The Essay as Collision, or, The Sound of You Not Answering–David Legault


When I worked as a writing instructor—both as a graduate student teaching freshman composition and in my work at a writing center—I found myself constantly steering students away from certain personal narratives, so familiar to anyone in this field as to become cliché: “The Dead Grandma Essay,” “The Car Crash Story,” “The Big Game.” It seems we are drawn to certain events in our lives, the ones that most closely mimic our understanding of story, of what we see in movies: a universally understood setting, some event happens, and we are not the same as we once were.

I grew tired of reading dozens of these “essays,” their predictability: hard work and practice leads to victory at the state championship game, or, the meaning of teamwork and sportsmanship are learned in defeat; we need to be more careful and always wear our seatbelts, we must appreciate how quickly the things and people we love can be taken away. I was (and am) amazed that so many people could have experiences so substantial—so important to their personal mythology—yet they all take away nearly identical conclusions or reflections. What does it mean that the biggest moments of our lives are so unsurprising?


Lately my life consists mostly of waiting. Waiting to hear back on a grant application that could radically alter the next three years of my life. Waiting for news on a manuscript under “final consideration,” whatever that means or I hope it means. Waiting for an update on the 20 or so teaching jobs I’ve spent too much time and money and energy applying for over the past eight weeks, obsessively checking RSS Feeds and Wikis that only serve to fuel my obsessive nature, the hopes of any news at all that will let me leave the retail job I’ve desperately needed for the past two years. Waiting for this beautiful eight-month old girl to please, please, go to sleep.


I am tired of waiting. As an experiment, I tried writing a few essays that are “in the moment,” meaning that, true to the essay form, I am doing my best to mimic my thought process at any given time. The problem with this is that, unlike most of my other writing, I am not allowing myself to fall back on any research, not allowing myself to fragment or weave several narrative strands. I am doing my best to do away with the hindsight that clouds my other work, the distance from events that allows me to shape the narrative into whatever I force upon it. I am trying to find meaning in a world where my purpose is not yet clear.

I don’t think it would be fair to call it a disaster, but close enough to it. In the hopes of writing something meaningful or interesting I end up talking about my problems, worries, fears. I read it back now and it all sounds angry, jaded, afraid. I feel terribly sorry for myself. Of course, this is all accurate, but it doesn’t make for particularly compelling work.

The experiment has shown me how much I rely on certainty. I’m at my worst when I’m so worried, struck with the special kind of silence that comes from waiting like this. I cannot write clearly about what I don’t yet know.


My problem has never been with the students, but the structure of the assignment: what can be expected of a teenage kid when we ask them to teach us about life in five to seven pages? By forcing them to write this way—to demand reflection and conclusions—we are asking them to write about something that has already happened, been overcome. What sort of stakes can be found in such writing?

I find myself rejecting (or at least resisting) the idea of personal narrative. I’m not sure why I’m so bothered. Perhaps it has to do with my general dislike/distrust of memoir, with any story that finds its value in the accuracy of its facts. Perhaps it has to do with the connections I see between this writing and the academic, five-paragraph sort: trying too hard to teach me a lesson, focused on things that are over and done. Or maybe it comes from my Midwestern upbringing: passive aggressive behavior and an inability to share what’s on my mind. Perhaps, ultimately, it comes from a lack of life experience, from a fear of my own ignorance, a worry that I have nothing worth saying.




According to the police report, both vehicles began to reverse from their spots almost simultaneously. The driver of the orange Sedan had backed completely from the parking space, straightening out his car in the lane before noticing the back end of the silver SUV heading toward him. The driver of the orange Sedan honked his horn, though the driver of the silver SUV either didn’t hear the sound or had insufficient time to react. The silver SUV then made contact with the front driver’s side door of the orange Sedan, crushing the front quarter of the vehicle. The driver of the orange Sedan sustained minor cuts and bruising. The driver of the silver SUV was left unharmed.


Perhaps collisions are essays in themselves: an attempt to connect two separate objects, to see how they act upon each other. Meaning comes as the space between them becomes smaller and smaller. Until they become inseparable.



I have been in accidents before: sliding backward into ditches, spinning out on iced over roads. But this accident was the first involving injury, the first time I’ve felt the crunch of impact, of the car’s steel frame buckling, wrapping itself around me, designed to break apart in such a way. I felt the crystalline glass of the window raining down upon me: the cuts and slivers so small as to be felt but not seen, not so easily removed.

inside car 


There are reasons to be grateful: both vehicles were traveling at parking lot speeds, my infant daughter was not in the car at the time; the accident was caught on surveillance camera, absolving me of blame; all injuries were superficial.

