Is art by nature therapeutic? How can the creative process help people engage with and articulate unspoken aspects of their inner world? Why is letting go one of the most important things a parent can do for their child?
In this podcast episode, Billy and Brandy Eldridge speak with Michael Ulmer about analyzing the human condition through art.
Meet Michael Aaron Ulmer
Michael Aaron Ulmer is a visual creator passionate about sharing stories that analyze the human condition by crafting thought-provoking stylized self-portraits.
Michael uses his self-portraits as a therapeutic outlet to study and convey his journey and his battle for mental wellness. With each and every piece he creates visual reminders of his own problematic areas he needs to work on, as well as builds bridges for people to be able to self-reflect and understand themselves better.
His short films & documentaries have won international awards and he has created commercial & documentary work with global brands such as WD-40, National Geographic, Green Giant, Cooper Tire, Bissell, Melitta, and more.
Visit his website and connect on Instagram and Facebook.
In This Podcast
- Concept of ‘comfort’
- Tap into your creative side to help you process
- Advice for parents from a son
Concept of ‘comfort’
The concept of comfort is a difficult one to navigate because as much as comfort is something that we enjoy, we protect it at all costs, and sometimes that means consciously turning away from those who suffer because we do not want them to “spoil” our comfort, or break the illusion of comfort.
It’s one of those things where it hurts to look at because I know that was my frame of mind and so I had to sit there, sit in that emotion and be like ‘okay, this is how I feel. Okay, I need to work on this’. (Michael Aaron Ulmer)
We can become so accustomed to our comfort that we do not want anything to interfere with it or for anything to remind us that outside of our comfort is other people’s discomfort. That is where empathy comes in – we sometimes need to step out of our comfort, or broaden it, to encompass more people.
I think when we sit in our own circles and we don’t confront our own inconvenience or the things in the world that inconvenience us, I realize how fragile my ego is and how when I’m going about my day and taking care of my stuff and I see calamity in the world and I have to pause and look at it, sometimes I don’t lean into the pain, I want to look away … yet the world is calling out and saying ‘we’re hurting, things need to change’. (Billy Eldridge)
We then need to examine our role in participating in other people’s disenfranchisement for our comfort, because if we are really true to ourselves, we find that true comfort cannot come at the cost of other people’s happiness or security.
Tap into your creative side to help you process
You can experience a therapeutic process in many different ways, from going to see a traditional therapist to exploring your creativity because when you tap into your creativity, you tap into your emotions, your feeling mind, and your explorative side.
That’s one of the things that we recommend for people to tap into their more creative side and find ways to process that – all we are doing is helping people [to] articulate the untold parts of their soul, and what is that but art? Trying to articulate a thing that you do not have words for that you can’t quite say. (Billy Eldridge)
Advice for parents from a son
I meet with broken children all the time and its because parents try to use their children as a way to boost themselves and it’s this insecurity things – if the kids aren’t successful in a very specific way then [the parents] aren’t successful and so they trap their kids in boxes saying ‘you can only do sports’ or ‘you can only do music’ … [these actions] are breaking people. (Michael Aaron Ulmer)
In order to encourage a child to grow into a fully functioning, independent, and secure adult they need to develop themselves outside of the mold of what their parents expect of them.
Even if the child makes a fool of their parents a little, loving and supportive parents will want the best for their children even if it means their children move in a different direction from the route their parents had chosen.
That is one of the hardest things as a parent is to let go and let [their kids] make their own mistakes and earn their scars but I also know they’re not mine, it’s their journey and it’s their life. If I’m making their decisions they [become] completely dependent on me for their value and what they think. (Brandy Eldridge)
Are you ready to find the freedom to be yourself as a beta male? Do you want permission and tools to be your best beta? Are you ready to join the revolution to find strength as a beta? If you want to be comfortable in your skin and be the most authentic beta male, then our free beta revolution course is for you. Sign up for free.
Meet Billy Eldridge
Meet Billy, the resident beta male. For Billy, this is a place to hang out with other beta males and the people who love them. We’re redefining what beta males look like in the world. I have learned to embrace my best beta self, and I can help you to do the same. As a therapist, I understand the need to belong. You belong here. Join the REVOLUTION.
Meet Brandy Eldridge
Hello, Beta friends. I am an alpha personality who is embracing the beta way of life. I feel alive when connected with people, whether that is listening to their stories or learning about their passions. Forget small talk, let’s go deep together. Come to the table and let’s have some life-changing conversations.
Thanks for listening!
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[BILLY ELDRIDGE]: Beta Male Revolution is part of the Practice of the Practice podcast network, a family of podcasts seeking to change the world. To hear other podcasts like the Bomb Mom podcast, Imperfect Thriving or Empowered and Unapologetic, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.
Well, Beta Male Revolution, that was a Michael Aaron Ulmer giggling in the back there.
[MICHAEL AARON ULMER]: Can’t help myself.
[BILLY]: It’s okay .He’s our guest today. I always think we’re so excited. What? I’ve never not be excited. Would I be like, I’m not really excited but a guest?
[BRANDY ELDRIDGE]: I have not been excited about guests before, and I usually make like really ugly signs to your face, but I am excited about Michael.
