3 Lessons I Learned In 2016

December 30, 2016

Another year has reached its point of termination.  For many, 2016 has been a twelve month roller coaster ride filled with unexpected ups and downs.  The world has sown the seeds of drastic change, and the future is only to be determined.  For myself, like many others, this year has been one of great challenges as well as measurable personal growth.  At times the lessons I have learned have stemmed from moments of tribulation, where I found myself having to act in do-or-die situations.  With 2016 coming to a close, I would like to share several of the important lessons I, personally, have learned in hopes it could be used for inspiration.  As a disclaimer, I want to state that I am in no means perfect, nor do I have the ultimate answer to life, and the universe.  These are merely my own thoughts, and perspectives detailing what, I as an individual have learned.






Take Care Of Your Health

I suppose the most bitter pill I had to swallow this year was in realizing the fact that I am not immortal, nor will I be young forever.  This realization began to take hold at the beginning of this year in January, when I ran in the Mississippi Blues Marathon.  Months earlier I had just come off a killer marathon in Wisconsin running my third best marathon time (3:41 for those of you keeping score) and I had continued into the holiday season maintaining my fitness in preparation for the Blues.  After spending Christmas 2015 in Washington D.C. with family, I returned home only to become very ill for the first time in five years.  I had long bragged at this time how long it had been since I had any form of sickness, and this was one of the worst health downturns I had ever experienced in my life. 


Likely due to some contaminated lobster, I came down with colitis less than two weeks before the marathon.  At the time I was a nervous wreck.  Here I was lying on what I thought was going to be my deathbed and all I could think about was getting healthy enough in time to run twenty-six miles.  For two weeks I was terribly sick.  Every hour was a waking nightmare and I would average going to the bathroom at least twenty times a day.  My body became quickly depleted of nutrients and I felt incredibly weak.  Oftentimes I would find myself out of breath merely climbing out of the bed.  By the time my colitis symptoms had subsided, I had lost twelve pounds and was extremely underweight.  I looked like a pale, sunken-eyed skeleton.


Despite being so sick I, in my bullheadedness said I would rather be damned than not run the marathon, and on race day I was laced up with all the other runners.  For the first 5k I felt fine.  I was hitting a solid stride, and even felt like the weight I had lost was working to my advantage because of how light I felt on my feet.  Sadly, this hope was misleading.  By the time I reached the 10k mark my quads had already been beaten to hell.  My muscles and overall body had not had time to replenish the vital nutrients it needed in order to maintain homeostasis, let alone to run.  When I reached the I-55 frontage road my systems were all but shutting down.  All I could see were yellow spots covering my vision, and I felt like the world around me was spinning.  It took another runner to stop and ask if I was fine before I accepted the truth.  On that day my body was in no condition to run, so I went to the emergency tent and had them take me out of the race; the one blight on my otherwise great running career.


Fortunately since that day I have been able to run three more marathons, but the amount of exertion and physical toll on my body began to show by the time I ran in Chicago this past October.  When I finished the Chicago Marathon this year, I knew I had reached a point of needing to give my body a break.  For months I had been waking up in almost crippling pain every morning.  My hips, knees, and even shoulders felt like they had been in the worst kind of boxing matches, and I even felt like the discs in my back were beginning to grind together.  I was at the point of needing painkillers, but since getting off recreational drugs I have a hard time even taking Tylenol so for months I sucked it up and carried on.  You should not have to force your body into what it cannot do!  Listen to it!  After my last marathon I knew it was time to hang up the shoes seriously for a few months, and let my body heal.  I am happy to say that now I no longer wake up in pain, and I am finding I have more energy than I did before my last few races.  I will run more marathons again in the future, but for now I am listening to my body and it tells me, "I'm not ready yet, but I'm getting there."


Branch Out, And Help Others Do The Same

2016 has been solid for being an artist for less than two years.  If success is defined as breaking even and being in the black in terms of selling work, I will say it has been pretty good.  This year was better than the last, and fortunately I am now not having to starve in order to get my photography printed.  None of my recent successes in the Jackson area would have been possible without expanding my capabilities as well as using my art as a way to help other people grow their own dreams.


When I began this year, my style of photography was pretty much defined.  I had specialized in doing perspective photography consisting mostly of nature shots, and dabbled in a bit of mixed-media with some pieces actually coming out pretty good, but nowhere near the level of my mentor.  I had some ideas of things that I wanted to try out with my photography, but it took a conversation with a dear friend as we both were using ellipticals at the gym before they helped me realize I was capable of doing much more than what I was at the time.  In a way, I could say that particular exchange was the catalyst which helped encourage me to branch out and try something brand new, and for that I am especially grateful given how much joy I have gained from making these crazy light pieces.


Speaking of my light pieces, one part of Jackson I am proud to say I have branched out into having my work featured is in Midtown, Jackson.  Over this past year my love for this section of town has grown immensely and I seriously believe this area is diamond in the rough getting more chiseled and polished with each passing day.  This year I got to set up and sell a lot of my prints at the monthly Final Friday event in Midtown.  For me, this was an opportunity to try selling my work somewhere different, and for Midtown it was a chance to show the city something special.  Each month's event grew, and with each event I found myself making new friends in the process of finding homes for my work.  I made a point to be at every Final Friday (and I made every one except the most recent due to a last minute schedule conflict) and was honored to be helping the community break ground and try something new.  Towards the end of this year, I got to play a part in Offbeat's "Damn The Man" event and was able to give back to a friend and business who helped to give me much as an artist, so in this instance things came full circle, and I was thankful to have been given the chance to play a small part.    (On a side note, I hope to see Final Friday return in 2017 and continue to be a part of it.  If you haven't been to Midtown, Jackson then what are you waiting for!? Go grab some comics from Offbeat, relieve stress in the float tank at Jax-Zen Studio, & check out the art at Pearl River Glass Studio & the And Gallery.)





One of the goals I had this year not just for my art, but for myself personally was to become a "man about town."  What a lot of people do not realize about myself is that deep down I am extremely shy in public, and at times stumble in conversation, but it is something I have forced myself to work on in 2016 and have done so by interacting with all different kinds of people.  I will not say I am yet completely comfortable stepping out on a limb and being a socialite, but I feel I have learned the lingo.  Compared to earlier this year I feel much more confident in meeting new people and do not feel so awkward when I am talking.  As much as I initially want to start a conversation by saying, "Oh my name is T.J. Legler and I make this really cool art shit with lights!  You should check out all my work at........."  I have learned it is not all about myself.  Believe it or not for a while this was how I introduced myself to people, and I realize now I sounded like one of those annoying commercials you just want to shut the hell up.  I know now its best to let things come up naturally, so I don't push my work like I used to.  To be honest, I don't even let new people I meet know I create art unless someone else brings it up.  So yes, this year has helped me conquer my fear of public interaction!


The Moment Matters

Upon hearing the phrase "living in the moment" most people tend to think about someone who is a daredevil or X-games risk-taker about to attempt some insane maneuver.  To an extent I would call myself an adrenaline junky, so yes, I have that in common with the guy going 90 down the interstate, however I have learned that sometimes living in the moment means slowing down and letting the noise of the world fade.




A few times this year I have lived the adrenaline junky lifestyle.  One of the most fun memories I will have this year was the night of the "Midnight Modern" event at the Mississippi Museum of Art where I met up with a few friends of mine for an afterparty photoshoot.  By chance, an old buddy of mine I went to high school with happened to be dating one of the artists who did the modern-esque bodypainting for the runway fashion show and after a few glasses of wine the creative energy began flowing and our scheme was put into action.  As if the constellations had aligned for this gathering to occur, the pieces all seemed to be set in place as if it were some kind of manifest destiny.  All that was necessary was for all us individuals in this scenario was action, and we unanimously voted in agreement it was about to go down.  (Thus we capitalized on the moment.  See, there's your lesson!)  We were up until 4 am that cold night, but the shoot proved to be successful and was eventually touched upon in an article for the Jackson Free Press.  As much as I would love to mention the names of the people who were a part of this collaboration, though I will refrain because what we did that night was totally illegal.  Did I mention it was illegal?  As in JAIL? That night we commit the crimes of trespassing; I had my steel wool and set some on fire so there you go with arson, and by Mississippi standards our bodypainted models might as well have landed us with public nudity charges.  Despite this, we pulled it off.  I guess that makes us smooth criminals.


We must appreciate each moment we are given and sometimes it calls for us to slow down.  I am extremely guilty of trying to live life to fast.  Many times I can recall going into things with the mindset, "I need to do 'A' in order to get 'B' so I can make it to 'C'."  In doing so I unfortunately neglected many experiences I would have otherwise gotten to enjoy. 


2016 has taught me to enjoy the moments in which I am living.  I can recall one particular night helping me learn this lesson.  One night I had come home from working the late shift to find that my grandfather was still awake.  For a man this age, it was unusual for him to be up at this hour so I walked in to see what was going on.  My grandmother was asleep, and my grandfather was sitting alone in the kitchen crying.  I asked him what had happened and he told me that his brother-in-law, a man with whom he had been very close, passed suddenly and tragically while I was at work.  I felt horrible in hearing how my great uncle had departed, but I felt even worse because of how sad I was seeing Grandpa. 


Though I had to work early the next morning, I put these concerns aside and sat with him.  For a while I sat in silence, while I listened to him talking about my great uncle in between sobs.  It was about 10:30 at night, but despite being so late I made a steaming pot of coffee because I knew it would help calm down my grandfather.  I sad down and handed him his cup, then began sipping out of my own.  After a few moments of silence, he began talking.  The subjects we covered from thereon had nothing to do with grief.  Grandpa and I were having a man-to-man moment.  My entire life I had grown up listening to stories of his youth in the delta and how he and my grandmother came to live in Jackson.  Grandpa touched upon a few of those old childhood stories, though he told them in a way I had never heard.  Suddenly all the stories I had listened to were described to me in a way in which I knew beyond a doubt they truly happened.  They were real.  My grandfather had actually lived these moments, and the events and people had resonated with him so deeply that even decades removed from them he still talked about them like they just happened.  These were moments, and dreams from his own life.  Together we shared a moment, and were able to slow down and find happiness despite our loss.


 Life is meant to be lived, and through living we are meant to gain experienc