Today, an old friend messaged me on Facebook for the first time since December to remark, among other things, that they were so relieved to get out of town for the weekend, and that enjoying the privilege of taking some time off work to travel reminded them of me. At first glance, I was equal parts amused and confused by this perception, as I was sitting in a friend’s apartment in my host city, in the third hour of a resume-building workshop that other Clinton Fellows were conducting on a Saturday afternoon. Then, I took a step back and realized that I haven’t exactly represented myself to the world as the type who spends his Saturday night in a Coffee Bean, refining his cover letters and writing blog entries for his service fellowship. I couldn’t blame my friend for (probably) assuming that I was hacking through some virgin rainforest, machete in hand and recovered, gilded idol of an ancient Desi goddess slung in a pouch around my waist, at that very moment.
Somewhere between curating a Facebook page dedicated to the fake lives of the dogs I photograph on Delhi’s streets during my commutes to-and-from work, and the slow-release of my travel photos over the course of a few months, I’ve managed to confound no small amount of people as to what I actually do in India. While I’ve listed the trust that sponsors my Visa (The American India Foundation) and my host organization (Mummy Daddy Media), along with my profession (videographer and editor), on both my Linkedin and the “About” section of my Facebook profile, I receive fairly regular messages from friends and acquaintances asking me how my “adventures are going,” and that I’m “so lucky to take the year off and travel.” One might argue that by seamlessly presenting only the more exciting and exotic elements of one’s life to the world, one has tapped into the truest essence of what makes social media so addictive: the illusion that one doesn’t actually work for a living.
However, when one couples their subtle mastery of humble-bragging about a couple weeks’ worth of travel with a not-so-subtle neglect for reporting any news of their professional lives, one cannot be surprised when only a fraction of their friends and acquaintances are aware that one earns monthly pay for services rendered. That, and the beard I sported over a three-and-a-half-month period suggested I had forsaken any form of income, in favor of wandering about South Asia in search of communes that operate on a bead-based economy. As such, this one needs to take a step back, check any indignant feelings, and set the record straight: I’m employed.
I have a regular, five-to-six-days-a-week job where, for the majority of the day, I’m sitting and doing production work at my laptop in an office that is attached to my mentor’s apartment. I edit videos for clients such as Brookings India, the British Council, and Ritu Kumar, as well as my own personal projects that Mummy Daddy sponsors; I transcribe interviews for projects that are deemed too high-profile for me to be entrusted with the edit; I update and co-manage the company’s website and represent Mummy Daddy on social media; and I perform myriad smaller production tasks that vary project-to-project. It is a fun job that enables me to pursue my passion, and I work long hours while getting tons of hands-on experience in my field. The best part: unlike some of my former film school peers based in L.A., I’ve never had a talent agent throw hot coffee at or on me for forgetting that they only like “THE YELLOW SWEETENER!”
I don’t often post the videos I edit for Mummy Daddy on social media because, while I find videos that chronicle a European contemporary dance troupe’s tour across India’s major cities to be cool, I don’t want my personal social media presence to be misconstrued as the equivalent of a spam email. Additionally, a client may take weeks to post a completed video we send to them, and when they do finally put these videos online, they don’t always alert us. Only on occasions where I feel I enjoyed a degree of artistic liberty and honed my skills as a videographer or editor do I post a client video to Facebook, as I did with the following piece I edited:
In those cherished instances where I get to go out into the world and shoot some sweet, sweet video, I realistically expect to work at least a twelve-hour day. On an average workday at the office, I anticipate a nine-hour schedule, not including my commute, depending on how smoothly I am editing and/or if I am able to work that Saturday.
I think some people became convinced that I’m enjoying a constant subcontinental walkabout, with the sole purpose of staring into crystal balls while feral dogs sit in my lap, due to something I mentioned earlier: the slow and steady release of photos I’ve taken while traveling. Here’s some Marketing 101 insight: Instead of posting 40+ hastily edited photos all at once after the few trips I’ve taken, I’ve learned that people are more likely to notice my favorite photos I have clicked if I post them one-to-three at a time over the course of weeks and months. This approach allows me to take time and hone my photography editing skills, while also increasing the amount of people who like my India-specific Facebook album and its individual photos.
I won’t deny that I approach life in a more intrepid manner, while living in India. I am truly grateful to live and work in a country where it’s super affordable to hop on a train or bus, and travel overnight to spend the weekend in a completely unfamiliar town, city, or countryside. This adventurous attitude comes with the turf of living on the opposite side of the globe from where I grew up, on a one-year visa, though. It’s worth mentioning that I spend the majority of my weekends in New Delhi, where I’m based, in a not-so-dissimilar fashion to my peers across the world: unwinding and relaxing after a long work week.
That said, In all my time growing up or living in Chicago, I’ve never once exclaimed, “Hey guys, let’s grab the overnight train up to Rockford, this weekend, and then next weekend we’ll take the Greyhound to explore Bloomington-Normal!” Instead, I would spend a lot of time catching up with old friends, going to the movies, and occasionally checking out new places to eat and drink across the city. It’s different when you’re back home: I was twenty-two years old and playing host to another recently-graduated classmate from California the first time I ascended the Sears Tower. We tend to take our hometowns for granted, at times, and become desensitized to what we qualify as mundane (for me, if I never see a city block with more than one Starbucks, again…).
And you know what? I hope I take this adventurous spirit back to the States with me. It’s unfortunate that many of us don’t explore our surroundings a bit more when we feel a sense of familiarity. This sort of complacency is starting to hit me in Delhi. I just made a joke about never feeling the itch to hop on a bus from Chicago to Small Town Illinois for the weekend, but why the hell not? Who’s down to catch a four-hour train and explore Peoria’s street art scene one Saturday and Sunday, this August?