My mother and stepfather in happier times, nearly 20 years ago.
This week marks the six-month anniversary of my mother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease.
I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed, amid the blur of a global pandemic and President Donald Trump’s ongoing catastrophic administration that seems to poison everything around it.
Still, our own lives go on, and each of us marks the passage of time in our own way.
My stepfather shared a poem he had written this week, marking another marker of time. On the occasion of the 38th anniversary of his marriage to my mom, back in August 1983, in University City, Missouri, he sent out his poem to some family members and others about his life as my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease caregiver.
I felt a huge lump in my throat reading this. Those seven years when my mom progressed from mild to severe conditions were unbelievably hard. He did everything in his power to ensure my mom stayed home and was loved. I have no words to describe my gratitude, even when some days it felt strained. He did all of the hard work. I can never repay him.
He gave me permission to share the poem online. I’m doing that today. I guess my mom is still on my mind. I am still missing her. This will take more time.
She Never Complains
Years go by, years, not months. It’s true that she becomes a child, A little one, unable to care
For herself. If you love her, Care for her, she will love you In return, hold to you as her
Only one. You are. She knows Her friends no longer call Or visit. She will do anything,
Say anything she thinks will Keep you from deserting her, Though she knows a day is coming
When you must, can no longer Care for her, and there is Absolutely nothing you can do.
Years pass. Years. You become Accustomed to her gradual Decline, forget there is an end,
One day notice she no longer Watches television, wants her Daily walks, would rather sleep.
One day you realize she is blind, Almost deaf, and your life Together has neared its end.
You know. She knows, never Complains. Soon you must live Alone. She understands.
Faces are amazing tapestries on which we paint our reality for the world to see.
Yes, many wear masks. Some are so clever, they can deceive others and eventually themselves, and their faces become a testament to their character of falsehoods and lies.
Fortunately for most of us, we show a lot about our life, our struggles, our joys, and our character in the tableaux we show to others.
I have been taking portraits for decades, always looking at the face as my window to the soul of others.
On occasion I take selfies to look at myself and my world at the moment I click the shutter.
I took these shots over a three-week period. During that time, I visited my mom, who was ending her seven-year journey battling Alzheimer’s.
I came to be with her and say goodbye to her in late January 2020. That visit was impossibly hard, and my look captured my sentiments being with her at her extended care facility, when I knew the end was not far away. That is shot No. 1.
The second picture is a selfie I took at the St. Louis Art Museum, a place we came for decades, even as she was slowly succumbing to this horrible disease. We still could find joy and beauty in this great palace of art. Picture No. 2 is from a place we stood many times together the same day of my mom’s funeral in mid-February 2020.
The last picture, three days after the funeral shows me after my trip to St. Louis was ending. I was sitting in a daze on the Portland MAX train, completing a ritual I had done for seven years, going to visit my sick mom and then coming back, not knowing how many more trips I would have to take. This time felt totally different. I felt the weight of my mom’s passing and a sense of both relief and sadness realizing this long chapter had come to an end with the only way that it could.
(Click on each image to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
My mother and stepfather were lucky. They met at the right time for both of them to build a life together and find decades of happiness, love, and companionship. Their connection can be seen in pictures I took of them when we could spend time together. I took all these in Alaska in 2005, when we had one of the best possible vacations together, when I was living and working in Anchorage.
My mom looked as happy as I have ever seen her in some of these shots. I particularly love the shot on the ferry deck, in Prince William Sound, just as our ferry was pulling out the Valdez ferry terminal. I remember this ferry ride from Valdez to Cordova, Alaska, as if it was yesterday. Times are different now, so I appreciate these magical moments I was lucky to share with them.
(Click on the image to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
The past six months have been a challenging time for my family. Things got more challenging over the last three months, and especially last week. I wish I could have been closer to them during these times. My sister is mostly on my mind now. I wrote a tribute to her this week and am thinking of her now. This is the image that captures only part of her, but one that seems the most appropriate at this time.
