Five things I’m doing to myself

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve recently been paring down the number of non-essentials in my life, as well as putting together a list of goals to work on so that I’ll be happier and healthier this winter.

And I thought now would be a good time to write this all up. But first, let me talk about “goals.”

Why most people’s goals suck.

I’m not a fan of most of what we’re taught about choosing and stating goals. For example…

  • Lose 10 pounds.
  • Learn Spanish.
  • Sell more copies of my book/knit caps/bits of jewelry.

These are the sorts of goals most people choose and commit to. And, in my opinion, they’re awful. They’re awful for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they commit you to a result but don’t describe actions you can take to get there.

By way of an explanation, compare the list above with this one…

  • I will walk 20 minutes a day.
  • I will take a Spanish class.
  • I will post about my book/knit caps/jewelry once a day on my various social media accounts.

These are the sorts of goals I like. You can see that each is designed to get the same result as its cousin above, but instead of simply committing you to getting that result, they commit you to doing something.

I have three priorities.

In light of the above, I decided to take two passes through all the assorted crap in my life. The first pass was to figure out what my top three priorities really are. The second pass was to choose goals based on those priorities.

So let’s look at my priorities first. In order, they are…

  1. Health
  2. Family
  3. Photography

Putting health at number one should be obvious. If you aren’t healthy (and I include mental health, here) then you’re not going to have much success at anything else. Your body and mind are the foundation upon which everything else in your life needs to be built.

Family comes next. My various issues often make socializing with anyone harder than it is for the average person, but whatever “social energy” I do have needs to go to my family first.

Lastly, photography has become increasingly important to me this year, and it’s something I think I have enough talent and passion for that I owe it to myself to see if I can turn it into more than just a hobby.

Now, just because something isn’t on this list doesn’t mean it gets no love. Rather, these are the things which get loved first. We all have limited time and energy to spend on things. So, think of that time and energy like water, and the things you spend it on like buckets.

Every day, you get a limited though varying amount of water, and you need to fill all of your buckets with it. Well, my health, family, and photography are the first three buckets I fill. If I’ve got water left over that day, great! I’ll use it for something else. If I don’t, well, at least I got the most important stuff taken care of.

I have five goals.

Next, I picked goals. Since “health” is my highest priority, and it encompasses both physical and mental health, I’m giving it the most attention. Specifically, it gets three goals all to itself. My family and photography each get one.

Here’s my list…

  1. I will spend one hour a day exercising and stretching.
  2. I will use a meal planner to eat healthier.
  3. I will spend one hour a day on meditation and related practices.
  4. I will spend one hour a day with my family members.
  5. I will spend one hour a day on photography.

Most of these are no-brainers, and all of them describe either definite actions or set aside a definite amount of time. That said, two are a bit vague, and I should explain them.

First, my “eat healthier” goal doesn’t set a calorie count or describe the nutrition I want in detail. I’m not terribly happy with that, but I’m letting it slide for now, because I’m going to use a meal planner app to track all of that as I go. If the vagueness bites me, I’ll revisit it.

Then there’s “meditation and related practices.” I’m intentionally leaving it vague (ish) here on the blog (for reasons I’ve covered briefly before), but I’m actually going by a much more solid metric privately. For now, though, I’ve stated as much of that goal as I’m comfortable with. Besides, it’s a fairly decent description even in this slightly vague form.

Check-ins are coming.

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a weekly check-in, both as a way to keep myself motivated, and to inflate my post count here. Every Monday, I’ll run down the list, write about how I did, and how I feel about that.

Also! If all of this somehow ends up motivating you to do something similar, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday Wupdate

It’s Wednesday again, so let’s continue the tradition of me hurling a bunch of gibberish at you about how my week’s been going. Think of these Wednesday updates like the “merchandising” restaurants do, where instead of throwing out their old, gamy food and taking a loss, they turn it into the “Chef’s Surprise” special.

Only instead of suspicious seafood, it’s my life.

That Instagram thing is going well.

“Broken and Beautiful.” I took this photo last week while walking through a local park.

I’ve somehow made it to three thousand followers on Instagram. That’s…really awesome. People seem to like my stuff, I’m often one of the “Top Posts” for my town and many of the hashtags I toss my stuff in–it’s cool. And to be honest, I kinda needed something like this to happen.

I hear a lot of artists rattle off the line “create art for yourself, don’t worry about what other people think,” but I’ve yet to personally meet any artist who isn’t secretly a needy little victim of impostor syndrome who desperately craves the approval of others. Myself included. I don’t need much, but I do need a little love from people who aren’t related to me before I can mentally say: “Okay, I am actually kinda good at this.”

Alex is a teenager today.

