A Mother’s Word

When I was twenty one, still living with my parents, I went through a long-time-coming (and long overdue) breakup. It was the second time I had been through the same thing with the same person (shame on me, and the reason I almost never talk about it). At two in the morning, I lay crying on the bathroom floor, surrounded by mascara-covered tissues and near-four-year-old memories, thoughts of “the other woman” in my head. My Mother came downstairs, half-asleep, hair crazy, and sat beside me. She let me cry for exactly two minutes, then said, very sternly: “Caroline, that’s enough. Get up. You’re not letting him do this to you.”

The years that followed from that point saw me put my life back on the track it should have been on all along. A couple short years later, I (finally) finished my undergraduate degree and off I went, as many children eventually do. There are many more moments along the way that mark the sting of change and discomfort of successes and failures which I shared with her, more personally than anyone.

I don’t share details of my personal life often (I’m getting better at this one, much to the world’s chagrin, I’m sure), but the snapshots of intimacy between mother and daughter so often happen within microcosmic moments, and all too often in the context of a lesson.

Almost five years later, nearly two degrees and one on the way (and all the important things which aren’t that quantifiable), I’m everything I am because she always made me get back up. Even when I didn’t want to.

So, Happy [American] Mother’s Day to all of the mothers raising children to be strong, resilient, loving, and kind (and to the fathers doing the same in their place). Your work is the most important work: you have the love of the world today and its admiration always.

To my own mother, the biggest troublemaker and the strongest woman I know, I wouldn’t be a grown up if it hadn’t been for you. And being a grown up means I get to spoil you from faraway lands. Thank you for all you do for me and for all of the young lives you touch every day: for being there, at whatever hour.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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“How Van Met Phyllis” – Piece Featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine

I am excited to share the release of my second featured piece with Edge of Humanity Magazine, a website specialising in photoessay, documentary photography, investigative cultural journalism, and memoir. As the second installment of an ongoing memoir and photography project, I visited Curley’s Diner in Stamford, Connecticut — where my maternal grandparents met in 1948 — to explore their love story, and in the process, explored the diner’s historic past and cross-cultural significance to more families than just my own.

This is a much more personal project than I am used to sharing and I’m honoured to have it receive such audience. I am so grateful for the amount of love I have received as a result of this story and send big thanks to everyone who takes the time to give my work a read, keep up with and / or interact with me, and of course, to Edge of Humanity for the work they do to give writers and photographers such a suitable and honourable platform.

Read more about The Ruby Slipper Project here and be sure to check out Edge of Humanity for some incredible articles, photoessays, and much more. To read the original blog post, click here.

“At the Edge of the World”: First Publication with Edge of Humanity Magazine

This is not a drill: I am thrilled to share news of the publication of two pieces of my work by @Edge of Humanity Magazine, a website specialising in photoessay, documentary photography, investigative cultural journalism, and memoir. This marks my first piece of published work outside of collegiate opportunity.

I could not be more honoured to be featured amongst the other artists and writers who contribute to Edge of Humanity, many of whom travel all over the world seeking out adventure, reflecting on photographic perspectives, all while bringing light to important cultural issues. I have been enamored of this publication for some time, which brings this milestone particular significance.

This piece, which I wrote and photographed in the Spring of 2016 while living and working in Northern California, is a journalistic photoessay which aims to document and discuss the often very visual dissimilarity between one of California’s most affluent University towns and the outlying farmland communities which support California’s economy — including the huge and internationally-critical agricultural industry — often, at the educational expense of those communities.

I send big thanks to Edge of Humanity, everyone who has encouraged me, taken the time to read my work, challenged me, and learned with me as I have grown over the last two years. I am incredibly grateful ❤

Winter Gardens – The People’s Palace, Glasgow, Scotland, Photo Series

The winds are still bitingly cold here in Glasgow, but nature is trying to convince us all it hasn’t let us down. Winter is waining here steadily by the day, and as if to spite the cold, the earliest traces of buds are appearing on some of the city’s more brazen trees (viz., those farther from the banks of the River Clyde and / or the coast).

Glasgow’s People’s Palace features an impressive collection of plants and flowering flora which offer a pleasant distraction from the damp, raw winds and unabating, early fall of the sun. All else of what’s on offer at the fantastic corresponding museum aside, the flora itself allows visitors to get lost in a peaceful, tropical version of an English garden.

A lovely respite from the cold (or the endless heaps of paperwork which accompany the commencement of second term in graduate school).

 

Bound to Books: University of Glasgow’s Special Collections Library

I may or may not have held an original Manet in my hands today, itself enclosed in a book from James McNeill Whistler’s personal library.

