Tag: San Diego Blogs

How Photography Makes Me a Better Writer

Since about 2010, I’ve been working on writing a version of a story that shows what it’s like to grow up with a family member who has a mental illness. I’ve written it as a novel in stories; I’ve written it as a memoir; I’ve written it as a straight up novel. Honestly, on the whole, I have failed to turn a story I believe in into something that is publishable and a piece of art. I have had pieces of those projects published, but I have not achieved the larger goal of turning them into a book.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time on this project, and perhaps it’s just too close. Perhaps I need to move away from this narrative and start one of my new projects. This school of thought clearly makes sense: perhaps you have to kill your darlings for good to create what you need.

Joseph A Lapin
Joseph A Lapin

But what I have found is that the most powerful stories are the hardest to write. Stephen King talks about discovering stories like uncovering fossils. You start digging underneath the surface, and suddenly, you start to unearth a massive creature that is larger than you could have ever imagined. Writing this type of story is like following a dream. You allow the story to come to you instead of forcing it. I probably have been forcing my story in the past, but I can’t help it: I’m right back to trying to tell this story again. This time, however, I’ve decided that it isn’t my story I was trying to tell; it is the story of the family member who has the mental illness.

Since I’ve made this discovery, I’ve been writing up a storm. It just seems to be flowing out of me, but this week, I started to hear those old voices start to creep in: It’s not that good; you’re wasting your time; you can’t write this story because it’s too close. Honestly, some of these things I’m hearing might be true. I could get to the end of this WIP and realize I have jack shit. So I was in a funk. I didn’t want to write. I hated what I was writing. And I was thinking about moving on to another project.

Then something changed. What I’ve realized about novels and memoirs over the years is that, well, they’re freaking hard work that lack inherent short-term goals. Unlike journalism, which sometimes has quick results and you can see your work published within a week of writing a piece, novels and stories and poems have a much longer shelf life, and the fruits of the work might take years to generate — if at all. So that’s why you have to find a way to make your creative projects work beyond the page. Here’s what I mean:

The other week I saw the movie Wild with Reese Witherspoon. Honestly, it’s a phenomenal movie with a Jack Kerouac type as a main character who has an incredibly rich back story filled with emotional trauma. She’s shooting drugs and becoming reckless with her body. Her marriage ends, and she decides to hike up the Pacific Coast to find a balance or a wholeness in her life. What drives her is a comment from her mother: “You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”

That line, “You can put yourself in the way of beauty,” had a major impact on me in the theater. It’s something I should do everyday. As a young kid, I made a promise that there wouldn’t be a single day that went by that I wasn’t putting myself in front of something beautiful — that I wasn’t struck by something awesome — that I didn’t feel alive and a part of the world. Well, I definitely have those days when I don’t find beauty. I don’t seek it. I don’t put myself in the way of it. This isn’t a new idea either. It’s something that I remember discovering when reading Wordsworth and studying romanticism. It was about taking in something in nature, something like a dancing daffodil, and recalling that image in a moment of tranquility later. For a while, that’s how I thought about poetry and great writing. Now I also see it as essential to the creative process.

In order to get out of my funk with my story, I realized I just had to accomplish that goal: find the beauty. So I went out and started taking some photographs. I went down to Ocean Beach and took these from near the pier.

What I really enjoyed about this photo shoot was that I just put myself in the way of something beautiful and during editing I started to interpret that scene in different ways using various effects I’ve been learning with Photoshop. It freed my mind a bit. It allowed me to be creative without carrying about publications or an audience; it also allowed me to attain an immediate goal compared to writing a novel that takes (what feels like) a lifetime.

Then I went to Downtown San Diego. I wanted to find “beauty” there too. There is an airport parking garage I always see on my way to work, and I’ve been meaning to stop there and take photos of the city and the airplanes landing on the runway. So I set up my tripod and waited. Here is what I found:

These photos ended up being the same process. I took an angle and worked it in different ways. This was tremendously inspiring for me. It freed my mind. What I’m finding with photography is that it allows me to step out of the writing space and use the same wheels that I build stories and poems and kind of give them a new work out. It’s helping remind me that art comes in many forms; it’s helping to give me balance to sit at the desk after a long day of work. It’s helping me write. It’s helping me keep going. It’s helping me find the beauty in front of me.

White Oak: Photos of Tigers, Rhinos, Cheetahs

This weekend, I was lucky enough to visit the incredible White Oak Conservation in North Florida located on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, where my sister (I hate using “in law”) and her boyfriend work. They are so passionate about their job, and their mission in life is to conserve and protect birds, big cats, and other animals. At White Oak, they’re trying to presevere the future by protecting endangered species. I was able to see animals I would never have had the chance to photograph, and during tours, visitors are allowed to touch rhinos and have unprecedented access, while never invading the animal’s space.

Black and white photo of a tiger.
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

I’m happy to share with you the photos from my time at White Oak, braving the rain and mud. Below you will see pics of cheetahs, rhinos, tigers, and cassowaries. There are so many different types of animals; I wish I could have taken photos of all of them. “White Oak is well-known in the conservation and zoo communities for their rhinoceros, cheetah, antelope, and okapi (a rare giraffe relative) programs, and for their support of conservation in Africa, Asia, and the United States,” according to their homepage. 

My sister works with the cheetahs, and she has actually hand reared some of them. When she approaches the cheetahs, you can see how much they love her. I swear, they think of her as their mother. It’s incredible how much space the cheetahs have to run, and they are so elegant when they walk. As you can see in one of the photos, they have a dog, an Anatolian Shepherd, mixed in with the cheetahs. The dog is there to help calm the cheetahs down, and it’s a tactic widely employed.

Space is what makes White Oak so special. It’s hard to imagine another facility where animals have the room to wadner and feel somewhat like they’re in their natural habitat. White Oak sits on 7,400 acres, and that’s why I’m able to shoot photographs of such amazing animals like those you see above. Rhinos are so important to conserve because of the popularity of their horn, which is valued as a type of medicine and aphrodisiac by many. According to The Guardian, over 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2013.

Finally, I’m grouping the tigers and the cassowaries together because I’m not sure what animal scares me more. Most people are aware that tigers can be deadly predators, but I’m not sure how many people know how terrifying a cassowary can be. According to White Oak, “Cassowaries are found in Northern Australia, New Guinea, Ceram and Aru Island … They can weigh up to 165 lbs. and grow to be 5 ft tall at top of head.” Cassowaries are pretty fast, and they can run up to 30 m.p.h., but they might not have much of a reason to run, because they’re one of the toughest fighters in the animal kingdom. 

Here is why cassowaries are so scary to humans, according to White Oak’s website:

“A kick is capable of delivering a crushing blow, none more so than that delivered by a cassowary, a bird to which more human fatalities have been attributed than to any other. The inner of the three toes of each of the cassowary’s feet bears a long, dagger-like claw. Cassowaries are among the shortest – tempered of birds and will go on the defensive with very little provocation. The adult’s coarse plumage serves well in damp jungle undergrowth.” 

This is what I admire most about White Oak and conservationism in general: It doesn’t matter how dangerous an animal is or what potential threat they can cause to a human; conservationism is about protecting endangered species. Because from what I can tell, humans are still the most dangerous species, and we wreck more homes for animals than we’ll ever know. Your comments are always appreciated.