Budding Photographer 

Yesterday, we traveled from Nairobi to Suswa–a little town about two hours west of where we were staying. As we were driving, we passed a variety of locales–aflluent neighborhoods, slums, industry, commercial … there’s a diversity, alright, as one one expect.
The surprising thing for me isn’t even how far the pendulum swings–it’s in how close together the rich are to the poor. It didn’t seem like morn than maybe half a mile from the sprawling landscape of tin shacks barely being supported and crammed in like so many little cans of humanity to the half-to one acre plots of land where upon sit mansions. For me, that was rather jarring.
Once we got to our hotel and got settled in, we headed out to visit a family. They don’t live far from our hotel, but the travel … the first 1/3 of the drive is on paved road, while the other 2/3 is over really bumpy dirt roads, filled with ruts, deep puddles, and rocks. On more than a few occasion, I could feel my lower back and neck wrench, sometimes on the same bump.
We arrived at the family’s home. Acres and acres of sprawling land. I don’t know what they do with the land, but it isn’t farmed, from what I could see, so I don’t know how they support themselves. And maybe the reality is that they *don’t* support themselves, and that’s why we’re here. Heidi is already talking about a business box for them, so it makes sense that they may have fallen in hard times, even by their meager standards in comparison to our typical American way of life.
Silence is awkward. There are no two ways about it. Meeting a foreign family who speaks so little to no English at all can cause a lot of odd tension. I don’t mean hostile tension, obviously, but … well, okay. For example, I just wanted to run up to these ladies and give them a big hug and show them that we already love them. Can’t do that. Cultural faux pas. So we stood there, smiling, but at the same time, goofily trying to communicate with them on ANY level. Thankfully, we had Moses and David with us to translate, but even that seemed awkward and strange. At one point, I watched Moses ask Jennifer to ask them what their names are. It was comedic, but in a sad, I-wish-everyone-could-have-a-universal-translator way. To Jenn’s credit, she did not give up until she had it right.
At some point, we broke out bubbles to play with the kids. That was the ice-breaker we needed to get the ball rolling. Those kids LOVED them. I have a bunch of absolutely adorable pictures of these kids playing with them, trying to pop them … and the looks are pure joy.
Eunice (I believe) offered all of us some form of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, soI was a little hesitant to accept some, but having lived in a culture where knowing that this kind of sharing is potentially back-breaking for the family, I gratefully accepted their mug of charity and bridge-building. It was *delicious*. And piping hot! Many “ashe oleng”s (“thank you”!) were offered. Probably too many … but since it’s one of the only phrases I know and I was so desperate to communicate with her, I might have gone a tad overboard.
I remember few names out of the dozen or so people that were there, but one little boy stood out. Clinton is 9 years old, if I remember right. He and I had a pretty good bonding moment. I’ll get to that in a bit.
One question I have is how much technology this family has seen. I ask that because Clinton either has a secret camera stashed away somewhere that he’s been practicing with, or he’s just a natural photographer. I don’t know which.
in the course of trying to open up to this family, we tried a lot of different things. What I found that worked best for me was showing the kids the pictures I took of them. They REALLY enjoyed that. A LOT. They recognized Sami from the pictures. One little boy saw her picture as we were scrolling through what we had taken, looked over at her, and stuck his tongue out at her with a big, happy smile. I don’t know what the significance of sticking the tongue out is; it could be how their culture points. In the Philippines, people point using puckered lips. In Portugal, people indicate direction with an upward nod of the head. In the US, people point similarly, but with a downward nod. Sticking out a tongue to point wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
In showing Clinton the picture, he wanted to scroll through them on his own. I very hesitantly handed him the camera, and he looked at every picture. Every. Single. One. There were over 400 at that point, and he looked enthralled with all of them … even the boring ones from the airport.
I asked earlier about how much technology they have seen. Here’s why: Clinton discovered rather quickly how to get into the live view on the camera. He moved it around and could see that the picture on the LCD was where the camera was pointing. Then he started trying to push random buttons–like he wanted to take a picture. I hovered over him, put his little right index finger on the shutter button, and gently pressed down. After that, he was hooked. He took over 120 pictures (in burst mode, so … take that into consideration when applying a jaw drop factor). Lots of waists, sides of structures, keep bumpers … but some of them are downright awesome. We may just have started the newest Ansel Adams down the path of photography. Maybe …
I need to remember to get in touch with Pastor Ben to get names of these people so that I can remember them. I’ll always remember Clinton     That’s an easy one. But the ladies and guys of the family … no idea. I do remember Abigail and Janet. Janet speaks some English. She’s  21, and her daughter–Abigail–is about 14 months.
Emotions. Boy … I can tell you this: I was not prepared. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having met them, played with them, gotten to know them for just the briefest of moments … but the reality is that I may never see them again, and that hurt. The smiles on their faces when we played with the bubbles, the sheer joy of the suckers and candy, Clinton and the camera … I cannot get enough of this.
It’s 6:03 Monday morning. I have no internet connection at all. I don’t know when I’ll get to post this, but I hope it’s soon.

