The year in review.

4 01 2015

This coming year is going to be an interesting one.  While I go in to it knowing that expectations and ambitions are at least somewhat tempered by the facts of the life that I live, I feel that there are going to be big things coming. Part of the reason that I know this is that I refuse to have another year like the one I just had.

I don’t say that to be negative.  All told, they last year wasn’t bad.  It really wasn’t.  What it was was a non-entity.  Work was worked, chores were done.  Schedules were followed and TPS reports filed.  It was just… a year. I can’t complain about having just a year when it could have been worse in so many different ways, but I can complain that the year did not live up to the potential it had.

I think that in order to have  the year that I want to for 2015, I need to follow in the footsteps of someone that I admire greatly, Chris Guillebeau.  He is an entrepreneur and professional advise giver. He lives the kind of life that I want to live, and I honestly believe that the things I have read from him have been instrumental in changing the way that I see myself and my definition of what actually living life is.  Something that he does is write a year in review; kind of a summary of the good and the bad that came from the last year, and what can be learned from it. He ends it with goals for the next year, not just because “New Year”, but he puts the reasoning behind them and what he hopes they will accomplish for him. 

I think I am going to try to do the same here.  This is going to be very personal, and parts of it are honestly hard to write, but I think that to fully appreciate what the year ahead can be, we need to be transparent about what the year behind really was.

To get started, we need to look at the year that just transpired, both the good and the bad.  Since it is often my way to be able to see the bad before the good – something that I am working on – I will start with that:

–  I had a bad attitude.

I say this because I did.  Flat out.  It was pretty obvious to people around me, especially my very patient wife, that I was just not my normal self.  I think that the lack of any discernible progress throughout the year probably was throwing me off, but I can’t really use that as an excuse. Indeed there isn’t really an excuse for being a grouch… but for some reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be pissed off at something.  This encroached upon my life in so many ways that I am just now starting to see some of the ramifications, but the most serious is that I brought issues at work and my anger problems home and was a grouch to my family.  This is something that is in no way excusable and had the effect of compounding the issue since I knew I was being grumpy but couldn’t stop myself from doing it, which made me grumpier and…well… you get the idea.…

–  I looked backward too often.

I think that this probably went hand in hand with the above, but for other reasons.  It is no secret to anyone that I have a hard time letting go of the glory days of my youth.  As I get older and become more of a family man, there is this strange part of my brain that thinks I need to lash out and try to reclaim part of the past: stay out late and get drunk and whatever else.  Maybe it’s some feral part of my brain that is just not willing to accept change or feels caged, maybe it’s watching my friends move on to careers that they love while I struggle to find my path, maybe it’s just the Varsity Blues dilemma and I’m “that guy” that can’t let go, I don’t know.  What I do know it has caused other issues in my life, including the above mentioned problems with my attitude and their impact on my family life.  I never realized that by looking back I was stopping myself from looking around, to say nothing of looking forward.

–  I was lazy

God was I lazy.  I will say, as an aside, that I worked out a lot this year.  Other than that, I didn’t really do much.  I woke up, went to work, came home, ate too much, drank some (too much?) beer and went to bed – squeezing family obligations in there somewhere.  I never went out of my way to try to better my position; indeed, advancing through life was something that I figured just wouldn’t happen, so I never tried.  I just weighed myself and found that I am only 10 pounds from being heavier than I have ever been because I never bothered to adjust my diet or give a crap about my health – other than forcing myself to work out for a half hour while watching photoshop tutorials on YouTube.  It got even worse over the holidays to the point where until the last couple days I have no idea when the last time I did something I would consider productive.

–  I drank too much

Fairly simple to figure out.  I drank a lot this year.  I love beer and love drinking beer. I drank when out and about too much, I drank at home way too much – especially considering Wife was sober almost all year – and I partied too much.  I don’t want to know how much of my money I spent on booze, but I can tell you it’s enough to help create about a dozen pounds of fat.   It impacted my home life on a few occasions, and led to me making some really dumb decisions.  I have no problem admitting to this: it was a problem for most of the year.

–  I didn’t meet goals

I am a champion of making goals and lists and timelines for the future, and then promptly failing to meet even a single item on them, often breaking from them within a few days of their inception. I wanted to lose weight (gained weight instead), reduce or eliminate my intake of soda (stayed steady all year), do any of a number of photography products (nary a full project was completed), and several other things.  Failures all.

–  I refused to acknowledge my depression

Throughout my life I have had issues with depression. I know the signs, I know the symptoms, and I know what it can do to you (see all of the above).  I refused to acknowledge it because I have prided myself on being a man who can take care of his own problems – usually by internalizing them like a good Irishman.  This last year it has been rearing it’s head and causing all kinds of issues with my psyche – which I usually internalized like a good Irishman.  By causing the deep seeded confusion about who I am and whether that person is worth much, for a great part of the year it really threw me for a loop.  Mind you, this is not being used as an excuse, just as one of the bad things that happened this year.

So there.  There the main themes of what I would consider the bad things that were going on this year. Nothing to bad: no deaths or accidents or job loss.  No locusts or meteors or illness.  Nothing super bad, but bad enough things to make the year kind of meh.

There were good things, though!

–  Finances

I have spent the entirety of my adult life financially poor. I always had a roof over my head and food on the table, but I never saved money, always drove cars that were perpetually broken down, and spent all of my duckets on booze and partying.  Daughter came along and didn’t help that any, even with two incomes.  This year, however, all that changed.  Wife and I are finally – we realized about two months ago – in a very comfortable place financially.  We have money going in to a savings account, no debt that isn’t tied to a university, Daughter is in a good school, and we have enough money to eat out or live in a way where we aren’t worried about paying our bills on time or not having enough food.  I have also increased my outstanding credit; extending myself financially into untested waters in an effort to better the family situation.  I was able to do this because we have the money to do so comfortably and not worry about it, as opposed to doing so because we had to due to a car exploding or something similar.  It is not a place that I ever thought I would get to in my life, having spent most of it as a class-A screwup.  It’s a great feeling, and what I would consider the absolute best thing that we did this year.

