Ho Chi Minh City

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The light in Viet Nam is gorgeous, and I’ve been taking advantage of it at every opportunity. In my last post, I mentioned that I'd replaced my iPhone’s camera with an extremely capable Olympus OMD EM10II. While I’m still working on a more extensive personal camera review, I can say that, although not perfect, the Olympus is exceeding my expectations. Each morning I awake at 5:30 AM, shower up and hit the streets to photograph in the morning light. Here are some of the pictures.

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Ho Chi Minh City

 A scene from Ho Chi Minh City. One of the last I plan on taking with my iPhone.

A scene from Ho Chi Minh City. One of the last I plan on taking with my iPhone.

All cities have their own energy.

Walking Ho Chi Minh City isn’t for the easily frightened. To navigate the traffic and cross the street, regardless of whether one has the green ‘safe to walk’ signal or not, demands an understanding of yin and yang - when to press forward and when to give way. Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan, tells of seeing death out of the corner of your eye and using that sense of immediacy to inform your life. Do things now because there may be no tomorrow. When crossing the streets in Ho Chi Minh City, you’re not glancing at death peripherally; you’re staring him in the eye and slapping him in the teeth.

I love it here. All artists respond to their environment. Joel Meyerowitz and Gary Winogrand loved the energy of New York City. I’ve walked Manhattan twice now (and will again early next year), as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I’ve enjoyed none of them as much as HCMC. I need only walk out of my hotel and into the alley and images immediately present themselves. The energy here is fabulous.

Before I began my journey, I thought that my iPhone would be a sufficient camera. It’s not. The plastic cover over the lenses appears to have developed micro-abrasions which are causing problems with flare. And I find the choice of just two lenses in the iPhone 8 Plus to be too limiting. I thought that I was going to need to wait to return to the US before getting another camera, or spends lots of money to have one shipped from there to here, but I lucked out and found a used kit only a 30-minute walk from my hotel. This new camera is fabulous. More on that later…

Not long ago I wrote of setting down my camera, and now I’m writing of having bought a new one. Things change fast on the road.

The War Remnants Museum in Viet Nam

 A Drawing from the War Remnants Museum

A Drawing from the War Remnants Museum

There are different ways to travel. Some prefer a full itinerary or a tour package that takes them from locale to locale as quickly and efficiently as possible while others don’t. To me, squeezing as many sites as possible into my trip is to ensure that I experience none of them thoroughly. It’s like reading Cliff’s Notes rather than the novel. While the former may get you through your exam, the latter (assuming the right story) will change your life. And I prefer walking most of all to help me understand an area. Riding in a taxi, bus, or even motorcycle, while occasionally necessary, deprives me of so much that I experience while walking.

As I continue to travel, I’m discovering more and more that each city I visit has a specific attraction that stays with me. The massage school at Bangkok’s Way Pho has had a tremendous impact upon me, as has Wat Rachaburana in Ayutthaya, the cave shrine in Kanchanaburi where I walked through a dragon’s mouth and up into the mountain to gain entry, and now the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

The War Remnants Museum tells the Vietnamese side of what Americans call the Vietnam War*, and the Vietnamese refer to as the American War. As I walked through the entrance, I was immediately met with captured American equipment including tanks, a “shit hook” helicopter as we called them in the Army though more properly known as the CH-47 Chinook, Air Force planes, tanks - gear of all sorts that’s been maintained in extraordinary condition, particularly considering that it’s more than 50 years old.

As I wander past the equipment to enter the museum proper, I find that the ground floor is full of visitors and quickly ascend the stairs to the first floor. Here’s an exhibition about Agent Orange and its continued effects on the Vietnamese people. While I’ve been aware of the problems that Americans veterans still have with Agent Orange, and exposure to other defoliants deployed during the war, I haven’t considered the current effects that the citizens of Viet Nam are still experiencing, including congenital disabilities. Not only are there photographs but also an exhibition of paintings and drawings by children. But Agent Orange is not the only danger. Viet Nam is littered with unexploded bombs from the war, which are still killing and maiming people 40-plus years after the end of the war.

