Living in the Images

“I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy.”
Anais Nin

Wow.

Reread that quote and sit with it for just a minute.  Seriously.

Is it possible to live a life based on experiences?  Based on living inside the images, not standing outside of the images as they pass us by?

How many of us can read this quote and say, “yes, I agree. And I have led my life in accordance to this belief”?

I have met the select few who can read this quote and make that statement.  Such a soul is a rare breed and they do exist, I have met them, shared conversations with them, seen them live the literal translation of that quote.  And used them as a compass when I’ve made the journey myself.

And beautiful still are the folks I’ve met and friends I have who understand the relevance of this statement and incorporate the premise whenever possible. Real life obligations may obstruct the implementation of this concept as a daily occurrence, but the core concept is still implemented and cherished.

What’s sad to me though, is that I have also met so many who read this quote and think, “what can I do to stop the images from passing me by? How can I possess these moments, these experiences?  There is so much violence, crime and hate in the world, how can I travel into this unknown realm and see what is beyond my horizon?  I’d rather just see the view from my recliner.”

For if we can not wander into this world and experience all its joys, sorrows, exhilaration and fear, what type of person are we? If we can not recognize and embrace the real, the emotions, the sheer joy of being in the world, how can we understand the true value of living?

I’m not sure how or why, but at a young age I chose the life of experiences.  Maybe it was boredom or curiosity.  Every experience, every moment, every person and every emotion culminate into who I am and are at the core of why I continue to be this way. And though I am a photographer and make images for a living (well, sometimes) one of the reasons I truly love the craft is that I get to experience what I’m documenting.  Its an unrelenting curiosity that drives the photographer, the writer and the nomad.  This insatiable need to see what mystery is waiting on the next street corner or what story will arise from the next taxi ride or journey on the Amtrak.  Its a selfish act, really, and that’s a beautiful thing sometimes.  I do this work and live this way, because at a young age, I chose to not live a life watching pictures pass me by, but to live a life of the person taking the pictures. I’m not an expert at it, by any means, but given a choice, I always opt for the experience.

Dancers from a remote village on the Indonesian island of Sangihe take a break during an ancient village ritual.

Dancers from a remote village on the Indonesian island of Sangihe take a break during an ancient village ritual.

People keep telling me how lucky I am to be living my life this way and I don’t quite know how to respond.  This isn’t luck.  Its a conscious decision.  Well, I was lucky enough to be born in a privileged, first world country and to have a supportive family growing up that molded me into this person, but I don’t think that’s what they are referring to.  Is this merely luck or is it a deliberate choice?  And doesn’t every single person have the same choice to make? Granted, we all have different circumstances and come from different perspectives, and not everyone is cut out for experiencing the images, but don’t we all make a choice at some point in time?  Don’t we make that choice every day?

Can we choose to reverse this trend of watching the images pass us by?  Can we not take a powerful and meaningful step in a direction that will lead us away from the passive world we may have created and dive into our images?  Can we not all become the photographer, the storyteller or the adventurer? In our own, personalized and independent way?

Ceasing to Adapt and a Dying Trade

“You’re father taught you adaptability,” the teacher told his student. “When we cease to be able to adapt, we’re in trouble.”

“I went to work when I was 12, I worked with my brothers,” a budding 21 year-old jewelry artist stated.  “I didn’t go to class and got straight A’s.  I went to work instead and made money, and saved it.  Its sad, its pathetic.”

Our conversation began as in interview for my project on the Gem and Mineral Club in Quartzsite.  A young woman from Idaho was finishing her ring from the casting class.  She had traveled down here for a week to learn silversmithing, casting and wire-wrapping.  Her father owns an agate mine and she wants to work with these stones to create her art- and make a living.  We spoke about what she had learned from her instructor, but our conversation soon drifted to the theme of this journey thus far.  Embracing a trade and choosing a different route than her peers.

Her family supports her decision because, as she puts it, “my father chose the academic route” and he eventually turned away from his career as a bank executive to become a miner. He instilled the need to work with your hands and have a trade in his children.  According to the young jewelry artist, her older brothers started a cabinet making business at a young age, even sawing their own lumber, and are thriving now in the current economy.  Work and putting food on the table is something they’ve never had to worry about.  She began working for them at a young age and now her husband works with her brothers as well.

