Stare.
     
 

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  Liz Young
(unfinished portrait)

 
 
 

 
 
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8 January 1997
Liz Young
(unfinished portrait)
I took this portrait of Liz Young because I liked her tattoo. It was a nice photograph, and I didn't think much more about it until 1989 when I went to a large photography conference.

1989 was the first time I showed my work to strangers, ostensibly prestigious strangers with impressive titles at that. I wasn't intimidated, though; I'd only shown my work to friends for fifteen years until I knew I was strong enough not to be adversely affected by anyone's praise or criticism. As it turned out, there weren't any big surprises from reviewers. Most of them liked my work, a couple didn't get it, and one pretentious photographer opined that "you can't make photographs that look like that in 1989."

My biggest surprise wasn't from the reviewers but from myself: I found I really wasn't a proper photographer. For years I'd shown my work to friends in an informal atmosphere. After dinner I'd pull out a box of photographs and a bottle of wine and we'd look and talk and talk and look. At the conference, though, the setting was much more formal. I passed a small stack of photographs to a curator or editor then waited for a response. This worked well until they came to the photograph of Liz.

On one level, the photograph stood on its own, just like I'd been taught photographs should. Looking at the photograph in silence, I learned that photography is one medium and that photographs with words are another. The photograph of Liz reads quite differently if you know that she had the tattoo to commemorate the automobile accident that left her paralyzed. There's more I want you to know about Liz, but I haven't written it yet.

The photograph remains an unfinished portrait.

9 January 1997
The Living Is Easy
I was high in the mountains and knew I was going to die soon. There wasn't much I could do about it; some situations are just that way. I've heard hypothermia isn't a bad way to go, so I decided to accept the inevitable and wade into a glacier-fed lake.

Before I did, though, I thought I should generate a list of my friends' names and addresses so they could be easily notified of my death. After I'd decided to at least print out a set of address labels, I thought it wouldn't be much more work to send everyone a quick goodbye note. I couldn't figure out whether I should take the time to write everyone a quick individual farewell or whether I should just send the same announcement to everyone. I preferred the latter option, but hesitated: a surprising number of my friends dislike receiving the same words that I've sent to someone else.

In the end, the whole process of ending my life seemed too complicated, so I came down from the mountain and kept living.

10 January 1997
Water is Thicker than Blood
In the deepest part of the ocean the water is denser than a human body, or even human bones. This became widely known after the current Russian government declassified documents regarding the Sergei Rostrapov, a small Soviet deep sea probe active in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1973 the Sergei Rostrapov, tethered to the research ship Krasnaya Martinska, was exploring the ocean floor some 200 kilometers east of the Mariana Islands. The vessel's log tells the first encounter with the phenomenon:

    11 March 1973 14:32 [depth: 8,700 meters]
    Captain Sternyenko reports the appearance of an American sailor--dead, but perfectly preserved--lying among the magnesium deposits. The sighting was confirmed by Second Officer Lermantov, although a hardware malfunction prevented photographic documentation.

The report goes on to say that Sternyenko and Lermantov were subjected to a battery of physiological and psychological tests, all of which they passed. In a rare example of dry bureaucratic humor, the report notes that "even vodka was ruled out."

On 13 October, Captain Sternyenko and First Officer Roskolokov returned to the sailor's grave. On this dive they were met with a macabre tableau: a veil of dead humans--all perfectly preserved--suspended motionless in the water. There were sailors, civilians, even a little girl, all floating at a depth of 8,801 meters.

Captain Sternyenko, who was a deeply religious and superstitious man, thought it both disrespectful and unlucky to photograph the corpses. In twenty minutes he'd seen enough, and ordered the probe to return to the surface. (The only surviving images from the incident are grainy video stills that were automatically fed to the surface monitoring station.)

In what amounted to a de facto small-scale mutiny, the crew decided to return immediately to Vladivostok "to file an urgent report." Their report was never published, and the sailors refused to return to the site.

There aren't that many places where the ocean is 8,800 meters deep. I wonder how many people know that water is thicker than blood?

gratuitous image
11 January 1997
Certainty Past Doubt
I had a dream about replacing the hands of a clock with words. I was very excited about the possibilities, and hoped I'd remember the idea when I woke up in the morning. (On the other hand, I didn't think the idea was so good that it was worth getting up in the middle of the night to make notes.)

As with most of the ideas I have in my dreams, though, the idea lost its resonance when I awoke.

12 January 1997
The Secret of Conducting
Dmitri Miskropolos is the first professional orchestral conductor I've talked with in decades. He agreed to tell me the secret of conducting, but only after I'd convinced him that my days as a professional musician were long gone.

"The only difficult part of conducting is to make the hundred huge egos in the orchestra subservient to yours," he explained. "After that you only have to wave the stick until the music stops then turn around and bow."

13 January 1997
Contemporary Drum Rudiments
01. (Parabuzzle)
02. (Choo-choo)
03. (Chatachichi)
04. (Shirley Murphy)
05. (Diddle-egg-five)
06. (Cheese Chain)*
07. (Flamacue-diddle)
08. (Diddle-flafla)
09. (Ripits)
10. (Paradiddle-flafla)
11. (Ratamaswiss)
12. (Triple-acue)
13. (Shockadiddle)
14. (Double flam drag)
15. (Chutra-cheese)
16. (Swiss cheese invert)
17. (Malf taps)
18. (Tajada)
19. (Cheesecha)
20. (Chut-cheese)
21. (Cheese-cha)
22. (Flam 5 flafla)
23. (1-hand flam drag)
24. (Single stroke drag)
25. (Irish five)
26. (Flam Beaters)*
27. (Flamill drags)
28. (Flaflam drag)
29. (Flive-a-diddle)
30. (Egg Beaters)*

*The entire document was copied verbatim, including possible capitalization errors.

14 January 1997
What's Left?
"Sam [Wagstaff] became an interesting man as he grew older. He cut down everything that was not important. Very few people can do this--if you cut down, what's left?"

At first, I though Pierre Apraxine's question was deceptively simple since it seems to have only one answer: what's important. It was only when I realized that the corollary to "what's left?" is "what's important?" that I realized how clever Apraxine's seemingly simple observation was.

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©1997 David Glenn Rinehart