Density Of Color

I have been slowing or pausing the frequency of my posts and will likely continue that trend for the near future. It doesn’t feel necessary for me to go any more into it at this point, but perhaps another time.

In basic terms, submerging myself in the details of work and choosing to be more highly present with my family is simply taking more time and focus. I have been finding some joy in this mix and not a small piece of me is pleasantly surprised at the fullness of my life at this moment.

So, in reflection of my inward life let me share some photographs I have taken recently, an outward metaphor for the intense density and richness of color that I have been experiencing.

And yes, all of these were taken within the last month. One bizarre day in which the temperature plummeted and left us with five inches of snow overnight, mostly melted and back up the the mid sixties by the following day.

A Little Closer To The Ground

These images are not mine, they were taken on the family ipad by our 3 1/2 year old, and I stumbled upon them recently when I was trying to fix an issue with the device.

Since getting into photography myself I have made some cameras available to my kids as well. For a while the digital camera was more of a curiosity and sough-after play thing than an actual camera. The novelty of what it could do didn’t seem to last too long, unless the other child became interested in it once more that is. Nothing is quite so interesting as what your sister currently has, no matter whether you wanted it three minutes ago or not.

My six year old understands things mechanically, and has a knack for putting together the cause and effect of what is happening. She is the child of endless “why” and “how” questions, and it is through trying to support her in asking those questions that I have learned many interesting things that I never would have thought to ask. She picked up the camera and was quick to start figuring out which button did what. It didn’t take long before she was able to get a good solid picture: subject in the frame, well lit, zoom in if need be.

My 3 1/2 year old shows a much different relationship with the device. With the first digital camera we had, and now with the ipad, I see her off in corners of the room by herself, often looking at things very closely, and working hard to capture something multiple times. She isn’t interested in the technology or the settings. What she is interested in is unclear, but it is obvious to me that she sees something, and feels like this might be a way to capture it.

I am very curious to see if this interest continues or develops. As I have discovered, handing a camera to someone and seeing what comes out is a fascinating way to peek inside their minds, and especially to see a bit through their eyes. I have been self-reflecting through a camera since the end of last year and it is very fun for me to get a quick glimpse inside the head of my middle child.

Let It Fall Where It May

Yesterday I was able to enjoy an afternoon moment of simple joy. After a couple of difficult days, struggling with home school and work schedule overlaps and uncertainty about both my job and the new normal, I was able to catch a bit of a break.

The weather was amazing, absolutely perfect. Warmer than had been predicted but not hot, clear blue skies, light breeze, perfect.

Two of my three kids were playing in the backyard while I watched. My son slipped on some dry grass that is always the last part of the lawn to turn green, and then grows like crazy all year long. The dry patch had been shedding tiny brown stalks all spring and this gave us all an idea.

Nothing like a bit of natural confetti and moments of down time to experiment with a camera.

It had been a few days since I had really taken any pictures, and longer since I had taken anything that I felt really excited about. Despite the simplicity (or because of it) I found myself enjoying the process, my kids, and the moment all at once. Something I really needed.

Nothing more to be said except that I hope all of you can find a slice of bliss amidst the stress of our shared uncertainty. Shout-out also to Yuri for inspiring in part the idea for throwing things into the air and taking pictures of them with his No Gravity project, though my interpretation wasn’t nearly so daring.

Trail Running At Night: Moving Without Seeing

Trail running is possibly when I am at my happiest. It combines a natural physical exercise with being strongly connected to nature, and it engages my mind strategically in a way that road running does not. Navigating the technical difficulties of the trail clicks into something deep inside that feels instinctual, gives my brain a low-level workout and creates a meditative space to decompress. There are many great metaphors tying trail running to life, especially when thinking about how one always has to look ahead, assess the near term obstacles and formulate a plan on how to manage them. That may seem great on paper, but even that much ability to plan ahead is generous in comparison to what life is really like.

Life is much more like trail running at night.

Most of the forward motion I have had in my life seems to have been unplanned. I ended up taking classes in areas other than my chosen major, I followed my wife to another city for her graduate education and found my employment out of necessity. It became an actual career path through the encouragement of others pushing me along and supporting me. When my wife graduated I followed her again for her career and was incredibly lucky to find a place for myself in our new city with my old employer.

