more about stages of life

***this post is a bit unfinished- but I wanted to get it up before going out of town***

I have been writing in general about the stages that we all go through in life. The stages of my adult life have been clearly demarcated for me through my artwork. I can visually track the transitions through my photographs. I was a prolific photographer in high school, and the images that I made during this time were all over the place. There’s nothing that really holds them together. When I got to college It took me a year to start to find my voice. A lot of my photos from that first year are about isolation. They are in themselves transitional photos. By the time I was a sophomore in college I had developed a more refined sense of what I wanted to do with my work. As an adolescent, music was a big part of my life. In NY it increasingly defined it. Almost all of my time not spent on school was spent on music, and I began to photograph bands. For the next 10 years my life was consumed by music and photography and they were intertwined.

When I started playing in a band I had an unconscious understanding that it would be for about 10 years. I didn’t consider myself a musician as much as I did ” a bass player” or “a member of a rock band”. To me these were distinctly different categories. To be a musician indicated that it was a vocation, or a career path, it would also indicate that I thought of myself as “musical”. I did not. Instead I considered myself a part of an artistic culture that was interested in creating work outside of established pathways. Bands didn’t sign to major labels, they started their own. Writers didn’t try to write for big magazine, they started their own, and photographers and filmmakers toured with their work just like a band would. For us our community wasn’t the neighborhood we lived in, it was the people that shared a vision for how art and life could be. (The world has changed a lot in some ways. Yesterday my daughter celebrated the culmination of a week of willie mae rock camp- which was created and fostered by friends who were a part of the community I speak of. The whole experience was extremely empowering for her and the other 84 girls in her camp)

I grew up in a loving and supportive environment. I don’t think that my mother could be classified as a helicopter parent, but instead an actively facilitating parent. she sought out classes, lessons, and teams, that my siblings and I might want to take or participate in. However, I can’t recall any sense of pressure to practice or excel at any of them. My mother was ceaselessly complimentary, and my father bluntly critical. I don’t mean to paint him as a mean bastard who belittled us. In truth he was just deeply, yet pleasantly cynical. He also tended to interact with children as if they were little adults. When he told me that I couldn’t sing my way out of a paper bag, he was just telling the truth. I couldn’t sing, and even I understood on some level that there was no sense in humoring me. I couldn’t trust my mom in that sense, but I could trust my dad. Unfortunately sometimes the truth hurts. And as Erikson would point out, and my father should have known, sometimes the young need a little help in building up their self confidence before it gets torn to shreds. One problem that I now face is that I am so much like him in many ways that it’s difficult for me to keep my own tendencies to act like him in check. It doesn’t help that my older daughter is way beyond her years.

The dissonance between my mothers unflagging supportiveness and his somewhat brutal honesty helped me to develop some issues that I’m still sorting through. As a child of the post 60’s social upheavals, I don’t think I’m alone. The touchy-feelly ideas of “supportive parenting” were still on the cutting edge of child raising when we were little, and as such there were a lot of stumbles as new parents tried to make this paradigm gel with their own ingrained expectations from their own childhoods. My mother sometimes talked of how harsh a parent her own mother was. In an effort to not repeat these mistakes she likely made some of her own. I appreciated and still do appreciate her support, and I do believe that it has given me a sense of confidence in my own abilities. However, the critical nature of my father’s responses did a lot to undermine that confidence leaving me with an underlying sense of doubt that has hampered me in many ways.

When my future wife (who was a film student at the time) and I met I had developed a large body of work surrounding the youth culture that I was a part of. This work defined this stage of my “emerging adulthood”. I suggested that she drop out of school and make a movie with me about that world. She replied that if the film looked anything like my black and white photos we’d be all right. When we wrote a script and sent it to my Dad he read it and gave us one main note. Across the front of the script he had scrawled, “Where the fucks the conflict??” He was right. We were so in love with our characters that it was hard for us to see flaws in them.

His comment was brutal, but it would be unfair to not point out that we then spent a lot of time discussing the script and his mentoring was invaluable in helping us make a film we could be proud of. More than anything I wanted him to be proud of me and the film, and he was. Still, it would be many years before I could fully believe that.

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