I’m in Iowa right now, in a small town called Earlville. There’s not much around but long roads that cause everything to be at minimum 17 minutes away. Long roads and signs on front lawns that remind me that Chicago is not the world. As I drive, I cut through farms with cows on my left and cows on my right. The cows roaming long fields at peace and I wonder if they know the fate that awaits them — death.
In the beginning
When I was 10 years old, my mom bought me a small journal — it was green and had a cheap lock that could easily be opened with a bobby pin. I don’t remember what I wrote in this journal. I like to think that I wrote something very important but I’m sure it was mundane. When I was 13, my mom bought me my first camera — it was a Sony Cyber-Shot, it was silver and could fit in my pocket. I would shoot textures, domestic objects such as lamps, telephones, house plants, and the occasional person. I was one with my camera, it was a digital appendage that I carried religiously like an amulet.
What this issue and the next issue of Beginner’s Mind will focus on is the art and practice of seeing. In this issue, I’ll share with you my thoughts on adopting and maintaining a writing practice and the next issue will focus on photography.
We are our tools
I’m in the middle of reading a new book called Are We Human? which talks about technology’s role in shaping the evolution of humans. It covers the first tools made by man, and how they shaped the way we exist in the world. An example being the arrowhead which transformed the way we hunted and survived in the wilderness. Since then, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to adorn even the most basic utility tool into a pig that wears Maybelline.
The camera and writing instrument are also tools that shape how we perceive the world. The camera being a tool that captures time and permits us to revisit a moment once it is gone. And a writing instrument, whether a pen, pencil, word processing software or stick with mud, making it possible to document really anything. They both are tools that unveil new layers of truth and reveal new ways of looking at the world.
The pen a magic wand that unleashes a shining light with potential to illuminate the road ahead not just for you but for others.
But ultimately, they are just tools and don’t guarantee anything profound. It’s up to the hands behind the tool to navigate the course. This navigation is practice and it involves intimacy with the spectrum of life — all its peaks and valleys, caverns and caves — a cultivation of a new form of literacy of heightened senses.
Nobody cares work harder
I once saw a friend of mine with a backpack that had a patch that read Nobody Cares. Work Harder. It was in all uppercase letters and bold. Those four words communicated to me a lot that day. It was right before a jiu-jitsu class and for that class and for subsequent classes as well, it became my mantra. When I was pinned underneath a heavier guy, in my mind, I would say Nobody Cares. Work Harder. When I would have excellent days in training, I would have to remind myself, Nobody Cares. Work Harder. These four words seem applicable in writing as well.
Nobody Cares. Work Harder. With writing too, nobody cares, write more.
Even sometimes, it is possible for us to not care about what we have to say. Similar to meditation, we don’t want to hear the echoes of the past linger in our mind or the urgency of the future knocking at our door.
Adopting a writing practice grants us the permission to familiarize ourselves with our thoughts and ideas and encourages us to articulate them. Words are keys that open new gates to new landscapes — some filled to the brim with centipedes, worms, snakes, and cobwebs, and others quite the opposite. And although, throughout our day, there are opportunities that ask of us to write i.e. text messages, image captions, and emails, rarely do you see encouragement to write for the sake of writing. Professional writing or communication with friends tends to follow an invisible set of guidelines of how messages ought to be crafted and perceived. Writing for the sake of writing encourages our mind to awaken and the act of putting pen to paper says okay, let me hear what you have to say. I am curious.
Experience makes for great writing. Go out and live. Absorb your surroundings and embody the intensity of every gust of wind that sweeps by and ask yourself: what does it say?
For the reader that says that writing is just not for me — it is.
In conversations with friends that are excellent conversationalists, a few have expressed interest in developing a writing practice — a desire to start a newsletter or begin sharing articles with the world. Often what holds them back is confidence and articulating what they think or feel.
To this reader I say, just do it. Simple as that. There’s a possibility that in the beginning very few people will truly care about what you have to say but don’t let that deter you from doing the very thing you wish to do. The writer must be willing to be vulnerable and confronted with opposing views. And also, there’s a sense of self-respect to acknowledge one’s own voice.
With that said, writing doesn’t have to be public nor does it have to be permanent. It’s within your right to write and discard. This is something that will organically take shape and I can offer no guidance on this matter.
Advice on writing
Your writing will be bad. You won’t always be able to articulate everything you have in mind and that’s great. Writing should encourage us to reassess and formulate our thoughts. Writing chips away at the nonsense and exposes the fragility or strength of what lives on in our head. As you continue the practice, you begin to develop dexterity with your words and learn new ways to say things. Writing is a method of expanding your world. And for me, writing is very very messy.
Write every day, even if you think you have nothing to say. You do.
Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go.
Read. Read. Read. This will help you develop your own voice.
Use writing as a time for self-reflection.
Familiarize yourself with familiar writing. Listen to the lyrics to your favorite songs. What makes you resonate with them?
I hope I am not the only one that is familiar with the critic that lives inside the mind. The hungry ghost that is never satisfied and chatters indefinitely. I think a writing practice starves this voice in the head and extinguishes it, at least for a while. Or, perhaps it feeds it, gives it what it needs, and facilitates a way to coexist.
My enthusiasm for writing this issue is in response to modern ways of communicating, particularly within my generation. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of communication that is done on behalf of others. For example, I will feel a sentiment and rather than communicate using my words, I will simply use the words of something else, such as a quote and will provide no context. I find this dangerous because it causes us to run the risk of living through the words of others which could potentially lead us to lack an original thought — if all we do is communicate via the words of others.
One of my favorite writers Patti Smith often shares writing that she’s engaged with by other authors and I always look forward to these posts because she provides her own unique commentary that compliments the work she is sharing. It’s a skill to be able to summarize things, amplify the voices of others, and form original thoughts with grace and confidence.
The strength and gift of our voice is a blessing that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We all have something unique to say and share with the world. Our very existence is unique and our perspective when trusted can inspire and move others. Writing is a practice of recording the human condition and even if words fall on deaf ears, you yourself are also the reader of your own words and you too, can learn something from you.
Music of the month
Composer Max Richter released a new album a few weeks ago that calls for a reorientation of values and principles. It’s a lengthy listening experience that is complimented by spoken word that pulls from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s full of hope for a new world where people are free and happiness is attainable unconditionally.
The other piece of music that I’d like to share is an album by electronic pioneer, Michael Rother, who in my opinion undoubtedly changed the course of electronic music. In the early 70s, he created masterpieces with Neu!, a German electronic group whose influence continues to be ingrained in the fabric of contemporary music today.
His new album, Dreaming, is worth a listen.
The second track, Bitter Tang is a rendition of Morning After (Loneliness) from an earlier album.
I get the chills listening to this.
This past month, I spent time with my dear friend, Nick Haas, a photographer, artist, and creative director, whom I like to think, shares a similar appreciation for Chicago as I. We’ve been shooting special pockets of Chicago that are forgotten and desolate. We meet and we spend hours walking, talking, and shooting. One thing I love about Chicago is its industrial character and aura. Abandoned vehicles, rust, barbed wire, shopping carts, weeds, empty alleys, the list goes on.
These are are a few photos taken from these urban excavations.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please reach out if you’d like to continue the conversation.