Incompetence, Enthusiasm and Joy

It seemed to be Plácido Domingo’s idée fixe, his improbable and just slightly amusing conviction that Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen should be paired with the Los Angeles Opera. Following his appointment as General Director of LA Opera, Domingo tried tempting Allen with one suggestion after another. Over the course of four years, each new idea was found wanting and discarded, until at last an agreement was reached. The 2008 season would begin with a new production of three Puccini one-acts known collectively as Il Trittico, with Woody Allen producing Gianni Schicchi, the third and final opera of the set.

The first two operas, Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, were produced by another filmmaker, William Friedkin, and later reviewed as “a pair of smart, beautifully crafted, beautifully designed and beautifully performed productions that gave grit, grandeur and even a hint of class to old-fashioned melodrama.”

Meanwhile, Allen and his longtime collaborator, Santo Loquasto, used sets and costumes to produce what The New York Times described as “the look and style of some old black-and-white film. Not one of those black-and-white Woody Allen films, [but something like] “Big Deal on Madonna Street”. Throughout the process Allen, who described himself to The NY Times as “not the greatest choice in the world” to direct opera, became even more self-deprecating than usual. Asked how things were going with the new production, he played down his suitability for the job. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he told The Los Angeles Times, “but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.”

Plunge in he did. Allen’s enthusiasm for Gianni Schicchi helped him create a terrifically comic conclusion to Il Trittico, and while Allen called Schicchi  “funny compared to Tosca, not funny compared to Duck Soup”, LA Times reviewer Mark Swed said, “Don’t believe that, either. A production of genius, his Gianni Schicchi is a riot.”

As the curtain fell on opening night the audience seemed to concur, though their applause failed to bring Allen forward to take his bow. I can’t imagine a Los Angeles audience would have been surprised. Allen’s famously reticent, especially on Oscar night, and there was no reason to expect a different setting would evoke a different response.

Still, when Allen was offered an opportunity to bask in the glow of the operatic sun, he accepted. In December of 2008 he traveled to Italy to receive the 38th Giacomo Puccini Award in Florence. The occasion also marked the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, and not everyone was pleased. One Italian fumed, “Why did they do it to Puccini? As if there were no Italian artists to be honoured! Shame on [those] responsible!”  Others, more sanguine, suggested Allen’s association with Puccini and Il Trittico may have stirred interest in opera among at least a few who generally prefer tailgating or Green Day concerts to songs sung in languages they don’t understand.

Whatever the Italians thought of an American writer and director winning their prize, no matter what anyone thinks of Allen personally, regardless of how we judge his films, it’s impossible to avoid seeing something atypical in photos from that day.

Gone is the poseur, the hard-edged urbanite, the insufferable yet strangely appealing neurotic. What shines out from the photographs seems to be joy – simple delight in having made an enthusiastic leap into an unfamiliar world despite that nagging sense of incompetence, and having succeeded beyond all expectation. Looking at the photos, I can’t help but imagine Allen might be remembering some of his own words from decades earlier. “The longest journey,” he said, “begins with a single step. The best journeys begin with a moment of temporary insanity”.

I’ve loved that quotation for years, so much so that I inscribed it onto the first page of a sailing scrapbook I created as an adult. I’ve made a few enthusiastic leaps myself into more-or-less crazy ventures and in each instance – making a radical career change, beginning to sail, developing my own business, starting a blog – I had only a vague idea of what would be required.

Still, as time passed (and despite a multitude of mistakes) I began to learn skills – how to bid a job, how to trim a sail, how to format a post. In the process, I learned larger lessons as well, including one Woody Allen surely learned years before his tongue-in-cheek comment to an LA Times reporter. What we call “incompetence” often is nothing more than inexperience, and inexperience can be remedied – by experience itself.

My most recent brush with inexperience came about three years ago, when I found myself contemplating yet another plunge into an unfamiliar world.  I’d discovered that seeking permission to use other people’s photographs for my blog could be complicated, especially when late responses – or none at all – made timely posting difficult.  I’d tried various photo sites like iStock, and while they weren’t overly expensive for occasional use, they rarely provided exactly the image I wanted. The solution was obvious – whenever possible, I needed to take my own photos.

I already had an adequate camera, and with a little searching I managed to find its instruction manual. A cursory look through the manual suggested the camera’s operation wasn’t terribly complicated, particularly for a point-and-shooter like myself.  I began taking photos, and for several months all was well. 

One Sunday morning, I traveled down to Galveston to take some photos of Victorian houses being restored after Hurricane Ike. Wandering through the historical district, filled with admiration for the beautiful homes, I began snapping away as though I knew what I was doing. Then I previewed the photos, and found this.

I checked my settings and tried again, with similar results.  After about ten minutes of manual-reading, I made a third attempt. The photos were fine, despite the clouds which had drifted in while I was trying to solve the problem. Relieved to know my camera wasn’t broken, I retraced my steps and took duplicate photos of the houses, including this charming portrait of the one pictured above.

Despite an evening with the instruction manual and some conversations with friends, it took a second occurence of the problem for me to sort out what had happened. During a later trip to Galveston, I captured yet another set of blurred, miserable photos. Frustrated, I asked myself, “What could make them look so foggy?” And there was my answer, so obvious it was embarassing. After an hour’s trip in an air-conditioned car, with the cold air blowing directly on the camera, I’d stepped out into the heat and humidity of Galveston Island and the lens fogged up in a flash.  After fifteen minutes or so, the camera warmed up and the fog disappeared. No one had mentioned lens fog in the manual.

Since that day, I’ve learned a good bit more that isn’t in my manual. I’ve discovered that dime-sized blurs in the middle of photos can be prevented by cleaning the lens. I’ve found that “Delete All” is a command to be used with caution. I’ve promised myself never again to try out a new lens on a special occasion without first learning how to use it. I know the day I forget spare batteries and memory cards is the day the batteries will die and the camera card fill up, and I certainly realize now that a camera bag protects against air conditioning as much as against bumps and scrapes.