I asked her why she made the long journey to southern Arizona just to learn casting and silversmithing, didn’t someone teach this in Idaho?

“We never found anyone who could teach me,” she said.  Most of the people in her area are hobbyist and for a young girl aspiring to become a “world class designer” she had to journey far to find a teacher.

When asked about her art and if other young people are pursing this type of work, or trades in general, she gave a pretty interesting answer.  “Its a dying trade- its terrible to say. I don’t think its pushed hard.  Today kids- academics are pushed so hard- we’re not taught to work with our hands and this is all hand eye coordination.”

So, why aren’t we teaching our kids to create, to work with their hands, to step away from the computer and make something?  Why did we drift so far from our roots as a country?  Why did we sit back complacently and allow things like “No Child Left Behind” to occur and our school systems to create adults who adhere to a strict 9-5 regimen and keep the wheels of capitalism spinning? Why have we not shown our youth the beauty of entrepreneurship and of making a living through creativity, ingenuity and determination?

“We haven’t left them behind, they don’t exist,” the teacher responded when the topic drifted to the public school system and children who fall in between the NCLB cracks. He left the system after many years of teaching lapidary and silversmithing at a public school in Seattle.  The school cut his program, along with many other programs from the arts in order to adhere to the standardized testing regimen and to push students towards AP classes to increase the school’s ranking.  He has some very strong opinions, and quite warranted, regarding the topic.  During our interview, he picked up the phone and called a former colleague who still teaches photography at the school where he worked.  Her and I talked at length about the school system’s structure now and the cutting of her classes as well.  They eliminated the photography class she teaches.  How sad.  I often credit my high school photography teacher for starting me along my path towards professional photography and showing me what a darkroom is and how it works.

She stated that her school was ranked first in the nation recently because so many students were taking AP classes.  But in order to do this, the school cut the classes on Shakespeare, philosophy and arts. She was hopeful that some of the students were taking a stand and still seeking the non-AP liberal arts classes and arts in general.

“That’s what makes you creative, your art.”  The young artist stated. And she’s right.  She’s also lucky that she had parents who looked outside the box- from inside of it- and said no, there’s a different path for you.

This topic isn’t finished and neither are the interviews for this story.  I’m curious where this story will lead.  A photo essay about a Gem and Mineral Club is now morphing into an article about art programs in the public schools and teaching our children to use their creativity and their critical thinking skills- not merely memorization and regurgitation.  Stay tuned.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.

An Empathetic Crystal and Saying Goodbye.

“I was walking along, looking down at the ground and there was this crystal.  Looked just like a tear drop.  A teardrop from God, just for me.”  My aunt’s friend held out this crystal she had found just moments after she and her husband had to put their 16 year old dog out of her misery.

“He had to shoot her.  Not the way I would have done it, but he felt it was his obligation to her.  She just laid her head down for him when it was time and he sobbed like a child afterward.  Then we buried her out in the desert and I found this crystal.”

I told my aunt’s friend that a crystal appears when the person needs it, the crystal finds the person, not necessarily the other way around.

I looked at her crystal and recognized some properties or ‘personalities’ of the stone.  She had found an empathetic crystal, and one of its properties is to help a person suffering from grief or a loss.  I told her this and her face brightened, and she was comforted by her crystal finding her at that moment.

My aunt and her friend spent the afternoon making jewelry and turning her crystal into a necklace, and I’m sure she will be wearing it as she grieves for the passing of her four-legged loved one.

Things are a little different out here.  Life and death seem to be a part of the daily dialogue in this retirement community.  So often the conversation drifts to so-and-so and his recent heart attack or so-and-so and their trip to the hospital or so-and-so and the passing of their husband.  Death is just hanging out here in the desert as the Great Generation reaches the end of their years and exits this world.

A couple walks to Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, AZ.

A couple walks to Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, AZ.