–  I finally feel like a dad

For a long time I didn’t feel like a dad.  I felt like I was this clueless guy ping-ponging between issues with his daughter and never really having a grasp of my place in her life.  This year I think that the relationship between me and Daughter has grown and I really feel comfortable being the dad and all of the things that role entails.  While I am overly authoritative a lot of the time, I love every money with that girl and I really believe that over the last year I have come to a place where I am capable of handling anything that she can throw at me (literally and figuratively).

–  I take decent pictures

I only got a few bookings this year, but each of them has been because people saw my work and wanted it to be applied to them.  I have learned more this year as a photographer than ever before, and I feel comfortable in the roll if ever hired or asked about it.  I have had my work reviewed highly by other photographers that I admire, and have really dedicated myself to making this passion of mine a larger part of my life. While I remain hugely critical of my own work, I think that this year has really cemented my love for the art and my ability to prove that love to a wider audience.

–  Wife

What can I say?  She is patient and beautiful and hilarious and I love her.  She has done great things at her job and is loved and respected by her superiors.  I honestly believe that she will be the upwardly mobile of the two of us and I support everything that she does.  I think over this last year we have grown closer and more comfortable being married and being around each other. It has been stressful with her being in school and working and me working all the time and Ailey growing more verbose and much, much louder, but it has been a proving ground showing us both that we can handle it. There have been issues, but she is upfront enough that we are able to deal with them with a relative amount of grace and respect.  I count her as my greatest asset and the person that will allow me to conquer the dreams that I have.

–  Material items increased

I have a new car, and a better computer.  Daughter has good clothes and has educational toys.  I have invested in my photography financially by buying things.  I know this isn’t supposed to matter – indeed materialism isn’t really in my nature at all – but to someone who has never really had enough stuff to fill two cardboard boxes, it’s pretty neat.

So on balance there have been some pretty significant strides taken by myself and my family.  These are enough to balance out the bad veins that have been threading themselves through my days and bring the year to a comfortable middle-ground of “it happened”.  It went by so fast I can’t honestly remember large parts of it for it’s un-interestingness, and I can say that I am glad it’s over.  I am glad it’s over, because that means that I can look toward the future.

The things that I have learned as I have taken the last month to look back on the year are legion.  I think I can distill them down to a few goals for the year, and try to separate those enough to stand on their own.  Truthfully, though, all of the goals I have for this year play off of each other in ways that are sometimes hard to explain, and sometimes plain as day.  I think looking forward while being cognizant of your failings is something most people are not very good at, and I hope that I am able to keep that in my head so I can succeed with them.

–  Photography and my future

I want to be a photographer.  Just saying that makes me feel free and inspired and happy about where my life could lead – in a professional sense – for the first time… ever. I have come to that decision as I get more feedback from those who are in the know, and as I shoot more and realize that some of the most fun I have had all year is from behind the lens.  I don’t know much about business, I don’t really have many contacts in the industry, and I am still not 100% on my voice as an artist, but I don’t think those are limitations so much as possibilities for me to carve out my own niche in the area and get my name out there.  My goal is to start a 52 week project this coming week and make images that will show that I am capable of making a living doing this.

–  I hate corporate America

It is no secret that I hate my job. I spent most of my life telling myself that I would never, under any circumstances, become the worker drone I am today.  In light of that, I have a goal this year to get to a point where I can take a part-time job somewhere and be able to focus my energy and effort on photography and growing a business.  I keep telling people that I want to be signing my own paychecks by the end of the year, but realistically I just am stating that I will not be working in a cube by the end of the year, and that part of my income will be coming from my own business.  Once I am not hemorrhaging money at Daughters school, this will be much easier.

–  Family

Our family grew closer and more set in it’s identity over the last year, but I will be taking pains to be more present, and less of a grouch when I am at home.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to me.  I think that the amazing little team we have created can only become stronger, and I aim to be an active, integral part of that.  I can’t wait to see who my little girl grows in to as she approaches five (FIVE! ) years old.  Likewise with Wife graduating and moving up the ranks at work things are going to get very interesting on the home-front and I can’t wait to see where we end up.

–  Health (Physical)

I just got done working out.  In my garage.  We spent our Christmas money on a home gym.  Squat rack, bench, plates… the whole nine yards.  Two years ago I ran 15K and weighted 205 lbs.  I aim to get back to that point by halfway through this year and create the healthy habits that will maintain not only my physical health, but those of the family.  We are all doing the same thing: not eating nearly as much processed foods, fast food, etc.  Clean diets, thus healthy bodies are a key part of moving forward through the year with confidence.  This includes not drinking nearly as much, getting more sleep and cutting down on my soda intake.

–  Health (mental)

I admitted above that I have issues with depression.  I am going to work on that first by eating right, getting healthy, and pointing my life in a direction that is more beneficial to my own mental health.  There are other options open to me to get my issues under control, and those are definitely a possibility if cleaning up my laziness and unhealthy behavior does not resolve them first.  I have far to many things I want to accomplish this year for my demons to trip me up or slow me down.  These goals are all tied together, obviously.  Healthy body leads to healthy mind which leads to a year replete with met goals and fulfilled expectations. 

I know it sounds trite, but I really do have big hopes for the coming year.  I think that there are amazing things on the horizon for not just me, but for my family and many of my friends.  I have an amazing network of people around me who can assist me with ways to reach my goals, who want me to succeed, and are role models and examples for me to use to guide myself through some very difficult and confusing decisions.  I have a wife who is on her own way to great things who can back me up like I do her.  And I have a direction that I can point myself; the most important part and one that I have bee lacking for pretty much my entire life.

Here’s to a great year.

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Juggling with both hands.

8 10 2014

This is a time of transition in my life.  Since Ailey came along I have tried to do the thing that I thought meant that you could be successful and create the ability to provide for my family.  I got a button-down cubicle job in a call center for a global, fortune 500 company that makes me decent money, has a 401(k), and has prospects for upward mobility.  I have taken on the corporate persona and punched the clock at all of the correct times, parroting all of the phrases and doing all of the things that promise promotion and continued existence.  I traded in my life of creativity and passion for one of commuting, reports, buzz words, spin-offs and gray walls.  My bosses love me, but I have 4 bosses.

