I’m a time traveler.
I can’t go forward in time. I haven’t figured that one out, yet.
And really, that’s okay with me. I’m more interested in traveling back in time.
<cue the Huey Lewis music>
I do it every day. I look forward to it. It’s at the point now
where I travel back in time without even thinking about it. I don’t use any
sort of time traveling spaceship or time machine, although if I did, it
wouldn’t look like a 1960’s British police box or a DeLorean. It would probably
be more like a traveling refrigerator. I get hungry often, people. It just
makes sense. Plus, I’d have a place for time traveling leftovers.
Luckily, though, I don’t need any of that; I travel back in time
just fine on my own. Mind you, this is in no way a humblebrag, ‘cause there’s
nothing special about me that allows these journeys into the past. Nothing at
all. And how far back I go varies. Sometimes, I find myself reliving events
that occurred just a few days ago; sometimes, I go back decades, meeting people
I never knew.
When I tell people that I am a time traveler, they often ask me
the secret, for many, too, want to revisit people and places in their past. I
mean, who doesn’t? Whose heart doesn’t ache to go back to a certain time in
life that meant something; to once again see our mothers’ eyes or gaze at the
chubby legs of our children as they play. These things, though long gone, mean
something to us still.
And when asked for my secret to time travel, I always share how I
do it. How could I not? I mean, if you’ve found the trick to going back in time
to see loved ones again, how could you not share that joy? You’d be a real jerk
to keep that ability to yourself.
So if you, like others, are reading this and wondering how it’s
done, allow me to share. It’s really
quite easy. It’s done in 3 steps:
- Pick up a printed photo
- Look at it
- Go back in time
Super easy, right? You don’t have to be skilled or smart or come
from a long line of time travelers to accomplish it. In fact, YOU could be the
first in your family to do it.
But beware—time travelers face villains. Plenty of them. They
scoff and tell people wanting to time travel that they don’t need a PRINTED
photo to go back in time; it can be done with a digital image. And they are
partly correct, for a digital image will take you back in time, sure, but only
so far. And worse, there is no guarantee that you will be able to time travel
in the future. Thirty years down the road when you want to visit the past
again, will you be able to? Will you be able to revisit family and friends on
your journey? Or will you sit, crying and praying to the saint of lost pixels:
Friends, the only sure time travel is with a printed photograph.
Remember, ANYONE can travel back in time.
Which makes me wonder, why doesn’t everyone do it?
(Note: St. Arrghus doesn’t really do anything. He just sits there
powerless, kind of like the pixels you can’t get off that USB drive.)
She was 17. Not one of
the popular kids. She wasn’t a cheerleader or a track star, and she had long
given up hope of ever becoming Homecoming Queen. She’ll be lucky if anyone even
asks her to the dance.
She tries to fit in. She loves the trendy
clothes all the seniors are wearing, even though her weight makes it difficult
to stay in style. Her hair is long, wavy and luxurious. Some say it’s her best
feature. She thinks it’s unruly; a dark kinky mass that never cooperates.
Freckles dot her face like sprinkles on an ice cream cone, and all the time
spent in the summer sun has just made them darker.
Her senior session
took place in the Sandia Mountains. She loves nature and feels at home under
the tall pine trees. She giggled nervously at first, but as the session
progressed, she became more and more relaxed. The poses that had, at first,
been rendered unattainable by a set of nerves determined to keep her body from
complying, now seemed to flow effortlessly.
She plopped down into a field of wildflowers, laughing like some kind of
woodland sprite, her unruly hair lifting on the breeze, her body becoming one
with tall grasses and smiling flowers.
The session continued until the last drop of light had been squeezed
from the sky.
The images came to me for retouching. It was late in the evening, and I was tired.
I had already spent a full eight hours in front of the computer, and this was
my last order of the day. I opened the file hoping to find a session that could
be cranked out in a matter of minutes. Instead, I found 15 images that would
keep me up well past midnight.
It didn’t matter,
though, because I knew this girl. I had never seen her before, much less spoken
to her, but I recognized her. She
reminded me of another teenage girl; a girl I hadn’t thought much about for the
past twenty years; a girl I used to see in the reflection of my own bedroom
mirror each morning as I got ready for school.
