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Week 19: Resistance

unnamed-7It’s likely no one else has noticed that it’s actually been two full weeks since my last portrait. But oh have I noticed… and been acutely aware of the growing length of time passing by. And still no portrait. The frustrating part is that I’ve actually had the idea for well over a week now… this really powerful visual about the tension of being stuck between two worlds… but still I’ve done absolutely nothing but expertly avoid it. So instead, I decided to share the sketches for the next image and talk a bit about that really freaking annoying thing called resistance.

In every long-term project, resistance will rear its ugly head. Logically, I know this. I’ve done other long-term projects in the past, so I know that there will be points along the road when I will just plain get TIRED of doing it and want to drop everything. I also know this is totally normal and happens to everyone. Yet somehow, I still get completely frustrated with myself when it happens. Which just makes me resist and avoid it more of course. The worst thing about resistance is that I don’t usually know why it’s there or how to make it UNhappen. But I’m thinking what it boils down to is a mixture of exhaustion and fear.

Exhaustion is definitely a big part of it. A long-term project requires a lot of stamina, discipline, and focus. This one in particular is also requiring more and more depth of emotion from me the further I get into it. Mix in a few other variables like commissions and more marketing and trying to locate a publisher for the photo book of the project next year, and it’s easy to start stumbling around and losing focus. This is really the first time on this journey as an artist that I am having to juggle other variables more heavily and also stay committed to the project. And I gotta say… it’s SO not easy!

I’m also flat out TIRED of feeling and examining every last raw emotion that goes through me on a daily basis. This really isn’t anything new. I’ve been feeling exhausted from grieving for two years now. The difference seems to be, that for the first time since my fiancé died, there is beginning to be some room in my heart for things that are not my grief. My counselor has told me this is a huge and awesome shift, that all the hard healing work I’ve been doing all this time is beginning to allow me to embrace more of life again. And it’s a beautiful thing. It means there is suddenly space for new friendships that aren’t focused around grief. It means there is room for new aspects of myself to begin developing – like being a mentor and guide to others, and challenging myself to become healthier and stronger physically. And it’s all really exciting and beautiful – but it’s also pulling me in two very different directions and leaving me exhausted on whole new levels.

And then there is fear. Fear that I won’t finish out the project (despite knowing myself well enough to know that I will NOT allow myself to quit on it). Fear that I’ll run out of good ideas and good images. Why does this keep nagging me? For nearly six months now I’ve proven to myself that the ideas continue to keep flowing – yet still, that fear persists. And of course the fear that once I finish this whole thing, I won’t be able to find a publisher to back it and it will end up in the pile among the myriad of other forgotten projects. And the other side of fear too – fear that it might just blow up into this huge and well-known project and that suddenly there will be all these expectations on me about what I will do after it is done. I think getting so close to the halfway point of this thing is what’s really setting in the fear, because I’m so far in, and so much closer to my end goal, but that’s also where all the pressure lies. Momentum is building, and as it does, it requires more and more energy to harness this beast.

Looking at all of that, it’s no WONDER I’ve been resisting creating my next image. I mean hell, who wouldn’t be? If you were to ask me what the single most important tool is for working past the walls of resistance, I would say to sit down and talk to someone about it. Just discussing this with my counselor for an hour yesterday helped me to see that even if I didn’t get a portrait made this week, I could still create something of value out of this experience and share it here. There is always another way to look at a situation, and sometimes we need another person’s mind to help us out with that. Talking or writing it out also helps it to lose it’s power over us. It gets the block out of our heads which will begin to leave room for us to feel creative again. Somehow just writing this gave me a lot more gusto too… I’m feeling ready to get out there today and make this shoot happen, no matter what. And I’m reminded to not give up. To keep on pushing and challenging and growing and trying. No matter how much resistance might get me stuck sometimes… it’s not the end, its just another part to learn how to work through on this crazy creative journey. Thanks for listening.

