Friday, July 31, 2009

"What do you want for your birthday?"

("Coke Whore", Lawrence, KS 2009)

Thankfully, I am at a point in my life where if I really want something I can just go and buy it or easily save up and purchase it myself. The last few weeks people have kept asking me what I want for my birthday this coming weekend, a question that is tiresome before it leaves the person's mouth. Though I appreciate any and all intention people have in wanting to get me gifts, sadly 90% of the gifts I've gotten in my lifetime have been of entirely no use to me, not-applicable to me personally in any way, or confusing as to why someone would think of me when acquiring the item in the first place.

Admittedly I am a very difficult person to get gifts for. Unfortunately, my practical side tends to lend itself to a perception of rudeness. Truly, rather than wasting money on a gift that I am not going to like and never use, I would prefer a thoughtful hug, a chuck on the shoulder, and the knowledge that you were thinking of me. However, this response never goes over too well.

One or two friends of mine are pretty consistent with making me little cards or weird art packets filled with collaged notes and scraps of papers or books that they think I will like, which I always do, but they are the rarity. Wonderfully, the last few years I have been honored to get really thoughtful, hand made gifts that required complex packaging or FedEx drivers to deliver, which I must embarrassingly say was pretty surprising and magical. Again, these types of gifts are few and far between as I guess they should be.

(As a side note, I love surprises. The good kind, not the "surprise, I gave you herpes" kind.)

For as much as cash is always appreciated and can go a long way, the idea of people making things is a much more special gift than anything that can be purchased from some store. I personally go out of my way throughout the year to send handmade postcards of varying degrees of labor in them as well as other random fabricated, painted pieces of art. These go out only to those people I deem truly important in my world for no other reason than I was thinking about the individual and took a few moments to make whatever thing it is.

Still, even at moments of my most honest and selfish, when asked what I want for my birthday, I can't just say "a well thought out item that took you time and effort to create knowing I will appreciate it on multiple levels," though that really is the truth.

So I guess my official answer is nothing. Whatever you want to give me would be fine, but its the thought that counts. Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate that. When is YOUR birthday? And what is your mailing address...?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Absurdity in America

Onikaa Celebrates America, Mofo!!! Grand Ledge, MI
(Grand Ledge, Michigan 2009)

People have accused me of not being able to live fully in the moment and usually they are right. Thankfully though this trait of mine to constantly feel like an outsider is perfectly suited for being a photographer and recorder of life. My dad always makes a big deal about documenting family events, recording the dates and times things happened, again instilling us with the motto to "Be observant".

One of the coolest things is that he used to turn a tape recorder on at large family gatherings in unknown spots, so now we have these great little snippets of audio tape where my cousins and I are talking as children, people are laughing and telling stories without censoring themselves, wives are yelling at husbands, grandparents cooking in the kitchen, etc. True windows into a life and time that is no more. I value such things as priceless.

All of these examples have led me to do what I do. Though it may get exhausting to constantly be documenting life, I am always thankful a week or a year later when I look back and can remember with fondness the experience more fully because of those images. Along with the photos I take, I also write down absurd, odd quotes I hear. In context they are funny or interesting, but with no description I think they might be even funnier. Here are a few I gathered from my trip with brief descriptions:

"If you're a girl from Colorado and can't pee in the woods you've got a problem."
-Model in the mountains outside of Denver during a bathroom break

"There's shit all over the place!" "Yeah, smells like money!"
-Two indians at a cattle round up on an indian reservation outside San Diego

"I don't remember what religion they are, but whatever it is, they're very THAT."
-A friend describing family members in Kansas

"Baby, I need some cootchie medicine."
-Model in Florida who got her period earlier than expected, talking to her boyfriend

"Great, just what I want to do, hang out with bells all day."
-Sarcastic teenager's comment after being told by his mom to stand by the Liberty Bell for a photo-op

"Keepin' it tiled, baby."
-Discussing whether "the carpet matched the drapes", a model in Philadelphia replied thusly to my "you probably have hardwood" comment

"Its blacker than the inside of a cow."
-West Virginia native describing the night

"You can't go wrong with a nine dollar bottle of wine."
-Drinking at a friend's house in Seattle

"My eyebrows are only partially on!"
-A Florida friend whose photo I wanted to take though it was a little too early in the morning

"You're as cool as a microwavable hot pocket."
-Neff's description of me at a bar in NYC

"I was on the floor barking with a pomeranian!"
-Waitress in Brewer, Maine describing the effects moonshine had on her years before

And my personal favorite...

