4.15.2014

Not Doing Wrong ~ Think You are Right?


I wrote this about two weeks ago. I have been insecure to publish it.

Since completing this, a 16 year old boy walked into a high school and  proceeded  to act out a mass stabbing. Since I wrote this, a 70 year old man walked into a Jewish community center and acted out a hate crime in which people loss their lives. Today, the day I publish this, is the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon. A year ago there was a bombing at the finish line in which many people lost their lives and many more were forever changed.

I walked into the room hopeful within five minutes I would be broken.

What can I learn from this experience? I keep asking myself this question.

I had two experiences in my life that I can recall being of the utmost importance in shaping who I am today.  The first happened 25yrs ago, the second I will share 25 years from now.

Everything started with this story.

My cousin Steve M. murdered and raped two women. The year was 1989 I was about to turn 20years old. The killings were supposedly related to a satanic cult, so it was said.

I remember the morning before the killings.  Stevie, as I called him, stopped at my house. I was out in my front yard of my parent's house cutting grass.  He pulled up in his father's pickup truck to invite me out for the night with him. That would be the night he would kill two girls.

I did not go.

That conversation I had with him in my front yard forever defined how I would live out the rest of my life.

Me, standing in my yard sweaty from cutting grass. Him, innocent with the youth of early morning. He stopped to visit with me before going on to visit with his grandmother who lived up the street.  His grandmother was the sister of my grandmother, nothing of much importance but time would bring meaning to this moment for me.

I remember our conversation that day; it was about music he had sitting on the passenger seat in cassette tapes by The Doors, Eagles, and a few homemade mixed tapes. Nothing jumped out at me as abnormal or satanic it was the music of our past. Conversations about school, girlfriends, family, fun... completely normal stuff.

24 hours later I would awake to the news.

He killed those young girls. Be it the work of the Devil or the distorted mind of madman. He was guilty.  He is spending the rest of life in jail.  The jury stated that Stevie had no history of prior criminal convictions, that he was under mental or emotional disturbance, whatever that means. The jury stated that he should be allowed to live so the social scientists could study him. Like this needs to be learned to be understood?

In the days that followed the murder I became the cousin of the man that murdered those two girls. Some people looked at me as if just being related to him was an act of sin.  People would try to bate me into conversations about why someone would do that. People would argue with me that he should be put to death.  I had no argument for that. To this day I am against the death penalty and I do not want to persuade you, nor do I want you to persuade me.

On that morning of the murders Stevie was normal to me.  There were seeds of evil inside of him getting ready to grow.  But that morning he was just my cousin.

Seeds live inside of us, I know this to be true. Prior to the murders Stevie was not evil.  No killing cats, no hurting his friends...there was small drug and alcohol use, yet nothing extreme. At worst his future path was leading towards a boring life.  Lower middle class life in a dying steel town.  I could see him getting the last of the factory jobs, marrying a girl that he got pregnant. His life could have become a sad song that Bruce Springsteen would write about on the “The River” album.

As for me, time would pass and I would no longer be the cousin of a murderer.  I would be left to live with the ghost of that day. That ghost would teach me to live purposeful, to live with effort to become a seeker of experience.

That ghost would teach me that words like “truth” and “right” are nothing more than judgments on how I would react and view the world. I would know, no matter how righteous or compassionate or how much wisdom that I may gain, that seeds of evil live within us. As I grew into manhood I did nothing in my life that one would call evil, even my sins weren’t all that bad and when I would fall short I would do my best to learn and do better next time. I would be a normal person, be it a bit goofy and slightly eccentric at times.

Seeds are there in all of us. This feeling will never leave me.

Seldom do we recognize the monster within us.  Easy is it to see the victim's face reflecting back at us in the mirror.  The monster stays hidden, hidden even from our own conscious.  Much of life persists beyond good and evil. Evil is all too often mislabeled “right” in a person's mind.

The person who bombs an abortion clinic thinks that they are right. The person who holds up hate-filled protest signs at a gay wedding thinks that they are right.  The Priest who molested a child then passed out communion on Sunday morning thinks he is right. Hitler thought he was right.  The man who beats his wife thinks he is right. The person who believes in Noah's Ark, but thinks that global warming is made up thinks they are right.

