Photographing the Path

One of the things a photographer should do if they want to be an artist is to show the public things they are not used to seeing. The novelty of something that is not immediately recognizable is often magical and often takes up a lot more attention than maybe it even deserves. What really matters is when a photographer can show you something new but it is also lasting.

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Most of the new directions don’t work. That is the nature of experimentation. Most don’t work, but occasionally there is a spark and a match ignites and the fire can be used to light a stove. In these cases, where we end up cooking, there is a lot of energy for the project until it too becomes well known and unsurprising.

 

Any photographer who chooses the natural world as a subject can tell you that there is always something new and surprising even in a place that you have photographed a thousand times. The sunset continues to stun us with its awesome qualities because every time it does something spectacular it feels like it is brand new.

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That is one of the great lessons to learn from photographing the same place many times: the dynamism of light and life. Everything is constantly changing and the moments that make the most magical photographs may only happen for a few brief seconds.

 

The other night as I was hiking, I came upon a great horned owl sitting on a post. It was totally unaware of me as it was focused on the grass in the last light of the blue hour. I got out my camera and lens and set up my tripod and just as I was focusing the owl plopped down into the grass, belly-flopping onto some rodent in the field, which it took away up into a tree for its meal.

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I didn’t get a photograph of the owl at all, but moments like that are why you go out into the field looking for anything and nothing in particular. I almost always get the shot. That is one of the reasons why I decided to write about missing this one. The exception underlines the rule.

 

I have this thing that I have felt as an artist for a long time, but Norman Locks helped me to realize it as a photographer. That is, you want to meet things eye to eye. You have to have the integrity to believe that you and your subject are equals and that this moment is going to make a photograph because you and the subject are coming together out of the flow of life for a split second of connection.

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This means that you have to have purpose out there, too. If you are only hiking to find the animals, then they have the leverage and you have positioned yourself more as a hunter than as an artist. The artist doesn’t need the animal to have an experience, so if the animal becomes a part of the experience then it just so happens to be. It is not forced, though.

 

In order to do this, it helps to give yourself some sort of difficult goal that impresses even you when you accomplish it. I have been pushing myself to hike long distances on a regular basis and that gives me the gravity to just go out there and whatever comes across my path will be part of my experience. I’m not chasing images. I’m cultivating the strength and the patience to be out there enough so that when it happens, it happens. It is what it is. Nothing forced, nothing faked.

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Content Rules: Copywriting Strategies for Digital Marketing

What is content marketing and why does it work?

 

As many businesses shift to online marketing during a stressful time, there are bound to be lots of mistakes made by those unfamiliar with best practices and marketing strategies. Understandably, people are worried about their businesses and their ability to adapt to this new business landscape. In this blog, I will discuss one approach that has a number of advantages during this time: content marketing.

 

What is content? Content is the stuff that matters, the substance of your business. Who are the people behind the scenes, what are your values? What is the story that has led your business to its current junction? Content is what your business is about, the stuff it is made of and the people who make it all happen.

 

The most important thing about creating a content marketing strategy is the same principle in all marketing: put the consumer first. What benefit does your content offer? How can what you are creating help people with their problems?

 

Two useful resources for getting started with content marketing are the Copyblogger and Storybrandwebsites. For many people, writing can be intimidating, and these websites can help you to approach the task with some guidance. Writing good copy is difficult, however, so it might be something that you need to outsource.

 

Content marketing uses storytelling techniques to share your offer with the public and if you are able to tell your story in a way that resonates with people looking for services that you provide then you are giving yourself every advantage in that decision-making process.

 

Some questions that you should answer for your public:

 

  1. What benefits does your service or good provide to the user?
  2. What problems does your business help to solve?
  3. Why does choosing your brand give your client an advantage?

 

As many brands make the transition to digital marketing, it is going to be of utmost importance to be strategic and find ways to provide value. Even though this is a stressful time for businesses, we need to remember the basics of marketing: put your audience first, help them to see how your business provides solutions, and listen to feedback.

 

Right now, if you want to gain more guidance in your content marketing efforts Coursera is offering a free course created by Copyblogger in partnership with UC Davis Extension. You can sign up for that course, HERE: The Strategy of Content Marketing.

 

Doubling Down on Imagining Sustainability

This is not going to be an article on the you-know-what. I’m tired of giving that horrible thing attention. Neither is this an article about silver linings. I’m not trying to peddle some false positivity. Nope, this is back to what I care most deeply about besides my daughter, my family, my friends and my dog: art and the environment, in my case: photographing Wilder.

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For about the past half a year, I have been working on a project that I started with my girlfriend at the time. It is a study of a local park that is accessible on foot from my studio. It started with Madison, and it has continued even while we have not been able to be in contact due to the current situation.

 

The project is about a connection to a place. There is something about hiking, about the slow methodical speed of walking, that makes a great energy for making photographs. Being connected to a place also means being connected to people. Love is always at the core of any artwork I make. That is my motivation.

 

Of course, love is a complicated set of emotions and actions. There is romantic love, familial love, the love of the natural world, the love of art. Love is a drive, and attraction to an idea, thing or action. Love is at the root of philosophy: it is the love of wisdom. If you can cultivate the energy of love as a driving force, then everything you do becomes more meaningful. Coming from a place of love is seriously underrated.

