During a recent conversation with my daughter I was reminded of this particular summer. The summer this picture was taken. The summer I spent an enormous amount of time in this beautiful park practicing photography, reading, walking and avoiding reality in general. It was a bad summer but when I look back now, all I really remember is how much I loved this place and how I couldn’t wait for the weekend so I could load up my camera and books and Ipod and just escape. I was just another set of footprints, another blanket on the grass. I knew no one and no one knew me. Sometimes I simply walked the path that surrounded the park and let myself get lost in the faces that passed me. Or I would lay on a blanket just staring at the blue above hoping God could hear my silent prayers.
Mostly I just wandered on and off the trail, under large evergreens and around massive oaks. Looking for inspiration. Watching entire scenes play out in front of me, the people in them completely unaware of my presence. A group of college kids trying to launch a bizarre kite that never really did fly but brought rolls of laughter as it would knock down several of it’s would-be fliers at a time. Couples lost in conversation and dog owners desperately trying to walk their pets, only to become the walked instead. While these were entertaining and often hilarious, my real focus was on the trees and clouds and the inanimate features. Small pools of reflective water caught in massive exposed tree roots that over the years had created amazing natural works of art in the landscape. Floors of pine needles and scattered cones. The beautiful aqua blue door of old well kept home just across the street. The water drops on a park bench after a summer rain shower.
It was a bad summer but here I found peace and eventually the ability to face reality.
I am a quitter. If I had to tell you the one thing about myself that I find most embarrassing and dislike the most, this would be it. If there was only one thing about myself that I would change, this would be it. If I knew this would be my last day on earth and I had to state the one thing about myself that prevented me from living the life I dreamed, this would be it.
One of the great things about my journey into photography is that while I’m looking through the lens and learning how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed on the camera, I’m also learning a great deal about myself. Or maybe more pointed, I’m learning to face what I already know but don’t really want to see or admit. Now, before you start planning an intervention because you believe me to be lost in some depression filled abyss hear me out.
I have not always been a quitter and I have not ALWAYS quit. There are times and decisions and relationships in my life that I have not given up on and walked away from but I am painfully aware of the times, decisions and people that I have given up on and abandon. I am also sadly aware of how those moments have changed or shaped parts of my life and not for the better.
This is what has been on my mind over the past few months as I have struggled to follow through on this blog. I started this year with the hope (maybe a bit naive one) that come December 31st I would look back at a culmination of 365 photos that would somehow validate where I started and how far I’ve come. The fact that my posts have been sporadic, at best, has weighed on me for several days. Distracted and moody and just feeling out of sorts I have spent my drive to and from work trying to come up with ways to motivate myself and not let this be just one more thing I quit. The crazy thing is realizing how much I enjoy doing this but then allowing any little thing to keep me from it. I was puzzling over this thought as I walked out of the parking garage at work yesterday morning and came face to face with a man headed to the homeless shelter just a block away. Completely distracted I had almost walked right in front of him, making him stop and grunt at me. I apologized and was met with a solemn stare, then another grunt before he walked away. Frozen in my spot (not going to lie, I was completely startled), I watched him walk away and felt a rush of sadness for him but also a moment of clarity. That could be me. I do not mean to project my life on to this man, I have no idea what brought him to this place and what circumstances he has had to face but the look in his eyes was both angry and sad. The anger could have just been directed at me for not paying attention but the sadness was palpable.
I certainly have not had the worst life. I have everything to be thankful for. I also know that from a very young age I have had my own challenges to overcome and while, yes, I have not always crossed the finished line, I really have come a long way. That is why I posted the picture above. It is nothing. It’s actually quite bad but I took this picture several years ago when I first began my photography journey. It isn’t the same angle as my photo from the other day but it is the same location and for all intents and purposes, at the time, I’m sure I thought it was a decent shot. Now, when I compare it to my more recent photo, I can see improvement, growth and most importantly…that I have not quit.
As another summer quickly passes; as I prepare my son (and myself) for his last year of middle school; as my best friend begins the rewarding, though albeit painful, process of sending her oldest off to college for the first time; and as just the slightest hints of fall begin to find their way into the overhead canopy, I find myself indulging just a little more in each moment. I’m not irritated by the humid stickiness of hot afternoons. I allow it to surround me and embrace the warmth that I know will eventually give way to bitter cold. Instead of focusing on all the ways I could possibly die while riding on the back of a Harley, I close my eyes and enjoy and the wind whipping by and the change of the light and dark shadows behind my eyelids as we fly by open fields and clusters of trees. A rare afternoon spent with my daughter is no longer a time spent wishing I had more time like this, but rather just appreciating that she spends time with me.