I had no idea what the effect of this was going to be.  I have found that over the 4 years that I have been living this life I have been becoming numb.  Previous to embarking on this 6X6 foot journey I was playing and making music, writing, taking pictures and travelling.  Being social and expressive in any way that I could find.  Granted at the time these were hobbies that were getting me through college without going insane and thus not anything to bank on, but they were the outlet that made it possible for me to see the world as one of possibility.  They made me the upbeat, energetic, positive person that I was that inured me to my friends and – at least partially – attracted the wife.  That person has been beaten down and shuttered by a continued onslaught of metrics, traffic, Fluorescent lights and sitting…  so much sitting.

You see, I never thought that a life could be lived that allowed me to be myself and still live a good life with the family.  I thought it was the life of a starving artist or one of financial security; that there was no middle ground.  Obviously I chose the path that led to financial reform and security at the price of my personality and interests.  I did not realize until recently that this has taken a much larger toll on myself, my family and my future than I ever through possible.

I am a grumpy person.  I am always stressed out from being yelled at by my clients all day, having my mental aptitude questioned and my actions scrutinized, and then getting to sit in traffic and stew before getting home.  My schedule leaves me little time for my family and pretty much no time whatsoever for myself.  I have lost my positive, future-looking self under a blanket of resignation that life is simply paying bills until you die.  I’m not being hyperbolic here; I have changed in the last couple of years, and not for the better.  I knew it was happening on a superficial level but I did not allow myself to look deeper in to it since I was doing this for the family and honestly thought that my own well-being was not important enough to care about as long as the family was taken care of and had nice things

It really took the Wife mentioning that she wanted to find a way for me to be able to pursue my intense love for photography on a professional level and get me out of the cube that I really started looking at things.  I realized the extent of my unhappiness and its effect when she ‘joked’ that it was as much for her as it was for me.  It was not in any way family or financially motivated: it was purely the fact that I am doing the one thing I promised myself my entire younger life that I never would.  I have known for a while now that I have been spinning my wheels, but upon actually looking at it I realize now that it’s so much more than that.  The life that I am living right now through my job and lack of any  personal direction is so completely unfulfilling that it is actually taking away the things on which I used to pride myself; causing me to project in to the universe an energy that is toxic and damaging to myself and those around me.

Throughout all of these last few years the one outlet I have had is from behind a camera.  I am at a point where I am selling prints, could book clients if I had the time to try and promote myself and my art.  The few times that I get to get in to the studio or out in nature and really get in to the creative space are the only times that I really feel like myself anymore, yet even those are tempered by the impending weight of going back to the monolith and my cube.  I have piled up these responsibilities around myself and taken everything that I can on and not shared any of it or tried to get help with anything thinking that I have to be the one who does everything all the time, and that is starting to rob me of even the occasional peace that I find behind a lens.

So as I inferred earlier: I am at a breaking point.  A few months ago I happened upon the Chase Jarvis Live video podcast.  In it he interviews creatives, business people, athletes, musicians… any kind of self-made person that you can think of and tries to show that a creative, rewarding life is possible if you are willing to do the work.  This was the first glimmer of hope that I might be able to get past this malaise and break in to something that could help me make the world a better, more beautiful place, instead of just making some huge company more money.  I know now that I would rather live a life that is harder and somewhat less secure if it means that I can be a human being again, instead of a barcode on some corporate tally sheet.  Just the idea of branching out and actually giving it a go, actually trying to start my own business and work my ass off doing something that I love makes me feel alive in ways that I have not felt in years.

I don’t have a plan.  I don’t even have a full portfolio yet.  I don’t have client lists or marketing plans or even an idea of how to get those.  But for the first time in years I have a direction that I WANT to travel and the blessing of my family to endure the hardships that might come along with it until I make it or fail, and that is the most beautiful gift I have received since Ailey was born.

A lot of this comes from the fact that until recently financially we were not in a place that allowed anything other than paying debt and bills.  Over the years, we have dug ourselves out of our hole and have no more debt other than student loans.  Once Ailey is out of the school that is basically a second mortgage payment, we will have the financial ability to reduce our income significantly and still live at our current, fairly comfortable, style of living.  By then I will have my portfolio, be actively pursuing clients, and really starting to become the person I want to be, instead of the person I have to be.

It’ll be a process, but it’s the only thing I can do, and I will work my ass off to make sure it gets done.





Boston.

17 04 2013

 

I am a runner.  Over the course of the last year or so I have fallen deeply, deeply in love with the sport.  For me the road is my meditation.  It is the only place that I can turn off my brain, or get some quiet to work through whatever issues or problems I am having.  It is the only place that I can really push myself to achieve something new without having to worry about money or scheduling or other people.  It is definitely the only place I have ever considered pain as a result of something that I am doing a good thing.  It has brought me renewed sense of self, lost me almost 30 pounds, centered me mentally and emotionally, and put me in better shape than I have been in my entire life. 

When I am out on the road – legs burning, sweat pouring off my head, breathing in time with the sound of my shoes lifting off the pavement – it is one of the few times I am truly at peace with myself and the world around me.  It is because of this feeling that the running world is a tightly knit as it is.  Passing a runner, whether someone who is obviously very novice huffing their way up a hill or someone you can tell runs marathons for fun (by the way that they breeze lightly past you at twice your pace) you can nod, wave or just look in to their eyes and see the respect that you have for each other.  This respect stems for being out there doing something that most people I know don’t understand, and as such regard as stupid, pointless, or crazy.

I have not written much or taken part in the conversation about Boston that has been swirling around the ether for the last couple of days.  Buried in the absolute avalanche of information that comes pouring out of every possible outlet when something like this happens in the modern world, I have been assimilating and processing the flood as best I can.  I find myself very interested, and rightfully horrified, by the process by which information is being disseminated and the often callous disregard for the sensitivities of those affected.  I have seen amazing and ugly things and it has been filling my head with a desire to speak out about what is going on.  That said, even as I sit here I am having a really hard time putting my thoughts together into something that might be seen as coherent; I feel like I really need to get this out of my head so that I might be able to make some sense of this feeling that I have.

What happened in Boston was a tragedy on many levels.  Obviously there is the fact of grievous injury and death, to say nothing of the psychological trauma inflicted on those that were there.  I feel so strongly for those people and the things that they are going through that it absolutely breaks my heart.  I have been heavy for the last couple of days, almost distant with emotions that flip rapidly from anger to grief to determination and back.  I know that I am not alone in this, but for me it has been much stronger than I expected it to be.

