Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Two Pictures of Me at Work
The Polaroid above was taken of me about this time last year, during a University event. It communicates eloquently my feelings about working at a large Midwestern university during that sentimental, beer-soaked week known as Homecoming.
We didn't have Homecoming at Harvard, so it wasn't part of my college experience. We had one football game that anybody cared about, against Yale. The hoopla lasted for a couple of hours, one afternoon in the fall. And then we went back to, you know, studying.
I liked it that way.
But part of adjusting to my job has been trying to learn the culture of the institution that pays my salary, and I've tried. Sweet Georgia Brown, how I've tried. Yet nobody has been able to communicate to me what exactly Homecoming is for; nor why it excuses behavior that, were it indulged in by people of color in a poor neighborhood, would be considered rioting.
This weekend is going to be a test of what effect, if any, zazen will have had on me so far. Am I learning to observe the world like an old man bemusedly watching children at play in the park? Will I react to ignorance with compassion?
When, for example,* an alumna who has been told my name four times calls me "Chico" because everyone with swarthy skin and a nametag is to her a Generic Mexican Servant, will I calmly correct her (again) and silently pity her narrowmindedness? Will I empathize with whatever secret sorrow leads her to treat fellow humans thus? Or will I haul off and smack her until her entitled jowls reverberate?
I'll let you know on Monday. Unless I'm in jail awaiting trial for beating a society matron to death with a Canon zoom lens.
On the Other Hand
This is what I look like when I'm doing work in which I am allowed to exercise my skills to the best of my ability, and with dignity. (The polar opposite, in other words, of what my day job has become.)
It's a test shot, snapped just before my first-ever wedding job. I was assisting a friend who's been in the field for ages. I was honored that he asked me to work with him.
I've photographed a lot of events, but a wedding is a special and many-headed beast. Say the word "bride" in just the right way and seasoned pros who have covered wars and revolutions will wet their pants. Shooting a battlefield has its challenges, I'm sure, but at least at the end of the day nobody will care if the general looks fat in every frame.
After eight intense hours, I had nearly 1,000 shots about 300 were keepers. Three or four are good enough to go into my portfolio. A very respectable haul, and the boss was pleased. I'd share a few with you, but I'm not sure the bride has even seen them yet.
Now I've done it, and done it well, and it's one less thing to fear, and that feels good. I'm going to try to remember the feeling when an alumnus shoves his kid's half-eaten corn dog into my hands, and orders me to throw it away and fetch the boy another Coke from the bar.**
*A true and representative example, sad to say.
** Also true.