Wednesday, November 16, 2016

One day...

I traditionally keep my political opinions to myself.* That means a small circle of friends and family have had to bear the brunt of listening to those opinions. One thing that I've railed on for years is the electoral college.

Shortly before our recent election, I was joking with my small circle, "One day I hope to live in a country where I can vote for president." **

Twice. In. My. Lifetime.

That joke isn't so funny any longer.

Time, therefore, for a new joke...

"One day I hope to live in a country where all forms of slavery are outlawed."

To get the joke***, take a peek at the Thirteen Amendment.

* But that's changing.

** Representative democracy is a subset of my weird humor.

*** I'm using the word "joke" facetiously.

Monday, November 14, 2016


An open letter to my family...

I am fortunate:
  • I am white
  • I am a male
  • I have excellent health insurance
  • I have a great job
  • I am financially comfortable
The expression "an embarrassment of riches" comes straight to mind.

I am one of the lucky ones in this country who is unlikely to feel much impact from the outcome of our recent election.

Or am I?

  • I am white
  • My wife is not

By mere coincidence, I was born the year the U.S. Supreme Court decided Loving v Virginia.

See where this is heading?

The day I was born, interracial marriage was illegal in some states. Couples were imprisoned for the "crime" of loving one another.

The same arguments used against interracial marriage back then have been recycled and are used as arguments today.

Take a look at the trajectory of the policies espoused by our president-elect. The choice that some of you made November 8th has the very real possibility of affecting me, your flesh and blood.

I know that you cannot change your vote now. Nor can I change the fact that I was far too passive about expressing my political beliefs before November 8th.

November 9th was a wake up call for me - it is painfully obvious to me now that it's not enough to not discriminate. I now know that I need to rethink my choices for the future.

The choices that you make from here onward affect me.


(Your loving son, step-son, brother, nephew, cousin, aka Silly Uncle Brian)

P.S. My apologies to everyone (e.g. people of color, religious minorities, LGBTQ, immigrants, women, etc.) whose lives are more immediately and more severely impacted by recent events. My intention is not to equate my circumstances with yours. Rather, my intention is to illustrate the personal stake that I have in the direction our country is heading. I cannot make my family see your faces, but they know mine.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Rocks of Rio Del Mar

The first time I walked Rio Del Mar beach was back in 1988. At the time I was living in Santa Cruz - a mere ten miles to the north - finishing college.

After college I continued living in Santa Cruz for a spell (a long standing tradition of UCSC graduates), then moved Rio Del Mar once money started rolling in along with my first job out of college, and then it was back to Santa Cruz once again when my landlord gave me the boot.

For a few years, I actually managed to break free of the gravitational pull of Santa Cruz County and moved to San Francisco. This was in the glory days when working in "tech" was considered cool and hadn't yet earned the scorn of so many San Franciscans.

Living in San Francisco was amazing, but Santa Cruz's gravitational pull is incomprehensibly strong. And here I am again - this time in Aptos.

I've been back now for - what is it? - something like fifteen years. How the time flies.

Since moving back, I have walked Rio Del Mar beach literally hundreds and hundreds of times.

The walk hasn't changed all that much over the years... The same sandy beach, the same roaring waves, the same public pier, the same scuttled ship, the same sights, the same sounds, and even the same smells.

Same, same, same.

Yes the walk is the same walk as it has always been, but for me it remains a beautiful, restorative experience year after year.

Photography is one of my hobbies. Twenty plus years later and I'm still an amateur. But I keep doing it because photography provides me so many opportunities to see the world around me with fresh eyes and to capture it's beauty.

Beauty. You may have noticed that was the word inscribed on the rock in the first photo above.

I don't recall when I first started noticing these rocks on my walk, but it has been somewhere between five to ten years - no small amount of time.

These rocks are nestled in walls, on fence rails, in the large pieces of driftwood that are scattered throughout Seacliff State beach, and countless other miscellaneous nooks and crannies.

Countless people walk by without noticing. Others stop, look, and smile before walking on. And on more than one occasion, I've seen people pocket rocks that apparently spoke to them. Good for them!

For the life of me, I don't know what happens to all of the rocks. Sure, some get pocketed, but where do the rest go?

You see, these rocks change surprisingly frequently. The old ones find new homes somewhere, and new ones mysteriously show up.

And to me, that is the real mystery. Where are these inspirational rocks coming from? Who has been secretly placing them for all these many years?

One of the things I like to do as a photographer is to take on projects.

Sometimes the photography projects are meant to tell a story. Somethings they're meant to inspire. Sometimes they're meant to entertain. Sometimes they're meant to challenge me to focus on a particular aspect of photography such as composition.

Capturing photos of these rocks is one of those projects.

One of the reasons I took on this particular project of documenting the rocks of Rio Del Mar was to post these photos online and - however unlikely this is to ever occur - have the person planting these rocks know that I've seen and appreciated her - I presume she is a 'her' - creative, artistic, and inspirational project.

Acknowledging someone's artistic endeavors is a good thing to do, right?

But then my weird humor kicked in.

