the death of creativity, inspiration of friends, and the return to roots
This weekend I shared an honest post on Instagram describing how the trauma of last summer has stayed with me. Wait. That sounds way more dramatic that it actually is. It's not like I'm spending every day in fetal position crying, or anything. Our family is functioning and remains connected. We're safe, living in a safe building, which is way more than so many other people who were affected by Hurricane Harvey can claim, even still. And of course, we're lucky that we were able to qualify for a loan to rebuild -- again, not everyone who lost everything last summer has that luxury.
But there's no denying that things are different. In two weeks it will be a year since we waded out of our home, and I'm exhausted by this in-between time, this feeling of limbo. I'm weary of temporary housing. It has been difficult to begin anything, because everything feels like it could "wait until we finally move into the house" (which isn't for another 3 months or so). I feel a pang of jealousy whenever I hear someone escaped the flooding last year -- and that's not like me, I'm not a jealous person, by nature. But what's been the most telling that I'm still affected, is my complete disinterest in picking up my camera.
Obviously, I've been shooting since the flood -- this site is testament to that -- but I've only used my honest-to-goodness-full-sized-SLR camera a handful of times (most photos that appeared on my site this year were taken with my camera phone). Back when were still in the midst of evacuating and gutting out our home, I had several people ask eagerly on social media if I was capturing everything with my camera, and honestly, the question greatly irritated me. Um, no, I'm too busy throwing out the entirety of our belongings, all of which have been ruined by sewage-filled floodwater, and ripping out all of the drywall to prepare for the demolition of our home, to capture "the beauty that is the devastation of our family's entire life," thankyouverymuch, I'd think bitterly. And then, once we were out of the house and into the apartment complex where we now live, I just haven't been that inspired to pick up the camera. This isn't where I belong, I'd sigh, every time I'd try. There's nothing to shoot outside -- just an apartment parking lot. And I became resentful that I'd have to get in my car to go find something I'd be moved to shoot, instead of just walking outside in my front garden like I used to. Better to just let my camera collect dust.
But several weeks ago, my dear friend Wilma contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would take some headshots for her business. I've known Wilma since my twenties, and she's one of my favourite people to photograph, so I was only too happy to do her the favour. Besides, Wilma, who is a yoga instructor and a massage therapist (she co-hosts several women's yoga and creativity retreats each year in West Texas, a magical place), is just a wonderful spirit to be around. She's soft-spoken and gentle and caring and funny. Being around her is just good for the soul. So I happily dusted off my camera, and went to her lovely home to spend a couple of very healing hours photographing her making her magic.
And then I promptly forgot to process the photos.
Wilma gently reminded me a couple of days ago that she hadn't received her photos, and horrified, I downloaded them all and processed them this weekend. And sitting in front of my computer for the hours it took to process the photos, I remembered why I love taking photographs so much.
Because as I pulled each photo up on the screen, I thought of my sweet friend, and it became clear why I so admire her. When we met those decades ago, Wilma was a neonatal respiratory therapist: she helped newborn babies who had experienced traumatic births breathe on their own. And while that work can be deeply rewarding, as you can imagine it can also be really harrowing, especially when trying to save the lives of babies who can't be saved. Eventually, after several years the toll was too much, and she decided to take steps toward changing her career by healing in a different way: she underwent many months of retraining as a massage therapist, and then later, became a yoga instructor. And the thing about this is: she just did it. Wilma doesn't do things with a ton of fanfare, so much as a quiet resolve -- she takes stock of where she is, and she makes the changes in her life that are necessary to get on with it. She curates her life. And it's a continuing process: as we talked that day, she talked about extra yoga certification courses she's been taking, and what her plans are for her business in the coming years. And everything she described to me was thoughtful -- she isn't moving in fear, she's moving in purpose.
Anyway. As I thought about Wilma while I processed these photos, I was reminded that that's part of the reason that I took up photography in the first place: it is so meditative for me. Sitting with my camera and looking through the viewfinder, watching the light fall on my subject, and making the adjustments before squeezing the shutter -- that's calming. Sitting in front of my computer, thinking about what I saw and how I felt at the time of the shoot, and making necessary adjustments to that other viewers might feel the same when they look at my images -- that's therapeutic. And while there was no way I was even close to the kind of mindset that I could do any photography justice in the weeks when were in the throes of flood crisis (or, frankly, in the months following), perhaps I can start easing my way back into that space now.
So thanks, Wilma my friend, for that reminder -- maybe, just maybe, it's time to pick up my camera again. (And for those of you who would like to experience Wilma's magic for yourself, please check out her site for information on her yoga retreats, as well as her in-home massage packages, if you happen to live in Texas. You'll be so thrilled you did.)
Soundtrack: Wild women don't get the blues, as performed by Francine Reed, featuring Lyle Lovett. Love this.