Karen’s Blog

Thoughts on a changing profession and life

Posts Tagged ‘Profession

Rip It Up and Start Over: Musing on a Summer Day.

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My son didn't realize he'd be asked to weed when he got home from the Peace Corps.

My son didn’t realize he’d be asked to weed when he got home from the Peace Corps.

As the summer simmers towards August I’ve gotten sick of seeing all the weeds in the landscaping around my house. I was gone for most of May and June’s prime growing season. This spring there was plenty of rain and everything, I mean everything was flourishing. My garden was a sea of green—green weeds that is. The plants were overwhelmed. I was feeling the same about my life.

With only a little bribery, I got my adult children and my husband to help out. I was feeling the pressures of living in suburbia. Our block was about to have a street party. I didn’t want our home to be the only one to look abandon by its human occupants.

I was on a roll. I dumped buckets of weeds into lawn bags. Sweat poured down my face and soaked my T-shirt. I didn’t even mind the aroma of bug spray. The garden started looking good, reminding me of how it looked years earlier when I planted it.

Dog Leo likes to stand guard at the end of the garden.

Dog Leo likes to stand guard at the end of the garden.

I started the garden at a low point in my career. About that time, National Geographic’s leadership changed and my photography career took a drastic downturn. Suddenly all the ideas and work that I’d done for them for over two decades were unwelcome. I had to reinvent myself. The best way to manifest that reinvention was to create a garden. I moved plants, altered textures and brought in flowering bushes.

Working on my garden made me feel like my decisions had impact.

For a while everything looked lovely. I fertilized the beds, weeded religiously and was rewarded with a beautiful array of colors, textures and shapes. My career blossomed as well. I started getting assignments and traveling again. The cost of that was ignoring the garden. The weeds soon took over. I would bribe my children once more to weed. The ups and down of my freelancing stressed my garden. My assignments were unpredictable. Often I’d have a lull and be home for months. My garden would benefit. Then I’d get another assignment and be gone again for weeks. I could practically hear the weeds rallying their forces, ready to attack as soon as my plane left the ground.

This strange intertwining of my garden and my career continued. At one point, my parents, thrifty as always, gave me a small Crepe Myrtle. Mature Crepes are lovely flowering trees found along many southern streets. The one they gave me was a thin sickly plant they got at Wal-Mart for $1.99, along with two small Japanese maples. I planted these three sad trees around a beautiful yellow maple. They struggled to survive.

I once read that monks do physical labor to force the mind into numbing nothingness. Labor supposedly calms the mind, moving it into a meditative state. Perhaps distraction is a better word. The more stressed I am the harder I work on my garden, replanting and reshaping the beds the same way I need to reshape my life.

A bright red crepe myrtle stand tall at the head of my driveway.  Flowers and azalea bushes line the other side.

A bright red crepe myrtle stand tall at the head of my driveway. Flowers and azalea bushes line the other side.

Now, years after that drastic career change, I look at my garden. The yellow maple was damaged in a storm. I took it down so my three young trees could thrive in the sun. Those once scrawny plantings have become lovely full size trees. The Crepe Myrtle with its gorgeous red flowers dominates the entrance to our driveway. The two tiny Japanese maples have grown to maturity and now shelter small families of birds.

At one point I thought I‘d surround that wonderful Crepe Myrtle with a low-lying carpet of ornamental grass. I had vision of a soft green lawn, a brilliant red flowering tree at the center. But weeding became a chore and soon I couldn’t tell what was weed and what was grass. So two weeks ago I ripped out every last blade of that grass and said farewell to my fantasy of a lovely green grass carpet. I needed to clear that space. Maybe at the same time I needed to clear my head.

Took out every bunch of ornamental grass.

Took out every bunch of ornamental grass.

Weeding gave me a sense of control. Perhaps that was misplaced, but so be it.

This is an uncertain time in media and disruptive for many. Newspapers and magazines have declined in circulation. Some have completely folded up. The proliferation of cell phone and digital cameras has automated the craft of photography. A recent ad for one of the most popular smart phones declared that everyone with a phone camera was a photojournalist. Has my profession really been reduced to something that anyone with a cell phone can do? I hope not.

