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


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?

Embracing the Journey~ and Creating a Better Community in the Process.

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” ~ Steinbeck

Have you taken a journey lately?  Have you set out on an adventure, without a clear  destination or a set itinerary, just to see what the world has to offer?

I ask these questions as I reflect upon my recent journey.  I’m at a crossroads now, where I’ve gone too far in one direction to return to the situations and living arrangements I had prior to my journey.  The taste of the journey is still lingering on my tongue and I’m unwilling to let it go.

A little walk at the beach in Pawleys Island, SC.

A little walk at the beach in Pawleys Island, SC.

But I ask these questions in the hopes of nurturing a daydream that surfaced during the adventure. Not even a daydream, more a desire of how people can embrace the life that is standing in front of them saying, “seriously, you must do something a little more engaging than what you’ve agreed to spend your time doing.”

While walking home from my escapades at the Lapidary workshop one sunny desert day last month, a dear friend from back East called to tell me of her impulsive embracing of an adventure. Inspired by the ramblings of this blog, she booked a ticket to the sunshine state the following week to see what LA had to offer.  She’s a single mom, busting her ass to raise her beautiful daughters and living in a place devoid of community and containing a minimal amount of intelligent life forms.  So, on a whim, she hopped a plane to go see an old friend and spice up her life a little. She embraced the journey and it took her to new places, beyond mere geography.

Another dear friend called this morning and updated me about her annual winter-long surfing adventure with her husband,.  Spending her winters surfing the most remote and amazing breaks in the world keeps her sane during her regular life on the Outer Banks as a Wedding Photographer.  We had our annual “returning to East Coast living” conversation this morning and contemplated the madness of our peer’s lifestyles to consume more and become beholden to their possessions.

And I wonder, what would happen if so many of my peers simply hit the F*** It switch and took a journey. Not for a winter, or a year (though that would be fabulous), but maybe just for a long weekend to see what lies beyond the bubble of their localized world.

I realize that this has been written about at length on this blog and that its a recurring theme.  But after returning go to the East Coast and thrusting myself back into this consumption based world of madness, the topic has become an all-consuming (pun intended), energy-sucking burden that rests on my brain most of the day as I drive long distances for my daily espresso.

Can each day be an adventure and a journey when we are surrounded by what’s familiar and what’s comfortable to us?  The warm, idealistic, optimist gnome in my brain says, “yes, your life is what you make of it and your interpretation of your day is your own creation based on your thoughts and your mentality.”  And all that shiny, Taoist, Zen stuff.  “Load of shit,” chimes in my pessimistic inner gnome, “how can I be inspired surrounded by all this madness?” and the internal debate begins.

But I wonder, if a community is based solely on consumption, both the residents and their visitors consumption, does that energy not seep into the very fiber of the community, into the very essence of the place.  Some in this community are fortunate enough to live in insulated neighborhoods and communities where this energy may be deflected, slightly.  But, what does a community look like when its people have replaced the journey with an over-priced mortgage, a fast car and a day spent at the cubicle to pay for it all, doing a job that contributes little to society and provides no inner fulfillment.  How is the soul of that community when there is no embracing of the journey or no appreciation for a quiet morning at a coffee shop or an afternoon spent at the beach with your children or a good book?

Are we capable as individuals to open ourselves up to the unknown offerings that the universe will provide if we merely leave these mindless existences of consumption and enter a world of adventure?  A world where time is more valuable than a commodity or the currency needed to consume the commodity? Are we capable of shedding our materialistic drive to compete with our neighbor’s lifestyle in order to build something of relevance, something of value, something of importance.  Be it a house from our bare hands, a meaningful business that contributes to the betterment of society or well-balanced children who aren’t raised by network television.

Can we open ourselves up to the possibility of a trip taking us?
Can we embrace the ancient art of exploration and show our children and our peers what the world looks like when we step outside of our comfort zone and enter the world without control of our environment?

Can we start a movement of people shedding the fast cars, the McMansions, the cubicle life for a life spent embracing the journey?  A movement of people allowing the trip to take them.  A movement of people unafraid of meeting this new person that is the journey and walking down an unknown path towards a life with a different purpose that embraces the beauty of time and production rather than energy-sucking vortex of consumption?

I’m just saying…

Feel free to add your opinions or tales of your own journeys and adventures below.

Finding your Workspace in a Sea of Neon- The Value of a Coffeeshop and its Reflection of a Community

Sad to say, I have returned to the land of neon and consumption.  Its bittersweet really, I’m with my mom and my dog, so I really have nothing to complain about.  But once I leave the little bubble of my mother’s home, I’m thrust into this daunting world of neon, big box stores, Wings and Eagles “everything here is made in China and you really don’t need it” stores and a plethora of fast food joints.  I am in Myrtle Beach and they don’t call it the “Redneck Riviera” for nothing.