In short, I’m gaining experience, and every lesson learned increases my enthusiasm for the lessons yet to come. Like the good Mr. Allen, I often have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m increasingly willing to take the plunge. After all, if a director who insists on paying homage to Duck Soup can win the Giacomo Puccini Prize in Florence, who knows what  other joys await?

For a brief video introduction to Il Trittico, click here. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – No Reblogging. Thanks!

80 thoughts on “Incompetence, Enthusiasm and Joy

    1. Phil,

      And now I’ve learned a new technical term – “equalize”. I did a little search using the terms “camera”, “humidity” and “equalize”, and discovered an amusing discussion on Flickr. One fellow was wondering if perhaps tucking his camera into bed under the blankets would be helpful before taking it outdoors.

      The consensus, of course, was precisely what I discovered and what you knew. Given ten minutes, the problem will solve itself. Add a wipe of the lens, and the camera’s good to go.

      Glad you enjoyed the read!


  1. I am very much a novice when it comes to photography (as I am sure is obvious from my blog) but I’m very interested in learning as you have. Wonderful post – love all the nuances!

    1. Julie,

      Here’s one of the most important life lessons I’ve learned: there’s always something more to learn.

      My little comment in the post about learning how to use a different lens before you really need it? That lesson’s from yesterday, when I was trying to get some photos of the space shuttle fly-over. I got a couple of nice ones that will do as souvenirs, but I got a bundle of out-of-focus shots. One of these days I’ll figure that one out.

      Of course the other side of the coin is that we often know more than we realize. Your photos of the birds, especially, are consistently good – not only “pretty”, but entertaining. You know your subject, and are good at capturing them in ways that are interesting. That’s why we don’t tire of your photos!


    1. Belle,

      I have a feeling “foggy lens” is a common experience. I could have found the answer by doing an internet search, of course, but I’d made a significantly wrong assumption – that the problem was with the camera and not with the environment!

      I suspect if I wore glasses rather than contact lenses, I might have made the connection sooner. I have friends who’ll fuss now and then about their glasses fogging up when they leave an over-air-conditioned place. Of course it’s the same principle, but it never crossed my mind.

      So on we go – one mystery unraveled, and a million more just waiting!


  2. You started with Placido, filled the middle with Woody, and finished with photography. What a mix. Mom introduced me to Placido, Woody and I have a somewhat cool relationship, but photography and I have had a life-long love affair. The learning will never end. I still fume over bad shots and poor exposures, but I remember the advice from an early photography book. “For every 24 photos a professional photographer shoots [shooting film, but it applies to digital), they can expect one good shot.”

    1. Martha,

      The introduction of digital photography has been a godsend for so many people. Now that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to make mistakes, it’s a joy to go out and shoot at will, knowing that the blessed delete button is there. Clearly, it nurtures experimentation as well as encouraging practice – both good.

      It’s funny – this entry really began with that first Allen quotation. Trying to source it, I discovered his connection to the opera. What was meant to be a post about learning, in the context of sailing, transformed itself completely. Little by little, the sailing fell to the bottom of the post. Then the accompanying photo got cut. Then it all was gone.

      It was my first experience of doing intentionally what Annie Dillard’s described in “The Writing Life”. You’ll appreciate this, I think.

      “The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.”

      The good news is I have one of the funniest sailing stories in the world still sitting there, just waiting to be used.


      1. The advent of digital photography while freeing from the cost of film and developing has created another set of problems. You are freer to experiment but that ‘delete’ button is not always the answer it seems. You have to have ruthless dicipline to use it. Some images are easy to delete as obviously flawed, but its the ones that are ok..good clarity or color or some redeeming thing that you save ‘just in case’ when in your heart you know you will never do anything with it. So the indecisive (me!!) end up with a lot of external hard drives to store stuff. I know very bad!!

        I guess the theme of jettisoning best written parts is not a new one. When I read that, it reminded me of Samuel Johnson’s advice : ‘Read over your compositions and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’
        (quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791
        I internalized that readily as so often when composing a poem, or attempting to, I would work and work to make something revolve around a perfectly wonderful, beautiful phrase or verse and never get that piece to wrap around it. It would stunt creativity in the end.
        I guess anyone who writes at all has favourite things just waiting for the proper venue to plop it right in.

        That is probably why I save those redeeming value pictures. I always have a vision of combining photos into a better artistic whole and those perfect clouds, leaf laden branch, or wonderful bird in the wrong setting just might fit a greater design…sometime!

        Now, inquiring minds want to know…how about the funny sailing story completely out of context??

        1. Judy, you know you’re not going to get that sailing story here! It’s so good it deserves some sort of intro and conclusion, not to mention a little expansion in the middle. If I can’t figure out what to do with it in the medium future, then I’ll tell it just for the sheer joy of the telling. Let’s just say it’s a marvelous tale of nearly total incompetence incomprehension turning into something much better.

          Besides – a good, unused story is the writer’s equivalent of money in the bank!

          I did laugh about your comments about the delete button, the agony of indecision and the need for a small fleet of external drives. Up to this point I’ve not had many photos lurking about, and it was easy to find them. I’ll soon be beyond that point, and I need to tackle the whole bunch, tagging and organizing into files. Sigh. I’ve spent more time than I care to remember sitting and looking at a dozen shots of something, trying to decide which are the “keepers”. It’s hard.

          And do I ever remember Dr. Johnson’s advice! A couple of centuries later, Peg Bracken simplified it even further: “When in doubt, throw it out”. She was talking about refrigerator leftovers and that pile of moth-eaten clothes at the back of the closet, of course, but truth is truth. I like to think of the little bits of this and that in my draft file as scraps, just waiting for a new quilt to get started. That metaphor certainly works for your photos, too!


  3. Well, we who read your blog posts have been the beneficiaries of your growing competence — by which I mean experience — with that camera.

    This post resonated with me. When I was cast aside by the newspaper industry a couple of years ago, I took to teaching college English. Since that pursuit provides a flexible schedule, I also looked into teaching SAT prep courses, which I had done decades before and found to be like stealing money. But I found that things had changed during those decades; I used to be able to teach only the English prep, but now the companies want teachers to handle both English and math.

