Why do this?

Why do this?

Why write a blog?

That’s a good question, and I realized I had never really explained this. Not that anyone cares, but it did make me ask myself this same question. This blog takes times, these posts take time, and I’d perhaps be better served, financially and photographically if I took the time required and focused it on my business or my images.

Here’s the problem…I can’t.

This blog isn’t an option for me. I need to do it. Let me explain.

In elementary school I was home sick. I was home sick a lot. I wasn’t a sickly kid but my lungs betrayed me from the first moments of my life. There was the oxygen tent, the pneumonia and the days home from school. On one such day I was watching TV, which for us was somewhat of a big deal. We had, I THINK, a black and white TV in the “den” and that’s where I sat as the Indiana winter(I’m adding this for drama) churned out the flakes. On one of the three channels we got came a movie, a sci-fi kinda thing about mushroom people, at least that is how I remember it. There was an island, there were mushroom people and oddly enough this triggered something in my new mind. “What the %$#%, mushroom people?” “What?” “When did this happen?” I remember being overwhelmed with confusion and knew I had to get this confusion out, somehow, somewhere. So I grabbed paper and a pencil and started to jot down notes about this new world that clearly NOBODY in my family was yet privy to.

That was it. That was the moment everything changed. Soon my frail, little finger developed that bump on it you get from gripping the pencil too tight. You know the bump, the one you got when the teacher said, “Okay children, open your textbook to page 28 and write down everything on the page.” The “busy work” bump. As we all sat in these overheated little incubator rooms, our growth plates groaning and creaking like the plates of the Earth’s crust, our poor little finger developing our first bone spur and I was in pig heaven. Thanks public school.

I would blaze through the assignment and then begin on my own stories, great stories of sweeping scale that I no longer have any recollection of. But, I remember the little notebooks. Large, small, thick, thin, it didn’t matter. I just wrote.

By the time I reached middle school, luckily, I’d discovered martial arts and more importantly, martial arts movies. There has perhaps been no greater contribution to world culture than the martial arts film genre. I read the Chuck Norris autobiography, official and non-official. I think I cried. I wanted to BE Chuck Norris. I wanted the Chuck Norris pants with the flexible crotch so I could absolutely kick the living crap out of anyone that even so much as slightly brushed into me in the hallway, cafeteria or cage fighting arena we called PE class. A kid at school got caught with a Chinese throwing star. He rocketed to the top of my “Most Want To Meet” list. I studied the dynamics of nunchakus with a rope vs nunchakus with a chain. I ordered Chinese peasant outfits, by mail, out of the back of martial arts magazines, magazines that portrayed some type of violent struggle on the cover, the exact type situation I needed my Chuck Norris pants for. No living creature was safe from my eye gouge, throat grab or knee punch. Mom, dad, sister, brother, dog, grandmother, nobody was immune to my wrath. I didn’t know if someone in the family would turn on me and I would have to defend myself.

And I wrote. My stories went from innocent sci-fi to all out martial arts fueled global chaos. Most of the time the story involved one main character, armed to the teeth, completely vaporizing a foreign culture of some sort. I spared no geographic region. South America revolutionaries, SE Asian drug lords and generic Russian thugs all died the same merciless death by gun, knife, throwing star or hand to hand dismemberment. The main character could get shot, stabbed, attacked by twelve bad guys and still slaughter them all. My imagination was my playpen and the bad guys of the world suffered for it.

My notebook was small, spiral bound, and for some reason I wrote these stories in the smallest handwriting I possibly could. They were so good I wanted to cram as much as humanly possible into my $.39 notebook, which I promptly lost. It was during this time a new kid moved to our block, Stuart. Stuart was wicked smart, still is, and Stuart could actually write. From what I know, I think he is now a screenwriter in Hollywood. Stuart had a small notebook and he too was writing stories. This only fueled my need to get things down on paper. It was as if Stuart writing was my permission slip. It’s wasn’t just me.

And then came high school. I went dormant. The writing stopped. Completely. What a surprise.

College. Yep, not much going here either…..

Graduation. Hmmm, nope, nothing yet.

Then came the internship. The newspaper. A big one. I was required to write captions. I found a feature story. The paper wouldn’t assign a writer. I already had the images. “You write it,” the editor said. It was a short piece, maybe 300 words. Something began to rumble in my mind. I lived near the public library and would spend time cruising the shelves. No money to buy books. I found the photography section. All the usual suspects. But wait, what’s this? “The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa.” What? Who? And that was it. The gloves were off once again. This book blew my mind. Beard blew my mind, and his life almost put me over the top. Screw Chuck Norris, I wanted to be Peter Beard. It was this little bump of creative inspiration that got me going again. Beard is the prolific diary maker, the best, most interesting I’ve ever seen, and something in my mind clicked and said, “You need to do this again.”

I immediately began to write, sometimes ten or twelve pages a day. Some people think this is crazy but it’s actually fairly easy because for me the writing didn’t have to be about anything in particular. I could sit at a cafe and write ten pages about someone sitting across from me, someone I didn’t know. I’d make up the story of their life and put it down on paper. This exercise was a cleansing of sorts, a way to find the clarity within the clutter of my mind(phrase stolen from Peter Schwepker).

Since those blistering days in the desert I’ve kept a notebook, something I used each and every day. Now I have friends who do the same, artist friends, and their books are simply works of art, no other way of seeing it. Mine are not. I can’t paint, sketch or draw so that isn’t part of my routine. Mine are most text, written in perhaps the world’s worst handwriting. And if you think your handwriting is bad just know that I once sat at a cafe, writing, and someone looked over my shoulder and asked what language I was writing in. No kidding. It’s the perfect foil for anyone trying to read my notes. I’m the Navajo language of the writing world.

