Category Archives: Photography

A Photo a Day to Keep the Numb Away

Normally I don’t notice how numb I can be throughout the day. Time slips by as I go about my daily tasks and routine. I’m usually without awareness of disconnection from my emotional experience. It’s not until I encounter something which elicits a strong emotion that my general numbness becomes apparent. Those strong feelings are bold, scalding coffee cutting through my foggy emotional morning. When I’m paying attention, and attuned to my internal emotional state, I find I crave strong emotions much as night owls jones for their morning coffee.

Mug lined with the remains of a Latte

I’ve written often about my emotional numbness before. You can find mention of it in “The Bridge” and other posts here, yet I still have trouble holding on to the knowledge that numbness is a symptom of PTSD. When I know I’m overwhelmed and numb, I have various tools to help me come back to the world of feeling – cold glass on my face, a walk outside, a cup of hot coffee or tea, snuggling with Thurman or one of my stuffed animals. These all help most when I’m overwhelmed, but none truly gets me unnumb.

Early on working through my returning childhood memories, I found journaling the most effective way to process my experiences. Peeking into my life back then you’d find me in a coffee shop with my headphones on writing in my journal. Unknowingly I was using my two secret weapons to climb out of the pit of unfeeling into the world of color, emotion, and light — music and creative pursuits.

Four Old Bullet Journals
A collection of old journals. Did you notice I like Teal?!

Music is a constant in my world. It not only keeps me present, but it brings emotion to the surface on its own. I’ve discovered some artists and music types work better for me than others to elicit an emotional response. If I’m writing, ambient chill and non-vocal trance open the floodgates without disturbing the flow of words onto the page. If I’m drawing or taking camera walks, my playlist expands to include electronic pop and vocal trance. So there is often music playing in my headphones as I walk, or at my desk as I work to write. Playlists are like the handle of a lumberjack’s favorite axe there’s a well worn groove that fits me perfectly.

And yet, I am numb and disconnected from my emotional experience more than I want. I crave connection with my feelings, and to keep the numb at bay. So, this year I’m going to try something a bit different. I’m going to lean into one of my creative pursuits in a new way.

Leaning purple flowers
Even the flowers say I should lean into photography…

I’m going to do a 365 photography challenge — posting a photo a day on Instagram. Taking photographs forces me to see the world in a different way. In order to capture a photo that has meaning, I have to pay attention and feel whatever my subject is. If I don’t feel I can’t make a good picture. Seems like a challenge for someone who is numb right?

Fortunately, there is some untold magic for me in holding a camera and trying to find the image I want, in trying to feel the emotion I want to capture. When working to see strongly, to be open to the world of light, the numbness begins to thaw. I’m unaware it’s happening until the tingle of presence washes over me. The process reminds me of Arthur Dent learning to fly in “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.” He forgot to hit the ground when he was falling, and so started flying. When looking for an image that speaks to me, I forget to bump into the numbness and instead soar into fervor and sentiment.

So every day that I can this year, I will focus on finding at least one image that sparks a reaction in me. I’ll capture and share it with the world in hopes that this repeated action over time of finding feeling will make it a habit. Perhaps a photo a day will keep the numb away.

Poppies on a Northern California hillside
Perhaps this can be the first catch-up photo of the day!

Flowers of Disney

Growing up on the Space Coast of Florida near the Port Canaveral home of Disney Cruise Line and just an hour from Walt Disney World, it was probably inevitable I’d become a bit of a Disney fan. Being so close, I’m sure I went to the parks at least a dozen times before I graduated from high school. When I moved away after finishing college, there was at least a dozen year gap before I returned with my six year old son, and could rediscover the parks through his eyes. From the rides, to the parades, to the hidden mickeys to the deep theming, I watched him find joy for himself as I had. Sharing in his experiences I found happiness there too. In high school, I never expected I’d be visiting Disney world as an adult much focusing on the flowers of Disney World.

Since that first return, I’ve been back at least another dozen times with my son. Now he is grown, and I continue visit, but now with my wife. On good days it is a place for us to escape the pressures of daily life. It is somewhere to be present without worrying about what comes next and to feel joy without judgement. However as a survivor of childhood trauma who lives with PTSD, the crowds can overwhelm, the enclosed queues can make me feel trapped, and frustrated parents yelling at their children can trigger me.

Fresh Orchids grace the lobby of the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World.

I’ve found my typical coping techniques can sometimes work in these situations, but not always. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a very specific distraction which I’m currently enjoying. I pay extra attention to the flowers of Disney. I find if I slow down a bit and try to notice, the detailed landscaping becomes more visible. I wander the parks with my camera handy in my backpack looking for flowers, and find they are everywhere.

