Category : SOOC
In my last post, I shared my new love affair with black and white film. The affair is still in full bloom with no signs of fading. I also hinted about a photo shoot with my Tribe sister, Melissa. For her amazing, year-long Project Adventure, Melissa decided she wanted portraits of herself taken in an intimate photo shoot. I was flattered and humbled when she asked me to be the photographer behind the lens. Before meeting up in Oregon for our retreat and the backdrop for this photo shoot, we compared notes about ideas for shots and made our respective packing lists: Melissa’s for wardrobe and mine for photo gear. I knew I wanted to primarily shoot film for these photos of Melissa, so I brought along three film cameras — Polaroid 195, Polaroid SLR680, and Canon AE-1 — and lots of film for each.
Rather than do the photo shoot all at one time, Melissa and I found ourselves allowing some space and freedom for these photos to emerge over the few days we had together. This gave us room to experiment with different locations, various lighting, and divergent moods. It also let us have some fun with costume changes. More importantly, giving ourselves the time to spread the shoot over a few days let us learn that pushing or forcing a photo session when something feels off or isn’t quite vibe-ing does not make for good portraits.
Since I’ve been immersed in self-portraiture for the past year, taking portraits of Melissa also let me hone skills I haven’t used in quite some time. I got to work through posing Melissa and positioning myself for good angles. This included working collaboratively to find the sweet spot of what I wanted as a photographer and what felt good to Melissa in her body.
I practiced how to talk with Melissa during the photo shoot. This might sound odd — she’s one of my best friends, after all — but making someone feel at ease while having her portrait taken is harder than it seems. It’s especially hard when using a rangefinder or other manually-focused cameras, as the process of shooting a photo becomes more of an ordeal, taking longer to get proper focus. Additionally, I became more aware of my own discomfort when taking the time to focus properly with these old-school cameras. I noticed how I start to rush myself out of concern that the person I’m shooting is getting annoyed or uncomfortable waiting for me to get my focus and position settled. This rushing is definitely not good for my process, and I was able to recognize and begin to work it out during our time together.
Best of all, I learned how totally fun a portrait session can be! I’m so used to shooting self-portraits and being alone during the process, I had forgotten the joy it brings me to create photos of someone else who is equally invested and into the session. Despite me being behind the lens and she in front of it, Melissa and I felt like a team. I think that collaborative spirit comes through in these images and makes these photos that much better.
Melissa was so open, so vulnerable, allowing me to really see her. I feel like I was able to capture her beauty — inside and out — in an authentic way. I hope she feels the same. I’m so grateful Melissa wanted to do a portrait session and that she selected me from the many talented photographers with whom she works in the wedding and film industry. It was truly my pleasure and honor.
All of the photos shown here were shot with my Polaroid 195 camera and Fuji 3000B film. This last photo makes me swoon. Shooting this film and seeing these portrait results breaks my heart that this film was recently discontinued. Melissa is sharing many more photos and her experience of being on the other side of the lens over at The Long Haul Project. Check it out HERE.
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.
Tired. Legs a bit wobbly. Growing ever hotter as the intense Colorado sun beats down on the national park along with everyone and everything in it, including me. This is how I was feeling as Tony and I were in the homestretch of a 14-mile hike last Friday. I was thinking about filling up our CamelBaks at the nearby natural springs and taking some photos of the many hummingbirds in the area as we came into the last mile. Having already passed Calypso Cascades (a waterfall), the North St. Vrain River was rushing down the mountain next to the trail.
Tony jokingly mentioned dipping his head in the river to cool off as he ventured a bit off the trail to get closer to the water. I followed him a few moments later, thinking I would put my hand in to grab a bit of water to throw on my overheated face. As I began to reach down toward the river, I heard Tony’s voice, not registering what he said. The slimmest edge of my left toe, encased in a heavy hiking boot, dipped ever so slightly into the water. In an instant, I felt the slippery surface of the riverbank, and I was gone.
Thrust into the rapids of the rushing river, my feet and legs slipped out from under me as I tried to fight against what was happening. The river’s bottom was too slick and the water too powerful for my legs to find any success. I frantically looked up to search for Tony on the river’s edge only to find him amongst the rapids coming after me. The river was moving so quickly, my brain couldn’t keep up to assimilate what was truly happening. I crashed into rocks, brushed harshly against fallen trees that I desperately attempted to grab on to with no avail. This is what fear feels like.
Then, I was pulled under the water’s surface. My body was tossed about as I gulped in water with an open mouth, caught off guard by this raging river. It felt like slow-motion when I was underwater. Images of Naomi Watts in The Impossible flashed through my mind. I felt like I was in a movie, being pummeled against boulders and debris as I was kept under by the sheer force of the water. I had the fleeting thought that this might be it. This is how I might die. This is what fear feels like.
I surfaced, facing up-river, wildly searching again for Tony and gasping for air. He was close behind, the current moving him directly to me. He yelled to me, urging me to try and grab the fallen trees that we kept rushing by. Again, I tried getting a hold of anything I could to stop this nightmare from unfurling. It was so hard to hold on. Part of a branch would be in my hand for a moment only for it to slip away from me as the river kept pushing me downstream. We began edging ever more closer to the next set of waterfalls. This is what fear feels like.
Next, I feel Tony grab me. I’m still wearing my backpack and my camera across my shoulders, and thankfully, the river has forced Tony closer and closer to me that he is finally able to get me in his grasp by snatching up part of my pack. I hear him repeating, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” The current pushes us farther from the trail edge of the river but that much closer to a downed tree. With his free arm, Tony manages to wrap it around the tree and stop our forward momentum.
I am gulping in air now. I grab on to the tree. My upper torso has actually slammed into the tree. I look searchingly into Tony’s eyes. He tells me over and over, “I’m not gonna let you go. I’m not gonna let you go. I’m not gonna let you go.” And I believe him. I start to think – to feel – that part of the tree, a stray limb, may in fact be embedded in my side. Although we are in some momentary safety, I am keenly aware that we might not be in this spot for very long. The current is still raging, still pushing, still threatening. This is what fear feels like.
Repeating words of my own begin to spill out of my mouth. “Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.” I say it over and over. Am I pleading with my mind? With the Universe? Or is this just what shock does to the system? I glance down at my arm holding onto the tree branch and I see my hand and my wrist, noticing how pink and red my skin looks. That’s when something registers in my brain. I’m cold. This water that I am submerged in is very cold. We cannot stay in this river for much longer. This is what fear feels like.
While we are remaining fairly steady in our found bit of safety, we are also being shifted about at the whim of the river. I feel a huge rock under me and I try to wedge one of my legs behind it. I’m doing whatever I can to stay put. Hold on to the tree. Keep my leg plastered to this boulder. Do not go downstream. Do not go over Copeland Falls. Tony and I look at each other, and in that flicker of eye contact, I think we realize that we are not getting out of this river on our own.
Tony yells, “HELP!” Right, we need to call for help. Then I start screaming, “HELP!” My back is turned toward the trail, so it is difficult for me to see anything except the river and Tony. I can tell that someone has heard us, that someone has come toward the river and seen that we are in it. I hear Tony tell this person that we need help.
Then, a man quickly appears on the river bank. I turn my head to see what’s going on. I see this man trying to find his footing, precariously edging toward us. He’s looking for another fallen tree to use to help us get out. A few other men join him. There are four of them now. I realize that me turning back toward the trail is making my position in the water more risky. I look back at Tony and keep my eyes fixed on him. He reassures me we’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.
The men have linked themselves together, formed a human chain. The man in front extends the fallen tree he’s found toward us. Tony somehow manages to keep my pack firmly in his grasp, hold the fallen tree we have been clinging to for safety under his other arm, and then grasp the extended tree under the arm that is holding onto me. The four men slowly pull the extended tree toward them, hand-over-hand, pulling us toward them and toward safety. We get to the riverbank and one of the men pulls me out. I take a step forward away from the river and turn to watch the men pull Tony out of the rapids. We’re on land. Out of the current. “Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.”
