Monday, February 13, 2012

A long way back towards home…

Note: Cross posted from Rubble.


A long way back towards home...  Tiger Mountain from the Volunteer Park Water Tower.  Seattle, Washington.  June 30, 2011.  Photo of the Day, February 13, 2012.  First Anniversary of my Photo of the Day.

A long way back towards home...  Tiger Mountain from the Volunteer Park Water Tower.  Seattle, Washington.  June 30, 2011.  Photo of the Day, February 13, 2012.  First Anniversary of my Photo of the Day.

This is a picture taken on a trip from Gresham to the neighborhood in Seattle where I lived for ten years, looking east towards the town where I grew up.  In my original blurb about my photo of the day, I mentioned that some pictures would be chosen for sentimental value over technical value and this would be one of those.

I do like this picture, but I doubt it is the best picture in my files that has yet to be featured as the photo of the day.  I have years worth of unedited pictures to go through and I am sure that there are some really spectacular shots in there that I have overlooked so far.  This one is merely nice, in my book.  But because of way the subject matter intersects with the date, this shot spoke to me as I put together today’s post.

The tallest peak in the background is Tiger Mountain, the dominant geographical feature in the town I lived in from ages four to eighteen.

Larch Mountain seen from Gresham reminds me of Tiger, but it is more distant, not looming over downtown itself as Tiger looms over Issaquah.  I find the familiar profile comforting, though.  It is one of many things about Gresham that remind me of Issaquah.

Which is strange to me in some ways.  During the ten years I lived on or near Capitol Hill in Seattle, if you asked me if I would ever want to return to Issaquah or to live in a town that reminded me of it, I would have laughed you out of the room.

So many years later, with children of my own, I still have little desire to return to Issaquah.  That time of my life is behind me now.  Beyond that, the town I grew up in has changed so much that it is practically unrecognizable to me.  Even if I wanted to go home again, I could not.  The town I lived in does not exist anymore, I have no family there any more, and most of my friends have scattered across the country.  There is little there for me now.

But raising my kids in a town that reminds me of the town I grew up in is very nice.  I had a pretty good time growing up in Issaquah.  Though, technically, I grew up in Sammamish, that town did not exist when I lived there.  And I did go to high school in Issaquah proper, right at the foot of Tiger Mountain.

It was a good place for me to spend my childhood.  I hope Gresham treats my boys as well as Issaquah treated me.  If you’ve ever really wondered what the Part Two on my Suburban Eschatology blog represents, well, there it is in a nut shell.

So…  This post is supposed to be about the photos of the day, not this particular selection.  Well, there is a reason for those sentimental musings, but for now I’ll turn to this on going series of photos…

I’ve been at this photo of the day thing for a year now.  It, too, has treated me pretty well.  All the goals I mentioned in the original blub about it have been met in spades.  It has kept me focused on my photography, it has forced me to become a better photographer, it has gained me a fan or two… All good things.

This anniversary comes at an interesting time in my life.  There is a reason why I chose a sentimental picture for this milestone.  I find myself at a crossroads where I will soon be returning to work for the first time in a couple years and I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about what directions I would like my career to head in from here.

I must admit that, for the last ten years or more, I have been wandering a bit.  I became a tech writer by trade because it was what I had become in practice already.  Though it was not my specific title until 2007, it made up a large share of my job description in every position I’ve held since 1999. 

But I never really chose it as my profession.  It just sort of happened.  It is not a bad way to spend my time, it pays my bills, but it is not where I imagined myself when I lived in the shadow of Tiger Mountain, nor when I lived on the hill with the water tower.

Likewise, I never really wanted to be a “Photographer,”  though it has always been a hobby of mine.  I’ve been taking pictures since I was in the first grade and people have always liked them.  My only formal training was a couple of elective classes in middle school where I learned how to work in black and white and where I learned that I love working with enlargers making prints and that I hate the actual process of developing film.

In high school, I was the photo editor for my school’s newspaper for two years, along with wearing some other hats on the paper’s staff.  After high school, though, photography faded into the background for the most part.  I could not have a dark room in my apartments and in the pre-digital era, it was hard to be a “serious photographer” without access to a darkroom.

