaring the hell out of his buddy, who dunked out of there, pronto.

He and I, the bold turtle and the man, were Nos. No I am not going to come out of this pond. No I am not going to throw this cracker. And then, we thought, why not try something. Why not take a half-step onto land? Why not go into a crouch, and offer a bite from my fingers? Why not extend my neck and take the offer?

No maintains. Yes grows.

Yes is kind at all times. No is kind at the right time.

No protects the home. Yes invites everyone over.

Yes, let’s try and see what happens. No, I know what’s going to happen.

No is Yes’s chaperone. Yes is No’s night at the dance.

Yes, I’ll risk a bite! No, I’ll stay in the pond, thanks.
Posted in non-fiction, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Deep Dive Into Precious Cards

Condolence cards age like nothing can touch them. They may be paper, but they’re powerful. You don’t have to be great at writing heartfelt wishes. When you send a sympathy card, your effort is great, all by itself.

Condolence cards keep fresh the moment anguish has collided with concern, and concern has prevailed. If anguish is paralyzing, and concern is action, then the writer’s a hero. The victory path is mind to fingers, pen to paper, and envelope to mailbox. The card records and documents the battle–or is it an alliance? and then shuts up about it. It shuts up until we open the note again, if we dare to.

Not many cards proclaim that things are going to get better than this terrible day. Yet, isn’t that the truth–don’t things eventually get better for someone suffering through grief? Wouldn’t that advice be encouraging?

There are a few reasons why card-writers tend to keep this thought to themselves. 1. Don’t disrespect the moment. 2. Don’t miscalculate the griever’s plight. However bad you think she feels, try rating it as one-thousand times worse. 3. Don’t be fooled to think she is in any state to reason like you, no matter how she sounds, or appears.

You are sad. She is destroyed.

Chances are, you, the card-writer, are standing a distance from the epicenter. This is probably true, not matter how close your physical or emotional proximity may be. Don’t be surprised how quickly you might find yourself getting on with your regular life, maybe even as soon as the night you mailed the card. You are going to be digging into a bowl of ice cream and watching Frasier and your friend is out there wrecked, no appetite for food, not managing her bills, no motivation to pick up a dish, a comb, or a toothbrush.

Don’t be ashamed. Your world is preserved for a good reason. Here’s how she feels about you. I need your card–your prayers–your words, visits, and calls, as a sliver of ledge to stand on. I cherish your lifeline. I know you won’t fray that line. Won’t crumble my ledge.

Enjoy your ice cream. You’re going to be needed as your friend has known you.

One woman in particular knew the importance of condolence cards. She read them after her husband died, read them all, the hundreds, and replied to each. She marked each rubber-banded stack with the word “done” and then closed their storage box. She kept them, all of them, carefully packed away for thirty-seven years. A widow at age fifty-two, she was left with three children at home.

At eighteen, I was one of those kids. That woman was my mom.

In the darkness of a box, scores of words held their present moment in time.

In the darkness of a box, words huddled and waited for new eyes. One of those notes held a blockbuster secret. Would it be found out? Or more likely, thrown out?

Dad died at three markers in time. Mother’s Day, 1984. My brother’s college graduation. A month from closing the sale on our home. Those are hard markers, even just one of them. Nevertheless, mom answered the cards right away. In fact, with the home sale situation, she had about three weeks to acknowledge the notes, and pack them away.

One day last month I asked her if she’d like me to read those old cards to her. She agreed. At eighty-nine, it was time to cash in those savings. I wanted to know what they said, too.

This was what we discovered.

Many of the cards were written by people who have passed away. As mom and I came across their notes, she’d fall silent, then nod her head. She had a unique perspective on such things, and a gentle understanding that has come with age.

Perhaps she was remembering their eyes, their smile, engulfed in sunlight at the beach, or in dinner light.

Maybe she was recalling their voice, the sound that was unique to them. Maybe she was thinking of things that particular man or woman said, that only mom would remember now.

Elaine Martin’s note read: “Someday you will look back and realize it doesn’t hurt as much as it did.” I read those words to mom and watched her face. She thought a moment, said “Well,” and gave a faint nod. When I asked what her reaction might have been when she originally got Elaine’s card, she laughed and said, “Who knows. No, here’s what I thought: Easy for you to say!”

Steve Maio wrote, “Please, if there is anything for me to do, just ask.” Steve was a friend of the family, twenty-two years old. What could a young man do, in practical terms, for us? Well, it seems to me that most help goes undocumented. Not unnoticed, just not formally captured. He probably did a dozen things to help us through those days. Here’s a fact: This past November, Steve was pivotal in settling an important legal detail in mom’s estate. Not because he was fulfilling a promise; I’m sure he’d long forgotten that. He helped us because what he’d written was in his heart. And that had not changed.

There were many poignant notes and blessings.

Whether a single handwritten word (“Mike”), or a three-page letter (from cousin Sona), each card did a great thing. They formed that ledge for mom to stand. Not for her to get out of the pit, but to keep from falling further.

