"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman
Some time ago I came across Unfolded Note, a project by Satya, a mother who lives in California with her husband and two young sons. Something had brought me there and I subscribed immediately. I cannot recall what it was. Every now and then as I'm going about my busy life I'll get an email on my phone with a simple unassuming subject line: Unfolded Note: #295. What's inside the email? Who is this person? Why did I subscribe?
For the past two years I've been struggling to share bits and pieces of my own life through my published writing, as had been doing for so many years prior. The struggle began when I learned that I was going to become a dad. How do I put into words all of these new thoughts, feelings, and emotions? How do I provide enough context and backstory so that my readers will know what's going on? What if I say too much, or too little? What if things are taken out of context? What am I trying to say with my writing anyway?
The Unfolded Note emails are never more than a few paragraphs, one or two hundred words at most. There's no backstory, and often very little context. When I subscribed I knew nothing about Satya and yet each time I see that subject line, Unfolded Note: #300, I'm pulled inside, curious what tidbits of her life I will hear about next, what thoughts or insights or stories she might be sharing with me in this new email.
So I'm going to try something new. One hundred and fifty words. That will be my target. I have so much inside that I want to share, so many insights, so many thoughts, so many stories. My goal from now on will be to not concern myself with sharing everything, but rather to share enough to tell a story, enough to share a thought or an idea or an observation.
There is a reservoir of wisdom within all of us that must be shared to be realized.
Today my daughter will complete her first trip around our Sun while breathing this Earth's air. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed. There are days I wonder why I'm spending so much of that time working on my computer, but I'm reminded that my need to provide for her is as much a part of life as the unrelenting forward momentum of time.
My life has changed a lot over the past year and with it has seen a change in the way I write, create, and share my thoughts and experiences. Its been hard to set aside time to write, time outside of what I already put in to making a regular income as a computer programmer. Its been even more difficult to find the energy to edit my intimate thoughts into a format that I feel comfortable sharing with the world.
The logical work of writing computer code has largely been the only thing that I've found the desire to write, as writing anything else feels so energetically taxing that it seems all but impossible.
I often wonder if my exhaustion is only the result of not getting enough sleep and programming all day, or if it has more to do with the energy that goes into soaking up each and every moment I spend with my daughter, an activity which has grown inexpressibly joyous with the passage of time.
Writing in my private, offline journal has itself been a challenge, but I knew that I would greatly regret not doing so if I stopped altogether, especially in these first months of being a father, so I push myself to write, sometimes in multi-hour marathons dumping the events and half-recalled thoughts from the prior few weeks where, despite having so many moments that I wanted to put into words, I found no energy or motivation to write.
Maybe living in the moment is just too enticing at times. And worth being enticed.
I started the paid journal subscription in November 2011, two years prior to the birth of my daughter. That was three years ago. At that time my life was quite different and a subscription-type offering felt like the perfect fit for me. However, that format no longer seems to fit my writing style nor my lifestyle and it feels like I've been ignoring that reality for far too long, a fact which itself has impeded my ability to publish anything at all.
As of today, I'm ending the paid journal and will instead focus on publishing free work on my site and putting together books that I can offer for sale.
All paid subscriptions have been canceled and, as promised, if you wish to request a full refund from the start of your subscription, you can do that. In any case, everyone who has paid for a subscription will be added to a special list and you will receive a free copy of everything that I release going forward, forever (unless you choose not to, of course).
I don't know how to express my gratitude to all of you who have showed me support since I started the paid journal. Thank you.
A year ago my daughter was about to be born. She was a week late and her parents had no idea what they were getting themselves into, nor how many sleepless nights lie ahead. I had no idea how my writing would evolve or change or how that event might change my goals as a writer.
I can say now, with certainty, that despite my relative quietude over the past year, my writing ambitions are as alive as ever. I hope that you stick around to see what's next, but, most of all, I hope that you hit reply on this email and just say hello. I would love to hear what's going on in your world.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. In between thoughts of becoming a father (only a few weeks away...!) and supporting my newly forming family (is my income stable enough? are we spending too much?), I'm also thinking about health and longevity (am I taking care of my health? are we eating healthy? is our environment healthy for raising a baby?).
On what seems like the opposite end of the spectrum, I find myself thinking about the emerging and constantly evolving world of digital publishing, WordPress, the Internet, and social media.
How can I design things better? What technical skills or programming languages should I acquire next? How can I use my writing and knowledge to share what I'm doing with the world in a way that makes the world a better place?
How these two tracks of thought can even live side-by-side, inside the same brain, I don't know. It almost seems wrong to be thinking about one when the other feels astronomically more important.
But there must be more to life than just survival and living good, more to life than just... happiness, right?
I've never been content with contentedness.
