Skip to content

Week 34 // The Awakening

Portrait_Week34

I’ve had a few weeks away from the project with the holidays and other events taking precedence… but am glad to be returning. In week 33, Point of Return, I wrote of the feeling of returning to myself and to life again in a bolder way. And there have certainly been some big events and experiences to come my way since then.

Right away this image made my mind wander into the story of Sleeping Beauty and how its concepts relate to grief. Although this connection wasn’t initially planned, I can’t deny the link. Themes of having something overtake you without warning. Being powerless. Having your life completely interrupted without any say – locked within your experience. And most of all – having parts of yourself that remain asleep within you for years.

It’s been far too cold to photograph myself outside in almost no clothing, so I’ve been forced indoors for a few shots lately. This one was originally shot vertically, looking out my bedroom window. I ran the shower to steam up the room and was experimenting with some shots using the fogged window.

The steam fogged up the glass on my lens initially – creating this lovely creamy effect. After only two shots I wiped the lens clean, shooting the rest clearly, but in the end, I kept coming back to this image. It was weeks before I actually began to understand the story unfolding here. It always amazes me how I may shoot an image and have no idea why or what it’s saying until a future moment when my life catches up to the story of the photo. Which it soon did.

I had a brief romantic encounter over the holidays… the first since my fiancé died. A seemingly ordinary event in anyone else’s life which is made paramount by the situation of being widowed. Now, I have worked very hard over the past two and a half years to separate from that part of myself which knows well and remembers being intimate and vulnerable with a man. It’s a piece of myself that splintered off in the trauma of his death that basically just shut down. And there I have left her all this time, asleep.

I’ve pushed the remembrance of a romantic life so far away that I really can’t even recall what it feels like anymore. And for a time, that has really worked just fine. I’m busy. I’ve got plenty of other things I’m focusing on. Life is generally going well. Easier to just not be able to feel all that. I’ve not even be able to spend time with men as friends for the better part of two years now. It’s only been in the past 6 months or so that being around men in general has become more comfortable for me again.

With that has come a new kind of lonely though. It’s more strongly rooted in wanting someone new than in missing Drew – although I still miss him every day. I can actually feel a desire for someone new now. Largely because I know full well, there are parts of my healing that cannot happen on my own. Healing that can only take place when I open my most vulnerable self to someone new… When I allow someone else to make me laugh the way he did, or hold me tight when I am upset. And also, because after two and a half years, I’m damn sick of not being taken out on dates, or held, or made to feel special in any way. Yeh. A gal gets lonely!

So it’s no surprise to me that this person showed up when they did. Despite knowing it really wasn’t going to go anywhere, and that it was going to be confusing and difficult and upsetting and at some point likely going to hurt like a bitch, I still opened myself to it. I think this is wonderful. Because I could have stayed asleep. I could have said “Nope, I’m not ready to wake up yet.” and just left that part of myself in slumber for however much longer. Left her behind. Safer, protected, but missing out on life. And I didn’t.

And yes, it was all those things – confusing, difficult, upsetting, and it did hurt like a bitch. It hurts to have that part of myself woken up – to remember what it feels like to be in that close space with someone again and then to go our separate ways. But, it was also FUN, really fun. And beautiful to feel it again. And not as difficult as I imagined. I laughed more than I have in ages. I allowed someone to hold me. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and trusting. I learned about another person’s experience of the world. I learned a few things about myself too. I woke up. And for that I am proud. No more sleeping… Life is to be lived. The good, the bad, and all the messy in between.

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. 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.

“Sanctuary” Wins the Cover!

magazinecover

The voting poll has closed and the results are in! My image Sanctuary will be the cover of an upcoming issue of Artist Portfolio Magazine. As a thank you to everyone who voted and helped make this happen, I would like to extend a special 20% discount on all prints (purchases over $50) this week! Just visit my ETSY SHOP and use the coupon code “THANKYOU1” at checkout to receive your discount! The promotion will run through the end of next Monday, so please take advantage soon!

