Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good Counselor? Or Great Counselor?


“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see.”

― Alexandra K.Trenfor

Good counselors have good things to say.
Great counselors ask great questions.

I've been working on becoming a better counselor, even though I'm not currently working as a counselor - neither school nor clinical. I am working as a counselor educator. I never thought I'd be in this position. I pictured myself being a school counselor for 30 years, retiring in my 60s and then maybe starting/joining a small private practice.

Obviously that didn't work out. Last year I applied for a doctoral program, but after the full day of interviews (I was glad to be invited to the interviews) I realized there is no way I can physically endure the rigors of an intense doctoral program. Studying full time, teaching classes, researching - my body doesn't have the energy or endurance to manage that kind of schedule.

Despite all that, I find myself working as an adjunct counselor educator. I love it and I think I'm pretty good at it. I seem to be getting positive feedback and I feel like I have important things to offer. I was sure I'd have things to offer future school counselors because of my school counseling background. I've been surprised by how much input I have on clinical issues - pleasantly surprised.

There is one aspect that has not surprised me, one that I was looking forward to. I have learned so much from the interns and practicum students I work with. They are a great group of future counselors. Not only will they serve their sites well, they will serve their profession well. I feel so blessed to benefit from their perspectives. They push me to learn new information and to examine my own beliefs, my own philosophy of counseling. That's been a great exercise for me.

I'm still working on asking better questions. That's a more difficult skill to develop than it sounds. Ask good questions? Just do it then. But it's hard, especially as a counselor, to find the right question, the right way to ask it, and the right time to ask it. I think that pursuit will be life-long for me. Maybe by the time I die I'll be known for my questions.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wrestling with Recognition, Part 2

In my last post I talked about my internal debate. In that post I say, "I rarely post photos online anymore. I'm not exactly sure why, but it's part of this struggle for recognition."

I'm on google+. Although I've downsized and simplified my online presence (like I'm doing in the rest of my life), I've maintained my account there because of the photography. There are some great photographers, and by some I mean hordes, a plethora, multitudes, etc.

When the camera was first invented, there was one photographer in the world. He was the best photographer. When people saw his photographs they were amazed.  As the number of cameras grew, the number of photographers grew, and the number of really talented photographers grew at a slower rate. As soon as there was more than one photographer, there were also "good" photographers and "less-good" photographers. When I was in high school, and discovered photography, there were some really talented photographers. Some famous, some local, some international - and most were relatively unknown. The internet didn't exist so there wasn't an easy way for photographers to show their work to the world.

Now however, cameras are ubiquitous (I really like that word). There are literally millions of photographers, hundreds of millions of photographers. Just on Facebook, more than 350 million photos are uploaded every single day!

Assuming a low percentage of great photographs - like 1/10 of 1% - that means there are 350,000 great photographs uploaded every 24 hours. Just this year then, more than 3 million great photographs have uploaded, just on FB.

No matter how good I think my images are, why would I think they would stand out in that group. 350,000 per day and I'm happy with 1 great photograph per month. Even my very best images will get lost in the flood of images. So rather than share them, I tend to hide them. I don't need to add to the flood. It just doesn't seem worthwhile.

Scrolling through google+ there are so many really cool images. How many am I missing because that person isn't in my circles, or because they posted when I wasn't online, or because I was just scrolling too fast? Probably most of them.

It's a difficult dilemma for me, one I don't anticipate solving any time soon.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wrestling with Recognition

Let me start by saying I get plenty of recognition. The counseling students I've been working with have recognized my efforts and complimented my style. They've confirmed that they are growing and that I'm part of that process. The staff and faculty that I work with have given recognition for my efforts. I've had some photos recognized in different forums. And I've published a book which has received positive reader-recognition. The upcoming topic - my struggle with recognition - and my reality have very little in common. One might think they'd be intimately connected, and I might be inclined to agree. But it isn't working out that way.

Part of me wants recognition, wide-spread recognition. I'm not exactly sure what for, I just know the desire is there. I want my book to sell millions of copies (or at least more than 100). I want my photography to be recognized for the incredible impact it has and for me to be recognized as an artist.

