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Week 24 // Veiled

Portrait_Week24b

I’ve been wanting to experiment with this sort of imagery in the project for some time now. I’m finding already in the first shoot that there are a lot of stories to glean from it. There’s many different meanings tied into the idea of fog when relating to grief. It represents the odd, hazy way that we operate in the world after a traumatic loss. It also speaks to the insulating quality of that haze… how – even though it is confusing and sometimes frightening to us – it is a very real necessity in our healing. It is a brilliantly evolved automatic response to extreme trauma. I also see fog as a spiritual symbol that can speak of the boundaries and connections between this life and the next, between souls still living here and souls living on in the hereafter. For the next few weeks I’m thinking that I’ll be exploring the stories that lie here.

People who have been through any kind of horrible trauma will be able to tell you about a thing called “the fog”. It was one of the most frightening and confusing aspects of my fiancé’s death. It felt very much like being only half existing in this life, and half existing in some surreal other world that no one else could seem to see. It felt insulating and isolating at the same time. It was sometimes calming and other times incredibly frustrating. I was entirely incapable of organizing my thoughts for even the most basic things after he died. I could not plan or make appointments or pay bills. I went 6 months without paying a credit card that only had $200 on it because I couldn’t remember and because I just didn’t care anymore about a thing like credit. I could not remember much of any new information. I forgot entire chunks of old information – including simple tasks I had spent the past four years doing at my job. For about the first year after his accident, I floated in this world most of the time. I felt completely handicapped – as if I had suffered some blunt force trauma to the head indirectly from his accident. And in a way I did, because emotional trauma really can affect your brain function in some very tangible and major ways. That in itself was scary.

The fog is absolutely necessary for healing though. We need to be removed from our overactive brains and the bustle of daily life. We need to be disconnected, to have a veil up for a time so that we have the quiet needed to listen to our own pain and feel through it. Even though its new and unfamiliar territory – I think it can help to see it as a beautiful response of self protection when we need it most.

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 23 // Iron Will

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This week I wanted to share one final shot from the ropes. Unlike most of my images which are very still and calm – I was drawn to the movement of this one. To me, it likens the energy of a wild mustang fighting to break free.

There are times in the midst of grief when we are so fully depleted and exhausted that we haven’t the strength even to hold our head up. I’ve talked a lot about those times in my past images. But there are also times when we have the chance to rise up… bucking the despair off our backs and fighting like hell to break out and embrace life. I think sometimes fighting can be a bad thing – when you are resisting feeling the emotions that need to be felt. But there is a different kind of fight, too. Fighting not against our emotions, but FOR the expression of them. It is the kind of fight that throws us up into the wind with our faces skyward to remind us that our story is worth expressing. And not only THIS part of our story, but the rest of who we are too. Painters, dancers, writers, mothers, humanitarians, friends, sisters…. although we are tied closely to our pain, there is still a soul within each of us wanting to be fully expressed.

I’ve felt this kind of fight in me so often since my fiancé died. More than in all my previous years combined. And the thing I am learning is that this beautiful fight is not in spite of the pain and the grief, but because of it. Being tied to the pain and having to struggle with it daily has made me fight harder to enjoy life, to express myself, to have compassion, and to stand up when I feel like falling. My pain has brought me the lessons which have taught me that I have the capacity to rise up and not give up. And pain has somehow (even though I don’t want to admit it) made my life far richer than I ever knew possible.

Of course we can’t always succeed at fighting for a new life after losing someone we love. We all have times we just get exhausted and must give up for a while to recharge. And that’s okay. It’s vital to be kind to ourselves, allow rest, and trust that we will regain our energy eventually. There will always come a next moment, or a new day, that will bring a renewed strength. It may not be tomorrow, but it will come. We must trust this as best we can. And when it arrives, let’s choose to rise up and fight to express our soul and embrace what is left of this beautiful life.

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 22 // Spirit


Portrait_Week22

I’ve been holding on to this image for a while now. It’s one of my favorites. Sometimes when I initially shoot an image the timing to share just doesn’t feel right yet – often times the words aren’t yet ready to come. So I wait. Today it seems, was the day for this one. I am so glad. 

