LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Don’t force the issue. Wait for it. Take a beat. Deep breaths. Listen. Not unlike life, photoshoots can be chaos… controlled chaos but chaotic nonetheless. No matter how much prep and pre production you’ve storyboarded and talked thorugh, you’re juggling decisions on set to tweak lighting, hair and makeup, outfits, mood, the who nine yards. Taking the actual photograph suddenly looks easy, but that too has it’s drama.
As with all artists, we look back on older work and reflect with the knowledge of time. Some of us may have harsher opinions than others on how we could have made such pieces. I’ve been known to make viseral audible groaning at some of my earlier works. Time reminds us that that piece we made was the best we could do in that moment and time. Time also affords us the clarity to acknowledge that with where we are now, we’ve done more work. Ergo… we are luckier.
But if the vision isn’t there, there isn’t enough luck in the world to have a great photo take shape. Fortunately this is a magazine based on vision and visionaries. This month’s edition feature’s Lucas Bouk’s Unexpected Journey, has Kevin’s Miniature [i], Amanda’s Panning, Mika’s Comforting Cookies, Khanh Falls for Product Design, Craig’s Prepared for Luck and Bedroom Beats with Nikki V.
Enjoy the colors of a Karjakan rainbow and the pot of gold that is this month’s edition!
An Unexpected Journey
I was driving my truck south on I-95, from New York City to Florida. My rescue dog was snuggled on my lap, sound asleep, as the scenery flashed by. I was disappointed and a bit concerned, but at least we were going to have an adventure. It was Sunday
afternoon March 15, 2020.
That morning I had gotten the phone call. My singing gig in Texas was cancelled. But I had reservations to camp in Florida, and I figured that New York City might not be a great place to hang out, so I grabbed my dog and added him to the trip. We had no idea what was beginning. No one did.
I camped with my dog at a state park next to the ocean. When that shut down, I found an airbnb near an inlet on the Florida panhandle. We hunkered down for a few weeks. The beaches were all closed. Still, I swam in the bay every morning.
We returned to Manhattan in April. Everything had shut down. Life was pretty scary. But I kept seeking out the water. Walks along the
Hudson. Driving down from Inwood to swim outside at Coney Island. The water kept me moving, alive, feeling my body, bringing the joy that it has always brought.
What I wasn’t doing was singing.
That time was so difficult for everyone. As an opera singer, I was out of work. Who was I without my job? What was truly important to me? Who did I want to be if I couldn’t perform? I had come out as transgender a few years earlier, and had socially transitioned. I didn’t want to take testosterone because I was singing as a mezzo-soprano and my career had just begun to blossom.
Taking testosterone could ruin everything. I would have to re-train. What if it didn’t work and my new voice wasn’t suited for opera singing? I loved performing just as much as being in the water. I figured that when I retired I’d take testosterone, grow a beard and smoke cigars, free from worrying about my vocal folds.
After months without music, with my career paused, I decided. I went to my doctor. “I’d like to start T.” I had my first shot at the end of August 2020.
I took the hormones slowly. I started singing again. I had weekly voice lessons over zoom. I practiced. I sang. I started playing my flute and learned guitar. I sang some more. My life, although mostly confined to my apartment, was once more full of music.
When my voice dropped down the octave, the hard work began. I could sing some folk songs, but I couldn’t match pitch or read music the way I used to. I kept training. I kept practicing. And I kept jumping in the ocean every weekend.
Slowly and steadily the voice settled. I learned to sing some Italian songs. I figured out how to get my voice to do what I wanted it to do. I sang my first opera aria. I learned my first opera role. Then my second. Then my third.
The joy I found swimming in open water started creeping into my daily life. Things had changed. The world had changed. And suddenly I was re-entering the world as a baritone, and as Lucas.
It’s now March 2023: two years since my voice dropped down the octave and three years since that drive to Florida with my dog. I’m singing and I’m thriving. And I have a second dog.
