Category : Impossible Project
I’ve been swirling for the past few weeks. Most days have felt like a struggle. Getting out of bed has been difficult. Pushing through the day has required inordinate effort. I’ve been looking forward to the end of the day when I can come home, change into my pajamas, and pour a glass of wine, with far too much gleeful anticipation.
I’m having tumultuous dreams and flashback images of my mother. A dear friend’s wife died, bringing up all of the feelings associated with the knowledge that friends my age shouldn’t be dying and that I, too, will die. My tendencies toward existential crisis lie just below the surface, and needless to say, have been spilling over. My self-efficacy regarding writing a memoir, telling my story and telling it well, has been dangerously circling the drain. Oh, and Mercury was in retrograde. I can’t see the forest for the trees.
I have been stuck. In a fragile, emotional, crying-three-times-a-day funk. For a few weeks. But I’m coming out of it. I’m clawing my way to the surface. I have to. I need to see the big picture. I need to remember that life is short and I will die, and to use that knowledge to embrace the life I have rather than retreat from it. I need to remember that revisiting my past opens old doors, and that dreams and flashbacks are part of the process. I need to remember that I’ve never written a memoir before, that this is all new territory for me, and that my self-efficacy will grow as I keep writing.
Yes, I’m shaking the devil off. Casting off the stuck-ness. Starting to glimpse the forest again.
I interrupt my re-capping of our summer travels to Spain and Paris to share some of the instant photography shots I recently unveiled for Autumn Polaroid Week. For this now twice-a-year extravaganza of all that is wonderful about instant photography, I saved a few of the portraits I took of my amazing friend, Melissa, to share. I posted my very favorite black and white photos of her that I took during our shoot in Oregon, but was hoarding these color images shot on IMPOSSIBLE Project film to share last week for Polaroid Week.
I don’t want summer to end. The slower pace, the lessened responsibilities, the lack of structure. That all sounds just so very good as I write these words. Yes, it sounds good to me, in theory. If I get quiet with myself and I’m really honest, I know these kinds of days don’t equate to the feelings in myself for which I long. The truth is, I’m restless. I’m antsy. I’m a little down.
Knowing myself — really knowing and accepting myself — is a work in progress. I heard Gretchen Rubin give a great talk last year on this very subject, and I’m only now hearing all of its reverberations. Over time, and particularly of late, I’m becoming more and more clear that my personality is wired for structure. Spontaneity, free-flowing time, and days without set plans all seem enticing to me. It sounds great. But it isn’t great for me. Those type of days make me feel more restless, more antsy, more depressed. I realize I have been holding on to some notion that those kind of days are supposed to be awesome and fun and freeing. After all, I can sleep in if I want. I can stay home in my pjs all day, be with Parker, and work on my manuscripts. I don’t have scheduled meetings, so the day can just flow. Sounds good, right? As much as I don’t want to let the idea go that I could be “unstructured, free-flowing Meghan,” I have to accept the truth that these kind of days are not good for me. I have to know and honor my true Self enough to accept who I am.
This acceptance fills me with some excitement. Getting closer to my truth is GOOD! I’m already thinking through my plans to kick this restlessness to the curb. Although it still only the first week of August, my summer is just about over. I leave this week for the American Psychological Association conference and and when I return, preparations for the semester will be in full swing as classes begin a few short days later. Thus, with the new semester on the horizon, I’m thinking through the structure I want to build for myself. I’m making plans for how and when I want to spend my time — writing my book, working on research manuscripts, teaching class, meeting with students, yoga, lunches/walks/happy hour with friends, dates with Tony. These are all the parts of my life I want to really sink into, and for me to really sink in, I need to prioritize and schedule it all. As well, I need to wake up, get dressed, and leave the house. As a true (and extreme) extrovert, I need to be with other people, even if it’s working and writing at the coffee shop. Staying at home in my pjs all day, alone, is a recipe for disaster. That’s knowing myself, being secure in who I am, and living my truth.
It’s that time of year — time to gather with some soul sisters on the coast of Oregon. This marks the fourth year this group of sisters, Tribe, will be communing with one another alongside the majestic Pacific. And I’m ready. I’m ready for the ritual, the comfort, the ease of being with these beautiful women. I’m ready to review the past year, to share the triumphs and the defeats. I’m ready to whisper my greatest longings, to give voice to the big dreams I’ve been cultivating. I’m ready to laugh with my whole body, and I’m equally ready to release the tears that have been welling up.
I’m ready for connection and sisterhood. I’m ready to feel secure in my creative journey and these next big steps I’m taking. I’m ready to allow for and accept the support I so desperately need. I’m ready for the dose of inspiration I get from these kindred spirits, from this community we lovingly call Tribe, to walk steadfastly into the adventure of the creative unknown. I’m ready for the self-care, the refocusing, the re-committing to mySelf and the life I want to live.
Back when I was in graduate school, I would go to these “speed mentoring” sessions that were held during our big annual conference (aka, American Psychological Association Convention). I attended these sessions seeking sage wisdom from prominent Counseling Psychologists who had found success in their careers. I was steadily working toward earning my doctorate at the time, and I desperately wanted to land a faculty position at a university where I could conduct research and train graduate students. Knowing these academic jobs are hard to come by, I felt like I needed all the advice and help I could get. So, off I’d go to these mentoring sessions each year during the conference. Picture “speed dating” but with no alcohol, no flirting, and only “talking shop.”
