I Coulda Done Better
I was telling someone about Charles Steinbeck and “Travels with Charley,” his book about trying to better understand America, the country he writes most about. In TWC, Steinbeck reflects on the American character, race, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers. It’s a book about aging and adapting to a changing world, the concept of a journey, and the toughness of character.
My favorite part comes when Steinbeck attempts to cross the border into Canada perhaps to build a better understanding of his observations about America and to allow his French poodle to visit a foreign country.
He’s denied entry because he doesn’t have the necessary vaccination papers for Charley. After a discussion with Canadian border officials where his arguments for entry are ignored, he departs, angry at the denial.
As he drives away, his anger increases this time at himself as he belatedly thinks of everything he could have said to the border guards.
It struck me that if Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Grapes of Wrath, couldn’t find the words to fully express himself and his ideas then how can I ever be expected to be any better than Steinbeck?
You know by reading these newsletters that I’m not in the same league as Steinbeck. Perhaps shouldn’t be considered a writer at all. I type and words come out. Often misspelled.
Steinbeck’s difficulty expressing himself after the border experience is integral to my photography experience.
There are so many times I’ve walked away from an assignment kicking myself for not thinking hard enough to have found a better angle or used the light better or chosen a different lens or found a better shooting position. At knowing there was a better photo than I made and I should have been more aware of my failure at the time and not as I’m walking away.
It’s probably that futile search for perfection. That impossible objective like the carrot in front of the horse only causes the horse to be frustrated and angry, never reaching fulfillment or a full stomach.
I’ve been doing photography since before I became a teenager. Excited all the way, every day. Some days frustrated like Steinbeck. Now that I’m older the rewards are greater. So are the frustrations.
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