An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation


Bah-pheeewwwwwww! No that wasn’t a sneeze. It was more of a sigh, a straight-bodied falling over into the bed only to hear the frame crack underneath the jolt. And then two nights later Jon’s all, seriously? We’re finally alone and it sounds like grandma is knitting next to the bed in a rusty rocking chair.

Right now Jon is trying to figure out when to Have The Talk with me about what is and what isn’t inappropriate. Dude, I didn’t mention any body parts. SAFE!

Now that we’ve finished putting together the office I feel like I can move on with the rest of my life. It kind of felt like those months when I was writing my book and that awful summer when we were being sued, because I would think, “What will life be like when this is over?” It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, the last thing on my mind when I fell asleep, the subject of all my daydreaming: Brad Pitt nude in Playgirl, filing cabinet to the right, second drawer down.

I did get to take a break from the weight of it a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Mighty Summit in the Russian River part of wine country. I packed my laptop, but I’m proud to say I only opened it once, and then only to upload some photos. My goal that weekend was to relax, sleep, sleep some more, triple that amount of sleep, and then commune with my camera again.

I just said commune! EWWWW. Next thing you know I’m going to stop shaving my underarms and start buying organic free range chicken broth.

Heh, heh. Yes. I just did link to that doozy. Go ahead. Take your time. Hate mail about organic free range chicken broth never loses its punch.

I haven’t been particularly drawn to my camera lately, and I can’t figure out why. So I forced myself to take as many pictures as I could that weekend to see if I could find the spark again. And I did, at least a little bit. It’s coming back to me, although the conversation I had with Jon over dinner in Moab earlier this month set me back about a millennium. Because I don’t know anything about the mechanics of photography other than 1) the digital camera does all the work and 2) if I take a hundred shots maybe one will turn out okay. The end.

He started talking about aperture and shutter speed and focal length and ISO and white balance, and I started to cry. No joking here, I started to weep because I just felt so stupid. It brought me right back to middle school when I didn’t qualify for the gifted program, and I saw all these kids leave the room to go take a more advanced math class. And then back to college when a group of guys didn’t think I was cool enough to date their roommate. I know I’ve lived enough life to have worked through those insecurities, and maybe it’s because I stay away from things I’m not really good at now because there isn’t even enough time in the day to indulge in the things I enjoy…

OMG. I owe all of you a hundred dollars for being my therapist this week. You guys, I’m never going to look like Loni Anderson, AND THAT’S OKAY!

Tissue please. Okay.

At the top of my life list (the theme of the Mighty Summit) is this: take a photography class. I’m ready to make myself uncomfortable with my ignorance on this subject because it’s important to me to understand how photography works. What made that weekend so meaningful was that so many of us there have the skill and means and connections to help others with their own goals.

Enter: Karen Walrond.

She shoots only in manual mode and is able to capture the most amazing photographs. She took me aside the first night and spent a good half hour talking me through the basics. Her advice along with what Jon was able to explain to me have given me a good base so that when I do take that class I’ll have one iota of what the hell is going on.

Most of the weekend was spent wine tasting and touring, so that’s where I focused most of my energy:

I also took a few shots around the grounds of the hotel:

This is one of the two hotel dogs. Her name is Paris and she was much more modest than her name:

However, one certain Erin Loechner (more adorable in person than could be imagined by a million cartoonists) hoarded her all weekend as was rarely seen in any other position than this:

Maggie, the lead organizer, was my lover roommate, and this has to be my favorite photo I’ve ever taken of her:

There’s this one, too, of all the organizers, Helen Jane on the left, Laura Mayes on the right:

I also got to meet Zan for maybe the second or third time, we don’t remember BECAUSE OF ALL THE DRUGS:

But this time it really mattered because DUDE, she used to hang out with BLUR! And so for like two hours one night we drank bourbon and talked about Britpop in the nineties, and did you know they got back together and released a single earlier this year? You did? WELL AREN’T YOU SO HIP.

