Confession of a Story Junkie

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Photograph by me

My life doesn’t make sense without other people’s stories, which is why my obsession with story is rooted in need as much as it is in love. 

I’ve always had a hard time processing meaning in my own life. I win a tournament; is this when I feel accomplishment? I have a wonderful girlfriend; I’m supposed to be content, right? I’m restless and frustrated; should I make a dramatic change in my life? It’s been a double-edged sword because on one hand it’s driven me to do/experience some truly remarkable events, but on the other it’s caused a legion of problems because I don’t always know how to feel or what to do with the feeling once I have it. It’s the biggest reason I stopped competing in jiu-jitsu. I’d train like a madman, fight hard at a  tournament and then stare at my medal only to realize I felt nothing. I didn’t care at all. And if I don’t care about something, or if I get bored, I simply refuse to do it any more. (There are a handful of ex-girlfriends and former employers who would gladly testify to that maddening truth.)

That’s my roundabout way of saying I use my fellow humans to maintain my own sanity and perspective. I observe people, figure out how they calculate meaning and feeling and then do my best to integrate the lesson. I started out as a journalist not because I gave two shits about the news but because I thought I’d get to live a thousand different lives. Every new story was the chance to dive into someone else’s life.

I’ve left storytelling a few times to chase more lucrative opportunities, but I always come back. When I disconnect from a steady influx of experience, I go crazy. I just break, and I turn into one of those bezerker zoo chimps who’s either flinging shit at people or feverishly masturbating in a corner. (For the record, I only do one of those things.) I must, must, have a steady flow of humanity dripping directly into my veins.

I work with entrepreneurs for two main reasons. One, it pays. I love creating for the sake of creating, but I also like a nice place to live, good food, movies and wool coats. Plus, I’m good at what I do, and creating the kind of content I create is expensive. So those newspapers and magazines offering $10/hr writing jobs can, in my opinion, joyfully go fuck themselves. Two, entrepreneurs tend to be highly passionate people, and Passion is to me what Heisenberg’s product is to a meth head. It gets me high, and I love it.

For me, routine is the kiss of death, which is why I don’t have a niche. I do have a general idea of what an ideal client is, but it is nothing like, “A 32-year-old man who builds custom furniture, uses Old Spice and loves denim.” Why? Because story is story, and every Story begins with the underlying, universal Truth of a thing. And because I’ve studied and operated in that realm for so long, getting to that Truth is no more confusing than walking a familiar path through a forest. That’s why I have such a seemingly random array of clients and creative projects going on at the same time. I promise you – it’s not random. Each one is a piece of a puzzle I’m constantly scattering and trying to put back together.

So tell me your story.

I need it.

Every Day’s Challenge (aka ‘You Have To’)

My desire to do my own work has nothing to do with money. Money is a stupid requirement we all keep agreeing to believe in, and I play along, too. So be it, but money is not the goal. Do I like getting paid for my efforts? Of course, but only because it means I don’t have to kill everything inside me to put up with some goddamn cubicle and an employee handbook. I live to make things, whether or not people think they are brilliant, mediocre or pure shit.

I get up every day with one challenge in front of me: Can I wrestle with the abstract contents of my brain long enough to bring them to life through my hands and words, though pen and paper, keyboards and cameras? Every day as I make my coffee I resolve to create something. I resolve to matter. Then I point my brain and intent toward the day’s work. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I hate it. Sometimes no one cares, and sometimes lots of people care. Sometimes people tell me no, and sometimes people write me checks. But I can’t control all that.

Steven Pressfield points this out in “The War of Art.” In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have control over doing your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive, and you should never be inactive.” Also, ”Those who work only to enjoy the fruits of their labor are verily unhappy because no one has control over the results.” Now, I’m no Buddhist scholar, but the point seems clear to me: The work is the reward. Our passions are holy. Sacred. All by themselves, whether someone pays you or loves you or retweets you.

