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Shannon Light Hadley: Reawaken and Create
Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit:  Greg Bowen

Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit: Greg Bowen

Shannon Light Hadley is a killer robot from outer space. While the rest of the world is sleeping, Shannon is plugged-in or heading out. She works as a full time designer and marketing guru at What Works Studio, publisher of What Weekly magazine. Beyond all earthly logic, she has traded in her clock-out button for a crown in the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (aka the BROS) where she reigns as the Marketing Director from five to nine.

Shannon's tenacity and objective-focused approach to life has carried her a long way. We sat down with her to talk about what makes the Shanbot tick. 


HBP: How did you become interested in graphic design?

Shannon: I knew I was going to be a graphic designer since I was nine. My dad was a graphic designer and my mom and dad worked for the same company. So when it was bring your kid to work day I got to play with all these art supplies... I knew from those experiences I wanted to make art for my job. So I set out to do that.

HBP: Have you always been on that trajectory?

Shannon: Everything was very calculated. I went to college and I selected my college because of its art programs. I had to graduate in four years, because I couldn’t afford five years. I had to work as hard as possible and get all the things I needed.

Everything slammed on the brakes after college, because they never really teach you how to find a job... or anything really helpful like that. It took me until two years after college to find something that was even remotely graphic design related. I worked at Hot Topic for two years as an Assistant Store Manager. I was doing some graphic design on the side… but mostly was just depressed.

Shannon Light Hadley. Photo Credit: Greg Bowen

[Afterwards,] I got a temp job alphabetizing personnel files. It was the highest paying job I had ever had at that point. They were constantly shocked that what should have taken me two weeks took me a day. I ended up doing graphic design for them. Very serendipitously, when that temp job ended, I applied for a job that ended up being my first graphic design job. I was there for five years. That started my actual career. 

I had this moment when I was hesitant to apply for these “real jobs,” you know, ones that were like... "I know I could do that, but I don’t know if I have the credentials, or the work experience." Previous to that point, I would not apply to them. Then something happened, and I said “fuck it," and I applied for them, and I got the jobs. Going for it was what kickstarted my professional graphic design career.

HBP: Five years at Fandango, that’s a long time. Was that your previous employer?

Shannon: No. Within Fandango, there was a major merger. It was the first time I had been let go from a job. I got fired on Friday, I had a phone interview on Saturday, I had a physical interview on Sunday, and I had a new job on Monday. I was actually unemployed for 36 hours.

HBP: So by this time, you’re an asset as a graphic designer.

Shannon: Yes, but [work could be] very unfulfilling. 2010 was when I saw my first Baltimore Rock Opera Society show, the original Gründlehämmer. I first got involved in [the BROS' next production], The Double Feature. That was my first side project. So all of a sudden I was happy with my life.

I had been trying to do “the thing" forever: I’ll just get the job that sucks, because then I’ll be happy because I can pay to do whatever I want on the side. And that's not true. Not true at all. There is no such thing as "the job that you do just for money" that doesn't make you upset with your life. You just can’t do it. Maybe that's only when you’ve woken up, when you start realizing that you can create stuff outside of work.

‘There is no such thing as “the job that you do just for money,” that doesn’t make you upset with your life. You just can’t do it.’

I’ve never been that person, with that life goal. I had a lot of friends who got out of college and started a family. They just kind of did the dance, and that never really interested me. I feel a disconnect from that life plan. I am 31, and I do not have kids, and I do not want to have kids. It’s not because I’m having a party lifestyle, or something like that. It’s just… I have absolutely no desire to have a child. If I did, I haven’t learned enough cool stuff to impart upon another human being. I want to do more stuff, and learn. There’s no such thing as a grown up. That’s a huge lie. We’re all figuring it out.

Poster for the Baltimore Annex Theater's Marat Sade. Created by: Shannon Light Hadley.

That’s what I realized over the course of the past two years in particular. I had been saying to myself, as a graphic designer: “I have a skill set, I can go get a job.” I was not doing anything cool with my life, and it sucked. I wasn’t really making stuff on the side. I guess I needed BROS as a kickstart. So much has come from that. I have worked with other theatre companies – I still help the Annex Theater sometimes – independent design, freelance design. I needed something… to spark. It was that realization, when you start working on something with other people who share the same feeling you do. [Referring to BROS] We’re all young professionals, not all of us have kids, some of us are having kids now. It’s a family. It’s a crazy collection of like-minded individuals. I think that speaks to Baltimore as well.

