Archive for August 2013
It’s absolutely astonishing how often you hear this complaint; from friends, co-workers, even complete strangers. You’ve more than likely even voiced it yourself, at one time of another during your working life. If you were to believe everything you read in magazines, newspapers and online, or hear on television and radio, you would undoubtedly come to the conclusion, there is no one, anywhere in the world, who actually enjoys what they do for a living. No one. Anywhere. And therein lies the rub. . .
It seems counter-intuitive to spend four, six, eight, or however many, years of schooling, preparing to go into a particular line of work, one you love (or think you do, anyway), enter the workplace armed with all (or nearly all) the skills needed to succeed in your chosen field, work for a few years, (perhaps even moving up the “ladder of success” in the process), only to discover you really can’t stand what it is you do. It just doesn’t make any sense, really.
But if you were to examine all the reasons you supposedly hate your job, you’re bound to come to the conclusion you don’t really hate your work. You love the work; you love doing what you do, you just hate all the “other stuff”. Boring meetings. Unrealistic schedules. Micro-managers, Superfluous paperwork. In short, what you hate is all the crap you have to wade through just to do the work. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and run screaming (as soon as possible after quitting time) to the nearest bar in a vain attempt to slough off the despair that’s gripped you. So you sit there, in the cool semi-darkness, sipping your second (or third?) beer, vodka/tonic, martini, or what-have-you, thinking about how much you hate your job and how you would love to extricate yourself from the soul-crushing prison it has become. You know, quit the “9-to-5” job and start a “consulting” business, or maybe try “freelancing”. Those are enticing ideas, sitting in a bar, but in the “cold light of day”, they’re very scary and potentially very, very expensive.
There are alternatives, and they don’t involve taking any undue risks, like the ones associated with changing employers or freelancing, etc. The alternatives are called “Hobbies“. Wait a minute. Don’t start laughing just yet. Think about it. Hobbies require little, or no, upfront investment. Likewise, there is no risk involved (unless, and until, you decide to take them). Hobbies allow you to explore other employment opportunities (almost as if they were designed that way) without sacrificing any financial security you’ve accrued through gainful employment. Hobbies also have the added benefit of being a proven stress reducer. Let’s face it, by the time you get home (be it a mortgage-laden house or an overpriced apartment), you’re so stressed out, so emotionally and physically drained, you have no desire to do much of anything but “veg out” in front of the TV or mindlessly surf the ‘Net, then drag yourself to bed, sleep (fitfully) for a few all-too-brief hours, only to wake up and repeat the entire process. Not so with hobbies. They have the benefit of being relaxing and invigorating. There are some hobbies that promote a Zen-like atmosphere most conducive to meditation which, in turn, allows access to that under-nourished creative sense we all possess and which your job has nearly starved out of existence. Even people who pursue hobbies closely associated with their workaday life experience renewed interest and creative focus in what they’re doing.
Best of all, there’s no “mickey mouse” nonsense involved in a hobby. No meetings. No superfluous paperwork. No nitpicking micro-manager staring over your shoulder. There’s just you and the work. And you can make it as difficult or as easy as you like. You can even make mistakes! There’s no “dark cloud of failure” hanging over your head. You can do it over or throw it away, It’s your choice. And isn’t that what it’s all about, really?
I suppose many people feel pretty much the same way I do when it comes to rainy days; we don’t like them. They’re dreary, depressing and confining. The last thing you want to do is leave the comfort of your home except in cases of “dire emergency”, like when the beer, snacks, cigarettes are running low and you absolutely have to venture out and replenish your supplies. Other than those times, there’s little to do except sit around and wait for the rain to subside. All that having been said (or whined), I enjoy rainy days for the opportunities they provide for taking pictures. As a “budding” (actually, at my age, “late-blooming” would be a more apt adjective) photographer with a penchant for taking “contemplative” pictures, rainy days provide excellent opportunities to practice my craft. There may be no better time to take “contemplative” pictures. Given the drastic change of mood brought on by such days, I wonder if any enterprising psychologist has experimented with the effects of barometric pressure(s) on the fluids in the human brain? I mean if you could conduct such an experiment (without having to kill the subject(s), of course), it could result in a finding of something other than “lack of natural sunlight” as a cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But I digress. . .
Of all the things that could be done on a rainy day, I prefer to take pictures. I could, of course, do other things. I could read a book or watch TV (I do more than enough of that already!). Or I could take a cue from my cats and find a comfy spot and take a nap Or I could stare out the window, contemplating all the things I could be doing if it wasn’t raining Or I could just hide from the world and wish it would all just “Go Away” Of course, I don’t do any of these things. What I do is, I grab my camera and start taking pictures. I took this one standing in the open doorway of my garage. The water pouring from the slightly crumpled spouting over the garage afforded me an opportunity to capture water in motion. I don’t like to go outside to take pictures when its raining (at least not all the way outside). The necessity of donning poncho, toting an umbrella (more to protect the camera than myself) and old sneakers and slosh around looking for suitable subject matter is not what I would call an “enjoyable” activity. There are alternatives, though. The large tree at the end of the driveway offered enough protection from the steady drizzle to allow me to snap a picture of water running in the gutter under it. After a brief dash from tree to house, I upload my pictures to the computer and select a couple (the only ones that actually turned out well) for inclusion into this post. After an hour or so of “scribbling” I glance at my watch and reach for a cigarette to relax and enjoy the results of my day’s efforts. Alas, the pack is empty. Looks like a “dire emergency” has arisen, forcing my brave the inclement weather and replenish my supplies. BTW, what do you, my few devoted readers, do to pass the time on a rainy day? I’d like to know.
