My mom died May 3rd, 2023. She lived in Dallas, Texas, and was 80 years old. We weren’t estranged, but we weren’t close. I last saw her when I flew to Dallas for Thanksgiving in 2013. I stayed two weeks and spent the whole time getting drunk at her house, sobering up long enough every couple of days to drive to the convalescent facility where she was staying to visit her.
She had been in that facility for over a year by then, following a serious fall at her house, and stayed in it for the rest of her life. Or until March, 2023, when the home closed down and she was moved to a hospice facility. She died there two months later.
I said my goodbyes a few days before her death via Zoom. I am deeply estranged from my younger sister, but she was in mom’s room and orchestrated the Zoom thing via smartphone. Though she was heavily sedated for pain and non-verbal, I spoke my final peace to mom. This is a photo I took of her last time I saw her:
I’ve spent most of my time since mom’s death beating the shit out of myself for not being a better son, for not visiting her more often, for not truly talking to her about the things she had done throughout my life to both enhance it and to fuck it up.
Mostly to fuck it up, if I may be both honest and blunt. Over the years she threw a couple of sizeable monkey wrenches into the clockworks of my life. In particular she rejected and repudiated my wife. I never could forgive her for that. But it doesn’t matter now. We all end up gravel and dust scattered above and within an indifferent Earth.
So I’ve been sitting here for past six weeks trying to get a handle on my very complicated grief, and waiting to hear something, anything, about my mother’s estate. My sister doesn’t want any contact between us and therefore she will tell me nothing. Like I said, we’re deeply estranged.
So I’ve been coping with my grief with my photographic work, of course, which is how two weeks after mom died I stumbled across a group of young women in San Francisco holding street a memorial for a deceased friend. These women were basically partying in the streets near a Baptist church in the Sunnydale neighborhood, drinking and dancing and carrying on to honor and celebrate the life of another young woman who had recently died.
It was beautiful to behold, as were the women in the participating crowd. And it was a joyous, exuberant release of grief unlike any I had ever seen. I was honored to be allowed to photograph it.
Because these images are special to me. I look at the women in these pictures and I’m able to live through them a little. I see in them a joyous release of grief that I am unlikely to have, though I keep trying to summon up some kind of redemptive happiness in knowing my mom no longer feels any pain and nor has any Earthly worries.
Worries and pain are part of the constant feast reserved for the palates of the living. We dine on them every day. But when I look at these images of these jubilant young women, I see people turning pain into joy to honor a fallen friend.
I hope you see that too in these photographs. And I hope Boba Ryan, my mother, and Monette Lathan, whose memorial you see in these photos, truly rest in peace.
You can see all the pictures I took at this street memorial here.
During the first weekend of June, 2021, my wife and I took a trip together for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdowns began in California in March of 2020. After 15 months of basically being locked up together for 23 hours a day, she and I were looking forward to the short road trip.
We were headed to Hollister, California, to stay with my niece and her family. Her daughter, my great niece, was graduating from San Benito High School.
We got to my niece’s house on a Thursday afternoon, but after spending the night and waking up there Friday morning it was clear that the whole endeavor was a disaster for me.
My rheumatoid arthritis had decided to act up, and I was in a lot of pain. So I decided to drive back on Friday to my quiet house just south of San Francisco where I could get the rest and sleep I needed to get through the arthritis flare-up.
I left my wife in Hollister, to enjoy the company of our family and the graduation festivities. I drove back down to get her that first Sunday in June. I really wish I had been able to spend that whole weekend in Hollister, but at least while I was there I shot some pictures I liked.
See the entire album here.
Well it’s my birthday, literally today is my birthday, and so I wanted to give you a present. I’m 57 years old today, in case you were wondering. Frankly, because of some mental-health and past booze-related reasons I’m amazed and very happy to still be here. But that’s a story for another place and time.
Right, on to your gift.
2020 was a shitty year for many reasons, mostly the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean, my daily movements and social interactions were restricted, your daily movements and social interactions were restricted, we had more free time, more booze, more Netflix, less money, less security, and less hope. It was a big fucking mess that will hopefully come under rapid and compassionate control due to the leadership of our new president.
Anyway, what I did most of last year during my short trips outside my house to the supermarket, the pharmacy, and a few other essential places was take photographs of people in masks doing the same ordinary, essential stuff I was doing in our vastly-altered national circumstances.
And now I’ve made a book of my favorites of those photographs.
And, as with my last two books, I’m making it available to you for free. It’s full of both color and monochrome photos of folks in the same kinds of places doing the the same kinds of things you have been doing since this national disaster started in March, 2020.
Thanks for having a look, and I hope you enjoy “It’s In Their Eyes”.
(Brisbane, California, January 21, 2021. See my other work here.)
shine a light,
our own radiance.
We pick locks
we cannot see,
we cannot smell,
and gossip about things
we do not know.
others for our capture.
We stop loving
others for our cold empty.
with the children
we used to be
and wonder why,
now we’ve grown,
we don’t dance
than we used to.
(Photographed in San Bruno, California on Christmas Eve, 2020. See my other work here.)
My wife and I,
imprisoned with each other these past one million days,
decided on a Saturday morning
to hope in the car and go see the edge of the world.
(I meant ‘hop’ but the effect is the same.)
When we got there
I looked out
at the crest of the ocean,
the horizon it made,
and I wondered if
there were people in Japan
looking from their edge of the world
who couldn’t see me either.
My wife and I blew
the dreamers on Japanese coasts a kiss,
and laughed because we love
that the ocean is here
at the edge of the world
even though we rarely come to see it.
And then I thought
in 31 years
of bad careers, drink, and madness in California,
she has been my sun.
My sun more than the actual fucking Sun.
And all the bad
standing on the edge of the world with her.
in my life, in our lives,
was all worth enduring
to be able after 31 years
to stand at the edge of the world with her.
And I told her that.
And she kissed me.
And I knew, once again,
we would be okay.
Because I live about two miles south of the San Francisco city and county line, my photographic work continues to evolve and to benefit from the rich cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity of this area. It also benefits from living with two loveably-insane cats…
Remember: people and the world are more beautiful, odd, and interesting than you think, you just have to stop and look long enough to notice.