don’t wait for perfect

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Restarting my blog at the same time I uprooted my life and started graduate school might not’ve been my best idea. Grad school is tough, and culture shock is real, people. (More on that later.) But, as Brandon Stanton said at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville a few days ago, I can’t keep waiting on “perfect.” Cuz perfect ain’t ever going to come!

For those who don’t know, Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York, a powerful photoblog featuring pictures and quotes from people around the world. Stanton started the blog in New York City in 2010 with a simple idea: Take pictures of people around the city; create a “map” of those people and where he photographed them. As the blog progressed, however, Stanton realized the map wasn’t necessary. What drew people to his blog were words.

Stanton started including quotes from the people he photographed, and then interviews. His following got larger as his stories got longer. (Currently it’s at more than 18 million.) He realized his blog’s universal appeal and traveled internationally to more than 20 different countries. He also did several series of interviews — with cancer patients, refugees, military veterans, and more — and from these, raised millions of dollars for cancer research and other charitable causes. Most recently he’s been working on a video series that builds on the same premise and is currently being released weekly on facebook.

Image result for humans of new yorkI started following Stanton’s blog a few years ago. It enticed me with its raw humanity. It clearly displayed everything I’d seen in Asia: No matter where you go, people are people. Stanton himself is also very down-to-earth, which has contributed to his success. During his performance last week, Stanton wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a zip-up hoodie as he shared the beginnings of Humans of New York and how he figured out what he needed to do. “I realized early on I was never going to be the best photographer,” said Stanton. “Humans of New York is not about photography. But what I do have is something many of the world’s best photographers do not — I have the ability to approach and talk to strangers.” (paraphrased)

Stanton shared several other great points that evening, which stood out out to me as applicable to both blogging and life. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t wait for perfect. Perfect never comes. Time is our most valuable commodity. If you’re meant to do something, do it now.
  • Don’t worry about your audience. If Brandon had worried about his audience when he started Humans of New York, Humans of New York wouldn’t have come to be–he would have given up long ago because success didn’t happen overnight.
  • Following your dreams means “choosing your work.” “People talk about following their dreams as if following your dreams means avoiding responsibility or getting to play all day,” says Brandon. “But no, pursuing your dream is work. Whether you want to be a famous musician or a well-known blogger or own your own business or travel the world, all of these things take time and dedication and hard work. The difference between it and other work is that you choose it.” (paraphrased)

Brandon’s talk left me in tears. In the past four weeks I’ve started this post at least a dozen times. I’ve had great ideas but “never enough time” to finish them. I’ve had paragraphs written down, but they were never “good enough” to share. I’ve had thoughts whirling around, but they were too fragmented to be “worthy.” It’s true that grad school is demanding, and starting over in a new city hard, but if I am truly going to “begin again”– if I am going to “choose my work” (here on my blog and elsewhere) — something’s gotta give.

So tell me . . . What’s your trick for accomplishing your blogging and/or life goals? Have you seen Humans of New York? What did you think?

 

(Below is just a sample of Stanton’s work.)

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“This better not be for a porno. I stopped doing those.”

“Okay, Mother. That’s enough.”

 

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“I prefer maritime laws to laws on land. Maritime laws only exist to guarantee safe passage. There are no loopholes or biases to favor more powerful vessels. Every ship is equal, and no one is more powerful than the sea.”

 

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“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

*As a side note, this image went viral in 2016 and Stanton ended up raising more than $1,000,000 for this boy’s school. You can read more about that here.

 

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“So do you do a different color every day?”

“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”

 

Image result for humans of new york crazy subway you want to hear what just happened to me seizure

“You want to hear what just happened to me? I was in the subway station, and this man came walking by me. He seemed really angry and was talking gibberish and screaming about how he was going to kill anyone who talked to him. So I thought: ‘That guy’s crazy; I’m gonna keep away from him.’ Then two minutes later another young man walked by and collapsed right in front of me and started having a seizure. I bent down to help him, and you know what happened? The crazy guy bent down and said: ‘He’s having a seizure! Turn him on his side!’ I thought: ‘Wait a second! Weren’t you just crazy?'”