There are reasons to lament: I had just got my car back from the shop after a similar accident my wife experienced two weeks prior; several other high-cost emergencies over the past several months, draining our savings; the driver at fault has no insurance.




I am in a daze. I am standing in the cold, trying to find the phone number for non-emergency police situations before saying screw it and dialing 911. I can hear the Other Driver talking on her phone, asking the other end what will happen when the police discover she has no insurance.

I pretend not to hear because I am not yet ready to deal with this information, though it creates an incongruity when the police. The Other Driver insists to the officer that she simply cannot find the paperwork. She knows she is lying, I know she is lying, the officer likely assumes she’s lying, but we leave the scene pretending that yes, it will all be okay and, yes, the ticket will be cleared once you provide proof, just fax it over and all will be forgiven. We leave the scene hoping for it to be true, for our problems to magically fix themselves.


Perhaps the personal narrative is like Zeno’s arrow paradox: for motion to occur, the arrow must change its position. However, in any given instant, the arrow is not moving from the point where it is because no time has passed. If every moment is motionless, and time is made of moments, then motion is impossible.

Perhaps these two objects can never come together. Gaps exist, will always exist. Perhaps this is the reader and writer reaching for a connection that never comes and never will. Perhaps it is our frustration—those silent gaps we attempt to fill with noise—that keeps us concluding otherwise.


The problems do not go away. I leave the scene with the weight of guilt. That the Other Driver has a court date and substantial fines and (much later) fucked up credit because of the collection agency working on my insurance company’s behalf. That my insurance agent assures me that they will go after her for everything she’s got, a tone of malice and retribution I do not appreciate. That I have received letters in the mail from lawyers warning me to act now if I want to sue for sustained injuries. That a local chiropractor has offered me free “recovery alignment” coupons, and I have no idea how they found my contact information. That I am physically fine, my car has been repaired, and by the time I am compensated in an estimated three years, the money will be an unexpected and pleasant surprise.


Perhaps the problems of the personal narrative have nothing to do with cliché, but grandiosity. We like explosions, life & death circumstances, a little sex appeal. We sometimes believe that the personal narrative demands this type of structure: our loudest, most outrageous. I would argue that the essay finds it’s greatest meaning in the white space, the silence, the gaps between what’s been written and what we bring to it.


I receive a text message from the Other Driver, asking if we can take care of this accident without getting our insurance companies involved. She does not know that I know about her insurance, and for whatever reason I continue to play along. But still I must tell her sorry, the cost is just too high, that I needed to get a rental car as soon as possible, that I already received an estimate upwards of 3000 dollars. She responds with an apology, and we never speak again.

The Other Driver has become a ghost. She does not respond when a claims adjuster attempts to contact her by phone and mail. I am told that if she does not respond, my story will be the only one on official records, meaning that she will be completely at fault with no opportunity for defense. I know this to be her choice. Like pretending to have insurance, it seems the Other Driver believes that avoiding the accident—ignoring the calls letters of collection—will make it all go away. She believes her silence may somehow save her.


Perhaps the personal narrative demands conclusions because we desire what we cannot have. We demand conclusions because we there are things we do not like about ourselves: high school championship glory fades, as does our grief. Accidents still happen, mistakes are made, and yet we will continue to do dumb shit anyway. We want there to be more, to feel like every moment holds a special meaning. And if we draw those conclusions, play along with the idea that everything means something, maybe someday we’ll start to believe it.



It is several weeks later with little resolution. My door has been replaced, repainted. Structural integrity confirmed yet reinforced anyway. A well-timed Christmas bonus, along with a rare payment for my writing, just barely covers my deductible. Money provided, as if by magic. Meanwhile, a slew of professional, creative, and personal rejections fill me with an ever-encroaching sense of dread. Outside, snow covers everything, blanketing the neighborhood. The snow muffles, absorbs, and despite the world happening around me, this silence so strong as to be felt.



