Dear Dad

My Mom once (Okay, more than once.) told me to watch what I said in public and especially to be mindful of what I write. While being free to express ones self. We must also be mindful of what we say and share with others. A lesson I’ve tried to apply, and suffered from when not practicing. Yet there I was trying to write my Father a letter or email that will potentially mend fences in regards to a recent blowout between us.

And while I’ve spent a lifetime looking and often finding closure to many early traumas. I can’t help but open new wounds every now and then. In the days and weeks that followed. I searched and replayed the moments before the blow out. Could I have instigated the argument, said anything to bring on his storm of anger and hate. Or brought on his ire by perhaps seeming uninterested in his reasoning that Trump was a great president and world leader. “No”, “No”, and “No” I was assured by my step mother and wife.

Considering he read it (I confirmed this with my step mom.) and he never bothered to return or acknowledge my olive branch. I’m guessing we’re done. After a lifetime of trauma, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and a whole lot of fun. I’m ready to move on. As bad as that night was, I did my best to reach out with no hate, anger, or blame. I’m sharing the email i sent because I wanted to prove to myself and anyone reading this, that I tried. I tried and I did it by taking the high road. Over and Out.

“Dad, how are you. More than a week has gone by since Kay and Me visited and we had our blowout. The arguments only show our beliefs have grown stronger with showing how different we are politically and socially. We always have been. However, the times have changed and I guess we have to. I just wanted to reach out and say, our beliefs should never overcome the fact that you’re my father and I’m your son. After a week of unpacking I’m finally enjoying going to the gym every day and enjoying the deck and the common areas. Also, after all this time, it feels good to sleep in our own bed.”

Best,
– James

Learning to Fight.

Through recent conversations with family and grade school friends. (yes, I still have those.) I was reassured that many, if not all, of my early childhood memories, happened. My doubts surfaced a few years ago during a neighbor’s daughter paid a visit. After examining the six-year-olds hands and soft knuckles, I began to think some of my memories and tales were something of folklore. For better or worse, those stories remained in the memories of those who were there to bear them.
Whereas many of my memories remain detailed and almost sharp, the most formidable ones start around the age of four.

While kindergarten was a great introduction to socializing and learning to communicate, it was also an education on dealing with bullies. To state it boldly, it’s when I first learned to fight.

I remember it clearly, and with detail. During that morning, there was what was, without any doubt, most kids’ favorite event of the week, ‘Show and Tell.’ At the same time, I may not have been the most popular kid in the class. Bringing my G.I. Joe with Kung Fu grip and authentic (Fuzzy) hair was both a hit and the envy of some male classmates.

As the half-day came to an end, I found myself waiting in the nose bleed seats of the school auditorium. Suddenly, the Cruz brothers, Carlos and Eddi, intended to take my G.I. Joe and give my ass a proper beating. Their plan to attack from both sides was a good strategy. However, they surely underestimated my intent to hold on to my prized possession. Despite their two-prong attacks of kicking and punching, I stood my ground and did enough damage to hold on to said action figure.

When I got home, my Father noticed the scratches and red eyes and asked what had happened. I remember telling my Dad about the incident and commenting they used karate on me. (At the time, I considered any form of kicking to be karate or kung fu.) He told me to never back down to bullies and began to teach me how to fight.

A day later, I found myself in the garage with my Dad learning the ropes to not only fight back but win and even disable my opponent.

A year later, I was in the first grade, despite how handsome and charming I might have been. There were even more cruel kids looking to target and bully me. And just as I was learning how to defend myself properly, my Father was slowly but surely gravitating towards loansharking and numbers to make a living.

By the early school year of the second grade, my parents headed for a messy divorce, and I was processing my anger and newfound anxiety. A lesson, for better or worse, was taught that would set me on a course.
My Father got down on his knees and asked me, “Do you want to win a fight?’ I nodded, “yes.” “Do you want to win a fight quickly and be sure he never comes back at you?” I agreed again. Nodding, “Yes.” That’s when he took my hand gently yet firmly and taught me a lesson I’d never forget.

