Wednesday, September 07, 2005

You're a Photographer?

Barely five and all curiosity, René Jardín was particularly electric this morning. School had been in session for a week now, and the routine was fully in place, except for one thing. There was still one room yet unconquered, one space not yet explored—the school library. Today René’s class would visit the library. As he put on his jacket, he jiggled so much his mom had a problem getting the two sides to meet.

“René,” she said.

“The library,” he answered seriously, stilling himself as best as he could. “One whole hour in a room filled with books.”

His mother understood. René had been reading since before he was three. A library was his theme park. She pictured him piled with books higher than his eyebrows and heavier than his back could bear. She wished she could bring a camera to record these moments in time. She knew he was making memories. . . .

When finally the hour arrived, René was thoughtful and ready.

“Now children,” Miss Blackwell said softly. “Remember, the library is for reading and thinking. Talk in whispers so dreams can breathe.” A teacher about to retire, Miss Blackwell knew how to lead children to books. Two at a time she offered them entry. Most girls went straight to the storybooks. The boys went to puzzles and dinosaur books. René waited, breathing deeply at the door.

“Do you need help?” Miss Blackwell asked.

“No thank you, ma’am,” Rene said staring, shaking his head. “I do my reconnaissance alone.”

He walked in like a young knight approaching the throne. But in seconds reconnaissance it was, for he checked every book, and considered every space. He touched every shelf, felt every wall, and looked in every display case. He studied every row and ran his hand along all of the encyclopedias. He paged all of the way through the giant map book, dreaming of places he’d visit. Finally satisfied, he went over to nonfiction and chose a large, thick silver-covered paperback filled with small words and technical photographs. Then he found an empty place under a long, narrow table. He laid out the book, stretched out on his stomach, and settled in to read it. . . .

As he walked up the path, his mom was surprised that René brought only one book, not piles more than he should carry.

“I found what I wanted,” he answered as he laid his stuff on his bed.

“Well, tell me about it,” his mother encouraged. “Was it what you expected? You seem so subdued.”

“It was like going to church in my very own room.” His mother knew that was good.

“I do have a question.” he said. His mother’ s heart beat just slightly faster, maybe she’d have her son one moment longer. “Does nonfiction mean real, and fiction mean not real?”

“Yes, dear. Why do you ask?

“The nonfiction books have beautiful photographs. I want to be a photographer.” In his hand was an old Petersen’s Guide to Photography, the first library book he’d brought home.

That night was so lovely, mother and son decided to visit the piazza. She had her coffee and watched the people. He had his soda and read his book . . . until he saw the man with the camera. René moved over to watch him. René knew the man was working by the way he handled his equipment.

The photographer was capturing the last of the beauty in the last of that day’s early fall light. René was all patience as he watched the man work. But unmoving objects have even more presence when the light is fading quickly.

“One last roll,” thought the photographer. He glanced up at René. Still he stopped and said a grown-up “Hello.”

“You’re a photographer?” the child asked.

“No, I take pictures,” he said.

“You a photographer?” the photographer asked.

“No, but I will be.”

The photographer handed over the film can and said, “Then we’d better get started.”

René’s mother smiled with love.

She had reason to tell the story of that day many, many times before her life was over.

photograph courtesy of Rhein at REGARDING “PHIN” . . .
Thank you, Rhein for inspiring me with your words and your photograph.
—me strauss Letting me be


Anonymous said...

you are welcome.

the story is well written, and struck a chord:). thanks for writing it.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

I'm delighted you like the story. If you would like it on your site, or need a copy for any other reason I would be happy to share the file with you. I feel like it is half yours. Thank you again for inspiring it and for letting me use the photo. I was thinking of you when I wrote it. It was a fun challenge. I'd love to try doing the same thing again sometime.

Anonymous said...

Oh,'s wonderful! Great read!

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you, Tanda.
It was a fun challenge.

Anonymous said...