Mom’s Sewing Club Lemon Dessert (from Barb Panning, via Amy Panning Hardel, July 27, 2011)–Anne Panning

     One day this past summer, I got a craving for my mother’s famous lemon dessert (she died / let me say that right here).  Over the years, my sister, Amy, and I have often called each other up in search of the recipe.  “Is this it?” Amy would say, then read off a list of ingredients.  “No,” I’d say.  “That sounds too much like lemon bars.  It doesn’t seem like it would have that light, whipped texture like Mom’s did.” (“Bars” are what Minnesotans call anything sweet and gooey baked in a cake pan and cut in squares.)

I remembered my mother (golden haired / fatigued) making the dessert on the nights she hosted Sewing Club, an informal group of women who got together once a month and worked on various sewing projects while they “visited,” drank coffee (never alcohol) and ate dessert.  The location rotated month to month, and likely my mother dreaded when it was her turn since we lived in the trailer court (butt end of trailer faced graveyard) and I knew this brought great shame to her.

The women all had names like Pixie (pockmarked / redhead), Diane, Faye  (rich from real estate) and Marcia (knobby tall).  This was the 1970s, and although I have no recollection of feminism hitting our small town, my mother and her friends did demonstrate a certain female solidarity (accidentally?). The sewing part of the club (popped-off buttons / embroidered dishtowels) was just an excuse for them to gather.  As Amy has said later, “It was almost like an ahead-of-their-time book club.”  Men were absent.  My father loved it because he could go to the bar and drink (buy rounds for all / lose money on scratch-offs / get drunk / win points with townsfolk for being fun-loving crazyass guy).  I loved it because I knew it meant lemon dessert was on the menu.

I’ve looked and looked through my mother’s recipe box, which is white with strawberries around the lid and very sticky.

                                    (INSERT PHOTO OF RECIPE BOX HERE)

(but make sure photo doesn’t show the stuff on your bulletin board or little Rolodex with a monkey sticker on it / stage the recipe box somewhere that looks clean yet warm and personal / remove books, cell phone chargers, mugs, mail/ make sure your shadow isn’t hanging over the image / decide against it)

One day I brought the recipe box up to my study and accidentally dropped it, ruining years of careful organization and order (true / not true / it did fall and spill but not so bad).  As I sat there trying to sort the recipes into the correct categories, I noticed that some of them were in my mother’s handwriting (classic Palmer cursive) and some of them were in my grandmother’s handwriting (feathery blue Bic).

I began to wonder: had my mother also inherited her mother’s recipe box just as I had hers?  Like her, I would now add my own recipes to it, making it a three-generation collection of family recipes.  My grandmother’s era (Bacon Grease Molasses Cookies), my mother’s generation (Tater Tot Hotdish), and my generation (Chicken and Chickpea Tagine).  The difference between my recipes and theirs, though (besides the profusion of ethnic dishes), was that theirs always provided a careful crediting of sources:  Tuna Hot Dish (Aunt Rosemary), Egg Casserole (Church), German Sugar Cookies (from Alma Meyer via Laura Litfin).  Mine, on the other hand, were without personal links, a hodgepodge of cultures, places and influences I couldn’t credit even if I tried.

I searched through every single recipe but couldn’t find the lemon dessert (as I write this, it’s snowing / kids are skiing / I’m listening for the mailman /  I keep forgetting this is supposed to be about the lemon dessert). I did, however, find an odd recipe.

Hot Dish for 50.

2 lbs. egg noodles, boiled

2 lbs.  Velveeta cheese

3 lge. cans tomato soup

8 lbs. hamburger

½ lbs. onions, chopped

1 stk. margarine

(For fifty?)  My only guess was my grandma had gotten it from church.  Maybe someone from The Ladies Aid (martyrs) had given it to her since whenever a member of the congregation died, each “lady” (baby soft hair / powdery blush / slacks / sweatshirt with kitty or snowman / navy Keds) was required to bring a large hot dish “to pass.”

I also found a recipe for my grandma’s spaghetti sauce that used to be my favorite. I hadn’t thought of it for decades, and seeing it triggered an intense memory of pleasure and comfort (the Lord’s Supper painting in her kitchen / white metal kitchen cupboards / chickadee feeder out the window / heater blowing behind velvety recliner > my spot).  It was the mildest, gentlest spaghetti sauce ever (almost not a spaghetti sauce).  She’d sauté minced onions in butter until they were very, very soft, then add a can of Campbell’s tomato soup (not generic / not her) and a spoonful of sour cream and a pinch of sugar and simmer until it bubbled.  It made her tiny kitchen steam up and smell sweet and tangy.

