I found myself while I was away

     “What city do you think that is down there off into the horizon? There! You can see the city lights radiating into the clouds above it way off in the distance.” With our backs to the fire I pointed south towards California as we all looked into the Oregon starlit sky as though we were searching for far off constellations. We made it up the trail just in time for sunset. The air around us is warm and steady without a breeze to bring on the chill. It’s damn near perfect. The sun had spared just enough light as it possibly could on this long summer night before completely setting, just enough before the moon takes over for another hour while we set up camp on top of the secluded mountain point. By now the moon and sun have set in the comfort of knowing that our fire is protecting us from the expansive valleys of darkness that now surrounds us. We were in our own world surrounded by what our imaginations could perceive was out there. “Maybe it’s possibly Bend?” replies my roommate. Today was his birthday. 

    We drank the night away, slugging away two handles of whiskey as strangers sitting around a campfire. There were 7 of us and we didn't know each other too well, but by the end of the first bottle of whiskey we were all singing songs from Random Access Memories and telling stories of past lives. At one point while the group's conversations naturally broke into small talk, I gazed back towards the city lights I had spotted out earlier in the night. I stared at the still radiant clouds for some time, long enough for actual clouds to roll in front of what I was looking at, creating a darker silhouette of the moving cloud formations. I was confused. My eyes focused in on the radiant clouds hidden behind the cloudy silhouette. I followed it’s path stretching from the southern horizon and up along the roof of the sky just above my head. My heart was overwhelmed with the realization as the warm rhythmic conversation fills the happy hearted air. My thoughts drift on a faint breeze that brings in a slight chill to the campfire. My head makes it’s way down onto a rock to rest itself as my eyes remained fixed on the radiant cloudy Milky Way and the millions of stars dancing over our heads.

    I began to think back to when I was a child living in LA with a telescope. Where the only thing I could see through the polluted night sky was the moon and occasional spec of the North Star desperately trying to keep hold of it’s job as a beacon of direction. I would look out into space wondering what else is out there only imagining what the Milky Way looks like with the naked eye. My dad would always tell me there are millions of stars out there, but you can’t see them past the glow of the city lights. If you focus long enough and let your eyes soak up the light you might be able to see a few more break through. The key is focusing long enough. The campfire gives off a loud pop bringing me back to the present. My eyes stay fixed onto the heavens letting the light soak into my eyes. More stars come out of hiding and fill the sky leaving very little space of darkness in between each steady star who cries out for attention after ages of neglect. One after another would dash across the sky. I began to feel insignificant sitting there in the expanse of the universe. My thoughts drift back to those LA nights sitting outside with my dad looking at the stars, I felt significant once more. The memory of father and son stargazing and the wonder of what else is out there. Another shooting star zips through the Milky Way and I am reminded of where I am, the night sky's shimmering stars slowly resembling the city lights I grew up with in LA. They become indifferent. I fall once more back into my own personal universe: the fantasies, the dreams, the problems, the stress, the fears and the day to day life. Everything is crushed under the immense weight of the universe coming down on me. I sink deep down into water holding my breath as though the ceiling of stars is the surface. I start to think about everyone I know back in LA who grew up with the disillusionment of the city lights, if they could just see what I can see now. The gravity of my thoughts pull me deeper into the vast universe known as my life.

 

    There are stories my older siblings would tell me of people being chased by the police through our back yard. The very back yard I would gaze into space with amazement. Life experiences growing up in the hood start to emerge. My past peaks its face out into my imagination as the memories of chasing out robbers from the house I grew intensify. I remember watching the swat team from my bedroom window raiding my neighbors house for drugs. When I was 12 I had a gun pointed at me by the police. The campfire lets out a loud crack once more, resonating the memory of hearing the gunshots that killed one of my friends. This was the reality that haunts me, stuck in this universe of the hood and wanting something more. I remember wanting nothing more than to escape. Sitting there in my present reality by the campfire I think, those things wouldn’t exist if people in LA could just look up and see all these stars to remind themselves that there is more in the world that can inspire greatness in themselves. Not to feel powerless in the enormity of the universe but to recognize how insignificant everything is that prevents anyone from making the decision to pursue what they think is impossible. I came down from that mountain a different person from when I went up.

 

     Around the same time as that thoughtful night, half way through 2013 I had lost another friend to a drunk driver. Life felt precious and so much of it was happening all at once. In the beginning of the year I made a goal to myself to become who I want to be. I pulled the trigger, quit my job and hit the road up and down the west coast as a freelance photographer extracting as much meaning out of life as I possibly could. I went mad. Along with a few other adventurous close friends of mine who also decided to move away from the comfort of Portland. I spent a lot of my time on the road between Portland and Los Angeles gathering inspiration and knowledge only to return back home hidden deep within Southeast Portland appreciating everything this beautiful city has to offer amongst my solitude. Drug houses are replaced with cafés, stand offish neighbors replaced with warm welcoming friends, hours of traffic replaced with a simple walk. Everyday I think and appreciate where I have come from. The difficulties of growing a business cannot compare to the struggle of growing up in the hood and trying to get the fuck out. Now I go into the new year starting fresh in all my honesty and humility as I grow with confidence in the direction that I want to grow. Oh, and I grew a beard.

     In order to preserve this time of my life I started a really meaningful project "Port(rait)land" to capture my life through the people who give my life meaning. I will one day look back on this year with nostalgia as everyone drifts away into the direction towards what makes them happy. I am ending this year knowing that there isn’t any life regrets. When I look back five years from now with the burden of responsibility at hand and I can avoid the words that I’ve heard many say self-reflecting in old age, “I should of did that when I had the chance.”

Self Portrait

Self Portrait