“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Civil Morality

There is an on-going discussion out there about morality and how to appropriately legislate it. It's a tricky and volatile issue that leaves all sides fighting for their own respective views with more passion and vigor than your average topic.

Where does an overarching set of morals come from when looking at a society as diverse as ours? Certainly family, religious organizations, the educational system, and other groups are key places where morals are passed on to a greater or lesser degree. Which morals are taught, and their justifications, are as varied as the teachers of them. So what makes a moral a moral? How do you decide? And how can it translate into the larger society?

Without a doubt, the founders of our country had a strong base in the Judeo-Christian traditions when they framed the Declaration, Constitution, and the very country itself. However, through expansion, immigration, slavery, taking over native lands, etc. the makeup of the population became increasingly more heterogeneous. With more people - carrying with them their personal religious, political, and cultural backgrounds - I can only imagine how difficult it was to develop a set of universal laws and guidelines that were sensitive to the needs of the many and the few.

At the risk of pressing the hot button, take the gay marriage debate as an example. Without getting into the thick of it, some view there should be full marriage rights, some are for civil unions, some for none at all, and some for an outright ban. Throughout this discussion, morality based on religion is thrown into the mix as justification - and then it's generally Christianity. It doesn't even have to be about gay marriage, take school prayer, gun control, abortion, war, or almost anything else. How do you legislate morality when what is considered "morally right" or "wrong" can be so subjective, particularly when different religions, cultures, and personal histories can inform the debate in contradictory ways?

A part of my experience on Semester at Sea was to take classes in between our ports of call. Each course would be divided up by port to help make the subject relevant to where we were headed. My art class focused on Angkor Wat in Cambodia just before I went there.

One of my favorite classes was on religious ethics. We took issues like insider trading, child labor, abortion, divorce, polygamy, in vitro fertilization, etc. and filtered them through the lens of the religions of the countries we were about to visit. I recall when we had the debate about insider trading in a Japanese company we discussed how it might be considered ok because of the value placed on the community (or company) over the individual. (I'm simplifying, of course.) Talking about abortion in a Hindu or Buddhist context where karma and rebirth plays a role makes for an interesting conversation. Was the embryo/fetus/child being punished for bad karma from a previous life? Will the mother and doctor be punished in their next life by becoming a bug or something? After all, it's something that karma will work out anyway, so it's not for government to deal with anyway. And that's not even getting into the "personhood" of the embryo or any concept of "sin." (We actually came across a number of different groups/societies that defined when personhood began. For some it began at conception. For others it was at a certain stage of pregnancy or at birth. There was even a group that felt that someone wasn't really a person until the age of 7 for males and 14 for females.)

With so many angles and filters to consider, how can we decide? Can there be a unified policy when not everyone is coming from the same place? Is it simply majority rules? Or does there need to be more consideration for different points of view?

I don't have any answers. I can only add that I think that life is far to complex to be dealt with using absolutes.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What's Next?

I have been continuously encountering the question of "what's next?" over the past weeks and months of my life and I can never quite materialize the answer. I just don't know.

I haven't been able to sleep lately. I'd stay up and watch another show or some random thing to keep me from going insane in the quiet darkness of my room. It's not like my mind's been racing or because of any anticipation of things to come, I've just been restless - even if only on the inside.

I was at a graduation party yesterday for a young friend of mine who is going to be heading off to college in the fall. As we often do we started talking about somewhat deep topics and life and meaning. We went through some of my Alaska shots and talked about what college will be like and hopes and fears and all of that. And at one point we got to the subject of gifts. I was telling him about a dramatic project we are reviving at work about a man who isn't seen as being gifted and yet he ends up blowing everyone away with his unrealized talents. When I got finished sharing the plot he says to me that he hasn't figured out what his gift is yet. I turned to him and said honestly, "neither have I."

When I was in high school I was always pretty good at everything but never great at any one thing. I got really good grades all around and could talk about characters' struggles in a book as well as I could balance chemical equations or understand French grammar. I was truly a Jack of all trades and master of none. In many ways, I still feel that way. And it's not very satisfying.

Over the past 3 years since college my skills have grown significantly in Photoshop and photography and I honestly feel like I have a gift for it - something I don't admit to myself all that much. So I will say that I do have talents and they bring me pleasure. But at the same time I feel like there's got to be more inside of me waiting to show itself. Something that will provide my life with real inspiration, direction, fulfillment, and peace.

It's frustrating for me to be in this constant state of uncertainty about things with only momentary periods when everything seems to click. I know we all go through it but I seem to have an excess in the amount of time I have to think about it and let it overwhelm me.

Just as my friend ponders his academic future and all the changes that he will face within himself I, too, look ahead at what's out there for me. It's a scary thing and I don't always like to think about some of the less desirable possibilities that may be in store. But all I can do is wait and see what the answer will be.

What's next?

Friday, June 16, 2006

100 Images Project

As I was looking at some of the other selections for this week's Editor's Choices on the NAPP site, I came across another photographer who had a striking picture of a man with a bright yellow head dress. I went to his website and began looking around at some of his other work. There, I found the 100 Images Project that he is doing with his friend. Each one takes a picture the same day at roughly the same time, 100% independent of each other, and they post them side by side to create a 100-image portrait of Chicago. Even though they are in the same city, they don't tell each other what theme or subject they are focusing on and it's interesting how divergent images can say something about similarities and differences when juxtaposed on one page.

