Visit Huffington Post to check out my story, Photographer Rick Ashley: Altering Perceptions through Portraiture. This photographer has been photographing his brother-in-law with Down syndrome since 1975, and most recently has been working on a series of staged portraits with him.
It’s a full count––three balls, two strikes. You try to remember everything your father told you: “Keep your eyes on the ball. Check your stance. Set your feet. Bend your knees. Get the bat off of your shoulder.” This stuff wasn’t too hard to remember since my dad regularly umpired my Little League games.
The bat was now cocked and ready to connect. It’s a fastball. You swing with all your might. At the crack of the bat, a deep fly ball goes to left field and over the fence. Home run!
That’s how it always happened in my dreams anyway. I never got to hit a home run in real life. If life were like a game of baseball, you would hope for a home run scenario every time. But in reality, there are some curveballs, knuckleballs, change-ups and quite possibly some spitballs thrown into the mix to make things more challenging. But challenges are part of the game, regardless of whether you’re playing t-ball, Little League, or the Majors. Challenges can also take you off-course, but don’t let them. They’re usually building blocks for something greater––something too fast to see when they’re coming at you at ninety miles an hour.
A Game of Baseball, from the book,
Instant Connections: Essays and Interviews on Photography by Jason Landry.
South Shore Magazine recently published my 4-page story and photographs about Island Creek Oysters and their aquaculture initiatives. It was a great experience to be down on the farm, to learn about how they operate, and learn about the life cycle of an oyster.
My interest in Island Creek Oysters may have started in the restaurant, but it has grown exponentially when I found out that they are not only growing oysters for restaurants, but have expanded their overall mission to make oyster farming more of a sustainable and renewable resource in other countries through their aquaculture initiatives.
Through the three pillars of sustainability, Island Creek Oysters has created a model that shows the ability to focus on the needs of the economy, society and the environment. Their outreach continues to grow beyond the bay in Duxbury in an ongoing effort to help teach the world to feed itself.
Note: A digital version of this issue can be found HERE. The story starts on page 114.
American Short Fiction Magazine passed out a bunch of photographs at the AWP conference in Boston earlier this year and asked people to write a short fiction story about each. Having not written any fiction before, I figured it would be good practice. Although I wasn’t one of the finalists, I still liked it. Enjoy!
“Thelma, I keep photo albums of all of my children.”
“Bless your heart, Margaret.”
“It’s for my grandchildren. Since my four boys looked so much alike, I want their kids to be able to tell them apart…to know who their daddy’s were.”
“Makes sense. I even have a hard time keeping their names straight. They were all so handsome.”
“When they were little, they were so wild. I’d get all worked up and confused sometimes and I would just yell all of their names off in a row––John, Paul, William, Raymond––get-in-the-house-this-very-instant! I remember it like it was yesterday, Thelma.”
“Well maybe now that Suzie and Ray are married you’ll eventually have a few more little ones running around the house.”
“We’ll see. Suzie is a sweet girl, but I’m not so sure Ray wants to have any kids.”
“Oh Margaret…give them some time.”
“Thelma, I’m not sure you’ve been watching the television, but Truman was on talking about some conflict in Korea.”
“Somewhere in the Pacific, I think.”
“What did Ray say?”
“He isn’t saying anything. Thelma…I just can’t have another one of my boys at war. I refuse to bury another one of my children. I know Ray thinks about his brothers a lot and what they left behind. Why did he have to pick The Navy? Why Thelma, why?”
“Margaret, I know this is hard on you. We can’t fault him for wanting to protect his country and be like his older brothers. That’s what our boys do.”
“I’m sorry that I brought it up.”
“It’s quite alright Margaret. Let’s look at William’s album. Remember when he took Betty to the prom? My Betty loved driving in his Chevrolet. She said it was cherry.”