Looking forward to predict what might happen next has always been a bit dubious in my case given this history, but 2020 is shaping up to offer even more challenges. I have just learned that many more changes are coming for both my wife and myself. Her job was upended a few months ago and mine just informed me that I would be transferring roles and duties, losing my beloved colleagues and probably travelling more.

All of that is of course layered in and around the changes happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My wife is a university professor and chair of her department, which has decided to close campus and finish off the semester online only, creating a whole slew of questions without answers. My current travel for work has been suspended and the pressure on our day to day operations has caused many of our usual systems to be placed at the wayside while we figure out what the new normal looks like.

Of course, way beyond myself, it feels like this is a time of unprecedented upheaval around the world, and most of the people I talk with are feeling quite a bit of uncertainty about more than one area of their lives.

For me it feels very much like I am standing in a dense fog, trying to look down the path, and finding myself completely unable to see more than a few feet ahead. I was lucky enough to have a day like this recently and the time to get out with a camera to capture it for a few fleeting moments before the sun burned it off.

Trail running at night (or in dense fog) is an exercise in moving through obstacles without the luxury of foresight, and as such, has some great lessons that I am trying to internalize for other parts of my life right now in a moment where I just can’t see what the way forward looks like.

There is a river of creation, and time is a violent stream. As soon as one thing comes into sight, it is swept past and another is carried down: it too will be taken on its way.

Marcus Auralius, Meditation Book 4, 43

Core strength and flexibility are the things one can and must rely on.

In the daylight it is possible to run at the extremities, to plan your steps carefully and to use the obstacles to your advantage. One might intentionally step on roots or rocks in the path to gain more traction or to maintain momentum. Strong ankles and knee control can help take the force of these moves but only if the steps go according to plan.

When running at night it is better to run at the core. Since it is not possible to assess an obstacle ahead of time it is necessary to control the stride starting at the hip. Leave the knee and ankle as flexible as possible, so that when the foot comes down it can roll with the terrain. Keep the feet below the body and the center of gravity low. Focus on planting one foot, gaining balance and then pulling the next up. Get the knee ahead of you and bring down the ankle loose and flexible.

In this way one finds oneself focused inward, maintaining balance and regularity of stride, thinking much more about what the hip is doing than what the ankle is up to. Trying to hold a foot too rigid when you don’t know how it is going to land is a great way to sprain an ankle or worse.

Human beings are soft and supple when alive, stiff and straight when dead. The myriad creatures, the grasses and trees are soft and fragile when alive, dry and withered when dead. Therefore, it is said: the rigid person is a disciple of death; the soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life. An army that is inflexible will not conquer; a tree that is inflexible will snap. The unyielding and mighty shall be brought low; the soft, supple, and delicate will be set above.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 76, Victor Mair translation

The core strength we rely on in our broader lives can serve the same function as we move into uncertainty. Having strong values and social networks will allow us to handle obstacles, not by lining ourselves up ahead of time, but by giving us a framework of support that will catch us, and a blueprint to know where we should made adjustments rather than stand fast against an obstacle.

A core strength of our family is the way we prioritize one on one time, time spent in nature and time for each parent to spend recharging individually. If any of those aspects start to slip or happen less frequently we know that an adjustment needs to be made. Trying to maintain the external specifics for plans we have made, appointments on the calendar, isn’t going to matter as much as being able to spend quality time together and maintain the balance.

Core values don’t just give us guardrails to know when things are out of balance, they also point us in the right direction to correct those imbalances. Knowing what matters means that you have a beacon to help keep orientation. Sensing when one partner in the couple is spending too much time taking point and might be getting burned out, the solution is easy: get them some time on their own, even if that means adjusting plans that have already been made.

When running at night, pace must also be adjusted. It would simply be foolish, even if one has run the course before, to try and run in the dark at the same speed one might run during the day. There is no harm in slowing down a bit when things are less clear, and only speeding up again when there is some open ground.

When circumstances force you into some sort of distress, quickly return to yourself. Do not stay out of rhythm for longer than you must: you will master the harmony the more by constantly going back to it.

Marcus Auralius, Meditations Book 6, 11

As a family travel is also very important to us. We have a rough draft schedule of travel and family milestones planned out for the next five years, but now seems like a good time to slow down and not worry much about what is going to be happening next year, much less next month. There will be time when we can revisit those plans and probably keep most of them in some form, but now is simply not it, and that is okay.

