Okay, put the kiddies to bed for this one….
For most of my adult life, I’ve found that people have gravitated to me when they were trying to figure things out. I must be a good listener because I find that even people who have only known me for a short time seem to unload some fairly personal details about themselves as they seek the answers to their life questions.
I’ve always been very flattered and honored by that. I know that when I’m trying to work something out, a good friend with patient ears is always a welcome oasis.
I’ve had plenty of help getting to where I am today. Some of it professional (a big shout out to Charlie!) and a lot of it from the afore mentioned good, close and necessary friends. So since I’m a big believer in the “pay it forward” philosophy, I try my best to be available when my friends are feeling around in the dark.
My friend Jillian decided I was a sort of Buddha during her last visit. “Talk to the Buddha,” she kept saying. I can’t remember who’s idea it was but lately she’s been keeping after me to take a picture of Buddha Billy. When I spoke to her a few days ago I was taunted with, “I still haven’t seen that picture of the Buddha you promised me in my email.” She had me there.
Before I go any further I should mention that although I am not a religious guy by any means, I do have a great respect for Eastern philosophies and beliefs. Much more so than western religions. Buddhism makes more sense to me because it is about making the world a better place by making yourself better from within and more aware of how you affect your surroundings. It’s a much more personal thing and that really resonates with me. So Buddha Billy is not meant to disrespect. Buddhas have a sense of humor, right?
I’ve spent the last twelve years taking photographs of other people. Occasionally I’ll show up in one of them, sort of as a guest star, but I’ve never been the subject of my own photoshoot. I’ve always preferred to find the beauty in others and make my contribution from behind the lens.
Years ago, when I was spending time with Charlie trying to sort out who I was and find my elusive self-esteem, I decided to sort of rebuild who I was from around my art. It was the one thing that I felt good about in my life. I felt like I was really contributing something to the beauty of the world with it. If I could feel good about that, then I could feel good about who I was also.
At the time, I even toyed with the idea of photographing my own body with all of my perceived flaws and imperfections, just as I had been photographing my subjects. I thought I might be able to find the beauty in myself that way.
For some reason, I never did it. I guess I managed to find my misplaced self-esteem without conducting that art experiment.. I learned to love myself even though I wasn’t going to be in any underwear ads anytime soon. My weight has always been an issue my whole life and a few times I’ve gotten close to getting it under control, but I did it in a way that was fairly dangerous and it never lasted very long.
So as is usually the way I get started on a personal project, I need a little push from my friends. Jillian has been pushing me aggressively and I really appreciate it. When she comes into town, I turn into a full-fledged vegan for four days and I know I feel physically better after those days.
My new environment continues to be healthier for me than my old place in Lincoln Park. I walk so much more than I used to there. I feel better about that. I can feel muscles that have been phoning it in for the last years suddenly complaining about being used again. There’s a steep flight of stairs that I walk up from the Chicago River on the way home every day and I used to be so out of breath at the top that I actually had to stop and rest for a moment before continuing on. Now I find I can spring up them pretty easily.
So about this Buddha Billy photo…
Jillian this one’s for you. You’ve been teaching me about myself over the years and I’m quite grateful that you want me to be around to continue to collaborate with you for many years to come. I’ve seen too many funny guys who remind me of myself not make it too far into the prime of their lives and I feel like I’m just getting to the good part right now. John Candy, Chris Farley. Guys who had big appetites for life and everything that goes with it and aren’t around anymore.
The Buddha Billy isn’t going away… but maybe there will be a little less of him this time next year. It takes a while to get yourself to a place where you truly want to do it. Anything like this does if you do it correctly, be it quitting smoking or learning to eat right or any of the other things we do to ourselves that aren’t really so good.
So here he is. He’s larger than life. That smile isn’t posing. I’m a very happy man these days. I love my life and the people I share it with. I wanted to make a photograph that would capture the irreverence I feel about myself – even though I have great respect for me. So I figured a sort of shrine to Billy to be just about perfect. Feel free to smile and have a laugh. I know I did when I took this picture.
Talk to the Buddha. Remember: The answer is usually something you can’t yet imagine. It will come in time. Time is not an enemy, but a friend. Give it some space to work. You won’t be disappointed.