On a different level, though, there is something else at work in my brain.  I am taking this attack very personally, almost as a personal affront.  When 9/11 happened I was a much younger person; I was less educated, had less life experience and while still intelligent, I lacked the perspective needed to fully internalize and process the facts of the day.  As such, my response was as much as anyone else’: sadness, a little fear, lots of confusion, then rapid acceptance that things were going to change and moving on with my life.

In this case, however, things are different, and they are so in a couple of ways.

The Boston Marathon is the holy grail of the running world.  It is a multinational event that brings the best runners in the world together to celebrate this passion that we all feel for the sport.  It brings together enough spectators to fill the city of Portland (roughly 500,000)… people just going to watch and support the runners.  For most it is the top of the world; a highlight for most runners’ year, and for some, their life.  This beautiful thing has been sullied by someone whose purpose was obviously important enough in their own head to justify using explosives and trying to ruin the legacy of what should be a perfect day.  While I am sure it will end up being the work of someone who didn’t care about the race, only that it was happening and was full of people and thus a place to make a point, but that doesn’t matter… The damage is done. 

I think that for me the hardest part is that I am taking this particular act very personally.  I and pretty much every runner I know feels that WE were attacked; the runners, the band of people who share a singularly masochistic desire to be outside, running, no matter what the cost.  While most of the injured were spectators, most of them were also runners and no matter their ability or status simply being there made them one of us.  Running is not like Soccer or Football or really any other organized sport.  While there is competition that is inherent in any sport, where you are from or what club you associate with or what your cause happens to be in not a cause for derision or conflict, but rather something to be shared and celebrated freely by everyone.  Competition pulls runners together instead of pushing them apart and nearly militarizing them as it does in sports like football (and I can say that, I am a militant football fan).

See, the thing is that it was OUR race.  Us, this global group of runners.  

Some that I have told this too say that it is arrogant, self-centered.  I disagree.  I think that the solidarity that is being shown by the running community extends far beyond the border of those who do and don’t.  Runners who had just finished running 26.2 miles kept running all the way to hospitals to try to give blood.  They took off their shirts at the finish line to make tourniquets for the injured.  They and the volunteers – most of who are runners not fast enough to run in Boston – manhandled fences and directed traffic and threw tables out of the way to make room for the first responders.  The outpouring of emotion and support for the spectators injured in the bombing was been unreal.  It is an amazing community and a beautiful response by its members all over the world, so I do not feel it is arrogant to feel enough of a partnership with those at the finish line to feel victimized by what happened.  All of us do: those determined faces on the road have taken on a grim shape as we run past each other, people running because they have to, striding down the roads near my house, covered in sweat because this is how we deal with pain, with sadness and with fear.

There is another side to the way that I have been feeling, and one that is far harder for me to quantify.

I have a family.  I am getting married next month to an amazing, gorgeous, hilarious woman.  I have a beautiful, if trying, daughter.  I live in a decent house and have a decent job.  I drink good beer with good friends on the weekend.   There is so much potential for this life and there are so many things that I want to accomplish with my time on this planet.  To think that I could be sitting on a sidewalk at a race and have everything stopped or my trajectory through life changed in a terrible fashion by some asshole with a pipe-bomb means so much more to me than it ever has. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m one of those people that won’t go out anymore because the terrorists are hiding in the bushes to blow up my Saturn or fly an airplane in to the grocery store I am at; far from it.  Indeed what I think is most prudent would be to take that idea that we are not really as in control of our fate as we would like to think and use it as fuel to take control; to really use it as motivation to go out and do the things that I want and love… To reach that potential for this life that I know is out there.

I know that sounds kind of weird, so hear me out.  What right do I have to squander my time and my energy sitting on my couch watching reruns of shows on Netflix?  If there is the possibility that some random act of barbarism could take me off this planet or take away the things in my life that I love, why would I not want to pack the days with as much awesome as I can?  Running, Photography, travel, myfamily… these are things to be experienced and enjoyed as much as possible.  I understand that this is the way everyone should live their live anyway, yaddayaddayadda, but for some reason this awful thing in Boston has really made me start thinking about that more.

I don’t have an eloquent answer.  I don’t even have a coherent response.  There have been so many heart-wrenchingly beautiful things written in the last couple of days – many by people outing themselves as lifelong runners and identifying as that instead of journalists, photographers, news-people or bloggers – that my feeble attempt to correctly elucidate something as simple as my thoughts pale in comparison.    

All I can do is pour my brain out on to this keyboard and quietly wait at work for the time when I can support and show my respect for the people of Boston, the runners, the spectators and the victims.  I wait for the time that I can put on my shoes and go pound into the asphalt the idea that we should be afraid, that we should let the act of a madman somehow ruin for us what is really the purest thing many have in their lives.  I wait for the time when I can go and run directly into the face of the idea that someone would dare impinge upon our freedom and our identity, not only as runners but of the people of a great country that is not afraid of small people using horrible means to further their small purpose. 

I the last two days I have PR’d my 5k time twice.  I am already planning my long run for Friday. 

 I run for the love of the road, in support and defiance, and I invite you to do the same.

For Boston.

 





Choose to be happy.

13 01 2013

I was watching a few TED talks today, two by a Buddhist Monk and one by a venture capitalist and billionaire (it makes sense, trust me) and it really got me to start thinking about some stuff. 

One of the TED talks I was watching today gave a method of meditation that consisted of simply sitting quietly for 10 minutes.  According to him “Most people assume that meditation is all about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind. But actually it’s … about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly, witnessing it coming and going.”  It is pretty incredible in today’s world what can be accomplished by simply sitting quietly and taking stock of the things that are buzzing around in your brain.  For me, I saw a coalescing of ideas that have been in there for a couple of weeks, and I thought I would share them.

The lady and I have made some fairly major changes in our life lately.  Other than last night, I have not had any booze for two weeks.  I have changed my diet so drastically that it actually made me feel ill for a few days, but now I feel better than I have literally in years.  I have adjusted my lifestyle so that things like spending, debt, savings and other logistical aspects of running a household are relegated to a secondary role, planting them firmly behind being healthy and living a healthy lifestyle.  After making these changes for a few weeks, I have lost almost 10 pounds (in 2 weeks!), put my 5k time firmly at 28 minutes, been able to spend more time with my daughter, and have a clearer head than I can remember having… maybe ever.  And out of all of this something amazing has happened:  I am happy.

