Karma and Being Real

I had an awesome night last night.  My husband and I had tickets to a Jackson Browne concert. The seats were way up in the up most reaches of an old theater in New Brunswick, NJ.  They weren’t great tickets, but nevertheless, they were tickets to a concert by Jackson Browne, my favorite singer/songwriter.

During intermission, a guy, who had climbed four extremely steep flights of steps, walked into the “gallery” and announced that he had one available ticket in the third row and asked “Does anybody want it?” After a minute of trying to comprehend what the man had said, I spoke up and said “I’ll take it” and then asked  “Is it really in the third row?.  He confirmed, and then I asked my husband “you don’t mind do you?, gave him a kiss and flew down to my “new” seat.

It was an amazing night, JBto sit so close and be able to see and feel the music.  Jackson is one of the most intimate and real songwriters around and I got totally absorbed into his performance. I thought about my stroke of luck in getting that seat.  I thought perhaps my luck was changing after a very “trying” month. It was like a karmic blessing.

As I watched and listened to Jackson, I saw an artist whose talents and music have endured the test of time.  His topics and lyrics are just as relevant as they were when I first started following him, some 40 years ago.  That’s because he writes about the human experience – the triumphs and the failures that we all have.  He strikes a nerve with his truth and honesty.  Some say his music defines a generation.  Perhaps.  But Jackson’s music certainly defines who he is.  He’s about as authentic as you can be.

Jackson inspires me to create from my true self and do the work that I am meant to do.  He also inspires me to be a better person. After his encore, he waved to the audience and said, “Be good to each other”.  That said it all.

 From The Pretender, by Jackson Browne

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again


Embrace Unpopularity

There have been more than a few times in my life when I have said something or spoken my mind that made me “unpopular”.   You would think that I would learn.  Learn to keep my mouth shut.  Learn to be more diplomatic.  Learn to say the things that people want to hear, rather than say the things that I feel need to be said.  But, yet I seem to have a knack of saying and doing things that make me “unpopular”.

I just can’t seem to help myself from being true to who I am.  And each time, I’ve done or said something that seems to polarize the status quo; I beat myself up for it.  Bent stop sign at crossroads, Mississippi DeltaYou would think I would learn.  After listening to this TED talk this morning, I have learned.  And what I have learned is that maybe I’ve been trying to appeal to the wrong demographic.

In the talk, speaker Erika Napoletano, states:  “We spend our lives trying to build ourselves into something that other people think that we should be, when in fact we should be spending our time trying to actively polarize our audience.  Give them tools to help them know whether or not they should love us and give it early and give it often. Because that’s when we stop wasting time, both ours and every one else’s”.  Erika went on to say some things that really resonated with me because she was being perfectly honest.

I am a creative being – a photographer, a filmmaker, a writer and an explorer of what the world has in store.  After listening to Erika’s talk, I realized that I have wasted an awful lot of time and effort trying to appeal to the wrong demographic – the “popular” and the “majority”.  When I think about the things that I have created that I am most proud of, and that have been the most gratifying, I realize that every one of those triumphs have come when I’ve been honest and true to myself.  In other words – I’m at my best, when I stop apologizing for who I am and instead, I embrace it.

So, when I wake up on those mornings after I’ve beaten myself black and blue for being who I am, I try to remember that “being myself” is better than the alternative – trying to politely appeal to the “popular” crowd.  While, it may be easier to fall in step with the “status quo”, it is not only counter-productive to being true to oneself, it stifles creativity.

It’s tough to stay true to oneself in a society that often teaches us to favor politeness over honesty but at the end of the day, it’s far more rewarding.

“Here’s to the Crazy Ones.  The misfits.  The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently”.  Steve Jobs

Why I Hate Being Authentic

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’m authentic.  I’m never quite sure if it is intended to be a compliment or not.  I suppose it is what it is – I make no pretense. I make people laugh, I make them cry, I make people want to hug me and some want to wring my neck.  I mostly make myself crazy for being who I am – yet I just can’t help myself.

There are times when I wish that I didn’t care so much.  If I see a wrong – I’ll always want to right it. If I see someone or a cause that needs support – I want to be there for them. My passion sometimes consumes me and overwhelms others, yet I often feel that I have no control over what it is that drives me to be me.

I also have no control of how others perceive me. How someone reacts to me is not about me at all. When I’m being totally true to myself, I’m usually acting on my own instincts and not doing things for the sake or recognition of others. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate recognition when it comes – it just means that is not what’s in my mind when I’m working on something.

The problem with being “authentic” or being true to ones self is that, is that you usually make yourself and others crazy because your passion and vision are just too much for most people. There have been times when I’ve wanted to take a vacation from myself.  I’m sure I have alienated my fair share of colleagues and friends over the years.

