Searching for the Adjacent Possible

I’m halfway through a book called “Where Good Ideas Come From,” by Steven Johnson.  The book itself is okay. A lot of it is reviewing progress throughout time as far back as the beginning of time, evolution, through the ages of discovery, Darwin, Tesla, the founders of YouTube or even the telegraph.

It talks about the slowness of the evolutionary process as opposed to the speed of technological and creative development.

It talks about the concept of the Adjacent Possible, which is described as:

… a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations.

I love this idea. I pride myself on the idea that I’ve surrounded myself with a network of creativity. I have friends and colleagues that inspire me and I them. It’s wonderful.

The book talks about how cities are a place of creativity exploration (which is EXACTLY why I moved to Chicago). The possibilities are much more available. That’s not to say there aren’t sheep or non-creatives in a city. It just means there are more possibilities to find ways to explore the adjacent possible.

One of my best friends, Bill, single-handledly inspired so much of my growth by openly sharing so much of what he knows and I shared as much as I could with him. If I could nickname him, it would be Adjacent Possible.

Where Good Ideas Comes From explains that timing is symbiotic with growth. The timing must be right. Just like the universe has so-called “perfect timing”. Or evolution needed the exactly right conditions to thrive or YouTube needed the exact timing to become as huge as it has, I needed the right timing and environment to become who I am now and where I’ll go from here.

But this growth explosion wasn’t always the case. 

I often look back over my career as a photographer and filmmaker and wonder about my own evolution and growth. The rationale to explore entrepreneurship likely originated from my youth. My dad was a furniture designer for a long time, but for the majority of my youth and teens, he owned and operated furniture companies.

Early memories include going to his design office several miles from our house. I loved going there and sitting at the drafting table, playing with the different t-squares, sharpening pencils in his electronic sharpener. These were analog times. It felt like a creative playground.

From design, he somehow became a bigwig at a company in South Carolina, from what I remember, managing day-to-day operations. We lived a 200 or so miles away in North Carolina, so he commuted there weekly. The job kept him on site four or five days a week and he was home on the weekends.

Odd side note, I remember that during those years, my mom would invite one of us three kids to sleep in bed with her while he was gone. I wonder if it was more for her than us.

Then later, he owned an aluminum manufacturing company called D&E, named after its previous owners. My dad had the foresight not to change the name for branding and marketing purposes.

All these things, naturally, inspired me. From an early age, I loved cameras. For Christmas, my parents got me a PixelVision 2000 video camera, Fisher Price’s amazing little black and white camera that shot video to cassette tapes. I also carried around a point and shoot camera for many years. In high school, I was the yearbook photographer handling my first SLR shooting almost entirely with a 50mm lens and in college, I was the editor in chief of the weekly newspaper. I wrote, edited, did photography, published the paper, distributed it. I did everything.

I also PA’d on a film set in college and made lots of short films. The timing of Non-Linear Editing computers hit right when I was wanting to get into video editing.

For the years after college, I worked for a newspaper selling AND designing advertising as well as snapping photography for the ads. Then I abruptly moved to Chicago to explore more creative avenues and search out filmmaking full time. My first job in Chicago was as a graphic designer, but as soon as I could I quit, I did. I spent four months making short films before I accepted an offer from my dad to possibly go into business with him. I spent four months in the Philippines working with my dad, who maintained an office with designers and managers there.

The Philippines was, in my mind, the lowest point of my life. While it was gorgeous,  I experienced the ugly side of business. I saw how business men frequented brothels posing as entertainment-filled Karaokes. I witnessed how men treated underage girls and teenagers as if they were not even human, not even someone’s daughter or sister.  I decided that this was where I should not be. But the years that followed were absolutely the weirdest mixture of chaos and of damned-if-I-didn’t explosion of my own exploration of creativity and entrepreneurship.

In the Philippines, my world had been rocked. I saw the ugliest of the ugly, and it sent me into a tailspin of drinking daily. The pain was too much for my brain to handle. I had seen men I thought were cool and upright turn into monsters of male chauvinism and sexism that crushed my spirit into a million little bits. The whole shit about Trump and “Grabbing women by the pussy,” that shit was fairy tales to these business men.

I often wonder if my network of friends would have been stronger, maybe I would have been able to counter the mental torture. But those years were largely isolated.

