Self Portraits And Change

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2004 was a terrific year. My wife Lisa and I were expecting a child and moving out of Boston at the same time.  I was present enough in my life to recognize that although these huge changes were good things, change has aspects of real terror attached to them. Becoming a father was full of concern and stress. Will I do okay? Who am I now? What will I become?

So, with that in mind, I loaded up the 5×7 camera and played around with it. I didn’t have a major agenda and the images I made pretty much sat around for ten years before I really looked at them. I just started scanning and processing them now. I’m now 45, Lisa has been dead for seven years, our child celebrated her 10th birthday last year, and I remarried five years ago. With that came a boy, who is now a 16 year-old young man- staring down the barrel of colleges, driver’s licenses, and being a junior in High school.

Here’s what I know, here’s what these pictures tell me: creating and understanding are not the same thing. I made these images out of anxiousness. It gave my mind something to think about instead of the tidal wave of change I felt my life was about to undergo. Creating something fueled by the energy of change is proper use of the will.

I don’t have any profound insight beyond that. Maybe their message is not meant for me?

Recording the Sacred

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The installation ceremony of Father Sunil Chandy was a great celebration but it  also posed some serious creative issues. First, the sound in a church is very much like being in the bottom of a well. Unless everyone is wearing a microphone, you really can’t hear anyone well enough to record. The music “Open Thou Mine Eyes” by John Rutter was sung by the choir and I managed to get a good recording of it to lay over the video tracks.

The opening prayer by Father Jack Barrett established that this was a sacred ceremony and focused the mind on that aspect. His voice is so distinctive and clear, it really set the tone better than anything else.

When I’m making a video of an important ceremony, it isn’t about me and finding the best angles at the expense of the collective experience. In short, they aren’t there for me to capture on video, I’m there to record what happens. While the distinction might be purely semantic, it is an important one to make. I treat weddings the same way.

In any case, Christ Church Commissioned the video and I was happy to make it. I’m always interested in the rituals that occur around us. I believe they have great importance in what keeps our society together. I always learn something from them.

Enough with “Good Enough”

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A great quote from Auntie Mame “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.

I’m a visual content creator and I’m pretty damn good at what I do.  I communicate with images. That means I not only make visually pleasing images, my images communicate an idea.  My commercial business is about helping you visually talk about what makes your business unique. This takes time and thought. It is a creative process. It is a journey.

A lot of well-meaning small businesses get lazy about this part of their business. Visual content is almost an afterthought. “Good Enough” rolls off the tongue too quickly. I’m tired of seeing this “good enough” crap, yes crap, filling Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and paid advertisements.

When I hear “It’s good enough for people to get the idea,”
I immediately wonder what other parts of their operation they think is “good enough”. It doesn’t take long to find it.

You’re dead without social media platforms. These platforms are  commercial channels that reach to your customers. “Good enough” will be overtaken by those investing in “better” or “best”.

Hiring professional photo and video services is a smart investment. There is a difference between being responsible with your money and being cheap. If you’re making your own commercials and content to save money, trust me, they suck and you’re losing money by driving away customers. If you think you can make content better than me, I don’t want to work with you. Best wishes in all your future endeavors. I’m not paid to compete with my clients.

Good advertising is about speaking from your authentic voice; not following trends or fads. It’s about defining the conversation from your place of truth and supporting it with smart visual content That is more than a quick snapshot can communicate.