One of my favorite websites that I have turned to the past year to steady my ship as it sails through stormy waters, like the gales blowing now, is The Daily Stoic, created by author Ryan Holiday. It has been a good friend when the storms brew. Here’s a line he wrote about duty, notably to family, that I am embracing now with the latest challenges facing them: “‘Whatever anyone does or says,’ Marcus wrote, ‘I’m bound to the good…Whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.’ He was talking about duty. Duty to his country, to his family, to humankind, to his talents, to the philosophy he had learned. Are you doing yours?”
(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
Tonight I had a wonderful call with an old friend, who I first met during another chapter in my life.
We have stayed in touch over the years. Talking about our journeys in life, I felt a wonderful affirmation about the importance of friendship and keeping alive the ties that hold us together. That short call left me deeply touched.
So, I dug up these photos I took of my friend and their spouse, who I also have gotten to know. They capture what William Shakespeare famously called “a pair of star-crossed lovers,” but without the tragedy of rival houses in Verona. I took these snapshots in June 2011, when I was living in Seattle and finishing a graduate program, and they had driven to town for a short trip.
I did little to plan for these pictures. All I did was compose the frame. Their warmth and affection did the rest. I have always said, photos never lie.
Jackie Chan meets with a fan at a book signing in Seattle (1999).
“In the pantheon of movie action heroes, there is only one true god, and his name is Jackie Chan.”
—The Washington Post, 1998
When I found myself deep in the bush in northern Uganda in June 1997, a 12-hour bus ride from the nearest city, I had one of those memorable conversations that can only happen with people from different cultures and life experiences.
I sat outside of my darkened guest house, under a star-filled sky, talking with a young man. We had just met and were trying to learn what we had in common. We instantly found a shared love: Hong Kong action films starring Jackie Chan.
He couldn’t believe that I knew about the Hong Kong film star, or that I had favorite Chan films and even favorite Chan action sequences. We laughed and formed a memorable, short-lived bond because of the artistry of perhaps the world’s most famous action star and Hong Kong-native, Chan. We both loved him because he spoke a universal language on film that blended action, dance, grace, and physical comedy.
At that time, Chan already was a bona fide celebrity, having made dozens of Hong Kong action films few Americans had ever seen. Those films set the standard for physical comedy, death-defying stunts, and creative genius in a genre I can only describe by calling it Jackie Chan cinema.
My favorite of his actioners is the 1994 classic Drunken Master 2, which assembled some of the most elaborate stunt work I have ever seen.
As with all of Chan’s films, he did his own stunts and racked up countless broken bones and even near-death experiences.
In a Chan film, you can feel the brutality of a fall, the smack of a blunt weapon on the back, and the sweat falling off an actor’s face as a fist cracks their jaw. One of the funnest choreographed set pieces I adore comes from his 2003 Owen Wilson buddy flick set in Victorian England, called Shanghai Knights. In one scene, Chan riffs on Gene Kelly’s graceful dancing, using the Singing in the Rain soundtrack, as he escapes a gang of English ruffians with a deft touch that the great Kelly would adore.
Finally Meeting my Favorite Action Hero in the Flesh
A year after my trip, in 1998, Chan burst into the lives of American filmgoers with his buddy action comedy Rush Hour, co-starring Chris Rock. Since that time, Chan has continued to crank out films at a furious pace, and continued to get injured and trash his body as only Chan can.
In 1999, I finally saw my film icon for my first and only time at a book signing at a Seattle shopping center. That is where I snapped this photograph. There were hundreds of fans, waiting in line to see their beloved action star and have him sign a copy of his semi-autobiographic memoir, I Am Jackie Chan. The intensity of the adoration astounded me. I could suddenly understand why a young man in Uganda felt that personal connection.
To a filmgoer, Chan provides a guaranteed promise of pure cinematic escapism. The plots, outside of his earlier kung fu genre pieces, are flimsy at best. The films mostly provide a vehicle for him to cleverly battle his foes, improvise escapes from impossible closed spaces, experience immense physical pain, and somehow save the little guy. Anyone who sees a Chan film knows that Chan has beat himself up for all of them and is fighting just for them as he gets pummeled by bad guys in all directions, before he manages to limp away and escape.
