wake up, wake up. you’ve been sleeping for the past few years…
it’s a cold, drizzly, blurry april morning in pittsburgh. head east on carson and right on becks run. somewhere up in the hills of carrick a small ranch house with cedar siding awaits. the green and blue lights of the fuzzy cd screen foggily light the darkness of the dashboard while the newest music i’ve acquired snakes out of the speakers.
love songs. oh, how i love love.
wake up. wake up. from your slumber made of fears…
the days there are lonely and hard. the angles of the drywall are abundant and greater than ninety degrees. several back-and-forths to carnegie later, there is enough vinyl to sufficiently cover the spaces between them. the only real company is lanny frattare’s familiar, and friendly, voice calling buccos games through the orblike ten-dollar-radio from rite aid.
the pirates lose. again.
cause the world is beautiful. and you are beautiful. and god knows, you’re beautiful, to me…
the heart is a restless thing. it aches for what it does not know and it is never satisfied. but these lyrics burn their way into my brain. they echo. they haunt. their story becomes my story. fiction and true fortune are so co-mingled, so blurred. the sharpness of reality becomes the cloudiness of a dream woken up from too soon. the grain and layers and fog envelop everything. soft blues and muted greys covered in film-like grain dot the landscape of this mystical wilderness. the pines shoot from the fields with great upheaval, tossing grey earth heavenward. fog rolls in and as if looking thru reticulated lenses, the sky stoops low. the fair lady has indeed arrived; and then, vanished. like oil through the fingers, she is gone…
to sleep, perchance, to dream!
wake up. wake up. see the thing that you’ve been missing…
the bleak pittsburgh morning blinks through my windows and the scent of hazelnut coffee is already hanging in the air. but the other side of my bed is still cold, still empty; no one asleep under the homemade steelers blanket other than myself. and myself has slept far too long.
wake up wake up. i love you. are you listening?
her soft skin tightens against the forceful march air as she marches across the wind-spewn cornfield with delicacy. she has sharp green eyes and they dazzle like daggers from against the backdrop of the sundrenched verdant pines. her jaw is sharp and her ears hold her heavy earrings with ease. film has been spooled through the ancient camera and the blue balloons ripple overhead. grain and texture dominate what’s left in this winter wasteland; all too soon the old man will pass on and the fresh baby’s breath of spring will melt the icy air.
cause the world is beautiful. and you are beautiful. and god knows, you’re beautiful, to me…
come, let’s away!
4.30 am, Central Standard Time, Houston, Texas. The alarm rattles me awake, but long before, my nerves have already done so. From the darkness of my hotel room, I grope for the light switch and stumble into the bathroom. In the shower sits a blue bottle of special medical soap that I must wash several times with before we head to the hospital. It stinks on my now pink and slimy skin while I stand there shivering, patiently waiting to be able to turn the hot water back on. To-day, my life will change forever.
In the dreary, but warm, Richmond days in early 2008, there was this recurring pain. It had troubled me a few months before, but had come and gone quickly. This time it persisted; on and on, and for weeks. Each Monday, I’d wake up and think “This will be the week that this terrible pain finally subsides!”. Each Friday was worse than the previous Monday.
Sitting became intolerable. Driving impossible. Every part of my life became increasingly more difficult. I discovered a rare neurological abnormality online called Pudendal Nerve Entrapment. “Was this it? It seemed to be? Surgery? I’ll need surgery? On my ass!?”
The warmth and greenery of April was upon us and I finally saw my Doctor. He suggested sitting on a cushion. You know, one of those donut cushions elderly people always seem to be carrying around for one reason or another. Within a few days, there was liberation. All of the fiery parts of me that were constantly screaming in pain began to wimper and finally, quiet all-together. It was as if someone poured the coolest, most majestic aloe vera inside of me and there was nothing but pure bliss to be had.
A few weeks later, I drove to Iowa for a wedding, with stops in Pittsburgh and Bloomington-Normal on the way. The entire trip was a glorious affair. I felt nothing out of the ordinary. Life was finally back to the way it should be; a 27 year old with chronic nerve pain isn’t someone you often encounter.
In May, I moved from Church Hill to the Fan. Something happened that Sunday. There was pain again. Then a week later, I fell off a trampoline at a friend’s house. The fire again raged through my body. For months, I was essentially disabled. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I moved back to Pennsylvania and into my mom’s townhouse. I obsessed over PNE message boards. Everyone there shared my misery. The things I read kept me from sleeping at night. I went on over the counter sleep meds. I was barely human anymore.
