Cory Richards and the soulful art of vulnerability

"At the age of 14, photographer Cory Richards had dropped out of high school and was technically homeless. His education, he says, was instead obtained through the observation of struggle" (via)

Ever since, he's made a living out of it.

Above all else, vulnerability is key to making any good art.

You have to show up.

And you have to bring all your baggage with you.


Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

Because that's when you connect.

Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

That's real. That's reality.

Photo by Cory Richards

Photo by Cory Richards

Sunstars and oversaturated - Instagram - that's not soulful.

That's easy.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Life of Adventure  :  Photography  :  Purpose of Conflict 

A Tribute to Discomfort: Insights from National Geographic Photographer Cory Richards

SAMSARA : The ever turning wheel of life

Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, SAMSARA transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders.  By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern (via).

The following is a fusion of SAMSARA and BARAKA, a film of similar purpose and design.

That ending scene, of the monks destroying their brilliant masterpiece, is so fantastically powerful. And I can't decide where my own inner interpretation lands. Is it meaningless meaningless all is meaningless? Is it that I am here, that life exists. And identity. That the powerful play goes on and I may contribute a verse?

Or is it something else entirely? 

I kind of like the idea that all humanity is a different color, making up a much larger work that will, inevitably, be destroyed - whatever that means.

But not yet.

Because "SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means 'the ever turning wheel of life,'" and at least for now, there is a lot of Life left for us to dance.


Even in jail.


Yet, there are some that never will. Or if they do, it won't be for life.

Because that too is part of the our reality and inner interpretation that I just quite understand.


"SAMSARA was filmed in 25 countries and produced over the course of almost 5 years." You can watch the full length movie on Amazon.



For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Inspiring films about Humans  :  Inspiring Art  :  Documentaries 

Heritage and Hate : Mississippi's State Flag


In contrast to Charlottesville: Race and Terror, Heritage and Hate: Mississippi's State Flag is a case study of how patience, curiosity, and the power of seeing things from another's perspective can change hearts, and possibly flags.

I truly appreciated this documentary because it changed the narrative a bit, because when I think of the stars and stripes of the confederate flag, I think white supremacists, radical racists, and gun-totting, right-wing extremists. 

Or, at the very least, those who relate to them but are too afraid to attend rallies or shoot up churches. 

Which is probably completely unfair. Or, at the very least, fully incomplete. 

But still, the argument of, "This is my heritage" doesn't hold much water. In fact, it probably proves the point. Because if heritage is the basis for making decisions, then the flag must come down. Because to some, to many, it's a reminder of the brutality and hate that their ancestors had to endure. Because their heritage isn't white. 

I mean, isn't that just being hospitable? Caring for others and making them feel at home?

Because to many, the Confederate flag is the antithesis of southern hospitality.

Yet, Sometimes, seeing things from another's perspective is the most difficult task we are asked to do. 

And that means me too.

I don't understand the Confederate flag, why anyone would fly it anywhere, or why keeping it around, especially at government buildings, is even up for discussion. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to understand. Because I should. Especially because I don't understand.

Seeing things from another's perspective means sitting and talking and listening to those who hold a perspective different than my own. It means disagreeing, respectfully, but also changing. Maybe not in beliefs and convictions, but for sure in perspectives and opinions of those who live on the other side. 

Because they too are human. And I need them, their differences, and their hardheadedness. Just like they need mine.

Arthur Brooks, in a discussion with Guy Raz, says it this way:

A majority of our people in our country today who are politically active believe that they are motivated by love, but the other side is motivated by hate. Think about it. Think about it. Most people are walking around saying, you know, my ideology's based on basic benevolence. I want to help people. But the other guys, they're evil and out to get me. You can't progress as a society when you have this kind of asymmetry. It's impossible - irreconcilable differences, right? We'll never come together - wrong. That is diversity, in which lies our strength. We need each other. In other words, if we want to help people, there's no other way.

I love that, "no other way," because it reminds me that if everyone thought like me, had my strengths, my opinions, my perspectives and convictions, not only would this country and world turn to shit and suffer deeply, it would never grow or learn or do anything other than die. 

Because my thoughts and ideas are fully and completely incomplete, they need unity with diversity, but they don't need a flag. 

And neither does this country.

