A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Excerpts from Jose A. Alcantara’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, via Mark Leach:

If you have a compass, smash it.
Nothing can point you to true anything, let alone true north.
Besides — and never forget this — you are trying to get lost.
You may be gone for a long time
so be sure not to pack any food or water.
It is only the hungry who feed, only the thirsty who are quenched.

Before you leave, be sure to write a note
telling everyone exactly where you will not be.
The last thing you need is someone coming to your rescue.

Now, find the best map possible
and tear it up. You will be traveling on a scale
that no one has ever drawn.

Do not leave a string of crumbs behind you.
This would only attract predators.
On second thought, go ahead.

Write postcards telling everyone of your adventures.
Be sure to lie, like a fox leaving false tracks.
Someday they will thank you.

You will not know when you have arrived.
But if you think you have, you haven’t.
If you think haven’t, you probably have.

If you come to a fork in the road
stab yourself in the foot with it. You will
reach your destination much faster if you are limping.

Better yet, use it to pluck out your eyes.
There are many signposts along the way.
Maybe now you will learn to see.

A Shift in Perspective

San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Ed Batista, someone whose work I’ve been following and whose writing I’ve been admiring for many, many years. Ed suggested we walk through the Presidio, a lush, expansive park and former Army base overlooking the ocean and the Bay on the northwest side of San Francisco.

I live close to the Presidio, and I’ve walked through it many times, but I haven’t really explored it. I have a few set walks that I do there, and I’ve mostly left it at that.

Ed took me on a different, wandering route that took us all around the park. At various points, I found myself in familiar places, only at slightly different vantage points, often a bit higher and further back. I found it remarkable how a small shift in perspective completely changed my experience of a place that I know pretty well.

I’ve been sitting with this experience since that beautiful walk, wondering how I might shift my habits in small ways and what I might discover as a result.

Change the World by Being Your Best Self

Rich the Zen Lyft Driver

I was running late for a meeting Monday morning, which meant taking the bus wouldn’t cut it, so I called a Lyft Line. A driver named Rich (pictured above) picked me up. There were already two people in the back seat, so I got into the front passenger seat.

Rich was warm and chatty, and he started sharing stories about growing up in San Francisco, about his previous career as a bus driver, and about his family. I’m usually preoccupied before a meeting and not inclined to make small talk, but I found him entertaining and thought-provoking, and I ended up listening closely for the entire ride.

One story in particular stood out. A friend of his was driving to visit him, and on the way over, she saw that an old man had fallen on the sidewalk and couldn’t get up. To her surprise and horror, she noticed several pedestrians walk past him without offering to help. She pulled over and helped the old man.

When she recounted this story to Rich, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe that, in this day and age, nobody stopped and helped him.”

“That’s not what he was thinking,” Rich replied.

“What was he thinking?” she asked.

“‘I can’t believe that, in this day and age, somebody stopped to help me.'” he said.

“You can’t change people,” Rich said to me after sharing the story, “but you can be your best self. That’s how we make the world a better place.”

365 Photos Project: By the Numbers

New Year's Eve Selfie

I made and shared one photograph every day last year. It was an amazing experience, and at some point, I’d like to share what I learned and what it all meant. For now, here are some numbers from the project.

I made 365 photographs.

70% were candids.

47% were made outdoors.

50% had people in them.

180 people I knew made at least one appearance. 50 of those people appeared twice or more. The person who appeared the most? Me at 20 appearances, ranging from straight-up selfies to body parts to shadows.

The photos were made in 43 cities across six different states (California, Ohio, New Mexico, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland) and D.C.

84% were made in the Bay Area. 78% of my Bay Area shots were made in San Francisco. 36% of my San Francisco shots were made at home or my office.

89% were shared on the same day. There were an average of 20 social media (Flickr and Facebook) interactions (likes, favorites, and comments) per photo.

Here is the breakdown of my photos by time made:

2015 365 Photo Project by Hour Taken

I made the vast majority of my photos after 12pm, with most of them shot between 5-8pm. Ten were made after 11pm. This very much reflects my personal rhythms as well as my story focus. I’m an early riser, so taking photos in the morning when the light was good wouldn’t have been a problem. However, I often spend my mornings in solitude focusing on my work, and the story of the day usually doesn’t start to unfold until the afternoon.

74% were horizontal in orientation.

52% were made with the equivalent of a 50mm lens. I shot 22 photos with a borrowed Fuji X-T1 while my Olympus OM-D E-M5 was in the shop. I shot 16 photos with my Moto X cell phone, and one with a borrowed iPhone.

95% were shot with natural light, but I really had fun playing with the other 5%, including light paintings and HDR.

56 photos prominently featured food or cooking, including three when I was sick with a stomach bug. No surprises here. I love to eat.

52 photos were made during work (i.e. project-related meetings, meetups that I organized, or work-related artifacts). Most of these were related to my Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets program and my DIY Strategy / Culture Toolkits, my primary experiments of the past few years.

24 photos had a computer in it.

10 photos were basketball-related.

At least six photos were used in other people’s articles or blog posts, including one in the Washington Post.

Three photos appeared in Flickr Explore — days 227, 250, and 293. (A fourth that was not originally part of my Photo of the Day project became part when I included it as a screenshot.) I’ve been a Flickr member since 2005, and up until this year, I had never had a photo appear in Explore, so this was a huge thrill.

Speaking of screenshots, I also posted one photo not taken by me. (It was taken by my friend, Dana Reynolds.) On both of these days, I did take photos (in one case, really good ones), I just felt compelled to make exceptions.

Finally, I took about 20,000 photos overall in 2015. (This is an estimate based on my Lightroom numbers, which are under-reported, because I do a rough cull as soon as I start processing.) This is about the same as 2013 (when I started taking photography seriously) and 2014.

Of these 20,000 photos, I marked about 500 them as “good.” Many of my photos from my 365 project did not make the cut.

In other words, for every 100 photos I took in 2015, I considered two or three of them good. From what I’ve heard from other photographers, this is a pretty typical yield.

Seinfeld and Obama on Staying Grounded by Keeping It About the Work

Jerry Seinfeld’s episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Barack Obama is predictably great. I highly recommend watching the whole 20 minutes.

I particularly enjoyed the exchanges on maintaining perspective. Seinfeld teased Obama about this throughout, asking him questions about his underwear, emotional eating, raising the heat in the White House, and other stuff that normal people have to worry about.

At the 00:14:35 mark, they started talking about how privilege and power changes you. Seinfeld said, “Privilege is toxic, sadly. Things that people struggle to achieve, they get to positions of power, influence, money, can do things… it has a toxic effect on their judgment.”

Then, Obama turned the tables on him. “Has it happened to you yet?” Obama asked.

“No,” Seinfeld replied immediately and definitively.

Obama kept pushing. He mentioned Seinfeld’s sudden and extreme success — the fame, the money — and he asked, “How did you calibrate dealing with that?”

Seinfeld responded:

I fell in love with the work. And the work was joyful and difficult and interesting. And that was my focus.

Very reminiscent of what Obama himself said earlier this year in an interview with Humans of New York, although in that case, Obama was referring to how you recover from massive failure.