My Life Soundtrack

Anyone that knows me well knows I’m an introvert.  I may not act like one, and I really do enjoy the company of people, but my social tank is only so full, and after a while, I need to recharge.  There are a lot of ways for me to find my personal space.  Sometimes it’s reading, or writing, or video games, or photography, or dancing, or cooking.  But when I’m particularly exhausted, it’s music.

Which is kind of funny, since I can’t actually play music.  So that means either singing, or more often, just listening to music.  The ability for me to just listen to music for hours on end comes from my brother.  When I was a kid, he’d lend me CD’s.  One at a time.  And I’d listen to them, thoroughly, for a week until that music was ingrained in me.  And then he’d lend me another.

So I’ve learned to love just diving into an album, with focus, uninterrupted.  And very little in the world makes me happier than finding an album that is perfect for thoughtful listening.  Where some combination of time and space, lyrics, music, and composition makes it effortless for me to get lost in the record.

I just found one such album, which is perfect timing because this semester has been a sprint from the very beginning.  I had a final for my winter course the second week of class.  I jammed a full semester’s worth of credit hours into six sessions over a month.  I’ve been trying to stay up-to-date with every single awful Cabinet nomination, piece of legislation, and executive order that is now part of Trump’s America.  And I’ve worked with some of the most dedicated, competent and amazing friends to put together a campus teach-in that exceeded all our expectations.  Along the way, I also marched in Washington DC, showed solidarity at an airport and saw Hamilton on Broadway.

It’s been exhausting.  Entirely in a good way (at least…as good as things can be), but exhausting nonetheless.  So when I discovered Gallant’s album Ology, it felt serendipitous.  It suits my mood perfectly: each track is thoughtful and layered.  It confronts insecurity, doubt and struggle, while maintaining hope and faith.  I can’t make a decision on which song is my favorite.  It’s the perfect soundtrack to help me slow down and process the last few months.

It also prompted me to make my first real recording in a long time.  I’ve included it below.  It’s not great: I’m rusty and nervous, and trying to reduce the vocals of the original song did some weird things to the backtrack.  But it’s there, and it’s me.  I’ve also included what is (as of this very minute) my favorite song of the album so you can get a taste of how the album actually sounds, as opposed to my bastardization of it.



2016 in Review

There are a lot of mixed emotions associated with the year 2016.  I suppose I should just get the obvious out of the way.  Myself and a lot of people that I know are still reeling from the results of the election.  I don’t want to get into politics too much, but thinking about what Trump’s presidency will mean for all of the issues I care about, and then seeing him fill his Cabinet with climate change-deniers, oil executives, anti-minimum wage CEOs, and other billionaires is more than a bit discouraging.

Trump isn’t even the only star on the list of “reasons why 2016 was a shitty fucking year.”  Brexit has thrown the global economy and the future of the EU in turmoil, Colombia’s referendum result was a step back for the peace process, and destruction continues to rain down in Syria.  By a lot of measures, this year has been pretty bleak.

And yet it’s more important now than ever to not give in to despair, to take a stand and fight for those things (and those people) you care about.  And that brings me to what has been amazing about 2016.  Earlier this year, I moved away from Berkeley and the Bay Area where I’ve considered home for the last 8 years.  Moving to Syracuse was a daunting task: I was going somewhere completely unfamiliar, surrounded by people who I had no idea if I’d get along with.

I had more than a little bit of trepidation when I started the MPA at Maxwell.  Everyone seemed so interesting, with incredible work and life experiences, and here I was, a glorified canvasser who was an organizer for a nonprofit working on a super niche issue.  And yet, over the course of just one semester (plus one summer), I’ve gotten to know so many people so well, it’s almost overwhelming.  Everyone here has that issue that they are insanely passionate about, and seeing the way their eyes light up when they get a chance to discuss it is nothing short of inspiring.

It’s this experience that has given me hope for the future.  To wake up every morning and learn with and from this incredible group of people, has been the greatest privilege I’ve ever known.  To everyone that I’ve met at Maxwell, thank you for making this the richest six months I’ve ever experienced.  I know there’s still a ton of winter left in Syracuse, but there’s no one else I’d rather spend it with.

And with that, I’ll end this post with some photos from the semester and a quote from my amazing cousin Timmy, who’s always an inspiration: “Happy holidays, watch Rogue One and dream of Rebellion.”

