Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On Morality

Why is morality a big part of my life? What has made me choose a moral path and given me the desire to follow through with it? Morality is not exactly fun, or even easy, but somehow I've taken it on. What is the driving force? Why does my desire to be good outweigh the natural inclination to be bad? Sure, it's good for society and all that stuff, but on a personal level I'm not always sure that being good is enough of a reward, in and of itself. And am I really even that good? I am often afraid my perceived "goodness" is more a result of good upbringing and a privileged life than serious decisions to be the way I am. Let's face it, my life would be much more difficult if I were leading an immoral sort of life. I would have parents chastising me, friends berating me, and general conflict against me wherever I turned. I'd like to think I'm good because I work at it, but I do think my raw material (or whatever you want to call it) certainly makes my job of being moral a whole lot easier. I haven't had to try so hard, and that worries me. I think God rewards effort and sincere desire more than how "good" you are compared to everyone else.

It is also worth mentioning that doing the right things for the wrong reasons is not a true sort of morality. God wants me to BE virtuous; it is not enough to merely perform acts of virtue. There seems to be a good deal of confusion among the two with Christians today, which is probably why so many are accused (and guilty of) hypocrisy.

I believe morality is a series of choices that make up a lifestyle. Each individual situation or choice is not necessarily inherently black or white. Asking the question "Is this right or wrong?" doesn't get me nearly as far as asking the question "Is this the wise thing for me to do?" The key is to make the wisest choice possible and it will add up to be part of my morality. Rationalizing something by saying "it's not wrong" doesn't exactly make it right. The individual choices I make have a sneaky way of snowballing into situations I suddenly find myself a part of. There are points in my life I've stopped to ask "How in the world did I get here?" without realizing that it was a series of choices - not necessarily wrong choices, but certainly unwise ones. It's a like a really long staircase or something - wise choices are steps up and unwise choices are steps down. It is so easy to stay at the bottom and be happy there because you can't see the top from the bottom. It's not until you start climbing and get closer to the top that you start to feel like you'll never get there because you still have so far to go.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Books, books, books

I was inspired by Steve to write this post. Books are something I've always enjoyed and never minded talking about. My hope is if I write about them in this pre-formatted list form, then I will somehow seem like less of a nerd and people will think it's cool. (That is the point of these things, right?)

A book that didn't change my life: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or my motivation was too low. I guarantee you it changed Warren's life though.

A book I’ve read more than once: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. One of my all-time favorites. It gets better every time I read it.

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island: SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea by John Wiseman. I've never read it, but I'm thinking a desert island would be the prime place to start.

A book that made me laugh: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. If you've never read Sedaris, you've been missing out. He's genuinely funny, unlike a bunch of authors who just pretend to be. The recent trend seems to show that growing up homosexual in a disfunctional family situation will somehow make you funny. Or totally screwed up. Or maybe they're synonymous. (Read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs if you don't believe me.)

A book that made me cry: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I bawled. 'Nuff said.

A book that I wish I had written: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. If I were a novelist, I would want my style to most closely resemble Tyler's. It's real without being pretentious, it's interesting without being far-fetched, and it's extraordinary while still being ordinary.

A book that I wish had never been written: Can I pick two for this? I'm still bitter about these books being on "everyone's reading list" in school. I would burn them and not look back. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Don't even try to defend them. I know what you're thinking, "But they're brilliant coming-of-age novels." No, I think they suck.

A book I’ve been meaning to read: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. I finished Mere Christianity and thought it was phenomenal so I'm expecting great things from this one too.

I’m currently reading: At Home in the Heart of Appalachia by John O'Brien. Since I live at home in the heart of Appalachia, I thought it was only fitting to read about it. So far, not too enlightening.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A collection of thoughts written during my visit to Gulfport, Mississippi

I sit down to write at the old lift-top wooden desk, the same desk my father used once upon a time. It's a desk that calls the boys room home - the room my brother and I stay in when we visit and the room my father and his brother at one time shared. There are remnants of their childhood here: an assortment of foreign currency framed and hanging on the wall, a musical instrument oddly resembling a wooden shoe with a handle and pegs, brass knuckles buried at the bottom of a dresser drawer. The desk I sit at bears scars from aged pencil stabs and slices, worn corners and a slight wobble. This desk, this room, this house on Kendall Avenue - they have a history. It's the history of a family, a story of 4 lifetimes - a delicate inheritance passed down to me through dinner table stories, dusty drawers full of treasure, and timeless tradition.

