When friends pass we realize this reality; but it's ever-present. We are just living in a bubble of perpetual unawareness. The numbness at this truth is temporary--it must ultimately be replaced with some feeling. Some resolution. Nothing outlives us besides what we make people feel. In some ways there is nothing more important because that is ultimately our legacy, nothing more--and nothing less. I've been struggling with the loss of my friend who had taken me and my family in over the last few months when we were in Las Vegas, stranded, after my car was totaled in a hit and run accident. He'd give to others to the point that it was absurd. It didn't seem possible that someone so generous could keep nothing left in the tank to sustain the joy that he gave to everyone else.
Chris Pittman always managed to make everyone feel important. He'd take you seriously if you shared a big goal. He wasn't the guy who'd ask 'Yeah, but are you sure that's a good idea?' or 'How are you going to get funding for that?' He had a special appreciation for the outrageous. His habit of living with life with no half measures was comforting in an odd sort of way. He'd always manage to catch his shoe laces on a Manzanita bush while hiking along the edge of a 500 foot cliff and somehow still walk away and be able to laugh about it. His approach was like that of a child on a playground. Always ready to share what he had and be your friend with no expectation of return or benefit.
Now he's gone and suddenly everything seems more dire. The bubble has popped--for a time at least. His levity was able to shield some of us and lift others to great heights. Still it couldn't pull him from the sinking sands. None of us could. The last time I spoke to him he said 'It's good to hear from you. I haven't really been communicating with anyone.' He had given up his seat on the lifeboat--not to be heroic. He said he just wanted to go for a swim. None of the outstretched arms could make him stay on board.
In the last few days I've had this feeling where I'm going along with my day, happy and then suddenly I'll trip over that hole that he left. While comforting me, a friend told me that this type of thing never goes away. She said, 'You can't try to understand it all or make it stop. You have to accept the pain and be content with holding on to the good shit. That's how you keep from falling in that hole'.
The loss of my car in Las Vegas and the delay that had me wracked with anxiety over the last few months--gave me the chance to spend my last times with Pittman. That's a special anchor to hold onto. I got to tell him how I loved him and that he was important to me. We talked about trying to turn his struggle with depression into an adventure project that could reach other people and shine a light into their world.
Time that I had anxiously spent waiting to get back on the road became a gift in hindsight. Sheer boredom forced me to focus on creation while I passed the time. I didn't have anything grand or adventurous to photograph so I took pictures of my friend. Those are the last photos of him. Even with the solace of knowing that I didn't miss opportunities with him--he's still gone and it still hurts. Some things are out of our hands and when that realization hits, we can only hang on to the good shit, because that's all that's left in the end. That's all that's worth investing in, every day.
Pick up that camera. Take that photo. Write that email. Climb that mountain. Your legacy doesn't belong to you. It's not the monolithic magnum opus of the driven competitor that is too easily romanticized and too quickly forgotten. It's not the act of ambition--but the way you make people feel along your path to the top. Those are the ashes which remain to commemorate our fire long after it has gone cold; they filter down through the sheen of our bubble-walls in which our life is guaranteed and suffering is optional.
by Steve Richert
In the past few months I have been circling the wagons and getting the website rebuilt with the aid of Splitter Designs. I was confronted with the disparity between what I wanted to create and the reality of what I have been producing . The last few years have felt pretty unfulfilling--hollow, as though something has been missing from my work. I looked back at the posts and pictures and kept thinking 'Is this the vision? Is this the best you have to give? Where is the passion, the fire and the cutting edge?'
One of the things that has been skewing my vision over the last few years is a desire to be perceived as successful in order to attract sponsors. How else does and athlete/speaker/artist feed make a living? No one wants to sponsor failure. I needed to make a living doing what I do--creating adventure media that inspires people through my struggle with type 1 diabetes. As that reality grew, it stole my fire--my joy. I stopped speaking to the people who were supporting me and I moved on to the people who didn't care, who needed to be convinced of the value of the LivingVertical mission. I wanted to convert new followers more than caring for my existing ones. By simply reaching more people, I hoped that I could develop LivingVertical into a quazi-Team NovoNordisk, replete with corporate support and hundreds of thousands of followers--and a salary that could support my work and my family.