 

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or to see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

 

Week 18 // Battle On

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“I just want to crawl out of my own skin” is a thing I said often in the first weeks and months after he died. For the whole first year really. That was my existence much of the time. Every cell of my body – every hair, every pore, every organ, was reverberating a constant and loud message of denial. Every cell of me, bumping up against the truth at every turn, abrasively, painfully. And then violently pushing and pushing, trying to thrust the truth out of my world. No, no, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO NO, NO!!!… vibrating loudly within every inch of me, trying to fight off a reality too painful, too unbelievable to comprehend. This single aspect of his death was by far the most agonizing of all.

I have wanted to create this image for almost a year now. It came to be randomly one day, just an image in my mind, and I knew that it needed to be made. Sometimes I find I need to sit with these visuals a while though, until I feel the time is right to create them. After a session with my grief coach this week, I instantly knew it was time.

I was describing to him my experience of joining the gym – how working out each day and watching my body change and become stronger has so deeply empowered me on so many other levels. And I said to him… “I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have in my life”. He had to repeat it to me in fact, just to make certain I grasped the sheer magnitude of that statement. And he was right… wow. Because just two years ago, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. That is when I knew it was time for this one to happen.

There’s something else I feel I need to share here too. When I sat down in front of this final image tonight to write about it, I was so overwhelmed by how much of my past it spoke of…

I was in an abusive relationship in my early twenties, several years before meeting my fiancé. It was another extremely dark time in my life, and a very lonely one. What I did not expect to find in this image tonight, was part of that story, too. Not only the fear and pain of that past, but also the inner strength that came out of it. Because when I look at the woman in this image… she has not only been through the unbelievable pain of losing the love of her life. She has – at a much earlier time of her life – been pushed and intimidated and made to feel small and forgotten and scared and alone. She has been made to feel worthless and shameful and flawed at her very core.

The woman in this image has been through all of that. And she has fought with every inch of her life for nearly a decade to heal all of these pains. She has fought to become strong so that she could guard herself well enough to remain soft. She is now a woman who is never pushed nor intimidated, and who does not tolerate anyone who makes her or others feel small. She knows her worth, she is not ashamed of who she is or where she comes from, and she knows she is beauty at her very core. She knows how brightly she can shine.

We all have our own story like this. We all have the battles that we have fought, or are fighting through right now. The pains that break down our doors and leaves us battered and bruised. The pain that makes our very foundation of a future crumble beneath our feet. Even if it cannot be seen on the skin… all of it still lies within me, and within you. And I hope that when you meet such pain that you stand up when it knocks you down. That you square your shoulders and look it right in the eye. That you are mindful of what you can gain from it – strength, wisdom, and a radiant inner beauty that surpassed anything you ever imagined yourself to be.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or to see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 6 // Desperation

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My father-in-law once described this whole experience of grief as feeling like falling into a pit over and over again. You exhaust yourself trying to climb out of it. You claw your way up muddy walls, sometimes reaching high enough to feel the sun on your face again for a moment. And then you lose your grip, and you feel yourself sliding back into the depths of your pain. Your fingers digging into the wet earth… hoping to find something to anchor to. But much of the time it is to no avail… and you fall and fall and fall. Until finally, you are once again at the bottom. Exhausted. Depleted. Empty-handed.

It is a special kind of desperation to be back in the bottom of your pain when you’ve lost someone incredibly dear to you. I was brought back there just a week ago, after attending my first bachelorette party since my fiancé died. Seeing everything I should have had and want so dearly to have… I lost my grip, and down I slid over mud and ash and pain. Stopping only when I reached the bottom of my pain, where there was nothing to do but surrender.

