Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I Sell on eBay--Of Haunting Green Eyes and a Young Man Down Under

 Afghan Girl with the Haunted--and Haunting--Green Eyes
June, 1985 National Geographic
(Hawaiian Odysseus Photo of Cover)


I'm one for seeing the glass half full. 

So while a good deal of the world may be focused on the Mayan calendar ending in December of this year, it's life as usual for me.

Add to that the fact that I'm looking at 60 imaginary candles on the invisible cake this July, well...let's just say that I am a full-fledged member of a universal club that is very appreciative of the life God's given them.

In 2000, I formally opened up a part-time business selling fishing flies I'd tied as well as fly tying materials on eBay.

In the latter part of last year, bone-weary from a bagel baking job in Redmond, Washington, and simply exasperated with the schizophrenic economy, I made the significant decision to abort the rat race I was quickly losing. 

Returning home to Walla Walla County, 250 miles southeast of my sojourn in the Emerald City of Seattle, I kicked my online business into full gear. 

Admittedly, it was a scary decision, but after much soul-searching, hours of heart-wrenching discussions with my wife, and a total overhaul of my theretofore makeshift business plan, I took the plunge.

And God's favor has incessantly rained upon me ever since.

Not that I'm rolling in the dough, mind  you, because I'm not...not yet, anyway. 

My blessings have come by way of the people I've encountered in my global entrepreneurship.

And in the end, the golden contact we make with our fellow men is more important than any earthly treasure.

That said, I've been struggling in the last couple of months, desperately trying to understand this minority segment on eBay that purchases items knowing full well that they are not going to pay for them.

When I ask eBay for help, I am told that the global venue is a buyer's market and that sellers are expected to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct regardless of how some buyers abuse the process.

The eBay reps continue: "You know, sir, this is a reflection of our economy."

What? That people can get away with doing wrong to other people?

What? Aren't sellers part of that economy, too? Don't we lose big time when you reinforce the bad behavior of non-paying buyers by lacking consequences with bite?

In short, I come away from those phone calls with eBay customer support feeling, well, entrepreneurially impotent. 


So then there's the subsequent fallout. I start feeling angry...I have to stuff that anger...with no adequate venting, I get to a point where I'm feeling sorry for myself.

And that's not a good place for anyone, let alone a businessman, to be.


God is like this wonderful and timely GPS. When He sees us going down a wrong path, He doesn't treat us as mere marionettes and--with ethereal puppeteer strings--control our movements or force our decisions or rob us of our freedom of choice.

He simply provides more opportunities.

In the early part of April, 2012 (exactly 16 days prior to this writing), I discovered in my eBay inbox that I'd just made a sale of the magazine below to a woman in Australia.

Afghan Girl, Found, 17 Years Later
April, 2002 National Geographic
(Hawaiian Odysseus Photo of  Cover)

I was elated! Promptly, I processed, packaged, and mailed the item off to the buyer. 

Less than two weeks later, I received the following positive feedback--

thanks arrived today my son has included her in many art essays for school

Now, I'd known briefly about the 1985 Afghan Girl cover story (see top photo) while researching for my description of the 2002 National Geographic issue, but as events would have it, I actually obtained the latter issue first. I don't remember where...could have been at an estate sale, church bazaar, or thrift store.

So that's why I made the sale of the 2002 issue first. 

Soon after, however, I got my hands on not just one, but two of the 1985 issues. My interest, like a single lit match in a dry forest, burned brightly and ran rampantly with new possibilities.

I remember gazing obsessively--as have millions of people all over the world--at the image of the Afghan girl with haunted--and, yes, haunting!--green eyes.

On impulse rather than analytical forethought, not worrying in the least about crossing unspoken professional marketing boundaries, I emailed the Australian woman a courtesy thank you for her nice feedback and then...yes, I dared it!...asked her if she could provide me with some background information about her feedback comment. I explained that I occasionally blogged about some of my eBay experiences.

When I awoke this morning to the light Walla Walla rain and checked my eBay status, I found an email from, I thought, the Australian customer. It was a well thought out response to my request. I was about to send an appreciative email when I noticed that there was a second message in my inbox.

Upon reading the second email, I learned that the response had actually been written by her son, a high school student.

Here is what the intelligent and eloquent young man wrote--

Afghan Girl Article

The following is in regards to your request to hearing about my, well, obsession is the best phrase. Firstly, I'd very much like to say thanks for my purchase. I received both issues & they're exactly what I wanted!

Now, you say you wish to hear a human interest story to put on your blog. Well, my obsession with the Afghan girl is nothing compared to her story, a single individual whose beautiful eyes captivated the hearts of everyone who saw them, eyes that reflected the plight of all refugees of war. That's remarkable, a true testament to the nature of humanity and the power of a well-told story, and an amazing piece of art, things of which I've always loved.

I don't quite remember the first time I saw the photograph by renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry, but since then I have been a passionate fan. He is now one of my photographic idols. What I remember, however, is being caught up in the beauty of the image like everybody else. I'd been taking photos for a while at this point, and when I saw this, I was blown away. Not only was the subject amazing, but I was swept away with the lighting, the composition, the focus, the simple beauty. I rushed off and read up on the story. Since then, it's been one of my favorite images.

