This conversation started on February 6th, 2018 and was first published on Over50Badasses.com. Amen.
Tom what is your age sir?
What does being (that number) mean to you?
Nothing. I don’t think in terms of numbers. I think about the day. What am I going to do today. Right now.
When you are asked Tom, what do you do? What is your answer?
I make things.
How do you stay present and not let the past or the future drag you away from the right now?
This is a work in progress, and greatly enhanced through years of meditation. When I am with someone, I focus on engaging with them. I listen intently at what they are saying, responding to their words with integrity and honesty. When I am engaged in a task, I am fully committed to working on that task.
Do you wake up and form a plan for the day or does the day just happen?
My day is a combination of structure and spontaneity. I wake early. Meditate. Creative write. Work. (Only with those I enjoy working with.) Walk. (A walking meditation where I take photographs.) I engage in quality time with my wife, daughter and friends.
The rest of day is left to wander and wonder.
You make things. What kind of things do you make?
I strive to make joy through my photography. I walk through nature with wide eyes and my head on swivel. I hope to share with others what I see: a planet that is filled with infinite beauty.
What time do you wake up? What does your morning meditation consist of and is it the same everyday?
I awake at 4:45 AM. I find my quiet place, focus on my breath and try to empty my mind. The routine is the same every day.
Walking meditation. How long have you been practicing that?
For the last two years.
When did you introduce the photography aspect to your walking meditation?
It was not a conscious decision. The more I walked, the more my senses sharpened. I wanted to document what I began to see, which was this incredible beauty in the seemingly ordinary.
You strive to make joy through your photography. You didn’t say money, or career, or art, you said joy. Why is that important to you?
Quite simply, I believe the world needs more happiness. I am trying to do my small part to make this happen. There is no price for admission.
It is free for anyone who wants to look at my photos.
You want to share a planet that is filled with infinite beauty. Do you think most people don’t see that?
There are people who see this beauty. I’m certain many who see more than me. But I think there also many who walk around with blinders on. They look. They don’t see.
What does nature mean to you when you are in it? How does it make you feel?
I feel at home in nature. I feel like I belong. I am one more branch in a line of trees. I am a snowflake on a snow-filled hill.
Your senses sharpened. Can you explain that to someone who doesn’t understand what that means?
Colors seem brighter. Sounds are more detailed. My sense of smell is more acute.
The world needs more happiness. What compels you to do your small part?
The cliché is true: Life is hard. If I’m being honest, I’m terribly selfish.
I love the feeling of bringing a smile to someone’s face.
You mentioned walking around with blinders on. What is the difference between the previous blinded Tom Rosen and the unblinded who can see?
Perhaps giving an example is the best way to explain. In the past, when I would see a tree, I would appreciate it for being a tree. Nothing more. When I see a tree now, I see it for its beauty. The sturdy shape of its trunk. The graceful sway of its branches. And often, I see more. The shadow it casts may create an intricate pattern on grass. The wind may rustle the tree’s leaves into a lovely tune.
Have you always been connected to nature or is this a new connection?
Eight years ago I moved near Cedar Lake, perhaps the most rustic of the Twin City lakes. But it was only after I got a dog, and we started taking walks around the lake, that I truly connected with nature.
Your photographic series is called Seen on a Walk? Can you tell us what your plan was when you conceived it and where it is going?
Initially, the “Seen on a Walk” series was intended to help my Facebook friends during what I perceived as a difficult period — the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Many of these friends are creative people, and I began to notice that their once inventive posts had shifted to anger-filled rants. My thought was to post a photo a day on Facebook. The goal was to get my friends to stop, even for a second or two, and drink in the beauty of nature, and hopefully leave their anger behind.
Several months later, I received a message from my friend Scott O’Leary. He had noticed the “Seen on a Walk” posts on Facebook and commented that he saw something “more” within my images — a spiritual connection. I was intrigued by what he said and we agreed to talk more. What came out of that talk was incredibly inspiring — to bring “Seen on a Walk” to people who can no longer take walks.
Things fell into place quickly after that. I got a call from another friend who wanted to help me create a book of my photos. I bumped into a friend who had a connection to the Allina Hospice. Long story short. The twelve rooms at the JA Wedum Hospice in Brooklyn Park each have a “Seen on a Walk” book in them for the patients to look through.
How many images do you think you have captured?
Close to 700.
How do you capture the images. What is your process or lack of one?
Typically I am drawn to an image, much like the pull of a magnet. Once I arrive, I am happily naive.
I simply point my iPhone and click.
What has been the response to your images from the Hospice and from the people who are transitioning from this life to another?
The hospice volunteers I’ve spoken with have told me they are often not in the rooms when the patients look through the “Seen on a Walk” books. Feedback has been minimal. This does not concern me in the least. I take pride in knowing that every day, even on the smallest level, people are benefiting from seeing the images.
Do you think about the people who are leaving this place when you are out capturing images?
I don’t. I am focused solely on capturing the best image. I do think about the people who are leaving this place often. Perhaps most profoundly when I am sorting through images, creating books hospice patients will see, hoping the content will help provide peace in their transition.
Have you met or had any contact with the people who have seen your books?
I have not had contact with patients. I have had contact with volunteers and board members. They are very kind, and very complimentary with regard to their take on the book.
They’ve told me they can see the spiritual aspect to the photos, and they can understand how the images are beneficial to hospice patients.
What are your long-term plans for Seen on a Walk?
My goal is to slowly grow “Seen on a Walk.” My second book will be more of a coffee table book. It is intended to be used as a fund-raising piece for the hospice. It will also be made available for patients, family and friends to view in reception areas of various hospices.