God Bless Kanye West and Jimmy Fallon

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In the other room, my wife is playing Ethel Merman’s  “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and it still stands tall. That woman had some pipes. The song is true on many levels and has me thinking.
Our culture always needs one “everyman” to be in the center of the celebrity world. Jimmy Fallon holds that title, for now. His “Aw Shucks” ability to place himself in the middle of cultural icons and claim them as his own is a little infuriating until you realize, he’s an entertainer and just doing his job. To be outraged by our entertainers is to be distracted by them. This is being entertained on a more personal level: cruelty is a form of entertainment. In fact, it is probably the oldest form around. You are not above it.
Why put so much cultural weight on entertainers? I really don’t care what Kayne West does, I’m sure he has his reasons. Jimmy Fallon is smart and funny (I guess since I don’t watch his show) and has an amazing agent who throws him in front of several cameras. There are plenty more and they all work hard for that fifteen seconds of attention.
How we are entertained hasn’t changed that much in our history. We love to shame people under the banner of social justice. If it validates our seething resentments against whomever or whatever institution making us feel small, so much the better. In fact, that’s perfect.
A world with entertainers is much better than one without. If we didn’t have clowns to take some hits for us, the whole world would look like parts of Syria.
Hollywood Gossip magazines have made truckloads of money pointing out the fragility of human relationships as the pressure of money and constant attention are put on them. The line between us and them, when you think of our own toxic obsessions, is pretty thin.
I embrace the “Karma Is a Bitch” motto, mainly because I’m not clever enough to throw people under the bus myself. If I could do that with impunity, I’m sure I would; but I can’t so…Jimmy Fallon.
So, let’s not get too worked up over what our entertainers are doing. Let’s not make false idols out of them. They have a job to do and get paid to do it. They have families and friends. They have important jobs but, we do too. So, let Jimmy do his job. Part of that job, of course, is letting you kick him around for being too cute and singing with Prince. You just need to know when to stop kicking and get back to work.

Lent Isn’t About The Cookies

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Today is Shrove Tuesday. That makes tomorrow Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. It is a important to consider what Lent is and what it isn’t. It is part of Christian calender representing Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert fasting and praying. He was tempted and overcame three temptations by Satan. Cookies wasn’t one of them. That’s the elevator pitch.

Economically, it made sense for Lent to occur at this time. The time between harvest and planting was a time of certain unease. You had to budget appropriately. Midwinter, when food was getting low, it made sense to tighten the belts and make do with less. So, while there is a great opportunity to examine our attachment to worldly things, this period came from a very practical reality.

God and Nature

Lent comes at the end of Winter and signals the coming of Spring. It is a journey from darkness into newness of life. Observing Lent means embracing and internalizing what happens in nature as a opportunity for spiritual growth.

What do 40 days of Lent mean to me? On the surface, it’s about not eating sweets and stuff like that. My diet in the middle of winter consists of butter, sugar and chocolate. When Lent comes around, I’m…bloated. Lent would seem like an excuse to diet in time for swimsuit weather. However, I’ve never been able to happily “quit” anything.

If eating cookies were my problem, not eating them would be my solution. However, for me, eating these things represents a desire to be separate from something more uncomfortable. I eat this stuff, not only because it tastes good, but because I’m covering up a certain amount of restlessness and fear.
Removing these crutches, I rely on something I can’t see for support. This is how my faith grows.

Giving and Offering
There is a difference between giving and offering up something. Giving up doesn’t invite relationship. Giving up is an act of willpower. The reason most diets fail is because willpower is finite. Offering up is an act of sharing and relationship. We live our lives in relationships so developing a relationship with the universal power that surrounds us (God for short) makes sense. When I work to maintain a relationship with God, other relationships improve.
So, offering up attachment to junk food is more about developing a better relationship with my physical self and those around me. Yes, I want to lose weight, but, more importantly, I want to be healthy. I only take the things I love for granted.

If it was easy…
God is a difficult relationship to maintain. One need only look through a telescope to get a sense of the smallness of our lives in comparison to the universe. We truly are just dust. It’s hard to reconcile the vastness of the universe with trying to fit into pants.
Who wants a cookie?
Lent is an opportunity to make my journey more meaningful by lightening the load. What I offer up (sweets)  distract me from what gives me greater pleasure: meaningful connection with people.  Through this lens, the problem isn’t the cookies or cake, it is what I expect them to do for me. I want them to take away the fears and doubts I have about living. Quite a tall order.
However, isn’t this kind of unrealistic expectation the same problem we have relating with each other? Isn’t the big problem we have in the world tied directly to our expectations we place on other people? It seems stupid to think a cupcake can fix what is broken in us, but that same thinking is alive and well in our relationships. We want people to fix us. We put too much dependance on people to “take care” of us. When they fail us, as they always will, we internalize their humanity as a reflection on the quality of our lives.
Today, as I work to improve my relationship with God, I’m confronted with frightening things. I’m scared of people and being vulnerable.  Cookies won’t eliminate these self-centered fears. Lord knows, I’ve tried and all I got was fat, nervous, and gassy.
During Lent, I reconnect with what really works; a day at a time. Yes, I go to church. I also am a little more willing to listen to what my body is saying. Through active mediation, I gain a little objectivity around the habits I let control me. I see temporal distractions and my expectations in new light.