I foreshadowed this on Monday, but my daughter turns thirteen today.

It’s kind of freaking me out.

Changing priorities.

Despite the sleep and family health issues last month, things have generally been going well. There is the looming threat of winter and how that’s going to affect my mental health (I have a post about this sitting in my Drafts folder that I’m hoping to get out soon), but overall? I think I’m in a better place today than I’ve been in quite some time.

Which means that I’m starting to re-evaluate some of my priorities. Projects I’ve had kicking around, things I’ve been “meaning to do,” habits I’ve wanted to change–now that I no longer need to just live day to day, I’m taking some time to organize and plan.

If this smells a little like vague-posting, it’s because it is. Even I’m not sure what “organize and plan” means here, or which “priorities” I’m really talking about. I just know that I’m staring down the barrel of some hard choices as to what I’m going to focus on, versus what I’m going to kick to the curb once and for all.

Once I figure out which is which, I’ll let you know.

Photography pet peeves

Okay, right up front, let me say this: I’m not an expert photographer, but I’m not half-bad either. I have a decent grasp of the fundamentals, and can generally get the photos I go for.

More relevant to this post: I know how to spot many of the most common photography mistakes–the sort of problems which are so common and easy to avoid or fix that it drives me right up the wall when I see them. So here are my three biggest photography pet peeves and what to do when you see them in your own photos.

And before you ask: No, I’m not immune to these errors. Every single example of “what not to do” below is taken from my own collection.

For I, too, am just an ordinary sinner.

Slanted horizons.

This has to be the most common problem I’ve seen, and it’s crazy easy to fix.

Left = Bad; Right = Good

When you’re taking a photograph of a landscape or similarly-wide view, you want your horizon to be straight. So before you take the shot, make sure your camera is level. If you’re using a DSLR camera, look for a built-in leveling indicator, or you could use a tripod with a bubble level.

Can’t get level when you take the shot? No problem. Just eyeball it and fix it later. There are a ton of free or dirt cheap photo editing apps out there, both mobile and desktop, which you can use to straighten your photos after the fact. This is a really quick fix which will improve the quality of your landscape photos tremendously.

The shot that almost was.

You sneak up on a bumble bee, get in close, and snap off the shot. Boom!

Yes, it sucks that you didn’t get the shot you wanted. Deal with it.

Alright, so you didn’t get the photo you wanted. The bee’s cut off, out of focus, and everything is terrible. So why post it?

My guess? Most people post photos like this because they feel like they have to get something for their efforts. They went through the time and trouble to set up the shot, and feel like it’s somehow wrong to just walk away with nothing to show for it.

I get that. But learning how to walk away from a bad photo is just as important as learning how to take a good one, so maybe don’t share this one to Instagram.

Blown highlights.

This is the trickiest of my photography pet peeves to explain, and it can be a lot trickier to avoid. You take a shot near water or some other reflective surface under bright light, and wind up with a big blotch of pure white in your photo.

At left, the photo as taken. At right, I’ve colored the “blown” section in red so you can see it.

That’s called a “blown highlight,” and what this means is that the spot was so brightly lit that the camera just said “to hell with it all, that’s white.” There’s no way to fix it. No way to bring back the detail that was there. It’s just gone.

Blown highlights are most common for outdoor photographers who have to rely on sunlight for their shots, and it’s why a lot of us tend to avoid shooting from about ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. During those hours, the sun’s hitting at very near its full power and everything is all harsh light and dark shadows–a situation which cameras have a really hard time dealing with.

Some cameras have a setting called “Exposure Compensation,” which you can use to prevent blown highlights when you take the shot, but after the fact? There’s just no way to fix it.

Creative choice trumps all.

In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, you want to avoid these mistakes, but sometimes, sometimes, they’re not mistakes at all. Like almost anything in art, you can invoke one of these “problems” as a creative choice, and that’s totally fine.

For instance, I’m fine with the blown highlights in this photograph…

Blown highlights as a deliberate, creative choice. (Gray border added to illustrate.)

Is this a particularly good photograph? Eh…not really, but that’s not important. What is important is that I intended to have the top third and those two windows blown out to pure white. I made a creative choice to break with my “no blown highlights” rule for this shot, and I got the photograph I intended to take.

Creative choices like this trump all the rules. So, if you want that horizon at a forty-five degree angle, or you want everything blurred out or chopped off, go for it.

But only if you mean it.

Humpday Humpdate

Well, it’s Wednesday, I’ll give it that much. Honestly, though? The days are just sort of blending together for me recently.

I mean, at any given time, one of exactly the following thoughts is going through my head…

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m sore.
  • I wish Lexi and Sloane would admit that they’re meant for each other, and what ever else happens, they’ll get through it if they just focus on that.

