Some thoughts on managing entropy.

Jeez, I'm feeling ancient these days. My hair has just about finished turning light grey, I'm slowing down a bit in the pool, and huffing and puffing more when running the hills. I don't hear quite as well in my left ear as I used to. I always feel like taking a nap around 3 in the afternoon. I have less tolerance for people who waste my time and even less patience for unnecessary meetings and phone calls. One glass of wine at dinner and I'm sleepy. I can accurately guess the plot and the ending of any movie after the first ten minutes; which takes all the fun out of watching movies. 

I had a client tentatively book a couple of portraits for today but they never got back to me with times, etc. They called in a panic yesterday afternoon to see if I could still accommodate them today but I assumed, when everything went radio silence that they'd made other plans. So I made other plans. 

They were stunned when we e-mailed today to tell them that our next open day would be November 9th. I don't know what happened to this year. We started out in the Spring with everything cancelled. Nothing stirring. No jobs or projects. And now we're booking a month ahead. 

But the real issue for me is how to gracefully reduce the amount and types of work I've done in the past so I have more time to play before entropy catches up with me and puts caps on the quotient of fun we're allowed. The quantum of joy.

It's a delicate balance between boredom and that feeling of obligation. I think everyone who works at something they are passionate about has mixed feelings about paring down their time commitment. I've started eliminating jobs that I just don't want to do anymore. I'm burned out on studio headshots so I've been declining that kind of work left and right. There are a few clients who I like a lot, personally, and I'll continue with them but I no longer have the emotional bandwidth to sound excited about: "sharpening my pencil" to make a competitive bid for strangers at companies with which I have no history. Especially clients who want boring, safe, normal photos.

I've also been ruthless about turning down the sort of bread and butter commercial work that's stupid, exhausting and which has a half-life of about 3 months. To wit, we no longer accept catalog-type jobs shooting products against white backgrounds. Those icky products would be things like desktop computers, electronics and assorted tech gadgets. 

We just declined to bid on a project to shoot tons and tons of food images in one 8 hour day for a national restaurant chain. It was an unrealistic "ask" and I didn't even want to go through the usual routine of either bidding it high enough to make them go away or default to telling them "we're already booked." I finally, honestly just said that we weren't interested and suggested that there are many hungrier photographers out there who could really use the work. 

This new resistance to work extends to big studio projects for national manufacturers. Someone got in touch to see if they could book two days in December to have me photograph very large metal cabinets filled with servers and electronic stuff, in my studio. The enclosures measure eight feet by nine feet. They would not even fit in the studio door. And we know how those "two day" jobs expand. First there's an endless flurry of phone meetings. That's followed by a few reschedulings. Followed by a request that we be on-hand to receive a couple of multi-ton products a couple days in advance. Followed by two days of unrealistic expectations and those endless: "this was a demo/prototype/loaner/damaged in shipping item. Can you extensively Photoshop it to get rid of all the scratches, uneven paint, broken parts, etc.?" Followed by, "The soonest the freight company can come by and pick up these things taking up all your space is....next week," Ah....two days. We'd like to book a two day shoot that will take over your life like a virus...

So, those jobs are gone. Rejected. Trashed. But I guess it's about time to prune the deadwood of jobs. 

I love taking portraits. Haven't slowed down in the least. But I just want to pick the people I photograph, not the people who get sent over by companies anxious to populate a boring website with their "team." 

Really, I'd love to just keep working on getting better and better at making little movies, and personally interesting photographs of people. Of course, if we weren't in the middle of a raging pandemic I'd want to spend lots and lots of time traveling. And hanging out in cool places with Belinda. 

Things are good within the confines of our little half acre. We've always got personal projects on which yo work. We have our morning walks after my earlier morning swims. We cook meals together and enjoy each other's company. But I've never been so aware of the passage of time. Or the oppressive nature of being bound into one geographical area so tightly. 

I'm assuming so much of what I'm feeling today is a result of dealing with the shock and horror of turning 65 years old this month. I guess this new reticence to do any boring commercial work started around the time I had to figure out Medicare. That was last month. It required me to admit that even though I have the maturity of an 18 year old I really am transitioning to, um, middle age. With only forty or fifty years left in front of me I'm thinking it's past time to concentrate on the stuff I really want to do as opposed to all those projects I used to feel that I had to do. 