    At first, my inclination was to just forget it. I didn’t need to be teaching those courses, and I had always been, shall we say, incompetent in any math beyond arithmetic. For some reason, I decided instead to study algebra and geometry until I knew them well enough to teach those SAT courses. I started with algebra and was surprised to find that it had gotten easier since I had last studied it — which was around 1958. And it was enjoyable because, of course, I was studying it because I wanted to, not because I had to. I just got started with plain geometry, which was pushing back a little harder than algebra did, when I was recruited for a full-time job that didn’t leave me any time to teach SAT courses. I’ve read two books on math since then, though, and feel quite at home.

    I wonder if Woody Allen’s experience with opera inspired his most recent film, which is about a theatrical promoter trying to make star out of an amateur tenor.

      1. In Woody Allen’s “From Rome with Love,” the singer is competent, but only in the shower. In fact, that part is played by Fabio Armiliato, one of the leading tenors in Italy.

    1. Charles,

      Personally, I’m convinced there’s a direct link between Allen’s experience with the LA Opera and “To Rome With Love”. One of my favorite bloggers reviewed that film on August 14. Here’s my initial comment to her: “Oh, I can’t believe this! I’m working on a new post that hinges on a Woody Allen story from real life – and that absolutely has to be connected to one of the vignettes here.”

      All of us have experiences that shape our vision and creative output. I don’t see why it should be any different for Allen.

      I so enjoyed your tale of your math journey. As a confirmed mathophobe myself, it took sailing and the necessities of navigation to finally make some sense of geometry and algebra. I still remember the day I looked up with amazement and said, “Why didn’t they ever tell me this stuff could be useful?!”

      And of course you’ve mentioned the key difference between my 8th grade classroom and Galveston Bay – in one, I was studying math because I had to. In the other, it had become an integral part of an enjoyable experience. Likewise, when my previous post on the etheree took a sudden swerve into math, I was fascinated rather than repulsed and eager to explore.

      Maybe two years ago I sat in a local restaurant and listened to a conversation between a home-schooling mom and a public school teacher. I’ve never forgotten the way the professional teacher closed the conversation. She said, “They’re not supposed to enjoy it. They’re supposed to learn it.” The biggest budget in the world won’t make up for that.


      1. As far as historians can tell, mathematics in ancient times arose as a response to things like the need to measure the area of a field, to keep track of accounts, to predict movements of heavenly bodies, etc. In other words, math was originally always practical; only later came abstraction for abstraction’s sake.

        I used to teach (among other things) trigonometry, and after I’d taught various formulas and techniques I would take the kids outside and have them use what they’d learned to figure out the height of the school’s flagpole and the distance between two places that had a building between them and that they therefore couldn’t measure directly.

        There’s certainly a place for fun and for practicality in education, but I find that in recent decades those things have often been overemphasized. For example, although young children need to be shown through physical manipulation of objects what it means to multiply two numbers, eventually those children have to buckle down and memorize their times tables.

        Many of the bureaucrats in charge of education in recent decades have derided what they mockingly call “drill and kill,” but they wouldn’t dare say anything negative to the football coach who has his players out there at 8 in the morning in August drilling on the football field with the goal of having their movements become internalized and automatic.

        1. What? They’re letting those footballers lounge around until 8 a.m.? ;)

          I agree about the importance of the basics. I not only diagrammed sentences and learned my vocabulary words, I memorized my times tables – and the answers still are automatic. There were subtraction and addition flashcards, too – and no doubt a few other tools I don’t remember.

          What I don’t remember is ever measuring a flagpole, or calculating speed, or determining distance. By the time I hit junior high, math meant books, chalkboards and formulas – and a deep, burning desire to get out of the classroom. None of it made one bit of sense to me. Geometry was painful, algebra was terrifying and even thinking I was going to have to work with fractions could give me a stomach ache. Fractions, for heaven’s sake!

          When I got to college, they promised me my required general math class would straighten it all out. It only made things worse. They called it “new math”. I hadn’t even learned the old math. We dealt with sets, subsets, and groups of green and purple things I’m certain the prof called “plinkety-bloops”. I got out of the class with a C- and thanked my lucky stars for that.

          Now, I’m not a stupid person. But by the time it all was over, I was convinced I was incapable of understanding math. I’d say, without embarassment, “I don’t do math. I can’t do math. I won’t do math!”

          That’s why discovering the usefulness of a right triangle, the importance of the speed/time/distance formula and ways to calculate bridge clearance was such a profound experience when I started sailing. It wasn’t just that it was practical, it was that I could make practical use of it – something I’d never imagined.

          Who knows? Maybe it’s time for me to follow Charles’ example and plunge back into algebra and geometry. Even Texas A&M has an online series of tutorials for Math-phobics!

  4. I very much enjoyed the recent Woody Allen documentary, especially how you see him progress from that goofball of so many years ago to the one of today. :-)
    He’s made some extremely good films, some average, some awful, but my favourite has to be Match Point.
    What I marvel at is his energy. They guy’s pushing 80 but has the enthusiasm of a kid.

    1. Ian,

      I just found the preview of the documentary. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have it now on my “to be watched” list. From the snippet I saw, I think you’re exactly on-target. Goofball then, goofball today. But a talented goofball, nonetheless.

      The comment that struck me most forcefully was that when Allen wraps up a film, he starts immediately on his next project – “immediately” often being the next day. That’s the energy and enthusiasm coming through.

      But I think there’s something more. When I started this blog, I made up a little rule for myself – “write, and let go”. It seems Allen does the same thing. I loved this, from a Wall Street Journal interview with him.

      “Turner Broadcasting wanted to fly me out to California. They were closing one of their symposiums with “Annie Hall.” They wanted me to talk about the movie. I said to them, “I am not one of those people that likes to dwell on the past.” They got Tony Roberts to go out there and he spoke about it. When it’s over for me, it’s really over. I don’t want to see it or hear about it. I just want to focus on the new thing. It’s not healthy to either regret or luxuriate in stuff that’s in the past.”