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In our current culture, we have a challenge in thinking sincerely about love. We do not honor or think deeply about the most important things: truth, beauty, goodness and love among the top of the list. We are obsessed with sex, money and power above all else. What happened to the powerful influence of love as an attraction? Love that guides us to protect and build up what we need to survive is lacking in a world riddled with techno-addiction and cyber-war. Fundamental concepts like love come across as childish or naive.

 

And yet, the most enduring things are simple but powerful and we should return to them. Now is the time to start making the work that is coming from a place of love and imagining sustainable development. We are always developing, always in process, never not building, and if we can focus our energies and resist the urge to chase after our addictions, then we might just be able to present a vision to the world that will inspire us to live in a way that makes more sense.

 

What does this mean in the context of Santa Cruz? Santa Cruz is a very strange place, but not in the ways that most people think. I often find myself cringing as I overhear people talking about Santa Cruz from an outsider’s perspective. What does it even mean to be local to a place? Why does it matter? I think it comes down to a matter of respect.

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A side note: for our communications to work we need to have more than a little common understanding as to the meanings of words, but all words have multiple meanings and are interpreted differently. We know that language is a dynamic and slippery medium, so it is always worth doing the work to define terms. That might be one of the most helpful things that writing can do: help us to come up with common understandings of concepts.

 

The push for greater sustainability in our development starts with a locally based love and respect for the landscape which leads to a desire to protect. In Santa Cruz, this plays out with a hyper sharp focus in the area between ocean and land where famous surf spots attract wannabe waveriders from the CostCo riddled hinterlands. Now, it is more than fair to say that nobody can lay claim to a part of the ocean.

 

The ocean is for everyone. But, not everyone deserves it. The ocean should be for those who respect it, who love it and who protect it. These three things are way more important than your home address. Love leads to respect which in turn inspires an effort to protect. You see a lot of people who come to the ocean with a predatory and entitled attitude, looking for opportunities to score one way or another and unconcerned about their impact on the place.

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This is true for our parks, too. The pristine trails climbing through redwood forests and up long grassy meadows with the opportunity to see wildlife and all of the intricacies of light and leaves and the interactions of organisms in an ecosystem at work is beautiful and attractive for good reasons. Access to the parks for everyone tips us in the direction of an egalitarian democracy, and so of course they should remain open to the public, but again not everyone deserves them.
Every weekend and then all summer long, people come to the area as tourists and treat the place with anything but respect. Part of the character of internet culture, which is evident among other places in high relief on Twitter, is a kind of jaded gallows humor and cynical lack of response to the things that happen in the world.

 

In other words, the dominant culture of Twitter is the culture of New York. The dominant culture of Instagram is Los Angeles. Facebook is the Midwest. We have a critical world-weary sarcastic sophisticated style of interpreting the world and an exhibitionistic flamboyant hedonistic showcase of contemporary versions of primal instincts. We have the seen it all by the age of twelve.

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Both of these approaches are what they are, and one thing they are is conceptual straw men. In the context of a megalopolis the need to be heard above the continual cacophony of millions of people all trying to get the same cronut creates a tone of such hyperbole that mainstream culture, porn and the absolutely illicit all merge in one wretched shriek of madness. That’s how I see culture right now. It stinks like 8th avenue on a hot morning, like rotting food, cigarette smoke and vomit.

 

We have ulcerous stomachs and flabby arms. From the couch, we judge the world like disappointed gods condemning our own creations in some twisted self-hating turn, a demonic yoga posture. A new variation on the ouroubourous, we have eaten too much of ourselves and are now instead vomiting up our own being.

 

This is the character of internet culture, generally, but it is not the culture of Santa Cruz. I don’t know what could make one culture better than another unless it is the abundance of love, respect and conservation for the place itself. If people are actively celebrating, taking care of and protecting the place where they live, is there not something better about that then another culture lacking those important qualities?

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The only reason to judge a culture is to promote the version of culture you want to take over the world, and as maniacal as that may sound it is also simply inevitable. If you want to have a world with greater sustainability it has to be the entire world, since we are one global system with oceans and atmosphere connecting us. What Elon Musk sends into space affects all of us for good and bad.

 

In the end it is a competition of ideas. You can’t blame people for liking what they do. You have to give them something better, you have to lead by example. That is what I try to do in my photography and in my life. I chose to create my content by walking to locations and syncing my instinct for making pictures up with the landscape the lighting and the mysterious elements of unpredictable change.

Will it be enough to move the needle? Will it help to push the people of the world to reconsider what we value? Who knows, but regardless of outcome the job is still in front of us and we can choose to do the work or not with attendant consequences. If we want good outcomes, we have to do the work.

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For me, this begins with walking long distances over and over again as I collect images and make photographs. Those are two distinctly different things, as I do one casually and without much work with my phone camera while hiking and then I also have my backpack with camera equipment, and I also carry a tripod for when I want to make a photograph that requires more technique.

 

One of the most ridiculous and counterproductive feelings I can remember from before I started this project was the frantic attempt to find a good location as golden hour approached. Sometimes you could see that the sunset was going to be amazing and so you might be racing around in your car to be in the right spot. What a bunch of horseshit that is. Since I now make photographs while in the middle of a five-hour hike, I have to use a much different set of instincts to get myself into the right position to make a photograph during the best moments of light.