The University of Glasgow’s Special Collections Library is found on a quieter floor of the Library (the twelfth to be precise) with ample space for reading and reviewing specific rare and protected works from the University’s archives. First editions, rare editions, ancient texts — everything and anything. It offers an intimidating front (the illustrated diagram of a fetus in-utero in the entrance display case, however beautiful, is not altogether helpful), but an inclusive atmosphere once you’re in the door. You sit in peace and quiet reviewing a book lain on a specially designed pillow with “book snakes” (yes, seriously) to weight down the pages. Contrary to popular belief, no white gloves here — bare, clean, dry fingers only. Standing in a line, my classmates and I initially stood with militant precision (though admittedly avoiding laughing at various in sundry jokes) before realising that we could operate normally among the books.

In a world of increasingly freely-accessible literature even for those outside of the academic community, and particularly at a University with so many digitised resources, why are books still important?

While digitising resources in a digital age is critical to accessibility and use of literary materials and their cultural longevity in a society which is more and more heavily rooted in technology with each passing year, reviewing the nuances of an original physical copy which holds high relevance to the period in which it was written or published can tell us more about a work which we otherwise may have easily overlooked due to its physically intangible nature.

As wonderful as digital resources have become (and as advanced) they are a gateway to the pursuit of knowledge itself as they should be a gateway to the handling of real material. At some level, the review of these materials enables students to contextualise nuances of the material which could otherwise be a missed but relevant portion of their academic or personal analysis — the colour of the binding, the manner of the binding, the cut of the pages, the material of the paper. And it doesn’t hurt that you just can’t replace a good book.

We are bound to the books as they are bound to their own history, and it is our responsibility to continue a balance between digital resources and hands-on examination which encourages critical review of the works by parties educated by digital resources first. Digital resources should act as training wheels to handling the books themselves, and while special collections is alive and well, it certainly doesn’t seem the busiest floor of the Glasgow University Library.

These facets of the library provide sustained and childlike hope in discovery itself — discoveries yet to be made in a world which often seems to have done everything already. With continued student participation in special collections and adviser / professor / tutor mandate and introduction of its use in a contextual light, there is hope that the floor might get some more attention… even if it’s not the books that get students in the door, because who can argue with this view?

 

 

A Call to Arms

In my middle school chorus back in the United States, our conductor chose for us to perform “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime. Few of us understood its significance at the time, even in the wake of the terrorism we had borne witness to just a few years earlier. Today, for the first time, I fully feel its significance standing on foreign shores.
 
Watching this election was very much akin to watching a Hindenburg-scale disaster burst into gaseous, inflammatory flame-throwing and taking precious lives and their liberties down, unaware of the danger until the last few moments. Watching in horror as something we each harbour respect and love for at some level is reminiscent of that day in middle school so long ago when we all sat and watched the towers go down together.
 
I was led to Scotland through my pride in my heritage. My clan motto, ‘timor omnis abesto’ is of great comfort right now — let fear be far from all.
 
I beseech each of you:
 
Do not run. Do not show that man fear in the face of this international abomination – in the face of a weak man whose only basis for confidence is built upon that fear.
 
With grace and humility, pity those who fell victim to the discourse of hate and fear mongering he spews.
 
Do not divorce those who have been swayed by his violent rhetoric, it is largely a product of our societal failings. It is they we need to fight for – it is they our government has failed. We are limited in learning only by that which we are not exposed to.
 
We cannot turn our backs on those whose lack of education, religious bigotry, or personal insecurities he exploited so vampirically for their ignorance as a viscous medium by which to breed hatred and fear at an exponential, shocking scale.
 
Stand in solidarity with those you love – if you were willing to fight against Trump on election day, stand and be willing to fight against him in all that you do for as long as he is in office and beyond.
 
 
If we show that man fear, let it be the fear of our innocent, if we show him anger, let it be the anger of the powerless.
 
Let our love speak the loudest, let it crack and topple the foundations of the very house in which he will sit if it must: watch him burn it to the ground and let its embers and poison smoke warm the cockles of the constituency if it comes to it. But let not our voice be a voice of hate. Let not our historic legacy be that we turned our backs in disgust at our fellow Americans and ran instead of addressing the conditions which led to this abominable decision.
 
Let the clamouring fervour of our call to arms be built upon our grace and the grace of our ancestors, for only in this will it stand as a monument to progress and to peaceful resistance.
 
Lay down your arms! Heed this instead as a call for Armistice, for improved education, for love, for patience, for social justice.
 