From my Back Bay Boston penthouse, I can see all the way to Copley Square. It was a clear blue morning. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky. Through the half open slats on the shutters I could see an American Flag off in the distance at half-mast on top of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. The choppers were on full alert throughout the night and morning. The sirens have started to dissipate.
It’s the day after the Boston Marathon: It’s the day after my city was bombed. Yesterday was ideal weather conditions for the annual run, unlike last year where it was about eighty degrees. There were many runners who dropped out last year due to the heat––it was unbearable. This year there were many runners who never made it across the finish line because they were forced to stop less than a mile from the finish––the race had been canceled. The runners were corralled in Kenmore Square with no idea what was going on less than a mile ahead.
I don’t consider myself a runner, although I run once in a while with my good friend Mark. I was a spectator this year like every year because Mark was running it. He’s a die-hard runner and I support him. His brother and I took the train out to mile 16 just so that we could earn our 5-minutes of fame by handing off a bottle of Mark’s favorite power drink to him as he ran by––success! We jumped right back on the train just in time to see him cross the finish line.
We gathered at the finish line for approximately 30 minutes waiting for Mark’s girlfriend to finish. Mark thought we probably missed her, so we walked with him towards the family waiting area. At that point he said, “you and my brother head back to my house and I’ll be back there in 30 minutes and we’ll do dinner.” We left Mark and started to head down Clarendon St. We were two blocks away when the bombs went off. I felt it. In my head, I thought, what the fuck was that, but then I thought, it’s Patriots Day––maybe they’re firing the canons on The Esplanade.
I walked up the stairs to my brownstone, opened the door and was greeted by my hungry little dog. I immediately heard muffled sounds coming from the roof and then sirens––sirens like I had never heard before. I climbed the ladder and opened my roof hatch. My neighbors were on their roof decks looking toward the marathon route and asked me if I saw the bombs go off. “What! Where were they?” I asked. “Over by the finish line”, they said––very close to where I had just left Mark.
I panicked. I threw some food in the dog bowl and I grabbed my jacket and was out the door, neighbor in tow. We ran back to Boylston Street and at that exact moment, police started to barricade the area and was pushing people away from the scene. I needed to find Mark. It was chaos––people were running everywhere. The trains were all shut down and so were some of the streets. Usually thousands of spectators pack Boylston Street for this event and they mostly arrive by train. People didn’t know what to do. News photographers were running at us with their large lenses and police, fire and emergency vehicles were coming in a steady stream from all directions.
We began heading toward Mark’s house. I tried to call his brother who was back at the house and there was no answer and he wasn’t returning my texts––cell coverage was starting to get spotty. When I got to the house Mark’s brother was standing outside. “Is he back yet”, I yelled. He wasn’t. I was determined to stand by his front door until he got home. I needed to see his face. As we stood outside waiting, I checked Twitter to see what was going on. People were huddled around my little camera phone to see pictures that people had been posting––it was horrible. One woman stopped and asked us if any of us had a car. Another said, I didn’t get to finish and I have no idea how to get home. We felt helpless.
About ten minutes passed and another concerned friend showed up to wait with us. My phone started to ring every few minutes with either a family member checking on me, or friends from far and away. I was touched at the amount of people who cared to reach out knowing that I lived in Boston and also so close to the marathon. If it were any of them in this circumstance, I’d be doing the exact same thing.
My friend Mark has always been one of my biggest supporters. One of his best traits is that he values loyalty above all else. His loyal friends were there at his house waiting like his obedient Labradors as he turned the corner onto his street with his girlfriend and her parents. We learned that she had finished the race twelve minutes before the first bomb exploded and her parents were near the grandstands in-between the two explosions and were lead to safety by a helpful bystander. Mark’s friends and current and former co-workers were calling every minute. He was shocked by the support that he received. I wasn’t surprised for one bit because this guy is a stand-up guy. He’s the type of person that leaves a lasting impression, and truly cares about his close friends as if they were family members.