Am I going to save the world through my art? No, never. I’m an afterthought on a tiny rock hurtling through space and time. So are you. We have no burden or obligation to be the greatest thing ever. Relieved? Good. That’s freedom. We do have the obligation to offer the best of ourselves to the world, to honor our passions and gifts. Now do you feel burdened? Good. That’s motivation. Get to it.

Intend to matter. Fucking demand to matter (to yourself). Embrace your spark. And that little fire inside you, that gift you want to turn loose but are afraid of… you have to.

You have to.

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Sing Portland! promo

Sing Portland! promo from Michael Richeson on Vimeo.

I had the wonderful privilege of creating a promotional video for Marion Van Namen and her truly remarkable business,Sing Portland!, a non-audition community choir here in Portland, Ore. The first time I visited a choir practice, I got to sit in the middle of the room while everyone sang at me. I had goosebumps and a grin the whole time. While I was going through my idea process with Marion, I asked her, “What’s the most common or biggest obstacle you run into when recruiting members.” Her answer: “People don’t think they can sing. Whether they were told as kids that they couldn’t, or someone made fun of their voice, or maybe they’re just too overcome with shyness… People tell me all the time, ‘oh, I can’t sing.’”

But Marion turns doubters into believers.

So the concept we both fell for was to address that common fear/misconception head on. We fleshed out a script that is an individual story with a universal theme. But this story has a happy ending, one of triumph and joy and fun. She rounded up eight of her choir members to participate in the video, and we even had the full choir sing the soundtrack. I had so much fun working with Marion and spending time with her singers. They’re all an amazing bunch.

And if you are one of those people who thinks they can’t sing, I know someone you should meet.

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Why Global Warming Science Doesn’t Matter

I am 100 percent willing to concede that global warming might be a giant hoax concocted by the world’s leading scientists. I’m 100 percent willing to concede that the six scientists on Fox news, and who are also on the payroll of big oil, are the ones with the real facts and that we aren’t contributing at all to the degradation of the planet or to climate change.

Why?

Because it doesn’t matter. Most of the language is pointless: carbon footprints and tons of invisible this or invisible that… It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like listening to gamers stroke each other over the latest console or to the nerds getting some role-playing, card-game boner because this Elvish blade can defeat Spock’s intellect or something. Who knows what the hell any of it means? And most people, myself included, aren’t close enough to the topic to truly understand it. And we have way, way too many Americans (cough*theSouth*cough) who think science is something the Devil invented to test the faithful’s crazy resolve. Jesus could drive a Prius down to Earth and say, “Um, could y’all stop fucking up creation and explore clean energy? K, thnx, bye.” and it wouldn’t matter.

Because it’s too easy to ignore facts, and it’s too difficult to really care. We do it all the time. Even the people who are firm believers that the science behind global warming is irrefutable do it. They still get in their cars and drive around all day. We all, to a person, would admit that slavery is an awful thing, but we keep buying cell phones made by de facto slaves. I don’t think we should be bombing innocent people in the Middle East, throwing millions of people in prison over drugs or letting the government spy on me every moment, but I still pay my taxes and live in a country run by psychopaths. See? When it’s convenient, none of us give a damn about facts or the truth.

Facts will never solve any of these problems. Never.

The right story, though… that could change everything.

Right now we live in a story of separation, greed and death, which is, of course, the story of our own demise. If we kill fresh air, clean water and non-poisonous food sources, we kill ourselves. If we can’t change this from a debate over numbers no one cares about into a story of connectedness, respect and life, then everyone will lose.

We need a global consciousness that acknowledges all life as sacred, that acknowledges what is good for others is good for us, too. We need a global shift from profits at all costs to respect and care at no cost. Any true need has been available and free for eons. The idea that you have to be able to afford quality food and clean drinking water and healthy relationships is one of the most evil concoctions of all time, and it must be stamped out.

Until we, all of us, choose a story of connectedness, love and life, we’ll all go to our graves counting our useless money and listening to talking heads shout at each other over who was right. And by then, it won’t matter.

Now go do something rad and love the shit out of each other.