Snapdragons almost under my feet in the hub as I wait for the Festival of Fantasy parade.

They offer calm in the middle of the maelstrom. They are indifferent to the lives of those around them. They only car about sun, water and soil. For years, I missed the thousands of blooms present in the parks every day. Then I started to look. Now I find planters everywhere full of common varieties – well tended greenery crowned with color.

Impatients covered with dew in the town square.

Sometimes I find something a bit more exotic. In either case, I pull my camera out and search for what catch my eye, for bursts of color which make me feel something. Then I carefully frame and capture them as closely to how I experience them as I can. I soak in the beauty around me which others walking by a few feet away miss. The calm focus helps keep me present.

Hostas along a path outside the entrance of Disney Hollywood Studios

I breathe, I absorb the calm, and feel better, ready for the next thing, able to be fully present. As my collection of photos grows, I’ve wondered – why not share them with others? So here some from my last trip, and hopefully there will be more to come. I want to share both my calm and my joy es expressed by nature’s fireworks close to the ground.

A bed of flowers in the Magic Kingdom.

Spring Forward

It’s the time of year when the world is warming and brightening in fits and starts. Grey skies follow sun warmed blooming flowers, both trailed by frost – it makes the senses spin and the wardrobe catapult back and forth from sweaters to shorts. This is a bitter sweet time of year for me as winter gives way to spring, with a promise of the summer so full of reminders of the things I don’t want to remember.

Sunset in late winter.

I love the edge seasons, the in-between, the becoming. Fall and Spring are my home in the quarters of the year. Perhaps because change fits me like the old sweater I wore just last week, or because like the capris of a couple days ago, they are the harbinger of things to come. Spring and Fall keep me on my toes wondering what is next. Perhaps it’s because they are neither too hot or too cold – extremes I no longer seem to enjoy much. Deep inside, I know long, hot summer days connect to things just below awareness, bringing floating fragments to the surface, a tingly crawling to my arms, and a shake to my hands. So I’ll linger in spring as long as I can in the momentary embrace of a safe season. Sometimes I’d rather not spring forward.

A wall of purple life in the brown of winter.

Last week the three giant Japanese Magnolia trees at the park next to our house were beginning their yearly display. Driving home I saw them blossoming forth through the misty overcast evening. Disappointed at the poor light of the late hour, and determined to capture some decent photos this year, I made a mental note to head out the next day with my camera when the sun was right and the weather favorable.

It actually took for days for everything to align, but I found myself stomping up and down the little hillside with camera in hand trying to do justice to the sea of buds just set to open. While I searched, a neighbor I’d not yet met saw me and wandered over to introduce himself. It turns out he organizes a local photography meetup group. His card in my pocket, I went back to what I was focused on, intent on capturing an image which would convey the feeling of facing a flood of color. I found myself working hard to stay in this moment for as long as possible even after I was sure I had what I’d originally come for.

Japanese Magnolia tree covered in buds

Then I walked with the camera for a bit to find another moment, but as the evening wore on, I wasn’t seeing much to capture eye and heart, so I headed home. My thoughts were wandering too far from the serenity of the blooms. I felt their pull to darker places, and without something to keep my attention I decided it best to be home if an unpleasant memory or flashback popped up.

Stepping back in the house, done for the evening, I set my camera on the table and headed to the back porch to check out the sinking sun. I found something unexpected in one of my wind chimes.

I love wind chimes, their sound, their look, their delicate swaying presence. I have a special spot in my soul for geode chimes specifically. I’m sure I’ll write about them some day and dredge up a picture of my first geode – the one I picked from a pile at a roadside stand outside of Yellowstone then handed to an overalled man who cut it in two on his diamond bladed saw. The idea of prehistoric gas bubbles trapped in rock was already up the alley of this budding science geek, but then when I looked inside… there were crystals – geologic art hidden inside a boring grey rock. I was hooked.

A geode holds our star in its core.

Here, perfectly aligned with the setting sun on my back porch, one of my geode chimes held our star in its crystals. The universe once again is reminding me to stay present, to pay attention, to see the wonders in front of me, and not to give echos of the past too much sway.

The Bridge

I am so excited to share my first publication! Published by the spectacular crew at SFWP – the Santa Fe Writers Project – I present

“The Bridge” —> here

as included in the 27th issue of the SFWP Quarterly. Please read and enjoy! Feel free to leave something in the tip jar if you like it or simply want to support independent literary publications.

You can follow #SFWP on twitter and instagram – I certainly do! Many thanks to Monica Prince and Nicole Schmidt for finding my piece worthy of their special issue focused on the body.

A bit of background – bridges both literal and metaphorical litter the landscape of my life. So it seems only fitting that my first published piece is about a bridge. Even more specifically apropos I found photos of the Golden Gate from a solo trip years ago to enliven this entry. Suppose I’ll have to explain some to connect those things together, how one bridge led to another.

