Finding Happy; The Journey Continues

Since moving to Seattle from New Jersey back in June, I’ve spent more and more time writing about my personal experiences. With a music column back in Jersey United By James and all but finished music blog United By Rocket Science. It’s a wonder I ever find any time to write about my own struggles and experiences.

Like with most things in life, we all experience that sense of burnout that often comes with focusing so much of our energy and time on our passions in life. Whether it’s work, relationships or other passions. We all need  room to breath and step away in order to view the bigger picture. There have been many times, more than I can count, when I just wanted to fold the tents, close up shop and go home. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t.

After months of writing stories and struggling to find a name for a new writing blog. (Just about every name I came up with was unavailable.) (I was about to try Squirrel Farts.) I’ve decided to incorporate some of these stories to Photo Geek. While it might be a far cry from record reviews and interviews. It’s something I feel will be a positive addition to the blog. Besides, I can’t think of any one who wouldn’t be interested in reading about my crazy life and scatterbrain theories.


Finding Happiness with Less

It might have taken me longer than some but, I’m quickly coming to learn that much of my happiness comes from life’s little gifts. You know, the ones that don’t make your eyes bleed when your monthly credit card bill arrives.  In moving to Seattle, my hopes were that some of the stress regarding expectations, wants and needs would diminish and ultimately, help me see what was right in front of me all along.The first months of living out of a couple of suitcases at fully stocked corporate apartments I quickly realized how having less things allowed me live a fuller and much happier life. Though the wanting to be reunited with my “things” eventually came to mind. ExploringThose thought quickly turned to anxiety when I realized much of that freedom I had experienced would soon be taken away by adding things I no longer wanted or needed.

Looking back at the last ten years and how many items I’ve purged through selling, donating or just plain throwing out. I can’t help but give myself somewhat of a pat on the back. Regardless, when I look at the big picture. It seems as if I’ve hardly made a dent. Reading books and watching videos about minimalism and people who freed themselves of years of material possessions to live happier lives with less things, less worries and less things to maintain. I’m both inspired and overwhelmed. Where do I start, where does it go and what is all this stuff worth anyway? With more questions than answers, I’ve decided to start my quest with a one day at a time approach. In the end, I feel luck to understand that my happiness doesn’t come from owning things. Happiness comes from experiences, travel and being around people I love. Once I realized that. The journey became a lot easier and the destination seemed so much clearer.

Weekend Adventures

Weekends have become a time to get lost and reflect on things that matter to me. The things that make me happy and those that I’d like to spend more time focusing my energy and time on. This morning, as we drove past a farm.FullSizeRender copy 3 I caught a quick glimpse of several cows conspiring near a barn. The mere sight of these beautiful animals always sends me in to a full blown state of euphoria. While we didn’t stop to trespass. It did remind of the things I love and hold dear. Minutes later we stopped at a corn field before getting out of the car to buy some farm fresh tomatoes,berries, plums and corn. Not a bad way to start my day.FullSizeRender




I was having a conversation recently with a photographer I had just met the day before. We were just talking shop and sharing some of our experiences. Then she said something that hit me like a bag of sand. (bags of sand are quite heavy.) She said “To be honest. I’m only truly happy when I’m shooting.” I sat frozen for a second. A second that seemed like a lifetime. This woman who I had just met said what I’ve been feeling for so long. It was as if someone had just hijacked my soul and said the very words that I’ve never been able to say myself.

Since I was a child I always had this hyper creativity about myself. Always writing and creating in one way or another. It wasn’t until I got into photography  that it really hit me though. From the moment I got my first camera I was obsessed. As I got better that obsession took up more and more of my time and occupied more real estate in my thoughts. When I think about it I’m reminded of an old Ray Romano skit where he talks about his young daughter of four. She was looking out the window in what seemed to be deep thought for some time. When he asked her what she was thinking about. She replied “Candy”. That’s me. Only a lot older and with photography. I was laying in bed last night around 4:00 AM. Tossing and turning, reflecting on that days shoot and the ones that are coming. Thinking of how I can avoid having my pictures start to look the same. Working on new concepts and ideas. I just can’t put my mind to rest. Laying awake my eyes focused the wardrobe in front of the bed. “What if I emptied it out and photographed someone inside. Someone who feels trapped.” It’s fucking 4:00 AM and I’m thinking about this shit. It’s crazy.