Running in the dark means focusing on yourself and having faith in the work you have put in building up your strength. In reality, running in the day shouldn’t be any different. Just because we think we can see down the path doesn’t mean we really know what is going to happen. The part of the path that looks dry may turn out to be slippery, and the branch we want to step on may not hold our weight at the critical moment. Even if we plan the moves correctly it doesn’t mean that we will be able to pull it off. Sometimes one just takes a bad step even with all the right training and strategy.

Both Taoism and Stoicism have been very helpful in preparing me for uncertainty in my life. These philosophies encourage self reflection, which is the only way we can come to know where our core values lay. Only once we begin to observe and prioritize the things that truly matter to us can we properly exercise those values, clarify their contours, and use them to guide our decisions.

Running at night isn’t a practice of sadistic self-punishment. It isn’t something that one should do just because it seems like a crazy idea. our of bravery. Running at night, because it cultivates this necessity of trusting one’s own body, is an exercise in faith. Letting go, trusting in one’s training and capabilities, not worrying about the path ahead, only the stars above and the surreal experience of gliding through the dark, is magical. My experience of this was an experience of faith, and I don’t mean to strip that word of any spiritual meaning. Knowing that I did have faith in myself, that I know some unshakable truths from my core, gave me a sense of contentment and freedom from worry that I haven’t had since.

I write this to remind myself of the feeling, and to try and give myself the perspective that I can be like this all the time. The things we think are stable in life may not be, and even on a clear day we will not be able to predict our future paths. Is it not best to run on faith in our core values, suspending judgement of the path ahead and reacting in the moment as much as possible? I hope that everyone is able to use these difficult times as an opportunity to reflect and redefine, and find some solid footing on the path ahead.

Unlike my trail running experience alone in the dark, we are not running this race of life alone. Now is a time to rely on ourselves, but also a time to rely on one another. Even as we make adjustments to our own lives it is helpful to know that we are all in this together. I hope that all of you and yours are safe, healthy and adapting in this challenging time.

Ink and Wood: Inner Landscapes

At a critical moment of my young adulthood while I was travelling abroad for the first time in my life, I found myself in Hong Kong studying Chinese art history, and losing myself in the magical wandering landscapes of black and white ink scroll paintings.

I was immediately captivated by images created using only simple brushstrokes, deep black inks and cloudy washes. Within these simple parameters were created fantastical mountain scenes, steep rolling cliffs, bristling trees and silently tumbling waterfalls, all shrouded in swirling mists. A combination of the details and the impressionism drew me in and invited me to spend my time wandering in those images.

The history of scroll paintings is ancient, and like all art forms it has developed and evolved constantly along the way. Landscapes are just one area of focus for within the history of scroll paintings, but have become incredibly important as an area of focus because they have developed strong ties to underlying philosophical and religious ideas about man’s relation to the larger world.

For a deeper introduction to the subject I encourage you to follow this link to a collection of Essays posted through Department of Asian Art within The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/clpg/hd_clpg.htm

Something about the flowing line work really grabbed me from my first exposure to this art form. Each portion of the painting is generally made up of similar repeated brush strokes, building on each other to show texture and form. This is because the brush strokes themselves were based upon the same forms used in calligraphy, which requires specific methods for writing. There is fascinating connection between the fact that the forms used to create landscapes are built out of the forms to create language. It might be seen as a meta-version of “a picture is worth a thousand words”, compounding upon itself. There is also the idea that each person has a unique for to their calligraphy, and the way in which one person writes shows something about who they are as a person. This was equally true for this style of painting.

These men extolled the virtues of self-cultivation—often in response to political setbacks or career disappointments—and asserted their identity as literati through poetry, calligraphy, and a new style of painting that employed calligraphic brushwork for self-expressive ends. The monochrome images of old trees, bamboo, rocks, and retirement retreats created by these scholar-artists became emblems of their character and spirit.

Essay: Landscape Painting in Chinese Art, The Met

I have repeated returned to this art form as an inspiration through many different explorations of media over the years. Repetition, line work and density of layering in order to create texture and depth have all been qualities I find interesting. This I think resonates in some of my philosophical views and the idea that we, and the world around us, are a beautiful collision of chaotic elements coming together in just such a way as this. There is beauty in the chaos, and it is only possible to see the beauty of each element in relation to the rest of the picture.

My journey through visual art has been strongly tied to self expression. I use the work I create to have a conversation with myself about what I find meaningful and inspiring. This meditative and immersive aspect of scroll paintings immediately made sense to me and resonated at a deep level. Learning that this was indeed part of the genesis of the original art was both eye opening for me (and validating) but also seemed as if it could not be any other way.