An opportunity to
place ones self in another’s shoes doesn’t happen often. Most of us have NO
idea what it feels like to be a realtor, or a doctor, or a musician. We can’t imagine how it feels to repair a
broken bone, or perform Beethoven’s fifth in front of a packed Carnegie Hall,
but we can reach into the past and wrap our memories around the
awkwardness and uncertainty of those high school years. Who among us doesn’t
remember the unrequited crush, or the nervousness of a first date? Who can’t
empathize with the feelings of uncertainty that permeate high school life? Moments of sheer jubilation followed by
embarrassment. Floating on cloud nine
after being winked at by that “someone special” in the hall, only to find the
wink was intended for the girl behind you. Trying fervently to measure up to
“the standard” and never feeling confidant you do. That’s what makes
photographing seniors unique; we can understand their situation; their place in
life, because we’ve all been there. As I
sat in my office and gazed at the image of this senior girl, I could relate to
her. I saw her sitting in a field of flowers and I knew exactly what she
wanted. I felt her desire echo the unspoken in all of us, regardless of age:
she wants to feel special; she wants to feel important; she wants to feel
See, we don’t just photograph a person—we photograph
The Whole Person. Clients come to us with more than a change of clothing-they
come to our studios and bring every past experience with them: hurts and
humiliations, insecurities and fears, triumphs and disappointments. Some wear
these experiences like a banner, carrying them out in the open for all to see.
Others tuck them away, out of sight, like a pair of old, worn socks encased in
a pair of $200 shoes. It doesn’t matter if the subject is one of the “pretty
people” or someone who likens sitting for the camera to the pain of a route
canal. Insecurities come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and those we don’t
see are just as important as those we do, maybe even more so.
She came into the
studio with her mom to pick up her order, her face a story of hope and fear. I
opened the box, took out her images, and spread them before her in a wash of
color. She said nothing, only stared—complete silence. My heart dropped.
After a few moments,
she turned to her mom, and, through blue eyes brimming with tears, she smiled.
She then turned back to the images said three words that made my heart sing:
“I look beautiful.”
My friends, that is why we do what we do.
This time, she came
into my studio, the girl with unruly hair and freckles, teeming with
unspoken insecurities. The next time, it could be yours.
her. Understand her. And make her feel beautiful.
DO WORK THAT MATTERS.
It’s all around us, this directive to “Do work that matters.”
I’ve been seeing it from the likes of people I admire, like Seth Godin and Jon
Acuff. I’ve read it in books and heard it on podcasts and watched impassioned
speakers beseech audiences to redirect their goals. I’ve listened to this
buzzphrase #doworkthatmatters and yet, the meaning evaded me. Granted, I’m not
the sharpest tool in the shed, but this directive was puzzling. So I did a
little research. And by “doing a little research,” I mean I asked The Google.
Turns out, quite often, the “work that matters” concept is
related to engaging in something out of the ordinary; a leap into unknown
territory gasping a grand idea firmly with both hands. It means harnessing
creativity and vision and channeling those into something never before seen or
done; it speaks to closet creatives and entrepreneurs working to make a
difference and/or a ton of money.
Doing Work that Matters requires leaving the cubicle and creating work that resembles Art; work that goes viral and is the business or brand everyone is talking about. Stepping away from the every day and engaging in work that makes a difference in the world. Work that is brand new. Work that enters through the eyes and ears and seeps down into one’s very soul, drenching the spirit with a honey-like coating of something so remarkable, so incredible, that the lives of everyone who encounters it are impacted forever.
We’re talking life-changing work, people.
“Let us all turn inward,” they cry, “and be who we were meant to
be! Let us be painters and poets and singers and entrepreneurs and inventors
and photographers and dancers and create beauty and color and song and fill the
world with imagination and fancy! Let us be the Willy Wonka’s, but the Gene
Wilder version, ‘cause the Johnny Depp version was awful.”
And while all that’s fine
and good, I hate to burst the Utopia Work Bubble, but somebody’s got to clean
It has to get done. I mean, if not, they become dirty and smelly and gross and people cease to use them, which means people cease to use the building they are in. Imagine if no public bathroom anywhere was cleaned, because, you know, the fine people who use to clean them are out harnessing their soul and painting a cornfield somewhere. Because… creativity.