Thank you again for all of your continued support of my work and my journey. You all have shown me that amazing things are possible when we work together, and I cannot wait to see what else we will achieve together down the road! Much love!

“Sanctuary” is a Finalist for the Cover of Artist Portfolio Magazine!

Week 11 / Sanctuary

This is SO exciting. A few days ago I shared I found out my image Sanctuary will be published in the next issue of Artist Portfolio magazine. And I many via my Facebook to leave comments on the link in support of my image for the cover. Due to the overwhelming responses people gave, the magazine is opening up an OFFICIAL VOTE for the first time in history. And I am one of 3 finalists. This is SO COOL – that means all of you totally made this happen with your comments. I am beside myself with how much your support has done.

So I have just ONE more request… please follow the link below and give your OFFICIAL vote for my image Sanctuary to be on the cover!

You’ll find the voting box at the bottom of the post below the three finalist images. Thank you again SO much. You cannot imagine how good it feels to have so many who appreciate what I do, care about my story and are willing to support me. Let’s kick off 2015 big and make this HAPPEN!

Vote Here: https://artistportfoliomagazine.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/whos-art-will-be-on-the-cover-finalists-2014-cover-art-exhibition/

Week 33 // Point of Return

Portrait_Week32

Click image to purchase

I wanted to talk a bit in this post about the idea of claiming yourself again on the journey of grief. It seems, as I am discovering, that there comes a time when you begin to truly be done with the heaviness of grief at its worst. After years of feeling and crying and aching and longing… years of shutting yourself out from the world and from life, years of clawing your way through the mud and fighting for your very life… I think there comes a time when a shift begins to happen. And you begin to return to yourself and to life.

As I was talking to my grief coach this week, I shared something that I’ve struggled with the past three or four months in relation to this project. I explained to him that for several months now – without entirely realizing it – I was moving into a new landscape in my life but was holding back from showing it in the images. Some part of me felt uneasy to show that shift. For me, creating images out of a place of pain is far easier than from a place of strength.

I suppose it has something to do with why so many of us struggle to show our boldest and most bright selves. We are all fighting a fear of shining too bright and of what people will think of us if we do. Beginning to capture the parts of this journey I could never plan – like returning to life – has been a deep struggle for me.

There have been some extremely long months of being in serious battle over each image and the entire project. It wasn’t an internal battle as well – with not wanting to embrace this part of the journey yet. Not wanting to boldly admit that I am feeling healed enough to move toward life again. But as each of the images unfold in the past few weeks – I’m discovering such a deep alignment with exactly where my soul is right now… and I’m seeing how incredibly healing and beautiful it is to fully own wherever I am.

This week’s image ties back to several other shots in the series in a very prominent way. Visually it ties very closely to Week 15: Surrender. That image was representative of letting ourselves sit within our pain and perhaps give that pain to some higher force.This week speaks of surrender too, but in a little different way. Not surrender into the pain, but instead, surrender into the life that is left.

The other image that it ties to in a very major way is Week 19: Between Two Worlds. That image spoke of feeling torn between two worlds – the life I have now and the life I had with him, as well as this earthly life and the beyond. It was about being caught in the middle of the tension of all of those worlds.

This week, there is something very different going on with those boundaries within me. There is a feeling of lightness stirring in me that hasn’t been there before. A feeling that I am moving more fully into life again, stepping above the darkness and returning to myself.

I cannot express how impossible it all seemed two and a half years ago that I would be coming to a point like this. And more importantly, for it to feel okay. I feel assured that he will be as much with me in the skies of a new life ahead as he was in the landscape of our life together. Simply put, it is feeling strangely okay to live life again. To fill my world with everything there is left in life and not worry that it will mean he is less a part of it all. I’ve feared that for so long… but gently, slowly, over time, I’ve come to see it isn’t the case at all. He goes wherever I go. He will always be my wings, bringing me back to myself.

BUY THIS PRINT

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. 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 32 // Standing on Faith

Portrait_Week32b

The past few weeks have been, for me, some of the most pivotal in the series. Some very drastic changes have occurred. It runs incredibly deep because I don’t plan any of this out… they are merely visual representations of what is happening and where I’m at.