I'm guessing the majority of my readers have already figured this out. I used to think it was different for everyone but more stuff is the same than it is different. We get gray. We slow down. We want to stay relevant as long as we can. Ah well, enough complaining. I need to pack. I'm photographing an outdoor concert at Zach Theatre this evening and I want to bring fun toys to experiment with. First concert shoot using the Lumix S1H. The other camera is the S1. It will be interesting to see if they are interchangeable or if they each have their own quirks. But that's a blog for another day.



Mark the tog said...

If we do something long enough we start seeing deeper into the work than the people who hire us. We also value different things.
I, too, have also eliminated a lot of the work I have little enthusiasm for.
Because of the pandemic, our "season" shut down earlier than usual here in the SoCal desert. It was actually nice to catch a breath and attend to my brother who passed away from COVID in May.
Since then I have been thinking about what I like and don't like and have pruned back my offerings, clients and closed my physical studio.
The studio was a great place to go and work and to shoot portraits, products and so on. The work paid for the space and I liked the "office".
Now I value free time, nearly zero overhead and jobs that I like and have invoices that make me happy to send.

I will be 65 in April. I am still feeling good (my knees argue that point on occasion) and I can still shoot 12 hours straight and then drive three hours home. Medicare will really help the overhead some more.
I am also happy the clients I have like what I do and want to pay me for it.

The free time is wonderful.

MikeR said...

Kirk, you don't need me telling you this, but I think you're doing the right things, swimming, runs, good diet, sleep, etc. This year I discovered the word "sarcopenia." It begins roughly about 70, and it becomes a fight after that to maintain muscle mass, cardio fitness, et al. I'm 78. I find it unbelievable how hard it is to get moving in the morning, how much more slowly I walk, how those 40 pound bags of salt for the water softener have somehow gotten quite a bit heavier.

It's good to ease out of the work-for-pay regime. When I turned 65, I took the opportunity to go free lance (IT consulting), working a couple days less a week, but still able to keep the house afloat. My last year, before hanging up my spurs in December, I had gotten down to just a day or two a week. My wife retired in June this year, and since I was covered by her health insurance plan, we both had to scramble to sign up for the right Medicare supplement options.Things still haven't settled down. Who knew that retiring involved so much work?!

By the way, that "sharpen your pencil" line gets me in the gut. I usually handled it by coming back with an even higher bid. Sometimes double. Screw the cheap chislers. (Philly area street slang. See Urban Dictionary, also spelled chiseler.)

karmagroovy said...

You must feel gratified that because you consistently put money away that you now have the luxury of picking jobs that interest you and that fuel your passion instead of having to take jobs in order to pay the mortgage.

I used to chuckle when my Dad used to say, "Getting old isn't for sissies". Now that I'm there I totally know where he's coming from. If slowing down means that I'm not going at the same speed as I did when I was 30, then yes, you can say that I've slowed down. Doesn't mean that I'm not doing and enjoying the same things that I did when I was 30 (ex. snowboarding), it just means that I'm not doing those things as fast as I once did. The three word mantra for active seniors is "Don't get hurt". I had a high ankle sprain which happened because I tried to do something that would have been challenging for me when I was 20 years younger. Took me nine months to fully heal. Won't make that mistake again.

Gary said...

karmagroovy, there is a motto among backpackers: "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast." I try to remember that in my activities and pursuits these days.

Anonymous said...

Heh - I'm a couple of decades behind you and feel your pain with the clients whose expectations are misaligned (and who mistrust the voice of experience. Am dealing with one of those now).

As an offshoot of the dayjob I've been helping people transition between different phases of life (school/uni/career1/retraining/career2/retirement).

You're doing all the right stuff (but you know you know that).

Always nice to read your thoughts.


Michael Matthews said...

Welcome to Valhalla. Your room key is your Medicare card.
But before you declare yourself dead in order to ascend to this gilded hall, pause for a moment in your four-mile run — you can still run four miles? Holy crap! — and reflect. You’re already doing everything right, turning down the annoying work, gracefully as you say. No point in blowing up bridges except those leading to people who really piss you off. You and your CFO built a financial base which will serve as a platform for nearly unlimited freedom of choice. Maybe the problem (if there is a problem) is too many choices.
Take the nap. When dinnertime arrives, have the glass of wine. Doze through the movie. You already know how it turns out.
Just let the automated processors work for a bit. The answer will appear.

