Posts Tagged With: perspective

10 Years From Now…[Part 2]

Sorry guys. I forgot to upload the video for the movie “10 Years,” which reminded me of this question, spawning this series of blog posts. It may help you get the gist.

 

So, to back up.

The hardest class I ever took in college wasn’t even required for my major. And the worst part of it was… I took it “for fun”. Ya, I was that guy in college. I took extra classes, “just cause”.

[So I totally understand if that makes you want to tune me out right now. But I promise this series of posts isn’t about school. Unless you want it to be. Hopefully, it will mean something different to everybody.]

Anyways, I took this Public Relations course, where your grades were judged from projects like raising money for a non-profit cause, by putting on a benefit concert, or selling raffle tickets. Stuff like that. Very unconventional class, to say the least.

Our groups created imaginary P.R. companies. If we didn’t succeed, we didn’t pass.

Ya, there was no pressure on us or anything.

This teacher was like Mr. Keating, but raging on steroids [Dead Poets Society]. I think I’ll call him “Dr. Reality Check”.

Instead of bubbling in scantrons, I found myself drawing up a business model and creating commercials for TV and radio, to promote our company’s cause. It was almost all out-of-class work.  In class, we gathered around for fireside chats and discussed, realistically, how we planned on executing our business plan – the specifics. No generic fluff. He spotted that quicker than a fat kid tastes splenda in his “sweet” tea. We quickly realized that proposing solutions for problems are easy, when everything is hypothetical and the hot air never rises beyond the classroom ceiling.

With Dr. Reality Check, the usual college-kid bull shit answers were not acceptable. We all feared the moment he lifted his pointer finger to call on one of us. There was never a “right” answer, it seemed. No quoting the textbook. He would pace back and forth, saying, “hmmmmm….does anyone else have a better answer? That’s not what I’m looking for.”

But in my defense, it wasn’t our fault. We had been programmed over the past 18 years of our life in the public education system to give the predictable, textbook highlighted “right” answer. It’s what the teachers have always wanted to see, grading our tests. I think it is every bit like answering “Jesus” for any given question in Sunday School; Yes, it’s expected, but never wrong. But that wasn’t what this teacher wanted. This dude required us to think for ourselves and show how we came to that solution.

We all hated him by the end of the semester.

Poetry would have been a whole lot easier to come up with, on the spot.

We barely slept. My classmates, to this day, will attest to having violent, PSD-induced night terrors, imagining him calling on us. We thought we had the school system all figured out, by this point in our college career. But this random class was more work than all my other classwork combined. This isn’t how it works! We had no clue how far off we were. But none of those are the reasons we dreaded his deep breath, before announcing end-of-class assignments. Well, mostly. I did enjoy sleeping and having a social life, before that semester.

Yes, we loathed, even feared, the inevitable homework  which we wouldn’t humanly have time for. But the real reason for this dread is, we couldn’t stand the fact….. the answers couldn’t be copied, word for word, out of the book. He made us think.

We just wanted our standardized testing back. And his hardest portion of the final test was the question:

 

What do you want to be in life? What are your highest aspirations, if nothing stood in the way?

[Give essay answer]

Sounds easy right? Everybody has dreams and shit– you know, the stuff that keeps you awake at night. Or daydreams at a dead-end job. Either way, we all got ’em. Everyone could write a novel here. But the second part was harder.

 

Now list 10 specific steps you will take to get from here to there.

“Oh.”

Ya, that’s everyone’s reaction. I dare you to get out a pen and paper. Because it’s really hard to commit to the second part, listing verifiable ways to actually see them happen. This is the part that stumps most of us. We have the first part, the easy part down, like our last name. We’ve rehearsed it a million times in our head. But the second part, we’ve contemplated about as many times as Lindsay Lohan has sobriety.

Dr. Reality Check said it is very easy to keep creating these elaborate dreams, if we don’t feel the pressure to follow through on them. No commitment factor= no pressure, basically.

 

Even today, as I write this, the question still hangs over my head.

So, what’s it gonna be? I mean, sure, I have an pretty good idea. But I sure as hell don’t have it all figured out.

There were no easy answers for the “solution” to this problem.

There never will be.

Because nobody can take control of your life for you. It can feel like others are integral to it sometimes, as they help guide you, walking along a similar path, in step, but nobody can walk it for you.

For example, a couple months ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for him to show. I asked the nurse, “What kind of vitamin supplements should I be taking, as a 21 year old guy?”

Her response: “Oh, just Google it. I don’t know.”

Gee thanks.