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Boudoir Photos (NSFW)

The female body is the most alluring, hypnotic, beautiful set of lines anywhere in the universe. I’ve always loved photographs (good ones) of the boudoir and nude variety. And not just because of the sex appeal. There’s something… I don’t know. Beyond bodies and photos and art. I just love them, which is a good enough reason for me. Although I make a living with my camera, I do that with video work. Photography is something I do for fun, and it’s not very often that I get a chance to do this kind of photo shoot.

And for the people who want to ask, no, this kind of shoot is not an erotic, sexually charged thing that ends in wild sex. It’s work. I’m adjusting stuff to control light and find angles, and she’s trying to hold a pose. It’s like any other shoot, except this one has a little extra T&A. But when the last frame is snapped, she puts her clothes on, we shake hands and that’s that. Then I spend hours going through them and editing the photos. It’s definitely a process I love, and I have two more boudoir shoots lined up in the next few months. Should be a lot of fun.

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Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Fun with Holiday Photos

Back in July of 2013, my girlfriend and I somehow came up with the great idea that we should create a fun Christmas card. But not just any Christmas card. No, a gangsta Christmas card. So a few months later we found ourselves at Red Light Clothing Exchange in SE Portland, excitedly rifling through hundreds of hideous sweaters and Christmas accessories. We went a little overboard and spent $100. For ugly, used sweaters. I never let money management get in the way of a good shoot. We had so much fun with the project that we decided to do a photo shoot for every major holiday in 2014. So far we have New Years taken care of and many more to come. See the photos below.

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Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

The Hispanics are Coming! (And they can read!)

The Hispanics are coming, and they’re literate. This spells certain doom.First they picked our fruit and mowed  our lawns. Now they’re prolific readers. I noticed this horrific truth when a Facebook “friend” posed this question: “Is it bad that I was so angry when I looked at the book section at Walmart and there was a bigger section of ‘libros en espanol’ than books in English??!!”

You know someone is confused and agitated (confagitated?) when double punctuation gets involved.

I asked why books written in Spanish would make someone angry. Hispanics enjoy reading, too, sí? She was upset because the section of books in foreigner speak was a good 50 percent larger than the section of books written in God’s Language, also known as English, for us Chosen Ones. I was still confused. These books aren’t financed by taxpayer money. What’s the big deal? Stranger still were the comments that followed. They were the usual diatribes about this being America, damn it! Speak English or get the hell out! My favorite rant by one lady was rife with incorrect spelling and grammar. Ignorance is nothing if not funny.

What is it about the Spanish language that triggers such knee jerk reactions? The most obvious is the sincere belief that people shouldn’t sneak into a country and then illegally reap all the benefits that country provides. OK, I get that (other than the nonsensical belief that all Hispanics are illegal), but here’s the problem. Walmart shoppers, myself included, generally want something decent for dirt cheap. To produce goods at those low prices, you can’t hire American labor. We want, and demand, things like health care, maternity leave, paid holidays, sick leave, personal days, retirement contributions, “eff you I’m going golfing” days, lots of vacation time and a guaranteed minimum wage, most of which I support.

Manufacturers that supply a company like Walmart set up shop and then scour the land for the cheapest labor possible. Guess who the cheapest is? Yep. Pancho from across the Rio Grande. Is he going to watch his family waste away in Mexico when, right across the river, is a land of milk and honey and companies just dying to hire him? No, he isn’t. Neither would I. You’d probably practice the border dash, too.

So immigrants, legal and otherwise, come streaming into the country. We take advantage of their cheap labor; they take advantage of our public services. They landscape our properties; we double lock our bikes when they’re around… And so on and so on. Pretty soon, there are a lot of them. Other companies recognize this exploding demographic of potential consumers and do things like, I don’t know, print books in Spanish. (I hope they make a good translation of Don Quixote. It’s excellent in English.)

Immigrant workers are generally poor, and Walmart offers prices and products they like and can afford. Then, these red-white-and-blue-through-and-through Americans walk into their beloved Supercenter and OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT??!! (Confagitation in action right there.) Yep, I’m afraid so. Those, my friends, are books in Spanish. Who knew all these illegal scum could read anything more than a leaf blower’s manual?

