Category Archives: Self Help

“Higher Education… and the death of critical thought, creativity, and innovation”

They work their asses off to get straight A’s…

But many of these brilliant artists, musicians, performers, and inventive types are destined to metaphorically flip burgers and sell shoes, perhaps to never again experience that feeling, when a hot rush of creative thought, action, and pride wells-up in their loins, perhaps to never realize the full potential of their craft, nor contribute meaningfully to their society. These creative spirits are bludgeoned then wither, as our unapologetically capitalist society compels them to give-in and be just another consumer zombie bitch.

Meanwhile, on entering the ‘real’ world, those former students of English, History, Literature, Philosophy, and Education often feel obliged to shut down their thought and questioning process in order to pay their debt… to become part of a bureaucracy; obedient and expected to do, say, and regurgitate what they have been told.

Then, of course, there are those unfortunate few who never pursued a degree, yet who are brilliant in their way… who though meritorious, are unfairly discriminated from ever getting higher paying and meaningful employment, simply because they have not yet paid into the system.

They only wanted to pursue their interests, be more productive, learn how they could apply themselves in a meaningful way, and perhaps make a difference. They felt the need to recognize their muse, follow their respective passions, and make a tangible contribution; perhaps to shed a shred of light onto the murky darkness our species has draft over the planet and our collective consciousness, or perhaps to advance our society to the next evolutionary square on the game board, or maybe to try to better of our world through understanding how they can make a difference in their own sphere. But all this, my friends, is just what it is… and what this has become, is in the service of paying one’s debt to some nameless bureaucrat or money-lender, because many of us feel we must borrow in order to better ourselves.

Who’s to blame? The kids who had too little money, who might otherwise have been only qualified for military service or a cashier’s position at Walmart? Or the colleges and universities that operate more like a business trading on the Stock Exchange, rather than fulfilling their purpose as an institution of higher learning; accepting no less than a dollar amount that might purchase a dean a fully-loaded Lexus each year.

Meanwhile, the wealthier peer, without an obligation or a worry, studies whatever s/he please, does only as well as befits his/her mood, then, when it is all said and done, whether with glowing recommendations, or nodding heads, s/he walks away scott free and laughing.

Later, because his/her family has the fiscal resources and social connections, s/he opens a gallery and sells paintings of colorful squiggles on canvas to the elite! His/her family’s rogues gallery of superficial and surgically-altered friends and business associates laud him/her for his/her work; paying top dollar. But s/he also accrued millions in debt from publicly subsidized, business improvement loans, and the reckless use of a triple platinum card. No worries! Whether his/her gallery business succeeds or fails, s/he knows that his/her family can afford the very best accountants, the most crooked bankruptcy attorneys, the finest business consultants, and perhaps even a politician to put in their pocket; to identify the loopholes, to soften the blows, to hide away any unpleasantries, and to get him/her started on his/her next half-hearted endeavor (with everything but the former business’s name in-tact). Besides, guess who is next in-line to inherit the family fortune?

Many years later – having paid five-hundred thousand dollars on their $100K loan, having been mired in half-a-lifetime of federally sanctioned and unforgivable indentured debt-servitude – our former thinkers, creators, innovators, and educators have become mere shells of their former, vibrant selves. Into their latter years, ever deeper in debt, they remain trapped and feel resentful, regretful, and empty because when they were naive and hopeful teens, no one told them what pact they were signing, nor did they understand the lifelong consequences. There was no escape clause.

So, dashed onto the rocks of society’s shoreline; great ideas are casually and forever washed away…

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The Flight Of The Phoenix

An online Flickr acquaintance, James, contacted me with the following note, which is paraphrased…

“Greetings Craig… I am at an Internet cafe and received your article… worded and sent out into the world with true heart and passion. Since I lost all of my stock holdings, I am currently homeless. I’m living in the Florida Keys: selling my art work, doing cleaning jobs, dish washing, and other things to survive while preparing for Saskia’s arrival on January 4th. When the stock market crashed, life went from having everything to absolutely nothing. I suppose it’s a chance to start at ground zero with a good attitude and faith in the good energies that will allow folks, such as us, to continue the struggle and create. It gives the world a chance to even out. Anyhow, I wish you strength, peace, joy, and love in life… James”

I responded…

Dear James… “I’m so sorry for your loss, but I really admire your attitude!