When I decide to write a post, one of the first assumptions I make is everyone who reads the post is a “writer” of one description or another; they are communicators, storytellers of one kind or another, regardless of the medium they use. We all have the “cacoethia scribendi“, the itch to scribble and when we can’t scratch that itch the resulting tension becomes almost unbearable. We call this inability to “scratch the itch” writer’s block.
I’ve suffered from this “malady”, often for long periods of time, struggled mightily trying to tell my story, to put words — any words — on the page only to be met with frustration and anger, finally tearing the page from the pad and hurling it onto the ever-growing pile of crumpled pages in (and around) the wastebasket. At that point, I usually “disengage” from the process of writing proper and find something else to occupy my mind (I say “writing proper” because we all know the writing never actually stops when we move away from the page; there’s always “something” niggling in the recesses of our brains, eventually forcing us back to that cursed blank page). I’ll grab my camera and wander the neighborhood in search of something to photograph, or pick up a book ( this activity usually only reinforces my feeling of failure at having been unable to fill that blank page), or I’ll turn my attention to some neglected housekeeping task, all the while hoping by doing so my unconscious/subconscious mind will eventually provide the impetus to return to the page and fill it with “deathless prose”. It rarely happens and, in any case, my prose could hardly be called, “deathless”.
I was looking through my picture library when I came across the image above: a fountain pen seemingly abandoned on a blank pad of paper. I had intended it as nothing more than a “study”, an exercise in composition and perspective. I hadn’t intended it as anything else. But seeing it in the context of my struggle with “writer’s block”, I became aware of the story behind the image. In selecting those specific items for my “study”, I had unintentionally begun the process of writing this post. In fact, I had “written” it, almost in its entirety. That’s when the “light went on” and I come to understand the nature — the true nature — of my difficulty. I wasn’t suffering from “writer’s block”, I was suffering from “translator’s block!” The reason I couldn’t get the words on paper wasn’t because I couldn’t find the right words, I couldn’t find the right language — the right medium in which to begin. I needed a visual cue — a “Rosetta Stone”, so to speak — to help me translate what was in my head and put it on the page.
If living has taught me anything it’s there is more than one language, one medium, in which to tell a story. This was my story. It started with a picture. Your story may begin, or it may be written in its entirety, in another “language” — music, painting, sculpture, dance, what-have-you. It doesn’t matter. What matters is your story. Don’t confine yourself to only one way of telling. What we call “writer’s block” is really your mind telling you, “There could be a different — better — way to tell this story”. As creatives we owe it to ourselves (and our readers/viewers/listeners) to find that way.
If you’ve been following this blog lately, you may know I’ve recently acquired a new camera, a Nikon L810; one of the Coolpix line of point-and-shoot cameras from Nikon. I decided I needed something more than the pocket-sized Fuji I had previously; one “dedicated”, so to speak, to use in photographing the jewelry I create. The fact that its almost completely automatic and therefore “idiot proof” was another point in favor of the camera’s purchase. But something happened during the process of learning all the features and functions of the camera. After a few hours of playing around with the camera, I became aware of a subtle shift in the way I viewed the world around me. The reason for this stems, in part, I’m sure, from the fact the type of photography I gravitated toward, shooting small things like earrings, bracelets and the like, is referred to as “product photography”. The vast majority of the time these pictures are taken at very close range with what is called a “Macro” lens; one designed for close-ups. Getting close to your subjects allows you to see, not just heretofore unnoticed details of objects, you begin, slowly at first, to see the artistic value of the different parts of the whole. In a very real sense, by narrowing your focus, you widen your view. I began to see the possibilities inherent in the discreet parts of objects rather than simply seeing the assembled whole. And I began to experiment. . . At first, I played with whole objects (like this silk flower) and light. I also added a dark background and a sheet of polished glass. The light source was a $10.00 pocket Maglite (not exactly hi-tech lighting). Encouraged, I continued playing with light to enhance color and mood. The resulting pictures really made me feel good about what I was doing (and learning) . . . I began to learn to trust my camera, that it was “seeing” more than my eyes. . . The results of my efforts were clichés, to be sure; pictures taken so many times by photography students worldwide, seen by so many people, they have become mundane and nearly void of impact. But not by me, I had never done anything like this and I was extremely happy with my results (untutored as I was) and emboldened to try other experiments. . .with food — recipes, to be precise. I call these two pictures, “Pasta & Sauce” and “Guacamolé”, respectively. They are experiments (often seen experiments, to be sure) in deconstruction, the constituent parts of an Italian dinner and a Mexican chip-dip, Nothing special but I enjoyed doing them and was gratified by the resulting images. There was still one more experiment I wanted to try, I wanted to see if I could create a picture that reinterpreted an existing object as something other than what it was. The object was a Christmas gift from my daughter. Maybe you’ll think the resulting “reinterpretation” is a little too “cute”, but I like it. The unassembled pieces of a puzzle depicting present-day San Francisco. I call it, “San Francisco, April, 1906”.