Creativity is organic. Before we make anything we take the eggshells we fear to walk on with the bruised egos and rotten experiences and stash them into places where we think we’ve succeeded in forgetting them. The longer they sit in that space we keep out of sight they compost down and dissolve into beautiful, fertile nutrients for the next round of thoughts to be sown in. The state of our mental health often requires moments to gently mix together all those experiences we think we’ve left behind to turn them into the basic ingredients of wisdom and imagination that anybody requires to grow. This process is not easy. It does its best work within a person who lives life freely and open to all experiences and a person who opens even further to all people who come into their lives. The best, healthiest of all memories still must be sent into the pile for the sole reason of building up a strong platform for next year’s ideas.
Every moment, whether it be a smile or a laugh or a cry, is set aside every night and as we dream our lovely thoughts pick and pluck the moments that need to be remembered the most. What is left is fed to the compost pile. However, this is no ordinary pile of unused words and spent emotions. This particular compost pile glows with the radiance of a life having been lived. It smells like sipping fresh cocoa while seated around a warm fireplace and feels like the mid-summer sun’s kiss through light, thin clothes.
This compost pile is the stuff our dreams are made of. We all go through the ups and downs and worries and shouted exclamations of joy that happens in every life, and the better we pay attention to these ordinary moments the more extraordinary our dreams become. It does not matter what the compost holds or how much of it is there, every moment of life should be cherished as it could hold the seed of wonder that leads to breathtaking thoughts and world-changing actions.
As the seasons sway in their dances and the light rises unfailingly in the sky every morning, we are inexplicably tied to the compost pile of the universe, and as such we have the most fertile lands within us all to let the seeds of inspiration and passion grow.
We have the mountains, and in all their quiet pride and steadfast love of the sky above we find our own feet steady when on shaky ground.
We have the flower’s bloom, and in its silent appraisal of the sun we learn to cherish the warmth of the day.
When we write or take photos or cook or bake or grow the foods we eat, generous handfuls of our wondrous experiences are mixed into a plot and that’s how the makers, the dreamers, and the doers grow stronger with every passing season.
They let the inspiring people be lead to them by simply following their lives. They embrace hard work and effort and accept help from all those who wish to give it. And most all of them are selfless in their experience and generous with their own compost piles. But the main sign of an open mind and fertile past is that they smile every morning and soak up the radiance of existence every chance they get. Those that have the most compelling minds often are the one’s who, much like the flowers in spring, bloom in the use of imagination.
This is creativity. The accumulation of memories and experiences that have been amassed for years upon years results in the most fertile of minds to sow the strongest of heirloom beings. We are human, and creativity, much like the foods we require to live, needs the memories that are made by living life with beckoning arms and open hearts.
Be still in this moment, soak up the sound of your next breath and inhale the scent of your next meal for this will be the soil in which you begin the rest of your life.
“There is a great sense of autonomy and security to know we can write anyplace. If you want to write, finally you’ll find a way no matter what.” -Natalie Goldberg
The darkness becomes a fog when a lantern is lit and lifted to illuminate a face whose eyes are dilated and dart fearfully around the subtle entrances of the forested walls. There are barely perceptible spaces between the trunks of trees where I can enter the unknown, the darkness, the over-thinking portion of the human mind that makes monsters out of the absence of light. The fire barely penetrates the thick woods and all that’s truly left is the path ahead.
I wonder if Robert Frost would have taken a different path had he known this mode of travel and seen every road submerged beneath thick shadows and eerie shapes. For none of the roads I look at are less traveled by, and I decide this is closer to our reality.
Never knowing which road to take. Life is lived best stumbling through the darkness and chancing upon the lights that still succeed to shine through the murk.
I do these things more out of curiosity than a sense of responsibility. Wandering through the woods and worrying about what’s in the darkness is a more grounding fear than anything else life throws at me. It’s a sort of therapy against the mundane. A shock of feeling amidst the cold gray asphalt trails back around the safe suburbs I call home.