It's my history, too.

I think these things as I sit at the desk to write, my parents breathing contented sounds of heavy sleep in the next room, my grandparents in separate beds now, sleeping in the best positions they know how.

History builds a place, anchors and roots it.

And now it's gone for so many people. This town has suffered immense loss in the last year, but more than the houses, more than the casinos, more than the fishing boats and souvenir shops, this town has lost history. I almost feel insulted personally as I drive past places I've frequented for years, now utterly destroyed. The devastation is immense, and nearly unimaginable an entire year later. It has been 14 months since Hurricane Katrina, and I am appalled by the amount left undone. I drive past countless homes, boarded up and unlivable, with small trailers parked in front yards. FEMA trailers, I'm told, for those lucky names on the list that actually got one. The trailers are everywhere, literally sitting in the middle of halfway cleared now-empty lots.

People here, they are now defined by the hurricane. It's a clean sharp-blade cut through the fabric of their lives. Two separate pieces, divided into "before Katrina" and "since Katrina." Life goes on, but it's different now. There is nowhere to go, no corner to turn where the devastation isn't evident. There's no way to ignore it, and no chance at forgetting it. Acceptance is the most prevalent approach at this point, laced with guarded hope and the occasional bitter sense of humor. "Camille was a lady, but Katrina was a bitch" reads one bumper sticker, referring to the 1969 category 5 hurricane that also wreaked much havoc on the Gulf Coast. Katrina was the true bitch, though, destroying or majorly damaging over 90% of the structures within a half-mile of the coastline. Katrina also ranks as the costliest natural disaster to ever occur in the U.S.

But there's hope, too. Hope for a new history, a second-chance timeline of reconstruction and future. I see it in the countless "now open" signs printed on plastic banners and hung proudly across storefronts and restaurants. I see it in the lives of the teenagers tossing a football back and forth along the almost clean beach. And I see it in my grandparents who drive us 30 miles to eat at a newly-relocated previously-beachfront seafood restaurant.

I hope for a new history for the people of the Gulf Coast. It won't happen quickly, and it won't ever be the same. But I think time is probably history's best friend.


after katrina5
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone flower grows in the yard of an abandoned house on Second Street in Gulfport, Miss. The utter destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was far greater than I ever could have imagined, even more than a year later. Katrina ranks as the costliest natural disaster to ever occur in the U.S. It is estimated that over 90% of the structures within a half-mile of the coastline were destroyed.

after katrina4
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A spray-painted message is still visible on the side of a destroyed and damaged abandoned building in Gulfport, Miss.

after katrina3
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A man walks past another abandoned building bearing spray-painted messages to tresspassers in Gulfport, Miss.

after katrina2
Originally uploaded by emster214.
What was once a home is now a pile of rubble along the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi.

after katrina1
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A staircase leads to nowhere at a destroyed homesite on Second Street in Gulfport, Miss.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Yesterday I helped shoot was what perhaps the quietest wedding and reception of my life. A quarter of the guests were deaf.

Let me tell you, I have a HUGE respect for deaf people who can dance.

Monday, September 11, 2006

some recent work

coming up for air
Originally uploaded by emster214.
My friend Pam gets a little help putting on her wedding dress.

hard workin' woman
Originally uploaded by emster214.
This was one of the images I shot for a friend who wanted a portrait calendar made for her husband's birthday. She had the idea of wearing a nice dress to sit in this lovely bulldozer.

hobo jungle
Originally uploaded by emster214.
My friend Katrina, posing again for another month of the calendar. We took photos at an old abandoned factory/warehouse in Abilene, Tx referred to as "hobo jungle" because it's where the hobos like to hang. The colors on the walls were so great for taking photos.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A nice silhouette shot of the bride and groom at their July 15 wedding in Abilene, Texas.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gone again...

Alrighty, well I've had a few requests to see some wedding photos from the wedding I shot in Abilene in July. I thought I'd share a few images before I'm gone for two weeks to Europe. :-) I'm shooting yet another wedding (this time in Holland) and then doing some traveling with my cousin the week afterward. Woo-hoo!!

window-lit portrait
Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

a loving gaze....
Originally uploaded by emster214.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

My parents are cool

When I was the age of piƱata parties and first-time sleepovers, my parents were cool. Not for normal reasons, like letting me spend the night at friend's houses on weeknights or granting me my wish of a white rabbit creatively named Bunny.