As moving as I found that exhibit, it was the photography exhibit entitled Requiem on the second floor that engaged me the most. This exhibition is of the work of photographers who died during the war and here I found images that I was often familiar with from books and magazines being exhibited, along with many pictures that I hadn’t seen before. Robert Capa, Larry Burrows, and other well-known war photographers as well as correspondents who I hadn’t heard of including Dickey Chappelle. The exhibition is extraordinary, overwhelming, and exhausting, and I’m glad that I saw it. At one of the nearby shops, I’m able to buy notecards of many of the images to keep with me as I travel.

 Nick Ut’s  Napalm Girl

Nick Ut’s Napalm Girl

Perhaps most important to me was Nick Ut’s The Terror of War (also known as Napalm Girl), the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the young 9-year old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running naked and screaming down the street after her clothes have been burned off). Ut’s following photos, which weren’t exhibited, showed how badly Phuc was burned. Not only was the picture controversial when Ut took it, but it remains controversial today. The Wikipedia entry notes that President Nixon wondered if the photo was a fake, and 45 years later in 2016 Facebook censors banned it temporally for nudity.

I visit and revisit the photos hanging on the second floor, taking them in. These are photographers and images that, as a young photographer, I grew up studying. They’re even more moving in person.

* I’m relying on the spelling suggested by American scholars of Vietnam War literature, which is to spell the war “Vietnam,” and the country “Viet Nam.”

Ayutthaya, Thailand

 An intact Buddha at Wat Mahathat

An intact Buddha at Wat Mahathat

The rain battered my hotel’s roof so hard that it sounded like a gusting wind, and I loved it. The rain and I have always been muy simpatico, and I feared that I might miss it since I was arriving in Thailand after monsoon season. Yet here was a delightful downpour, so torrential that it woke me from my sleep.

This is my third day in Ayutthaya. While the guidebooks say that you can see everything in a day, I’m finding that grokking just two temple compounds is taking all my time. Within walking distance of my hotel are Wat Rachaburana and Wat Mahathat. Wat Mahathat, which I visited my first and second days, is best known for being the home of the sandstone Buddha head encased within tree roots. I had always thought that this site was located in Cambodia, but instead, it’s here in Thailand. It is incredible to see, though while many surrounded the Buddha’s head for selfies, I moved on to the other areas of the compound.

I find this place speaks more loudly to me than the temples in Bangkok did. Perhaps it has to do with age, since these sites are the same age as Angkor Wat, though I suspect that my love of rocks has much to do with it since all the Buddhas, and Buddhas’ fragments here are made of stone. These relics still emit a gravitas that can be felt profoundly if you wait quietly next to them.

 Wat Rachaburana

Wat Rachaburana

While Wat Mahathat has several intact stand-alone Buddhas (such as the one above), Wat Rachaburana has none that I found. Instead, there are fragments everywhere from when the site was plundered. The Buddhas are often beheaded, or missing their torsos, or just sets of legs. What kept me returning was the prang in the center of the compound, and I circled it repeatedly hoping to decipher its iconography. The prang is square with four Garudas, one on each side. Garudas act as a protective spirit that looks like, in this case, a human size bird-like creature. They had huge chests, feathers on their arms, and five serpents at their feet. The Garuda is the enemy of the serpent, and I assume that the snakes are trapped in its talons. Immediately to the left and right of the Garuda appear to stand Yakshas, which are also protection spirits, ferocious looking with bulging eyes, protruding fangs, and swords. They protect temple entrances.

Next to the Yakshas appeared to be three Buddhas, preaching. Beneath the Buddhas, Garudas, and Yakshas are more serpents, these in groups of four. And finally, at three faux entrances, are Buddhas, posed in the Abhaya Mudra, a position that imparts fearlessness, two with their left hands raised, and one with its right.