Every now and then I'll recall a moment on Cocoa Beach, in Florida, sometime in early 2012. It was during one of my many twice-daily walks.
I've lived in Florida several times over the past few years, usually for a few months at a time. Whenever I lived there I would have a routine of walking on the beach in the morning and then driving to Starbucks to spend the day working on my laptop. In the evening, I'd take another solo hour-plus walk before sundown, sometimes walking until the stars came out and the darkness made it too difficult to see in front of my face.
These twice-daily walks helped me learn how important regular walking and fresh air is for my health and spiritual wellbeing; the activity seems to cleanse my soul in ways that I cannot describe.
One sunny day on the beach I stopped walking, looked out at the flat ocean, took in a deep breath of fresh ocean air, and felt an absolute sense of calmness flood my body, a sense of contentment so strong that even to this day recalling the memory floods my body with a sliver of that peace.
I had the freedom to go anywhere in the world and yet I felt content right where I was.
But it wasn't enough. That refresher was great, but it wasn't enough. Something inside me wanted to do something, to grow, to move, and to continue evolving. (I wrote a bit about this last year in Travel Notes: Thoughts on Florida1.)
This desire to do something, to grow and evolve--to question--, seems fundamental to who I am.
For example, when I'm tweaking my website and thinking about web design and user interaction--which I've been doing a lot lately--I always find myself thrown into deep thoughts about the future of the web, the future of human connectivity, the future of communication and knowledge-transfer, and the future of... well, the future of everything.
For the first few years of publishing to raamdev.com, I had a message that said "Under Construction". One day I realized that my entire life is constantly "under construction" and as a result so would my 'personal' website. It's been more than 12 years since I began publishing to raamdev.com and it's still "under construction", just like me. The only difference is that I'm not constantly announcing it.
I feel a sense of responsibility to re-think the status quo, to question everything, whether that be the status quo of how we educate and raise our children or the status quo of how digital authors should publish their work and connect with their audience.
The driving force behind this re-thinking of the status quo stems, I believe, from a recognition that our world is changing. It stems from a deeply felt understanding that we're at the cusp of a new era.
The thread that seems to weave through everything my life, whether it's thinking about how I'm going to home school my daughter or thinking about the design of a commenting form on a website, is simplicity. I'm constantly asking myself, "how can this be made more simple? what things that are assumed can be taken away? how can we reduce this to its essence?"
As a digital writer and publisher, I want to publish thoughts and essays online and communicate with my audience through the comments on those thoughts and essays.
But what if I want to spend the day away from my computer, playing with my daughter, for example?
I don't want to be looking around for a WiFi connection or waiting for my website to load and then logging into the WordPress dashboard to publish essays or reply to comments. That's archaic.
Before writing and publishing went digital, writers could simply look up from their notebook and then look back down. That was it. That's all there was to the physical act of switching modes.
Sure, they didn't publish things regularly like we can and do today, but when publishing today really just involves pressing a button on a web page, why does the entire task have to be more complicated than looking up or down from a notebook?
Why can't digital writing, publishing, and communication with readers be as simple as, let's say, sending an email from my phone (which is generally always connected to the Internet and always on me, like an old-fashioned notebook)?
Yes, I could just pick up an old-fashioned notebook and use that, but why should I have to create more work for myself transcribing those paper entries into digital entries? Besides, my handwriting skills are nonexistent so a paper notebook isn't an option.
There are certain tasks that are basic and fundamental to digital writers and publishers, but the tools and the processes don't yet exist to allow them to really live offline, the way pre-digital writers could.
Is it possible right now? Absolutely. But the processes we follow are largely dictated by the capabilities of the tools we use. Those tools are largely incomplete, designed with the online-world in mind instead of the offline world.
I'm going to start changing that by building tools and sharing systems that make sense for people who don't want to always be tied to a computer but still want to remain connected in a way that lets them communicate and share with the world.
I'm in a unique position to help bridge this gap because I understand how the technology works deeply enough to create new systems and build (or enhance, as is the case with open-source software like WordPress) tools to augment our offline life in a way that makes sense.
[I realize that there's an iPhone WordPress app that allows me to publish and reply to comments from my phone, but the app and the workflow has many flaws. Besides, I already use email for writing and communication; why should I need anything else?]
The status quo has never been more broken than it is today and that's a direct result of the fact that technology is changing our world faster than ever before. Part of what I feel responsible for is reflecting on those changes, challenging the status quo, and coming up with alternative solutions that make sense given the opportunities that technology makes possible.
Home schooling, for example, was far more difficult for parents just 30 years ago. If parents weren't already school teachers, they had limited resources and know-how to school their kids with. Their options were limited to the local library or paying for pre-designed courses that included all the books for schooling their kids at home (which is what my parents did).
