“Recommended For You” – a list that shows up just about everywhere. It is rather humbling when the recommended items have no interest to what I’d rather be looking at. Maybe the suggestion engine is wrong. Maybe I’m wrong.
Recommendations breed recommendations. It’s not long before you see the connections between what you chose to read and what is recommended. Beyond that, what someone else is paying to recommend to you. Paid content makes the internet go round.
Before long, what gets recommended to you by a machine starts to go sour and you’re left longing for the days when someone handed you a book they really liked.
After the death of Google Reader I merged everything I could into Feedly. I spent a good amount of time organizing everything neatly like someone who cuts apart and catalogs the daily paper. Every month or so I still ended up going through everything to realize an entire set of feeds had gone wholly unread. Content that I had fallen in love with in one instance got stale pretty quick.
Here is a story about people who listen to Podcasts at an unreasonable speed in an effort to stay up to date on them. The content doesn’t seem viable to them, just the act of completing them is. Keeping up with everything that everyone suggests – you’re bound to get a lot of crap.
That’s when I unsubscribe from people. Those who are genuinely nice people but have no business in recommending stuff to the masses. What does one expect me to do when they share a Times article on their timeline?
Maybe then it’s the media diet. No more falling into the endless scrolls of bottomless bowls. If it endlessly scrolls, then it probably doesn’t belong on my phone.
I’ve gotten into the habit of finding and following specific writers and creators, rather than the publications where their stuff shows up at. Makes for a much cleaner presentation and I’ve found that the same personalities can take a different perspective on their thoughts that isn’t always refined by the voice of a certain publication. Also: less sponsored material this way.
The canyon breeds nostalgia – that knee-jerk reaction where you want to remember something fondly. And let it be that – the knee-jerk, the sudden, a whiff of perfume passing in the wind. Sitting on it any longer reveals the memory behind the nostalgia, and that can be a lot for most to handle.
I had blacked out, yet I remember talking to Steph after leaving the medical cabin. I had been up since four that morning, hiking up a mountain with dozens of teenagers to take in the sunrise. I had gone hypoxic at some point, lost most of my consciousness.
This was on a Friday. Steph said that she hadn’t done that hike yet, and would probably join us the following Friday. By Wednesday she had died. Lifelong issues from seizures had caused her to choke in her sleep. A car clearly labeled with the county Coroner was parked in front of the cabin she shared with four other women. The four were distraught, sitting in their sleeping clothes as the sun crested over the ridge and warmed the canyon for the day.
If you’re lucky, you never need to think about the Chaplain. He is just another guy with a specific set of responsibilities that you never notice when things are going just fine. Maybe he leads a prayer before meals, or he spends his day sweeping the meticulously clean floors of the chapel, so it is ready for whoever comes by.
To have a good Chaplain is to have a person you don’t even realize is one. One who forgoes his priority to a higher deity for the humanity of his peers. Likely, they are someone who is personable and who can give a sense of comfort without having to be overtly comforting. Our Chaplain was the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a car with for any amount of time. Not that his demeanor is particularly preachy. Instead, imagine every joke not landing and a laugh that is forced. Imagine a doctor with no bedside manner, but a penchant for poking and prodding patients.
When someone dies on a Scout Camp, the acting Chaplain is around for all the reasons you would want. That morning, by 6 AM, he was in full uniform and waiting patiently to accept grievances. The four others who woke up to a body of someone they had shared friendly “goodnights” with just hours before was being carefully placed in a bag and wheeled into the back of a van. That morning they were a clan of their own right which was not keen on inviting a man as a source of comfort. Especially a chaplain. Especially our chaplain.
When I last drove through the canyon I couldn’t bring myself to go past the gate. A few yards down the road another gateway was under construction. Large, concrete, unmoving. Standing as a monument to the camp hidden in the forest beyond.
They say if you want to hone your craft, do the same thing religiously until you come to something damn-near perfection. If you want creativity, start mixing together all kinds of stuff and do things you’ve never really tried before. I am also trying to be better at pushing out things that aren’t necessarily perfect and learning from all the mistakes while in the public forum. This is that.
After my 365 Project wrapped I had trouble taking photos. It wasn’t long before I realized that I needed to have some kind of project going at all times in order to keep me motivated to keep making stuff. I explain that in this video, as well as go into some detail about my next photo project for August.
I’d love to know about how you work with projects and to follow along with anything that you are currently working on. Drop me a line?
Last Friday, the 21st, I concluded my #365Project. A project which, according to some, might have had an end point but seemingly no objective.
There are critics for everything.
On July 22nd, 2016 I set my cell phone on a timer and took this shot:
- Each photo had to have me in it somewhere, even if I wasn’t the central subject of that photo.