"Enjoy it."
-Megan McIsaac's response when asked what she was going to do with the rest of her day

I'm sure there are more quotes spread randomly amongst my various notebooks, but these are the best ones available for now. There is a daunting amount of data for me to review, edit, filter, and disseminate from this trip. The last couple of days looking through it all has given me a chance to relive my time on the road in a much more relaxed, free way than when I originally experienced it. It has been a blast. More coming soon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A little analysis.

megan mcisaac,Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
(Self-portrait, I-5 outside Stockton, CA)

I've discovered a few things about myself from my thirty-three straight days traveling around North America. Many of them have to do with what I can handle, what I am willing to fight and strive for, what I am and am not willing to finally put up with, and the things I need to do to make myself consistently more content. Being away from my "real life" has given me a fresh perspective on a few universal truths regarding beauty, the insecurities and flakiness of others, and the inevitable measure of time.

I can foresee some of these personal conclusions being lauded by many and a few not being terribly liked by several others, though frankly I don't care about either reaction. I am clear-headed, focused, resolute, tired, and smiling. Though there are personality traits I will never fully conquer such as not being able to live fully in the moment or getting over my "home-body" comfort zone, in the last month I have squarely kicked those traits asses, though maybe only temporarily. It was grand.

I was reminded of things I love, made aware of things I hate tolerating, and was pleased to rediscover so many of my strengths that lay dormant in my daily life. Across forty states virtual strangers made me feel like a part of their family, as well as funny, intelligent, clever, desirable, reliable, and trustworthy. Feeling special is not something I have ever been comfortable with, but the last few weeks have been a constant reminder that others think I am. That was nice.

I also learned about my country and my fellow Americans. There really are no such things as "red" and "blue" states. There are only hard working Americans of various ethnic and economic classes that are trying to better themselves and the qualities of their lives, raise their kids well, pay their bills promptly, and get laid as often as possible. Thankfully, some Americans are still optimistic and hopeful. Many have dreams, and a few even have plans on how to achieve their dreams, though sadly those individuals are few and far between.

Most Americans think that their lives are nothing special, not all that terribly exciting. In many places across this country, citizens think there isn't much to do, that they would probably be better off somewhere else. We as a society are just not that satisfied. I'm not sure if the myth of the great and invincible America, where anyone and everyone should be able to succeed and thrive no matter how high the cards are stacked against them, is doing more harm than good. Life is not a Little League, not everyone gets to play their desired role or deserves a medal for showing up. Life is hard, and those with the most skill, talent, and work the hardest don't always get the awards. There is a sad lack of entitlement that so many of us cling to as a floatation device in the rough seas of the world and it is an illusion. Yet that doesn't mean we should stop chasing our goals, we should just be aware of what could or could not happen and be prepared for that.

Thankfully, I did get to see a wide variety of both positive and negative aspects of my fellow citizens. Witnessing a white couple in Kansas refuse to be seated next to a black mother and son left me speechless and terribly confused, while seeing countless acts of kindness by Good Samaritans on the roads, in restaurants, and in every state I visited filled me with hope.

I don't have any conclusions or helpful advice other than the phrase I have uttered before: Do your best and enjoy the moment. I have essentially been sleep-deprived and sore consistently for the last thirty three days, pushing myself, constantly on the move, living out of a bag, unsure of where I was going to lay my head the next night. That lifestyle is not for everyone, and at some point it wasn't my favorite thing either, but in the end it was well worth it.

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography,megan mcisaac
Here is the last photo taken of me on the trip, a portrait by one of my favorite photographers, Megan McIsaac, in Portland, Oregon after she modeled for me. I think it is an accurate description of the dualistic aspects of my personality as well as showing my exhaustion and readiness to go home. Now I am left with about twenty thousand images to sort through, as well as a month's worth of stories to record, edit, and regurgitate to family and friends. Thanks again, North America, it was great getting to see you again.