Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Listening is an Active Skill

I'm not a big fan of Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, or any of these 'revolutions' that spawned in the last couple years or so. I like change. Change is good. Change doesn't come from idealists, though. It doesn't spawn from selfish motives but out of wanting better for the person sitting across the aisle. That's what these people are missing. The reason why the Civil Rights Movement worked was because people like Martin Luther King wanted mankind to benefit from desegregation...not just the African Americans.

To tell someone that they are being selfish doesn't really help much, so I decided to write in to my hometown newspaper and call from people to just listen to one another. I encourage you to do the same.

Letter to the Editor:

When I was in elementary school, we were always taught to listen. Kids would try to talk over the teacher and she would always tell us to 'listen'. After a while, we would get the message. You can't learn if you don't listen. You can't understand if you don't listen. Most of us learned this when we were young. It's one of our most fundamental life skills, and I'm really concerned that we might have lost it.

As a man in his early 20's, I'm consistently told that my opinion doesn't matter. I'm told that I "haven't lived long enough to understand." So…I listen, and all I hear is white noise. No matter where I go or what I do, I'm faced with some kind of verbal shootout that always ends in finger pointing and disappointment. 

My generation likes social discourse and our arguments are based on an emotional response to an issue. You decided to raise the cost of tuition? You better prepare yourself for resistance, even if the cost is to help improve our education. The presidential election is coming up soon? You better believe that we'll voice our support for a candidate, even if we don't know completely what he or she supports. The entire Occupy Wall Street is an example of an emotional response: we don't have jobs, so we are angry. Instead of retraining or looking elsewhere for a job, we'd rather protest. It's a young person's mistake.

But now I see this same kind of emotional discourse in the very people I'm suppose to look up to and respect, and I can't help but think we've taken a giant step back. I read the news and hear the voices telling me that I need to pick a side and start fighting. All our problems are rooted in a political arena, and it isn't just the members of congress that are fighting.

We are fighting with one another and, more importantly, we aren't listening. You want evidence? Take a look at the opinion section of the Kingman Daily Miner or listen to conversations on the street. People are fired up over issues but would rather shift blame than find solutions to our problems. These problems are big, and we can only solve them if we work together. It's hard to do that when we don't even try to listen and understand one another.

This is more than just you and me, or even America for that matter. It's a fact that every decision made (or not made) in the USA will affect the entire world, and that world is watching us. If you don't believe me, get a passport and travel for a bit. You'll see what I'm talking about. They watch us and cannot believe how petty we've become. We live in a globalized world, and Americans just can't seem to accept that. It's always about 'me' when it should be about 'us', and we will pay the price for that kind of antiquated mentality. Greed and selfishness is destroying America, not politics. 

There are no simple answers to any the problems we face…but a good start would be to stop blaming and start listening. I would say to grow up, but it's the grown ups that messed things up in the first place. We had it right in elementary school.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - The Legendary Stories: Easter Weekend, Part 3

This is a 3 part story of Easter Weekend in New Zealand. To view the first part, go here.

So it's been what....4 months since I started telling this story? I feel like Ted Mosby, cept less interesting because my voiceover isn't done by Bob Saget. Regardless, here is the last part of my Easter Weekend story in New Zealand. It was a doozy.

We had met up with our friends Emma and Emily and, with some help, secured a hostel for the night. I would like to point out that you should never leave a place without knowing where you're going to stay the following night. That being said, I've done it so many times and it's always led to some crazy awesome stories. It isn't for the faint at heart...but I'm still alive, so that's got to count for something.
After putting our bags up and getting all settled for the night, we all took a walk down the road to get our grub on at what was self-proclaimed as the "World's best fish and chips" shop. I had an unhealthy addiction to fish and chips while in New Zealand. It was cheap and delicious, and it was literally sold everywhere. That wouldn't fly now, as my metabolism has finally caught up to the years of abuse I've put it through.
Emma and I nourishing the soul and punishing our digestive systems.
Turns out, that was the best fish and chips I've ever had. Perhaps it was the location. We were on this dock overlooking one of New Zealand's many inlets. You could hear the seagulls begging for some leftovers. It might have been the Steinlager I was drinking as well. Nothing goes better than Steinlager and fried foods. Note the grease stains on the paper.

