A Theory of Life

Moving is a lot of work.

If I ever write a book about my life, each chapter will tell the story of an experience that taught me the definition of one word or another. The chapter entitled Summer will describe the steaming hot July days in Minnesota when I was little and spent hours and hours roaming the woods around our house. My definition of the word summer is tied to those memories. The chapter entitled Epic will describe the two days that my Dad and I spent in Singapore after graduating from high school in Papua New Guinea. After living for so long in the mountains of PNG, it took a visit to Singapore before I realized the vast, engulfing experience that the word epic is meant to describe. My definition of that word is tied to the memory of standing on the sidewalk looking up at the 77-story Pan Pacific Hotel.

The chapter describing this last year will be called Chaos.

I've heard others who were along for the ride use terms such as insanity or exhaustion. The idea of chaos however seems to hint at an odd duality of certainty and uncertainty. Chaos is not predictable, but it can be reliable. In the last twelve months my wife and I never lived in one place for more than two months without moving. Two apartments in NYC, a guest house in Sri Lanka, two apartments in Israel and more hostels, hotels and airports than I feel like counting.  We lived in a bubble out from which you could never really see more than two weeks into the future very clearly.

The constant in all this was the chaos. But if you could handle operating in chaos, good things could happen.


The chaos was never knowing exactly what I would find when I left our Sri Lankan guest house on foot with my camera. Sometimes I walked for hours and never spoke with anyone. Sometimes I would be harassed by taxi drivers and souvenir sellers and kids to such an extent that I would literally jump in a passing taxi just to escape. The uncertainty, the newness and the constant motion was exciting. In New York I wandered the city trying to figure out how to interact with people now that I had this giant, heavy camera hanging from my neck telling everyone that I was a photographer. In Sri Lanka I learned how to capture a moment in another person's life (as well as how to ask their permission without a common language). Ethiopia was was my first experience photographing in a place where boldness gave way to caution in many situations and I often put away my camera to avoid drawing attention.

We spent a year jumping on buses and boats and covering in excess of 35,000 miles of travel by all those different methods. It was a year of constantly listening and learning and taking in new places and its only now that I'm having time to go back and see all the things I was learning along the way. The whole time I was trying to take advantage of the learning and experience that could be had along the way. After this year, I knew, it would be back to the US and I would have to start thinking about something resembling a coherent career.

We made it to Cleveland and have begun to make this place our new home. The funny thing is that I don't think I've stopped moving yet. I'm exhausted after such a chaotic year but there's still a part of my internal engine that has its foot on the gas and I get antsy. We have an apartment that is starting to feel like a place we can call home but those thoughts of permanence still seem far-off and vague. I've been working hard to get this new website completed and in doing so I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I've grown and what course I want to set at this pivotal moment. I don't really know what being a career photographer looks like, but I think it looks a lot like what I was doing this past year.

Every day.

So maybe that's the lesson in this. I spent a year just trying to cram in as much shooting as I could because time was short. And along the way there were a few jobs that I was able to do and get paid for. What happens if I apply that same ethic to Cleveland? Except that here, the relationships don't go away when I leave in two months. They can build and grow and that can become a sustainable career. Does that sound crazy?

And that's the closest thing I have to a theory of life at this point.