Noel Hillis Photography said...

Kirk...that is a stunning portrait of Belinda!

Martin said...

Kirk, I get what you mean about enjoying movies less. I’ve been a film fanatic all my life - served on various U.T campus film committees during my college days. (I turn 65 this December.) If you’re not familiar with the Criterion Channel I suggest you give it a shot - it could very well renew your interest. The annual subscription is a great value, and there’s a 14-day free trial period. Over 2,000 foreign, independent, and classic films. Even if you guess some plots correctly, I think you’ll find many of the films rewarding in other ways.

Ronman said...

Perfectly stated.

crsantin said...

I'm a decade behind you Kirk but I can relate. These days I am working with a very finite amount of energy and I'm acutely aware of when my battery is nearly spent. As a high school teacher dealing with the new Covid reality, I have to admit, it's taking more out of me than I anticipated. After dinner and tidying up I really don't have much left in me. I am learning to let go at that point so I can take care of myself. Gone are the days of staying up past midnight, catching a few hours sleep, and going full tilt all day every day. I keep fairly fit, I'm not overweight. My vitals are good. I hope to remain active throughout my time here on this globe but yes, I'm very aware of how mortal I am.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Mortality. Both a curse and, I suppose, a blessing.

omphoto said...

Beautifully written journal entry Kirk, many of us can relate to everything you said. Embrace the golden years!

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Kicking and screaming all the way....

Anonymous said...

I was happy when I got my Medicare card until I realized most of the doctors in my area will not take Medicare even with a top of the supplement. They want to charge more than it pays.

JohnW said...

Mr.T - 65 was a good year, but waaaay back there somewhere. I had to give up running for good that year ... an old skiing injury from my 30s. Getting old hasn't been the problem for me; I'm blessed with good health (never spent a night in a hospital) and good genes (centuries on both sides of the family). I live in Canada so Medicare is not an issue and I have everything I need to live comfortably. What really ticks me off about getting old is you begin to lose people ... family, friends, acquaintances, people you admire ... what if I'm the last one.

Abacus Photography said...

Another wise post, Kirk. I understand exactly where you are coming from with this. Generally I only take medium to large clients because they are easier to work with and accept that I'm not going to charge less than the national minimum wage. Regarding health I had a heart attack three years ago when out for a run, which was followed by a triple bypass five weeks later (you can't unfortunately compensate for your bad genes) and now I'm absolutely buzzing with energy, it seems to have rewound the clock by about twenty-five years. All the best and take care.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Anonymous, All of my current doctors here in Austin are happy to accept my Medicare coverage. They seem to be fine with it and their practices continue to thrive.

Just a data point.

Ronman said...

I think it's all part of the experience of moving through different seasons in our lives. And like everything else we experience, there are pros and cons to each season. I think it's interesting, as we move through life, how interests either change or simply fade away. As life stabilizes, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and financially, our time seeking answers can now be repurposed and used for reflection. And I think this can be a source of contention for some. This is where we begin the journey of questioning our lives, how we've used our time, and realizing our mortality. The reality is we've crested the half-way point somewhere behind us and the finish line is much closer than the start. Fortunately, with age comes wisdom and acceptance, and the ability to more clearly focus on what matter's most to us. How much time we have remaining may not be ours to decide, but how we spend that time and the quality of the content certainly is. Perhaps we're at the best time in our lives for choosing the quality of time we have remaining.

Michael said...

It's a losing battle, but I think you're putting up a better fight than most of us.

Nigel Hodges said...

Hi Kirk, I think your post encapsulates my professional journey in the last 5 or 6 years. Whilst our professions are very different, I too have reduced (& continue to reduce) my work. I think that doing the stuff you're passionate about is key! And as for the rest of the time.....well, I've got loads of other things to do, not necessarily related to work. I describe myself as inching my way to retirement and the pandemic has nudged me that bit further along the way.
I also sense an energy in your blog writing...which is great for us readers...thanks!