I don’t even want to try and play it cool. This was one of the best days of my life. Fuck having a wedding, I would much rather curate and show in my own exhibition.
Spencer and I created The Brooklyn Collective earlier this year. We wanted to develop a community of talented photographers all working together towards a common goal. It was built on the premise that a group of people having the same conversation with a collective voice was so much more powerful than one person with one voice.
Running your own business in such a competitive industry is hard. I am proud that we have created an ego free community of kick ass artists who support one another. The journey is a hell of a lot easier with company.
We have already started brainstorming ideas for next year’s exhibition. Expect it to be bigger and better.
“I broke character a block away from the bar and acknowledged Spencer for the first time in over an hour. Spencer agreed that the experiment had been a success. He felt it was the way birthdays should be celebrated.”
A lady approached me in the Greek Islands last year to tell me I looked truly comfortable sitting alone by myself. I hadn’t checked my phone. I didn’t have a book as a buffer. I was enjoying my meal solo, comfortable with my own company. She applauded the skill and a skill it is. Even as a self identified introvert who enjoys being alone, learning to enjoy a meal by yourself is an acquired skill. For me, it heightens the experience. Each moment intensified by my solo status. I concentrate on the way my food tastes, I take in my surroundings – focusing on details I would have otherwise missed. I people watch and eavesdrop on conversations. I let my mind wander and take the time to explore a train of thought. I relax/recharge and let the world happen around me.
As my birthday approached this year, my friends wanted to know where the party would be, what was I doing? The thought of having a party sounded exhausting. Of course I wanted to see my friends but I also wanted to schedule some time to myself to enjoy the moment and reflect on how far I have come this year and thus ‘The Solo Birthday Celebration’ was born.
Title: The Solo Birthday Celebration
Concept: To plan a Solo Birthday Celebration that explored introversion and celebration.
Location: I chose a dive bar in Brooklyn called Tip Top because of its unpopularity. I also felt that the Christmas lights and old Happy Birthday sign created the right setting for my celebration.
Time: 8:00 pm – I was meeting friends later in the night so I needed to start early.
What to bring: I wanted to bring some of my favorite things along to help me enjoy the moment. I brought with me a cheesecake for one. Candles. A lighter and a Cigar to go with the whiskey I intended to drink. I also purchased a large Happy Birthday badge and wore my new birthday shoes…a pair of gold Dr Martins.
THE NIGHT OF…
I wanted my celebration documented so I had my co-founder Spencer Lum meet me at the bar. After initial greetings, I completely ignored him as if he wasn’t even there. I can only imagine how strange this must have appeared to onlookers.
There were two other patrons and the bartender. One of the men tried to initiate contact with a feeble joke about Canadians but I shut him down. The bar tender asked for my ID and I handed it over, announcing that it was in fact my birthday. “Happy Birthday” she replied pouring me a whiskey on the house. She was in her early 30’s. She only worked Mondays and she loved the bar. “It’s been in the neighborhood forever and there are plenty of dedicated regulars” she informed me.
I laid out my goodie bag of items I had brought and sipped my whiskey. I eavesdropped on the conversation between the bartender and my fellow drinking companions but it wasn’t of interest so I tuned out and retreated into Kirra world.
I decided to put some music on the Jukebox. I chose: Happy Birthday by Stevie Wonder and prepared my birthday cake with one candle on top. I lit the candle and blew it out while Stevie Wonder sang me Happy Birthday. It was a nice moment.
Spencer continued to shoot while I ate my birthday cake. My drinking companions ordered me a shot of this terrible citrus vodka. I washed it down with the last of my whiskey and ordered another. I took my whiskey and my cigar out the back.
The back of Tip Top is my favorite part. It resembles the smoking area of a derelict country pub somewhere in Australia or perhaps someone’s back yard where you used to hang out and smoke weed as a teenager.
It was empty except for myself and Spencer. The sound of the rain on the roof was comforting. I took a seat and lit my cigar. The alcohol had started to hit my system and the head spins from the cigar gave me a buzz. The smoke trailed from my cigar illuminated by colored light. Spencer circled me with his camera. I was aware of his presence but felt that he was an outsider observing my bubble.
The solidarity, the inebriation, the smoke swirling around me, the flash from the camera – it was a surreal yet deeply relaxing experience. I stubbed out my cigar, packed up my things and thanked the bartender on the way out. I broke character a block away from the bar and acknowledged Spencer for the first time in over an hour. Spencer agreed that the experiment had been a success. He felt it was the way birthdays should be celebrated.
This year I have actively sort to blur the lines between my life and my art. For now…they are one and the same and I am happy about this but even so, there still remains a part of me that remains untouched, that I share with no one. Shouldn’t your birthday be the one-day of the year you celebrate you? Not the version of yourself you present to the world but the real ‘you’. The private self.
Next time your birthday rolls around; consider a solo birthday celebration of your own. At the very least, take the opportunity to have your cake and eat it too.