- I had to compose, shoot, and edit each photo within the 24 hours of that specific day.
- No selfies. I could not be touching the camera at all while the exposure was happening.
About a year ago I sold off my broken Pentax K10D. Before that, I had taken a ton of photos over the span of several years – most of which are now stored on defunct photo websites, old hard drives, stolen laptops and who knows where else. As my archives deteriorated, so did the camera. At some point, the firmware of the camera had corrupted and Pentax quoted me a $600 fix. A frustrating deal, one I didn’t make. At the time I had been feeling something I hadn’t felt in quite a while: the desire to take photos again.
You can check hers out here. Be mindful that it is somewhat NSFW – whatever that means to you.
Quickly, this project became something of a journal. I’ve never really struggled with keeping a journal – but I have always been challenged with keeping a focused one. Eventually, the ones I keep written down turn into a sprawl of shopping lists, projects to manage, drafts for things that aren’t really keyed into journaling. The 365 project was a way for me to get an idea of what that day was about.
The mission was accomplished – I was back to taking photos every day. And not just the 365 photos either. The energy bled out into other projects that I had been thinking about. I finally felt like I had permission to shoot the things that I had always wanted to shoot. Having the clock on each photo meant I HAD to produce something, and having the specific criteria meant I had to take the time to produce it.
It is easy to create something every day, it is nearly impossible to be creative each day. In fact, there are only about 15 photos I’d consider looking at again. Everything else is just a draft.
Now I know what I need to do to actually finish something. The parameters, the time crunch, the audience – all of it is a mix that provides just enough pressure to create, but not so much that I feel suffocated. Of course, I will be using this mentality towards another project very soon.
Projects are not meant to be perfect. I look at projects as the starting point of a path – the end is never wholly defined and the resulting product may not be what I set out to create.
I need to get better at archiving. Not everything got uploaded on the day it was taken (turns out, I’m out of range a lot more often than I realized – not a wholly bad thing). Batch uploads messed up the chronology, and there is one image that will not glue itself to the album. Again, projects nor products are perfect.
From what I’ve experienced, if you were to start something like this I would do the following:
– Set a time parameter. A week, a month, a year.
– Set criteria to keep the project focused. 365 days of whatever, so long as “whatever” fits within your initial criteria.
– Accountability helps. Social media is good for that.
It is easy to hate Facebook nowadays. Or anything that requires some social element. Yet here we are, feeding the animals our livelihood in exchange for obscure self-worth. To think there was a time not too long ago where no one gave a shit about your vacation photos.
Two things happened on the eve of my 32nd birthday. I was sitting at home and stewing over something I had seen on Facebook and Twitter. I also watched Paterson.
The former: I couldn’t tell you what it was that bothered me. Not even the context of the conversation or the issue at hand. What I did know is that the thing I used to keep up with all of my friends and family became the thing that I also used to keep up on news and current events. The streams had crossed. There was no such thing as polite conversation anymore. Like assholes at the library, I was subject to loud conversations that I wanted nothing to do with while I was trying to get something done.
Then I saw Paterson. It’s the latest Jim Jarmusch flick released on Amazon. Adam Driver plays Paterson, who lives in modern day Paterson, New Jersey, makes a living driving a bus, and writes (by hand!) fabulous Then he does nothing with them. No social media, because he doesn’t even have a phone. While the movie does not go without conflict, Paterson seems like an all-around happy guy.
Credits rolled, I deleted everything social off my phone. It was time to clean the kitchen.
When he still lived in Denver, I frequented a yoga instructor named Kyle who would always allude to “keeping people out of your kitchen.” He’d say this while pointing to his head. Your kitchen – the handful of gray matter between your ears that dominates your entire world. When people fuck with it, the entire self goes tits-up and the bad day ensues.
Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that “up in your kitchen” is an idiom as old as baseball and trash-talk. The idea is still the same: if your kitchen isn’t clean, you can’t cook. If you can’t cook, you won’t nourish. Give this circumstance a long enough timeline and we’re all corpses.
Speaking of nourishment – for platforms built around this idea of an “endless feed” of content, why is it we are rarely left feeling nourish after an hour of scrolling?
“Everyone is wishing you a happy birthday on Facebook,” my wife tells me over lunch. This is the day after Paterson, after the deleting of apps from my phone. That morning I had participated in a lazy (well, I made sure it was lazy) yoga practice at Red Rocks. Now we were gearing up for an afternoon at a music festival in the middle of the city. I only knew of three genuine birthday wishes – two granted through text messages, another through Messenger. The rest were not as sincere emails from brands (Happy Birthday! Why not take 20% off whatever you order TODAY (and today only!)).