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In order to do that, I have to align my instincts with the landscape. This is an ancient art known by farmers and practiced by surfers. I learned it from mainly from working with Anthony Tashnick, who is the one human most keenly attuned to the ocean I have ever known. All professional surfers have this instinct. It is a prerequisite to the job, just as a fisherman has to find the fish. The surfer has to be where the waves are good. The photographer has to position themselves for the right compositions at the right times. It is all the same in some way. You have to study the patterns and intend to be in the right place at the right time. It is an exercise of using desire to change your behavior. You have to want to get the shot and then work to be there for the moment when it happens.

 

Another, less positive, way to think about it is like the instincts of an alcoholic or junky. The need for that thing is so strong that there is almost a supernatural attraction to it that creates the ability to know where it is at all times. Just like the alcoholic knows where the liquor cabinet is when they walk into a home, the surfer knows where an incoming swell is going to break, and a photographer knows how to be somewhere amazing when the light peaks.

 

I certainly am not suggesting that I have it all figured out, but I do have some things wired. I know that the more I hike the better photos I get. I know that it is a great honor to be a photographer and I respect the art and its tradition, so I feel compelled to work at being the best artist with a lens that I can be. I very much approach the task of making art with some kind of militant warrior spirit. I believe that it is as much about conquering my own fears and temptations through discipline as anything else. Working on photography is one thing: working on the person making the photographs is another altogether. Facing ourselves and being honest about what we find is an act of courage that is transformative.

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This project is an attempt to align those things, too. I want to improve in all aspects of my being, but especially as a photographer and as a person. How can you gauge your improvement? How do you know when you are getting better? It is just a feeling. It is all subjective anyways. But, you have to live with your feelings, so if you can conquer the negative self-talk then you create space for some much more interesting dialogue.

 

The best way to earn the respect of people you care about is by being respectful and that starts with how you treat yourself. Hiking for my photographs gives me a sense of achievement and a confidence that I know something fundamental about myself. My desire to keep pushing myself physically and artistically gives me a sense of self-respect. I know what my intentions are. When I feel tired or sore, it reminds me of my decision to double down on imagining sustainability and it feels great.

 

 

 

 

 

Communication, Marketing and Value During Covid-19

In a world where many if not most people have a skeptical attitude about what the news reports, how can we possibly create marketing materials that people will believe? In the article, “How to Adapt Your Marketing Strategy to the Current Market,” Alex Gold makes some very fundamentally important points. The two main things that I want to focus on are his idea of leading with creative respect for the cultural mood and of providing some sort of help or value. How can we gain a sense of what people are thinking, wanting and needing? From that knowledge, how can we craft messages that serve the public? How can this all be done in the name and language of brands?

 

Marketing is a form of communication. Like all good communication, it depends upon listening and having something to say. There is a back and forth. In the social media age, it is very easy to see what is on people’s minds. All it takes is a little investment in time to do the research. Actively looking at social media with a mind to learning the cultural mood of the moment is a critical form of research. Without this, you are just drawing in the dark.

 

Gold makes the point that consumers care about brands’ values and thinks that this is even more important during a global crisis. Now more than ever, people are wanting to keep connected to likeminded people and brands. This can create some interesting challenges for brands that have messages not suited for the moment. Gold refers to Jeep ads that are “communicating the message ‘stay home’” despite their off-road character. Now is not the time to be encouraging people to get out and explore, and so even when it goes against core brand values there is good reason to adapt to the cultural mood.

 

The question then is: what do people want and need, and how does a brand help them with those challenges? In many ways, what people want is created by what they can’t have, so there is a desire for good health, for human connection, for freedom and for work. These are the things that are undergoing change right now, and brands who can address these needs will be able to deepen their relationships with customers.

 

Let’s take a look at each of those categories and think about how brands can add value during this time. When marketers better understand what the public wants and needs they can craft messages that fit the moment.

 

  1. Health: This is on the minds of almost everyone. How does your brand help people with their health? Does it promote a healthy lifestyle? Does it provide some form of emotional release? Can it promote mental health? Some types of brands that can provide value to people concerned about health include: any and all health providers, healthy lifestyle brands, fitness instructors, and any brand that promotes building up your immune system. People who are reasonably worried about their health are in need of help finding direction with their efforts. When we talk about health, though, it is not just physical health but mental health, too. Now is a time for mental-health-based brands to provide any kind of help they can. Whether it is guided meditation, yoga inspiration, home workouts or breathwork, there are lots of options and catering messaging to be as useful as possible is going to be very effective. Even if your brand is not based in these categories, bringing in some health experts to provide techniques to your workers and consumers could be very helpful.
  2. Human connection: We are social beings, even the most introverted among us. Being forced into confinement and kept from our friends is painful even for stoics right now. How can your brand help people to meet or to engage in conversation? What kind of conversation is going to avoid conflict and nurture connection? Some sort of fan forum could be cool. Virtual happy hours are popular. Finding creative ways to help people to connect over common ideas is key.
  3. Freedom: As so many of our normal activities have been taken away from us, there is a huge desire for freedom. What that even means is up for debate, but there are many approaches to finding some space of choice. When we have the ability to make certain decisions taken away from us, there is a need for some sort of control. Freedom and control are intimately connected. Without freedom, there is no control. Other people are in control. This is why Jocko Willink’s formula Discipline = Freedom is so important. How can brands help people to create space that they have control over where they feel free?
  4. Work: With the shutdown of most of the business world, money is on the mind of lots of people, but even more fundamental than currency is the desire to be productive. We need money, or the ability to purchase things, but what many people want is deeper than that: they desire purpose. Lots of people find their meaning in their work, so when the ability to work is taken away there is a huge hole in our lives. How can we fill that space and time productively to build our skills during this time to make ourselves more valuable when it is time to return to work?

