Neighbors

A family from another country moved to a city where I work and the husband asked if he could bring us a traditional meal. He said it was common in his country when you moved to bring food to your neighbors as a way to become part of the new community and new culture.

When I was a kid way back in the 1960s it was the opposite. When someone new moved into your neighborhood, you took food to the new family as a way to welcome them. It was a common thing to make a casserole or bake a pie and go to the stranger’s house and introduce your family.

Does that still happen? I’m trying to remember when wanting to welcome someone new turned into fear of going to a stranger’s door.

Maybe in the 1970s when razor blades started appearing in Halloween candy. That was around the time kids stopped running freely and unchaperoned through their neighborhoods knocking on a stranger’s door.

Maybe when children started disappearing more frequently. That was around the time kids couldn’t stay out playing on their own until the streetlights came on to remind you to run home for dinner.

I’m sure there are a lot of places where people still take a pie to a new neighbor but I’m willing to bet that happens in rural areas. I could be wrong. Does it happen in cities when a new tenant moves into an apartment building? I like to think it does; that there are people still out there not afraid.

Yet at the same time, there are reasons to be, maybe not afraid, but certainly cautious.

When my son was little everyone in our small community knew where the kids belonged and where they were supposed to be. He could run wild with his friends because it was safe and luckily local kids can still do that. Would I have let him run around in the city? No. Though I admit it’s because I don’t know cities. Maybe there are neighborhoods where kids are safe to stay out until moths begin circling street lights.

Is it more common now to peer out behind curtains when a new person moves into the neighborhood? I hope not.

It makes me wonder how many people know the names of their neighbors. In the little community where I live I know the names of all my neighbors. I’m pretty familiar with their schedules. I wander across the street to share books or seedlings or invitations to dinner.

Yet when someone new moves in it never crosses my mind to take them food. We’ll meet eventually in our comings and goings.

I’m looking forward to trying traditional food from this new family’s country. And I think I need to return the gesture, not necessarily to resurrect a tradition but to return, briefly, to a time when we weren’t afraid of the stranger behind the door.

The Art of Editing

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I facilitated a writer’s group and one of the members was Riley Pettyjohn. Besides writing, she was also taking an editing course and I’m pleased to introduce everyone to our newest certified editor.

Tell me a bit about the process you went through to become an editor.

At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting into editing and publishing as a profession. While I was reading up on some other editors’ beginnings, I found the Editing Certificate course that the UW Professional & Continuing Education offers. So, I enrolled in November of 2019 and received my certificate early this December. The course was great—not only for editors, but writers, too! There are three consecutive classes you take in order to complete the program, each one focusing on a specific type of editing. The panel of instructors are all very knowledgeable and helpful in their editing specialties. One instructor, Ingrid Emerick, is a co-founder and CEO of a small self-publishing company in Seattle called Girl Friday Productions (GFP). She encouraged me to apply for their internship program. I was an Editorial Intern with GFP for about four months. Through the internship I got some real-world experience with the tasks of editors and was able to meet with several people from the various departments at GFP. It was the advice from my instructors in the editing course and the people of GFP that helped me to formulate my next steps as a new editor. I also just recently joined the Northwest Editors Guild and am a freelance editor there, but I’m still building my career.

How did COVID-19 impact you during this process?

I was extremely lucky that I had already opted for the online and self-paced version of the editing course back in 2019, so my schooling schedule was completely unaffected by COVID. But, sadly, my internship with GFP would have been in person had it not been for COVID. So, I missed out on that part of the experience. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom for meetings, and all my tasks were able to be done over the internet. I may have met even more people this way than I would have in person since some of the meetings I had were with people who worked out of state. So, there’s a silver lining to everything.

You are also a writer. How do you incorporate your editing skills into writing?

I think all this new knowledge of the editing process makes me look at writing differently than I did before; I have a more technical perspective. I think it’s helped make my writing more concise and easier to read when I look over it again. But my familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style has sort of slowed my writing pace because I put more thought into the punctuation I’m using and the different rules I choose to follow as I write.

Do you find yourself editing as you write?

I do edit as I write. I try not to do it too much so that the thoughts can flow, then go back and clean it up. But I can get so caught up with trying to make everything perfect the first time around. I find myself reading over a line I just wrote a billion times, asking myself if it looks right. Meanwhile, my train of thought has been totally derailed. I even find myself editing my shopping lists. So, it’s a balance that I’m working on finding.

