February 3, 2018

Cloudy, 17 Degrees, Light Winds

Today I have confessions to make. Yesterday afternoon, after posting my best pictures from week one, I felt really down about this project. I was disappointed with the pictures. Very disappointed. And my pictures for the day yesterday were useless. Not a one that I really liked.

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Jamie on a mission as we head for the woods. Notice the ears. He’s listening to me.

I suddenly felt like not only was the entire idea ridiculously ambitious, but that I wanted to stop right away. I also felt really embarrassed not only that I had invested the effort to do all that writing and set up a blog for myself, but also that my friends would see that I was swerving all over the place, starting things and abandoning them as hopeless so quickly. This was depressing as it’s probably a feeling that I harbor about myself anyway.

I’ve mentioned that feeling here before; that I start and invest deeply in things only to abandon them eventually. Usually that’s over a period of years, but it’s very embarrassing to do it this quickly.

But fear not; I am not abandoning the project. I think it needs adjustment as the effort and time involved in writing every single day as well as editing and posting pictures every day is a bit overwhelming. Maybe I can relax a bit and write and post a little less often, perhaps with a day or two off a week.

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Back to the feeling of inconsistency that I have about myself for just a moment. In truth, I think it’s a feeling that I get mostly from others. I feel like there are people in my life who judge this tendency of mine harshly. I won’t mention names, but I’ve heard through other people who people have commented critically on the way I’ve gone through my life. It hurt.

For myself, I don’t generally feel badly about the way I’ve lived my life. I’ve done a variety of things, sure. I love getting excited about things and digging into them. I especially love learning new things. It’s probably my greatest pleasure in life and my greatest strength. It’s not like I haven’t led a productive life or taken care of my responsibilities in life.

I’ve built several businesses and had success with most of them. I spent 13 years as a cabinetmaker, building furniture for a living. I spent more than 15 years as a computer animator, at which I was very successful in every way possible. I had big corporate clients and made a lot of money, all from a skill I taught myself, with clients I found myself through extensive effort. Nothing to be ashamed of there. In fact, I’m quite proud of those efforts.

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But I was never satisfied in either of those undertakings. I spent most of my life as a cabinetmaker trying to find a way out and on to something else. I was working way below my potential. I wasn’t using much of my intelligence or my creativity or even my craftsmanship. I was just struggling to keep a roof over my head and that of my employees.

Animation was my way out of there. It was much more challenging and used much more of my intelligence and creativity. I was proud of what I did, but those big corporate clients are very demanding. They want all of your life. I worked brutal hours under a lot of stress sometimes. I even remember working on Christmas day once. Believe me, it was not because I wanted to.

I see I’m about to do an entire career history here, but what I’m not finished with why I have those feelings of inconsistency. Toward the end of my career as an animator, I began to want desperately to be an artist again. I was an art major in college and made periodic efforts to get into graduate school over the years. Never made it and it’s just as well. The job market for college professors is brutal. It might have been a real disaster for me.

But I still wanted to make art and I began tinkering with some painting in the basement of my office building. Eventually, I made a studio in the loft of the carriage house behind my home. I spent years painting, developing my skills and my vision of what I wanted to do. I would do an occasional animation job to keep the roof over my and my wife’s head. This was my first wife and she had quit working as soon as I started making good money as an animator.

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Two treatments of the same photograph. How things are developed makes a huge difference.

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Eventually, my painting got strong enough to get representation in a decent little gallery. I sold work, even had a show there, which was good for my confidence, but I certainly never made a living. Later, I turned to photography, and sought out more and better galleries. I did find one that loved my work and sold a lot of it. It felt great, but still didn’t make me a living.

Eventually, I came upon another obsession. I started riding motorcycles. I have no idea why. Perhaps because I was getting divorced and wanted something new and exciting to establish my independence and freedom. Anyway, I loved it. Still do. I later began photographing the bikes. I sold a few of those images, but the market was not there at my gallery, so I dropped it.

But the passion didn’t die with that. I was discovering that a person could actually make motorcycles with their bare hands. And that was very attractive to me. There was a tremendous new craft for me to learn and a lot else to learn as well. I had absolutely no background in mechanical things. I didn’t know how to weld or work on engines. But I went to school and worked on my own to learn all that stuff. I’m actually a licensed motorcycle mechanic now.

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I started a bike building business. I always make a business of my passions. It lets me do it in a big way and with luck, it keeps a roof over my head. This one did not, and it was expensive. It’s not cheap to build bikes and it takes a long time to build each one, especially when you build them from scratch as I did. I had to build the frame by hand, make the gas and oil tanks from sheets of hand formed aluminum and put together all of the myriad elements of a bike piece by piece, including even doing engine work and all of the wiring.

The problem is that custom bikes are hard to sell. The market is tiny. Even prominent bike builders are not that successful. A few may make it and I thought I might be among them, but I couldn’t afford to risk any more money on the venture. So that was it for bikes.

So that’s the most recent effort for me and it was a failure and an expensive one at that. I wasted a lot of time and money on it and I have little to show for it except a couple of customized bikes of my own and one full custom bike I have yet to sell. As I was close to retirement, this risk and expense was particularly costly. I didn’t spend my retirement, but I spent a piece of it and I wish I hadn’t.