Today I’m back in my truck, with views of Lake Michigan out the window. I’m driving along the shoreline in Chicago to my next gig. It’s a bit too cold to swim but the sight of the water stretching out into the distance fills my heart with that familiar joy and peace. I’m back where I belong, in my truck, near the water, and ready to sing.
Lucas Bouk is an opera singer based in New York City. He performs his first title role as a baritone in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI this month. www.lucasbouk.com
a man made of leather
I swallow a
sloshing in the silt of my weedy water
please come back
sift away my murk and
unearth my gold
Amanda Deboer Bartlett
Bedroom Beats with Nicole Vitale
It’s a universal and somewhat taboo subject. It’s something that some people will do anything to have. Sometimes it comes with its own unique set of complications and risks, but also some near euphoric reward. You’ve set the scene for a perfect end to the evening: There are enough candles lit to initiate a seance. Your apartment smells like spicy clove, a hint of citrus, and maybe a splash of bourbon from the little spill you had during your date pregame earlier. The lights are dim and the curtains are drawn; It’s time to get down to business.
He’s feeling it…you’re feeling it. He grazes the small of your back with his fingertips and an undeniable chill runs up your spine. One thing leads to another, and before you know it you’re rolling around giving each other a very sexy tongue lashing. Body parts are mashing together and the tension grows, just ripe for the finale. Then all of a sudden you realize it’s quiet…too quiet. AH! The playlist. The playlist! You run to throw on the ultimate soundtrack to accompany all the heavy breathing and rustling that is likely to ensue…well, that is, if you’re anything like me. As a sex-positive music lover, I am all about crafting the moment – and bedroom activities are no exception.
I have sometimes wondered what makes us want to assign music to our most intimate moments. First and foremost, it cuts the tension, especially with a newer partner. As humans, we have a difficult time sitting in silence. Finding ways to fill that silence – whether it be with commentary or the background noise of a Netflix show you’re certainly not actively watching – is something that comes as second nature to us. I know personally that my awkward fumbling with a partner seems much less potentially embarrassing with the musings of Raveena backing me up.
Second, music not only adds a much needed layer to the overall ambiance, but it can be extremely grounding. Typically in therapy when we are taught to utilize grounding techniques, we’re meant to identify things we touch, see, smell, taste and hear. Think back on the last time you were about to engage in an amorous congress (don’t get too excited now). Try to recall your senses in that moment: Tasting your partner’s lips, smelling the sweet aroma of their skin, running your fingers through their hair, gazing deeply and intently into their eyes…of course it would just make sense that mood music is a perfect way to round out the sensual potpourri you’re experiencing.
Another reason we allocate tunes to our aggressive cuddling is our innate desire to share with other humans in order to establish and deepen our bonds. As we know, music is a catalyst for connection. It would therefore make perfect sense that in a moment representing pleasure and closeness that we would want the music we play to bring us together on more than a carnal level. We have all collected certain songs from our relationships, whether they be past or present. Then there’s the more music-theory driven explanation to all of this, and that would be the music itself being intentionally written for fans to engage in the horizontal mambo to. Artists like Usher, The Weeknd, and the legendary Marvin Gaye have capitalized on our sex-obsessed culture and catered exclusively to the female gaze. Lyrically, these artists have displayed the elusive male vulnerability. And what is sex if not the ultimate test of vulnerability? The lyrics of songs by male artists like the aforementioned are serving those listening the tenderness they want to come from their partner’s mouth. Take, for example, the incomparable Prince and his song “Breakfast Can Wait”:
Hotcakes smothered in honey (Wait a minute)
I’m gon’ have to pass
Fresh cup of coffee, no, no
I’d rather have you in my glass
Only thing that’s gonna sweeten my tongue
Only thing that’s gonna last now
Is another bite of you, babe
Breakfast can wait (You don’t even have to ask)
I mean, JESUS. I’m a hungry girl in the morning, but if my bedfellow woke up, rolled over, and said that to me, I’d make sure I was full until dinner if you catch my drift. Besides lyrics, there are so many other elements of a song that turn the heat up. Generally, tempo is the easiest to determine. Most baby makin’ music is slow and steady, inviting all participants to relax and ease into the groove. Add in a bassline thick like honey, some buzzy synth and a little gentle falsetto, and you, my friend, have the makings of a song that help create a Very Sensual Moment™.