The first thing he taught me was pressure points and how to throw a punch properly. “Hit somebody directly in the chest, and they can’t breathe. If someone can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” Punch someone in their throat, and they can’t breathe.” “They can’t breathe. They can’t fight.” “There are two ways to punch someone effectively in the nose.”
“While an uppercut can cause a nosebleed, but if you come down on the nose hard enough, you can break the bone. Either will take your opponent out of the game. That was gouging one’s eye out with my finger—a tactic best saved for mortal combat or some soldier of fortune adventure in Uganda. Now luckily, the last and most gruesome lessons I learned, that day would never be called on, let alone thought.

Now, bear with me. I’ve gone over the inappropriate nature of a father or any parental guardian teaching their six or seven-year-old son how to disable their opponent both physically and mentally. For me, and perhaps in my Father’s eyes, learning pressure points was like learning how to play chess. The streets and schoolyards were often battlegrounds, and bullies came in all shapes and sizes. One day I might be fighting for more than an action figure or my lunch money.

In the week, months, and years that followed, I stood my ground in countless altercations in the schoolyards and on the streets. The lessons my Father taught helped me navigate and win fights with people older and bigger than me. I quickly learned that school administrators and police officers rarely judged who started the fight—often seeing the more damaged or bloodied person as the victim. Looking back, I take great pride in the fact that I was never a bully. In contrast, I was quick to throw a punch. Yet, I never once started a fight. Often leaving one teary-eyed, asking why they made me hurt them. Except for one that sent my friend to the hospital, and the exception of my first school. I never fought a classmate.

A Solitary Moment

Like many, I enjoy the solitary feeling that photography lends me. Adding people to the equation, no matter the relation or lack of, can bring on unwanted stress and, in some cases, anxiety as someone who worked in and ran a studio years ago. I often felt overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety. Feelings that went with booking sessions and trying to get people to arrive on time, allowing for the rhythm it usually takes to complete the cycle of a photoshoot. I learned a lot during those days. A lot more about myself, patience, and making others feel as unaware of the camera and the hot lights. More about relationships than I ever did about technique or studio lighting. There are times when I miss those days. Many of which where I’d approach things differently. However, to be honest, it’s not often.

And while taking pictures from my balcony or from the roof might get redundant. The fresh air, the colors, and the feeling of being on top of the world have lasting qualities and rewards. Here’s hoping we can all find our peace and refuge.

Change

In moving to Seattle, Washington from Jersey City, New Jersey. I had some fear that much of the toxicity that had become a part of my daily life for so long would follow me out west and cast a negative cloud on whatever changes I was hoping to undergo. Despite a rather grim diagnosis just months after arriving in the great northwest. I’ve manged to maintain a decidedly positive outlook. Now,  by no means does change come easy. Everyone is different and their isn’t a one fix fits all remedy out there that I’ve seen or heard of.

H-Bomb-1Since being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I went through a number of emotions that included depression, anger and self blame.. Throughout, my one constant has been trying to define what truly makes me happy while sustaining a balance that can nourish and fulfill my soul. The more I’ve searched. The more I come to realize how much the little things play a major part. When listing my favorite things, music, photography and maintaining a level or creativity on a daily basis are the first things that come to mind. However, the more I search the more I’ve come to understand how much joy comes from sharing or preparing a meal with my wife, traveling and sending silly texts to my younger brother.

As we get older our priorities change as often do the things that attract our interest and show up on our shelves. The solitude and alone time I often seek and have learned to enjoy, only improve my ability to socialize. Training myself to limit the people I let into my life and not getting caught up with too much bullshit has helped tremendously in cutting down on stress, anxiety and many of the ingredients of my once toxic personality and lifestyle. While my posts do get there share of likes these days. I would love to see some of your strategies, techniques and practices for dealing with stressful situations and day to day anxiety.