Another part of me wants nothing to do with recognition.
I didn't write the book for other people, although I obviously realized other people would buy/read it when I published it and put it on Amazon. The motivation to write was purely selfish. I wanted to process - through the writing - all the things that had been running through my brain. I had ideas and concepts and quotes and stories. They were so jumbled that they concurrently made perfect sense and no sense. So I needed to record my thoughts to help make sense of the growth I was experiencing. I also wanted to make sure I didn't forget all that was happening - and I knew I would if I didn't write it down. Even now I read back through parts of the book and think, "Did I go through that? Do I remember doing/thinking/feeling that?" Having a record of the most challenging, most rewarding, most tumultuous, most contented time in my life is so important to my continuing growth as a human, as a counselor, and as a follower of Jesus.

I've stopped submitting my photos for judging at the camera club. I like the critique and I like to hear people's thoughts on the images, but I'm not interested in receiving a score. The score itself is just a number. It doesn't help me. The number doesn't indicate what's wrong or right with the image. It doesn't show whether I'm getting better or not. It doesn't even measure the quality of the image, the artistic value nor the story telling aspects of my art. So I'm opting out of the judging process.

I rarely post photos online anymore. I'm not exactly sure why, but it's part of this struggle for recognition.

Throughout this process of simplification and searching for significance, I've had opportunities and challenges to think ahead. Looking to the future, specifically to my death, I ponder the end and what I want that to look like. I don't want a gravestone or even a marker anywhere. I don't want to be buried. I want to be cremated and spread in the Idaho wilderness: mountains, desert, river - I don't care much where. I want to become part of the land again - dust to dust. I want my ashes to nourish future plants and just become part of the landscape.

When I'm remembered, I don't want it to be because there's a memorial or stone some place. I want to be remembered in the hearts of those who love me. And when they die, my memory will die with them. I'm very clear about this desire for anonymity and being forgotten someday.

So then, the wrestling match.
I want recognition; I don't want recogition.
I want praise for my talents; I don't want praise.

I'm confused by which desire is the more important. Am I a humble person who's pride sneaks out? Or am I a prideful person striving to be humble?

I also wonder if maybe I should be pushing myself into discomfort. If I'm comfortable submitting photos without being judged, am I doing myself a disservice? Further, should I be pushing myself professionally? I wonder sometimes if I'm using my disability as an excuse. "Well, of course I'm not doing more - I'm on disability." Should I be working a full time job? A part time job? Should I be doing more?
When I do more, I can push myself for 2 or 3 days in a row. Then I pay the price, physically. I crash and sleep for a really long time to recover. My mind says, "I can do this. I feel great." My body answers, "No you can't. I'm going to shut down for two days."

If I choose not to participate in contests, or choose not to publicize my art, am I limiting myself to my safe little box of comfort? By working part time, teaching here and there, am I doing enough?

I want to make a lasting contribution, to be significant in this world. But then that is contrary to wanting a simple life, an uncomplicated existence. What is the answer?

I don't know - which is exactly why this is a struggle. It's not one I necessarily want to solve or finish. There's not a way to win this internal wrestling match. There is no right answer. I think the struggle, the debate, the questioning, is the most important part. Questions are so much more powerful than answers. Questions hold possibility, curiosity, seeking, potential. Questions expand and flow, create and challenge. Questions are dynamic.

Answers are static, limited and awfully boring sometimes.

I'm sure some who read this will offer recognition. They'll say, "Chris, you're a good writer/photographer/counselor/professor." And I will understand and appreciate the sentiment with which that praise is offered. But I'm not seeking that.

Like I said, I process things through writing. Some of it is in this blog, some in a book, some I write only for myself and is never seen by other eyes. So this post is just me thinking publicly.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Best Images of 2013

Last year I decided to create a new category in my Lightroom catalog: Best of ...

I went back through my images and chose the best image of each year. Most choices were pretty simple. Either there were only a few images worth considering, or there was a clear standout for the best image. But choosing a best image for 2013 was a different experience. I had a lot more to choose from and more "favorites." That's probably a good sign. I take it to mean that I've grown (still growing) as a photographer. My skills are improving, my vision is becoming more focused and defined, and as a result I'm creating more worthwhile images.

So to choose last year's best image, I elicited some help. I created a gallery on my photography website and a survey through google docs, asking friends, family, even strangers, to choose their favorite image from three categories: Color, Monochrome and Digital Painting. The results are interesting, but the process has been even more interesting, to me at least.