As I walked around and around the prang for an hour, I’m not sure if the grounds people thought that I was bananas or were thankful that somebody was trying the understand the relic. With each pass, I see more. I certainly don’t understand the iconography of the prang yet, and I have a lot of research to do. But what an experience!

 Wat Rachaburana

Wat Rachaburana

In my previous post, I said that I was giving up photography, and that hasn’t proven to be true. However, I have become mindful about the photographs I take, usually not photographing until after I spend time with an area, making far fewer pictures, and journaling about my experiences much more. In that way, the photographs illustrate my observations rather than replace them. I’ll continue tracking my experience to determine whether photography is interfering with them or not.

I Set Down My Camera Today

 A photograph of the giant reclining Buddha. One of the last images that I expect to take. Note the gorgeous walls, pillars, and ceiling.

A photograph of the giant reclining Buddha. One of the last images that I expect to take. Note the gorgeous walls, pillars, and ceiling.

I’ve long been concerned about technology interfering with my real-life experiences. I gave my Apple Watch to a friend after owning it only a few months because it vibrated, burped, and giggled too much (and, to be blisteringly honest, it’s just an ugly watch!), and I found it too distracting.

Similarly, my iPhone has the opportunity to distract me, with its ability to make noise or vibrate any time a text, email, phone call, or an alert pops up. The idea that I could be having a conversation with someone and that my phone might pull me out of the conversation is antithetical to my belief system. I’m seeking to immerse myself when I’m speaking with someone, not manage distractions. So I always kept my iPhone in Do Not Disturb mode, ensuring that, except for alarms set using the phone’s Clock app, that I can carry my iPhone in silence, resting comfortably in my right front pocket.

Today, while visiting Wat Pho, I realized that my phone has still been deeply intruding on my life. I’ve been using it to photograph too often, and as such, it has become a surrogate for my real life experiences. When I see something interesting, I stop and snap a picture, tripping a flag in my mind that says “don’t spend any more time here, you have a picture to review later, move on to the next opportunity.” And at that moment I deprive myself of the real-life experience.

This turning away from experience became apparent to me as I watched others walking around with their cameras and selfie-sticks, looking for photo ops rather than examining the Buddhas and Buddhist art. While I can’t definitively speak to their experiences, it sure seemed clear that photography, not mindfulness, was their immediate goal.

There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s a conscious choice, and that's not the approach I’m choosing to take. Pilgrimages by their very nature demand presence. That’s what separates the pilgrim from the traveler, and in realizing that the phone is interfering with my experiences rather than enhancing them, I’ve recognized that it’s time to set it down. I’d rather journal about an event, which deepens my understanding of it than to photograph it. Writing about something forces the writer to inhabit that space, to explore their experience more deeply and profoundly, and with meditation. Photography can work in the same way, but most often doesn’t, and it certainly doesn’t involve me as thoroughly as writing does.

In watching people use their cameras these last few days, I’ve become more aligned with Sally Mann’s argument, made in her memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, that photographs become more real to us over time than the events that we experienced when we photographed them. So the image that I capture of a high school graduation will rewrite my experience of the commencement as I view it over time until the photograph becomes more real than my actual experience attending the graduation.

If the world is merely a photo opportunity, something to exist in the background of our portrait or our selfie, or a quick trophy to be grabbed, instead of to be experienced as a destination or an end in itself, then the resulting photograph becomes our reality.

That’s not what I want. So my iPhone, which I find to be a fantastic device (I mean twenty years ago who could have imagined a device that fits in your pocket that houses your music collection, your audiobook collection, your book library, comic book reader, and more? Not I.) now stays in my pocket when I visit grand places. I won’t be using it, or anything else, as a camera.