 

These are some fundamental ideas to think about when you are crafting your marketing messages. Why do people choose your brand? What does it help them with in their life? How does this value fit into the current cultural mood? If you answer these questions, you will be on your way to creating content that will work during these Covid-19 times.

Style and Imagination in Art and Personal Branding

What drives us to make the photographs that we do? This is a question applicable to almost everyone, these days, photographer or not. It makes me pause, though, and wonder how many people really have phones, and if a camera is really the necessary tool. Is this the right question, or am I thinking within my own bubble of familiarity?

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Am I only speaking to the people with enough economic activity to have cell phones, or is this a fundamental question to humanity? If you don’t have a camera, not even on a phone, then how do you make pictures? How do you make your imagination known?

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First of all, I would like to think about the question of universality. That is what I am trying to understand: is there a universal impulse to make pictures, and if so why? Do we all in one way or another engage in the act of making what we imagine into reality?

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I think that making pictures, whether with a camera or a pencil, is really just another way of manifesting thought, of turning the mind’s conception into something real through the exercise of will. We all do this in our lives in numerous ways.

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In reality, we all are artists and we actively create our ways of living, unconsciously or not. From the way you stand, the amount of exercise you do, the food you eat, your hygiene habits, every person creates their own physical image first and foremost. We are all brands. We always have been. This situation is just showing us that more than usual.

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In this way, every person is a model first, an actor second, and an artist most of all.  We are models because we create our personal image, we are in control of our look, and how we present to the world determines a lot about how we are received. We are actors because we control how we communicate, how we speak, how we express emotion. But, we are also writers because there is no script. There are just situations, relationships and decisions. From these things we each write our story every single day.

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In addition to existing as an improvisational writer and actor, we also design the set and the costumes of our lives. Every single person does this no matter how limited or extravagant their budget. The prisoner on death row and the billionaire with their own island both are equally involved in the production of their space. While they have radical differences in their access to resources, what they do with their space is still determined by them. This is just something we do naturally, and in the case of the prisoner it is so limited that the entire process of choice becomes so subtle that it exists entirely in a world of nuance. Still, it exists.

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In this way, humans act as brands. Or really, it is brands that mimic this form of pattern production, this chosen style of presentation. It happens in the natural world in an infinite array of varieties. The Cheetah is a brand of predator. We take from this natural tendency to express, or to hide (as in the case of the chameleon), our character. How does our appearance communicate our character?

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Just as there is a power dynamic in the natural world, there is one in culture. Flaming Hot Cheetohs have a complicated set of codes that you can trace back through a series of business decisions based on feedback from the public. In business, there is a massive collaboration between creatives and consumers. In life, it is the same. We act and react based on how we feel about the response we get from the people we interact with in our day to day lives. Going against or with the grain still depends upon the grain.

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Back to photography, though. Back to the records that we keep, the art that we create. If you have a phone with a camera on it and you scroll through your pictures you can see a lot of different lines of thinking.

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On the one hand you have evidence. A photograph of a missing tooth, to show grandparents that the first baby tooth has left. We use photographs as evidence in complying with the rules, or of breaking them, which is evidence of rebelliousness. Lots of photographs these days show people confessing their inability to follow the rules, or their decision to break them. That is also be a kind of creative choice. We see that a lot. It’s a kind of trolling, really, but so common that we maybe don’t see it that way. People breaking the rules for the sake of breaking the rules is a huge part of American rebel without a clue culture, but I don’t think it is the prevalent tone today.

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Instead, I see a lot of people figuring out what they are most passionate about and use their media to communicate their cause. We are a world where people who change the rules will be much more important than people who break them. This is another reason we make images. We want to express our values in order to attract the right kind of people into our lives so that we can create change, so we can write new rules together. So, photography is just an extension of being human, just another way we create an invitation to people to engage with us in living and reimagining what it means to be human.

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Because it is a deliberate mental activity, it is natural to think about photography by considering psychology. Of course, there’s a psychological understanding of all human behavior, but our formal communications are especially open to this kind of interpretation. The choices we make in our photographs say a lot about who we are, even though the question of identity is never a simple one.

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Psychology gives us data through experimentation that helps us to understand certain patterns or to try and fix some types of problems. There is a lot that we can learn about ourselves and others through a psychological understanding of the kinds of photographs we habitually consume and create.

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But, beyond self-awareness there is another level of thinking about choice in photography. It is the basis of artistic form: style. Even with all of the anti-aesthetic theory of postmodernism, style has been the one unrelenting factor in the consideration of art, but especially when you understand that form and content are inextricable.

 

Style is the only thing left that has any ability to create leverage in art and life. Style itself comes from the exercise of creative control, from decisions made in the making of art in choices about life.

 

If you were simply to make whatever you want, to scratch whatever particular itch you are feeling, then would that make a more consistent and authentic type of content or is that simply an unconscious reaction to events? And if the latter, then is that just bad style or is it actually better being more authentic? What makes it good or bad?

