Since I have moved to Long Beach, I’ve tried to familiarize myself with the city and the communities that reside within it. That includes many artists who call Long Beach home and my girlfriend recently informed me of the passing of Laura Aguilar, a Latino LGBT photographer who had an impact within Chicana feminism. Much of her work showcases many from marginalized communities. Some of her work highlights the intersection of the various identities she has that reside within these communities. My girlfriend is Mexican and her identity is also complex and multifaceted. I’ve made a conscious effort to familiarize myself with the various communities, histories, and cultures that my girlfriend finds herself in order to be a better partner for her in the long run.
Aguilar’s work has many of her photos of herself as subject. That made me think about myself and what kind of photos I have saved, I’ve always tried to avoid being in front of the lens for the majority of my life, but I still have some of myself through the years. Most of these haven’t seen the light of day. I have a 6TB raid that stores every photo i’ve ever taken, personal cell phone, SLR, senior photos, prom pics. I saved everything. It’s about 100,000 images and about 800GB in size. This past weekend I felt like going through my library and picking a single photo of myself from a year and openly talk about it, how the photo makes me view myself, think about my life, notice the changes in my face, etc.
So allow me to present the following, a collection of photos of myself over the years.
This was before any decent phone photos existed, I didn’t even own a cell phone at the time. This was taken in the foyer of the church I attended at the time. The camera used was a Sony Cybershot that only had 7 megapixels. One of my friends took this when I wasn’t ready after I let them play with it. The bad camera speed of digital cameras at the time made it hard to take anything sharp without a flash. This was right around the beginning of when I started to carry myself differently. Putting more effort into outfits and appearance, because I distinctly remember thinking about this dress shirt I was wearing.
I don’t have many photos of myself from 2005. I had the tendency to avoid cameras for the same reason.
I was convinced into wrestling one year because I was told it would make me a better football player. In the end, I was terrible, I think my record was something like 5-15 and I was happy when the season was over. Afterward, I noticed that even though I became more athletic from wrestling, my brute strength diminished slightly which I felt was my competitive advantage in football. There were never many opportunities to get photos of myself, but my mother was an avid photographer and eventually started taking them during matches. This was from a match against Chartiers-Houston High School if I remember correctly was one of my main photos on the original myspace. Wow, good times. The next year, I skipped wrestling to focus only on training for college football.
When I was a senior on the football team in high school, I played both sides of the ball. It was a little surreal during possession changes, everyone except for a couple of us would run off the field and another group would run on to join us. One of the starkest memories I have is just the feeling of the exhaustion. 3 hour games of non stop, full bore exertion. It was a regular thing to often wake up in the middle of night after a game and experience these almost teeth clattering full body cramps. At the time, I didn’t realize just how hard I was throwing my body into the gears. I haven’t felt those levels of exhaustion since.
My senior year prom with my girlfriend Leah at the time. It was a rainy day, I still didn’t have this “smiling for the camera” thing down fully. I chose this longer jacket for my tuxedo simply because it was different. Felt a little like I was wearing an outfit out of The Matrix Reloaded. Leah went to a private school at the time and even though prom wasn’t that big of a deal to me, I remember how important it was to her. This was one of the first times that when I perceived myself, I included someone else. This space that I inhabit is going to be filled with someone else and I should start viewing my life in those terms. That when I dine in the universe’s restaurant, I’ll need seating for two. In college, Leah and I went our separate ways, but looking back, this was a fun event during a fun time and I was glad I was able to bring her.
My sophomore year in college I started a few games, but I sucked. In high school I felt unstoppable, but everyone who plays in college feels that way. The speed of the game was so fast that It took me almost a whole year to properly adjust. The strength of the average defensive linemen was far beyond my capabilities as well. I don’t remember the exact series or even the context of this photo, but I am willing to bet that it wasn’t pretty. After every series we would go over what they’re doing and how to adjust, it was mostly always us or myself missing some assignment somehow.