Somehow I went from thinking "I want to acknowledge whoever is creating and depositing these rocks" to "Hey wouldn't it be funny if I took a year (or more) worth of photos and wrote a facetious blog post claiming that I had been documenting the scourge of rock graffiti littered throughout the beach."

Then maybe the rock lady would stumble upon my blog post and be surprised to see her creations posted for the world to see. Perhaps she would not just be surprised but pleased to be acknowledged too.

And if I could pull off writing that blog post in a humorous enough tone, she might even be entertained.

A juxtaposition of someone pouring their heart into creating these unique, inspirational pieces of art alongside someone else interpreting them to be intentional acts of vandalism... That's funny to me.

Did I mention my weird humor?

I've been really getting into this project. Every time I take a walk at the beach since the project began, I am continually on the lookout for these rocks. Every time I spot one, I think "Aha! I must whip out my trusty camera and capture this evidence. One day I'll expose you, you dastardly tagger!"

Imagine my amusement when one day I knew - I knew deep down in my gut - that this lady and I were on the very same walk at the very same time.

New rocks were showing up in spots where they hadn't been mere minutes before! I looked around attempting to identify this lady amongst the people at the beach, but alas, she is stealthy, this lady.

As an aside before I finally get around to the real reason I'm writing, please allow me - at the risk of diving into the murky waters of gender stereotyping - to explain why I'm convinced this is a lady.

While we're at it, let's see if you have succumbed to the same gender role programming that I have. If you - like me - think these rocks are the work of a lady and not a man, why do you think this?

Is it because females are more inclined to create such emotionally-supportive, inspirational objects?

Is it because females are more inclined to be artistic?

Is it because females are socialized to express their feelings?

Is it because females are more inclined to use smilies when they write (along with hearts about the letter "I")? Could that be the reason? :-)

Those theories all occurred to me, but they're not the basis for my unshaking certainty that this is a lady.

The way I know that this is a lady is because of the bubble handwriting.

Could there possibly be more conclusive proof than bubble handwriting?! I think not!

Okay. Silly aside aside. Why am I really writing this?

Chances are that you have noticed that this has been a rather intense week for us Americans. (Understatement)

Some are celebrating a victory that even they didn't expect. Others are mourning a tragic loss of historic proportions.

Whether you are celebrating or mourning, I posit that we in the U.S. all have some ugly days ahead of us in these upcoming years.

Though I don't always succeed, I strive to be optimistic. So writing about "ugly days to come" doesn't come naturally to me.

But it is exceedingly difficult for me to say otherwise given the obvious polarization that we have had going on in the U.S. for years.

And with the emotions that have been stirred up by last Tuesday's outcome, it's hard to look at our situation and think anything but that it has all finally come to a head.

We have difficult days ahead.

I live in a notoriously leftward leaning part of a leftward leaning state, so as you might imagine, there's more mourning going on around here than celebrating.

In times of mourning, tiny acts of kindness can mean the world.

This morning I took a few extra moments to move my neighbors' newspaper from the street into their driveway.

It was a tiny gesture, but it was apparently enough to warrant a text to say thanks.

This afternoon I let two people into traffic rather than just one. Again a tiny act of kindness. Except of course for the people behind me who were delayed by said same kindness. ;-)

I offer these examples as just that: examples. I don't mean to sound holier than thou.

[ Full disclosure: I routinely get wrapped up in my own life - fixated on "me" and "mine" - and miss countless opportunities that would take just a moment to perform an act of kindness to those around me. Call me human. ]

But I think it would do us all a world of good in the days to come to pause for a moment every now and then and see if there might be an act of kindness we could bestow upon someone else.

Be kind to those you agree with. Be kind with those "on your side".

But also consider the possibility of being kind in some way - however small - to those you don't agree with, with those different from you, with "them".

If that's a hard idea to stomach, try that whole "acts of kindness to strangers" thing. It works.

What on earth does acting with kindness have to do with these rocks?

Here's my tiny act of kindness for a stranger...

I'm going to drop my whole "pretend to be documenting a graffiti epidemic" project, and I'm just going to cut to the chase.

I don't know who you are, and you don't know me. We will likely never each other's identity. But even so, I want you to know that your inspirational artistic contribution to our beachside community is touching people, inspiring them, and giving them pause to think.

And I know I'm not the only person noticing your untiring efforts to uplift people's hearts.

On more than one occasion, I've seen rocks like yours, but I know they're not your work. You always use black ink - not purple - and I've never seen you draw your smiley face with its tongue sticking out.

But these rocks-that-aren't-your rocks aren't counterfeits... They are works of art by other artists that you've inspired.

Keep up your uplifting work, oh mystery rock beautifier!

And allow me, in my own way, in this unknown blog, to let others unexpectedly stumble onto to your work like I have done so many times while walking RDM beach.

Okay, enough of this warm and fuzzy, Pollyannaish stuff. Time to get back to the "real" world.

Before I get flamed in the comments section below, I'm not saying that tiny acts of kindness here and there are going to fix the enormous challenges that lay ahead.

The days ahead will call for dedication and work. The days ahead are going to call for us to each step out of our own comfort zones and proclaim what we believe in. And sometimes that's going to get ugly.

Any time that ugliness gets to wearing you down, remember the words a wise person once said...