What’s painfully clear is that many of the people all tore up inside about this immigrant “problem” are contributing to its root source: We want our crap, and we want it cheap. Forget what’s going on with gays military right now; consumerism in the United States is the greatest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in history. Think the true Americans pissed about the book situation will stand up for their beliefs and stop shopping at Walmart? No way. Never. Not when a 7-pack of tighty whities is just $11. (Hecho en Mexico, or Honduras or some other impoverished dump Hanes invaded for cheap labor.)

Are there other reasons people get riled up into a foamy lather of righteousness over the Spanish language? Yes, and it’s usually some mixture of ignorance, xenophobia, entitlement and good old-fashioned racism. The best way to combat all that is through education, which anyone can get if they’d like to… oh, no way. How funny… If they’d like to read. Hmm. If only white people had access to books. Quick, everybody learn Spanish and rush to Walmart! I guess they could go online, but they’d end up on Facebook and porn sites.

Hispanics make up about 16 percent of the population in the states, but Walmart (in Portland) devotes close to 66 percent of its book section – so I’ve heard – to this group. If I were the people up in arms over this, I’d be more concerned about the fact that all us white folk are getting fairly stupid these days. Our literacy levels and reading comprehension skills, along with our other test scores, are lagging behind international results. As a writer, and as someone who believes a well-read society is a better society, the lack of people reading books in general is a bigger concern than what language they’re printed in.

Yes, the Hispanics are coming, and they want to read. God help us all.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Comfort at All Costs

We’ve been caught up in the crazy belief that personal comfort is always the goal. It’s why we try to regulate every aspect of our existence. Too cold? Crank the heat. Too hot? Turn on the AC. Bored? Turn on the TV. Work too hard? Spa day! Convinced of your beliefs? Avoid critical thought. And on and on. This has made us, lazy, stupid and unhealthy. Not mention that we have a chip on our shoulder and a massive entitlement complex. Creature comforts have become our god-given rights, and they’ve robbed us of our health and vitality. Of our humanity.

Here are a few examples:

• A friend of mine once dated a girl who was, generally, pleasant to be around. Unless she got hungry. Then she turned into a bipolar wreck. The world stopped until she ate. Everything revolved around her stomach. My friend dumped her. Good riddance.

• Then there was the advertising sales lady I worked with at a newspaper. She was a nutcase, but nothing drove her over the edge as much as the thermostat. If the temperature inside the office was a degree or two outside of her comfort zone, it ruined her day. She became incapable of doing any work.

• Last weekend, I finally experienced the grandiose awe of Crater Lake. Crater Lake is deep, unbelievably blue and cold. Very cold. Standing near the edge of a small cliff overlooking the volcanic lake, a group of men were discussing how cold the water was.

“How’s the water?” I asked one of the men.

“It’s crazy cold,” he said.

Hmm. He looked dry.

“Have you jumped in?” I asked.

“Oh, no. It’s too cold.”

“Then how would you know?”

• And I always have this type of conversation: “I’ve been going to the gym, and I eat pretty good, but… nothing seems to be happening.” Of course, what that usually means is some kind of long, slow distance running on the treadmill, and “pretty good” almost always means “pretty bad.” The solution is simple: Work harder and eat better. This elicits much weeping and gnashing of teeth. My advice, I guess, wasn’t supposed involve effort.

These brief stories all share something in common – personal comfort as the ultimate goal. In all cases, the outcome was negative: the woman’s inability to be spontaneous because of food cost her a relationship; the ad lady would lose control until I politely told her to quit whining or go home. She failed at work; the fear of “cold” kept a guy from having an amazing experience; the person who didn’t want to work hard because it didn’t sound fun stayed unhealthy.

The next time you catch yourself complaining about something comfort related, here’s a quick tip: Shut up. Embrace the sensation. Also, try some things that make you uncomfortable.

• Skip a meal. Skip three of them. In a row. Go ahead. Experience what hunger really feels like. Hundreds of millions of people spend most of their lives hungry.