  5. Life imitates art, or art imitates life? Exactly what I think when I read about Woody’s venture into opera from your post (didn’t know about this before) and his latest film, To Rome With Love. Have you seen it? You’ll love it.

    And of course, Woody is only the intro… we know you’ve something else in your bag. Like a magician, you bring up something unexpected. And LOL, I could guess why that first photo was blurry. That happened to me exactly the same way, and guess where, yup, in Houston (ring a bell?). I went from the cold hotel sitting area out to the courtyard to take a pic with a friend, and they turned out blurry like this one. Unfortunately I didn’t see the photos until I came back home. So, no second chance.

    Anyway, why am I all excited about you taking up photography? We’ll have some visual feast waiting in the days ahead. And you know what, I feel an affiliation, camaraderie of some sort, since I’ve also started a new venture, birding. As for opera, I’ll just look through the glasses into Woody’s films.

    1. Arti,

      I linked to your review of “To Rome With Love” in my comment to Charles, above, and added this, from my comment on your blog:

      “Oh, I can’t believe this! I’m working on a new post that hinges on a Woody Allen story from real life – and that absolutely has to be connected to one of the vignettes here.”

      I didn’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you then about the real-life opera connection. I was sure if you knew about it you would have mentioned it. It’s not often I get to tell you something new about a film-maker!

      As for those photos you took – now you know that, in Houston, it really is the humidity! There must be an equivalent problem up in Calgary – the cold, perhaps? The first time I bought a piece of antique china from someone in the north, they sent an emphatic email saying under NO circumstances should I even open the box until it had been in the house for 24 hours. Apparently if you expose cold (antique) china to sudden warmth, finials and handles can fall off and cracks can appear. Amazing.

      I don’t know if I’d say I’m “taking up photography”, but I’m certainly learning a good bit about it. You might enjoy seeing one good photo I did get yesterday when a very large bird flew over my house. ;)


  6. Morning Linda:

    Had no idea Mr. Woody Allen was ever engaged in Opera. Never liked the man nor his movies, not matter what people say about his brilliant Hollywood career. I think something is wrong with his head and the brain inside.

    I enjoyed your comments about learning photography. We also share the passion for blogging and the English language, even though on many occasions, I have no idea what I’m doing, but the passion for those hobbies keeps me hanging in there.

    Oh, before I forget, I also enjoy reading manuals. Will never use an item unless I have first read the manual. It’s a ritual I never forget.

    Thank you for an entertaining and well written blog post as usual.



    1. Omar,

      There’s no harm in not liking Allen or his movies. Plenty of folks don’t, for an assortment of reasons. I’m no great fan myself, but like Chase Jarvis, he has a good bit to say about the creative process that I find both helpful and intriguing. I am looking forward to watching “Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome With Love”. I’ve read so many reviews, I’d like to compare my own response to what’s been written.

      When it comes to manuals, we’re quite the opposites. I do keep my manuals, and I keep them all in one place so I can find them. They’re very happy there, until something goes wrong. Then, I pull out the one I need and try and sort through the difficulty. Half the time, I don’t understand the manual even after I’ve read it – I think I’m not patient and methodical enough.

      But isn’t it fun, this plunge into language and photography and such? I think when Allen talks about “taking the plunge”, he’s right in line with educators who say immersion in a new field is the best way to go – especially with language. You’ve certainly done well in that regard.

      Glad you found something in the post to enjoy!


  7. I’ve always been fond of articles or poems that start in one place and then deftly take you to another. That’s what you did here, and did so well, as you often do.

    I hadn’t heard about Woody Allen’s venture into opera, so I’m glad you brought it up. Although Gianni Schicchi was Puccini’s only comic opera, my associations with it are a little sad, because I remember an English-language Austin production of it years ago starring Frank Delvy, who was a staple of Gilbert and Sullivan here. Unfortunately Frank died while still only in his fifties in 2008:

    I can still hear his clear voice.

    1. Steve,

      As long as I can be deft and not daft, all will be well. (Although Woody might advise a dash of daft to keep things lively!)

      That’s a lovely tribute page. It appears his death, though untimely, wasn’t a surprise. The affection in the videos was palpable, and the music certainly was a delight. I’m sure he’s missed.

      I was surprised to learn of his connections to the old Armadillo World Headquarters. I never made it there, as I wasn’t even in the state during much of their decade. But I certainly heard the tales, and made up for missing it all by putting in a little time at Threadgill’s and the Broken Spoke. Ah, youth!

      I’ve often wondered why no one’s produced a comic opera – or at least a musical – about the Texas music scene back in the 70s. The music was great, the “characters” all were larger than life and sub-plots abounded. I suspect more than a few Houston Grand Opera subscribers know the way to Luckenbach. ;)


  8. His pictures are what struck me when I saw them. He does look different – you are right, it’s joy. Nice to see.

    Early in life someone advised, “Don’t worry. Fake it until you gain the skills – everyone does….and not everyone manages to actually gain skills.” It was a joke – but pretty true. Confidence and determination takes up a lot of slack.

    I know there’s a scientific explanation about the foggy picture…but it is Galveston…an old home full of memories….after yet another storm….could ghosts have been distressed or unsettled? (The Halloween decor is already out…I had to throw that in…Galveston does have ghosts and those haunted tours….maybe we should check into those?)

    Once again – I always admire your photography skills!

    1. Phil,

      The “fake it ’til you make it” approach can be pretty useful. When I began life as a boat varnisher, I was working on my very first boat (a sympathy job, to be quite frank) when a fellow came walking down the dock. He asked, “Do you do this professionally?” Of course I said “yes”. He ended up being a customer for nearly fifteen years, until he sold his boat.

      Was I a “professional”? Only in the very broadest sense – I had been hired and expected to be paid. Did I know then what I know now? Of course not. Twenty-two years of experience have given me a whole bag of tricks and techniques, and the results have improved immeasurably. But am I still confronted, now and then, with situations as mysterious as that foggy lens? Of course. I’m just much more confident of my ability to figure things out.

