Who is This Man? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Who is This Man?

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This image is copyright and courtesy of Myer Bornstein, a two time (15 years apart!) Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge IPT participant. Thanks Myer! It was made on this summer’s IPT at Nickerson Beach, Long Island, NY

Who is This Man?

First off, I think that I am a pretty nice guy. Those who have known me for a while feel that I have mellowed considerably over the years. Why? Because I have. I am a pretty good photographer and a great teacher and educator. I have been lucky but much of my luck as it often is has been the result of hard work. I have tried to be a good father to my two wonderful daughters and a good grandparent to my four little ones, two of whom are not so little. I have always been opinionated and that will never change 🙂 I will always tell you the truth unless I think that it might hurt you. There are lots of negative stories about me out there and I am proud of the fact that pretty much all of them have been generated by folks who have never met me, by folks who do not know me at all.

My very dear lady friend Denise Ippolito asked me a few weeks ago to answer some interview questions for her and I agreed. She combined my answers with her views on the real me and posted the whole shebang on her blog (A Creative Adventure) today. I have done more than my share of interviews over the years and I gotta say that it is the most honest in-depth one I have ever done. If you’d like to get to know me better check out Denise’s October 24, 2010 blog post here.

To whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from Denise’s story (as she calls it):

I learned a lot about Artie the “man.” He is a wonderful father and grandfather. He loves his 2 daughters and his grandchildren very much. Seeing him run around with them makes me see the young boy inside of him. He always reminds me of a kid with his boyish charm. He has a devilish smile and grin. He loves to read and I love it more when he reads to me. He tells me stories about everything. He is a great storyteller.

Artie is not much into style and he barely brushes his hair. His eyebrows are over grown and his T-shirts all have stains on them. He makes no concessions for the way he looks and doesn’t give a darn who cares. He wears his glasses around his neck like a necklace. I’m not fond of that look. His words sometimes cut like a knife. He doesn’t see that he can be viewed as inconsiderate by others. Sometimes in a restaurant he is curt with the wait staff. We are worlds apart when it comes to that. I don’t think he sees himself as slightly rude. He sees it as- he knows what he wants and he is ready to order and why wait? He is however very kind and sweet most of the time. He is unique in a lot of ways. He tirelessly answers all his own e-mails and some at great length. He is very stubborn, sometimes rehearsed, selfish to a certain degree, he has tunnel vision and is clearly focused, he can be confrontational, articulate, argumentative, clumsy on occasion, very gifted with words, and smart as a whip. He can be very one-dimensional, is very talented, driven, passionate, aggressive, opinionated, hard working, and timid- yes timid. He is a devoted man with a kindness that he shields.

And here is question 9 along with my answer.

9) Are there any profound experiences in your life that has affected the way you approach photography and your career?

Yes, there are two.

The first is my relationship with my late-Dad, Private First Class Robert E. Morris. Bob Morris, who loved his stamps the way I love my birds, was severely injured on Okinawa towards the end of World War II. After his death in 2001, I read his warm, loving , war-time letters to my Mom and realized that he had been profoundly affected by both the war and his war injuries. He was a typical WWII dad: a stern, cold taskmaster who was not big on either hugs or praise. I somewhat jokingly say that the nicest thing that he said to me when I was growing up was a growled “Take out the damned garbage.” And our relationship deteriorated throughout my adulthood though in the few years immediately preceding his death he did mellow some.

For as long as I can remember I have been motivated to do my very best at anything I chose to undertake. I practiced hard in my teens and became a proficient bowler and did the same in my late teens and early twenties with golf, eventually becoming a four handicapper and captain of my (not very good) college golf team. In my twenties and early thirties I would rather die than lose a game of pick-up basketball. And after a few years of struggling at the beginning of my elementary school teaching career I became a truly superb classroom teacher in the New York City system. And I have the Lesson Evaluation letters from Principal Irwin Schwartz to prove it. I firmly believe that during the middle ten years of my teaching career I was a better teacher then than I am a bird photographer today. And I do think that I am at present a pretty good bird photographer, writer, and educator. What drove me all those years and continues to drive me today? The desire to hear the praise from others that I never heard from my Dad. Before his death I did get to write him a letter thanking him for being a mean sob and explained that his actions had been largely responsible for my many successes. My younger sister Arna read him my letter and she told me that as she read to him he was smiling from ear to ear. Since his death I have come to realize that he did in fact love me a lot, he just had trouble showing it. (See: Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes; Insights to Freedom from Your Past.) And furthermore I have grown to the point where simply knowing that I am doing my best is more than enough for me. Kind words of praise from others are now viewed as icing on the cake.

