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© john david becker 2010

a mug for my coffee.  it’s an object.  sits on my desk day after day.  it serves a purpose.

this particular inanimate object somehow came alive the other day.  it’s purpose was different.  it radiated an energy that i had somehow forsaken.  it has less with what this mug said to me at that moment —  it was actually what this mug said to everyone else that arrested my attention.

i started compiling a list of the life affirming gifts i received from sailing on Semester at Sea in 2003 and again in 2008.

1.  my wife.  i met her early on in my first voyage.  i remember everything about that moment we first spoke.  it transpired into long talks off the coast of Singapore while refueling, overnight trains up to mountain villages in India, and long long walks on island beaches off the coast of Brazil.  eventually we married and it has been an incredible ride the entire way through.  half the people at the wedding sailed around the world with us that first time.  within a year of our marriage we were on the new ship to sail around again.

2.  i sailed around the world.  point to point.  twice.  over 28,000 miles each time.

3.  i survived 30+ foot seas off the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  i’ve also seen the calmest seas imaginable and some of the most awe inspiring sunsets.  there’s always a give and take.

4.  i sailed through the panama canal.  sounds silly, but it was my gateway to a full circumnavigation by ship.  the first time there was a 3,000 mile gap closed by airplane.

5.  i was drinking sumatra coffee one morning and my friend Brian told me to look off the port side.  what was there?  the island of sumatra.

6.  i’ve seen snapshots of the world twice and can tell you what kind of difference five years make in third world countries (and some 2nd & 1st world too).

7.  i can differentiate stereotypes from archetypes in societies dotted around the globe.

8.  i’ve been swindled, cheated and blindsided but never hurt, maimed or killed (obviously).  i have more fears and reservations about American Suburbia than international travel destinations.

9.  the work i’ve done, whether in the realm of photography or volunteer work, while with Semester at Sea has been the most rewarding i’ve ever done.  seeing my work used for promoting such an amazing program makes me proud.

10.  i am a different person thanks to my work with Semester at Sea.  the people i’ve met, the experiences i’ve shared, the things i’ve seen have all culminated into the person i’ve become and the values i hold dear.

the intention is not to brag about accomplishments, but to remind myself of the incredible experiences i’ve been fortunate enough to share with dear friends and most importantly my wife.

we move through our days and we live in the moment.  to be reminded of your journey can make the destination that much sweeter.  if someone see’s that mug and asks me about it, i can share some of the most important stories of my life.   thanks mug!

F’03, S’08 and E81

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Today was my first day home in two months.  I was out of the apartment before 7am and headed to Murray’s Bagels for breakfast.  A quick haircut and a coffee in Union Sq. to follow.  Walked to Beth Israel Medical Center to meet Sue.  Sat in the waiting room and listened to my neighbor chatting with his son.  He was in his 60’s.  He was saying things like, “A man kissing another man, disgusting!”  “Putting a ring on another man’s finger?”   “Two men married?  I don’t understand it!”

In 1909, I may have been able to say, “Black men able to vote?”  and “Equal rights for women?”  In 1964 I would have been labeled a racist/sexist.  I was born in an era that thought beyond such negative thinking and close-mindedness.  I’ve traveled the world to determine for myself what truth there may or may not be in stereotypes (and yes, there are many truths within stereotypes).  I was raised in a well educated home with strong values and unclouded by religious dogma.  Am I free of negative thoughts and feelings altogether?  No.

So why am I particularly offended by opinions held by anyone who watches FOX News?  People who voted for McCain/Palin?  People who consider O’Riley or Limbaugh prophets?  Well, I usually don’t care.  They embarrass themselves with ignorance.  I’m ashamed of anyone who, 45 years ago, was not allowed to vote and was not allowed to eat or drink in the same places I would have been able to and yet still believes others do not deserve equal rights in the United States.

I’m not saying that the man next to me in the waiting room is wrong for having his feelings about homosexual men (I do not agree with him either).  I’m going so far as to saying that anyone considered a minority in this great country who had great people like Martin Luther King jr., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John F. Kennedy jr., and Rosa Parks fight for their rights CANNOT turn a blind eye to equal rights for others.  Shame on you if you believe that benefits should not be extended to families of same-sex partners.  Shame on you, unless of course you are willing to give up your own rights.