[BILLY]: And he’s here, so we can’t make signs.
[BRANDY]: No, we cannot.
[BILLY]: I got to tell a story about Michael Ulmer. He does, you can check out his IMDB. He has a few shows on there, a few movies and things he’s been in, but he was in one, what’s the name of it?
[MICHAEL]: It was called Rumors of Wars.
[BILLY]: Rumors of Wars.
[BRANDY]: How did you not know the name?
[BILLY]: Well, I wanted to get it right.
[BRANDY]: Sounds very unprofessional.
[BILLY]: I was to say Rumors of War and —
[MICHAEL]: That would have been an incorrect. There is an [S], Rumor, multiple wars.
[BILLY]: Rumor of Wars?
[BILLY]: Michael doesn’t know what movie he was in, but anyway, my youngest son, Liam, and I watched it and he comes up to meet my son, Liam and he’s looking at him kind of oddly, and I tell him who he is. And he says, “That’s why I noticed you. You were in that movie we watched.”
[MICHAEL]: Because I was the bald villain who like murdered people?
[BILLY]: Yes. And he usually tends to identify more with villains.
[MICHAEL]: I do. That’s why I strictly played villains when I was an actor.
[BRANDY]: It’s deep stuff. You might need to get some psychotherapy going on.
[MICHAEL]: We’ll dig into that later, but it’s going to get very juicy [inaudible 00:01:51].
[BILLY]: We can’t wait. And we’re just so glad Michael’s here with us and let’s jump right into the interview.
[BRANDY]: Yes. So Michael, his dad and his mom were my youth ministers growing up. And I have to say that they really did, they’re fantastic, wonderful people. I really admire and love them. And they don’t age. I think they like have some —
[BILLY]: Forever young.
[BRANDY]: Yes. It’s they drink something out of a goblet every night and they don’t age.
[BILLY]: Yes, his dad has helped a lot, I mean, there’s probably a lot of people in this town that credit the trajectory of their life due to his influence. He was quite an influential guy here, the powerhouse, we had a big youth building off the interstate on [inaudible 00:02:37] coming through Texarkana. You can still see it. It’s the powerhouse and pastor Mike was over at the powerhouse and it was the place to be when I was growing up in youth group circles, seen a lot of Christian concerts there.
[BRANDY]: So anyway, like I was saying, when I was talking about my youth ministry, I baby-sat Michael and his sisters back in the day.
[BILLY]: Just like the third guest that you babysat.
[BILLY]: Who did you mention that you babysat last?
[BRANDY]: That’s it.
[BILLY]: There was another person.
[MICHAEL]: I thought I was the only one.
[BRANDY]: No, I’d only get asked to babysit —
[BILLY]: [crosstalk] Charlie.
[BILLY]: Charles Burks
[BRANDY]: I was asked to babysit like once or twice and then no one ever asked me again, which I’m really glad because I hated babysitting. I didn’t like kids and I wasn’t good at it.
[BILLY]: You’re not good at kids.
[BRANDY]: No, I’m not. I’m not even good with my own, but I would, with your family, like they had such a system. It was really cool. I remember like if the kids didn’t do something, you took like a spoon out or something out.
[MICHAEL]: A quarter.
[BRANDY]: Of something.
[MICHAEL]: Oh, I remember the quarter system.
[BRANDY]: And I’ve used that to this day, like you get three, that’s it, we use three quarters. Each kid gets three quarters and then we would take them away. But anyway —
[BILLY]: Inflation, I think they get dollars now.
[MICHAEL]: Well you have like mythic status in our family.
[MICHAEL]: No, like when we talk about like, and it’s always Brandy and Jenny, like Brandy and Ginny, because you all were like the wild firecrackers of the youth group.
[BRANDY]: Yes. And I’m glad that I had that wildness in youth group, because if it wasn’t used for good, it would have been used for evil. And I do credit the youth group and people growing up and what a foundation that laid for me and that community that you were able to go and do things with these groups of people that had like-minded parents and we weren’t doing the other things that we shouldn’t be doing. [crosstalk] We were doing some of those things as well, but we would come back and repent and try to get back on.
[MICHAEL]: K I S S I N G.
[BRANDY]: Sure, that’s what I was talking about.
[MICHAEL]: Holding hands, conceiving children.
[BRANDY]: Listening to, he was listening to secular music.
[MICHAEL]: Oh, that now would have been a big no.
[BRANDY]: Yes. Okay. So I told your dad this story one time, and then we’ll get into you, but we had where we burned all the CDs and threw them all in the trash. Jenny and I, like everybody took their secular CDs and anything secular to them and pastor Mike had a huge trashcan and we were like throwing them in there and getting that stuff out of our lives. Jenny and I went back after it was all done and got all the good stuff out. Oh my God, it was just like you could not, we were just, we can not say like, you can’t throw brand new CDs away. That’s good music. And so we went back in there and took it all out.
[MICHAEL]: Hold on. I have to know what’s a CD that you pulled out of there?
[BRANDY]: I mean, it was like some RNB.
[BILLY]: Boyz II Men.
[BRANDY]: Yes, Boyz II Men. I want to say it was some Nirvana. I mean, you can’t let that stuff go.
