Training Wheels and Language Learning

It’s all just language. Eventually you learn it or you abandon it. Blogging, writing, photographing, running, swimming – whatever you’d like to name – is just a language that you learn with time. Often through mistakes and lots of wasted time. With patience, you can become fluent in anything.

This isn’t a new truth. But sometimes I think there’s an important difference between knowledge and understanding; you can know a fact without truly understanding or experiencing it. I feel I’ve understood that I can pursue whatever I’d like and that, whatever it is, I’ll get it with time.

Lately, I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time with Microsoft SharePoint and Excel. I’m in the process of teaching it to a coworker and I can see the gears turning in her head. Sometimes she gets frustrated at formulas or remembering where a particular tool is but, with patience, she’s learned a lot.

I suppose the same is true with my experience with Adobe Photoshop. When I started, my photographs were always colorized neon and I used too many filters. As time progressed, I learned subtleties. Photoshop became a language I learned to speak and I dove in and out of the rules. Choosing what brush to use and when to use it. Sure, others could reach a similar end product to mine, but the way we reached it was entirely our own.

The things that you find challenging now will, mostly likely, become easier with time. If you choose to stick with them, they could become second nature. It’s often not a matter of resource or wealth, but a meaningful persistence or patience.

My focus now is on orienting myself in directions I want to explore. I’m pursuing meditation. I’d like to become more of a blogging conversationalist and focus on writing. I recently took up swimming again (it’s been 6 years). Lots of reading, too.

This post wasn’t meant to be much more than a gentle shrug or encouragement towards whatever you’d like to pursue. Find something you’re interested in and start walking in that direction, don’t worry about skill or beauty, it’ll come with time. Training wheels, in fact, help kids learn to ride bikes. Don’t worry if you have to use them to start, or if you’ve been using them a long time, eventually you’ll get where you’re going.

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Being

From a young age we are taught to find our own path in life. This is synonymous with “be yourself” or “be unique”. It centralizes around the idea that we should pursue our passions instead of trying to impress others. Another commonly used phrase is “do what you love and those who should be in your life will be”.

It’s wonderful to do what you love. We should focus on being passionate as much as we can. Growing up and hearing all of this made me focus on following my passions. Photography, writing, YouTubing, reading, and many other skills I have today are a result of doing what I love. However, I wonder if I focused too much on doing what I love and not enough on relationships with others.

Sometimes when we pursue our passions we neglect others. If they don’t support, cultivate, or interact with what we’re passionate about, then what use is the friendship? That was a thought I had for a very long time. I don’t think the right people always stumble into your life or that the people who are meant to be in your life will be. Sometimes you have to pursue and cultivate friendship.

You can certainly have spontaneous friendship but I think there’s a level where we have to say “this friendship is worth having”. It sounds odd but sometimes I have difficulty just relaxing with friends because I feel like I should be doing something more constructive. I can’t sit around and play video games all night because I could be doing better things.

Life isn’t about have the most skill or being the best.I think a lot of it is our interactions with other people. Pursuing your interests can get in the way of your relationships with others. You can work too hard and you can waste time learning useless skills. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Go sit with a group of friends and do nothing that is constructive. Go watch a movie, lounge around all day, or go for a long walk.

Enjoy yourself. Always remember to enjoy. Focus on growth but don’t let it give you tunnel vision. Sometimes growth has to occur through meeting new people or doing nothing. You have to rest eventually. You can’t always be doing, sometimes you have to just be.

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My three “deviations” from Society: On being Vegetarian, Gay, and having Big Ears

Growing up, my parents never forced me to eat foods that I didn’t like. Their philosophy was “if you don’t like it, make yourself something in the kitchen”. One of the foods I never grew fond of was meat products. I didn’t like beef, chicken, lamb, fish or any other meat product. So early in my life, I learned that I was a “vegetarian”.

This sparked a lot of controversy because people normally associate vegetarianism with the activist against animal cruelty. When I would go to a friend’s house for dinner, often their parents would berate me with questions about my “beliefs”. They thought that it was either bad parenting or that I had difficulty eating animals. It was hard for them to understand that I just didn’t like the taste of meat.

Through high school these questions continued, usually with negative undertones. People believed I was an animal activist and that it was a bad thing. In their head animal activists were extremists, bombarding TV with commercials of abused puppies and sad music. These people advocated against the cruel conditions of slaughterhouses. As a result, everyone thought that activists were going to take away meat.

This misconception about “vegetarians” being “animal activists” lead me to be treated as if I were a “sissy”. After all, “animal protein is necessary to survive and to be strong”, right?