What I have found reflecting on all of this is that there is no shame in failure if you choose carefully the hill on which you are prepared to die. There is no honor in measuring success in terms of mass appeal or financial gains. I am returning to LivingVertical--full time until I cannot sustain it further. I have returned to the reason I started blogging and filming in 2011--to shake things up. To challenge the perception of chronic illness as weakness and to inspire interaction with the natural world around us a the means to win the battle for our minds. I don't think my work will ever be a "good fit" with selling drugs or devices. I am fine with that. I'm done measuring success based on distracting people who don't care. This may be the hill on which LivingVertical goes to die and while it may never be trending on Twitter, it will be honorable and true to the vision that inspired its origin.
I am thankful to have every one of you here--because you do care (or you wouldn't have read this far!)--and you are the audience that I should have been serving all along. I am sorry for failing to see that over the last few years. I am lucky to have finally put my finger on what was missing in LivingVertical. Now let's go rattle some cages and challenge the conventional wisdom, the marketing drivel and the stereotypes. There's still work to be done around here.
Everything in this post was shot with a SONY RX100 M2 which I got off of ebay (used) for under 300 dollars. It's worth mentioning that most of my youtube videos of late have been shot with this camera as well. Less space and time to fiddle around with bulky camera setups and a greater need for functional diversity (video AND photo) drove me to get some smaller and lighter gear. I wouldn't call this a review as such--many people online write much more technical pieces about how everything works. For me this is just an opportunity to share what I've been fortunate enough to create and hopefully reach others who are looking to create but may not have a huge budget to work with.
I recently spent a lot of time fixated on the decisions facing me about putting together a travel video setup. Trying to determine the "best" of anything is that much more difficult when you're talking about the tools being used for a creative pursuit. Like Casey Neistat says, the gear doesn't matter--which tends to validate every opinion. Clear as mud, right?! Everyone is right-everyone is wrong. The best camera is the one that you have with you. My decision ultimately came down to a setup that will allow me to have a camera with me almost anywhere--the best camera possible that won't slow me down or interfere with the adventure! Make sure you subscribe to the LivingVertical YouTube channel to see where this goes!
For my last post of November, I want to say how stoked I am for what's next! Blake and I just finished a rough cut of the Wind River Project film, which is being previewed by a select few--and I have approximately 6 weeks remaining before embarking on another adventure, this time with my family. The Wind River Project was the last "big" adventure I was on, and one of the things that I learned (the hard way) was that not having my family along just sucks the joy out of the experience for me. I've said many times that for me, the climbing isn't just about the climbing and the diabetes isn't just about the diabetes. Maybe I am just getting soft in my old age, but I have decided to stick to what works for me.
This is the first Diabetes Awareness month (since I realized that such a thing existed) in which I haven't been going out of my mind with worrying about keeping up with fundraising and awareness projects which kind dominate the airwaves. It may sound odd, but I feel like November is a great month to let my advocacy efforts "breathe". Now don't get me wrong--I'm not knocking the idea of awareness nor the opportunity for fundraising--I just don't really see myself in that picture. I love documentaries for example, including the one I made in 2013, but I won't be shooting another one any time soon, you know? At times in the past I've felt like I must be doing something wrong when November rolls around and I just don't feel like playing. Now, I figure that I've got 11 other months out of the year to shake things up and so I am taking time to dig into my creative roots and gather vision and inspiration for the project ahead. Preparation for 2016 let's call it. As my late uncle always told me, "measure twice, cut once".
Photography has been a surprising pursuit for me in that I never really tried to get into it, studied it on its own or sought to become a photographer--if anything it became an add-on to the travel and climbing that I began doing in my 20s. I didn't (and still don't) shoot for the sake of creating images. I shoot to become more integrated into my experience in a way that will better survive the ravages of time. I shoot to tell stories and to recreate feelings for myself and others that allow the joy, fear and perspective to be shared. This is one of the vestigial benefits of adventure; it encourages us to integrate and develop other skills whose need we would otherwise overlook in more mundane environments. Everything is connected.
What is "Diabetes Awareness"? It means different things to different people and I am always reevaluating what it means to me. To me, Diabetes Awareness is a balance of showing the struggle and the triumph of living with an invisible illness like this. It's not all about meters and numbers and carb counting and injections. It's all of that--plus the places we go, the people we care about, the goals that motivate us. Our reasons to keep our Diabetes under control are as big a part of the process as the mechanics of daily treatment.
For the month of November, I will be sharing this vision with an image a day on the LivingVertical facebook page. Each image tells a story, but there is always a story of what went into the image, and what it means to me in terms of life with diabetes--because life with diabetes is still about LIFE.