Now that I’ve got you all hot and bothered, take a gander at the accompanying playlist I’ve made just for you (and whoever might be joining you in bed). You can thank me later…or name your first kid after me, whatever works. -NV
Cookie Comfort with Mika Halevy
It was a rough start here in New York City. It’s big and cold, and it gets quite lonely. My first job was tough – maybe not as much as saving lives, but waking up 6 days a week at 2 am to be at work at 3 am is objectively a lot. I would wait for 7 am to have my second coffee and justify the cookie I’m about to eat, … it’s already morning and I can have it now, didn’t matter that it wasn’t in the middle of the night.
At my next job, it became a habit. On most days I would ask my coworker what they feel like eating, and after they would say a few different ideas for desserts. Most of the time I would choose to make whatever kind of cookies I wanted, but they never complained.
I really love cookies. I think it’s the best form of all the sweets. My favorite cookies are the dark chocolate cocoa powder cookie. Overall, you can find me in the chocolate section of the dessert world.
These specific ones though, they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack. The secret to them is taking them out of the oven a little underbake and letting them set at room temperature. You get this chewy but also crumbly and sandy texture that is just perfect.
The next step that makes them even better is that you can add to them whatever you want. White and milk chocolate chunks are my go-to, but for example, my friends are big fans of the caramel pieces and pistachio version I made the other day.
And that goes for every kind of cookie – my favorite trick in the book; you make a batch, roll them up and save them in the freezer. When you need a quick something with your coffee or tea, you throw one into the oven and there you go.
I find myself thinking a lot about what got me into baking and wanting to do it as a career. It’s the classic story of ever since I can remember I’ve been helping my mom out in the kitchen, and as I grew older it just stuck that I’m the friend that brings home baked cakes for birthdays, and somehow it just led me to culinary school and etc.
But I think in the end, I chose baking because of the joy sweets bring to people – the comfort you find in a box of cookies. – MH
Prepared for Luck with Craig Thomas
While watching Luke Skywalker successfully deflect the blasters from a training exercise in Star Wars with his lightsaber, Han Solo remarked: “I call it luck”. Teacher—and Jedi master—Obi Wan Kenobi, in turn, responded with a wry grin: “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck”. To which Han says: “Look, good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living? That’s something else”.
Luck takes many shapes and forms. Luck has taken on a ubiquitous description that gets thrown around from mostly visual assessments of how we judge other’s lives. Some people will label those who are doing well financially in life lucky. Others will call those with attractive spouses lucky. Some will refer to those who travel to exotic destinations lucky.
It may have a light intention, but the undertone of calling others lucky infers that they are chosen ones; they have had a much clearer and easier path to all the gifts that life has to offer. Its overly oft use suggests that those who do not get these benefits are powerless in their pursuit of attaining them. The luck moniker becomes a crutch for those that feel that the people who are excelling in life have had all the breaks. It seems to be consigned to the category of “those who were born into an advantaged life”.
To me, luck is a very relative term. As the above debate between Han and Obi-Wan above suggests, it’s a matter of perspective. It usually has a pejorative connotation for those who have succeeded in something most others don’t believe could have been done by those same people; ergo we dismiss it as luck. It helps to rationalize a situation that others don’t believe they can do it themselves. So say the naysayers and armchair quarterbacks.
Certainly being born into better opportunity bears more possibilities and resources, but it’s what is done with those opportunities and connections that matters. In truth, all it takes is one very strong and powerful connection that leads down the yellow brick road. One “yes” will counter one thousand “no’s” when the yes is a very big yes. Especially when that yes is shrouded in fear and doubt.