[MICHAEL]: Bon Jovi.
[BRANDY]: No, Bon Jovi could stay. That was a good stuff [crosstalk].
[BILLY]: I was able to get the Bon Jovi CD, because I convinced my parents, it was Christian because he had a song called Living on a Prayer. That’s how I got secular music. They had to have to have some Christian overtone in it, or I didn’t get the CD.
[BRANDY]: That’s what I did, I’m sorry, go ahead.
[BILLY]: No, we had a life I like that where we tossed everything and it was dip cans, because we were on [inaudible 00:05:55], [crosstalk]
[BRANDY]: That was a very white church. [crosstalk] And we went back through the dumpster like a day later when we started having nicotine behind the church, when we get back up to the church and, me and Josh would climb through the dumpster, trying to get our dip cans back and we got ours and some others. So we actually did well on that deal. Both of you dumpster dived.
[BRANDY]: Oh, yes. That wasn’t the last of it either. That happened over and over again [crosstalk].
[BILLY]: We won’t talk about it.
[BRANDY]: I’d kill the man. All right, let’s get to Michael. Michael, thank you for coming here. He is in our house. This is only the second person that we’ve ever had in our house. Did you — [crosstalk]
[MICHAEL]: I’m so honored. And I’m really, really happy to be here. I know we had like some scheduling conflicts back and forth.
[BRANDY]: They were all your fault, not ours.
[MICHAEL]: Yes, they totally were.
[BILLY]: So everybody knows you’re the son of a preacher man, but you’re a lot more things. You are an artist, you are an actor, you are, what all do you do?
[MICHAEL]: You know, I don’t know. I tell everybody I’ve lived like a thousand lives and I truly mean it. And I just keep cycling through new things because I think the most important thing in my life is like pursuing creative passion and creative energy. And it just keeps finding these different directions. I feel like now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve settled in on like where I am and where I want to be but now for awhile I was going to do the acting thing. And that was going to be my sole pursuit, my sole passion but it took me a bit to figure out that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
[BRANDY]: So, take us on that journey. You grew up in a small east Texas town, like really small east Texas town, graduating from Redwater.
[BRANDY]: I don’t even know, you can’t call it a suburb of Texarkana, but it is a —
[MICHAEL]: No, I think the Redwater population at the time was like 888.
[BRANDY]: Yes. And then you go off to college. So take us on that journey.
[MICHAEL]: All right. Well, like Brandy said, grew up in Texarkana, really heavily involved in the church because my parents were both pastors, and I think I spent more time at the church than I did at home. I mean, every event, everything that was my life. And then I went to high school in Redwater, very small. We only had a graduating class about 60 something and it was there that I started developing a passion for track and theater and film, which is a weird combination. And that’s just the story of my life. I just, I get involved in the weirdest stuff because I, like I said earlier, I have these thoughts and ideas and I just have to pursue them and I can’t stop. So in high school, I really was into film and I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker. And so I went off to school and I got a track scholarship, but they had no film program, but I got a scholarship to go there. So I was like, “Okay, I’ll do the closest thing to that and that’s theater and graphic design.”
[BRANDY]: We were talking about this earlier. That’s like two polar opposites. So you described it as like fire and ice, like theater, filmmaking, track.
[MICHAEL]: My whole life, all my coaches and teachers, they’ve seen something in me that I don’t see in myself. Like they are constantly pushing me and they’ve always been so patient with me and I don’t understand it because I, I specifically remember because track, theater and like sports and the arts world don’t mix. I remember my track coach, he would wait for me after practice to have a separate hour long practice with me after I got out of theater. And so it was like those were just these people in my life that they wanted me to be well rounded. And I have to give full credit to my parents, whatever my passion was, whatever I wanted to do, they filled it 100%. like I would walk in with a new hobby I wanted to do and they were like, “How do we make this happen?”
Like if I wanted to take pictures, they would put a camera in my hands. So, and they never faulted me for wanting to do something that wasn’t normal or stereotypical, whether that was sports, whether that was art, whether that was painting or theater or anything. They always wanted me to pursue my passions 100%.
[BILLY]: I love to hear that because your dad played professional football.
[MICHAEL]: He did.
[BILLY]: And I would think you grew up in a jock type family, yet you have space and room to do the arts and be the jock. I mean, how do you do that?
[MICHAEL]: Well, it’s full credit to my dad. He’s been the perfect example of a man. And that’s actually why I really wanted to come on y’all’s podcasts because I like what y’all do in terms of like redefining masculinity in that, like, there’s all the stereotypes of like, you have to know how to work on cars and be tough. And it’s weird because my dad is all those things. He’s a very tough, very aggressive, very, he works on cars, he does all the things, but he’s also the first to ask for forgiveness and he is very open emotionally. I could have gone to him, I could still go to him and talk about anything and he would be there and he’ll support you in any way, shape or form. So I feel like he just gave me the perfect example of what it truly means to be a man and not your stereotypical like manly man. And because I had that freedom to explore anything I wanted to, and I wasn’t confined to the prisons of what a stereotypical man should be, I got to become that and I got to do the things that I wanted to do. And I feel like I’m in the position I am because of that.
