The Story of All of Us

Reading time: 8 minutes, 1600 words

Have you ever made a decision that made no sense, but felt right? And not only did it feel right, but significant, as if on the other side of that decision lay your destiny?

Then you'll know what I'm talking about.

I have an idea that I'm excited about, and I think you'll like it, too. But it won't make sense without giving you a little background first.

Last month I turned 37. But in many respects I feel as though I only started living a couple years ago, because at the age of 15 I started using drugs. And without getting into all the whys and what fors all I can tell you is that my obsession for drugs, money, and popularity kept me blind. For ten years I was a happy hedonist; then for ten more I was a slave to addiction.

While watching TV in bed one night, it hit me that I was 34 and a drifter. And I don’t mean drifter as in “traveler.” I was being carried by all those currents that flow downward.

Outwardly, things looked great. I had the house with a view, fancy cars in the driveway, and all the other appendages that falsely signify success.

But after battling cocaine and heroin addiction for almost a decade, divorce, bankruptcy, and death were all knocking at my door. While watching TV in bed one night, it hit me that I was 34 and a drifter. And I don't mean drifter as in "traveler." I was being carried by all those currents that flow downward. I realized that if I wanted to live, I had to start paddling. So that night I forever turned off the TV, and the next morning I went looking for help.

I'd sought help before, only to abandon it. I had also been pushed into treatment programs by courts and loved ones, all of them unsuccessful.  But this time was different. I was dying, and I knew it; I had a heartbeat, but there was no life in me. So I went looking for a man, someone who had attempted to help me before—a doctor. I believed in him because I remembered him believing in me, and I knew he'd listen. And, thankfully, I found him.

After a grueling few months of dopesickness and withdrawals, I was alive again. But it was too late; I lost everything—all the possessions, that is. Amazingly, my family is still with me, and most of my friends stuck around, too. And in case you're wondering, the possessions don't mean shit, the realization of which is priceless.

I don't regret that era of my life though. In fact, I value it. But I knew it was time to write a new chapter. So in the months following getting clean, I made a few decisions, and it seems as though they've led to what I'm about to launch.

Our dreams, when postponed, don’t die. They linger in the soul, giving an occasional nudge, the way all neglected matters of the heart do.

First, I decided to return to school to study philosophy. It was an impulsive decision, but it felt right, and though it has proven to be extremely challenging, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Studying philosophy has brought new friends into my life, has given me new heroes (my teachers), and has taught me how to think and love deeper.

Secondly, I decided I wanted to be a writer. Again, another impulsive, intuitive decision. I launched my first blog in April of 2012, and though the blog is no longer around, I learned something through a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks. The lesson is still not entirely clear, but it has to do with finding my voice; it's a process.

Third, I decided I wanted to do documentary photography work. I had a plan to travel random places, to find and photograph interesting people and tell their stories. I imagined walking with street people in the sorrowful shadows as well as those caressing the heights of remarkability.  My idea was to show the contrast and unity in our humanity.

There was only one problem: I didn’t have a camera. But I was able to borrow one for a couple weeks, so I traveled around and got a few shots. Ultimately, though, I had to give the camera back, and I didn't have the cash for a new one. So I put photography on hold, and focused on studying and writing. But the desire to shoot has never left me. Our dreams, when postponed, don't die. They linger in the soul, giving an occasional nudge, the way all neglected matters of the heart do.

A few images captured with the borrowed camera.

Now, fast forward a bit. This is where things start to come together.

Last month I interviewed Ryan Muirhead, and as I much as I learned from Ryan, what I really loved was connecting with him. Through his honesty I was able to get a peek at something, something that revealed a little about who I am. And I know his honesty resonated with you, too, as evidenced by the thousands of readers from around the world.

As a result of all these visitors, people saw and responded to my request, messaging me with stories of interesting and remarkable people—stories that need to be told. I also connected with hundreds of photographers and writers; I've seen your work, and it has inspired me.

Because of these and other serendipitous events, my wheels started turning. And though I had never considered shooting film before, the idea made sense now, mostly because I saw it as an inexpensive way to pick up that dream I had set down. So with some helpful input from friends, I hunted down an old camera I could afford—the Canon A-1.

Now hear me out.

If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s to trust the gut. However absurd, find a way to live your dream. Little else will make you feel so alive.

When the notion of interviewing community exemplars first dawned on me, I fully planned to follow through. What I didn't plan was precisely how I would do that. I hadn't considered that people might actually get involved, nor had I considered the size of the world. But now that I've heard the stories of people in Portland, Mexico, Switzerland, and New York, I'm determined to find a way to connect—in person, if at all possible. After all, the world is our community. And a story told best is one that is lived. If I'm to ask the right questions, to draw out the heart, to pen some words that have a bit of life in them, I must walk with these people; we must embrace. And accompanying these stories will be black-and-white photographs of humanity's most simple and fine.

So my plan is to hit the road, though I have no idea how I'm going to do this. I currently depend on an old Trek bicycle and a leaky '92 Jeep Cherokee for transportation, and I'm on a budget. But that's OK. If the past few years have taught me anything, it's to trust the gut. However absurd, find a way to live your dream. Little else will make you feel so alive.

Currently I have a handful of people in mind to meet and interview, to walk and laugh and cry with. Some of them I know, others I do not. But I believe their lives, their work, and their insights will be extremely inspiring and educational. I can't exactly tell you why I believe this, except to say the same thing I've been saying—I trust my intuition. And I trust those who reached out to me with suggestions of people I should track down.

A couple of these individuals are doing some incredible work with homeless people. And not only is it awesome that they're doing the work, but how they're doing it. I want to learn from them and the people they serve, I want to share a part in telling their stories, the story of all of us. But in order to do this, I've gotta travel.

I’ve known for a while now that I want to unearth whatever it is our roots are clinging to, but only recently have I discovered that in order to do so, I must connect with people, not just ideas.

So that's my idea, and I'm hoping you'll join me. I'll still write the philosophical pieces from time to time, but mostly I want to make this a sort of journal, an ongoing story of documentary journalism. I've known for a while now that I want to unearth whatever it is our roots are clinging to, but only recently have I discovered that in order to do so, I must connect with people, not just ideas. The photography and traveling will only enrich these stories.

As part of this project, I've added a "Donation Box" to the site (the "Contribute" button). Call it my Kickstarter campaign. If you feel inclined, you can donate as little as $3, or as much as you like; every penny is appreciated. Donations will fund projects that uncover inspiring stories, encourage creativity, alleviate suffering in the world, and bring people together around worthy causes. But if making a donation isn't in the cards, stay tuned. I'm not sure how yet, but I sense there will be other ways to get involved. If you need a couple of ideas for now, read this and this.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Talk soon,

Ryan

Contribute