One of the kernels of wisdom that has stuck with my all these years later is this: Think of yourself as a writer. Yes, you will be teaching and doing research as part of your faculty position, but your main task will be writing. You must embrace an identity as a writer.
What incredible advice this was for me as I was making my way professionally. I did land a faculty position, and I recently earned tenure and was promoted. I’ve achieved these milestones in large part because of my research productivity which translates to my writing. In order to get my research out there and be published in scientific journals, I’ve had to seriously hone my writing skills and dedicate myself to regular writing. Indeed, I’ve had to embrace an identity as a writer.
Interestingly during this time, my life has expanded. Cancer came to my door and I had a wake-up call. My life reached a turning point and I had to ask myself what I wanted, truly wanted, from my “once around.” That’s when I made the conscious decision to dive into photography. And in launching Life Refocused, I plunged into a different type of writing than I’d ever really engaged in before. My identity as a writer broadened. I was no longer only writing for scientific and research purposes, I was writing for myself and for you.
A lovely series on people’s writing processes has been making its way around the blog-o-sphere of late. I’ve read with great interest about how and why some of my favorite writers get their words out into the world. So I was very happy when my dear friend and Tribe sister, Emily, tapped me to be next in the series. Emily is a brilliant, funny, and heart-filled writer. She has a memoir or two in her and I can’t wait to see her birth those books. Thanks for tagging me in this awesome series, Em.
Here are the questions and my responses (as they are true for me today).
What am I working on?
As I write this post, I’m holed up in the mountains of Colorado working on a book proposal. In this year that I worked on 365 IMPOSSIBLE Self-Portraits, a book began germinating in my heart and soul. Stories and experiences from my life came rushing in day by day as I shot these self-portraits. I decided I couldn’t ignore these stories, nor could I hide the intimate self-portrait work I’ve done. Thus, I’m working on creating a book that is memoir meets instant self-portrait photography.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure there is a specific “genre” for my current book project. That is both terrifying and exhilarating! Of course, many people write about their lived experiences and many share their beautiful photography. I hope that my work here at Life Refocused — both the writing and photography — brings an honesty and vulnerability that is often missing in social media and blogs. I don’t try to “pretty it all up” and spin my life as one of simplicity and ease and only beautiful things. I try to convey the fullness of my experience, the ups and downs, the triumphs and the swirling.
Why do I write what I do?
I write for myself and I write for you. First, I write to figure myself out. To understand the emotions in my heart, the swirling in my brain, the angst in my stomach. I write to unravel the mystery of who I truly am and of my experiences. I write to let go, to not hold on to it all. I write to show up and reveal my Self to me. And in doing that, in coming to some understanding — no matter how small — I want to share it so that maybe someone else understands herself/himself a little bit better. I write to connect with our common humanity, the feelings and longings and thoughts we all experience. I write to feel less alone and to (hopefully) help others feel less alone.
How does my writing process work?
Hmmm. Well, first, I need quiet. I’m not someone who can write (or read) with any music or other distractions. My brain just isn’t that good and can’t handle the stimulation. When I’m writing for Life Refocused, I write at home. I do “morning pages” most days and while I don’t intend to birth a blog post there in my Moleskine, it often happens that way. My journaling to understand myself naturally spills into something I want to share here with you. Other times, a photograph I’ve taken awakens me to a story or experience I want to share. And then there are the experiences or feelings that churn in me, that echo in my head, and I know I need to write to free them.
As for the nitty-gritty, I read and re-read my writing. Even a blog post. I was the copy editor for my high school newspaper and I hate typos and editing mistakes. So, I read and re-read my writing to eliminate those errors to the best of my ability. It’s also important to me that my photography matches and reflects what I’m writing. Thus, I’m very selective in what image I share with my words. I also don’t usually hit “publish” as soon as I’m done writing. I typically schedule my posts so that they go live the next day. Oftentimes, once I’ve written a post and scheduled it to publish the next day or so, I think of something else I want to add. I then come back and add to what I’ve written. That space between scheduling the post and it going live gives me a little cushion that I need for my brain to reflect back just a bit more to add a finishing touch or a missing piece.
Last, I read and respond to every comment that someone takes the time to share. As I said, I write for me and I write for you. When someone takes a moment out of her/his overly-scheduled and busy life to share a comment with me, I treasure it and I respond in kind. I live for community and connection, and comments on my writing give me just that.
I’m thrilled to pass off this writing process series to Meredith Winn, aka CameraShyMomma. Meredith is an incredible photographer and talented writer. She is an astute observer of life, of love, and of relationships. Her words often reverberate within me throughout the day. Meredith will be picking up this baton next Monday, but in the meantime, dive into her website to bathe in her words and images.
Meredith Winn is a freelance writer, tintype photographer, and Associate Editor of Taproot Magazine. She lives off-grid with her partner and a trio of boys in the western Maine foothills. She weaves stories from truth and optical illusions from images. Working from the darkroom in her yurt, she greets history where silver and light meet to create handcrafted ferrotypes. Meredith’s work can be found in a variety of publications and galleries. Find more of her work at her website.