Wat Pho, Bangkok

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You are immediately greeted with a sense of peace as you enter the Wat Pho Buddhist Compound. There are stupas throughout the courtyard as you pass the umbrella that says “Buddha is not for tattoo.” And, as impressive as the stupa are, the Buddha are breathtaking. The building that houses the famous giant reclining Buddha was being restored, so I wasn’t able to visit it, but there are an extraordinary number of deities that inhabit the compound that I was able to see.

A tour of people arrived soon after I did, so I ducked into a nearby courtyard to avoid them. There I found golden statue after golden statue, and, with no one else around, I was able to contemplate in silence. The experience was extraordinary, and one that I won’t forget. There was power in that courtyard.

As the compound started to fill with more visitors, I continued to seek places of serenity. I was fortunate enough to step into a temple where a giant Buddha resided, with five golden figures representing his followers seated beneath his throne.

There was also a statue of Buddha that devotees would press gold sheets upon as an offering. This Buddha still retained its original shape, but I’ve heard of figures in Myanmar that have had so much gold pressed upon them that they now look like blobs. I hope to see them when I visit Myanmar.

 The Buddha’s surface is uneven because gold has been pressed onto it by devotees

The Buddha’s surface is uneven because gold has been pressed onto it by devotees

Was Pho is the birthplace of the Thai massage. I wasn’t planning on getting a massage, but as I passed the building, I decided that a half-hour session would be nice. Once my half-hour ended, I immediately asked for another half-hour. The experience was extraordinary, and most importantly it helped relieve some of the pain that I experience from fibromyalgia.

I discovered after the massage that my pain had become like white noise, always there yet invisible in its ubiquitousness. As my discomfort is alleviated, I’m growing excited about the possibilities. I know that the symptoms won't completely disappear, but a reduction is welcome.

I was sick for two days afterward, likely from the release of toxins from my muscles into my system during the massage, and the experience was worth the cost and the illness. I’ve slowed down on my plans to leave Bangkok, and plan on returning for more massages as long as they continue to heal me, or until I fly to Vietnam.

Goodbye, Portland

 Portland, from my fourth floor apartment window

Portland, from my fourth floor apartment window

My time in Portland has been a period of healing, and I'm excited to leave and pursue the next adventure. While here I’ve experienced snows, enchanting rainstorms, skies filled with balloon-like clouds, filthy heat, parking problems, a horrific homeless problem that intensifies daily, Forest Park, and plenty of bad movies, along with several good ones. And construction - there's way too much construction. I'll miss the building the least, and the clouds the most.

I’ll also miss my 170 square foot apartment that is so small it made the cheap motels I stayed in while traveling feel expansive and often luxurious. I won't miss owning a car, nor having needless possessions cluttering my life.

One can never go home again (as Kazantzakis reminds us in The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel), and should I visit Portland in the future, it won't be the same as today due, in part, to the construction and growth. While out walking recently, I heard someone complain to a friend that “it's all this industrial shit,” referring to the development around my apartment building. In 20 years, when the industrial aesthetic has lost its cachet, we'll look upon these buildings and see them as tired and dated, while some new style will feel modern and fresh. In 50-75 years Portland will be seen as a panacea where the industrial aesthetic merits study because the city has so much of it. The buildings will act like the rings of a Redwood, marking the city’s age.

My neighbor, whose backyard I look into when I peek out my window, has a sign on their front lawn saying “Stop Destroying Portland.” It's already too late. The old city is dying and being replaced by something different.

The President and the Press

But for a humble secret agent, [death is] an everyday thing, like whiskey. And I’ve been drinking all my life.~ Lemmy Caution

Today is the day that the Boston Globe has encouraged American newspapers to pen opinion pieces about the necessity for a free press and to protest President Trump’s attacks on the media. I might not be a journalist, but I am an American, and I feel that it’s time for all of us to speak out against these attacks. 