Watching videos of myself miss blocks on monday when we reviewed the game film was humiliating. We would all watch as a team so whenever I screwed up, coach would mention it and everyone saw. After a game, a single missed block or a whiff would happen again and again in my dreams over the weekend as if it was on a loop, constantly reminding me of a single mistake that I was unable to fix. To this day there are still blocks that I can perfectly visualize in my mind as if I was there again, completely missing it. We were losing games badly on saturday and then during the week we’d have 3 days of full pads with about 50 plays a piece including drills that were full go and also ran our asses off for playing bad the week before. Football wasn’t fun in any sense of the word here. Combing that with 18 credits makes this photo of my face the perfect summation of my 2009.
When your throw yourself at something and stick to it, it eventually gets easier. I ended up spending countless hours in the gym and eventually it started to pay off. We were good, we ended up winning the NEC championship and lost to the eventual National Champions in the playoffs. This photo was right after we played Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. My nephew asher became a regular attendee to my games and he eventually grew to calling me “Uncle Football” when he learned to talk. The same exhaustion was there, but winning made it feel worth it.
There’s a chunk missing from my chin in this photo, a few weeks this, we played Liberty who had a nose guard who was 6’8″ and 380lbs. I had an unpadded chinstrap and a part of his facemask took a chunk out of the exposed skin. It took about a 15 months for it to properly heal do to my chin hairs becoming constantly ingrowned when the skin healed unevenly. I didn’t care, because we were winning. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for my jersey or pants to have blood on them after a game. whether from my chin or some other cut on my knuckles or elbows.
After my senior year, I along with my teammates Anthony Coleman (18) and Brad Rodgers (63) were all invited to this North vs South all star game in Ocean City for some players in the FCS (D1-AA) division. My mom drove down for our game that saturday and Asher was grouchy from not just the long drive, but also having to sit through a boring 3 hour game, poor guy. We practiced for a week that included drills and some official timings for a couple scouts from NFL teams, but I made the decision to skip those. I know it sounds crazy, but I made my decision to finally hang up my cleats about a month before this. I discovered around this time that I was ranked in the top 30 for centers that could be chosen in the NFL draft, but that was right outside of the bubble of how many actually get chosen. Now I could have thrown myself at the gym and worked tirelessly for a bigger chance, but my combine numbers weren’t what they should have been.
I wanted to also caution myself against becoming a sort of starving artist that would sacrifice my career in IT in order for a year on the practice squad or something. I was in the middle of finishing a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the same time. Despite starting in more than 30 games, I only had a small scholarship compared to some other players who had a full ride but ended up sitting the bench for 4 years. Football and school were more than full time jobs living on my own off of campus, I didn’t have the financial resources to devote on something that was still essentially a gamble. When this photo was taken, I had $62.85 in my checking account and $96.00 in my savings account and nothing else. About a week after this, I was offered an internship in my field at FedEx ground’s corporate office that paid $22 an hour. It was an easy decision.
Yes, I had a hookah phase. I bought a hookah for about $20 at the local cigar shack in Moon Township and just after getting a new SLR camera, I wanted to take some photos of my roommates and I smoking to get a better feel for the camera settings. We were trendsetters, before these young whippersnappers with their vape pens, and stoners with their marijuanas. This isn’t the best photo to represent my time living with roommates which was few a few years, but it was one of the photos that were deep in my archive that hasn’t seen the light of day since.
It is odd looking at a photo that you know is yourself, but can’t remember what was in your head or how you were feeling, this photo almost feels like it could be a completely different person. And it has nothing to do with hookah, I smoked hookah a month ago, I still enjoy it. Life was moving by so fast for me it was hard to sit down and just take account of everything.
I believe this was maybe the first or second time I smoked hookah, I remember the flavor was something like “Million Dollar” or something which actually tasted like a thick, cherry & cream flavor which was heavier on the cream than it was the cherry. I remember at the time, me and my two roommate all took a bunch of hard pulls and then laid there watching tv for the next hour because none of us could move our bodies because of the buzz.
I was hesitant at choosing this one for 2013, but the honesty of it stuck out to me as I was going through older photos. I was driving home early from FedEx, the same place where I was able to turn that previous internship into a full time job as a java developer. I was going through something that, in hindsight ended up not being a big deal, but in the midst of it, I had no idea. I remember looking into the rear view mirror at myself right after I just cried my eyes out and I and noticed my face through the tears. It was one of the first times I saw my own face so differently. I’ve cried plenty of times before, but this was the first time I was faced my own eyes peering back at my like two lasers.
