Friday, December 07, 2007

What do I want to do when I grow up?

These last two days in bed allowed me the time to nearly finish the book With Their Backs to the World: Portraits of Serbia by Asne Seierstad. Incredible book filled with beautiful, and tragic, stories.

I've mentioned this before, but ever since my trip to shoot a documentary in Kosovo following the war in 1999, I've had a fascination with the Balkan region. The Balkans are to Europe what Israel is to the Middle East, a spark in a bone-dry pile of tinder. I doubt many others are following the recent news on this part of the world, but Monday is the deadline for talks to decide whether Kosovo will remain part of Greater Serbia or will attain independence.

The Serbian government is again threatening possible use of force. Or sanctions. Or closing it's border with Kosovo. Russia is upset with NATO. It's a huge mess, and is years away from any resolution.

Which brings me to the title of this post. After days like today, where I spend my hours in a studio shooting videos for XYZ corporations that have so many resources and huge budgets, I get so discouraged with my current occupation. I really want to be back over in the thick of things, shooting stories that change lives, that makes the world a better place for maybe just one or two families. Or five, or twenty. I love being completely lost in new cities, or crossing the border at midnight, dogs barking, armed guards demanding to see my papers. Walking in field only to come to a sudden stop when I hear a metallic "clink" under my shoe, and the relief of finding a piece of barbed wire instead of a landmine.

In the picture above, my wife and I had just explored the bombed out Serbian administrative headquarters, seen in the background. A bunker buster bomb had drilled a hole straight through to the bottom of the building. Who worked there? Where are they today? Can they forgive those who bombed them or will their children take up arms to continue the battle?

I wish I could make my living finding the answers to questions like these. That's my gripe on this snowy day. Annie says that I always start complaining about my life when winter roles around.

I guess I should be thankful for winter... it's been the springboard into all sorts of mischief.


Nicole said...

Man, you are adventurous! How 'bout a documentary about T21 starring Ian and Tarenne? hee hee hee.

I love the photo booth photos below, your kids are beautiful!

And....Tarenne rides rollercoasters..okay they are the ones built for 7 year olds, but she has no neck abnormalities, and if she wants to go upside down quickly, I think she should! :)

Brett said...

Hey this set of words helped me today. Maybe you too?

Im bleeding
I dont think I can go on
Im dying
My last breath has come and gone
Pity the man
Searching in the sky
Looking for a sign from above
And he never caught a glimpse of
What hes worthy of
Dont sit and wait
For the world on a plate
Its not a stroke of luck or chance
Just draw a bead on that sucker
And drive

Im falling
I dont know whats up or down
Im spinning
I cant turn my life around
Pity the man
Waiting for a clue
Cant tell what to do with himself
Ends up as a fool who
Lives for someone else
Dont sit and cry
While the world passes by
Stop tagging after the other guy
Just get a line on that mother
And drive TR

Carole said...

Wow. This sounds like exactly what you are meant to do. I hope something works out for you. Still, it would be no good if you stepped on a landmine.

Kim Ayres said...

I remember a few years ago it it felt like I was continually meeting frustrated photographers.

Photography had been their passion for as far back as they could remember, and they'd pursued it to the point of setting up their own businesses and had visions of selling huge black and white abstract pieces, or portraits of famous people, and yet they spent all their time photgraphing babies, weddings or products. They hated their jobs, but felt they had to keepon doing it as they now had young families, bills to pay and far too many responsibilities.

When I became disillusioned with the web design business a couple of years ago and Maggie and I first started talking about making major changes in our lives, the whole repsonsibility/ bills/ kids thing inevitably took place many times.

There is a powerful drive, fostered by society, to take the view that it doesn't matter how much you hate your job, if it's bringing in an income then you should be grateful you have it and you should sacrifice your life for a stable environment for your kids.

But what eventually dawned on me was that if we did that, what lesson would we ultimately be teaching our children? We'd be teaching them to sacrifice their dreams, to play it safe. We could speak a thousand words, but our actions would shape how our children would interact with the world.

So in the end we felt it was more important for them to see their parents going out and pursuing their dreams, working to make them happen, rather than giving up for a safe life.

OK, my Fatigue has gotten in the way, but Maggie's art is developing and I know that however things turn out, we made the right decision.

Remember kids are infintely adaptable. Even ones with extra chromosones. Whatever your life is will seem "normal" to them. The question then is whether you want them to see normal as 9-5 work yourself to the bone and give up on your dreams, or whether normal is to go out and pursue them.

So speaketh The Bearded One...

Christina said...


I have not read that one by Aasne, but I read the one about the Bookhandler in Kabhul and the one about Iraq... Some pretty intesive stuff.

