Progression.

For the longest time, I believed that there was no purpose for life and that being alive was a waste of time. I don’t know if I necessarily wanted to die, but I do know that nothing made me happy and I always found myself focusing on how insignificant I was. I felt like I didn’t matter to any of the people in my life and I instead was a burden in their lives. The thought of their reactions if they found out they would never see or hear from me again taunted me. Maybe it wasn’t death that would do that; I just wanted to leave far away and rebuild myself, with all of the things I considered to be so awful behind me. I felt useless. I felt hated. I thought everyone secretly hated me (plot twist, a lot of them did and their words about me, when they finally came out, didn’t really help the situation). I was completely focused on the negative aspects of my life, fully convinced that’s all it was and all it would ever be. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy at times, but I sure didn’t know what happiness actually felt like. Even now, happiness, true happiness, is a weird concept to me that I’m still trying to figure out. Nonetheless, I am moving further and further from that high school kid that was full of hate and sadness. I can see my life in the future. I’m no longer looking down. I have found the power to break away from the negativity and sadness that was holding me hostage. I am searching for positivity in everything and I love putting myself out there, even if it means I may get shot down. I’ve learned to take the punches that life can throw without letting my stance be broken. I want to live, I want to see what tomorrow holds, and I don’t ever want to stop moving forward.

Words as weapons

I was bullied in elementary, middle school, and part of high school. They made fun of me because I wore glasses, made fun of my hair, my clothes, my weight, told me I was annoying, even made fun of me because I got good grades.

There was teasing that seemed to pass as “harmless”. There were “friends” that would join in on the hurtful remarks. It was often and it was malicious. There were even instances where I was physically pushed around by the people that saw themselves as better than me; I was pushed off a chair while standing on it, picked up by my shirt and thrown down, etc. I usually had no choice but to laugh along. That, or be made fun of for reacting like a “baby”. I don’t really know which is worse but I do know I had a mix of reactions.

I had few friends in elementary school. The ones I really liked usually moved away. I spent a lot of time alone or trying to make friends with the people that would eventually join in on some sort of teasing. I dealt with it. I begged to change schools or be home schooled so I didn’t have to deal with the same people after elementary. In middle school, I had more friends, but with more friends came more people I really cared about hurting me. I can still remember the exact insults some of my closest friends would use on me. High school, more friends, but then the insults started behind my back. These usually circled around my weight. I can look back and feel proud of the changes in my weight, but at that point I was full of hate for the way I looked and having friends constantly go on about it definitely did not help. Oh, and did I mention they liked to make it known that I annoyed them and was only someone they mildly tolerated?

I was irritating and weird, so I became the deserving target of these actions. Or so I thought.

It took me years, until my junior year of high school, to realize that I deserved better. I was a target for things I could not control. I could control it, though. I could control my friend group. I could try and distance myself from what was ultimately breaking me. Of course, this was far easier said than done. It took a lot of energy out of me initially, but I kept telling myself that I was better than what I was receiving. I deserved to be happy. I couldn’t keep letting myself be dragged into these dark fits of pain over some people that were irrelevant. I had to pull myself out of the notions that I should be gone. Lives would be easier if I wasn’t here. I shouldn’t be around. I forced myself to break free of my taunters.

But it should never be that way.

Someone should never have to go to school and worry about being taunted, pushed around, or insulted. Someone should be able to wear the clothes that their family bought them without being made fun of for years on end. We should be able to feel comfortable in our own skin.

For the most part, I am now happy with who I am but, against all my efforts, the bullying has negatively affected me. I still worry about petty appearance issues. I still feel like people are staring at me if I don’t look my best. If I hear laughing around me, I immediately think it is directed at me. I scold myself if I have sweets, and I feel bad if I talk too much or tell stories to my friends. I know that in the big scheme of things, these issues are minor and don’t mean much, but to my mind, they have felt massive.