But honestly, the secret is really this: nobody knows. Almost everyone’s faking it. The few who “get it,” have already been to the lowest place, the place where everything is stripped away, where only the bare truth remained, where they were forced to find the answers themselves, because those higher-ups who were “supposed” to know didn’t– a place where there is no Google solution.

We need to learn to be okay with that.

Especially in our (my) generation of get-it-quick-results and Googling damn near ev-er-y-thing.

High school and college can be great times for learning and thinking outside the box. Yes, I know that. I’m not discounting their importance. [More in part 3]

But, after that, what are you going to do–when the regimented structure and prodding is stripped away?

You will only have yourself consult. Only yourself to fault for failure, not the system.

No matter how much other people may want it for you, the choices in life are ultimately yours.

And, as I described in Part 1, not deciding to do anything IS making a choice.

 

So, 10 years from now, where do you want to be?

[To Be Continued……..in Part 3]

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The Bigger Picture

A little something to take you outside of your bubble today.

The movie “Tree of Life” (2011).

It’s a tale of “Leave It to Beaver” gone wrong.  (Wait, that show was scripted?! My worldview is crushed.)

Somehow, this decade makes a comeback, offering something for audiences something today?

Somehow, in the midst of this movie’s headache-inducing, confusing cacophony….I found meaning.

(That’s life.)

I believe this a relevant conversation for our generation. Regardless of decade.

Recurring Themes

The recurring theme of the plot is the battle for the characters to choose one of two paths in life: the way of grace and the way of nature.Clear lines of division are drawn between the way of nature’s harsh, unforgiving tactics, versus the learned ways of grace’s gentle simplicity.

You only have two choices in this world. But you cannot live by both. You must choose one.

The chasm dividing these two proposed opposites grows wider as the story progresses, intentionally seeking to highlight and polarize the two.

We see these elements of nature and grace are embodied by the characters of the abusive father and the loving mother, respectively.

We all know and have “characters” in our lives, which very clearly embody grace OR nature.

Most interestingly, is how nature represents what cannot be salvaged – fallen nature (acting upon impulse); grace represents the spiritual and supernaturally learned (aware, willfully reacting with love).

The way of nature

The Way of Grace

I could get further into the movie, talking about the massively unheard of amounts of Carl Sagan inspired, National Geographic rivaling- clips of landscapes and animals.  Despite the irredeemable juxtaposition the movie poses, it at least goes beyond the surface.

There is hope after all. Nature is not simply represented as shots of sunflowers and waterfalls, but clearly alliterates to the way we live our lives, choosing to simply love and follow after ultimate truth, or become bitter and set in our ways. It is posed in a question format. No blanket statements are made. If anything, the film itself is a resounding question, meant to ring in the ears of the viewer after watching.

Whatever that something is, that makes a piece of work transcend eras, it must be universal. I can only assume it must be the very same stuff that makes people still read Shakespeare, Greek Mythology, the Bible,  Walt Whitman, or J.D. Salinger.

Some of my friends hated the movie.

I heard a girl say, just this past weekend, “I don’t want to have to think when I watch a movie. I want turn off my brain &  feel good when the credits roll.”

Unfortunately, that’s not how my brain was designed. I’m constantly thinking about the underlying story.

Thought provoking at the very least, “Tree of Life” promises good things for those who watch it without preconceptions or short-tempered cynicisms.

The Summary

Between the surreal images of nature, microcosms, outer space and the wistful yet tormenting flashbacks to the main character’s childhood, viewers soon find out Jack’s family is less than perfect. A gritty tale of tragedy jump-starts the opening scenes.

     

His brother’s death is told through the voice of maturity — that of Jack as a prospering middle-aged architect haunted by questions bigger than himself. Set primarily in a South Texas neighborhood, the father’s harsh, borderline-abusive relationship of tough love overshadows the teachings of his mother’s unconditional, free-spirited love.

The film leads down Jack’s paths of growing up in the ways of love, hate, rebellion, nature and grace. The plot winds around the way childhood innocence somehow slips through one’s fingers in time and knowledge of the world. It is about a road every young boy must find and follow, only to learn they cannot go back.

The Public’s Reaction

After the initial premiere in select theaters, critics and citizens alike found themselves immediately polarized in opinions of hate and love for it. Perhaps, the only agreeable point was that everybody had some opposing opinion or disagreement about the movie’s worth. It either was bashed as incredibly boring or glorified as infinitely beautiful. At the Cannes Film Festival, it received boos alongside a standing ovation.The deciding factor for people’s reactions has to do with their intentions for watching this film.

Roger Ebert’s Review

Roger Ebert explained his (Tweet) comment about the movie in a similar way: “Many films diminish us. They cheapen us … hammer us with shabby thrills and diminish the value of life some. Few films evoke the wonderment of life’s experience, and those I consider a form of prayer.”

