Why do you do that?

plenty of fish


For the last couple of years, I’ve written here on Oldbones and posted photos on a couple of other sites. These all began as a bit of a dare, a challenge to myself to show more and to protect less. And while the response from those who’ve generously taken the time to read, view and comment has been encouraging, maybe the most frequent question I get is “why don’t you promote yourself more, get your stuff out there…”

Why indeed. Why not inflate the social media balloon, get the “like” machine going, chase a “following?” Well, maybe it’s because my stuff isn’t as good as the work from others with 10,000 followers. Not really mine to say.

But more to the point, maybe that’s not why I make images and write.

The other day I had a conversation about this with a friend of mine, Buddhist teacher and author Ken McLeod (unfetteredmind.org) Ken has written a lot on his unfettered mind blog and elsewhere about the pervasiveness of the exchange mentality of our culture.  This is the mindset where you don’t do anything without an expectation of somehow getting paid. In running a business or working by the hour, this makes all the sense in the world.  Time, after all, is money (isn’t it?) The problem arises, however, when we extend that need for payback outside the marketplace.

This comes up often around meditation and practice, where the most common question I get is “what do you get out of it?” There was a time when I might have had a pretty crisp answer to that – “I’m so much calmer/saner/centered…” But the longer I practice, the less I have to say about it.  I know that my practice gave me my heart back, a heart that I’d somehow misplaced in that same marketplace I refer to above. Not really a payment, but pretty rich nonetheless. How that happened exactly and where it goes from here, well I’m less clear about that. Nor, frankly, do I care anymore.

I shared with Ken that when I even think about “promoting” my images, my chest gets tight. While I love it when someone really connects with one of my images, I couldn’t care less about selling them (and I say this with all respect for  the professional photographers who look to feed their families by it, that’s a different situation.) But over and over again, this is the encouragement I get.

Ken cut to the heart of the matter- “that’s not why you take pictures – you do it to find a deeper connection.” And as I’ve considered it, I see that he’s right — connection to this heart, to this world, and through sharing the images, to others, in the hope that they can touch the same or a similar experience. To touch beauty. A cliche to be sure, but then when did connecting with beauty become trivial?

My friend Sally referred the other day to my “vision.” Yikes- do I even have one? Yeah, on reflection I think I do, both with respect to my photographs and my poetry. It is, as Ken says, about exploring a deeper connection. It’s not about selling or followers or likes.

In the next couple of days, I plan to relaunch my photo site. My aspiration is that you might find a measure of beauty there. The invitation will be to linger a bit and see, sort of an anti-instagram.

Oh, and nothing there is for sale…..



I’ve always been a master of the hedge, the back door left ajar, the psychological bolthole where I can slip if this doesn’t go well.  Work, art, music, relationships — I’ve approached them all with a persistent subconscious restraint, a small holding back, the invisible “not really.”

But it’s not small at all, this reservation.  It’s like trying to get airborne while stubbornly hanging onto a branch.  There can be some pretty interesting flapping around, but not a whole lot of altitude.

Where this pattern comes from is anybody’s guess, but I have my suspicions. On some level, it’s tough to fly while lifting the weight of all of these stories (like a parachute full of bricks- it’s not much protection in the end.) The “not good enough” (this classic piece of Americana); the “who do you think you are?” (where we shoulder the weight of someone else’s fear); the dread of being embarrassed or judged that underlies so much of the fear of failure.

And of course, over time, this fabric of stories becomes it’s own story with it’s own weight carefully woven through the gravity of repetition. So when do we get to put it down? And what triggers that decision? Of course, this has to be more of a process than an event, but still, when?

I carry a picture in my mind of an old man, his hair gone gray and long, having finally arrived at that place of nothing left to prove and nothing left to fear.  He’s watching his grandchildren play. He closes his eyes and savors the laughter.  His old face is warm.

So there it is — before it’s truly too late, I aspire to shrug off the heavy brocade, this fabric of stories and at least once to feel the wind directly on my skin.

I aspire to embrace my own inner fool, to go “all in” as often as I can stand it.

I want to kick the door shut behind me and head into the hills, to trust that a trail will form itself, even if it’s not at all where I thought I was going, to reach for the edge of the cliff and simply keep climbing, to relax my grip and trust that the wind will carry me

or not…

© J.A. Fink 2013