Armchair Peregrinations

Nov. 23, 2004

My latest copy of the excellent photographic publication, B&W Magazine, came the other day. As always, it is a treat to glance through the pages at the fine examples of black and white photography contained in the portfolios and in photographers' display ads which usually feature a representative photograph which leads me to want to discover more about their work.

Photography has been a major interest of mine since I was a child and took most of the family pictures at holidays and when on vacation at the beach. Or at least it seemed I did. In high school I was editor of a section of the yearbook, and one of my jobs was to select and crop photos taken by our intrepid yearbook photographer. He seemed to be so truly interested in what he did, and when you are a teenager and see that quality in someone, you are impressed.

I think I have always been a visual person, someone who is fascinated by images and what they tell me about other realities and lives. Photographs are frozen images in time, but they are also dynamic and constantly reveal inner truths and meanings. Each time I look at a photograph, there is something different to discover. Even the most ordinary photograph has a story to tell. That is what I find so fascinating.

In college I took pictures only a few times and primarily during my senior year. It was not until I had graduated and moved to South Carolina to take journalism courses and prepare for a newspaper career that my photographic interests really took off. I met two friends who would go with me on photographic travels on back roads in the countryside. Then we would head back to Eddie's house and use his darkroom to develop our film and create prints in the chemical trays. Of course, everything we did then was black and white because that was for decades the primary fine art medium for photography.

There is an indefinable quality about black and white that totally sets it apart from color photography. In a sense, there is more depth and meaning on some levels because one is not distracted by a chorus of colors or resemblance to what we are accustomed to seeing in our everyday world. Photographs in black and white make us look at the world differently, in other words.

That was what was so exciting -- my friends and I were creating art then. It was a powerful feeling of accomplishment. I cannot describe the satisfaction one gets when near perfect negative yields a finished print that comes out exactly as you want it to.

I miss those days and have matted and framed photographs on my walls to attest and remind me of them.

B&W magazine keeps me interested in the work of photographers who illuminate corners of the world, their worlds, with their art. Here are a few examples:

The Landscape Gallery

Bruce Beck Photography

Still Light Photography

Alan Shulik Photography

Vision Quest Photography

Nov. 18, 2004

The world of cyberspace is a land of opportuntiies and possibilities beyond our ability to even imagine, and also one that is filled with endless tarpits of folly and delusion. In other words, friendships and relationships in the cosmos of the Internet and World Wide Web are like life itself, minus one critical factor: the real-life, in-person presence of the other person. This, ultimately, can make it a lonely place despite all the time consumed in the presence of "virtual" others.

As one who has delved deeply into the world of chat and instant messaging for the past few years, I now find myself in the fateful, and perhaps inevitable position of arriving full-circle back to the place where I started. It has been a long journey along a road filled with many joyful, funny, intellectual and happy moments deeply connecting with people on one level, interspersed with scenes and episodes of tragic and disturbing visits to the very troubled worlds of people who seem lost. For you see, from the countless encounters with people on the Internet, the friends that have lasted so far are those I met here in Open Diary. All the rest never were, or never were meant to be friends, in the long haul. This is a sobering realization that makes me both all the more grateful for OD, but at the same time melancholy that so much has been lost on the Internet, trying so hard to connect meaningfully with others and reach out beyond my solitary world. Was all this futility the result of some deep-seated need, and now it has all been for naught?

There are many lessons here for me. I don't know how many of you can relate to this. Ultimately, I think we are all alone when it comes right down to it, but If you have spouses, lovers, partners, and/or family you live with and see on a daily basis, the world of chat and instant messaging may seem very peripheral to you -- a diversion, a way to use up some free moments in the evenings before going to bed, or on rainy, dreary weekends shut up indoors. For some, though, the Internet has become a conduit to the world, not a diversionary form of entertainment and communication. I am not minimizing the importance of e-mail, but it pales by comparison to the powerful communication tool known as Instant Messaging. Instant messaging is real time. There is another person "talking" to you in the same town or city, or way off in Australia. From the very first conversation I typed out with another person five years ago on the old ICQ, I knew then that life would never be the same. It allows anonymous and totally honest communication if you want that, or the most superficial and mindless connections that leave you feeling empty when it's done.

What is the purpose of all this communicating on the Internet? I think it's because we just want to be with and know other people. I realized how much a social person I am, not because people tell me I am or because I am so gregarious at work, but because I have gone so far to one extreme in trying to avoid loneliness. I don't go out at night after work or even on weekends. I didn't do all that outside socializing even as a college student and young man. I have always been very solitary on my own time. Rather than try to be content with life as it is, or with my alone time reading books, watching TV, reflecting, thinking, listening to music as I did for all those decades before the Internet, I have let the Internet substitute for all of those things and for meeting others outside my closed routines of work and home. But as the last Messenger box pops off the screen for the night, I am often left feeling there is huge a void that I have been attempting to fill, and in the easiest way I know how. It does not take much effort to turn on the computer and open the instant messaging box or go to a chat room. I have come to depend on others to fill this void in me, whether they be strangers or friends in cyberspace or imagined friends and lovers in real life.

Often in life, it does take coming full circle back to the starting point to begin again and to go in a new direction. I need to get on another road, another track, one that lets me achieve a balance between knowing people in cyberspace and knowing them in person. Or, just being content with myself as I am and not trying to force myself into some other way of life or existance. If I am going to be alone, let me find ways to advance spiritually and find God. Let me find happiness in good books, music, walks at the nature preserve, being with my family here, talking to my good, true, and lasting friends on the Internet.