Time is Winding Down

T-minus two weeks.

I should really be asleep right now, but I’ve been tossing and turning for the last two hours to no avail.  The imminence of my departure has only really just dawned on me, as most of my possessions now sit in boxes, waiting to be moved back to Los Angeles and then to New York.  You know, sometimes I think I’m better at articulating complex social structures than I am my own inner thoughts, but right now, I’m making the attempt in the hopes of triggering a catharsis that will help settle my mind.

I’ve always thought of myself as a restless soul, and I’ve worked very hard to be in the position that I am currently in now.  I’ve spent the past three years thinking about what I wanted to do next, what my goals were, and how I could go about achieving them.  I always tried to appreciate the present, which I don’t think I failed at, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t constantly have an eye toward the future.

But now, being on the cusp has forced me truly confront what I’m leaving behind; and it’s a lot.  I’ve spent the last 8 years of my life in this place.  I’ve come to learn many of its nooks and crannies.  The people here are among the closest friends I’ve ever had, and for the last 3 years, I’ve walked into the same office every Monday through Friday where I know I do meaningful (if not the most lucrative) work.

There’s comfort in that familiarity, but it’s more than that.  These are people that I’m comfortable being vulnerable in front of, and that I know won’t judge me for my insecurities; they’re relationships that don’t come about everyday.  The thought of losing that is a little more difficult than I had originally anticipated.

At the end of the day, I know that I’ll be okay.  I know that my passion, ambition, and resilience will carry me through.  But as with everything else in life, getting to that point is a process, and laying this out has helped me work through it.  I should really sleep now.

Kicking Off the Year of the Monkey

Yes, I know it’s been almost a year since my last blog post.  This is how it always is; let’s move on.

A lot has happened in the last 11 months, and the times, they are a-changing.  Not all of it is going to come out now (I’m still personally processing a lot of thoughts), but I wanted to jot down whatever I can in the hopes that it will help me organize everything that’s percolating in my head.

However, before I begin, here are a few photos of my my trip to Yosemite National Park back in August 2015.  The short version of how my trip went: it was absolutely amazing.  Being away and surrounded by stunning nature was exactly what I needed in terms of a vacation.  To see the full album, click here!

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There seriously were way too many stunning views to photograph.

So, for the better part of this past year, I have been mired in the process of applying for graduate school (if anyone’s interested, for a Masters in Public Administration).  To say the least, it’s been a long and tedious process.  Over the course of the summer and into the fall, I was studying for and took the GRE (which forced me to revisit high school level math…which was not fun).  In the fall and through the winter, I took an online economics course at my local community college and submitted applications to 7 graduate programs.

The entire process itself has forced me into an extended period of self-reflection.  The sheer financial burden of all the costs associated with just submitting a competitive application meant that I had to be absolutely certain this was the path I wanted to take.  Then, writing compelling personal statements meant having to thoroughly evaluate my personal motivations and career goals.  It’s been arduous, humbling and utterly terrifying.

And it’s all culminated in this moment.  Two days ago, I received my first admissions response from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and, to my complete amazement, I was accepted into their dual-degree program.  As one of my top-two choices, I’m still a bit in shock over it (a small, paranoid part of me is still waiting to receive an email saying that it was a mistake).

Instantly, everything has gone from abstract to surreal.  The next stage of my life has, thus far, always been a vision; a concept; a indistinct goal to work toward.  Now, it’s suddenly within my grasp.  While the start-date for my program is still several months away, it’s only a couple months away.  And while nothing is set in stone yet (is anything ever?) I’m planning for the future.  I’m thinking about what personal belongings to get rid of to minimize what I have to move.  I’m planning a cross-country trip to get myself to the East Coast.  My housemates are putting together a bucket list of things I need to do before I move.

The whole thing has seriously blindsided me.  Eventually, I’ll be able to formulate my thoughts, articulate how I truly feel about leaving my job, my friends and this place that, in the last 7 years, I’ve fallen madly in love with.  But for now, it’s a flood.  Time to swim.