So welcome home.  Land of the free and home of the brave.  I’m unbelievably happy to be home after 2 months of travel.  I was quickly reminded of how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.  In FDR’s inaugural address in 1933, he uttered the famous line, “…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  The unknown equals fear.  Back then the unknown was the great depression.  We again face similar challenges, so the speech is worth a read.  Today one of the ‘unkowns’ is still equal rights for all.  Wake up America!  We can do better.

India and Nepal were a blast and all, but Hong Kong has been a taste of all that is right in the world.  Makes me eager to return to New York and rebuild a proper life.  This travel has opened my eyes in a way that all our former travel had not.  I may have been tired of travel before we stepped on the plane to India.  We’ve slept in over 100 different beds in countless different towns, villages and cities around the world in the past 500 days.  Ate food that was delicious and food that was impossible to swallow day-after-day-after-day.  Much has happened over the past two months at home and there’s still more to come.  Enough for us to cut our trip short by two months.

I don’t think I’ll ever regret this decision to return.  I have new insights and new inspirations.  I have renewed patriotism and eagerness to take advantage of all our country has to offer.  I could live in Hong Kong.  I could live in Tokyo.  I could certainly be comfortable in a European city.  For now we live in the most bad-ass city in the world.  New York City.  I couldn’t be more proud of that and I think Sue and I both are wanting a slice of home.  December 3rd we leave Hong Kong.  December 3rd we land and I just may kiss the ground when I get there…

six years ago, john and i had our first date in the small town of ooty, india.

this october, we are planning an extended trip to asia, flying in to delhi. india will always be our first love. the smells, colors, tastes – every sense is overwhelmed. we look forward to seeing northern india, feeling the energy of the ganges, the trains, the crowds.

with japan on the back burner, we’ve decided to move on and do some volunteer work in nepal and hopefully spend some time in bhutan. we spent a long time freeing ourselves of responsibilities, our kitties, jobs, nyc. there’s no saying we won’t return to any or all of those things, but life is here. we may as well live it.

it’s never easy to let go, but i let simplicity, inspiration, my husband, goals of a boat and a dog, a hut and some chickens, and an inherent need to do better and be better guide life, one we share so seamlessly. it’s so important we take time in our lives to breathe deeply, swim, share, learn, create, stretch, purge, and see the world. we all need a little more humility, a little more reality, to live out more dreams, to feel grass between our toes and dirt between our fingers. humans need challenges, sacrifice, adventure, and freedom.

travel lets me hear beauty, taste joy, see grace, and feel everything.

we can’t wait.

Sue Fan in Pondicherry, India

Sue Fan, Sri Aurobindo Ashram

They say, one of the oldest methods of healing
Is by breathing deeply.

They say, while walking over grass,
To breathe in the colour green;
Which gives you a deep feeling of
Harmony with the environment.

They say, while walking alongside the sea
To Breathe in the colour blue;
Not only will the water energise you
But when combined with the colour blue,
It quietens your mind.

They say, green is one of the positive colours,
Suggesting an abundance of what we need
And generosity with what we have.
Green is associated with giving and receiving freely,
So that all may be in balance.

Green also relates to qualities of the heart,
Like sympathy, kindness, and compassion.
They say, it is good for the eyes
To walk bare feet on the grass.

This month I officially celebrate 10 years of being in the photography business.  It all started April 1999 with a trip to Santa Fe and the subsequent gallery show.  I owe most of my push into the business to the Glick family (proprietors of West Side Camera and Shoot Digital, NYC).  It’s been a long road and I think the true test will come in the next ten years.  As my photographic vision is increasingly honed, my understanding of the business and the world is expanding.  I understand now what sacrafices one must make to be a commercial photographer.  Catalog photographers have the steadiest work, but you’ll have to wait for a photographer to die before you wedge your way onto that turf.  News photographers have the most interesting experience, but that’s a dying craft.  Lifestyle can be wonderful, but the pay can vary as a lot of it can be editorial.

I’ve worked on all types of jobs.  Product to people.  Lifestyle, editorial and high fashion.  Celebrity and travel.  The most satisfying work I’ve ever done is travel.  It’s notoriously low-to-no paying work.  As anyone can imagine, it’s highly competitive and lots of people want to do it.  I’m fortunate in that I’ve been paid to travel the world.  The jobs are few and far between so I would hardly say I’ve cornered the market. The best aftermarket for my work is in the fine art world, and that’s an effort I have yet to seriously undertake.  I can imagine myself getting more involved with galleries once I leave New York City.  I can say that the number of photographers who have circumnavigated the globe multiple times by sea are a select few.  I consider myself lucky.