Going beyond representation, scholar-artists imbued their paintings with personal feelings. By evoking select antique styles, they could also identify themselves with the values associated with the old masters. Painting was no longer about the description of the visible world; it became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist’s heart and mind.

Essay: Landscape Painting in Chinese Art, The Met

One of the most fascinating things I remember learning about landscape scroll paintings, was that they were meant to be semi-interactive. Many scrolls are very long, much longer than could be fully opened for viewing on any desk, or even in most rooms. Though the height of the image was often quite comfortable to sit on a desk, both trailing ends much necessarily be rolled up, like a roll of sketch paper used for children’s drawing tables. The artist would roll one end and unroll the other to move the paper along an work in sections, allowing portions to dry before moving on. This also affected the way in which they must be viewed. In order to experience a painting the viewer must also begin at one end and move the image in sections by rolling and unrolling through the image. In this way the viewer was encouraged to follow the imaginary journey through the rolling countryside in a temporal way, almost like a visual novel or film strip.

So the images weren’t intended only as a means for the artist to express themselves, but also used as a means of inviting self-reflection and escapism in others.

Up until now I have been struggling to create images from within myself that will inspire me and help pull me outside of myself. Looking backwards, that seems a bit like trying to turn around far enough that you can have a conversation with yourself. Though the idea is noble, the physics just don’t work. Photography has shown me that the images I am looking for are already out there waiting to be found. Nature will always be able to create a more perfect colletion of elements than I ever could. Rather than generating the image my perspective now is to try and be receptive to it, to capture it and allow it to speak to me.

The ink paintings has returned to me in the form of dead wood. Looking closely at fallen logs, split and aged with time, scarred by the elements and bare to the light, show striking resemblance to the forms and flows of Chinese scholars sitting in seclusion trying to find themselves.

Like the image above I have recently been focused on finding these deep patterns of texture on fallen logs that translate into surreal landscapes all on their own. I have been collecting them in a new portfolio project on the site and will continue to add as I find more.

Gallery: Ink Paintings In Wood

For now, here are a few of the ones that speak more clearly to me and allow me to go on escapist journeys of self-discovery like the original masters.

Cheers, thanks for reading as always. Here again are the links to the two resources cited in this post:

The Met, department of Asian Art:, essay on Chinese landscape painting: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/clpg/hd_clpg.htm

China Online Museum, Chinese Landscape Painting: https://www.comuseum.com/painting/landscape-painting/

Philosophy and Travel: Connect or Disconnect

Travel forged who I was early on, and cracked me open to new discoveries at a crucial point in my development. My wife and I have shared a passion for travel since before we met, and have made it a priority above many other things in our life together. Given how much the experiences I have had abroad have inspired me I was shocked to read many passages in both Stoicism and Taoism that seem to paint travel as a thing to be avoided.

We are reminded from both schools of thought that the nature of the world is unique in all of its individual expressions. If all matter, all animals, all plants are manifestations of nature expressing itself creatively, then no matter where we look we will see something that has no equal anywhere else. We are told that it is silly to go somewhere else in order to learn the ways of nature, or of ourselves.

Without going out-of-doors, one may know all under heaven; Without peering through windows, one may know the Way of heaven. The farther one goes, the less one knows. For this reason, the sage knows without journeying, understands without looking, accomplishes without acting.”

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 47, Victor H Mair translation

These words express that perhaps it is not only unhelpful to travel, but misguided and foolish. Is the world outside of ourselves merely a distraction from the search for true knowledge?

Taoism reminds us that we all share a common source, and are all the same if we can look close enough. In fact, there is much to be said about the fractal nature of our universe. That one can “zoom out” to see the complexity of our position within the universe, or “zoom in” to appreciate the complexity of cells at work within any living organism, echoes the idea that we need not go anywhere in order to explore the universe of details that exist in every piece of existence.

 Though neighboring states were within sight of each other, and could hear the cries of each other’s dogs and chickens, the people grew old and died without ever traveling beyond their own borders. At a time such as this, there was nothing but the most perfect order.

Chuang Tzu section 10, Burton Watson translation

Beyond the futility of trying to find “more” somewhere else, there is also a consideration that to travel is to misguide ourselves about what we are looking for. If we are hoping for a reset, or a chance to break out of our routine by stepping away from the normal, perhaps travel is only a temporary solution, or even worse, a way to cover up the real issues that are causing us to feel restless.