In college, I have really found where I belong, but despite all my efforts to let go of the negativity of days passed, it still remains. Almost 20-years-old and I can say that I have learned and grown from my experiences. The greatest thing I have learned is that words hurt. Words hurt like hell. Hands can inflict pain that heals, but words can create cuts that remain open or at least nagging to some extent. Be choosy with your words. Realize that what you say can change a person’s entire perspective for good or for bad. It is so easy to spew hate for laughs, but when the laughing ceases, the aftermath can be devastating. Be nice.

Goodbye, my friend

This summer will make four years that someone who briefly graced my life passed. Kristin was a senior and I was a freshman in high school when we met. After that class, we would talk but didn’t see each other for a whole year. It was then that we ran into each other again unexpectedly. 267626_240911775932638_7087689_nI waved but she made me came over and hug her. Thinking back on it, I am so glad she did because it would be the last time I would ever see her.

A month or so later, I was sitting home alone when I got the news: Kristin had passed away in her sleep the night before. I called my parents who had only recently left the house. My mom was back in an instant, hugging me as I cried to the news of such a young and amazing life ending. After my parents again left, I sat down crying in front of the television. “If I Die Young” began playing from the music channel that had previously been turned on. I had never heard the song before and it wasn’t particularly new. I don’t know if it was some sort of sign or something to comfort me or anything like that, but that song never fails to put me in tears. Whether it lifts me up or forces me to sit and think about things, it’s the ultimate reminder of how short life is, how important it is to show and tell people you love them, and what an amazing person was part of my life, even if for only a short period of time.

1391697_666385916718553_899419321_nWe may not have known each other for the longest time, but in the time we did know each other, she changed my life. I was so young and stupid in ninth grade, but she still was a friend to me and she listened to the things I had to say. She had her whole life laid out in front of her. She inspired me. I was so proud to call her a friend. I wish we had kept in better touch so that we could have made more memories in the very short time we knew each other. Nonetheless, there’s a tattoo on my leg that promises she is always with me. In that time period, she left a permanent mark on my life, and I will always remember her through the permanent butterfly on my leg.

How My Camera Saved Me from Myself

For my narrative journalism class, we had to write a profile about ourselves. Instead of just rambling about stuff I like, I took a different approach and I thought other photographers (or people with some sort of passion) may appreciate the piece. 

I was a junior in high school when I had my first encounter with a camera. By “camera”, I mean a nice camera; one of those cameras with detachable lenses that cost more money than most of the things I owned. It was in yearbook class. While I constantly felt like I didn’t fit in, when I picked up the camera for that class, everything suddenly made sense. My favorite thing was walking around pep assemblies and taking photos; it was like I owned the place.

That experience was so important to me because the first two years of high school were a hell for me. I struggled to find where I belonged and I was picked on for many things. While I had no experience with photography, shooting for the yearbook and seeing my work printed in a book that will be around forever made me feel like someone.

When I finally got a job just before my senior year, I saved every penny from my first few paychecks, having set my mind on purchasing my own camera. It was an exciting moment for me, but little did I know that camera would open many doors for me, while also potentially saving my life.

Having a camera has given me a reason and purpose I never felt I had before I held its shiny black body in my hands. I was always pretty quiet and reserved. I always had goals, and dreams, and all those things that kids have when they’re growing up or whatever, but there was something missing. I would try to figure out what my life needed, but it never truly hit me until the first summer after I bought my camera. That summer was filled with shooting everything and anything I encountered, while exploring with my friends. Before that moment, hanging out with someone basically meant sitting at my house and listening to music. When I began learning how my camera worked, I quickly discovered one of my favorite activities: going to downtown Detroit with a few friends and exploring all that the city has to offer. The beauty of that city comes so naturally behind the lens of a camera, and it is easily one of my favorite places to spend my time.

That summer I even took a photo that got published in the fine arts journal at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I don’t think anything could have made the start of my freshmen year of college better than being notified that I was finally good enough to get some sort of recognition outside of the academic awards I had accumulated throughout my high school career. Yes, I was book smart, but I was also artistic as can be, but with no way to express it. That’s what happens when you can’t draw or paint.