It has been a while since I have had the clarity of thought to say that.  I will admit that a certain surprise that we have had has made the future seem very much brighter than it was just a couple of weeks ago, but the thing that really changed things was a decision made by us: that the road that we were on was not a good one, nor the correct one for who we are and who we wanted to be.  This set in motion a chain of events that has me actually looking forward to growing up and looking in to the future.  This is a stark contrast to the way that I used to think, which was reminiscing about the glory days and believing that nothing was going to be able to hold  up to that seemingly high bar; a strange though when one considers that the bars are not measuring the same things.

The second talk that I watched was by one of my favorite monks (Yes, I have favorites, leave me alone) Matthieu Richard.  He is one of those Buddhists that is just a happy person – in fact he is commonly known as the happiest person alive – and his talk was about the methods of happiness.  Getting rid of clutter in your life, eliminating distractions that will drag you down, making a conscious effort to find things that elevate you on a mental, emotional and physical level until there is no room left for negativity, understanding that a person cannot have positive and negative feelings about something or someone at the same time, so picking one and sticking to that choice is the only way to ensure it; these are the habits that he and his ilk espouse as the key to being a complete, healthy person… and this is what I am going to do.

I really like the idea that the human mind, and thus the person it controls, are completely able to shape the world around and within them to be in synch with each other.  By taking control of our lives and deciding that we are going to be healthy, complete, simple people we have decided that we are going to create a mentality and an environment that, by virtue of its simple existence, will make us happy.  I really think it is working. 

One of the ways I have been going about this has to do with another talk I have watched  few times by Chip Conley about measuring what makes life worthwhile… measuring what really makes us happy.  A lot of his talk is on different aspects of this, but the part I like comes from his idea that if we can take stock of what it is that makes the human experience a happy one, we can not only create it for ourselves, we can create it for other people, thus adding to the feedback loop by making the world around us happier, amplifying our own sense of well-being and self-worth.  In my life, I have decided that the cramped, cluttered life that I have been leading for so long has been a large driver in my own deflated emotional constant.  I have decided to get rid of that, first in a physical sense, then in a more personal one.

On the physical side, it is pretty easy.  I live in an 800 square foot duplex with the lady and my daughter.  We have stuff to fill two of those, both stuffed in our closets and in my garage.  Living in this environment where there is stuff everywhere and most of it is purely extra has been driving me mad.  I spent the last two days cleaning out my house and my garage.  Throwing things away, donating them, organizing and cleaning for 10 hours a day… I feel so much better now that I know that our house is streamlined and easy to live in and use; one less distraction. 

On a personal side, I decided that I need to pick a direction.  Since becoming a full-time pro photographer, an astronaut, or an aerospace engineer is not really an option anymore, I’m going to head off in the direction afforded me by my current occupation.  It wasn’t my first or 80th choice, but I’m good at it and it pays well, so as long as I have that taken care of and have a goal to be able to better live my life comfortably, the occupation doesn’t really matter all that much.

De-clutter, De-distract, cleanse. These are the keys to feeling better.  My life is headed in a direction, my affairs are in order, and my body feels like it is running better than I can remember.  All of this happened because of a choice to be happy and healthy.

Can you make the choice?





Becasue we are small.

19 06 2012

I read something lately that really kind of blew my mind, and I thought I would share it with you. 

While perusing the vast and distant wastelands of the internet (AKA: Reddit) I came across a startling fact.  There is a good estimate of the number of stars in the known universe that sits somewhere around 1022.  That is all of the stars in all of the billions of galaxies that we know to exist.  Now, considering the truly epic number that this represents and the almost unimaginable scale that it exists in, think about this: the estimate of the number of atoms in the human body (and I say estimate because humanity has yet to create tweezers small enough to pick up and count them) stands at right around 1027.  What this means is that the human body, in my case a sack of meat weighing 220 pounds and standing 6-foot-3, contains 1,000 orders of magnitude more atoms than exist celestial objects in the universe.  100,000 universes worth of atoms.

The scale represented by these numbers gives lie to the real facts behind them.  That each of us is so packed full of stuff that amalgamated out of the universe over millions of years, became conscious, then built the crappy laptop I am typing this on is so improbable, so unimaginably impossible that the fact that it happened makes us very special indeed.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my station in life (warning, sob story).  I was touted early on in life as someone who was smart, who was destined to do great things.  Schooled in science and art at the same time, the artistic side took over and I violated the beliefs of all those who had lofted these ideas of greatness upon me throughout my childhood by diving in to music and straying from the path that would have had me as an engineer or something of that ilk.  This has been a source of consternation for me for a long time and it has taken me years to come to grips with the dissonance caused by these two conflicting versions of my life.  The stress caused by this dissonance has lost me friends, aged me more than I should be, and nearly lost me my family.  But you know what helps, and very recently has made me a much less stressed out, much more easy-going and very much happier person who is not only able to look in to the future, but be excited that I don’t really know what it holds?  What you read above.

I have come to realize that as cheesy as it sounds, we really are precious.  We are the creation of random events that have happened time and time again over 13-or-so billion years in the universe, and as far as we know, we are the only time that atoms have figured out how to get together and cooperate in order to communicate, to seek out other atoms to love, and how to look up and want to know more about what is there.  We build things, we cook food, We adventure and discover, we have sex, we argue over football… all of these things are unique to us and that makes us worth thinking about.  Within the bounds of my lifetime we will never experience anything other than life on this planet, never know if we are all alone on this (really) tiny chunk of rock spinning through space around a very small and rather ordinary star.  We will only have what we are, the time and the life that we are given on our tiny lifeboat in the vast emptiness..

Considering this it seems a little silly to be stressed out about the fact that I am poor, or working a job that doesn’t stand up to that which was promised me when I was young.  It is almost insulting to the universe to worry about what others think, to be upset about where I am heading.  I think, and this is a recent understanding for me but one that is very powerful, that in order to really do justice to the improbability of humanities existence the only thing I can do is live my life as fully and as passionately as I can.