It's a fascinating project that I would love to try sometime. I think it could certainly work across cities, states, and even countries to offer a unique perspective on life. Anyone interested in doing something like this?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Outside My Apartment

Monday, June 12, 2006

Editor's Choice, Again

For the second time in just under a year, one of my images has been selected by the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) as an Editor's Choice in their member portfolio section. Cool!

I'm not sure how long it will be listed there, it's usually about a week. So go take a look! Also there, you can find a number of my other photos.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Alaska 2006

This year’s adventure took me to the other side of the country and north beyond the Arctic to Alaska.

I flew into Anchorage, arriving after 14 or so hours in airports and on planes. Adjusting to the 4 hour time difference from home was made all the more difficult by the nearly 20 hours of daylight that most of Alaska sees this time of year.

I picked up my rental car and stayed the night in Anchorage before heading south for the 2.5 hour drive that would take me to the port town of Seward – named after the former Secretary of State who bought Alaska and, I might add, was from Auburn, NY, the city in which I was born. I stopped by Exit Glacier and was able to walk right up to it, though I don’t think you’re supposed to get quite that close – there’s a warning at the head of the walkway that says something like, “Stand Clear! You wouldn’t stand near your house if a car was falling off the roof would you?” – but there didn’t appear to be any imminent danger. Now, I’m used to Northeast winters and seeing lots of snow and ice, but to see the sheer mass of a glacier was phenomenal. The deep crevices, the almost glowing blue hues of the ice, and the enormity of it was quite the sight.

Seward is a charming little coastal town, very much reminiscent of Rockport, MA, actually. Everything is close to the water and there are many quaint shops and eateries that line the main drag. My hotel was of an older style and my guide book claimed that there were reports of it being haunted, though I didn’t notice anything during my stay. After checking in I headed down to the shore and found the perfect spot to sit atop a pile of large rocks on one that was broken in such a way that created a nice seat. In the bright sun and nearly cloudless sky literally surrounded by towering mountains on all sides with a fresh cool breeze in the air a calm rushed over me. I found myself with tears in my eyes as I was finally able to let go of the stress that I had been carrying with me for the past year. For the first time in just as long I felt a real joy. I am so thankful for that moment.

My second day in Seward took me on a half-day cruise around Resurrection Bay checking out the wildlife that would float, fly, and otherwise pass us by. We saw bald eagles (couldn’t get a picture though), otters, humpback whales, mountain goats, all manner of birds, and puffins. Though I got a little sun and wind burned it was totally worth it to be out on the water again and feel the spray.

I then drove back to Anchorage for the night before heading up to Denali National Park. Along the 4 hour drive I caught site of Mt. McKinley – the highest point in North America at 20,320ft. Upon arriving at the park I hopped on a shuttle bus that would take me 52mi into the park on our 6 hour roundtrip journey. Along the narrow mountain roads that often took us quite close to the edge I saw Dall sheep, 10 grizzly bears, a number of moose and caribou (including a moose that had just given birth to two calves that were still learning to walk), tarmigons, snowshoe hares, and some amazing scenery. Though I was scheduled to take the shuttle again the next morning, I decided it was more important to rest so I slept in and drove down to get some pictures of the great mountain before driving north to Fairbanks, where I would spend my next two nights.

After relaxing from the almost 3 hour drive from Denali, I did some research on flightseeing tours to the Arctic Circle. From what I’ve read, the Haul Road which crosses the Circle with the pipeline and heads up to the northern coast can be pretty rough on cars. So, instead of risking damage to my rental, I spent a little more than I planned in order to cross the imaginary line. It was a 3 hour flight that took me 300 miles north to Anuktuvuk Pass, a small town about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Gates of the Arctic National Park – a town that lies in the middle of true wilderness, has no roads leading to it, and who’s name, I am told, literally means “place of lots of caribou droppings” because of the great herds that live in the region. It was a bumpy flight at lower elevations as we flew so close to the mountains of the Brooks Range that you felt as though you could just reach out and touch them. Though I only spent about an hour and a half north of the Arctic Circle, mostly in the air, The views were tremendous and it was amazing to know that the 3 of us on the flight out were the only people within about a hundred miles in any direction.

The next day I began my journey south again. I returned to Denali for another tour through the park and met with another round of good luck in wildlife sightings. This time, though, as we pulled up to one of the rest stops along the way we came across some rams that were grazing about 10 feet away. Luckily they didn’t seem to mind our presence so much and just took their time as they passed through.

After a good night’s sleep I headed back down to Anchorage. I stopped at another viewing spot and got some shots of McKinley before making my way down to the city for the last time. To use up the rest of the afternoon I went to a couple of movies, browsed at the bookstore, and grabbed some dinner before dropping off the rental car around 10pm. My flight was at 1am and I finally returned home around 7pm exhausted from the flights and the long days but refreshed in a way that I didn’t even know I needed.

It was good to get away and, surprisingly, nice to be so solitary and secluded for the week. I had a few nice conversations with people along the way but for the most part I was alone. It allowed me to go at my own pace, really get into one of the audiobooks I had, and look at myself in a new way.

I called one of my best friends a couple of times to share my joy. She was so happy that I was able to be so selfish for awhile and take a trip like this. Upon reflecting on her statements I came to understand that I had gotten too worn out and bogged down with everything this past year that I forgot to do things for me; I forgot that I was worth being spoiled every now and then, that I deserved to have joy in my life. It’s interesting how easy it is to forget that sometimes.

Now I look toward next year and what adventures I might have. Who knows where I will go?