Oh, and while we were on the topic:
Somebody has to fix the leaky roof.
Somebody has to install the alarm system.
Someone has to grow the food.
Someone has to cook the food.
Someone has to serve the food.
Somebody has to pick up the garbage
Someone has to deliver the packages.
Someone has to paint the walls.
Someone has to sort the papers and file things and answer the
And therein lies the reason I give the “Do Work that Matters”
advice the stink eye.
See, we run into some pretty dangerous thinking when we start to
view THIS work as important and THAT work over there as not so much. “Do Work
that Matters” implies that if you aren’t engaging in ground-breaking,
life-changing work, then your work doesn’t matter, you know, much like an online photography degree or
And yet, if every person set down their plunger, took off their
headset and walked out of their cubicle, or left their UPS truck by the side of
the road, life as we know it would cease to exist.
See, what we fail to realize as we search for work that matters,
is that it’s not a matter of finding meaningful work; it’s a matter of finding
meaning in whatever work you do.
You can “Do Work that Matters” and design a building unlike
anything anyone has ever seen. It can be a marvel of engineering; a building so
cutting-edge that, once completed, the very angels in heaven descend to perch
atop its gilded towers and sing the “Hallelujah” chorus. You can design it, but
for that “Work that Matters” to become a reality, some folks are going to have
to show up with tool belts and hard hats. They are going to spend long hours in
the blazing sun. They will sweat and labor as they climb ladders and hammer
nails and turn that “work that matters” idea into an actual building.
Listen friends: there is no good work or bad work. And if anyone
tells you differently, they’ve got something to sell you. If you work, in any way, doing anything, it
matters. YOU matter. Just because you don’t do THAT job doesn’t mean YOUR job
isn’t important; it doesn’t mean you don’t add value to this world with your
Just because you don’t own the largest coffee chain in the world
doesn’t mean that your tiny corner coffee stand doesn’t impact your
Just because you don’t own Uber doesn’t mean that you don’t
impact each and every person that rides in your taxi.
Just because you haven’t a Grammy doesn’t mean that the church
choir you direct doesn’t impact every set of ears that hear it.
Meaningful work? People, there is meaning in all of it.
So go ahead and attend that TED Talk about creating work that
matters. Sit in your chair in that huge auditorium and allow your heart and
mind to be filled with possibilities. Dream your dreams. Make new goals. Decide
to take the plunge into whatever creative entrepreneurial pool you choose.
Applaud the speaker and leave, floating up the aisle on a cloud of
possibilities and determination.
But as you leave, notice the people entering the auditorium,
brooms, vacuums and wastebaskets in hand and remember these are the people that
allowed you the opportunity to sit in a clean auditorium. Glance at the chairs
and the carpet and the lights and curtains and the audio equipment and remember
that each of those things were made, shipped and installed by people; and while
they didn’t get applause, each one of those people made that TED Talk possible.
Should you do work that matters?
You already do.
Because ALL work matters.
Women are paying $2000 for a “certification” from Marie Kondo
that allows them to tell other people how to throw their stuff away and stop
living in such a mess. Those achieving top certification status charge as much
as $500 plus travel.
I will do it for $25 and a Starbucks gift card.
I’m not KonMari certified, but instead, I employ a method that
has been handed down for centuries; a method that has been used in homes all
around the world.
I call it…
The Mom Method.
I will arrive at your home, introduce myself, hug all family members, and then proceed through the house, room by room. I will look at the dishes piled in the kitchen, the empty Pop Tart box on the kitchen counter next to the open package of saltines. I will see the coffee stains from your spoon that dot the countertop. I will take in the dirty clothes in the piles and the unmade beds and the bathroom that last saw a thorough cleaning when it was on the market. I will smile at the dresser drawers unable to close, drawers bulging with garments. I will delicately pick my way through a sea of children’s toys that cover every floor in every room.
And after witnessing the house or the apartment or the RV or the
tiny home, I will sit down with you. I will take your hand. And with one
eyebrow raised, I will tell you very simply…
“You need to pick this sh*t up.”
You will be shocked, as this is not what you were expecting. The
words will feel like a slap. This isn’t how Marie Kondo does it, you will say.
