I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Have Nothing To Say...

My last Facebook post was, "I have nothing to say".  Not a statement I make on a regular basis.  And though I have not posted anything in nearly 2 weeks I have been thinking about this blog and why I feel I have nothing to say.

Nearly a year ago, I made the decision to "go Etsy".  Bought the computer, the camera, went through a studio redo, began the process of learning to function on my computer and took off on the acid trip that is  the parallel universe of cyberspace.  Oddly enough, last night my husband wondered, as I sat at the kitchen table for hours after dinner, what I thought my life would be like without my laptop now. 

Different.  So, so different.

One of the last hurdles on my long list of Things I need to learn on the computer was to set up a bookkeeping system for my business.  I looked at the systems offered online and wondered why I was going to pay a fee for a simple payables/receivables set up and determined that what I already had on my laptop, Excel , was fine for what I needed to do.  Since accounting is not what I live to get out of bed for in the morning, I was able to procrastinate for a very long time on this one.  It was only when we went to the accountant for our taxes and he all but called me an idiot on more than one occasion that I decided I needed to step up and face the numbers. 

Excel is a blank slate.  It is whatever you want it to be.  For those of us that like to be in control and know exactly what the rules and boundaries are, this can be a bit disconcerting.  For me, one of the only redeeming qualities of numbers is their absoluteness.  One and one is two and that's it.  Settled.  No maybe, sorta ofs.  A sum is a sum.  So when I looked at what I believed was going to be a basic spread sheet and saw,  what my numbers guy husband called "endless possibilities",  my brain had a little meltdown.  I didn't want endless possibilities.  I wanted a bookkeeping system.  I wanted a place to record my endless expenses and my piss ant income.  Plain and simple.

I opened Excel and was offered a video tutorial.  That voice,  that always reminds me of the guy that talked us through the educational films of the 60's about duck and cover and other comically useless information we learned in school back then, brightly encouraged me to get started and follow along as he showed me just the basics of what Excel could do for me.  Phantom cursors moved columns around and charts morphed into configurations I would never in a million cyber years need for anything.  Now, I will confess.  I have always had a "thing" for printed charts and graphs.  They appeal to my sense of organization.  There is something comforting for me about being able to break things down, systematically, and reorganize them into a perfect, explainable package.  I also like they way they look.  Neat.  Consistent.  Pretty.  I was being lured into the mystique of Excel.  Okay, hyperbole, but I was not feeling the need for a Xanax and my palms weren't sweating and I was feeling pretty darned good about learning this new program.

I took a deep breath.  I can do this.  I can learn another thing and put it into practice.  No really, Nell, there is room in your brain to learn something else.  We only use a small percentage of our brain power.  So you have plenty of storage space left so press on, MacDuff.  I wanted to get the thing set up and done so badly that I just jumped in. 

It was pretty easy.  I was clickin' and dragin' and highlightin' and totallin' like I knew what the hell I was doin'!  Most importantly to me, I was sitting down to learn something new on the computer and it was not taking me an entire week to have something to show for it.  In a mater of a couple of hours I had a set of books up on the screen with five months of information organized and posted.  It was a remarkable day in the life of me.

But then - there was nothing to say.  I had crossed a threshold.  I had stepped over a line.  I had graduated to something.  I had moved on, forward, up, out.  I hadn't spent a week hissing and cursing and spitting bile out of frustration over a new computer program.  I was even able to ask my husband a few questions without getting so nasty with him that he spent the rest of day wondering why he had married such a lunatic bitch.  I was calm.  I was confident I could learn it and I was not afraid.  I realised I was living in a new neighborhood.

