We finished the first season with a feeling of complete disillusionment. There were so many things going on that didn’t feel as though the earth was spinning in the direction it needs to spin. We took the time to stop, to think, to explore, and to study. That adventure ended up taking us to some places we hadn’t anticipated.
To explain how this great mental exercise took place, you need to understand a bit about my early morning routine. My day is divided into four parts: thinking, doing, napping, and winding down. Mostly. Sometimes. Not every day quite fits neatly into that schedule but that’s another topic.
What set off this exploration was my morning schedule. My alarm goes off at 4:00 AM every morning, not because I have someplace to be that early, but because I enjoy the quiet that pre-dawn provides. Even the birds are still asleep when I get up and I like that level of quiet.
I let the dogs out, start coffee, and then go about handling a handful of chores—making sure the animals are fed, dealing with laundry and a cantankerous washing machine, cleaning up the messes the cats made during the night. I put my teeth in my mouth and then sit down and look at my phone for the first time. There are always plenty of notifications, mostly social media that I brush off unless something is directed specifically toward me. I pay attention to critical matters, crimes that happened within a mile of where I live, things that might affect me or my family, and then put the phone down.
By now the coffee’s done. I fill my cup and move into the living room where my desk is crowded with books and fabric and medicine and mail and notes to and from teachers. Everything that doesn’t have a specific home, and a few things that do, end up on my desk. Funny how that happens.
Most mornings, I reach for a notebook, take the lid off my fountain pen, and start writing. This is the most pleasant part of my day. I love the feeling of the nib on the heavy paper. Watching the ink as it swirls and forms words on the page thrills me. I pay careful attention not only to what I’m writing but how I’m writing it. Are all my words angled at the same degree? Are there any odd gaps or words shoved too close together? If I am going to feel any level of personal satisfaction, it’s most likely to be right here, at this moment.
So when that moment stopped generating that feeling of satisfaction a few weeks ago, I had to stop and consider why. What changed? Was I doing something different? Was I being affected by something that hadn’t bothered me before? I needed to find answers and in finding those answers I discovered some things about myself that made me uncomfortable.
By the end, I realized something difficult to admit: I’m going to have to change.
The World Isn’t What It Used To Be
There was a time, not all that long ago, when I thought I knew what the world was. I thought I knew what was right and what was wrong, what was truth and what was a lie, what was good and what was bad. What I’ve come to realize across the past few weeks is that none of that holds true anymore. Nothing that was, is still. Let me explain.
We know change is a constant. We expect that and from the earliest point in our lives, we’ve learned to adjust to those changes. We stopped taking a bottle in favor of a cup, moved from liquid foods to solids. We stopped wearing diapers and learned to go to the restroom on our own. We learned to dress ourselves in clothes that we like wearing. We maneuvered our way through school grades, each one significantly different than the one before it. We get change. It has been happening our entire lives.
Looking around now, though, change has gone from being a gradual thing that happened across months or years to something that can be dramatic in the course of a day. I can’t turn off the evening news and ignore everything that happens overnight. I have to check my phone in the morning because changes that happened in a different hemisphere might affect what I do the rest of the day.
This severe back and forth between what is and what isn’t has reached peak levels of disruption. Here are just a few of the areas that seem to be in constant flux:
Food. What is best for our bodies? Keto? Paleo? Vegan? The food pyramid? The number of opinions and the number of people claiming to be experts is overwhelming. There’s no way to be certain that anything is going to work for you, that anything is going to taste good, or that what claims to be organic and ethically sourced actually is. Even where we shop now is a matter of debate. The huge grocery chains offer the best prices, but much of the food they stock is dependent on the low-wage labor of disadvantaged populations. We are asked to consider the lives of the people who make our food when doing our shopping, but when one only has a limited amount of funds in their budget, caring for anyone other than yourself becomes difficult and guilt-inducing.
The environment. Twenty years ago, we were told we had 100 years to fix climate change. Ten years ago, that changed to 50 years. Now, every day’s weather forecast has some foreshadowing of what we’re doing to the environment. Volcanoes are erupting at a higher frequency than they have in millennia. The ocean storm season has started earlier each year for the past ten years and is producing consistently more and stronger storms with each passing season. Meanwhile, in our oceans, groups are having to make diving trips to remove plastics we’ve discarded from the bodies of water-bound animals of every kind. Everything we touch, everything we throw away, everything we consume relates in some way back to the earth’s environment and so long as governments are afraid to take dramatic action, there’s really not much our individual efforts can do.
Racism. Sure, it’s always been there and you’re lying if you try telling me it wasn’t always this bad. Yes, it’s always been as bad as it is right now. Cops have gotten away with murdering black people ever since the city of Boston created the first police force in 1854. Last summer provided a flashpoint for racism, though, and as hard as people have tried to improve the situation, racists have fought back. Racists proliferate all over social media and are spurred on by the most belligerent and reckless former president to ever exist. The violence we’re seeing now between Israel and Palestinians is part of the same evil. Neither side wants to allow for the existence of the other. Centuries of religiously fueled hate and racism are killing innocent civilians by the dozens and needs to stop. The continued violence around the world is nothing more than greed and selfishness. Everyone has a right to live peacefully in the place of their choosing. Nothing else is acceptable.
Media. I grew up in the days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley delivering the news at 6:00 each evening. We trusted them. We knew as much as we wanted to know and made our decisions accordingly. Our local newspapers filled in any blanks left from the 30-minute newscasts. That was it. 30 minutes of national news, and at times they struggled to fill that. Now, we’re surrounded by media everywhere we look, and with that proliferation comes the challenge of trying to discern what is trustworthy. Even brands once considered steadfast sources of record have been brought into question. As a result, we don’t know who to believe about anything at any time, and that, in turn, has dissolved not only our trust in media but our trust in each other. Does anyone know what they’re talking about? We can no longer be certain, no matter how well we know the person delivering the information. Everything has to be fact-checked through multiple sources. Only when we can find reliable consensus do we dare begin to consider something factual.
Government. I’ve never been a fan of government, but when I look at what has been happening the past six years, from the 2016 campaign forward, I’m more ready than ever to burn the whole thing down and start over. There are shadows behind every statement and now we have some ill-tempered and apparently ignorant members of Congress directly assaulting other members of Congress right outside their offices. What the literal fuck is going on? If we can’t depend on our elected representatives to behave with decorum and seriousness we most definitely can’t trust them to be legislating in a manner that benefits the general population of the United States! My blood pressure goes up every time I think about it, leaving my most healthy recourse to not think about it.
I come away from all these changes feeling conflicted and guilty. I believe everyone has a responsibility to stay informed and to act appropriately on that information. Societies are not isolated entities wherein one’s actions only affect themselves. So, given the inability to manage the rapid and insane pace of change that is coming at me, I’ve needed to do some deep thinking. Let me tell you how that went.
Idealism or Materialism
The term “self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days and that’s okay, we all have neglected ourselves for so long that it’s not surprising that we’re seeing a resurgence of services that help us make ourselves better. For some people, that means getting a massage, spending time on a beach, or avoiding interaction with certain people. For me, however, self-care comes in the form of introspection and contemplation and even there I have a certain level of conflict that has to be balanced.
The conflict is a matter of idealism versus materialism. Before you make an incorrect assumption, please let me define both for you on my terms. Idealism is the metaphysical idea that emphasizes the spiritual and/or mental state. In extreme cases, it declares that anything material is evil. Religion is inherently idealistic. Many of the beliefs of indigenous peoples are idealistic. Materialism is the reduction of everything, including thought, to the physical process. Within native circles, for example, we would say that we feel a connection with the earth because we have lived on this particular place generation after generation so that we have a physical, real, identity with the land.
Can you see where those two directions of thought can be at odds with one another? Philosophers have been arguing between the two with various blends and bends and beatitudes for tens of thousands of years and I don’t know that we’re any closer now to finding the answers than we were when humans first figured out how to communicate.
US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, a member of the Seminole tribe who is also a fellow Oklahoman, writes in her recent book, Poet Warrior, that, “My father was ephemeral. He was about 10 percent body. The other 90 percent of him was spirit and was unreachable, even to him. This earth can be difficult and jarring. Joy can only be known through despair here.” I can identify with this because there are times when I get the sense that a part of myself, the part that I particularly need right at this moment, isn’t here; it isn’t available.
But later, she describes her mother as fire because she was more connected with the material, the physical aspects of being. I can understand that as well. Every morning, it happens. I go to check my blood sugar level and as I prick my finger, I think of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
Every morning, it’s the same thing. I sit here in a darkness illuminated only by my LED desk lamp, blotting the blood from my finger on an alcohol pad, trying to figure out what today is going to be: physical or mental. I hope for physical, to be doing something like taking pictures and editing them, to have a purpose for doing so, a goal that I need to achieve.
Few days provide that clarity of purpose anymore, though. Too many days I’m lost inside my head, wondering how it is that the same people who marched for civil rights in the 1960s are now some of the biggest racists I know. How the people who once screamed for peace are now ready to commit acts of violence against anyone who disagrees with them. And how those who were so in favor of overthrowing the bourgeois now jealously guard against anything that might devalue their stock portfolio. Who and what has my generation become?
Yet, it is not my job to speak for an entire generation. I can only speak for myself and I can only control the choices I make and the actions I perform. Everyone else is on their own. Can I be influential in what others do? Perhaps, at least to the degree that what I do allows someone to interact directly with me. If you’re reading or listening to this, then something I did influenced you. Still, I cannot make you or anyone else do anything. My powers are limited to my own body, my own mind.
Changing Course, Searching for A New Direction
I am currently shooting a new project involving several models. The current plan is to release that project sometime in late June, perhaps early July. This will be my last project of such size. After that, I will focus on a handful of smaller art pieces that I’m wanting to do, and then, by the end of the year, that’s it. I’m retiring from professional photography.
That doesn’t mean I won’t still take pictures from time to time. My love of the medium will never completely go away, but increasingly I feel less and less a part of that community. That may be because the pandemic forced us all away from each other for over a year. My own hesitations in approaching new models played a role in that as well. The severe drop in people requesting my services is definitely a factor. Add to that the fact I really don’t want to do video and there’s a strong shove in the industry to go that direction.
Once upon a time, I thought that my photographs would live on beyond me, but that no longer seems certain. In an environment where models demand their work be pulled from websites (even if a release was signed), there is no promise that future generations get to see anything I’ve done, at least not online. At some point, the concept of taking photographs that no one gets to see ten years from now is self-defeating. I think of DaVinci carrying around an unfinished Mona Lisa for years and I wonder if it was to avoid her finding out about the painting. Perhaps, had she known, she would have broken it over his head. Or maybe she would have had him killed since that apparently happened to people. Other people having an unrequested and uncreative say in the art we create is worse than an invasion of privacy—it’s vandalism of our souls.
The world is more invasive, more mind-numbingly intrusive, and unbelievably inappropriate and rude than it was when I first started taking pictures. Every time I have to block someone for saying stupid shit, it detracts from the work and leaves me less inclined to create anything for anyone, anywhere. I shouldn’t have to be afraid to share artwork for fear of being banned from a social media platform, or worse, sued for some inexplicable reason.
So, I’m not going to do it anymore. At least, not regularly. I’ll take care of a few clients with whom I have contracts. I’m not going back on those commitments, but at the end of the year, my photography website will become an archive. Nothing new will be added. If I don’t get something done between now and then, I will assume it wasn’t meant for me to do.
Instead, I’m going to devote more time to writing, actually finishing the books that have first drafts sitting around, and possibly writing new ones. I think I have enough ideas in my head to keep that activity going for a couple of decades.
I’m also considering going back to school, studying philosophy so that I can espouse bullshit with a pedigree. I’ve talked to roughly thirty universities and a couple has talked back. Nothing is final there yet, as there is a multitude of hoops to levitate my way through. I’m not crazy enough to think that I can change the world by getting a degree or two, but perhaps, just maybe, that extra bit of academic legitimacy could be what it takes for me to influence the person who does change the world, hopefully for good.
What I do know is that my time here is limited. Last year had its share of health scares and while none of those proved to be as serious as they first appeared, they reminded me with frightening clarity that I have many more days behind me than likely do in front of me, especially in terms of productivity. Sure, there is always the chance that medical science could keep my heart beating another 40 or so years, but I’m not sure Kat wants to put up with me that long. If I’m going to do something that outlives me, something that matters, then I need to get busy figuring out what that is and start doing it. I don’t have any time to waste.
What comes next
The next eleven weeks may prove to be interesting. They’ll definitely be more personal, more revealing, and more introspective. As such, I’m not sure how many people are likely to be interested. But then, I’m not sure a great number of people are interested as it is.
What this exercise does is force me to put down in words all the things going through my head, to process feelings and emotions rather than letting them swirl and detract and fester and wound. Getting them out is therapeutic for me and if my self-therapy is helpful or entertaining for someone else, then I suppose that’s a win.
Perhaps this isn’t so much a retirement as it is a pivot. A change of direction with a distinctly different purpose. I know I’m not going to sit home and sleep all day, Kat won’t let me get away with that. I won’t let me get away with that. But what I know is that the status quo is untenable. I have to create a change that benefits me.
And if, after giving everything else a try, nothing works, then who knows? Maybe I’ll order a dozen coconut cream pies and let the sugar take me out. If there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that there are worse things than dying face-down in pie.
That’s all I have for now. Until next week, may all your rolls be strikes, and may every throw stay between the gutters. Abide, dudes.