As I set the lantern down and launch my way over a fallen trunk, I feel the rough, freezing bark against my skin and the ice leaves pricks of cold spots chattering their way over my palms. It’s in that cold, with my lantern on the ground and my hands on a camera that I finally feel comfortable with myself. The darkness hides prying eyes and prevents the ill-meaning voices from finding my hides. I am alone. But that also means I am free.
Are the woods simply my search for escapism? I wonder to myself silently, not judging, the curiosity meandering around in my head making sense out of senseless actions.
Because I am crazy, right? I might smile silently to myself at the idea I’m crazy to wander the woods at night, crazy to take pictures, crazy to be able to smile about it, and yet I’m crazy about it.
The outdoors is my proving ground for identity. It’s where I find solitude enough to view my life away from one of the many boxes it hides in- homes, cars, notebooks, cameras. Here I am forced to look at it all and step outside of them in a mindset I can’t normally reach otherwise. The latter two boxes, safe spaces, havens for my unrest, they are the ways that I remember. They hold memories and realizations to moments I wish to forget, know I must remember, and they continue to hold the parts of me that I don’t want anyone to ever see. Not out of embarrassment or fear, but if I am expecting some sort of reciprocity to my actions, how is anyone supposed to react to glimpsing the letters I write to my soul?
And in the woods I have it, the thought comes swiftly to my mind like the bats flitting around me.
I do not fear baring my open soul, I most fear that because of it I realize it’s the only one here.
Wandering back to my car, I kneel down and extinguish the light that’s guided me through tonight’s journey. As it fades so too does my sight ahead, both on the paths covered in darkness, and the journey I take through my mind day after endless day. For now I’ve found what it is to be content, and I owe that to the sprit of the trees.
“The problem is we think we exist. We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That’s not true. We write in the moment.”- Natalie Goldberg
This is my now second reading of the book “Writing Down the Bones,” and I find as I get older the books that I read come to mean vastly different things than when I first stumbled across the words within. This time around, one section struck me and touched at the core of my difficulty managing passion with responsibility.
“We are run by our compulsions. Maybe it’s just me. But it seems that obsessions have power. Harness that power. I know most of my writing friends are obsessed with writing. It works in the same way as chocolate does. We’re always thinking we should be writing no matter what else we might be doing. It’s not fun. The life of an artist isn’t easy. You’re never free unless you are doing your art. But I guess doing art is better than drinking a lot or filling up with chocolate. I often wonder if all the artists who are alcoholics drink a lot because they aren’t writing or are having trouble writing. It is not because they are writers that they are drinking, but because they are writers who are not writing” (Goldberg, Page 51).
I’ve found that in my time delving deep into photography and writing that this inherent need to create gets stronger and stronger with each passing moment you spend on it, and even as I write this I’m squeezing in time between writing and responsibility. I always wondered that if an artist pursues their passion and assimilates it into an occupation that they will feel content, however, another paragraph explains this as well.
“Katagiri Roshi says: ‘Poor artists. They suffer very much. They finish a masterpiece and they are not satisfied. They want to go on and do another.’ Yes, but it’s better to go on and do another if you have the urge than to start drinking and become an alcoholic or eat a pound of good fudge and get fat”(Goldberg, Page 52).
I always looked at writing as bleeding out onto a page- opening up and freeing whatever was left inside and relieving that tension in a moment of spare time. Maybe it’s actually the opposite. Maybe when we writers write we fill ourselves up with the stuff of life and passion and pursuit. Maybe it’s an obsession because it’s the blood of inspiration and that substance must be replenished lest we fall into hopelessness and disregard for the beauty of the world around us. I like to think writers write because it is the closest path to love of self beyond anything else we do in life.
So comes my difficulty. If I am not writing, I am lost. Without writing I am less of an identity full of memories and emotions and obscenities, and more of a character in a movie I’m simply watching pass by. To write about life is to understand when and why life happens. It’s a chance to analyze out everything that occurred and be able to face it the next time around.
The difficulty in this lies in the fact that most of life is not spent creating unless you make it your life to create and the overhead for that is very, very high.
To create is both wondrous magic and the most cunning torture and it’s a fine film we walk on before plunging deep into everything else that distracts us.