Now let me be very clear.  I'm certainly not fool enough to believe myself some computer wizard that can pull off any computer move you can think of.   I am by no means the Bobby Fischer of laptops.  I have grown comfortable though and I am aware that a major part of my life takes place in cyberspace.  I have relationships online that I don't have in physical space.  I have a store that does not exist in physical space.  I read mail and subscribe to newsletters and blogs that I cannot hold in my hand.  I visit events and seminars and never leave the couch and have political discourse with people I only know online.  I order supplies, do research and now, keep my books online with no paper involved and not even any real money.  My world has become drastically more conceptual.  I suspend belief and accept that things have actually happened even though I am of a generation where everything needed a piece of paper to actually be validated and real.  Back in secretarial school we learned to type in triplicate (for the youngins' that involved putting three pieces of paper with carbon paper in between, rolling the whole stack into the manual typewriter and banging on those keys hard enough to press through to the last sheet in order to have three copies).  Now I think twice about printing because I am more concerned with trees that filling up a file cabinet.

This is a fascinating time for me.  I have the satisfaction of having taught myself a new skill set that I never dreamed I would even be interested in and moving into possibilities I am only just conceiving.  Now, I need to get my mind around how exactly this all translates into action in the world.  I have conceived a new world for myself.  But do I really know how to make it work for me?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Picture Thang

I have always loved the world through a lens.  Under different circumstances I may have taken my interest in photography a little further.  I did, however, take it far enough to accumulate a very good 35mm camera and a decent assortment of lenses.  Travel always meant a carry-on camera bag and several of those film cases to keep the X-rays out of my film.  I was never a crack photographer but I had a working knowledge of film speeds, shutter speeds and f-stops and always enjoyed the special eye of the camera.

Along came digital photography.  Let me first say, that film, as a medium, will always hold a special place in my artist's heart.  The soft, sumptuous warmth of film photography strikes a chord in my brain that not even the great masters of painting can.  And then there's black and white!  Is there anything more striking, more evocative, more illusive than good black and white photography?  Think of the films that were shot in black and white and the emotional tone they set simply by being about shadows - light and dark.  The metaphors abound!  What would Raging Bull be in color?  Could Woody Allen's Manhattan have sung more gloriously to New Yorkers had it been in color?  I think not.  New York is a black and white city.  Paris is a city in color but New York is definitively black and white.

So rhapsodically I carry on about film only to be faced with the digital image.  Okay,  it is a cool thing - in concept.  Certainly, on a practical level, being able to shoot with abandon and not have to think about how much every click of the shutter is costing, is a luxury.  But what does it do for photography?  When every image was bought before it was exposed and paid for in order to view whether or not it was a success, there was more care and discretion exercised before plunging the shutter.  Composition counted and cropping was something that required several more steps after developing in order to have a final image.  With digital, we can shoot with abandon, crop before we print and even tweak the light and exposure, something that before had to be done in a lab.  Very convenient and excessive. 

Alright, I've made my point.  I love film.

I acquired my first digital camera before I went to Paris on a personal, significant birthday, "vision quest".  I went to take a look at my life, have some time alone and bathe myself in the city of light.  I had a basic  knowledge of how the camera worked and looked forward to the freedom of taking as many shots as I wanted.  (I still took my SLR, loaded with B&W film just because I wanted to shoot Notre Dame in light and shadows.)  I must say, I was able to capture somethings with the digital that I never would have with my film camera equipment such as back lit, medieval stained glass and ancient Roman Baths deep underground.  I slowly gave up the film cameras and reluctantly joined the digital age of photography.

So back to Etsy, shall we?  "Upload first image".  My first challenge, which to this day is a little like always reviewing right hand/left hand, is upload and download.  I get stuck on those words all the time and my mind wanders off to endless schematics I have created in my head to map my way through the maze of computer concepts I barely understand.  I wish there were a GPS we could plug into our brains to do the destination calculations for us.  I would be much less tired at the end of the day.