 

So that’s a big piece of my bad feeling about quitting things, being inconsistent. It was made worse by the fact that it’s the only thing my second wife has seen me attempt. She wasn’t really critical of it, but I don’t like leaving that impression of my abilities with her. It was a huge accomplishment to learn all that I did in such a short time and to build some beautiful bikes that were published in bike magazines all over the world, but as a financial failure it left me feeling pretty bad about myself.

I guess you could also argue that my artistic efforts have been a financial failure as well, though I’ve had more success than most of the artists I know. It was a success to me personally. I made really nice work that I’m very proud of and I sold a lot of it, but it was never enough to live on.

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So I guess my self-image as successful entrepreneur has been hurt over the last decade or so. I suppose no real entrepreneur is without his failures, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t hurt.

I just realized there is another element of this feeling. My father. He was an architect and a builder. He was very successful at a young age, heading design departments for big architectural firms in Detroit, but he was an entrepreneur at heart. He wanted to make his own way. And he had both successes and disasters as an entrepreneur. The constant ups and downs of the building market caught him over and over, wiping out the gains he made every cycle. It made things tough for our family and left marks on my brother and I.

I never wanted to repeat my father’s patterns. He was pretty irresponsible with the risks he took. He never seemed to learn that another bust was coming after each boom. He risked everything every time and ended up losing. He died in relative poverty, depending on the kindness of his children at times, just to keep a roof over his and my mother’s head.

It’s not like he was homeless or anything, but he did depend on my brother and I at times and continued to chase the dream right up until his dying day. He wound up living on social security alone, having saved not one dime in his entire life. I loved my Dad once I got over the anger of the rollercoaster we lived on when I was younger.

He died knowing that I loved him and I knew that he loved me. In the end I guess there was no harm, expect possibly to my mother. My brother, however, was never able to overcome the strains of those early years. He didn’t feel loved and I’m not sure whether he loved my parents when they died. I’m afraid to ask.

I didn’t mean to get into all of that today, or perhaps ever, but I guess that’s the way this blog will work. I will follow whatever comes into my mind wherever it goes.

I think most artists are fraught with self-doubt; at least I know the ones I know tend to be. It’s not an easy way to live, but we apparently love it enough to continue. There’s that driving force in us that makes us keep going and keep coming back. I know I’ve done it all my life and I guess I’m still doing it.

Well I didn’t intend to write all that today. I want to get back to the walk and the project. As I said, I was feeling very discouraged after posting last week’s photos. I left on this morning’s walk with little hope, but there’s the thing about going for a walk. It’s hard to stay pessimistic and hopeless. Instead, I just decided to take the camera and walk. It is a really dull, gray day with no real redeeming qualities, but off you go anyway.

I took a lot of pictures of Jamie today. He loves his walk no matter the weather. He doesn’t care a bit how cold or cloudy it is. He just wants to go. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really like being photographed. He can tell I’m doing it. He doesn’t look at me the same way, so I get a lot of pictures of him looking suspicious or put upon. We’ll see later if I got anything good.

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I set the camera up to fire away quickly and I turned off all the sounds I could so that he might not notice I was shooting, but he’s no fool. I stopped putting the camera to my eye and just held it in my right hand and fired away. I have little control over composition that way, but I thought he might not notice so much if the camera wasn’t to my face. But he still knows the thing is pointed at him and is mistrustful. I can only hope that he gets used to it and begins to ignore it, because he gives me such sweet looks sometimes and I’d love to capture those moments.

As for the woods themselves, I took my initial shot of the road next to the woods as always. It’s my “establishing shot.” It will be interesting to compare all those shots over the year ahead. Once I got into the woods I took only a few wider shots of the woods, mostly for the same purpose, a record of the weather and time of year.

I got interested again in some unique tree trunks along the way. Many of them are wrapped with vines. Some of the vines actually get absorbed by the tree as the tree grows. I saw one where there was a slight scar indicating where the vine had been. It was completely buried in the tree. I find the bark of these trees fascinating. They vary quite a bit, from smooth as skin to deeply furrowed. On some, the bark flakes off (Cherry), on others, it peels off in long strips (Shagbark Hickory.)

That’s about all I shot. That and a lot of shots of Jamie. The light and weather were such that nothing else looked that good.

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One last thing I’ll mention. My wife knows that I’ve started this blog and yesterday she asked me if I would put up a link to the blog so that she could read it. I was a bit surprised. She’s a very pragmatic person. Very hard-working. She would never consider doing something like this; spending all this time writing, reflecting, self-examining.

To my surprise, this morning when I returned from my walk she told me that she had finished reading the blog. All of it. And she said she enjoyed it. Again I was surprised. I always think she sees my way of living as quaint and faintly amusing. Maybe she still does, but if she continues reading the blog, she’ll get a much more complete picture of the strange battles that go on in my head.

 

Five years ago I watched both of my parents get sick and die at a relatively young age. Neither made it to 80 years old and they were sick for a long time before that. It left a big impression on me as it would on anyone. What remains of my life is so short. If I live as long as they did, I have fewer than 20 years remaining. Only 15 years of good health; maybe only five or ten with enough strength and vitality for any new adventures. If I want to do much with the time that remains to me, I need to do it sooner than later. And that’s a good thing for all of us to consider all the time. We only get one chance and we don’t know when it’s over.

I think I’ll wrap this up and go play guitar.

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