I realized after seeing these people do their thing, being inspired by them... I couldn’t do the thing that I thought I was supposed to be. I couldn’t do that anymore. And that's when I became extremely unhappy at my jobs. It wasn’t just the money I was making, or the commute. It all needs to click. I started realizing that you need to be happy at the job you’re at. Either you find that job, which this, [working for What Works Studio], is insane – that this is working. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my professional career. You either find a job like this, or you make it.

HBP: You got involved with BROS because you saw Gründlehämmer?

Shannon: Mugsy [BROS member] and I worked together at Fandango. His roommate took me to see Gründlehämmer in February 2010. We sat up in the balcony, and we couldn’t hear shit. It was really long, but it was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. I had never been in the 2640 Space before. This was gorgeous, that was awesome – did I just hear a beer can? You can do that? You can watch theatre… and drink beer?

Everybody on the balcony was passing around Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and I had never had an IPA before, at this point. I was not... doing anything. I was trying to play it cool with Mugsy’s roommate. I was getting that feeling of being super young and inexperienced. So much cool shit was happening in Baltimore at that time. It was so weird, and so out there, that you’re just completely awash with experiences.

Shannon's poster for The Mobtown Players' Othello

The guy I was sitting next to was... not giving a shit... the entire duration of the show. And I was trying to do that too, but… something happened to my brain. The reason I am involved in BROS is because of the scene where Benedon cuts the Gründle open and pulled out the Gründlehämmer – and it was the coolest thing. It was blinding strobes and mirrors, and he pulled this sword out of that crazy goddamn monster. And that was the moment I stood up, sorry dude, and I screamed “fuck yes, woo!” Everybody did it – except for him. I remember thinking: I need to be a part of this. That was the start of it. I designed one program for BROS and got invited to all the afterparties. I met all of these people that would later become my best friends. The inclusive nature of BROS that we keep talking about? That was the start of it for me.

I showed up at Artscape – I showed up in a helmet. Everyone was like "COOL" and I was immediately part of the group. I basically just… never went away.

HBP: Waking up to create. That must have been a powerful moment. 

Shannon: For me it was more of a reawakening. I feel more like myself now than I ever have in my life.

There is something to be said about the level of creative freedom you have in college. Then you get out of college, and you start doing the job thing. The rigidity sets in. I like to think, very selfishly, that I was always this creative person. Instead of the BROS being the spark – I just let myself go dormant. Because that’s what it felt like.

I’d rather sit in an uncomfortable chair and create beautiful things.

I was starting to feel like I wasn’t a creative person anymore. I was just punching in, doing what I was told, leaving, and then watching TV. Now I don’t have a TV. I didn’t want to get trapped in that pit of inactivity. I’d rather sit in an uncomfortable chair and create beautiful things.

HBP: What is your life like at its worst?

Shannon: It’s the worst thing in the world. It’s horrible. It’s not the reason you do what you do. All jokes aside... it is really hard. It’s really hard to do that and perform for your job. I didn’t have as many responsibilities [when I started doing BROS]. That was at the start of the merger. Work was going downhill.

I would do BROS shit at work all the time. My desk was right by the door so when someone came in… TAB. Working, business, business, business, business. I realize now, as a project manager that [that work ethic] sucked. At the time, punk rock, art, whatever. That got impossible to do. It wasn’t until I was at the architecture firm I realized that I was being constantly watched. Every move I made all day had to be accounted for. I got a talking to for using the bathroom. I really had to start working ahead.

Now I like my job too much to slack at it. What Works Studio was the first job interview where I got to talk about BROS experience. At most places, it’s like: “wait, what? glitter on your eyebrows?” kind of people. In my interview with Brooke and Justin, they said… “we love what you do.” Thats the first time that it had ever been said to me. She did ask “so how is it during a BROS show?” at my interview. And it is hard. All I can do is make up for it.

Shannon's poster for the Baltimore Annex Theater's "Two Suns Over Thebes"

HBP: So would you say that you’re no longer living a double life?