A friend had told me about Picassa, a file sharing program like Flicker (I say that like I know.  It is an assumption I am making so if I am wrong just remember I am still a third grader.)  Before I could "upload my first image" I had to backtrack to Picassa, upoad the images from my camera, import them to my hard disk then go back to Etsy, find my listing in storage and take my first shot at uploading onto my Etsy site.  Like all things computer, it took me several passes but when the deed was done, I was ecstatic.  I felt like I had climbed Mt. Fuji in my sneakers.  It was really cool!  Until I saw the quality of the picture.  It was all yellowish and flat looking.  WTF?  And the focus was mooshy and lacked detail.

After doing some research I realized two things.  First, my little point and shoot was not going to do the trick for these kinds of "commercial" purposes.  Second, the table top I had set up in my studio with clip lights and incandescent bulbs was not the approach to take with the digital.  There I was, all set up with my little photo studio fit for an amature in the 1980's trying to light the medium of the 21st century.  Who knew there was such a chasm between 20 and 21?  All I wanted to do was open a little shop on Etsy to pedal my wares and now I had come up against yet another hitch in the road that required me to give myself another crash course in another high concept operation.  What to do?  Quit?  Not on your life!  I'd made it this far I wasn't going to let a camera stop me now. 

I spent two days on the Internet researching cameras.  Let me explain that for me to even say, let alone do, research on the Internet is totally out of character and yet another indication of how I am changing.  For me, the solution is to go to the store where they sell these things and talk to the people that tell you what you need.  Except, I couldn't think of one single camera shop withing 35 square miles of where I live.  Until about 5 years ago, there was a little camera shop in our town but the last time I saw him he was selling out and going into insurance or something.  The big box stores have people that take out packaging and read it to you, as if  they're reading it to you will have more significance.  I can read, thank you very much.  So onto the Internet I went and found this amazing site where the guy does video demos of the cameras and in that moment I thought the Internet was the most amazing thing ever!  I was talking to the guy in the camera store at my own kitchen table.  I didn't even have to put on shoes or one schmere of lipstick to find out exactly what camera was going to best suit my needs.  Now I could go into Best Buy and tell the person, who knew as much about digital cameras as I did, exactly what I was going to buy.  Success.

This whole camera thing was a turning point for me.  I think because the learning experience was a case of transposition.  With the cameras, I had to take a skill I already had and translate what I already knew into a new language.  I wasn't starting from scratch.  I already had concepts to use as a jumping off point. Going from film to digital was like copying music into another key.  It's still the same music but with a different configuration of notes.  With the computer, I have had to enter a foreign country, learn a completely new language - which sounds like the language I have been using all of my life but is deceptively different.  I have had to take physical skills like typing and use them in an expanded way on a piece of hardware that has a totally different feel and purpose than what I learned on in business school. I have had to revise my concepts of social interaction and adapt to having types of relationships that didn't exist when I was born and growing up.  Perhaps, most significantly, I have had to give up the tactile process of moving information around.  I am the generation of paper.  If it wasn't on paper, it didn't really exist or more importantly, it didn't matter.  Put it on paper.  Sign this paper, Send me the paper copy.  File this paper.  Fax me the paper.  Organize your papers.  The paper made it real.  It, whatever it was, existed because it was on paper. 

Cyberspace challenges us to operate in a world of visualization and though we still live in a tactile world of three dimensional things that we hold, touch and interact with we have to reconceptualize what that means so that everything can be fluidly transposed between the concept and the concrete.  From where I stand, this leaves us with two choices as we move forward in our lives.  We can plant ourselves firmly in the righteousness of our solid, feet planted firmly on the ground, if I can touch it it is real way of living.  Or.  We can encourage ourselves to explore this dual universe and see where it takes us.  We can strengthen our minds by allowing ourselves to step out of the comfy place and see what it's like to slip in and out of either world.  We can, by making the choice, have a relationship with the conceptual on our screens.  It may not be the same relationship we have with something we hold in our hands or someone we kiss on the cheek but it is, in fact, a real relationship.  It's just different.  And by expansion of our beliefs, we can explore what my generation always thought would be actual outer space, right here where we sit, on these screens in our own little comfy spot.