I turned 30 on July 1st. I spent it celebrating my birthday for the very first time with a group of amazing friends in Southern California. It was wonderful. We rented out a private campground filled with play structures, yurts filled with musical instruments, and a private pool. We hosted yoga workshops, cacao ceremonies and had fun little hooping classes. We also had to drive past Garden Grove to get there so we all picked up some really yummy Vietnamese food along the way =) It was exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday. Not a one-off party. Not a drunken shitshow at a club spending thousands of dollars. But quality time spent with friends who have been there for me and facilitated, accepted, and supported me in my growth.
I spent the following week in Los Angeles staying at my friends place continuing to do the same and meeting up with those who couldn't make it to the weekend getaway. Every lunch, dinner, and dessert was filled with good food and good company. Each with conversations about life about where we’ve gone, where we are now, and where we will go. I really wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I ate naengmyeon in K-Town. Ate dining hall food at UCLA for the first time in nearly a decade. Made last minute fried pickles. And had chilaquiles for the very first time. I got significantly tanner and found a new found love for pickle backs (they prevent hangovers!) lol. Granted, I really shouldn’t be drinking anymore. I had so much fun I had a friend text me from San Francisco telling me to move to LA. He said I looked much happier. Genuine happiness, he said.
I returned home for a week to get some work done and get started on doing the one thing I want to truly figure out in my 30s. My finances. I used to hate money. But now I’ve decided to make a conscious effort at fostering my relationship with money as I would with a good friend. I now see money as a tool that will enable me to live the life I want. Versus. As my old self would say, the root of all evil. I met with my financial advisor. Put more money in my investment accounts and spoke with an accountant in regards to how I should register my business. Searching the name, setting up a bank account, LLC vs Sole Proprietor. Things of that nature. It’s exciting, really. As long as I’ve ever known I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I just got sidetracked for the past ten years and wanted to be an artist. Lo and behold. I became a starving artist.
After spending about a week in the Bay Area working, and getting my finances in order, I took a trip to New York City. $384 roundtrip tickets via JetBlue. Not the cheapest ticket but it’s a trip I’ve been wanting to make for a very long time. It’s the one place I feel shaped me as an artist the most. It also kicked my ass the most and forced me to grow up and handle my shit. A sort of trials and tribulations of all work, no play, and high stress that in a way… I sort of miss. So I went back. I stayed in Stuyvesant Town. Slept on my friend's couch. And did the same thing I did in LA. Go out and catch up with as many friends as possible. Then again, I don’t have as many friends in NYC, so I spent an equal amount of time walking around the city looking at art. Museums. Bookstores. Dashwood Books being one of my must go-tos. Miwa, the store manager is a very nice woman who I met during the beginning of my photographic journey in NYC back in 2012. She remembered me. We talked. She reminded me that the photography journey is long. She said it’s so long, that most people quit in the middle. I responded, I’m in the middle right now.
All that isn’t to say that I don’t want to be a photographer. It’s just to say, I feel that photography is no longer all of me. It’s just a part of me, as much as being part Chinese and part American is a part of me. Or as much as being a dance instructor is a part of me. I say this because I think I need this sort of identification in order to continue to grow. Instead of forcing myself into a tiny box I created for myself when I was the ripe age of 18. How can anyone know what they are supposed to do for the rest of their lives at such a young age? Beats me.
I ate Joe’s Pizza. I had to. It was a staple in my diet when I first moved to NYC. Mainly the one by Washington Square Park. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste as good as I remember. And dare I say it? All of NYC has gotten more touristy in years past. But what can I say, technically, I am a tourist as well. I still found particular joy walking through the streets of Chinatown. I revisited my old apartment on Monroe Street next to the Manhattan Bridge. Still loud as always with the trains passing by. But alas, a hipster cafe opened right underneath. Why would anyone pay $20 for lunch when you can get a bowl of the best noodle soup of your life just around the corner for $6? Then again, not everyone loves Asian food like I do. That’s why I moved to Chinatown to begin with.
I don’t know what it is. Why I made these trips in July. But then again, I think I do. To check in with myself. To see how far I’ve come. To experiment. And see how I’d react to old sights and sounds. I’m happy to say I felt rather well grounded on these trips. I was no longer the lost boy with no experience and no skillsets. I was instead, the lost boy with a body of work and some mashup of skillsets that I could sometimes boast about if ever needed. It’s not the greatest. Then again. It’s not so bad either.
I think what was most telling was how I used my camera. I didn’t carry around a heavy DSLR camera. I carried around my shitty Olympus Stylus Epic. Tiny. Compact. And often leaves me with flawed images. But no matter. I walked around the city and welded this camera like a samurai. Quick with the draw. Unhesitant with my shots. Confident in what I was photographing was exactly what I wanted to photograph. No second guessing. Headshots every time. It felt good, if I say so myself.
Am I leaving photography because of this feeling? Perhaps. One thing I know is that whenever Picasso ever figured out how to do something, he abandoned it. I’m not saying I’m Picasso. But maybe it’s time to abandon parts of my old self. The camera. My portfolio. Old flames. Old cities. Old apartments. Maybe what I was doing was doing a last goodbye. Then again. Who knows.
by Jason Lam