How boys fly planes


About a week ago, Judah shoveled our neighbor’s walkway. Not because he was asked to and not because he expected payment, but because he could. Because he had time and strength and the wherewithal to notice a simple need. 

So he served.  

A week later, Judah was sitting co-pilot on a jet plane to Montana. 

About three weekends or so ago, while working on a small mantelpiece for the house, Judah asked if he could use the scrap wood that littered the garage and driveway floors to build something.

”Sure,” I said, thinking of my own childhood and the often free reign my own father gave me with his materials and tools, “whatcha gonna make?”

”Not sure,” he said, grabbing a handful of screws. We both got to work on our prospective projects and intersecting worlds of building and shared tools. About an hour later, my mantelpiece was complete. So was Judah’s plane.

Using only the pieces he could find and with never a measurement (because measurements are for sissies!), he built a friggen fantastic plan, and he was ready to paint. 

While I was gathering his supplies, our neighbor pulled in, asked Judah what he was building in that friendly neighbor sort of way, then paused at the door. “A plane. Really. You like planes?” 

Judah nodded. 

”Did you know I’m a pilot?”  

He nodded again. 

When I came back with the paint and brush, we waved and said hi, as friendly neighbors tend to do, then both went about our business. 


Then, this past weekend, he sent me a text , "I got a flight scheduled on Saturday morning, leaving at 8 or 9. If Judah would like to ride co-pilot I can arrange that." And although I was fully surprised, I wasn't shocked. Because he's the kind of neighbor who helps fix our bikes and who lets me borrow his saw for much longer than a weekend. But still, this was different. And I knew Judah and I had to have another talk. 

It would be easy to sit Judah down and say something like, "See son, when you do nice things for others, they will do nice things in return," but I didn't want to. Because not only is it not always true, it's selfish. 

Doing nice things for others in hopes of getting something back in return isn't service or choosing to help others - to be kind, it's bartering. And one only barters with people who have something he or she wants. 

Like the rich, the popular, and the strong.

Not the orphan, the homeless, or the Poor. Because they have nothing to offer. And that should be the furthest thing from our minds.

Because "Judah, we don't serve and help with hopes of payment and gifts, we serve and help because it is the right thing to do. Because that's how a healthy community lives, each giving what they can, living in humility, and serving whenever and however they can."

He nods.

"You were able to serve with your time and strength; he with his resources, but both of you served."

He nods again, and I know he has a question, perhaps several, tickling his tongue, "What?" I ask, "What are you thinking?"

"Nothing," he says, but I ain't buy'n.

"What?" I ask again. And his smile stretches across his face, "Do you think he'll let me fly it?"

"Maybe," I say yet secretly hope, "But maybe not," and I shrug. "But don't ask to. If he thinks it's okay, he'll let you."

"I know," he says as we pull into the airport, "I just hope he does."

Then, about an hour later, on the flight back home, I saw Judah grab hold and gently steer the jet from side to side. And my heart leaped. I could imagine his joy, his thrill, and the lesson I hoped he'd be able to carry with him along side this great little memory.


That when we choose to use our gifts and talents and resources to bless and serve the greater community, both big and small, when we choose to live and think outside ourselves, we not only bring joy and beauty to the those fortunate enough to be around us, we bring purpose to the everyday moments that seem so fleeting, so insignificant, so mundane.

Because although we may see them as simple, they're not. Acts of service and kindness never are. 

They're the little rungs we hang our simple hopes on.

And they're what keep little boys up at night, building planes out of legos, playing out the time he got to fly a jet airplane, and dreaming of planes he'll fly in the future.



For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  BIG ME : little me Great Wall adventure with Judah



Prince EA's, "I just sued the school system!!!"

For sure his argument is't perfect, and for sure he is a bit unfair, but there is plenty here to digest, discuss, and - if nothing else - consider. 

Because no matter what we think about fish and trees and standardized tests, all of us can agree that the youth of today are "100 percent of our future."

