Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Say Cheese

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are photogenic and those who are camera shy.

Did you know that there are at least three definitions of photogenic (all adjectives)?
  1. forming an attractive subject for photography or having features that look well* in a photograph: a photogenic face.
  2. (Biology) producing or emitting light, as certain bacteria; luminiferous; phosphorescent.
  3. (Medical) produced or caused by light, as a skin condition.
This is my mom and dad on one of their
first dates. Don't you love that dress?
(Red and white, of course.)
My father argues that people who are dubbed photogenic are really just happy to have their picture taken. They look at the camera and smile, so the pictures come out great. You may have already guessed that my dad has always been considered photogenic.

My mom, on the other hand, has hardly ever taken a photo that does her justice. She's a lovely woman — petite and well-dressed with perfectly fine features, including blue eyes and dimples. Why, then, does she have such difficulty getting a good picture? Part of it may be that she wears glasses. No matter how trendy and cool your glasses are today, by the time you look at your picture five years from now, they will look dated (and probably ridiculous).

My children are all beautiful (of course), but one of them (I won't say which one — OK, the middle boy, but don't tell anyone) has not taken a bad or even slightly not great picture since he was a very chubby baby. It doesn't matter if he's smiling or not, or looking at the photographer or not, or even if he's happy about getting his picture taken or not. The boy is simply photogenic.

When I was in grade school, I knew a perfect girl named Mary Davies. Her name was perfect. Her freckles were perfect. Her knee socks never fell down. There were only two things about Mary Davies that were not perfect. The first one I tried not to take personally, but for some reason, every year Mary Davies got the flu and threw up on my desk. The second imperfection was that for the six years we were in class together, Mary Davies never took a good school picture. One year her eyes were closed. One year her always perfect hair was sticking straight up. One year her nose was bright red. I hope her parents didn't rely on harried school photographers and occasionally took her to get a decent professional photo taken.

I used to be pretty photogenic, by my dad's original definition. I smiled, I looked at the camera, and usually my pictures turned out all right. Even my driver's license picture taken by the notoriously unforgiving cameras at the DMV usually were pretty good. In fact, one was so good that I worked really hard at not getting a single moving violation so I could renew my license by mail — twice — which meant I got to keep that great photo for 12 years.

Suddenly, however, I find that whatever photogenic quality I may once have possessed  has completely evaporated. I look even more overweight than I feel, my smile isn't what it used to be and I always seem to be at an awkward angle. Maybe I'm just getting old. Damn, I wish I still had that driver's license. I could use it for my avatar. Or maybe I'm still photogenic, but only as it pertains to definitions #2 and #3. On the other hand, a speaker at my writers group advised us to get our author photos taken even if we weren't quite ready to be published: "You'll never look younger than you do right now."

What about you? Click here to tell us whether the camera loves you or hates you.

*A point of grammar — do you look "well" in a photo, or do you look "good"? I always thought if someone told you that you look well, it meant healthy. What say you?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rubbing Virtual Shoulders via the Internet

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are bestselling authors and those who get to interview them. Through the powers of the Internet, I have happily become friends with bestselling author Laura Munson. Along the way, I got the opportunity to speak to her on the phone and even got to meet her IRL (that's In Real Life for those who don't read tech speak). She graciously granted me the following interview about her memoir, how it became a bestseller and where she goes from here. Enjoy.

I Don't Buy It
Article first published as I Don't Buy It — An Interview with Author Laura Munson on Technorati.

We've all dreamed of the perfect comeback — a witty response that displays both intelligence and humanity, at the same time putting our antagonist in his or her place. But what is the perfect comeback when your husband says: "I don't love you anymore."

For writer Laura Munson, four little words — "I don't buy it" — set the stage for bringing her marriage back to life and launched a New York Times bestselling memoir called This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness (now in paperback).

Laura is neither a doormat nor a masochist. She's a strong, educated woman living in the Montana wilds with her husband and two children. She rides horses, wields an axe, and had written 14 unpublished novels before her marriage hit a wall.

It was her own professional crisis that gave her the resources to react calmly to her husband's pronouncement and give him the space he needed to find his way. "This was not a knee-jerk reaction," said Munson. "I had had years of rejection from the publishing industry. After my dad died and I lost a big publishing deal, I was miserable. I had been working on my response to pain, learning to move through it and use it, when I recognized that my husband was suffering his own crisis of self."

That doesn't mean it was easy. "This was the most powerful pain I have ever felt and I knew it would take me down if I let it," said Munson. "But there was no fear in that moment. My husband had shown himself to be very loving and responsible, so this was a huge departure. Years of failure after years of career success were dragging him down."

In her mind, Laura gave her husband six months to figure things out. Along the way, he was distant, sometimes absent and often angry. Laura chose not to buy into the drama, exorcising her demons with fast horseback rides and long walks screaming at trees.

In July 2009, Munson wrote a shortened version of her story for the popular New York Times "Modern Love" column. The reaction crashed the media giant's website. "Most responses were full of recognition, gratitude and hope," said Munson. But not everyone was positive. Some accused Munson of letting her husband walk all over her or of simply being in denial.

Munson disagrees: "It wasn't really a risk because I couldn't control the outcome either way. It wasn't a strategy to stay married, either. It was a choice to let him find his way without sacrificing our family. You can learn not to take on someone else's issues."

Being a writer helped. "Writers are by nature empathic; we know how to climb into someone else's skin and ask what's really going on," she said. "I wrote my way through my crisis." Munson, who grew up on Chicago's affluent north shore, says the physical realities of living in Montana balance the cerebral life of a writer. "Montana was a big surprise gift to me. There is a tremendous invitation to face your fears. I trust the person I am here."

Seeking publication of her memoir could also have been risky, exposing her family's personal issues so publicly. "I always write to provide relief to myself and others," she said. "I felt a strong call to write the book that I needed at the time, but couldn't find. I wanted to read the story of someone who wasn't going to be buried by crisis, of someone who chose to take the high road."

"The book really isn't about marriage," said Munson. "It's about two people who encountered personal crisis, learned how to be responsible for our own happiness, and came back together as equal loving partners. It's really about two people's relationships with themselves."

Much like her marriage, Munson is ready to move on from being the main character in her own story. "I'm back to writing fiction," she said. "Having people read my work has been incredibly gratifying, but my job is to live in the present, own what is mine, create what I can, and let go of the rest."

Thanks to Laura for the interview and thanks for reading. We would both love to hear your thoughts, so click here if to leave a comment.