While many opinions have been written about the role that the press plays in keeping the often-nefarious other players in check, my favorites come from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, a book that one hopes every president since Andrew Jackson has read. However, I also deeply appreciate Jean-Luc Godard’s film Alphaville, and as I worked through this piece, I realized that I want to focus on the character Beatrice; she represents so many players in the current political environment: immigrant parents who have been separated from their children; the press; and, significantly, the majority of the electorate in America who didn’t vote for the current president.

The film opens with a bright pulsing eye, one which previsions Stanley Kubrick's HAL, blinking on and off, leaving the viewer with the impression that we're being surveilled through our television screens. The pulsing eye belongs to the Alpha 60 computer, which runs the city. This is a city that appears to have fully mastered constant surveillance. Unlike Bentham’s panopticon, whose victims are left to wonder if they are being observed, Alphaville’s residents appear to be under surveillance at all times. We soon learn that this is a city that is run on order, logic, and efficiency, and is, culturally, essentially an ant or termite colony. Illogic is considered a capital offense, and suicide and state-sanctioned murder are common. 

Secret agent Lemmy Caution drives a Ford Mustang into the city, the only one of its kind that we see in town, signifying his individuality. He arrives pretending to be a reporter, and as he approaches the city, he sees a sign saying “Silence, Logic, Safety, Prudence” - Alphaville’s motto. From his car alone we know that Caution, named ironically, is a contrarian force in Alphaville. We also know that this isn’t a healthy environment. 

Through Caution, we're shown the citizenry. They’re restrained, uninspired, anesthetized automatons. Each knows their role, but none exhibit passion. They function simply as extensions of the Alpha 60 computer.

The anesthetization of the citizenry becomes apparent when Beatrice, a third-level seductress, escorts Caution to his hotel room. As they walk, he insults her repeatedly, yet she doesn’t respond. No anger, no offense, nothing at all. Instead, she asks him the same questions that we later hear other seductresses asking: “Are you tired, sir?”, “Would you like to sleep, sir?”, “If you’re tired, you can rest, sir.”

Upon entering the room, Beatrice immediately checks for a Bible. Caution asks if she believes, and she says of course. We are led to believe that Caution is asking if Beatrice believes in God, though her affirmation doesn’t mean what he thinks it does. Later, we learn that the text she seeks isn’t religious in any sense a modern viewer could relate to, but a dictionary of all the words authorized for use in Alphaville. Words are regularly added and deleted. This Bible functions as an artifact to keep the citizenry on script, to control their minds and their behavior. That Alpha 60 is the author of the Bible elevates the computer to godhood. Alpha 60 is the god that Beatrice believes in, worships, and would never betray. I believe that this scene is a poignant metaphor for current events in America.

We similarly see the White House trying to control the narrative presented to the world. While presidential manipulation is common, never have our commanders in chief approached Alpha 60’s level until now; from the president’s use of his Twitter account, to Sarah Sanders’ refusal to answer press queries about specific topics, to the whole administration’s readiness to seize any opportunity for attacking reporters when they ask the “wrong” questions, control is the order of the day. As a result, the news and the people, like Beatrice, become more alienated from the doings of the powerful, and we descend more and more into Beatrice’s helplessness.

While there have been many books written about how controlling language controls how we think, my favorite is Mark Dunn’s epistolary novel, Ella Minnow Pea. Due to a series of events, the use of certain letters of the alphabet is outlawed on Nollop, a small, independent island nation off the coast of South Carolina. Its citizens worship Nevin Nollop, author of the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy brown dog” and bestower of their nation’s name. The residents have gone so far as to erect a shrine honoring his sentence. However, the glue holding the holy panagram’s tiles weakens, and letters begin falling off. The leadership takes this as divine guidance from Nollop to eliminate these letters from the citizenry’s vocabulary. So the islanders begin changing their language to remove the fallen letters. As more letters fall, their speech becomes simpler and simpler, as do their thoughts, and Dunn compellingly explores the effects.