The second is the death of my late-wife, Elaine Belsky Morris. I lost her and her wonderful smile on November 20, 1994. Elaine was my best friend and my biggest supporter. The love that we shared was as great as anyone could ever wish to know. Her death –as one might expect–turned out to be the single most profound experience of my life, and the most painful as well. But in the end her death led me to a newfound peace through The Work of Byron Katie. I have become a lover of what is. For seven years I wallowed in the grief of Elaine’s death. The Work taught me that my suffering was a choice and that I could easily have chosen happiness instead. (I first learned about The Work from my dear friend and health guru Dr. Cliff Oliver of San Diego. Thanks Cliff!)

Let’s do The Work on Elaine’s death: “Elaine should not have died.” Is it true? “Sure.” Do I know it to be absolutely true? “Well, no.” How do you feel when you have that thought, Elaine should not have died? “Hurt. Alone. Abandoned. Unloved. Like the victim of a great unfairness.” Who would you be without that thought? “Happy and easy going and loving life.” Can you give one sane reason for having that thought over and over again, for letting it dominate your life? “No. None.” Now let’s try to turn the original thought (“Elaine should not have died”) around and ask “Could the turn-around possibly be truer than the original thought? 1st turn-around (to the opposite): Elaine should have died. That is obviously truer than “Elaine should not have died.” Why? Because she did die. To believe otherwise is to beat your head against the wall of reality. 2nd turn around (to the self): artie shouldn’t have died. That’s an interesting thought as for seven years I was dying…. 3rd turn around: artie should have died. Not really. I am glad to be alive. In considering the turn-arounds it is possible to find peace instead of pain. I have done that and doing so has dramatically changed my approach to life in general and in turn has affected my career and the way that I approach photography as well. I am not in the huge hurry that I once was always in. I can enjoy a walk in the woods without a long lens–gotta bring a short lens though Smile emoticon. I am much more mellow than ever and much more accepting of both others and the everyday challenges that life brings to all of us on a daily basis. My approach to both photography and my career is much more relaxed. If there are no birds or I drop a lens into salt water, I simply smile and love what is. I enjoy my work more than ever and I enjoy my successes more than ever (and my failures too). I have come to realize that Elaine’s death was the best thing that could have ever happened, and I can prove it. How do I know that? Because it happened.

I do of course miss her dearly but her love is ever-present. And I have been at the point for quite some time now where I can think of the great times and love that we shared and the wonderful person that she was and smile rather than cry. And I can hear her say, “You watch. My Arthur is gonna be the best bird photographer in the world.” Now all that I do is enjoy each breath.


Thanks d for a job well done.

18 comments to Who is This Man?

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Mr. Heupel, Thanks for your wonderfully kind words. We certainly have enjoyed some wonderful times together.

  • avatar Peter Kes

    Thanks for this interview and for this very personal insight. Thoughts can destroy and can heal. Thanks for sharing this. I was glad to share this philosophy with others 🙂

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks Froggie (James Shadle) for the additional comment. I guess that I can be a bit egocentric at times.

  • avatar Chris Cooke

    Well Artie, you are what we down under folk call a “one of”, a unique, complex and sometimes shadow-like person who is very difficult to pin down. Like the world, you are constantly evolving, never letting grass grow under your feet and always looking for an better way of doing things which can be a fraction frustrating for us mere mortals who simply never catch up with you but you keep us fit trying.

    At our vintage we are approaching the final straight in life’s great race and as you go down that final mile I hope you go with the great love and respect of the thousands of kids you taught in your previous career, the endless love of your wife and family and with the plaudits of your peers ringing in your ears.

    When you are gone, the name Arthur Morris will continue to be synonymous with excellence at its highest in your chosen art of Avian Photography and you willingness to impart what knowledge you had acquired to so many others the world over.

    In parting, I wish you the happiness you so richly deserve and my personal thanks for the great help you have been to me in both our shared illness and my inept fumbling with matters photographique.

    All the best “Artie”

    Chris Cooke

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for your kind words Chris, and for dropping by. I am hoping that neither of us is gone too soon 🙂 Later and love, artie

  • avatar James Shadle

    You’re proud of your accomplishments and don’t mind telling folks about them. I don’t think you are egotistical. Sure you have an ego, what successful person doesn’t?

    Not just you, but many single, successful people who set their own busy schedules can become egocentric (the way I’m using the word anyway). Sometimes an egocentric person doesn’t factor in how their actions will affect others or realize that other folks can’t do or go when they think they should.

    My mom is a great example. Mom could never understand why my wife couldn’t just drop everything to go somewhere with her or place the same level of importance on things as her.
    My Mom’s egocentric symptoms where a result of the conditions I listed above.

    In your case use the example Denise mentioned about the restaurant, you’re ready to go, surely the wait staff must realize that.

    The other side of the coin is when you teach. You are very connected when teaching!!

    These are of course my observations, and I may not be conveying my thoughts very well.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Froggie, Did you mean egotistical?

    Just for the record books:

    In psychology, egocentrism is defined as the incomplete differentiation of the self and the world, including other people and the tendency to perceive, understand and interpret the world in terms of the self.