The most crucial event has been losing the dress that I planned to use in the entire series. It has forced me out of a comfort zone I had landed in. And with the loss triggering the feelings of losing him so suddenly – it shook me awake in a way I needed. I was becoming complacent, going for the safe shots, even ignoring some of the best shots because of the time and effort they would require. It was the kick in the gut I needed… the moment that would ask of me, “And now, what are you going to do? Give up? Or push harder, and dream bigger, and find a new way?” It is precisely the question I felt asked of me when he died.

I decided to find a new way.

With the exception of my trip to Hawaii, the entire series has been photographed on the ranch my fiancé’s parents own… the place he grew up. Where my feet have walked, also have his over many years before me. There are often moments when I’ve hiked about just wondering if his feet ever stood in the exact place mine were in at that moment. Other moments still where my feet stand where we both once stood. There has always been something deeply spiritual about it – something that connected me to him in a very real way.

But, as with all journeys, there comes change. There comes a time to move forward. A time not to forget – but to remember from a different vantage point… one in which you can begin to know the new unknowns as you continue to explore the old ones. And I can say with whole-heartedness that – after 7 long months of recording (and living through) some of the most painful parts of the journey of loss – I am ready for a new landscape… for the series, and for my soul.

I am ready for the unknown in a way I haven’t been before. It feels strange to say this when I have no clue how I got here. There will still be healing to be done. My grief will go with me. But it is time to explore someplace new now, too. I feel it in my bones. The beach has proved to be just that. The beach where I grew up, to be exact. We built many beautiful memories in both of these locations – his childhood landscape and mine. It feels like reconnecting to that other half of the world we shared to be shooting at the beach now. It also feels like reconnecting with my own past which came well before him. Both of my parents are buried here in my hometown. And many of my memories. And I wonder how on earth it has taken me so long.

As a result of moving into a new landscape, I am finding myself rejuvenated with creative energy too. New creative challenges… like the expansive white skies – which required me to change from wearing white to black (initially a technical decision, which has yet again become symbolic). And I’m feeling very strongly drawn to more silhouetted versions of my figure – dark against the light, instead of lightness amidst the dark. It displays a shift from innocence, to strength – which is precisely the experience beginning to move through me internally.

I want to close this post with a memory. Five years ago, on the very beach where this week’s photo was taken… a pair of feet stood next to mine. It was a hot, humid summer night in May. He and I were best friends then – just on the edge of a friendship becoming more. We went out to the beach that night to star gaze, and as we walked the beach, we looked out into the blackness of the ocean. It was so ominous… a deep, inky black. We imagined and laughed how there could have literally been a giant squid or a sea monster ten feet in front of us – that water was so black in the night that you’d have never seen the beast.

And then we just stood there for a long time, our feet planted firmly – facing right out into this ominous unknown landscape. Quietly strong together.

In that moment, I remembered thinking that this was the sort of partnership I wanted to have. Someone who would stand beside me, feet planted, ready to take on whatever was out there in the unknowns of the future. I remember knowing in my bones for the first time what a true partner was, and that I had found him.

I always wished back then that I knew as much about photography as I do now. That I could go back to the ghosts of us both on that beach and photograph that moment in time. But it is there in my heart, and always will be. And it has led me to this week’s image… which is part of that story. Another version of it. Not realizing until after I shot this – It feels as if the reflection of my own feet planted in the sand are meant to be him reflecting back at me. And that really, he is never very far away. It is my faith in this and in myself which roots me most strongly for the unknown ahead. No one we love who dies is ever far away I believe…. They are right beneath us and within us, helping to anchor us and guide each step forward we take.

Week 31 // The Barrier

Portrait_Week31

While I was out shooting on the beach for last week’s image – wandering the grassy, windswept dunes – I came across a peculiar sight. Every plant on the beach was bright green and vibrant with life that day. Rich olive green sea grasses and succulent fat-leaved emerald vines with ripe yellow flowers. There must have been an unseasonable amount of rain recently because everything was really blushing. You could feel it – like all of nature had just taken in a deep breath.