Men seek retreats for themselves – in the country, by the sea, in the hills – and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite un-philosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation than that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there which put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I simply mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. The doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment at what you must rejoin.

Marcus Auralius, Meditations, Book 4, 3

This seems to preclude, however, that all travel is in pursuit of escape.

Any trip must be formulated around where one begins and where one hopes to end up, but in this case we must first take into account the mental origin and destination before we can talk about any kind of physical journey.

I believe that there are many people who travel in order to escape. Destinations are chosen because they cater to the traveler’s needs, provide decadent lodgings, beautiful surroundings and pristine beaches. Travel guides focus heavily on amenities, activities and ways in which the traveler can streamline the experience.

This, I believe, is what Marcus Auralius is addressing in his quote more directly. In his day as in ours one might travel from the city to a country estate, somewhere far enough outside the hustle and bustle while also set up with all the trappings of home. This is merely a change in location in order to temporarily remove oneself from the stresses of daily life. As he notes, however, this relief is at best temporary. Travelling for these reasons doesn’t provide answers to the daily challenges and questions, just distance. When forced to return to daily life if often feels as if one had never taken the vacation in the first place, especially since there is often work which has piled up that wouldn’t have been there to do if we had never left home in the first place.

Travel for me has always been a necessary way to inform myself about other avenues of being. As a child I had a hard time imagining how things could be otherwise, especially growing up in a small midwestern community. Despite, or perhaps because of, my love of fantasy and science fiction, I felt that there was a huge disconnect between the life I was living and the larger world, but I had no way to penetrating the surrounding walls.

Thankfully my father also had a deep seated travel itch, and took us regularly across the American west in the back of our station-wagon. In these first trips I was able to see how things could be different elsewhere. It seems I am an experiential learner, and need to have a bit of hands on before these concepts sink in. Reading is good to point out that there is a “there” there, but it isn’t good enough to leave me with the tools I need.

Going abroad in college, not only for the first time, but on a very long journey through several countries, cracked me wide open, and the importance of travel has taken root for good. I experienced a variety of cultures and locations that I would never have been able to conceptualize otherwise. Trying to cross a busy street in the heart of Cairo or wandering ally-way shops in Hong Kong have left me with perspectives that still shape who I am.

We all need ways to see beyond ourselves, and to ultimately look back towards ourselves. The way in which travel expands my sense of what else if out there, helps me to reframe myself.

Any tool can be put to useful or destructive ends depending on who is wielding it, and what their intentions are. While travel may be an escape for many, pointing out the fact that there is something they feel the need to escape from, that is not what it is for me. For me, travel is the way, a meaningful journey that has much less to do with physical destination than it does with putting myself into a mindset of openness and growth.

As a special note about the photography here: all of these images were taken from our most recent vacation through a few places in Europe. I wasn’t pursuing photography very seriously at this point, just trying to capture what I found interesting at the time, and it is interesting to see how my photos then and my photography now relates to itself. I don’t generally take images of civilization now, but perhaps that is something I will explore more intentionally soon.

The Joy of Practice

When I was in middle school I wanted to be a writer of science fiction or fantasy novels. Our school had a well published children’s book author come in to talk to us for a while and I was very excited because she had just written a book for children who wanted to become writers, and that was going to be a focus of her talk. Everything she talked about that day was drowned out by one quote that has either haunted me or helped give me perspective since. I can’t claim to quote directly, but the idea is something like this:

“Ask yourself: do I want to write a book, or do I want to have written a book?”

This points to the dream of the end reward as opposed to the reality of the hard work that one needs to put in before that goal can even begin to materialize. Strangely enough I wrote quite a bit, and continued to do so for a few years, until a growing sense of unease about the quality of my work started to have a negative feedback loop. The more critical of my own writing I became, the less I felt like trying to write in the first place.

Putting work into any craft is the only way to realize results. I would be surprised to meet anyone who hasn’t heard a version of the phrase: “practice makes perfect”. The disconnect, however, between the hard work required at the beginning and the eventual payoff is often extremely difficult to overcome. For me, framing it in the sound logical perspective of rationality wasn’t enough to get me going on a path I thought I wanted.