Parents were lucky if they could even afford to home school their kids. If they didn't already have money set aside, or if one of the parents wasn't making enough income for the whole family, then finding the time to home school was nearly impossible, or at the very least extremely challenging: it meant that one or both of the parents spent the majority of their time working.
But today parents living in a modern society have almost unlimited access and opportunity by way of the Internet. They can learn new skills and put those skills to use by working online from home, or by building a business that allows them to work for themselves (as my parents did, except they did it without the Internet, the old-fashioned work-your-ass-off kind of way).
We now have amazing things like Google, Wikipedia, and KhanAcademy2. We have access to an international marketplace (eBay) from our bedroom. Every modern house has access to more knowledge than all humans of the past thousand years combined.
It's a home schooling dream-come-true. As a parent, you can sit in your house, make money at home, and you have access to everything. If your kid asks you a question and you don't know the answer, you can look it up on your phone and tell them. If you don't know Algebra, you can learn it yourself, for free, from home, and then help your kid learn.
The world is a different place today than it was yesterday, and it will be an even more different place tomorrow. The status quo today represents not just yesterday's old world, but that of hundreds of years of stagnation.
Conscious change is paramount to our evolution. If it's happiness that we seek, conscious evolution is the only way we'll attain happiness in a sustainable way.
While attempting to find a purpose for my photography, I began looking for patterns in the things that I took photos of. I asked myself, "why did I want to capture this?" After several weeks of doing this, the only all-encompassing thing I found was beauty.
When I see something that I moves me--be it an interesting bug on the ground or the way the sun reflects off the bottom of low-hanging clouds during a sunset--it's always beauty that triggers something within me to take action.
But if it's beauty that turns on the photographer in me, why is there a photographer in me in the first place? Why take a photo of something that I find beautiful? Why not just enjoy it for myself?
I think the answer to that is sharing.
I have an innate desire to share things that move me, be it an interesting idea, a thought, or a beautiful flower. When it comes to thoughts and ideas, writing is my capture tool of choice. When it comes to visual experiences, a camera is usually my capture tool of choice.
But why should I have separate tools for capture? Why not just use writing to capture all experiences and describe in vivid detail what I have witnessed?
I think it's because I'm always seeking to use the best tool for the job.
Sometimes writing is the best tool and sometimes it's a camera. When I hear a dozen birds chirping in a tree and I want to capture that, I don't start writing down in a notebook or hauling out an expensive video camera. I use the mic on my iPhone to make an audio recording and share it via SoundCloud 1.
The best tool to share the thoughts that I'm sharing here right now would not be a camera or an audio recorder, so that's not what I use. (The exception would be an audio recording of this text for readers with a hearing impairment.)
I wonder why I do this, why I'm always seeking to use the best tool for job.
Emerson wasn't able to take out his iPhone and capture things that caught his attention. Some may argue this was good and that modern technology ruining us, that things were better off back then. I disagree. Technology may certainly be changing what once was, but what's wrong with that?
Perhaps the reason I'm always seeking the best tool for the job is that I embrace the fact that technology changes what it means to interact with reality, that what's always been the best tool for the job might not be the best tool today.
We need to experiment, adapt, and evolve like never before. We need to do these things not so that we can keep up, but rather so that we can slow down, so that we can embrace now instead of holding onto the past.
We're living in a time of extreme technological evolution. 'Now' is constantly changing. If we want to remain present we need to be constantly changing. We need to be dynamic.
As you go throughout your day, ask yourself: "Is this the best tool for the job?"
I wrote the following a few weeks ago while I was living in Ulcinj, Montenegro. It was my attempt to capture in words what I experienced from the balcony of the place where I was staying:
The ocean stood before me like a glistening blue tidal wave at peace with not proceeding. The South Adriatic engulfed nearly a third of my vision as steep hills littered with trees and orange roofs met the sea somewhere below me.
It was like an ocean sandwich, the whitish blue sky motionless on top and the noisy, earthy crust covering the bottom.
For some reason I find myself constantly needing to remember where I am, to remind myself that I'm still on Earth. Sometimes I'll open Google Maps on my laptop just to find Montenegro, that tiny squarish country nestled between Croatia and Albania across the ocean from the backside of Italy's boot. "That's where I am," I'll tell myself, feeling as though I need convincing. "That part of the world is real and it looks like this."
A butterfly breezes past, and then a bird. The birds are everywhere, the slow noisy roof-loving ones chattering away while aerial masters of the sky swoop down and past you in an instant, dogfighting invisible enemies with their black boomerang-shaped wings and their tiny sleek bodies that bulge out underneath, an agile dive-bomber perfectly designed by nature.