While all of this was occurring, I was lucky enough to find a friend who was a mirror image of myself, as my camera sparked a conversation between us. Two years later, me and Aubree both studying journalism at the together, while hanging out to take pictures when free time arises. The connection I have with her is one of the best friendships I have ever had, and it’s so funny to be that it was fueled simply because she asked about my camera once. She isn’t the only great thing to come from my camera though, as nearly my entire life now revolves around photography in one aspect or another.

At a concert sometime back in the fall of 2013, I watched the band’s photographer the entire time. After the show, I stalked her Instagram account and envied her photos. It was at that moment that I got this bright idea that I wanted to do show photography. After a lot of Googling about the topic, I learned that I would probably need to start in bars and local gigs before I could ever move to anything bigger. That didn’t stop me from sending an email to a band that was opening for a show I was going to the next month.

Long story short, despite my extreme lack of experience, I was granted a photo pass for the concert and shot my first band at The Fillmore in Detroit. Oh, and I somehow picked up an interview with the band too. It may have only been the opening act but for me, that opening act was what it took to open the doors leading up to the point I am at in my life now.

While waiting to shoot the concert, nervous and intimidated by all the cameras and lenses surely worth more than my little lens from Amazon, I began talking to a girl that had the same lens as me. I have no idea what motivated me to talk to her, because at that time I was shy and never had any intentions of really branching out and interacting if I didn’t have to. Avoiding contact was definitely easier when I felt so awkward. Who wants to talk to some quiet girl that looks like they have no idea what she’s doing and keeps adjusting their glasses clearly to distract herself from her nerves? Exactly. That decision was vital, though, as the girl I talked to runs her own music magazine. I joked about how I was a journalism major if she needed anyone. A month later, me and Adrianna were meeting for coffee and talks of what would be coming next. She needed a writer, she needed a photographer, and there I was.

In the coming months, I shot a few more shows and did interviews with bands for the paper at school, something I write for regularly. The best moment came for me when I was able to get a photo pass for a festival, Chill on the Hill, which took place at the end of this past summer. I went alone to the two day endeavor, as I have begun discovering that doing things alone is actually extremely relaxing and doesn’t make me nearly as upset as it used to. My friendship with one of my best friends had recently ended, so the time to take picture after picture after picture, while listening to great music and relishing the last few moments of summer was something much needed. I may have been alone, but I had my camera and I was doing something I was passionate about, so I definitely was not lonely.

Chill on the Hill was one of the greatest confidence boosters for me; everyone around me had more experience but I somehow was chosen to shoot alongside them. While terrifying at first, I was able to pick up a handful of business cards, pass on my own, and even find friends that keep in contact to see how my photography has been going.

My photos give me a name and what I do sets me apart. For the kid that always wished to fit in, standing out is something I am now so proud of. There are people that just wait for me to post new photos; people recognize me from seeing me at so many concerts. I can say that I have built such strong relationships, not only directly through my photography, but because the networking and interviews forced me out of the shell that I lived in for so many years. You truly do not understand how amazing it feels to have a passion until you figure out what your own passion is. Even after the numerous shows I have shot and the thousands upon thousands of photos I have taken, it still hasn’t lost that feeling of pure joy and excitement. Up until my concert photography, I would lose interest in everything after some amount of time. That hasn’t been the case and while it was first surprising, it now makes perfect sense to me. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days than editing picture after picture and then seeing the reaction when people realize that, yes, I did take them. Even after a long day of ringing groceries at Kroger, I come straight home to my laptop and open up Photoshop.

At 19-years-old, I’m far from having my life figured out, but I’m so many more steps closer to knowing what makes me happy and where I see myself in the future than I was when I first walked into U of M-Dearborn. I am optimistic, outgoing, determined, and eager to be involved with whatever is going on around me. I can strike up talks with people I’ve never met, and I’m not afraid of rejection like I used to be (I guess that is what happens when you have to hunt down and hound publicists to get them to grant you photo access).

I still have my shy moments and I don’t always speak around those that I am unfamiliar with, but being behind the camera has improved me as a person on so many different levels. I went into college with the intention of getting in and getting out with a degree. While I wanted to get involved, I was always so timid. When I did put myself out there, it was only minimally and it took a huge amount of effort. Now, I sit and share photos I took of the beautiful island of Catalina as a group I am leading prepares to go there to volunteer over spring break. If it wasn’t for the many interviews I have done with bands, I can tell you that I probably would have panicked and bombed the necessary interview for that leadership position.