And they are always worth a second, third, and sometimes forth consideration of why we do what we do.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Creativity  :  Don't do homework, publish!  :  Smartest Kids in the World




Notable (and forgotten notable) Books of 2017

If you're like me - or like other people, if you don't want to be like me - there is never enough time as you'd like to read. But that doesn't stop you from scouring thrift stores and garage sales, drooling in used books stores, and buying more books than one could ever read in an entire lifetime. But you're okay with that because just buying books, rearranging them on your shelf, or knowing that if you ever did want to read them, you could. Because it's there, on the shelf, surrounded by other possible early morning companions. 

Here are a few more possibles to add to your list of must reads or sometime, someday reads:

"The NY Times whittled down their long list of 100 Notable Books to just The 10 Best Books of 2017, including The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us by Richard Prum and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (which Roxane Gay declared her favorite book of 2017)" (via).

Lee’s stunning novel, her second, chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. Exploring central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging, the book announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.” Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen (via).

Amazon’s editors picked their top 100 books of the year and then narrowed that list down to 20. Some titles include You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie, which I read and found not only extremely enjoyable, but deeply moving, Beartown by Fredrik Backman whom I've read before and thoroughly enjoyed, Sourdough, and Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply, which, alongside Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari, might be my next Amazon book purchase - I've heard both of them recommended now by several people.

Lithub also included a list of some baffling omissions from the NY Times' 100 notable books list. Some notables include Richard Lloyd Parry'sGhosts of the Tsunami, and Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War

And for those non-reader out there (you know who you are. And yes, I judge you), here is a list of the top 25 films of 2017.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Other Recommended Books  :  My 2017 Reading Log




"Who did you serve today?"


A few months ago, we started a new family dinner ritual. For years we would go through the typical, "What was your favorite part of the day?" or "What did you learn today?" and for years it bothered me - because all we're doing is talking and thinking about ourselves. And that seemed fully unsatisfying.

So we started asking the question, "Who did you serve today?" And unsurprisingly, at times, the answer was difficult to find, which was fine, because it lead us into discussions about gifts and talents and the purpose of living. Because whether we think about it often or not, our family has been gifted a great deal. We all have healthy minds and strong bodies, we are all talented and unique in our own way, and we have enough things to help us easily and comfortably survive each day.

Yet we are using these gifts and resources most often to serve and glorify ourselves. Which is sad. But not all that shocking.

In schools across America, signs advertise, "Got to college, so you can buy this" - a fancy car or luxurious vacations, commercials and advertisements encourage us to drive nicer cars, buy better appliances, and add more accessories to our phones, homes, and wardrobes. We are constantly evaluated by our personal achievements, the number of likes and followers we have obtained, and the depth and weight of accomplishments we're able to add to our resumes. 

Yet, suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, "with increases in every age group except older adults."

I often wonder if it has less to do with happiness and more to do with purpose. Because once you've bought the nicer thing, gone to the exotic places, and slept with the prettiest people and your still empty, what then? 

"How was your day," we ask, I ask, because we love our sons and daughters and we want to know how there day really was. Because we love them. But how much more important is it for them to consider how they helped make someone else's day? How they used their gifts and talents and time? Was it to serve others, or themselves? 

"Who did you serve today?" we ask, and sometimes the answer is "nobody." Other times it's a friend or family member (often Zion's is helping Mom with Elias). Always it's a reminder that today we were given chances to use what we've been given to help others. 

Did we?

"Yes," Judah says, "I shoveled the neighbors walkway." And I smile. "Awesome," I say, giving him a high five, "well done buddy. Well done." 

He takes a bite of his chicken, a smile hidden behind a pile of A1 sauce. 

And I swear, in that moment, it's the best damn smile in the world. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  BIG ME : little me On Living



Hunting for more than a Christmas Tree

Headed into the mountains today. I carried the saw and he found a stick. The girls threw snowballs that left tiny diamonds on their dollar thirty-seven cent gloves from Walmart, and we carried home a tree. 

Photo by @storyanthology

Photo by @storyanthology

Before leaving, we had a short talk. “Why are we doing this?” I asked.  

“To get a Christmas tree!!!” 

”Nope. That’s what we’re doing, but why are we doing it?” 

“To celebrate the birth of Jesus!” Eden yelled.  

Nope not that either. 

photo by @storyanthology

photo by @storyanthology

I have a few family and friends who don't celebrate Christmas. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, Christmas music, no nothin.

Because Christmas isn't about consumerism.

Because Christmas isn't about stockings or presents or all the other things they don’t want life  and family to be about.

