The Eye of the Beholder

Found Art at Albany Bulb

What is art anyway? It takes so many different forms. By taking a photo of someone’s art are we stealing it somehow? Are we documenting or plagiarizing? A photograph can be art by itself, but can a photograph of art be art? Nature may be the greatest artist of all, but can nature be art? Does the artist make the art or does the art make the artist?

Art should be beautiful, moving, an extension of the artist’s vision. But much like beauty, it would seem art is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art

The Need For Speed

I’ve always liked going fast. It started on my Big Wheel way back when I was about the size of a garden gnome, and continued on to numerous other manner of moving objects. If it had potential for locomotion, then I wanted to ride it as fast as possible. It became bicycles, rollerskates, skateboards, or snowboards. One of my first near death experiences involved putting skateboard trucks and wheels on one of my dad’s old skis and plummeting down the hill in front of my house. I started bombing ever steeper paved surfaces on my rolling devices, searching for velocities capable of reducing me to a tumbling meatball had I lost my balance or hit an obstacle. Soon I started jumping off of things like cliffs, trees, and roofs, flinging myself into things like lakes, oceans, and the shallow ends of pools. As I got older it turned into motorcycles, surfboards, and fast cars, but I was never too picky. Shopping carts, sleds, wheelbarrows, mopeds, handcarts, ice skates, wheeled luggage. Barrel-rolling down hills in garbage cans. Cardboard surfing down grassy hillsides. If it had potential to go downhill fast then I wanted to race it.

Some assumed that my love of going fast equated to reckless abandon, and that my need for speed would leave me either paralyzed or permanently covered in road rash. But considering the amount of time I spent racing toward terminal velocity in my pursuit of the extreme, my injuries were not all that extreme. Some minor scrapes and bruises, a few broken fingers and various other non-essential bones, a couple concussions that probably gave me dain bramage. Every time I fell I wanted to get right back up and try again. Many assumed that my desire to tear myself away from gravity’s smack down and immediately re-attempt whatever maneuver had slammed me into the Earth was a sign of mental instability. But I saw it as a sign of mental toughness, my red badge of courage. I told myself falling down was not failure Refusing to get up  and try again was failure. Fall down seven times, get up eight, I said. I think I can, I know I can, oh shit I’m going down, I said. But no matter how many times I fell, no matter how many times I hit the ground like a deflated basketball, I wasn’t a failure until I stopped getting up and trying again. I realize that eventually we’ll all hit the ground one last time and never stand back up, but until then I’m going to keep on getting back up and coming back for more.

Now fast forward to my current state of middle age. I still like going fast, but hitting the ground is far more painful these days. I don’t feel the need for speed as deeply as I feel the need to avoid falling. How fast can I go without risking personal injury has become my new mantra. When I was younger I’d hit the ground and bounce back up to my feet before I felt the pain. These day I stick to ground like I am covered in velcro. It is getting harder and harder to fight against the relentless pull of the Earth. Some might view middle age as the beginning of the end. A  person is said to be over the hill, implying that it is all downhill from here and life will soon become a meaningless burden as you plummet toward touch down. Does that mean when you are younger it is all uphill? Do we spend our entire youths laboring against some metaphorical gravitational impediment?

If there is one thing that I’ve learned while racing through life on unorthodox vehicles of all sizes — the downhill is supposed to be the fun part. Enjoy the ride.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move


Youth had proven very traumatic for Brantley, as it does for most turtles. He had been born in steaming muck beneath a rotting log, hatching from a leathery egg synchronously with thirty-three of his siblings, all of them clambering over one another toward freedom like a riotous mob. He had a sense of direction, some instinctual behavioral tract that kept Brantley moving, scuttling against thirty-three other muddy little turtles. Emerging from beneath the log, Brantley had been greeted by two hungry raccoons scooping the baby turtles up like treasure. They were brutally efficient, missing hardly a turtle, picking the tiny squabbling pucks up in their inquisitive fingers, lifting them to their mouths, cracking open their still fragile shells in their molars, folding them open with both hands and slurping out the insides like oysters on the half shell. One had reached for Brantley, brushing its claws on the back of his shell before instead grabbing another young turtle as it came from behind and tried to scramble over him. Something drew him away, something kept his tiny legs scrabbling like a wind up toy and pulled him to the water as if a guideline had been tied around his neck.

Brantley escaped somehow, but remained forever traumatized by the experience. For years he had nightmares of raccoons cracking him open like a wiggling nut, slurping out his insides and throwing his empty shell to the deer flies. Brantley hardly slept for three years. Most turtles that live to be three years old don’t sleep at all. No time for sleep in the food chain.

Brantley spent the majority of his youth hiding beneath logs, the best place for a young turtle to be. Brantley was quite good at hiding. Exceptional, even for a turtle.

Florida Box Turtle (by “Jonathan Zander (Digon3)” on Wikimedia Commons)

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction

Family Reunion

Chauncy had slept with each of the three sisters and married two. He cheated on his first wife, the eldest, with her youngest sister, resulting in her impregnation. When his wife found out about their affair she filed for divorce, and ever since the two sisters never spoke. The middle sister, who had always been passed over for her two more attractive siblings, became enamored with Chauncy’s flirtatious advances, and they were wed before the ink on the divorce papers had even dried.