Thats a big cheesy grin.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thanks Cheryl,
Big and cheesy grin from you means a lot to me. :D

Anonymous said...

good story

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you, billy.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well written and perfectly suited for a children's magazine. I especially like how you capture Rene's sense of curiosity as he discovers the book on photography. Wonderful interaction with the boy and photographer makes for a magical ending, too.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you Scot.
Your words mean a lot to me.

I hadn't really thought of it for a children's magazine. Maybe that's what Cheryl meant by her cheesy grin.


Anonymous said...

wow such amazing story...Im soooo touched

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you, Lamnasra,
I like how it turned out. I think I have a crush on that little boy. smiles,

Anonymous said...


I think the ambiguity you sensed in my comment may have to do with “audience.” If, for example, your intended audience for this story is an adult reader, then, yes, the story could be considered “a little too sweet.” If the story were written with a younger reader in mind, then, no, the story would not present the same problem. That is why I said this story would be suitable for a children’s magazine. With a few minor revisions, I think you would have a wonderful story that a younger reader would be able to relate and respond to.

Young children are curious about their world, and each day they wake up, the quest begins again to make new and exciting discoveries about their world. Your character, René, certainly reflects the natural inquisitiveness that a five-year-old boy would have. It is evident in his excitement over going to the library, and again when he discovers the book on photography. I’m not sure about the word “reconnaissance.” I don’t feel a boy of that age would use such a word. Perhaps, spy or spying, or some other word that would mean the same but ring a little truer.

Seeing the photos opens René’s mind to larger possibilities. He becomes inspired by the photos and decides he wants to be photographer. Your story relates an experience that would be similar, as an example, to a boy who discovers baseball, and becomes totally immersed in its culture. His parents buy him a glove, baseball and bat. They play catch with him and take him to the local games, maybe even have him try out for Little League. The highlight of that boy’s experience would be going to his first major league game, and having a baseball or shirt signed by one of his “idols.”

With my son, his idolation was not baseball, but the guitar. He talked his grandparents into buying his first guitar when he was nine years old. He fell in love it and became inspired to learn how to play. For the first year he struggled. Even though he took lessons, he still became easily frustrated and impatient with trying to learn how to play the instrument. “I’ll never be any good,” became his mantra. And then I took him to a concert to see Poppa Chubby. After the concert, he asked one of the security guards if he could talk with Poppa Chubby. To my surprise, he said yes. My son, who had brought his guitar to the concent, walked up to the stage and sat down with Poppa. For the next half hour, Poppa took the time to give my son a couple of pointers. From that night when we went home from the concert, my son was lit. For the next year he practiced four to six hours a day. His big thrill came, when at the age of twelve, he met his biggest idol yet. We went to a concert to see Phillip Walker. During intermission, he walked off the stage and noticed my son sitting in the front row with his guitar. He walked up to my son. “You know how to play that thing,” he asked.

“Yes,” my son replied.

“Can you get the mojo happening?”

“Oh, yeah,” my son said. Walker than signed my son’s guitar and then asked him to follow him back up to the stage. When the rest of the band came back, Walker introduced my son to the crowd. For the next hour my son and Phillip Walker played an entire set of songs with each trading off the lead and solos. The crowd went nuts.

So, yes, you do have a good story. It is a story about a young boy’s discovery and idolation of photography. But as with any good story, it needs a sense of conflict in search of resolution. René is inspired by the book. As a suggestion, his mother gets him his first camara. But his first attempts don’t produce pictures anything like what he sees in the book. Perhaps he gets frustrated. Perhaps he starts to lose interest. Again, these are just suggestions. But the ending of your story would make a wonderful resolution to the conflict once you have determined what that is to be. For what this story is really about is a young boy’s experience of actually meeting a “real photographer” and having that magical chance to experience something bigger and larger than himself. Afterall, that is how we become inspired, by aspiring to things greater than ourselves.


"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Boy howdy wow!! Thank you for the professional critique, could I hire you to read my novel? This was so good for me to hear.

How you managed to squeeze that wonderful critique into a comment box is amazing to me. If I ever find the time . . . I will put all of your suggestions into play. You are totally right about verything. You give great critique.
thank you

Anonymous said...


You're welcome.