step one: wake up, now open your eyes / now float to the window, open the blinds

Thick-skinned chameleon
Climbs the curtains hanging on the wall;
The only living ghost to grace the hall.

Meanwhile on the battlefield,
Another soldier boldly bites his tongue;
The only noble thing he’s ever done.

Step one: wake up,
Now open your eyes,
Now float to the window,
Open the blinds,
Now nevermind
The cold shiver on your over-exposed spine
Still lying on the bed where you left it,
Soaking up the sleep from the mattress.

And that’s it;
Feel your way to the kitchen,
Bring the milk to a simmer,
Spill the sugar on the surface of the counter,
Thin-skinned calcium sipper.
— "Milk" by Sea Oleena

As I delve deeper into the melodic rhythm of summer, I find myself frequently pulled back to the nostalgically carefree summers of early high school. It was there, in my muted yellow room of a sunny Southern California townhouse, that I began to discover some of the many things in this world that intrigue me.

Although “carefree,” my summer days were not spent lounging around in the traditional sense of the word. Those unstructured minutes were valuable, and since the first summer before my graceless entrance into high school, I vowed to make the most of them.

What did I do?

I’ve asked myself this question quite often recently. Working a typical 9-5:30 job, I’m granted a limited number of hours to pursue my own goals this summer. After commuting home, resting my brain, cooking, and unwinding, I have around four to five hours to distribute among my endless curiosities and pursuits (assuming I want a decent amount of sleep). 


Although some summers are more vivid than others, these are things I remember focusing on most during high school:

1) Photography: I spent countless hours researching rangefinders, learning about exposure, hunting at Goodwill, wandering around my house looking for the next interesting strike of light, blogging, taking apart cameras, failing at putting them back together etc. It was through this process that I began to learn the difference between looking and seeing.

2) Music: I honestly cannot remember the first song that made me realize that music was capable of invoking indescribable feelings, but *Milk* is as good as any other one. Discovering Sea Oleena was life-changing, even if it just meant I started spending hours of my day scrounging YouTube, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud for the next "Youth", "Smoking Books", or "Paris".

3) Books: Reading has always been one of my favorite past times, but summer is when books would make me lose all sense of time, space, and (almost) consciousness. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk realized my fascination with what I call “trippy fiction” and eventually led to my love of Murakami's work. Jonathan Safran Foer made me re-question my dietary choices in Eating Animals. I read a lot of John Green, although I’m not sure why. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may hold my record for fastest time burning through a series.

4) Movies: I watched a lot of movies alone. Black Swan. 127 Hours. Blue Valentine. Shawshank Redemption. IMDB was basically my homepage, and I tried to watch anything and everything I found interesting. Despite the stigma of watching movies alone, I feel that a lot of my visual language in photography is derived from the cinematographic observations from those movies that I absorbed alone.

5) Basketball: I definitely couldn’t forget this one. Most of the twilight hours were spent on the outdoor courts of my high school, trying to make 100 shots in a row, working on post moves, training my left hand, or just basking in comfort of the breezy sunsets. My basketball "career" was plagued with accidents and physical injuries, but nothing taught me how to battle pain more thoroughly than my love for that sport. 

Maybe this doesn’t sound so interesting anymore…They seem like very typical hobbies. Maybe so, but I find that each of these hobbies have made a significant impact on who I am today. The books I’ve read, the movies I’ve watched, the songs I’ve heard, and the discipline I’ve learned on the basketball court never leave me. I learned that summer minutes are indispensable.

This summer, no longer blessed with the long unstructured days of pre-real-human-life, the stockpile of minutes is much smaller. I’m constantly being forced to choose. Should I play more guitar, hoping to finally nail "Cherry Wine"? Should I watch the next episode of Planet Earth? Should I read the next chapter of Cloud Atlas? Should I listen to an episode of Radiolab? Should I write? Should I get dinner with the close friend I haven’t seen in a few weeks? Should I go play basketball?

Traditionally, I’ve mapped out my summers by what I want to accomplish quantitatively—read 10 books, finish my summer assignments by July 15th, play guitar for an hour a day, etc. This summer, I’m trying to think abstractly about my goals, and find more comprehensive steps to get there. Instead of focusing on activities, I’m centering my focus on five aspects of myself that I want to work on. At the risk of sounding like an airy self-help blog, here they are: 

1) Empathy: By definition, empathy means the ability to understand share the feelings of another person or being. The ability to truly place oneself in another's shoes is one of the qualities I admire most in other people, and something that I am constantly working on. Luckily for me, I spend a significant percentage of my work days working on this, trying to understand people's problems, what they want, what they need, what makes them happy, what makes them sad, what makes them frustrated etc. Applying this same type of emotional awareness to people around me has helped me become more understanding on many fronts. 

2) Forgiveness: This is related to empathy, but different. I am very hard on myself, constantly. It's easy for me to blame myself for things that aren't really within my control, question my abilities, and be harsh towards myself in general. It can be motivating at times, but as a whole, it causes a lot of unnecessary pressure and unhappiness. This summer, I'm learning to forgive myself for mistakes, to be gentler on myself, and to fully understand that failing is necessary for growth and development. 

3) Mindfulness: A big mistake I made this past school year was not taking the time to reflect on some aspects of my life. I found meaning in my school work, but the quality of many of my relationships became questionable. Writing is my favorite form of introspection, and I'm making more time to put my thoughts to paper (or pixels). Podcasts have been helpful in this process of finding mental clarity--I especially enjoyed TED Radio Hour's "Nudge" episode. Maybe I'll write about that one another time. Mindfulness also includes thinking about my role in the world in a broader sense (hence the interest in Planet Earth)

4) Health: My health is something I've always tried to prioritize. Whether this category involves food, exercise, or sleep, I want to actively make sure that my health does not suffer due to all of my other commitments and goals. I'm making an effort to learn how to cook new deliciously healthy foods, play basketball more often, go biking, and to sleep a restful number of hours each night. Without health, most other things become meaningless.

5) Creativity: As demonstrated by my high school list of five, I find fulfillment in creativity. This could be interpreting someone else's creative outputs (movies, books, music) or creating my own (photography, music, drawing, writing, graphic design). I'm trying to find a balance of both and to derive more personal motivation from other people's work. Lately, I've been inspired by the musical hobbyists on Soundcloud--they might not have many listeners, but that doesn't make their music any less magical than some big names on Spotify. Instagram serves a similar purpose for photography. I think it's been important emphasize the belief that any "ordinary" person is capable of creative genius. This is why I'm blogging, and this is why I've been inspired to take more photos again. 

These are my "goals" of the summer, if you want to call them that. They could also be my five Islands of Personality, a la Pixar's Inside Out. These thoughts were all triggered by the song that started this post. The line "step one, wake up now open you eyes, now float to the window, open the blinds" always reminds me that actions are sequential. Overall tasks might be overwhelming, but if you break apart even the largest goals into achievable steps, everything becomes much easier. Not bad for a song about milk, really. 

If you're still here and wondering why there are random images throughout this post, these are various images from my summers at home, hunting around my house for interesting subjects.

Thanks for reading. :)