I was talking recently with a friend about some upcoming concerts here in Charlotte and what our interest was in attending them. Kathy and I love to see and hear live music, but find the cost of the tickets – especially for decent seats – and the crowds to be huge turn offs, so with rare exception we usually pass.
One of the recent announcements is for a jazz series, with several artists that I would like to see. Also just announced is a concert by Billy Joel. That would also be a great show, but based on prior events by big-name performers, chances are good that the cost of seats will be in excess of $100, but I’m just guessing. This runs counter to most people I know (shocker!) but I would be more likely to spend $100 (or $200 for both of us) on a nice dinner and/or a bottle of wine than on a concert, regardless of the performer. And I don’t part with that kind of money easily, so you get the gist.
At some point during the conversation it occurred to me that, for the most part, popular performers are those whose music has words. More often than not my preference is for music that doesn’t have words. And then I wondered how that translates to other parts of my life. For example, I tend to take photographs of scenes without people, but a large percentage of all the photographs taken on a given day – at least those not of food or cats – are photographs of people. I tend to seek peace and quiet, while a lot of people seem to like noise and drama. Different strokes, as they say.
This is not to suggest that music without words means that it has negative space. In most cases that is far from the truth. But I find that the introduction of words to music can be like people in a photograph. More often than not I prefer to leave them out.
The whole idea of negative space comes about when I think about my photographs. A lot of people are afraid of negative space, just like they are afraid of silence. But my favorite photographs are often those that have large areas of negative space. Not negative space in terms of “nothing,” but negative space in terms of sky or water or a solid color. Negative space, like silence, tends to make some people uncomfortable. I find it soothing and feel that it often adds balance. Not always, but often and under the right circumstances.
So what about those concerts? It’s too soon to tell but my guess is that we’ll opt for a few of the jazz concerts and skip the others. But who knows? We might decide that it is worth the money to see a big name like Billy Joel.
There’s a sign in front of a church that I pass by that is advertising for an upcoming “financial planning” seminar. The sign has a picture of some snake oil salesman-looking guy holding a bundle of cash and says “Normal is Broke, BE WEIRD!” I’m not sure what kind of financial planning seminar would be held in a church but I hope it doesn’t involve praying for more money. 😉
Right after I pass that church I get to the Walmart, which seems to be a much more popular place for people to spend their time and money, because Walmart is always packed and I only see people at the church on Sunday. Maybe the church needs to take marketing advice from Walmart and attract people there by having sales.
I guess it’s the whole “SALE!” thing that is on my mind, mostly. But it ties into the idea of financial planning because the two ideas seem to be diametrically opposed.
Because I don’t watch television, don’t listen to commercial radio, have Ad Blocker on my browser and stopped subscribing to the local “junk mail disguised as yesterday’s news” newspaper I am mostly insulated from all of the “it’s on sale” mentality that gets people all excited about Black Friday. But I hear people at work all the time making plans to go shopping on Friday because “they’re (whoever “they’re” is) is having a sale on (INSERT NAME OF ITEM HERE).
Kathy & I just don’t buy stuff. Other than trips to Lowe’s to buy the few things we have needed for our house, we buy food, wine and gasoline for the car. I will admit to making a few trips to Best Buy while I was rounding out my Sonos system, but that’s it. We went to Target a few weeks ago and bought a few things that we needed, and realized that was the first time we had been there since January. And it’s not because we shop somewhere else – I haven’t been inside a Walmart in probably 5 years!
Just for fun I pulled up Walmart’s (and this is not a slam at Walmart, they just make a convenient example) Black Friday ad and looked through it. In a 39-page ad, there isn’t a single thing I would buy now. It’s not that there isn’t anything I would have, but generally if there is something I need I already have it, and if I need to replace something I have, I usually can’t wait until it’s on sale!
Admittedly, some of the sales are pretty good. If you just happened to be in the market for Beats wireless headphones ($280 – really?) $149 is a pretty good price. I liked the idea of Skullcandy earbuds for $9, but if I needed a set I would already have some that I paid $18 for and wouldn’t be laying up extras “just in case.” About three quarters of the pages are for clothes and junk toys that I wouldn’t buy for anyone’s kid. And best of all, if you don’t have the money for all this stuff, they have special financing available! Take 24 months to pay for this year’s crap! What a deal!
I’ll admit that the excuse that a lot of people use is that they are buying Christmas gifts, and to a certain extent that is probably true. But I’m not as concerned about who the stuff is for as I am that people feel like they have to buy stuff at all, for them or for someone else.