    The term derives from the Greek and Latin ἑγώ / ego, meaning “I,” “me,” and “self”. An egocentric person cannot fully empathize, i.e. “put himself in other peoples’ shoes,” and believes everyone sees what she/he sees (or that what he/she sees, in some way, exceeds what others see).

    It appears that this egocentric stance towards the world is present mostly in younger children. They are unable to separate their own beliefs, thoughts and ideas from others. For example, if a child sees that there is candy in a box, he assumes that someone else walking into the room also knows that there is candy in that box. He implicitly reasons that “since I know it, you know it too”. As stated previously this may be rooted in the limitations in the child’s theory of mind skills. However, it does not mean that children are unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. As far as feelings are concerned, it is shown that children exhibit empathy early on and are able to cooperate with others and be aware of their needs and wants.

    Whereas, a search for egotistical comes up with this:

    Adj. egotistical – characteristic of those having an inflated idea of their own importance
    egotistic, narcissistic, self-loving. Selfish – concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others;

    N. egotistical – characteristic of false pride; having an exaggerated sense of self-importance; “a conceited fool”; “an attitude of self-conceited arrogance”; “an egotistical disregard of others”; Proud – feeling self-respect or pleasure in something by which you measure your self-worth.

    I could go for the proud business but I do not think that the rest describes me very well at all :

  • avatar James "Froggie" Shadle

    Denise does seem to have you pegged.
    However I would replace “selfish to a certain degree” with “egocentric.”
    I’d put in a little smiley icon but I don’t know how (here I would put a little sad icon).

    Be well my friend,

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Froggie, I think that we are all a bit selfish to a certain degree. As for egocentric, I like to think that I am good at what I do and proud of what I have accomplished. And I don’t mind sharing that on occasion. I do however try to avoid being arrogant. See you on the Hooptie Deux this coming Saturday at 6am 🙂

  • Jim, I agree with you, Artie is amazing.

  • Arthur, it was truly a wonderful, well written piece. I enjoyed reading it and “getting to know you.” I hope that someday our paths will cross.

    All the best,

  • Artie,
    Denise has shown great insight into you. And you, my friend, are strong enough to publish it; my hat’s doffed to you!
    We’ve spent a lot of time together at workshops in Alaska, Bosque, NANPA, and two weeks rooming together in Iceland. I think I’ve gotten to know you pretty well also. Denise is quite right, you have a BIG heart and a great approach to life. ALL of us have our warts, which detractors can always try to concentrate on. What is too often missed or taken for granted is your giving nature, your love of life, your fantastic teaching ability, and your ability to “turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse” when something goes wrong on an IPT or other event.
    Although I’m only 6 months older, I don’t know how you keep up the pace you do. You are amazing! I look forward to our being together again at Bosque and at Homer with Robert.
    I love you, brother!

  • Artie and Denise, thx a lot for these blog entries. I’ve never met you, but thx to BPN, I already feel like I know you so well. And as always….thx for all the honest critiques and teachings. Cheers.

  • Artie: I am one of the thousands who read your regular communications with anticipation. I have never written to say thank you. However, as a form of payback I have used your store, and done some good business with the Hunt photo store. Also, I have attended three workshops with Jim Neiger, and James Shadle – all good learning experiences. So, first, let me say thank you for your inspired bulletins and blog posts. Your clear writing style and consistent trenchant advice has brought you many friends, myself included.

    I might never have written, but was motivated to write today after reading your heartfelt comments in today’s blog post. Communications with children are often difficult for fathers, especially ones who, like me, are direct in their responses to situations and observations. It often goes better with daughters than with sons. In my case I am blessed with two of each. Like you, I hope I am mellowing with age, but still feel compelled to “tell it like it is” – hopefully, with some sensitivity.

    I have always wanted to learn if I am a Happy Camper. Hopefully, I will soon. With best wishes for joy in every breath. Bill Fraser

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks John for you kind words. I hope that our paths cross again soon.

  • Artie, with regards to the description of your father and how his lack of demonstrative affection drove you to achieve/succeed, that is my story too, as we have discussed. I too came to realize how much he loved me (for one, he came to me in a dream as real as life). I have not lost a spouse (yet), but what hasn’t killed me in life has definitely made me stronger. We share some similarities, and yes, “I am an adrenaline junkie too.” But I have to stick close to home where we have 9 grandkids who need us. I enjoy your photo travels vicariously and hope to join you for some in the future. You ARE the best teacher in the world, and any fool can discover how readily available your teaching is if they are only willing to do the work. I do the work every chance I get. Still waiting for that “perfect image” and I know it’s just around the corner. :o)
    Best always.
    Becky F

  • Artie, It has been a couple of years since we met in Montreal and spent 5 days together at Ile Bonaventure with Chris Dodds. After reading the excerpt from the blog, I must admit there is a lot of truth to what is written about you and by you. I personally wouldn’t change one second of the time and I still value the experience today. I hope you continue to be the Artie we all know and respect and may your family continue to bring you the joy that I saw on your face every time their names were mentioned. I wish you the best.