What do you think is the most important thing in a relationship between a writer and an editor, besides the obvious need for trust?

I think being flexible and open is really important on both sides, especially if an editor is working directly with an author. If both parties are willing to have an open discussion about the project they’re working on—to really listen and work together—everything will run pretty smoothly. 

There are a lot of editors who set specific standards, such as only Christian, certain genres, non-fiction, no poetry, etc. Do you anticipate doing something similar, and why, or why not?

Because I’m so new at it, I don’t really have specific things I won’t do yet. I’d like to try my hand at a lot of things, to keep my range broad and stay challenged. That said, my favorite things to work on so far have been novels, particularly fiction. I just love to be a part of bringing a story to life. And on the opposite end, while I enjoy reading it, I don’t see myself editing a lot of poetry.

On a similar note, is there a specific genre or type of writing that you find harder to edit than others?

I do find poetry to be hard for me. There are just so many more artistic aspects that need to be considered, and I’m unfamiliar with the technical styles involved. I also find extremely technical or scientific academic papers and textbook materials to be more challenging.

When did you first realize you were a storyteller?

I began writing as soon as I learned how; I don’t even remember the first time. I used to spend hours at my parents’ computer or with a notebook, typing or scribbling fairy stories. I was a chronic daydreamer—still am. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “A writer.” 

How does being a writer impact the editor side of you?

I think my writer side ofttimes overpowers my editor side which allows me to be a little more empathetic to the writer as I read their work. But it can also be a struggle when I keep asking myself “Should I query this? What if it was an artistic choice? Who am I to question or change someone else’s writing?” And I have to remind myself that it’s just a suggestion and a writer may love or hate it, but it’s better to query than not when working as an editor.

If someone wants to hire you as an editor, where will they find you?

Currently, you can contact me through my email: riley.pettyjohn7@gmail.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rileypettyjohn/

Or on the Northwest Editors Guild Member Directory: https://www.edsguild.org/member-directory

What is one question I didn’t ask, that you wish I would have, and how would you answer it?

What types of editing do you do?

I enjoy copyediting and line editing the most, but I also like to proofread. I mostly like to polish up works and help them to shine. 

What are your goals as an editor?

My biggest goal is to get into publishing. I would love to work for a publishing house and help manuscripts become books.

The Art Of Photography

I am always intrigued by where art intersects, by the similarities and differences in how we create, and in what mediums we choose. One of those mediums that I am very bad at, is photography. A good friend of mine gave me a nice camera but I still struggle to produce photos. The camera is very forgiving and takes my poorly framed shots and sometimes makes them look good. I keep practicing and hoping.

That same friend is an amazing photographer, so I thought I would ask him a few questions. Please note that the photos in this post are the sole property of Bruce Albert and cannot be downloaded or used without his permission. 

I hope this conversation will inspire you to head out into the world and take some pictures.

For a bit of background, what intrigued you about photography, and how did you get started?

Like for the rest of my generation the camera was kind of a big deal, hauled out on birthdays and holidays to take posed pictures of dressed up kids. When I started hiking and climbing I was fortunate to get a Kodak Instamatic which I lugged everywhere. Shot volumes were so low then; a twelve exposure roll could do for a week’s trip. Somewhere in there I developed both a passion and something of an aptitude for it. With my purchase of my first “real” camera in 1970 I was off and running.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

I know you have taken thousands of photos so this is probably an impossible question, but do you have a favorite? Or one that just stands out more than others? If so, why?

I checked just now. I have 7,600 scanned Kodachromes representing about twenty-five years. In the digital department I have about 80,000 images that are “mine” and another 40,000 of so of ski racing…all from just another twenty-five years! These fall loosely into various genres, e.g. landscape, candid portraits, travel, and such. Within each genre there are a fairly small number that stand out as favorites, but I can’t think of an instance where there is a single favorite. I can’t assuredly state ‘why’, because it’s so subjective, and because I don’t have a single photograph that I view as perfect. There are always flaws, and my favorites are the ones with the fewest flaws. Thinking about answering your question just now I realize it’s the (absence of) negatives that rule my judgment as much, or more so, than the preponderance of positives.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

Are there certain environments that resonate with you, that you might seek out, or is photography more a matter of going prepared no matter where you are?