To this end I have lately been counting those things that the universe has seen fit to throw my way.  I am healthy.  I have talent in many areas.  I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge (well, cabinets… non-processed food is a bit of a commodity these days).  I have a beautiful, wonderful woman who I love, deeply, and who loves me and wants me to be the man I want to be.  I have a daughter that is just about the best thing ever in so many ways I can’t count them all.  The current fortune that I have eclipses the fact that I am poorer than I have ever been.  It overwhelms the fact that I live without many of the modern conveniences that many people enjoy because of being poor.  Indeed, being able to drive home and watch the sun set, or just be outside and breathe the air that envelops our little planet and feel the grass under my toes and get so, so angry at the birds that start to chirp at 5 in the morning overrides the small things in my life that I have all the world to change.  And so it goes for you.

Basically what I am getting at is that we, as a people and as individuals are unique.  For all we know we are the only example of organized life in the entire, infinitely vast universe.  It is simply rude to believe that you are so bad off that it is worth giving up on – or even not trying to maximize in every way – the opportunity that has been given to us by the rules of probability.  Obviously this is an idea that can be extrapolated in to a much larger thing speaking to issue such as war, famine, greed, politics,  yadda yaddayadda… But that is not what this is about.  It’s is about you.

What have you done today to make yourself happy?  What have you done to realize that you are something worth being?  Have you made a choice that benefitted you or those around you?  Is there something in this day that you are going to do or think that is going to be enough of an affirmation that the 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms that make you up are awesome that it will carry over until the next one? 

There should be.





Rose Festival Redux.

14 06 2012

Once again it is that time for the festival that brings out the aspects of Portland that most of the population tries to forget.  That’s right; it is the time for the Rose Festival. 

Now this was Ailey’s first time at the Rose festival, and honestly is the first time that I have been there since the last time I wrote about it.  I would like to say things have changed, but sadly I think that the only thing that is different is my perception about the whole thing.  I would like to say that I was looking at this trip from the perspective of someone who loves fairs and all that goes along with them, but this is not the case.  I was on a mission to capture a few specific long-exposure images of some of the rides, and I turned it in to a chance to spend some quality, wholesome (ha!) family time with my ladies.

The first and main thing that anyone who is paying attention – and is easily flustered by the state of Americans these days – notices at a place like this are the people.  About half of them are the normal Portland faire: normal, everyday people and families, people covered in awesome tattoos and their presumably awesome kids, Pirates (seriously), people who spend a lot of good money to look like shit in a lot of bad clothing, and folks who probably perambulated to the amusements on some kind of Olde-Time bicycle after waxing their fearsome moustache.  These people don’t bother me (well the turbo-hipsters  do, but that’s because I am getting somewhat crotchety).  The people that bother me are the other half.

Now I would not presume to have the cajones to call this section of the population fat.  That would not be nice of me, and I am a nice guy. 

Ask anyone. 

Suffice to say that the segment of the population that attends these festivals are those who walk around with a brick of curly fries on one hand, a bag of cotton candy tied to their belt-loop, and elephant ear of sufficient size to cause a real elephant to develop a complex in the other hand, and a small tanker-truck of Soda following them around pouring caffeine and sugar directly in to their veins.  These are – as an aside – the same people who blame their weight on some obscure medical condition.

Anyway these rather large companions to the Human species waddle and mosey their way through the fair as if there is no one else in the world there, not even the people that actually run the amusements.  Mind you, when I say mosey, I mean a speed that by comparison puts the usual Texas mosey somewhere in the relativistic category.  I understand full well that the fair is not a place to be moving with efficiency and purpose, but we did have a purpose and the fact that we were guiding Ailey by the hood of her jacket as she ran ahead like some kind of out-of-control sugar-seeking missile.  This only made the fact that her path, and thus ours, was blocked by literal walls of ham beast and their offspring aggravating in ways that I don’t really have the words for.  It is enough, I think, to presume that many a glare and even a few terse words were used to express my dissatisfaction in the least likely-to-cause-a-ruckus way possible.

Keep in mind, the issue of the super-money was not limited to the larger members of the populace.  Indeed pretty much anyone there – save those with the tattoos and awesome kids, who were and usually are the nicest and most aware of their surroundings – had a tendency to walk around as if in a daze.  It was like the grease smoke and wafting fumes of Carnie-stench had lapsed them in to a trance wherein they could walk right over my daughter, knocking her down, and not even notice that there was a man with a rather large and heavy tripod wanting desperately to beat them soundly about the head and shoulders.  Going to these things is supposed to be fun, but for someone like me, who dresses in black when out in public and generally disdains people interfering with my world, needing to treat walking a concourse full of entertaining things like a gauntlet of slight and very passive rage and constant maneuvering is kind of saddening.  I want to have fun, not spend the time pissed off that someone had just walked their entire family in to me while literally looking right at me.

This is especially true when it comes to teenagers.  I like to say that I was never that young, but I know I was.  The fact is that these small humans travel around in packs that are even more oblivious than anyone else.  Pone can hardly blame them, however, since I remember the days of Hormone-induced catatonia that comes along with the age: wandering around town not really knowing what you are doing only that you are with a mob of people that are in the same predicament.  It is not a malicious way that they don’t care; they just simply and plainly don’t process anything that doesn’t involve sugar, their phone, or someone of the (usually) opposite sex.   They wander around looking for the next opportunity to spin themselves around until they lose the cotton candy and hamburgers that they wolfed down a few minutes ago and impress their friends.

God Bless ‘em.

Nothing, however, compares to parents.  Parents are just the worst.  I say this in all seriousness, and being a parent: I hate parents.   When they aren’t sharing unwarranted details of their conception-birth-parenting style – or judging you for yours – they are ramming in to me and my kin with their strollers.  Every time I got hit by a stroller I got glared at like it was my fault you couldn’t control the device carrying your three kids and their various coma-inducing snacks.  I guess I should be happy that their spawn are contained to that particular device.  Most of the families here just let their children run feral through the fair, pushing through the crowds, cutting in lines, yelling and throwing things and basically acting as if they had no parenting but were actually raised by the television and McDonalds.

Oh Wait.

This is a note to those parents out there.  My kid may be hyper, but she was not allowed to destroy your fun, so get your head together and teach our kids some manners.  Please.