 

That of course is subjective. It depends upon whether you like wild spontaneous diverse uncontrolled forms or if you appreciate precise controlled focused concentrations. Both are equally valid and can be expressed in art. In some ways the amateur impulse, when someone starts making photographs for fun, is the same as the artistic one. It is to create pleasure, but a certain kind of pleasure.

 

Richard Feynman wrote a book about the pleasure of finding things out. That is a certain kind of intellectual production: a scientific experiment. It is, like art, a way of organizing one’s mental energies: it is a style of living. It is based on shared values.

 

The art of making photographs has something of this intellectual joy of experimentation, of research to it. All art does. You have to try and make something that matches the way you feel, the effect you want to have with the resources available to you, and it is the completion of this experiment that creates an intellectual value to the work. When you stop to think about how the photographer does what they do, it enters into this other dimension of education, of learning about the world and about techniques of representation.

 

In this way, every moment of every day, we are creating the world around us. Never before has this been more apparent to us than during this time of changed habits. What we have is an opportunity to become more aware of the way we interact in the world, who we are, how we want to be perceived. This is a moment to reinvent, to experiment with new ideas, to take calculated risks. It is a time to work on our style.

 

Whether that means working to imagine greater sustainability, to envision economic opportunity, to create cultural change, or to contribute to the greater good by innovating and making something new that helps people to become who they want and need to be regarded as being: it is all the same. We are in the midst of a cultural revolution.

Creating Better Content

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HELLO friends this is Jake J. Thomas bringing you another episode of the Dialogic podcast.
I hope you all are well. I wanted to take some time today to discuss the important of creating content during this uncertain time. More than just the importance of creating content I want to think about the best kinds of content to create during this time. This is especially for anyone who has children, works with children and cares about children. One thing that I’ve noticed is that pressure tends to exacerbate whatever problems already exist. This situation is similar to a stress test that a financial institution would use. The stress is identifying where the weaknesses are. If a part of the system doesn’t seem adequate to withstand a moderate amount of stress it puts into question the viability of that part of the project. The failure to endure the stress opens up the space of removal.

 

I think now is the time to double down on the kind of content I was already creating; content that is actively imagining sustainability. I don’t think that now is the right time to judge anything or to look for silver linings. I want to share my experience of concern for people’s health and for the economic consequences of what we are doing, and this heightened concern motivates me to work on inventing solutions to the bigger problems we face.

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We are identifying problems because of our inability to achieve certain goals. The symptom is dysfunction, the inability to reach a goal, which creates an emotional response. How do we respond to the feelings we have when our old ways of proceeding no longer work? Do we jump back into action? Do we find new ways to achieve our goals?

 

This is certainly a very stressful test. One thing that has worked for me is to challenge myself. Giving myself some kind of tangible goal that I can use my will alone to achieve gives me a sense of control. I also have an intense energy inside of me because I am a passionate and caring person and if I don’t find a way to channel that energy then I have no way of controlling it. The best way I have found to focus that energy is through hiking long distances.

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If you are going to waste six hours looking at your phone, you could have spent six hours doing pushups, hiking, working on some physical fitness goal. Let’s not sell ourselves short. The feeling that I have if I spend six hours hiking is so vastly superior to the way I would feel if I sat around watching Netflix looking at Twitter that it is a no-brainer. The thing is, we have these programmed habits that have to do with economic schedules. We have monthly, quarterly and annual cycles that have deadlines that need to be met. We are drawing lines through the history of our times with the choices that we make, and sustainability is the most important thing to be thinking about and working on during this time and for the foreseeable future. While we are reimagining how the economy will function, we should also be preparing for other big concerns and that is what we should communicate in our work. I believe that art and marketing do and will merge at their highest level to work as a kind of attraction/ conversion cultural machine transforming people into agents to work on the task of imagining and sustainability and executing our plans sustainably.

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So many things are going to change and probably one of the first things we will want to do is to figure out what we can have in terms of values and principles that will not change when the circumstances change. Transparency in communication and accounting, nonviolent communication, whatever it is that we can agree on as a fundamental unchanging character of our community will help us to endure all of the pivots that we will have to make when our circumstances radically change. A principle-based set of ideas will give us some structure that will help to navigate the chaos

 

We certainly need some better content to be created. When I look for content, I am overwhelmed with the impression that there is not enough good content being created. People are not doing enough. The thing is, it is challenging to figure out how to create content that is attuned to the feeling of our times. First of all, we need to address what people are going through and help them to make the most of the new limitations imposed on our ways of life.

 

One of the things I have been impressed with for hitting all of the marks is vegetarian bloggers. I have found some amazing people who are creating recipes and are promoting plant-based food options in a way that aligns with a more sustainable lifestyle and addresses what people need right now, which is good healthy food, joy, and pleasure. The politics of animosity and adversity are so much less interesting to me than the inventiveness of these vegetarian bloggers. So, that is one direction that I want to follow. That is a path that I plan to forge here in my own home studio with the amazing ingredients of our awesome agricultural region.