Abandon neither your passions nor your fervour, but act upon them with the intellect and decorum which will continue to be at such a high deficit in the months and years to come.
 
 
Make them hear you. Please don’t give up on each other, it’s all we have.
 
I love each and every one of you, even if we don’t speak. Please use this as an opportunity to reach out to people you rarely talk to – unite us through this.
 
I need you right now. We all do. Make them hear you.

Dichotomous Digital Discourse: Benefits and Drawbacks to Intense ‘Comments Section’ Political Arguments

The scene is set: a political meme is posted on Facebook. One by one, depending on the following of the original poster, an influx of commentary dings through notifications like church bells resounding in vacuous space to the unfortunate person who made the mistake of ‘liking’ or ‘reacting’ to some of the more innocuous and objectively less-pointed posts (tonight, that fool was me). And they’re off! – cloaked by the comfortable invisibility afforded by the anonymity of personal digital media platforms, fearless crusaders rush to the battleground of commentary, asserting their righteous and free original thinking, even to those who clearly will not have their minds changed regardless of the input of the commenter, and even to those with neither educated nor productive input. The newer slogan, “thou shalt not read the comments section”, whispers in your mind’s ear as your mind’s eye imagines the digital fallout. But defiant as you are, clicking “view previous comments” and reading with impunity and sometimes amusement, I stand to assert the benefit in so doing (beyond any placation of a guilty pleasure).
The use of rhetoric as a tool to augment the fluidity of human communication is an ageless component of “the march of intellect”. However, the value of the ideologies behind this rhetoric is appropriated by the level of critical thought invested in the statements being made. And just like that, another old adage “think before you speak” comes back to simplify things, just like Grandma said.

 

While it certainly is an arguable possibility that there are some who may refute the value of this saying and claim its benefits are only applicable in an historic context and are only applicable now to certain exercises aimed at explosive verbal expressionism (for a creatively imagined purpose and my own amusement, I imagine an example as being related to some strange, incredibly unproductive and financially wasteful business retreat), or to truly speaking with the uninhibited luxury of unfiltered digital discourse, the implementation of free-flowing verbal diarrhea as a tool with which to combat politically-aimed, often-public tirades with foundations based in part or in whole on subjectivity and social criticism are a paradox in that they are entirely unproductive to the advancement of the values we seek to defend in so doing.

 

It is arguable that the investment of this time-consuming (elapsing sometimes over the course of several hours) and frustrating, furiously-typed endeavor is aimed at perhaps changing a heart, or a mind – but there are sensory subtleties in digital media more effectively conveyed through interpersonal communication. Body language, syllabic inflection, eye contact, and any other sensory input which so critically contributes to contextualizing human communication even across languages and medical deficits to senses – are so critically connected to this ability that we risk our communal, digital failure to clearly ‘see’ their obvious facilitating contributions in the absence of them imposed by a digital interface.

 

This confluence of side effects cements its use as a venue for productive conversations, particularly political ones, only when restricted to discussion in a community which respects timeless principles of political decorum and educated discussion. Conversely to this old standard, it is no secret that the comments section of any social networking site is colloquially regarded as a vicious and ‘no-rules’ place where hits below the belt abound.
While digital media is certainly a culturally-valid and socially useful platform for connecting political constituents of multiple demographics to candidates, news, and one another, sources, media, and connections are all-too-infrequently considered in-context. Digital media is a venue for the distribution of propaganda and uninformed diatribes when managed poorly, and conversely, when managed correctly in an appropriate context, can be an indispensable venue for productive conversation. This dichotomy echoes the relationships we share “irl” (I am not as detached from digital discourse as my arcane and florid prose may suggest).

 

The value of a great leader (in my view, a leader who used or uses their power in ways which were or are beneficial to the progression of humankind’s better qualities) is universally determined by their ability to listen. This skill, while not a greatly satisfying process at times when one may be in unbearably passionate disagreement with the opposition’s assertions, provides more contextual basis, more time for forethought, more patience training, and more information from which to learn. By practicing this skill, we the people are practising empathy. By reading the comments section as a silent participant observing our world in a safe place, we are becoming good leaders – and good learners.

 

‘We the people’, in exercising this skill, are practising and protecting informed, wordly, and robust democratic exchange as global citizens rather than party members or stereotype. Each of us bears the gift and responsibility entreated to us at birth to represent the values we feel we must protect so vehemently with grace and decorum if for no other reason than to someday reach a point where our capacities speak to those who will listen just as we have listened to others.

 

Then and only then, will we encourage the respectful reception of our own ideologies and present ourselves as capable representatives of humanity with strong basis in the foundation of our politico-social beliefs.