This is the right decision, I am doing the right thing we tell ourselves. Right is a reaction, it's a judgment, it's not thought out.  Much evil is done out of one thinking they are right.

Not doing wrong.  That is a practice that forces you to slow down to gain and hold a perspective.

Know this: no matter how much you may think that you are doing the right thing, your efforts, no matter how well intended, are not complete and you will make errors. Leave room in your life for errors; great things come out of learning from our mistakes. This practice, this thought process leads to not doing wrong.

Not doing wrong forces you to slow down.  Not doing wrong makes you accountable for the action that you are about to do.  Not doing wrong forces you to think about how this will affect others. Not doing wrong teaches you that “right” may be a mystery but I will do my best to not create harm.

I understand that I may create harm. Having a practice of "not doing wrong" helps guide me in stopping the suffering that I may create in others.

That is a ghost I can live with.

3.04.2014

Moment

Current Reading: Scaling Up Excellence by Huggy Rao
Current Music: American II: Unchained by Johnny Cash (Vinyl)
Mood: Cold
Smells: Coffee
Sound: My crazy loud sneeze.
Temperature: Tired of being cold, its effecting my mood.
Thoughts: Figuring out shortcuts take to long.

2.26.2014

My Future Acceptance Speech

If I ever win any award this will be my acceptance speech.

“I wish my ego could be here with me now to enjoy this moment, but unfortunately it's out in the universe doing random good deeds.

From my higher-self I would like to say thank you to Jesus for creating me, Buddha for enlightening me, my mother for birthing me and to my wife for putting up with me.

To my fellow nominees I say to you...that you, you and you all suck, I spit on you.”

I will then proceed to yell out a bunch of random swear words in Chinese for no apparent reason.

I turn to the French super model who has just handed me my award and french kiss the French super model, hoping that the model is not a dude (hey this is the future, men could be a super models?) But whatever...how often do you get the chance to french kiss a French super model? 

I walk off the stage, my right hand waving the peace sign and my left hand flashing an unexpected gang sign. The crowd erupts in applause.  Then three people burst into flames.  Not sure why but three people always burst into flames when I give a speech.

**********************

Not surprisingly, all of what was written came true.  In the year 2021 I was awarded “Best Creative” on the planet for my as of yet untitled, unrecorded, unpublished, yet-to-be-a-global-smash phenomena performance on the new, soon to be named TV network.

How do I know all this you ask? 

My ego came back from the being out in the universe and told me so…..egos never lie.

I am out of here 母狗…..

2.25.2014

Youthful Terrain ~ Vecere & Craig

Latest tune. This is the song that I wrote about in yesterday post. Written and recored in one night of blissful fun. Trying to get Stewart Copeland to join the road show, no response as of yet from Copeland camp.

2.24.2014

How To Get Better at Creating

I am out on a walk today and the thought occurred to me: how does stuff get created?

Creating stuff is how I earn my living.  Deconstructing my creative process; is that possible?

The last thing I created was a song with my music partner, Erik. As I walked I analyzed the process of creating new music with him.

I thought about how magical the moment of creating is. What control do I really have over this thing that I created?

Then I thought about all the pre-work, the woodshedding, the practice that brought me to sit across the room from him and play music.

That is step one...the doing: dream big but you must do the work. Get good at doing.

Magic and handwork go hand in hand when creating something new. This is an enigma that I will gladly hold true to my heart. Fingers, strings, and a piece of wood is an endless problem that I have no need to solve.  Yet, I know if I continue to put in the time and do the work, musical gifts will be rewarded.  That does not resolve my question, “how do things get created?”

We sit in this small room four feet a part.  Erik holding a Fender stratocaster, me holding a Fender Jazz bass.  We toss out musical ideas that we have been playing with... not songs, but small zygotes in the earliest developmental stage of music.

A groove presents itself. Something from nothing arises, something new.

We move into a state of repetition.  Simply playing the groove over and over to see what presents itself. We look up at each other and know that we have stumbled onto something good.

Repetition is step two.  Repetition is the next step after practicing. It's about going deeper into whatever may turn up. It's about exploring. Possibilities are discovered in repetition.  There is joy in repetition.