Yesterday was one of the most nerve-racking days that I’ve ever felt and it spilled over to today. My wife never made it home last night because of the bridge and street closings, so I’ll be happy to see her smiling face soon. It’s hard to be separated from your loved ones in crisis situations like what we have gone through.
It’s been a little more than 24 hours since the event occurred. Our parks have been turned into parking lots for TV news and satellite dishes from all over the place. There are police in riot gear with assault weapons posted at the entrances to our train stations. The last stretch of the marathon route on Boylston Street where the two bombs went off have been left untouched as state and local officials scour the area for clues to what happened.
I’m still in shock that this disgusting and disturbing attack happened in my neighborhood. I only can hope it returns to normal soon.
Some women don’t like flowers. My wife is one of them. She’d rather I spend my money on things that last––actually scratch that: she’d rather I not spend any money. I’ve accepted the no-flowers rule because I’m not a fan of them either. A flower shop smells like a funeral home, and that reminds me of dead things, and frankly, I’m not into dead things or zombies.
Back when we were dating, I did entice my wife, who I’ve been with for twenty years this year, with a single sunflower. She thought that was original, but not as original as the comment that I made about her big feet on the day we first met. Yes, I know. You’re probably saying to yourself, what a dope. But let me set the scene. I saw her sitting at a table––legs crossed, one leg bouncing off the other. I said, “You have the biggest feet that I’ve ever seen…I love them.” Her response: “I’m gonna marry you.” So needless to say, I’m grateful that she was true to her word and has kept me around so long. After our first date, I knew I was with someone special. I did one of those one-arm fist pumps like I was Ray Bourque scoring the winning goal for the Boston Bruins. F.Y.I: hockey players invented the fist-pump, not them Jersey Shore kids.
You know what I find truly amazing about my wife: The way she shops. She has a Masters Degree in Shopping––not really, but maybe a college should take a hint and start one. My wife has this Twitter handle @eatshoplivebos. Yes, she does all of those things in Boston, but let’s analyze that second word: shop. If you have a woman like my woman, it will be quite evident if you watch them shop. Do it––just take her to the mall or to one of her favorite stores.
Generally speaking, you won’t see her beeline to the ‘just arrived’ rack in the store, rather a frugal consumer, scratch that––a bargain shopper like my wife dives right into the clearance rack. She’ll whip those hangers around feverishly side to side like she was a lioness attacking a zebra on the Serengeti until she has sifted through the entire rack (please note: no animals were harmed during the writing of this essay).
To get the title of Ms. Bargainess (I actually just made that up) took years of practice. The skills were earned like patches on a Girl Scouts sash by watching her mother Thelma shop at the now defunct Filene’s Basement. Do you want to see a bargain shopper’s eyes light up? Show them a hundred and twenty dollar dress marked down five times to the new low price of nineteen ninety nine. They leave the store like they just robbed it!
Us men, we have no clue what we’re doing in department stores. We buy labels––name brands and what our eyes are drawn to, rather than price. If it fits, that’s a bonus because not everything fits in my world. That’s because my body type just won’t fit into skinny jeans or athletic fit shirts that designers are so eager to pump out to their consumers. I’m one of those average males who exercises occasionally and eats whatever I want––frankly, I don’t have a shut off valve. I’m certain that there’s a lot of ‘my’ type out there, however, this story isn’t about me.
When we’re at a store together, my wife’s adamant that we go our separate ways. “J, you’re not going to follow me around like a little puppy dog. If you’re going to do that, then you shoulda just stayed at home.” It gets even better when she addresses me like she’s a boxing trainer. “Honey, you need to poke around. Move your feet and check out the racks. If you’re tired, go sit in that chair in the corner. I’ll come over and get you when I’m ready to leave. If you’re too tired to shop, go out in the car and take a nap.” Have you ever seen a person leave a store with a bag full of merchandise, hop up on the bumper of their SUV, throw their hands up in the air in victory and shout, “Adrian!” You haven’t? Neither have I, but I bet it would make for a good movie, maybe something like Rocky XVIII: the Nordstrom Rack experiment.