2015: The Year of … Something

Well that went fast. 2014 is in the rear-view mirror, and our road ahead stretches in some as-yet-to-be-determined path. Is it curved? Looped? Straight?

 

Trust me … I’m not trying to wax philosophical; I’m genuinely curious to see what this year brings for me and my family. Personally, I have goals for this blog (“Yes … of course you do. We’ve heard this before.”), and I have a plan in place to make sure I follow through with it.

 

To start off, I’ve mentioned that I’m a huge fan of photography. Lately, I’ve been shooting raw images as opposed to in-camera jpg images. Here’s a very clear demonstration as to why.

IMG_9591a

 

As you can see, this picture looks a little dark. Pretty, kind of haunting … but dark. The image below is what I was able to do in Photoshop with some raw processing.

IMG_9591b

I don’t know about you, but glowing trees? Very cool. Now I just need to go in and get rid of the now-obvious wires that are dangling in the background, but for now, I’m happy with this.

I learn more every time I play with my camera, open Photoshop, and dig around online for tutorials on better post-processing. This is how anyone gets good at whatever it is he or she wants to do. I want to be a better photographer and do better post-processing, so I study, learn, play, try, fail, and eventually succeed.

 

You can do this too. Not necessarily photography, but whatever you want to achieve. Think it, dream it, do it. Just get at it!

 

No, this was not designed to be a motivational speech. It just turned all Tony Robbins-like cuz … well, it is what it is. You can’t become better at something if you don’t try and practice.
Now go forth and conquer.

Crafty Weekend, Coming Up

This weekend is going to rule. Our area of the world is getting slammed with the X-class Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that our nearest star spat out. Solar flares are generally the cause of the borealis–both auroral and australial. In layman’s terms, the northern and southern lights. You know … those eerily green and red dancing lights that we all lament over when we see the amazing pics on Flickr or wherever? Yah. Tonight, I get to try to see one live for the first time.

 

That’s *after* I make over 100 tie dye bottles. That’s right–114, to be precise. “What?! *WHY*?!?” Cuz. I can. It’s all about choices, baby! 20 different hues of blue. 18 greens. blacks, greys, reds, yellows, oranges, browns … khaki, moss green, cerulean blue, baby pink, #2 pencil yellow (yes–that is an actual color on dharmatrading.com) … I’m going on a dyeing KICK. Halloween is right around the corner. Pumpkin and ghost tie dyes are gonna be a huge hit. 🙂

 

And to what will I be listening while doing all of this? Why U2’s new CD, of course! Songs of Innocence was a *huge* surprise announcement at the end of the Apple event on Tuesday. More than that, U2 ARE GIVING IT AWAY UNTIL OCTOBER 13. 500 million subscribers to iTunes, and all of us get it gratis. We pay nothing. We are the recipients of a gift.

 

Yet some people are squaking up a storm about how it’s “clogging up [their] phone.” Someone actually tweeted “Who the f*** put U2 on my phone?” Honestly? Who complains about free music? I don’t care if U2 isn’t your cup of tea; the fact that they’re literally giving away an entire CD speaks volumes about their character and generosity. And unless your name is Bob Lefsetz, you *should* be able to find something positive to say about that alone. But no … there are plenty of nay-sayers. Bob is one of the most vocal among them, but whatever. He’s bitter about something. Probably had to take a tablespoon of Goldenseal (don’t ask … just trust …). But I digress.

 

One of Bob’s points is that U2 are too old to be relevant anymore. “Yes, older people build the tools, but it’s young people who utilize them.” It’s stupidity like this that makes me want to bash my head against a wall. And … what experience do all these younglings have that gives them the right to tell U2–or any older band–that they’re no longer relevant? OHHHH … wait a sec. That’s just Bob’s opinion, right? Because ACTUAL musicians appreciate the groundwork that was laid for them. They stand in awe of their predecessors … especially when it’s abundantly apparent that it’s merited, as is the case with U2.

 

Whatever. One article by one grumpy gus does not  a career ruin. Well, at least not U2’s career. Bob’s may be dead in the water, with all his ability to assess talent and relevance.

 

And on a more positive note, I’m gonna get started on those dye bottles and make some wearable art. Pictures to come!

Creativity and How To Earn It

So I’ve been in a rut the last … meh. I dunno. Few months? Years? By education and experience, I’m a technical writer. That’s what it says on my several thousand dollar piece of paper that I earned several years ago. Over the course of the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve noticed that I’m not a fan of “2nd person imperative/3rd person indicative” writing. It leaves 0 room for creativity (unless you want to count the little trade secret of how every writer has his/her “signature” in every document they write. Don’t ask, cuz they’ll never tell what it is.), and it gets rather … tedious. I have a good eye for detail, so it lends itself well to my writing out things like procedures, instructions … we’re talking 100+ steps on how to make a peanut butter sandwich. That’s how I knew I could find a niche in tech writing.