Life eventually normalized over the next four-and-a-half years. Despite the ridiculous pain, I adjusted. I couldn’t afford the astronomical medical costs for testing and surgery. It was far off in the future, but not too far, I hoped. Finally, in the fall of 2011, I was approved for insurance for pre-existing conditions.
The countdown to Houston began.
Everything is blurry and there’s a strange pain on the left side of my ass. “Where am I? Can I have my phone?”. I look at it, but nothing makes sense. I lay it on my chest and exclaim “I can’t read this! Please take a picture!”. Betty obliges and they wheel me into my recovery room.
I feel amazing. Aside from some weird tingly feelings on my non-affected side, there is no pain!
“Holy shit, I’ll be playing hockey by April!”.
Tuesday, December 11, appx 9am.
I’m nervously pacing around Dr. Ansell’s waiting room. The pain has begun to return and today is the day we fly home. We finally are taken back and he is happy with the prognosis. He tells us that a majority of patients who feel no pain immediately following surgery have near full or full recoveries by 12 months. I am elated and so is Betty.
It’s been 100 days since Dr. Ansell sliced my SS and ST ligaments, freed my entrapped nerve and placed it into fatty tissue that should protect it while it heals. Despite my initial feelings of relief, he warned that there would be many bad days ahead – and there have been. More than I can count. Yesterday, day 99, may have been the worst. But I look forward to warm spring days and the year ahead, and hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll be back on the hockey rink.
“hi dave. john esh. meadowbrook builders…”
11.53am | 1.1.08 | strasburg, pennsylvania
“is dad here yet? no. call him. i don’t know what to do at an amish funeral. we should wait til he gets here and all go in to-gether.”
“he’s just over the hill. he’ll be here in a minute or two.”
“…i’ve got a house that needs drywalled…”
we were greeted at the back door by levi — dressed to the nines. he looked good, especially for an amish-man. they sure can do it up when they wanna. he shook dad’s hand first, then me, then seth. i’ve never seen him so serious.
they exchanged a few words about john. dad said something about john and about this being the third friend he’s had die since the twenty-third. the conversation felt hollow. what can you say to those currently walking in a shadow that that sweeps out the sun?
death sure can render words damn near useless.
“…do you think you can start that job next week…?”
the amish do everything differently. we already knew that, but this was so out of the ordinary (though what do i know of ordinary? the last funeral i’d been to was in nineteen-ninety). the door was shut and we were taken in by a fellow contractor. he did flooring. he said we looked familiar.
the room was cold and the sky blue walls offered color better suited for a baby boy’s new bedroom rather than a viewing parlor. the casket was beautifully hand-crafted pine, stained a dark brown and a white cloth covered up the far end. the cloth was pulled back and tears began to well as we all bowed our heads. death does strange things to a body. the builder i ran into from time to time growing up and who put more money in my bank account than i can count lie there looking like an exhibit from a wax museum. there was no color in his face, only a waxy yellow complexion remained. his hair looked like wire and i wondered how this used to be alive.
the rest of the room was mostly empty. there was some dried up mud on the floor and a small end table in the corner with a hair comb and a box of matches sitting on it. the blinds weren’t pulled and sunlight streamed in, lighting up the lamp-less room. some birds chirped in the warmish january air just outside while an older amish fellow walked by the window.
“…it’s down route thirty, towards downingtown…”
john’s eldest son benuel took us into the kitchen and jonas (his younger brother) was there sitting next to susie, now john’s widow. i can’t remember meeting her before, though i’m sure i had. every fall we attended john’s big end of the summer party where we had fried chicken and played volleyball and quaits. the rest of the kitchen and living area was full of friends and family, by this time entirely amish. i’d never seen such a happy people so solemn in all my life. they are typically such a jovial and easy-going people and to see them in a state of mourning felt like a living, breathing oxy-moron.
“…it’s a basement with nine-foot ceilings.”
susie, benuel and jonas bid us farewell and thanked us for stopping by. only sixteen minutes had passed since we first got out of the car. there is something oddly peculiar about life that i can’t quite make sense of; there is something equally peculiar about the finality of death….
my mind wanders and i think back to the middle of the summer. in consecutive weeks i read books both dealing with death (from entirely different perspectives) and now, as i/we inch/race towards it ourselves, i realize that there are five of us — and two parents. someday not so far in the future, only one will remain, having buried the other six.
i pray hard for the one who will have to bear such a burden alone.