 

While we are bound to see and be upset by uninformed political discourse dissimilar to our own which directly contradicts what the totality of our experience concludes to be ‘right’(especially in times of a volatile political playground), restraining our childish compulsions to engage vehemently and enthusiastically in digital shouting matches which beget no more sound than the clicking of the keyboard or the tapping on a screen… will often be thought of as such by the opposition to which you pour your heart out. Wasted efforts on closed hearts and minds unreceptive to listening.

 

As constituents not only of a government body, but of the world it truly belongs to, our responsibility to the future of the world we inhabit is that each and every one of us fight for what we believe in, which, contrived as it may sound, is the fragile chalice in which our futures and the futures of future generations are held. The brain, like a muscle, is very much a “use it or lose it” organ. Its abilities are determined almost exclusively by the time and nurturance one is able or willing to afford it. Practising its more altruistically emblematic capabilities – like listening, learning, and participating in productive human interaction to convey complex and sensitive political ideologies – will make it function better.

 

So if you find your passion in defending what you believe in – if what makes you angry is injustice to what you feel is an obviously-overlooked element of your daily life or the lives of others in your community, global or otherwise – if what makes you happy is seeing these ideas discussed for the benefit of the world… or if you happen to care for the advancement of critical thought in any capacity, regardless of your demographic… then it is your responsibility to control your impulses and apply the free time you otherwise may have spent upon the tactful castigation of a random Facebook user’s equally useless digitial soapbox assertions.

 

This is time you could spend practising the patience of listening by reading through arguments you view as uninformed and attempting to silently, saliently, and anonymously learn from the experience. And if you simply can’t stand the thought of passively viewing the comments section, it has been the experience of many of the world’s most well-liked leaders across many disciplines and demographics – political, social, and religious – that there might just be greater benefit to reading a book instead.

 

With privacy settings, anonymously reporting services, and intellectual property rights ever-expanding on many leading social media platforms, jumping in as “defense” for the choice of another to engage in digital ‘warfare’ is an exercise as descriptive of productive, tactical political thought as children leaving inexpensive plastic army figurines to melt, forgotten, under the blistering heat of selfishly, indulgently wasted time. At times when we are witness to history’s transgression of our most basic expectations, we will all be characterized in history books, depersonalized by the march of time, but more identifiable by the digital nature of contemporary classrooms and the plethora of resources which aid in visibility. But the march of intellect will continue, and some of us will be participants in the distribution of propaganda… where others may do something to address the injustices they see in the world. The senses which we use in classic communication (if we are fortunate enough to possess them) are still present in the digital community, but their internal receipt and processing by our minds is contingent upon the ability not to hear, but to listen.

 

So now I too will step off the soapbox, and get back to writing my research paper…

Right after I check that post one more time.

A Connecticut Yankee In NorCal’s Drought: Photography and Cross-Continental Environmental Equivalence

From the perspective of a born-and-raised Connecticutian, the arid heat of Northern California is, admittedly, a novelty to me still.

I will always be an anachronism here, as my residential introduction to the region’s extreme summer heat can substantiate — I have demonstrated my naivete with several cases of heat stroke since moving here this time last year, a rookie mistake as the body loses water at a significantly higher and less noticeable rate in the dry heat.

The area is itself at such extreme contrast to the oppressively humid New England summers from which I sought refuge as a child in lakes, streams, and forests, that the shocking visual images from this climate — and the drought herein — which I encounter on the daily are perhaps even more noticeable and remarkable to my eyes (and lens). I recently set myself about the task of photographic documentation wherever I noticed visually-compelling evidence of drought which, while not as shocking to most locals, is demonstrative of the extreme environmental behaviors of the region and human effects upon it.

The nest of a Killdeer undisturbed on a cracking floodplain, Sacramento, California
Some still thriving: the nest of a Killdeer undisturbed on a cracking floodplain, Sacramento, California

My travels prior to settling on this Western frontier afforded my acquaintance with the native, homegrown attitude of relative calm surrounding the current extremes of the drought situation which has set numerous records over the past few years. As a result, I have borne witness to the severity of this drought at an accelerated, incremental rate due to past years travel — every three months, as my plane descended into Sacramento International Airport, I could clearly see the staunch, sun-bleached grasses stagnating in the heavy heat of motionless air, irrigation plains cracked and dried, and crop watering systems delivering mists to thousands of rows of flaccid plants.

But even after two years of traveling between opposite sides of the North American continent on this quarterly basis, and almost a calendar year of living just outside of the Sacramento River Valley, I cannot see certain evidence of improvement to the drought situation (or abatement thereof).