And I get it. 


Which is why we hang garland from the windows, bake Christmas shaped cookies, hang stockings above a fire, and why we drive forty-five minutes on a Saturday morning to hike in the frozen snow in search of the imperfect Christmas tree that we’ll decorate our tree with popcorn, lights, and ornaments.

Because, Christmas trees and Christmas lights and all the other Christmas things we do are simply the things we do, not why we do them.

So we head to the mountains so we can be together, as a family, because “what is today not about?” 

“Ourselfes,” Zion says the loudest. And I don’t have the desire to say, "ourselves" because it’s glorious.  

And because we’re on our way to the mountains, in all of our imperfections, as a family. 

To celebrate Christmas.  


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Christmas Thoughts :  On Parenting



When it’s so much more than a bad day

The video description in the following film is, I think, a bit unfair. But also a bit poignant. Because "A social worker has the worst day of his life. Then, a homeless man shows him what 'bad' really is" isn't really what this short story is about. But it is, it seems, what we’re about.

This is not a short clip that asks us to be grateful for what we have or to look on the bright side of a bad day because it could be fantastically worse, but that’s exactly how it is advertised. And it shows the narrow mindedness, the shallowness, of how we often view life: as only compared to ourselves, to what we know, to what we’ve experienced. 

This film, rather, asks us to consider that the lives and decisions and present circumstances of others might be, and are, probably, beyond our simple and sheltered understanding. 


A few summers ago, I was fortunate enough to take a class over a long week in Hawaii. Just outside the University, several homeless men and women would often gather and talk and ask for simple handouts. Several of my classmates shared thoughts and attitudes much like the social worker above. 

Them we met Billy D Godwin and struck up a conversation about art. 


Billy D was an artist who studied at the University of California Berkley, married young, and lived a normal American life.  Until his daughter was murdered by her boyfriend.  “I came to Hawaii ten years ago so I could heal,” he said, “and to pray.  I pray for [her boyfriend] everyday.”


Of course we are going to judge, of course we are going to make simple assumptions and hold to our deeply rooted yet shallow stereotypes - and I’m not so sure that that is the problem.

It’s what do we do when  these stereotypes challenged. It’s how we respond when someone sits in front of us with stories much more complex, much more human, than we’ve previously allowed.

And it’s  how we engage and interpret and pursue the many faces we will encounter in the future. 

Will we listen? Be curious? And allow for a possible change in understanding? 

Or will we simple be grateful that at least our lives aren’t that bad?  


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Stories from the streets of Hawaii  :  Real stories of real people



The Art of Flying, and Living

It's called a "murmuration of starlings" — the marvelous flight pattern of 10,000 or more of these often maligned birds. Or, as poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “ a drunken fingerprint across the sky,” smudging the dusk horizon with the quickness of a pulsating jellyfish (via).

And it's baffled mankind for years. 

So Wayne Potts, a biologist at the University of Utah, began making movies of their flocks and analyzing them, frame by frame, to see how each individual bird moved. He found that "a turn ripples through a flock just as a cheerleading wave passes through sports fans at a stadium," and he explained the finding with the name of his theory: the “chorus line hypothesis.”

An individual dancer who waits for her immediate neighbor to move before initiating her kick will be too slow; similarly, a dunlin watches a number of birds around it, not just its nearest neighbors, for cues (via).

These cues come not merely with their eyes, but also through acoustics and perhaps even the use of the "tactile sense of onrushing air from close neighbors to help guide {their} direction."

In short, they don't simply react to their immediate surroundings, they respond and move in accordance to their greater surroundings, to the greater community. Because they listen, holistically, with their eyes, ears, and body.

And in doing so, they remain connected and move and flow and "murmurate" with ease and beauty and grace.

They live in community. 

And they teach us more than a little something about life. How to look beyond the immediate left and right, but beyond, to the greater community, and not just ourselves.

They teach us that when we shift and move and live outside our simple circles, when we consider the community rather than the individual, we (to paraphrase Richard Wilbur) refuse to be caught . . . in the nets and cages of common and simple thought.

But rather, beautifully lost in the greater murmuration of life and living, as we soar and swoop and fly. Free as birds.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Substituting People for Animals  :  On Living