Yeah, Grey’s Anatomy got its hooks into me a while back, and I’m too far gone to care.

Anyway, apart from the above, and my shockingly consistent use of Instagram and Twitter, here’s what’s been going on…

The quest for new gear.

I’m slowly getting the cash together to pick up some new photography gear. And when I say “slowly,” I mean it. Being a responsible adult sucks, and since I’m still considering photography a hobby at this point, it’s pretty much dead last in my budgeting process.

That’s okay, though, because I honestly don’t know which sort of gear I should pick up first. I’m torn between lights (so I can work indoors when the weather is hideous), a new lens (probably a zoom telephoto for wildlife), or a filter or two for my existing lens (so I can do long-exposures in full sun).

My gut says “go for a new lens,” but my experience says “you will not go outside during the winter, so buy some lights.”

The news can fuck right off.

For those of us who aren’t stupid or sociopaths, the world kinda sucks right now. I won’t go into the specifics, both because you probably already know them and because this blog is already enough of a downer with all my “I’m tired”-themed ramblings, but…yeah. Things totally blow right now.

Not too long ago, I made a daily habit of reading 50 to 100 news articles across several reputable sources, but as of today the number is basically zero. And I’m fine with that.

Beyond the pure, elemental basics of survival, my first three priorities are family, photography, and my health, and lately I barely have enough energy to handle those.

Not my job.

Related to the above, my patience with people has reached an all-time low, and my willingness to deal with shit that’s not in my job description is next-to-none. For instance: I’ve hung up the phone twice this week when the person on the other end couldn’t answer a yes-or-no question.

Other Person: “Thank you for calling [Insert Store Name Here], this is Rick, how can I help you?”

Me: “Hi, do you have any [Insert Item Here] in stock?”

Other Person: “We actually have a sale on [Insert Other Item Here]. Are you look–“

Me: *click*

Some people might find that rude, whereas other people don’t want to hear a story when a simple “yes,” “no,” or “I’m not sure, let me check,” would suffice.

Anyway, that’s how my week’s going.

Good times!

Three things I’m shouting into the void

There’s a recent trend among bloggers and the Internet famous to write posts with titles like “Three things I want you to know,” and text which is just a little more involved than a list. And since they look like just about the easiest damn things to write, and it’s been two weeks since my last post, I’m jumping on that bandwagon like it’s the last burrito of the post-apocalypse.

Of course, since nobody actually reads this thing, it’s more like yelling into the void than sharing (allegedly) interesting tidbits about my life, but whatever.

I’m doing Instagram things.

I’ve been on Instagram for a while, but only started really using it about a month ago. A lot of my photography is going up there these days. My goal is one new photo a day, and so far I’ve been making that happen, which is kind of surprising given my track record when it comes to social media. Even more surprising, though, is that people are following me and my photos are starting to show up in the “Top Posts” for some of the tags I’ve tossed them into.

What I’m trying to say is that you should follow me over there. Follow me, like my stuff, comment on it. Pretty much anything you can think of to boost my numbers and inflate my sense of self-worth would be totally sweet.

I’m still trying to figure out what sort of photographer I am.

I realize I’m contradicting myself here, but I’m taking more photos of flowers, trees, and other “nature” type things and I’m kind of enjoying it. Like, a lot. In fact, the photo on this post is probably in my personal “Top Five.”

That’s…a little frustrating, actually. I mean, I’ve been taking photos (and taking photography seriously) for six or seven months now, and while it’d be insane to expect to know everything about the subject, it seems reasonable to assume that I’d at least know what I like at this point.

But no. No, one day I’m out shooting power lines, the next it’s architecture and candid street photos, and then later on I’m up close and personal with marigolds and begonias.

I’m trying to assume that this is all just part of the natural, creative process of anyone just getting into something like this, but I’m leaving open the possibility that I’m just a loon.

I’m still not sleeping, I still hate winter.

Despite one or two nights of exceptions, I’m still not sleeping much at all. So that, you know, sucks. Also, the first day of autumn has come and gone, putting me that much closer to another winter in New Hampshire. I’m going to do my absolute damnedest to get outside despite the cold and the snow, but…

Look, it’s really hard for me not to just start stringing together expletives and slamming my head against the keyboard when I think about winter. It’s seriously, absolutely impossible for me to even pretend to sound positive about it.

I hate winter. I hate everything about it. I think I even hate the people who enjoy it, just on general principle, though probably not, or at least not very much.

Whatever, though. I’m just going to tough it out. Get some decent boots, buy a solid base layer, then go out with my camera whenever I manage to summon the will. Which, if previous years are any indication, won’t be very often, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Anyway, that’s what I want the two and a half of you reading this thing to know.