I have always been the sort of person, even as a kid, to question and think for myself.  In that regard, I wasn’t an easy child to raise.  I can’t say that I’ve changed much.  I’m still questioning and still thinking for myself.  There are days, I wish I could turn off those voices in my head that constantly push me into unknown and potentially dangerous waters.  Some days I’m successful and take refuge in my familiar confines.  But there are more days when the voices in my head win out.

When the voices win out,  I remind myself something that Steve Jobs said “ Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.  Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary.”

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It’s a humid, Saturday morning in the dog days of summer.  There’s a dozen things I should be doing – paying the bills, doing the laundry, filling out film festival submissions and catching up on the endless little details that have consumed me with my film.

And yet, I write.  I started writing about 7 years ago when I would wake up super early in the morning with my mind spinning with ideas and not allowing me to turn over and go back to sleep.  So, I ‘d get out of bed and write about whatever was running through my mind at the time and I would put those thoughts out there in my blog. Colleen Wainwright is running a whole series of interviews with writers on her blog as part of a fund raiser and I was honored to be included.

In the beginning, I got a lot of encouragement from a friend who gave me the confidence to write more and I did. Some days the words would just pour out of me and many times, I’d see them quoted later in other people’s blogs and I couldn’t believe that I had written them – almost like an out of body experience.   Now, writing has become a habit and a way for me to organize my thoughts and turn chaos into order and thus my dreams into realities.

Many people tell me that I’m incredibly open and honest.  I’ve always found that interesting – the fact that was something to comment on – but at the same time feeling very flattered.  If someone tells me that I’m the “real deal”, that’s about as high of a compliment that one can give me.

If “authenticity” comes across in my writing or in the visuals that I create, then I think that I’m must be doing something right, because I use my words and my images to connect with people and that really only happens when I’m being true to myself.  I think people can sense that – it’s not something you can fake.  You’re either genuine – or you’re not.

To be honest, because I am “genuine” and tend to “tell it like it is” – it has been a blessing and a curse – but I can’t seem to help myself.  I’m a sucker for a good cause and I’m one to always strive for consensus as opposed to “getting my way” or motivated by a personal agenda.  When, I’m on purpose and not driven by ego – good things happen – and like-minded people are “attracted” to me like little magnets in the universe.

Now, I’ll go do the laundry.

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Being Authentic

There are certain words and phrases that tend to become over used just because they seem to express the idea so well.  Ironically, the word authentic is becoming over used now in our culture and in a weird way is on the brink of becoming a contradiction to what it means.  So, I cautiously use the word “authentic” in the real sense to say – be who you are meant to be.  Be authentic.

When I returned from my round the world adventure this past Fall after completing the shooting aspect of a personal project, I discovered that people were responding to me in a different way. Perhaps they sensed there was something inside of me that they wanted to connect with.  It’s a very difficult thing to explain but I think what they were sensing, was my contentment.  I was content and feeling a sense of “satisfaction” because I was following “my purpose”, both personally and creatively and in the process I was discovering many other people,  all over the world, who were doing the same.

On the outside what may have seemed like just a very long, exotic “trip”, was really more of a journey.  It was a journey that I had begun a long time ago when I became an explorer, through my eyes and through my camera.  I use the word explorer in a literal and figurative sense. Throughout my life, in my never-ending nomadic need to explore the world and its peoples, I was finding my own vision and how I “saw” and I was sharing that with others.

Ethan G. Salwen expressed it beautifully in a recent post on his After Capture blog:

“We always say that learning photography is really learning to see, and this is true. But we tend to express this sentiment in relation to a very limited sense of seeing — the visual sense. Older photographers seem to continue to learn to see on a much deeper level, in terms of what it is to be a working artist and, most important, how this relates to their continual growth and satisfaction as an individual.”

I think Ethan nailed it by talking about “learning and seeing on a much deeper level and how this brings growth and satisfaction as an individual.”  I use the words “ being on purpose” to describe “satisfaction” within oneself.  I believe that as creative individuals, when we begin to find meaning in who we are and how that fits into the world, it will shine through our work.  Some use the word “vision” to describe that certain something that they see in someone’s creative work. Maybe that’s what was in the back of my mind when I came up with the title of my project and film, Opening Our Eyes.

In a way, I use my “eyes” and my camera to do what I do best – to share and connect with others.  When I travel, it is not to assimilate with a culture, but rather to learn and exchange our cultural uniqueness, embrace that and share it with others. When I’m being authentic and true to myself, that happens in a magical way.  When someone tells me that I’m the “real deal”, that is one of the highest compliments they can give me.

I think Susana Esmoris, one of the subjects of my documentary said it best.  “Live life intensely.  Wear the color that you want in life.  Dance what you want to dance.”

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