Picking Up The Conversation

It's been almost a year since I posted anything on this blog.  It's not like I've had nothing to say or nothing to write about.  I can't say for sure why I pretty much abandoned this thing.

Believe me, my life went through some major changes in the last year.  I picked up and moved halfway across the country to Manhattan....no, not that one.....to Manhattan, Kansas.  Located in the scenic Flint Hills of Northeast Kansas, Manhattan is a city of about 50,000 and probably the best town of all the ones that I visited while I was out there.  For most, the Little Apple is known as the home of Kansas State University and the Wildcats.  You get used to seeing a lot of purple.  Every shade of purple that there ever was.  But a lot of cool stuff goes on there and there is usually something happening somewhere in the area.  It's not a move I regret in the least.

Now, most of the 10 people who may read this know why I headed for the Heartland in the middle of the Winter Snowstorm Armageddon last December, but for those of you who don't, it wasn't because I had this unfulfilled need to listen to all the Oz jokes and dire tornado alley warnings.  Quite simply, I was offered a job.  But not just any job.  It was the Dream Job.  The job that I've wanted for a very long time.  I got to be Animal from The Lou Grant Show.  Or Peter Parker, although I didn't get the spidey senses that he had.  I got to be a staff photojournalist at a daily newspaper, The Manhattan Mercury.  It was not an easy job to get.  They had tons of people that applied.  And they chose me.

On my very first morning out there, before I even had been in the newsroom, I got called out to a shooting incident in a local motel parking lot.  What a way to start. 

Literally, I had found my calling.  I knew it.

For eight months, I got to talk to and shoot all kinds of people and things and events.  From people like Harry Belafonte and Senator Bob Dole to the neighbor down the street.  From the Wildcats and Jayhawks to kids playing in the community pool, From traveling Broadway musicals to the high school production of Bus Stop.  From the governor's State of The State address in Topeka to the Wooden Nickel Day Festival in Watertown.   I got to experience new things that I've never done before or not been as up close and personal with as I did through the newspaper.  The paper needed photos every day and I did my best to provide the readers with photos they wanted to see every day.

Sure, I've gotten to photograph a lot of cool events and some pretty big names in my time, but I never had more fun making photographs than I did in Kansas.  Was this a step down from the "exciting life" as some people asked?  Oh hell no!!!  This is life.  This is America in all her glory.   This is America at her finest.  It's the day to day of people and their lives and their struggles and their triumphs and their celebrations that makes us who we are.  I basically got to focus on everything that makes us who we are. 

You can put it down or overlook it if you like, but I embraced every bit of it.  I relished every opportunity I got to cover every story.  People are absolutely fascinating.  If you take the time to find out.  They may not think so, but I do.  They've all got a story.  People want to talk to you, and they will.  They are looking for someone who will pay attention to them and take an interest in them and what they have to say. They all want to make that connection and tell the world their tale.  For me, it was a major part of my job to tell those stories to the readers through my photographs.  I wanted to make those connections.  I wanted them to like what I did. and the way I did it.  I hope I did them justice.

I read somewhere that being a photojournalist is a license to be curious.  Well, maybe it's also an excuse to be nosey.  I got to be curious and ask questions and make those photos and show people stuff that they might have wondered about but never got to ask about.  I got to show them things that they may have never seen or thought about.  I got to be their eyes and their connection.

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I did some really good work at The Mercury.  I made some photographs out there that I think are some of my best.  Some of which never even made it to the paper.  I grew.  I learned how to connect with people in a hurry; something I've never been really good at.  My photographic skills and abilities improved.  I learned new ways to do things and different ways to capture and tell the essence of a story.  I became a much better photographer.  More than that, I think I actually became a photojournalist.  I can honestly say that I have never had more fun working in my life than I did doing my job at the paperThat's not an exaggeration.  There was no bigger high than going out and shooting those photos.  And seeing them in print.

Even though I kind of found my niche at work, it wasn't quite so in my personal life.  I had left everything behind me to pursue this dream.....including the one person who loves me and supports me and understands me and shares more with me than pretty much anyone on the planet.  Cindy.  We've been together (although not always in the same area code) for seven years.  She didn't like me going, but she let me and encouraged me to do it.  She didn't want me to live with a "what if..." or an "I should have...." hanging over me or between us.  She's like that.  She's a doll.  And I have never had a woman like her in my life.  And I doubt I could ever find another.  We talked pretty much every day.  Except those nights when I got in late from an assignment and she'd fallen asleep waiting.....damn that time difference thing.  The plan had been that I would get back to Jax every now and then and she would fly out west for a weekend, but that never happened.  We just couldn't afford the cost of the flights, and driving for two days each way was just out of the question.  I only got back one time in the eight months I was out there.  And that was because a client basically paid me enough to afford the airfare.

Eventually, I began to feel like she was starting to drift away.  Not because she wanted to or was trying to, but more because of the reality of our situation.  Long distance relationships are just damn hard.  When she had to face something huge by herself, without me to lean on, and she didn't even tell me about it till a little while afterward, I knew that I had ridden this train as far as I wanted to go.  Sure what I was doing was fun, but there's no way I wanted to take the chance of losing her.  No way I was going to let that happen.  When it came down to it, I could live without doing this job; I didn't want to live without her.

I also couldn't get to see my kids and their kids from where I was.  While the drive from Florida to Maryland isn't a hop, skip and a jump, it's not as bad as the trip from Kansas.  It's doable in a day.  The grands are growing up without seeing the old guy enough and that started to wear on me too.  They need to know me and wrestle with me and hug me......and I need it too. 

(We won't even get into the whole thing of Mother Ocean calling me back....)

So, I made the decision to head back east.  Once I thought about it, the choice was obvious. 

It's not that it didn't work out.  It's quite the opposite.  I haven't given up the dream.  On the contrary, I've learned how awesome it can be.  But I've got to make it happen here.  This is where I belong.  This is home for me.  Next to Cindy (and the ocean).  I will treasure every experience I had shooting for The Mercury.  I learned so much about the dream job and my craft and me.  The fire to follow that dream burns brighter than ever.  I just have to make it happen.  Somehow.  Some way.

And I will.