But still no recipe for the elusive lemon dessert.

For almost a week, I left messages for Amy (mostly texts / we’re texters), asking if she had the recipe. Finally, one day in July, she called me. After catching up on every little thing (mostly her things), I circled back to the lemon dessert recipe.

“No,” Amy said.  “I never found it, but I have it in my head. It’s called Borden’s Lemon Dessert.”

“What? You’ve had it in your head all this time and never told me?” (upset but acting not upset).

“Well, it’s hard to explain. I’ve never written it down.”

“So let’s hear it!” I said.  “I have a pen. I’m ready.”

It was a gorgeous summer day (maybe / I think).  Sun spilled onto my desk and all over the recipe cards I’d dug out of my mother’s box. I scribbled everything down while Amy narrated the recipe to me.

“So you take one package of graham crackers, just crackers, no butter or anything, and crush them all up for the crust.  It’s weird how pans can be so different. It should be enough if you use a regular pan.”

I asked her if she used the one our mother had given us each for our birthdays once—an aluminum 9×13 with a sliding green cover with our names engraved on them.

“No, mine got a hole in the side of it.  Wore out.” (Could that really happen? / How would a hole form on the side of a pan?)

“Anyway—oh!  Save some of the cracker crumbs to sprinkle on top.  Okay. Then mix 2 cans of Borden’s or whatever brand sweetened condensed milk.  Then the juice of 4 real lemons. I tried it once in a hurry with fake lemon juice and it was terrible.  But maybe use 5 lemons. I can’t remember. Just taste it a lot. It should be tart.”(Our mother only used fake lemon juice / green bottle / yellow cap /real lemons cost.)


            (but why? / is it because the little lemon-shaped squeeze bottle is so iconic of childhood? / the 1970s? / what does it add to this narrative though? / if your mother’s old recipe box didn’t make the cut, why should this? / it’s commodification/ actually, not really / more or less a strong wish to keep readers sustained / stimulated / grounded / it’s unnecessary / decide against it.)  

“Okay,” I said, and wrote it all down.

“So then,” she continued, “refrigerate that for a while.  Then whip like a big carton of real whipping cream, and add sugar—just enough to make it nice and sweet but not too sweet.  Then sprinkle the extra graham cracker crumbs on top.  And it’s best overnight.  To chill it overnight.  You know, so the wet stuff kind of soaks into the crust. Yeah, umm. I think that’s it.”

I told her how excited I was to make the lemon dessert (finally), which brought up a whole other conversation about our mother, and Sewing Club, and the past.

“You know what today is, right?” she said (see title).

Usually I was the one who called my siblings on the anniversary of our mother’s death, so I was glad Amy brought it up.  “I know,” I said. “It seems like just yesterday she was here” (6 years/5 months/23 days/I could figure out the hours but that would be false / exaggeration as lie).

“Really?” Amy said.  “It seems so far away to me.  Like it was so long ago.”

I could feel the way time had softened the edges of my memories.  I could still see my mother’s warm brown eyes, but the basic shape of her face (perfect oval) was slipping from me, the way she held a cup of coffee (Chase Sanborn/Corelle cup) or chuckled as she was telling a story—fading.

“Anyway, I should go,” Amy said.  “I have to go shoot T-ball pictures today. It seems like that’s what I’ve been doing all summer long.” (Amy’s kinder than me / more socially open / I read / I hide / I  fret.)

“Yeah,” I said.  “I have to go get the kids.”

After we said goodbye, I found one of my mother’s blank recipe cards (wanted it to be cute with maybe hearts / cuckoo clocks / spatulas / but no > plain ), and began filling it out.

“Mom’s Sewing Club Lemon Dessert,” I titled it (is it horrible to admit that I’m proud of my handwriting? / I get compliments on it sometimes).  Then, giving credit where credit was due, I wrote, “From Barb Panning, via Amy Panning Hardel, July 27, 2011.” I tucked it back in the sticky recipe box in the section labeled “Sweets,” and felt a small piece of history settle (echo) into place.


recipe boxlemon

Shooting Dinosaurs–Peter Grandbois


Yesterday, I took my nine-year-old son to the video arcade at the local mall.  He wanted to play any game that involved shooting someone or something.  I hadn’t been to the video arcade since I was a teenager, so I was shocked to find so many realistic video games where the goal is to kill another human being. Fathers and sons fed their electronic game cards to the machines (they no longer accept quarters), shooting away, bonding as each looked to the other and smiled before wasting a “terrorist” or two or twenty in a bloody shootout.  My son wanted to play, but I was appalled.  I tried to get him interested in shooting dinosaurs instead.  It worked for a short time, but in the end, he wanted to play the “real” games.  I gave in and soon felt the kick of the machine gun recoil in my chest as I mowed down the terrorists (each bearded and colored just enough to look Muslim).  My son was killed pretty quickly, but beamed at me, proud that I was able to survive a little longer.


