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The Dance

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As I continue in this direction with hands I keep being drawn to… I have found myself suddenly at a powerful intersection of both my work and my life. Since the earliest days of the “Still, Life” series, I have held this image in my heart. It was always meant to be a continuation of the stories told in Hope and Desperation (below). It first came to me at a time when I was seeing a variety of images that included a second figure… a man. Some of these images were meant to speak of a connection to my late-fiance in the spiritual realm, while others were meant to speak of someone else… someone new. I decided hiring a male friend just to capture these stories wouldn’t work. It needed to be real. It needed to actually be the next man in my life. And without even a remote glimpse and no feeling of even desiring someone new yet, I put these ideas aside to wait patiently for that day to come.

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And here we are, arriving at the day this image finally came to be. It is precisely what I imagined for all those many months… except for one thing: the story on the other end. That I could have never known.

The Dance depicts a meeting of souls. That pivotal moment in time when two paths cross in the darkness and a bond is formed. It is the story of brothers, of sisters, of soulmates and friends… each has met desperation and hope in their own way – making them unafraid to see one another in the darkness. In this way, something very powerful and solid is created from the dark places inside us. Such meetings are sacred. For it is the darkness that bonds us to one another in ways we cannot ever bond in the light. It is the tests and trials found here that reveal the truth of a person’s character, integrity, and loyalty. It is the place that changes us, and the place that unites us.

There is something I cannot describe as anything but magic when I think about this image. To have spent so much time with this visual in my head and heart – with no idea when I would ever meet this person or be able to create it – and to now see it made real. And not only to see it, but to now know both stories. To know now what I didn’t know a year ago – that this man’s story would end up being just as important as my own story to the shot.

This soul, who I didn’t even know existed just 4 months ago, matches my own dark journey in a way I could have never imagined. A way I will always wish didn’t exist… because he also endured the death of his love. His beautiful, bright-shining, courageous wife of twelve years. To an agonizing long-term illness. A journey very different to my own sudden loss, but a journey through the darkness nonetheless. As a relationship has begun to unfold between us these past months, I came to know with certainty… he is the one I have been waiting for – to tell this part of both of our stories, and to live this part of my journey.

The Story of Hands

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As a symbol, hands have begun to fascinate me lately. They have so much power to tell the deepest, most primal stories of our humanity. Fear, survival, love, belonging, safety, evolution, history, ability… there so many stories contained within this single element of our bodies.

These images were shot at the end of my last shoot with the calf’s heart, just experimenting and going wherever intuition takes me…

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No 37: Baring Secrets

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“Baring Secrets” speaks to some new and very personal things stirring inside me in the past few months. Most significantly, the ideas of love and vulnerability. I met a man recently who I formed an instant friendship with. From the get go, it was less like meeting for the first time and more like remembering someone I haven’t seen in a very very long time. It is the very same sort of feeling I had when I first met my fiancé.

Being faced with such a connection has left me both thrilled and terrified. Both happy and conflicted. And interestingly enough, I now realize why it took so long for the heart images to come to fruition. I think things were getting in the way on purpose until my heart was in the very space it needed to be to tell this story – until the circumstances of meeting this person came about.

There are stories of fear and bravery here. Stories of the secrets I hold deep within me… the places of pain that no one else sees. Places even I have not dared to venture within myself since my fiance died. Places that I have sewn tightly shut for the past two and a half years. Places that I know – once the stitches are removed – have the potential to be very painful and scary.

So it goes with the heart… with the possibility of allowing someone new into the most sacred parts of ourselves. It is not only for the widowed, but for anyone who risks their heart. Because we have to open up the stitches of old wounds if we’re really going to love and be loved. We have to be willing to bare the secrets that reside in those most private, dark, dirty, worn corners of us if we ever want a chance to feel that beautiful soul-filled unconditional love from another.

It is not easy to open up these deepest wounds. It takes incredible bravery. The open air can be excruciating at times. We have no guarantee that the person who is loosening the stitches will do so gently and with love. No guarantee that they won’t try to rip them out, or seal them shut without a care to heal them. All we can do, is hope, and trust that we chose someone who can do the job right.