So true!

So true!

After 4 days of searching in vain for a spot to work that meets my requirements, quiet- but not silent, has a sprinkling of character, locally owned, has decent espresso and is within a 5 mile radius of my current dwelling, I believe I may have found my squatting location. (Disclaimer here- My favorite Barista is probably reading this and she has by far the best coffeeshop on this island, but I burn through almost a quarter of a tank of gas to get to her place- I will be working there too- but can’t afford to make it a daily occurrence-Barb, if I could afford a place in your neck of the woods- you’d see me every morning!) Granted, this new spot isn’t 5 miles away, more like 8-10, but, its a compromise to keep my sanity.

On a mission this morning, I pulled up to the little house by the highway which is covered by artwork. I open my truck door and was greeted by a lovely older dog who seemed to say, “hello, welcome.” I opened the door to the shop and was greeted by another furry friend, a beautiful weimaraner.  He checked me out and said “welcome, your espresso is just over here.” Now I’m sitting in this old little house, sipping on my espresso (yes, Luca, I can not function without my espresso) which is also an art cooperative.  I’m tucked away in a little room in the back and surrounded by beautiful artwork and right next to a window and the four legged friend checks on me periodically.  I think I may have found my spot. I was beginning to feel like a caged animal with no close to home coffeeshop to save my sanity.

Ahh, yes, glad we have those thumbs.

Ahh, yes, glad we have those thumbs.

This brings me to an important point, even if it has taken three grafs to get to it.  If you’re a location independent professional or just a creative being, having your workspace is imperative. It’s not an option, its a necessity.  Like water, food and vitamins.  We must have it. And you have to know what you must have and what elements of your workspace you can compromise on when you land yourself in a non-conducive environment. Rural, southern, East Coast communities do not do espresso.  The only shops are run by folks who came from another location and brought their culture with them.  Obviously, that’s not a universal statement, but just my observation from living in communities like this for many years.  When you know you are entering an unfriendly work environment, what do you do?

Compromise. I know I have to have people milling about and socializing in order for me to be creative when working at a coffeeshop (also highly-recommended are a pair of quality, noise-canceling headphones.  Helps turn any noisy establishment into your private writing studio).  I’ve tried libraries, I really have, but there’s something so sterile and controlled about these workplaces that just doesn’t stir the creative juju. In an act of desperation, I went to the local library yesterday, took one look around and walked out.  Not an ounce of beauty, serenity or even comfortable workspaces.  But, I ventured over to the Atlanta Bread Company and accomplished some meaningful, paying, work while watching people order bagels all day.  I normally don’t work in places like this, but I had to compromise or miss a few deadlines.

Character.  A place must have character.  Some artwork on the walls, comfortable furniture that reflects the owner’s tastes, dogs, a good color palette and some decent lighting.  Ambiance is a necessity. Prior to my friend purchasing the coffeeshop in the next town, the owners had decorated the walls with overt religious symbols and played christian music all day long.  While I feel we all have the right to whatever religion floats our boat, I got the heebie-jeebies every time I went there and had to sit at the table underneath the concrete ten commandments.  I had to do a mental check and be sure I’d been a decent human being that morning so those damn tablets wouldn’t fall onto my table and crush my computer. The irony would have been well received though.  My friend took over, painted the walls and added her own personal touch.  And while she is a woman of faith, she created an environment that is calming and welcome to all.  Thanks lady!

While on the topic of character, sometimes, the character can just be the people who frequent the coffeeshop.  While in Richmond, I spent many an hour at this fabulous coffeeshop in the city and the regulars were wonderful.  A group of 4-6 men would gather everyday, sit on the porch and read the paper, debate the headlines and talk about their latest endeavors.  After some time, they welcomed me into their circle and I would spend my mornings listening to their conversations.  Fascinating.  My recent espresso office in Quartzsite had a slew of characters.  Granted, the building had lots of character- I mean, if you were over 100 years old, you’d have character too.  But it was not your ideal urban coffee establishment- the espresso came in a packet and hold onto your hats if you order a cappuccino.  But the people were wonderful.  They had drama, they had a bone to pick with each other, they had children and lovers wearing guns wandering about and the occasional soap opera would be on the TV some afternoons.  They had character, which made going there an interesting endeavor.  I never knew what I would find when I walked up to the front door, new friends, crazy drunk musicians or shiny new Airstreams.  Random is wonderful.