Living with the loss of partner, or any great loss, is one of the most challenging things we will ever face in life. It sends us on a journey through the fire – into a darkness the likes of which we have never experienced before. It brings us to our knees and breaks us. Severely. I certainly remember this feeling well. Before my fiancé died, I knew I could handle anything that life threw at me. Only I didn’t really know that at all…

On the day he died, and the dark days thereafter, I came to find out what it really means to be able to handle anything life throws at you. To lose a soul mate – particularly in a sudden way – takes you to a place more painful and terrifying than I ever knew could exist. It breaks you right down to your bones.

I feared for my life – in a very real sense, for probably the whole first year. I feared for my life because I feared the death of my spirit. I was so badly broken that I honestly did not know if my spirit could ever recover. I was afraid that I would become dark and lose my sense of childlike wonder and hopefulness about the world. That this brokenness would overtake me and I would not be able to come out of the fire with my eyes ablaze anymore.

YET… I can still recall in the midst of it all – in those first hours and days and weeks – something inside me WAS ablaze. Something inside me was saying that this world can throw anything it wants to in my face and I will not stop believing that this life is beautiful. Or in the words of Mr. Tom Petty… “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, and I won’t back down”. (one of my go-songs right after he died, and still today).

I didn’t really know it at the time, but am quite certain now… that this was my spirit. This is the kind of stuff that amazes me about the human spirit. How broken we can be and yet still somehow, inexplicably, that soul part of us stands up for our broken human self. It doesn’t mean we feel any less broken. Or powerless. Or scared. But what I do know is that listening to my spirit was – and still is – something that gave me the ounce of strength I needed each day to get up and keep on trying to figure out what to do with all of this.

Looking back over things two years later is incredible at times. Because it feels like no time has passed at all – and often I still feel like I’m back at square one with my grief. But other days, like today, something lends me some perspective. And on days like this I can actually begin to feel like, yeah, I’ve crawled out of the fire… out of the worst of the darkness. I’ve been battered and bruised and burned and scarred by this long journey, and I will be battered and bruised and burned and scarred much more before my time here is done… but I have not been broken. My eyes are still curious, my heart is still hopeful, and my spirit still burns bright… perhaps, even brighter than before. 

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 21 / Isolation

Portrait_Week21

One of the most difficult parts of grieving my fiancé’s death has been the isolation… the way it constricts around you, separates you from life and leaves you feeling disconnected and separate from the world. I think it can be the hardest part of the journey through loss… this isolation.

Grief is never linear. It comes in waves, and usually tied to profound or meaningful events in our lives. I’ve been going through one of the more painful waves lately. This project and my photography in general has gained some momentum and a bit more exposure lately. I’ve got an image that will be published in a month on the cover of a book. I’ve had more sales of my prints. I’ve had a few requests for commissions. I’ve signed a contract with a curator to sell some of my work. I’ve gotten another offer for a solo show and had a few more pieces in some juried shows in the area. What is happening right now in my life is exactly and precisely the thing I have dreamt and hoped for since I was a little girl dreaming her big dreams. And it’s incredibly satisfying and exciting. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or fun necessarily, because that little girl didn’t dream of doing all this for these reasons.

With all of the growth has come more. More emails to reply to, more people to call and connect with, more appointments to remember, more work to manage, just more of everything. Everything is growing and changing so quickly and suddenly I am finding myself grasping at thin air – feeling confused that this person is no longer here to help me understand what I am going through.

I’m searching for the one who was here on this journey with me – the one who truly saw me and understood all of my complexity as a woman and as a human. We mirrored each other so well – always spending a great deal of time discussing the new, scary, exhausting, exciting things happening in our lives and in our life together. As we talked and shared about such things, we learned even more – about ourselves and each other and life. It became a beautiful and powerful catalyst to our personal growth and the growth of our relationship.

I know I can do this without him (or without him physically here, I do still believe he is with me in a different way), but trying to pursue something so bold and so vulnerable without this amazing dynamic that we created together is quickly becoming one of the most difficult and isolating parts of this journey. No matter how much everyone else in your life cares, nothing can replace the one who was in it with you. The one you grew with, side by side, who saw all of your depths and understood you as well as – and sometimes better – than you understood yourself.