 

In Common: Building Community through Communication

Hello friends hope you all are well

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So, I have a bunch of things on my mind that I want to communicate to you, and that is the first topic actually. That is what I want to talk to you about the most today: this idea of community and communication. It’s such a strange thing to think that virtually no one in the world is unaffected by this pandemic and nobody seems to be clear about how to deal with the problems, so we have this very common situation and that alone is not going to create community. It’s going to take communication for us to be able to understand that our common situation puts us in the position where it is best to build community. But how does that really work? What does it look like? How do we build community in a way that feels good to us. I think that a part of the challenge of community is the fact that we have so many individual differences and that is part of our value system. We tend to reward individualism and we have a strong sense of accountability and you can’t be accountable and you can’t earn rewards if you don’t have a strong sense of individuality, but that can work against building community. In other words, if we have a culture that values individual efforts, then how do we focus on things that affect the larger whole? We have individual efforts but we also have team sports. How do we pay attention to individual contributions while staying focused on the team? These are age old ancient questions about society itself about organization, about families, etc.

 

The first answer to the question what makes building community difficult is the fact that people get into conflicts and a conflict taken to extremes becomes uncomfortable for everyone and at its extreme conflict eventuates in violence. So, the attempt to build community can actually lead to violence. So, here we are in this unknown window of time where we are prohibited from gathering in groups. We need to keep doing good work even though we can’t get together.

 

I’ve always tried to imagine myself as part of the human family even though I have a clear idea that I only know a tiny fragment of what that means. I belong to this vast family of humans and I know so little about the majority of them and it is this proximity and lack of knowing that creates the fear and the intrigue. There is the idea that it may be rewarding but the fear that cultural contact could be fatal.

 

But here we are in this time where getting together is impossible, so maybe getting to know each other is possible from a distance. If we take this challenge, then maybe we can actually work on understanding each other and creating cross cultural bonds. I would guess that if given the opportunity we might find out that we have very similar situations as other people in other parts of the world.

 

When I am looking to connect with people in other parts of the world I am trying to think about the personality types that exist here and I’m speculating that there are other people in other parts of the world who have more in common with you than with the people who are in your own family and since we can’t come together physically we have an opportunity to learn from each other.

 

We are going to have a lot of new work to do. A lot of work is going to be based around rebuilding. We are going to have a lot of work of recovery to do.

 

It’s a strange thing, but we have this fear of other people having power over us and with good reason but when we can take the risk of communicating without the danger of physical violence then maybe we stand a chance of getting to know each other better. In other words, I’m thinking that we might have friends out there we don’t even know exist.

 

The biggest question we all face right now is how we will continue to do business. How will we pay the bills to continue operations during this economically difficult time? How are we going to create communities where trust is apparent so that we can transact and build networks of exchange?

 

One thing that is hopeful is that we will be analyzing the basics of human interaction from this new point of view. We will need to break down the fundamentals of human economic activity and we will figure out how to do things in a way that saves lives and keeps people on a healthy path.

 

Before this pandemic I was already beginning a rugged campaign of sustainable content creation practices. I had been training for very long hikes to get up early and out in the morning light so that I can create content for businesses that is of a very high quality but that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels for its production. My studio is still on the grid, so I’m not without a footprint, but relying upon my own locomotion, using my power of walking to get me where I need to be has been my practice for the past half year.

 

I believe that at their highest level, forms tend to merge together and I am hypothesizing that we will have in art something that will merge together with marketing in a kind of art experience that leads to action. For example, in the dialogues of Plato philosophy and literature merge in a high form or art. I believe that we are due for a new form art that works like marketing to convince masses of people to take an action. Philosophy and literature merge at their highest point and the same is true with marketing.

 

Art history shows us how artistic forms change over time and adapt to meet new needs of humans. So, while artists of the Italian Rennaisance were mainly painting portraits and scenes from the bible, modern artists created so many different artistic movements and the whole idea of art for art’s sake had to do with understanding what art can do when it is not in the service of another discourse. But where we are now as a human race requires of art something that is more similar to marketing. We need art today that will give us the experience of art but will also have the effect of marketing. In other words, our art is going to convert us into certain kinds of action.

 

Part of that is going to be about building community through artistic communication. While we have this window of time where we have decided to stop all human contact we have an opportunity to learn more about each other and ourselves.

Heron Addict

Yesterday I set out on a photo hike. I do these hikes with a certain amount of faith that something will happen on the way that will attract my attention. So, I put on an audio book and focus on breathing while I walk. It becomes a kind of moving meditation. Lately, no content before the virus outbreak has seemed appropriate. We need to learn how to live in this world, so listening to people who are talking about our current situation seems a lot more relevant. 

Yesterday, though, I decided to put on Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy. While things that were created three months ago seem absolutely obsolete, the intellectual documents of the ancient past and of the beginning of modern times can engage your mind without all of the fear of our current situation. Listening to what they were thinking about way back when can help to feel a sense of faith in our ability to have continuity. Humans have survived plagues and wars and all kinds of natural devastations and have somehow figured out the movements of the celestial beings all the while. This is an amazing accomplishment. Even with all of the brutal conditions of earlier times, there were still minds focused on the heavens and trying to figure out the nature of truth and the truth of our nature. 

So, I was listening to the ideas of some great thinkers and avoiding the fuck out of people as I made my way to the base of campus by the path that leads up to the classified workers yard. I was stopped in my tracks by an apparition. It was a Great Blue Heron. There it was standing in the grass not minding anyone, just seeming to enjoy a moment in the late afternoon sun. I approached quietly and got my camera ready with a long lens.