Another friend of my aunt’s stopped by the other day and was telling us about the dog her friend brought over who needed a home.

“He’s too full of piss and vinegar,” claimed the friend.  “He is a young one and I had to take him back.  My daughter was giving me grief about getting a puppy.  She knows she’ll have to take care of him once I go.  I need an older dog whose at the end of his years like I am.”

Everyday, a little man a few doors down from my RV takes his tiny white pug out for a walk.  The dog just sort of stands there, not sure of which way to go.  He looks up at his owner, and his owner looks down at him, and they just sort of stand there for 5 or 10 minutes.  The unspoken words between the two of them speak volumes.  I happened to by walking home one day and passed them in their daily ritual.  His owner told me his companion should have died by now.  The little pup was old and suffering from congestive heart failure and totally blind. But he’s still going, and everyday they walk out of the RV and look around at the world passing them by.

I passed them this evening as I was driving down the road and he was driving out of the RV park.  The little pug was curled up on the dashboard going for a ride.  I hope they were going somewhere special and the little pup was enjoying his final days with his master.

What’s Your Wish?

Waking Up

“Every morning I wake up is a good morning.” Grumbled an old-timer as he shuffled up to the door of the Quartzsite Gem and Mineral Club.

“As long as I wake up on the green side of the grass, I’m happy.” Agreed his fellow lapidary artist. The men were enjoying their coffee on a bench outside the workshop, waiting patiently for the doors to open. They continued to tell these little parodies about waking up each morning in relation to their age.

“Youth is wasted on the young, or something like that.” Commented one woman. “No offense.” And the group turned slowly to look at me and they chuckled.

As their eyes turned to me, I saw the fleeting glance of “what exactly are you doing here” cross their faces, so I walked over to the circle and joined in the conversation. We talked briefly about the lapidary and the projects we were working on and one man said, “we’re retired, this is what we do.”

Well, my reply was, “I’m not retired and this is what I do.” I just decided to skip the need for retirement and take the whole show on the road. “I started photography when I was 15 and this lapidary and silver-smithing now, when I’m 34. I figure by the time I’m your age I’ll be a master of two art forms.” He laughed, but its true. I’ll have a 30 year head start on my peers who wait until their 60s to pick up this art form.

Several hours later, I was filing away the edges of my pendant in my silver-smithing class and talking with my instructor, who, oddly enough, is a Buddhist. Not that being a Buddhist is odd, I just don’t run into too many Buddhists in this community. We were conversing about being a “full-timer” at a young age and by-passing the normal routes in life. He was a self-proclaimed “long-haired hippy” in a former life and studied art at University before starting a business and entering what he termed the “20 year sentence.” He did the traditional route, a mortgage, a business and a family, and while he loves his family and enjoyed his business, he just woke up one day and realized he’d journeyed far from his former life.

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A Month

“I believe you need at least a month to really unwind and find yourself. To look back at your life and reflect on your current path,” observed my instructor. He and his wife were on vacation in their early 40s and they realized they were burnt out and had traveled too far from their former “long-haired hippy” days. They felt enslaved by the life they had built and felt it was time to make an exit.

So they did. They traveled home from the vacation, sold his business and they decided to travel the world. For a long time.

We read about these stories occasionally on the internet or we may bump into someone doing some fabulous adventurous endeavor after hitting the F*** It Switch and putting a stop to their own enslavement. These renegade souls stop their dissatisfying lives and do a complete 180- they head out on the road, they start a completely unique and satisfying small business or they merely return to a simpler way of life.

These souls don’t wait until their best years are behind them. They hear that little voice calling them to a different destiny and they listen. Without regrets. Without remorse. They listen. And they seek.

And some people choose never to enter the circus in the first place. After leaving my lesson, I wandered over to the rock gardens where a few gemstone dealers are still selling stones and rough cuts for lapidary. I was seeking some more gorgeous stones to turn into something fabulous while embracing my new trade.

Finding a Treasure

“Are you finding some treasures?” A young man asked me after I found some amazing Chrysocolla to work cut and polish. Yes, I met a young person in the land of the old-timers.