No, they were cool for other reasons entirely.

For one, my mom could cook. (And, coincidentally, still can.) I used to love to eat at friends' houses because it was the only time I ever ate pizza or hot dogs. My friends loved to eat at my house because it was the only time they ever ate things they couldn't pronounce.

At my request, my mother cooked lobster every year for my birthday. The cool part? She let me call the neighborhood boys over to listen to the live lobsters' last squeals as they dropped into pots of boiling water. And for this, I was the most popular girl on the street. We watched, fascinated, as the grey shells flushed pink in the hot pot. To this day, I can still remember the sound of a dying lobster.

"Hey Emily, when's your mom cooking lobster again?"

Yup, my parents were cool.

While my mother occupied herself in the kitchen, my father occupied himself with a few rather unusual hobbies. Normal fatherly things we might have shared - maybe kicking a soccer ball or watching the Cowboys on a lazy Sunday afternoon - were never a part of my childhood. Ask my dad how to play a game of golf and you might as well have asked him how to read the Rosetta Stone. Instead, he was explaining HAM radio magazines or we were in the park learning what dials on the metal detector returned the best results, given the terrain.

Sometimes, if my friends and I were really good, he'd let us look at the latest animal he'd trapped in his cage in the backyard, and maybe even let us poke it a little bit. The cage was a medium-sized contraption, a perfect fit for a can of tuna and small animals like possums, racoons, skunks, and the neighborhood cat. And as anyone who has ever met my dad knows well, he has quite an affinity for cats. (Well, at least the ones that taste like chicken.) Okay, maybe not, but I do think he enjoyed (perhaps a little more than is healthy) catching the local cats in his cage and releasing them a mile or two from home. The rest of us feigned ignorance as the missing posters went up around the neighborhood.

Things were hunky-dory until a skunk unexpectedly showed up in the cage. A skunk with working stink glands, I might add. Having had an unfortunate skunk experience previously that year (somehow our garage ended up smelling like skunk for months) my father had a different plan this time. He elicited the help of a neighbor down the street, and before sunrise one morning they bagged the whole cage (skunk included) in a black garbage bag to take it to the end of the road where the pavement met dirt.

That's when the unplanned part started.

They never counted on encountering an early-morning jogger who gave them a frightened look and crossed to the other side of the street upon seeing two men carrying a black plastic bag and a gun down the street in the middle of suburban San Antonio.

The orginial idea was for my dad to open the cage door, and the neighbor to shoot the skunk as it ran out. The problem was the skunk didn't want to come out. It had grown accustomed to confinement, or perhaps suspected its imminent fate. So it took considerable poking and prodding, but the skunk finally slunk out to meet the firing squad.

Which missed. Twice. Three times.

My dad grabbed the gun and finished the job.

What they had tried so hard to avoid happened instantly. Almost as a dying attempt at regaining some dignity, the skunk released all of its stench simultaneous with its last breath.

I mean, how many kids' parents get sprayed by skunk? That was definitely cool.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Shameful... It's been way too long since my last post. I'm not exactly sure when I stopped being the blogger who posted twice a week, and started being the blogger who posts once a month. Oh yeah, maybe when I stopped having as many things to blog about, for whatever reason.

But anyway, this seems to be the summer for weddings. Everybody's getting married. Don't know what the rush is, but my guess is by the time I'm actually ready, the pickin's will be slim. So I seem to be losing friend after friend to this strange "love and marriage" thing, but the good news is I'm gaining job after job. I've shot one wedding already this summer, with four more lined up, three of which are out of state, and one of which is out of the country. Certainly helps to ease the pain.

All of this to say, I wanted to share with you a few of the pictures I took at my friend Camille's wedding (with plenty more to come.)

Originally uploaded by emster214.
This was outside of University Church of Christ, in Abilene, Tx, where they were married.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
We were doing some nice window-lit portraits when she laughed at something funny and glanced away. That's when I caught this moment.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Things I Learned at the Southern Short Course in News Photography (yes, from back in April)

There's no such thing as a lucky shot. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

A good photo will:

1. Show people something new they've never seen before.
2. Show people something usual in an unusual way.

Photojournalism differs from photography in that it is primarily about access and follow-through.

My goal? To make people see pictures, not just look at them.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

checkmate is a funny site. You can upload a photo of yourself and it compares it to over 3,000 celebrity faces and finds the one that most closely matches yours. Guess who my match was?