Shannon: Yeah. It’s the first time. It’s little silly things too, like being able to use my full name on Facebook. Being able to show off that I work at What Works Studio on Facebook. I am no longer afraid to tell people, in a professional setting, that I am also the Marketing Director for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society. When I meet people now at [professional get togethers] they say: "I love the BROS!"

Every place I’ve ever worked has said: we don’t care. We don’t care what you do. It’s nice that you have a hobby, but who you are, in that seat, at work... that’s who you are to us. We don’t give a shit about what you do when you’re not here.

PCI loved BROS, they even made me a massive “Break a Leg” banner for my first stage performance. So they’re completely exempt from this, but, every place I’ve ever worked has said: we don’t care. We don’t care what you do. It’s nice that you have a hobby, but who you are, in that seat, at work... that’s who you are to us. We don’t give a shit about what you do when you’re not here.

I didn’t realize how much that mattered to me before.

I struggled before with how to put my BROS experience on my resume. People tend not to take you seriously. I think that they go hand-in-hand very well. People would not respond favorably to the way my resume looked. So I took it off, and that sucked. It felt shitty. I put it down in volunteer experience. It felt bad to not be able to take any credit for things that I do constantly. [There was] an Onion article, and it really hit home. It was titled “Find The Things That You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.” That hit home really hard.

HBP: So no more double life, no more nights and weekends? Is it easier or harder now?

Shannon: My role in BROS is evolving. The workload is changing. Is it more manageable now? Yes. Is it more intimidating now? Yes. I have a lot of responsibilities here [at What Works Studio] too. This is the first time, in a long time, that my bosses have treated me with respect – as an individual that I feel like I’m deserving of. I have creative freedom – I have a voice. That’s precious. I have to balance that. I have to achieve that Work/Work/Life/Life balance. Other people have a different version of that. If I hadn’t gotten this job, I probably would have completely changed my life around. I was probably going to be so miserable at the architecture firm, that I would have just [quit and] had an annual income of $20,000/year and just… figured it out. I would have done anything to just… not be at that job.

HBP: You mentioned beer, you mentioned glory. You seem like you’re still working two full time jobs. Why do you do it?

Murdercastle graphics courtesy of Shannon Light Hadley. 

Shannon: Why?

HBP: Why.

Shannon: Sometimes I don’t know that. Sometimes I want to quit… EVERYTHING. Why do I do this?

HBP: It seems like before, that the side projects were the thing on top – the thing channeling your creativity. So now, if you’re channeling your creativity professionally, why still the side projects? What keeps you going?

Shannon: I know that I do what I do right now because I love my friends. And that’s it. I love my BROS family. I know thats not a good enough reason to work with BROS, so I need to make some changes.

HBP: Any advice for someone who is looking to pursue a more fulfilling lifestyle?

Shannon: Don’t play World of Warcraft. Seriously – don’t even open the program.

Don’t get distracted. Really. Even if you’re so fucking bummed that nothing is going your way, you have to overcome that. It’s not laziness. Depression isn’t a form of laziness. When you slip into that headspace, when you don’t feel like getting off the couch. “I’m not going to do the things I have to do” – you’re going to hate yourself for that later. You have to have discipline. It’s not as rigid as you think, it’s not limiting. Get into routines, push yourself.

I’m going to paint for an hour. I’m going to draw in my sketchbook for an hour. I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to take a photo of something cool, every day. Enforcing rules upon yourself, and continuing to take steps forward. Even if you’re moving at a glacier’s pace – because that’s what it feels like sometimes. When no one is calling you back – it’s like you’re running into a wall. Like one of those dreams where you’re running through water, sluggish and terrible. You have to keep going. Everything stops for you – you have you keep pushing forward. Perseverance pays off.


 

Work & Play is Human Being Productionsmonthly column that documents career professionals who choose rewarding creative lives. 

http://www.humanbeingproductions.com/#/workplay/

 

The Miss Lonelys, Snakefeast and Bent Knee at The Crown

Recently, HBP found its way to the half-renovated, odd-smelling building on Charles street that serves as home to The Crown, one of Baltimore's newer music venues. Camera in hand, we couldn't help but take note of some of the great bands that performed there that night. Here's a little gallery with some of the photos we took. 

