2011 fades away, and what a year it was. I’m going to be breaking this into multiple posts. A couple that are my year mostly in numbers, like books, movies, travel, etc. The other mostly made up of intangibles, life, love, lessons, and the like. This will be one of the former. I tend to document and record lots of data as kind of a side function of my everyday goings on. It’s not that I’m particularly stat focused or live life by numbers, but I like to keep track of where I go, how I got there, how much I did. It’s pretty easy to do now-a-days, especially since a lot of record keeping is automated. All you have to do is know where to look for the data. For example, I can look at my Verizon Wireless account and see that I spent 3289 minutes [52.4 hours / 2.18 days] talking on my phone this year. That doesn’t include Google Voice, GMail, or Skype calls, so the total is probably a bit higher. A more impressive number is texts. 20,608 from my phone and another 15,223 from Google Voice, for a total of 35,831 text messages. So, all the info is out there, it just needs to be added up.
It’s National Short Story Day. As such, here’s an excerpt from one of my own.
Kkel had just caught himself staring out the window. Lost in observations of life moving past, keeping pace with pedestrians, being outpaced by vehicles. The long, low, orange hued, lines being drawn across the cityscape by the slowly setting suns were bathing the view in a desaturated haze as they reflected off steel and glass. He had unintentionally slipped into this unfocused stare, instigated by the sudden onset of an unusually pensive mood. Indecision was creeping across the corners of his mind and it wasn’t until he felt a kick to his shin from under the table that he realized how quickly he’d fallen down that hole.
“Stop ignoring me.” The voice was soft, the tone playful. It carried with it the most subtle of inflections. A carefully concocted verbal recipe of playfulness and demand, articulated to in a way designed to challenge him into realizing what he had been doing. He slowly rotated his head, his chin resting in his palm, pulled away from the malaise that had started to crawl through him, and looked into the eyes of the woman sitting across the table. They were intensely dark, but they reflected and played with light in ways that made them glimmer almost unnaturally. She returned his gaze, a teasing grin peeking out from behind the coffee cup she was half hiding herself behind. He couldn’t help but smile back. “What?” she asked. He continued to look into her eyes, watching them flicker with an obvious mischievousness. He shook his head a little and chuckled. “Never.” It was more of a whisper than actual speaking. “Never what? Speak up.” He sat a bit more upright and rested his elbows on the table. “I could never ignore you.” Neither of them broke eye contact. They knew where the conversation was going. Both aware of its lack of any real substance yet acutely aware of it’s significance.
The simple reality was that all he’d been able to do was think of her. She had recently managed to derail his life in a way he’d never anticipated and despite all his talents for anticipation and pattern recognition, his ability to see avenues of outcomes and look across time lines, he had been completely blindsided. Trying to get himself back on balance, trying to get his sense of foresight back, was proving to be futile. He found himself constantly distracted by thoughts of her. Their friendship was already well established. Technically they worked together, although they rarely saw each other in that setting, but recently he’d started to develop intensely passionate feelings for her, feelings that he was having a hard time reconciling with. Not the feeling themselves, per se, but the idea that someone could overwhelm him so easily with just her presence had him feeling like he didn’t even know who he was anymore. Not that he ever really felt he had, but his life had been on a pretty stable track recently and this sudden injection of control loss had him reeling.
One of her most powerful abilities was the ease at which she could strip him of his words. Anyone who knew Kkel knew that words were his standing defense against the world. They were his armor. Words were how he manipulated his environment, or at least the people in it. They were his method for avoiding unnecessary action, for derailing conflict, for achieving balance. A barrage of precisely chosen syllables, strung together in purposefully crafted words and phrases, could prove more deadly than any hail of gunfire or could disarm an opponent faster than any CQC technique. They were the keys to every locked door, the code to every closed mind and channel. Words were control.
And she took them all away, and with them, his control. He was forced to face the tyranny of inaction. Forced to make moves he was unsure of. To make decisions without exploring and analyzing all the possible outcomes. He had to make choices without meticulous study. He was so far out of his element, so far away from knowing what the right thing to do was, so far from who he thought he was, or had believed he was becoming.
