My parents gave me Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York book for a holiday gift, and I spent the next hour flipping from cover to cover, in awe and admiration of Stanton’s work, and the depth of humanity he’d been able to experience through his portraits and interviews.
Among his photos of the costumes and the kids and the freaks and the regular-looking folks who make up the population of one of the most interesting cities in America, Stanton captured dozens of poignant quotes and stories from his subjects. About halfway through the book, next to a photo of a woman in her early 20s, was this one:
“It seems that a lot of people my age try to be interesting by having problems or starting conflicts. I’d rather be interesting because I created something beautiful.”
A month before, I sat somewhere along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with a small notebook and in the middle of staring at the canyon walls and the rushing water, I thought it would be a good time to think about what I wanted to do next year. I wrote
1. Do Things
2. Make Things
There is no specification of scope (“Do Huge Things”) or quality (“Make Award-Winning Things”) – I just thought I would focus on experiences and expression, and if something I’m doing doesn’t fall under one of those two categories, it better not fill more of my 2014 schedule than something like eating burritos (which hopefully will take up approximately 70-80 hours of 2014).
Are you going to climb Everest or win an Oscar in 2014? Right, I didn’t think so. Does that mean you can’t be awesome? I say no. But I think people like the non-Oscar-winning, non-Everest-climbing dudes of Shred All Fear are pretty awesome. Maybe the epitome of it. This YouTube video has barely cracked 1,000 views, but it fits both the goals of Doing Things (climbing Ancient Art, with guitars) and Making Things (see video).
About a year ago, David Wong wrote a story for Cracked.com titled “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person.” It is, as promised, pretty harsh, but motivating in a stop-whining-and-start-doing sort of way. The message is pure Get Off Your Ass, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever read. This passage in particular:
“In my non-expert opinion, you don’t hate yourself because you have low self-esteem, or because other people were mean to you. You hate yourself because you don’t do anything…Do the math: How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being.”
Not that you shouldn’t consume things other people make – I’m all for it, especially other people’s cooking – but it’s certainly something to think about. I mean, has anyone ever announced a New Year’s resolution to “Watch more TV” or “Spend more time scrolling through Facebook”?
On my trip in the Grand Canyon, my friend Forest brought a semi-crappy instant camera that he got for $50, and enough film to make a couple prints each day. He learned how to use it, figuring out things such as there was no way to turn off the flash and oh, it takes pretty bad photos (think multiple Instagram filters you have no control over). Every day of the 28-day trip, he bounced around taking snapshots with his instant camera around his neck, in between all the things he had to do co-piloting a raft down the river with his 77-year-old father. Every day, he would take those photos and paste them into the pages of a journal, handwriting captions and journal entries in the space around the photo.
Forest is a professional photographer, meaning he could have spent his entire trip strictly taking photos he could sell. But he put tons of energy into an analog trip diary, something that will probably never see a very big audience. Halfway through the trip, I had a handful of iPhone photos and some notes I scrawled in my notebook while lying in my sleeping bag. I hadn’t planned to write anything, or even try to be creative at all on the trip – I just wanted a vacation. But I wished I was doing more, or that I had thought to do what Forest was doing. Later, I just wished he could make me a copy of his journal, clunky photos and all.
Brendan Leonard is Semi-Rad.