For those of you who didn’t know about the single I’m going to link to it here, because, oops. I lied. I opened my laptop more than once that weekend. After drinking bourbon with Zan for two hours I went back to my room, listened to this single, and then spent another two hours searching for everything from Oasis to Elastica to Suede to the Manic Street Preachers like some old lady pining the days spent riding around without a seatbelt in the backseat of her father’s GTO.

(Don’t worry, Dad. If anybody asks me I’ll tell them it was some other old lady.)

And then I slept in the next morning. Mighty Summit: success!

Special shout out to Cecily: although I didn’t get your picture (dammit), I’ll always remember our hug and the words you said to me when I need them most. Thank you.

  • mileena

    you may not have all the training, but you have a great eye for photographs. you posted a photoshop tutorial a long time ago showing how you get your pictures to look the way they do. it was the inspiration for me to start taking more pictures and getting over my fear of photoshop.

    you’ll be great in the class. can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  • Tobie

    I don’t quite understand the chicken broth comment? What did you say, that elicited that response? The 2006 post you linked to, doesn’t reference the other original chicken broth post.

    I dunno, I laugh when my pets embarrass themselves, but I think farm animals should still be treated humanely (and yes I eat meat including chicken)….

    And actually yes, organic chicken broth does taste better (in my opinion). You will certainly taste a *difference* if you buy chicken broth from a non-organic grocery store, v. Whole Foods.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I just can’t get on board with any joke that makes fun of animals not being treated humanely 🙁 .

  • kristanhoffman

    I’m with mileena! I don’t know what on earth you’re beating yourself up for. You take fabulous photos! So what if you don’t know ISO from F-stop? Your method works for you. Isn’t that what counts? Trust me, there are a lot of people who know a lot more about cameras but can’t take a good photo to save their life.

  • Tobie

    Ack double post sry.

  • dooce

    Tobie, I was making fun of the notion of a BOX out with the chickens walking around free. The box of broth. That’s it. I believe in the humane treatment of animals.

  • Tobie

    *thumbs-up* Ahh, got it. Lol.

  • Tobie

    Double post AGAIN ack sorry, must be my internet at work. (Note that this isn’t actually making me go Back to work…).

  • Essembee

    For what it’s worth Heather, I’ve always really enjoyed your photos and envied your style. So there, aperture.

  • leeshka

    Those look like some GGC sunglasses on that table. *Great* pics, by the way. Mighty Girl must have the insanely red hair – mine is pretty freaking red, but never reads that great on film (errrr… digital)

  • Laura in Paradise

    I HAD to purchase the organic free range chicken broth I saw in the store last week. I almost fell on the floor laughing right there in the store. There were raised eyebrows at my gafawing but I didn’t care. They didn’t get it.

    I’m sure if real life imitated the internet I would have stood up covered in post-it notes admonishing me for laughing at the chicken broth. What fun!

    Nice pictures by the by.

  • shauna

    Heather! You should check out the documentary No Distance Left To Run – all about Blur and it covers the reunion and Glastonbury TRIUMPH… brought a tear to mah Britpop loving eye.

    Love the photies… you will be valedictorian of any photo class you take, for sure 🙂

  • Fifi Coon

    OK – I just want to say that I think you are a GREAT photographer!! I would never have guessed that you have never taken a photography class.

    I have taken a couple of classes in photography and still find that “point and shoot” is the best way to go – all the aperature and shutter and lense stuff is just way to complicated.

    Good Luck!!

  • Mari Chiesa

    I think you take wonderful photographs. Don’t worry overly much about the science of it. Your intuition and eye alone do a fantastic job.

    What are your thoughts on Organic Plastic? Swear to God I almost strangled the poor Whole Foods cashier when I saw that one.

  • saskatch

    I too was labeled “unqualified” for the gifted program in elementary school. I don’t think I’ve uttered (or typed) those words until now. And don’t even get me started on the woes of college dating… although, my way of dealing with roommates was to date them all. That backfired, as you can imagine.

