016: Frames [and the future]

Ambition is both a curse, and a blessing. It’s a blessing, because without ambition, you are kind of just treading water. It’s ambition that makes you swim to places you never imagined. It’s ambition that takes you everywhere that you would want to go. But it’s a curse, because it’s not getting to that destination, it’s not achieving what you hoped to achieve that satiates or satisfies your ambition, it’s the actual chasing. It’s the doing. Ambition is the monster that is only fed if you are constantly spoon-feeding the doing, not the accomplishing. So every time someone who is really ambitious tries to stop, you stop feeling satisfied. The curse that is ambition always demands more.” - Casey Neistat

(Yeah, I know quoting a YouTuber is something on the lamer side of suck, but Casey was a filmmaker first, and got that fat HBO check, so he’s a certified Real Artist as far as I’m concerned.)

A dear friend once called me a dreamer, and mentioned that they admired that about me. I shared that I admired their boring life of having a child and owning a home, because they seemed happy with those decisions, and by choosing a “simple” life, they were satisfied and thriving in their journey, where as for me, my “dreams” weren’t that, they were in fact check list items I needed to tackle, and all them completely realistic, thus not dreams. Some people confuse dreams with ambition, and maybe they are attached in a ‘second cousin jerking off to pictures of the hot one in the family’ sorta way, but I don’t think they are similar in the least. (Dreams aren’t truth, but that’s for later exploration.)

The dark child I have been parenting all of my existence has been ambition, and survival through attempted excellence. Do I love this dark entity that haunts my every second? Oh, I do. Whatever chemical incantation that is above obsession and love is my truest mistress. A brain disfunction that causes me to take any minor interest and ruin it by challenging myself to drive it to its most extreme result. 

As a child, I collected NASCAR diecast cars. I loved auto racing, and had plans of either taking over NASCAR or launching a competitor (The Slim Jim SuperCar Series) with a more aerodynamically interesting vehicle that left more competition in the hands of the drivers. I still have the track blueprints somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain that I drew up when I was 8. 

I liked reading the newspaper as a teenager, so I started a pro wrestling newsletter, with the logical conclusion that in a decade, it was going to grow into a fire brand conglomerate with a sister title for every imaginable sport, and a monthly journal magazine that would eventually buy out the Sporting News or Sports Illustrated.

I went to an independent professional wrestling show when I was 15, and immediately started making plans to befriend the promoter, and yes, obviously learn how to wrestle, but also take over the writing of his promotion, and then launch my own company by 18, because there’s no actual money in wrestling unless you’re the boss. (Obviously that has changed in the 20 years since, with t shirt and video game money buying multiple houses for even the most basic of talents.)

By my twenties, I got a job selling printers for an office supply company, Sadly, no one in upper management ever listened to me about my re-branding idea to combat that digital revolution that would cripple the paper supply industry while driving channels that funneled profit streams to absorb the changes of the coming decades.

So by the time I picked up a camera somewhere between figuring out how to date in my mid twenties (who wouldn’t want to date a dude whose answer to the “what do you like to do for fun?” Is “writing business plans”) and figuring out how to fund even a single one of aspirations, I should have identified my trend taking the smallest kernel of interest and driving it beyond obsession. 

Ten years ago, right around this time, somewhere between October and February, the idea of being a photographer cracked in my head. I had no idea what the fuck that meant, besides for some random vlogs and videos I saw. So I quit my job, one where I was on a decent career path for a life that would have paid for as house or two by now, and bought a DSLR. I was in my mid-twenties living on a diet of Fuck You and Mountain Dew so this seemed like a good idea. [Also it’s been 19 YEARS since that Pigeon John song Cheerleaders, which I think about every time I utter the words “I was in my mid-twenties….]

I rationalized it a number of ways, the most specific being that I spent the previous 7 years stocking shelves and selling paper clips, and I didn’t want to that the rest of my life, which while is absolutely true, is perhaps not the deeper cause of my resentment towards my job at the time. 

In September of that previous year, 2009, I accomplished the biggest promotion of my entire existence up till that point. One I had been fighting to get for over three years, one I spent countless hours planning, rehearsing, studying, and practicing for. I had finally accomplished one of life’s my biggest ambitions. And I remember that night like it was yesterday, I am sitting on my fiancee’s couch, cuddling with her, and it hit me like the biggest truck ever hit anyone. 

“What now?”

9 months after that night, I found myself turning in my store keys for the final time, and driving 2 hours north to photograph my first MMA show in hopes to one day create beautiful photographs and pay my rent with a camera. I was called crazy for quitting my job, my boss laughed at me, a few of my peers privately told me they wished that could do the same, but they just couldn’t conjure up the courage.

10 years later, we’re in the now. I’m still at the photography thing. I made it to New York City. I’m paying my rent with jobs in the photography industry, some of them even as a photographer. Some of my pictures are objectively beautiful. It has taken me ten years of part time gigs, full time “real” jobs, thousands of miles driven, numerous shutters shattered, and an internal drive that won’t stop spinning. Scratch that shutters shattered line, it sounds lame, even though I did have to replace broken shutters on two cameras (one I blew out cause I was spraying and praying all the time, the other it got fucked up at a Devil Wears Prada show.)

In a way, I’ve made it. In another way, the art of photography is one that one never truly “makes it” in. But I’ve had some minor successes, and I’ve accomplished a lot of large goals. “Making it” is a false narrative in any persons life, really, because we do just keep moving the goal post. The first time I “made it” was getting a press pass to do the three songs/no flash deal at a real big time concert. The last time I made it was a few months ago when I cashed a check from Conde Naste. The goal posts move, the ambition drives the body and brain between the posts, and along the journey I am constantly looking around like that John Travolta GIF. 

What is “making it” now for me? Having my own studio? Getting a fashion-based portfolio together and some meetings at agents? I still don’t have one of my pictures on a vinyl record album cover. What the fuck is actually important to me to accomplish over the next few years, and am I actually working towards something or just filling my time with ambitious ideas but never following through enough to accomplish? Are the pictures I take just reboot of the patterns I developed as a child, when I mapped out a touring schedule for the Slim Jim SuperCar Series that was athletically challenging but also geographically realistic for small budget teams to underdog themselves to success? Is this blog attempt another manifestation of unfocused ambition that started with a grand idea but fell apart because I just get distracted by the next shiny idea on my personal Appalachian Trail?

This all seems extra discombobulated and rambly, but if there is ever anything that is on brand for me, it is various stages of combobulation and hours of rambling questions with no real answers presented, because life is [a highway] a journey and if you have answers you are probably lying to yourself about something.  So I sit here on the couch, pondering the future, the past, the patterns, the turning of the clock on a new decade and new year (and my birth) and the next decade of my life, I can’t help but to ponder,

“what now?”

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