Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gulls and the Joy of Photo Editing

While on a walk along Biscayne Bay, I rounded a bend and found myself engulfed by gulls. A young man had started feeding one or two and soon the gulls had gathered in great numbers, swooping and diving for scraps of bread.

I pulled my iPhone from my pocket and began shooting. The brightness of the sun on my viewing screen prevented me from seeing clearly so, rather than compose my photos, I just pointed and shot. Predictably, most of the pictures failed to capture the magic of the experience. Until I started editing, that is.

I began my work life as an editor of the written word. Editing has always been my passion. Now, it seems, I've transferred that love to photography. It's not so much the raw photos that appeal to me, but what I can do with them once I start editing. So far, I'm using rather basic editing tools. The photos below were manipulated on Picasa. I also sometimes use iPhoto. Judicious cropping and the addition of a few special effects can make an amazing difference.

This is a photo of the scene, unedited.

This is the same photo, but here I've enhanced the lighting.

In the photos below, I cropped, highlighted, sharpened, tinted, and otherwise manipulated the photographs. Editing the photos allowed me to slow time and see things I couldn't take in during the moment. In my own "flight" of fancy, I've tried to create an alternate gull reality. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Flowers They Bring

Like most Americans, I reacted to the shootings in Tucson with horror and sadness. I've had some other reactions, as well. I've experienced anger at the media for rushing to politicize the tragedy. I've felt frustrated by our society's failure to control guns, particularly the sale of guns to mentally ill individuals. I've worried about how we can safeguard the public from the very small percentage of those mentally ill people who might act out violently. And I've also been thinking about flowers.

At the Capitol and in Tucson, well-wishers left flowers outside the offices of Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman who was viciously gunned down last Saturday. The scenes reminded me of similar ones in the wake of past tragedies, like the thousands upon thousands of bouquets left at Kensington and Buckingham Palaces after Princess Diana's death. I also thought of the poignant roadside memorials for young people killed in auto accidents, usually marked with flowers as well as childhood memorabilia.

I find such communal outpourings moving. The delicate blooms suggest the beauty and fragility of life. And at times such as these, when I question the very nature of the society I live in, they give me hope that most people are motivated by love rather than hate.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My New Year's Resolution

I'm done with making big, meaningful New Year's resolutions — lose weight, exercise, write a poem a day, never get angry. They always backfire.

Unlike most people, who tend to gain weight during the holidays, I gain afterward, just when I've resolved not to. When it comes to exercise, yesterday I almost broke my arms lifting up two grocery bags. Pathetic, yes, motivational, no. The more I resolve to exercise, the harder I find it to get going.

As for writing poetry, I seem to have left my muse stranded somewhere back in the twentieth century. I might be able to knock out a limerick or two, but as for anything deep and tormented — forget it. Maybe my inability to write poems lately is a good thing, though. Perhaps it means my angst gene has mutated. In fact, I'm sure it has. It's become the mindless football maniac gene.

During the past few days, I've watched a lot of football. I didn't need a New Year's resolution to inspire this fanaticism. I'm completely addicted to the game. On New Year's Eve day, I watched my favorite college team, the Miami Hurricanes, lose horribly to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl. Unhappy but undeterred, I've since watched the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl, not to mention tuning in to see my favorite pro team, the New England Patriots, demolish the Miami Dolphins.

All of which leads me to my 2011 New Year's Resolution — I resolve to learn the offensive and defensive positions.

I understand the game at this point. I really do. I can point out pass interference, I see when a team is offsides, I know what holding is. I've learned about two-point conversions and safeties, I'm aware of the overtime rules, both at the college and pro levels. I'm an expert on fumble recoveries, interceptions, and kick returns. I just can't seem to figure out all the positions.

I get quarterback. He's the guy who throws the ball to a receiver, or hands it off to a running back. But sometimes the running back is called a halfback or a fullback. And when the quarterback throws the ball, sometimes the wide receiver catches it, but often it's tossed to the tight end or even to a running back. For all I know, the tight end isn't always on the end. But is the fullback always in the back? I hope you can see why I'm confused.