About thirty minutes into our reading, I took the next card out of the stack. This one was cream-colored, on a type of four-fold parchment paper. Its cover read, In Sympathy, in a big, royal font. I opened it. And sat, stunned.

“Well, who’s it from?” mom wanted to know. Patience, it seems, is lost to the very young and very old.

I blinked. And blinked again. There were dozens of names written inside the page.

They were mine. My North Adams State College freshman classmates.

Are you kidding me?

On the Monday night of finals week, May 14, 1984, I was in my pals’ room, Brian and Eric. There was a knock on the door– it was three men, my cousin, brother-in-law and older brother. I wasn’t expecting anyone for several days, and home was three hours away. What was this? Very cheerily they asked, “Hey, can we talk to you a minute?”

They walked me down the entire length of the 5th-floor hall, from my pals’ room to my own.

“Are you going to tell me bad news?”

“Yes,” my brother-in-law said.

They told me, briefly, what had happened to my father. I suddenly felt very much lighter than the moment before. Like I was untethered; the first of many awful feelings. “We have to leave, now,” they said. “Mom’s waiting for you. At home.” There was no time for me to gather my things, or say goodbye to anyone but my two pals. I hopped in the car and was gone.

The college packed up my room that week. My finals were deferred until early June.

I’d never received this card.

“Ara, who’s it from?” mom’s tone was softer now. I showed her the writing. “My friends,” I said.

My dorm mates from Hoosac Hall had mailed this to my house. How had I not known this, all these years? I quickly looked through the pile in front of us and found three more for me. Two were from 4th-floor girls and one was from the Campus Center Council.

How had I not received these? In the day?

Mom had no answer. That summer of ’84 was a mess and she and I talked about it. We surmised the cards arrived, were read by her, and packed away with the others. In the avalanche of mail, if she hadn’t noticed my name on the envelopes, it’s easy to imagine she understood the sentiments were for her.

I kissed my mom and brought the four cards home.

These are precious to me. I want to explain why.

I thoroughly enjoyed my freshman year at Hoosac Hall. We were an all-frosh dorm, with six floors of about thirty-six students per floor. The floors alternated, girls/guys.

I had two great freshman friends, Brian and Eric. Eric transferred to another school that summer, and I never saw him after that last night. Brian and I kept up for a few months of our sophomore year.

I’m sure those guys were responsible for the card. Eric probably bought it first thing Tuesday morning and I imagine Brian did the legwork to get it signed and sent, perhaps in Wednesday morning’s mail.

The facts of these details are forgotten, and beyond meaningless, but it’s important to me to piece together a story. Because it happened, on my account.

I never got to say thank you.

It would have been a disjointed week at Hoosac Hall, with kids studying, packing, testing and moving out, all on their own schedules. Thank you Brian and Eric. You’re two kids smiling at me, right now, in your room, in your doorway, I see you and you’re telling me it’s all right. Eric, you’re saying, “It’s no problem Ara. Really.” Brian you’re looking long at me, and your stare asks, “Are you okay?”

As only you could.

Brian, I’m okay.

I say I’m okay but I’m tearing up, I want to step into your room and pick up right where we were before I felt so light, that night.

For just one moment, please, I want that last year of my perfect boy’s life back. To be with you two. You shared secrets that got some beautiful things started in me.

I want it to go beyond taking in your voices and your looks. I want you to see me. And yet, this goes only one way, towards me.

My thoughts get past Brian and Eric (just for now guys) and are back in the present. As I study the card, it looks like maybe seven different pens were used. Assuming the signing order went from the top of the card to the bottom, my two buddies got it started, then it worked its way down to the 4th and 2nd floors. Then back to the 5th. And a stamp and off.

I missed out on the traditional goodbyes. Missed the address exchanges that eighteen-year-olds do. The good sobbing. The phone numbers on slips of paper. The promises to get together for the 4th of July. The group photos. I really, really, really missed my friends.

Thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful card. You stopped your world, thought of me, and signed your full names.

I had a problem leaving everyone behind like that. So many cut connections. I lost the social structure that would have helped me that summer and in September, when I returned to campus.

That summer, mom wanted me to see a grief counselor. I declined. I said I was okay. That was my mistake. I was not.

A counselor, or therapist, would have asked me about my friends, that good, big, decent group of boys and girls. Would have told me that the disruption was unhealthy, and didn’t have to continue. I’m sure I would have been encouraged to reach out to them, some of them, that summer. Certainly when the new semester started.

We were scattered all over campus but the suggestion, coming from a therapist, would have mattered to me. I think I would have enjoyed that. I should not have had to go through months of being a sophomore, with those freshman connections lost.

Condolence cards are meant to ease suffering, right now. I don’t think any thought is given to whether they’ll be preserved and re-examined decades later. Most cards simply do their job. I know the value of such a card. I just received a very touching one, indeed.

Posted in non-fiction, Uncategorized | 8 Comments