“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” –Mary Oliver
I wonder if a certain point of intellectual achievement is reached where you no longer relate easily to the throngs of a perceived “normal person” around you. As you think and think on topics that require a wholly different foundation from which to view from it gets easier to stand on that pedestal and look over the walls at the things on the other side of awareness. I think that once a person reaches that level of awareness that they go semi-crazy searching for a way to make that unordinary side of them fit into the normal threads of society. The thoughts turn into the strongest desire to act on them and yet there’s no good place for society to accept them and so it’s an endless cycle of being unable to relate or fit in and it results in a ghastly pessimism of society as a whole. However, I believe that art is the vehicle through which those of us that are different to the point of perceiving it as a flaw are able to convey our perception of the world through a medium that other people will understand. At least better than trying to explain it directly.
Art is the turning of an intangible thought or idea into some sort of physical experience. Usually through music or painting or movies or acting, art to me is self-expression allowing for a viewer to receive your own self as if it were a condition of their own. Art inspires empathy. I believe that. And I also wonder if art is empathy, personified in such a way that’s beautiful and inspiring.
Why do people break down and cry in front of paintings that depict squares and colors or splashes of paint in no specific order or ordinary arrangement and say that it changed their lives? Why does art become a physical experience?
Art is the manifestation of wonder and human character. I think everyone who think, act, or see the world differently have a chance to be truly unique. Those people have a chance at being original. There are so many ways to convey one’s identity that the list is quite literally endless but the first step lies in finding a medium in which your mind can reach a state of flow.
Flow is the moment when your mind autopilots in a state of almost meditative focus and you’ve accessed a part of yourself that pushes its way out through your mind in a smooth run. It’s both calming and exciting and for the time you play into it the machinations of the normal world shut off and no longer exist. Life is experienced from the core of who you are, not who anybody says you are and not what anybody says you may be. In a moment of flow, you are infinitely you more than anyone else could show you.
Try it. What do you love doing? Have you felt so insanely into it that time slows down? That suddenly you forget all your flaws and the woes in the world shrink to a barely nudging grain in your mind? That’s flow. To re-access this very real capacity for feeling identity, follow the feeling and focus on it and grasp it and turn that thing you feel into something you can truly hold. Something that affects the world around you. Start something new. Build something new. Create!
If you are different, you have a chance at being an artist.
I heard once that the phrases “do what you love” and “follow your passion” are examples of shitty advice. I don’t know if love and passion are accurate representations of the feeling you get when you just explicitly and unequivocally know that there’s one thing in life that you feel so strongly above all others that it’s something like the reason to live. I mean, everyone must have that to some extent. Some people find happiness in their desk job, some people fluster over the presence of a dog or cat and as a veterinarian, they’re happy, and still others find passion in simply everyday waking up alive so every moment thereafter is a gift. I think the answer to life is in the very idea that you are alive, but I think it’s what you do with that time you have that makes all the difference in the world. It’s what definitively makes you, you. So what clicks? What is the thing that you can talk about with anybody and everybody and everyone knows that about you? What just simply feels comfortable? What keeps you sane? What could you never do without?
I’ll give you a few examples of what clicks for me.
Photography immortalizes split-second moments in time we never have the chance to absorb until the camera shutter gives it the opportunity to live in our reality. In real life, I cannot freeze time and make a moment last longer. I cannot push pause and laugh over a funny face or an awesome sport move. However, photography does do that. It’s a chance for our visual and emotional senses to experience events in time that would have been lost forever. When I look at these photos, every single one has a personal story I have a chance to re-experience in my own time.
Yet photography, as all art forms do, connect with the audience on their own turf as well.
So this is what clicks for me. As surely as the shutter snaps with every photo, so my life is affirmed when making light of the fact that the length of my life is similar to the amount of time it takes for a photo to be taken.
I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why some people get this explosively bright light in their eyes when you talk to them about what they care about, or why you can share in that vivid excitement when they reminisce over their passion. One thing I know for sure is that photography can capture people in their entirety. Somehow it seals in moments they didn’t know they had or shows them those moments they knew they had and never knew how to describe.