      I do like the unsettled ghosts theory. I’ve been convinced for years that I’ve seen Old Man Bailey down on his prairie – no reason to think some of those former residents of Galveston couldn’t be out and about!

      Thanks for the kind words about my photos. I’ll have a chance to practice a bit in the medium future, with a little trip north to visit family in the works. Maybe I’ll even read the manual before I go!


  9. OK Linda, well tuned post. The opera and Woody Allen almost didn’t pull me in…But then you took a turn.

    Using the quote to do it is just beautiful, as is the quote itself. I’ll have to add it to my collection.

    If you keep this up I’ll have to start a Evernote collection just for quotes from your blog…

    1. Gary,

      I knew when I took a turn toward opera and Allen I might be losing a few folks, but that really was only the “set-up”, as they say.

      Everyone knows what it’s like to be forced into dealing with something new. We do it all the time. New jobs. Job loss. New schools. Births. Deaths. New technology, for heaven’s sake. But the choice to try something new? That’s different.

      One reason I’ve loved both of those quotations for so many years is that I recognized the truth in them. Thirty years ago, I would have read right past them without a second thought.

      (And by the way – thanks for the introduction to Evernote. I’m going to give that a better look this weekend.)


  10. I love Placido Domingo’s singing. Everyone goes on and on about Luciano Pavarotti’s voice but for my money, Placido has him beat. I also love “Gianni Schicchi” I have a recording of Kiri Te Kanawa singing the famous aria from it, “O, mio babino caro” that never fails to give me goosebumps (as does her “Exultate Jubilate”).

    Digital cameras and learning curves. Yep. Been there, still doing that. Not only is the delete button your friend, but so is photo editing software that allows you to crop and enhance and correct. I’ve got a halfway decent camera now with a zoom lens and video capability. I should be using it more, but it’s been so ghastly hot here that I’ve resolutely stayed indoors. Perhaps now that the weather is starting to cool down, I’ll be able to get out.

    1. WOL,

      Everyone I know has been waiting for the heat to break.Even those who get out despite it all seem to be flat tired of summer. It’s time for a change.

      Some time ago I found a real online treasure – a studio session with Leonard Bernstein, José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa recording “One Hand, One Heart” from “West Side Story”. It’s simply remarkable – at least I found it so. It’s a glimpse into another kind of creative process most of us never get to see and, as with Woody and his opera, it’s the added human element that makes it so interesting.

      It’s funny – the original title of this post was “Leaning into the Learning Curve”. I’ve never really thought most graphical representations of the learning curve reflected real-life experience adequately. A nice switchback through the mountains, or a good rally road like the Twisted Sisters in the Hill Country seems better. There always are ups and downs on the road to understanding, but there are plenty of twists and turns, too!


  11. What a great Woody Allen story. I’ve always found him funny & inexplicable (in the “he’s a neurotic Yankee & I was a Southern Baptist girl” kind of way). I always view him with my head tilted & one eye closed, hoping that will help me get inside his head a little better.

    I always PLANNED to read the manual when we got our big camera, but I never did because the auto features always seem to mostly work for me. That probably says something about my expectations regarding my own photography – ha! I might have figured out the fog though, from my years of wearing glasses. Nothing more annoying than having your glasses fog up on you.

    1. The Bug,

      “…head tilted and one eye closed” – exactly.The sentence that often goes along with that pose is “What’s up with this guy?”

      One thing that occurred to me as I was looking through the listing of his films is that he may have been badly served by the adulation of some critics – those who insist that everything he does is marvelous. He’s been so prolific there’s quite a distance between his best and his worst, and he’s willing to admit that himself. I give him credit for that.

      The biggest problem I have with manuals is that they always assume too much. It took a month of occasional trying to finally figure out what a dashboard light on my new car meant. It wasn’t included on any of the illustrations of dashboard indicators, but was tucked was back into the depths of a single paragraph.

      If I’d known what to call the thing, I would have found it in seconds. Since I had no idea what it was, it took a while to run down “intermittent green light that doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen…”


  12. As ardent opera fans – Beloved played for the Royal Opera for 45 years – it would never have occurred to us that a specialised auteur, whom we admire profoundly, like Allen, could produce a piece of operatic work which merits such a high prize. How would we know, it wouldn’t be something that is advertised in the UK.

    As for learning as we go along, is there anything that can compare? Enthusiasm and determination are all; if one puts one’s mind to it, one can do many things. And the joy when a new accomplishment is acquired; feeling proud – yes, proud – to have overcome another hurdle, beaten age, inertia, difficulties understanding – it’s wonderful.

    It’s only since I’ve started to blog that I’ve taken photography seriously, I never go anywhere without a camera now and although I have not mastered the finer intricacies that would be bread and butter to a ‘proper’ photographer, at least I now know which end of a camera does what.

    Here’s to lifelong enthusiasm and the sheer nerve involved in having a go, in spite of possible failure!

    1. friko,

      Life’s full of surprises, no? What tickles me most about the whole situation with Allen is the irony – someone who’s made a bit of a career out of being blasé, world-weary and stoic in the face of an utterly predictable universe was – surprised!

      Where learning’s concerned, sometimes I think we too often confuse fun and enjoyment. A good bit of learning involves flat drudgery, if we’re honest. Repetition, practice, all of that. It isn’t always fun. But it’s possible to enjoy the process, accepting the drudgery and discipline as means to a greater end.

      And as for pride in our accomplishments – it’s an experience that’s being whittled away at here. Maybe there, too. I’ll only say that, if I were Ruler of the World, the so-called “participation trophy” would disappear in a flash. Awfully retro of me, I know, but learning to deal with winning and losing as a natural part of life is important.

      Your comment about knowing which end of the camera does what tickled me. When I was teaching sailing, the first step for many people was learning to call “the pointy end” of a boat the bow, and “the other end” the stern. Knowing which end does what is the first step toward the excitement and joy of mastery.