• Go work out. No, I don’t mean that target heart rate crap you’ve been wasting your time on. Do something hard. Here’s one: Sprint as fast as you can for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Do that 10 times. Learn a new sport. Pick up heavy weights. Be proud of your sore muscles. You can’t improve without getting uncomfortable.

• Turn off the A/C or the heat. In February 2009, I spent the whole month in my apartment without turning on the heat. I spent a lot of evenings reading books in my sleeping bag. Why? Why not? Let yourself be cold. Feel uncomfortable. You’ll find out that you’re probably a little tougher than you thought, and you’ll realize how asinine it sounds when someone starts moaning about how it’s too hot/cold in the office.

• Get to the top of something. Go climb a mountain. Stand on the edge of a cliff. Climb a tree. Be the conquering hero once in a while. It’s extremely rewarding and motivational.

• Pick a fight. Seriously. I don’t mean go punch someone in the face, but if someone is being an idiot and ruining an experience (dinner, movie, concert, etc.), let him/her know that they should be quiet/leave/whatever. Experience “Fight or Flight” and see how you react.

• Think about something that threatens what you hold dear. What if there is a god? What if there isn’t? What if politicians have some great ideas for America? (Just kidding! They’re useless.)

• Stand up for something. Stick up for someone else. Do not back down. (This may lead to Pick A Fight.)

You can make your own list, of course. These are just some ideas, but if you don’t have at least one “…and I almost died!” story a year, then you’re a walking snoozefest. And the next time you find yourself thinking, “That looks fun, but…” just freaking go for it.

It’s OK to live a little.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Litter and Your Success

I don’t know why people litter. It’s probably some mixture of laziness, stupidity and narcissism. I happily call out the offenders when I catch them. It’s usually a smoker tossing a butt onto the sidewalk, and the conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Hey, if you’re going to kill yourself with cancer and make the rest of us walk through a cloud of smoke, could you maybe at least pick up after yourself? Thanks.”

Smoker: (confused look or swearing)

While walking to the grocery store the other day, I passed by a couple of empty cans of generic cola tossed in the grass near the sidewalk. On my way back home, I saw them again.

“Freaking slobs,” I thought and kept on walking.

By the time I got home, I realized that if I wanted that litter to go away, I’d have to pick it up. So back out I went.

This, of course, made me think about writing and marketing and other business-type things. Picking up litter is nothing more than getting rid of the crap that’s mucking up the view. When I edit a story, I throw out what’s unnecessary and leave what’s good. When I’m thinking of a billboard campaign, I’m clearing through the clutter to deliver a memorable message. When I’m looking through the lens, I’m wondering how I can best highlight the subject while eliminating distractions.

There’s a lot of garbage out there. Give people a clear, clean path to what you’ve got to offer.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club

Complements

“Two’s a perfect number, but one, well everybody’s happy, everybody’s free…” –  Typical Situation  by the Dave Matthews Band

I believe in the power of one. For better or worse, I buy into the romantic notion of one person doing something revolutionary by his/her own genius and force of will. I do a lot of things alone. I don’t like thinking in groups, and team sports frustrate me. I don’t want to lose because someone else sucks.

Other times, though, it takes two halves to make a perfect circle; the right combination is perfection. Peanut butter is delicious, but peanut butter and jelly… Well, that’s even better. Unicycles are a total waste of time, but the bicycle is the most efficient transportation machine ever created. Diamonds are beautiful, but they become stunning when laid on black cloth. No one cares about a candle in broad daylight, but to someone lost in the woods, a lone beam from a flashlight is salvation.

The trick is to know whether you should go it alone (a whole new idea) or find the perfect complement (the sum being greater than the parts). Who knows, something or someone else might be what makes you shine brightest, too.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Richeson, the owner of StoryBrand Productions – a storytelling and video production company here in Portland, Ore. I also give away free stock photos for independent web designers. And I’m the creator of The Gi Insider, the web’s best video BJJ gi reviews. When not actively working, I’m most likely climbing trees, grappling or out wandering around with a camera and taking photos for my Photo of the Month Club