Almost 2 years after his death, I am not brought back there as often as I used to be. But I never forget the place where – for at least the first 6 months – I think I only managed to climb a few feet up the wall before falling (and I rarely had the strength to try and climb at all). When I am brought back there now, the reaction is still the same as the week he died. Every hair on my body and every last cell of me screams out in desperation. Even my hands themselves cry out – begging to be able to feel him again… pleading to know none of it is true. Aching to know the world I once knew, which looked nothing like this one. It wasn’t dirty. It wasn’t cold. It wasn’t dark. It wasn’t hard to look at or hard to feel. My world before was bright… something people liked to look at. Something I liked to look at. How complex living your life becomes when you find yourself in a world that no one wants to see, including you.

That is why I have so much appreciation for all of the people who have watched the most painful parts of my journey. Who have been unafraid to look at my world when it wasn’t beautiful to see. Hell some of them have even hurled themselves right down into the pit after me – entirely unafraid to feel the darkness with me. Those are the heroes in my story. They are the ones who make the loneliest place we will ever travel a little bit less alone. Today, if you are still here reading, that is most certainly you.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 2 // The Fallen

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Week two. The fallen. When we are broken open so fully that our soul cannot do the healing it needs to do fully here… I believe a part of us goes somewhere else – perhaps back its origin, or somewhere amongst the stars, to be reborn. Over the past year and a half, I have imagined this as what I am going through. It was as if a large part of my soul was ripped right out of me, just the way his entire soul was from him.

When this image first formed in my mind, just months after his death, I imagined what it would be like to be pulled out of this physical world and all its tangible familiarities. I thought of the sheer terror of being dropped into a totally alien world, a world where even your arms and legs were no longer there… but only your essence and the silence around you. Sounds pretty horrific to me. And that is exactly how the earliest months felt. I constantly imagined myself in a dark void… a black ocean of silence.

I tried many times to run from this place, only to fall there again. And then one day, I finally realized that this wasn’t a place to run away from… this was the place I was taken to – a sanctuary – in which to heal and become strong enough to re-enter into the new life I was left with. Sometimes, the only way to survive is to fall.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
Please share
 with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

2014: A Year of Self Portraits

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Although I’ve taken hundreds of self portraits since Drew died, I hardly ever share any of them. The above photo is in fact one of the only portraits I’ve shared that is deeply related to my grief. I took it just 4 or 5 months after he died. This scarf made me feel both powerful and protected at the same time…. very important feelings when your whole world falls apart around you. It also made me feel close to him. As a pilot, his love of flight became infectious and deeply inspiring to me… and so anything flight related became a real symbol of hope for me after he died.

This photo represented for me the in-between – not in my old life and not yet able to be in any kind of new life. It is a part of the journey we all must go through when enduring any kind of loss. This photo for me represents my incubation from the world… the time in which I needed to be sheltered in order to become who the person who is able to step forward into a new life one day.

A few weeks ago, after another man’s story inspired me, I shared this post on Widow’s Voice, where I write weekly. In the post, I shared several very private portraits I had never showed anyone. It felt REALLY vulnerable to do, but the response was wonderful and seemed to help many. It got me thinking that there might just be some power to sharing more of this.

So…. My plan is to do a year of self portraits – one a week – to explore my individual journey through grief more deeply. In order to focus on the true emotion and not get hung up on the technical, I am choosing to the full series as photography – a media that I am very comfortable and experienced with already.

My goal is to use both the photo-taking process and journaling in combination to begin to dig deeper into my own grief and myself going through it, to see it from different angles, and to allow myself to be seen and heard doing so.

I’ll admit as I type this, there is something about announcing “I’m going to photograph myself for a year” that feels entirely self-centered and irksome. The old demons come up, saying “Who do you think you are? Who will care about a year of pictures of you?”. Well… for one, I will. I want to know what I will gain from this, learn from it, how I will heal more, and how it might help others to do the same for themselves. I figure that’s a pretty darn good start right there.

So, I’ll be sharing my first portrait a week from today, and every Monday for the year, along with some of the journaling that happens around each image *Shudders at the thought of this!* So vulnerable! But I’m trusting anyone out there reading to be kind to what I give – as I am most certain that most people will be. Until next week… wishing you well.