For Christmas two weeks ago, my son wanted a Nerf Diatron. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s a gun that shoots two Nerf discs at once.  The latest technology in Nerf warfare.  My son already has the other guns in the Nerf arsenal: the Vortex, the Nitron, the Vigilon, and (best of all) the Pyragon.  Nerf gun wars erupt in our house spontaneously, causing our two German Shepherds to bark uncontrollably and the two kittens to run for cover.  The only rule is no shooting in the face.  Unfortunately, that’s what inevitably happens.  I get very uncomfortable when my son aims his gun at my face.  I tell him in no uncertain terms to put it down.  I tell him the game is over.  And yet, when I sneak up on him defenseless, hiding behind the couch, I unleash my bullets at point blank range with a glee I haven’t felt since childhood.   In those moments, he looks at me as if I’ve betrayed him.


My son joined Karate about four months ago.  He loves it.  When not in practice, he spends a good part of his time running around the house, kicking and karate chopping everything.  The day they broke boards in his dojo may have been the high point of his life.  That’s the day they tested for their belts.  I had to hold back my judgment as I watched each student work through routines designed to beat the hell out of another living person.  Some of the candidates for the higher belts were deadly serious as they performed their Katas.  At the end, they had open sparring.  The students wore headgear and gloves as they punched and kicked each other.  My son is convinced he’s going to be the next Bruce Lee.  I told myself it wasn’t so bad that he tried to kick another kid in the face.  I forced myself to smile and clap when he performed actions designed to hurt or maim his opponent.


Because I’ve been an avid fencer most of my life, I tried to get my son involved in the sport of fencing about a year ago.  He was interested in sabre at first, and I would drive him once a week to the club in Columbus where he could practice with kids his age.   I remember the first time he suited up.  I took a picture of him.  I still have that picture.  I look at it often, and each time it gives me a thrill.  To see him posing with his mask and sword.  He has since moved on to Karate, but I still hope to get him back into fencing.  I dream of the day when he and I can travel to a fencing tournament together, when I can watch him fight another kid, trying to hit that kid in the head with his sword.  Fencers scream when they hit, as do people in the other martial arts.  I’ve often wondered what my son’s scream would be like.  Would it be relatively tame?  Or would it let slip the killer inside?


Why is it I abhor the violence in one scenario and encourage it in another?  What makes the simulated act of shooting “terrorists” in a video game any different than the simulated act of shooting each other with Nerf guns?  Is hitting someone with your fist really more violent than hitting someone with a sword?  One could easily argue it’s the other way around.  The sword a grim symbol of our barbaric past.  And yet I frown upon one behavior and encourage another.  Talk about sending mixed signals!  I consider myself a passive person.  I believe violence is a last resort, what happens when all other options fail.  Contrary to the evidence given above, my wife and I raised our son without TV, video games, or violent toys.  We gave in a few years ago only when the mounting evidence became clear that none of what we did mattered.  Regardless of our “guidance,” he spent the vast majority of his day creating games where he killed someone or was killed by someone.  The boy should be given an academy award for the complexity of his death scenes, drawn out in slow motion as he careens about the living room.  My fear is that some day he’ll enlist in the military, that he’ll become something I’m fundamentally against.  My greater fear is that in doing so he’ll become more like me than he ever was before.


