Over the years, I’ve pivoted many times. Maybe you have, too.
Most likely something in your life, large or small, reflected the new you. You remodeled your house. You grew a beard — or shaved one off. When your kids went off to college, you moved to a new locale. In the fifteen years I’ve been writing it, this blog / list has reflected my own life pivots.
Fasten your seatbelts. It’s about to pivot again.
TL;DR; You can skip to the end to find out how.
I started writing online in 2007 to share my Flower Mandala images. During the next nine years, my blog evolved into a blog and email list where I also shared inspirational quotations and personal essays related to the mandalas. That was the first pivot. I called the email list “Flower Mandalas” and the blog “Phototransformations and Transformations.” In 2016, I published these images and essays in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas.
The mandala work felt finished, and I thought, “What now?”
I floundered for a while. What I published here must have seemed random: Photos of mountains from the Northeast, the Southwest, and from 30,000’; dead leaves restored to a virtual afterlife; abstracts of skyscrapers from Hong Kong; book reviews; and the occasional self-help post.
I was searching for the next thing, the answer to “What now?”
Eventually I found it in one of the topics I’d explored in Paths to Wholeness that spoke to me more than all the others: Balance. Balance, or more accurately the loss of it, had compelled nearly all of my therapy clients to seek help. It seemed important to focus on it, so this forum pivoted again.
The mandalas and photographs were replaced by illustrations, and the meditative essays by straightforward self-help pieces on methods I’d found most effective in restoring life balance. In 2018, these illustrations and posts found their way into The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World and, a year later, my online courses Mastering the Art of Balance and Art of Balance Basic Training. I renamed this forum “The Art of Balance.”
Behind the scenes, my life was also pivoting. I love to travel, and I particularly relish working holidays, where I am more than a tourist. My books had already taken me to the Creativity and Madness conference in Santa Fe and to the Asia Yoga Conference in Hong Kong. I wanted more of that.
My plan was to use the books and courses as an entrée to speaking and teaching at conferences in different parts of the U.S. and the world.
And then came the pandemic. Little did I know how prophetic I was when I chose the subtitle “Staying Sane in an Insane World”!
By early 2020, most of the conferences I’d planned to approach had shut down or moved to Zoom, and although some have since re-opened, I am highly susceptible to a bad COVID-19 outcome and have put my teaching/travel plans on hold.
Again, I found myself searching for “What now?” Only this time, I did my floundering incognito.
For most of the past year, this forum has been silent. Global travel thwarted, I journeyed instead to the past. My focus was still balance, but now the balance I was restoring was my own.
In a recent move, I had collected into six large file drawers all the writing I’ve done over the past several decades. In these drawers are unfinished novels, nonfiction books, short stories, essays, screenplays — altogether, more than a million words. Also unearthed were some 250 contact sheets and 5,000 black-and-white negatives, still in their glassine envelopes. They are images I shot in the mid-70s, when I roamed the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn with two or three film cameras, a steno pad, and a tape recorder, documenting the street life that surrounded me in words and pictures.
Like a secret I must not reveal but also can’t forget, these images and unfinished stories have haunted me for decades.
1970s New York was a mecca for artists, writers, and musicians drawn to its vibrant energy and creative possibilities. I was one of them. But it was also a place of grinding poverty and urban decay, where crime and violence were everyday realities and hope danced with despair. I started to write about and photograph the city’s street life in 1975. In the past year, I have completed that work. The result: two new books, Street People and Street People Portfolio.
Street People combines words and images to paint a portrait of this turbulent time and its forgotten people. Street People Portfolio expands the pictorial dimension into a full-length photo portfolio of 1970s street life in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The stories are a blend of drafts I wrote long ago and new stories I created recently, working from decades-old notes and interview transcripts. Nearly all the images are new, even to me, until now unseen by anyone. As I scanned them into my computer, I could almost hear the people and places they depict, and the young man who recorded them, breath a collective sigh. “At last,” they said. “At last.”
Much as the man I am today differs from that much younger me who roamed the streets of New York, so these books differ from the book I outlined in the 1970s. The distance of several decades has separated me from prior expectations and allowed the material to assume what I believe is its truest form, harkening back to the works that inspired me, such as James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Studs Terkel’s Working, and Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Returning to the writing and photography of my youth is yet another pivot, but it is also an integration. I have come full circle.
My experience with people on the margins was a precursor to becoming a therapist. During those years in NYC, I discovered I could connect with people much different from anyone I’d ever known. I found that they, like all of us, wanted only to be seen, heard, and understood. And I learned that I was someone who could do that for them.
Now, having published these books, again I ask, “What now?”
I can’t answer that question yet. To paraphrase Tom Petty, the future is wide open. I do know that I no longer feel the need to compartmentalize. The whole of my work, spanning forty-five years as writer, photographer, and therapist, is all part of the Art of Balance.
I hope you’ll stick around to see what comes next.