The Heron seemed to notice me but was not bothered by me and I was able to get as close as my camera could focus. Only once as a man ran by with a dog did the bird show any signs of disturbance. But even then it merely flew twenty feet away and landed again. As I crept over to get some shots of this majestic bird it started circling back to me. I crouched and watched as it came closer and closer to me and I flashed back to when the Turkeys bum rushed me. This time, though, I actually had a moment of concern as this bird is much bigger, standing probably 4 ft. with a serious knife for a beak. 

It got so close that I could only focus on its shoulders, and then it struck the ground and pierced a rodent right through the head. The photos I got are kind of graphic, as you can see the scream of the prey as its consciousness is obliterated by a massive dagger. The bird then flew a dozen yards away and proceeded to swallow the small mammal whole. 

These are the kinds of experiences that I hope for on my hikes, and you cannot force them. The more time I spend out in those landscapes the more familiar I become with the patterns of the animals, but you still can’t plan for an encounter like this one. 

8 Pillars of Positive Action

Some thoughts and strategies for how to crush this challenging time.


1. Practice breathing. Choose a breathing exercise and practice it for four minutes four times a day. Use this exercise to help calm yourself and to check in with your breathing ability. The benefits of oxygenating your body through deliberate breathing are not to be underestimated.


2. Track your hydration. Choose a drinking vessel and decide how many of them you are going to drink during the day. Water is cleansing to the body and will help you to keep your system functioning optimally.


3. Clean aggressively. This is a battle against a virus that can be won with hot water and soap. This is the ultimate Spring Cleaning challenge. The more you clean, the better you will feel. It’s the one most effective thing we can do. Don’t just wash your hands. Wash all of your shit. Soap and water the fuck out of your life right now.


4. Design your menu. Food is such an important source of comfort, sustenance, and vitality right now. Good food is one of the best ways to protect your spirit and your bodily health. How do we avoid the temptations of sweets during this time? For one thing, it is a matter of understanding the basics of nutrition. Sugar is basically harmless if consumed during a period of exercise when the body needs fuel. If you eat a bunch of ice cream and sit around watching Netflix it is going to do much different things than if you eat a bunch of donuts during the middle of a 16-mile hike. If we get smart about food, we can eat lots of pleasurable things and still hit our nutritional goals and not gain a bunch of weight. Now is the time to get smart about food and to treat it as an art.


5. Exercise your heart. Cardiovascular exercise is super important during this time. The best form of exercise right now is walking. If you walk for a few hours a day, you will be giving yourself the opportunity to rejuvenate and recharge your system.


6. Work your networks. Communication is super important during these times. Not only do we need to stay in touch with family and friends, but we need to keep open lines of communication with our professional colleagues, our business partners and our clients or leads. Choosing a number of people to connect with every day ( I chose 5) and checking it off will create an accountability loop. 


7. Limit social media. Until people start using journals to vent their anger and fear, it’s probably a good idea to be very careful about how much social media you consume. Social media is an important tool to use during this time, but it is also a very easy distraction and waste of time. Take a look at your screen time. Imagine if you had spent that amount of time cleaning and exercising. We should use social media for networking and for entertainment, but not all day every day.


8. Choose love and play. There is nothing more motivating and powerful than the feelings of love and the effects of play. These are not trivial things, but essential to our functioning as humans. What do you love to do? Who do you love? What do you want to share? How do you find a lighthearted sense of play? 


These are challenging times, but we have the tools we need to emerge. Of course, the number one thing we need to be doing, so obvious that I didn’t even add it as a pillar, is to stay home and to keep a physical distance from people you are not already exposed to on a regular basis. The first and most important way to defeat the virus is through not allowing it to spread. So, we stay home, clean that fucker and get our minds and bodies right for when it is time to go HAM again. 

Discipline, Pain and Outlook

The virtue I possess that adds the most value to my life is my desire to continue to improve myself. I have a hunger to be better, to do better and to be a better partner in all of the relationships in my life. I believe that we generally can become smarter about a lot of things in life and can build up amazing reserves of wisdom and strength by doing a little bit every day over a period of time. My desire to improve keeps me interested in the details of life, in the day to day choices we make and in the research that we are learning from as humans about what the possibilities of being human really might be.

Every day, I work on writing, photography, research, running my business, being a dad, being in a relationship and more. It is this interconnectedness that gives me the most energy and leads to the feeling that I would describe as thriving. When my energy and inspiration are at high levels and there is plenty of work to do, I feel excited to attack each task.

The question is: what do you do when you aren’t feeling inspired and your energy is flagging?

In part, my answer to myself is don’t let it get that way. It is much easier to maintain a sense of purpose and motivation when you have momentum on your side. With that said, there is always the possibility of having to start from scratch. How do you motivate yourself when the chips are down?

As with so many things, you have to embrace the feeling of growth. If you focus too much on results or numbers, then you run the risk of too much friction from the frustration of not reaching your goals. If your goals are about growth and not about some baseline standard, then you have a much better chance of pushing through. The thing is: how do you know what is enough? That is always going to be the tough part. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have experienced what I thought were limits only to one day burst through that imagined ceiling to reach levels previously unimagined. Whether that is going from hiking 10 miles to 20, from 300 pushups to 720, from writing 3 pages to 10 there are these activities I have done where when I push myself to go twice as far as my normal limit, I have some breakthrough experiences.