  13. I love that quote, too. So very fitting for many of my own adventures. Good for you for learning to master your camera.

    Like Omar, I’m not overly fond of Woody Allen, but I appreciate your bringing out his comments on the creative process. And, thanks to Arti’s wonderful reviews, I have vague inclinations to watch those two movies, too.

    1. nikkipolani,

      “Learning” is the operative word – I’ve hardly mastered the camera, but I am about to the point where I’m ready to forego automatic settings and move into aperture and shutter speed. (Insert the standard wail-and-moan about lack of time right here.)

      In a way, my response to Woody is much like my response to Leonard Cohen. I’ll pick and choose among their qualities and their works, and keep what I find useful or appealing. I think Cohen is a songwriting/poetic genius, but I mostly can’t stand to hear him sing. So, I listen to his versions of some songs (“Anthem”) but often prefer others’ versions (“Suzanne”). I love reading interviews with Allen about his creative process, but think his family life has been disgraceful, so I just ignore him as a role model for human relationships.

      What intrigues me most about him at this point is what’s yet to come. That’s one reason I’m interested in watching these most recent films.


      1. I agree — it seems we have to compartmentalize the savory and unsavory parts and take what we can.

        As for the next step in your camera, I’d recommend going straight to aperture-priority and think about what you want in/out of focus. I’ve enjoyed your images — I think you’re a natural.

  14. Have to admit when I looked at the photo, I knew instantly what had happened. Heck you can’t live in the hot humid south without experiencing this! Once while running a chase boat for a documentary crew during an alligator hunt, this very high-paid professional videographer was panicking because his camera would NOT turn on. The error read: MOISTURE PRESENT. No, duh!!! I was wondering why a professional photog had not considered the September heat and humidity of Louisiana’s swamp when packing his gear for the trip? I’m sure he learned his lesson, though.

    I will be inscribing those words somewhere for my own encouragement, because what I call a “crazy idea” is part and parcel to “a moment of temporary insanity”, and has already been at the beginning of a couple amazing journeys I have taken in this life. I’m hoping for many more to come. Thanks for another golden tidbit, Linda!

    1. Wendy,

      Oh, my. I guess your professional videographer wasn’t a professional swamp-dweller. Actually, if he was from Up North, I can understand that he might not have been prepared. While we’re still making do with hot and humid, friends in Kansas, Iowa and Michigan are seeing some lows in the 30s and 40s. They’re all excited about fall and pumpkins and such, and I’m wondering if this danged summer ever will end.

      At least his camera was smarter than mine, and gave him a nice message. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get messages from life? Think how much trouble could be prevented if signs popped up saying things like, “IDIOTS PRESENT”. I’d like that, unless the sign popped up every time I walked into a room.

      From what you’ve said, I have a feeling you may be at the beginning of a new cycle of craziness. I still haven’t tuned in to the radio show and I need to do that – especially since I’ve learned another friend has quite a connection with Don.

      Here’s to years of amazing journeys!


  15. To paraphrase Lauretta’s lyrics ‘Dio mio, pieta’, pieta’!

    Woody Allen and Gianni Schicchi, I see the dantesque infernal association between the two.

    While I have no respect for Woody I have tremendous respect for your work. I love the transitions from Puccini to Allen to photography. Only you can do this smoothly and interestingly.

    I learned something about the spectral quality of your first photo. Of course, foggy lens! Actually, I like the results of the foggy photo and I might intentionally create a foggy situation for one of my photos! Thank you for the idea.

    Puccini and Allen, oh my!

    1. Maria,

      I’m not at all surprised by your lack of respect for Woody. Clearly, he could have profited by a few encounters with the Red Ants in his lifetime!

      That aside, I knew you’d enjoy the information about the Puccini Prize and the opera. Houston Grand Opera’s putting on “La bohème” this fall – if you were here we’d go in a minute!

      The first photo processing program I used – Photo Filtre – actually has a fog treatment. I’ll send you the link via email with some notes. It’s more realistic than my accidental fog, and lets the image shine through a bit more. We’re heading toward Halloween – a perfect time for that sort of thing.

      Here’s a little treat for you – a perfect combination of music and image(s). This year’s flower days are fading for you – but not so the music!


      1. Beautiful combination of one of my favorite arias and nature photos! Hendricks does a wonderful job with “oh mio babbino caro”.

        It would be an honor to go to “La Boheme” with you. Art, love story, Mimi, Musetta, Rodolfo, ‘che gelida manina’, a veritable feast.

        As long as there is memory, the music never fades.

  16. Not only are you adventurous, but you are tenacious, too. I saw firsthand that Mr. Allen has that quality, too.

    In Jersey in the late 1970’s, you always had to fight to get your deposit back from your landlord after you moved even if you left the place in pristine shape. My roommate and I went to court in Asbury Park to get ours back after we had just moved from Ocean Grove. Of course we won with a no-show landlord.

    We’d already had the day off from work, she loved Woody Allen, and it happened to be one of the days they were filming Stardust Memories in Ocean Grove. Woody Allen had his double and whoever the actress was walk through a park in Ocean Grove over and over and over and over…

    I’m sure it was good directing and achieved the best result, but it was too boring to watch so I just left. I finally saw the movie many years later. I think the scene is toward the end.

    1. Claudia,

      Tenaciousness often is a good quality, but it’s amazing how quickly it can turn into obstinancy or pig-headedness (although that may be unfair to the pig). On the other hand, it sounds like a little tenaciousness worked out just fine for you, re: the deposit. I do hate those battles.

      That’s really interesting about the filming. I see it all was done in Jersey. I went over to look at the iMDB but didn’t recognize a single name among the female leads, so it’s no surprise you don’t remember.

      I don’t know much about movie-making, but my general sense is that it’s much harder work than most of us realize. And just guessing, I’d imagine all those takes are analogous to re-writing something over and over and over….or taking a hundred photos and deleting all but one. Knowing what to leave on the cutting room floor is the trick!