Visual art was the next interest that began drawing me in. I think one of the appeals, and ultimate distractions, of “art” class in American education is the variety of media. Boiling down the education of creative visual problem solving into a handful of survey classes is a huge disservice and also gross misrepresentation of what students could be learning from these classes. I fell into the same trap that most other do, namely mistaking a variety of projects, mostly different kinds of media, for building skills.

What was most difficult and damaging about creating visual art in this way, was that no one taught the student how to learn from failure. In fact, there is such an emphasis in the curriculum currently on relativism, that it is difficult to even talk about a work as being “unsuccessful”, because who are we to judge the creative work of another person? After learning the vital skill of critique later on it came clear to me that quality could be assessed. Achieving better results, however, wasn’t quite so clear. Assignments were given and students were pushed to create more, forcing them to practice, but never was it framed in those terms. Each project was an end in itself, and we were supposed to come away with a successful project. The emphasis was still that each piece created could be good.

Again I took a break, and again I came crawling back to art on my own accord, feeling a connection that I couldn’t shake. Following the advice of practicing artists I decided I needed to just start creating things, as much as and often as I could. It was still a retrospective process, however, related what I had learned about writing a book. I was interested in the final product. Working quickly I could get there in one sitting and have something to show for it, but much more often than not I would be disappointed by the results.

I wanted to paint an image, but wasn’t exactly interested in the process of painting itself.

As I started to transition into more illustrative works, my technique shifted towards more detailed, and therefore more time-consuming work. I began reading about capital “P” practice that professional illustrators embrace: building up shoulder muscle strength through the repetition of drawing freehand straight lines. Building muscle memory and perceptual awareness by learning how to freehand three-dimensional boxes rotating in space as seen from any angle, and copying proportions of anatomy over and over again.

Drawing and painting, like any skill, can be taught step by step. The carpenter learns essentials about how to form, treat and fit wood together in an organized fashion so that they can go on to flex their creativity.

Breakthrough came upon picking up the camera seriously. For the first time I experienced joy in the practice. Rather than getting myself to sit and do what needed to be done to build my skills, I find myself eager to go out and shoot. I enjoy the results, but I enjoy the process just as much. This, I think, is a kind of balance that we are all seeking.

For this reason, the sage acts but does not possess, completes his work but does not dwell on it.

Tao Te Ching chapter 77, Victor H Mair translation

Water doesn’t need practice in order to flow downhill, it is the nature of water to do that. I think that finding the pieces of ourselves that come naturally and bring with them joy and inspiration are the ways in which we connect most closely to our own nature.

Epicycles

All things and beings will eventually return to the original source.
This is called “peace.”
“Peace” means returning to one’s original nature.

Excerpt from Chapter 16, Tao Te Ching

One of the aspects of Taoism that I most resonate with is the idea that energy circulates and follows cycles. Since the larger concept is that we are all of the same energy, and connected at our core existence, we also circulate and experience cycles. We are all emanations from the same source, and to that source we will return, but even as we live out our unique lives there will constantly be cycles and seasons, periods at which we find ourselves returning.

This has certainly been true for me, and was one of the initial pieces of self reflection that helped bring me around to learning more about Taoism in the first place. I grew up a seeker, feeling always as if I were missing something, some key piece of the puzzle that other people seemed to have.

Most of my friends and family were following a path that seemed more clear than mine. Many of them had strong ideas of what they wanted to be doing when they were finishing high school and entering college. I made my way through, gravitating towards art classes only at the end of my time in high school, having finally found something that resonated with me.

Going to college was a moment of reset, however, when I decided to put my time into more “practical” pursuits such as Biology and English. Only after being drawn in by Philosophy did I find something I could connect to at a deeper level. At least here were other people who were asking interesting questions, even if they still seemed as if they knew where they wanted to go.

A couple of years into college I rediscovered art classes once more, and returned to that initial connection. I didn’t have time to pursue a degree in art, and was only able to take a handful of foundation courses in the time I had. Enough to get my feet wet but not enough to show me a direction. Incidentally, I recall deciding not to take a photography course at this point because I felt that it might be too technical, and was also so popular that I couldn’t see myself having a strong enough vision that would allow me to stand out in the crowd.

The most influential portions of my college education came out without planning, almost out of the blue. First was my then-girlfriend convincing me to sign up for a semester abroad program. I had never traveled out of the country, and this semester allowed me to challenge myself and broaden my horizons in ways that still ripple through my life. The second, and far more influential, was meeting the woman would become my wife.