“That’s not true, you ignore me all the time.” She gently kicked him under the table again. They both knew it wasn’t true, but she liked putting him on the defensive, liked making him verbalize his truth. “When have I ever ignored you?” he said, smirking a little, knowing there was no real answer. “You just were!” she put her coffee cup down. She was playing at seriousness, but her posture, her pure expressive nature, betrayed her. She never took her eyes from his. “And stop looking at me like that.” She pointed a finger at him with a barely managed scowl etched across her face. “Like what?” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “Like you’re studying me…”
Those words were, in fact, not far from the truth. He was well aware what was supposed to happen next, but it didn’t. He knew it wouldn’t. Reality was rushing back. Though the all too familiar sensation of static flooding through his brain overwhelmed his senses, short circuiting his memory, it was not something he had yet grown accustomed to.
Now for something completely different.
So, I’ve been meaning to do an “Everyday Carry” style post, as well as a “What’s In My Bag?” post. I decided to mash them together a bit and work in a quasi-review of my new Chrome Niko. If you know me, you know that bags, specifically laptop and camera bags, are my one real retail weakness. I have a massive collection of bags, including a veritable who’s who of Timbuk2 messengers. When it comes to camera bags, I’ve tried multiple solutions from Lowepro, Domke, Naneu, and looked at hundreds of others. For larger jobs I usually just use a photo insert with a Timbuk2 M messenger, but I’ve been dying for a perfect day bag. Even for just basic day shooting I actually carry quite a clip of gear, so first we should look at what it is I am trying to cram into this mythical perfect bag.
I’m sitting on so many drafts of posts it’s getting kind of silly. My phone is full of voice notes, my notebook full of scribbles and sketches, my brain full of ideas.
The truth is, I started writing this post exactly a week ago. I forget where I was at the time, all I know is that right now I’m laying in a bed in Hudson, MA, typing this out on my Kindle Fire (which I had to root and side-load the WordPress app onto, among other things), while eating a tiny sandwich. In the time between, I flew to Las Vegas, photographed an amazing model, drove to Los Angeles, photographed the same amazing model (and a bunch of other stuff), hung out with my brother, got invited to Palm Springs for New Years, and flew the redeye back into Boston.
I should probably be filling this post with all kinds of insights onto the valuable lessons I learned on this foray. Things like being amazed at how sometimes age has nothing to do with maturity (in both directions), that my brother and I continue to discover things in common (we both continually push ourselves, trying to find our own breaking points [neither of us have]), and that I might actually like Santa Monica despite it’s association with Los Angeles. Really though, I not in much of a recapping mood.
The quickest way to get over a woman is to climb on top of another. – Marc Mercury
Some things we don’t agree on.
My Tumblr pages have been keeping up lot of the regular day to day stuff. My current host hasn’t upgraded the PHP or MySQL on this webserver, so I can’t upgrade to WordPress 3.3 yet, which is driving me crazy since it has Tumblr integration. That is actually something I’m really looking forward to and is one more step in aggregating all the outlets named in the last post back here to //dropslash.
I’m, of course, working on a 2011 recap post. It has been a hell of a year, so expect that to be full of all kind of fun lists and anecdotes and recaps. There is still some writing to finish in the meantime. I’m also working on multiple photo sets, including the aforementioned Vegas and LA shoots. I’ve also been trying to keep up with the December Bohemea Photo Challenge. I’m a little behind because of travel, but I’m working on getting caught up and filling in the gaps. That gallery is below.
Project: BoChallenge – December
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Angel, angel, what have I done
I’ve faced the quakes, the wind, the fire
I’ve conquered country, crown and throne
Why can’t I cross this river?