Somewhere in the distance to the left, across the valley of orange-tiled roofs where a few tall apartments stand looking out of place, over the tall slender coniferous trees nearer to the ocean, a chained machine whirrs to its master. And then the echo of a hammer, and then a skill saw.
The view was extremely photogenic. As the weather over the South Adriatic changed, the scenery would change with it, offering a new world for my eyes to feast on every day. I watched as entire weather systems developed before they rolled in and engulfed the town of Ulcinj. I watched cargo ships and sailboats make the trek to and from Italy and up and down the coast.
I had a birds-eye view of the whole region, like a watchmen in a tower on the lookout for what was to come. The photographer in me couldn't help but take photo after photo. There was no end to it, but that bothered the writer in me.
The endlessly amazing view made me think back to a time when there were no cameras. Who were the photographers then? Who captured the beauty of nature? Who captured the historic moments? Who captured the memory of those that mattered to them?
Writers. That's who. They captured everything through their writing. Using their mastery of language they painted images and conveyed feelings and emotions so that we could relive what mattered to them.
I realized then that if a photo is worth a thousand words, a writers' every snapshot is a wasted opportunity, one-thousand words of practice thrown away.
For thousands of years, writers and poets have spent hours, days, weeks, and months writing and rewriting in attempt to capture or recreate the most vivid and real depiction of what they were experiencing, all so that they could share it.
They spent decades honing their craft so that others could not only relive what they experienced but also learn from it and be inspired by it, so that they could be inspired to share their own dreams and stories.
Defying death, they are still to this day influencing present-day writers and poets, encouraging them to push boundaries, serving as the human proof that language has power to reach far beyond its ability to assist with communication.
Capturing moments of time as it reflected on their minds, they achieved the seemingly impossible by recording something that our minds could easily translate with our imaginations. To this day, writers and poets are still reaching through time and touching us, talking to us, giving us an opportunity to taste the fruits of their hard-earned labor.
Now we press a button on a machine and be done with it.
That's how long it takes for us to throw away thousands of years of effort.
What a tragedy. Not because we've lost appreciation for the power of language. No, it's a tragedy because of what we've so readily accepted as its replacement, such a flat and lifeless thing that pales in comparison to the depth and life-giving ability of language, its power to unlock our imagination and create worlds that can outdo even our dreams.
Photographs may capture our imagination, yes, but they don't give us a sky to fly.
But unfortunately the click is easy. It offers us a cheap and quick way to feel that we have captured something uniquely ours, a moment of time that we feel belongs to us but which in reality is stolen, not earned.
Human laziness knows no bounds. We will sacrifice almost anything for the opportunity to do less work.
How many of us will now experience a beautiful sunset, or the birth of our child, and spend just a few hours that evening trying to put that experience into words? "Eh, who has time for that."
Instead of painting beautiful stories with our imagination, we relinquish that command to an electronic box in the bedroom that has been programmed by a stranger with the worst intentions in mind.
We plop our kids down in front of animated drawings or ask them to play with machine-manufactured plastic toys instead of letting them chase real birds, play with real frogs, and pretend they can really fly.
There are many old cultures who shy away from the camera. They believe the photograph steals the soul. And maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. At the very least, it steals our imagination.
However, given the opportunity to uninvent the camera, I would not choose to do so. I know it's just another evolutionary step on our journey, an evolutionary step towards our species realizing that no camera, no matter how many pixels or dimensions it captures, will be able to overtake the human imagination.
The camera may assist the imagination, yes, but it cannot replace it. The human imagination has the power to imagine something better. It has the power to dream.
But does that mean we should all just throw away our cameras and become writers instead? I don't think so. My intuition tells me that there's something special about photography. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then surely a photograph offers its viewer a key to that window.
The camera may have the power to steal our imagination, but it also has the power to show us the truth. Writing and language have the power to manipulate and spread propaganda but does that make them worth abandoning?
The camera, like language and music, is one more tool for humanity to express itself. Photography offers a way for others to see the world through our eyes, through the eyes of one unique individual, as he or she saw it. Writing has that ability too, but writing gives the reader more freedom to involve him or herself in the story; there's more room for individual interpretation.
This is perhaps why I'm such an fan of untainted, unmodified, unedited photographs and why I feel that the story behind each photograph is as important as the photograph itself. Without the story, a photograph has no soul. It's the story that brings the photograph to life.
I'm not sure why this is such a revelation for me. Perhaps it's because until now the art of photography was always enough for me to pursue it. Now I'm realizing that if I'm going to continue pursuing photography, I need to start exploring photojournalism.
Maybe through photojournalism I can learn to bridge the gap between writing and photography and find a balance between the two that doesn't leave me feeling as though I'm betraying one or the other.