[BRANDY]: That’s our sound bite right there. Like that’s preacher right there. That’s so good. [crosstalk].
[MICHAEL]: No, I owe so much to him, and that’s what I, like my goal is to be that same way and my goal is to help people find that within themselves. And that’s what y’all are doing. That’s why I love this.
[BRANDY]: We’re done.
[BILLY]: Yes, you can stop right there, but no, there is a world where you can be all of those things and then also be emotionally available and supportive and believe in your kids and send them out there into the world to follow their passion. And when I think about you and your photography, what it does, and we’ll send people to your website and we’ll share some of those images. But I was telling you earlier, like we said, an hour long sermons, when we were kids listening to these messages. It had a very powerful punch. But you can say in one photo and get a message across in one photo the same type of message all those words were trying to get in, and sometimes carry more of a punch in my opinion. I mean, what leads you to believe you can do something like that, create something like that, put the hours in that it takes to build something like that? Where do you even start?
[BRANDY]: More importantly, what is that art even called? Like, I don’t know how to categorize it because it’s something I’ve never seen before.
[MICHAEL]: I’ll take that, I kind of battle what I call it. I know everybody wants to have like a label for it and I don’t necessarily do. Sometimes I call it like surreal self-portraiture, but sometimes I just call it like surreal photography, but it is self-portrait. I do everything by myself. I set up a tripod and a timer and it’s all very meticulous.
[BILLY]: And like, what type of, so we’ll explain one. What was your favorite?
[BRANDY]: Mine was comfort.
[BILLY]: Okay. So let’s just —
[BRANDY]: Swimming pool.
[BILLY]: People think, oh, you snap a picture and you put it in a frame. Great. But that’s not what you did.
[BRANDY]: At all.
[MICHAEL]: No, that picture specifically is like 30 pictures, all stacked on top of each other and it involved me flailing around in a pool, the better half of like a half an hour, trying to get in like whitey tighties too, by the way. It was very inappropriate. I had to delete half the pictures and then stacking them all together to create the final image.
[BILLY]: So how long did it take?
[MICHAEL]: That one is actually, that one is very specific. It’s different than all my other ones, because that one I actually did in 24 hours, like exactly from the idea to it being completed.
[BRANDY]: Okay, so talk to me about the idea. Take me back to the idea and then kind of explain to our audience who hopefully will see it, but what is it about, what does it mean?
[MICHAEL]: Well, it’s so funny. I always hate it when visual artists are on podcasts because they spend half the podcast explaining what things are, but yes. Check it out. My Instagram is @MichaelUlmer.
[BILLY]: @MichaelUlmer. [crosstalk] Stop, push pause right now, not if you’re driving. Pull over, go look at the pictures, then come back and finish the podcast.
[BRANDY]: All of that will be on our links. Like it’s all in the show notes.
[BILLY]: It’s going to be on the links. But I want them to do it right now, so they know what he’s talking about because we have context.
[BRANDY]: All right, so pause and now we’re back now.
[BILLY]: Pause. Now we’re back.
Okay. So I’ll talk about comfort even though that’s like the one outlier of all my pictures, because that one, that month I had a different idea and it was right. It was during quarantine with the kind of like riots and George Floyd and all that stuff and my heart was just so heavy and I was going to do something else. Like I had an idea and it just, I was actively going against what I felt like I needed to be doing and then the idea just like hit me like a brick and I immediately just cried a little bit because I realized that idea, like the concept of comfort is there’s people flailing and dying around you and you’re upset because they’re splashing water on your comfortable life.
And I realized in that moment, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is me. This is like, and it hurt so much because I was like, “I’m okay with these people dying but I just don’t want my daily life to be inconvenienced and I don’t want to feel heavy and I don’t want to feel bad today. I want to feel good.” And so it was just, immediately hit me like a ton of bricks. So had the idea that morning, I shot it that afternoon, and then I edited that night and the next morning. And so that was like a 24-hour span. And it was just, it almost, it’s one of those things where it hurts to look at because I’m, No, like, that was my frame of mind.” And so I had to sit there, I had to sit in that emotion and be like, “Okay, this is how I feel. Okay, I need to work on this.” So —
[BILLY]: Yes, you got, you got Brandy in tears.
[BRANDY]: No. You’re crying, not me. That’s not me.
[BILLY]: Come on baby. Come into the mic and lean into the pain, Enneagram seven, Brandy is going to tell us where did that take you Brandy.
[BRANDY]: No, no, I don’t want to cry anymore. No, I think that’s, nope.
[MICHAEL]: It hurts.
[MICHAEL]: it does, because like if you’re willing to sit there and be honest with yourself and sit in your emotions, you’ll know, “I had that thought. I had that thought where I just wanted everything to stop inconveniencing me.” And that’s where I was. And so I was like, “All right, I have to do this.”
[BILLY]: I think when we sit in circles and we don’t confront our own inconvenience in how certain things in the world inconvenience us, I realized how fragile my ego is and how, when I’m going about my day, taking care of my staff and I see calamity in the world and I have to pause and look at it, sometimes I don’t lean into the pain. I want to look away and I want to go back to normalcy yet the world is calling out and saying, “We’re hurting. Things need to change.” And then I start, have to look at where my role be in participating and disenfranchising other people, just through my own selfish actions. And then what in the world can I do to even help it and change it? And what if I have to inconvenience myself to do that? And these are uncomfortable things. And I don’t know if that’s what you were trying to say. It’s just what comes to mind when you share that with me. But I want Brandy to share what it means to her.
