Keeping Up with Ronald, Mikhail & Me

It’s about 2:40pm on Friday, January 31st.  We’ve already arrived at the conclusion of the first January of the new decade. This particular day, I’m reflecting, as I usually do, on the headlines in the news and trying to adjust my state of mind to retain a psychological equilibrium because I have a desire to be mentally healthy as well as physically and emotionally healthy. There are days when this personal objective can be a bit of challenge when I try to take stock of what is taking place in the country where I was born and events taking place around world.

“Never an honest word, and that was when I ruled the world…” / From TIA’s Project “2014:365”

On this date, I’ve read about a nation overseas, once an imperial empire, breaking its pact with an entire community that also happens to be an entire continent. I just read about a global health emergency pertaining to a respiratory virus that has proliferated in several countries around the world in less than two weeks, leading many nations to prohibit flights to and from the source of the virus, which also happens to be the world’s most populous nation. In the nation of my birth, we are witnessing more than 240 years of laws, institutions, norms, and protocols being undermined and dismantled daily at their foundations in less than the time between a child’s birth and her ability to draw pictures with crayons. On the other side of the globe from my location, wild and raging brush fires have been devastating another nation for three consecutive months, and they have not stopped, even if the media have moved on to the next terrible, “just-for-ratings-or-what’s-the-point” story.

If I am being truly honest with myself, I only know about what I have read, which excludes more than 90% of the rest of the world, leaving me rather ignorant about what’s happening anywhere at any given time. I know it’s impossible to know all the current events at any given time, but if I am being honest (again), what little I do know leaves me melancholic, and that’s just today.

“My Name Is Ignorance, But I Don’t Know Why…” / From the “TIA Psycheography” Project

When a certain event occurred in the final quarter of 2016 – already a lousy year by many accounts, but concluding with the emotional equivalent of multiple nuclear bombs within my own psyche – I made a vow to myself that I would try my damnedest to remain as optimistic as possible no matter what happened, knowing we (the world at large) were entering a tumultuous and dark era in our collective history.  Part of this memory still feels terribly surreal as we’re living in a somewhat surreal reality.

Suspended in “The Twilight Zone” Ad Infinitum / From the “TIA Psycheography” Project

When I was a kid, maybe age nine or 10, I specifically remember a moment when an adult (who was probably in his mid-20s) was making some repairs in the house where I lived. Throughout the time he was making repairs, he observed that I had been watching the news on television.  It was either ABC, CBS, or NBC – those were the only sources we had in America if one didn’t have a cable TV subscription, which was still a relatively new service when I was growing up. Upon leaving, he came to say goodbye, and I’ll never forget what he said next, as I still remember to this day: “Try not to watch the news too much.” I just smiled and kept on watching the coverage about the nuclear arms race between America and what was then known as the Soviet Union, led by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

Glued to the News

I recall something called the Strategic Defense Initiative by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, which politicians kept mockingly referring to as “Star Wars” for reasons I didn’t understand back then, but worried me just the same. I did not understand the correlation of nuclear war with the outer space sci-fi movie saga created by George Lucas at the time. I also had to find out what the letters “S-A-L-T” meant in regards to the SALT talks. All I knew was that they seemed to be extremely important: the meetings relating to them or any kind of weapons involving missiles always seemed to be in a European city, and if the meetings or talks went well, maybe we could avoid a third World War. That was the extent of my knowledge at that age, and the news on this particular subject terrified me as much as intrigued me, in retrospect. The premise does, however, partially support why I might have decided to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International Affairs & Foreign Policy later in life.

For whatever reason – perhaps an influence from my parents – it was important to keep up with the news. Fortunately, as a kid, I still kept up with Tom, Jerry, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Garfield as much as I kept up with Ronald and Mikhail.

“Tom & Jerry” cartoons were among my favorite shows as a kid (and probably in adulthood, too).

I suppose part of the reason I’m sharing these thoughts on this day is because I still want to believe all of these problems can be resolved. I want to believe that we will eradicate diseases. We will find conventional (and unconventional) wars unnecessary. We will reverse impending disasters of climate change, and human beings won’t be the primary cause of the death and destruction of other human beings. Maybe I watched the news so much because I was looking for something positive within the news that was often so negative. I don’t know. (I’m “blogging aloud” as I type).

Lone Boy Watching the Ocean, Kokrobite, Ghana (2017)

As a child, I think I believed that I could really change or save the world from peril — the age-old adage that so many of us have as children or teenagers.  It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that one particular family member and a few of my friends (whose opinions I regarded considerably) made it known that there was no possible way that I could be such an agent of change with my kind of personality.  Words such as “too idealistic”, “too honest”, and “too forthright” were used on these occasions. It came across harshly even though I know that wasn’t their intention. I think it was what one would call “tough love” so I wouldn’t be disgruntled later in life.  That’s what I’ve told myself, anyhow. A few years later, when I was denied a security clearance based on the premise that I had no record of any wrong-doing, which the American government deemed as suspicious, it was then I knew that a road towards politics definitely wasn’t meant for me. I couldn’t effect any widespread, beneficial change via that venue because that venue had essentially slapped me with its own verdict on the matter.

What does any of this have to do with TIA International Photography or with photography at all? 

That’s a reasonable inquiry.

I think I reflect on all this bad news knowing, in reality, there may be little I can do to effect change or reverse the ills that have been perpetrated (either by unfortunate circumstances, malevolent situations, or a combination of both) and have little to nothing to do with me personally. Still, as a citizen of the world, I feel that I have a duty to know what’s happening and try to take action if it’s within my capacity.  Reality, however, dictates that many of these ordeals are not within my capacity to handle and, as a human being, that saddens me. 

I think that my way of coping is via my photography. 

“It’s the faith to dream that keeps the dream alive…” / Seattle / From Project “2014:365”

I may not be able to change or save the world, but I can capture and share what I see. Whether the viewer loves or hates cities is immaterial.  Over time, I discovered that, even though saving the world may not be my purpose, I am convinced that my need or desire (or purpose) on this planet is to photograph it and share what I see, whether it’s of interest to the viewer or not.  I do love this planet, both its natural and urban wonders, and its animals. (I still struggle with human beings, nevertheless).

Yours truly from the Skagit County Tulip Festival in Washington State.

In conclusion, as long as I have my camera, and some resources to travel occasionally, I can retain some optimism.  I also try deliberately to consume less news, but it’s a challenge. This doesn’t solve the world’s problems by any means, but when I become downtrodden about what’s happening, I have one means (of escape? of medication?) that makes me feel moderately hopeful or optimistic, even if it’s a fleeting moment. I think my photography, which is my purpose in life, is the only small contribution I can make to give some temporary moments of joy, wonder, or inspiration to others and I need to find a way to be content in that reality.

Now I just need to think of a headline for this article…

Gorbachev, Reagan, & Bush Sr. in NYC, December 1988 / Photo courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

One thought on “Keeping Up with Ronald, Mikhail & Me

  1. I used to watch the news every morning while working out – back in 2007-08, and I found it depressing. Bad news gets more attention. I don’t watch it anymore. I prefer to read articles that keep me informed but I also maintain my own interests and have my fun.

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