God, it is terrifying… so terrifying to let new hands begin to loosen the stitches. Especially when someone else had already done the job so well, years ago. Someone else, who’s death caused new stitches. But… I think, far more terrifying to never let new hands touch the heart. To never try and allow someone to be gentle with me. Because in that, I will never learn that someone new can do the job well, too.

After years of hiding it away, I am finally presenting my heart bravely, and allowing some of those stitches to be loosened. Not all of them, and not all the way. But some, and slowly. Thus far, these new hands have been gentle. They have not tried to open my heart any more than I am ready for. They have not tried to sew the wounds back shut once they saw inside. Instead, they have held my battered heart quietly, with strength – seeming to know that all it needs is to be held, to be seen as fully as it wants to be seen.

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Project Update: Into the Unknown

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There are new things on the horizon, I can see it. New landscapes I’ve yet to explore – within my artistic career and myself. I’ve been feeling it for some time now… and as I sat down today to write week 37 of the series, I somehow ended up with THIS post inexplicably. So I’m deciding to pay attention… to listen to whatever stirrings have finally decided to come out….

Closing One Chapter:
Although I have not reached a full 52 weeks on the project, I have made it a full year of shooting the series. (A few weeks were missed for holidays and bad weather). And so I’ve decided that I will make the informal close of the first year be at week 35. The dates of my last 5 or 6 posts I think will reveal I’ve slowed down things a bit. It’s good, in a way… it is because so much life has been happening. Rushing in quickly since the beginning of the year. Still, Life is happening, indeed.

I never planned on Week 35 to be the closing image, but somehow looking at it now, it feels appropriate. It is about the point in which life truly begins again… the rushing in of life and the reaching out into it. It suddenly feels just right for this image to close one chapter and allow for the next chapter to begin.

I say the “close of the first year” because I’m intending to continue “Still, Life” indefinitely, but at a slower pace. Perhaps one image a month. Or perhaps just organically as life allows room for. I will be working that out out over the coming weeks and months. I’ve still many shots planned for this series and others still unknown that will come – so I’ve no doubt that this is now going to be a series I carry on for a very long time.

Into the Unknown:
As for what lies ahead… there are other things my ambitious heart is yearning to get itself into. It’s a bit terrifying, and I have no idea where it’s going yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve just submitted my first proposal for a public speaking engagement on death and creativity. I want to begin speaking to people about the healing power of creativity, about everything this project has taught me in the past year. About everything I’ve learned over the course of my life about creativity and healing, and the power of death to help us live life more fully. There is so much to share from behind the scenes of this series, and I’m feeling like it’s time to begin making room for that.

Along with public speaking, workshops, articles, and the like… the even bigger project that is calling my name is the “Still, Life” book. I have dreamt of this since I first begin the series. Have held it in my mind and heart all this time. With every image and every word written… with every painstaking hour and uncomfortable position I put myself in for a shot… always, the book was there in the background whispering to me. A physical manifestation of one woman’s voyage… navigating the depths of herself as she lives through death, loss, fear, anger, and despair… coming out the other end more powerful and more alive than ever before.

This is the first time I’ve been so open about sharing of the book. I’m hoping it lands in supportive hearts… I’m having faith that it will be heard by just the right people out there who can help me to make it happen too. I believe in those connections… in opening the door and the right person walking in. I’ve got faith and things to share and I know the right publisher will be found. And the right speaking and writing opportunities will too. If you’re out there read this, and have any advice, ideas, or connections for me, feel free to leave a comment below or message me on my Facebook page. My heart is open, I’m ready for what’s ahead, and I’m all ears.

I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me thus far, whether you have been enduring your own journey with death or not. The growth and number of lives this project has touched could not have happened without every one of you. When it’s gotten hard to keep going, just knowing I had an obligation here – with you – kept me pushing ahead. And it will continue to do so as I take my first steps into the next phase of this journey… onward it goes. Thank you all!

Week 36 // Balance

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I’ve been waiting for this image for a long time. Over the past year it has evolved in various forms until the idea of creating a story around heartstrings came up. The original of the idea came from hearing a story about a woman’s near-death experience recently, in which she described leaving her body but seeing literal strings connecting her heart to all the other hearts around her. That clicked for me as the perfect concept for this shot.