  17. Many favorites here, but this is priceless above all: “I’ve found that “Delete All” is a command to be used with caution.” I think being willing to take the plunge is likely what keeps us alive, don’t you? And may I say it’s a pleasure to be out there plunging, as it were, with you!

    1. Susan,

      Truth be told, I’ve also learned that “delete all” can be a temptation in other areas of life. I watched a friend fall prey to an overwhelming urge to “delete all” in the process of spring housecleaning, and by the time she was done, just about the only thing left was the cat and the furniture. She felt a great sense of relief for about three days, until she wanted to make waffles and discovered the waffle iron was gone, too.

      I’m not sure about the exact relationship between being willing to take the plunge and a sense of liveliness. It might be a little chicken-and-eggish, in the sense that the most vibrant people are more willing to jump right in. Whichever, it is delightful – as you’re finding out with your new music-and-poetry pursuits!


  18. I enjoyed your post, Linda! I wonder, considering Woody’s experience with the opera and your experience with the camera (and mine), if incompetence, like beauty, might be in the eye of the beholder.

    1. montucky,

      It might be in the eye of the beholder, but I think it’s just as often in our heads. I never tire of telling the people the story of my first sailing instructor, who heard me say, in the first hour of my first lesson, “I can’t…” In his own low-key but memorable way, he informed me that, from that point forward, I never was to speak those words on his boat. I could ask “how can I?” – that was perfectly acceptable. But “I can’t” was out the window.

      We all have turning points in life, and that was one of mine.


  19. I’ve been fascinated by Woody Allen throughout all the stages of his career, from stand up comedian to actor and director, Linda. A very interesting interpretation here by you, based on these images of him.

    I love that photo of the house. It shines like a little gem, the way you’ve caught and framed it. Keep up with the good work with your photography, and show us more!

    1. Andrew,

      Woody’s just “one of those” people. He’s been around so long and been so prolific that even folks who don’t love him or hate him usually know who he is. I enjoyed reading several interviews with him. He’s extraordinarily self-aware, and clearly at a point in his career where he’s going to do what pleases him without a thought for our response.

      Galveston’s filled with such houses. We’re four years past Hurricane Ike now, and the town really has made significant strides in repair and restoration. Even better, houses that had been languishing even before the storm have been purchased and are being renovated. It’s such fun to see the gingerbread trim being repaired and the beautiful, intricate painting restored.

      Thanks for the kind words on the photo. It’s always good to have a second chance!


  20. You always take us on such an interesting journey. From opera, to Woody Allen, to sailing and then photography. That one sharp, clear view of the house on Broadway, I assume, is gorgeous! You are a craftswoman. What you make look effortless, I know takes much effort. I say thank you again, as I always enjoy the trip.

    My friends laugh as they ask “Are you retired, yet?” “Yes,” I answer from high school teaching. I never have worked and I never will work as hard as I did doing that. Yet I continue to teach face-to-face and online. Online is the operative word here. To teach a foreign language I knew I had to come up with tricks, tools and strategies to do it effectively online.

    Let me just say, it’s been a rewarding journey. When I “retired” in 2007, I never would have thought I would be leading bi-weekly webinars and have about 100 meetings under my belt. ooo…the things I have learned: share my desk top, pass the presenter, type a chat response to a question and talk at the same time, trouble shoot the “bugs” in meeting invitations, audio not working or echoing microphones…on and on. I call my first meeting a “disaster” but my encouraging mentor said “it went quite well.” ha The second, third, fourth meetings went much better.

    Thank you, I so enjoyed this read.

    1. Georgette,

      The house actually is a few streets back – perhaps on Post Office. The East End is filled with such houses, most of which never are seen by tourists. There has been more traffic back there since Ike, though, once the chainsaw carvers started working on their transformation of the stumps of oaks that had to come down.

      Your mention of craftsmanship and your description of your own learning curve for online teaching reminded me of my increasing conviction that we’ve lost a sense of the value of apprenticeships.

      When I began varnishing, I had an opportunity to work for six months with a fellow who had worked for a couple of years with the woman who’s the doyen of varnishers around here. The tips I received, the techniques I learned, never could have come from a formal classroom or a book. It sounds as though your mentor filled much the same role for you, helping you learn the “tricks, tools and strategies” that are so important in differentiating “adquate” from “exceptional” – whether in teaching or vanishing.

      Now that you have about a hundred meetings behind you, I’ll bet you’re having a lot more fun with it, too!


    1. J.Boudreaux,

      He surely is a treasure. Even though I’m not such a fan that I’ve seen (or even want to see) all his films, I’m glad he’s part of our world! And his willingness to strike out in new directions, rather than just doing what he’s always done, is admirable.


  21. Good for you! Nothing like beginning anew to keep us humble. To challenge us to use all our capacities. Love that gorgeous Victorian house, too — at first I thought your blur was ghostly, but when you explained about the humidity, it made sense. So thanks — I learned something, too!

    1. Debbie,

      Ghostly would be good. There are lots of houses in Galveston that have a history of sightings of former residents – some of whom died in the 1800s! In fact, the cemeteries and houses of Galveston are so apparently ghost-ridden that the Halloween season always is the time for tours of “real” haunted houses.

      As Jimmy Buffett wrote in one of my favorite songs (La Vie Dansante “every stop is a place to start”. The chance for new beginnings is one of the greatest gifts of life. Why, every morning I swear “this” is the day I’m going to get organized!


  22. I had to laugh while reading this. When I first started taking photos, I suffered the fog mystery. I now wait a few minutes before I start shooting.

    Bad judgement is one of my best teachers. There’s probably a better way, but I seldom forget a lesson learned from making a bad decision.

    1. Bella Rum,

      I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who’s had to learn about faux fog! Just a few days ago I noticed my car keys were so cold they condensed moisture when I got out of the car. They’ve probably been doing it for years, with me paying exactly zero attention.

      Isn’t it amazing how those bad decisions stick in the mind? And sometimes it’s not even so much a decision as just a mistake. That law of unintended consequences can be a killer!