The rest of the day I snapped a few photos with my phone’s camera. Those pictures then stayed there, on the camera, rather than be immediately shared out to harvest likes and comments. Every performance was live-streamed/ Snapped/ Instagrammed out to some degree. If someone were to harvest all of that footage I’m sure the entire festival could be pieced back together in a chaos of resolutions and camera angles and those little stamp filter things that go on everything.
When I finally crashed that night, my phone battery was still at 77%. Usually, it is completely drained.
All of this is not the manifesto of a retroactive luddite. I am not going to shirk responsibilities to hole up in a cabin heated by wood fire surviving off venison (although, should the opportunity volunteer itself…).
No, this is an observation to the thing that most of us are bothered by, but can’t quite name: Ambient Conversations. Like a busy room where everyone chatters so much you can’t finish a thought. Or how I can’t write if I know the words to the song I’m listening to. All of the social media which serves as the center point to our lives today is built on the idea of conversation. People you know, or don’t know, shouting into the void. Other people shouting back. Comments sections. Reactionary emojis. Entire news segments built around the latest thing the president Tweeted. Stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter but is paraded before us anyway.
These conversations and the profile pictures and usernames tied to them, they tend to fuck up your kitchen.
I used to like saying “Everyone always seems to be mad at something.” I guess it was rather alarming to discover that people actually went seeking out things to be upset over.
The solutions ended up being pretty simple:
- Instagram went back on the phone. It is the only app I genuinely love to use. The only one that I genuinely missed during the blackout. The ambient conversations are minimal.
- I only pay attention to the things that people intentionally want to speak with ME (and only me!) about. I’ve turned email notifications back on for a lot of the social apps to alert me when I’m directly tagged in or am invited to something.
- Save for notifications from a select few individuals, my phone is silent and dark.
- 20 minutes of news in the morning. That’s it. There was a time when news was dished out in 22-minute segments with commercial breaks. That was it. Then The Simpsons came on. I want to live in that world again. I have refined the news sources I need down to a single RSS feed. I may not know as much about the world anymore or what my friends think of it, and I’d love someone to convince me that this is a bad thing.
Everything got a lot quieter. The kitchen is cleaner. Now I just need to learn to cook.
Everyone loves an epic. Everyone loves the idea of a long journey.
Easy Rider. Strayed. Any accounting of Everest. Into The Wild.
Long, meandering paths that bring someone from one uncertain point to another. Like a river. It might be why I love the idea of rivers so much.
An epic makes for a great story, but it also seems relatively unattainable to most of us. Those who have jobs and places to be, rents to pay, groceries that might go bad if we don’t eat in tonight. Most of us are lucky to get away for a weekend – and usually wherever we go we have to share it with all the others who are also lucky enough to get away.
The idea I’ve been working with: you might not need to walk 10,000 miles in order to experience some kind of monumental change. Just like how it takes a single sentence in a novel to change everything for the reader.
After all, it is a quote that gets the tattoo, not the entire scripture.
They key, as with most things, is intention. Walking a mile may not leave you blistered, bloody and sore. But the intention of that walk could be enough to give you the mindset of an epic. The discovery of that intention, the intense focus in that mile or two, that’s what gives you the story. Not everything needs to be a spiritual awakening.
Most of the time, we just need a quick realignment to remember why we do anything at all.
After I was laid off earlier this year, I went ahead and stuck my hands in as many metaphorical jars as I could. I had been jumping from one advertising agency to another and the timelines between when I started and when I was sick of the gig kept getting shorter and shorter. It turns out it was time to jump ship, to try something new, to change course entirely.
One of the metaphorical jars called back about two months ago. He was an event organizer for the series of RAW showcases. He saw some of the photographs I had applied with, liked what he was looking at, and wondered if I would want to show my stuff at the next Denver showcase?
I mean, sure? Why not?
So set off one of the busiest five weeks I’ve ever had getting ready to do something that I had never even thought of doing: hanging photographs that I had taken at an event that was characterized as “art.” Forcibly taking all of the photography skills I had been batting around for months and putting them into something much grander than a Flickr album. There is a massive leap between having a half-way curated Instagram account and having your images exist in a capacity where they could eventually adorn someone’s wall-space.
Before I knew it, it was the night of the show. I stood in a booth in front of my work for four hours and tried not to look nervous as people openly reviewed all the images I had composed specially for this show. All around me were dozens of other artists showcasing work from across all sorts of mediums. There was music, at top volume, which I strained to speak over to those who had some interest in my photos.
There were also more people than I expected wearing nothing more than body paint. I mean – I expected some people in body paint, just not that many.
