When I was in my senior year of high school I couldn’t wait for it to be over with. I just wanted to be at Hallmark Institute of Photography. I was accepted to Hallmark in September 2011 and couldn’t wait for my senior year to be over with so I could be a student at Hallmark in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. When I finally got settled into Hallmark (even though I liked it there) I longed for home. I missed friends, family, and the local communities (church, local artists met thru the 515 Gallery, etc) that were waiting back in rural central Michigan. Hallmark itself was a very tight knit community. Since the school was a career college (fancy name for “trade school”) it was only a ten month long program. These ten months were very intense. Because of the strenuousness of Hallmark and the interdependence you had on one another the relationships formed at Hallmark were very close. Several of my classmates would eventually marry people they met thru Hallmark. The comradery felt amongst Hallmark alumni is unlike the closeness of any community I’ve ever been part of. Complete strangers I have met online via the Michigan Photography Network have offered to let me use their studios (anytime, free of charge) simply because I was a Hallmark alumni.
After graduating with the highest academic honor (for having the highest overall grades for the school year) I moved back to Michigan. There were few Hallmark alumni in Michigan and the few that were there were far away. As the months went on I missed the community that I had at Hallmark. I started to look into moving away from Michigan. In 2015 I started to take moving seriously. I looked for jobs in some cities I had visited, had good clients in, and liked (such as Grand Rapids, Michigan). I ultimately never found a job in my industry in these areas and decided to stay in mid Michigan.
The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad the author talks about how we learn not just from lectures and books but also from life experiences. Looking back now the importance of the local community seems like it was something I should have learned from longing for home when I was at Hallmark and longing for Hallmark when I was at home. This lesson didn’t stick at those points in my life. It wasn’t until I read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative mind in 2016 that the importance of community really hit me. Near the end of the book Kirk talks about the dangers of both collectivism and individualism. The antidote to both radical individualism and collectivism are healthy communities.
In 2015-2016 I had followed politics pretty closely. I listen to several political podcasts which would usually leave me feeling annoyed and combative. In 2017 I decided to cut out most political podcasts excluding one: The Bryon McClanahan Show. A heavy emphasis of McClanahan’s show is to think locally and act locally. Author N.D. Wilson talks about how in his book Death by Living that ideas must put on flesh. It wasn’t just enough to see the importance of the local communities as I’d learned from Kirk and McClanahan but these ideas of thinking locally and acting locally needed to be practically lived out.
As 2017 went along I found (and sometimes stumbled into) ways of bringing thinking locally and acting locally into reality. I got closer to those at the local church I had recently joined. I also created a Facebook group called the Michigan Photography Network for networking with those connected to the photography industry in Michigan. The group has now grown to over 700 members and has had two in person meetups. I’ve started making a point of meeting with old friends (and new) on a regular basis. Lastly I’ve spend much of the past year networking with fellow business owners locally.
Focusing on the local has brought much joy to my life over the last year or so. Instead of being annoyed at following the current political kerfuffles or longing for times and friends past, becoming more ingrained in these local communities in the present has helped me appreciated these relationships and things I have right here, right now.
Graduate from the Hallmark Institute of Photography and recipient the Highest Academic Honor.
Published in several magazines including Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and PDNedu.
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