Quality Drinks.  Yep, this is a big one.  Having quality espresso is a must, I drink it straight, so it can’t taste like ass.  Now, sometimes I’ll compromise on this, if I have to, but it is imperative.  I need that jolt of espresso to get my fingers flying over the keyboard.  I enjoy that burst of energy that creates the words I publish. (Ask a friend about those novel length emails that happen after my morning espresso- hilarious) And, for those times when I need to drag out the caffeine wave, a quality, yummy soy latte is a god-send.  During the walkabout, spending time in the Northwest was this coffeeshop hound’s wet dream.  Seriously, they have the coffee culture down to a science.  Even Walla Walla, which is not the haven of the liberal, progressive coffee culture, had an wonderful, warm coffeeshop that was filled with people at all hours.  In fact, this blog was born while sitting at the bar in that coffeeshop that faced the streets of Walla Walla.  Staring out the window is always an inspiring activity.

Community.  Coffeeshops should, in a perfect world, be the hub of a community. One of my areas of documentation is communities, and I am totally enthralled with the concept of the “Third Place”.  One of my mentors at UNC told me about the concept and recommended the book “The Great Good Place” and I have always tried to find the third place in a community to get the feel of that community’s soul. The third place refers to the community gathering locations that people incorporate in their daily lives.  The first place is home, the second place is work and the third place is the gathering spot.  Think of Cheers.  Same thing.  And I believe that the coffeeshops are a reflection of the community’s soul.  What does it say about the area I’m currently staying in that the only good coffeeshops, the only coffeeshops period, are at least a 20-30 minute drive?  Speaks volumes.

Well, I believe I’ve made my point.  If you’re a traveling professional or a vagabond artist, always know how to find your workplace and just how many compromises you’re willing to make to be in a certain location.  And, regardless of what you do and where you work, find your locally owned coffeeshop and support it.  Get to know your barista and make a personal connection over the art of caffeine.

A new workplace!

A new workplace!

Tips for Finding Your Balance in Art and Commerce

So, you’ve done a little soul-searching and brainstorming about your art and commerce balance.  Here’s a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help find the balance.  As I’ve said before, its not always achievable without drastic measures and nothing is absolute in art, but hopefully these tips will help a little.  Let’s dive in!

Tips to maintain your creativity while being an artistic entrepreneur.

  • Make a list of the reasons for selling your art in the first place.  What’s your reason?  What’s your purpose? If the goal is strictly monetary, can you find another way to make a living- remotely related to your art- and sell the finished product?
  • Write down each task, both artistic and business, that you perform on a regular basis to keep your business a float.  Taxes, accounting, marketing, production, shipping, etc.  Leave a blank space next to each task.
  • Analyze and understand which parts of the artistic commerce process you like, hate and must have.  Make a small notation next to each task indicating your preference.
  • Next to each task, estimate the amount of time each task takes, use hours per week or percentages.  If you are having problems with creativity, pay close attention to the business side of things and the amount of time spent on these tasks.  Also note the time in-between the art tasks and business tasks.  Are you balancing your accounting books prior to painting your masterpieces?  Problem.
  • Look at your lists and make a decision- can you take the hate section/time suckers and hire someone to do it?  If you’re unfamiliar with outsourcing and hiring virtual assistants, take a minute and go read some info on the 4HWW.  Delegating some of the menial business tasks will help alleviate the pressure on your creative juju.
  • Can you separate the money making aspects enough to protect the creativity?  If you produce a product, can you hire someone to run the business side of things completely?  If not, can you produce for a certain time period each week or month and then designate one day or one week to just business?  Maybe selling at festivals and trade shows would provide a balance and separation between production and commerce.  Is there a portion of your art that can be sold on the internet as passive income- requiring no activity from you to generate sales, such as e-books, print-on-demand artwork or selling patterns in an automated PDF download format? Get creative and separate the art from the commerce.
  • Take a long hard look at your hate/must have list and start to eliminate.  We’re steering towards Pareto’s principle here, or the 80/20 principle.  Pareto, an Italian economist created a theory in the late 1800s that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results.  After looking over your list, do you see anything that is taking up large amounts of time and producing little rewards?  Are you spending too much time keeping one client happy who only produces 20% or less of your income?  You may find that in eliminating some of your activities and slow producing income streams, you’ll find more time to focus on the activities that produce rewards.  Take some time to read this theory and find a book or two which apply Pareto’s principle to business.  Seriously, its pretty damn valuable.
  • Does your art have multiple facets that can be separated and make only a portion of it for sale?

Be sure to do the following on a regular basis…

  • Produce art for the sake of art.  Just be an artist- as much as possible.
  • Find another artistic endeavor totally unrelated to your commerce art and engage in this when you come to a creativity block and on a regular basis for rejuvenating creative juju.
  • Find a group of creative souls to share your time with. Both business related and just for fun.
  • If you’re really stuck, or just want to learn more about the mind of the artist, check out the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • Teach. Teaching your craft is an excellent way to fall in love with the beauty of it all over again.  Seeing someone learning your craft and seeing their creativity is an excellent way to rejuvenate your own.  There’s a saying which I hate that is sometimes used as an excuse by artists not to teach.  “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Not true.  Just because you are being of service to others and sharing your craft through education does not make you less of an artist.  Remember this when the little cynical gnomes pop up on your shoulder and degrade your decision to teach rather than create.
A view from hole 14 at the desert golf course in Quartzsite.