Even more than the residents of the island of Nollop, Beatrice’s thought processes have become so simple, so inculcated, that she is devoid of any emotion or true desire. She “wants” to seduce Caution, but only because that is her job. When he fires his gun at a pinup she’s holding above her head, both shots hitting the pinup’s breasts, instead of being angry, she compliments him on his excellent aim and attempts again to seduce him. When he strikes her, she doesn't respond. That is her script and her life.

In America we are experiencing this sense of resignation more and more; this belief that things can’t be changed, that our very thoughts and desires are scripted.  The president describes the Russian probe as fake news, and we shrug. What else would he say? He denies having affairs, and we shrug. What else would he say? He assails veterans, and we do nothing. What else would he say?

But compliance doesn’t always come easily. Before leaving Caution, Beatrice places several bottles of tranquilizers beneath his bathroom mirror, swallowing some herself. This isn't an unusual act in Alphaville. Throughout the film we see the characters using tranquilizers to keep themselves anesthetized. We too anesthetize ourselves, but our culture’s drug of choice is consumerism. Collectively we think, “As long as the economy doesn’t become too bad, as long as the tariffs don’t affect me, then it’s ok. And when they do affect me, it’s too late.”

But all is not lost, as Alexis de Tocqueville, the writer who first inspired the shape of this essay points out. De Tocqueville argues that the press wrestles power from the minority (leadership) and transfers it to the majority (the people) by keeping the latter informed. Information is power. “One cannot entrust the exercise of local powers to the principal citizens as in aristocracies. One must abolish these powers or hand over the use of them to a very great number of people.” The press, in other words, by keeping us informed, helps decentralize power and allows the many to govern, perhaps through protest, perhaps through other means. The suppression of a free press is an attempt by the White House to circumvent examination of presidential behavior by the electorate. A press that is free of presidential attack is essential for our democracy to function properly.

As John Berger reminds us in Hold Everything Dear, “Any tyranny’s manipulation of the media is an index of its fears.” This administration has sought to demonize the press seemingly at every turn. That needs to stop.

It's Not the Camera...

 Ft. Bragg, CA, July 2018. Taken with an iPhone 8 Plus.

Ft. Bragg, CA, July 2018. Taken with an iPhone 8 Plus.

The photographer Jay Maisel observes that if people see the grain or noise in your photographs, it’s because your images aren’t compelling. I thought of Maisel’s comment while meeting with friends who were offering me travel tips. They had lived for over a decade and a half in one of the countries that I plan on visiting, and they provided excellent suggestions of sites to see and where to stay. 

And then our conversation turned to photography. When it came out that I was going to take pictures with my iPhone 8 Plus, at least at the beginning of my journey, I was subtly chastised. The iPhone, I was told, isn’t a real camera, and our discussion turned to talk of sensors and lens quality, best brands, and a terrific showing of books that they had published from an online publishing company similar to Apple Books. But the most essential discussion didn't occur. 

Because photography is such a technical art, it lends itself to these technical conversations. In the old days, it was 'what film are you using?' 'Which zone are you placing your shadows (if you were shooting black and white)?' Now it’s ‘what camera are you using (because the sensor matters)?' 'What software for post?' 'Which printer?' That’s because these discussions are far easier than ones of aesthetics, though far less substantive. It’s far simpler to talk with someone about the specs of their camera, and far harder to share ideas about how abstract expressionism influenced Edward Weston’s photography, or even the effect of Stephen Shore’s oeuvre has had on the explosion of car photographs on Instagram. 

(In fairness, the backdrop of our exchange was a photo project of mine which failed because I shot it on film with a view camera, and couldn't score enough darkroom time to make prints of the quality that I wanted. I had compelling images and prints, both by my and Maisel's standards, but not as many as I hoped for, and improving the mediocre ones required more access to the darkroom then I could secure. My friends were trying to ensure that I didn’t suffer a similar photographic setback while traveling.)

What was missing from our conversation was a discussion of theory. What makes a compelling photograph? What compositions excite the eye? How does one take a photograph that drips with emotion? What is an authentic image? These are the things that matter about creating art, and the point that Maisel is attending to. Forget the camera and take good pictures. If your photographs are exciting, no one will notice the flaws.

I may find, as my travels unfold, that the iPhone is an inadequate camera for the task, though I doubt it. I’ve photographed enough with it to know what the 8’s strengths and weaknesses are. The advantages are too many to mention, though clearly, I love its portability. The shortcomings are that it oversaturates color, pincushions a bit, and the telephoto lens doesn’t have as much reach as I’d like. The strengths far outweigh the weaknesses for my needs, and I remain astonished by a device that allows me to carry my reading library, music library, camera, video, and more in my pocket. In time I may find the iPhone inadequate, but that doesn’t feel likely.

Minimalism II

 The Mystery of the Singing Serpent was one of my favorite childhood books. It's hard not to enjoy a book with a cover like that.

The Mystery of the Singing Serpent was one of my favorite childhood books. It's hard not to enjoy a book with a cover like that.

 Recently, I made a quick return to Sonoma County to deal with my storage. You’ll remember that last post I discussed how I’m preparing to travel with only my 40L backpack, and that I saw no reason to keep all the STUFF that I have accumulated over these past decades. While eliminating things from my micro-apartment has proven easy, clearing out my storage is much more complicated because those possessions are attached to memories, and emotion often confuses rationality.

I had hoped to be granular in choosing what to keep and what to discard, but I arrived at my storage with a headache, one approaching but not quite achieving migraine status. I was functional enough to load the truck but still cognitively impaired. This impairment proved to be a panacea because I couldn’t triage my storage as I had intended. Instead, if a box looked like it needed to go, it went. I’m sure that I scrapped things that I would have kept had I felt better, and I’m equally sure that eliminating more than planned is a good thing.

By the time I finished for the day, I had taken a half-ton (not .49, not .51, but a half-ton exactly) to the dump, and given eight bankers boxes of photography books to friends. Not only is that a half-ton of stuff removed from my storage, but also a massive weight off of me. I hadn’t realized the psychic toll that maintaining this detritus all these decades has taken.

Unfortunately, I didn’t finish. My headache overwhelmed me after the second truckload, and I had to stop. Remaining are several more boxes and pieces of furniture. I’ll knock those out on my next quick visit.

So what did I keep?

Books from my childhood, such as my Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, as well as my Hardy Boys books. Both are series responsible for igniting my passion for reading and writing. Both have changed over the years. The last time I’d looked Alfred Hitchcock had been excised from the Three Investigators, presumably over licensing issues (several books of The Three Investigators, including The Mystery of the Singing Serpent, are available on the Kindle store, but not Apple Books), while the Hardy Boys have experienced numerous revisions, each time dumbing them down further.

Soon after I began reading the Hardy Boys, I discovered while browsing a used bookstore on Main Street in Sebastopol the earlier original series which started publication in the 1920s and predate the blue binding. The books in that series, which was the basis for the books I had originally started reading, were longer, darker, and more sophisticated than the new books I was then buying. I immediately switched to these far more interesting books and enjoyed them immensely.

I’ve also kept the original “Great Books” series, which although mostly unread, represented to my parents the value and potential of knowledge and education. This series has come under attack on several fronts in recent years, for being European based, for relying on poor (read old and therefore out of copyright) translations (translations age as quickly as computers, and these translations seem positively archaic), and for having small type, making them very difficult to read. Despite these flaws, I find the promise they hold inspiring.

And my hardbound copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, given to me by my parents on my tenth birthday.

Aside from books, I’ve also kept art, including things from around the world that my uncle, who was a merchant marine during WWII, gave us. He must have collected these things as he traveled and distributed them throughout the family. 

By the time I’m done I’m sure that I’ll have discarded a ton of stuff (literally). I’ve just, a moment before I began to write this post, given my bookshelves to one of my favorite baristas, and look forward to eliminating the rest soon.