As I punch up this reflection on the event in the mire of a social hangover, I realized that even if I hadn’t sold a single print (mad props to those of you who dropped some cash in my bucket) the RAW showcase was the best learning experience I could have had during these early, reintroduction days to my freelancing.
Stuff I Learned:
I Had To Learn To Self-Promote – I’ve never felt comfortable talking about what I was working on. In a world of finished products, I always had works-in-progress. Self-promoting what I was working on was something that I avoided at all costs. To make my position in the RAW showcase work out, I needed to more or less get over myself and get it out there. I had to learn to say out loud (really loud!) “Hey, I’m over here doing something that I think is different and I just want you to notice.”
Even if what I was working on wasn’t good or interesting to people, I’ve found it a general truth that most folks just don’t know about most of the thing they might want to know about. Myself included. There is something about taking a moment to look around and just notice what other people – especially those in your own circles – are doing.
In My Digital World, I Needed Something Tangible – A few weeks before the show I printed out a series of 5X7 prints on matte paper over at Mike’s Camera. It was all stuff that I wanted to hang at the show and I wanted to see what looked good printed out. Surprisingly, nothing looked that great. Everything seemed darker than I thought it would, muddier. And why wouldn’t it? I was taking a digital exposure and editing it on something that lit up from behind and usually posting it in a place where other people would look at it on a brightly lit screen.
Take away all those lights? Mud.
Seeing things in print gave me a moment of pause to recognize what I was asking people to look at and what I was taking my time to look at. Of alllllll those posts on Instagram that I’ve liked – what would I want to buy a blown up 16X24 version of? What gave me a moment’s pleasure to look at and like, and what would I want to frame up on my wall for contemplation for months or years from now?
Investing Improves Chances Of Success – I won’t lie, I had to put down a little money to make this show work out. Not much – but between all of the photo backings, lighting, website toys – there was some adding up to do. In the end, two things happened: I was leveraging more mindset on making the show successful, and I was committing to doing this for a little longer than the one show I had been committed to. And, in a way, it worked. I still have a good deal of prints to sell and some interest in hanging my stuff at other places in the near future.
At this Moment Success or Failure is 100% on me – If I were to attempt a career in selling prints or photography, I’d have to put down a lot more of the right work. Of course, I am also relying on others who want to put down the money for my work to make that career happen. Long before that is months of work, properly punctuated and well executed, which must take place to make sure I’m set up for that kind of success. Same goes for everything else I’m doing in this strange world of quasi-employment. Yes, I’m freelancing and taking all kinds of odd jobs. And that’s great for now. However, it has become resoundingly more clear that I’ll need to continue working if only to set myself up for success when the next big opportunity shows up around the corner.
March happens as it has to. It’s a strange, transitionary month for people in Colorado. On the front range temperatures tease up into something warm. Up in the hills snow keeps falling and draws out the pants and boards and helmets of a population left to slip.
We get back from Cuba and Mexico and wind up in the hot, dry weather of a surprise Spring in Denver. It’s the kind of weather that motivates you to do anything but sit down and be productive. So you’re sweeping of patios and washing outdoor cushions and finding session-able beers.
Of course, it doesn’t last long. The threat of March snow happens year in and year out. No one cares for the springtime blossoms getting covered in the blanket of branch-breaking, garden killing snow. Yes, we need the moisture. We will always need the moisture. This year, though, this set in of clouds is doing a number on my spirits. Maybe it’s just the weather and it’ll cycle on out into better moods with insufferable heat.
I know I have to hit the ground running. Time is money. The job hunt continues with some successes but I’ve taken to leaning more into freelance projects. Shooting photos, writing content, actually making things. The scale is smaller, the budgets are smaller, everything is smaller but they are all things I can see through to the end.
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Going freelance is an art of juggling time.
When you’re full time there is some kind of negotiation between the hours of 9 to 5 where half your time is spent trying to jocky with other people’s calendars. Time spent pushing around emails to delay the inevitable outcome of something. In my experience, working within a company is an art of having grand aspirations, but settling for whatever it is people can handle in about 2 hours a day.
Going from full-time to freelance has been an assumption of more hours. Of dishing out the full-breath of my day from sun-up to sun-down and figuring out how I can make the most of it. It is, truly, exhausting.
Every year, after the Oscars, I sit and read through the work of everyone who was nominated for best screenplay. This year I realized not being in a social setting for most of my day means I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to anyone talk. So often I’ll go somewhere and just sit. I’ll sit analog and listen to the world as it happens around me. Coffee shops in the middle of the day, train stations right before rush hours, at the far end of the bar – I’ve got the notebook out but the pen is starting to run dry.