We were married right after we had both completed college and we moved to the east coast for her graduate school. I was lucky enough to fall into what would become my long running career, though at the time I certainly didn’t believe that to be the case. Several years were spent encountering new ideas and new people, learning how to be a couple and share a life, and adapting to supporting ourselves. Never did I feel as if I were on a path or moving in any specific direction, though the ride was certainly interesting.

Several conversations with my wife sparked me into another return to art, and a continuing education degree at RISD for print design. Again I fell into the creativity that the projects allowed, and dug deeper into a specific discipline than I had before. There was a chance that this might become a path for me, a way to combine my career and my interest at a deeper level, which might finally give me a connection point and sense of moving forward towards an actual goal.

After she completed graduate school she was lucky enough to be offered a tenure track position in the Midwest. We moved, and I was lucky enough to stay on with my company in a new location. Beyond simple transition, I was able to capitalize on a unique opportunity and advance my career. Taking this step was wonderful financially, and offered me the chance to travel, but meant putting ideas of changing careers on the back-burner. That, and starting a family, have largely kept me busy since then.

A couple of years ago I found myself becoming restless once more. I took up art on my own, doing purely experimental paintings out of my own mind to try and flex the muscle. It was in this time frame that I was also looking back to Philosophy to help me figure out where I could get a foothold. Despite the career and family success, I couldn’t help still feeling as if it was all some kind of mistake. I had been very good at jumping on opportunities as they came up, and not dismissing ideas out of hand without giving them serious thought, but I wasn’t planning, and I wasn’t aiming at anything. It all felt a bit like a ship lost at sea, even if the sea was beautiful on most days.

My art experiments gave me the chance to flex some aching muscles and express myself. It was wonderful, but within that process were endless miniature cycles that played out. I experimented with medium after medium, going from watercolor to charcoal, to pencil to pen and ink, sometimes back and forth. I put effort into a diverse range of projects and outlets. Towards the end of a two year period of intense art practice I found myself taking a lot of picture to use as references, or as inspiration. I came to realize that I have been enjoying that aspect of preparing for the art as much (or more) than I have been enjoying the art itself.

This coincides with my deepening understanding of Taoism and Stoicism, and my appreciation for seeing my position in life as one of discovering my direction as destination, rather than one of charting for a specific goal. I am trying to consciously open myself up to be present and available so that I can enjoy what comes and not miss any of it for my efforts of peering down the forks in the road.

I like to think that if one were to look at my life from the top down as it were, it would be a series of epicycles, aspects of my life spent branching out only to circle back in on themselves a little further down the road. Key themes are beginning to make themselves apparent, but it may be this act of exploration and returning that defines my time here more than anything else. Perhaps, like the astrologers of centuries past, someone may look back and try to chart a straighter line for my life once everything is said and done, but missing out on the rhythm of returning would be to skip so much of what has brought me here today.

Introduction

Welcome to my blog. I am creating this site for myself and others who are interested in spending time thinking about their relationship to the world and their path through life. I am using this blog to document my own daily adventures in seeking meaning through photography. I will be posting about philosophy, books that I have read and thoughts that I have been working over on my own. I will be writing about the intersection of various pieces of my life and sharing experiences that I have had in an effort to better see the larger path that I am on. While this content is largely a way for me to stay in touch myself, I do hope that others who are on similar paths will be interested as well. We are all taking the same journey together, but apart, and sharing with one another is a wonderful way to build connections and help point each other towards helpful practices. I encourage anyone who is interested to follow along through email updates, and to send me questions and comments if they arise. I welcome the dialogue and the connection to others who resonate with the project.

Before getting into discussion on any particular topic I would like to offer a few pieces of information about myself. I have always been a seeker and drawn to questions about my own life and the world around me. My own journey continues through my interactions with nature, my photography, my travel, my family relationships and the books I am reading. I have my BA in Philosophy and have read several of the classics, but I do not consider myself to be an expert on any of this. I have spent time learning about a variety of Philosophy-Religions such as Taoism and Buddhism and have built up my own practices, but I have not practiced with teachers and do not consider myself to be an expert on the doctrine. I have picked up a camera and am learning how to take pictures the way that I see them, but I have a long way to go. I am happy to share the knowledge that I have, but do not take anything as doctrine. Where possible I will be linking to resources that I have found helpful.

Thank you for reading and for joining me on this part of my path. I look forward to finding out where it takes me.