Still Angrily Impatient…But Not Always

A bunch of years ago, when I first started working on changing, or better, working on the whole me, a friend described me as angrily impatient. That’s still true. It’s something that has both caused me grief and served me. Probably more of the former than the latter.

For about 10 years, I was a photojournalist. During that era of my life, my opinion is it definitely caused me more grief, than helped. My last job in this capacity was in Cedar Rapids, IA. I can recall four distinct times being angrily impatient was not in my best interest. In the first, I had just started my job. I received an assignment to photograph some kids at a local event. It was in an auditorium. I remember getting there, and kids, being kids, it was difficult to get the attention of those I was supposed photograph. I really didn’t want to shoot this. Out comes Mr. AI, and in a manner not conducive to working with kids or persons in general, I did what I thought was necessary to get the picture done and out of there. When I returned to the paper, I was called into the managing editor’s office. He’d already had several parents call about “the rude photographer.” Strike one.

Another time Mr. AI showed up was a portrait I’d been assigned  of some guy who’d been responsible for updating a local theater. When I was working with the fellow, he kept wanting to ‘direct’ the photo. After several minutes of this, I finally said something to him akin to, “I’m the professional here. We’ll do it my way, understood?” Another phone call to the editor, another lecture. Clearly, Mr. AI wasn’t earning anyone’s welcome and causing me many more problems then he was solving. Strike Two.

The last time in Cedar Rapids this happened was the straw that broke the editor’s back. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining pretty hard and in those days, maybe still, Iowa used Astroturf on their field. Funny thing about Astroturf and rain, they don’t play well together. In fact, there’s usually a pretty good lake that forms on the field. As a sideline photographer, I knew I was supposed to get on my knees to shoot, but with a field that wet, it would have been like jumping in a pool. An Iowa state trooper came by and ‘ordered’ me down on the field. Maybe I squatted, maybe I didn’t, I really don’t remember. What I do remember was standing, not kneeling. Up comes this state trooper, grabs my jacket, starts pulling me down with a “I said get down!” command. As you might imagine this went over like a lead balloon. Not only did I not go down, I told this guy if he put his hands on me again I’d file assault charges. A pretty good shouting match ensued. Unfortunately for me, the assistant sports director of the university is witnessing the whole thing. Not only did I get called in to the editor’s office, I was fired. Strike Three, you’re out! I remember him saying, “Donny, when I hired you I told you I would stand by you. I have. For three, long years. I just can’t anymore.” There was no begging forgiveness or another chance. It was to be the end of my career as a newspaper photographer. There’s almost never a day since I haven’t wished I knew then what I know now. I might still be shooting. It was one one of the most painful lessons ever. To this day, I don’t photograph much of anything. There’s still a stigma about what was lost. Maybe some day.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes. Many years later, I was in a situation with a K-12 school official. This guy, a former principal, and clearly someone used to getting his way, approached me on a project we were working together on. He asked me a question about an area of the project I was not responsible for. When I answered his question with that information, he began screaming at me. I mean screaming. In olden days, I might have strapped on my six-guns and invited him out to the street at high noon. This time, I stopped, caught me breath, and asked myself what this guy really needed. I knew his boss could be a real handful, he was likely under a lot of pressure from her. So, what did I do? I told him he was correct and asked him what I needed to do to make his life easier. The change was almost immediate. His anger deflated, we finished up what needed to be done with success. No one died. No one got fired.

While I’m nowhere near as angrily impatient as I was back in Iowa, I’m reminded how true it still is when I think about my relationship with my friend, Bruce. He is one of the most loving, caring men I know. He learns, he says, by asking questions – lots of questions. And that’s where I become angrily impatient with him. I can always feel the onset. It’s like I want to strangle him, never would of course, but the urge is there. I ask myself, “Who else in my life asked a lot of questions? How did I feel about it? Why does it make me angry – and is it really anger or my old friends fear & sadness? Another question might be, “Who didn’t ask me questions?” Right now, that seems to be the more relevant question. The answer would be Dad. He wanted me to be the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Another answer might be Mom. At the times Dad was raging, why wasn’t she asking him the questions of why he was taking his frustrations out on me.

With Bruce, I think it’s about how I’m processing his questions. Seems like (to me) he’s asking variations of the same questions repeatedly, so my frustration is, “He’s not getting it. Either figure it out, or stop with the questions!” It might also be that there’s a part of me which doesn’t want to allow somebody (Bruce) to get to know me that intimately. Because? Because if he does, he won’t like what he finds out about me; therefore, he won’t like me.