I've since used it as an example in as many projects for school as I possibly could, from English (in a theme of journey and belonging) to Visual Arts. As recently as three weeks ago, I've used her story as an example in one of my first assessments for university (subject on the future of Afghan women). The Afghan girl isn't just simply an amazing piece of photojournalism and a beautiful photograph. It also captures the human spirit.

Today, I'm in possession of both issues of  National Geographic--the Afghan girl's complete story. I am in possession of not only collector's items, but a piece of history as well, and I thank you for that with all my heart.

This has been something I have desired for many years now, and I'm sure it will continue to inspire me.


Alexander Johnson


Just as I was moved by the awesome and memorable Afghan Girl cover, I was absolutely blown away by the thoughtful and equally inspirational response from the young Australian man.

Alexander, you're a credit to not just your parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. You're an embodiment of all that is hopeful and cause for thanksgiving in our world. May the good Lord bless your every endeavor--in your budding university life and in your future occupation, relationships, and global ambassadorship.

Thank you for blessing me with one more beautiful remembrance of why I do the work I do on eBay.

Aloha and mahalo,

Hawaiian Odysseus

Finding the Afghan Girl
National Geographic Video on YouTube

I also invite all who are interested to read a related post that can be found with the following link:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Of Cataracts and Cameras--A Perspective on Seeing Clearly

Konica Minolta AF Maxxum 70 SLR Camera With Quantaray Lens
28-90 mm f/3.5-5.6
(Hawaiian Odysseus Photo)

It's of no small irony that the week after I listed this beautiful pre-owned camera on eBay, I received the official confirmation from an ophthalmologist in Walla Walla that I needed to have cataract removal surgery.

Now, that's disconcerting news enough. But to learn that both eyes needed the surgery, well, that took me for a loop.

Both my parents developed cataracts and had to have surgery in their late seventies. So the odds of my getting cataracts at an even younger age were even greater. Sure enough, I won the cataract lottery--not just once, but twice.

 (Hawaiian Odysseus Photo)

On paper, cataract surgery seems simple enough. After local anesthesia is applied, a needle pierces the lens and breaks it up into small pieces. Through a suction process that, for personal reasons, I really don't want to and am not qualified to write about, the pieces are removed. An artificial lens is then installed. If all goes well, after a relatively short recuperation period, the patient is able to see quite clearly.

I was surprised to learn that cataract surgery is the #1 most common medical procedure in our country. 

So what does all of this have to do with the camera I listed?

 (Hawaiian Odysseus Photo)

Well, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then God's head must be swelling. Let's look at a timeline to understand a little bit more about man's attempts to make an artificial eye--the camera!
  • 1021 Ibn al-Haytham, an Iraqi Arab scientist, wrote Book of Optics, introducing the basic concept of a camera and the usage of a pinhole or lens to focus an external image onto an internal surface.
  • 1685 Johann Zahn developed the first handheld camera, but it would be many more years for the design to be implemented successfully.
  • 1814 The first photograph was taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce. By exposing a bitumen coated pewter plate to light, Niepce was able to capture a temporary image.
  • 1814 Expanding on Niepce's idea, Frenchmen Charles and Vincent Chevalier built the first camera that could produce photos. However, there was no way to preserve the photos.
  • `836 Niepce's partner, Louis Jacques Daguerre, developed the first practical photographic process. Daguerrotype involved an image being made on a light-sensitive silver-coated copper plate.
  • 1840 For the first time, William Talbot generated positive images from negatives to produce permanent images.
  • 1888 George Eastman made his first camera and called it the Kodak. It was the very first camera to go on sale. 
  • 1889 Eastman, who had been making paper film for  years, replaced it with celluloid. He created a camera that was shaped like a box and had a single speed shutter mechanism.
By the turn of the century, the commercialization of cameras and the advancement in photography technology resulted in quantum leap advances.

(Hawaiian Odysseus Photo)

In the process of doing research and creatively interpolating facts with figments of my imagination-doing my own quantum leaping, so to speak--it struck me recently that it wasn't just coincidence that listing a camera on eBay and being diagnosed with cataracts were such closely aligned events in my life.

These things were meant to happen in close juxtaposition in order that I might understand...and in the understanding, find peace and acceptance.

If man had not been curious and just a wee bit narcissistic in his attempts to be just like heavenly Dad, he might not have attempted to devise a mechanical eye, or camera.

And if he'd given up after his first initial attempts or failed to improve on his predecessors' progress, technology would have gone the way of dinosaurs.

If cameras didn't exist, perhaps it would have been all the more challenging for medical school professors to illustratively and mechanically expound upon the wonders of the human eye. would still be stuck wondering what the other side of the moon looked like.

And what would it matter if all of mankind couldn't see very well after threescore years because of increasingly cloudy vision?

As it stands, if all goes well next month--and I'm praying for God's abundant favor, not just for me, but for my camera mechanic, the good ophthalmologist himself--I'll be seeing things a lot more clearly than I do now.

Although... a way...

my focus couldn't be sharper.