    Your photos are fantastic. Nobody puts baby in the corner.


  • runkara2

    Uh, I want to go to a Mighty Summit. Does it need lawyers? I’d be willing to pretend I was something else.

    Free Range Organic Chicken Broth – hilarious.

  • yay4tay

    Oh my god! Heather, your photographs on this site are the reason I bought a DSLR and got my hands on a million library books about the basics of aperture, ISO, blah blah blah. I’ve had it for almost a year and have gotten good enough that I’ve started to get paid jobs using it.

    It is blowing my mind that you were my inspiration, and it turns out that you had never really learned. You have an incredible eye for composition, and know your way around post processing better than I could ever dream.

    Either that or I just have the worst eye for photography ever, haha. No but seriously, it’s the former. You should be proud. I can’t wait to see what’s to come now that you’re learning more about your camera 🙂

  • oddFrogg

    The photos are wonderful. The sunglasses is my favorite and I didn’t know from Blur. But, thanks to you, I do now. LOVE!

  • Amanda Patchin

    I tend to be a natural at most things I try. I’m a great amateur but have little experience with becoming an expert. To be very good for having no training is such fun. Of course, I then drop off the curve and after having a hobby for a few years I’m not so brilliant anymore. I don’t get worse, but then I can’t be the gifted amateur forever and end up just being mediocre…

    The hardest thing I ever did was complete an entire semester of voice lessons. I just SUCKED at it. And I never got better. I couldn’t turn off my inner critic. I couldn’t understand what my instructor wanted me to hear, or do. It was just awful and painful every single week! It was the only time I tried something that I didn’t end up pretty good at: probably because I tend to stay so deeply in my comfort zone.

    Anyway, good for you for admitting that you’re not the valedictorian of photography (I certainly thought you were) and good luck on learning more!

  • Meg McG

    KAREN WALROND! I can’t believe it. I was just thinking of her the other day and could not remember anything other than “who was that lady who lived in the Caribbean and wrote for blogging baby and always had the camera?” I NEVER would have remembered that. The internet is a tiny place, thanks for being psychic.

  • Domestic Goddess

    I’ve met Cecily on several ocassions (even saw her in Target! AWESOMESAUCE!) and I have to tell you, she has that effect on people. She’s just great that way.

  • vintagejones

    You are an awesome photographer.

    Check out these posts from PW… They might help:

  • floridagal73

    Heather, you are so silly. You take amazing photos. It is not what you know, but what you can do. Who cares if you don’t know the terms – you know what to do with the camera. I love the photos you featured and your daily photos always have such great color and composition (threw in a fancy photo term there). =)

    That summit looks awesome – I’m with runkara2; I’m an intelligent and sometimes funny mom of three and office manager. Maybe runkara2 and I could pretend to be something else together! =)

    And saskatch, you crack me up. I feel the same way about my choices in college. Ahem.

  • Cecily

    Girl, getting the chance to hug you and say those words made the whole weekend simply amazing on top of awesome on top of super cool.

    Dur, you know what I mean.

    🙂 Thanks for being you.

  • strawberrygoldie


    You haven’t yet succumbed to the Shutter Sisters?

    Or Ree at Pioneer Woman?

    Those two sites lit a fire under my frightened, insecure ass, and I know now my mission in life.

    Well, one of them.

    To take pictures. Lots.

    Now, to figure out how to make a living doing it.

    (sigh of fright and insecurity)

  • apostate

    Raise your hands, raise your voice.
    Give the chickens another choice.
    Join with me, set them free.
    Brothers and Sisters, let the chickens be!!!

    (No, that wasn’t a Mormon song. I know the whole “brothers and sisters” thing can be deceptive. No, it’s not on youtube. I had to go out and buy the DVD just to see it again 20 years later. Bonus to you Heather, if you get the reference.)