      Given the week (or more) you’ve had, I’m glad I could make you laugh, even a little. ;)


  23. I love, love, love this post. For so many reasons.

    First, I’m a Woody Fan. And when I read this: “Plunge in he did. Allen’s enthusiasm for Gianni Schicchi helped him create a terrifically comic conclusion to Il Trittico, and while Allen called Schicchi “funny compared to Tosca, not funny compared to Duck Soup”, LA Times reviewer Mark Swed said, “Don’t believe that, either. A production of genius, his Gianni Schicchi is a riot.”

    … I knew that even I, the ultimate opera despiser, would go in a heartbeat to see it!

    The thing about Woody is that he (usually) works within a comfort zone, but takes chances inside it. I’ve always had as a back-seat motto (especially when it comes to photography!) “I’d rather be lucky than good.” But if you ARE good, you can recognize luck more often, you’re not afraid to go for it.

    Which brings me to your photos. As soon as I read the beginning of your post, I knew what the problem was. I’ve had it a million times at Myrtle Beach. Air-con to humid ocean. It takes a few minutes! And of course no one wants fog unless you want fog.

    But I have to say, as I look at the foggy home, I find a whole new mood and quality to the photo, a ghostliness that speaks to the home’s unknown inhabitants from days gone by, to its rising from the past to shine in the present. It may not have been good. But I think it was very lucky!

    1. jeanie,

      Like you, I’m not one who’s going to be pulling out “Tosca” for an evening’s entertainment. But I do think new appreciation can come when someone provides an unexpected “take” on an old form. I’m anxious to see Allen’s “From Rome With Love”, even though it got utterly panned by “The Houston Chronicle”. I did get a chuckle out of this bit of grudging – what? approval? acceptance? acknowledgement?

      “Yet here’s what’s strange: As awful as “To Rome With Love” is – and the awfulness is unmistakable – it is, as an experience, not unpleasant. You will probably see several better movies this year that you will enjoy less. It’s a mess, but it’s Rome. It’s a mess, but it’s Woody Allen.”

      “Luck” is a funny thing. Sometimes, it’s an unexpected and happy convergence that arises from sustained effort. Sometimes, speaking of luck is an excuse for laziness. These days, I tend to think of luck as serendipity – perhaps not quite as random as we believe. My grandmother always said we make our own luck. Maybe she was right!


  24. I’m a Woody Allen fan but I hadn’t heard about his venture with LA Opera or that he got such a prestigious Italian award. (I also love the photo of him getting his award).

    I’m one of those folks who never read the instruction booklet, so I thank you for teaching us about humidity and cameras. While I know that my glasses steam up when I walk inside on a cold snowy day I didn’t think of it happening to the lenses in my camera. Duh!

    I like your photo of the fog-like house. When I first looked at it, I thought what a clever shot of a ghostly house.

    Talking about how easy it is to delete something on a digital camera I have to share my story of how I managed to get a perfect spot in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela so I could take a video of the huge Botafumeiro swinging back and forth across the cathedral. When I got back home I discovered I’d deleted it by mistake.

    1. dearrosie,

      Well, if it’s any comfort, you’re not the only one who’s lost your photos of the Botafumeiro. I didn’t know what it might be, so off I went to explore. There are so many videos – this is a nice one . In the comments, someone thanks the person posting it, saying they had lost their photos/videos, too.

      It had to be an amazing experience to be there. My thoughts were, “That’s a big thurible!”, “Someone could get hurt!” and, “My gosh, you shouldn’t be taking flash pictures in a church service!” Old habits die hard, I guess. But it was interesting to see – a fitting end to pilgrimage.

      I don’t know why I’ve never thought about it until now, but imagine all the times we see the world through fog-covered “lenses”. So often we think we know someone or understand a situation, but our vision is blurred, just like my camera lens. When we “warm up” just a bit, we see more clearly.

      I wonder if Woody’s production of Schicchi is available on video. It would be fun to see it, just because!


  25. I love when people say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” It requires both courage and vulnerability, while the verb tense of doing indicates action, despite the admission of ignorance. Where would we be without that willingness to plunge ahead, even at great risk to reputation and ego?

    Thank you, Linda, for the inspiration — and the information (I get those dime-sized blurs in the middle of photos, too).

    1. bronxboy,

      There are corollaries to “I have no idea what I’m doing”. One is “I wonder where this road goes?” Another is, “I wonder what would happen if we…(insert crazy idea and raised eyebrows here)” I love them both. “Now what?” probably belongs here, too.

      The way I look at it, the worst that can happen is utter failure, a dead end, a blown idea or a previously unsuspected disaster. That’s ok. How else will we pile up stories to tell when we’re sitting in our rockers on the porch of The Home?


      1. “I wonder where this road goes?” My how that phrase brings tears to my wife’s eyes. It almost seems to embody my philosophy of life.

        On the main roads that my life has taken me down with any regularity, it doesn’t take me long to start to explore every side road that branches off to see what might be around the corner. And then, at irregular intervals ever after, I must return to those very same side roads to see if anything new has been added.

        It sometimes seems as if dead ends are the price you pay for the adventure of being lost in familiar territory. How boring life would be without being lost once and awhile..

        1. I never get into these discussions that I don’t think of “Alice in Wonderland”. Doesn’t this just sum it up?

          “Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

          Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

          Alice: I don’t much care where.

          Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

          Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.

          Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

          And of course there’s always the wisdom of Yogi Berra – “if you come to a fork in the road, take it”. ;)


  26. I love cheap Sony digitals. I have thousands of pics of fish. I am going to die and probably no one will realize the thousands of fish stored in those little cards. Lots of funny stuff happens with a camera. Enjoy your stuff whenever I stumble over.

    1. blufloyd,

      Here’s the question – are your pics of keepers, or are you doing catch-photograph-release? Do you tell them to smile? I’m in the middle of the Flint Hills tonight, and apparently the fish are biting in a lake up the road. I’ve seen a lot of people driving around with poles sticking out their windows.

      Lots of funny stuff happens, for sure. The unpredictability’s part of the fun – and it sure helps provide lessons for us!


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