[BRANDY]: I don’t like you putting me on the spot like that. I don’t like it. I don’t want to.
[BILLY]: Fair enough.
[BRANDY]: Thank you. That’s my boundary. Don’t cross.
[BILLY]: I respect your boundaries.
[BRANDY]: Thank you.
[BILLY]: That’s marriage counseling Michael.
[MICHAEL]: I love that we dove into that one specifically your very beginning, because that one was like a little bit of an outlier.
[BRANDY]: Well, that’s my favorite one. And now knowing the meaning even more behind it, it makes it even more powerful. So what is your favorite one?
[MICHAEL]: Oh, that’s so difficult. I resonate with that one really well, because it was such an eye-opening experience for me.
[BRANDY]: What’s one that you like, that you’re proud of?
[MICHAEL]: I should know this. I knew you were going to ask me this question.
[BRANDY]: It can’t get wrong. It’s your art.
[MICHAEL]: I know.
[BRANDY]: But you can just say —
[MICHAEL]: Here’s the actual truth. I mostly don’t like anything I do at all.
[BRANDY]: Let’s go with that.
[MICHAEL]: Yes. Oh, now we can dive in —
[BILLY]: You didn’t share with us that you’re at Enneagram four —
[BRANDY]: Which is the individual list.
[MICHAEL]: Which should feel, I listened to the episodes on the Enneagram do that because it had me yelling at the podcast. [crosstalk].
[BRANDY]: Thank you for shout out. Thank you.
[BILLY]: We appreciate you.
[MICHAEL]: No, it had me yelling at the podcast because I was reading my diary and it’s, if you’re an Enneagram four like myself, you will not like the Enneagram. You will hate it. You got to really take a bite of humble pie because it’s awful.
[BILLY]: Yes. Well I think we all do. We all do. It’s an uncovering a discovery and then trying to discard the parts of us that aren’t useful. And sometimes we like to hang on to those unuseful parts because they’re comfortable.
[BRANDY]: I don’t like to talk about things that make me cry or be in pain and you just put me on blast c[crosstalk] I’m like, why would you do that? You know, like that’s like the most uncomfortable thing for me.
[BILLY]: Because the whole podcast is about leaning into uncomfortable things. And I thought we were going to have this moment where we did and you were shooting me the bird saying, “No, we’re not.” I’m not trying to cross your boundary, push you into it but the podcast is also learning how to respect differences and individuals. And you have individuated yourself. Is that a word?
[BILLY]: I’m not great with words [crosstalk] from this, when I think of a kid who graduated from Redwater high school, I wouldn’t think of, I could see going off on a track scholarship. I can see that, but then leaning into the arts so much that you travel to where, I mean, where do you go to in the film industry?
[MICHAEL]: I got completely off topic from what I was starting my story at the beginning. [crosstalk back up from the beginning. Yes, I completely abandoned. I think I got to like high school and then just walked away. So after college I decided to move to Los Angeles because I wanted to be an actor. That was my goal and that’s yes, LA, doing the thing.
[BRANDY]: Where did you live?
[MICHAEL]: I lived in north Hollywood and an apartment.
[BILLY]: Super cheap, right?
[MICHAEL]: Oh yes. So cheap. It was great. I had so much spare money. It didn’t just eat like rice and microwaveable burritos and hot dogs.
[BILLY]: Is that how you get this kind of shape? You all can’t see. I’m pretty sure he’s got six pack abs and whatever he’s hiding it here, but [crosstalk].
[MICHAEL]: Hot dogs, not with like hot dog buns, but with bread, like with a 98-cent loaf of bread. That was my go-to. No, I had no money, but —
[BILLY]: You’re in the Hollywood starving artists ground trying to get a job as an actor.
Yes. And I was doing the thing and it was tough. It was really tough and I had known it was not going to be easy. Like I had known that the life of an actor is very, very strange. And so I started to work and I started to get some jobs and do some things but I also started to realize that I really didn’t like it that much because you’re only actually onset acting like 2% of the time, the rest of the time, you’re trying to find jobs. And then I also started to realize, like I had all these ideas and stories inside of me. And as an actor, you don’t get to like realize those. You’re always telling someone else’s story. And I was like, “I think I want to be more of a director or a creator of some sort.” So after about three years, I left LA and actually on my drive back to Texas, I met my brother-in-law. He flew into Vegas and he had a GoPro and on the way home, we had this like super crazy road trip where we went to all this stuff and we started filming stuff. And I hadn’t picked up a camera in, since I’d been in LA, I hadn’t done anything directing wise.
And it was just like the bug bit me again. I made a video of like a road trip home and it just like, it hit me that like, “Okay, this is what I wanted to do initially and it all came full circle. Then I started doing a little videos here and there, people started calling me and then people just didn’t stop calling me and it’s just here, I am now. Like it’s completely fallen into my lap and it just fits. It fits me and it feels right and it’s just stuck around for so long that I know this is kind of what I’m supposed to be doing.
