“What do you need from this life?”
I was reading Carter Beats the Devil when I read this line. My breath caught. It was the question I didn’t know that I’d been waiting to be asked.
My life is a blank page right now, and I’m trying to figure out my next steps. Having a blank canvas and deciding what to make on it is every bit as daunting as generations of creators have time and time again pointed out.
Not for a lack of ideas: There’s a LOT I want to do. I would like to spend two weeks in a Mars colony simulation, like Kellie Gerardi just was. I want to travel to the furthest ends of the earth and make things. From studying the neuroscience of illusion to live action role-play game design to the human rights of architecture and even beyond, I have an endlessly growing list of people, studios, companies, fields, and ideas that interest me.
Compile those with the experiences and skills I already have, that’s a lot of options to pick between. There’s not enough room in one lifetime to do everything I want–though I realize this voracious curiosity is a great problem to have.
But there, staring back at me from the page, was the most obvious thing. Not what do I want, but what do I need?
I need to make things. Good things. With great people. I need challenge and reward. Challenge and failure. I need to be close to people, and have the ability to tell them the scariest, hardest things, and for them to feel comfortable telling me the same. And to celebrate the happiest things. I need to see as much of this beautiful planet as I can. If it becomes possible for me to temporarily leave this planet, I need that more than anything. Permanently? Maybe one day. I need to share the universe’s beauty with other people. I need to see that empathy and love exist. I need clever humor and bad puns and brilliant laughter. I need good food. Star gazing. Books and music and art. I need to be places where I can ask “why,” and feel it is okay to challenge the status quo. To innovate. To not just do things because that’s how they’ve always been done.
That’s a lot, I realize. But, suddenly, that’s infinitely more attainable. Almost any route I take in life will be guaranteed to bring me some of these, and if I work hard and strive my hardest, maybe even most of these.
It’s beginning to feel like I have a plan. The world’s most abstract, least-organized plan (particularly for someone who enjoys color-coded schedules), but, still, a plan. I am searching out what I need.
So… What do you need from this life?
I had the chance to shoot the talented and lovely Lois Dawson‘s headshots last week in Vancouver. I had a blast, but also tried a few new things which paid off. Here goes:
1. Confidence is 90% of the game:
Anyone who looks confident will be infinitely more photogenic than someone terrified, hesitant, or lost. With headshots, you often want to appear as a confident and capable professional. However, being confident and capable on the job doesn’t always mean you’re confident and capable in front of the lens. And if you aren’t comfortable in front of the camera, fake it until you make it.
That’s Cue, the Stage Manager Duck. It’s hard to overthink about modeling or judge yourself too harshly when you’ve got a duck on your head. Who knew a duck could be the secret to success?!
2. Dress for the job you want:
There’s a lot of ways to subtly add textures of the job in the headshot. Maybe I’m a placemaking nerd (well, I am), but with Lois, a brilliant Stage Manager, we shot in a rehearsal room, so there were a lot of textures including brick walls and black duvetine which felt very theatrical. My friend I met at Imagineering, Matthew Glisson, is an amazing Mechanical Engineer. While we initially shot outside in greenery to compliment his hair, by far our favorite shots of were in places which felt industrial, and involved unique angles and materials.
3. Trust your models:
This applies to not just what clothes they feel most confident in (with headshots most of it won’t be in frame anyways!), but how they have fun. Lois recommended we blast a trashy 90s pop playlist, and it kept things relaxed, playful, and you know, ultra-professional. Plus, we sang romantic duets. Proof:
4. Play to their strengths:
Lois has stunning eyes. The glasses and shirt are analogous colors to her eyes, and the complimentary color of the brick wall was a recipe for success.
I think I might need to start carrying a duck with me to every shoot now!
Bonus: This shot is my absolute favorite, though!
I wake up looking at an alternate universe. At the time I was deciding where to go to college, it was one of the biggest & most stressful decisions of my short life. I’ve survived, chosen, and found a lot more bravery and great experiences since then.
The night before college decisions were due, I was pacing the grocery store aisles in a nervous fervor, unable to choose between UBC and CalArts, trying to decide not just who I was and what I wanted, but who I was and wanted to be in the future. I chose well, I had amazing experiences and the challenging, experimental, break the rules and design your own path world of CalArts fit me well. I wouldn’t change much about my college experiences at CalArts and on foreign exchange (though I regret not finding time in my jam-packed schedules to join Gamelan).
But yesterday, on the Vancouver ferry crossing, I see downtown & Stanley Park, North Van, and the peninsula where the University of British Columbia sits. I had a feeling of home, so intense and so loving, only, I never did live here. I also understand the swelling feeling that there could be a very different me living there had I chose differently. Who would this alternate universe version of me be? Where would I be now? The thought grips me.
For a moment. But, instead of wondering about all the ways I would have changed, and where I would be now, I realize, I’m okay with not knowing who that alternate universe me would be. I’m confident that I’m the best version of me, and I want to keep having more experiences, not bemoan the ones I haven’t. Now, I think of the ones I haven’t–yet! had, but want to. I look forward, not back. I don’t regret.