Landscapes, of course, and mountain landscapes in particular because that’s where I developed my appreciation for photography. Any environment where light and color create an evocative mood. People, portraiture, candid portraiture in particular.  At a time when the world is absolutely drowning in landscape photography, rendering it harder and harder to do something new and unique, people and their expressions are infinitely variable. Also I’m lately drawn to exploring the effects of deliberate motion on a still photograph…ways in which motion contributes and ways in which it does not.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

You take amazing close-up photos of things most people wouldn’t even see as they move through their day. Does photography make you slow down and be more aware of what surrounds you?

Seeing and photographing things…plants, bugs, birds….close up has caused me to be absolutely fascinated with all that can be observed at very high levels of detail. There is a vast amount of order, detail, and beauty in even the very smallest of things…and I believe that extends even at levels of magnification unavailable to me. Not to go too far down that path in the context of this discussion, but I see an argument there for creation over evolution; how else could such magnificent, tiny, and precisely arrayed structures be so ubiquitous throughout nature, but that some force had a deliberate hand in their design? 

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

You also take amazing broad-view action shots (thinking of skiing). It amazes me how a still photo can show movement and not just be a blurry mess. Can you talk about that a bit?

A photograph can be dead sharp and still imply motion if one or more of its visual elements do. Ski racing’s pretty easy in that regard for a couple of reasons: first, racers are often in a leaning position that implies they would tip over if not moving, and second: the skis themselves flexing and shedding snow are obvious signs of motion. So I shoot racers as super sharp as I can get them, 1,200 second and up to 1/8000. This gives me a really good look at the person, the reflection in the goggle or the eye within, legibility of even the smallest print on clothing or gear, all that stuff that will look pretty cool on a 24 x 36 print, and yet dead obvious that they are going very fast and on the edge of control as well. 

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

There’s other ways to imply motion, the use of relatively slow shutter speeds and camera pan to blur everything except the object being tracked. This yields wonderful results, but it’s a low percentage shot; you get a lot junk and a few keepers. When I shoot a kids ski race, for maybe two hundred kids in a two run event, I’ve got, per kid, two chances, maybe three seconds per chance, to get the money shot, and I’ve got an obligation to get a money shot of every kid if I can. There’s no re-dos. And so the only logical choice for me is to shoot the fast shutter high percentage shots. When I’m just out horsing around, or if I shoot training where they’re doing multiple, multiple runs, then I can experiment, and I get a lot of good stuff that way.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

Do you have certain things you look for, or do, in order to frame a shot?

I confess both to being challenged by through-the-viewfinder composition and to cropping relentlessly. Rarely do I see a photo straight out of camera that I cannot improve with a crop. A lot of times I can see the shot I want but find it impossible to get the camera in the right spot, and so crop the shot I want from a larger image. There are a number of compositional rules, and while my work might be said to adhere to some of them, I don’t have them in mind when I compose. Action is easy, just hanging on for dear life trying to keep the focus point on the subject and not cut off feet or other such sins. Portraits, too, are easy; the task is to capture the moment and the light; the face is a given. But landscapes are tough for me. I look for..balance…I guess, for lack of a better word, and a way to represent the mood the scene evokes in me. And forests are the toughest of all; I can be spellbound by the beauty of a scene and totally unable to find the composition that tells that tale.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

Can you tell me about the gear you might take with you on a normal day of photography? And also explain a bit about what the gear does and why you choose it?

Too much, of course! There are really two cameras for any photo location: the camera you’re willing to carry there, and the camera you want to use after you’ve arrived. I’ve got two different types of bodies, high resolution and sports/journalism/event high frame rate. The former go traveling and hiking while the event camera is built to survive wars and riots and goes to sports and social events. Three zooms get me from ultra-wide angle to medium telephoto, I have a super telephoto for sports and wildlife and a close focusing macro lens for the little stuff. Choice for the day is based on what I’m after; the most commonly used items are the three zooms. And, not to forget, I’m like a lot of other photographers, an old gearhead with disposable funds. A lot better work than mine is done daily by talented artists with far more modest setups

It always seems like when I take a photo of beautiful scenery, it rarely translates as nicely to a photo. How do you know that what you’re taking a picture of will actually make a good picture? I know with digital cameras you can take thousands to get a single good photo, but I imagine there is also skill involved. 

