Quote yourself. If you have nothing quotable to share, think more. You're made of the same atoms--the same stuff--as every person who has ever lived.
Why do so many people spend so much time photographing things? We take photos of ourselves, our babies, our friends, and our pets. We photograph the things that make us feel, those moments that appear to give our life meaning, to make it worth having lived.
We witness the beauty of nature but quickly separate ourselves from it, sacrificing the purity of that moment, for what? With such haste we dutifully capture as if witnessing some alien landscape, as if we were alien explorers sent to an unknown world to document for a future generation the fleetingly precious moments that make up our transient existence.
We make baseless uneducated assumptions about what importance future generations will place on the interestingness of our lives, while the truth is they'll likely be just as preoccupied with their own existence as we are with ours, doing whatever activity helps them avoid the unbearable thought of their own impending doom.
The self-portrait speaks the loudest to me. It's as if the soul inside turned the camera on itself and cried out, "I am here! I exist! My life has meaning!"
What is it about human nature that attracts so many of us to capturing moments of time? Is there something in our subconscious, something that remains aware of the limit on our lifespan, something that feels driven by a sense of self-preservation to seek out anything that might help slow or preserve time?
And where is all of this heading? For how much longer will the human race be obsessed with this newfound ability to capture reflections of time, to create something that appears to be uniquely ours but in reality whose value and meaning fades as quickly as the memory of its creators' existence?
When I was a teenager I came across a nature calendar that contained the exact same photo I had taken of a particular waterfall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The photographer must have taken it from the exact same spot that I stood to take mine. But there was one difference: he used a slower shutter speed and that made the waterfall look misty as it came down the rocks. It was more beautiful and aesthetically appealing than mine, which, having been taken with a faster shutter speed, showed the water frozen in its tracks.
At first, the photo in the calendar filled me with a sense of pride. It was proof that I probably had an intuitive eye for composing 'good photos'. But that's where the story ends. I never again looked at that photo in the calendar. I didn't keep a copy of it and I never saw it again. Instead I enlarged my photo of the waterfall, along with several other photos that I deemed 'frame worthy', added it to a cheap frame, and hung it on the wall.
It didn't matter to me that someone else had taken the exact same photo, of the exact same waterfall, at around the exact same time of the year. It didn't matter to me that the other photo was better than mine. My photo meant more to me because I took it, because it was my photo, a frozen moment of my time captured by me.
But is there really any difference between my time and your time? If ten thousand people take a photo of the Taj Mahal, is there really any reason for me to take a photo of it? And then why take any photos in the first place? What happens in the distant future when everything has been photographed? When every single angle that could be captured, has been captured?
These thoughts lead me back to photography as art.
We create art as a way of expressing ourselves, as a way of capturing and communicating to others what we feel, but true art is not created because the artists' feelings have great importance, but rather because what the artist expresses -- the expression itself -- allows others to experience more of life.
If we focus our time and effort on creating art, then that is time well spent. But what is art? Art is not capture (what the camera does) but rather expression (what is done with the camera). The difference is subtle but important. One requires thinking about what you're doing, understanding why you're doing it, and constantly seeking to improve, while the other lets you get away with laziness and ignorance, pointing a device in the direction of your feelings and pressing a button.
After decades of taking photos, I can see that I have the skills to pursue photography as art, but is that what I want to do? Is my time better spent pursuing writing as art? Or is there some intersection of the two that will allow me to create better art?
And with a newborn on the way, I can't help but wonder: How much of my daughter's life will I be a photographer-dad and how much will I be a dad-dad?
It's easy to write about what should be done. It's easy to see a problem, a deficiency, and then describe an action or series of actions to change it.
When change is viewed externally, it seems easy. Our brain has no problem dissecting what's wrong and coming up with possible solutions. What's a bit more challenging is taking those thoughts and actually turning them into actions.
Action takes something special. It takes commitment. Action requires accepting that something is important enough to expend energy doing it.
Much of my writing is a reflection of what's on my mind. The words I'm typing right now are literally recording bits of what's going on in my head. Sometimes what's going on is clear and articulation comes easy. Right now I'm "in the flow", typing these words with only the effort required to maintain grammar and spelling.
I started this Journal entry spontaneously. It started as a thought, "I want to write", and then, being that I had nothing else pressing to do, I began to write. But when I started thinking about what I was doing (as I did towards the end of the previous paragraph), I found myself pausing. I immediately had trouble articulating my thoughts.
It seems that's a problem with most "things we want to get done but don't". They come to our mind as clear as day but then we start thinking about them. We end up destroying our original thought with buckets of analysis and self-doubt.
"Is someone going to think this is stupid? Should I step back and think about this a bit? What if I'm making a huge mistake?"
Instead of following our intuition, we follow our self-ridicule. Instead of allowing the result of action to determine whether we should continue, we suffocate the motivation to act before it's even born.
I do this all the time.
A few days ago I wrote a follow up essay, Say More, to the essay I published the week before, Say Less. I found it interesting that after writing Say Less, I was using that essay as an excuse for not writing more.
