Starting to play with Lightroom a little. Older image, from New Mexico. In lieu of explosive political or social commentary. Enjoy.
So earlier in the week, we wake to the sounds of sirens. The unsettling part of sirens is not while they’re sounding, but when they abruptly stop—and it’s nearby. On the next block, down the alley from us, a house was afire. No one was hurt, but the smoke was intense. I couldn’t get much closer. Still, I got this.
To some, this may sound petty, but others will know what I mean.
Back when I worked in photography, one of the things that separated the amateurs from the pros had to do with Finish. I did lab work most of my career, what was referred to as “finishing.” Now, at its most basic, this was simply processing the film and printing the pictures, but there was so much more to it than that simple description suggests. Because we weren’t just supposed to print someone’s photographs—we were supposed to make them look good.
And that required a lot of practice, more than a little experience, a bit of expertise, and, most importantly, what that idea meant. Often the difference between a snapshot of Long’s Peak and a photograph of it was largely a matter of how the image was presented. How it was processed, printed, was it then mounted and framed, had care been given to the balance of values across the range of tones, had anyone retouched (this is more to do with printing from negatives where the advent of dust could play havoc with an image and required a patient hand with a fine brush to repair) it, and finally had the printer treated the image with the respect and imagination it merited. As much as the original image itself is a work of art, the production of the print is itself a matter of artistic accomplishment.
What does this have to do with writing and publishing?
I’m glad you asked that question. In its own way, just as much.
The other day I was handed a self-published book and started reading. I stopped less than two pages in. (Before you wonder, this had nothing to do with my job, this was a book sent me by a friend.) Why did I stop? Was the story horrible?
I have no idea. Because the “finishing” was bad. Poor typography, the page layout was not good, and there were transfer artifacts evident throughout. By that I mean the thing was not proofed after it was set up and so paragraphs that should have been indented were not, italics that should have been there was not, special characters were replaced with some kind of word processor code. Correctable mistakes having to do with appearance remained in the product to mangle the reading experience. In short, it was physically unpleasant.
But the writing was not good either. Not so much that the sentences were poor, but many of them were in the wrong place, paragraphs were crammed with whatever the author thought of to put down next in line, and later did not go back to put them in the right place. Jumbles of sentences and ideas that may or may not have been necessary to the story but in the configuration on the page did nothing but cause bafflement and headache trying to do the editing that ought to have been long before the cover art was even considered.
Which was actually pretty good, that cover art. As if a pretty wrapper could compensate for the amateur mess inside.
The book had been released into the wild too soon. It needed more work. It needed “finishing.”
This is an aspect of the whole self-publishing phenomenon I do not understand. When I worked in photography there were many people I knew who were gleeful amateurs who did their own processing. They had fun. They derived pleasure from printing their own pictures. None of them would have dreamed of putting what they did in their basement up in a gallery to pass off as professional work.
But there are authors who think nothing of assuming, because they can now get their work between covers and find a way to distribute it, that this somehow makes them equal to professionals who publish through traditional houses. There is a false equivalency based on poorly understood standards. It is one of the things I find most depressing about the self-publishing industry. Through this mechanism there is little to require the wanna-bes to do the work necessary to make a good product.
Am I nitpicking? Michelangelo said “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.” Nits are like dust spots and they spoil the finish.
And it’s not like this is hard to see. Go into a bookstore and pull a book off the shelf, something published by Harper or FSG or Putnam, Macmillan, Simon & Shuster, and open it up and look at the page. Look. Does what you just paid money to produce match what you see in terms of font, layout, pagination? And it is not like this should be that difficult to correct anymore.
Time-consuming, yes. Just like rewriting and editing are time-consuming.
You can’t rush good finishing. If you do, it will show, and people will be put off by your work. And if they’re put off, they won’t read it, and then all the work you have put into it will be for nothing.
I needed to get that off my chest. Thank you for your patience.