As I gaze across the water, straight ahead lies the Vancouver peninsula UBC rests on. I know that one day, I would like to try my hand at living here, not because of what I missed out on before, but because of what can lie ahead. I don’t need a multiverse, I need one really, really good run.
I write this from under the stars in Death Valley. I’ve always been drawn to the stars, as a child counting down every space shuttle launch, answering “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with, “The first person on Mars.” And even if I hadn’t been listening to Commander Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth as I drove here, I have no doubt that my first impression upon getting to the campsite would have been the stars.
They’re innumerable. The sheer sum is overwhelming, in a sublime, jaw-dropping way. They confirm your insignificance and leave you speechless, yet dare you to wonder and ask what meaning you can have. I’m humbled by them.
“I’m in Death Valley beginning to celebrate my birthday. Who would have thought there were so many stars?” (x)
I am in no small way a fan of magic, and love Teller’s work. His Tempest was amazing. His work with Penn, from the Vegas shows, to his interview in Penn’s Sunday School, Fool Us–I dig him. I want him to be my Giles and teach me magic from large tomes with reverence and skill.
I had the chance to meet him for one of his iconic post-show selfies. In a quick exchange I doubt he remembers, but has stuck with me, I asked him about immersive theatre, citing how much I adored Tempest and longed to live in that world. He told me how he enjoys current immersive theatre trends, and thinks it’s a necessary direction to grow. However, he said magic is extremely difficult and not suited to those settings, for timing, angles, and a captive audience is so integral to the art.All these things truly are. And yet. I struggle to believe that magicians, the people who I have felt such joy, wonder, overwhelming desire, and longing at prestidigitations of–couldn’t solve that.
I know that magic & immersion go hand in hand. I know the sleights, the trust, the deceit, and the wonder can only fuel each other. It’s what draws me to both. And while it is a challenge, for the reasons Teller mentioned and many more, I long to work the problem.
I know that what draws me to magic and to immersion is like the stars–fascination, desire, meaning, and awe.
I’m a bit late for New Years, but when does life change and growth land on the button of an arbitrary date with champagne pops? Pretty rarely. So, here’s what I learned in 2014:
1. I used to be precious with my ideas. I knew the adage “don’t be precious,” but I certainly didn’t practice it. I kept them close, trying to be particular about who I told, who I wanted to work with, and in what mediums I would manifest these ideas–it all had to be exact match for each idea; a hatchling needing perfect care. Over the past few years, and this year in particular, I have learned that having good ideas is not the hard part, being able to make them happen is. I know the hardest part is finding the time, support, tools, and ability to develop and iterate and manifest them. The sooner you can get them out of the nest, the sooner they can fly. And the more people and mediums who get to interact with that idea, the better it’ll become. So share, evolve, and don’t be afraid to let them fly. There will always, always, always be more good ideas.
2. Time Management. I still have a long ways to go, but this year I learned a LOT in the time management department. I come from the world of all-nighters, passion projects, staying up too late after day jobs and hours of classes and work in order to make things. I’m used to eating, sleeping, and breathing my projects. This year, I spent a lot of time being creative on strict timelines, proposing those timelines & work plans myself, and tracking hours. I learned how to be more efficient, but still give myself the chance to percolate and marinate. (One of my new favorites: The MacGyver Method. Who knew getting your dishes done could be part of the creative process?)
3. This year I worked with a lot of amazing brands, including some of my absolute favorites. I learned a lot about how to work with existing stories, characters, locations, brands, and conceits to create something new, while still evoking and invoking the original spirit. I also became better at articulating, sometimes you really don’t need so much of a story. Sometimes, the details of a story will get lost, because the spectacle, delight, and emotion, are enough. A one-liner nailing what the guest/user experience is can speak more than thousands of pages of exposition.
4. In a company of impassioned extroverts, everyone is fighting to get a word in edgeways at almost every brainstorm. It can pay off to sit back and listen. Listen to what people are truly saying, not just the surface level.
5. On the opposite end, I realized how important it is to knowing when to articulate your ideas, versus when people get them. People are smart. They are creative and can draw the lines if you give them the dots. Nothing kills a presentation or bogs down a project meeting quite like nitpicking through seemingly obvious details and belaboring the point to the Endless Plains of Obvious.
6. Similarly, don’t go full 180. While I noticed the trend of what happens in the point above, more often than not I personally need to talk out the process I followed, not just the conclusion. When the Notoriously “Out There” Creative Director in the studio turns to you in a meeting, and asks, “what even happens in that brain of yours?” chances are, they missed the line of logic you followed.
7. I come from a world where by the time I came on board in a design process, the project had to ship. Subsequently, I used to measure success as “pulling it off,” no matter the cost. I had the satisfaction of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the time, I could pull it off well. However, over the past few years, I have moved increasingly earlier in the design process, including concept and blue sky thinking–where many times the project can’t or shouldn’t be pulled off–ranging from resources to timelines to safety to the fact it’s just not the best idea. How do you measure a project’s success? That’s something I’ll try to be able to find and articulate this year. I’m beginning to think it’s a lot more about process and people now.