Beyond the annual winter and spring rainstorms which pummel the area with practically a year’s-worth of rain in under a few months’ time, little has changed in three years. The presence of these storms, for the past few years, has been not unlike an angsty teenager at holiday meal — silent and inattentive for the duration of the season, glaring from just off in the distance with occasional tumultuous outbursts before disappearing into their room for another nine months.

Cracked earth supports amber waves, Central Valley, California
Cracked earth supports amber waves, Central Valley, California

These storms pour and gust with torrential-force quantities of rain for short periods of time; gutters overflow; flat streets flash-flood; and traffic slows to a crawl. It often feels as though these storms have the capacity to fool those who expect immediate improvement by virtue of their ferocity alone, and I am met with unfailingly predictable responses, usually some variation of “thank goodness, we needed the rain” during chats about the weather with area locals.

Almost universally, it is absolutely acknowledged by native Californians that the situation is indeed extreme, and they are certainly concerned for the well-being of the region agriculturally, culturally, and ecologically. But the perspective of an outside eye affords an acquaintance with the might of mother nature unlike the undertones of passive acceptance in their conversations.

These statements garner a feeling of cultural security and even faith in the heroic, antecedent storm, as though its fervor will have certainly gone a far way toward rectifying the extremity of overall water deficit, and a sigh of relief is warranted as a celebratory milestone in comprehending the conclusion of the problem at last. The storms seem to quell the concerns of those who are and have been exposed to the area on a daily basis for the entirety of their lives, and by nature of this potential social desensitisation and of their extremity, it can seem to an outsider as though residents have missed the sky for the thunderheads.

Water fowl cruise the shrinking perimeter of the lake, Lake Berryessa, California
Water fowl cruise the shrinking perimeter of the lake, Lake Berryessa, California

Since drought has been an important and ever-present element of California’s climatology for centuries, not many residents of this University town seem intimately familiar with its cultural and environmental significance beyond the frequently-heard “it’s so hot” coming from corner tables at the local coffee shop.

Apart from these vehement expressions of dislike for the heat, and from the occasional soapboxing out-of-state University student panicked by the extreme differences they are seeing for the first time, I have not made the acquaintance of many individuals who can comment on the cultural effects of the worsening situation in a non-academic context. Outside of the town of Davis (the demographic of which is, in truth, quite varied if academic overall), attitudes are largely the same with varying fluctuations within different social circles.

I believe this to be culturally equivalent to the prideful bravery with which New Englanders boast about their adventures in the ice and snow (the phrase ‘hold my iced coffee and watch this’ calls up memories of my mother driving me to school in weather most districts would have closed for). To both abate inevitable accusations of regional ethnocentrism, and to negate colloquial stereotyping of the pretentious New Englander; in an ever-changing global climate, human beings clearly possess great power, and mother nature, amazing strike-force adaptability. Due to their continuous exposure to the situation, it seems many residents of California are as accustomed to the extreme drought conditions as New Englanders are to the presence of heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures which would cripple other regions of the country, thus resigning themselves to the inevitable lack of water given its correlation with regional identity… presenting clear cultural equivalence between two incredibly different sociological dynamics and humanizing all in the face of striking environmental change.

Dried stream bed, Lake Berryessa, California
Dried stream bed, Lake Berryessa, California

After some reflection, I felt as though local perspective of current drought phenomenon begat as much a deficit in current photojournalistic documentation efforts of the drought as there is of rainfall itself. While my perspective is that of an objective observer from a starkly different native climate, this affords the investment potential of artistic objectivity, the project thusly resting on the hope that artlessness itself, in this sense, can convey more with simplicity than current, more intricate efforts.

Of course, this photography project comes with a certain disclaimer: I cannot claim that a year’s residency or two years prior of effectual tourism permits me the authority to comment on the lives or opinions of Californians (nor would I ever qualify to truly be a Californian as I value the use of turn signals too highly), and so I can neither speak to their personal adaptability to drought beyond what is directly observed, nor to their individual political stances on an environmental issue which segues into a deeply controversial political topic.

But with each smog-fueled sunset shrouding the far-off hills in a gaseous byproduct of human capitalism, our anthropocentric endeavors become clearer. The shade of the overpasses and underlying stagnant water will remain barren concrete citadels beset by abandonment and scorched with an unforgiving sun, the only refuge to species who have reached the limit of their environmental tolerance, and to those of the human species abandoned by society itself.

Locations Photographed: Yolo Bypass Wildlife Refuge, Lake Berryessa, Yolo County, Sonoma County, Central Valley

 

Gallery: