2024.11 : That Smile


The environment cannot make you happy, it’s your appraisal of your environment that makes you happy. And if you can change your appraisal of the environment, which you can learn to, then you can create arbitrary states of happiness.

— Joscha Bach

Dostoevsky, Kafka, Tolstoy, Kundera, Nabokov—just a sampling of the famous writers from Eastern Europe and Russia. Their names alone evoke the profound impact and weightiness of their works on the heart and mind. The peoples of these countries have endured generations of suffering, reflected in their art and humor, which often echo generational trauma. Consequently, the American cheeriness, optimism, and flights of fancy can be challenging for them to relate to.

Among my newest friends are a couple born and raised in Eastern Europe, with whom I always enjoy comparing and contrasting our cultures. When she described last week’s photo essay as ‘depressing,’ I initially interpreted her feedback as high praise. However, upon reflection, I realized it was a natural reaction from an expecting first-time mother, focused on birthing new life rather than contemplating end-of-life experiences. Consequently, I assured them, and myself, that this week’s photo essay would be a happier one, just as I had promised to my other friend last week, who, I am pleased to report, found solace within those words.

In my experience, stereotypes can serve as rough sketches when venturing into unfamiliar lands. Yet, the true highlight of life lies in discovering new friends from those lands whose intimate sketches differ drastically with their individuality.

Meet Ayumi. She defies both international and domestic stereotypes of Japanese women.

I first met Ayumi and her husband, childhood sweethearts who met in grammar school, during a promotional photo shoot for a boudoir couple’s photo book service. They proudly displayed five of these photos as posters at their wedding.

Ayumi and her husband share a passion for motorcycles, embodying the essence of a true ride-or-die couple. Their unwavering love empowers each other to shine with their own unique personalities. Witnessing their bond is truly envy-inducing.

Ayumi fearlessly joins public protests to defend her beliefs as an activist. And yet… in private conversations, she strikes an admirable balance, leaving the activist’s fire at the protest. Challenge her, and she’ll meet your words with a sharp wit and unwavering conviction.

Despite carrying her own burdens, Ayumi’s radiant smile is always at the ready.

That smile remains etched in both my memory and camera lens, serving as an aspirational reminder.

And now… know the photograph.

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