Old Outfit 

Old Outfit 

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

The Miss Lonelys

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Snakefeast

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Bent Knee

Aran Keating: Following Your Impulses

Artscape, Baltimore, MD. Photo Credit: Greg Hindman (Flickr)

Aran Keating has freed himself of punching the clock. He doesn’t sit at a desk from nine to five, or spend his daytime selling strangers on hip new software updates. Aran spends his time doing what he loves, and has spent the last decade rocking out in the pursuit of happiness. He is the Artistic Director of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (B.R.O.S.), owns his own entertainment company, and can be seen performing with musical acts like SnakefeastA.K. Slaughter, and the Motorettes

Aran started his career at Goucher as an aspiring writer. He expected going in that writing would never be his bread-winning skill set, and he was partially correct. He explored music production, film-making, acting, saxophone, and spinning records. His course changed forever when he met the founding members of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, and together, the troupe set out on a 7,000 year journey. Their mission: the creation of theatrical rock epics. He is considered to be the fearless leader of a dynamic and diverse artistic community that thrives on friendship and limitless imagination.

When he isn't organizing massive rock operas, Keating plays saxophone, spins records, and has indulged our fair city in some of the most entertaining hip hop in Baltimore. His artistic endeavors are almost entirely volunteer, so he spends his working hours as a self-employed wedding DJ. He owns a DJing service called Ridiculous Entertainment. He spends his time event-planning, spinning records, and until recently, instructing at his home-spun DJ academy. His life is anything but boring -- we could all take a page from Aran Keating's book.


HBP: Would you say that you’ve officially found your identity? Or are you still in the middle of your path somewhere?

Aran Keating on sax with The Motorettes.

Aran: It’s funny, I feel like I’ve only recently started to let go of the idea that I could acquire any skills that I wanted to, and that I could get good at whatever it was that I wanted to be doing. It was in the past couple of years that I started to realize that what I was spending the majority of my time doing is what I was going to be good at. That is when I was spending most of my time organizing events for B.R.O.S. I started to DJ for pleasure a lot less. I stopped producing music as much. A.K. Slaughter sort of had its golden period where we were producing a lot of music, and generating a lot of output. That started to wane.

You are what you spend your time doing.

Aran: I started to realize that you are what you spend your time doing. I’m pretty happy with what I spend my time doing, but you also go through struggles. You ask yourself, “am I happy with what I’m doing?” And there are moments when I am definitely not happy doing what it takes to do B.R.O.S. Well, fuck it, I could just hang it all up, and go start making films somewhere. I had that thought a couple of years ago. I was at a low ebb. I made a plan for myself: I’ve got three years. If in three years, I’m still feeling the way I feel right now, about how rewarding this is, A.K.A. not that rewarding, I’m going to make an exit plan. I’m going to start transitioning out of it. I’m going to find something for myself that is exactly the reward that I’m looking for the amount of work that I’m putting in. That didn’t happen. That moment in time, for me, has passed. I haven’t returned to that point. That is something you have to constantly re-evaluate. You have to constantly be thinking … I want go where my time is best used. Used to my maximum potential. At the end of the day, this rock opera thing is pretty fucking rewarding for me.

HBP: So what happens when you reach an even creativity:money ratio? Is that a goal? Would you eventually want to stop some of the side projects?

Aran: It’s about efficiency. Like my DJing business: I know it inside and out. It’s pretty easy for me to make people happy, and for me to please my clients. I wouldn’t stop DJing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not a lot of brain space for me. I’m not really learning a lot, but I feel really good about the work that I do. There is a significant reward. I do worry that as I stop learning new things, that I’m going to get bored. Just like someone in an office job once they’ve got the deal of it. They say that two years is plenty of time to spend in a job these days. That you constantly want to be building new skills. That’s how fast the world works. I love wedding DJing. I’m more worried about getting bored than I am about the amount of time or brain energy it takes to keep that career going.

Ridiculous Entertainment on the job. Scratching records with the bride. Photo Credit: Marcella Treybig Photography


HBP: What is the breakdown of your brain-space? Where do you invest your energy?