No, I’ll explain, it isn’t. But it’s necessary. You are a grown person. You don’t pay money to someone to tell you to eat; you don’t pay someone to tell you to bathe or wear clothes or feed your children, and yet you feel the need to pay someone to walk into your home and tell you to clean up. Hello?
How hard is it to put that Pop-Tart box back in the cupboard?
Same with the saltines.
You see the coffee stains left by your spoon-wipe them up.
It takes less than 3 minutes to make a bed. You don’t have 3
minutes in the morning? You spend twice that long just checking Facebook on
Newsflash: if the dresser drawers don’t close, it’s ‘cause you
either have too much crap in there, or you just shoved it in there without
folding it properly. Figure out which one it is and fix it.
In fact, fix all of it. ‘Cause you KNOW what is wrong; you’ve just been doing it too long and now it’s become a habit to be sloppy.
Cut it out.
Pick it up.
Put it away.
And if you don’t, I will come back and do it FOR you, and trust
me, you won’t like what I throw out.
And then I’ll give you another hug and tell you I love
you and leave.
My daughter was
She was 2.5. She and
her 4 year old brother had just learned of the joy of Batman and Robin, courtesy of the 1997 movie of the same
name- the worst Batman movie ever made. George Clooney played the role of the
caped crusader and I suspect it was the motivating factor in his co-founding Casamigos later in life. After subjecting the world
to that Batman movie, George had to make up for it by giving the world good
tequila. It was only right.
The movie was awful.
It was campy and the dialogue was cheesy and there were people dressed in
monkey suits. It was an awful thing to watch but my kids loved it; it was like
a cartoon come to life. And having watched it over and over and over again, the
children came to the conclusion that they would take up the roles of Batman and
Robin, with our son being Batman and his little sister, his trusty side-kick.
They didn’t have
costumes. Unlike those talented moms who can fashion together a costume for
their children from scraps in their sewing room, my children’s mom can’t even
sew on a button. I would actually love to learn how, but at this point in my
life, that ship has sailed. Plus it involves math, which automatically puts me
off. So the need to be Batman and Robin resulted in tying small blankets around
their shoulders to serve as capes and going on many adventures in the backyard
and around the house. The dog played the villain on more than once occasion.
Now, my daughter’s
blanket was a blue checkered pattern with a squatty little cowboy in the
center. She had other blankets, of course—pink and lacy and girly, but no-THIS
was her blanket of choice. She wore it everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And most people,
upon seeing a toddler girl with a cowboy blanket around her neck correctly
assumed it was serving a “dress up” purpose and so they would try to engage her
“Oh, aren’t you
darling! Are you a princess?”
Yikes. I’d hear that
question and wince because I knew what would follow every single time. And I
felt sort of bad for the stranger asking the question. They meant well, of
course, but to my daughter, it was a huge offense. Her eyes would blaze, she’d
put her hands on her hips and declare with the righteous indignation of a
cowboy blanket caped crusader:
“NO. I AM ROBIN!”
Of course, at first,
she couldn’t pronounce Robin, so it came out as, “NO. I AM RYE,” which only
added to the confusion. “What is she saying? Your kid thinks she’s bread?”
“I AM ROBIN,” became
a battlecry. Each time she said it, she became a little more indignant. She
even started thumping her chest as she spoke. It got to the point where I would
try to head-off each pissed off toddler encounter by introducing her as “Robin,
from Batman and Robin,” accompanied by a face that said, “Humor her with this.”
But she never gave up
and she never gave in. She knew who she wanted to be. And armed with a cowboy
blanket and fierce determination, she let the world know that she was not a
princess…SHE WAS ROBIN. She would not be be swayed. In a sea of princesses at a
preschool parade, my daughter was the girl with a blue cowboy blanket tied
around her neck and pride on her face.
Why am I telling you
all of this?
I’m telling you this
because children are my most favorite kind of people.
I’m telling you this
because “weird” is wonderful.
I’m telling you this because I now have a freaking amazing adult daughter who loves her makeup and dresses and heels but also shows up to things with no makeup, un-showered, and wearing ratty clothes; a daughter who knows who she is. I’m telling you this because The Robins of the world change it.