local_library The Goings On In A Walnut Shell

by Jim Ross

Published in Issue No. 259 ~ December, 2018


I can’t remember why or how this came to pass, but it became my responsibility, my work, to take photographs of people and their yearnings, of how they reach out and connect or not, how they touch each other or not, all within the confines of a single walnut shell.

Finding the proper angles is difficult. I fear my pictures stand no chance of capturing all that transpires. Indeed, because the partitions divide the innards of a walnut shell into even tinier spaces, one person or another often isn’t accessible to my camera, even while they share an intimate space with another who may be fully or partially camera accessible.

When I’m done, I look and see that most of my pictures are of empty spaces, or partitions, or a solitary person, or merely a half person. Sometimes, the presence of another is implied, but my camera can’t see them.

I feel discouraged. Then I see that, despite the partitions, I’ve captured a handful of photos that show the connections among people within this intimate space.

I hesitate but then I share my photos with the occupants. At first they wonder, “Is that really us?” After reflecting, they exclaim, “You’ve seen us.”

A friend reminds me that Hamlet says to Gildenstern, “O God, I could be bounded in a walnut nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”

Often, we dream about what we can’t quite realize. I dream to work around the partitions within a walnut shell to capture images of how we connect, or try and don’t, or want to try but can’t, and of all that happens behind the partitions, out of sight, unknown, perhaps unknowable.


account_box More About

After retiring from a career in public health research in early 2015, Jim Ross resumed creative pursuits in hopes of resuscitating his long-neglected left brain. He's since published 75 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and 200 photos in 80 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. His publications include 1966, Bombay Gin, Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Gravel, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, MAKE, Pif, and The Atlantic. In the past year, he wrote and acted in his first play based the essay Getting the Last Word, published in the August 2014 edition of Pif. In addition, one of his nonfiction pieces led to a role in a soon-to-be-released major documentary film. His goal is to combine creative nonfiction with photography. He and his wife--parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones--split their time between Maryland and West Virginia.