But the truth is that what doesn’t work needs to be pulled out. Something that thrives in a newly created environment will replace it.

Gardens only need a bit of tender loving care. A little sun, planning, watering and everything thrives. So like my garden, maybe its time to start my career over once more.

Written by kasmauski

July 29, 2015 at 7:46 pm

One Year Later…

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It’s been a while.

My blog has been on hiatus for over a year. During that time I studied for a Masters in Newsroom Management and Photography. This was possible because I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Knight Fellowship at Ohio University’s premier Visual Communications school.

Graduating from Ohio University in 2012 after completing my Knight Fellowship

Graduating from Ohio University in 2012 after completing my Knight Fellowship

I decided not to blog during my Fellowship because I wanted to focus on learning. I loved interacting with my fellow grad students, some of whom were younger than my son. One instructor, Brandon, an amazingly smart and kind person was only two years older than my oldest child.

The Fellowship was an amazing experience. I recommend it for any mid- to even late career visual journalist who needs their enthusiasm jump-started. I will write more about my Fellowship later.

Restarting my blog makes me think about why I continue in my profession. Many of my friends and colleagues were impressed that I was going back to school but wondered why I wasn’t taking courses that might guarantee me a job; the health profession, or IT, or something other than photography. Was I training for a profession that might not exist in ten years—or sooner?

I decided to improve my visual communication skills because I love what the field allows me to do—connect with people and tell wonderful stories about them. Just before I left for college, I had an amazing experience that reconfirmed my commitment to visual communications. It happened on a shoot for a national nursing group at the neonatal ward of Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

I mentioned to the PR person with me that the last time I had been at Children’s was to follow a 16 year old who had Cystic Fibrosis. He was one of five children, three of whom had CF. The PR person looked at me and said, “I know exactly who you are talking about, the. …family. Kathy’s the mom.”

Kathy in 1999 with her three sons who have cystic fibrosis--Jimmy, Matt and John.

Kathy in 1999 with her three sons who have cystic fibrosis–Jimmy, Matt and John.

I had many conversations with Kathy about her decision to continue to have children even when they knew the gene was present in the family line. Her heartfelt belief in the goodness of life and in God’s mystery touched me deeply and I thought often of our talks.

“I think they are here today,” the PR said and went off to check. CF patients were the only adults allowed to come back to Children’s. In the past, CF people didn’t live long enough to be long term adult patients. Their pediatric doctors continued to care for them as long as they lived. Yet with better treatments CF patients are now living longer.

The PR person returned. “They’d be happy to see you,” he said. Kathy’s middle boy Jimmy was in for a follow up. Jimmy was now in his mid-20’s and was living life as fully as he could. He’d been living in Australia and had just returned for the checkup where we now met. Kathy and I picked up as if we’d seen each other yesterday, not 15 years ago. Her warmth and honesty about her life with three CF children amazed me as much at the timing of our encounter.

Sadly, this was also the birthday of John, another of Kathy’s sons. John would have been happy that I visited them on his birthday, she said. I remembered Kathy telling me that her goal was to allow John to live the life of a normal teenager and make it to graduation. Unfortunately, John’s weakened body didn’t let that happen. John’s struggle with CF affected me greatly. He wanted to live so badly.

I thought of my own brother who self destructed and wondered why he wanted to die when people like John so desperately wanted to live. Thinking about John and sharing memories with Kathy brought tears to my eyes.

Jimmy said he got an A in his communications class when he wrote about being in the National Geographic story on genetics for which I had photographed him.

Jimmy, me and Kathy in 2011.

Jimmy, me and Kathy in 2011.

Walking out of that room, I thought about why I have stayed in photography for so long—perhaps longer than I should have considering how badly the editorial world is crashing and burning. But it’s these moments that fuel my love of the profession and why I decided to continue, despite all of the warning signs. What other profession would give me the gift to reconnect with a subject after 15 years? What other profession would have brought me into contact with such wonderful, brave and inspirational people? That is why I stay in the profession and why I gladly accepted the Knight Fellowship to get my masters in photography and visual communications.