Judit Polgar. Who is this celebrity I resemble, you ask? Well, apparently I look like this world-famous Hungarian chess player. No joke.

This is the most attractive photo of her I could find.

The other ones were pretty scary. Okay. Really scary. I was not too flattered... thank you

Please, people who know me, tell me it's not true.

My second closest celeb look-alike? Christina Aguilera.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What might have been...

Last week, Martin offered me his extra Arctic Monkeys concert ticket. I said sure, even though it was two-and-a-half hours away in D.C., and on a weeknight. But hey, the show was supposed to be great, and it was sold out. We left after work and ate dinner at a Chipotle in the city. I drove.

The club was a little sketchy. It looked like a rock club from the movies, one I might turn down any of 57 scary hallways and find a dude with a needle stuck up his arm. But I guess that's just how rock clubs are.

The place was kinda empty for it being such a sold-out show. We frowned at that a little, then turned our attention to the opening band. It was strange, because the band wasn't who we thought it was supposed to be either.

Martin suggested we check out the merchandise booth. No Arctic Monkeys gear.

I pulled the ticket out of my pocket. Monday, March 27.

Then I laughed hysterically because it was Tuesday.

I'm not sure what was funnier - the fact that we missed what was probably the best concert of the year by a mere 24 hours, or the fact that they actually let us in at the door.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Say what?

Driving home this evening, I noticed a marquee advertising Caribbean Auto Repair.

Caribbean Auto Repair?

So I admit it. I thought about the stupid phrase for what was probably an inordinately long time. There can only be a few plausible explanations, right?

1. The people who repair the cars are Caribbean.
2. The auto repair is intented for Caribbean vehicles.
3. The auto repair is done in some unique Caribbean fashion.

Or it could just be the name of the place.

Beats me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My new camera...

So I got a new 20d to replace my 10d... actually I've had it for a couple of weeks now and just haven't updated the ol' blog in quite a little while. But I thought I'd share just a few of my favorite pictures I've taken so far with the new gear. By the way, animals are not the only things I shoot nowadays, just the best subjects. It's been a challenge for me to find new and different things to shoot. I'd like to return to photographing more people, but I struggle in the winter season.

Mr. Ed's nostril
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lovely close-up shot of a what a horse's nose really looks like... Wow I'm like the Jeff Corwin of barnyard animals.

slobbery cow nose
Originally uploaded by emster214.
And if you haven't had your fill of animals, here's another view of a cow you might enjoy.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
My dad bought me yellow roses for my birthday when I was home this past weekend, so I stuck them outside in the snow for a couple of pics. It's a little different than your run-of-the-mill flower shot, so I was pleased.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Celebrity Week

Well, this week was pretty exciting. In celebration of MLK day, I visited our nation's capital. George had asked that I let him know next time I was in town, so I stopped by the White House to say hi. Lucky for me, they still had the Christmas tree up, and the White House staff photographer agreed to take our picture. Nice guy. My only complaint was that for some odd reason, my hair looked just like Laura's that day. Not a fan. And, whew! I've sure added on a few pounds this holiday season. (Gotta get back on that treadmill....)


Then, as a late Christmas present, George flew me out to Hollywood. Great gift, eh? While touring around the area, I accidentally bumped into Johnny Depp on the street. Well I bumped into his dog actually. Which freakin' bit me. I've got bloody teeth marks on my ankle! Can you believe it?? It was a stupid little yappy dog, too. But anyway, Johnny felt so bad he invited me in for coffee and Band-Aids. I don't even like coffee, but I think I drank about five cups. (I mean, it was Johnny Depp's coffee mug - what can I say...) He was so smitten by my dry humor and witty conversation that he asked if I'd like to meet his friend Orlando. I had to get a picture to prove it, because I knew you wouldn't believe me. Thanks to the trusty treadmill, I shed the extra flab pretty quickly. (And boy those ab wheel things really work!)


Of course, Orlando was equally enthralled with my superior conversational skills, and offered me his spot on the Pirates of the Caribbean II poster. They just happened to be shooting the photos for it the day I was there. I must say, however, I think I look a little better as a girl. (Although my beard is coming in nicely.)


So. As you can see, it was a pretty busy week. Gee, I wonder what next week'll hold...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Me, Myself, and my URL

I am the new proud owner of

I own it the domain name, but there's nothing there except a ad. You can check if you don't believe me.

But I own it. That's the important part, right? :-)

New Year's Resolution: Get a classy website going at

I'll keep you posted.