Though I cannot say that my life has ever been overly complicated by money, property, or responsibility to another person, after going through some considerable trials in the nineties, I had an epiphany on Valentine’s Day of 1998. I relinquished many of the so-called responsibilities and comforts that American culture deems important, if not altogether essential, such as functioning as a soulless cog in the machine in order to sustain a materialistic lifestyle and pay the bills. That day, while sitting alone, I willfully decided to go against the grain. I chose to be impractical… to follow my dream to become a documentary photographer and one day work for the likes of National Geographic and Smithsonian. During this process of becoming, I not only discovered there was an artist, writer, cultural anthropologist, visual historian, and activist hiding deep within, but I also realized that I had the tools, the talents, and the resources available to me to get people to ask a lot of questions (instead of blindly accepting the party line), consider different possibilities, and even change their thought patterns and behaviors. Though I have struggled along the way, as a direct result of these choices I have experienced some unbelievable moments in our history, met some truly unique and talented people, and come to know and love (and be loved by) those who I consider to be my dearest friends, without whom, I suspect, I would be little more than a pale interpretation of who I currently am, if not dead.

It may sound cliché, but I firmly believe that EVERYTHING happens for a reason. This, to me, means that every event that occurs in our lives Рwhether it is large or small, or perceived as good or bad Рpresents us with an array of choices. If these choices are recognized, thoughtfully considered, then acted upon, they enable the individual the opportunity to endow themselves with purpose. Essentially, these moments present us with metaphorical benchmarks, which, if attended to consciously and with optimism, result in a more meaningful existence. Additionally, through reminding ourselves to live-in-the-present and do our very best Рwhile minimizing material attachments, emotional dependencies, and selfish expectations Рwe come ever closer to being truly free.

I was once in-love with a wonderful, beautiful woman who I met in Rio de Janeiro. After sharing a storybook romance, we decided to get married. However, after the hard knocks of reality weighed heavy upon our dreams, this marriage eventually came to an end. It resulted in one of the most painful and confusing experiences I had had in my life up to that point. Yet, I do not regret it having happened, nor would I choose to go back in time to change events, if I could. This is because so much good has come into my life as a direct consequence of this unpleasant event. If I we had remained together, I would neither have had the liberty nor the courage to pursue my passion as a photographer. It is likely that I would not have met any of the wonderful people who today inhabit my life. And if not for the therapeutic, creative, and purpose-driven qualities of my photography, I, as a person prone to depression, might not be alive.

Today my ex-wife is one of these dearest of friends. And though we have been apart for many years and don’t see each other as much as I wish we were able, both she and I are exactly where we need to be in our respective life situations. So, though my life was very painful and without direction at that time, it is as it should be.

Another illustration of the “Everything happens…” tenet relates to those people along the Gulf Coast who were victimized by Hurricane Katrina and the inept response of our federal government. These people had their existential foundations ripped from beneath them. Many were torn from their homes, their communities, and from everyone and everything they, and their families had known and loved for many generations. Whether upon their return to New Orleans or in another place, a many people were driven to despair, while many others tried their best to restore normalcy and routine. But apart from these people, there were a few exceptional souls who understood that their world was changing irrevocably. They allowed their repetitive routines, their material attachments, and their behavioral addictions to wither – effectively shedding their skin – as they adapted to their circumstances, became sensitive to their present, and expressed their thanks for all of the genuinely valuable and important things in their life. So, though they did quietly suffer as they slowly healed, they chose to look deep within while setting their sights on the horizon as they reinvented themselves, having had their eyes opened wide.

Anyhow James, I urge you to read between the lines of your personal experience while continuing to do your very best while in the Keys or wherever you may go from there. If you have faith in yourself and the universe, and choose to remain open, who knows? Perhaps you and Saskia will meet someone who owns a boat and who needs two people to crew their journey through the Caribbean? Or perhaps you will learn to juggle while riding a unicycle and befriend a fascinating and wacky group of performers? Or perhaps you’ll save enough money through selling your art to fly from Miami to the tropics, where a small piece of land with banana trees and cockatoos patiently await your neighborly presence. Your future success is contingent upon you broadening your perspective while opening yourself to new experiences and ways of being…

Trust yourself. Take a few risks. And live each day honestly, authentically, and completely. A great adventure awaits you…

In fact, it has already begun.

:) Craig”