Great things arise out of shit.  It's an uncomfortable thought for sure, nonetheless repetition brought us to this new piece of music.

Music is now alive and with us, within our control. Repetition leads to release and the music becomes transformative. All academic approach to music is gone; fingers and string, revelations and reverberations...this is music.

Release is step three. At the point of release you no longer ask the question of why or how; conscious thought dissolves and you become a witness (or listener) to what has emerged. Release is a phenomena yet it is a phenomena with a purpose.

Erik and I are both “do-ers” of music.  We are good at picking up our instruments and running our hands up and down the neck.  Practicing our instrument is not a chore. Practicing our instrument is an escape.  Repetition leads to a release. That is the religious framework that sets us up to go deeper into the mystery.  Staying with the mystery is the mystical experience of where something new comes from.

Step four, stay with the mystery.

Creating things feels good. Writing this feels good. Playing guitar feels good. Whatever you create I am sure that it feels good. Being present at the moment of creating feels good.

Skeptics may criticize that my experiential ramblings are for not; that music is a scholarly skill that is rooted in scales and chart.  That creating is a scientific study not to be overly romanticized.

I will leave you with this thought:

There are three things that you can do in the image of God:
...love, forgive and create.

2.20.2014

Simple Motivational Rambling

Execute today, then repeat.

Let your “why” evolve.

Stay with the mystery.
  
There is only doing and not doing. 

Work on the stuff that matters.


Photo of the Week



2.19.2014

Insanely Useful Biz Tip

If you want to be transparent you better write it down in black and white.  

Re-posting of my business plan first published in April of 2007 can be read (HERE)

2.17.2014

Why Say Digital Photography?

The phrase digital photography must die.

Digital is how you save something not how you do something.

You do not type on a keyboard and say that you are writing digitally.

You do not play music on a keyboard and say that I am playing digital music.

When talking on the phone you do not say that I am having a digital conversation.

You purposefully create a photograph and then the photograph is saved in a digital file.

Digital does not create.

You create...

2.12.2014

Horizon's Gate

New tune featuring a photo from my "Emptiness & Form" collection.

2.07.2014

The Proposal

What do you do on the coolest day of the year?

You ask a girl to marry you on a mountain top in western PA . Throw in a snowman, wine and a film crew and you got yourself on the fast track to her saying yes.

2.05.2014

Random Thoughts on My Gallery Opening

                                                                                                 Photos by Elizabeth Vincent Photography


Being given the opportunity to have a photo exhibit is cool. I wish I could use a mature or more artistic word to describe the feeling, but it is simply a cool experience.  Additionally it is a surreal-out-of-body-experience; it is akin to being present at your own funeral.

At first you are in a room all by yourself.  Then slowly people arrive. Some friends, some family, some strangers, all arrive one by one. The rooms fill up and I think to myself “OK, this is turning out alright.”

There I stand, surrounded by my photography.  I watch as people walk around the room taking in my work. I stand waiting to be judged. It's comparable to a life review but instead of being judged for your sins people discuss your photography.

People walk around the room picking out their favorite photos.  After a while they make their way over to me. They place their hand on my shoulder and then in a polite and soft voice they tell me how talented that I am (seriously surreal).


They go on to ask me to describe how I created these photos.  My standard answer is “the other 10,000 photos sucked” and “light and tripod.”

Next they excuse themselves as the next person waiting in line starts the process all over again.  Truly it's like being awake at your own wake.  If you ever get the chance to attend my funeral, please come. It looks as if it's going to be a good time; lots of photos and lots of drinks.

As the night went on the wine flowed and strangers became friends.

My favorite philosophy about art is: “Arts only purpose is to serve.”  It was nice to be a witness to people enjoying each other.  Looking at the photography became secondary to the experience of enjoying the night out.  It was nice that my work brought this crowd together for an evening.

For me, one of my best-loved experiences of the evening was to listen to people talk about their memories of what the photographs mean to them. They would go on to tell me about nights of watching sports, celebrating holidays and walking through downtown with friends.