How long do you look at a page before you start to type something? I wrote and edited one essay today and then I started another one. The cursor had been blinking on the page for more than an hour before I realized I was done. This isn’t a ‘writer’s block’ thing. This short story will stand at just two words.
As the story goes, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words. He did: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
My story stands at two words: Expletive Deleted!
So most of you know already that I’m trying to get book published. The other day I got another rejection from yet another agency. The crazy thing is, I’m totally aware of the process and have embraced it. My wife on the other hand said, “why do you pick these types of careers to follow?” When you are a creative-type like I am, this is part of it. Before writing, I was a photographer––currently I own a photography gallery. I dealt with rejections as an artist and have watched artists that I represent go through it as well. I’m usually the one on the other side of the table commenting on artists portfolios. Now the tables are turned.
So receiving rejections from these literary agencies is totally understandable. Without naming names, I am going to show you some of the responses that I’ve received over the past few months. Writers who are trying to get published: get used to this. You’ll get a lot of these. Embrace it and move on. This is the only way you’ll stay sane. I took this photograph a while back of Banksy’s ‘Follow Your Dreams-Cancelled‘. Don’t listen to him. Follow your dreams to the end.
Food for thought: J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before finding a publisher for Harry Potter and Stephen King received 30 rejection letters for his book Carrie. One day someone will come along that will want to work with you and then you’ll freak the fuck out!
It’s my belief that an agent needs to make a strong emotional connection to any memoir she takes on in case the submission process turns out to be long and difficult, and she has to hang in there with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t make that connection here, and so, have decided to pass. I’m sorry not to be writing with better news and wish you the best of luck elsewhere.
Thank you very much for giving us a chance to consider your work. Unfortunately, your project is not right for us at this time. Publishing is a matter of taste, however, and another agent may feel differently—we encourage you to keep looking for an enthusiastic editor or agent. We wish you the very best of luck with your work.
Thank you very much for your query. I’m afraid I’m not going to be the ideal agent for this and I’m going to pass. Good luck.
Dear Mr. Landry,
Thank you for your query. After consideration we have decided not to pursue this project, as it doesn’t seem quite right for us. As you know, this is a highly subjective business, and other agents are sure to feel differently. We wish you all the best in your search and hope your book finds a good home soon.
Thank you for thinking of me for your book project. Unfortunately, I don’t feel this project is quite right for me and have decided not to pursue. Please know that this business is highly subjective, and that what doesn’t work for one agent may work perfectly for another. I hope you will continue to search for a home for your manuscript. I wish you the best of luck as you move forward with your writing career.
I regret that I am unable to answer your query with a personal note—please know that I read each and every letter in my inbox. At this time, I am only responding personally to projects which I intend to pursue. I’m afraid that in this instance, I did not have the enthusiasm necessary to request pages. I apologize for the frustratingly subjective nature of this business and I do wish you all the best of luck finding the right agent for your work.
Thank you for sending this through to us. We wanted to let you know that we greatly appreciated having the opportunity to review your work, but are sorry to say that we do not feel able to offer you representation.
Sometimes we must pass on books, even very good books that we feel are either out of our range or would require an amount of attention we cannot provide at this time. In addition, we can’t afford to take on projects that we’re not absolutely confident we can sell. But we very much hope that you will find an agent with the right enthusiasm for your work.
Many thanks again for considering our agency, and we wish you the best of luck with your writing.
“We’ll be back in a little while. You be good.”
That’s my owner. He says that every day before leaving the house to go to work. If I could talk, I’d tell him, “Okay, you do know that I’m a teenager, right? I’m going back to sleep now.”
I spend a lot of time curled up under his desk. It’s my private sleeping quarters. My scent is embedded in the plush carpet, among other things. At least I don’t have to sleep directly on the wood floors. I got a splinter one time in my paw. Oh, that hurt.