Aran: 20% idea generation, 40% collaborating with other people's ideas, and 40% agonizing over what it takes to execute those ideas. Specifically agonizing. All the emails and organizational documents [as B.R.O.S.' Artistic Director]. Agonizing about not getting enough work done, because I’m not as good at the organizational stuff.

HBP: If you are what you spend your time doing, does that mean your role as Artistic Director will be evolving, or do you think you will evolve to fit the position?

Aran: I’d say both. I work really hard to try and be more efficient. I try to make myself into that organizational powerhouse as much as I am able to. That’s what it takes. You hit a certain point in your life where you ask yourself: “am I happy with how good I am at this, or do I want get better at it?”

At the point where you say: “nah, I’m good.” I mean… what’s that even mean, you know? I always want to get better at it. I can pick different skills, and develop those. I love doing that. If I’m going to make this my career, I’m going to have to get better at doing what I’m doing. I think about it all the time. Taking courses, getting a life coach or something. Buying a Fancy Hands membership. Anything that is going to make me better at what I’m doing. Anything that is going to make me happier.

HBP: Any advice for someone looking to inspire a more fulfilling career?

Follow your impulses and build skills around them, even if it is strictly for pleasure, because the pleasure will turn into meaningful work.

Aran: It’s really important to follow your impulses, to follow your interests. For anybody who has that impulse, and feels the need to go learn something on their own. That’s exactly where they need to be...even if it has nothing to do with work.  If you care about being happy, then follow your impulses. Any idea that you have that separates you from someone else, that puts you into a smaller group of people. Those ideas lead to skills, and those skills will lead to meaningful work for you. Follow your impulses and build skills around them, even if it is strictly for pleasure, because the pleasure will turn into meaningful work.

Aran Keating following his impulses during 2013 Artscape in the pouring rain. Playing saxophone with enormous "Party Hard" and "Drink Beer" banners in tow. Photo Credit: Chuck Patch (Flickr)

 


 

Work & Play is Human Being Productionsmonthly column that documents career professionals who choose rewarding creative lives. 

http://www.humanbeingproductions.com/#/workplay/

 

Batman por Cambio: the Peruvian Cape and Cowl

A few weeks ago, my fiance and I flew to Lima, Peru. We hopped immediately over to Cusco, where we would acclimate to the high altitude of the Andes. After a few days at 11,000 feet we would be ready to hike the Inka Trail. Our guide Jose Puma made it very clear: the acclimation process is vitally important. If you don’t let your body adjust, exertion can cause paralyzing headaches, shortness of breath, vomiting, and an overall general sense of illness. So we were stuck in Cusco for a few days.

pieceofpaper.jpg

A series of observations during my trip had me so inspired to write this story that I actually scribbled the details on a piece of paper at the foot of the Inka Trail. I was so excited about this story that I carried that piece of paper for 26 miles on my way to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

We took a taxi from the Cusco airport to the Hotel Marqueses near La Plaza de Armas. I noticed a lot of posters and stickers for political campaigns. They were stuck on everything, and in overwhelming quantity. What really stuck out were all the Batman stickers. They were on taxis, store-front doors, and even city buses. Now, I love Batman as much as the next guy, but on a city bus? I was immediately obsessed. I had know: what's with all the Batman stickers?

The day we arrived, we were in an insomnia-tic haze. We hadn’t slept more than a few hours in days, and we ended up only staying awake for a few hours on that first Saturday. Our nap was consistently accented by the firing of black powder rifles -- five or six at a time. It seemed like some sort of festival. The next day, it all became pretty clear.  It was the Cusco Day Festival in the main plaza. There were dozens of heavily armed soldiers. Some, in fact, had gone as far as mounting suppressors on their machine guns -- from what I could tell, anyways. The festival started as a military parade in a square with grass so nice that it is illegal to walk upon. I hadn’t known that of course. I figured it was like grass anywhere else -- the gentleman in the big green hat kindly showed me the error of my ways.  It ended in a stream of tiny princesses and guys on stilts.