We talked for a bit and he showed me his artwork. This young artist carves stones for a living and was so excited to show me his creations. He lives on the road in an RV with his dog and his artwork and has by-passed the normal route all together. He said he likes to wander and look for treasures. After explaining my new found lapidary trade, he asked me, “what’s your wish?” I had to pause for a second before my response. No one’s really asked me that question in relation to learning an art form. The traditional question is, “what will you do with that?”

An interesting way to ask the “what do you do question.” I may start using that question myself. I’m curious to hear more about his story, I’m sure its not a “normal” one.

In opening my life up to the Universe in this unorthodox manner, it seems the Universe is continuing to place people in my path for chance encounters that reaffirm the beliefs that I seem to be focused on in my writings. And hopefully you’re finding them interesting as well. I find these people fascinating and reaffirming to the different perspectives on a life well led.

And, while on the topic of chance encounters, Luca the Italian Cyclist mentioned recently on this blog, has written an entry in English, for my mom! How amazingly wonderful of him- check it out if you have a second. And wish him well!

An Italian Biker and the 1890s Outpost

As I pulled out of the RV park and headed towards my morning espresso office, I racked my brain to try and think of something to write about.  Something a little different then the “lifestyle design” soapbox I’ve been standing on lately, something interesting and compelling.  And, I was at a loss.

I walked up to the coffeeshop/outpost/Jerry Springer live episode and a gorgeous road racing bicycle with baggage expertly strapped on-top sat outside the door.  Remember, I’m in a town where the locals ride bicycles with lawnmower motors attached because they are too lazy to peddle or don’t have a drivers license, so an expensive Italian road-bike is reason to take notice.

Main street in Quartzsite, AZ.

Main street in Quartzsite, AZ.

Inside the coffeeshop is a tall, Italian man ordering espresso, decked out in road biking gear.  Am I in the right place?  Or, better yet, is he? We started chatting and he asked me to pull up his blog on my computer.  He has been riding and posting articles since San Diego from his iPhone and has no idea what his blog looks like.  How fabulous!  His face lit up when he saw his images and his journey through the eyes of his audience.

Lucas is from Italy, just outside of Florence and is riding cross-country on the trip of a lifetime.  We talked over our espresso- finally- someone else who drinks straight espresso in the morning.  Though he did chase his espresso with a cappuccino. So Italian!

I digress.  Lucas said he’s a taxi driver in Italy and had planned on returning to work after his journey, but, he said with a shrug, “now, I don’t know.” He mentioned maybe returning to San Francisco and writing a book.

I just love it!  Here’s a person who stepped back, looked at his life and found this one thing that he must do.  And in doing this one thing, he’s opened up a myriad of opportunities and different perspectives.

We talked a little further and he mentioned his girlfriend who he had planned this adventure with.  He said she was unable to accompany him because she was in an accident back in Italy and had passed away.  “This trip is in her honor.  Its a little sad, but wonderful.”  He said this with sad eyes, but a genuine smile.  Lucas has a warm smile that kind of lights up his whole face.  Refreshing to say the least.

And now the whole picture makes a little more sense.  A bittersweet journey on a bike across a foreign country and the shedding of the past in the process.  Or, at least a little bit of the past.

So, I guess the coffeeshop/outpost/wild-west saloon (I actually saw a fellow in here the other day wearing a side-arm- with a 12 inch long barrel- yea-that’s real) held a little story for me today.  It never ceases to amaze me the people that will cross into our lives during the most mundane or routine events. How many people have you met over coffee or a beer and had your life or your perspective shift- even just a little.  I can think of many in my life.  And, when we open our eyes a little, it seems that life puts a little lesson in front of us or a living embodiment of a perspective or philosophy we are embracing.

In parting, Lucas said goodbye to everyone in the outpost and said, “I see you next time.  Maybe on a Harley then!”  And with a big smile, he put his hands on his imaginary Harley handle bars and walked out the door saying, “Ciao!”

Just fabulous!

The 1890s outpost/office/espresso shop/jerry springer show/wild west saloon.

The 1890s outpost/office/espresso shop/jerry springer show/wild west saloon.