I guess after ten years I understand why I was drawn to this business.  At first there was the glam of fashion and celebrity.  I used to read industry magazines like PDN and American Photo, absorbing the photography they highlighted.  The business – what I’d call the real commercial business that imminates from NYC – has made that imagery laughable.  Who cares about that stuff?  There’s hardly a new idea touched on.  We’re selling the person or the product, but the soul has long since left the building.   I’ve found a soul when I shoot and it’s my soul interacting with a person or place in a country I’ve traveled to.  This gives my life meaning.  This gives my work meaning.  This expresses meaning to my audience.

For any budding photographer, my advice is to go into video.  It’s been a good life filled with varied experiences, but the next ten years are about finding myself in the ever-evolving industry.  First step, leaving NYC!  The apprenticeship is over and now it’s time to get serious.  The pinnacle – National Geographic.

rincon_4437

i just am.

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I got on the E train at West 4th heading home from a seminar. When I stepped on the train, I think I was listening to “Welcome to the World” by Bobby Weir and Ratdog. There was something savory in the bass line, something bluesy in the guitar. The lyrics weren’t beautiful or poetic beyond measure, but they had heart. I wouldn’t concede that my musical taste is the highest form of absoluteness or that the tunes that fill my iPod would be considered classics to all. I think I can concede that, when I heard that song – like many songs – I felt that I wasn’t missing something. There wasn’t the emptiness of pop or the trendiness of hip-hop, the tragedy of emo or the angst of punk. All that was left was a feeling that a thought had been completed. An appreciation was born. A need to fill a void didn’t exist.

So how does this transpire to a new age of enlightenment? My thoughts that follow targeted the people surrounding me on that train, pondering their levels of consciousness.

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I am blessed. I have lived on a ship, a sailboat, in a flat in London, with a family in Spain, in one of the world’s greatest cities. I’ve had amazing roommates, have wonderful friends, an incredible family. I have seen the wonders of Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge. I’ve camped in the Galapagos, Antarctica, Acadia. I’ve found peace in the villages of Totsukawa and Koyasan, Japan, at a Farm in the Poconos, Conquest Road in Delaware. I have played in the ocean with sea lions, minke whales, reef sharks, sea turtles. I’ve para-sailed in the Bahamas, flown on puddle jumpers in Belize, and zipped through canopies in Costa Rica. I’ve surfed in Puerto Rico, kayaked in Panama, rowed in the Mekong Delta, taken boat taxis in Honduras, a ferry to Uruguay. I’ve experienced the trains in India. I’ve seen tea plantations, coffee farming, cranberry harvesting. I’ve jumped off cliffs in Hawaii, swam in caves in Mexico, hiked through the jungles of Malaysia. I’ve gotten lost in Morocco. I listened to Castro speak in Cuba. I’ve met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have followed the Dalai Lama, have been hugged by Amma. I helped build a house in South Africa. I’ve spent time with those less fortunate throughout the world. I get to shoot for amazing nonprofits.

My life is full of goodness, and I am so grateful.

I don’t think you have to change your whole life to lead a full one. I think you have to let go of the idea that things bring you happiness. I’m human. I have a weak spot for earrings and tapestries. I like things. I just don’t have a lot of them. I save my money for charities, for trips, for things I get to take with me. I dream of having a round home, a hut, a tree house. In the meantime, I get to see the world, share it, live it, and be absolutely in love with it.

Spend a weekend staying home with a bottle of wine, some board games, a movie. Make your own breakfast, lunch, dinner. Borrow books from the library, from friends. Take a walk in the woods, swim in the creek, play in the park. There are so many ways to save your money for undertakings more worthwhile than the local pub on Friday nights. Than expensive dinner dates. Than chai lattes. I think it’s okay to pay true value. I think my food should be local, should be grown with love, should be free to roam, and I pay for that. I think every living being should have basic animal and human rights. I always try to be aware of what effect I am having on Mother Earth. I don’t know when exactly humans decided food should be cheap and year round. I don’t know exactly how we were convinced that big business works for the people. I don’t know why humans are inherently selfish. I just know that each person can do their part in leading better lives for the world and themselves, filled with more joy, more art, more music, more appreciation. More quality. Less fast food, less waste, less stuff.

Spend a week in Central America, a long weekend on an island, a night camping in the woods. Volunteer at your local school. Get involved in life. It doesn’t cost as much as you think. You’ll see there’s so more out there that you can take advantage of. And you will join the 1% with that privilege.