It has been just over a year since I found exactly where I was my best, and for that year, my life has been on a constant upward climb. It’s weird for someone that truly hated life and could never find where they belonged to be able to say they are genuinely happy, but I am and it is all because of the simple decision to buy a camera a few years back. Even though I have upgraded my camera, and could use the money from selling my starter, there’s not a chance I’ll sell the one thing that has had the greatest impact on my life and the person I have grown to be.

For the time being, I live to see the world and share that world with the people I love with the photos I take along the way. After watching the progress I have made in terms of photography, I know for a fact that I can make my dreams come true because I am a sophomore in college and I am already living some of the things I used to dream of. My life is the perfect combination of all the things that used to keep me up at night and all the thoughts that would fill my head when I slept, and I’m thrilled to see where that will take me.

One Year.

In less than a week, I will be done with my first year of college. That fact is both a relief and utterly terrifying. I feel like I just graduated high school. It was just last night that I was walking across the football field receiving my diploma.

High school flew by and I was always told that it just keeps going faster after graduation. To be honest, I didn’t think it could go any faster than the 2012-13 school year, but damn was I wrong.

This first year of college has been an adventure that I am so thankful to have been able to experience. Though I didn’t know what to expect when I first walked onto campus a few months, I am excited with what I was able to get involved in and cannot wait to see what the future holds.

I have met such amazing people, from my classmates to my professors to musicians and even an Academy winning screenwriter. I’ve interviewed bands and shot shows and have attended a movie premiere. I’ve joined a team of amazing writers to help put out a magazine that I find awesome.

I’ve balanced school and work and writing for the paper and writing for the magazine and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Freshmen year was such a crazy mix of experiences. I can only hope time slows down a tiny bit so I have the opportunity to enjoy it all to its full potential. 

I am so thankful for my best friend Kelsey and I don’t think I have ever really expressed that much until lately. Starting from the moment we became close, she has never let me down. I can call her whenever I need someone to give me a good laugh or just listen to whatever is going on. Whether we see each other a few times a week or every other month, we always end up as close as we were in the first place.

It’s funny really, the summer we really became close. It was the summer after the school year that we had met, which was my sophomore year. She randomly called me because she wanted to hear dramatic stories and knew I would have them. Ironically I had been going through a really big situation at the time. She would call me every night and I would tell her about everything that was going on in my life. We both got a good laugh and I was able to let out all the things that had been plaguing and destroying my thoughts.

It was at that point that we started hanging out. We spent a whole lot of time together that summer (and would do the same for the following summers as well). She’s always the one to take long, random bike rides with me. I could probably write a book of all the memories and adventures we have because they’re all such great moments I am thankful for, but that would take way too long to do. Hey, maybe one day I’ll write an autobiography or something and she’ll get a good set of chapters to herself in it. Haha.

Now I’m a freshmen in college and she’s just finishing up her senior year of high school. These past few months I have really taken the time to see just how thankful I am for her and the friendship we share. I absolutely mean it when I say that I can’t imagine my life if she wasn’t a part of it. She’s more than my best friend, she’s a sister to me; she’s part of my family. My parents love her so much that I can just leave her with them to hangout when I have to go to work. She’s pretty much like one of my parents’ kids, (they’re “ma” and “pops” to her) and the other day my mom told me she’s their favorite daughter haha.

Even though both of our lives have gotten extremely busy with school and work and other commitments, we still manage to hangout and see each other and I am glad for that. I cannot wait for this summer because if it’s anything like the past summers, it will be an amazing one. I hope she can handle dealing with me every day because I’m going to show up at her house. A lot.

I don’t really hangout with many people and I don’t talk to many of my old friends, but Kelsey has always been there, thick and thin. We have only ever fought once and I’m pretty sure neither of us even count that as a fight. I’ve never had a friend as close as her and I hope she knows that I love her am so grateful for everything she does for me, and that I would do absolutely anything for her.