That's when I realized how important it is to say more. I can hide behind being succinct forever, but then I'll be sharing very little. If I feel that I have so much to share (and I do feel that way), then I should make every effort to share more.
It's in my nature to say less. As a child, I was taught the value of listening. I would stay quiet for hours at a time, doing nothing but listening. As I grew older, I continued listening. My dad often repeated a quote that stayed with me: "A wise man thinks first and then speaks. A foolish man speaks first and then thinks."
That quote really resonated with me even at an early age. It made a lot of sense. If you speak first and then think, it's too late to decide not to say anything. But if you think first, then you'll always have the option of choosing whether to speak.
Ando Perez recently shared a quote with me by Jean Jacques Rousseau that reminded me of my dad's quote and inspired me to see it from a different angle: "People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little."
I certainly wouldn't claim that I "know much", but I do feel that I don't say enough. I hold inside too much of what I feel is important. I need to learn to say more. To speak up. To share what's inside.
When I reflected on why I don't say more, I discovered self-imposed barriers to my expression, barriers that I had created, perhaps long ago, to ensure that I wasn't too wordy or needlessly verbose.
Those barriers served an important purpose and I wasn't ready to rip them down.
My public writing is usually the result of careful consideration. For the past two years I've maintained a relentless desire to abandon "the way blogging should be done" and replace it with something that felt more true to my heart.
Readers connected with this form of writing and my work felt more real than ever. It felt more like something that I would actually want to read.
But something was beginning to feel stale. More and more things felt trapped inside. I felt caged by my own quality barriers and unable to express and share things that I felt would be really useful to others.
So the idea for this Journal was born. I would create a place to express myself, a Journal in which I could write without barriers (or at least very few barriers) and share what was happening inside.
But, just as it's easy to write about what should be done, it was easy to create this space to write. The actual action of writing here, of taking down those internal barriers and allowing my thoughts to materialize, to become tangible pieces of writing, has been incredibly challenging.
I did not realize just how difficult this process would be until I started writing. It has required an entire rewrite in the way that I think about what I'm sharing.
Before the Journal, I let everything percolate in my mind. I gave myself as much time as I needed to flesh out an idea to the point where it felt, in my head, polished and easily sharable.
Now, I needed to share that percolation process. I needed to find a way to express my thoughts and ideas before they felt polished.
Perhaps if I had already been keeping a personal Journal, this transition would've been easier.
There were a few years during my early teens in which I kept a Journal on my computer. I wrote thousands and thousand of pages in a simple text file, sharing my deepest thoughts and observations, and my most private ruminations.
Then someone close to me, someone I trusted, violated that trust and read my Journal without permission. They took things that I wrote out of context and accused me of thinking thoughts that I had not really thought.
It was traumatizing, perhaps more so than I realized.
I deleted the entire journal, several years worth, and promised myself that I would never record such deep thoughts on any medium that a person could access. My mind was the only safe harbor now.
And so my mind became the storehouse for what would've gone in a journal. What I did share verbally and through writing became more refined and more carefully considered.
When I began attempting to write for this Journal, those barriers became apparent. The difficulty of expressing my deepest thoughts without judging myself or holding back felt incredibly difficult and challenging.
This Journal entry is probably the closest I've come in the past 10 years to actually recording my thoughts unedited. I haven't stopped writing since I started the beginning of this Journal and I haven't gone back to edit or reread anything as I normally would.
When I wrote the 'Say More' essay, I was talking to myself. I was telling myself that it's time to stop holding back.
For more than ten years now I've learned how to hold back. For more than ten years the voice inside has been silenced and moderated by fear. It's time for me to leap past that plateau and move forward.
I'm going to do an experiment for the next 10 days in attempt to cultivate this unedited side of myself.
Every day until January 1st, 2012, I'm going to write at least one paragraph in this Journal. Perhaps some of those paragraphs will turn into longer entries, but no matter what I'm going to commit to writing and sharing at least one paragraph each day. (To minimize the number of emails you receive, I will combine the entries into one email sent out on the 24th, 28th, and 31st.)
Do you hold back? Do you unnecessarily censor yourself? Is there something inside that would benefit others if you shared it? Do you ever feel like you should speak up, but don't?
When you say more, you underemphasize less.
You may not be heard clearly, but you will be heard.
Ideas will grow wings.
Knowledge will plant roots.
Your voice will shape the future.
Saying more increases our potential to emphasis what matters. Saying less reduces our potential to change the world; it spoils our creative genius and lays ruin to our inner brilliance.
Sporadic communication is indifferent.
Recurring communication is powerful.
You can reduce risk by saying less: fewer mistakes will be made and less attrition will occur. It's easy to come across as interesting, persuasive, or even eloquent when you're quiet. But until you empty yourself of that which needs growth, you cannot cultivate an environment from which growth spurts.
You don't need to speak at a conference every month or publish 1,000 words every day. One thought. One paragraph every morning compiled and shared once a week. One spoken sentence when you feel passionately.
Say less but say more. Somewhere, there is someone who needs to hear you.