Growing up, one of the places I used to go regularly, with my mother and grandmother, was Cherokee Street. That was where the Dime Stores were, the Woolworths, shoes stores, jewelers, a place called Western Auto, which would be like today’s AutoZone (they sold Western Flyer wagons, imagine that), and assorted clothing stores (like Fairchild’s). As you walked further east toward Jefferson Avenue, it grew less kid-friendly, less polished, less…I’m not sure. We rarely went that far, restricting ourselves to the four blocks that contained the old Cinderella Theater building. I never attended it when it was still a functioning movie house, but they kept the facade. It’s famous locally, for a fire in the middle off a brutal winter so cold the water froze in curtains as it hit the building.
Time works on all things. A lot has changed. I haven’t been on Cherokee Street in over twenty years. The other night I worked an event at what is now 2720 Cherokee, an event space which appears to be two of the older stores (one I think was the old S.S. Kresge five-and-dime), and had a chance to look around a bit. It has changed. But it’s still pretty vibrant and amazing. It will require a leisurely walk-around some weekend. The traces of what I remember as a child are there, easy to find. But the new looks fascinating.
So it’s the 26th. Digesting, relaxing, contemplating.
Saw my parents. Wished good cheer to each other and others.
This morning, I went to the gym, paid taxes, other errands. Lunch. Then looked at some of the images from the last few days. It has been a hell of a year. We have come here, to the verge of 2018, unsure of some things, comforted by the people still with us and close, and at least willing to face what challenges may come. A mixed bag, as they say. (Whoever “they” are—I suspect different “they” for each saying.)
Per Mr. Gaiman’s sage advice, I made some art. Till I have something more to say, I will share it with you. Be well. See you on the other side of the sun.
Okay, so maybe this is going to be a thing. I think I put my vanity in a box and on a shelf because I don’t wish to be vain. I am, somewhat. I am saved from being an ass about it by being basically too lazy to really attend to it, at least to the extent of making myself an object of derision. But it’s there, I admit it.
Most of my vanity has to do with the interior. I want to be a certain kind of person. I wish people to see the kind of person I’m trying to be. And I want what they see to be genuine. Maybe “vanity” is the wrong word, since too often it attaches to matters of surface only. And maybe I use that word to caution myself to pay attention to what matters.
In any case, I work at maintaining certain standards, both physically and mentally. I am not as successful at any of it as I would like to be, but it’s the journey, right? Whatever.
I turned 63 this year. I cannot quite get my head around that. In another generation I would be two years from falling into an actuarial expectation of being dead. I would be spent, replete with health problems, fading. When I was a child, 65 was the age at which people died. Today?
But that’s not even the weirdest part. The weird part is the history that I have personally lived through, knowing it as history, and being in a position to represent some of that history. The other weird part is that, intellectually, I still see myself as somewhere around the mid to late 30s.
As I say, weird. However, I’ve been posting annual updates like this–not as regularly as perhaps I should, but I see now that it might be a useful thing.
So. This morning, after coming home from the gym, I asked Donna to take a couple of pictures.
I’m weighing in at round 160. I no longer bother getting on a scale. I go by how well my clothes fit and how out-of-breath I get running down the street. (Yes, I occasionally break into a sprint when I’m walking the dog, just because. I can still do three blocks at a good run.)
The hair is thinner, grayer, the wrinkles a bit deeper, especially when I’m facing into the sun.
I feel tired a great deal of the time.
But aside from working out regularly, I work a full-time job, still play music, and I’m still trying to make the best-seller lists.
And chores. Don’t forget chores.
But–most importantly–I still feel like I have options. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Someone people might possibly be glad to know.
The thing is, how to know when or if any of that is achieved? I have to be comfortable in my own skin first. And my skin is…
Well, not, perhaps, for me to say. But I have every intention of sticking around long enough to find out.
So this is 63.
Let me post another photograph, to follow, of something maybe a little more interesting. (Remember, one of the things I want to be is photographer…?) And leave off with something more abstract to contemplate.
Thank you all for putting up with me all this time.