In Seattle, by the end of the 1990s, I didn’t even have a decent camera any longer, though in the couple years before I moved to the Portland area, the photography bug would pop up from time to time.  Recently I started running through and scanning a shoebox full of pictures I took during those years.  Some of the later prints were shot with disposable cameras, but I still managed to get some decent pictures.  I am sure these will be trickling out into my photos of the day over the next few weeks.

I was given my first digital camera in 2002.  It was a pretty sad little piece of gear, but it was better than nothing, and as I’ve written before, I was happy to have it.  But the 2000s were a difficult period for my family and I.  It wasn’t until the second half of the decade that I was able, from time to time, to get out and take many photos beyond the obligatory snapshots of the kids. 

I didn’t really start taking photography seriously again until I bought myself a somewhat decent point and shoot camera in April 2007.  With a decent digital camera and access to some mediocre photo editing software, I found that I didn’t need a darkroom any more for “serious photography.”  A clearance priced HP Photosmart, a bundled consumer photo editor, and I was back in the game.  Still, I didn’t think of photography as anything more than a minor hobby. 

Though that is not entirely true.  In my role as a technical writer with ESI, photography actually played as big of a part of my job as writing and editing.  In fact, I was hired not because of my writing, but because of my photography skills.  The manager who hired me was looking for a photographer more than a writer - a technical writer, for sure, but one who actually had demonstrable photography skills as well, and tech writers such as this were a bit harder to find.

For the duration of that contract, I spent as much time working with cameras and photo editing software as I did actually writing and editing text.  For that time, at least, I do feel that it would be acceptable to call myself a professional photographer.  As acceptable, at least, as it was to call myself a professional writer during the years where I was writing a lot for work but it had not yet been promoted into my official job title.

Still, in my own mind and in my heart, photography was not my passion, it was merely one of many activities that I enjoyed.  As Joseph Campbell would have put it, it was not my bliss.

When it comes to the arts, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer first, a musician second, and a photographer as a distant third.  While I did start taking pictures regularly a little before I started writing, first grade versus second grade, and while I didn’t start playing music until the fourth grade, I’ve spent much more of my life working on my writing and music than on my photography.

So, photography rising as my primary creative outlet over the past year has been quite a surprise to me in some ways.  Sure, I have been taking a lot of pictures since 2007, but I wasn’t doing anything with them except throwing a few up on Facebook from time to time.  I did not consider my pictures to be anything more than a mild hobby and sanity saving distraction, not a serious artistic or professional pursuit.

Over the last year, though, I haven’t had the focus or attention to work on much writing or music.  For me, those are solitary pursuits and I have not had more than a very occasional hour or two of solitary time over the last 15 months or so.  When I was in California, I did have a lot of time to work on some research and development for a novel I will write eventually, but when I came home and took on the challenge of getting my boys put back together, that project was put on indefinite hold.

But one thing I have been able to do is to take a lot of pictures.  Rather than being an artistic pursuit that keeps me away from my children, it is something that I can work on while spending time with my family.  I want to go take some pictures?  I throw the boys and dog in the car and off we go and everyone has a good time (though there are the occasional complaints that I stop too often on our hikes and walks to take pictures).

And photography has helped to keep me sane through the past year.  With so many challenges coming from having two special needs children (not to mention their disabled mother crashing in their room since last June), having to put my entire life on hold for the last year to put them back together, photography has been the one piece of me that I have been able to hold onto, to not set aside for my family, and to find some comfort and refuge in.

So, at risk of being a bit overdramatic, for the last year, photography has been instrumental in keeping me from going bat shit crazy.

Now, a year into my photo of the day, I find myself approaching a crossroads.  Where do I go from here with my career, now that it looks like I will be able to resume one?

For the first time in my life, I really do consider myself to be a Photographer.  Not a writer who takes some pictures, not as someone who likes taking pictures, but as an actual, capital P, Photographer.  For the first time in many, many years, I would actually consider making a career out of this.  And for the first time ever I could see it as not being a subset of my job, but as it being the primary focus of my job.