The thing is, it takes a lot of discipline to break through those barriers of discomfort. For me, the hardest part is the decision to begin. Once I’ve committed to something, I generally will put my shoulder to the grindstone and get it done. So, I know for myself that working on decision making is key. Having good time management and energy management helps, too. In order to commit to doing something epic that is going to really expand my sense of the possible, I have to create the space in my schedule for that to happen. That requires a lot of daily discipline.

It takes daily discipline to get together the economy of time and energy to take on an epic task that will double your sense of the possible, and then it takes the courage to commit to that adventure, and finally it takes the discipline to follow through when the going starts to suck. At the beginning of a challenging hike you feel so great. Your legs are full of energy, you have a bounce to your step, and you are generally without pain. At the last half mile, though, you are basically causing yourself agony with every step and as much as you breathe or focus on form it doesn’t matter. Pain is an inevitable part of this growth, which is why the question might not be discipline or masochism, but how much pain is the right amount of pain?

I also do believe that fighting through the pain that you encounter when you set yourself some challenging task builds up the strength that you need in life to deal with the pain of loss and defeat. When you are hurt by things that happen to you outside of your control your response is going to depend upon your relationship with pain. I’m not suggesting that we look at pain as a positive, but that when we embrace it as inevitable, then we can fight through the resistance it can create. If we want to accomplish our goals, then we are going to have to be willing to put up with some hurting.

If it is true that it hurts to be human, and we embrace this basic fact which makes us stronger, then how do we shift our thinking about feeling? If pain is just a temporary discomfort that is the price you pay for growth, then it becomes some sort of battle between your lack of understanding of the importance of growth and the resistance to the pain required. In other words, the way we battle our demons is by reminding ourselves why it is so important to grow that we are willing to go through tremendous fear and pain. In some ways our willingness to go through pain is a direct measure of our love.

Our character is forged from the daily decisions to undergo the discomfort of discipline or to face the horrors of disappointment. When we don’t do what we can we feel a sense of wasted opportunity, of the lack of love. When we succumb to apathy our lives are unenthusiastic and dull. But even worse, they are toxic. Because growth is also often alimentary. There is something intrinsically healthy about many kinds of growth. The kind of growth that derives from consciously chosen work generally is of a healthy variety. Occasionally, as in the case of Olympic athletes or astronauts that drive can go too far into unhealthy zones of activity. And there is cancer, of course, and suburban sprawl…

Are we suffering as a culture from too little or too much discipline?

One of the most fun feelings you can experience as a writer, and as an artist generally, is to be in a flow state. When you can stop thinking for long enough to just allow something creative to happen you can really create some interesting things that are entertaining to you and to other people. I am convinced that those flow states emerge out of practice and are a result of the work you have previously done. The more reps I get in, the better the results. That is why I want to keep trying to radically increase my workflow. The more I do, the better I get, the more response, the more fun, the more I want to do, etc…

And yet, burnout is a real thing. How do you explain that? Everything requires a balance, and mental fatigue is just as much of a factor as physical exhaustion. What is the connection between burnout and not getting the results that you want? I believe that burnout is a real thing, but I also believe that the answer is more work not less. How many hours can you work in a day? What about spending time with your kids? What about fun and play?

These are all important questions and I don’t have all the answers, but it also depends on what you consider to be work. Work is anything you have a resistance to doing, right? Like if you just fucking love doing bench press then that is not really work for you. You might need help with flossing your teeth. That is where you need work. Everyone knows what they need to work on but finding the time and the courage to commit to it is another thing altogether. And, as much as people might complain about things in their lives that they don’t enjoy it is not as common to find people working hard to get through the barriers to their happiness.

Is happiness a choice or is it a result of having done something? Is happiness a decision or a side effect?

I find that my happiness comes from little things I do almost every day. When I complete a workout, while photographing the sunrise or sunset with my love, delivering photos to a client, making posts on social for a client, making slime with my daughter…there are so many little things that make me happy. I love cooking food for my family. I love listening to podcasts. The wealth of daily joys I get to experience is vast. I feel extremely lucky and I want to make the most of every day.

One thing that discipline does is it limits us in a productive way. By choosing to do certain exercises you stress your body in this way and not that way. We make decisions based on the results that we want to achieve. I think that this is also true in art, and one of the decisions that I have made recently is to radically minimize the amount of energy I use in making my art. The last thing I want to be doing is driving long distances to find some spot to get a great photograph. No, I have limited myself to a five mile radius for making art.

Because I live in such a beautiful part of the world a five-mile radius still gives me a ridiculous amount of spots to choose from, but there are two or three that are my go-to spots. By not wasting time traveling to a location and by conserving my energy in making that decision ahead of time I get to focus my drive on different kinds of innovation. That means that I have to push myself to look for more things in the same places, to think about making photographs differently and to really own these locations.

The sunrise is the best opportunity for great photographs for me because I start the day without any internet and by writing. I wake up at 4:30 and drink two cups of coffee while I write five to ten pages before I’ve even looked at my phone. Fresh from dreaming, straight into writing and then out the door to photograph the sunrise, this is a moment in the day when I have my thoughts all aligned and ready to make the most of the best light of the day. Yesterday, we headed down to the wharf and the sunrise was popping off. Watching the colors of the sunrise is the closest I come to painting these days, and it is something I enjoy wholeheartedly. I hope you enjoy this photo. Thanks for reading my thoughts about discipline, pain and mental framework.