Read any how-to advice about writing a blog and one of the first things you’re advised to do is find a niche for yourself. The second is to vary your presentation with lots of zany photographs to keep people interested, since everybody has the attention span of a gnat these days.
Good grief, I continue to do just about everything wrong in the blogosphere. I am so alienated by the whole idea of a niche that I can’t even decide how to pronounce it. I’ll spend a few days pronouncing it the French way, then decide I’m sounding pretentious as hell. So I go back to the short-i, rhymes-with-hitch approach until I realize I am approaching full-bore bumpkin status and need to cut it out, s’il vous plait. If I am so undisciplined I can never decide on a pronunciation, I’m way too undisciplined as a writer to limit myself to one topic and dig myself a niche.
As far as photos, I manage to conjure up one every year or so. This requires badgering my husband to take a photo in the first place, then continuing the emotional onslaught till “we” (i.e., he) can transfer it onto the blog. By this point, I am so exhausted, I realize I am sacrificing my mental health to the insatiable demands of the Internet and should really take a nap.
Last night, however, I went in a completely new direction. We were at a birthday party for Tom, one of the other residents at our new condo. (We live in a highly social building. Every couple of weeks, there’s a wine-tasting. Someone has also suggested that a building-wide 12-Step program is probably next on the agenda.)
Anyway, Tom knows the names of everybody in our building. I am always sidling up to him, whispering a desperate question about somebody I’ve probably met three or four times, but can’t remember. I would ask my husband, but he’s even worse than I am at names and faces. So, fortunately, we had Tom, our human social encyclopedia, at the party.
That’s when it occurred to me I was getting a little too co-dependent on Tom and needed to take some action. I told him we should put together a book of our condo’s residents. In spite of my little photo phobia, I’d take the pictures and he’d provide all the names. Tom was busy talking to somebody else and he just nodded. I took this as being a fully enthusiastic buy-in, so started taking pictures of everybody at the party with my iPhone.
I liked it. Once I figured out which app and button I had to press, I felt like a member of the paparazzi. People treat you with respect when you’re hauling around a camera, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Some of them noted I was getting awfully close up for my photos, but I told them that was part of my philosophy as a photographer/artiste. Look into the soul, I said; that’s what any great photographer does. “Jackie Kennedy got her start as a photographer,” I reminded them.
I’d taken, oh, some 25 shots and was really getting into it and refining my technique when my husband came up and suggested I shouldn’t shoot photos against the light. How typical. People are always threatened when you find a new creative passion and are excelling at it; they try to drag you down.
When I’d finished, when I’d taken shots of everybody at the party, including some people who didn’t even live at the condo, I checked over my work. A few people had the tops of their heads cut off. With others, the light in the background was a little too bright and you couldn’t quite make out their faces. In fact, they looked like a group of featureless thumbs posing in front of the sun.
I guess I get all critical of myself about this. But I am so over that kind of self-defeating negativity. Art is a journey, I tell myself, and I am a pilgrim. Like the thug in American Graffiti says, Rome wasn’t burned in a day.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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