batmanprincesses.jpg

The parade seemed like a Fourth of July celebration, but without any drinking or actual celebrating. There were more families marching their children about in odd costumes than there were people actually enjoying themselves. I was confused about the celebration, but it seemed awkward to ask. I was sitting on a bench with TJ House, watching the parade, when a local Quechua man named Alejandro asked me where I was from. My new friend informed me that this was not an annual celebration. This was a weekly celebration. Boom, splat, gorp -- my mind splattered against the inside of my skull. Weekly? The festival was enormous, and any actual enjoyment seemed somewhat forced. Having to do this weekly must be draining.

marching.jpg

The military had big weapons and tough dispositions, but their marching was disorganized, which made them seem fairly undisciplined. From my impressions of the U.S. Marines, if you can’t march correctly you sure as hell can’t fight correctly. So why the exaggerated display of authority? Why flaunt brute strength at a celebration? While some people seemed to be enjoying the show, the military presence made me a little nervous.

dontvoteforcorruption.jpg

From Alejandro’s bench I could see another local man with a sign. He seemed to be Quechua from his dress, and his sign implied that he was part of a local Christian organization. On one side, his sign said:

“Together, we can build a community government.”

It made my heart happy to see someone protesting with positivity at a patriotic celebration.

The other side of the sign read: “Don’t Vote for Corrupt Capitalists.”

Immediately, the government presence made sense. These soldiers were likely from Lima, and the protester's sign implied that politicians from Lima were being elected in Cusco and feeding Cusquenan taxes back to Lima rather than spending them on local improvements. The soldiers marched to the tune of corruption, and the festival seemed like a ruse to align the proud Cusquenas with a selfish political agenda.

I was back to thinking about the Batman stickers again. Maybe Peruvians are just sick of all the corruption. Maybe Batman is a Peruvian hero because he represents freedom from oppression -- hope. Maybe not.

We spent another day in Cusco before leaving for the Inca Trail. Getting out to the starting point of the trail would take a few hours by bus. We left early on Tuesday morning. The bus was the first vehicle we had been in since our arrival on Saturday, so again, I immediately noticed the excessive political signage along the roads. The signage was different as we left the city proper, though. All of the signs were hand-painted and each contained a pair of enormous symbols.

handpaintedsigns.jpg

Our guide, Jose Puma, explained that a large portion of the highland populace is illiterate. In Peru, it is legally required for all people ages 18-65 to vote. Until recently, even ex-pats had to vote remotely from wherever they were living, so it was natural to assume that the illiterate populations were forced to vote as well. The symbols are easily identifiable markings that illiterate citizens can check off on the voting ballot. Each candidate has his own marking: a mountain, a chaski (Inca scout), a shovel. I don’t know about you, but I always vote shovel. From the bus window, I saw what had to have been hundreds of hand-painted billboards. Each of them looked the same: Name, catch phrase, symbol. Ronon: por Cambio.

Over the course of the following four days, we would hike 26 miles. We hiked as high as 13,000 feet with insane dips and rises in elevation. The trail isn’t actually a trail -- it’s a limestone road. Little did I know before arriving, but the Inka nation was a well-organized powerhouse of cultural richness. They had sophisticated aqueduct systems, paved roads, and impressive architecture. Our hiking companions were mostly local Quechua folks (Inka decedents) who professionally hike the Inka Trail. Each of them carry 25 kilos and fly like devils. We talked during meals, though we heard more about them from Jose than anything.

Jose explained the history of the Quechua. Jose Puma was part Quechua and spoke with sincerity and passion about his people. His story was sad though, and I got the feeling that his people are still recovering from a history of Peruvian oppression that long predates Peru. It starts with the Inka nation. Their entire culture was burned, hidden, destroyed, and tucked away by the Spanish. The Quechua are Inka descendants, but know almost nothing about their heritage. I was enamored by the Quechua, and deeply sympathized with their experience.

Things were starting to make sense. The Batman stickers, the protester, and the political symbols were the same damn thing. But it didn’t click until I had spent some time with the local people. Our companions were kind, humble, and tough as nails. They wore constant smiles, and were grateful to be alive, but their eyes carried the burden of struggle and defeat. Batman is a reminder that people, not just governments have power, and that political corruption is meant to be opposed. I believed that Batman was a metaphoric symbol for a greater cultural movement happening in Peru. I was spot on, and yet further off base than I could have ever imagined.