 

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“I want to build a bridge.”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge it’s going to take a long time, and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building the bridge as you are. You have to think about what kind of bridge you want to make. One type of bridge is a suspension bridge and another type of bridge is an arch bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was built by John Roebling and his family, and that’s all I remember from the second grade. And the bridge has to be strong because the water can rise and push up the bridge. I’d maybe like to build a bridge in Wisconsin because there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who might not have bridges, but I don’t really know where Wisconsin is.”

 

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Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 

 

to begin again… again

changeAh, hell. I’ve been thinking about this forever. If not now, then when? There’s only me stopping me now.

I haven’t written in a while. “A while” is an understatement. It’s been over a year — 16 months, to be exact. Some of you probably thought me dead. You certainly thought my blog dead. For all intents and purposes, I guess it was.

But I was not dead — far from it. The irony of my last post does not escape me. I really had hoped to start blogging again, but truthfully, I knew I wasn’t ready. I was on a roller coaster and the end was far from sight.

But things have settled down now — some. I’m in a new town in a new home with new things in front of me. I’ve just started graduate school at the University of Tennessee (UTK) in Knoxville. I’m working on my masters in Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics (RWL) so that someday I can teach and write again — for real. I’m also continuing to work for my job in California. I wasn’t meant to be a tech writer, but the Water Agency is an important organization powered by amazing people. I learned so much there, and I’m blessed to be able to work remotely among them. Continue reading

on good friday

good-friday-love-hurtsGood Friday. Bad Friday. Black Friday. Easter Friday.

Whatever you call it, today is Friday, and the Friday before Easter, no less. I must be a bad person because it was only two days ago that I realized this was Easter weekend. Easter is supposed to be in April, right?

But no; no, it’s not. And I am a bad person, or surely you must think so — you who knows all, sees all, thinks all, is all.

(You were my all . . .)

But I . . . I got off track.

Today is Easter Sunday. But what does that mean? For Christians around the world, it’s the day their Savior died, two days before His resurrection. It’s a day of hope, a day of love, a day of sorrow, a day of repentence. What did we do to deserve this?

(Nothing. We did nothing.)

But what of the others, for whom Easter is brunch and bunnies and eggs and chocolates? What of the population for whom it’s Cadberries and marshmallows and pastel dies and little kid messes?  What of those for whom it’s nothing more and nothing less than any other holiday?

And what of the people that don’t celebrate Easter? What of those who’ve never heard of it?

I have to admit, I’m a little distant these days. A little remote. A little confused. The worldview I held as a child doesn’t compute anymore. Where is God, how is He, and Who? I grew up Protestant Christian and truly still believe. But the God I see now is bigger than I imagined — His message not limited by culture or geography. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-ladened. I will give you rest.” “I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you.” “Love God and love others as yourself.”

Be kind, rewind.

It’s all the same, isn’t it? The principles of kindness and courtesy run the gamut across cultures. They are received and returned the same way. And God is bigger than a book, or a church, or a person. God is LOVE, and is there anything larger than that?

 

hello world

leafIt’s been a while. No, not since I’ve lived in you. I am immersed in you every day. Whether I like it or not, I am engaged with you — with your pressures, with your stresses, with your “Waits!” And though I may try to fly under the radar (how much easier it is to move unseen), still, you always find me. You find me with your wisdom; you find me with your hate. You seek out ways to destroy me; you are bent on my destruction.

But though you drag me down, “Surprise!” You will not win. I may be weak, but in my weakness, I am strong: I will stand my ground.

And if I must, I’ll go my way alone — but not quite. With head held high, I will seek strength in Him. I will view each sunrise with hope; take each blow as a challenge — to be tougher, to be wiser, to be . . . more.

Because how easy it is, flying under the radar, to forget who we are, who we were, who we always wanted to be. “Suffer little children,” He said. “Forbid them not to come unto me.” Because children are rock stars, can’t you see? If you want to know how to change the world, look into the eyes of a child. They are our hope. They are who we were supposed to be.

And so maybe I won’t always stay under the radar. Maybe I’ll fly out into the Son. Because this going-life-alone thing ain’t working, and I am tired of being afraid.

p.s. As an exciting side note, after posting my story about my dad’s cycling accident, a sweet lady named Ashlee contacted me and wondered if I’d like to share my story on her website. The story was published two days ago. You can link to it here.

never again

dadTwo weeks ago yesterday, my dad broke his neck. Two and a half weeks ago, he got married.

