Karen’s Blog

Thoughts on a changing profession and life

The Journey is What Matters

with 3 comments

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An African animal park near Japan’s Mt. Fuji. The owner said he built the park because Fuji reminded him of Mt. Kilimanjaro

I’m leaving to join a group of women in Tanzania and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for a book project called “Dreamers and Doers.” The sponsoring group, Ladies Trekking Virtual Club, will use proceeds from sale of this book to supply textbooks and other educational materials for school children living around the base of the mountain.

It took me a while to agree to photograph this project. I’m not a devoted athlete. I walk when I have the time, but the last thing I climbed with any height was Mt. Fuji over 11 years ago. Back then I was in a different place, both physically and emotionally. I was working regularly and in good shape from hauling my gear in what seemed like at the time like nonstop travel. When I watched the sunrise from the top of Fuji in August 2001, the world seemed wide open and full of hope for a peaceful future.

This is the traditional view of Fuji--pristine and spiritual.

This is the traditional view of Fuji–pristine and spiritual.

Of course, our perceptions are based on where we stand.  You don't see all the industry surrounding the mountain as often

Of course, our perceptions are based on where we stand. Usually you don’t see all the industry surrounding the mountain.

Twelve days later, two planes hit the twin towers in New York, one hit the Pentagon near Washington, D.C and another plunged a group of Americans to their deaths in Pennsylvania. I watched this horrible destruction play over and over on TV.  I held my eight-year-old daughter tight and told her that the world would never be the same again.

In so many ways that has been true for my peers and me. Technology and market changes caused many newspapers and magazines to shrink or disappear. Hundreds of my fellow photographers became unemployed, leaving those of us in the free-lance world with less and less work to count on. My day rate hasn’t changed since the 1990s. Few editorial jobs—once my mainstay—now pay for assistants. Business class, once a given for international travel, is a thing of the past. What once was fun is now an exercise in non-stop stress.

In response, I started moving away from my first love—journalism—and towards my avocation—non-profits. Working for groups like Catholic Relief, the Ladies Trekking Virtual Club or many others has become my main focus.

Like all of us, I’m aging. So when the offer to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro came up, I hesitated, thinking “how can I do something like that?” I would be the oldest person on the group by over a decade. But as the saying goes, “you’re not getting any younger.”  So why not?  And if not now, when? (Luckily the writer I suggested to them accepted the job, so now I’m merely the second oldest person on the climb.)

All sorts of strange things occur on the journey up Fuji, like these drummers who hiked to the top, played furiously for 15 minutes, then headed back down the mountain

All sorts of strange things occur on the journey up Fuji, like these drummers who hiked to the top, played furiously for 15 minutes, then headed back down the mountain

Hearing about this newest adventure, my friends looked at me with expressions ranging from shock to curiosity. No one said, “Wow I’d love to do that!” Most comments were “I really admire you for that.” In other words “You’re a fool—I’d never do that in a million years!!”

As the world changes, I hope that I’m maturing along the way. I’ve learned to grab opportunities that come my way–like climbing Kilimanjaro. I don’t want to regret that I passed up a chance to experience something different.  “Just do it,” a phase that Nike has run into the ground, is actually how I try to live my life.

If I had listened to my mother I’d probably be an unhappy housewife trying to carve out a living while selling cosmetics at the Little Creek Naval Base Exchange in Norfolk, Virginia. My parents had no aspirations for me. All they wanted me to do was get married, have a family and not commit any crimes. They never thought of college as an option for me. So I plowed ahead without their support, earning money for college application fees with summer jobs. I worked at a fish and chip joint, a self-serve gas station (I was held up. It was the first time I had a gun pointed at me) and finally that Naval Base cosmetic counter.

Luckily I got a full academic scholarship from the University of Michigan, so I went there. I paid the rest by working three jobs. One of them, photographing for the “Michigan Daily” student paper, laid the foundation for my professional career.

Atop Mt. Fuji in 2001 with my son Will and husband Bill.  We were proud of Will for making the climb to the top when he was only 10 years old.  It was much harder and colder than he'd expected, but he didn't give up.

Atop Mt. Fuji in 2001 with my son Will and husband Bill. We were proud of Will for making the climb to the top when he was only 10 years old. It was much harder and colder than he’d expected, but he didn’t give up.

I won’t accept words like “no” or “can’t.” I’ve always risen to the occasion even if what I do ends in failure. I cannot complain unless I’ve tried. Life is too short and wonderful not to try new experiences even if I can’t complete them. So that is why I decided in the end to accept the challenge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. If I complete the climb, I’ll be ecstatic with bragging rights. If I don’t, at least I tried and trying is all I ask of my children and myself.

Written by kasmauski

February 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Can’t wait to see/hear more!

    Ann

    February 23, 2013 at 8:21 pm

  2. Enjoy the journey!

    Charles Edward Miller

    February 23, 2013 at 9:01 pm

  3. Karen – I am so glad you’re “back”. I enjoy your insight so much. I turned 60 last year…. a semi-retired, small-town studio photographer who doesn’t much love weddings anymore… nor her high school senior girls, for that matter. But I do love my mission work in Central Asia – reaching out to village women who know what hospitality is all about, who can’t believe an old American woman cares so much about them, who kiss me on both cheeks and are so very glad to see me once again! Now, THOSE portraits speak to me, and I love taking them! Please do keep writing,
    Best regards,
    Angela

    Angela Gambill Neese

    February 28, 2013 at 2:19 am


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