I’ve certainly never been a stranger to social/internet outlets. I’ve been consistently wandering around the online public space for a long time. I explored AOL 1.0 in the early 90’s, was part of online communities, forums, etc. I started building websites around the same time and was part of the “Independent Web” movement in the late 90’s/early 00’s. I watched the death of camportals and the rise of the “blog” (I remember Josh Kinney famously asking me “What was the internet before the blog?”). Originally it was “push to publish” services like Blogger and it’s lightweight version, Blogspot, that gave every person on the web a chance to have a voice. The rise (and fall) of assorted social media waypoints has provided a nearly continuous supply of outlets for anyone and everyone looking to fill up the internet with their personal content. More well known sites like Makeout Club, Friendster, MySpace, etc, to the smaller ones like BME:IAM (One of the first, real, networks. Sadly, currently in it’s death-throes.) and DeviantArt (though I’m not sure DeviantArt can be considered “small” anymore), and the millions in-between. We all know these stories. We live them every day, for the most part.
It’s 2:00AM on Saturday morning as I started writing this. I’m sitting on a few drafts of posts; Part 2 of Playing With Power (Part 1), Part 3 of The Eyes Of Disarray, (Part 1, Part 2) along with one of my infamous compilation posts covering a huge range of topics. Per usual, I’m writing and creating faster than I can draft so instead of firing out updates here on a regular, almost daily, basis, I tend to just collect them until I can sit down and get them all ready for posting. Ideas usually come to me hard and fast, followed by short stretches of intense inspiration, and if I don’t capitalize on the moment they all just get backlogged until I get that next wind.
So, where were we? I’m more of a “spur of the moment” or “stream of consciousness” writer, so there’s a lot to keep track of in recap style posts. When I first started writing this (Pt. 1), I was on my way to Syracuse, NY from Santa Cruz, CA to visit a dear friend. It was going to be some quiet time to get some work done, relax, and get organized a bit. I’m picking this post back up at Pt. 2, sitting 17 stories above Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, NY, after a snowstorm caused power outages that are preventing me from heading to Boston, MA sitting in a Starbucks in Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve been talking to people about heading to LA. Work may be taking me back to Seattle. I have some plans for this upcoming New Year… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Monument Valley, Utah
This was an unexpected side strip. It was 10:30AM, I had just finished breakfast, and I was getting ready to settle in and knock out some writing and photography work. I had a lot to get done, a lot in my notorious backlog, and was looking forward to a down day after the drive from Yermo, CA to Holbrook, AZ. I had just opened my laptop when I got a cuff on the arm followed by “Grab your gear, you’re already holding us up.” I had no idea what was going on and that frustrated me a bit. I don’t hold people up, I don’t waste time. Anyway. I wasn’t even in clean clothes, but I figured we couldn’t be going too far. I grabbed my basic photo gear; my 10-22mm, 28mm, 50mm, 70-200mm (I knew Barry would have his 24-70mm and 14mm fisheye, among others), tripod, remote trigger, etc. I suppose at any point I could have asked where we were going, but by this point frustration had begun to creep in and I started not to really care.
If you’ve never driven to Monument Valley, UT from Holbrook, AZ, it’s about a three and half hour drive across the desert and wastelands. Now, that’s totally fine under normal circumstances, but these weren’t quite. As far as I knew, we had no supplies (I’ve been stuck in the desert before with no water. It is not fun.) and no plans to get any. That is an easily fixable situation though, so long as there are places to stop along the way (there were). What was not fixable, was being in the confines of a pickup truck cab (the truck is actually really comfortable) with no escape from the endless onslaught of cigarette smoke. If you’ve read the first part of this story, you know my stance on the whole thing. No need to rehash it here. I probably breathed in more carbon monoxide than oxygen on that ride. I didn’t do much to alleviate my mood. Luckily though, I was about to get a chance to purge that with more fresh air than any person could ever breathe.
Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not really a landscape guy. I can appreciate the majesty of nature, beautiful sweeping vistas, the glory of nature, etc. but there have been very few times in my life when I’ve been truly awestruck by the beauty of nature. One was the first time I drove clear across the state of Texas. I didn’t understand the meaning of “Big Sky Country” until that moment. Another was much more recent, but it’s the fishtail end of this story, so remember these few sentences, I’m going to reference them later. Anyway, we got to Monument Valley and were immediately met with a view of “The Mittens”. If you’ve ever seen the classic John Wayne western, Stagecoach, then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, and were born around the same time I was, then you’d probably recognize the view from Airwolf (although in the show it was called “Valley of the Gods”), since that’s where Hawke and Dom’s secret base was.
Random Aside: Airwolf.
Anyway. The view didn’t really blow me away but then again, I’m not big on the average views of things. I don’t like taking photos of things anyone else can take a photograph of (this is why I like photographing people), static things. I prefer to find a different view, a different perspective, if possible. Fortunately this is exactly what Barry had in mind. Twenty minutes later I would find myself in the back of an off-road rigged Jeep Wrangler, firm grip in the “oh shit” handles, bouncing across the valley floor.
This is where it all started to become worth the trip out there. The views from the valley floor, the far outlaying corners, the vast open expanses of nothingness; this was truly breathtaking. I’ve mentioned in the past that I love the desert. It’s clean to me. It’s dry and barren and simple. It burns away everything except the core of a being and even then, if you can’t adapt, it will burn that away too. I jumped out of the Jeep deep into the valley and just walked alone for a while. I explored by myself, able to see the valley how I wanted, able to experience the vast nothingness alone, and able to photograph what I wanted to. There is beauty, to me, in that kind of desolation. Being able to see into infinity in every direction and not see another living soul. I’m sure there is a metaphor in here for how I was feeling at the time (and, to a point, still do), but it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t really want to leave. I could have wandered into that desolation without any care for being found. Then I remembered that I’m still planning to visit Mt. Everest, so no disappearing into the wilds until that is off my list.
ANYWAY. It was a pretty amazing experience. I took a lot of deep breathes, did my best to purge my poor lungs, knowing that there was still the ride home ahead of me. That went about as well as the trip there, though I was in a slightly better mood. Back in Holbrook meant dinner and attempted sleep before pushing through to Albuquerque, NM the next morning.
And that concludes the side trips. Remember, I’m still on the road at this point. Living out of the same suitcase that carried me through Paris.
Albuquerque, NM. I’d been here plenty of times in the past, on tour, but nothing particularly memorable stuck out. We arrived on Thursday; Stephen would be arriving from Santa Cruz and meeting up with us on Friday. We took a look at the convention space, got parking settled for the RV, and finally got checked into a hotel, which was a simple luxury at this point (the last hotel I’d stayed in was all the way back in Seattle, the night before I left for Olympia, and it was terrible). I was able to unpack a little, air out my clothes, take a hot shower, and get caught up a little on photos, which by this point had been stacking up considerably. Apparently the place to eat in ABQ is Rudy’s BBQ, so that was the next stop (we would visit more than once on this trip, thus would begin the Banana Pudding Saga).
This would also begin my early morning Friday quest to get my new business cards from the USPS, who are probably the most infuriatingly inept organization run by actual nice people. The short story is that they decided to not deliver my cards to the hotel because… I dunno. It’s a hotel? That doesn’t make sense to me. All I know was that I was tracking the delivery status like Prince Humperdinck following a falcon on a cloudy day and one minute it was “Out for delivery” and the next it was “Undeliverable: Return to sender”. Not even an option to redeliver, I mean, seriously? I was 25 yards from the hotel front desk. By that time it was close to 5:00PM, which means I was SoL. I called, got run around, and decided that the best way to get my cards (which I needed for the show the next day) was to go to the post office first thing in the morning and try and intercept them before they got shipped back. This would lead to a 6 mile walk across Albuquerque, 2 different post offices, some incredibly helpful USPS personnel, and eventually getting my cards. They were printed by MOO.com and they are beautiful. Not how I was hoping to spend what would have otherwise my first morning to sleep late in weeks, but it had to be done. Mission: Complete.
Rock The Ink 2011
My next goal for that Friday was to build as much of the Anatometal booth as possible before Stephen arrived. This was old hat for me and building a single booth was pretty low key compared to some of the elaborate events I’ve produced in the past. I had a basic grasp of the booth from the tear-down in Vegas, so I managed to get about 75% of the structures up before Stephen waltzed in (Hi Steve!).
The show itself was… a show. This was much more of an “everybody knows each other” style show than Las Vegas, more of a family and/or community feel. I was introduced to lots of great folks, all very “friends of the family” style. I became a sort of unofficial official photographer (something to note for later) which was interesting to me because I was still a sort of “outsider” in this whole thing. It was also interesting to observe because even though this event has happened for a few years now, it did not seem particularly well organized.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying that to be mean, it’s just an observation from someone (hint: me) who has professionally produced special events for a long time.
The people I talked to did mention some issues that had arisen just before the event started, like a major venue change, but there were some location independent aspects, like social media and photography coordination, that could have been handled better than they were. It’s not the fault of any single person, but general production planning and event execution. On the upside of that is it’s easy for me to see where those gaps are and with a little planning assistance, the next show can be off the charts. So yeah, shot a lot of photos, met a lot of amazing people. I certainly look forward to being involved with Rock The Ink in the future. I suppose we’ll see.
The Road Back
So, with RtI 2011 behind us, it was back to Santa Cruz. The ride back was pretty much the ride there in reverse, with less side trips. We were on a schedule, so there wasn’t a lot of dilly-dallying to be had.
All The Damn Vampires
During my time in ABQ I’d made plans to head to Syracuse, NY via Boston, MA depending on how travel back to SC panned out. I ended up driving back to SC with Barry in the RV, which was a similar enough to the trip down that it doesn’t require great explanation, so I’d be flying straight to Syracuse through NYC. Before that though, I was going to have another one of those breathtaking landscape moments.
I really only had a handful of hours in Santa Cruz before heading to San Jose Airport to catch the red eye to Syracuse, via NYC. Luckily we arrived just before Golden Hour so, aside from a few errands, I was able to head directly to the coast to shoot the sunset. Barry knew a couple of spots that were just spectacular.
I watched a beautiful sunset on the coast, then to dinner with the Santa Cruz folks. It was a beautiful way to wrap up my time on the west coast. After dinner I was off to San Jose airport to catch the red eye to Syracuse, NY after a layover in New York City. I’ve been hesitant to return to the east coast given the time of year. The weather in the north east has a way of trapping people here and that was the last thing I wanted. I boarded my flight and tried to get some sleep.
And I feel that time’s a wasted go
So where ya going to tomorrow?
And I see that these are lies to come
Would you even care?
I need to preface this with a quick note. While I do sincerely respect and understand “The 99%”, I am at odds with some of their messaging. On one hand, many of the truths they stand for are supposed to be the unalienable rights granted to citizens of this great nation. Equally, the many of the crimes perpetrated against the citizens of this nation by major financial institutions and corporations are tantamount to crimes against humanity. All this under the watch of a government who’s responsibility is to protect and defend its people. On the other hand, I do not feel connected to The 99% in a truly meaningful way. This is especially true after perusing the Occupy Movement Tumblr page and reading some of the signs/notes contained on those pages. “The 1%”, “Wall St.”, “The Fed”, whatever, has seemingly become an excuse for people’s own bad decision making. Wall St. didn’t make you have a 3rd kid when you can’t even afford to support one (If you are aware of my stance on overpopulation then you know why this is especially infuriating to me. Story for another time). This dichotomy, this split between progressives looking for meaningful change and bottom feeders looking to not take responsibility for their own lives, is what I fear will kill the OWS movement faster than anything else. It will never be taken seriously from the outside until it is made up solely of people who take it seriously from the inside.