I am about to call you on all the bullshit you tell yourself that stops you from creating, growing, exploring. I get sick of hearing this crap from people. Stop selling yourself excuses and start living the life you want…
- I’M SCARED… : Heads up guys…I’m scared too but this is no reason not to do things. My mother once told me - “It’s not about living without fear it’s having the courage to go on in spite of it”. Sure – she got this inspirational quote from some other anonymous source but that doesn’t mean it lacks merit. Change how you think about fear; use it as a motivating force, embrace it. Being fearful is when you know you are really living and a clear indicator you are out of your comfort zone. Outside your comfort zone is when magic happens. Sit with your fear and be open to magic.
- I’M STILL WORKING ON THAT…: Oh yeh…really?! Are you really still working on it or is that what you tell yourself for fear of actually sharing your work and opening yourself up to public opinion. Seth Godin (one of my all time hero’s) defines anxiety as “experiencing failure in advance”. ” You are not only punishing yourself, you’re sabotaging your work”. Furthermore…(and this is my favorite) “the people who aren’t willing to put themselves on the line are already failing. You might fail or you will fail. It feels to me it’s better to ‘might fail’. PEOPLE… ! Stop failing in advance. Be brave and share that project you have been working on forever, tell someone about your amazing new idea. Don’t let fear cripple you…be brave and kick your ass over that cliff.
- I DON’T HAVE TIME…: Yes you do! just stop procrastinating. Productive procrastination is one of my favorite go to moves. It’s when you do a bunch of stuff to avoid doing the thing you really should be working on. I’m doing it right now. I’m writing this post when I really should be completing my first draft for my book proposal. If I had skipped the three hrs of procrastination (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and just got down to it…I’d already be at home in my pajamas watching episodes of ‘High Maintenance’. This is also the excuse I give myself for not going to the gym. We have all been there and it’s total bullshit. Write a list and hold yourself accountable.
- I CAN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE…: This is when you whinge about the state of the world but do nothing to change it. If you have identified a problem, either find a creative solution or lead by example. I don’t want to hear your whining if you don’t plan on doing anything about it. Learn to back up your mouth and start contributing to the world as an active participant.
- I HAD THIS GREAT IDEA BUT…: but….you missed the boat. You never acted on that idea but rest assured someone else did. Now they are kicking back in the Bahamas sipping Mai Tai’s while you are still slaving away at your 9-5 making someone else’s dreams a reality. You know what’s scarier than doing things. Not doing things. No one wants to look back and wonder what could have been. The time is NOW!
Being awesome is a choice. Choose to be awesome. Choose to make your dreams a reality. Choose to be the best version of yourself. Choose to act now.
“I tried, pigs blood soup, I shot snakes blood, ate pigs feet but stinky tofu cracked me. My western taste buds obviously need to evolve before I can appreciate this local delicacy.”
Taipei feels welcoming. Although not as rich or gentrified as Singapore, I found the gritty street culture more authentic and the city very livable.
Where I Stayed…
The Regent is proof not all five star hotels were created equal. This was next level – I mean…I had my own butler ! (Full review to come)
My friend Dave is the Asian Anthony Bourdain. He is the man responsible for coining the term ‘Eating is a Sport’ and helps satisfy my desire to eat my way around the world. My favorite meal was a traditional Taiwanese breakfast we had near the Jin Mei markets on my first day in Taipei. Dave ordered enough food for ten and proceeded to force feed me until I had tried everything. There were cockroaches on the floor but with food this good, my care factor was zero.
Dai Bing – savory pancake with egg (my favorite)
Scallion Bread with sesame seeds
Fresh Soy Milk (made fresh daily– super refreshing)
Rice Breakfast Roll filled with powdered pork and pickled cabbage
Some type of hot salty soymilk
The locals practically salivate when talking about stinky tofu; the stinkier the better. Personally, the smell alone makes me gag. I just can’t understand how something that smells so bad could taste so good. I tried, pigs blood soup, I shot snakes blood, ate pigs feet but stinky tofu cracked me. My western taste buds obviously need to evolve before I can appreciate this local delicacy.
Picking fruit with Dave and his grandma: Dave’s grandma is hardcore… I watched her fashion a bamboo tool designed to pick fruit in under two minutes. Dave showed me how it was done while I gorged myself on fresh Longan.
Hot Springs near Yangminsan National Park: Best way to recover after a 15-hour plane flight
Joining a scooter gang and riding through the city (thanks playboy): As a tourist this would be super dangerous but with a local…super fun J
Eating street food at the night markets: The night markets are an absolute must to experience the local cuisine and culture.
Being complimented on my chopstick skills: Pretty much my proudest travel moment.
Drinking snake blood with liquefied snake penis in Snake Alley. I gagged on the second shot…it was touch and go there for a second.
Get your phone unlocked and buy a sim card. You can buy pre paid cards for super cheap. The wifi comes in handy to operate google maps…you won’t understand the street signs but you can always follow the bouncing ball.
The garbage truck plays Greensleeves to remind people to put their rubbish out. Feels surreal considering my childhood connection to the song and the ice-cream van.
Thanks to Dave for acting as my guide. Dave visits his family in Taiwan every summer and when he invited me and offered to show me a local’s only side to Taiwan – I knew it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.