Lost and Searching

And those of you who went to UW-Madison thought it was one of the colleges. It’s 2010, I’m in a pretty good depression. My photo lab business is going south fast, I’m living in a two bedroom house with a leaky porch that has likely been classified a “fixer upper since at least the mid-90s. There was definitely relief at being out of the marriage (which was also a fixer upper since at least the late-90s). The experiential therapy work I did at the Meadows was quite transformative, however the effects were wearing off. That said, I was able to go completely off my antidepressants at some point around 2010 / 2011. Given all the hell that was breaking loose in my life, this was a huge milestone as I had been on them for more than ten years. I am grateful for the Zoloft, yet in hindsight wish I had known about other, more effective therapies. Hindsight is 20/20. After a point, their biggest “contribution” to my life was really just a flattening out of the peaks and valleys. I wasn’t in that really dark place any more, however, I was really experiencing much in the way of joy either.

A quintessentially French neighbor of my sister’s | Fleurines, France | June 2010

By Thanksgiving week of 2010, the divorce was final and for a grand total in lawyers’ fees of around $10k between us. See what can happen when you don’t fight (and you don’t have any money to fight over)? At some point in 2011, I transitioned my clients to another photo lab in the western suburbs and negotiated a two year deal to pay out a portion of gross revenues. It wasn’t a ton, yet it kept the lights on and the rent (mostly) paid. My good friends, Steve and Lisa, invited me to share their studio / office space that was literally 100 yards from my back door and so I set up shop there and set about trying to figure out how to put my life back together. As if it ever was. 

I believe the foreclosure proceedings began sometime in 2010 or 2011 and I filed for bankruptcy in late 2011 (you read all about that fun in my inaugural blog post). I was booking some children’s lifestyle photo sessions under my “Inspired Impressions” brand, even flying to France to visit my sister and attempt to do some of this work at the same time. Because, let’s expand internationally when you’re barely making ends meet in your own back yard, right? Oy. I did create some beautiful images of some beautiful people over there. As I look back at my work, I do marvel at a lot of what I was able to capture. I was definitely working through my inner child conflicts as my work had a flow and a lightness that I find difficult to generate after pushing into the world of corporate photography. It’s as if I was giving myself permission to at least bear witness to the carefree nature of children at play and attempting to capture some of it in pictures. Perhaps this was to make up for what I felt was my own lost childhood. I did have some fun, yet between all the moves and the pressure of living with two self-medicating and one volatile parent, there was definitely an overall seriousness and vigilance that was required for survival.

Around the beginning of 2011, I began to dip my toe in the waters of dating. In hindsight, I really wish I had kept a journal or started the blog back then. I mean, holy shit, what bunch of craziness! Now, if it isn’t clear from what parts of my blog you’ve read so far, when I set my mind to something, I generally go after it hard. And dating was no exception. The first date I had was with a woman I met in the checkout line at the supermarket. Because, of course it was. We made a plan for me to come over and grill some steaks. As it turned out, she was really looking for somebody to help her fix stuff – computer stuff, mostly. Her “love language” was acts of service and I noped right the fuck out of that. After playing tech support specialist for the better part of the last 15 years, I’d had my fill. From that inauspicious beginning, I cast my net into the World Wide Web and online dating. By my count (I did keep a list of names strictly for posterity sake), I went on more than 20 dates in 2011 and at least another 20 in 2012. Some weekends I had two dinners and a coffee scheduled. I was on a mission, dammit, and it was exhausting!

My younger brother, Brady, shortly after he moved back from Martha’s Vineyard | Chez Baldy | November 2011

In late 2011, my younger sister encouraged my younger brother, who had been sober for five or six years and living on Martha’s Vineyard, to move. He was in a funk due in large part to the vicious cycle of living and working in a resort community. It was off-the-wall crazy in the summer, yet he did not partake and then come the off-season, things were slow, dark and dreary for months on end. He and I had effectively been estranged for many years, due in large part to his drinking and my completely and utter inability to even recognize it as the problem it was, much less deal with it. Based on my work at the Meadows, I reached out to him and suggested he could stay with me while he got his feet on the ground. Believe me, I was as shocked as anybody at my magnanimity. It was difficult going, as we were brothers, yet we were basically starting our relationship from scratch. I was thinking he might be with me for a month or two. Three years later he found a place of his own. We definitely still have our ups and downs in our relationship, yet this was a time of healing we both needed. It was also nice for he and my daughters to form a relationship. The fact that he is an incredibly talented professional chef was icing on the proverbial cake, as he whipped up gourmet meals on a regular basis and I made a point to get some pointers from him. I’m proud to say, I can chiffonade some basil like nobody’s business, thanks to him. So I got that going for me….

The person who encouraged me to dip my toe in the headshot waters! | Oak Park, Illinois | September 2010

I met my dear friend Steve when he became a client of the photo lab in the early 2000’s. He and Lisa’s photo studio was right behind Chez Baldy. He was in his 30th year as team photographer for the Chicago Cubs. Based on my work photographing kids and my dedication to improving my craft, he began entrusting me to cover jobs that he could not, due to his schedule. He was kind enough to send me to photograph events for the likes of Nike, MLB, Lululemon and others. This was instrumental in establishing my reputation as a professional photographer. (Turns out there’s a reason everybody wants to shoot for these big brands for very little pay!) Another dear friend with a career in big brand marketing, Lori, was the first to suggest to me that there might be a market in creating professional headshots for people for use on social media and that I would be good at it. Thank you, Lori and Steve.

Nike Fuel Band launch event | A New Leaf, Chicago, Illinois | February 2012

While I was very fortunate to have something of a mentor in Steve and many supportive people around me, I could barely muster the energy to work and I found all kinds of ways to sabotage any progress I might stumble into. There was a consistent drumbeat of negativity pounding away in my head, constantly reminding me of my “failures” and how I wasn’t good enough (for what exactly, I’m not sure). It’s a good thing the “Screen Time” app didn’t exist back then. I’m sure I used a measurable fraction of Reddit’s bandwidth back in the day. Talk about doom scrolling….

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