Between the three sisters Chauncy had fathered five children. He was their father and their uncle. They were cousins and half-siblings. These things get confusing, as is often the case with families, especially one so tangled up in itself.

Chauncy’s mother-in-law had died and the sisters would be together in the same room for the first time in years. The entire family had already gone into the church, but Chauncy loitered outside in the parking lot to smoke a cigarette and bolster his nerve. He wondered how it would pan out. Would all be forgotten and forgiven with kissing and hugging and what were we thinkings? Would his first wife make a scene like she always did, embarrassing everybody with her accusatory rants, calling the youngest sister a slut and a whore in front of the entire family? He envisioned the casket getting spilled into the aisle in the hair pulling scuffle, that the tragic reunion would be far more depressing than the actual funeral.

He stamped out his butt and made his way to the entrance, but discovered the door to the church locked tight. The sisters had decided that the best way to keep the peace during the service would be to exclude Chauncy altogether.

At least they could agree on something.

chicago- north center (by like, totally on Flickr)

The DP Daily Prompt: I can’t stay mad at you,

The DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction


Overcoming Expectations

Our daily expectations are those unconsidered expectations about daily life, like the fact that the sun will rise in the morning, that my morning coffee will be delicious and probably the highlight of my day, and the fact that I will sit in mind-numbing traffic for an hour as I attempt to drive 12 miles to work. These are the expectations that we take for granted, the things we expect due to the fact they have become such regular parts of our daily lives. Expectations like these make life boring, repetitive, and depressing.  It is simple brain reflex that causes the human mind to attempt to predict what is going to happen, whether you’re watching television, reading a book, or going to work for the ten thousandth day in a row. But how boring is it to know exactly what is going to happen all the time?

If everything always plays out exactly like you think it should, then you have in essence learned nothing new. It is through the serendipitous discovery of the unexpected that the human mind finds meaningful existence in this sad little hamster wheel known as life. My 6th grade science students are always required to make a hypothetical prediction before they start each lab experiment, and sometimes they get disappointed at the end if their hypothesis is not correct, like they have failed somehow. But I always tell them that if your hypothesis is correct you have learned nothing. It is only when the hypothesis doesn’t match expectations that we have actually discovered something new. I think that this is part of the reason most people find traveling to new places and cultures so invigorating. Everything is new and unexpected. Each today truly becomes a new day with endless possibility.


But then there are more profound expectations, the long term plans we have for ourselves and the people we care about. The path we follow toward those expectations may be unexpected. My Grandma wrote me this letter (and many others also) when I was a “hopeless” surf bum living in my van. I surfed every day and worked as a room service waiter and bartender in Santa Cruz. It was by far the happiest time of my life. I had almost zero stress, and hours of free time to write and read every single day. Even living in a costly environment like Santa Cruz I had a very low overhead. A post office box, a storage unit, and my 1975 Chevy molester van with my surfboard and coffee pot felt like all I needed. Every couple weeks I would drive up or down the coast to hang out on some empty beach or campground for a couple days. I was rich in time but poor in money. In many respects I was the most successful person I knew.

But eventually the pull of more profound expectations made me question my own happiness. I wanted more money and more prestige, like these things would make me happier. I wanted people to not think of me as a dirty vagrant living in his van. I wanted a regular job with a regular paycheck. And as I returned to school and became more and more professionally successful, a little bit more of my happiness withered away. I transformed into what other people expected me to become, but it was never really what I expected for myself. It almost felt like I had given up, succumbed to the debilitating pull of my family’s expectations for me.

Now I work more hours and make more money than ever before, but the measure of my happiness seems to be inversely related to these factors. I have saved and scratched to buy a home only to find myself now more in debt than any other point of my life. Those paltry maxed out credit cards from my days living in my van feel like the good old days of financial stability.

I’m not sure why I saved this letter from my Grandma. I reflect on it sometimes to remember where I was and where I want to be, and remind myself that the path we follow to live up to our expectations is not always the path we expect. The letter used to make me angry, but now it makes me laugh. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy having the last laugh, but I think I will in this case, even if it means I am laughing at myself.

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Great Expectations

(This was an unpublished post that I rewrote. It didn’t end up like I expected. They rarely do, and that’s a good thing.)

Sandals, Camera and Great Expectations (by Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr)

Toxic Shock

One golden word separates command from request.
And one golden breath separates a life from a death.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbonated dioxide infusions.
UnLeaded poison gasoline fuels our neurotoxic delusions.

Warning Pesticides:Fire may and will cause toxic fumes.
Cancer causing mutagens will surely spell our dooms.

Who’s to say what constitutes a harmful level of contaminants?
But is it really wise for us to be using them as condiments?

Warning Pesticides: Fire Will Cause Toxic Fumes (by CGP Grey –

DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Time for Poetry


On Top of California


With a camera here I stand, on top of a piece of tormented land.

Pushed and pulled, torn and bent. We went to the top and down we went,

On motorcycles from high to low, taking pictures as we go.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California is the lowest point in California at -282 feet  (-86 m) below sea level. Less than 100 miles away is the highest point in California, Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet (4421 m) above sea level. In between those two points is a lot of up and down of tumulted land, created by the tension and compression of the Earth’s crust as the North American and Pacific plates slide past each other on the boundary known affectionately as the San Andreas fault. The landscape is dramatic to say the least, and above all makes you realize how small you really are.

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top