The old Roman philosopher Seneca quipped: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. The preparation part is pretty simple in theory. It’s quite hard, however, to see through and accomplish. It takes dedication and time. And time is our most precious resource. It can never be made up or re-taken back.
Ultimately, it’s a belief in oneself to create opportunities that make our lives better. But the result of getting to the pinnacle of your craft, profession or journey is rooted in hard work and lots and lots of practice. Practice + hard work = Preparation. And the more prepared you are, the more knowledge and experience you attain.
And that, as Obi-Wan alluded to, is not luck. And as corny and clichéd as it seems, it as true today as it was 50 years ago and even 500 years ago.
When it comes to health, nutrition, fitness and longevity it’s usually about getting started and staked to a plan of action. Once you can begin a program, lowering expectations and immediate outcomes is foremost in integrating the course of action to simply be. The process can take over. And the process of seeing a plan through is predicated on preparation and seizing the opportunity of now.
We get one go around with these mechanisms we live in called our bodies. We do not get to turn the clock back to be healthier when we were younger. It gets harder as we get older and our muscles, bones, tissues and cells require the hard work and practice to work as efficiently as they can as we age. Father Time takes can only be acquiesced slowly and he’ll return the favor with compassion.
So while there are many out there who are intimidated by the lucky ones who are in good health and move well, know that this all didn’t happen by chance. Yes genetics are involved when it comes to appearance and many biomarkers. But that’s mostly what we observe. It can’t be shared as a feeling of health, strength, vitality and mobility.
All that being said, it’s about optimizing what we are born with and currently have. The name of the game is maximizing what we have and making an exemplary creation of what our archetype is. If we can excel with what we have, our bodies and minds will return the favor with the intangibility of happiness and satisfaction. And that is not luck.
We nearly always get what we ask for in life. What we put out in the world comes back to us. I do not believe that is luck. I believe that is aggrandizing what gifts we already have.
In your experience, will you believe that others who do well only have luck on their side?
Will you allow luck to take over or will you take over luck? -CT
Falling into Product Design
with Khanh Lam
Product design has this mystic aura surrounding it. It involves creativity, innovation, and the ability to solve complex problems in new and exciting ways. Designers are often seen as people who can transform ideas into tangible and visually appealing products which can be attractive to others. Designers often work across all industries and greatly influence product development; therefore, designers have extensive power to impact business or create new business opportunities. This can contribute to the perception that design is unattainable and the profession is quite illusive.
Yes, that is the perception, but someone can also say that entering this field takes some luck, such as getting your first high-profile client, but be aware; a lot of hard work is involved. A small percentage, like any creative field, has a bit of luck behind it. Still, after luck, the determining factor for success are skills, creativity, hard work ethic, and the ability to solve complex problems. These skills may come naturally for some, but for most, it takes years of experience and learning to be an expert. Another determining factor for success is how well you can collaborate and influence others. Designers work closely with different stakeholders, and it will be an uphill battle if one can not deal with different personalities. Therefore, one only benefits from luck if there is a solid foundation to stand on.
Designers are constantly developing their skills, staying up-to-date on the latest design trends and technologies, and working hard to create designs that meet the needs of their users and clients. Designers must always stay abreast of the latest technology and trends or be left behind in this competitive landscape. Technology moves fast, and keeping up is not for the unmotivated individual. As the world competes in a global market, more demands exist to innovate and ship quickly. It takes a quick learner and a quick-witted person to stay at the forefront of what users may want to consume in an ever-changing landscape.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that luck can sometimes play a role in a designer’s success, such as being discovered by a high-profile client or winning a prestigious design award. Luck can provide designers with opportunities, but their skills and hard work will ultimately determine their long-term success in the design industry. The fast pace of technological progress is driven by a complex interplay of market demand, competition, innovation, and investment. Technology constantly evolves, and staying abreast of the latest developments can help you identify new opportunities for creativity and innovation. Understanding the latest technology trends and developments can generate new ideas and approaches to help designers stand out. By continually learning and staying informed, designers can position themselves for success and continue to grow and develop in their careers. – KL