I suppose that was a long-winded way to explain what’s behind this image. What is behind my feelings of isolation lately. To put it simply, it’s about having an ocean of words inside you, but knowing that the person you need to speak them to isn’t here. And so thusly, you find that you don’t have any words at all… and you sink back into your grief and yourself, into the quiet and the isolation, for a time. Until the wave passes and you regain enough strength to emerge again.

 

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.

The Power of Words

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I had my first session with a creative business coach yesterday, and wow is the word. I’m already feeling more focused, grounded, and ready to take on a few next steps that I’ve been avoiding for many months.

One of the biggest takeaways from this meeting was word choice. My coach share with me a quote by W. H. Auden: “A sentence uttered makes a world appear where all things happen as it says they do.” This is just as true in writing poetry and fictional worlds as it is in the creation of our own worlds. Now that’s not really new information, I know. But yesterday I was given some very clear examples of just how powerful this is.

So often, I put a lot of extra pressure on myself by the words I choose to use around my work. And I have no clue I am doing it most of the time. While talking with my coach, I began to go off on a tangent about the heaviness of this year-long project. After a moment, he stopped me and pointed out the language I was using… “I have to get this photo done by the end of the week”, “I can’t give up on this project because it’s all I’ve got“, “It feels like a responsibility now because so many people are watching it unfold”. He asked me how all of that made me feel, to which I replied, “Tired, and unmotivated, and like I don’t want to do any of it”. Naturally.

Then he asked me a great question. Why am I doing this? What do I get out of it, removing all other people from the equation? And then I went on for several minutes describing all the wondrous things about it… “I get so completely lost in my photography in the best of ways. It’s like creating my own universe that only I exist in and I can create it to be anything I want”. By the time I was done, I was bright-eyed and beaming. He asked me to notice how I felt now, and how completely different this feeling was from the original one. Amazing.

What I took away from this, is to be oh-so careful about the language I use around my work and life. To protect it fiercely from the wrong words. A simple change he requested I practice was to start replacing the words “have to” with the words “want to”. So simple, yet SO powerful! Just as soon as I started saying “I want to get this photo done today” or “I want to be doing this project” it was like a complete 180 in my motivation and excitement about it.

I know I’m not alone in this one, we all can stand to pay closer attention to the language we use about our work, our life, and ourselves. This isn’t exactly new information I know, but I figured we can all use a little refresher about the importance of choosing the best words. Something to think about and practice in the coming weeks!

Week 20 // Mortal Coil

Portrait_Week20

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I received so many likes, shares and comments from last week’s portrait, I have to thank you all. I really never have any clue what other people will think of this stuff when I put it out there. It always feels a little bit risky, and there is always a little bit of “what if no one likes it?” that goes on. I don’t think that ever goes away! My sincerest thanks to everyone for all the support last week and throughout the entire project thus far… this surge of support came to me truly when I most needed it. When I’ve felt really depleted… you guys really gave me a boost.

I’m continuing to explore ropes this week and likely for a few more weeks, as I’ve been so completely lost in the feeling and meaning behind them. There are so many ways to interpret ropes as a symbol; tension, struggle, strain, resistance, support, strength, cooperation, chaos. This week, I wanted to capture the weight of grief… the way it knots up around you, weighs you down, and exhausts you. I have been tired since the day my fiancé died. At first, I could barely function at all. Two years later, I still feel like I am only operating at 60%. There is this other force inside me that is always requiring that other 40% of my energy. Like any emotion, grief needs room in our lives. If we don’t allow it space, it will take it on its own anyway. If we struggle against it, it won’t let up any easier. It will only wear us out quicker, until we are left exhausted and depleted in its embrace. I try my best to remember to leave room for my grief – to respect it as a part of me – but I still fight it sometimes. I’ve been fighting it on and off for the past few months honestly… and holy hell can I put up a fight. Lately, I think I’ve run out of steam and have been leaning into it a bit more.

