Learning Again to Play

When I let go of perfectionism and my need for control, there’s room, I’m learning, for play.

 

 

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I love to play, but I’m not always very good at it. My default tends to be focussed and somewhat driven. It’s easy for me to forget how to be playful. But when I let go of perfectionism and my need for control, there’s room, I’m learning, for play.

This week our photography homework has been to experiment with shutter speeds and f-stops. Because I am such a beginner with these concepts, I can let go of the outcome and truly just play around. I’ve been tromping through pumpkin fields, and wandering the local woods and beaches. (It’s the first time in years that I’ve wished I owned a pair of rubber boots!)

I’ve been setting up my camera and just playing around.

What happens if I set the aperture to 4.5? What kind of shutter speed do I need? Now what happens when I change the aperture to 22?

I’m immersed in the process, messing around with the controls on my camera, and trying to remember as many steps as possible. Because I can’t yet predict what a particular shutter speed or aperture will do to my image, I’m not worried about what the image might actually look like. I can be guided by playful curiosity and experimentation alone.

A couple of days ago, I set up my tripod at the foot of our local pier. It was a beautiful, clear evening, and I wanted to see how high I could set the aperture. I was hoping to capture the rosy sky and the faint snowy outline of Mt. Baker in the distance. When I looked at the images afterwards, I was surprised by the blurred figures in the foreground.

So that’s how photographers do that!

Now I want to go and mess around some more and see if I can capture blurred swirls of water around ocean rocks.

I might need some rubber boots for that kind of play.

 

My Dance with Perfectionism

This isn’t about the photographs, is it? It’s about my fear of judgement. This is just me getting into that comfortable old slow dance with perfectionism again.

 

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So I’m heading back for my second photography class tonight where we have to share two photographs we’ve taken this week. As soon as our instructor announced that we were to bring two fall-themed photographs to the next class, I started to panic. Because if everyone was going to see them, they’d have to be perfect.

Even if this was a beginner’s class!

I’ve been blogging – and posting photographs on my blog – for years. I post on Instagram daily. Sharing two photographs should be no big deal. But this assignment was different! These photographs would be projected onto the wall for everyone in the class to see. And my inner critic kicked into overdrive.

The colours in this photo are too washed out.

The composition in this one is dull.

Pumpkins? You’re kidding, right? What a cliche!

My critic’s underlying message? Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough. 

You have no idea how many photographs I’ve taken – and ruled out – in the last week.

As with any life lesson I have to keep relearning, it took me a while to recognize what was going on. “Oh. This isn’t about the photographs, is it? It’s about my fear of judgement. This is just me getting into that comfortable old slow dance with perfectionism again.”

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown reminds us that in order to let go of perfectionism, we need to cultivate self-compassion. It’s not that easy for me. But for the last couple of days, I’ve been gentler with myself.

You’re just learning, darling. You’re a beginner. Nobody expects National Geographic quality. And look how much you’ve learned, just in this week. 

On my way home yesterday, I drove past the marina near my house and was captivated by the saturated colours of the boathouses in the warm evening light. Even as I was taking the picture, I could hear the critic’s voice in my head.  “This does not qualify as a fall picture.”

I think I might use it anyway. It’s good enough.

 

Life Lessons in Photography Class

Every time I learn something new, I have to start by learning all my old lessons over again.

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You know how there are some lessons you just have to keep learning over and over? The ones you think you’ve figured out and then somehow forget? It’s happening to me right now. Again.

I just started a beginner’s photography course at the local college. After using my dSLR for ten years, I decided it was time to stretch myself and move beyond using the little green “automatic” button and (when I was feeling really crazy) that one with the little mountains on it. It was time, I decided, to actually find out about apertures and f stops.

This being a beginner’s class, we started with the basics – a good thing really, given my attention span. And then at the end of our first class, our instructor sent us away with an assignment: return next week with two fall photographs.