In 2002, after a 2 year hiatus, I returned to Drexel University as a photo major. In the two years I took off, I studied theology and worked construction; two very technical disciplines. It should be no surprise then, that the photography I began to churn out as a 21 year old sophomore was highly technical – my focus was perfect, my composition was rigid, my prints were pored over in the darkroom for 8-12 hours at a time. I won the sophomore book award as the best in my class while only attending one trimester. In the summer session and fall trimester of that same year, we switched from using 4×5 cameras to the square formatted Hasselblad – an even more formal photographic discipline! My photos became even more rigid, technical and sharp. I was obsessed with perfect exposure – so much that I’d bracket my film so obsessively that I’d only get 2-3 frames of the same exact image per roll of film (I wasted a lot of film! A lot can be done to make up a mistake in exposure in the darkroom). When I accidentally broke my focusing screen and my images were slightly soft, I wouldn’t even look at those rolls of film or prints anymore. Everything that initially made me good at photography eventually became my biggest obstacle – I couldn’t let go enough to let a picture succeed on its own.
The irony of these early images that I made about ten years ago was that they were surrealist in nature – dreamlike. Yet I tried to force a formalism on them that was antithetical to my surrealist aspirations. The more formal the pictures became, the less surreal — and the less impactful.
Above, you can see a black and white image I made just about this time four years ago. I began working on a project I called the pslms – partly in reference to my Smashing Pumpkins obsession and partly in reference to the Hebrew Scriptures and the darkness that surrounds so much of King David’s life. My orignal edits of the photographs were much different from the above image. I was working digitally, but still obsessed over sharpness and technical perfection. I couldn’t shift and tilt a 4×5 anymore and I had no desire for an image to look that way anyways. The original edit of the above image looked like this. I still like that edit. It may be more “successful” as an image. But it doesn’t say what I want it to say, whereas the above image does.
In some ways, that’s the beauty of shooting digitally (though it’s not my preference). I can come back to a file four years later and re-imagine what it may look like through a new lens – a new view of life (the last 4 years have been quite a ride for me!) that actually begins to say something rather than simply exist formally.
I love shooting on overcast days. The light is almost always sublime and all that I need is a camera, a light meter and a few rolls of 12o film. Today and tomorrow, I’ll be hoping for the same kinda light to show up. So far, so good. Man, do I love shooting on a Hasselblad.
I’ve taken a pretty lengthy hiatus from photography. Over the past three years, I’ve spent most of my time working construction again and I’ve loved [almost] every moment of it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why photography became difficult for me in all aspects. Over time, I simply lost a lot of enjoyment in it save a few shoots. The image above was from a shoot I did for Fine Living Lancaster in the fall of 2010. I scouted and produced the entire shoot. I shot it on B&W film, save the cover photo — which needed to be shot vertically for cropping. The above image is one of my most successful during my photography “exile”. Recently, I began looking at a lot of my older work — from 2002 to 2006 — stuff that I believed was my strongest. I wanted to know what happened and where I went wrong. In early 2007, I bought my first digital SLR and I realized that the quality from thereon severely suffered. I suppose there’s something about how I handle a digital camera that causes me to be less careful and thoughtful about how I am shooting. With film, you gotta get things right because you can’t review it immediately. I tend to shoot slower and more thoughtful when working with film. So, that’s where I am — putting down the dSLR and picking up the hasselblad. I shot two of my last three assignments on the Hasselblad and they were far more successful than any of my recent digital work — minus some of my family photos from last autumn. I’ll be working on some new projects based in Lancaster, PA this week and hopefully in the months to come. I’m excited about the slow process that shooting my Hasselblad forces me to participate in and I’m stoked for the new images to come.
I love Lancaster in the autumn. The air is cold and in the mornings, I roll my windows down and turn the heat way up. It’s wonderfully blessed. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t make more time to picture take & write about the things that mean the most to me. I’m trying to do that when I have five free minutes but it’s hard. Yesterday I took some family pictures — I want to remember these days so badly and it seems our culture is intent on destroying memories by the methods we use to preserve them (or make instant new ones via Facebook or Twitter).
I love this photo of my Dad. I got lucky with the light & smoke pouring through:
Later today, I’ll pick up Meg at the intersection of Fruitville & Route 30. We’ll watch Steeler football & drive back to Philly. This weekend has been nice. I’ve put drywall & painting out of my mind for a few days and it’s been nice to recharge a bit out of the city. The city can be really suffocating sometimes…
I love being away from the city during the fall/winter season. It’s more inviting to live in the country. The chilly autumn air and the warm winter (indoor) heat via a coal stove are so inviting during these six months of the year. And honestly, can you enjoy autumn in the city as much as you can in the country? Let me tell you bluntly — No.
Can I fall/winter in Lancaster and spring/summer in Philly?
Oh,… perchance to dream…!