I thought this essay was going to be about the ways in which our children are not like us, the ways in which the apple sometimes falls very far from the tree.  I started with that experience at the video arcade, sure of my horror over how easily my son lapped up the violence, and my revulsion at how many other fathers and sons stood beside us, smilingly shooting away.  But as I started writing, I realized something else was going on.  The essay shaped itself around the complicated ways in which as fathers we both indoctrinate our sons into male violence and simultaneously teach them that same violence is wrong.  More disturbing to this author was the further discovery that the essay wanted to move into how those parts we most abhor in our children are really the things we fear in ourselves.  I say this now only because as writers our essays, our stories, our books are also our children.  We want them to be certain things, to behave certain ways.  How rarely they do.  Yet we seldom talk about what this means.  Instead, we make vague statements like: “I followed where the story went,” or “I let he character lead me” as if the story, the character are really separate entities from us.  They are not.  And the twisting turns they take, the conflicted messages they reveal say more about our own messy lives than we’d like to think.

A Photographer and an Essayist Walk into a Bar–Joe Bonomo

—What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

—Right. And what makes an essay a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are language and time.


—Taking photographs can assuage the itch for possession sparked by the beauty of a place; our anxiety over losing a precious scene can decline with every click of the shutter.

—But every photo’s a documentary of loss, isn’t it? What’s static in an image is finally overcome by change, what Orwell in a different context calls deterioration. An essay excavates that kind of loss and returns, with something, though not necessarily at the starting point. A photo’s a weed in an overgrown garden.


—That portion of reality that can be composed within a frame can be understood. —OK, but what if you and I are looking through the same frame and see things differently? What about what’s outside the frame? That’s where an essay goes, beyond the frame of what can be understood.


—To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.

—Yeah, no doubt. Slide me those peanuts.


—We are the strongest filter we can place before the lens. We point the lens both outward and inward.

—What does the photographer see when he points the lens inward, darkness or light?


—Maybe a photo represents the old quest for truth and a digital image is part of the current search for the good fantasy.

—I’m sot sure that I understand you. Yeah, one’s Facebook or Instagram persona is as refined and meticulously curated as any photo exhibition, but were photographs from another century any less fantastic in their manipulation of space and story?

I see that I’m asking a lot of questions tonight­, sorry—


—When I photograph, I spend a lot of time waiting for a subject to evolve.

—An essay is a kind of slow development, too, I think. In an imagined place murky figures and ideas take shape, chemical reactions of need and memory and truth doing their work, language emerging in the light of a door being opened.


—The irony is that having a photo doesn’t mean you’re going to remember. It only feels like you have a vast repository of memories—


—A number of photos prompt a certain kind of forgetting.

—And when an essay explores that kind of forgetting, it comes up with less than with more, unless loss is what it’s after. Forgetting’s a room where the light switch is broken. We need a new kind of illumination.


—Painting directly from nature is difficult as things do not remain the same; the camera helps to retain the picture in your mind.

—As in nature, in memory things do not remain the same, either. And do you believe that a camera helps you to retain? It seems to me that a photo crops so much more than it preserves.


—Creating a painting from a photograph is like staging a theatrical set and then trying to live in it.

—I don’t have a script yet. And where are my marks? What persona am I playing? Lighting? “Sepia,” “antique.” What do these words mean to an essayist?


—It is not in the nature of lenses to tell the whole truth—


—They are instruments of exaggeration and belittlement.

—Great. The essayist’s darkroom manipulations originate in sentiment, language, desire. We employ the writerly equivalent of wide-angle and close-up lenses, and filters. Choose from Denial, Self-Aggrandizing, or Heroic preset filters. Fish-bowl lens? Puberty. You and I might define “noise” differently but it’s still noise. We might define “exposure” differently but it’s still exposure.


—The picture represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera.

—Intelligence. Do you mean personality? Moral character? Intelligence as a measure of skill-level or of intuition? Either way, yeah, I think that I agree with you.


—Remember that photos lie about values in the distance; they show distant shadows too dark. The best way to know the right values is to observe.

—Yep, and an essay lies about values in the distance, too, and the essayist needs to acknowledge this. (Or not.) An essay is saturated with something other than color, light, and dark. But an essay, too, looks looks looks.


—Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.

—Not everybody believes photographs, but people trust essays. I’d like to think this, anyway.


—A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.



—The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.

—Yep. That’s great. I need another drink.


—I have gradually confused photography with life.

—I get so confused about life photography art.

—I know I know. Last round’s on me.



At the bar with me, in order of holding forth: John Berger, Alain de Botton, Robert Brault, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Paul Caponigro, Joe Nalven, Peter Fiore, Martin Hand, Theodore Robinson, Michael Chesley Johnson, Walter J. Phillips, Alexey Brodovitch, Martha Saudek, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Jerry Uelsmann, and William Wegman.