It’s silent, these things. To find your click you have to search and hunt and explore and see and experience every second of every day and even then never stop but continue following the feeling of oneness with your life aligned with what makes you pursue it.
If it’s true that “follow your passion” and “do what you love” is shitty advice, then I suggest we put that phrase a little differently.
Do what clicks. Because if you do what clicks, it’s only ever going to make sense to you and so you find you don’t need anybody to tell you to do something differently.
Aristotle believed in thinking just to think. That idea is called theoria. Perhaps by todays standards this idea is kin to daydreaming and many a student in school was brought to an embarrassing state of attention when their minds wandered off and their teacher wandered over to help. But what if we started to take on the philosophy that watching clouds in contemplation of anything was actually a time of extreme value to our personal lives?
The way people think and interact with the world around them is of extreme interest to me, and I think there are three fronts with which we can live inspired lives. These three fronts are also the three actions that Aristotle believed free people took for themselves. They are theoria, poiesis, and praxis.
Theoria: “contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at”
Poiesis: the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before
Praxis: is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized
In my view, any of these three areas bring inspiration and purpose to a person’s life because of how they perceive what it is they do. It’s the energy and spirit and passion inherent in art and life and love because these three things shape our very real need to be human. Our desire to be who we are and do what we love and not only do what we love but think about it and be a part of it and continue to create a world around us that strikes us down deep in our core every single day in our life is absolutely contagious.
Philosophers find solace and enjoyment in their craft because it is the art of thinking and perceiving things in ways that hadn’t been seen before. It’s the act of incorporating theoria into the structure of our lives.
Artists find their true happiness inherent in the art they produce whether that be photography or videos or music or plays. They produce things that hadn’t existed before and so incorporate the actions of poiesis into their sense of identity. They are the creators, the crafters, the artisans who shapes the world with tangable things that bring the world into new life.
And bigger still, the doers do so through praxis. The philosopher who writes a book, the artist who paints a mural on a once empty wall, and the people in the world who shape the world around them.
Though it’s easy to say that any one person participates in one of these actions, the reality is that the unity of all three is necessary for the world to continue to spin.
An artist thinks of an idea or follows a pattern or a feeling or a thought, they create what it is they feel and through the concept of turning thought into action they produce what had once never existed.
We are all artists. The janitor that cleans our bathroom. The Mcdonald’s attendant that makes your hamburger from the meat we get from the butcher. The thought leads to action leads to creation in a never-ending pattern of human ingenuity and self-expression.
What are you thinking right now? What needs to change or what book needs to be written or what movie needs to be produced or what people need to be helped or what photo needs to be taken or what foods need cooked or what do you care about and what are you going to do about it?
That’s what makes us human. That’s what makes us unique.
The way 7 billion people on earth see the world is a grand art gallery full of life changing individuals that can shape the world into the way they wish to see it. That energy and power lies in every single person on Earth and don’t ever let anybody else tell you otherwise.
You are different. The way you see the world matters. And at every step there will be a chance to change lives. Will you take it?
“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and who gave to it neither power nor time.” -Mary Oliver
When I first started photography, I remember hours spent in the basement taking action shots of my little brother doing flips and cartwheels into a crash pad. We’d together be mesmerized by the way he was trapped in a single moment, suspended in the air by the invisible strings of light painted onto the digital file of a camera. It was a point-and-shoot lens, bright blue like the sky and oh so perfect for the young photographer in me that simply wanted to take photos that felt good because it always felt amazing. It was inspiring and beautiful in ways that I couldn’t explain well at the time and I took photos of everything. Owls at night, flips in the basement, food, and a young bearded dragon I owned for a short time.
I felt like a hunter in the way I would stalk the creatures I sought after, and with the eyes of an eagle, (there was a zoom function on the camera) I could see my prey with more size and clarity than ever before.
Back then I was an outdoorsman through and through but what was shown through my photos was closer to the kind of relationship I have with the wild spaces today- people in them, haunting owl silhouettes, and my smiling grin as someone else took the photo of a bull snake in my hands.