I have a tendency to want to rush through parts of life and I sometimes allow that to leak into my photography. I want to be able to capture the shot the first time and I get annoyed when it takes me too long. Today I gave myself permission to just take the picture as many times as I wanted or needed. Today I allowed myself time to think, to adjust, to just breathe.
When I let it, photography is like being transported by a good book to another world. A world of vivid color, interesting lines, shadows and textures. It’s a place that is all mine, where I can push the bounds of my imagination and not be hindered by inhibitions. It shuts off the voice in my head that tells me I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m not good enough. It’s not about being good enough and knowing everything. It’s simply about what I see and how I see it and why it matters to me. It’s about expressing my vision of the world around me and while the world may seem rather ugly if you watch the news, there really is a lot of beauty left to be seen.
I’ve heard that to overcome your fears you should face them. I have a fear of spiders and while I don’t discount the idea that facing my fears is healthy, there is no way I’m going to put myself in a tub of spiders! Instead, I’m choosing to try and find the good that they bring. It’s a short list but it helps.
They eat other insects and since I’m not a fan of insects in general, so that earns them a point. They’re web making skills are stellar. Yeah, that’s really all I’ve got. So I have made an agreement with them; I will respect them in their surroundings (outdoors) if they stay out of mine (indoors). So far I’m holding up my end of the deal but they don’t seem to have gotten the message.
Today I struggle to find words. I woke up to another morning of sad news and the picture of an 11-year-old boy who, along with his father and many others, was killed by…evil…that’s the name I choose to give to the person(s) who slaughters innocent people for…evil. There just is no other word for it.
Trying to find peace…trying to wrap my mind around the world that we live in and the realities that my children will have to face…for me, I find peace in God and the belief that He is the only answer to all this evil. And I find strength in these moments when I’m alone, surrounded by open skies and fields. When I see pieces of our past and I’m reminded that evil is nothing new to this world.
In the end…Good will overcome. That is what I hold onto.
I have a theory. Now this is a theory in progress, so bear with me as I work through my thoughts but it seems to me that while technology, wealth and abundance have given us many things that better our lives, they have also made a contribution to our downfall… Everything is expendable. No longer do we take care of or take pride in what we earn or work for. We can simply replace it with a newer or better option whenever the mood strikes us. Cars, cell phones, computers, homes, jobs, relationships…
I’m guilty of it. My contract on my cell phone expires and I’m looking for then next coolest thing. My car starts to have mechanical problems and my first thought is to trade it in. My current computer is going on 4-years-old and I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be thinking about getting rid of it before it crashes. A job starts to stress me out too much and I’m ready to move on.
Is it possible that our easy access to continually evolving technology has just fed into our nonchalant attitude about…just about everything. Is it possible that it has turned us into a society who values nothing, not even the lives of others?
Martina McBride sings a beautiful song about Independence Day that I use to love. Unfortunately, it was played every half-hour on the hour and it lost it’s joie de vivre. Looking back I remember how much I wanted to feel that…that Independence…not from an abusive relationship like in the song but from my own paralyzing fears.
As a child I was extremely shy. Not just the duck behind your parents kind of thing, the hide under the table in restaurants or in the clothes rack at Montgomery Wards because I was terrified of all the people kind of thing. Thankfully, with the help of some great teachers and an amazing youth group I did overcome my need to hide whenever in a crowd.
Independence Day was released in 1993. In October of 1994 my daughter was born and through her I began a journey that as I look back would lead to my own version of independence. While it’s relatively obvious by looking at us that we’re related, my daughter in many respects is my polar opposite. Where I enjoy the outskirts of a crowd, she is the center. Where I am quiet, she is outspoken. I was always more shy and she has never been shy a day in her life. One of my favorite stories is about how she would stand in the front of the cart at Target and sing at the top of her lungs “I Believe I Can Fly”! She’s not a singer but when you’re three it’s still adorable. And as most of mothers know, when it comes to protecting your children, there’s no time for shyness and I often surprised myself when I saw unfairness or mistreatment of her. Being her mother and just being around her helped me become more apt to let my guard down. For a long time I tried to change certain things about her that were not like me because I just didn’t understand her but eventually I learned to embrace those things and admire her for just being who she is. When I did that I found that we have more in common than I realized. We’re both a little weird and goofy. While she tends to be a whirlwind and I am only a slight breeze, we share a creative point of view and, an insane love of neat handwriting.
I am still an edge of the crowd kind of girl and will never be one to seek the center of attention but I am finding a sense of freedom from own internal critics. My daughter, and age, have taught me that the best person I can be, is myself.
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Epictetus