The Big Ask

When I was finishing up my second college stint for Photographic Technology, I was working as a bartender but eager to get out of that industry. Not eager enough to have a real plan, mind you, but it was a time that I would say yes to any and all photo jobs that would come my way, with few questions and hardly any negotiations. So when a friend of a friend who was a Make-Things-Happen-Guy approached me about photographing an industry party for a popular week long music festival that happens once a year in my city..."you know, just walk around and snap party pics, two hours tops"...I said YES. I gave him a price (which was always under-valued and would never move me anywhere closer to leaving my bartending job), he gave me a time and place and that was that. Until I was driving there on that Saturday did I realize that I was driving to a pretty exclusive venue and 'industry party' was actually hosted by a pretty big record label at the time and did I bring the right film for this (yes, pre-digital)? All very good questions I should have known the answers to had I asked the right questions, or any questions for that matter.

Mr. MTHG found me right away and immediately handed me a check made out to the amount we had previously discussed, which was for my time only. Oh well, I thought, we'll hash out the rest...film cost, development, editing...later, I'm sure. Again, no questions, nothing was in writing. Driven by one hundred million forms of fear was my constant mode of operation. I started shooting the party scene while a band played, beautiful people milled around talking about what bands were showcasing at this party, booze was flowing, then another band played and another. Just when I thought it was wrapping up, Mr. MTHG came up to me, "Welp, time to move inside!" Inside, I thought, WTactualF? If you don't remember what film was like, there were different types for various environments, specifically, film suited for outside shooting and film suited for inside shooting. And film wasn't very flexible. I started panicking internally for fear that I didn't have enough of the right kind, but down the elevator I went.

When I got inside the venue, I find out that no flash photography was allowed, I would have a very tiny space in which to place myself while avoiding a moving cameraman and there would be five bands including a top secret special guest closer. I just went to work trying to act like I knew what I was doing and that I wasn't scared shitless which meant, you guessed it, faking it and not asking one single question, much less a cry for help. And forget that my shift for this job should have ended before I got on that elevator. I just couldn't state my needs. Hell, I'm not even sure what I wanted in that situation, or any situation at the time. I won't detail everything that happened the rest of that night, some of which is a complete blur, but I will tell you that the 'special guest' was Patti Smith. She, by the way, spits when she sings and I don't mean that saliva randomly falls out of her mouth but that she intentionally clears that passageway. And I, being stationed underneath her, was the direct recipient of a Patti Smith shower.

When it was over, I wish I could tell you that I took all of my film, ran straight to my car and held it hostage until I was paid more for the work I did that I did not originally agree to. I was angry and a little stunned, but when Mr. MTHG jumped on the same elevator and gave me the strong arm, I begrudgingly relinquished then ran to my car and cried. And I'm sure I couldn't get booze in me fast enough. 

If you think that this magically fixed itself when I stopped drinking, you would be wrong. I always thought that asking for help was a sign of weakness but true humility is only telling the truth about yourself and your needs.  Pride is a big, fat liar. But you have to know yourself and if you are numbing all your emotions to their lowest common denominator, how could you? 

I just got back from a vacation with my Mom and kids. I can do Mondays, I've got the fucking weekends down, I can even navigate a party but I do not know how to be on vacation. There were many, many times I had to ask myself...what is the appropriate emotional response to this? What would a grown-up do here? WHAT WOULD MICHELLE OBAMA DO?? It took me half the trip to realize that my point of discomfort was a result of my failure to ask for help. Becoming aware of this changed my entire outlook mid-week and I found myself saying, many times, "This is me, enjoying the moment!" 

So what did I do differently? Well, I asked my Mom to keep an eye on the kids while I took advantage of the workout room, or took a walk, or excused myself and inserted my earbuds. When it was time to engage, I dug down to remember what I liked to do when I was a kid on vacation, back when I knew better what it was that I liked. 

There was much Scrabble.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

When you get up for the bathroom and your Mom plays FELD, TURD is open game.

And gem hunting.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

I could have done this for several days, it was so fun.

Another thing I like to do is walk off to take photos, phone or camera matters not. Not only do I look for things that interest me visually,

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

Always looking for the sign that says, Come In, Explore! Never found it.

but also for cool textures or patterns that I can later use on social media.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

Progress, not perfection. This shit takes time.

The other discovery I made about myself is that I am resilient. Different than being a martyr or throwing myself a pity-party, I know I can do so hard shit and get to the other side with most of sanity and all of my sobriety intact. Perhaps I've always been. Actually, I have always been. This I know.