 

Aaaaaand so what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t make me happy. When it’s all said and done, I get bored *super* easily with it. So when this new job came along that *isn’t* tech writing-based, I was super stoked. Beyond excited. Hyped/amped/revved … and so on and so forth. I started late last year, jumped right into it with some white papers (hey, they’re not procedures … anything different is good), and that’s about it. I asked my manager when he would have some time to review what he feels are my specific roles and responsibilities, and that just never happened. So I’ve gone department to department to department (ad nauseum), asking what I can do to help. I have a strong writing and editing background, so I can proofread, format, edit, and whatever else needed. And for a while, there was work coming in.

It’s stopped, and now I’m back to being bored. I *literally* have nothing to do at work. And it sucks. Most people would think, “Dude! You’ve got it easy! You can just surf and do whatever you want?! Don’t look that gift-horse in the mouth!” Except it’s not that simple. By moral code, I have a difficult time knowing that I’m getting paid and not producing anything worthwhile or useful to my employer. So … there’s that dilemma. Yah, I have surfed. To CNN. To Fox News (gotta keep a balance, right)? To some hockey-related websites, football sites, related message boards … and truthfully, it’s not as fun as you’d think. Well, okay … it’s not as fun for me. I’m sure I fall squarely into the overwhelmingly vast minority on this one. That’s fine. I get it.

 

So I’ve been in this rut. Work-wise, blog-wise, life-wise … it’s been a kind of downer. And I’m tired of it. I *have* to get out of it? The question is: how?

 

Right now, my wife is on a hike with one of my daughters. She and some friends are going to this waterfall that I would love to visit, but I have my standards when it comes to photography. I know exactly what shot I would want to get, and sadly, I don’t have the necessary filter right now. I will by Tuesday or Wednesday, but that doesn’t help today.

 

What that *did* help me with, on the other hand, is to come up with a list of things which I enjoy doing and feel that I do relatively well. Things like photography, writing, tie-dyeing, video game playing (when I actually sit down and play, anyway … and if I’m being honest with myself, it’s rather just an escape than any kind of creativity jump-starter) … these are highly marketable skills. Yes, tie-dyeing is a highly marketable skill. People will pay good money for well-patterned shirts.

 

Here’s what I realized today: I stayed home from this hike because a) I’m in this funk, b) I wanted to just sit around and watch something on Netflix, and c) I didn’t really want to trudge up this this waterfall if I didn’t have what it takes to get the picture I want to take. Yah, I could take a great shot of the valley below, or get some nice scenic pics … but I can also get those the next time they go up, at which point I’ll have my new filters (thank you, Amazon!).  So I’m at home, writing this blog post and listening to Dream Theater’s Awake CD.

 

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I don’t *want* to listen to other people’s music, or look at other people’s photos. I want to make my own mark. 20 years ago, I bet these guys in Dream Theater were sitting around thinking, “Man, there’s some excellent music out there, but I bet we could make excellent music too.” And so it is with me: I  *can* take excellent pictures. I *can* make excellent tie-dyed shirts, and they don’t have to be a peace sign, or a smiley face, or a mushroom. 2 years ago, when I had a booth at our town’s festival, I made a ladybug shirt that was just mind-blowing. I’m not saying that to brag: I’m saying that because at that point, NO ONE had actually dyed a ladybug. At least, not one that was posted online that I could find. And it took some work, yah … but the finished product was just amazing.

 

The couple of weekends ago, some friends of ours went on a drive with us to this tiny town in Northern Utah to get some pictures of the night sky, specifically of the galactic center, which after sunset was sitting at about 55-60 degree angle relative to the horizon. I captured a bunch of RAW images, brought them home, and started playing with the RAW editor in Photoshop. And by “started playing with,” I mean for the first time. Ever. I tinkered, looked up some Youtube vids, and did the best I could. And … yah, the images looked okay, but at 100%, something just looked off. Like, WAY off. I couldn’t figure out why all my pictures looked like Picasos.

 

I sent the RAW files to a buddy of mine who’s been shooting in RAW forever. He thought they looked great, with the settings he was using. That made me wonder why mine sucked, which led me to believe that it had to be something in the settings that I had screwed up. After re-opening and re-investigating, sure enough … fixed them, sharpened them, and now they look 100 times better.

 

Now … I told you all that about the picture not to brag, but to prove a point: creativity can be a product of a stream of consciousness that just flows out of you, but as a general rule, if you want to to look its best, you have to go back, re-evaluate, study, learn, fix, and accept that you can get better at anything you want, IF you put in the time.

 

To that end, I have some dye bottles to fill. Lots and lots and lots of bottles …  🙂

On Your Mark … Get Set …….. GO!

And we’re off on the 2014 blogathon! In an ideal world, I will update this every day with something amazingly cool–not just with music, but with stuff that I simply enjoy doing. This will involve game reviews, iPhone/iPad app/game reviews, tie-dye techniques that I use, shirts and other things I’ve made, music reviews, concert reviews, hockey-talk, my own personal missives on any of these subjects or others … I’m going all-out.

I don’t know if I’ll have a set agenda like some bloggers (read: CRYSTAL! She’s SO organized! I could only dream of reaching her level of awesomeness), but I do have a goal: EVERY DAY write something new.

Today marks the beginning. This is it. Get ready, world.

I’m sure I’ll post more later today. This is more of an announcement than anything else, and I needed to start somewhere.

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