TIAA #7: “My Dream of Diplomacy”

Tosin’s Images & Anecdotes (TIAA) is my self-assigned photography challenge of 2022. The immediate objective is to select one image from my inventory (a cityscape, landscape, portrait, oddity, etc.) each week and write something about it. This “something” could be the story behind the photo, a triggered memory in relation to the photo, or simply a reaction or reflection based on the subject matter featured. The long-term objective is to encourage myself to add more content to “La Vue Atypique”, which celebrates its first decade in publication this year.

“My Dream of Diplomacy” / Washington, D.C. / September 2003

What can I say about the photograph above?

Before I even discuss this, let me state frankly and unequivocally:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week is completely unnecessary and sets the world’s progress backwards by decades

There was a time in my life when professional photography occupied the farthest reaches of my mind as a career or a business. I saw it purely as a hobby. If I went on a road trip through the towering Colorado Rockies or along rustic, rural highways between D.C. and Boston, I would carry Minny (my first single lens reflex camera — a Minolta Maxxum 5000 — that accompanied me on most trips since the age of 10) in addition to some rolls of film. Later, around 2005 or 2006, I would purchase a Kodak digital camera which captured images with a resolution of a whopping five megapixels (which was breakthrough camera technology for the time).

Photography wasn’t my dream back then. No.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) in International Affairs & Foreign Policy followed by a Master’s degree at the University of Denver in the same fields of study, my mission and vision were to relocate to America’s capital and introduce the nation to my take on International Diplomacy. I honestly thought I would work my way through some of D.C.’s local think tanks and elevate to a prominent role in the U.S. Department of State or Foreign Service. Alternatively, I had also considered assignments as a foreign correspondent or going into politics. Similar to aspiring actors in L.A., or new restaurateurs in Paris, anything was possible in D.C. for a wannabe diplomat with a dream.

I was very young, idealistic, enthusiastic, imaginative…and incredibly naive.

The photo for this week features a younger version of myself during a visit to Washington, where I was trying one of my first attempts at professional “networking” while scouting the city for job leads and possible neighborhoods to rent an apartment. Job searching in D.C. from 2,000 miles away in Denver for more than a year since I had graduated had proven futile. (Also, graduating in the academic year of September 11, 2001, had not been advantageous for most students).

I will attest, to this day, that I have never enjoyed the concept of networking. I think it takes a certain type of personality to execute this skill. Whatever benefit networking is supposed to yield has never come to fruition in my experience.

I was in my late 20s in the featured photograph. My hair had already started thinning a few years earlier, and it would be another year or two before I decided to permanently sport a bald scalp. (My hair maintenance has been a breeze ever since). I have forgotten the specific location in D.C. where this image was captured. It might have been somewhere along Pennsylvania Avenue, but I do recall seeing the word “DIPLOMAT” inscribed at the base of the fountain. That was all the inspiration I needed to ask a passerby to use Minny to capture my portrait next to it. It felt like a serendipitous and prophetic moment in my life.

I had so many sweeping dreams and lofty expectations of myself, but I will condense the gory details of my three-year stint of struggling to make my dream of diplomacy a rich and fulfilling reality. Let’s just say that after six consecutive, temporary gigs as a paralegal at different law firms (each of which had offered me full-time employment but I had to turn each one down) and a seventh gig as a courier for a biological laboratory (which phenomenally sucked) — all while waiting for a security clearance from one of America’s well-known federal departments — collectively took their respective tolls on my optimism and outlook. My security clearance was denied because, apparently, “Your record is so clean that we find that to be suspicious.” Yes. To this day, everyone who knows this story has been completely dumbfounded by the conclusion…but there are also a few theories for the reasoning (which I will not even bother to get into here).

Furthermore, to be brutally honest, I hated my life in Washington. I detested it so much that I started to write a novel about it for the sake of personal catharsis. This novel remains unfinished at present, but I really should complete it.

Since my dream of being an American diplomat had been duly extinguished after such a long wait, it truly made no sense to reside in D.C. anymore. I got the hell out in March 2007, relocating to Seattle, and have lived in the Emerald City ever since. The only time I ever returned was because I had a layover at National Airport (technically located in Arlington, Virginia, not D.C.) before a flight to Toronto that same year.

Interestingly, many relatives and friends were never keen on my pursuit to work for the American government, and relayed this revelation several years after I had departed from D.C. In retrospect, I am very much at peace with the fact that my dream didn’t materialize.

If it had, TIA International Photography would never have existed, and I would never have discovered that photography was my purpose and passion in life. This blog wouldn’t exist. My travels and their photographic documentation would never have occurred. Many of the friends and contacts I’ve made via TIA would be unknown to me.

I don’t know where I would be today, either. Until Seattle, I relocated to a different city every two to three years. Next month will make 15 years in Seattle.

Still, as the horrible news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to shock every corner of the international community as I type this, I wonder…if my Dream of Diplomacy had come true, would I have ever been able to make a difference? Could I have made a positive contribution to a resolution and avert the disaster we’re witnessing now? I already feel powerless in my current career as a photographer, but if I had become a diplomat — or been given the opportunity — would my efforts have yielded a different outcome?

I will never know the answer to this.

I can only hope and pray for the people of Ukraine and my friends in Europe. I say this because what Russia is doing is absolute anathema to me. It’s also nightmarish and brews some toxic thoughts about the aggressor.

I guess I just wanted to get these thoughts out of my psyche and onto this article.

Essentially, this is a “What if?” entry.


Eight articles down for the TIAA challenge. 44 remain!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kirk. says:

    Very well said. It’s the American agency’s loss that they did not hire you. I think if all these powerful people and organizations were prone to making good decisions, you would have been hired and more like you would have been hired. In fact, this mess that the world is in wouldn’t even be so, has all of these powerful people and organizations been able to make good decisions period.

    1. Thanks, KD. This particular matter has been on my mind a lot as of late, especially with recent events in Eastern Europe. The agency that rejected me probably did me a favor, as we’ve discussed offline before. Still, it would have been very interesting, at least, to have been given a chance.

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