Anyway, I’m really not judging. Really! Some people enjoy the thrill of the chase, some have money to burn and shop just for fun. I choose to do otherwise. So do what you want, buy what you need and remember to share some of your good fortune with others less fortunate than you. What am I doing for Black Friday? I usually go to work on that day since I often figure it’s a lousy day to waste a vacation day on. This year though we’ve decided to do something a little different on Black Friday. We’re going to the beach for the weekend. Have fun!
We live in an age of absolutes. We have political parties who won’t support another party’s position just because it isn’t theirs, even when it is right. If we choose to not support a given cause then we are considered to be against it, even though we might be generous contributors to some other cause. When we drive it seems we are either rushing down the road like we’re on our way to a fire, or sitting at a traffic light checking the messages on our phones that came since the last red light.
Our Subaru came with a gauge on the dashboard that gives a visual reference as to whether we are “using gas” or “saving gas.” “Using gas” goes all the way to the 6:00, or “minus” position, while “saving gas” goes to the 12:00 or “plus position. When I am driving down a level road at a reasonable speed, the needle is horizontal at the 9:00 position, which in goldilocks terms means “just right” territory. But the scale between all the way “plus” and all the way “minus” is a continuum. When we first bought the car I became fixated on that gauge, mostly because I was surprised at how often it was pegged to the “minus” position and how seldom it hovered in “plus” territory. Sometimes the gauge just has to go into the Minus zone, like when pulling away from a traffic light, merging onto a freeway or going up a hill. But other than that, I have adjusted how I use the accelerator in order to keep that needle from “hitting bottom” any more than necessary.
This will sound silly, but in many ways that gauge has literally changed my life. That visual reference has taught me that the gas pedal is a control, and not an on/off switch.
My son Kevin has a term for people who pay attention to things and people around us. He calls us “observers.” I like that term because it is descriptive but not a label. Being an observer is both a blessing and a curse. Being an observer lets us experience things around us that other people overlook, for all the various reasons that people overlook things. Being an observer also makes us see all the things that people do that make us angry. One of the things I observe is how often people appear to live their lives either “off” or “on.” And for me that often manifests itself in how people drive.
I see that little needle as an analogy for the way I live my life, and I guess I project it on others as I imagine them running around with their personal needles pegged on Minus. This feeling is especially prevalent on my drive to work in the morning, as we move from one stop light to the next, all of us ending up in the same place, just in a somewhat different order. Some people race to get to the light sooner, and just have to wait longer for it to change. Others roll up to the light just as it is getting ready to change, but it’s the same cars each time. I guess in many ways I’m playing the role of the tortoise vs. the hare, but I learned long ago that no one gives out prizes for being the first person into the office in the morning. And they don’t serve cocktails to those who are still in the office at 6:00. When I leave for the day, I do so with the confidence that it will be there when I get back. Right where I left it the day before. It’s funny how that works.
So where did the title come from? I was thinking about the fact that people seem to know only two settings on their cars – “go” and “stop.” I was thinking about the fact that I can choose how hard to press the gas pedal – that it is a control that allows me to add gas gradually instead of just mashing it to the floor, instead of an off/on switch with only two settings. And I choose to live my life somewhere between the Plus and Minus settings. Sometimes it’s OK to peg the needle one way or the other, but things seem to run more smoothly when I keep the needle in the middle. And I guess I just find myself happier when my personal needle spends more time on the Plus side of the scale than the Minus.
“I’ve got to conversations going on in my head,” he explains, a bemused smile deepening the creases around his eyes. “One says, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of stuff you want to do, man. Now’s the time, because you’re gonna kick the bucket pretty soon.’ The other says, ‘Oh, Jeff, you want to make the rest of your life a giant homework assignment? Just relax, man. Just relax.'”
– Jeff Bridges interview in AARP Magazine, Aug/Sep 2014
Words to live by, as far as I’m concerned. Kathy & I have spent a lot of time thinking about what comes “next,” as though it has to be something different from what we’ve done for the last 30+ years. But sometimes I wonder why. I’m not unhappy with what I’ve done, and if I never get to Europe or Antarctica I don’t think I will find my life somehow unfulfilled.
A lot of what we think and feel is due to the old “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome – that somehow something different will be magically better. And why is that?
Kathy & I attended a fantastic concert last evening by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. For those who aren’t familiar, look him up and check out some of his recordings or videos. Regarded by many as the greatest living guitarist on the planet, his resume includes over 20 record albums and two Grammys. The dude can play!