You cannot walk into the theater expecting a 90-minute, feel-good romantic comedy. Malick never intended for his film to be the kind you don’t have to contemplate. If you want that, you’d probably be better suited with letting your brain cells degenerate a bit at “The Hangover II.”

But, you don’t need to be a philosopher or a genius to understand and enjoy Malick’s movie.

For this movie, you simply need to have an open mind and cannot be afraid to actually think about its meaning.

After reading Ebert’s quote, it’s hard to argue. What more could you ask of a two hour movie? I can honestly say that it was one of the first movies which ever inspired me to action, to ask questions, and not to simply drool on my shirt while shoveling popcorn down my gullet.

The movie begs us to live intentionally.

The Perspective it Offers

For the cinematography quality alone, it is definitely a must-see. One thing to keep in mind if you go: Have patience and let its poetry wash over you as a whole, and not critically analyze the meaning of one certain scene.Don’t get frustrated with the plot or the unconventional style of filming. Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki provides the rare opportunity to literally look on as an observer of another world instead of from the usual vantage point through one character’s eyes. The script is not linear either. Malick often blended voice-overs with sweeping camera pans of nature and human movement rather than facial close-ups of characters reciting lines.

And yes, I know. Some of you felt robbed after watching a two and-a-half-hour story without a discernible climax or conflict resolution.

But I believe that’s life. And sometimes, the journey is greater than the destination. In this case, it fits. Unlike most movies, if you walk away with unanswered questions, Malick has done his job right.

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Pictures & Perspective: Notes from East Africa

Stringer/ Reuters

“An aid worker using an iPad photographs the rotting carcass of a cow in Wajir, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on July 23, 2011. Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia…”

This picture says so much.

From the fancy shoes to the i-pad, it makes me wonder just how much people like him “relate” with such hardships. It says “objectifying” all over it. Like he’s a tourist, about to upload it to Instagram or something…

Groups of photographers unloaded from buses and swarmed the Kenya-Somalia refugee camps in July 2011, to cover the famine. You might remember some of the raw pictures of starving children.

but….none of them turned out like this.

this picture has more depth and and a deeper story we immediately get pulled into.

I know, this picture doesn’t look significant at first.

What’s the big deal? It’s the carcass of a dead cow.

Well, it has to do with perspective.

It has to do with our approach, and storytelling.

Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

[For the sake of those with a weak stomach for such hard-hitting images (myself included), I’ll just post the link to other pictures. I found this news website to be well-balanced, with a range of picture styles, but you will still see what I am talking about in terms of human portaits. —–  http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/07/famine-in-east-africa/100115/  ]

I know it may sound odd, but I’m inspired as a photographer every time I see the the first picture.

Not the second. (child)

It’s not that there’s inherently anything “wrong” with the second picture. It’s a great portrait. It’s just that there’s more than one way to tell the story.

Pictures are a lot like words. Like writing.

If you always said the first thing that popped into your head….it might be “truthful”….but not always appropriate for the situation.

Like our words, there is a difference between immediately reacting to a situation’s intensity and intentionally gathering our thoughts.

Also, this hasn’t even breached the topic of “telling half the truth”. I won’t try to cover it, because it would take too long. Besides, I doubt I need to explain it.

In journalism — you may not necessarily be “hurting” the subject per say, if you choose to tell the story by attacking viewers emotions. But you aren’t telling the whole story.

Thousands of photographers went to cover the Kenya-Somalia famine in July of 2011.

So why was Stringer the only one who didn’t do the usual emotional appeal pictures? (extremely emaciated African babies)

Stringer reminds me to be bold, to think outside the lines, to not immediately objectify or stereotype a situation, to search for the whole truth, and to due justice in telling the whole story.

I think Stringer’s blog/video will help explain it more:

http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2011/10/25/the-children-of-dadaab-life-through-the-lens/

Stringer says,

Through my video “The children of Dadaab: Life through the Lens” I wanted to tell the story of the Somali children living in Kenya’s Dadaab. Living in the world’s largest refugee camp, they are the ones bearing the brunt of Africa’s worst famine in sixty years.

I wanted to see if I could tell their story through a different lens, showing their daily lives instead of just glaring down at their ribbed bodies and swollen eyes.

It was a challenging project. As one senior photographer asked, how else can we tell the story without showing images that clearly illustrate the plight of the starving millions? Few photographs cover all aspects of life in the camps.

Let me know what you think.

Does the 1st picture compete with the second? Does it tell the story of starvation as clearly as the second?  (remember, starvation is the subject)

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