When I got back to Baltimore, I hunted down my Cusquena friend Ivan. I had a lot of questions about Batman… and Peruvian politics. I was excited to hear that there is most certainly a cultural movement alive and well in Peru. Ivan explained that, until twenty years ago, there was no such thing as being “Peruvian” by culture. Now, there were a lot of people helping to raise awareness and push for a cultural unification of Peru. There is no aim to crush the Quechua identity. Rather to tell the greater story of all Peruvian peoples, including the Quechua.

When I told Ivan about the conclusions that I had drawn about Batman, he immediately laughed. He didn’t laugh because I was wrong -- he laughed because Batman isn’t just a metaphoric symbol for politics -- he is a literal symbol for politics. In 1992, a politician named Jhonny Vasquez Vinces ran for office in hopes of helping forge the New Peruvian Constitution. His political platform: Batman. He adorned the cape and cowl, got a lot of national press, gave out a ton of Batman swag, and ultimately failed to make the primaries.

Next time you’re at the ballot booth, remember to vote: Batman: por Cambio.

Bringing Love Together: Mark & Julia
Mark and Julia

Mark and Julia

Mark and Julia are both very funny people. Specifically, they are the kind of funny people who have a lot of control over the social cues they send, who can be completely deadpan or entirely genuine, or inhabit a different character for the sake of a joke regardless of the social situation they are actually in. They give little away, and they know the rules well enough to break them. They laugh often and easily, but not just because they are nervous.

They are also compassionate, curious folks. They see potential all around them. Both of them are building careers that serve the public. Both of them are intense listeners, and try new things. Being able to break social convention and look objectively at their own motivations means that their world is just a bit larger than it might otherwise be, and filled with more possibilities.

When they decided to get married, it was because they wanted to. When they planned a wedding, it was on their own terms.

I say all this with the benefit of hindsight. I had never shot a wedding exactly like this one. We were all going to meet at Federal Hill Park 15 minutes before the ceremony and find a spot that wasn't too crowded. The ceremony would be another 15 minutes and then everyone would find their own way to Druid Hill and have a picnic. It was casual, it was small, and I didn't know what to expect.

Mark called me a couple days before the wedding to tell me that the venue had changed. Their wedding was the day of the Battle of Baltimore bicentennial, and Fed Hill would be packed with people looking at the tall ships. The wedding was now at St Paul and Lafayette in Station North.

A small crowd gathered at the park, all family and close friends. It was just about the nicest day ever. I walked over to the Bell Foundry and met Mark and Julia, who pulled up in a zipcar they had taken out for the day.

This was the first big reveal of the day. They looked flawless. Not in a bridal-magazine kinda way. They hadn't put on Bride and Groom costumes. They looked like themselves, just really, really good-looking versions of themselves.

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I followed their grand entrance down the street and into the park. The crowd had grown to somewhere around thirty people, all thrilled to see the couple arrive. 

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Mark's godfather took the center as officiant, and the crowd formed an orderly line. Initial remarks were spoken, and it was instantly clear how many of these people had grown up together, and how much they had shared with each other already. Then he did something I didn't expect. He called the entire crowd to the front, and they got closer. He clarified what he had meant, and all thirty-odd people wrapped around the pair in a giant tangled hug, parents, peers, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews alike. "This feels like a scrum" said a voice in the back row.

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The message was clear. Every single person in that ball was important. Every one of them loved Mark and Julia, whether they'd known each other five years or their whole lives. Every one of these people could be there to support them, even when it's tough.

Every friend and relative there would be a part of this couple's lives, but this was most likely one of the only times every one of these people would be in the same place together. 

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It wasn't just the bride and groom making a commitment to each other, everyone was making a commitment, some larger than others, to be a part of this group. This is something I have heard before about weddings, but it had never been this clearly put into practice. The folks in attendance weren't just an audience, they were part of the process. 

And then, y'know, two people exchanged some rings and promised to build a life together.

Watching this go down, a lot of things made sense to me. First off, these people knew exactly what they were doing. The location, the ceremony, the crowd, all of it was perfect, and that was no accident. These two had the presence of mind to think about what they wanted, and not to second-guess themselves about it.