Now people, I can’t stress to you how important, and how much a part of my life these books are. They are with me EVERY step of the way. Just last week someone asked me, “Why did you bring your notebook?” I really didn’t know how to answer because…..I didn’t know how to quickly say what I’m saying here.

Now I’m not a great writer, wish I was, but I really love doing it and need to do it to get the thoughts out and down. When I’m working my brain is on overtime, CHURNING with things, ideas, thoughts, fears and stresses that all end up being part of the crime when all is said and done.

About twelve years ago I attended an invitation only, creative industry event. I wasn’t invited but I weaseled my way in and was blown away. Game designers, writers, photographers, artists, designers, etc. I heard the word “blog” for the first time. It freaked me out. I KNEW it was for me.

When I first created my blog, all those years ago, I never told anyone about it. I committed to writing for the public the exact same way I wrote in my book, as if NOBODY was ever going to see it. I think this is the ONLY way of doing it. I know this doesn’t fit the modern blog trend of the overpowering sales pitch, overpowering, “everything is amazing” feel but I just don’t care. I would rather have ten people reading it, ten real folks, than 10,000 somewhat uninvolved readers. My first post was a story I wrote in my journal at 3am, during the time I lived in LA. I heard a drive-by-shooting out my window and wrote what I thought was happening. The piece, thanks to a friend, was picked up by a major paper and then syndicated nationwide. After that I wrote about anything that crossed my mind. Art, music, film, television, life, etc. I also wrote a little bit about photography.

One day, out of the blue, an email arrived from an unknown person, a person in Africa. “I’ve been following your blog.” “You are on to something.” “If you want this to really work, narrow your focus and just write about photography.” At first, I really didn’t want to do this. I look around, from where I’m sitting right now and I see posts about the border war, the environment, rural culture in America, pets, gun control and my beloved Saints kicking Falcon ass on last night’s Monday Night Football. I can barely contain myself. But I understand, if I write about ALL of those things, on this site, it might be more confusing than anything else. So, I took this person’s advice and that is why I’m here today, and probably why you are here.

I consider writing a superior art to photography. I really do. Not only is it far more difficult, at least for me, but writing is possible without needing ANYTHING other than your imagination, pencil and paper. You don’t need to BE at the story, simply by talking about it with those who were, you can recreate the happenings. News photographers need to be at the frontline. Reporters can write about it without leaving the office. I’m not saying that is good, just possible.

When I read Rushie, who I met on the street in Beverly Hills and nearly wet myself(a very nice guy), I realize my mind will probably never reach that level of intelligence, of talent. It’s the same with McCarthy, Bowles, Green, Erhlich, etc, etc. When I sit down with a well written book, a book of unique style and content, I don’t need any imagery because the words allow my mind to create a vision unique to the author and I. Our little world. THAT is golden. Great literature makes me feel, both physically and emotionally, like a great image, but simply with words. It blows me away. I’m on downtime at the moment, kinda, and ordered five books to fit the timeframe I have. I’m through two and waiting for the others to be delivered….IF they make it this far out.

So here we are. That’s my story. I write more because I have to than anything else. It’s the same with reading, and reading other blogs. I don’t read many because the moment I see phony, I’m gone. The moment I see sales pitch, I’m gone. Tell me a story, tell me about you, your life, your success, your failure and I’m in, one hundred percent. There are so many folks out there with something to say who, I think, are just afraid to let it out.

Don’t be. I did and I’m still here.

10 Responses to “Why do this?”

  1. Wow, what a post. Love it. All.

  2. Suzanne Revy says:

    I’ve never been much of a writer… just wrote when I was assigned in h/s and college, but never just wrote. Still, I find the discipline of keeping a blog an excellent way to clarify and articulate my thinking about photography (or books, or other photographers, etc. etc.) or whatever I am moved to write about. But the point is… there’s no point in keeping a blog if you don’t add to it, so… I keep at it at least once a week. Funnily enough, so much of my thinking about my work was mired in goo until I started to write about it!! Good post, Daniel.

  3. Dan Westergren says:

    Thanks for the view through the keyhole.

    From Nizlopi
    “And I wanna transform into a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
    And eat up all the bullies and the teachers and their pets
    And I’ll tell all my mates that my dad’s B.A. Baracus
    Only with a JCB and Bruce Lee’s nunchuckas ”

    Interesting Video if you haven’t seen it, can’t decide if I like it because it makes me feel like I’m kid again or if it’s just sappy.

  4. Charlene says:

    This one resonated plenty with me. I’ve kept a blog of some sort since 1997 or ’98 (can’t remember now), to replace those notebooks that I myself couldn’t read after some time (my writing still changes a lot from year to year for some reason). Blogging for me started out being an outlet of of personal observations and stories and things, as you do when you’re a teenager I guess, and I also had a secret wish to be a short story writer a la the Fray collective at the time, and it was my practice ground.

    I’ve tried giving up blogging many times over the years but I can’t seem to do it, largely because I get so much out of blogging by way of community. When I started the photo blog back in ’06, I was determined to make it one of those 1 photo, 1 caption per post kind of thing, but that rule went out the window almost immediately. I always have some sort of a story to tell. And for someone as long winded as I am (as you can tell), 1 caption is totally not enough!

    • Smogranch says:

      I don’t think I could stop either. I could stop writing about photography if I had to, because the world is filled with great topics, but I don’t even want to think about that. Would love to write for a living, but don’t think that is in the cards at this point.

  5. David says:

    I have to say, a big thanks for blogging Dan. If you never did, I would have never discovered this place and the number of great insights that you and others have to share.

    Even though I haven’t been as big of a participant as I have wanted (aiming to change this), I can honestly say that this site has been a constant resource of inspiration, reflection, and learning for me.

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