On a sentimental note, I look back on this picture a lot when I'm remembering my time in New Zealand. It was a great time in my life. I was sitting at a table with some of the best friends I've ever had, having a beer and just experiencing the joy of travel. We all went our separate ways now, but I'm alright with that. That's something you gotta get use to when you make friends on the road: eventually, you will have to say goodbye. You probably will never see them again. Seriously...enjoy the moments you have with them while you can.

We put a couple beers back and, in true college fashion, bitched a bit about how expensive the beers were. We also didn't understand why we were drinking there when we still had 4 cases of beer in the back of our car (mind you, we started off with 10 or so about 2 days ago). They teach you problem solving in college, and 20 minutes later we found ourselves back at the hostel drinking warm beer from the trunk of our car.

I know I've praised the beauty of New Zealand over and over and over again...but I really can't stress to you how awe-inspiring this country was. In my time there, I hiked volcanic mountains and surfed legendary breaks, hitchhiked through the hills of Waikato and experienced the cities of Wellington and Auckland. This place is diverse, and each locale is just as impressive as the next.

Mangonui was no different. Our hostel was on the waterfront, literally built along the edge of this large inlet. Sailboats dotted the landscape, and behind us the hills went on and on. A thick forest separated Mangonui from the interior of the Northland. The main town was about a kilometer down the road that ran along the water, and from our hostel you couldn't see the from town. It was quiet and peaceful before we came there. I loved it.

We must have spent an hour or two on the trunk of our car drinking, because the sun finally set behind the mountains and the moon was casting this eerie glow off the inlet. The water was so still. You could see fish jump every once in a while to catch a meal. I remember vividly throwing rocks into the water and watching the ripples play with the moonlight. 
Around 8 or so, we polished off our remaining beer and started to trek into town. Aside from the fish shop, Mangonui is a one-bar town. That means, on a holiday weekend, the locals are partying it up like it's 1999.

No, literally: they were partying like it was 1999. Most of the people there were 10 years our senior, and they were dancing to music I haven't heard in public since I was in middle school. Spice Girls? BSB? Eiffel 65? Walking into that bar was probably our best choice of the night, as it set up everything that would happen afterwards.

About an hour into the night, the local band came on. I remember the lead signer vividly. She was this 50 year old lady wearing a pink cowboy hat and boots singing covers from just about every genre imaginable. She owned that stage, and for the next couple hours myself, Emily, and Emma danced our shoes off.

While this was happening, our friend Nick was up to something...

He disappeared for an hour, but when he came back he had two Kiwi girls with him. Apparently, there was one more bar up the road that was better than this one, and they offered to take us all there to enjoy the rest of the night. I was a bit emotionally attached to my girl singing, but we all happily obliged to embark on a little adventure.

When we stepped outside, a hay truck with its engine running was waiting for us. The girls hopped in a taxi and told us to get in the back. The driver was their friend and he would take us to the bar. Red flags were going up in my head, but apparently I was the only one with dissent. Maybe it was the fact that there was 6 of us and 1 of him, and if he tried anything we could jump him. He probably had friends waiting for us...all armed with axes and broadswords (this is Middle Earth after all). It was the makings of a horror film, and I was the only ethnic guy of the bunch. You know what that means...

Still, we hopped in the back for our 'short' journey to the bar down the road.
That's fear in my eyes.
I tried mapping this out a hundred times, but to this day I still have no clue where we ended up. All I know is that we rode 45 minutes in some stranger's truck to go to some bar recommended to us by two girls that took a separate taxi to get there. Frankly, I'm just glad to be alive.