Photographing Pittsburgh has been an eight year project (so far). My goal is to document Pittsburgh for 50 years.  In the past eight years I have seen the skyline change.  I have seen the riverfront come alive with runners, bikers, families and new love.  I have seen the night skies filled with fireworks, fog and lights of the season.

Pittsburgh has become my mistress and my muse.

A special thank you goes out to my wife, first for always being the hottest girl in the room in my eyes, and second for letting me live my dreams.  Nothing is real until I share it with you.  Pittsburgh may be my mistress but you are my forever.



2.03.2014

Moment

Current Reading: A Million Miles in a 1000 yrs by Donald Miller
                            The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
Current Music: Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman
Mood: Fluish
Smells: Tea, earl grey
Sounds: My daughter and her friend singing
Temperature: 27 degrees 
Thoughts: The night of my gallery opening I say to my daughter, “Daddy has a cool job, don’t you think” she responds “It would be cooler if you were a lunch lady at my school.”

1.27.2014

On Fatherhood ~ Essay


Fatherhood?

I think I am a good dad.

I do my best to keep that perfect balance of tickles and discipline. The evenness of "clean your room & go outside and get dirty". The symmetry of “eat your veggies & one more piece of candy." The counterbalance of "if you do this then you can go do that."

This blog that you are reading today is nothing more than a love letter to my daughter. This blog, all 1,814 posts, is me.  It's my thoughts, hopes, desires, my worldview...it's what I learned and it holds the questions about what I wish to know. It's an archive of all the stuff that I have created.  It's filled with lists of book that I read and music that I have listened to, and with all that said...it's only purpose is for my daughter to know who her Father was.  To know who I am becoming.  Maybe to understand a little more about herself.

My current project is a collaboration with Erik Vecere, which is a short film on Fatherhood. Erik works for National Fatherhood Initiative.  "Initiative." Interesting word.  A non-profit company dedicated to helping Fathers become better Fathers.  Who knew that an organization for helping dads existed??  Things they don’t tell you when a newborn baby is placed in your arms.  In case of emergency go here...do go there. Lots of interesting stuff. www.fatherhood.org

 At the end of our film Erik said the words "A unique, irreplaceable role, and that's Fatherhood."

That sentence struck a chord with me, resonated deeply. I haven't been able to shake the question "Am I good at being a Dad?"

The opening paragraph above is me rambling about the greatness of the father that I am. Beware, I also feel that I am extremely good looking and even more talented than my good looks. Read on to see how well an ego like mine can father a child.

To give you engaged reader some context: I am 44yrs old and as I write this in three days my daughter will turn eight. Eight years into the journey of parenting a child seems like a good time to be evaluated.

Evaluation. Let's start there.  Who gets to evaluate my Fathering skills? My wife, Grandparents, community, CYS, God, my daughter, myself. Answer is....my spouse first and coming in a close second place is a tie between God and myself.  I am not afraid to go one-on-one with God.  God doesn’t gives hugs, I do.

I do not do drugs, haven't been to jail, I go easy on the swears and I have never beaten her.  Give myself a big check for doing the minimum; keeping myself out of Hell and bragging about the obvious.

This is a good time to go back and re-read that sentence about my ego.  We have read books, climbed trees, walked in the woods, roughhoused to the point of having her Mother yell at us to stop making all that noise (countless times), mastered the monkey bars, learned how to swim, shared quiet meals together. We hold hands, snuggle, rub noses like Eskimos, held long interesting talks at bedtime about the meaning of life (honestly I think that she's just doing her best to stay up longer).

Is all of that also just the minimum? In a Homer Simpson world of fat dads in sitcoms what is a good Father?

Yes, I know that there is no simple answer and yes I know that the simple answer is: asking yourself the question in the first place must mean I am moving in the right direction. Yes, I know that Fatherhood is a journey, not a destination.  With all that said then why bother evaluating myself or writing on?

Zen proverbs "before enlightenment chop wood after enlightenment chop wood." That's my "why". Let's carry on.


I am present, I am occupied by life, hell I am even occupied by laziness and TV. I will share everything with her, I will give up my life for her but I am sure to eat the last piece of pizza. I will watch her sleep at night.  Her tiny little chest rises and falls with each breath she takes.  That experience alone is all the proof for God's existence that I will ever need.  No matter how crazy a kid can kill your last never (and even your will to live) watching your baby sleep magically evaporates all the anguishes away, giving you the much need life-juice to get up in the morning and do it all again.