I stand on the river’s edge for a few moments. I think I am in shock. I take off my pack. Remove the camera from around my neck. And I still stand there. I look at the men, and I say to them, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you…” I burst into tears. We stumble up onto the trail. A mass of people have assembled to watch the scene. I’m outside of myself now. Is this happening? Did this all just really happen?
Two women from two separate groups of hikers start talking to Tony and me. They are urging us to get out of our clothes. They tell us we are shivering and cold. We reply that we are fine, we’re okay. We have no idea how cold we are. They continue to urge. They insist we have to get warm, now. They each have a warming blanket in their packs – those metallic, aluminum foil-type blankets – and they unwrap the blankets and then wrap each of us up.
The four men who pulled us from the river have gone on their way, nameless to us forever. Another man asks if he can walk us to our car. He offers to carry Tony’s pack for him. The Park Ranger arrives, relieved to see us on the trail and not in the river. He gets some information from us, and asks us repeatedly if we have hit our heads, if we think we have broken any bones, and the like. He tells us we are the fifth and sixth people to get swept into the raging water just this week.
We – the Park Ranger, the man with Tony’s pack, one of the “blanket ladies,” Tony, and myself – walk the last mile of our 14-mile hike. At the car, I finally take off my shirts to see that, in fact, I was not impaled on the tree limb. Tony and I both assess our respective bodies, and despite massive bruises, cuts, and scrapes, we have exited this waterlogged nightmare virtually unharmed, all things considered. Our new friends bid us good luck and goodbye. And with our faith restored in humanity and the sheer kindness of strangers, and my decision to spend my life with Tony reinforced yet again, we pulled away from the trailhead.
If you’re curious about this experience through Tony’s eyes, you can read his account HERE.
With all the fun there is to drink up in summer — the ice cream, the trips, the homemade sangria, the bike rides, the concerts — there is also a need for stillness, for quiet. A need to replenish, to sleep late, to read all day.
I love a good book. This deep affection for reading — and words — is perhaps the greatest gift my father gave me. As a young child, my father tucked me in each night after reading me a few stories. Then as I grew older and could read on my own, I read in bed before I went to sleep, just as my father was doing in his room. Reading has always been part of my bedtime routine. To this day, rarely an evening passes without Tony and I reading in bed before calling it a night.
Reading is self-care for me, and as such, I’m trying to carve out more reading time in my daily life. It’s tough to make progress through books, let alone make my way through my lengthy list of books I want to read, when I only make time for it at night before crashing. Many a night I find myself having read merely a paragraph before feeling the weight of my eyelids pull shut and my head nod into my chest. Thus, in the ever-valiant fight against time, I’m seeking more moments to read.
Despite my soporific reading habits, this year has been full of great books so far. I hesitate to state this out loud (as much as posting to my blog is “out loud”) for fear of jinxing myself, but I’m having a good run since the start of 2014. Everything I’ve read has been so well worth my time. Save perhaps one book, I’d recommend them all. In no particular order, here’s what I’ve read and enjoyed over the past six months:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Books I’m currently reading include Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, both of which I’m very much enjoying. As I am writing and working on my own book project for 365 Impossible Self-Portraits, I’m really wanting to immerse myself in more memoir. It is helpful and fascinating to see how other writers inhabit the life they’ve lived through their words and storytelling. Additionally, I’m taking my time gleaning great advice from Manage Your Day-to-Day, an edited collection culled by Bēhance from 20 creative minds on developing a routine and habits to mine your own creativity, writing, and other dreams you’re seeking.
What are you reading these days? I’d love to hear what you’ve read and loved lately. Or what you’ve read some time ago that is still resonating with you. I adore fiction and I’m definitely on the lookout for more memoir and great books on the writing process. Please share in the comments!
Keep reading, friends. Reading is sexy. It got me a husband after all. But that’s a story for another time…
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.
I mentioned a few posts ago that I took a whirlwind weekend trip to NYC to meet up with some of my photography sisters, Debra and Lindsey. We set ourselves on a mission to find some of the amazing street art the city offers, and we were not disappointed. Having packed a ton of cameras between the three of us, we found ourselves shooting the same content with different mediums, including different types of instant films.