During the time from middle school through the end of high school, I did see photography as playing a big role in my future career life.  Through those years, I wanted to be a journalist and I saw myself eventually working both as a photojournalist and a writer.  By the end of high school, I was in a position to have a very successful career as a journalist.  However, some experiences during my senior year of high school soured me on those plans.  Those are stories probably better saved for Democracy In Distress, though, rather than Rubble.

After the last year, though, for the first time in twenty years I find myself drawn to journalism as a career path because it seems like such a perfect way to combine my writing with my photography, the same draw that profession held for me so long ago.  Unlike back then, this time around I actually could see myself working purely as a photographer, though I would still prefer it if there was some writing involved.

To me, for my abilities, I just think it is the best way for me to tell stories, with words and pictures .

Over the next few years, instead of continuing the aimless career drift that I’ve been suffering for the last twelve or thirteen years (this is not entirely true, I had definite career plans while I was back in school from 2004-2008, but my education was completely derailed by the continual health and stability issues that have plagued my family for the past decade and those plans are now indefinitely, if not permanently, unattainable), I really see myself steering towards journalism. 

This is not to say that I am going to drop everything and completely start from scratch, just a couple hours ago I submitted a resume for a likely looking tech writing contract, but I will start looking for more opportunities in the journalism field, and I will pursue them when I find them. 

Tomorrow I will start this process by applying for a position as a monthly columnist for a national website.  A position that would not be full time work with a self-sufficient income if it is offered to me, but one that would be a nice foot in the door with a little supplemental income as a bonus.

I also have a couple of other photography related goals that I will pursue this year as opportunities present themselves, ones that are more artistically oriented.

So, I’ve come full circle.  From Gresham, through Seattle, and back to Issaquah.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  Exactly what I wanted to be when I drove to school in the shadow of Tiger Mountain on the first day of my senior year of high school, a little over twenty-one years ago. 

I will admit that I’ve recently been feeling the ache of so many “lost” years.  This will be a harder profession for me to break into now.  Back then, I had contacts and references from Washington DC elite and cabinet members of the National Press Club.  Today?  A year’s worth of photos of the day, a few good references from work in semi-related fields, and some blog posts.  But that is a lot more than nothing.

I have to remember that I’ve played the hands I’ve been dealt to the best of my ability.  Sometimes my ability was lacking and, here and there, I blew some pretty good hands, but there was also some long periods where I was dealt nothing but crap.  I blame no one but myself for my mistakes and I have faith that God wanted me to learn a few things from the tougher hands in life, so I try not to be bitter, but sometimes it can be a bit dispiriting.

Sometimes it too easy to look backwards and see so many junctions in life where slightly different choices could have lead to me being in very different places in life today, probably more secure places, as well.  A couple different twists and turns in the past, in the days under Tiger Mountain, or on Capitol Hill, or even more recently here in Gresham, and I could very easily have achieved many of the goals that I am just starting off towards today, but where I am in life today is exactly where God meant for me to be in life today.  Without that simple truth, I am lost, but with it, I can find a tremendous amount of strength.

It is easy to get lost in the woulda, shoulda, couldas…  It is best just to avoid them. 

Fortunately, even more than this sad, semi-remorseful and frustrating sentimentality, what I have been feeling recently is a lot of optimism.  For the first time in almost two decades, I feel like I am really at a point in my life where I can finally apply all the lessons I’ve been learning and find some success and security for myself and my children.  I feel like I am at a junction where all the different experiences of my life are coming together in such a way to really prepare me for some solid successes in the near future.

That is a very good place to be in life.  When I look backwards ten years, twenty years, it is easy to feel frustration and regret, but when I look ahead ten years, well…  It looks pretty damn good from where I stand right now.

My photography, and my photo of the day series in particular, has a lot to do with this optimism.

So tonight I spend a moment looking backwards towards a home that no longer exists.  Tomorrow, though, I turn towards the future and all the promises of hope that greet us as we awake each morning at dawn.

Products featuring photography by A. F. Litt:

deviantArt: Prints, cards, mugs, mouse pads, magnets, puzzles and other products.

Cafe Press: Calendars, etc.


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