A view from hole 14 at the desert golf course in Quartzsite.

The Yin and Yang of Art and Commerce ~ Finding a Balance Between Making a Living and Holding onto Your Creativity.

Every so often, the creative juju just leaves us.
It doesn’t go far, but it takes a little hiatus while the artist clears the crap out of their brain and gets back to the balance that keeps them sane and productive.  As someone who makes a portion of their living from artistic endeavors, I hit this wall every so often.  And sometimes it can last for months, or longer.  What I’ve discovered over the years is that a guaranteed method to erect the wall is to begin the logistics and planning stages of a multimedia production or major commercial photography project.

Shoppers try on a hand-crafted jacket at the QIA craft show in Quartzsite.

Shoppers try on a hand-crafted jacket at the QIA craft show in Quartzsite.

Yes, that’s a conundrum for a professional photographer and multimedia producer.

Many photographers advise keeping a personal project in the works to help find balance, but that never seems to work for me.  I become so engrossed in the planning, strategy and details of proposals, estimates and negotiations, that I lose all ability to function in a creative manner.  Last week I lost the ability to write anything of value.  I could barely compile an email!  So, I took a night off from everything and tried to retrace my activities of the week to understand why my creative juju disappeared.  Was the moon in the wrong phase?  Was Mercury in retro-grade?  Was it PMS?  No, no and no.

Then a simple realization struck me.  In fact, it was so simple that I just had to laugh.  Its the business side of things.  The business logistics of multimedia production sucked every ounce of juju out.  So, how does a multimedia producer move forward knowing this?  She chooses another path, for now.

A little clarification.  I love entrepreneurship.  I think creating a viable business, no matter how small, is such an amazing and wonderful process.  I even like the strategy and logistics- sometimes.  But the implementation- not so much.  I once had a very successful businessman point out this flaw of mine in very simple terms, “you love the idea phase, but you don’t like the implementation part.” So true!  He followed it by saying he is the same way.  I love problem solving and business is full of it.  But I love to do this for other people, not necessarily myself.

So, as I’m returning to my epiphany (this isn’t necessarily new- happens often and I usually reinvent my business goals or just go bartend for a while) I am forced to really take inventory of all my artistic business ventures at the moment and weigh the value of actually doing each one.  Some of them have the balance of business and art inherently in their model and they are simple enough to not require lengthy logistical processes and project management.  Other endeavors are not so cut and dry.

Does this mean I will never produce a major multimedia project?  Of course not.

Does this mean that I will closely weigh the outcome of each project, do a detailed cost and benefit analysis and make damn sure the creative juju that may be squashed will be rewarded by the outcome or an extended artistic project to follow shortly afterwards? Yes!

In doing this analysis, I’ve come to several conclusions and eliminated some activities.  And the creative juju has returned!  I’ll share the rational for all those wondering about the same issues for their own creative commerce.

The art of writing, as a profession, is a new emergence for me as an almost full time gig.  I really enjoy the process of writing, and at least for the time being, the creative writing and the writing to pay the bills are not conflicting- they have a balance.  In part, because both of them emerged on the scene at the same moment- so they had a natural balance.

Photography is my passion, it is who I am, not necessarily what I do.  I sometimes forget that little fact.  So, if money is to be made off the photography, it needs to be after the work is produced.  Stories sold after they are finished, artwork sold once it is printed and multimedia projects purchased after completion. That’s not an absolute statement, by any means, but an excellent guideline.  Now, I won’t be turning down the random portrait shoot, small wedding and amazing -simple- commercial shoot if it arises, but the above guidelines will hopefully help keep that in balance.

Lapidary arts (cutting and polishing stones) and silversmithing are emerging interests and I believe in several years will be a new artistic business venture.  I am curious to see if the creative juju balance applies here because the art and the business will emerge together.  The photography emerged about 10 years prior to the commerce, so the passion was already inherent and had no association with the commerce.  I resent the commerce associated with my photography- hence the lack of balance. Oh, conundrums.

The Bottom Line

It really boils down to keeping things amazingly simple.  While I love the thought of the large multimedia company, employing all the amazing storytellers I know and producing powerful work to help balance the media, for my sanity, this business model is not an option. Though I would love to be a consultant on setting that business up for someone else!

Find your balance.  Know your boundaries when it comes to art and commerce.  Understand what will support your passion and what will suck the life out of it.  Then guard those truths with all your abilities, even if that means making money with a skill totally unrelated to your art.  Sometimes that backup skill will save your creative juju- so don’t be afraid to use it!

Stay tuned, the second part of this article is on its way.  Tips on finding your Yin and Yang of art and commerce.