Let me start off by saying normally I would roll my eyes at something that is THIS long posted on the internet but writing has proved to be a good form of therapy for me and there might just be someone out there who needs to hear it. If it’s not you, that’s cool, if it is… that’s cool too. So here's a healthy dose of some run on sentences and a story of my road trip through California.
I’ve never been good at sitting still. I think that’s why I love to travel. However, if anyone knows me, cozy is my thing. I love to be cozy and comfortable anywhere I am, but sometimes this gets a little unsettling. I couldn’t possibly afford to move as much as I’d like due to the fact that I value being near my family AND I’m trying to build a future in the woods with the person I love. I do, however, get to a point where I need to put myself in a place where I am uncomfortable.
One of my best friends from high school, Lindsay ( aka my lady soulmate), is always down to feed my quest for the “uncomfortable”. I’m a huge fan of a good road trip so her and I decided to plan a drive down the California coast. This simple little cruise from San Fran to LA quickly morphed into a gosh darn road sprint covering serious miles in a camper van painted with lollipops and gingerbread. Did I mention I never do anything simply?
At first I felt a little strange about going on this trip, but I knew it needed to happen. I was feeling too comfortable. I've been thinking about my past a lot lately and last time I felt like this I quit my job, bowed out of some serious relationships (not gracefully might I add), and bought a ticket across the world for 3 months. I really worried about repeat behavior and whether this was a selfish thing to do. Instead of shipping off to some weird country, I kept it local, picked a place I’ve always dreamed of visiting, and shared it all with Emmett. Of course he squashed the thought of me being selfish, supported it without hesitation, and off I went into the deep abyss of google travel research (love you Em).
We booked the tickets, booked the van, prepped our meals, and met up in San Francisco on a Wednesday afternoon. I’ve traveled tons since I was a baby, yet every time I get on a plane and it flies out of JFK or whatever hell hole New York likes to claim as an airport, I get this weird feeling in my gut. It’s kind of like sadness mixed with nerves mixed with a little nausea. Fun, right?! I think it’s what we fine folk of 2020 like to call, ANXIETY and I think its my brain reminding me I’m leaving something behind. Despite this little gut kick there is nothing that revs my engine more than heading to a new place. Weird how we do that. We identify something that scares us and we face it over and over again – proving to our brain that we will in fact, survive it.
In preparing for this trip I had the idea that I only wanted to shoot film which I haven't done in a really long time. I am so use to firing off thousands of images with my digital camera and I felt so burnt out on that concept. I also didn’t want to be in this constant mode of “review”. With my digital I take a photo and look at it immediately - mindlessly scrolling through the shots on the back screen. I am constantly going over what I think looks good and what doesn’t - multiple shots of the same thing. It’s kind of exhausting and really takes me away from the experience right in front of me. With film that immediate review is gone. I either choose to take the photo or not and there is a feeling of detachment to the final outcome in the sense that I have no idea what it's going to be. If the image doesn’t come out I don't have 7 other frames I can choose from so It makes the images that do develop beautifully all the more rewarding.
A month prior to our trip Lindsay flew to NY to visit some family. She hadn’t been back home in a while and was asking herself a lot of questions about her own past. Over a bottle of wine and a few cigarettes we got to talking about different kinds of trauma and healing, what it means and how to process it. In addition to only shooting film, I also knew I wanted to take portraits of Lindsay that were meaningful to both of us based on our mutual desire for personal growth. I wanted to create images inspired by her healing and present a visual of where she is in her life while also reflecting on mine. I did some reading into Nature vs. Nurture – studies on whether we are who we are based on genetics or our environment – and decided I wanted to use that concept as a basis for creating some new work.
I will be turning 30 in April and what I’m learning as I round the big Three-O is that I’m totally not alone in the thoughts that I have. I am also becoming more aware of the fact that everything is a choice. We inherit our understanding of “goods and bads”, if you will, from our parents (or so they say) and yes, there are chemicals in our brain that react with nerve endings to tell us to do things, but what it comes down to is… drum roll please… a choice. Our environment is made up of what is around us and sometimes that includes people or things that cause us to have a reaction. But that is not a symbol of who we are. You can’t control other people’s actions, all you can control is your perspective, so to say you are a product of your environment is realistically… bullshit. I guess the hurdle is becoming aware of the fact that we have the choice and exercising the right to make one.
We all grow into adults with some sort of baggage of our past. If you’re an adult navigating through this thick-headed, fast paced world without any baggage, good on ya. You might be qualified for a medal or something because to be honest… I think it’s impossible. We all have “stuff”. It’s just a matter of what we do with our “stuff”. We can throw it at other people, we can pack it away under our bed and pretend it’s not there, or we can use it. When you use your stuff it serves a purpose. The difference comes from working on what that purpose is, and how it can help you progress.