There’s a ring of truth to all of the above. Not enough question from Mom & Dad. Not wanting someone to know something about me which might cause them to dislike me. Nothing I can do about the former. For the latter, I want to be willing to accept whatever the outcome is. If someone doesn’t like me because of something they learn (I’m not a criminal, after all) that really isn’t my problem. It’s theirs. All I can do is be myself, warts and all. That’s either acceptable to someone else, or not, based on their own preconceptions. I don’t have to change the parts of me I like, only the parts I want to change.

I imagine, I’ll carry angrily impatient the rest of my life. How I choose to deal with it, well, that’s How Am I Changing?


Tears from I don’t know where

This morning, I had something happen which has happened before. It always catches me off-guard. I started crying seemingly out of nowhere.

It really wasn’t out of nowhere. I’d heard a story on NPR’s StoryCorps. It’s called, “After A Traffic Stop, Teen Was ‘Almost Another Dead Black Male.’ Have a listen (warning, there is some graphic depiction & language):

After hearing this, I teared up, well aware of the sadness I was feeling, but didn’t start crying. My judgment about this is the sadness was not only for the young man assaulted, but that he was discussing it with his mother who happens to be white. She says, “I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn’t matter. I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.”

What happened next to me, was what caught me unawares.

I walked into a room where my cats have a tendency to puke a lot. Sure enough, one of them had. I have two cats and one of them is very vocal. I’ve had to work hard to remind myself often while living with this guy, “He’s just being a cat.” I have to admit, sometimes when he starts his vocalizing and doesn’t quit, I want to run away and hide. This time, though, as I’m on my hands & knees cleaning up the mess, listening to Moochie being Moochie, I was overwhelmed. It must have been triggered initially by the story, above, but I just started crying – uncontrollably. As I’ve said, this has happened before, and each time it just catches me in a way I hardly expected. It ended almost as quickly as it began.

Now, let’s take into account what’s going on in the world right now. There’s the shooting of an 18-year-old African American male in Ferguson, MO. Honestly, this hadn’t impacted me in any particular way. Not until I heard about the Missouri State Trooper who’s taken over governance of the situation. His walking with the protestors, getting all the militarism out of it, gives me hope for authority in our country. (Yes, yes, I’ve been bucking authority ever since I can remember. So this was a really good thing for me to learn about.) More directly affecting me has been the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. This seems to have taken a huge segment of our society not only by surprise, but where there is a tremendous grieving over this loss of a man. Me, included.

It’s an odd thing, really. I never met the man or saw him live. Yet, there is this profound sense of loss. I wasn’t a fan of the latest show, ‘The Crazy Ones,’ but I have seen and enjoyed many of the movies Williams was in. So, why is it I’m in this funk about his death?

Way back, when I was a photojournalist, I made this photo:

© Donny Hornstein


The woman in the middle had just arrived on a tragic accident. Her son and two other boys were killed by an unseen train. The boys had been waiting for a west bound train to clear and when it did, they darted across the tracks, not knowing an eastbound train was right behind. The medical examiner had just pulled back the sheet for her to identify her son. The photo was made with a fairly long lens, from a decent distance away.

This picture ran front page on the paper I was working for in Iowa. The morning it ran, the newspaper was trashed by other local media and readers calling in about. It created quite a stir. The accusations ranged from ‘will do anything to sell more papers’ to much worse. It was the morning after that which tied everything together. One of the newspaper’s opinion editorial (OpEd) writers did a great piece on the reaction. He essentially said he understood the reactions AND there was nothing like a shared community tragedy to cause the community to come together. If the photo caused one parent to have a talk with one child about the caution necessary when crossing a dangerous place like railroad tracks, it was worth all the bad mouthing the paper received for publishing it. At the time, it was one of the most eloquent pieces I’d ever read in OpEd.

I suppose that’s the situation with the Robin Williams tragedy. There’s nothing like a shared community event, however small or large, to bring so many of us together. I know I’m not alone in my sadness. Several days later, it’s still a high point on the news and in social media. I’m astounded. And not.

I think when I don’t grieve outright, that grief will find another route to come out. It seems like that’s what happened today. Hearing the story from both the young man and his mother on NPR, and then having a crying cat, just triggered the grief in me wanting to come out. So, it did.

Another life lesson for me. Grief, like so many other things in life will find a way. If it’s not addressed head-on, it will find the path of least resistance and just ooze out – like a crying cat while cleaning up puke.

How Am I Changing: Lessons I’ve thought I’ve learned will come around again if the Universe senses otherwise.

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