up close and personal

Knowing I was going to be in D.C. last week, I made an appointment with my friend Emily, non-profit account manager by day, photographer by night, and all-around awesome person. I was inspired by her post “Headshot How-To.” As she notes, “there is something SO empowering about having a set of (professional) photos of yourself that you feel really good about.” So I decided to take the plunge: I’ve been surprised by how often in the past year I’ve been asked for a headshot.

pearce family, 1992; photo by chris pearce

pearce family (with dog Calvin), 1992; photo by chris pearce

I’ve had professionally pictures taken of me a few times in my life. My dad’s brother is a photographer, and for many years he took our family photo for my mom’s annual Christmas card. His directions inevitably led to at least one member of the family putting a hand halfway into a pocket. These sessions, and his staging, provoked howls of irreverent laughter from my brother and me — but after the fact. Always after the fact. Levity was not encouraged during the Pearce family Christmas card picture taking, my uncle being a very somber fellow and my mom and dad taking the portraits very seriously.

When I was in high school, a family friend took pictures of me during my senior year for my yearbook page. (At my college prep school, each senior got an entire page to do with what s/he would. Almost everyone did professional photos with favorite quotations and inside jokes. It was a mixture of trite and precious.)

photo by xx

photo by mark gail, washington post

And of course there was also the photo that ran in a Washington Post story about Rosh Hashanah in the fall of 2009. I talked with one of the paper’s religion reporters while volunteering at a pre-High-Holidays event at Sixth & I; she called me back the next day to set up an appointment with a staff photographer. The session took place in the upper balcony of the Sixth & I sanctuary. However, I am wearing my “Super Jew” t-shirt, which perhaps undercuts any professional possibility for that photo.

As Emily when she had her headshots taken — even though she herself is a photographer — I was nervous before the session. Since I was traveling, I had limited wardrobe choices, and I spent half of the morning wishing for various tops that I had left in my closet at home. Then, I don’t wear make-up, but I convinced myself that I should have had it done. Same thing with my hair.

In spite of all of my worrying, I am thrilled with how the pictures turned out. Emily is such a positive, upbeat presence, and she kept saying encouraging things — “You’re doing great!” — in such a way that I actually believed her. And she’s right: It does feel great to know that I have these photos. I’ve updated all of my social media profiles, including the “About Me” page of this blog, on which I had been using an old picture of me taken by my mom during a family vacation to the beach. I was wearing a strapless dress, so in the headshot version it looks like I’m not wearing any clothes, which is probably not exactly what one should be going for in that situation.

But I’ve been using it because it had that indescribable quality of just seeming like me. That’s how I ended up choosing the picture for my senior page. And it’s what I ended up loving about the photos that Emily took: They look like me. No make-up, no-fancy-hair, simple-shirt-wearing me. And that’s what is so empowering.

P.S. If you need a photographer, I obviously highly recommend Emily. Her speciality is birth story photography, but she takes other assignments. And if she’s not available, she can recommend someone else (almost) as fabulous!

spring has sprung

swiss chard in my row-mate Sarah's plot

Today I wrote a short post for the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden blog, featuring a few photographs I took at the garden this morning. This is the third year I’ve had a half-plot in this community garden in upper Northwest, near Ft. Totten. I take simple iPhone photos each time I’m there to document my progress; I did my first round of planting this morning.

Gardening has become one of my absolute favorite hobbies — which I plan to write more about in a future post.

a new spring

(probably not) cherry blossoms in scott circle; photo by salem pearce

Yesterday, Saturday, was a gorgeous day here in the nation’s capital. It was sunny and 70 degrees, and Shabbat was made sweeter by the fact that I had found out the day before that I was accepted at the third rabbinical school to which I applied. After morning services, I sat in Dupont Circle with my husband and felt like I could relax for the first time in at least six months. I read (Patti Smith’s Just Kids) and took a few photographs (right and below).

Yesterday felt like a new beginning in another way, as well: I led part of the Shabbat morning service for the first time! Sixth & I hosted a Learner’s Minyan in the morning, led by Rabbi Shira Stutman. The rabbi who is teaching my adult b’nai mitzvah class, Lauren Holtzblatt, arranged for the class to lead the parts of the service that we’re planning to in June during the official ceremony. I’ve volunteered for the second half of the Torah service (putting the scroll away) and for the mourner’s kaddish.

st. patrick’s day green grass at dupont circle; photo by salem pearce

Unfortunately, the past month of travel hasn’t left me any time to practice, so I had to beg off of the Torah service part. I decided to go ahead with the mourner’s kaddish, which I realized while I was leading is actually a little unnerving. The only people who are standing and reciting most of the prayer with the leader are the few in mourning or observing a yahrzeit (although I did ask those whose custom it is to stand to do so). Even so, I could only hear myself in the large sanctuary that was hardly filled, and saying the mourner’s kaddish by (what feels like just) myself is quite different than saying the hatzi kaddish with the whole congregation, when it doesn’t matter if I stumble over a word or two. I’ve got some practicing to do.

Despite my nerves, though, I was able to say to the congregation yesterday that I was leading and saying the mourner’s kaddish for the family of Trayvon Martin. This clear abrogation of justice has troubled me all week: I am proud and privileged to be an American, but I sometimes loathe my country’s institutions.

But the long road is coming to an end: I’ve gotten into (in alphabetical order) Hebrew College (in Boston), HUC-JIR (in New York), and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (in Philadelphia). I am tentatively leaning towards one school, and I am pretty sure it will be a choice between two of them. But I’m not ready to make that intention more explicit at this point.

I now move on to the decision-making part of the process, which I hope to wrap up in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

meridian hill park

joan of arc in meridian hill park; photo by salem pearce

I took the day off from work today and decided to take photos en route to my massage appointment at Mint (yeah, my life is tough, I know). Since “Mint Dupont” is actually in Adams Morgan, I choose Meridian Hill Park, where I’ve only been once before, and that was really early in the morning during boot camp. Under those conditions, it was hard to appreciate the design and flora.

I find Meridian Hill Park a little wacky. First of all, the park reminds me of both of Morningside Park in New York and of the gardens around the Villa Borghese in Rome. I’m not wrong about the latter: Apparently the architect meant to design a “grand urban park modeled on parks found in European capitals.”

Secondly, its name is rather abstruse. The National Park Service website explains that John Porter built a mansion on the hill and so named it “because it was on the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker.” This line is apparently one of the “Washington meridians” — but three pages into Wikipedia, and I still don’t really know what those are, except that there are markers for them all over the district.

Next, its nickname is Malcolm X Park . . . for no reason. That’s just what people call it. And the statues are no help: They consist of a U.S. president, an Italian poet, a French warrior, and a bare-breasted representation of “Serenity” — the whitest statue in the world.

Finally, the building material, concrete aggregrate, experimental (and groundbreaking?) for the early 20th century, doesn’t really stand the test of time. The material is now employed almost exclusively for utilitarian, not decorative, projects. Basically, it looks like design by sidewalk.

With all of those caveats, I do find the park charming and relaxing — despite the disturbing number of people running stairs there in the middle of a summer day. It’s certainly an under-appreciated part of D.C.

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