Looking back now, there’s this distinct helplessness I had in my eyes. I’ve been pretty independant since I moved away to college, but sometimes, no matter how much you try at something, the wheels could fall off at anytime. Sometimes, things are immune to throwing hours at it as if it were something physical in the gym. I felt vulnerable here, I felt exposed, or if I found a huge leak in a boat I’m the captain of. My mind thinks like a programmer and I try and work through things in a procedural way. I try to account for all the variables of things outside of my control and look at the possibilities and make the best judgement forward. Sometimes, things can also be so complex that that doesn’t work either. Life sends you a shipwreck and many things you felt that were the foundation were as shaky as a house of cards.
Sometimes photos come with such a strong sear to them, you can remember everything. I was on Hookstown Grade Rd in Moon Township, I remember the smell of my vanilla air freshener, I remember it was a Monday. Oddly enough, it struck me so much at the time that I felt that I should take a quick selfie so I can remember it. It feels weird to say this, but I’m glad I did.
My father lived in Chicago before he retired, I tried to make it an effort at visiting him on my birthday every year. Splitting a deep dish pizza in Chicago on my birthday almost became a tradition for us. I never had a good relationship with my father growing up, but right around high school and college I tried to make an conscious effort at having a better one with him and to this day we’re much closer. It was one of the best decisions I made. I wrote a short blogpost about it right after I got back from this particular trip.
I put up a GoPro and took a timelapse of us eating. I caught a moment of us both laughing. My father doesn’t have a big exherberent laugh like mine, his laugh looks like he’s trying to hold a bunch of peanuts in his mouth without spilling and he exhales out of his nose rapidly.
I don’t remember the exact context of this photo, but I remember it was right around this time in my life that deep down I hated myself and privately was pretty miserable. Smiles are a great smokescreen. A dissolving faith, failed relationships, and a general lack of meaning became almost like quicksand for me. Life was turning into hops from stone to stone like an animal crossing a river, where each stone is just something that captures my attention for a short time. Something changed when I started to see at how similar my father and I were to each other. In a way, I felt as we would get closer and I would learn more things about my father, I would also be learning things about myself. I remember asking my father, “Dad, where were you at in life when you were my age”? “Vietnam vet, divorced, with two young daughters.” There was an ocean of experiences inside this man’s head and a few times my father was open and honest with me about things he wasn’t open about things earlier in life. I would be stupid not to learn everything I can.
I feel like this period where we both exist is a sort of passing of a torch. My father has made some mistakes in his life and I know there’s a motivation to ensure I don’t repeat. When I have children, I sure as hell want to ensure they don’t fall into the same potholes I did in my life as well. We carry the dreams of our fathers with us in life and depending on the relationship, one might go out of their way to try and see them being fulfilled. My father isn’t perfect, but I’m still immensely grateful for the being someone he would give his dreams to. If I can’t accomplish them, then I’ll continue to pass them down until someone does.
I sold almost everything I owned and moved to San Francisco on New Year’s day in 2015. Bought a new Softail in Santa Maria and turned it into a long distance road trip bike. My first big trip was up to Walla Walla, Washington for a Mumford and Sons and Foo Fighters Festival. It was about 1700 total miles that took about 4 days of riding. This photo was on the first day, I was to ride from Berkeley, California to Bend Oregon which is about 481 miles which is a LOT on a motorcycle. When I hit Klamath Falls, Oregon, I was a few hours behind schedule and it was already starting to get dark. I really try to avoid riding after sunset so I was planning on skipping Crater Lake until the gas station attendant I stuck up conversation with forcefully insisted that I had to see it and I would regret missing it. It was going to be about a 3 hour detour, but ended up being one of the best decisions of the trip. I didn’t make it to the lake until right around the time the lodge was closing, the sun was setting behind a giant blake plume of smoke which was a forest fire off in the distance. I ended up sitting around enjoying the view for about 30 minutes. Not many other people were around to ask for a photo, so I took this selfie and then took a back road back up to US-97 to Bend.