A Star Is Trained
Chan likely draws from the deep well of his own tough experiences being born in poverty, in 1954, in gritty and bustling Hong Kong.
A new Chan memoir just came out, Never Grow Up. The co-written tome provides insights into the cruelty of his brutal childhood and teenage apprenticeship and growing up poor in the former British colony. When he was 7 years old, Chan’s parents placed him in the China Drama Academy, a facility that cranked out performers for Peking operas and other popular acrobatic shows. Left by his parents who went to Australia, Chan was signed up for a 10-year “contract” that more resembled old-fashioned indentured servitude.
According to a story about his memoir in The New Republic, his formative years, were stark and brutal: “For ten years, Chan trained all day long, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., with breaks for lunch and dinner. Along with the other boys, he slept on a thin mat, on a carpet encrusted with sweat, spit, and piss. When he misbehaved, he was beaten with canes; when he fell ill, he was told to suck it up and keep practicing his kung fu.”
It was during that time that star we love as Jackie Chan became that Jackie Chan, through the process that only comes from intense study.
The same story notes the China Drama Academy helped blaze the trail for Chan’s success in three ways. It created lifelong friendships with fellow action stars like Sammo Hung, who helped out Chan in his early films and later co-starred with him. It gave him the skills for stunt work and martial arts, which was the currency of the Hong Kong film industry when Chan came of age in the 1970s and later. It also “turned his body into an instrument that could withstand ungodly amounts of pain.”
That pain is nowhere to be found in this picture I snapped above. I remember a feeling of elation that I finally met a man who spoke a universal language that can bring together people around the world, rooting for the underdog, who always manages to escape calamity with cosmic luck, his fast fists, and the will power to win.
(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
For the second time in two weeks, my former college freshman roommate was in Portland, on family matters. This time, we caught up for a nice lunch. Sebastian has done well, and he now lives and works in France. I am envious of several things, notably his access to universal healthcare, and the fact that France is considered to have the best health system in the world, according to many credible monitoring groups.
I also am jealous of his chic French style. Wherever you make your home, you will adapt to the local customs and fashions. Sebastian proved that well. Me, I looked like I still came fresh out of an Alaska brewpub, sporting my Carhartts and rain gear.
Here’s to catching up on all of those past decades, ami. The years have treated you very, very well.
I think there was some Bob Dylan thing going down when I took this shot.
Some people look cool in a goatee, and Sebastian was one of them.
(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
Despite the inauspicious circumstances that led my former freshman college roommate to fly from France to Portland this week, I could not be more happy. It has been well over three decades since I shared the cramped dormitory living space in college with my friend, Sebastian. And fate brought him back to Portland this week. For that, I personally am grateful.
I probably could not have found a better person to share that tight living space with, when I was 18. It was the only time in my life I lived in a dorm (for one academic year exactly), and I am sure I was not the easiest person to be with. I had odd hours and was restless. I probably woke Sebastian up more than he would like doing those all-nighters that I tended to do during my undergraduate days.
Last night a group of us former classmates gathered at a local pub in Portland. I had not seen any of these folks in decades. I really enjoyed it. It made me realize how important connections can be, even when you part paths and move to different parts of the country, or world.
That get together inspired me to dig up two black and white shots I took of Sebastian, when I was more into black and white photography and darkroom experimentation. One shows him hard at work in his room during our freshman year. I always admired his ability to focus, not to mention his incredible intelligence. The other shows his creative side, which he had in spades. Thanks for helping to make that first year of college a success, and safe journeys, ami!
I have not shared Thanksgiving with my family now for nearly 30 years. Living at opposite ends of the continent, and in my case Alaska for a half-dozen years, makes travel on the busiest travel time of the year just about impossible. We may not be able to share another one together like we did when we were a unit, when I was younger. This makes me think of them even more this year. So, enjoy the time you spend with family. You might never know if it is the last time you do. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)
I am a huge fan of the herding breeds, including the Texas heeler.
Ever since I traveled to Omak, Washington, in 2012 and met a couple of amazing Texas heelers adored by their owner, I have been smitten by this breed. Herding dogs just have that certain special something. Hey good boy, you are looking might fine. Click on the picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.