[BRANDY]: So you’ve got videos all over the world, but you have to make money. So how do you make money?
[MICHAEL]: So, actually my day job is doing video and photo work for companies and for clients.
[BILLY]: The bark bath? [crosstalk] It’s a fantastic product.
[MICHAEL]: So I have done video, commercial work for Bissell, I did a campaign for WD-40, I’ve done videos for Green Giant and National Geographic and Melitta Coffee and all these global brands. It’s been really fun. So that’s how I actually make money. And then it was, that actually turned me into doing my self portrait photography, which is kind of my passion because I think it was like 2018, I had the best year on paper. Like I had done the best, I was doing all this video work and I just felt empty because I was making commercials for dog vacuums.
[BILLY]: But let’s say, before, yes, because we can talk about those. But you also have some stuff that we talked about earlier that you said you couldn’t speak directly to. And let’s just say it’s such high profile work that it has people who you would know automatically and high level governmental positions that you’re just not allowed to speak about due to the nature of the work —
[BRANDY]: And because of his age, he didn’t know who they were.
[BILLY]: He said, I worked with this guy and I was like, you worked with that guy. I knew immediately who he was. And just somebody that if you cared anything about politics, you would immediately know. He’s like, “Oh yes, we were just having this conversation, how to do this video thing with him but I can’t say anything about it.” And so we’re just going to leave you in the dark on that. Maybe one day we’ll come back once the statute of limitations [crosstalk] we’ll tell you who we’re talking about.
[MICHAEL]: You just made me sound way cooler than I actually am.
[BILLY]: Yes. You actually are, because I’m like, “You were in the room with this guy?” You sat and held space with someone of magnitude and power that I couldn’t imagine what kind of, and you didn’t even know who he was.
[MICHAEL]: No clue who he was the entire time.
[BILLY]: Yes. I love it. I love it.
[BRANDY]: It’s cute to see you crush [crosstalk].
[MICHAEL]: I am [crosstalk]
[BILLY]: And I’m like, you’re taking me with you next time please. I’ll just be in the background. I’ll probably we’ll tackle them and make it uncomfortable, but —
[BRANDY]: Let’s talk end goal. Like never end goal, but evolving. What’s your next step? What do you hope to do? Where do you hope to take this?
[MICHAEL]: That’s a great question. I guess my hope is, and I really, this is going to sound so cheesy, but I try my hardest not to think about that because the second I start to like think too much in advance, I get in my head a little bit.
[BRANDY]: That’s good.
[MICHAEL]: So I really try and just focus on like, “Okay, what am I doing this month,” and then slowly evolving from there but I would love to like work with other artists. I think that’s a goal, like bigger people and help there like collaborate with someone and if they have an idea or something, or they have an emotion they’re going through working with someone to like process that out and create a visual, I think would be really interesting.
[BRANDY]: That’s cool.
[MICHAEL]: Because I want to share this with people. It’s such cathartic feeling. And I feel like it’s my own little version of therapy to, every month, this is kind of my process when I do my photo work, I do some deep dives in myself and I’m like, “Okay, what am I dealing with right now? What is an issue that is prevalent?” And sometimes it comes to me with interactions with other people or things I see online, or just things that I’m going through and then I’m like, “Okay, that’s it.” And just having those honest conversations of like, this is really what we need to talk about and then the actual, like physical laboring process of creating an image, there’s something about it that I feel like, this is probably not healthy, you tell me. I like, I put work into it and now I can like —
[BRANDY]: Let it go.
[MICHAEL]: Yes, it feels like that. So it’s like, I feel like I have to labor a bit and once I do that, I can look at that image and be like, “We addressed that. We worked on that,” but I still have to come back to the images and, because it’s not like a fix all.
[BILLY]: I think that’s completely healthy. You know, I think you can get therapy in a lot of different ways. You don’t have to go sit in an office and talk to someone like me, because I think —
[BRANDY]: But if you do want to talk to someone like him you can go to olivetreetxk.com.
[BILLY]: If you do, you can go to olivetreetxk.com. We have a number of, find a therapist. If you can’t through an artistic outlet, find a way to process through your pain but, in conjunction with therapy, that’s one of the things that we recommend for people to tap in to their more creative side and find ways to process that and get those, all we’re doing is helping people articulate the untold parts of their soul. And what is that but art, trying to articulate a thing that you don’t have words for, that you can’t quite say, and you create an image and a picture that in an instant, looking at it like your stuff with the cell phones and in a toxic relationship. To me, it’s like toxic relationships with technology. You have this stuff that you say about that in imagery, we’ll put up one of those, but it’s just like in an instant, you can say, “Okay, sometimes I have an unhealthy relationship with my technology and how much control does it have over my life? And should I reevaluate that?”
You had one picture that said that to me. In an instant. I could spend 45 minutes in a therapy session, talking to someone about how their cell phone is getting in the way of their marriage or their relationship with their children. In an instant, with a photo, you send that right to the heart of where it is without words. It’s a beautiful thing to me. It’s totally healthy.