I’d like to share a little about the tear-stains in this image… entirely unintentional. My camera gear was having issues and I had a very limited amount of daylight left to get the shot. It was also about 100 degrees out that day. And a few other things had not gone my way that day too. Needless to say, after only a few minutes of failing to figure out why my gear was not working correctly – I had a complete and total melt down. Like a five-year-old. It was ridiculous. I messed with it for at least 30 minutes to no avail, and went into a complete crying fit at least three separate times… which at first was about the stupid camera and how hot it was outside, but soon turned into cursing my entire life and how I just want my old life back and how much I hate the fact that this is my life and that I’m stuck “even doing this project in the first place!!” Eventually I did get it all working again, and once I got started, things began to flow a bit better. But the getting there… ugh.

I tell you this for a reason. Because like the journey of grief (and life) – this project is not easy and is frequently quite a battle. Sometimes it takes my breath away and surprises me with incredible gifts. Other times, it is a harsh reminder that I am SO not where I thought I would be at 31 years old. And sometimes, shit just goes all wrong and triggers all my emotions and I come unhinged in a completely irrational way. And that’s where those tear stains came from. I decided to leave them as a reminder of how grieving leaves us feeling exposed, often ridiculous and constantly exhausted. It is such for each of us in this journey of life and death.

Week 19 // Between Two Worlds

 

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It’s taken me quite longer than a week to finally create this image, but I am so thrilled to be sharing it today. The visual first popped into my mind a few weeks ago, when I was feeling a lot of resistance about this whole project. I felt really stuck, and really tired, and totally unmotivated. A big part of that was coming from the fact that, lately, I have been moving more and more into a new life the past few months. A life that my late-fiance is no longer in, and a part of my own journey in which I must begin to allow room for new people and new experiences that he is not sharing with me directly.

It’s beautiful to feel healed enough to begin to take the first steps into whatever my new life will be… making friends where I moved to, trying new hobbies I never imagined I’d try before, growing and changing more and more. I am surprising myself almost each day. It all feels really good, except that it is also a constant reminder of who I wish was by my side for it all. And even if – after two years – that fact is not as immediately excruciating as it once was, it still makes every normal thing in life incredibly exhausting. Because I can no long just make new friends, or try new things. Now, every single thing that is new in life must also pass through my grief. It must be examined from the viewpoint of who I was when he was alive and who I am becoming (which is still so up in the air!). All the new, wonderful, exciting things must somehow fit into this whole complex and intricate emotional world that already exists inside of me. I have no clue how I am doing it.

I think that every new phase or part of grief must be equally challenging in entirely different ways… because navigating this feels no easier or less tiring than navigating the first weeks and months after he died. It feels different. And challenging and scary in completely different ways. But it still leaves me right here… right at this image… tied between two worlds. Exhausted and spent, emotionally, mentally, physically. With each wave of new people and experiences, I am left trying to figure out how to balance it all into this one human being that I am. And at times it can feel like the pull of both my new life and my old life are too much to bear all at once. At times this project itself begins to get too heavy for me to bear, too. And so I give in to the exhaustion, floating, unsure of how to move next. Feeling like I haven’t the strength to move at all.

So that is why it’s taken so long to finish this image. Because I’ve been fighting even creating anything for weeks. And after struggling with that resistance long enough, I realized, it was the very struggle itself I need to talk about in my images right now. And that is when this visual jumped into my mind. I knew instantly what it should look like. Crazy how that happens, once you just surrender, or try to look at a situation differently, bam – there it is.

I’m sure others will find their own meaning for this image, which I always love – especially when you share those ideas with me (so please do!). For me, its about learning to become quiet even when I feel stuck or feel like fighting various parts of my grief journey… because in the stillness is where we will see what we need to. It is also about a yearning to find balance between different worlds… my new life and my old life. This earthly world, and the world that he now exists in. It is about feeling ungrounded, floating, and uncertain of the future… but still finding the strength to hold myself up in that uncertainty the best I can each day. I leave you with a close up below…     -Much love-

Portrait_Week19

Click to view larger.

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.

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