Before I give the final results, let me talk about the process and some of the 'losers.' Although I had a difficult time choosing a clear winner for myself, I had some favorites. Of course I liked all the images - that's why I put them in the gallery as nominees. But I discovered I had some sentimental favorites. As I looked through the results, some images received no votes, which made me sad. "Poor 'They Might Be Giants' didn't get a single vote. And I really like that image."
Let me tell you why I like this image.
I like the crop first. Yes, downtown Boise has some tall-ish buildings and cities are often photographed vertically, but standing on a busy corner, on a busy night, most of the action is horizontal. Cars whiz by, people walk by, sounds move from left ear to right and right to left, back and forth through my awareness. The panoramic crop matches the feeling I had standing on the corner.

I also like the energetic lines created by the moving cars and trucks. A photograph is obviously a static representation of a scene, but the lines of light create movement in this image.

Lastly, I really like the marquee sign. It's just text, but there is also symbolic language there: They Might Be Giants. Who are they? If they might be, they also might not be. What do you mean by giant?
I know they symbolism I draw from that short line of text, but those are my private thoughts and yours are assuredly different.

Apparently nobody likes it as much as I do, which is okay. The survey just points out that nobody thought it was the "best" of 2013. Of course this image has performed poorly other places I've submitted, so maybe it's just not a good image. Either way, I really like it.

There are a few other images that received no votes, which made me a little sad (but not for long - I'm a resilient photographer).

Sunset Fishing #92
In my opinion, this is a really good photograph. I've captured a story, a moment, and one that a lot of people understand. The clarity and definition of the water, and the sharpness of the silhouettes is wonderful. I love the hint of sunset in the background, lending context of time to the moment. But alas - no votes.

Snow Geese #42 V2
This image came about accidentally, sort of. The original image has two snow geese, flying very close together. When I converted it to a digital painting, and adjusted some settings, one of the geese disappeared. I'm not sure why and when it first happened I immediately undid that adjustment. But then I redid it. I like the simplicity of this image, the minimalism, the abstract expressionism of it. Nobody else liked it. :(

But let's move on to the winners.

In the Color Images category, the voting created a clear winner for Best Image of 2013.
Starvation Creek #116.

It was a clear winner in the category, by nearly 3 to 1 over the images with the next highest vote count.

In the Monochrome Category, the winner was a surprise to me.
Chevy Detail #52 V2
Once again, this image won by a landslide (2 to 1). It was not one of my top picks initially, but I do like what I've created here.

Lastly, in the Digital Painting Category, the voting was more tightly bunched. It came down to two images, and since I'm the photographer/artist, I get to choose the winning image.
BMC Diversion Dam Detail #4 V2

So there are your winners! (my winners)

The process of choosing the nominees was a year-long project, done with each new batch of photos. I identified the images I liked, then the ones I wanted to work on, processing them, identifying the best, and finally the best of the best. That process is continuous and happens without the goal of identifying a best image of the year. Hopefully I'll continue to create worthwhile images.

Next year, in January 2015, I'll attempt to identify the best of 2014. Check back and you'll be welcome to play along.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Year's Resolution, 2.0

Last year my only resolution was to make no resolution. I kept that resolution too, which means I failed my mission to not make any resolutions. Now my brain hurts.

In past years I've made resolutions, usually including the resolve to lose weight. But I'm still fat so none of them have ever worked. This year I decided to try something new. Early in the year I was perusing excel templates (exciting life I lead). I like spreadsheets. They're versatile, fun to use, appropriate for a lot of solutions. I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I able to do quite a few things with spreadsheets.

I stumbled across this template for a checklist and graph to track the progress. The person who made the template used it to track "101 Things in 1001 Days." I adapted it to "101 Things in 2014." Rather than make some broad, vague ideas about things I might want to accomplish in 2014 - which has never worked for me - I've decided on 101 specific things I want to do this year.

Some of them are health related, but no direct goal of losing weight. Instead I've made a goal based on number of hours I will spend exercising. It's much easier to track my progress. And I think if put in the time, I'll see results.

Some of my goals are small things: read this book or that book, take this class, write that article.
Some goals are photography related. Some are even musical.
But the key is: they are all specific goals.

I've already checked off several items, so I'm off to a good start.
Will I accomplish them all? Probably not. But I'm already better off than I was December 31, 2013.