As I mentioned before, most of this hazard-to-navigation inspired stress was compounded by the fact that Ailey was with us.  For those that have not met her, imagine a little nuclear powered Tasmanian devil with the vocabulary of a 4 year old, the arrogance of Bobby Flay, and the attitude of, well, me.  She was literally so overwhelmed by the sights and sounds around here that her eyes were dilated.  Near-constant shouts of “What’s that?” followed by “Oh Wow” trailed after her as she bounced, listless, through the crowds, stopping randomly and quickly enough to make one of us fall over her in an effort to stop the traffic she was now blocking from stealing her up and either whisking her away, or driving her in to the mud-soda-old food mixture that makes up the ground at a fair.  Steering her was quite simple once we figured out that the hood of her jacket acted like a leash/rudder, and applying a little drag to one side or the other could turn her with relative ease.

Don’t take that the wrong way.  I loved having that little ball of energy with us on our little journey.  She is an awesome, very smart kid and seeing her totally blown away when a ride would launch itself in to the sky and spin around, or taken aback when some Carnie would petal his wares toward us in a booming voice reminded me of my younger days.  I know that sounds hokey, but I imagine I am going to be saying it a lot, so get used to it.  She was adorable, and I look very much forward to more outings like this with her in the future.

Speaking of rides, this is a none-too-often looked at aspect of the Fair.  At night these places light up, an oasis of light by the river in a city that doesn’t rely on glitz to be awesome.  Even being on the concourse at night is almost intoxicating, the bright, whirling lights of the rides making one dizzy enough to risk life and limb by climbing aboard.

It is a totally different world when you are there in the daytime.  Most people don’t notice these things, but being a pretty mechanically minded person I look at the rides as they are gyrating and trundling about in 6 axes and can’t help but notice the stains on the paint where hydraulic fluid had leaked on to the paint and been flung around by centripetal force.  I can’t help but notice rub marks on the metal where parts had touched which, judging by the fact that they were once painted surfaces, were not supposed to touch.  I definitely can’t help but notice the grinding sound coming from the bearing that is the main point of failure for an arm that spins 40 feet in the air suspends the entire 10 tons of steel, light bulbs, people, dried vomit and leaked hydraulic fluid over a crowd of hundreds of people and possibly the river.  I know these sounds because my right front wheel occasionally makes them in the Jimmy and I am afraid THAT is going to kill me, so getting on to one of these rides is not in my itinerary. 

My brain was working at its usual speed and fashion, so when that rids started to spin and rise in to the air all I could think of was a catapulting action resulting in many unwanted visitors to one of the military ships docked along the sea-wall on the Willamette.

Oh, did I mention it was fleet week as well?  This is an aspect that I am actually kind of OK with.  Aside from the fact that the city is imminently safe from any incoming missiles due to the 4 AEGIS cruisers docked along its sides, it is also full of Sailors, whose money fills the coffers of downtown bars and the ….  Well, let’s just say that the ladies don’t mind, either.  All in all it is a pretty harmless part of the Rose Festival that gives me the opportunity to look at neat ships.  Even the most jaded of Portland’s activist elite can’t think they aren’t cool looking.

Once I had obtained the required shots of some of the rides – which turned out very well, thank you very much – it was time to go.  I could have taken a few more, but it was about this time that Ladies face decided to fall off.  Be it the grease-smoke that was everywhere or some sea-borne contagion wafted in to our fair city by one of Canada’s “warships,” an allergy attack of truly fascinating proportions proceeded to make it seem as if the inside of her face was trying to get out, so it was time to get out of that environment and on to the MAX, something I will write about in the near future.

As you can see, the Rose festival is as it has been for years.  The rides may change slightly, but it is essentially the same thing.  I am older now, and more jaded toward people, so I have changed the way that I see it, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a truly entertaining spectacle that brings out the true nature of this city of ours.





They try to stop me.

31 05 2012

This morning was one of those mornings.  You know the ones.  Get up late but things seem to be going ok; the little monster wakes up in a good mood, the cable hasn’t been shut off yet, the ants seem to have withdrawn and entrenched (though they are only doing so with the purpose of rearming and resupplying, obviously).  Typical things that make it an ok start to the day, you know?.  Orange-mango juice was delicious, clothes don’t have too many wrinkles…  it is good until you get in the car.

For some reason there seems to be an entity in the universe that take great delight in delaying travelers that need to be somewhere within a reasonable time.  This thing has the phenomenal cosmic power of knowing ahead of time all of the different routes you can take to get to your destination and uses this power for its own nefarious means.

When I was getting on the freeway today, I notice that it was not a freeway any longer, but the parking lot at the mall during Christmas.  There were cars everywhere; on the shoulders, in between lanes… it was like someone took an orderly line waiting for the bridge to go back down and played Yatzee with it.  Immediately I exited on to a different street and recalculated my travel route.  Thinking myself very clever – there may have even been a chuckle at the poor suckers on I-5 that hadn’t thought of this – I took off through the surface streets of central Vancouver.

Now, this part of town is not really the best.  As such, Vancouver does not spend an inordinate amount of time or money on their streets or taking care of its infrastructure.  No tax money is to be made here, so they spend the neighborhoods share of the city money on bollocks like deciding what color the new bridge over the Columbia will be.  As such, I figured a quick jaunt down Mill-Plain Blvd would be just what the doctor ordered.  Unfortunately for me, the Dr. did not, in fact, order a quick jaunt.  Today was, apparently, the day that Vancouver decided to restring the power lines on Mill Plain.  Being stopped by flaggers and made to follow slow-moving trucks and their slowly unwinding reels of wire and basically moving at half the normal speed limit is frustrating enough, but when you combine all of this with a slight drizzle and the fact that no one on the planet earth seems to be able to drive like a normal person anymore my blood was rapidly approaching boiling.

Running the gauntlet of construction vehicles, shitty cars being driven shittily, and the fact that the universe saw it fit to turn every light in the city red just as I was coming up to it was getting a little ridiculous, so I thought, “I’ll dip north a little and take 18th the rest of the way!  So long, suckers!”

I am an idiot, but I had good reason for doing this.