I come from good Fatherhood-stock.  My Father and Grandfather are good men, husbands and dads. They are from a different time and a different culture of what it meant to be a Father. They were providers first, husbands second and fathers third.  In no way did either of these men fall short.  It was how culture dictated the importance of Fatherhood.  In today's world, us Dads are doing it all (or at least doing our best to catch up to our Wives who are really doing it all).

To be a good Father, does that mean I must put myself third?

For me, yes it does. Not in a self-sacrificing way; remember I will eat that last slice of pizza, every time. In my heart, my family's happiness comes first.  To watch my daughter and my wife live life to there fullest, that is my first place.  Before anybody wants to Saint me read on (Note: this is written specifically to my wife.  I have said the words "dream big and do the work" over and over but also remember that I am extremely cheap, seriously frugal, opening the wallet is hard for me, so to you I say “dream big but please goes easy on the dollars”.)

Multiple purpose parenting: Who knew it was possible?

I have come to discover that I can cut the grass, cook a meal and then put ponytails into my daughter's hair. Honestly I am not very good at ponytails, dinners or even picking out clothes that match, but, hey...she made it to eight. She can pick out her own clothes from now on.

As of late I find myself with other Fathers having conversations on this topic. Gone are the days of football and hot wings. Today we sip coffee and talk about the joys and insecurities of being a dad. I guess I would have to say this is a good starting point if you are asking yourself if you are a good Dad.

As I finish typing this, my daughter sits downstairs in front of the TV alone eating dinner. That happens at times. Remembering the words "A unique, irreplaceable role, and that's Fatherhood." I get up from my chair and go downstairs. Vecere’s word still resonate deep within me.

For me, I think I need to go chop more wood, enlightenment can wait.

1.24.2014

Moment

Current Reading: To Own a Dragon by Donald Miller
Current Music: High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
Mood: Happy
Smells: Coffee & cold air
Sounds: E’s talking
Temperature: 5 degrees 
Thoughts: A unique, irreplaceable role and thats Fatherhood

1.22.2014

Preview of my Photo Exhibit 2/1/14

Pittsburgh at Night Photography Photo Exhibit
Saturday February 1 ~ Artist reception 6pm -9pm
Boulevard Gallery
736 Allegheny River Boulevard, Verona PA 15147
412-721-0943

There will be over 20 large photos showing the beauty of PGH@NIGHT.





1.20.2014

1.15.2014

The Importance of Project ~ Hypnotherapy Film

It's an honor to share this film. Michael Weir has been a deep influence on my creative and spiritual life.   Today my wish is to share this film about Mike with you…enjoy, share, grow and be healed.

Turn off the outside world. Best watched in a quiet. Play full screen.

1.13.2014

Is The Photograph Dead?


Is the photograph dead?

I ask myself this question as our photography business is about to branch into print sales for the first time since entering the digitals age. For the past ten years we have not sold a single photograph.  (yes, yes, yes we have sold albums but this post is about wall art) We have sold thousands of digitals files, CD’s, DVD’s and downloads.  We have filled up hard drives, shipped out flash drives, taken up plenty of space on the cloud.

How much wall space have we filled? I have no idea.

At every wedding and funeral there sits a legacy table.  A table filled up with photos documenting the love and life of those who are being celebrated. I have to ask myself: is my work adding to that table? Or will future tables be filled up with computer screens scrolling through facebook and smart phone photo albums?

In a month I will be having a galley show of my photographs. Actual real life photos hung on a wall for people to look at.  (You’re Invited) (there will be wine)

Is a gallery showing the right word to use? Is the notion of looking at photos more of a museum experience?  Walking through a room with relics of the past. Picture this: you walk into the Egyptian room, next the Medieval room, then up last the prehistoric room of memories showing a space displaying how humans once chose to remember and celebrate each other.

What do you think? What is a legacy photo worth to you?