  • Victoria_Girl

    I’m just starting a photography class too. I feel really dumb and my brain wants to explode and so after I go out and try a few shots on manual I always go back to auto mode because ahhhhhhhhhh that feels better and now I’m having fun again.

    I grew up using a manual film camera but it had meters to show me when it was ok to take a photo so that felt like auto mode too. This learnin stuff is hard.

  • atalou

    Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson….great, great book.

  • lisdom

    Elastica. Le Sigh.

  • pickle

    yes, but have you seen the episode of “hoarders” wherein the old lady can’t let go of the years-old box of organic free-range chicken broth? that’s true dedication.

  • leahofdp

    your pictures are gorgeous, i swear to god in the bible i’ve always always admired your photography.

  • Ms K

    Love your photos as well. (Still, taking a class never hurts and you’ll benefit from it regardless)
    Sometimes I just feel like there’s too much Photoshop in them (or whatever other editing software you are using)
    Lots of vignetting in the photos above. Don’t get me wrong, I love vignetting but it shouldn’t be overused.
    Also, are you intensifying the saturation of your pics?
    Just curious because I take lots of pics but then rarely have time to do anything with them Photoshop-wise and some of your pictures look absolutely fabulous!

  • sarahdoow

    Right now I think my Life List just consists of “Be Brave Enough To Write A Life List”. It’s not ticked off yet.

  • Samara

    I admire your eye for photography. You have a natural talent and an ability to capture amazing color (but that may just be the color of your daughter’s eyes helping out). Kudos on learning the old school method. I can’t wait to see your progress. Thanks for sharing.

  • doobrah

    The grapes followed by the wine bottles are the best. The short focal length really makes the wine bottle shot, and I would put the grapes on my wall.

    You’ll get into it. You’ve got good photo instincts (that ghoulish iPhone app notwithstanding) and once you get the mechanics down, you’ll want to be the valedictorian of photography and tell us all how you opened up the aperature and to get a nice soft background. Manual is the way to go, baby! All control, all the time! BWAH-HA-HA.

    Love the Westie. Aren’t they fun? Just try to set up a manual photo of one of them. WOOF!

  • Katesss

    thank you for sharing your insecurities! i thought i was the only one. i also recently rediscovered an old homemade CD labeled “Brit Pop” and have been listening to Elastica nonstop since.

  • lesliepaige78

    i think you probably lost your connection to the camera b/c stress and no free time equal no creativity. if we all rest our minds, even if just for a little bit, the creative juices start to flow.
    raising my glass of vodka (i dont like bourbon) to toast to your reconnection, growth, and rest with your lady friends.

  • naysway

    Ah Damon Albarn. Makes me pine for Gorillaz. That song is a keeper. I love his voice.

  • confusedkaty

    Ugh. First, Heather, I’m a long time reader and love and respect the heck out of you.

    My life list includes breaking into such a privileged life where I can find time and resources to compile an insipid life list in order to further my sense of entitlement.

    With everything going on in the world, I find it really gross that so many bloggers are swinging on the life-list pole like a Saturday night strip tease. I could probably take horse-back riding lessons, too, if I didn’t bust my ass at a non-profit for 50 hours a week at less than $40K a year. Unfortunately, I’m not married to some Internet Guy who cashed in early.

    Sorry, I love Dooce, but enough about the obnoxiousness otherwise known as the “Mighty Summit.” Mighty douchey.

  • katka

    You have the eye of a photgrapher and that’s what matters. But it will help you if you understand the technical aspects of photography 🙂
    I would recommend the basics by Pioneer Woman. She has a way of explaining things like noone else.
    Then go and read The Digital Photography Book 1 by Scott Kelby.
    And then subsrcibe to
    And then suddenly it will all make sense and John won’t sound like he is from Mars when he talks about cameras to you anymore 🙂

  • Erin47

    I wanted to post a hate comment so I could get published in one of your hatemail features, but all I could really come up with is something about how I can’t believe you have so many stupid links to your stupid archives that made me waste a whole 2 stupid hours at my stupid job by making sure I don’t miss a single hilarious thing you’ve ever typed. And I think that actually comes back as complimentary to you somehow, so I give up.