Eventually, as I was shoved into the vegetarian/activist group, I came to realize that animal cruelty actually is a horrible thing. The amount of animals we kill and the way we slaughter them is cruel. However, even though I began to believe this, I didn’t push my ideas onto other people.

The reason I was vegetarian didn’t come from any ideology, it was simply because I didn’t like the taste of meat. This is what I told people for many years, and it was true. It reassured others that I wasn’t an activist and that I wasn’t going to try and change their views. Yet they still treated me as an outsider, like I wasn’t normal.

I consider vegetarianism, one of my “deviations”. It set me apart from others and made me reevaluate my actions. Over time I became a strong believer in cruelty-free products and helped fight animal testing. By being labeled as an activist, I began to understand their perspective and gained new friends who held the same beliefs. I became interested in why everyone despised these people and what they believed in.

My original deviation, and I think many people can relate to this, was cosmetic. I was born with exceptionally large ears that point out from my head. Most people have ears that run nearly parallel with their nose, while mine run perpendicular. At a young age, everyone told me that I would grow into them when I was older. Well, it’s been at least 10 years and my ears are still large as ever.

I said that many people can relate to this, not because large ears are common, but because everyone has a cosmetic flaw. Some people have crooked teeth or sharp noses, others are losing their hair at a young age. You know your own insecurities and you see them when you look in the mirror.

When I was in grade school, kids were cruel and made fun of my ears. They made jokes and excluded me because I was different. It was hard until my mother taught me something: if you’re one step ahead of them, they can’t hurt you. Now, instead of accepting my large ears, I was making jokes about them. Other kids couldn’t make fun of me if I was already doing it myself. So I’d say that I could hear radio transmissions or watch satellite TV with my ears.

This helped tremendously for many years because it taught me to accept my differences. The reason kids made fun of me was to force me to acknowledge how large my ears were. If I made a joke, I showed them that I already knew and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I could laugh about it and it’s a tremendous skill to be able to laugh at your insecurities.

As I said before, I never grew into my ears. To this day they stick out loud and proud. When I moved to Charleston, after a few weeks, a guy at work admitted that he called me “Ears”. It wasn’t until I met him that it stopped.

However, at this point in my life, I had accepted my ears. In grade school I made jokes because I was insecure. Now I was confident about them because I understood that everyone has a cosmetic flaw. We each have something we try to cover up in the mirror but fail miserably at. It’s difficult to cover ears in the mirror, so I spent many years growing my hair to cover them.

I consider this my original deviation because I struggled with it through most of my childhood and into my early adulthood. It separated me from others because, again, I was alienated for my differences. I couldn’t hang out with the “cool” kids because I was too weird with my ears and vegetarianism. This forced me to deviate and learn humility about myself and others.

My third and final major deviation came out when I was in seventh grade. It wasn’t a particularly rough time in my life, but middle school wasn’t easy, either. I hung out with a couple semi-popular guys who were effeminate. I told one person that I liked guys, and my semi-popular friends spread rumors throughout the school that I was gay. You know how middle school works.

Starting at the young age of 11, I became my school’s first openly gay guy. Immediately I was alienated again by many people at my school. Friends that I thought were close suddenly disappeared and I found myself alone. The flaw with having semi-popular friends is that when you’re the subject of controversy, they’re the first ones to run away.

Being gay held many stigmas, especially in the religious community, which I was part of. I started going to church because people were friendly and it was a good place to meet new people. When I came out as gay, there was a lot tension. I think they had difficulty telling a child that he was going to Hell. He was, after all, just a child.

I consider this my third major deviation for obvious reasons. Ten years later, controversy still surrounds gay marriage, adoption, and equal rights. One of my cousins has been part of Boy Scouts for a decade. He can’t continue as a leader because he is gay. Even gay pride is still met with protests and there is a lot of unease about the subject. Being part of that group, I inherited that controversy.

When I was a freshman in high school I immediately joined the gay-straight alliance. There was an incredible amount of acceptance and I learned that there are always people who will love you for who you are. My family never batted an eyelash, and I soon understood that there were people around me who would also love me unconditionally.

These “deviations” from society have built me into who I am today. We can always learn and even through suffering there is life. Some of our greatest struggles have the strongest impact on our lives.

Through losing friends and meeting new ones, I learned that there are always people who will like you and there will always be people who will dislike you. You choose who you hang out with. By struggling with my looks, I’ve learned to embrace my imperfections. Instead of paying attention to other people’s flaws, I’ve learned to accept others how they are. We all suffer and know our own faults, there’s no need to point and make jokes.

