Monday, March 28, 2011

One Night in Brooklyn ~ Travelog Thursday

Many times I find lyrics in music that click with moments in my life, like anyone. Sometimes randomly, sometimes with precise detail to my life. But there is a lyric that I connected with that made me think back on my past year and change. The line is from hip-hop artist Mos Def:

"sometimes I sit back and just reflect,
Watch the world go by and my thoughts connect, 
I think about the time past and the time to come..."

Back in September I was in New York on my journey down from New Hampshire to Baltimore. I spent about a month going from one friend's bed to another friend's futon throughout Hoboken, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Baltimore, etc. The night before my birthday I traveled out to Brooklyn to do a photo shoot of the three musical members of NYC indie band, Ghost Ghost! 

Karl, Kevin, and Tim had asked me to take some photos of them to promote their gig they were playing at the CMJ Music Marathon in October. The idea was to actually make the photographs capture them "training for the marathon" as the humor was that the marathon was actually of auditory nature and nothing to do with physical endurance. Once that idea clicked, then the idea of adding 80's style attire and attitude was too perfect to ignore.

Monday, March 21, 2011

May Your Madness be Meaningful... and Mad ~ Travelog Thursday

As I sit in my living room with the patio doors open pouring in fresh spring air, i have two laptops on my desk and our tv on rotation with three of the four NCAA basketball games on every possible way. A mirage of sounds are coming out of apartment 2B; shoes squeaking, cheerleaders making out-of-rhythm cheers from all the 9 teams currently playing , in-depth announcers spatting out the plays, and crowds roaring at various big plays. What is in front of me? My brackets ridden with cross-outs, fill-ins, and highlight marks. A warrior's prep kit sits in front of me; a glass of Crystal Lite to get hydrated before the holiday of drunkenness commences tonight and my St. Patrick's green clothing folded on my coffee table, ready to be adorn shortly. Today is March 17th. Most would consider this a glorious day for the Irish and alcohol lovers, but for me, that plays second fiddle to the unofficial holiday I am celebrating today. This is bigger than Christmas, it's more exciting. It's more significant than Thanksgiving, it's more meaningful. This is more patriotic than Independence Day, fireworks happen sporadically and not in an organized finale.
My set up for the first day of the NCAA tourney. Two computers, several brackets, HD tv, and a glass of Crystal Lite. Yup.
This is the first day of March Madness. If there has been a consistent sporting event that I have written about throughout my life, it has been the NCAA tournament. I remember the very first time I filled out a bracket for my dad's pool. I knew a little bit about college basketball as a 12 year old, but that moment it clicked. My first tournament pool and my first victory against adults. It was invigorating. From then on I have filled out a bracket; at 13 I made two and wrote a poem about how fun it was, at 14 I had three brackets and spent hours on research, by high school it was a full-fledged addiction. I skipped school and took “sick days” for the first two days of the tourney. At 15 I sat and watched every game with the each timeout break giving live updates on the start of America's war in Afghanistan. It was a memory I will always have, having the thrilling excitement of the first games and brackets being tested but the lows of teenage friends having to watch as our country embarked on war. Once college tipped off, it was not even a question, classes took a backseat.

So I had ten years of pure ecstasy of the tournament and then I left to live abroad in Thailand. College basketball was nearly impossible to find on television in The Land of Smiles and so I did not pay very much attention to the regular season other than my favorite Tar Heels of North Carolina. The regular season came and went and I got my usual college basketball tournament invitations. A tradition is a tradition so I absolutely signed up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just Keep Running

It's been nearly nine months since my return back into America and the spoiled life that I lived in Thailand for more than two years has caught up with me. While in Thailand, it's sort of the unwritten law that men lose weight if living there for a significant amount of time and women typically gain weight. This was a great surprise my first time living in Thailand for 6 months back in 2006. But when I knew I was going back to Thailand in 2008, I pigged out, knowing full well that I would be able to shed the weight easily in Thailand. I didn't used to be like this, as my old habits of exercise used to be great and I truly enjoyed the daily physical activity. Now I just feel old and slowly gaining back the weight I lost in Thailand. My last days in Thailand were my thinnest in a LONG time simply because I had just finished ordaining as a Buddhist monk for a month and lived by a strict diet which lost me about 12 pounds in just a month.
Here enjoying my first meal back to Lay life after Buddhist ordination for one month and losing nearly 12 pounds. This is about as skinny as I have been in a long time.