It's always quiet and invisible when chatting and instant messaging. I don't see the faces of my friends or their expressions. I just hear the distant sound of traffic out my window and watch the branches of my favorite oak tree bending in the wind on this gray and overcast November day.

As the poet Robert Frost said, however, I believe I still have "miles and miles to go before I sleep."

The Psychology of Cyberspace

Nov. 14, 2004

I am a book buyer and collector. A compulsive one. For as long as I can remember I have loved books. Let's see.. Back when I was 12 I joined my first book club, the Doubleday $1 Book Club, and excitedly started putting tomes on my shelf as a teenager. There has been no going back.

I have spent endless pleasurable hours browsing in bookstores over the years. Books to me are treasured friends to hold in one's hand and feel the knowledge, wisdom, and experience contained within each volume. What a comforting feeing to hold a book and then read it and be enriched and strengthened by the insights contained there. Looking at illustrations and photos in books, and reading text, transports me to other worlds, miniature worlds within the larger one I inhabit.

Going further, one can confidently say that a person's library is truly a window into his soul. Whenever I am in someone's house, which is rare, I immediately notice if there are bookshelves full of books. If there are, I feel the presence of a kindred soul. I gaze at the titles he has assembled on the shelves, realizing that I would be similarly honored if someone were admiring the books in my collection.

Unfortunately, my library has has long since outgrown my small apartment. Books are piled on the floor in the spare bedroom/study. They are stacked up beside my bed and at the foot of my bed. They are mostly books waiting to be read. Who knows when I will get to them, but just knowing I have the opportunity to enter those worlds of the authors is satisfaction enough. It is the sure knowledge that I will never run out of books to read. I have spent the last ten years building up my library. I am, frankly, overwhelmed, but also in awe of my accomplishment. This is what happens when one has some time and money to devote to book buying. I took some photos of a few of my own bookshelves recently, inspired by the Bookshelf Project. Apparently people love to show off their bookshelves. After all, they are perfect reflections of themselves. Our books tell us what kind of people we are, what we are interested in, how we view the world through our choice of reading material.

I was amused to read this article, and was glad to know there are probably many other people who have no real discipline when it comes to accumulating books. I think a lot of professors' offices cannot hold even one more book.

Finally, in my search for photos of bookshelves filled with books, I went to Google images and found these quite illustrative photos.

Books are the mark of a civilized person. Bookshelves are where they reside.

Nov. 7, 2004

Secret 65: We should not complain, but always enjoy and be grateful for the good fortune we still possess.

About the secret: In an undesirable situation or contronted with a loss, the inferior person bitterly complains and curses his luck. The knowledgeable, successful person remembers the good things still left to him and smiles. He knows that the seemingly undesirable situation or loss will ultimately be a benefit to him; thus, he responds in a positive way... Each is in charge of his response; each has set the pattern for the continuing course of events. Those of us who master that one secret will find ourselves always in the best possible situations, enjoying the wonders life holds for the enlightened.

Chris Prentiss, The Little Book of Secrets: 81 Secrets for Living a Happy, Prosperous and Successfull Life.

My self-esteem has helped me get through, but ego is not the best word. I should be careful about that; it has the wrong connotations. I have a core, bedrock sense of myself and what I have done that is good, and what I am capable of doing in the future. That sustains me through all the failures and horrible wrong steps i have taken. It's the core, the soul, the essence that forms over the course of a lifetime. But it's still very fragile because there have been so many bad things that have countered this and attacked the foundation, part my own doing, and part my upbringing, past decisions, and so forth. Some things beyond my control, in other words>

An excerpt of what I said in an instant messaging conversation recently, one of those brief bursts of lucidity that often come out in those conversations, but which rarely register with the other person. Such is life on the Internet. (I will soon have an entry about cyberspace/online friendships and/or relationships. Something I have a lot to say about and will include a choice link as well.)

I am 53 years old. I have read a lot, lived a lot, been a lot of places. Still, even at this age, I acknowledge I have a ways to go yet on my journey toware peace of mind and enlightenment, spiritual completion or fulfillment, if you wish. Part of my basic philosophy, which I like to share with others, is summed up in the above statement.

However, I am always seeking signs that mark the way, in a manner of speaking. They appear to us at unexpected times and places.

When I scan the bargain book table at the bookstore, I occasionally come across surprises such as The Little Book of Secrets. Sometimes kernals of wisdom come in seemingly innocuous and trite packages. By this I mean, when someone says he has 81 secrets for living a happy, successful life, I am naturally a bit skeptical. I find self-help books fascinating for what they aspire to be to people, but I never buy them. Instead, I look for offbeat or unusual books of "wisdom", books of quotations and explanations, and this little blue book is full of that.

What is success? one naturally asks. It has nothing to do with material wealth or possessions. Those are just outward trappings of a certain kind of "success." What is "propserity"? That can mean many things as well. Prosperity to me is having enough materially to enable me to do those things in life which ultimately lead to inner peace. One needs a certain amount of stability to advance along the path to knowledge and enlightenment as well as basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, a job that is secure, and relationships with others.

What are the "secrets of life"? In this one little book, this is how they were discovered: "These secrets have been gathered by one of the world's great scholars, who has spent a lifetime searching for them in the most ancient and revered writings on our planet. They have survived for thousands of years."

As we skim along on the surface of life, we find ourselves yearning to delve deeper, to tap into the wisdom of the ages. When we do, the random signs and lessons cohere into meaningful stories and explanations. We glimpse the whole, briefly, fleetingly and then it is gone. But each time we do, we are more sure of our calling, our purpose and our destiny. By the time we are old, we will have hopefully achieve a level of wisdom that enables us to calmly weather the storms of life. That is what I hope.

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