So yesterday I went down to Zuccotti Park, here in New York City (I’ve been here for a week now, thanks to the weather/power situation in Boston) to photograph the Occupy Wall St. movement. I returned to the states right as the movement started and I’ve been travelling all over the country recently, so the Occupy presence has been pretty constant. There was no way I could be in the origination city (and a city I’m so familiar with) and not go down to see what was going on.
What I discovered though, after being there for about an hour, was that it just wasn’t all that interesting. It’s certainly smaller than I expected. The people are, of course, great, the level of self sustainability is impressive, and the general peacefulness of the whole thing is pretty amazing… but it’s nothing we all haven’t seen before (through “non-traditional” media, of course). It became quickly obvious to me that the story isn’t in the park. I’m not sure it ever even was. I made the decision that for the day, I’d stay within the barriers that surround the park and instead photograph the people walking past on the outside, specifically the people who stopped to take photos of the “inside”. It was kind of amazing how immediately self-conscious everyday people got when they found themselves on the other end of a camera lens. I wasn’t hiding either, I made it very obvious that I was photographing them (not that it’s really easy to hide with my DSLR, a 24-70mm lens, and my event backpack), that they were equally as on display.
Side Note: It’s interesting, as a photographer, to be aware of things like light. The park literally sits in the shadow of the MRF Securities building. It’s pretty ominous.
It didn’t take long before people inside the park noticed what I was doing. Nearly everyone who spoke to me about it thought it was hilarious. I would just remark that I was photographing the 99%, and I started saying that “Unlike Wall St., photography is a two way street.” This made me pretty popular, especially on the west side of the park. Typically I would just smile after taking a photo. Most people just smiled back and nodded. There were, of course, people who shot me dirty looks, yelled at/asked me to stop, quickly darted off, etc. Just to be clear, I didn’t raise my camera until someone else had raised theirs. My goal was to photograph people photographing. A lot of people noticed me through their own viewfinders, which was pretty entertaining. I wonder how many photos of me photographing are out there.
Then I started talking with the people I was actually photographing. It was interesting, the vast majority of people I talked to, probably about 500 or so over the course of the day, supported the OWS movement, but would never consider actually becoming a standing part of it. Many people identified themselves as part of The 99%, or agreed with the messages of OWS, wanted things to change, etc, but would never consider stepping across that barrier and join the folks in the park. There were reasons and excuses across the board, and that’s fine. People have lives, it’s completely understandable. I am, for the most part, one of those people myself. I was not there to judge anyone, just take pictures and maybe listen to some stories. One thing I did end up doing though, the message I ended up delivering, was asking people that if they really, sincerely, did support the OWS movement, to not treat it like a tourist attraction. To use their cameras to show what is going on with respect to what OWS is standing for. To bring those photos and videos and messages back with them to wherever they lived and share them. That they could support OWS and the fights against injustice without having to be in the park just by sharing what they had seen. What they believed.
When people on the “outside” asked me why I was photographing them photographing the occupiers, I would either reply “I’m just photographing the 99%.” (if they were nice about it) or “Because your camera is facing the wrong direction, the real spectacle is not in here, it’s all around us, out there.” (if they weren’t particularly nice about it).
It’s was an interesting experience. I would most definitely recommend everyone take at least a day to go and hang out with their local Occupy movement, if they have one. There is a lot more going on that just people sitting in drum circles and waving signs in the air. If you really believe in any of the messages The 99% stand for, even if you don’t immediately identify with it on a personal level, it will be worth your while. It’s a different perspective from the inside looking out, everyone should see it from that angle at least once. I’ll be headed back today or tomorrow to put in another round at the generator charging station. I’m a pretty decent endurance rider and I know the importance of a good outlet.
Below you’ll find my two Flickr galleries for this story. The first is shots of the Occupiers and the park. The second is all the aforementioned shots of people photographing from the outside in. There are lots more coming. In the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, I am licensing them for use via Creative Commons, so feel free to share (per the rules of the license!)
Travel: New York City – Occupy Wall St.
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Project: Occupy Wall St. – The Looking Glass
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