It means so much to me hearing that because, it’s so funny when I first started this whole process, I’ll take it back a little bit. 2018 was my best year and I was doing all this work and I felt a little empty and I realized I need to do more personal work. So I made it as a new year’s resolution that I would do a photo every month of just whatever I wanted to do. And when I started it, I was like, “These are going to be weird pictures. My mom is going to like pity like these and no one is going to connect with these in any way, shape or form.” And I was okay with that, because I was like, “I’m doing this for me. This is just my own little personal thing”. And immediately people were like seeing that I didn’t intend, they were connecting with it, and I was like, “Wait, am I not the only weird one? Like, people actually can connect with this too?” And that’s been the weirdest process of like learning. It’s given me like a sense of community and then I finally realized it gave me a language that I didn’t have words for. Like I could never communicate.
It gave me this whole new language that like there was all these ideas and like stories and images in my head that had been swirling around for my entire life. I was always just in a constant, in a state of thought, and there’s always been this like underlying frustration inside of me, because I’ve never been able to fully realize those. And the second I’ve started to be able to communicate with people, these kinds of like more complex ideas that go on in my head and images, I felt like I was understood and it gave me this strange, an unwritten language that felt really good and really cathartic. And it’s helped me connect with people more. So hearing that feels really good.
[BILLY]: Well, that’s what it does for me. I couldn’t help but say it and when you say helping other people on their artistic journeys. We do have this little thing called Beta Male Revolution that may need some help one day and conveying our message to the world. So we may be reaching out to you and we just like, I don’t know, we like connecting with like-minded people and we talk about faith and life a lot on this and wrestling with it. And you on your journey, growing up the way that you did and having parents who opened you up to a life that you may not always see. I don’t know, I think it’s just so cool that your parents were so open to allow you to pursue your passions and they didn’t try to force you into a box. And now that is allowed you to create things and send messages to the world that wouldn’t have been out there otherwise. And it is very, let me go ahead and use a word pastoral or prophetic in nature because you’re sending messages out there that are providing healing for people.
[BRANDY]: Yes, I think as we wrap up that we offer that to our audience, that connection piece, because what else is there? Like our whole goal in making this podcast was to connect and to connect people, to connect so that you didn’t feel alone, especially in isolation during the pandemic, but to be able to see a piece of art and say like you did, “Oh, I’m not weird. Other people see things too.” It’s like that teacher saying, “If anybody has a question, just ask because I’m sure somebody else has the same question.” And when you display your art on Instagram and it is the social media or the comfort, or the hundred other things that you’ve got on there, that people are connecting with it. And if we are a small part of connecting people with your work, then we’re grateful for it because it means we’re not alone and we’re all going through this. But anyway, we’re going to wrap up. You ask your question, I’ll ask mine.
[MICHAEL]: Okay. I want to say it one more thing. They started little something you just said, let me see how I want to word this.
[BILLY]: Just say it.
[MICHAEL]: Yes, I’m talking about my parents again. I get to sit here and I get to do everything I did and I always say, I have to give them a producer credit on everything I’ve ever made, because they’ve always been so supportive. But, because I am going to do a piece on this, can I just give like some advice for parents?
[BRANDY]: You can.
[MICHAEL]: I am not a parent, so I am not qualified to give this advice. I’ve only been a son.
[BILLY]: We will take.
[MICHAEL]: Yes, and it’s I see, I meet with like broken children all the time and it’s because parents tried to use their children as a way to like boost themselves. And it’s almost like this insecurity thing. If their kids aren’t successful in a very specific way, they aren’t successful and so they trap their kids in these boxes of like, “No, no, no, you have to stay over here. You can only do sports. You can only do music. You can only do these very specific things.” And they’re breaking people and like, I wouldn’t have ever pursued photography or theater or anything in the arts if it wasn’t for my parents being open and okay with that and being willing to be like, “My son may embarrass us. He may make a complete fool out of us, but that’s okay because that’s a part of it.” And so that’s just my like big encouragement to everyone because I see it every day when I meet other people that like, I have the blessing of not having some of these hitches and hangups that I’ve had to work through because they wanted the best for me and they were okay that it didn’t make them look the greatest all of the time.
[BRANDY]: Now we’re going with that. That’s some raw bell stuff.
[BILLY]: Well, yes, what’s the primary purpose of a parent other than to delight in your children? So many times we create them as buckets by which we pour all over anxieties into about the accomplishments we didn’t accomplish, or we want them to be successful so we can curiously live through them, or if they make mistakes and we have to own that yet, we don’t allow them to go out there and earn their own scars, have their own successes, have their own failures. And you spoke right to the heart of that and as a father, I take every message I can get from anyone about, you know because none of us are doing it perfect. We’re just trying to do it better than we did yesterday. So totally take that in and I’m going to rock with it.
[BRANDY]: Well, one of the things we’ve tried to teach our children is that this is your life. Like this is not our decision. This is your life, this is your path, and we’re going to be there to support you along the way. And that is one of the hardest things, too, as a parent is to let go and let them make their mistakes and earn their scars, but I also know like they’re not mine. Like it’s their journey, it’s their life. If I’m making their decisions, they’re completely dependent on me for their value and what they think and then I’m depending on the comparison of other children and the levels that they’re on. And that’s not what this is about. Like my kids are a blessing. They irritate the snot out of me, but they bring me so much joy at the same time and it’s like, yes, I still have to like give them baths and like, they depend on me.