I’ve sat with all the images from this shoot for over a week now because so many of them turned out to be very powerful. So much so that I’m thinking I will break it out into its own smaller series – in color. I’ve certainly had a hard time choosing just one for this series, but this is the one that is speaking to me today.

The heart story. Connections, love, vulnerability, tension, fear, courage. The heart is a raw, wild place inside us that we only ever allow a very select few to see. Personally, I like it that way.

There has been, all my life, this constant tension between myself and the outside world. I have lost far too many people in my 32 years to be frivolous about who I attach it to. This isn’t something that has been caused by my fiance’s death, but likely by the death of my mother when I was very young and likely also to the dysfunctional nature of my childhood. I turned inward when she died, and spent much of my time within my own heart and mind. Safe from the pain of losing others. Over time, I became an expert at keeping connections at bay… but in the background, I always knew there was something about this that I didn’t like. It was all too easy to sever ties with most people because I never let them connect to me in the first place.

My fiancé’s love changed all that. He crept into the depths of my heart in ways that I had not allowed anyone else to. His essence wrapped itself around the deepest, darkest, most vulnerable parts of me. There was no fixing, just existing. Together. Wrapped around each other’s darkness. And around each other’s light. I let him all the way in. When he died, I could do nothing but bleed for a very long time. The brokenness made it impossible not to.

So it was his death which actually began to change something in me. In particular, the trauma and shock of how suddenly he died. It ripped my heart right out of my chest. What I didn’t know back then, is that although this meant my heart was now more vulnerable than ever, it also meant that it was more out in the open to receive love. That’s the thing of it – to receive love, to create connections, we must be willing to put our hearts out into the open and risk them being ripped apart.

It’s a terrifying thing. In the past few months, there have been some powerful shifts for me that have led to new challenges. There have been events and people who have come into my world which have pushed me to decide whether I will continue working to keep my heart our there in the world. Beginning to date again, and move into deeper friendships with men again, has been one of the biggest struggles of late. Particularly because it began to present itself so without warning and it has uprooted all sorts of things I had yet to begin to work through.

As I move forward, I’m learning a new balance with the outside world. I am not hiding my heart away like I used to. Finding less need for that now. I am not leaving it out in the open either though. I am holding it close to me, grasped firmly between strong hands – protected, but connected. Allowing others to grab hold of my heartstrings without letting them pull me out of balance. Choosing people who will not want to pull me out of balance. From here, I can loosen or tighten my grip as needed, in order to feel safe. And I can trust others respect that and do the same for themselves. The tension is no longer a negative. It is no longer out of balance on one side or the other, but instead like two equal forces, myself and the hearts of everyone else around me, creating power, energy and stability in the space between us.

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“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 35 // Flow

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There was a real magic about this shoot. The day I came back down to the beach, the water was eerily calm… the tide was unusually low. More so than I’ve ever seen it growing up. The sand bar – which is normally at least 10-20 feet out in the water was up out of the water entirely… and just on the other edge of it the water washed up steeply. As the sun laid low into the west, it created an unmistakable line in the sand that seemed to go on into eternity. I was mesmersized, and knew instantly this was the place for the next shot.

I’ve often heard the idea of grief being like waves of the ocean that ebb and flow in our lives. I’ve certainly found this to be the case too. But what this image showed me, was something of the opposite… how life will ebb and flow in and out of our grief. There will be times when we are able to reach out into life again. Moments when we will walk up to the edge of a new life and begin to take that first reach into it. How this image depicts to me that when we do, life will flow right back into us, and back into our grief. If we let it. And when we are ready.

It may take years before we are ready to venture up to the water’s edge – to the rushing flow of life. But there will come a time, as I am coming to know now, when we will see life with curious eyes again. It is where I have been as the new year has come. A curiosity to explore has begun to return. I do not feel as if I am leaving the landscape of my grief, but rather that I am further out on the edge of where grief and life meet each other. I am allowing life to flow in, to wash over the edges of my grief and soften them. Indeed the edges are beginning to feel less sharp. It’s a miraculous thing to begin to see, and even more so to be experiencing. There was a time I never believed this could be possible. But here I am, beginning to lean into life, and letting it flow back into me.

“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 34 // The Awakening

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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.

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