End Therapy Ramble – Back to the trip…
The entire time we drove I thought about the images I wanted to make. The sun would spike through the forests and I would think “ok, now! let’s do these photos now!”, but I never acted on it. Part of me was actually nervous. We got all the way to the coast on our 4th day and I still hadn’t taken portraits of her. I was starting to abandon the idea out of fear that it would be awkward or that they wouldn’t come out good – that she wouldn’t like them. One evening we were racing the sun through Big Sur, trying to find a campsite before dark. That big ball of fire was dropping fast so we gave up on the campsite and figured we would watch it go beyond the horizon. Lindsay pulled over. As we were sitting on the side of the road, the sky shifting colors, she asked if I wanted to take those photos. I was thrilled on her initiation to say the least. Lindsay put on the floral dress she had carried from park to park and stood with her toes at the end of a sandy cliff. The sun sank into the water and the sky turned from blue - to pink - to orange, until everything that once was green around us looked like it was on fire. She put her hands out like wings and the coastal breeze pushed her skirt back and forth, wrapping itself around her goose-bumped legs. It became the only thing that mattered. I was definitely geeking out and flying through my roll of film (I only had 1 left at this point) but for a minute it felt like my brain had manifested a dream. That’s probably my favorite part of creating photography, or visual art in general. It doesn’t always happen that an idea becomes reality the way you see it in your mind but when it does, everything stands still.
The next day we set out early and found a point along the coast with ocean access. Again, Lindsay suggested we take photos. The sun was high at this point and washed the golden rod to a pale yellow. Out came the floral dress – the equivalent of a super hero suit at this point. She ran from the van barefoot, squeezing through dirt paths and rocky narrows, excited to sink her feet in the wet sand. Without any hesitation Lindsay rushed the shoreline and walked into the Pacific – dress and all. She was for sure freezing her ass off but the smile on her face was beaming from ear to ear and I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculously awesome everything was.
Back on dry land we searched for rock forms and fields to play in and any awkwardness or doubt was completely gone. I suggested she go au naturale – and the trooper that she is - got bare and made her way into the brush with the massive California hills behind her. I asked her to close her eyes – to think about her growth. Where she was, where she is, and everything she’s conquered. Now, most of you reading this probably know Lindsay, but what you probably don’t know is she has been through her fair share of shit. Not to mention she’s been faced with some pretty big decisions that I think most of us would shy away from. She’s made cross country moves without any idea as to what the fuck was going to happen, lived in ways she probably NEVER thought she’d be capable of (cue camper in the wilderness on her own), and put her health first in situations that are enough to land anyone in a hole. She’s always been a good friend of mine but as we both get older she’s becoming someone I look to for inspiration, advice, and strength. As Lindsay sunk further into the tall grass I felt an intense wave of gratitude, for both her and the amazing support system I have in my life. I can’t remember if I shed a tear or just started cursing because that’s what I do when I’m filled with joy, but however I expressed it – an overwhelming sense of purpose and acceptance of where I am in life kinda struck me all at once. And to think… I wasn’t going to make these photos because I was scared.
If you’ve gotten this far into my ramblings you’re probably wondering what the hell my point is and quite frankly, I’ve been wondering the same thing. I believe what I’m talking about is fear. Recognizing fear, accepting that it exists, and conquering it. Without fear we would probably be eaten by bears, but with it we tend to limit ourselves. Lindsay and I speak a lot about not wanting to live in fear so we stripped ourselves of it, rented a van, and drove. We drove and drove and drove and drove and at the end of it all we had seen the granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley, the massive trees of Sequoia and Kings, the rolling hills of California’s countryside, the bluffs and seals of Big Sur, the sunsets and sunrises of the Pacific coast, the mansions of Malibu, and the over priced cocktails of LA (HA just kidding… kinda). Sure, there were tons of tears, but none of them were out of fear. They were from an overwhelming exposure to beauty. Our brains were processing the marvels of things that were bigger than us. Winding mountain passes were filled with beautiful grand views allowing for the realization of how small we really are. Feeling small is something I find myself being self-conscious about, but I came to the understanding that realizing how small you are is important. It’s necessary to understand how how capable we are.
What healing requires is not easy. It’s building a road around a mountain, or through it, or over it. It’s a re-wiring. A re-telling of the story you have heard for so long. The story you have been telling yourself about how things are or how things were or how things are suppose to be. Sometimes, we need to strip down to the bare bones and embrace what is there. Appreciate it for the mess it might seem like and try to clean it up one step at a time. It’s being vulnerable and washing yourself of what you think you owe to the world, or what you think you owe to yourself.
We can not fear what may happen to us – we have to trust. We have to believe that we are destined for good things and not let the anxiety of failing or not being good enough hold us back. I once heard someone say “Life is not low hanging fruit” and hot damn were they right. No matter what you may face in life there is always a silver lining in the form of a lesson. So take the photo, apply for the job, start the business, or take the trip.
People and things may surprise you, but you’ll never know if you don’t give them a chance.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk, and have a wonderful weekend