The culprit that brought my love for food back on a vicious track, "chao ping" and chicken with peppers; China 2's specialities. 
Finally the time has come where my old exercising habits are needed, so for the first time since training to climb Mt. Kinabalu back in October of 2009, I went for a run. It was not much of a run, but I mapped out a route and hit the road. Baltimore is still a bit cold out, but the weather was sunny (with an extra hour of daylight) and so I gave it a shot. The brisk chill didn't bother my legs or bare arms but more so my expanding lungs. That tight burning in the chest wouldn't go away. At first it felt great to have it again considering that I only got the feeling the past two years from high altitude climbing but by mile one, the fun was over and the pain was glaring. But just as all my coaches in high school used to say, "just run through it".

Once getting to the last leg of my run, I was unhappily surprised by the one road I did not know of named Concordia Drive. Come to find, Concordia Dr. was not too flat, but rather my own "Heartbreak Hill" of my loop. This mile long road was the final part of my run and although not extremely steep my out of shape body was telling me that what I was doing to it was a sick joke and it wanted to go back to fasting for a month on rice and tea instead of running anymore. And as much as I would enjoy that as well, that is (and was) not an option. I finished the run and it beat me up, but beneath the sore knees and fast-appearing blisters, I sense a small taste of excitement to get back in shape and keep running. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Do what you can for those in need in Japan

In conjunction to my previous post on work within New Orleans and natural disaster's effect on a society, I ask everyone to help support Japan in their time of need after the horrific earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. The Red Cross as made it as easy as possible by simply texting "REDCROSS" to 90999 to directly donate $10 to Japan disaster relief or simply going to and making a donation there. Anything you can give is important.

Other sites to visit in an effort to help are:
To contribute to the medical relief or text MED to 80888 from any mobile phone to give $10

The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund at works to provide donations to various relief organizations that promise to be working on immediate relief with the entire country.

Also visit, with their Children's Emergency Fund for disaster relief for the young people struggling.