Today, I got an e-mail from the concert promoters thanking us for attending and wanting to make sure we were aware of another acoustic guitar player that would be performing there soon and hoping we would attend. I’m sure he’s an excellent guitar player and I am fully aware that everyone needs to start somewhere. But this guy’s claim to fame, at least according to the promoters, is that he has received “over 20 million views collectively for his Youtube videos.”
That’s a lot of views, certainly. But I’d love to ask, “so what else has he done?” I suppose I’m missing the point, but it’s pretty amazing to me that someone’s Youtube videos qualifies him as a successful musician and one worth paying money to hear. I suppose we might decide to go, but at least I know I can see his videos to help me make the decision.
Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett recently posted on their blog that they had decided and agreed (it was Samantha’s idea and Darwin decided to go along) to a June 30 deadline to either process their unprocessed files or delete them. Delete as in gone. Forever. Their reasoning is that having so many unprocessed images was limiting their creativity by creating “clutter” and that Samantha “CAN’T STAND the idea of going out to shoot with hundreds of images just waiting for me back home.” Samantha had 89+ folders and Darwin nearly 200 folders dating back to 2005. Rather than me copy and paste their comments, you need to read the several (so far) posts on the subject to get the whole idea.
In their posts they refer to the concept of Minimalism, which is one that Kathy & I have been exploring lately. Part of the goal of downsizing to our new home was to rid ourselves of physical “clutter” that we had been making space to store and making time to think about. There’s nothing like facing the prospect of moving all that “stuff” to make one wonder how much of it is really necessary. And parsing all of it down to just the essentials for living in an apartment for 6 months really made us think about how much of that stuff would ultimately survive the move. Suffice it to say that we’re glad to have a Goodwill store close by.
I’ve never given all that much thought to my digital backlog. I have a very well thought out method for sorting, categorizing and rating my photos so I always know the status of a given image based on the Pick status, color label and star rating. Having unprocessed files doesn’t bother me. In fact, I will sometimes go back into the archives and see an image that, for one reason or another, I missed or passed over the first time or two through the folder. I’ve reasoned that as long as I have captioned and keyworded my photos, if I ever needed to process one I would, and if I never did? No big deal.
For a while I felt like I needed to have a goal of processing every single one of my “Picks.” And I actually have processed many of my files from the early digital days, starting around 2004. What I have done, though, is when I’ve gone through and made my Picks I remove the non-Picks from the Lightroom catalog while leaving them on my hard drive. I have nearly 32,000 images in my Lightroom catalog, but many multiples of that number reside on my hard drive. It’s not that I think all of those “rejects” might be valuable as much as I figure with as cheap as hard drives are there isn’t a lot of point in deleting them.
So I’m not judging anyone else’s decisions or their workflow, but I’m pretty comfortable with my “system” and it doesn’t bother me to have unprocessed photos. But it was obviously something they considered to be important, and more power to them. Not all “clutter” is visible, and if something is hampering their creativity, addressing it in the way that works for them is the right approach. I’ll be interested to see how they did come June 30.
One of the many blogs I follow is that of Paul Maxim, a photographer who resides in Rochester, NY. Paul and his wife Barbara have been on a month-long adventure around the country. A few days ago I read on Paul’s blog that he was going to be in Charleston, SC so I sent him an e-mail suggesting that if he was going to be passing through Charlotte to give me a call. As it turned out, he was and he did!
So Thursday night, Kathy & I joined up with Paul & Barbara and Earl & Bonnie Moore for dinner. It was nice to meet Paul & Barbara in person, talk a little about photography, a lot about travel and retirement, and had some good food as well.
I’ve only gotten to meet a few of my virtual friends in person, but I’ve found that so far I like them even more in person than I do by seeing only the slice of them that they show online. There are a bunch of interesting people in this world and I feel privileged to have met a few of them!
Kathy & I have worked really hard in recent years to strike a balance between planning & preparing for the future and living a full & meaningful life in the present. A concept that we recently came up with was the idea that we should make it a point to “Celebrate Every Day.” It’s probably a product of age and maturity, possibly wisdom, but starting from the loss of my own parents nearly 30 years ago and continuing as recently as the loss of Kathy’s parents last year, we have made a point of evaluating our own priorities in this context. We finally gave it a formal name just recently.
One night last week – Tuesday, in fact – we decided to have one of our more “splurgy” bottles of wine. We often save those for what we might consider special occasions. But in keeping with our “Celebrate Every Day” theme, we decided to open that bottle “because it was Tuesday.” Thus was born the idea of Wine on Tuesdays. Any other day of the week would be appropriate as well. 🙂
This post has been rolling around in my head for some time, but Thanksgiving and all the Black Friday hoopla seems to be an appropriate time to gather these thoughts and put them out on the blog.