My long time friend Mandy got me into volunteering a little over a year ago. During the times I shot these events I’ve received so much love and praise for pictures I thought were pretty mediocre. I’ve sent them to her with an almost apologetic tone. Of course she’s always positive and appreciative, exclaiming “these are amazing.” “Why are you so hard on yourself?” The thing is, I’m not an events photographer but I want to be at my very best regardless. Even when I’m shooting portraits, something that I’ve become very good at. I keep thinking “I can do better. I can do more.” It’s an obsession.

The plain and simple truth is that when I’m shooting. When I’m in that mindset. I’m the very best I think I’ve ever been or can be. I’m pretty much a dork when it comes down to it. But when I’m in the studio communicating and creating, I feel like a fucking Rock Star. I can say and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I’m happy and confident. I’m not shy, self conscious or clumsy. (okay, maybe a little clumsy.) Not to freak anyone out but I’ve even compared it to sex. Not quite there but about as close to an orgasm as you can get without….. well, you know. So yeah, maybe I am only truly happy when I’m shooting. God, help me.

Do What you Love.

Interviews have always been one of my strengths. I started honing my skills at the age of fourteen convincing Frank the Butcher that  a scrawny little kid could deliver meat on a bike that was twice my size and weight on some of the steepest hills of my neighborhood.                     By Eighteen I had received a Masters Degree in the art of  the sale. My boss at the time. A fast talking salesman from the Middle East told me I could sell pork chops to a Muslim. The Father of my on and off girlfriend sat me down when we first met. Looked me dead in the eye while he popped his can of Bud and said “James, I like you. You’ve got a good line of bullshit.” It wasn’t so much bullshit as it was feeling comfortable in that one on one. Kind of settling in for the interrogation. Knowing what to ask and just how much to show.               This Monday I had a chance to sharpen my dulling skills. Sitting with this woman over coffee I went over my skills and strengths. Sharing anecdotes. All along she’s describing the job and the studio. There I was ready to offer my time, talent and to a degree my soul. As I’m looking across the table confidently I realize this is a woman who is offering me nothing. She had been with the studio for less than a year and seemed determined yet defeated and dissatisfied. She told me about the shitty pay and hours. The cliquish staff that was cold to new comers and the dark depressing clothes they were required to wear. Prior to the interview I was able to peak into the studio to take a peak at the equipment they used. Pretty much the same thing I use. A medium to high end digital SLR, a Soft Box and a Strip Box. Late in the interview she told me that the settings on the camera were never changed and the lights were not to be changed. That I would not be taking the pictures I was used to doing. There I was listening intently and speaking honestly and respectfully. I shook her hand and agreed to take a few days to decide.      The same night I was reading an interview in Esquire with comedian Tracy Morgan. In the interview he talks about his love for comedians like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx (cudos to him for that) along with his love for SNL creator Lorne Michaels. But something else he said said really resonated with me. He says “How we treat each other- hilarious. How people fly off the handle for nothing. Go off the deep end for nothing. If you hate your job, motherfucker, just quit. You hate your Spouse? Leave. Just stop being scared.”                                                                                          I notice a lot of people including some friends. They hate their job, their boss, their commute, their life. Why in the world would I take a job I know won’t pay my bills and make me miserable? When that woman told me to take a few days to think about it she was basically giving me the keys to the getaway car. Did she actually think I’d call the next day and say “Sign me up for some misery.” “Oh and can you recommend a place where I can buy black clothes?”    Fear would never force me into taking a job that would make me hate doing what I love. I think if I’m going to be a photographer I have to work for myself. Otherwise I am basically giving away my rights to any work I do. That would be a waste of time. I’d rather go drive a truck than work somewhere like that. Do what you love. Love what you do. Life is too short to regret your choices and bang your head against a wall all day.