Lent is about getting to the center, finding balance. When balanced, I can enjoy a cookie and be more present for meaningful relationship with God and all of you. Surrender is a process, not a failure. Getting to right size means not being driven by fear but transcending it. Not worshiping cookies is a good start. Saying “no” to one thing allows me to say “yes” to what really matters in life. Not such a bad trade-off when you think of it.

A Cure For The Virus Of Fear

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Fear is a fact of life. The great gifts of humanity were created trying to overcome fear. Civilization was built on the simple idea of “How can I make my family a little safer so they can survive?” While the methods of that struggle have changed, the mechanics are the same.
Today, we are bombarded with a global menu of scary stuff.  Fear is a natural response to legitimate danger. Running from a burning building is a very healthy thing to do. Wearing a seat belt is another example.

Fear, when applied to our greatest attributes makes them toxic. Fear weaponizes all that is right and good in the world. Here are some examples.
“Persistence + Fear = Stubbornness”
“Pride + Fear = Arrogance”
“Love + Fear = Obsession”
“Curiosity + Fear = Paranoia”
“Kindness + Fear = Manipulation”
“Ambition + Fear = Gluttony”
“Intelligence + Fear = Pretentiousness”
“Meditation + Fear = Resentment”
“Skepticism + Fear = Denial”
“Piety + Fear = Self-righteousness”
Or natural fear of the unknown has been exploited for most political, business, and entertainment ends. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous best describes: “It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”

Here is the thing, being afraid of stuff, however petty,  is what makes us human. One of the great things about being human is our history of transcending that animal fear into something beautiful. Every religion or spiritual practice basically sprung from a desire to rise above our base nature of fight or flight.
Transcending fear is not the same thing as eliminating it.
So, how do we overcome it? If you are truly being overwhelmed by anxiety and panic attacks, you need to avail yourself of professional, medical help. Life isn’t a contest to see who can suffer the most pain. If your days and nights are consumed by fear, anxiety, and panic, it doesn’t need to be that way and there is help.
Here is what helps me:

Talking about it. I rat myself out. Fear is a virus with  an elegant survival mechanism contingent on silence. I have people in my life who I practice telling the truth to on a regular basis.

Exercise. Just going for a walk really does help. It’s not a cure-all but when your body is pumping itself full of adrenaline, use it.

Get active in the community. Join a church or civic group that works to help people less fortunate than you. It’s hard to be self-centered for long when trying to make someone’s life a little more comfortable. Furthermore, even if you are still busy thinking about yourself while serving the community, good work is being done in spite of you.

Peaceful projects. Find an activity that you can get lost in for a while. It could be a jigsaw puzzle, cooking, drawing, playing a sport, music, whatever.

Make peace. We live our lives in relationships and no one does them perfectly. If there are people in your life who you have unfinished business with, do what you can to make that right. The magical words that help heal:

  • “I was wrong”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “What do you think?”
  • “How can I help.”

A caveat to the above suggestion: ask disinterested parties for help in figuring out your side of a broken or bent relationship. Often we can make things worse when trying to fix things for the sake of our own comfort by ourselves.
When I’m afraid, isolating is the worst thing I can do. Most of the suggestions I make about overcoming normal human fear and anxiety are related to not isolating.

When you’re afraid, get clear about what scares you, talk about that with another human being, and get on with the business of living. There is no permanent cure for this condition of fear, but there are plenty of ways to harness and overcome for a greater adventure.

If all else fails, drop me a line.