They were on their honeymoon. They were going for a bike ride. An oncoming car was turning left directly in front of them; he didn’t see it until there was nothing to do but slam on the brakes – and go over the handlebars.

He landed on his head, breaking C6 and C7. His hands and feet went numb. He was scared.

We were too. We were supposed to go to dinner with them. I felt guilty because, while I love his new wife, their wedding hadn’t been easy for me. Their marriage was the final nail in the coffin of my once-family. I knew I shouldn’t feel that way. Things were better now than they’d ever been before. My dad was happier; my mom was, too. But still. It was my family. (Also, as a side note: In my childhood culture, divorce was/is akin to drinking alcohol or eating meat or having sex before marriage. It was a no-no. And we’ve already discussed the fact I’m a goodie-goodie.)

And so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to dinner. It was out of the way and a drive in traffic. I was tired. I was supposed to go to spin class after work – I love spin class. And we’d just seen them at their wedding.

And so I hesitated. And then I got the call. Elyse, sobbing: “Your dad had a biking accident. He says it’s his neck. They’re rushing him to the hospital.” She was hysterical.

walk

Father and son

And suddenly, I was too. My mind was a blur: So little information, such a turn of events. Such guilt. Here I hadn’t wanted to go to dinner, and now the man who was my hero and role model and life rock was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital.

The things we take for granted.

And so instead of eating dinner or going to spin class or doing a thousand other things we usually do, we spent the night in the emergency room. At almost 1 a.m., my dad was life-flighted to a U.C. Davis Medical Center where they tortured him (okay, tried to fix his neck with traction) before taking him to surgery and fusing three segments of his neck. The neurosurgeon said it was a miracle he wasn’t paralyzed. The next day my dad said it was, too. He said he had “so much to be thankful for.”

And he did. And he does. And we are. And I am. And suddenly I know what’s most important. If anything worse had happened to him . . . I don’t know where I’d be . . . where we’d be . . . what we’d do.

And all I know is that, while his recovery has not been and will not be easy, we are so lucky to have him, and I’ll never again put exercise selfish struggles before family and the people I love. (That includes you, Elyse!) You mean the world to me, Dad. Thank you for being my rock. I want to always be yours, too. I love you.

waiting

waitingWhat worries me is the way it sucks it out of me. Life.

There’s nothing new under the sun, a wise person once said. And he is right. And he is wrong. There are new things, because there are new people. Yes, we’re all the same and go through similar things, but only you can experience your life, and even you can only experience it once.

And things never go as planned, and questions never go away. Everywhere we look we have scientists and preachers and stories and teachers explaining: This is how things are. This is where you’ll be. This is how to live. This is what you’ll see.

But in the end there’s a lot we don’t know and can’t control. There’s a lot we can’t see.

Sometimes there are no right answers, no easy fixes, no straight and narrow.

And in these moments, and in the end, it’s just us and the silence, waiting.

 

on new years eve

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New Years in Hong Kong

Where you are, the ball may have already dropped. I know it has for my friends in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But maybe you live in Hawaii, or Alaska, or some other remote place — I don’t know where.

It’s 2015, no, 2016. Hip hip hooray! A new year. But somewhere in there, in between the shiny memories of my youth — when I held my breath and clung to each passing moment; counted eagerly, haltingly, “5… 4… 3…”; when lips were rosy and blushes, plenty — somewhere between innocence and the glaze of adulthood (I’ll be doing laundry tonight — what’s another year?), something got lost.

What happened to the magic? What happened to the nostalgia?

I won’t lie: 2015 has been a tough year. I won’t be sorry to see it go. Unlike many others, however, I don’t place all my hope in what lies ahead. I know that good will come in 2016, and that I am the master of my destiny, but there are things that are out of my control: no new year is all sunshine and roses.

And so I look forward to the new year resolutely. I will make the best of both the good and bad in 2016, and will always make the best decisions that I can. I promise to always be kind — even to myself. I won’t make resolutions I can’t keep but will continue living as I have, making the most of every day. I will learn from and cherish the past, but I won’t live for it; I’ll live for the future. And, most importantly, I will always follow my heart.