Once the second book is complete, I plan on sending it to BJ Miller, who heads up the Zen Hospice project in San Francisco. Their mission is to change the experience of dying and caregiving. I am hoping the “Seen on a Walk” books will find a place into their mission.
How did such a talented writer find his way into a photographic journey? Have you always had a longing to take pictures?
Thank you for such a nice complement. I love writing, especially the craft of writing. I find this joy on a daily basis as I work on my first novel. When I look back upon my advertising career, I have noticed many of my most impactful ads were visually driven. So I am not surprised that I have “graduated” to embarking on a photographic journey.
What are your thoughts on impermanence?
To grow also means to let go.
Why do you think life is hard?
I believe the struggle to overcome hardship is what makes us better, stronger people.
With over 700 images are you considering a gallery showing?
Currently, I have 18 of my images hanging on the walls at the Sebastian Joe’s on Franklin Ave.
Has “Seen on a Walk” made you a better writer?
I believe the answer to that is yes. I believe really good creative people are extremely observational. So if I’ve improved my observational skills through photography. It stands to reason that my writing has improved as well.
How has “Seen on a Walk” changed you?
I have come to love bringing joy to others.
You mentioned you only work with those you enjoy working with. What is your criteria?
Kindness. Patience. Understanding.
You have been a long time writer in the advertising business. A very good one. Are you doing any other kind of writing beyond the advertising world?
I am writing my first novel. This exercise is an exercise of joy. I find myself traveling beyond the cultivated routes of advertising.
You are writing a novel. Can you tell us how you arrived at that starting line?
That is a great question, Scott. It gets back to the purpose of your site and, possibly, the reason for this interview. It turned out that turning 50 was a very impactful thing for me. I began to think about my mortality with increasing frequency. This lead to bigger questions, the biggest of which was: What would I leave behind? I felt like I had a story to tell. A timeless story about a father and son, and the intricacy of their relationship. As a son, I am writing this book for my parents. As a husband, I am writing it for my wife. As a father, I am writing it for my daughter. As a human being, I am writing it for my fellow human beings. I hope there is learning that can be taken from its contents.
If I am truly lucky, the book will prove to be my gift to the universe.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to actually put down that first word?
Fear. I stared at a blank page for months before I wrote my first word. Clichés get a bad wrap, but the thing is, they stay around because they are often filled with truth. In my case, the line: “Every journey begins with a single step” is very appropriate.
Do you work on it everyday?
I do. I look at writing a book as a job. A very challenging, yet ultimately, pleasurable job.
Can you speak to your process. Do you write at a certain time? Do you have any rituals around the writing process?
I meditate when I wake, which is at 4:45 A.M. By 5:15 I am at my computer. The house is quiet. The coffee is hot. The internet is not turned on.
I have heard writing a book is like running a marathon. Maybe more like an ultra marathon. How do you get through the tough days when doubt and fear creep into the process?
I have never run a marathon or climbed a tall mountain. But I can understand why those kind of comparisons exist. I have learned to take what I can get from a day. Sometimes it may be as small as finding just the right word to fill in a sentence. A small victory, but a necessary victory.
I have also come to find that a bad writing day is often followed by a good writing day.
Do you ever hear a voice that says you can’t do this and how do you answer that voice?
There is a voice that says no, and it can be a very loud voice. Much like a marathon runner has people to cheer him or her on during difficult times, I turn to my writing friends when I am struggling. Their words often bring comfort and understanding. Invariably, I wake early the next day, eager to get back at it.
Will the novel contain any of your photographs?
That’s a good idea, Scott. I will include the right image(s) in my book if it matches up with the story.
What is your relationship with your mortality?
At some point Tom Rosen will no longer exist. This does not concern me. Tom Rosen’s soul will live on, to continue on it’s path of growing and learning.
Is the process of writing this novel a gift to you? Is it giving back?
Yes. I am climbing my Everest. I am taking great learning along the journey: patience, persistence, and gratitude to name a few.
How do you deal with fear? What is your process to get through, around or over fear?
Fear is driven by the unknown. I ground myself in what I know. I also seek knowledge from others, and from my reading. Knowledge in tow, fear likes to surrender without giving up a good fight.
Why is the father/son relationship a story that you want to tell?
Many of us are parents. We are all children. I hope to pass along whatever learning I have gained in both of these roles. For example, how as my learning as a child impacted my ability to be a better parent.
What gifts have the universe given you?
My life. The lives of my family and friends. The lives of people I dislike or don’t understand.
What would 55-year young Thomas say to 25-year old Tom?
I’ve had a birthday, so I guess the question would now be: What would 56 year young Thomas say to 26 year old Tom.
He’d say to him: Look fear in the face and tell it to fuck off.
Happy Birthday Thomas from myself and the universe.
If you would be so kind, would you share a paragraph from your novel with us?
I like this sequence at the end of the first chapter.
Despite feeling miserable, my stomach rumbled with hunger, somehow immune to the day’s disappointment. I wiped my eyes, pried myself off my bed, walked out of the room, and down tan carpeted stairs toward the kitchen.
Suddenly, my father’s voice pierced the air. My feet froze. My heart leapt from my chest and straight to the back of my throat, leaving me breathless. I strained to hear what he was saying.
“Irv, I’ve got to tell you… I couldn’t believe it myself.”
Was he talking to my Uncle Irv? Why? I strained harder to hear what he was saying.
My father continued, “He broke his leg.”
There was something in his voice. Was it pride… could it be… pride?
If you could change one thing in the entire universe what would it be?
Who am I to tinker with perfection? I wouldn’t change a thing.
Photo courtesy of author / over50badasses.
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