Milestones and Melt Downs

What a day. I never fathomed a person could go through so many emotions in 24 hours. Two important things happened today. 1) I had the most major melt down I have had since the day Drew died. 2) I had my very first sale on my Etsy shop!!! I HUGE milestone for me that I have dreamed of for many years! Our buyer is going to be getting this adorable little needle felted toadstool in a bottle very soon at her door! So that’s the short-n-sweet of my day. If you’d like to read the knitty-gritty, there is plenty more below… I don’t often post journal-entry type stuff cuz it’s pretty raw and messy… but I dunno, what the hell. I hope you enjoy the drama more than I did ;)

I barely eat breakfast…
I have a 10 o’clock appt with my therapist. I’m empty. Then the Rihanna song comes on in the car… “Bulletproof, Got nothing to lose…” I’ve always liked this song, its empowering. And then for the first time I realize in the chorus she is screaming the word “Titanium”. As soon as the word hits my ears I just explode into this tsunami of shock. That was the word he used to describe me in an early journal entry he wrote, just before we began dating… “I love the way her eyes light up and the curve of her eyebrows when she laughs. She’s got a creative streak a mile wide, wider actually. And her character is stronger than friggen titanium. And that’s why I fell hard for her”. That word – titanium – has become part of my identity since he died.

Tears are rocketing from my eyes and I am screaming at the music, at God, at the universe, at Drew, at my dead parents, at my whole life… screaming at the air that is coming out of me. My eyes are so blurry I can barely see the road. I don’t even try to hold it together. I just scream-cry like a crazy person thru the entire song as Rihanna belts out “titaniuuuuum” at me over and over. Its horrible – but its exactly the amount of horrible emotion that this deserves. And I know it. This is the first time I have totally lost it since the day he died. I have lost it a little, and cried many many times – but nothing like this.

And then the song was over, I pull myself together enough to call my therapist to let her know (still half crying) that I am running a little late. She asks if she can make me some green tea. I love her for that. Like, deeply feel connected to her over the idea that while I am driving there she is making me a cup of green tea. It is something to hold on to, to get me where I need to go.

Therapy goes well – filling her in on some of the positives from the past few days does help to pull me out of the pit I am in.
When I leave, still very emotional and very torn apart missing him, but now I have some spunk in me. Now I have some drive and determination. She tells me before I go that the first thing I am to do is to go eat some frozen yogurt. I smile. And I go do just that.
While I’m at the yogurt place,
I make a few calls. Then I check my email for something and I realize I have a few emails from Etsy. Hm. I open the first one and low and behold it is the moment I have dreamed of – my first first Etsy sale! Talk about an emotional day. I am instantly crying right there in the yogurt shop, but smiling all the while. I am thinking of how dearly I want to be able to call him and tell him about it – but knowing also that he is right there with me sharing the experience somehow. I just know it. I call his mom and a few friends to share the wonderful news. I am beaming. His mom and I both agree Drew is smiling down at me and is thrilled from afar. Not only is this a huge positive just for today, it’s been a dream of mine for many many years. Best of all, my buyer is one of you! And that support means the world to me. So thank you Laura!

And so now it is the end of a long day…
I plummet back into dispair quickly after work. Really barely make it through work today and decide finally that I cannot survive work right now. I am taking more time off. I call my brother in the evening, and it does help to pull me out of the pit. Somehow, he always is able to pull me out – even just a little. Thank you bro. I still only eat a pathetic amount of food all day. But hey, at least it’s something. And it leaves room to drink more calories in dark beer – so that’s a bonus. Rock bottom so enormous high and back down again. Now, just past midnight, after taking my first bubble bath in well over a month and talking to one of my best friends.. I think I am finally somewhere in the middle.. in a small little space of peace. And so that is why I will say… goodnight my friends. Thank you for reading. And sweet dreams. <3

 

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