1.08.2014

PGH @ Night ~ Photo Exhibit

Pittsburgh at Night Photography ~ Photo Exhibit 
Saturday February 1 ~ Artist reception 6pm -9pm
Boulevard Gallery
736 Allegheny RIver Boulevard, Verona PA 15147
412-721-0943

1.07.2014

Run The Play ~ Life with NMO


July 10th, 2013 I wrote a blog post titled "The New Normal Life with NMO", which in a nutshell was about living with a disease that will never give you a normal type of lifestyle. Ever.  Upon first publishing this post I thought that it did not resonate with my readers.  For days it sat virtually unread, but weeks later it found the people who needed to read it. For over 6 months now I have been slowly receiving e-mails and comments about the article.  By December I felt that I had done some good sharing my words.

When I wrote it, it was my swan song about disease writing.  I wanted to walk away from thinking, talking and explaining what life with NMO is like. For months I went silent; quietly rehabbing myself back to life.

For me: My new normal is living in rehab mode.

My body, at times, mysteriously slows down. Muscles become fatigued and week, balance is off, mind clarity is diminished and other random whatnots magically seem to strike me down.  

What do I do? I get back up, daily.  I am very good at getting back up.

Professional rehabbing is what I have become good at.  At times I feel cursed to be a rehabber for life.  I am good at getting better.  I have written the words countless times that you can be a healthy person and have a disease.  A disease is a condition you must live with.  Good health is a decision you must make. I made the decision to be a healthy person who has a disease.  I have lived my words as true as I can possibly hold myself accountable to them. I have succeeded, I have failed, I have gone the distance and I have come up short but every day I have played the game.

And then I went to a funeral.

That's where I learned how to live with my even newer normal.

I have been chasing death longer than anyone my age should.  I read books. Volunteered at a hospice. I sat with the dying. I prayed with the dying. I have romanticized the notion of being present at death. I am in fear of death.

I can remember being in a philosophy class in college (I love writing that; it makes me feel more worldly than I actually am). The class had the existential exercise on talking about one's own death.  The majority of the class spoke about no fear at the moment of death.  For me, at the time being Catholic and new into Zen, I wasn't sure which scared me more: the "Emptiness" of Zen or the "Form" of a Catholic afterlife. I called out bullshit to the class. The idea of accepting one's own death (even at the young age of 19) never sat well with me.  That memory of that specific conversation sits in my soul as a ghost waiting to find its way back home.  Home, be it the white light or the black cave.

I sat in a church pew one day, before this past Christmas Eve, attending the funeral of a man who lived a good life.  A man who died with love in his heart for his family and friends.  He was a good man and he will be deeply missed by all that knew him.

The Priest spoke about his time sitting with this dying man.  The Priest shared with us in the congregation his last conversation he had with him. These are his words as best as I can recall it.

"Father, I do not know how to die. I can see a white light but the Devil is blocking my way. Heal me or take me God. Just RUN THE PLAY. I will do your will."

For me, this is all the advice I will ever need.  You can build a library of all the world's philosophy and never say a thing as strong as those words.  A lifetime of wisdom spoke out loud before walking into Heaven.  This is what is meat by eternal life and eternal love: his words, lessons, compassion and love will live on past any of us reading this today...and that is a very good thing.

With his words "RUN THE PLAY" I now know what to do.  I know now how to live with a disease.

In the past I have used the phrase "Do not give up on being human". My life experiences brought me to those words.  That is what I have learned and have shared with you.  Those words still ring true for me.  All too often I see people with a disease choose not to live, choose not to place effort into their health, choose to give up on the life that they thought they were going to have.  They choose not to RUN THE PLAY.

I want to RUN THE PLAY.

Whatever darkness (disease) may get in my way I am going to look for the light (effort & health). I am not going to sit on the sidelines watching the game go by.  I will continue to not give up on being human until my soul reaches the other side.

I want my last sentence, my last breath of life to be that great...to inspire, to heal, to motivate others to live a good life. That is a legacy.  That is divine.  That is RUNNIG THE PLAY!

What do you want your last sentence to be?


 

1.06.2014

2013 This is what I did

I became obsessive about cinematography. Got addicted to buying vinyl albums. Reconnected with Erik Vecere and wrote lots of music with him. Had my soul scrubbed by the love of my life...countless times. 

Also, took crazy amount of photos….