And the Universe started to laugh. Because every time I learn something new, I have to start by learning all my old lessons over again.

The biggest lesson for me, always, is about giving up control. I so love the illusion that I am completely in control. And my biggest struggles occur when I get those gentle (and not so gentle) reminders that I’m not actually the boss of everything.

Like this morning. This morning I had a plan. I had an exact picture in my mind of the photograph I was going to capture. The sun would be rising over some local fields as the early morning fog began to lift. It was going to be perfect!

Except as I started shooting, I could see that the pictures weren’t working. I was facing towards the sun, and even though it was hidden behind fog, there was too much light. Everything in the foreground was too dark, and those beautiful foggy fields and trees? You could hardly see them because they were so washed out.

Disappointed, I grabbed my camera and crossed the road to see if there were any promising vistas with the sun behind me. I took a couple of pictures, and they were a little better, but I still wasn’t happy. I hadn’t captured the exact image I wanted.

And then I turned around to this:

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And it was like a big, beautiful reminder: Stay open! Let go of your expectations, and just see what emerges. Trust the process. Trust me. 

When I got back to my car, the sun had risen above the fog and had lit the entire field with warm golden light. The trees that had been black silhouettes in my first set of photographs were now flashing green and gold, and the fog had lightened, revealing distant trees. The photos I captured weren’t the ones I planned on, but they were so much more interesting than the image I had wanted.

And once again, I was reminded about letting go, about giving up control, about staying focussed on the process and not the outcome. And so, until I forget again, I’m handing myself over to the Universe – at least just a little. Today I’ve got photographic evidence that this might not be such a bad idea.

 

 

 

On Voice and Vocation

IMG_5837I’m fascinated by voice, by the way we find our voices, speaking up and giving voice to our ideas, opinions and emotions. I’m also interested in the ways in which we lose our voices, by the ways we silence ourselves — or find ourselves silenced.

For me, it’s personal. I haven’t had a voice in 2 1/2 years. And it’s the second time I’ve lost my voice for a long period of time. Clearly the Universe is trying to tell me something!

A couple of days ago, I came across a new idea: the connection between voice and vocation (or calling). Voice comes from the Latin word vox, which is related to another Latin word, vocare, to call. The word vocation, or calling, comes from vocare.

This was a revelation for me, as another one of my preoccupations is with purpose, and what it is we’re meant to be doing with our lives. While I love my work (in online course development), I’ve felt for a long time as though I’m meant to be doing something more. And it’s interesting to me that my voice loss has required that I slow down at work, and has also prevented me from returning to teaching, which I always expected to do.

So this whole voice and vocation connection has me following new pathways of inquiry. I’m asking myself:

What do I feel called to do?

How can I give voice to my purpose?

What callings am I not giving voice to? 

These are questions, I suspect, that we might all consider.

I invite you to give voice to your musings below.

Always Begin Again

What lights me up? What am I longing for?

cropped-img_6981.jpgI’ve been feeling lost for a while now, without direction. After publishing my first book last December, I’ve been waiting for creative inspiration. I’ve been journalling and taking photographs and editing some of my poetry; I spent time this summer at a writing workshop on Cortes Island, and even started writing a new book. But none of these creative practices have really been lighting me up.

And I want to feel lit up.

Reading Rebecca Campbell, I was reminded of this truth: “We follow our calling by following what lights us up.”

What lights me up? What am I longing for?

When I asked myself these questions, I realized I was feeling the pull to return to blogging. I’ve missed the creativity and the connection.

But I also felt like I’d outgrown my old blog.

Why not begin again?

Yes. Why not? Beginning again is central to my meditation practice. Why not bring it to my creative practices too? And why not begin anew with a space that reflects who I am now?

I’ve been on a journey for years now to live a more wholehearted, creative and awake life. I still spend more time feeling distracted and lost than on the right path.

But I’m learning to trust in the journey.

This is what I want to write about now. This feels like the next step for me on my journey.