I understand the role of kicker. He kicks off the ball or makes field goal attempts. But what about the punter? I get that he kicks the ball after the other team fails to convert to first down. But sometimes the kicker is also the punter, though usually someone different does that job. Or am I going crazy?

I know what the offensive line does. I'm confident about that. Their job is to protect the quarterback. But who's on the line? I consulted a chart that tells me there's a center, guards, and tackles. But who's who? Logic suggests the center is in the center. But is that always true? What happens during different formations? Who can tell who does what? Not me, though I'm resolving to do better.

The offense is the easy part for me. I really get confused when it comes to defensive positions. Basically, I have no idea who plays what. I've heard the terms cornerback, linebacker, and safety, but when watching a game, I don't have a clue. And I gather there are tackles on the defense as well as on the offense. What's up with that?

So, I'm resolving to learn the positions. Will this make me a better person? No. Will this make me a smarter human being? Definitely not. Will this cause me to start writing angst-ridden poetry about the human drama played out on the gridiron? Probably.

Until then, I've got my notebook handy and I'm gearing up for the playoffs.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Skinny on Skin

Skin is everywhere. When it's not on you, it's sloughing off you. I've heard that dead skin accounts for most of the dust in our homes.

Actually, skin isn't on you, it is you. As you may have learned in school, skin is the largest organ of your body. As the popular aphorism "beauty is only skin deep" implies, without your skin you would not look good.

But that doesn't mean we're all comfortable in our own skins. You may be thin-skinned, as I am, about almost any criticism—of my cooking, my singing, my writing, my skin itself. You could say I'm thin-skinned about my thin skin.

Even if you're thick-skinned and hence able to withstand the slings and arrows of your worst enemies, eventually something will get under your skin and really annoy you. This blog, perhaps.

I could take this opportunity to riff on dermatologists or rail about moles, rashes, wrinkles, and other indignities that afflict the skin, but I think I'll end here and escape by the skin of my teeth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking the Guilt Out of Guilty Pleasures

Perhaps you read the article in yesterday's New York Times about the benefits of providing favorite foods to Alzheimer's patients. When people are given foods and other things they like, they are soothed. They calm down. They feel loved and nurtured.

Individuals with Alzheimer's are, by definition, not healthy, so why deprive them of their favorite foods just because those foods are too high in fat or sugar? Why focus so much on physical health when their mental health is already grievously impaired? If a cup of chocolate ice cream is all it takes to bring a little pleasure into an otherwise bleak existence, dishing it up seems like a no-brainer.

By extension, maybe we should all allow a few more guilty pleasures into our lives, minus the guilt. But let me speak for myself, by way of a specific example—alcohol. I enjoy a drink with dinner, some nights a glass of wine, others a vodka tonic. I'm not talking excess, just one drink. It relaxes me and I like the taste. But I've agonized no end about my indulgence. Did alcohol cause my breast cancer? Am I risking a recurrence by continuing to consume a drink in the evening?

On the other hand, I've read the research findings that alcohol in moderation minimizes the risk of heart disease, so maybe my daily drink will protect me against that. I've wasted a lot of time attempting to analyze the risks versus the benefits. And with every new study, the balance shifts. Not long after my primary care doctor told me that a glass of wine a day was fine, new research indicated that as little as a half a drink per week could increase the risk of breast cancer. My breast surgeon assured me that the increased risk was minuscule, but she didn't say nonexistent.

During all the time I've spent weighing the pros and cons, I've never given up my nightly drink. I've just felt guilty about it. Then, not long ago, a new study came out. It confirmed the previous finding that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, but found that the risk was confined to a specific type of breast cancer, lobular carcinoma. Since I had another type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma, alcohol presumably played no part in my developing the disease.

So for the moment, I'm enjoying my wine (or vodka tonic) guilt-free. But if I'm only pegging my enjoyment on the latest study result, I'm not likely to rest easy for long. Chances are, the next study will show that alcohol causes Alzheimer's or worse. What I need to do is detach from all this anxiety about which foods, drinks, and supplements to consume and focus on enjoying the simple pleasures of life, so long as doing so doesn't harm anybody else. And hopefully, it won't harm me, either, if I indulge in moderation. Eventually, I might even convince myself not to feel guilty about being immoderate on occasion. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, "Moderation in all things, especially moderation."