This street, which I take at least once a day bringing the monster to her Grandparents house, never has any issues.  It’s straight, few lights, and 35 mph (I go 40.  Eff tha Police).  Today, however, they had decided to build a new road, one that climbed the right shoulder and proceeded directly in to an apple orchard.  I am not exactly sure why an apple orchard needs its own dedicated piece of transportation infrastructure, much less one that runs up a fairly steep hill and terminates right on top of it, but it seems to be an important enough thing to park a dump truck directly in the middle of the street, backed in to some blackberry brambles, and exactly in my way.  This would have been fine if I could have driven around, but since the dumper was taking up 1.5 lanes of a 2 lane road I had to wait for a flagger to wave me through.

Let me talk about flaggers for a minute.  These people get paid something like 16 bucks an hour to stand on the street and tell cars when to go and when to stop.  They are usually smoking, have a little water bottle, and could not care less whether you are just out for a leisurely jaunt through the country-side or have swallowed a balloon full of wood-screws and ground glass and really, really need to get to the hospital.  I get that, they see it all day, and they are just doing their job, and since I fit somewhere to the middle of this spectrum of importance, whatever, it’s fine.  MY problem comes when I get people like jojo the idiot circus boy who was my flagger today.  I am pretty sure he was actually asleep standing up.  He looked like Gomer-Pile and Snookie had a baby together, and he grew up to make me late for work.  Once the line of cars coming the other way had passed and it was our turn, this guy just kept on staring ahead, not acknowledging anything or anyone around him.  Thus the lines of drivers staring at him with enough intensity to burn a hole straight through whatever thick, fibrous material that filled his head  didn’t really factor..  One of the other workers actually had to go over and smack him on the back of his hardhat to let us start going. 

He did this with great gusto, let me tell you.

Once I finally had the runt dropped off and playing with her gender-programming toys, I started on my way to work.  This involves me driving back through the construction on 18th – guarded by Opie the flagger – back down part of Mill plain through literally one of the busiest intersections in the state (which has been there for decades, but still no one seems to understand how to use it) and on to I 205.

The 205 was a freeway designed to be a bypass around the core of Portland.  It is 5 lanes wide of smooth concrete and at the time that I drive on it usually smooth sailing; a beautiful stretch of road through the ugliest part of the city.  This was the case for the most part, despite the rather large amount of traffic that had rerouted from the Cluster that was the 5.  Until one car ruined everything.

All it ever takes is one car. One person who thinks that they are beyond the rational rules of the road.  A person who thinks that they can flaunt the rules not only of driving and common decency, but physics.  In this case it was a guy who looked to be about my age but driving a brand new, bright red Audi sports car… naturally.

This guy was blasting through fairly tight traffic like an Olympic slalom skier.  He was speeding up and slowing down and bobbing and weaving on a freeway that had been dry for days and was now wet, thus was covered with oil that was combining with the water from the rain to make it quite slick.  This route  was not efficient because I had him in my sights for over three miles, all of this extra energy he was putting in to his driving was doing nothing to advance his position for a long time..   This obviously entitled individual (read: asshole) was cutting off every car he could, he even ended up cutting me off twice.  The overall effect of this guy was to slow the entire group of cars down to about 12 below the speed limit, as people had to repeatedly hit their brakes to stop from getting rammed by a car that was so new it still had the dealer trip-permit in the windows.  This guy was riding herd on a group of people that he was endangering but did not know, and once he finally got through all of us, he took off down the freeway at easily 120 miles per hour.  My only consolation was that right near my exit off the freeway, I saw a motorcycle cop, probably already pissed off a the fact that he was getting paid city wages to ride a motorcycle in the rain, pulling a bright red Audi over, with the dealer tags still in the window.

The last leg of my travels involves driving down Powell Blvd through deep SE Portland.  This part is pretty cake.  It consists of about three miles of traffic lights every 10 feet, a population of drivers not known for their driving prowess, and the resignation needed to be ok with the fact that you are not going to hit the speed limit of 35 the entire time you are on it.  Whatever, I have been doing it for a year and a half now, I’m used to it.  What I am not used to , is what happens when there is construction on this street.

As improbable as it sounds, for about a half mile of Powell there was a crew stringing power lines.  How it is possible that I get stuck in traffic because of new power lines going up twice in day, much less in the same morning, is completely beyond me.  Someone must love me.  Anyway, to do this, they have to close a lane of traffic.  They do this in the usual way of gradually moving bright-orange, 5-foot-tall road pylons in to the street until the lane is blocked off.  They even went to the extra effort of putting up bright orange, 10-foot-tall signs saying  the lane was closed every other block for about a half mile before the site.  THEN they added a generator-powered, 10-foot-tall, bright orange AND yellow sign that had an arrow in bright yellow floodlights that flashed, indicating that the traffic needs to move over.  Are you picking up what I’m putting down?  It was slightly apparent, as soon as you got off the freeway,  that at some point in the near future the right lane of traffic might be closed for some reason. 

Naturally everyone decided to completely ignore these indicators and continue down the road as if nothing untoward was going on.

Now I am a good driver.  Like, a really good driver.  As soon as I noticed the plethora of signs about the upcoming lane closure, I got over between two rather large trucks and waited patiently for my turn to pass through the construction.  Sadly, no one else seems to be good drivers, because all of the congestion was created by people deciding that they should drive right up to where the cones physically blocked the traffic, bypassing the signs and the giant flashing (FLASHING!!!) arrow and the honking horns and then merge in to the line of responsible drivers.  By merge I mean turn on their blinker when they are already halfway in to the lane in front of you, their rear door a half-inch from your bumper, at 15 miles per hour. 

There are not words to describe the silent fury that I feel for these people.  I ran someone off the road today because he decided that he was going to run over a few of those cones to try to get in front of me.  Not today, honcho, you get to go around the block now and try again.  I do everything in my power to make sure that these people pay for the fact that they were either A) talking on their phone (don’t get me started), B) simply being an asshole and trying to “win” or C) not paying attention.  I give instant qualifiers that lessen the not-perceived-by-them rage if they A) have a baby in the car, B) are attractive, or C) are obviously in some kind of distress.  Sadly, none of the parties involved in today’s ass-holery fit into the second category, and thus all of them earned many a stern-glare, a few middle fingers, and one very obvious running off of the road.

I finally made it to work, and instead of being about 10 minutes early as is my norm, I punched in at exactly 11:00.  No harm no foul, some would say, but the universe had it in for me, and turned a pleasant commute with my little girl in to a stressful, “are you kidding me?” kind of drive that has the effect of tainting your entire day.