8. Always, always, always, the sheer truth of difference between taste and skill. In my photography, I KNOW that I am not as good as my taste is. But I keep shooting, knowing I’m disappointing myself, but seeing tiny bits of improvement with every shot, and knowing that I am closing that gap. (Take 2 minutes. You must watch this: Ira Glass on The Gap)
9. No doors close forever.
10. You are harder on yourself than anyone else is. When giving yourself advice, take a moment and see what you would tell a friend or loved one who came to you with the same problem. So give yourself that support–this is a lot of work and a stressful planet–we need more empathy.
Bonus: Just do it. You will never be fully ready, and there’s a lot of bravery in learning to try when you aren’t ready. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or admit your novice, but still. just. do. it. (This year I stepped up and dove in through a lot of major ways professionally, but on a quick personal note: I wrote and drew my first comic book this year!)
I’ve been thinking about travel a lot lately.
Instead of thinking about the whirlwind, endlessly long, empassioned lists of places I MUST VISIT, I’ve been thinking purely about the act of it. Traveling.
Brendan Leonard‘s The New American Road Trip Mixtape is about his travels and what he thought about, talked about, and realized while on the road or on rock faces. I was reading the chapter where he went to Yosemite, while I, too, was in Yosemite, and I felt that each page was a subtle knife, that he could be climbing on the rock above me, or that we’d cross paths on a trail as he buckled in, about to climb, and would suggest I come with. A call to adventure. Amongst many lines in that book that I haven’t been able to kick, is this:
The mountains are where I remember being with my friends. The timeline of any friendship is a series of scenes or memories, times where you were together over the course of the relationship. I’ve spent plenty of time with my friends drinking coffee and sharing dinner at restaurants; but those scenes always fade in to the background, overshadowed by adventures like this.
This resonates with me, and is something I want to keep in mind as I choose activities which fill my days… what will we remember? What will not just fill, but fuel us? Where are we most likely to take the ‘wow’ of the nature around us, and turn it in to an ‘aha’?
One of the first things I do every morning, is roll over in bed and scroll through the photos of National Geographic photographers. (My coworker recently admitted that her favorite work out music is Disney Parade Soundtracks, so I guess this is my not-so-guilty secret.) They’re gorgeous fuel my wanderlust. But what really transports me are the stories underneath. They put me in to the photo, that exact moment, what it took to get there, and what it took to get home.
They’re amazing stories about amazing lives. And while I would love to live my life in a way that creates these true, epic stories, most of the art I currently make is fiction. Fantasies. Imagined Characters. Other worlds. And I really, really like this.
Though I love working with conceptual, surreal narrative photography (like the work of my amazing friend JB Knibbs), and following these adventure documentary photographers, it’s only in the past few days I’ve thought about combining them. Brendan Leonard (writer) and Carl Zoch (photographer) are currently doing a series where Brendan writes fiction about one of Carl’s amazing images. There’s only three so far, but I. Love. Them.
I also love the outdoors. I often find amazing landscapes, and while I want to photograph them, I long to add something to it. A character who is exploring, summoning, embodying, or juxtaposing this place. Props, art installations, light or shadow, words, images… I want to awaken them with a story. I would like to not just capture what exists, but create something more.
I recently was lucky to be able to attend a showing of Joe Rohde‘s The Leopard in the Land. In it, he talks about the differences between people who travel to consume the land and culture, versus to interact and understand it. He uses his painting as a way to bring something, so as he accepts the hospitality of strangers, he is also giving something.
Deep in the Altai Mountains, a Mongolian family invites The Leopard in the Land Team in for dinner and to stay the night in their Ger (yurt), citing the weather is too harsh to camp and keep traveling. Joe paints a portrait of the family for them in gratitude. The connection and exchange, as they stumble around language barriers to discuss cooking methods and paint brush choices, is beautiful.
As I travel, I want to be able to offer something. Selfishly, I would love to have it be a reason to interact with people, to learn their stories and perspectives. I’ve been thinking about what I could make and offer while I travel. I know from my work as an experience designer, that I long to help people Be Their Best Selves, and embody a dream/ability/strength/challenge/success/love they aren’t normally able to, if only for a little while. I would love to do a series of unique portraits and stories of people I meet, each in a similar nature to that. Should I swap to an instant camera, so they can have it in that moment, without waiting on importing, processing, and sending? But I’d like to be able to reach even people who aren’t comfortable in front of the lens. Perhaps then it could be a different subject? Fulfilling the images and text impulse, I also love graphic novels. I could see myself creating small comics, even just single strips, for people. My drawing and coloring skills aren’t as strong as I would like, but is it the act and the conversation which matters most?
What would you like to see inspired by how you share your world? What would you like to help make?
Brian Sonia-Wallace will write you a poem based off of a word or topic of your choice. I could see him in a back-alley bar, pulling an eccentric combination-briefcase-and-typewriter on to the table with a gentle thud. He turns to the person he was just speaking with, and says, “I’m sorry, you were talking about your fear of falling, and it got me thinking. May I write you a poem?”