It was a couple hours of riding through the deschutes forest under a new moon that made me feel darkness in nature that was unlike any other. My headlight would occasionally dim and flicker indicating that my charging system on this almost 30 year old sportster might be overdue for a replacement. No cell service, no highway lights, just the yellow dashes of the highway that only got smaller the further to the horizon it led. I didn’t end up getting to a Motel 6 in Bend, Oregon until about midnight, shivering from the cold. I immediately called a local dominoes and threw $40 for whatever they had and I washed off the grime of a 16 hour day. When it arrived I wolfed down what I could and immediately went to bed because I had to wake up early the next day and drive about 400 miles through the Oregon high desert.
When I moved to the bay area I had all these different wants, desires, and ideas for what would actually come from it. I probably suffered something similar to to Paris Syndrome with the Bay Area, but after about 16 months, for whatever reason, I found myself ready to move to somewhere else. Perhaps I soured too many first impressions, burned too many bridges, but it can take a single bad experience to contaminate an area for you. The Bay felt like purgatory, like my life was immediately put into stasis and with reorgs negatively affecting the path I had at my current company, I decided to see where the demand was elsewhere. I interviewed at a number of places, Etrade and Facebook in Silicon Valley, Amazon in Seattle, a couple healthcare companies in Austin and even turned in a couple applications to Infosec positions in Singapore and Hong Kong. The end result was not as exciting as any of those. A small health insurance company in Sacramento was looking for people right in my line of work and the increase in salary and heavy reduction in the cost of living in sacramento made this an easy decision.
I loaded up the uhaul and already moved almost all of my things to my new apartment in midtown Sacramento. I came back to Berkeley, California for one or two last items, dropped off the uhaul, and took an Amtrak train as a final exit since I haven’t owned a car since January 2015. About 5 minute before the train was due to arrive, I stood up, approached the tracks and took this photo. I felt as though I didn’t have anything else to represent a signpost or chapter marker in my life. This was the final photo from my time living in Berkeley.
I always dwell on these moments. These moments that are significant shifts, right before a life changing decision is taken. This chapter for me was the end of the Bay and the beginning of Sacramento and whatever may come with it. Connections I made on dating apps of people who might “see me around” wont. Small friends and acquaintances I’ve made here, most (but not all) will end up being nothing more than that. Or in some cases be nothing more than a single comment on a instagram photo of when he hung out.
My life has often felt like it has been on train tracks, or on a highway where I can see the road ahead all the way to the horizon. The only thing I primarily have to worry about is staying in my lane, but that can quickly change when you leave the road for something unmapped through the woods. It feels like a much more grandiose, “Well…Here we go.” I wasn’t entirely confident in the move, I wasn’t moving to a position that had much vertical mobility. There was a nagging feeling I had that being in Infosec and moving away from the IT hub of the Bay felt symbolic of failure. I showed up, got kicked in the teeth and promptly moved away, but it was more along the lines that the life I thought I wanted was suddenly something I didn’t desire anymore. Nothing was nailed down in my life and it feels like everything could have changed.
After about a year, the Sacramento experiment was a success. I loved Sacramento and could have put down roots there, but the company I worked for was acquired and the fulfillment I was getting from my current position fell off a cliff. A number of things all happened at the same time, an old roommate was getting married back in Pennsylvania, I already accepted a new position in Long Beach, California at a new company.
I found a round trip flight to Pittsburgh from Sacramento was about $449, but if I flew on a multi-city flight to Pittsburgh for the wedding, then fly to Amsterdam for two weeks, then fly back to Sacramento, it would only be about $570. I was able to time things up perfectly, I moved all of my things into storage (and save 1 month of $1110 rent), I attended my roommates beautiful wedding at their home in Pennsylvania, flew to Europe, backpacked for 2 weeks, flew back, pulled all of my things out of storage, and then drove it all down to long beach in a uhaul to finally start my new job on monday. I feel like I could easily schedule the Mars landing in Google Calendar after this.
When I landed in Amsterdam, I had 2 weeks to wander europe, I just had to be back in amsterdam on my return flight. I ended up travelling through Belgium, France, and then found myself in London, but I had an online friend heavily recommend Edinburgh, Scotland. I took his advice I bailed on the 2 and a half final days in london and took a bullet train to Edinburgh and it was one of my favorite places in the whole trip.