Piece by Piece. Day by Day.

As I find myself working harder and harder to point my way back towards becoming a full time, or at least more consistent studio photographer. I feel my doubts and insecurities reaching a boiling point. The combination of learning new things while unlearning others that once worked just fine for me and many of the people I worked with. With shoots being booked and sessions coming in. I find myself overloaded with information and ideas. I have to admit, it’s a little overwhelming.

As I was setting up for a upcoming shoot and getting familiar with some new software, gear and switching up backgrounds. I had to stop, take a deep breath and step a bit back to find comfort in some older sessions to remind myself “You got this. You can do this.” I can always go back to the things I already know and relied on, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere but where I already am. In order to grow you have to learn, take chances and try new things. In order for me to continue doing what I love. I have to get past my anxiety  fear of failure. To quote a wise green guy. “There is no try, only do.”

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Chasing the Sun and More

Everyone seems to have their own form of meditation. Something to help find the calm and focus needed to cleanse their mind of the clutter, stress and anxiety they deal with on a day to day basis.  Personally, I have explored many channels in recent years. Many of which work very well .

One of mantras I’ve adopted over the last year or so is my nightly walk. One of the things that helped us fall in love with our current home is it’s industrial surroundings. With all the bridges, train yards  and factories nearby. One could not ask for more character and personality. Watching the sun set over such a beautiful landscape brings me a sense of peace I can’t quite describe and hope to never take for granted. If I was able to dole out advice to anyone. I would recommend that whenever possible. Find those private moments where you can enjoy being alone. Breathe deep and be in the moment for as long as you can.

Night

You’s Got to Chill

While today started off on a positive note. It quickly went straight into the crapper due to a friends lateness causing me to keep a shoot waiting. A half ass job by the photo lab that wasn’t caught until I was already home and a maintenance requests that has still gone unfulfilled. It was as if I was in a steamer all day. One disappointment followed the other like a pack of raging dominos. I could have gone to the gym to let off some steam, but for whatever reason I just bathed in anger.FullSizeRender copy 2

That’s when my wife came home. When she asked me how my day was. I decided I wasn’t going to let that negativity spread any further. I laughed about my mishaps and mentioned the little positives about the day without ever mentioning the jerk I had turned in to due to things I had no control over. It seems as if I need a constant reminder about how being pissed off all the time is never a good way to spend your time. I could have called that friend to tell him my window for waiting was quickly closing and I had other places to be. I could have rejoiced at the great job the lab did on my poster print. I could have just accepted the fact that the staff get’s busy here and getting up on a ladder to change bulbs in a loft is not always the priority of the day. I chose not to and I paid by losing an entire day to a wasted emotion. Lesson learned? I hope so. Until the next meltdown. Cheers.

Butterflies

In just a couple of hours I’ll be headed to Montclair’s Gallery U for the opening of ‘Permanent Images’. This is my first time exhibiting there and my first time displaying at a gallery in over a year. The three images showing at the gallery are a few years old which, for some strange reason, takes away a little of the excitement away from my inclusion. I’ve always been one of those people who’s appreciation for his own work has a sort of expiration date. Shooting work and preparing it for exhibition has always been the exciting part for me. Seeing it on the wall and standing under it with a “Hey baby, wanna see my junk?” look on my face has never given me the satisfaction that capturing the image and hunting down a wall to show it does.The truth is I’m a bit of an oddball. I often feel weird at these things and can’t wait for a friend to stop by to snap me out of my geek spell and say    “I hate this kinda stuff.” “Wanna get a beer? Which I’m usually more than happy to do.

By now my nerves are starting to get a little scrambled. I’ve had way too much coffee and even broken into the cola reserve. I’ve peed a half dozen times and the butterflies are turning into tarantulas. This is the uncomfortable part. Knowing that getting there is the hardest part and once I’ve seen a familiar face those butterflies will disappear is comforting; But for me it couldn’t come fast enough.