Photography had another person enthralled with it. After a lapse in time I found it again, I bought a Nikon Coolpix S32, then shot on my moms Nikon DSLR, and moved on to what I use now, a Nikon D7100. At first, I yearned to shoot with film and thought that the price of film would be much more difficult to deal with and years passed where I never once touched film at all.
As a college student playing and testing now with what TheOutLife means to me, and trying to develop my photography in the process, I have found a special place back in the history of my heart for film. It’s simplicity, gentle shutter, and inherent beauty are things I had once fell in love with, and now I find myself back in the throes of its beauty. It’s more natural than a digital file, more aged than my own skin and mind, and it has an atmosphere I find absent in other spaces of my creativity.
The camera I shoot on is a Sears KSX (Ricoh KR-10), and I love how the camera body will take all kinds of 35mm film out there. It feels as if you’re loading a pacifist’s gun with ammo and how you choose to shoot is what you load it with. The film advances forth like cocking the hammer, and the finger is poised to deliver the finishing blow. Photography carries with it a certain romance, and nature, the world outside, carries with it that same modest pride.
The world is filled with these things that take our breath away and fulfill the imagination past the tipping point of awe. It takes time to see it, to want to see it, but everyone has their passion instilled within the gentle beat of their heart. Jim Carrey said that what you do in life discovers you, you can choose to ignore it, you can choose to not do it, but it’s a part of you as surely as the eyes with which you see the world.
Walking through the thick woods with only a lantern to guide one’s actions is an exercise in working with nerves. While I only speak for myself, deep woods make me nervous whether it be day or night. It’s the kind of pervading, unsettled feeling where the hair on the back of your neck is imperceptibly raised in caution. However, this feeling is what I seek the woods for.
I find my best ideas are had when looking for an opening through the trees ahead only to find I had opened a space in my mind that I don’t always know is there. It’s a creative, intelligent, wandering part of my quiet existence that is an experience to explore in and of itself. For this reason, I feed from the reservoirs of serenity and pristine scenes before me hungrily as if starving from the lack of living energy around me. In my dorm room, I have a few plants and pictures of the wild spaces I love and yet it could never compare to the diversity of life found in the beat of a forest, the swell of an ocean, or the quiet, wise nature of the open desert. And since this is the case, I yearn to leave the boxes I find myself in and stride out into the world ahead of me, seeking those things that make my soul rise up with a honorable sense of unity with the land. When I am more man than animal, I realize the statement that I am only human weighs heavily on my mind, because I know not with any certainty what that means. But by and by the times I am more animal than the man inside, the simplicity of life draws me into its webs and welcomes me into the worlds of living organisms that have been here long before I was.
The careful crawl of beetles on the underbrush, the snakes weaving, winding coils to its prey as it follows the heat imprinted on its tongue, these are the things that the body feels when the woods are quiet, untouched, and clean. Man is at his best when he is himself the least. In those moments we feel the entanglement of all powerful energies working in tandem and are pulled into the flow of life as surely as one is pulled into the white water of a river as it pushes through canyons and wears ever deeper the chasm it has created. Alas, that is the water’s right, not our own. If there should ever come a day when man finds himself a relative of the wild spaces, then perhaps we will all find that the dinner tables are always filled with the beauty of that sense of understanding in the form of gifts bestowed by the families around us.
In the quiet woods, there is companionship, respect, and understanding. It is the human fault for their ability to ignore these things. But all is not lost.
Leave the homes, the cars, the rooms, the Wal-Marts, and step into the outdoors where time neither ceases nor slows as the earth spins, but rushes headlong into the Present where the presence of a well-oiled mind reaps all the benefits of a clean forest.
“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.” – Norman Maclean
I grew up a bait dunker which sometimes gets stigmatized against fly fishing and lure purists, but as a young man on the shores of my favorite trout lakes, bait was all I knew. Over time, I read many books that spoke of methods of fishing that I was unfamiliar with, and I fell in love with the idea of fishing small streams and rivers with lures made of fur and feather. I wanted to fish like my long-ago ancestors had done with simply rod, line, and fly.