Being gay is remarkably the least significant of these societal “deviations”. The previous generation has done wonders to aid in the acceptance of gay youth. Nonetheless, we all still struggle with accepting others and, most importantly, ourselves.

Vegetarianism seems like such a little aspect of who a person is but you would be surprised at how badly we’re treated. If it says anything about the world, I get more derogatory remarks about being vegetarian than about being gay. This has taught me not to judge others because I know that I don’t want to be misjudged. Many people ignore vegetarianism because they have so many predisposed beliefs about it. I don’t want to be one of those people. What if I misjudge someone and miss what they’re trying to say?

All in all, life is a process. There will be times that you suffer and times where you are alienated. However, there will be moments when you feel like you could fly. You will always meet people who will make fun of your ears and others who call you a “fag”. Don’t discredit the moments that you suffer, they are part of your life too. You will learn from them and you will grow. When others don’t accept you, you will learn to accept others. Life is a continuous process of this learning and growing. Be who you are and make the most out of life.

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P.S. This post was partly inspired by Joel’s 30th birthday blog post. His writing is inspiring and I hope to be like him when I’m older:

“I lived my life in fear for a long time, I was fearful of other people, I was afraid of myself and being by myself, and I was scared that I didn’t know how to be alive. Living in that darkness and that fear was tough, it was like a fog that got heavier and heavier the more I tried to find my way out of it. After I eventually found my internal light and was able to live without fear, I tried as hard as I could to live life with an open heart and mind. There’s no need to be afraid of a number, an age, or the idea of getting older. It’s nothing to fear, it’s an opportunity to own your life!”

Check out his work on his website at JoelRobison.com

The Rise of the Jack of all Trades

Finding your skills can be difficult, so two months ago I took a survey on Authentic Happiness that measured my 24 character strengths. My number one character trait was “Love of Learning”, and I think that it fits me well. People describe me as a Jack-of-all-Trades because I have a very broad range of interests. Needless to say, it wasn’t a shock to be told that I’m passionate about learning.

Currently there’s a stigma in our society that we need to specialize and that being a Jack-of-all-Trades is a bad thing. It stems from the phrase, “Jack-of-Trades but Master of None”. We think that if you have too many interests, that you cannot be skilled in more than one area.

This is a silly thought because with how much information passes our faces, it’s near impossible to choose one interest. This conflict stems from grade school, where we’re taught to “pay attention” and to “focus” on school work. The teachers tell us that it’s bad to lose focus or to daydream. What’s worse is that we think these traits are for children and that we’ll eventually grow out of them.

As we age, we believe that we need to focus on one subject. We should go to college and be a doctor or an accountant. The truth shows itself when you look at statistics about college students: at the University of Florida, 61% of students change their major (NYtimes). People simply have a difficulty in choosing one interest.

“Shop Class as Soul Craft” (Mathew B. Crawford) discusses this dilemma extensively. It focuses on how we’ve shifted from a society that desires “to know” into one that desires certificates and diplomas. It’s self-evident that we learn from a young age to focus on one category and get that diploma. This model of education and learning has destroyed Aristotle’s statement “All human beings by nature desire to know”.

The Jack of all Trades is rising in popularity again because we have a large volume of information at our fingertips. During my parent’s era, if you wanted to learn, you had to go to the library and find a book. Today, you can pull out your iPhone and learn about polar shifts or current quantum theories.

However, the education system is still built on specializing in one area. You either become a mathematician or zoologist. At best you can major in one area while minoring in another. You can’t minor in too many subjects or you’re clearly not a specialist. This sentiment lingers into our personal lives: we believe that we should only have a few interests.

As a Jack, I follow what I’m interested in. If I hear an electro-swing song and it has my fancy, I’ll go listen to more of it. When I’m scrolling through Facebook, articles grab my interest. Maybe one will be about animal testing in Europe and the next will be about the FIFA World Cup. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, as long as I’m interested in it.

Tim Ferriss has written about this on his blog, and he’s spoken about it in interviews before: our society measures success with dollar bill signs instead of with invigoration. The goal of life should not be to become rich but to instead to be passionate and interested. If you are bored, you have failed.

If we reorient the purpose of our life from getting a well-paying job into a life that we are passionate, you’ll find that the money doesn’t matter. When you find excitement in your daily life, you have succeeded. The more interested you are, the more you’ll find happiness in life.

When I took that survey a few months ago, I gained an appreciation for learning. I’ve found passion in my daily life and while I choose to specialize in certain areas, I don’t limit myself to one subject. If I find something that interests me, I follow it until I no longer fancy it. I urge you to do the same thing; find what lights a fire in you and make it part of your life. Blogging was a spark to my belly full of fuel, and I’ve felt more alive since starting this project. People aren’t born passionate, they learn to cultivate it in themselves. Find what you love and chase it, life is too short to stay in and watch TV everyday.