But that’s only for a minute and watching them take these steps and watching them go in on their own and, I mean, it’s just really cool. I think you both say it. If I’m living my life to prove myself through my children, I’m wrecking my kids. And that’s hard for parents because we do live in the society of, if my kid’s taken piano, then they have to take piano and then they have to take this and then they’d better take math tutoring. And they got to get into this college and they’re already prepping their ACT and SAT scores in the third grade.
[BILLY]: They better be an artist because they might starve to death.
[BRANDY]: Or embarrass us, right? [crosstalk].
[BRANDY]: Embarrass you.
[BILLY]: Maybe they’ll travel and see some of the most beautiful things in the world and flail around in their tidy, whities and pool, trying to convey a message.
[MICHAEL]: Beautiful thing.
[BILLY]: The stuff that you’ve done go to your parents. So good job guys. We’ll just give a shout out to them. In wrapping up today, Michael Ulmer, we have one question often we have two, I have a question and Brandy has a question. We’ll put you on the spot. Up to this point in life, what’s the hardest, most valuable lesson you have learned?
[MICHAEL]: Oh wow. Just going to lay it out there.
[BILLY]: Just an easy one. Just a softball, just a little something for you to wrestle with. Actually, I’m going to go with, I did a piece on this, it’s actually the one that’s, it’s like my most vulnerable one, but I don’t tell anybody it was my most vulnerable one. I just snuck it in there under the radar. It was actually in my like Halloween embrace fear [crosstalk]. No, no, no.
[BRANDY]: Oh, I heard that one too.
[MICHAEL]: That was a fun one. It’s the controller. I think you actually liked it on Instagram last night and I was like, “They’re doing their research. I love it. It’s called control and the visual is the monster is reaching in the mirror and choking the person. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn is that when you try and control situations and you try and control people, whether you feel like they’re starting to like leave you or distance himself and you try and control them, you end up choking them out and you end up like sealing the deal and then they officially leave. And for me, just as a human existing, that’s been one of the hardest things for me to have to like recognize in myself and then deal with and get over. And yes, it’s not, that’s not a fun one and it’s not a pretty one. It’s always been difficult.
[BRANDY]: There’s deepness here. And for someone in my forties, it took me years to get to the level you are now at your age. And that’s pretty amazing how deep everything is with you in so many layers and so many levels. So here’s another very deep question. When you’re in your car and you’re rocking out, what is your jam? What is it that gets you pumped?
[MICHAEL]: I will say before that I don’t even consider a deepness. I just consider like raw honesty and I always try to encourage, like, if you’ll be honest with yourself, like actually honest with yourself, you won’t have to like work as hard. Like it’s, you know all this stuff already. Anyway, rocking out in my car? Oh my goodness. I got to go with the classic. I will return to this CD all the time. I have the physical CDs still in my car.
[BILLY]: You didn’t lay it at the foot of the cross. We turned them in.
[MICHAEL]: This one, it is my chemical romance [crosstalk].
[BILLY]: Oh yes. Oh my God.
[MICHAEL]: It’s actually so funny because that was my first secular CD I got. My sister gave it to me as a birthday —
[BRANDY]: Which sister? You have three.
[MICHAEL]: Amanda, my oldest sister, she gave it to me as a birthday present. I mean, that was like a bomb because were not allowed to have them.
[BILLY]: So you had the snare drum and you feel it coming out.
[MICHAEL]: I’ll listen to that whole album. I can yell, sing that entire album front to back.
[BILLY]: I do that. I get in my emo days [crosstalk] and I’ll turn on some blink 182, my chemical romance, pull on my black ash shadow and just go dark.
[BRANDY]: Fingernails. Just put your hair in your [crosstalk]. No, I get it. I remember and we’ve told the story before, but I remember growing up, my parents wouldn’t let me listen to any secular music and I listened to everything secular, but also —
[BILLY]: Your mom listens to this.
[BRANDY]: I listened to all, they know. They know. They tried to take MTV away. I just went to a friend’s house and watched it like that’s back when they had news about it.
[BILLY]: I’m not seeing nothing wrong.
[BRANDY]: Yes. Well anyway, and I remember getting my first Dave Matthews CD and I remember thinking like, “Oh my gosh, like this is going to change my life. This is what they’ve been keeping from me? Like this is manoj.” It just is like that. Like I can just sing the whole time. Anyway.
[BILLY]: Fun was Pearl Jam Tim, when that album came out [crosstalk] We’re all in different time spaces. So Michael, we’re going to send people to your website. What is it?
[BILLY]: Boom. Instagram is?
[MICHAEL]: @MichaelUlmer, [U L M E R].
[BILLY]: So go check it out guys. Thank you all for hanging out with us again today.
[BRANDY]: This was fun.
[BILLY]: It was great time Michael. Thanks for having coffee with us.
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The post Analyzing the Human Condition Through Art with Michael Aaron Ulmer | Episode 51 appeared first on Beta Male Revolution.