I don’t know if a particular attempt will make a good photo or not until I see it on a big monitor. Granted with digital you have instant review, and that helps a lot with exposure and such, but for me it takes the big view (or a print!) to decide. Skill and experience combine to lessen the amount of wasted shots, and aid in correctly setting the camera to achieve technical necessities. But the composition either works or it does not, according to a visual aesthetic that I have only partially mastered. As I said above I crop relentlessly. So often I get home and see that while a picture is a failure, the picture I hoped to take is contained within and may be cropped into existence. Modern super high-resolution bodies help a lot; one can crop pretty drastically and still have enough pixels to get a large sharp print. If I’m doing any sort of artfully pretentious type stuff I’m tickled if I get one image a day that meets all my standards. Normal “I was here with you on our holiday” pictures should yield a high percentage of acceptable results. For sports/action stuff it’s really game on; my minimum standard for that work is 3-6 technically and visually acceptable images per athlete per run. For a big event this can easily run to a thousand or more ‘keepers’ per day out of maybe four thousand shots, all needing to be post-processed and cropped to my satisfaction before they go up on the website.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

As a writer, music helps me move into a story world and close out the real world. Is there something similar for you when taking photos, or working with them?

When shooting, no, I prefer to have no distractions whatsoever. When editing, sometimes, maybe. In general I multitask poorly and can really only focus on one thing at a time if it’s something that’s important to me. I cannot, for example, be in a conversation and shoot photos at the same time. I have to block the speaker out or set the camera aside.

Are there certain environments or settings that you find difficult to photograph? Why?

Yup, public settings where strangers are present and figure prominently in a shot, because I feel a bit like a sneak or voyeur if I concentrate on a stranger without prior consent. In travel situations I will ask, saying ‘excuse me’ in the local language and pointing to them and the camera. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, and I’ve never been declined. Depending on the context of the situation I will also offer or donate an Euro or two, which never hurts.

Stuff I don’t/wouldn’t do would be any thing that’s exploitative of suffering or situations that would be considered private. This includes virtually all nudity; there’s just entirely too many creepy old dudes doing that sort of thing and giving the form a bad name.

An elderly friend once told me she no longer paints because she no longer feels the need to ‘own’ what she sees. Do you think there is a form of ownership in capturing something on film?

Not ownership, per se, but what you accomplish with a photograph is capture a moment…a very short slice really…of time, and preserve it for as long as the photo exists. Moments not photographed exist only in the mind or maybe vanish forever. So you can take a picture, print it, and store it away somewhere. Fifty years later you can pull the photo out and revisit and relive the moment in time when it was snapped, through a barrier of course, you can’t go there, but you can still get as close as can be gotten; you are allowed to see. This is especially true if you haul the print to the point it was taken, and especially easy if you’re given over to sentimentality. 

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

The same is true of art. In Berlin, on the Unter den Linden, there is a massive bronze statue of Frederick the Great surrounded today by the modern hustle and bustle of the crowded city.  A kilometer down the street in a museum is a nineteenth century painting of the same scene, done in the exaggerated perspective of that time, showing the traffic of the day: horses, mongrel dogs, noblemen with swords. Each time I am there I have to visit both, to experience the juxtaposition of different points in time that the experience provides.

Photo copyright Bruce Albert 2021

And my favorite question – what is one thing you wish I’d asked, and how would you answer it?

Do you regret not shooting more?

Yes! So many events, days, and moments are in my memory only, because I did not have my camera with me. I would like to have been able to hold those moments in my hand and revisit them. Especially in film days I could have shot ten times as much and not overdone it. At the same time, the advent and ease of digital has really changed the photographic world and has made photography, especially of famous subjects and venues, ubiquitous. Italian coasts are lined with photographers, retired dentists on photo tours, lined elbow to elbow, tripod upon tripod, all waiting to take their perfect shot of sunset on the Cinque Terre. In Florence, the statue of David, everyone’s favorite seventeen-foot-tall naked guy, is surrounded by a tightly packed sea of humanity, like pilgrims circling the Kaaba Stone in Mecca; each and seemingly every one of them holds their phone high above their head…desperately hoping to get that perfect shot for their Instagram.

I’d like to thank Bruce for taking time to answer my questions, and for trusting me with these photos. If you’d like to see more of his photography, please click on the link below.

https://brucealbert.smugmug.com