“…it will change your relationship to it.”

I’ve seen a prominent content creator on TikTok proclaim, in a rather matter-of-fact manner, that once you start doing the thing you love as a job, all the joy gets immediately sucked out of it. That you may love a certain art, craft, hobby, or passion, but once you start depending on it for a living it more or less ruins that love you had for it. I don’t entirely agree with him, but I can’t say I disagree either. 

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who moved back to Ohio in the last year. His passion is music, voice, and theatre. He went from living in Los Angeles where he was mainly a personal trainer and online voice coach, back to his home state where he soon got a job as an adjunct voice professor. He also started performing again, landing lead roles in major local theatre productions. I told him how excited I was that all these opportunities started happening for him even though he wasn’t exactly thrilled about this big move home. 

“Yeah, but I’m still broke,” he said, “the arts…”

He trailed off, not finishing the thought, but I knew what he meant. I’ve met the frustration many times myself. Both he and I were really lucky to have found artistic talents as children, and to have parents who supported and encouraged our pursuit of them. I should add that an artistic talent is one thing. Actually having drive and discipline to hone a craft is something else, something I believe he and I both had as young people. Despite the cliche story of the unsupportive parent—as in, the plot of the film “Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit”—I find most parents want to support their kids’ artistic ambitions. Most parents like their kids performing, drawing, painting, or filmmaking. What I find most parents are not aware of is the reality of a career in the arts over a lifetime. How does your child subsist or even thrive in a world where creative careers are still seen as hobbies? Where fame and celebrity is worshipped, but for everyone else it’s seen as unstable and unserious? Where creative expertise is regularly undervalued and artists are asked to work for exposure?

One of the most frustrating endeavors of my life has been figuring out how to make a living without it feeling like a daily slog of monotonous undertakings. I’m not comforted by corporate structures. I know, because I’ve had office jobs. I consider myself extremely lucky that my photography career has started to finally work in the last few years since pandemic lockdowns were lifted. But it took me this long, and many failed day jobs, and at least one failed relationship along the way.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a boss I had while working in a menswear store around 2016. He was a good boss, and I felt bad because I knew he liked having me there. Meanwhile, I wished I was anywhere else but folding and refolding expensive shirts. I’d told him how I was working on a photography business because I felt like I was pretty good at it and could make something out of that. “Listen,” he said as I rearranged ties on display, “any passion you do for work, it will change your relationship to it.”

He was right. But I’ve never found that advice to be deflating. If anything, it has reminded me to set proper expectations and boundaries. I am dedicated to my career, but I’m not a photographer twenty four-seven. Whereas when I was studying theatre, music, and dance, almost every moment of my day was in anticipation of the next class, the next rehearsal, the next audition—which was all in anticipation of some grand career of the in the distance somewhere. And any type of criticism from anyone about my voice, my technique, my body, I immediately internalized and took personally. These days, I’m able to know what is appropriate to listen to and when. I provide a service. Yes, I have to be a bit vulnerable in the process, but I don’t fall apart at the slightest hint that things aren’t working quite right. I can course correct fairly easily.

I don’t think all the joy gets drained out of your passion once it becomes your career. It simply changes your relationship to it. Making a living from the arts in a capitalistic society means you also have to embrace some level of commercial appeal to what you do. Very few people can make a living from being iconoclastic rebels, reinventing the wheel at each and every turn. I’ve known of a few of these people in my lifetime. (People seem to always want to throw money at them.) And that has never been me.

Life goes by blurringly fast. Pursue a passion while you can. It may not be your career, and in most cases it probably shouldn’t be. To me, it’s worse to have watched time go by without ever reaching for something that fills you with life, and maybe even a taste of bliss. 

Seasons, reaping, and sowing

The summer slump–that period between from somewhere in August to somewhere in September–has seemingly ended for me. August had a restless feeling. The sun suspended motionless in the afternoon sky. Clients all on vacation, so no work coming in. I did my best to keep the creativity in flow during the long, luxurious afternoons. Almost under our noses, the days begin to shorten. The sunsets come sooner. The mosquitos still manage to bite. Fall comes in.

Now I’m going back to client work. The first was at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for an event. A casual, yet extravagant, evening for wealthy donors to a non-profit held on the actual field of the stadium. I had to steal a quick selfie in the dugout, which was where I was to store my camera bag for the night.

I’ve been thinking of a clip I saw online of someone saying “you can’t always be in the reaping or harvest stage of life” and it really struck me. On some level, it’s something I already knew, but somehow never full had heard it articulated as such.

When I was younger, all I wanted was success. I had worked hard in college. Moved to the big city to pursue my dreams. Networked with the right people. I even made some really great friends. Yet, I was shocked that I wasn’t swimming in success. I knew I was talented and I knew I liked to work hard. So why weren’t opportunities falling from the sky? I waited for the phone to ring. I floated from day job to day job. For so many years I was focused solely on the reaping without really focusing on the sowing.

As a gardener, I knew this! I knew this as the years came and went, a few “somedays” came and went. Now, as I start booking my regular clients for fall events, I recognize that the only way I can do so confidently is because of seeds I sowed long ago. Seeds sown, by the way, in the face of personal adversity. I lost a relationship then, and friends of mine fell away. (I’m not saying you should sacrifice relationships to pursue a dream, but that is just how it played out for me.)

These are just reminders that there are indeed seasons to life. I may be having a harvest year of sorts, and it’s a good idea to think of planting new seeds as the year winds down. Lately, that has been reminding people around me that, while I am extremely grateful for my photography career, it is not the only thing I do. I’ve been playing and posting more music while looking for more opportunities to perform again.

New year, new me?

It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted anything here. To tell you the truth, I’ve had this URL since about 2000 and haven’t added much to it. It used to be a catch-all site for my fledgling acting career back then. Then came the rise of the blog, then the rise of what we called the micro-blog, the then the rise of the social network, and that became the rise of the social media. Now seems to be the fall of social media as we know it, with some of the most reliable platforms seeming to fall under their own weight…or onto their own swords. I still love them, despite that everyone seems to regard them as “hell-scapes”. All this is to say that now seems to be more important of a time to keep one’s own website updated with quality content and connection.

Where have I been? Well, it’s nothing serious. After several years of building a freelance photography career, only to have it put completely on hold at the start of the pandemic, things have been back. I wasn’t doing all that well during the long stretches of lockdown months. For any creative person who found that time to be ultra-productive, great for you. Despite my introverted nature, I found my anxiety to be barely manageable and I had almost no ability to actually concentrate on a single project. In fact, I think I just got my brain back within the last year or so.

But, yes, things have been back since last fall. I’ve built relationships with a handful of new clients who have been fantastic and who have kept me busy. I expected maybe a few bookings last fall, but the phone kept ringing right up through the holidays and into this year. I’m a very lucky photographer because I know a lot of us went out of business in 2020.

It’s been a year of shifts. No, it’s not January, but I think of this time of year as a New Years in many ways. My birthday is in summer, and I tend to take stock of myself and my year around June/July. Many shifts began about a year ago when I was approaching a big birthday. Friends I had regarded as ride-or-die seemed not to be “ride” at all, and I had to sort of quietly let them go. A family member was in the midst of a health crisis and I spent several weeks in the hospital with them during a record heatwave in Southern California. (They are doing much better now.) What I thought would be a joyful celebration of me entering into a new decade surrounded by friends actually had me feeling very alone. Most plans I had made to welcome this next stage of my life all seemed to fall completely through amidst a bad COVID wave.

Things can, and do, change. I had to accept that as I watched relationships in my life shift. As I watched my priorities realign around certain people. As I understood that by embracing my own personal growth I had to course-correct certain precedents I had set around how I had always allowed myself to be treated before. I’m risking this post becoming a bit long and cliche, but that is sort of it in a nutshell.

Again, as social networks continue to annoy and/or disappoint their users, I am aiming to be more committed to this space. I’ve never been much of a writer, but I’d rather my words and quality creative efforts go here.

A Break In The Rain

It’s mid-March and I’m reading one piece after another about being a year into this pandemic, at least in the US. Much of these sound familiar. The brain fog, the struggling with meaninglessness. Me, I often feel like I want to be a go-with-the-flow guy–to take these prolonged months as they come and try to make the most of them–except the flow often doesn’t really want to go with me.

A break in the rain

Small moments of chaos break out. Our elderly dogs eliminate on the floor. Water leaks under the sink. I’ve become excellent at clearing decades of clutter Marie Kondo-style into donation boxes, only to have to drive all over town looking for a thrift store that’ll actually take them. (Note: thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations and are usually full by noon.) As a freelancer, any sort of work or creative project usually ends in a false start.

My complaints are little. I’m navigating much of this with enough privilege to usually keep these things to myself. So when small chaos seems to reign, there goes my flow. Any kind of flow.

A walk per day keeps the fog at bay. Just like our usual March here in SoCal, the rain has been off and on. A small break in the rain makes for a lovely iPhone shot. And maybe some hope that as more of us get vaccinated, this storm might actually break.

The Lonely Street Photographer – Bowlium and Bobcat Fire

Bowlium Lanes in Montclair, CA

I realize my posts are pretty heavy on the black and white images, when normally I enjoy vibrancy, bright colors, lots of contrast. The truth is the last few weeks have been a doozy for me personally. Much of where I’m feeling mentally has been marked by a sense of melancholy. The bleak skies of Southern California during fire season. The tilt of the earth as seasons change and shadows lengthen. On a fairly decent day, one that was still blazing hot, I took my camera out near my old hometown of Ontario and snapped this vintage bowling alley, Bowlium. Only to realize of course that the Bobcat Fire had sent up a new plum of smoke and seemed to be heading toward my home.

All is well at the moment. My main objective in a very chaotic time is still a lot of self care.

All about the pause

The calls are coming from inside the house. The weight of anxiety around person problems. Lack of sleep. Worry over lack of direction in a pandemic world.

And the calls have been coming from outside the house, too. Raging wildfires destroying the west coast. Friends, family, and myself out of work. Teacher friends struggling just to do their job. Anything on the news.

Not to mention I can’t be outside doing what normally calms me–exercise, hiking, and gardening. It all makes me realize that you can’t whip yourself out of this space.

Reading this piece on why I’m feeling so awful right now hit all the right points for me. The ambiguous loss, the unproductive feelings, the lack of normal self-care activities.

Today has been all about the pause. Hitting pause to allow myself to re-adjust, and realizing it’s a privilege that I can even do just that. Pause, and lots of rest, and keeping stimulation low.