On our recent journey to Charleston, I remember at one point commenting about the number of car dealerships clustered around a particular interchange. I think it was somewhere around Columbia, SC but it could be anywhere in the US big enough to have car dealerships. As much as I love and appreciate nice cars, the automobile business has always served to me as a prime representation of marketing-driven consumption. If I wanted to be negative I could say “greed and excess” here, but it wouldn’t serve my point. So we’ll call it marketing-driven consumption. Black Friday is another prime example of marketing-driven consumption to the max.
I specifically remember, shortly after buying a new car several years ago, someone told me “congratulations!” as if to imply that purchasing a new car was some kind of heroic achievement. But that’s how cars have always been marketed, as symbols of success and status. When I was growing up, each September my brother & I would start sneaking into the storage lots behind the local car dealerships to get a peek at the new models to be introduced in the fall. Back in that day, models tended to really change between model years, rather than just another homogenized ToyHoNisOlet, because the manufacturers relied more on the cars to sell themselves. And they all had somewhat distinctive features, from styling to performance.
Today, many cars, at least those the regular folks can afford, all look pretty much alike. So it takes marketing to make us want one over another. And that marketing is usually aimed at making someone feel young, attractive, successful, more interesting or some attribute only accomplished by purchasing a particular product. Because it’s been hammered into our heads for so long, whenever someone sees a friend driving a new car, there is often a tinge of envy (or worse) and at least a little bit of “must be nice.” I usually look at it and think of what I could do with the payment. But that’s just me.
Anyway, the comment that I made when I saw all of these car dealerships was that if there was some way we could be identified and ranked (because after all this is all about judging and ranking – a subject for another post) not by how fancy our car is or the neighborhood we live in, but by the size of our 401(k) our IRA or our savings account, would there be investment offices at all of these interchanges instead of car dealerships? Would we make different decisions if they were based on mindful reasoning instead of marketing? And how would those decisions be reflected in our personal wellbeing if they didn’t involve spending huge sums of money or committing to an endless stream of payments?
In that same vein, why do so many people tend to judge how serious someone is about photography based on the type of equipment they own or the subject matter that they photograph? Have we been convinced by marketing and promotion by the camera manufacturers and retailers that the only way to take meaningful photographs is to have the latest and greatest camera and lens? Perhaps. But I prefer to appreciate a photographer’s work based on the quality of their photographs, and when possible the stories behind the photographs. THAT is what photography means to me, not what brand of camera someone has, or which lens or how big their sensor is. Or even whether they are using a digital camera or film. But that’s hard, just like resisting the temptation brought on by advertising and marketing is hard.
As someone who doesn’t own a television or listen to commercial radio (I usually say that “I don’t watch TV” because saying “I don’t own a TV” makes some people uncomfortable) I’m not bombarded by all of the marketing messages that drive consumer spending. Kathy & I just don’t buy a lot of stuff, and when we do, we buy it because we need or want it. Being on sale isn’t generally a factor in our buying decision, although once we make a decision to purchase something we will often wait on a sale to buy it if we aren’t in a rush. But I still find myself attracted by the “Sale” or “Limited Time Only” mentality, and sometimes have to work hard to curb that feeling I get when something looks attractive because I’m afraid that I might not be able to have it.
As Kathy & I prepare to move into our “downsized” new home, and after having lived for the last 6 months in a rented apartment with just our most essential belongings, we have come to realize that all of the things we have been storing since May are things that aren’t really necessary for our daily lives. And while we did a really good job of paring down the things that we deemed “disposable” before we moved, we now think that maybe we didn’t go far enough. Many of things we have been storing are things that we’re going to have to think really hard about, in order to decide how much of it we even need or want to keep.
So what does this all have to do with anything? In the last few days, like many of us I’ve been bombarded by e-mails from every merchant I’ve ever done business with promoting their Black Friday “Doorbusters.” I don’t know about everyone else, but I haven’t yet seen a “deal” on anything I’d actually buy. I don’t think of camera equipment as something that is an impulse purchase. Most people only buy a camera when they need one, after weeks or sometimes months of analysis or research. I’ve enjoyed several recent exchanges on the blogs of some of my photo friends, discussing things like the aesthetics of a particular camera. Talking about how a camera feels to hold versus another, the ease of use or feel of the controls. Discussions around the mindfulness of talking photographs and cutting out the noise and chatter that distracts us from the pursuit of activities that make us happy. Things that matter to those of us who actually use a camera to take photographs, not just collect equipment or are constantly chasing after the next great thing. But that isn’t stuff you can buy at the mall or Best Buy.