Before I even returned to the states, I was offered some freelance work back in Chicago. Back in the states, I lived with my parents for a few weeks while I found an apartment and got my ducks in a row before moving back. While in North Carolina, less than a month before leaving for good, I was pulled over after leaving a bar one night. I didn’t have my headlights on. The officer wanted to test my sobriety. I was too honest about everything and admitted I had been drinking. I blew a .07%, which is under the legal limit, but in a second blow, it landed .08%. I landed a DUI. It’s now my trophy for worst actor in a blockbuster letdown of my heroes.

I lost my license for almost two years, but I returned to Chicago soon after and it basically eliminated the DUI from my record. After a while, I got my NC license back in the mail. I then picked up an Illinois license and the record was lost.

In Chicago, I rented a small studio apartment, and started freelancing as a graphic designer and within the year as a professional videographer. I built my business quickly, as an editor and graphic designer, I spent way too much time alone. And that time spent alone was miserable and absent of good mentorship.

I wallowed in daily drinking, but I was also growing in creativity and career. I was functioning almost flawlessly in business, though, because the drinking didn’t appear to affect my work life.  I didn’t miss meetings, or appointments. I worked on film sets and produced tons of work.

But when I look back to those times 15 years ago, I regret not having the internal wherewithal to push away my demons. I hate not having a network of friends that would inspire me to live more healthily. For the most part, I imagine I was trying as hard as possible to bury the past in the oblivion found in the bottom of a bottle. The sun always rose. And the memories never took a goddamn vacation.

It’s taken me years to work through a lot of what I consider vices and what the medical industry would call a slow suicide of alcohol consumption to get here. Things aren’t perfect. When I spend any time with my dad, the triggers are overwhelming and I resort to less-than-formidable behavior. I hate it.

If it weren’t for Tina, I’d be lost. Moving in with her and finally marrying her gave me the legs to improve my overall diet, to eventually slow down on drinking. Through therapy, discipline, and hard work, I’ve managed to become a much more sober version of the me I want to be.

The acrimony of those years eliminated the possibilities of having children. Tina and I struggled for years, even before marriage, to conceive. I always wonder if my world hadn’t been crushed, would I have stayed on a better path.

But the path is the path. I got here, and I’m doing the best I can on that path that I possibly can.

This year has been a crescendo of sorts in terms of creative expression, admiration from my peers and colleagues, hell … sobriety, and I revel in that.

I’m producing. I’m more creative.

It’s weird. Things that have influenced me are bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers. While I know that their current body of work isn’t received that well, I admire who they’ve become as a group of admittedly sobered men, doing what they love. I’ve seen them. I’ve photographed them. And their example of creation, of creativity and sobriety has influenced me to be a better person. When I see a dude like Flea, agile, fucking flying fingers across the neck of a bass while jumping around and swinging his head around, I can’t help but be like, “Damn, age doesn’t have to be the harbinger of curling up in a ball and waiting for death.”

Everything I create is not going to be gold. But creativity and content creation is absolutely essential to my personality. I need it. I thrive in it. The process, as messy and chaotic as it can be, is my playground. It’s my raison d’être.

Where I am is likely because of the adjacent possible. Putting myself into a place of creativity exploration, landing friends and influencers who inspired me, digging into my past full of discipline and self motivation, all these things are present in my evolution.

I can hear the voice of those who think my path was guided by God. But if God wanted me to experience the demise of so many of my childhood heroes or to crush my spirit with the pursuit of morality by exposing me to the worst of all immoralities, shame on that being for calling himself God.

I have tons of friends who still drink or use recreational drugs, and I believe they think those things make them more creative. For me, they are a distraction. Sometimes I want to quiet my mind, so a beer or two is welcome. My taste buds and brain often demand more or they convince my brain’s voice to un-inhibit discipline. Drinking doesn’t motivate (surprise!). It slows my brain and speech. It makes me a lousy creator.

I didn’t intend this post to go this direction. It just did. And I let it. I wanted to explore my brain’s trajectory. If you read it, you’re either like, “What the fuck?” Or “Give me back my last 10 minutes, please.”

Or maybe not.

I believe in the now. I hate living in the past. But I feel that exploring the past sometimes gives better foresight into the future (redundant phrase, I know).

Thanks for reading and thanks for walking on this road with me.


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