They chose a location they can go back to whenever they like, filled it with people they love, and got to spend the day celebrating. They didn't need to add anything else to make the day special because their life, the real one that they live every day, is already special.

That's the cool thing about really great weddings, whether they are small and intimate or huge and lavish. Weddings aren't supposed to change anything. If you're doing it right, the new life you start is probably a lot like the one you've been building for the last year or two. The beauty of a wedding is that everyone sets aside a day, one whole day, to focus only on these two people and the life they are putting together. That's the thing that's so precious and worthwhile: focus. One whole day of anybody's undivided attention is a hard thing to come by, let alone thirty people or a hundred. Whether you achieve that focus by throwing a huge party or just by naming a time and a place and letting it happen, the power of the whole thing comes from the people and the love that you bring together.

I think they nailed it.


Fast Ain’t Always Finer: Why You Should Get to Know Your Local Farms

Eating fire-crisped local sausages with the crew of Lima Family Farms. Photo by Angela Lin.

I took a trip to see Lima Family Farms, and it was a refreshing reminder that everything is going to be just fine. There are “organic” labels on everything these days, but short of brushing the dirt off of your groceries, how can you know where your food actually comes from? My trip to Hillsborough, New Jersey to visit an old friend shaped my perspective on sourcing food.

Josh Schreck and his lovely companion Angela Lin live in the middle of a farm between an enormous turkey, and a field full of hogs. They live in a small trailer with a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. They live low-impact, efficient lives, and eat better than you could ever imagine. The tender country sausages that we crisped over the fire that first night were sizzling proof that a little hard work goes a long way. Especially when it comes to food.

Farm hand Josh Schreck at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown.

Farm hand Josh Schreck at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown.

Farm hand Angela Lin watering the young turkeys at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

Farm hand Angela Lin watering the young turkeys at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

Josh studied health science at Towson University. Angela is a geneticist, though not actively working for the farm in that regard. In college, Josh was obsessed with health and fitness -- I think there may have been an entire year where he ate nothing but almonds. They are farming because they care about the food they put into their bodies. Their love for food doesn't start at what, though. It starts at where and how.

It’s amazing how much people don’t know, how much I didn’t know, about what goes into producing food, meat in particular.
— Josh Schreck, Lima Family Farms

According to Josh and Ang, farming has become excessively modernized. But with the ease of entertainment, artificial climates, and the world’s vast knowledge at your fingertips, why shouldn’t food be easy too? People certainly deserve convenient food, don’t they? Well, if you listen to the farmers, the convenience has long outweighed the value, and our farms have become more like factories. Factories that sometimes aren’t even producing food fit for human consumption. Exploring Lima Family Farms was like landing back in the frontier days. Well… except for the watering system and modern fences.

Local grass fed, organic porkers at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

The animals weren’t stuck into tiny cages and stuffed full of hormones like you’d expect from a modern farm. Hell, Wilma the pig couldn’t even see a building from where she was flopping about in the dirt. The cows were hidden in the forested lower fields like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and hundreds of chickens pecked about in a colossal field. Their freedom was only limited by their attention span.

Free range laying hens at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown.

After hearing a few horror stories from Josh and Ang, I began to understand why farming was modernized in the first place. Giving the animals better lives is a lot of hard work. In a flash flood last May, Robin Hood and his Mooey Men were knee deep in water and not even beginning to worry about their safety. Meanwhile, Josh and his coworkers are helping 350 freezing cold, and vulnerable young chickens into the barn in the middle of a storm.

One of these birds looked me dead in the eye and swore vengeance if I didn’t get her someplace dry immediately.
— Josh Schreck

Wilma (Right) and her best friend Betty (Left) at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

The next time I’m eating grass-fed beef from Lima Family Farms, I’m going to feel just fine about where it came from. I encourage you to go visit your local farms too. Look through the photos below and see the farm for yourself.

My bologna has a first name it’s W-I-L-M-A.

Free range young turkeys posturing with their new feathers. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

Free range turkeys excitedly meeting a new day at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown

Cute little "chanchis" at Lima Family Farms. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown 

Grass fed cows at Lima Family Farms. That one gal looks like she rolled in some poo, but that's OK. You're still in a winner in my book. Photo by Derek Vaughan Brown