So you are doing documentaries! Very interesting!

Tom said...

Nicole: I think I'm antsy more than adventurous. :) Maybe a documentary about kids and roller coasters... :)

Brett: The line "Stop tagging after the other guy" resonates with me most... feel like I'm "tagging after" someone. Maybe family, or tradition, or expectations.

Thanks, man.

Carole: Not looking forward to stepping on any potential landmines, mind you, but do hope to be able to work in another country again one day... maybe a potential upset stomach is the most danger I should shoot for. :)

Kim: Your comments sparked a good conversation between Annie and myself this morning.

One of the things that lies at the heart of my search for "my place in this world" centers around what I want to say vs. how I say it (video, written word, philosophy, theology, etc.)

I think that I would be more apt to step out and face the unknown if I could just figure out what it is I want to say to the world, you know?

What was it that allowed you to make the final step and leave one life for another?

Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comments and insight.

Christina: I highly recommend the Portraits of Serbia book if you liked the other two. The one on Iraq is on my Christmas list.

Elbog said...

You're all right - meaning, you're all alright and all right, lol. Tom, you're saying it, now. Funny how that works, huh?

Kim Ayres said...

It's rarely one thing that causes a major life change, rather it tends to be an accumlation of events, thoughts, converstations and opportunities until they reach a critical mass, and then all hell breaks loose...

Among other things was a sense of mortality. My mother died nearly 5 years agoat the age of 65, from a rare cancer of the ear (who knew such things existed?). 65 is the point where you've worked all your life for everyone else, and is now the time to finally put yourself first. But what if you don't make it?

I don't believe life is a dress rehearsal. In fact, in any set of beliefs I think we should be making the most of life.

If you're an athiest, then this is you're only chance, so you should be living to the full.

If you believe in reincarnation, then what you do in this life will resonate in future ones, so you should be experiencing it to the full.

If you believe in an eternal afterlife, then whatever God is likely to look less favourably on those who didn't bother making the most of their life and opportunities (parable of the Talents springs to mind).

Even if you believe in a Nietzschean Eternal Recurrence, then you should be living your life to the full, in such a way that you could wish for it to be repeated again and again and again.

And one thing that has been drummed home to me time and time again is that as we get older and look back on our lives, the things we regret the most are not the things we did, but the things we didn't do.

Once my wife and I had decided we were unhappy with the way our lives were, we spent many months discussing what we felt our ideal life would be. Once we had a clearer image (me pursuing writing, her pursuing her art, living closer to the sea etc), it was then a case of working out how to get from there to here.

And that's just problem solving.

Michelle said...

Tom, check out! There are the neatest documentary style pieces there, some audio/video/photography, might give you some direction. We are in the earliest phases of a documentary about Inclusion with the man who was the Professor of the guy who created mediastorm. Not 100% sure of our direction yet. This could easily be where you go, as well.
PS did you follow Beslan? The school massacre? It haunts me.

Tom said...

Elbog: Funny, and supremely frustrating, how it works. If only life really could be sectioned into "Chapters."

Kim: Was there another possible "career" that you could have chosen from when you made the final decision? Like teaching at a college or web design or repairing old bicycles, etc? That's sometimes another HUGE stumbling block for me, the idea of having to make a living doing one thing (marketing videos) to pay bills and the possibility of never making a living doing things that bring me more joy and are "better" for the world.

I hear you about mortality. This life is "it," in that it will never be lived again. (You know my bent on the hereafter, I assume.) One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite philosophers is "I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance." I'm thinking Nietzsche hit the nail on the head with that one... and am hoping the god I am throwing in with can do a mean tango.

Are you a fan of the existentialists? I'm a modified existentialist... but that's for another post.

Michelle: Thanks for the link... I followed the Beslan shooting for a few weeks after it happened but haven't thought of it in awhile. Brutal stuff. Good luck on the doc and let me know if you have some questions about the process, etc.

Kim Ayres said...

There are bits of existentialism that appeal and others that don't. I think there are major problems with Sartre's focus on free will because I feel we're a lot more limited than we realise - that's not to say we don'thave any, but in order to have it, we have to first recognise we have it and then have to exercise it like a muscle.

I could spend many hours dicsussing my philsophical beliefs and the fact is I've developed one that seems very powerful in terms of understanding how we interact with the world and how we can change that interaction.

Unfortunately I haven't yet got it down to bite sized chunks.

However, you can get an introduction to it by reading these 2 posts. It's worth reading the comments too, as some of the ideas are expounded further in my replies

We are the authors of our own story and Chalk lines