Be sure to remember the animals as well at International Fund for Animal Welfare

More Sites: OperationUSA , MercyCorps , Doctors Without Borders , and Salvation Army

~~~At the very least, be sure to keep all of those effected by the earthquake and tsunami in your prayers and thoughts.

Emotion is the masterpiece of an artist's tools

This weekend the idea of extracting emotion from someone with writing or a photograph came into my head many times. Whether it was a photograph that I gifted someone and combined it with my writing or reading reports on the terrible wreckage of the tsunami in Japan and seeing the devastation it caused, the ability to make an effect on someone’s emotions is a powerful thing.
My goal as a writer and photographer (or “artist” if you consider it that) has always been to create an emotion out of my audience. Whether it is a smile, a surprise, a frown, or a tear, I take every emotion as a specific critique just as if a chef served their first dish of the evening and watched the customer’s reaction to the dish. Is it too spicy? Too sweet? Not enough flavor or a little more? All of these questions are how I improve my craft as anyone in a similar field would. And as they say, only a writer improves by reading other writers’ work and this also applies for artists. The more work you see, the more creative you can expand (or restrict) your work.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Can you judge a country by a book? Or vice versa?

So the old adage to never judge a book by its cover served new meaning when referring to travel within China. A country that has one of the world's most deeply-rooted histories and also some of the most well-known traditions can be very easily be typecast by the western world. My original impression of China, before traveling throughout the country, was of billions of people on top of each other, strict law enforcement and tremendous organization. Some pretty extreme typecasts.

Being the avid enthusiast of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, I was very interested in trying to get a sense of both sides of the story in reference to The Dalai Lama and his relationship with the Chinese government. So before starting my month long journey to China (and with wishful thinking Tibet), I began reading "Freedom in Exile" by His Holiness. Although hearing the rumors of the Chinese police kidnapping and arresting people who read The Dalai Lama's books, I wanted to actually see if that was true. So I took the risk, with the book in hand, as I stepped off the plane in Guangzhou. I made sure that the front of the book, which has a photograph of His Holiness, on it was to my side.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Will 15 Minutes Be Worth?

Last night, while attending trivia at the local bar with my girlfriend, one of the questions was asked “Who was quoted by saying 'in the future everyone will get 15 minutes of fame'?” Sadly we answered incorrectly, although both of us knew the answer was of course Andy Warhol. (Sometimes I wonder why we even go to trivia when we can barely answer the layup questions). Anyway, Warhol's famous quotation made me think back to a week earlier when I ventured up to the northwest corner of New Jersey to a quaint little town of Knowlton to visit my girlfriend Kait's family. The cause for this trip was her grandfather, Neil (I still feel comfortable calling him Mr. Gallagher though), was turning 90 years old. Most of the family was in attendance to celebrate such a joyful occasion with this incredibly witty, charming, and knowledgeable man.

Prior to the party, I had the chance of meeting Mr. Gallagher a few times on different occasions, but most of what I know about him is through the rest of the family talking about him. And what I gathered from each and every member of the family was that the amount of respect and love that Mr. Gallagher has for his entire family is matched from his entire family. That only is truly inconceivable to me. If there was ever a person that is the foundation and groundwork of a family, he would be the epitome of it. Stories begin with him, passions form because of him, and knowledge stems from him. As any grandparent should be, Mr. Gallagher is the guiding light in this large family and he handles the role with almost a royal dignity.

As a fairly new addition to the Gallagher/Maillet family traditions and events, I enjoy just being a fly on the wall and listening to their stories. I especially enjoy when most anecdotes refer back to Mr. Gallagher. The reason being is that I rarely have had the chance to sit down and speak with him and get to know him a little more since I've been out of the country for a few years. All of the grand stories and things that this man has done in his life sound incredible, but it was not until I stepped into his home that this near legendary figure actually became humanized in my eyes.

Upon walking up to his second floor portion of the home, you can see an incredible juxtaposition of colors. Beautifully vibrant pieces of artwork of a lone soldier or abstract work with rich tones and brush strokes sit on the left wall, while to the right is an old bookshelf with stacks of novels and textbooks stuck behind a handful of very aged black and white photographs. It was an interesting contrast of art and history, color and black-and-white, new and old.

Going further into the house, there is a hall of fame. When I use the phrase “hall of fame” I do not mean to describe it by the cheapened version that most use it as, but rather to truly proclaim it a hall of incredible notoriety. Some may hang up high school trophies or momentous photographs of their childhood studded to the stucco, but this hall is truly of fame. Close to 30, all black and white photographs are well placed along the wall leading into the dining room and when examining more thoroughly, the feeling that you are walking through someone's 15 minutes becomes reality.

Photographs of Mr. Gallagher as Congressman with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, with Frank Sinatra and famed Prime Ministers from across the world almost look fake, as if Photoshopped into the image. Every photograph had practically a novel's worth of a story behind them, and Mr. Gallagher himself could tell you each story right off the top of his head. And he did. He saw me looking in awe of these remarkable photographs just after our dinner, desserts, and speeches from his daughters and friends and decided to literally walk me down each minute of all fifteen of his that showed on the wall. It was truly incredible. Stories about families throwing events for him as he fought for civil rights down south and trips abroad to third-world countries to bring aid and kick start the Peace Corps would sound almost surreal if it were not in support of the photographs to back it up. It was a walk through time with someone that made a difference.

Following everyone's kind words and birthday wishes to him, Mr. Gallagher spoke to all of us in the room with great poise-- like a congressman would-- by thanking everyone in attendance but also leaving room for some jokes, stories and thoughts on his generation. He spoke about times while in service with the Navy, in Washington as a Congressman, and in New Jersey as a father, and all of these stories paralleled with his deep love for his wife, my girlfriend's grandmother whom he called “Rick”. He talked about those people he knew who died so young, literally over 70 years ago before their time was really up, and his ability to describe them as if they sat there with us that night was moving. He himself at times showed how surprised and shocked he was to make it to 90 years old, and how 90-year olds when he was young probably knew someone in their lifetime who knew George Washington; truly tying generations together. It was not until later in the night when the feeling that my generation has a much different outlook on things than those of the past. Looking at times he had in office and the history-making people he called by first name makes our generation seem minuscule in comparison.

Following his toast I thought about some interesting questions like, “who will I be telling my grandchildren about when I am 90 years old?” or “what famous personalities will we look back and talk about to truly show our age?” came into my mind. As history will always be written, it is interesting to think of how well it will be written when we're older. Will we look at Mark Zuckerburg as some see the Wright Brothers? Is Facebook as significant as man flying in a plane and air travel? Will we look at Justin Bieber (whom Mr. Gallagher did make reference to in his speech for an added punchline) as our Franky Blue Eyes? Will we consider the Gay Rights Movement as significant as the Civil Rights Movement? These questions cannot truly be answered just yet, but has looking back in history to compare it to the present times always seemed so disheartening? Perhaps I'm pessimistic in this regard but being able to recognize history in the making is like catching lightening, it is truly a rarity. But to be in attendance during a firsthand account of history being made (by a man who made a lot of it) seems to be just as impressive. The celebration of Mr. Gallagher's 90th birthday allowed me to better understand an incredible man, but also better understand a generational gap that has formed throughout the years. Most importantly, with a society where 15 minutes is achieved so much differently now than in his time, what will the next generations' 15 minutes look like?