Thursday, April 29, 2010

Soapy Surprises

People say soap operas are so predictable. Love triangles, babies stolen and switched, custody battles, mysterious doppelgangers and who-gets-resurrected-from-the-dead-this-time storylines.

Unfortunately the cancellation of soaps was all too predictable the past year or so as we saw the plug pulled first on Guiding Light and then As The World Turns. With so much at stake I hate to see the quality of the writing deteriorate on my favorite shows.

All My Children has been in a slump for quite a while now, and that’s putting it kindly. I was one voice in a chorus of thousands who rejoiced when the last headwriter was fired (I don’t even want to mention his name). I’ve been pleased to see characters beginning to sound more like themselves and stories starting to hold my interest more.

Some things about the episode featuring Palmer Cortlandt’s memorial last week were predictable. The soap press had already announced the returns of key veteran actors and there were sure to be flashbacks. I’ve seen memorial tributes on soaps before so I had an idea of what to expect.

But what surprised me was that AMC got it right. Every beat of the story was right on the money. I couldn’t look away. I don’t usually get teary-eyed when I watch these things but when Nina looked up from her candle and said “I love you, Father” I just about lost it. I grabbed a tissue and thought I’d coast on through the last few seconds and then they did it to me again.

Dixie welcomed Palmer into heaven.

I confess that I love reading soap spoilers and I know all the best places to find them online, but I don’t think I’d heard any hints about Dixie making an appearance in this episode. What a perfect ending to a perfect memorial for an extraordinary character and actor. Thank you, James Mitchell for being Palmer Cortlandt all these years.

This was a week steeped in the heritage of soaps as we also saw David Canary winding down his long career on AMC. Again, the writing was good, the performances stellar and how wonderful it was to watch Brooke and Adam together again. And thank you, AMC for giving us one last tender/snarky scene with Brooke and Erica!

My week had one more soapy surprise. I found out my cousin is a big soap fan, too!

I’d been reading reports and seeing photos of friends of mine who attended a Days of Our Lives fan event in Dallas last weekend and enjoying the show through their eyes. So when my aunt phoned me and mentioned during our conversation that Elizabeth was in Dallas for a soap event last weekend, I knew just what event she was talking about. Knowing that she’d won an auction for one of the stars directors chairs I knew I’d find a photo posted online, and I did.

Soap operas are all about relationships, love and family. Somehow it seems fitting that I'd reconnect with my cousin because of a soap opera since generations of women in our family have watched them together, starting with The Guiding Light on radio.

I wonder what our daughters will watch with their daughters….?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Something Bigger Than Ourselves

I finally kicked my cold and was able to attend church yesterday. I'm on my church's audio-visual committee, so before the worship service begins I'm busy setting up microphones, doing sound checks and sometimes getting a projector ready with a multimedia presentation, too. Once we've got that done the crew will do general troubleshooting and planning for the future.

This might seem like what happens before the worship starts but to me, it's all part of worship. It's showing up with...

an awareness of God's presence...

a willingness to make my particularly gifts, abilities and perspective available to Him...

and a sense of expectation for what God will do this day,

Some days I worship by plugging in microphones and taping down cables. Sometimes I worship by taking pictures.

Once I was covering a Baptist Student Union prayer retreat, trying to get photographs that illustrated what the weekend was all about. Taking pictures during a worship service I noticed some students who worked with the deaf community. They were signing the hymns and worship songs as they sang. Since I knew them and they knew what I was there for, they just ignored me and were not disturbed as I zoomed in on them to take their pictures.

I knew that my pictures would be submitted with an article about the event and they might be included in the Baptist Standard, the newspaper for Texas Baptists. I kept my eye out for that one shot that would illustrate the weekend event best. As I was walking toward the prayer garden with a friend of mine I looked up and there it was. One of my student friends was signing her prayer. I dropped my camera bag and started shooting, though the friend I'd been walking with was in mid-sentence... she knows me well, knew exactly what was happening, and patiently waited until I was finished (thank you, Kendi!). I took a couple of shots as the student was signing and praying and then, just for a moment, she clasped her hands together in the classic "praying hands" pose and I got the shot. It made the cover:

This wasn't like making the cover of Time magazine or something, but it was a wonderful affirmation for me at the time, since I was just beginning my career as a photographer. It was nice to know that what I saw and captured in that moment was also seen and appreciated by someone else.

For me, taking pictures of that student, praying, was a worshipful moment. I was aware of God's presence and aware that I was making my gifts and abilities available to Him.

I took pictures of Jami Smith in concert about 12 years ago. Jami recently released a new CD, "Verse", and my copy (autographed, thank you, Jami!) arrived a few days ago and I love it! It reminded me of the time I met Jami when she came to the University of Mary Hardin Baylor to sing for a youth camp. My husband had met her during a previous visit, but he was off with our older daughter at her youth camp so my younger daughter & I took a walk to the campus to greet Jami with a batch of still-warm chocolate chip cookies.

Jami graciously gave me permission to come back that afternoon and photograph her during rehearsal and also during the concert that evening. (I think the cookies sealed the deal!)

This was back when I was using a 35mm camera, slinging my 20lb camera bag, switching lenses and changing film on the fly, shooting with available light only. I loved that!

As Jami sang, I began to get a feel for her style and knowing the songs well, I was able to anticipate her expressions and watch for the best shots. But more than that, I got a feel for God's spirit working through Jami and was carried along with it.

And when the right moment came and I got the shot I was a worshipful moment for me. I knew that Jami was using her gifts and I was using mine and I had a photograph that showed the joy of that moment.

Sometimes a moment is filled with something bigger than ourselves and we can open ourselves to new possibilities.

There's no telling where it may take us.

*To see more photos of Jami Smith, go here.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Little Easter Every Day

It’s Easter but I didn’t go to church today. I was at home, sick with a cold. But it’s been a good day of rest for me and I had a chance to think a lot about Easter and what makes it special.

When I was a little girl we spent a lot of time getting ready for Easter because my mom usually sewed Easter dresses for my sister and me. I would stand for what felt like hours waiting as mom picked out fabric, then fit it to me, carefully pinning up the hem while I tried not to get stuck. But our matching dresses looked great for the Easter pictures!

And there must be Easter pictures…posed shots with Easter baskets in hand, complete with eggs we had dyed and decorated ourselves, plus a few Peeps and jellybeans in the mix.

We didn’t go out to eat for lunch on Easter Sunday. Mom was a great cook and always had a big spread ready for us and on Easter Sunday, a little something special to celebrate the day. For our salad, she put a peach half on a lettuce leaf. And in the middle of the peach half was shredded coconut, dyed with green food coloring. It looked like grass in a basket and in the middle of the “basket” she placed three or four colorful jellybeans, like tiny Easter eggs. I don’t ever recall an Easter Sunday dinner without that on my plate.

It was all the little things that made Easter special to me. Not an elaborate Easter pageant, although I’ve seen plenty of those. I find that the older I get the less I need the hoopla and the more I value the little things.

Easter marks the resurrection of Christ and Christmas celebrates His birth but what is true on these days is true every day. I saw my mother celebrate these truths every day with her Bible and devotional book at her bedside and heard it in the hymns she would sing quietly to herself as she did the laundry and the washed the dishes and mopped the floor.

How will you celebrate Easter tomorrow…and the day after that…?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Giblet, Part One

Once upon a time I was a doodler. I’d leave my doodles and drawings on book covers and class notes, school binders and church bulletins, and even paper tablecoths at Wednesday night suppers. No paper surface was safe, it would seem and no challenge went unmet. A shout across the classroom of “Hey, Donna, can you draw (fill in the blank)” would be answered with “Sure!” While I seldom guaranteed the results, I was always willing to try!

But somewhere along the way I became discouraged when I saw so many artists whose talent was much greater than my own. Then I got distracted by life and kids and responsibilities and I stopped drawing, except for the occasional poster or logo design for a church event. I put my artistic efforts into making gifts for family & friends and some of those things eventually found their way into my Etsy shop, which my daughter encouraged me to set up a few years ago.

Then I started doodling with a graphics program on my computer and a few months ago I put some doodles in my Zazzle shop. Much to my surprise I’ve made some sales there and I’m having a lot of fun coming up with new designs, particularly for my fellow soap opera fans.

I got a special request a few months ago from one of my soap opera internet buddies. She’d planned a special event with a friend who had an unusual nickname, “Giblet” and wondered if I could draw a pig to put on a t-shirt. I didn’t ask for the details behind the nickname or the significance of the pig, I just told her I’d give it a try. Here’s what I came up with.

She said…” Love the pig - could we put him in a blanket sitting in a chair?” So I did.

“Oh, you are SOO on the right track that my dog looked at me funny when I laughed out loud!!!”

I told her, “Oh, the ‘Why Didn't I Think of That’ Department.... I was just telling my husband about your reaction to this sketch and he said, ‘If you could make the blanket wrap around the pig you'd have a pig in a blanket!’” She thought that was an excellent idea, so here’s the final sketch (after scanning it and cleaning it up a bit in my graphics program)….

She said “That is PERFECT! That's the one! Thank you so much! A pig in a blanket!”

I decided to add color to the drawing to make it match the color of the text design she’d decided on, too. Here’s the final edition:

And here it is on the t-shirt, with the text we worked out together. Any resemblance to the Guiding Light logo is strictly intentional! (You can click on the shirt to see it in my Zazzle shop)....

And just for grins, I put it on some other products, too. Here's the Giblet mug (click on it to go to that page in my Zazzle shop):

There's another chapter to the Giblet story, but I think I'll save that for the next blog entry, coming soon. For now I'll just say that I LOVED doing this project and I'm definitely planning to stretch my old drawing skill again soon!

I should also add that I showed this drawing to my big sister, a very talented artist (formerly an art director with an advertising firm) and she loved it, too. She thinks I should expand on it and turn it into a line of greeting cards.

What do you think?