Wednesday, June 23, 2021

More reading

The first batch of books went back to the library, and I got another batch. Yes, I spent some time on the back patio, reading on a lovely warm summer day. As a side note, this blog may be written over several days.

But let's start with the last batch of reading. Sean had commented "...have we really gone so far off the rails that we need to consult a book to learn how to do nothing..." 

Oddly enough, I think the words "a book" are the starting place here. It used to be that books had a gestation process. There were gatekeepers called editors. It was notoriously hard for an author's idea to actually see print, and even harder to get a significant number of sales. The only other choice was the vanity press or swindlers feeding off the naive. 

Sean once said in a conversation about our mutual (former) profession, "All the easy projects have been done. The low hanging fruit has been plucked." In some ways, that's true of books too. I won't say that all the books have been written, but it is harder for new books to be novel. (I hope you saw what I did there.) That, and the gatekeepers all going away, have led to a situation where there are more books 'published' than any one person can conceive of, let alone read. The long tail is extremely long indeed. (That article is from 2004 and might have been prophetic at the time, but it's day to day business now.)

Now almost anyone can write a book and sell it on line. I'm pretty sure that some of Shakespeare's monkeys are in on the action. Maybe many of them. Whether anyone buys it is another story entirely. Someone had the idea for a book about doing nothing, the time to create or work from what might be University level literary notes, and the ability to get it published. It was interesting reading, but in the grand scheme of things it is either unnecessary, or useless. Those who already know of the issues don't need the book. Those that have not realized they have a problem are not going to get a solution they understand.

On a societal scale, it's only quite recently (a long human lifetime, or so) that any significant number of people have the option of doing nothing for any length of time. Of course, history is full of the wealthy and powerful who might have been better off actually doing nothing, as opposed to picking fights with their neighbours and killing the local peasantry while doing so. Mostly people worked, producing food or practicing their occupation, until they couldn't. Then either their children took care of them or they starved in the street.

It's sort of odd for me to think that by historical human standards, I'm quite old, yet statistics say I could live another 20 years. If I'm lucky it could be another 30 years, but not likely to be 40. I am fortunate that I can choose what I want to be doing. There are some days I do very little, and that's nice. Some days are really busy, and there's lots of that coming up.

Out of this new batch of books, I started with the librarians book, thinking it would inform me about some projects I have in mind. It did. The portraits of the librarians are all similar, with the same background and similar lighting, but the subjects could not be more different. Young, old, male, female, some tattoos, interesting hair dyes or sartorial choices; they were an eclectic bunch. Many were not at all what I think of as librarians, and I regularly see the ones at Fish Creek Library. Given that it’s City of Calgary, there’s probably a manager somewhere who enforces a dress code. Let’s hope they have other, more productive activities. 

Some of them looked a bit self-conscious, and some looked totally at home in front of the camera. The author mentioned meeting groups of librarians at various conferences, so I wonder if these were shot in an assembly line way, with an X marked in tape on the floor, and backdrop and lighting already set up.

In addition to the portraits, there are short snippets of text from each person, and longer essays from various persons. These are all fascinating. Librarians are awesome!

The Vivian Maier book is stunning! You probably all know the story now, how she shot more than 100,000 photos over 40 years or so, and essentially didn’t show them to anyone. They were fortuitously discovered after her death, and I can just imagine the excitement of the people going through the work, developing the negatives where necessary. By and large she took good photos.

Some of the photo subjects look like they’re about to protest, some know they’re being photographed and are enjoying it. Some don’t know it’s happening. Some of the people are young enough that they could still be alive now, and I can’t help but wonder if anyone has had the experience of browsing through this book and saying, “Hey, that’s me!” 

I loved the view of the world. Most of these are from shortly before I was born, set in New York or Chicago. Several of her self portraits are absolutely ingenious! She had to have known that she was a good photographer. You can't take that many photos and not learn about what works or doesn't. There were almost certainly many more where she looked and evaluated a potential shot, and said, no not quite, then moved along. Maybe some of the photos we see are not what she had intended. Nobody really knows why she didn't publish any of her photos. I'm just glad we have them.

