Golden Gai

2016: An Introspection

Every December, I turn inside and reflect. I spend a lot of time thinking of all the change that occurred in the past year and the people who made an impact in my life. I reevaluate my relationships and make new commitments to myself and others.

At the beginning of 2016 I was a miserable paralegal who would sit at my desk from 9-5 and daydream of bigger things for myself. The ideas in Karl Marx’s essay “Estranged Labour” haunted my thoughts: I was alienated from my work, which did not enrich my soul. I was alienated from my mind and body, forced into a sitting position 8 hours a day causing back and stomach pain, estranged from my creative energy in an unawakened state. I felt alienated in that I dreaded meeting new people for fear of being asked what I did for a living.

This April I finally worked up the courage to quit that job and take a three-month trip overseas. Armed with new knowledge from classes I had been taking, my goal was to work on a portfolio during that time and transition into a career of photography when I returned. During my travels I must have passed through a thousand crossroads, which was fitting as I found myself at the biggest crossroad of my life so far.

While I was in Tokyo, I spent a lot of time alone. It was the last leg of my trip, I was very broke and it rained non-stop for the first few days, making it difficult to get around and make photos. I was feeling quite lonely and in a bit of a funk one rainy night when I discovered the Japanese word “Ikigai”. “Iki” means life, alive; “kai” means an effect, result, fruit, or worth. Together it means “a reason for being.” The Japanese believe everyone has an Ikigai, though it may take a while for one to ‘find’ it. I was emotionally floored by the timing and meaning of this discovery. The next day it was sunny and stayed that way for the rest of my time there. I found my inspiration where I had lost it and my camera never left my hand after that.

Coming home was easy, as I was eager to see family and friends, but I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn. I had spent my entire post-college life working in office environments where tasks were simply handed to me. Completing these tasks was automatic and required no thought or imagination. Transitioning from a desk job to a freelance position has been a learning process for me like no other. For once in my life I have to create my own work, find my own clients, market myself, put myself out there like I’ve never done before. I haven’t had a steady paycheck for 8 months and I couldn’t be happier. Every day is different, I've met a ton of amazing people, I’m constantly learning and being challenged in ways I didn’t know existed.

And who was it that helped me get to this point? WOMEN. It was a woman who believed in my vision and got me my first gig doing BTS photography for her production company. It was a woman and her sister who believed in my ability and booked me for my first wedding in 2017. It was women who noticed and praised my photos from a recent art performance that led to being offered a paid photographer gig this upcoming New Year’s Eve. It is because of a single, strong, incredible woman that I exist and I thrive in the face of challenges. Here’s something about me that I hate to admit: as a teen I used to be one of those girls who thought I “wasn’t like other girls”. I had more guy friends, I was “one of the guys”, I was a “cool girl”. The older I get the more I realize that I was so terribly, utterly wrong in my thinking and attitude toward my own gender.

This month I was given a final assignment in my photography program. We were asked to choose a theme and submit 6-12 images, and that’s it. As soon as I left the classroom I knew exactly what I wanted to do. This was no longer just an assignment but instead became a very meaningful, on-going project - my first project!! In the past few weeks I’ve met so many brilliant, talented, inspiring, strong, feminist, badass women who all believe in my dream and vision and who have given me mountains of support and encouragement in the making of this project. These women have been sources of strength and light and love and art, during a year that has caused so many people hurt and fear. I hope to continue to surround myself with people who lift each other up and make a better commitment to lifting up others.

While the project is not yet ready to be unveiled, I hope you enjoy a few more photos from my time in Tokyo, where I received a divine confirmation of my Ikigai. 2016 has been a great year. I can’t wait for the next.