How do you write about an experience so complex and impactful that the mention of it brings tears to your eyes? How should I explain a dream and a reality rolled into one, such that it gives weight to the significance of the dream and the dream of the reality? This year I hosted my third Promoting Passion convention. I named my blog after my favorite pairing of words – Passion, because it evokes a primal and I daresay sacred emotion within, one that perpetuates our need for meaning in our lives, and Promoting, because without this word the former becomes one-sided. If we don’t promote our passion, we lose the chance to inspire others through our craft – and life.
Promoting Passion is simple: gather creative individuals in one place to share a common idea, the idea that our lives are vastly different, but our emotions, our desires and our dreams are the same; that we can engage and encourage one another by example, and that instead of focusing on gear and technique we could focus on what really matters at the end of our lives, and that is how much we loved what we did with our time.
Promoting Passion is my home.
How many of you can say that you have experienced deep, meaningful, and lifelong relationships formed in the span of three days? How many of you can say that you actively, without boundaries or ties, give yourself over to growth? This is what 100+ of us did this year in the middle of a reddening forest in New York.
I ran frantically around Buffalo, NY in the days before, buying far too many supplies from Target and hoping that I was accurate in my assessment of things I needed for my attendees. I am a worrier by nature; I over-plan. I do not strive to under-promise and over-deliver. I over-promise and over-deliver. It is in my nature to be more and do more and make sure that I inspire others to be the same. I do not always succeed. But I do try, and in such a fashion I tried to create the best possible experience for my family of Creatives.
Things went wrong; they always do. And experiencing things going wrong is my way of growing, of being challenged, and of learning to be better than I was before. I remember the first year I hosted Promoting Passion – it was fall of 2015 and one of my speakers couldn’t come last minute. I had to figure out a plan overnight. I cried, I panicked, I shook, I collapsed in an unrecognizable version of myself. I was broken from the fear of letting people down. I felt barely able to manage myself.
Fast forward to this year, 2017, when one of my speakers couldn’t make it last minute. I panicked for about one minute, and then composed myself. I breathed deeply (a lesson I learned from my yoga practice), and I experienced two simultaneous emotions: confidence, and peace. What will happen will happen, and without belief in my abilities the right solution will not form. So, I believed I could make everything better, and I did. I let myself be human. More than that, I let others see me that way.
It rained on our bonfire, but we played games until it stopped. Our projector broke three times, but we worked around it with grace. A model got stuck floating in a boat in the middle of a lake, so I swam out to get her. Almost simultaneously a woman fainted and another sprained her ankle, and a quick ambulance ride and urgent care drive later, everyone felt taken care of and loved.
Things go wrong – it is not in our power to stop them, but it is in our power to grow from them. To give love in those moments. To be human and embrace it.
And so many things went right. A seemingly endless array of beauty and light and magic danced in front of my eyes. My speakers showed up ready to give, and every single one of them went to every single workshop and lecture. They sat with attendees at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They stayed up late by the fire talking to those who needed them most. They gave like I have not seen people give before. And even I, who felt so unworthy of even writing that first email to these people I have admired more than anyone, got hugs – they talked to me in such an honest way – and declared us friends, declared that we are soul-connected and better for knowing each other.
Unworthiness. What an interesting human emotion. That we can be so filled with multitudes and so certain, at times, that we are filled with nothing. This duality plays at my heart too often than I like to admit. Promoting Passion is about eliminating that feeling, or accepting it. Which of the two I am uncertain of at times, but either way, it is necessary and beautiful.
I called Vivienne Gucwa, one of my immediate soul-friends, to fill in at PPC this year. She came with a gorgeous story about her current artistic transformation and shared her willingness to shift. I worriedly hit send on an email to Ryan Muirhead, fearing his genius (as silly as that sounds), and he broke the room down into tears with his story of raw, honest human emotion. What drives us to create? Our very being, and all the mess that comes with that. I called upon Jesh De Rox to speak about connection, and I was moved to laughter and tears as he shared about the ways in which we find connection to our work, to others, and beyond.
My friend Dracorubio came to teach Photoshop, but under the technique was the idea that you can create anything if you can dream it. My heart Joel Robison did what he does best – shared himself, in his beautiful, bashful, open way. He showed how he works, how he thinks, and most importantly, how he gives…with his whole self, in ways that touched every single person there. Jessica Drossin came out to show us how you can build a life for yourself out of the vision of the world you are attracted to, and in doing so created some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen. Mindy McGinnis, a writer who I created book cover art for, came and gave us the deepest insights into how we experience imagery, symbolism, and how that relates to the world. Her way of seeing is significant and remarkable (in the truest sense of that word).
And finally, perhaps the most emotional and humorous part of Promoting Passion, was having Jeremie Saunders share his time with us – which, if you know anything about him, is limited. He shared how he lives with Cystic Fibrosis, how his life expectancy when we was growing up was 30 years of age, and how he is now 29.7 years old. He showed us how precious life is, how none of us know how much time we have, and how the combination of humor and passion can create a life worth living. What’s more is that he modeled for attendees, had important conversations, and even jumped into the pool with me so I could photograph him.
These humans are the most giving I have encountered, the most good-natured, the most concerned about making sure others are living their best lives – and that is not just a phrase or a silly motivational quote, that is their life’s dedication. That is their soul.
And, I think I can finally say, without looking down at myself, that it is also my mission. That my life is dedicated to giving other people the best lives possible.
My time is always so short at Promoting Passion – how do you give over 100 people your undivided attention in the span of three days to have conversations that are meaningful and intense? On the last night I finally got to let my guard down and not worry about everyone and everything, and I talked to so many people with so many stories. I met a new friend who had a quote of mine tattooed on his arm. I have my favorite writer’s quote tattooed on mine, and it was really moving to see that something I said could move someone that much.
There were many people who touched me, many people who showed their souls where often they put up walls, and they were gorgeous, and unrefined, and honest.
On that last night I got to speak to someone who I wanted to set aside proper time to talk to, someone who I had been conversing with for the last few months. After the lectures ended and I spent over an hour in a sea of people hugging each person closely, I snuck away to sit with this friend who I had wanted to spend time with. He and I had never had a proper conversation before in person. Immediately he started sharing a story with me, tears running down his face, holding my hands. He told me of a time when he tried to end his life, and how close he came to succeeding, and how, just at that moment, an image of mine flashed in front of his eyes and he felt connected.
And he didn’t jump.
And there we sat, one year after, at Promoting Passion. Our hands locked in each others, both of us crying the most sincere, life-changing tears; both of us needing the other in a profound way. And there we sat, embracing, until suddenly, we each had what we had come for. We felt released. And then we laughed, and smiled at each other, and I knew that something transpired between us that I could never properly describe.
Here is my message to you, my friends who maybe I have never met: There is hope in connection, there is soul in art, there is beauty in sadness and there is life in each of us that means more than we know. I share these experiences with you because my life is dedicated to the promoting of passion so that we may all be uplifted by the example of those who pursue what they love.
Life is too short not to.
Please allow me to thank our sponsors very publicly and widely for their contributions to Promoting Passion this year. Without their support I could not have created this event, and it is because of them that I grow in confidence every year that we are doing amazing things for our community.
The incomparable KIM WINEY took all of these incredible images in the span of 3 days. She is an amazing photographer/artist and friend, and I highly recommend you take a moment to give her some love for the beauty she brings into the world. She is based in PA and is hirable for her gorgeous photography services.