Monte has demonstrated that you don’t need to necessarily buy the latest version of a camera, that the introduction of a new model can mean a good deal on the previous one. That makes the older model a good value, because it will do exactly what he needs it to do for a fraction of the cost of when it was new, or of the cost of the new model.
Chris has spent some time comparing the relative qualities of several mirrorless compact camera models, and has formed an opinion that seems to be contrary to the popular opinion. But if a particular camera meets your needs, then it is the right tool for you. Whether or not something is on sale doesn’t make it a good deal if it isn’t what you want. And I guess that is my point.
And Cedric wrote a similar post about how the ergonomics and feel of a camera means more to him than megapixels and dynamic range. His story about an exchange with a photography professor about the “feel” of a camera was a good one.
Mindfulness is a theme I have been pursuing lately. Decisions made in a calculated fashion, not driven by a marketing frenzy. Just being on sale isn’t a reason to buy anything we don’t want or need. Not buying something means you have saved the entire price, not just a percentage. And not needing a place to store all of our accumulated junk means we have room and resources for things that do matter to us. A purchasing decision made mindfully is a good one regardless of the price of the item being purchased.
I’m looking forward to living even more mindfully in 2014. We’ll see how that actually plays out. But first I’m going to have to sort through all the stuff that the movers are going to deliver in a couple of weeks! I’ll probably decide to start planning a vacation…that’s a lot more fun than a car payment.
I was originally going to title this post “Take the Money and Run,” but when I thought about what I really wanted to say, I realized I was wanting to talk more about the present and the future than revisiting the past. I mentioned in an earlier post about the fact that we had sold our house, were sweating out the due diligence process and had been waiting – somewhat impatiently – to get the green light to move, and eventually to actually close the sale. Well, that’s all done now. We sent about half of our stuff to storage on May 22, moved the important stuff – cameras, computers, the bed and a little bit of furniture 🙂 – into an apartment on May 23, spent the 23rd and 24th unpacking most of what we brought, then immediately headed off to Belhaven, our favorite little town on the coast, for Memorial Day weekend. We then spent evenings this past week and this just-past weekend getting the rest of the odds and ends squared away. I got my printer hooked up and working this morning – it fortunately seems to have survived the move with no ill effects. I have some pictures to hang, but that will be about it.
We closed the sale on the 30th, so now we are houseless, but not homeless. We had lived in our house for 17 years. That’s an eternity for some people, and is the longest we have ever lived in one place. And we haven’t lived in an apartment since 1984. I think one of the lessons learned from the selling and moving process is that that is way too long to stay in one place. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but you tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, and the older a house gets the more money it takes to keep it up. And that’s money that I would rather spend on things other than house maintenance.
Our current plan is to move into a new condo early this fall. It is currently in the very early construction stages – as in there isn’t even a road to it yet. But we visited the site this morning, and there are curbs now where there was just a hint of road only a week ago. The lot is graded and staked out, so we’re thinking that as soon as the road is paved we’ll start seeing forms go up for the footers. That’s pretty exciting – building our own place from the ground up. We’re not physically building it of course, but we picked the floor plan, chose the options and got to put our “signature” on it. All very exciting.
In the mean time, what to do? We think we’re going to like this little break quite a bit. A few months where the only things we need to think about are the necessities. Sure, we need to get up and go to work every day. We need to plan meals and get our exercise. But other than that? No boxes, no inspections and no appraisals. Almost worry free! Most everyone we know tells us that we’ll get tired of apartment living very quickly, and that we won’t be able to wait to get into our condo. But I don’t know. Part of us thinks we could get used to the “footloose and fancy free” lifestyle for a few years, maybe longer. Who says we need to own a house? Only the people who have a vested interest in selling us one! Throwing my money away on rent? How about throwing it away on interest instead? Take your pick and pay The Man. Conventional wisdom isn’t necessarily conventional or wise, I say.
We have every intention of going through with the condo purchase as planned. But we’re going to use this little bit of free time to consider all of our options. And that includes deciding whether or not we want to be tied to owning a house that we have to sell again, or if we just like the idea of giving 60 days notice, loading up the truck and moving somewhere else. There’s a certain appeal to that idea that tells me that I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. So we’ll see.
So what does all of this have to do with photography? Probably not a whole lot, except that for the next few months I expect to have a lot more time to spend wandering around with my camera. And I plan to have plenty of time to start writing for my blog again. And we’ll probably travel a little bit, maybe a lot. And that sounds like something that I can really look forward to.