But then, right in the middle of it all, I noticed this one particular type of plant. They were large – towering over me by at least a few feet. And every single one of them, as far as my eyes could see, over each rolling dune down the beach, was dead. All of them. There was such an eerie metaphoric nature to it… these clusters of death pitted right down in the midst of so much life. It seemed almost deliberate. Certainly hard to miss when you are closely observing a landscape as I often am.

With mosquitos biting boldly at my ankles and arms, (I will remember to add insect repellant to my camera bag from now on!) I grabbed my gear and climbed into a thicket of these otherworldly dead plants to explore. The leaves were a silvery blue-green hue – like faded sage. I had no plan. No idea what I even wanted to capture. I just began shooting, trying different ways of interacting with this mesmerizing space.

It is images like this one that make me realize how important it is sometimes to let go of our plan and follow wherever our feelings and intuition guide us. To not be so alarmed if we do not have a plan, and to trust that one will unfold for us.

Out of all the variations I shot for this image, this is the one that spoke to me instantly. It is because of the personal meaning which began to come out of it for me as I sat with it in the days after shooting. Mostly, it is in the eyes. There is a very specific kind of darkness there – a hollow vacancy which takes me right back to the year of my fiance’s death.

It was June when he died. 2012. I recall by the time autumn arrived, there was so little energy left in me. After endless minutes and hours and days and weeks and months of fighting and cryin – of screaming desperate animal sounds into the air – there came a time when there was nothing left in me but to just sit and stare blankly. And so I did, many days, just sit outside on the back porch at the ranch and stare off into space. Broken. Hollow-eyed. Feeling the cavernous wind against my skin – which only to endlessly whisper of how far away spring was. Or that spring, for “us”, was never coming back again.

I don’t know if others saw this expression externally in those early days or not, but I do know that this is what it felt like on the inside. Every moment of every day for a long time. Vacant. Lost. Staring into nothing. Searching. Without words.

And then death – the quiet, dangerous barrier that divided me from everything. From him. From my future. From my past. From myself. From everyone else. On the other side of his death, I couldn’t see any other part of me or life that once existed. I could not see the woman who loved to rock climb and kayak, or the woman who dreamed of being an artist someday. Or the woman who loved animals and old western movies. I couldn’t see anything but the woman who just lost everything.

When people looked at me from the other side of that barrier – it felt like all they could see about me was death too. As if I was nothing more than the remains of his death and a reminder to them of things they didn’t want to know intimately. With the exception of a few individuals, it felt like no one could see me.

Two and a half years later, the spring is beginning to come for me. Life is starting to be vibrant again. I am able to see the other parts of myself again, as are others, it feels. I am starting to actually love life again – which astounds me to even say. There is still a part of me standing in the thicket of his death though. I think there will always be. And I think there should always be a part of me that stands there. To me, it is the place that always serves to remind me of how glorious the rest of the landscape is that surrounds me in this “after” life.

Week 30 // Warrior Woman

Portrait_Week30

(The music I would play with this image)

I have wanted this shot for a long time. Despite having the visual of this in my head for most of this year… I’ve learned I cannot entirely plan when they will be created. They come when they are ready. I am so thrilled this one was finally ready.

I’d been wanting to take a trip down to the coast for some time now for the series and finally could not ignore the calling any longer. So last week, I packed up all my gear and drove down to my hometown just a few hours south of here. Padre Island National Seashore is just a 20 minute drive from where I grew up and is somewhere I spent a great deal of my time as a child. The wilds of that beach ground me in ways no place else on earth does. I only had one morning to shoot, and what luck that a beautiful overcast sky rolled in just in time that morning. I shoot almost entirely under overcast skies or at dusk and dawn when the light is softest.

The weather made for a bit of an added challenge. About every ten minutes or so for the entire morning, an intermittent drizzle would start up. That’s not a terribly big issue normally – I have a poncho for my camera – but when you have to angle the camera upwards facing the grassy slope of a sand dune… well, the whole front of the lens is defenseless! At least I got in a good workout having to run up and down the slope every time it began to drizzle. Arg.