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Oh, and here’s some of the photos in color from yesterday!

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Are you polishing your creativity?

Creating can be a difficult process and finding the right words or the right way to express yourself isn’t easy. It seems like the creative juices only seem to flow when we aren’t in an artistic mood or when we lack the resources to birth our ideas. The hardest part of writing for me is the beginning. Right when my mind feels like it has something to say it’s as though the words drain out of my feet.

The creative process is different for each person but for me it’s like brushing my teeth. Sometimes the tube only puts a little toothpaste out while other times it seems to want to overload it. If I get too much I’ll try to shove some of it back into the container but I won’t use it all. If I tried to brush with too much toothpaste it would be a waste. My teeth wouldn’t be any cleaner using 2x the amount of paste.

That being said I always brush my teeth. It doesn’t matter if I’m running low on toothpaste or not, I will just use less and go through the process anyways. Even if I’m running low on time I will go brush my teeth. It may be sloppy but it gets the job done. I brush my teeth because it’s important to my health. The same holds true for the creative process.

Some days it’s like my mind continually throws out ideas. I’m flooded with images that I want to paint or topics I want to write about. There are sometimes full weeks where I can’t write all of my ideas down. Other times I’m completely dry. I pull open the “new post” tab and watch the line blink on my screen until I can write.

I write daily because it’s important for my health. There are days that I really do not feel like writing anything but I have an obligation, like brushing my teeth, to creating something new every day. I do it sometimes not because I want to but because I need it in the long run.

When I have those moments where I’m incredibly inspired I fill up whiteboards on my walls. Brooke Shaden uses notebooks. It’s all the same. When ideas fill your mind, make a point to write them down. Some people think that if an idea is big enough, it will come back – but I guarantee you won’t remember them all. Just like dreams they will fade and lose their details.

When we run low on toothpaste, we can always ask others to help. The Lion’s Life has some great articles on creativity and motivation (like “How a New Environment Can Stimulate Creativity and Trigger Motivation“. So if you’re running low, there are many resources to help. Just remember that sometimes the toothpaste flows quickly and sometimes it’s as thick as molasses.

If there’s anything this 365 project has taught me, it is that the creative process has a mind of its own. There are days where I feel like I could write for hours. Or times when I have enough paintings in my mind to fill a gallery. Some days the words aren’t clear and my mind is scattered. That’s how life is. I keep creating anyways. I’m not the best writer but I keep writing anyways.

Osho wrote in his book “The Madman’s Guide to Enlightenment”: “They move on their own… Out of one hundred times, ninety-nine times you will be saved writing. And that one time you will be really writing something valuable. Otherwise in the rubbish even the diamonds are lost.”

Find those diamonds in your life, you may have to fill your pockets with dirt first but the diamonds will come. I apologize for my lame analogies but this is just how my mind thinks. We all brush our teeth, I brush my daily. Some people brush them more and others really should buy a toothbrush. Where ever you stand on this I want you to exercise your creative muscles. When you have an idea, don’t let it get away from you. Write it down and birth it into existence. We want to see your pearly whites! The satisfaction you will feel from following your creative urges will reward you and you’ll keep your teeth for a long time!

I swear I’m done with that analogy now. Hope you are all making today a great day!

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P.S. Right now I’m looking for new blogs to follow! Spam me with a link to your latest article in the comments below!

Exploring Folly Beach

Last weekend my family was in town and we got out to Folly Beach, South Carolina! It was beautiful weather and a great place to hang out for our last full day together. We spent the day taking pictures, walking around, and getting great food!

I’ve realized now that so much of my passion comes from creating! Whether the content be great or less, I enjoy producing work. Editing in Premier is still a beast but I’m starting to tame it. Slowly but surely, I’ll learn how to vlog!

It was also fantastic opening Photoshop back up and editing in something that I’m familiar in. It’s almost intuitive with how used to Photoshop I got over the years. Below the video are a few pictures that I took of my sister and dad while we were on the beach!

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Another Late Night

Getting part of the art community can be difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before. Meeting other people and talking about your artwork with those who do similar work can be incredibly exhilarating! The art community is so vast and innovative. I encourage you to share whatever artwork you create with others. It’s so much more rewarding than I can explain.

Well, if Premier Pro is a lion and I’m a lion trainer, I just got my arm bitten off today. Spent 3 hours and accomplished virtually nothing more than calling a good friend who does film and talking for an additional 3 hours. I think that’s just how it’s going to be some days. Here’s today’s video!

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