Life in 35mm

This has been a really long week.  Once my internship ended today, what would normally have been another installment of the “Saturdays in SF” series become more of a “how many good photos can I get between Sutter and Montgomery BART?” piece.  Turns out the answer is two.  But aside from that, the other thing I did today was get the film photos that I developed recently scanned so that I could upload them online, which is going to be the majority of the photos I’m showing here.  Most of these film shots are from my trip to Seattle way back in September, and I’m really happy about how a lot of them turned out!  Feel free to take a look, and as always, the rest of them can be seen on Flickr.

Additionally, I am also mentally working on a short story that I’m hoping to write in the next week.  It’s a bit of a personal piece, so it’s been difficult to put it together, but I’m looking forward to sharing it with folks once I’ve got it down.

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More shots of the Financial District, including the underside of the entrance to One Post Street.

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A few of the photos from my film roll.  One of the view of Berkeley from Panoramic Way, the other of the Seattle skyline.

Saturdays in SF: Lunar New Year Parade

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve come to realize that sometimes the best adventures are the ones that are unplanned (unfathomably cheesy, I know…but true).  This installment of Saturdays in SF is a perfect example of this.  Admittedly, even this early into the project I already know that I’m going to have trouble finding new places to explore each week.  This is especially the case once I exhaust the areas that are near BART stations.  But while I was at my internship during the day, my co-workers mentioned that something was going on in the city since major streets were being blocked off.  And that’s when I realized that the Lunar New Year Parade was happening today!  So I instantly adjusted my plans to make sure that I could be back in the Financial District when it began.

And boy has the parade really grown!  It’s been several years since I’ve seen it in person, and I don’t recall it being so crowded.  People were crowding the railings along the entire route of the parade.  It was a ton of fun chasing the dragons and lions trying to find good spots to slip into and get some photographs.  Eventually, I decided to get in front of parade and found a lamppost that I could climb to get a slightly higher vantage point.  Overall, I had a blast, and it was great to chat with people along the parade route!  Like last time, select photos are below, and you can see the rest at my Flickr account.


Always enjoy seeing the dragon and lion dancers running through the parade!

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Another dragon along with the shot of the trusty lamppost that I was hanging onto to get my shots.

Saturdays in SF: Part I

The first project that I’m unveiling for this blog/NaCreSoMo is something that I’m dubbing “Saturdays in SF.”  For those of you who don’t know me, I work full-time as a political organizer for a small nonprofit in the Mission District in San Francisco.  But I also very recently took on an internship on top of my job for an educational nonprofit that works with low-income public high school students.  Part of my role as an intern has me overseeing the students on Saturdays when they have a special weekend course.

At first, finding out that part of the duties of my internship was to work early mornings on Saturdays was a pretty huge downer.  So to make lemonade from these lemons, I decided that I’d take these Saturday excursions into the city and turn them into photography sessions, since my work ends in the early afternoon.  With this project, I plan on exploring all parts of the city, taking snapshots of the sights each area has to offer.  Below is just a small sampling of the shots that I took this past Saturday; the rest are available for viewing on my Flickr account.  Hope you enjoy!

Saturdays in SF: Part I

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Started the afternoon in the Financial District.  Tried to make my way to a rooftop to get shots from a higher vantage point, but the rooftop garden in the Crocker Galleria is closed on weekends.  My search for roof shots continues…

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Moved into the Mission to have dinner with family.  Love being surrounded by my niece and nephews ❤

To see the full album, just click here!

Birth of a New Blog

As I notch another year under my belt as a post-college adult, I decided I should finally move my thought-cataloging platform onto something new.  As some folks may be aware, the (exceptionally little) blogging that I did in the past few years was done on the blog I created for my study abroad trip over three years ago.  Given that I’ve long-since graduated from school (for now), I thought it was finally time to retire that blog and begin afresh.  And so I present  Thoughts Behind a Shutter, so named because of the occasionally pedantic way I live my life, and because I enjoy photography.

Additionally, I’m timing the creation of this blog to coincide with the first day of NaCreSoMo (National Create Something Month), the annual project that some friends and I are engaged in to try and produce something new and creative everyday for the month of March, as well as to serve as my first entry for the month.  With my 60 hours/week work schedule, I already know that I won’t be able to meet the rigors of creating something every single day, but I’ll do my best to be engaged in more creative projects than I otherwise would have been.  I already have a few things in mind, one of which I’m excited to present in tomorrow’s post.  So until then, welcome to Thoughts Behind a Shutter!