It was worth it for this shot though. It is so much more than what I first envisioned all those months ago. It represents a very new place and energy within this journey for me…

Portrait_Week30_2

image detail

Tears come to me while trying to write about this image. She is the warrior in me. The part of me that has stared into the face of unfathomable pain and death and has not backed down. She wields the darkness around her – commands it, uses it, does not let it overtake her. She is the part of my that faces the unknown with bold determination.

Even on the very week of his death, when I was broken beyond anything I have ever felt or imagined… when I could not even feed myself… there was an ever-so small part of me standing up on this hill. I even recall telling a friend in those early days that “life can take everything it wants from me, but it will not ever stop me”. That part of me – so inexplicably determined – was declaring my right not only to survive, but to thrive. And ever so slowly… crawling through mud, climbing from pits, struggling beneath grief, she has grown strong. She has been waiting for this image for a long time.

I know this was the time for it to come because of a few major events of the week which fueled me with some serious strong energy. Something I haven’t shared within these blog posts is the other weekly obsession of my life: Crossfit. This intense sport focused on a combination of high intensity cardio, strength training and olympic style lifting has had me hooked from day one – which coincidentally enough, was just a week after I began this photo series.

So these two long-term committments have been with me week in, week out, all year… pushing me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And the weekend prior to this shoot, I competed in my first competition.

I never dreamed I’d be competing in a thing like this – or in anything athletic. I quit believing I was an athlete around the age of twelve. This year has changed that. And this past week at the competition, I got back in touch with that little athlete I was so many years ago. I found her, and discovered – to my complete joy – that I am still every bit the fierce competitor I was all those years ago. I just didn’t give her a chance to shine until now. When I walked out of that competition, I felt strong. Stronger than I have felt maybe ever in my life. And prouder than I’ve ever imagined to be of myself. I can say with certainty that the physical and mental journey of growth in Crossfit has fed into my work immensely… probably most notably in this week’s image.

I also gained a bit of a viral surge this past week via a few wonderful blog posts – which were shared by others blogs, on Facebook and Twitter. Then a few more blogs contacted me to share it, and just today I had another request! Comments have been flowing in from so many (thank you ALL!). The exposure has brought me to tears and broken my heart wide open in the most amazing way. I have poured so many endless solitary hours into it’s making, doubting if it will ever make much of an impact out there to anyone. Lonely hours. Frustrating hours. Deeply emotional hours. Tired hours (speaking of, it’s already 1am as I write this!). I have wanted nothing more than for it to have a great value to others going through the darkness of grief. To inspire them in some way. Give them hope, or at least an image to relate to.

Suddenly, with this surge of exposure, it feels like the tides rushing into me – each comment and share washing away me from all the solitary time spent. Allowing me a glimpse of where I dream it might go one day. It gives a bigger meaning to his death and my “after” life. The more people it reaches, the more deeply connected I feel to him – as if we are co-creating this thing together. I rather think we are. Still a team somehow, just in a very different way than ever before.

Thank you.
And remember how strong you are.

_

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. 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.

12 Months of Creativity

Lessons on life as an artist

a wee bit warped

Art by Shelly Massey

strata of the self

an exploration of our selves in images and text

Adam Robert Young

Musings on photography, life, and the pursuit of Nutella macarons

What Inspires Your Art?

A blog dedicated to artists and the people, places, and things that spark their creativity

L2ny's Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

My Painted Life

musings on painting and parenting, love and life

James Michael Sama

The gentleman is the new bad boy.

Loving Language

Learning languages and connecting with others.

Welcome to our MindMedicine blog!

Helping people to achieve massive goals in life, sport, and business...

Stitch Snap Sketch

crafting a pretty and handmade life

The Practical Art World

Sound advice for artists, cheerfully offered.

Cultivating "Happy"

My Journey Into Healthier, More Purposeful Living

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,689 other followers

%d bloggers like this: