Friday, April 22, 2011

Wide-angle vs. Telephoto

It's been years since I worked for a university PR department and hefted my twenty pound camera bag up to my shoulder, taking off across the campus to shoot a groundbreaking or a basketball game or a student assembly. But it's amazing how my mind still defaults to photography metaphors.

This week was a stressful one for me. For a couple of days it seemed that all I could see was a wide angle view of dead or dying possibilities for my own life, like a panorama of a dry and barren desert.

The more I studied the picture the worse I felt. It's comforting to know that with so many other families currently in job-hunting mode like mine I'm in good company. But comfort won't pay the bills. So many choices are out of my hands and it seems there is precious little I can actually control these days.

When I can't make sense of the big picture, it's time to change lenses.

I reached into my virtual camera bag and exchanged my wide angle lens for a telephoto. Instead of the looming forest of trouble I tried zooming in on just one tree at a time.

Sometimes stress fills the frame until it's all you can see.

The longer you look at it
the worse you feel 
and the harder it is to cope.

Maybe you're looking at a long list of troubles, feeling like you'll never fix them all. But you can take a step toward fixing just one.

It could be a step in the right direction.

While you can't get anywhere by ignoring problems or side-stepping them, you can develop selective focus. You decide what to focus on and how long you'll stare.

It's your choice.

What do you see when you look at this photo...

the dead leaves...

the cactus thorns...

or the flower?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NYC: Lost and Found, Part Four

The story of my weekend in New York City pales in comparison to the news we received this week of the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with heartbroken soap fans consoling each other and sharing memories since the news was announced. A part of me feels like it's silly to write about anything else right now.

But then it occurred to me that I went to New York because of a soap opera, to attend a fan luncheon for a soap opera actress, Jessica Leccia. I visited with friends I'd met from all over the world because of our shared love of soap operas and the people who make them.

What better way to celebrate this wonderful, truly life-changing genre than by telling the rest of my story?

During the weeks leading up to our weekend in New York City, Denise, Lynn and I had decided to stay an extra day so we could visit Peapack, the site of the Guiding Light location shoots. But when Sunday arrived we considered how much time we'd spend on the train getting to and from Peapack and the fact that we'd have another three hour train ride later than night to my home in Maryland, and we decided to spend that time in the city after all.

Denise and I walked to the Westway Diner (the same place we'd had dinner Friday night) to meet her friend, Bettie (@bettielaven), whom I'd met when I came to New York for the Venice event at the RF Lounge back in October. (Bettie was the one who had hailed a taxi to take me back to my hotel!) We were soon joined for a late brunch by Lynn and Lia (@giftofamber). By the time we finished, Jill had made enough progress on her work during the morning that she gave herself the afternoon off and came to meet us there.

It doesn't matter to me where we go when I'm walking with Jill in New York because I know wherever we end up will be new to me and there are so many fascinating things to see along the way. But Jill always asks, “Where do you want to go? Is there anything in particular you want to see?” And once again, I tell her, “I don't care, I only come to New York to see you!” She always laughs as though nothing could be more ridiculous. Why would anybody want to see her?

But as I'm hanging back from the others a little, stopping now and then to take a picture, I see how we are all just glad to be there with her. We answer her questions about our everyday lives and eagerly pick up little tidbits she happens to toss out about Guiding Light or people whose names we know well but have never met. She is quick to point out what each of us have in common with people she has known for years, famous or otherwise. Jill is fascinated by people and loves hearing their stories.

Jill took us to 48th Street where her husband, Tony, told her we'll find guitar stores. During my last visit in October, Jill & I had passed a store with beautiful guitars in the display window... electrics and acoustics, some new and some vintage... and I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared. It was Matt Umanov's Guitars. I'd seen their ads in Vintage Guitar magazine. We went inside and I did some more staring and I pointed out a Martin D-15 that was like mine.

I've been playing guitar since I was a teenager and used to play and sing for my church and other groups quite often. Not particularly well, and I don't play in public much anymore but it can be like therapy for me to take out my guitar and play even for a few minutes. I had told Jill a story about a guitar I'd bought for a song, literally. The original owner asked only that I teach him a song he'd heard me play and sing once. And on this day, Jill wanted to find a guitar store for me.

We stopped at Sam Ash and Jill told me to go on in and they'd wait there for a bit. So I did. I went through the store and up the stairs in the back where all the acoustic guitars were. Across the length of the showroom was a smaller room with the lights lowered and fine acoustic guitars lining the walls. Martins, Gibsons, some new, some vintage. I could have spent hours there.

I spotted a small bodied Gibson that I'm pretty sure was like one that had belonged to my dad's Uncle Floyd. It had come us when he died and my brother used it when he took guitar lessons. I took piano lessons, not guitar, but I remember spying on my brother's lessons as he was learning how to play that guitar, taught by a family friend. Unfortunately, the guitar was very old and too warped to play by the time I started learning and I never did play a Gibson L1.

Until that day in Sam Ash.

The man working there handed me the guitar and I sat on a stool and started to play. In a few minutes Denise showed up and picked out another guitar and started to play, too. Then the others filtered in one by one. I played and sang a song I used to do for groups about where you go when you've come the end of your road. I played Jill a little bit of the song that bought me that old guitar I'd told her about. Bad allergies have lowered my vocal range considerably and I can't reach the high notes anymore so I spared them the misery of listening to the whole song!

Many thanks to Jason Jenkins, a very accomplished musician who showed us what guitar playing really sounds like and gave us a mini-lesson in the different types of wood used to make some of the guitars on display. And many thanks to Jill, Denise, Bettie and Lia who let me take up part of their afternoon indulging my musical fantasies!

From there we followed Jill to Grand Central Station, a place she said everybody should see. I agree. Jill, Denise & Lee stayed put at the top of the stairs, giving Lynn and I a little time to take a few pictures of that beautiful place we'd seen in so many movies. I turned at the bottom of the stairs to look up at the group and took a few pictures of them, too. Each of us from different backgrounds, different states and one from New Brunswick, Canada, I took a moment to smile at our diversity before we went downstairs to rest and warm up a bit with hot chocolate and cheesecake.

Throughout the afternoon I heard stories from each person in turn, about their life and the people they've met and the stories they wanted to tell in their writings. There in the Dining Concourse of Grand Central Station we heard about the time that Bettie met Eartha Kitt in a hotel lobby in London. It's a wonderful story, but I'll let her tell it. We heard more from Jill about Guiding Light and talked about Crystal Chappell and how she had been overlooked for an Emmy pre-nom. And we continued our conversation about writing and soaps and what might have been.

With just a couple of hours to go until time for us to get to Penn Station, Jill and I left the others to have dinner on our own and get caught up. I told her all the news about my husband and daughters and we talked about personal projects and hopes and dreams. I told her about going to see “Love, Loss and What I Wore” and about the growing urgency I feel about writing my book, a project I never really thought I could take on until Jill believed in me.

We didn't solve any great mysteries of the universe but when it was time to go I felt encouraged, challenged and hopeful and I hope she did, too.

I took a taxi back to the hotel to meet Denise and Lynn where we gathered our bags and went on to Penn Station to catch our train. Once we were aboard, Lynn proved that her claims of being able to sleep anywhere are valid. I think she was asleep before the train left the station. Meanwhile, Denise and I tweeted and talked all the way.

It was well after midnight when our train finally arrived in New Carrollton, having been delayed a bit along the way and I was delighted to see my husband waiting for us on the platform. I got my guests settled in Daughter #1's old room and headed for bed myself, telling them I'd try not to wake them up when I got Daughter #2 up at 5:30am to get ready for school (I always go back to bed for a couple more hours!).

The next morning I heard my guests laughing. It seems the view of the lamp in their bedroom gave these two lesbians the giggles. I can't imagine why....

I took Denise and Lynn to Historic Downtown Annapolis for a brief tour, pointing out my favorite views from the Severn River Bridge. I drove them around our little town, driving them past the statehouse and the Naval Academy's Gate One and telling them a bit about our history, then parked the car so we could walk around City Dock. I wish we'd had more time but at least they got a little taste of the place before we had to drop Denise off at BWI airport for her flight home. Lynn and I drove back to Annapolis so she could take a few more pictures and get some souvenirs before time to pick up Daughter #2 at school. Then the two of us took Lynn to the New Carrollton Amtrak station and waited with her until it was time for her train to leave. (I recommend you stop by Lynn's blog and see her pictures of Annaplis because she got some great shots.)

It was a remarkable weekend spent making memories with amazing friends. All because I watch soap operas and they do, too. Because it's not about the plot or the stunts, it's about relationships. That's why we care. Because we've watched those relationships grow and change over the years and when we find someone else who watches, too, we feel a connection with them because they've taken that journey with us.

We're all part of the family.

I'm ready for another family reunion.

How about you?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

NYC: Lost and Found, Part Three

(Part One of this New York adventure can be found here and Part Two is here. Click on the photos to see them larger.)

Jessica had agreed to do a few reenactments of her scenes as Natalia, Inez and Ani. Those who might have requested a reenactment of the shower scene from Venice were disappointed but volunteers were found for three other scenes: the rooftop encounter between Ani & Lara and Gina & Tracy (Venice), Inez confronts Eddie and slaps him (OLTL), and the Otalia spa fight (GL).

My personal favorite was the spa fight with Desiree Pernaselci (@DesireePernasel on Twitter) playing the part of Olivia. Napkins took the place of the bras that were flung in the original scene and both Desiree and Jessica substituted some great zingers for the original dialog! I thought the best one was “Olivia's” crack about a chastity belt and “Natalia's” comeback: “I was gonna give you the key!”

Let me just say that I was delighted a few months ago when I saw Crystal Chappell ask Desiree, via Twitter, to be in Season 3 of Venice. Now that I've seen this little bit of improv, I can't wait to see what she'll be doing! And I really wish somebody would cast Jessica in a primetime sitcom because her comic timing is right on the money!

After the scene reenactments were over we had more time for talking with Jessica and taking pictures. Brian showed up to join in the fun, too. And when Jill Lorie Hurst arrived I think I heard a genuine “Squeee!” from Jessica who greeted her with a huge hug. It was obvious that they were delighted to see each other again! As they were talking I had several of my friends, who knew that I knew Jill, come up to me and ask, “Is that Jill Lorie Hurst? I would love to meet her!” So I had the honor of introducing them, giving my friends a chance to tell Jill how much her work has meant to them and giving Jill a chance to see that she really does have her own fanbase!

When the luncheon was officially over we went back upstairs and Denise, Lynn, and I talked with Jill, Jessica and Brian. Jessica said she'd seen me being all “ninja-photographer”, suddenly appearing out of nowhere to shoot a picture with no flash, then disappear again. Brian demonstrated the way I'd slowly peeked around someone to see if I had a good angle, then disappeared again without taking the shot. Then Jessica started doing it, too, and we were cracking up! Wish I'd gotten a picture of that! I explained to them that when I worked as a photographer years ago in Texas I was doing PR photography on a small Baptist campus and I was often shooting in worship services there and for my church. I learned to get my shots without disturbing anyone, shooting with no flash, just available light. It was good training if you want to be a ninja-photographer!


When the luncheon was over Denise, Lynn and I left with Jill, walking to who knows where. I never care where we're going because Jill always knows interesting places to go and it's all about the time with friends, anyway. We got as far as Union Square park and found a bench there so we could sit and talk for a while and decide where to go next. Lynn took a couple of pictures of Jill, Denise and I while we were there. We decided on an early dinner and Jill found a great little diner where Lynn presented her with a copy of the Otalia Virtual Season, Season 1. Jill said she'd wait to read it until she finishes her writing for Venice since those characters were already in her head.

After dinner Jill had things to do at home so we made plans to meet the next day. The three of us went back to the hotel but didn't stay long. Denise took us walking through her old stomping grounds in the theater district while Lynn and I took pictures of nighttime in New York. We stopped for a moment at the Marquis Theater Stage Door and she told us a bit about why that one was special to her:

The Marquis Theatre stage door IS NY to me for a lot of reasons. It's where a lot of really important events in my life have happened, from the birth of the website I run ( to the start of several incredibly important friendships. It's where I said goodbye to the first Broadway show I was with as fan and supporter from virtually its first preview performance until it's last moment on a Broadway stage (9 to 5). It's where the life I have now really came to be. Every time I come to New York, I walk past the Marquis stage door, and if he's there, I give the stage door manager Rey a big hug and catch up on what's been going on at the theater. It's like visiting a childhood home - I can never go back, but I will never, ever forget how it shaped who I am.