3 rules for Facebook you learned as a kid.

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All the manners my parents taught me apply to social media as well. These three they passed on with regards to attending a party. So, online etiquette is nothing new but bears repeating.

1) Don’t be an Jerk.

This would appear self-evident, but being an jerk is not confined to getting drunk and throwing things. We’ve all been to enough parties to have a pretty apt image of the many faces of “Jerky” So, lets focus on how not to be one instead.

  • A little selfie goes a long way.
  • Long proclamations about anything do not get read by anyone.
  • Let other people have the last word.
  • Have fun introducing people to one another.
  • Don’t be mean. Yes, sarcastic comments or posts are mean.

2) Dress appropriately 

Ron, wear a blazer.”– Bob Cowie (my father)

If my job was to find sub-par content on business Facebook pages, I’d be busy all the time. While social media platforms are free but you should invest in how yours looks. Mediocrity will only get you so far.

When making photos for your social media channels keep the following in mind.

  • Simple composition. Don’t get too busy trying to say everything with one photo.
  • Be in focus.
  • Good lighting. Window light with clear open shadows is best.

If all else fails, call me. Yes, that was a shameless plug.

3) Be A Good Conversationalist

Have you ever been held hostage by someone at a party who tells you their whole life story in one sitting? Aren’t they are boring? Don’t be that person online.

Here’s how you avoid that with your social media:

  • Get on a regular posting schedule. Whatever is sustainable for you and your business is the right fit. Once a week at least.
  • Respond to your customers when they comment. A simple “Thank you.” goes a long way.
  • Educate your customers. If you own the business, chances are you’re an expert about something related to it. Share that.
  • Introduce people to each other. There’s enough attention to go around for everyone.
  • When all else fails, be a good listener!

While this list is not comprehensive, it should get the ball rolling and your social media channels moving in the right direction.

Je Suis Charlie – building walls of love in a dangerous world

The Bishop of Rhode Island Nick Knisely says it best.

Entangled States

Je-suis-CharlieFourteen years ago I was asked to preach at a city-wide observance of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. What I said then has been very much on my mind as I’ve been following the newout of Paris and the murders of the journalists who worked at Charlie Hebdo. Essentially I argued that it was only by having strong, healthy and interdependent communities that we would be able to feel safe again. There was no military solution, no Homeland Security protocol that would be able to protect us as much as that.

Someone who heard the sermon that night wrote me this morning asking if I had a copy of it. I guess I wasn’t the only person thinking about what I had said 12 years ago…

So I’m posting it again – in large part because I still believe what I said then.

View original post 2,254 more words

About “Ah Yes, It’s Like That Too.”

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The image “Ah Yes, It’s Like That Too” illustrates a connection between  temporal and eternal worlds. I wasn’t thinking that while making the actual photograph. That came later The day I made this image, I saw the wires differently. They represented more than what they were. Instead of cable and telephone wires, I saw the divine connecting with humanity…Seriously.

So, “Ah Yes, It’s Like That Too.” is not a nonsense title. It is a statement reflecting the wit and elegance of the divine around us.

I’m reminded of the story of Jesus’s transfiguration. This was when Jesus and three of his disciples (Peter, John, and James) went up to a mountain.The three took a nap and woke to see Jesus wrapped up in light with Moses and Elijah. After Moses and Elijah left, Peter (a disciple) said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

No one thought to use their camera phone.

The story of the transfiguration represents human nature meeting God, the temporal with the eternal, and Jesus serves as the connection. He is the bridge between heaven and earth. Of course, our natural desire when we encounter the divine is to preserve it in the temporal world. This is folly.

Transfiguration means “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” Art does this.  Looking at telephone wires is nothing like the biblical transfiguration.  God doesn’t always put on a show. God, while never hiding from us, can be found in all things.

God isn’t something that can be summed up in one experience and that is why, I think, Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone. You can’t aptly describe a transcendent experience such as the transfiguration.  It doesn’t stop people from trying, which is good. Religion and art, often intertwined, are the best attempts at this. Both have limited success but, that’s okay; we’re human and God isn’t keeping score.