Life is crazy, I really have not felt myself lately, and I really am terrified of growing up and figuring everything out, but having a best friend as amazing as her really does make it easier and makes life worth living, even when it starts feeling like a waste of time. I know sometimes I haven’t been a good friend and I haven’t been there as much as I should have, and I appreciate her sticking by my side and putting up with all the extra baggage my friendship comes with. I’m just really so damn thankful.

Where is the Love in Success?

I’d like to believe I’m a good person. I’d like to believe I lead a well-rounded and fulfilling life. I’d like to believe that I’m living up to my full potential. But you know what? I’m probably not.

Sure I go to school full time. Sure I work part time. Sure I’ve started to pack my schedule. Sure I’m reaching out and forging opportunities to push me forward, but is it really enough?

I feel like no matter what I do, something is missing. I go to school a lot and do well, but barely work; not enough. I work more but start falling behind in school; not enough. I go to school and work a lot but have no free time; not enough. I work, go to school, and have time to do what I like; still not enough.

The last statement is the best. The last really shows me the value of others versus material things alone; the value of love, friendship, companionship. What’s a life of work without relationships? What about school? What about free time? How fulfilling is life when we go through it alone? Or only partially engaged? It doesn’t seem too worthwhile to me. I know I’m only 18 and I’ve only experienced so much, but I’ve experienced enough to realize that a life completely full of successes isn’t so full unless you have others to share in the riches with. 

Now I’m not saying you need someone else to make you happy, not even a tiny bit. I am saying that you need love. Love is more important than you could ever imagine. Love is more than that A on your paper, love is more than that paycheck. Love is more than sitting down to watch tv or laying down for a nap.

Love is important. Relationships are vital. If on your quest for success you push everyone away, you’ve already lost the battle. Sure it may be hard to maintain connections and spend time with everyone you care about when things get busy, but at least give an effort. Don’t skimp out or say “maybe tomorrow”. Don’t rely on tomorrow because no one really knows if tomorrow is really going to come. Make time today. Don’t let the ones that you love go to bed without knowing you feel the same. Don’t let time slip by without at least taking a moment to drop by just to say hi. The importance of these little actions is more than you could even imagine.

Like I said, I can only speak from so many years, but I’ve been here. I’ve been on both ends-I’ve let my life get in the way of my relationships and I’ve been pushed aside, a victim of busy lives and oh so important commitments. It’s not easy from either angle. On one hand, you think everything is going great and you just keep running, running from your friends, running from your family. Then you hit a bump in the road. You stumble, and when you fall, there’s no one there. No. They’re back where you left them. On the other hand, you reach out. You call and text and try and try until you feel as though they don’t feel the same. It feels awful. Both instances feel awful.

I cannot stress how bad I feel about the people I haven’t made time for, especially in this past year. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the hustle bustle of life and forget what’s truly important. Now I’m not saying go out and drop all your dreams and endeavors or go hangout with someone every single day, but MAKE TIME.

Time is precious. Love is precious. Give love the time it deserves.

I am guilty of prioritizing wrong, I’ll be the first to admit this fact. I know I’m already preparing myself for this even more as I grow older, but I refuse to let my life be so overran by successes and becoming better for my own advantages that I forgot to sit down and let my loved ones know that I care. I care. I love you. I need you. Even though we don’t see each other often or talk every single day, I love you and I think about you and your presence in my life is important to me.

I don’t want to grow up and look back at all the opportunities I missed to say “I love you” or go out for a little dinner date, knowing it’s too late to do so. I can’t imagine making all my dreams come true then realizing I’m completely and utterly alone. I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, from the one forgetting to the forgotten, but I know from both ends of the spectrum, it has got me thinking.

Remember your old best friend? Your grandma? Your classmate from a few semesters ago? Anyone who has cared about you and supported you and help you become who you are today…give them a call, take a drive to their house. TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM.

Time slips away way too fast. Don’t waste it on material advancements without acknowledging the most important thing: love. Those you love. Those who love you. This is important.

I know I’ve pulled away from most of the people that care about me and love me, and for that I am sincerely sorry.