The medical book is an interesting juxtaposition with our current binge, Grey's Anatomy. We are nearly done season 11. People who watch that show and know of the dramatic event might be interested to know we were not gutted. The show seems to be in a bit of a rut. For some parts of the show lately we've been saying, "Physician, heal thyself." I'm still admiring Shonda's ability to tell a story, and drag us into caring about people, warts and all, even when they do stupid things. I did successfully predict one thing that happened at a dinner party, just by asking myself, what's the worst thing that could happen to two specific characters?

First a serendipity from my first Yukon trip. Yes it was in a big cage because it was injured. Yes, I was outside the cage, and just as well. It blamed me personally for not being able to fly free, hunting prey. It wanted revenge, I could tell.

Turns out the author was not perfectly fine. Given the training doctors have, it's amazing any of them are functional at all, let alone passing for fine. My longest work days were on site, at a plant turnaround. There were several times I worked more than 12 hours a day, plus some commute time, for as many days as the turnaround went. One year I did two month long back to back turnarounds, with just a weekend at home in between. Linda knew I was in dire straits when I bleated on the phone, "I want a salad!" I hope to never again be in Fox Creek.

Some of that time I was waiting around for stuff to happen. Much of the time I was doing my thing, my way, since nobody understood it and mostly didn't want to know anyways. From what I can tell, medical interns would think they had died and gone to heaven with such a slack schedule. 

It strikes me that doctors are carrying around a lot of pain. The training process is painful. Losing people you know are going to die and you know there's nothing that can be done must still hurt. Knowing you did everything that could be done and it wasn't enough probably eats at your soul. Finding out you made a mistake and killed someone must be absolutely devastating. I cannot imagine. And none of them get any time to deal with it because there's always another patient. And another. All too often every moment counts.

How do we take a step back and change an institution as monolithic as health care? How do we even look at it objectively? In Canada, almost any discussion quickly devolves into a political provincial vs federal funding squabble. Health care is taking up an ever-increasing portion of our public spending. Losing doctors and nurses unnecessarily costs money. All that training and experience, gone. Every dollar spent in a political argument over funding is a dollar that doesn't make it to a patient. The equipment is ever more expensive, and the people to run the equipment and interpret the results are expensive too. But we can't go back to fleams and bloodletting. If the job breaks a few people it's plausible to argue they weren't good enough. But when it breaks everybody, something is wrong. Something has to change.

And in practically the definition of living through change. Big Shots by Guy Webster.

Wow! I'd seen lots of his work, of course, but I didn't know who the photographer was. I didn't even connect the dots to realize it was the same person. I never paid attention to that sort of thing. I'm finding his portraits arresting. The people are mostly beautiful, of course, but the photos are amazing. I think he has a great connection to the subjects. 

These are different than Maier's photos. She mostly took what she could get, and probably couldn't stand around waiting, or tell people to move so she could get a better composition. Webster had a lot more creative input into the photos, and subjects that mostly did as they were told, mainly because they didn't know any different, or were stoned. He brought a fine art sensibility to his work, and it shows. I've made one pass through, and will be making another, slower one.

He mentions at one point he loved the freedom to shoot his subjects without the interference of corporate reps, marketing shills, an entourage, or even a subject mainly thinking about building a brand. I can imagine him being horrified by Instagram. 

Reading the first few pages about growing up in Hollywood, and who he knew because they were his neighbours, or friends of his father, or were the parents of kids he went to school with, made me think about the saying, it's not what you know, it's who you know. To some extent that's true, even in my world. At the top of your profession you will know all the other players. I got my last several contracts because the people in charge knew me and what I brought to the table. 

Keep in mind, knowing the right people might get you in the door, but without the skills you won't stay inside for long. Webster could almost be the poster boy for being in the right place at the right time, with the right skills. It was only after I finished the book that I found out he died a little while ago.

Of the Day


And since there are lots of peony photos in particular, I'll start up the peony of the day again, date order. This is June 19.

Celina writhing in the sun. There's several of these. Editing these was work because it was extremely bright.


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