I can't regret it that much though, because we ended up at this awesome little bar on the oceanfront. Inside, a Maori band was jamming to some awesome covers. The bar was filled with friendly locals playing pool and chatting louder than the music. We spent the rest of the night dancing and singing, and at one point a conch shell and a monkey wrench made some guest appearances. It was an awesome night. came that way?
We didn't really see those girls at the bar either. I never got the full story, but I imagine that they disappeared once their friend dropped us off at the bar. Perhaps they thought we were crazy enough to hop in a stranger's truck and drive up the coast for a good time. Their loss...

After Mangonui, we finished up our time in the Northland at the Bay of Islands. The girls went a separate path, and they hitchhiked the rest of the way home. Our road trip was coming to an end, and we all had school in two days. 

When we returned the car, it was a dirty mess. Mud from Ninety Mile Beach was still caked in the well. Sand and dirt was everywhere. The guy at the rental place just looked at us and smiled. Unlike America, the Kiwis are cool with that kind of stuff. We didn't crash it. We didn't dent or scratch it. All we did was get it a little dirty.

I don't know what it is...but we have this obsession over keeping things clean and tidy. I mean, I'm not saying that you should have a dirty office or purposefully leave your socks and underwear out on the dinner table. It's good to be organized. But what's the point of keeping your pretty new camera clean by not taking it out there and taking pictures? Why should I keep my shoes tidy when, eventually, they'll get dirty and break on me? Everything you own...everything is replaceable. Things that are new now won't be new in the future. You can't be afraid to risk your equipment so you can get the shot. That's Photography 101 right there. 

That goes for life too. Your body will get beat up over and over again as long as you keep stepping out that front door. Scars and wrinkles are beautiful: it shows me that you've lived a little. We can't take this body with us after it's all said and done. It doesn't work that way (unless the Egyptians were right, in which case I'm screwed because I really hate cats). Take care of your body and be healthy, but don't sit on the sidelines and not play the game out of fear of getting hurt. 

Take a road trip when you get the chance. Go anywhere, and drive as far as you can. Get things dirty and experience an adventure. It might be an American thing, but I think we are all born to drive. It's one of those universal symbols of freedom. I can go wherever I want so long as I have gas in the tank and a road to drive on. I'm in control of where I go, and as long as I have a friend in the passenger seat and some tunes on the radio, I know I'll enjoy the journey no matter where I go.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Spontaneous Moments

It's been a while, hasn't it? Here's the thing with me: if you don't see a blog post for an extended amount of time, that usually means I'm off having crazy adventures. Don't get me wrong, I love sharing my experiences with you. You're a wonderful group of readers, and I'm grateful for the 5000+ hits you guys have given me over the past year (did I mention that I broke 5000 hits?). Sometimes, I just gotta live life so I have some stories to share with you. It's not you, it's me.

That being said, I did have a wild and crazy night in Seoul over the weekend that included silent discos, a horse and a wizard, and at one point a secret underground club inside another underground club. I love that city.

My best moment, however, was looking at my camera on the train ride back home the next morning. I had taken some crazy pictures throughout the night, but had one that really put a smile on my face.
I'm a sap for spontaneous moments, and they don't get much better than that. One girl wanted me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend, so I happily obliged. Before I knew it, she grabbed his chin and gave him this kiss that made all the girls in the region (and myself as well...) swoon. I was lucky enough to capture that moment and do it some justice.

That is what photography is all about: capturing spontaneous moments. I'm not the best photographer...I just am good at capturing a moment. 

My film work is staring to reflect that same mentality. Like I said, I'm not the best filmmaker. I'm good at capturing my moments. Ever since I got my 7D (and shortly after, my 5D), I've been logging my travels with literally thousands of clips. I took a hard look at them, and in the sea of files I had a demo reel waiting to be edited. It started off as a demo, but quickly turned into a tribute to the beauty of travel. It was the perfect reminder of why I do what I do.

Here's the video below, with music by the lovely Kelsey James.

Life is out there just waiting to be lived. Go make some spontaneous moments happen. Trust me, those moments become memories that last a lifetime. I've been truly blessed. I've had a lifetime's worth of memories, and I still have so much more living to do. So what are you waiting for?