The hostel I stayed at had a nightly bar crawl ran by a hilarious scotsman who would shout at strangers to come get fucked up with him. He yelled at me in a thick scottish accent just as I was leaving the train station right when I arrived, “Hey, wonna get fucked up with me tonight? We go to sheven bars, you get sheven drinks, one at each bar, for only sheven pounds!” It was almost a better deal than the “10 shots of jager for 10 Euro” back in Amsterdam so I was in. Hell, I decided to do it two days in a row. This photo was after the first night, I woke up at 8am and walked about 2 miles to the Salisbury Crags which was a huge cliff that overlooked the town. Ran into another traveler who offered to take a couple photos of me. Took a bunch because the wind was so bad up there. Behind me is Edinburgh castle which dates back to the twelfth century. I chilled up here for about an hour enjoying the breeze and the view, afterward I had a haggis burger, the burger part didn’t help the haggis at all. I definitely wish I spent more time in Edinburgh and I hope to come here again, but next time I will definitely skip the haggis.
I love this particular photo because this was my first time really being out in a distant land by myself. My trip to paraguay in 2015 didn’t really count because I was visiting friends. This was a time where it was truly just me and the distant far off world behind me. My jacket has the both the Texas and Pittsburgh flag on them, I carried almost everything in the two gun pockets in my jacket. I was reaching for a beanie I had because my hair kept blowing everywhere. As refreshing as it was, it wasn’t good for photos. This photo gives me a sense of lightweightedness, I have everything on me and can go anywhere I want to go with nothing holding me back. It wasn’t even 24 hours later that I was on another plane back to Amsterdam.
Southern California has broken me in the best ways possible. I thought SoCal was going to be just another small stepping stone for me, but sometimes your life can get derailed in good ways too. You run into the right person, you see a spark, and in that spark you see a world and life that you didn’t know was possible for you. So and you begin to remake your life around that person. Like planting a new tree that some old lady in the desert told you to go outside and plant.
This photo was taken by my girlfriend on Cinco De Mayo. We devoted a whole day to be together, we haven’t had one in a while due to work and felt we needed one. After downing some tacos and Margaritas down by the pike in Long Beach, we walked the path and took photos of eachother and eventually together. This photo struck me because the wind blowing my hair gave me such impromptu genuine smile that it reminded me how my face has changed over the years. Partially inspiring the whole post. It made me realize that recently I’ve been happier than I ever have before in my entire life.
When you have close calls with death, you look at life differently. Sometimes it’s not even a close call. Sometimes, it’s moments where they just remind you that death is much closer down the road than you think. It was in those moments where you feel like death is just behind the door that you see a flash of all of the things that were a waste. I would be lying if CTE wasn’t one of those things. I wrote about it in a previous blog post here. When you have those moments, you finally look at the watch of your existence and realize how late it has gotten. The weight of other things empties, other things come off meaningless. Take inventory of those meaningless things and address them. I don’t like the sun to set on my anger, I’ve had too many friends die without proper goodbyes to make me ignore my own watch. I’ve tried to be clearer with people. Sometimes people don’t know how much of a positive effect they’ve had on others. I’ve tried to make an effort in making sure people know when they’ve had a positive effect on me. When you do that, the air smells cleaner, food tastes more delicious, music sounds better. But it’s never been about only enjoying life. It’s been more about turning the volume knob down on anxieties and insecurities.
We all wear an invisible watch that shows how much time we have left. Some show time that’s shorter than others, but the kicker isn’t that none of us will ever know what time they read, but the fact that there are some people who don’t even realize that one is ticking. Others may even throw their watch into the darkness hoping to get a shiny gold one back later, but that that might never come. You’ll never know what time is displayed on your clock, but you can feel the weight of it. Feel it tug at your wrist every now and then. Take it off, feel it, rub the mark that it has left on your wrist. This eventually leads to these special moments where you can hold hands with someone else and feel the marks on their wrists too and realize that you’ve never felt something like this with someone else before. Those are the people you want to spend that time with. The ones that make every second you have left better than if they weren’t there.