We walked through Times Square and on to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters, taking pictures all the way. I still have more to edit, but I'll share a few of my favorites here. I spotted a couple of familiar faces in the crowd and grabbed a quick shot... can you spot Cutter and Joey from One Life to Live?

Only one more day left of my weekend in NYC so come back for Part Four for the rest of the tale!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

NYC: Lost and Found, Part Two

(Part One of this New York adventure can be found here.)

I was awakened Saturday morning by a phone call from, Dominick, the Amtrak conductor who found my lost wallet, telling me what train was bringing it back to New York and when it was due to arrive. At the appointed time I walked from the hotel to Penn Station, arriving at 11:45am, just moments after my wallet did. I picked it up at Customer Service and yes, everything was still in it! Thank you, Amtrak and Dominick! I took a cab from Penn Station to Brother Jimmy's and made it just in time for Jessica Leccia's luncheon which started at noon!

The first time I walked into Brother Jimmy's, the weekend of Crystal Chappell's fan luncheon last fall, I was a little nervous about meeting people I'd only “met” online, although I had interacted with many of them daily for months. This time I felt like I was rushing to a family reunion. I wanted hugs and photos and laughter and lots of each of them. I wasn't disappointed.

I quickly found Denise and Lynn who had saved a place for me at their table. I set my coat and bag down, grabbed my camera and started shooting. A few hugs and pictures later I heard someone say that Jessica had just arrived. She had slipped in quietly and was halfway across the room before most of us noticed her! Sneaky! I started taking pictures as she began to make her way from table to table, greeting people, giving autographs & hugs and smiling for photos. She was meeting some for the first time while others were like old friends, having attended several other events, too.

I did my best to get some pictures of her as she was making her way around the room. I always prefer shooting candid photos without flash whenever I can but because of the low light and the arrangement of the tables I did have to shoot with flash more than I had at Crystal's luncheon. I'd much rather slip in and out among the crowd taking candids than to have people pose for my pictures.

When it was my turn to talk with Jessica I told her I'd brought something for her and she said, “Oh, Donna! What did you do?!” She and Brian both loved the Dimples design I'd done with Jessica's smile (I'd sent a t-shirt and buttons for her last year when I couldn't attend the luncheon myself). This year I gave her a “My Life is a Soap Opera: What Would Ani Do?” t-shirt I'd gotten from my Zazzle shop and some buttons and magnets I'd made with the same design. She took out the t-shirt and held it up for pictures. When she said her mama would want some buttons and magnets I gave her my business card so she'd know where to find more if needed. She signed the 8x10 photo that was included in the packets we'd been given when we arrived and she also signed a “My Life Is a Soap Opera... What Would Natalia Do?” graphic for me. (Thanks for this photo, Lynn!)

While she was at our table, someone presented her with a stuffed bunny rabbit and when you squeezed its foot, the ears wiggled. Jessica loved it and kept making the ears wiggle over and over. We're pretty sure the batteries were dead by morning!

Next was a gift of Jessica's favorite Girl Scout Cookies, Peanut Butter Patties. She wasted no time tearing into the package. It takes more than one picture to show how much she enjoyed that gift!

Questions had been submitted ahead of time for a Q&A session and we learned a little bit more about Jessica. We found out that if she hadn't been an actress she'd want to be a meterologist or an obstetrician, despite the fact that she isn't good in Math or Science. She said she does audition for theater roles but feels more comfortable with television.( If you were there, please leave a comment here and tell us what your favorite questions and answers were!)

Jessica's husband, Brian Malloy, came downstairs to our meeting room after the Q&A. Brian, the manager of the Brother Jimmy's location where the luncheon was held, is a darling man who has a fan following of his own as Jessica's fans have made Brother Jimmy's a favorite meeting place in New York City. From time to time he stopped in to see how things were going, posed for a few pictures, then gathered up the gifts people had brought for Jessica and set them aside for her. This time I made a point of having my picture taken with Brian since I'd forgotten to do that the last time I was there.

Next came the scene re-enactments, but those will have to wait for Part Three! Coming Soonish!