I will remember 2022 as a period of recalibration, one that taught me a lot about myself, the work I want to do and how I want to share it with the world. It taught me the importance of rest, the value of a creative community and the uncomfortable necessity of working through self-doubt and creative tension. Today I write to you with renewed focus, energy and dedication—here’s to the year ahead.
I want to share with you some of the moments, images, stories and books that defined 2022. I’m also excited to introduce Sunday Dispatches, a self-published newsletter focused on visual, human-centered storytelling and original reporting.
Three Months in Ukraine
Within days of Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine I was on a one-way flight to Moldova—during the first weeks of the war we saw an abundance of images from Poland, but I wanted to better understand how, at the time, Moldova, a small, poor country, was handling the highest influx of refugees per capita.
After a brief trip home I returned to Ukraine for the World Bank Group tasked with collecting imagery that would be used in a needs assessment for reconstruction efforts.
Armed with a drone and my cameras I spent weeks documenting destruction and devastation throughout Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city located just 25 miles from the Russian border.
The final report was published in August and cited widely, as in this New York Times article that details the estimated $349 billion it will cost to rebuild Ukraine, a number now certainly higher.
Despite and in spite of the Russia’s war, Ukrainians retain spirit of generosity, warmth and keen humor. On the ground there is a visceral unity born of a shared convictions, outrage, pain and love of country.
Ordinary citizens have self-mobilized and organized to cook, provide medical care, evacuate people from war zones, rescue wounded animals, deliver food and water, care for the elderly, provide shelter and bury the dead. Ukrainian civil volunteers number in the millions; their efforts are individual, collective and largely credited with a national resilience that has stunned the world.
Shortly after returning from Ukraine I spoke to a group of students at my high school alma mater.
I remember well what I wish someone would have told me at that age and tried to leave students with two messages; "First, you don’t have to know now what you want to do for the rest of your life; the pressure in high school is real and I encourage any student to study something they are curious and care about. And two, today more than ever, you can create your own path. Once you find what makes you tick, pursue it with all you have. You will live a fulfilling life.”
One of thirty-five global journalists accepted into CUNY’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program
After returning from Ukraine I struggled to re-adjust, to focus, and I grappled with bouts of "imposter syndrome.” I felt stuck, unsure how to proceed, to grow, or how to create a sustainable path.
If attuned, the feeling of tension itself can be an indicator. For me it meant it was time to slow down, take stock and pivot.
The program is designed to help independent creators with the complex process of carving out a sustainable niche. Our cohort represents a diverse group of global creatives, each with a unique ambition; some are developing newsletters while others are creating podcasts, local websites, solutions-based platforms and other news products that will serve communities around the world.
Individually and collectively we are working to reshape the face of journalism entrepreneurship and to challenge assumptions of what media entrepreneurs look like.
Enter, Sunday Dispatches.
Amidst what feels like a constant deluge of images and information Sunday Dispatches are an alternative to the daily news grind built around carefully curated human-centered visual stories, original reporting and anecdotes about the highlights and hustle of being an independent journalist.
The past week has been one of writing, re-writing and tweaking. My natural tendency is to seek perfection and control. But perfection is illusory and the creative process is one of surrender, not control. So here's to the process: I’m building something and I want you to be part of it.
"I have had 10 years to reflect on what was a rather unwelcome and painful change in [life] trajectory.
And if somehow given the rather improbable opportunity, I would not change a thing.
You see, the precarity and preciousness of life cannot be taught.
Our nature is to believe we have time."
A Year in Books
It’s been more than 5 years since I re-committed to reading a minimum of 50 books a year. An arbitrary but ambitious number, this intention reminds me that to write well is to read a lot and to read widely.
This year it was 66. Here are some of my top reads.
- Let me tell you what I mean by Joan Didion “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
- The Minds Eye by Henri Cartier-Bresson "To take photographs means to recognize—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis.”
- Being Mortal Atul Gawande “The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”
- Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power “American decision-makers must understand how damaging a foreign policy that privileges order and profit over justice is in the long term.”
- Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko “No one made a decision to militarize the police in America. The change has come slowly, the result of a generation of politicians and public officials fanning and exploiting public fears by declaring war on abstractions like crime, drug use, and terrorism. The resulting policies have made those war metaphors increasingly real.”
- Ikigai by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
- A Beautiful Mindby Sylvia Nasar “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares, Martin, we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg “There seems to be a gap between the greatness we are capable of, and the way we see ourselves, and therefore the way we see our work.”
- Journal of Solitude by May Sarton “There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”
- Into Thin Air by John Krakauer "We tell ourselves stories in order to live [...]"
- Night by Elie Wiesel and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, both even better and more relevant today than the first time I read them.
Meet my newly adopted friend, Morii, which translates to, "the desire to capture a fleeting moment" 🥰
My gratitude to those who continue to follow my work. I’m excited for the possibility of tomorrow and for all that 2023 holds. May this be our best year yet.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac
Looking back to look forward; here’s to a 2023 with many a mountain.