I learned to tie flies before anything else, around ten years old, and in the absence of a fly rod I would tie the weightless nymphs to my line anyway and cast just like the fly fisherman had on the videos I watched. In this fashion I played with my imagination and used a spin cast rod to turn myself into a fly fisherman on a big river in the mountains. And then, one evening at camp as the sun set and the fish rose to the surface, I tied on one of my own simple tangles of rabbit fur and pheasant tail and toyed with that image. To my surprise, the fish actually followed it! I was young and mesmerized by the fact that a fly I had tied myself was enticing enough to garner strikes.
I ran back to camp ecstatic! Relaying the events of the evening to my father, he tied on a clear plastic bubble for me to use with my fly, and I walked back to the water’s edge with sheer confidence in my tackle. Cast after cast the fish ignored my fly until, one last toss, as the bobber came close to the shore, a large wake came flying up to my fly, and I felt the tug of a bite ripple into my hands. Though I missed that first fish on one of my first flies, I was very easily hooked on fly fishing.
Fast forward a few rods, a few flies, a few fish, and we find ourselves on the edge of the water with a Tenkara rod in hand. I was brought back to the memory at camp, the light shining down through the thick trees and falling on the water glistening in my favorite, gentle evening light.
I had found myself back at my youth, the simplicity of rod, line, and fly I sought after had become a reality in my hands.
The first thing I felt was a stronger sense of the relationship between man and river. It’s as if the length of the rod forces you to get to know the water and the rocks and your shadow in the way it falls so that your consciousness is always experiencing the moment. A subtle sense of focus pervades your every movement but not overpowering enough to lose yourself in the details.
Your mind assumes the same frame as your cast- gentle, delicate, and full of intent.
I believe a Tenkara fisherman can assume the same flow of a blue heron stalking prey. A grace and sense of intention fills every step and every detail down to how the foot falls to the bottom. The back is hunched but not pained for the bent knees lower the tensed form down to a gentle coil. And as the wrist flicks back to send the hook down from the heavens, it’s a mirror for the way a heron’s neck strikes out precise as a bolt of lightning from the sky.
And yet where this comparison ends is in the intent of the hunter. Should the fisherman be searching the waters for a meal the fish will meet the same fate as one in the beak of a heron, however, should a fisherman hunt for a sense of unity, philosophy, the fish will be released with a minimum of pain back into the water from whence it came.
And that is the beauty of Tenkara. To me, its simplicity greatly rivals that of traditional fly fishing and connects a practitioner deeper to their ancestral roots. I am smitten with it. Three is my favorite number and is supposedly a number filled with creative and imaginative energies in many spiritual disciplines and while the unity of Tenkara is up for you to decide, the fact remains that it is a technique of thirds.
Tenkara, the unity of rod, line, and fly.
“Water droplets hold all the philosophy of the ocean itself.”
We didn’t catch anything. But still it was incredible.
On the car ride back, I asked Tokunaga-san why his Sea Bass fishing team was named “THEOUTLIFE.” After all, they were a Japanese team and TheOutLife was decidedly English and an odd use of words strung together. They had it on hats and stickers, and I was curious from the get-go but was more than eager to hear the answer now.
Summed up, he said, “The sea bass fishing team is named TheOutLife because it’s a hobby that’s outside the box of the things most people do.” He went on to explain that the group is mainly comprised of older men and while their days and weeks are mostly filled with work and responsibilities, sea bass fishing is the way they build a sense of community. It’s the hobby they love because it gets them outside their everyday patterns.
I was smitten. I came back to the states inspired by what I had heard him say and the philosophy of what TheOutLife name represented but for a long while I didn’t know what to do with it. I started my social media presence awhile after the trip and when it had reached a state where I wanted a blog, I first needed to find a name.
TheOutLife, personified through my voice, is as you see it now. A willingness to share, to be open, and to tell of our experiences in the outdoors as a means of self-rejuvenation and inspiration. But also as a message, to get outside the box, to think and live and see things in the everyday that can take you off the beaten path and into the wonder and beauty that lies there. TheOutLife is the constant conscious pursuit of a lifestyle and one that I constantly have to remind myself to strive for.
This blog and the photography is only my own OutLife, how do you live yours?