  • carriec

    That Blur single was released as a special treat for Record Store Day, which celebrates local, indie record stores each year. The folks in Salt Lake are pretty lucky that they have quite a few of those local retailers.

  • joellen

    “was my lover”

    you make me crack up, so funny!

  • jennisdrinking

    I have one question….

    What is Maggie’s secret? Her hair is freakin BEAUTIFUL. So very envious.

  • gelligelli

    Wow, apparently it’s been forever since I wanted to post a comment as I had to figure out how to do it. See what no one bothered to tell me, until after the birth of my daughter, is that the pregger’s brain shrinkage isn’t reserved just for pregnancy – my brain is still mush. But I’ve digressed already.

    Said child probably keeps me from getting on as often as I used to (which is odd as I seem to have to sit and pump in front of a computer and you’d think I’d have nothing better to do than read, and yet, I think I just sit and pay bills and do other equally mundane tasks) – but I was LAUGHING so hard at the chicken broth thing – how did I miss that? I’m so glad you linked to it. OMG. So freaking funny. People are ridiculous. I’m a vegetarian so if I really wanted to get on my high horse I guess I could (as long as I didn’t want to eat said horse afterwards or grind it up and feed it to my [or your] dogs) but WOW. Nutzos aside – how can someone say that they normally find you funny but then this time you went too far? Really? People, I had a major fluctuation of hormones, have been sleep deprived to a level that I think the DSMIV should have a . . . blah blah blah and I worried that I’d lose my sense of humor (and thus have to divorce my husband as that is the only thing we had left in our relationship as we battled how to survive parenthood) but Dooce, you’ve ALWAYS been funny.

    ((Deep sigh)). Okay, now for the photos. I envy you. I’ve always wanted to take a photo class and never have – and have yet to know what the F an F stop is for. I just shoot a crap ton of photos from many angles and push buttons and twist knobs on my camera to see what the heck it does and then see which photos come out cool. ha ha ha! You mean people actually PLAN out photo angles and blur and focal points and such? ha ha ha ha ha!!!

    Okay, I’ll hush now. I might yak for forever as I finally figured out how to comment. (no, it wasn’t that difficult, I’m just being dramatic).

  • mightymarce

    Honestly, I’m shocked. The fact that you take such beautiful photographs without even knowing all that technical stuff speaks to your innate talent and eye, which is most important anyway. Anyone can (eventually) learn about f-stops and ISO and their relationships, etc etc etc. It’s much, much harder to “learn” how to develop a good eye.

  • Window On The Prairie

    Your pics are fine. Just keep clicking away. We don’t have to pay for film and processing anymore, click to your heart’s content. Suzanne

  • ccapello

    I apologize if I’m repeating what someone else said, but I don’t think you should be worried about your reduced camera use. If anything, the general theme I’ve picked up on from your recent posts is your increased and very deserved personal happiness. I suspect you’re having so much fun participating in events that you have no time to document them. 🙂 Congratulations, Heather. I am so happy for you about your recent accomplishments.

  • vent

    Well, like everyone else here commented….I was blown away to hear that you’ve never taken a photography course or know anything about the technical aspects of a camera. Honestly, your photographs always impress me. I especially loved the ones you took while in NYC (which happens to be my favorite city here on the eastcoast).

    Anyhoo, your ability to take photographs only proves that some people are simply born with a natural gift.

    You GO, girl!

    P.S. Freakin’ love the shot of the red bikes lined up!

  • jbeslc

    I think photography is more about composition than knowing all the workings of your camera, and, girl, you’ve got composition GOIN’ ON. But it is always nice to know the tool you’re working with. Shameless plug, U of U Lifelong Learning has a whole series:

  • AshesVonDust

    Oh God, I am totally a 90’s Hippie; I pine for that decade.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more