Often I write here about my attempts to cope with the after effects of childhood trauma in the present day, about the struggle to make sense of it all. Back in the early days of remembering these long hidden parts of my childhood, when fresh memories were flooding forth daily, I was completely overwhelmed. Almost a year later still exhausted despite the flow finally reducing to a narrow stream, I had nothing left. None of it made much sense and I had little capacity to create some order from fragmented bits of childhood newly strewn across my awareness.

Given the opportunity to spend a day, a single 24 hour day in San Francisco before attending a conference in San Jose, I lept at the chance. I needed time and space to myself, an opportunity to reflect while revisiting my favorite city on the planet. Perhaps it would help. I needed to try something to help myself find some small respite.

One night a few weeks before the trip, I sketched freehand from memory the Golden Gate Bridge – solid, eternal, foreboding, and yet reassuring. The sketch inspired my plan a visit to the bay front, to sketch again from real life in hopes of calming the anxiousness within. Maybe some of the strength I saw in my mind’s eye would rub off on me for real as the graphite of pencil rubbed off on paper as I sketched from shore.

Finally the day arrived. Fresh from my bright blue airport shuttle and with several hours before sunset, I walked from my hotel near the Presidio down through the Palace of Fine Arts to the bay – to sketch. The scrape of pencil on paper, the low moan of the wind, the screeching of the gulls, the rumble of distant surf and lap of water kept me present while I worked.

Yet, before I finished, it was apparent I needed to move. The anxiety and tears were back yet again, brought forth by something unknown. Perhaps memories of family trips to the Bay Area as a child. Perhaps something else. In any case, my best tool for dealing with overwhelm was to walk. So on the spot, I resolved to walk to Fort Point and the Bridge.

I had hoped for introspection, for knowledge, for calm from my visit to sketch beach. Instead I found my path incomplete. As I walked more realization dawned. This journey – how to become who I am, whatever I am, was just beginning. I was so unsure of my life and path in that moment. How does one live an authentic life, one worth living, when you don’t know your whole story, when you aren’t even quite sure who you are or what your place is in the world. How could I know where I was headed if I’d so little idea of where I’d been?

It’s actually quite a long way from sketch beach all the way down to Fort Point and the bridge. I wasn’t really prepared for it, but the body needed to move and so I walked. It’s probably a good thing I walked miles that day. My nervous system calmed with the input of my surroundings and the continuous motion. I became more rooted in the present. I had plenty of time to just be.

Golden Gate panorama

As I neared the point I started to snap pictures. The camera had been an afterthought added to my bag when I was focused on packing my sketch pad and drawing supplies. Now it became a central part of my experience as angles and framing caught my eye – old habits came back unaware to the rest of me. My photographic muscles contracting in a reflexive echo of youth.

Finally I reached the highest point of the old fort under the bridge. Gazing up into the geometric complexities of the underbelly and the sheer enormity of the edifice above me, I knew if humanity could build this span of steel and concrete to connect to disparate shores, it was possible for me to do the same. I could survive, and even thrive. I was sure I could make it back to the life I should have had. It would be an arduous journey, but one I had to make.

Every step since then has been toward the life I never had a chance to live. “The Bridge” is a piece of that story.

Seeing Strongly…

I’ve yet again been having a difficult time reading for fun. I miss reading. For so long it was my escape, my mental retreat from the world. I always carried a book with me to turn found time into fun time. Now this dearth of pleasure in reading seems to crop up when I’m struggling with memories from the past or other PTSD symptoms underneath the surface. My stack of YA and nonfiction sits untouched on the shelves next to the bed along with compounding magazine subscriptions occupying an ever growing pile of electrons inside my Kindle.

So these last few weeks I’ve attempted to use my newly discovered coping skill of reading about cameras and photography more intentionally when I noticed I’m not able to attend to reading. Why not read and actually learn to improve my craft as I distract from knowing the overwhelming things creeping up on me? I might as well get something out of my coping mechanism.

So there has been been quite a lot of reading photography books instead. I can attend to these at least somewhat. I started with Joe McNally’s “The Hot Shoe Diaries” and then “The Photographer’s Eye” by Michael Freeman. Both were interesting in their own way. Joe’s book was fun to read, Michael’s informative but neither was fulfilling the need for authenticity and perhaps deeper meaning I was seeking.

On a whim I went on a used book buying spree one weekend ordering all of Ansel Adams“The Camera”, “The Negative”, and “The Print” in his photography series plus another of examples on the making of forty iconic photos. I’ve long loved and admired Adams’ work so finally reading these books makes sense.

Well… mostly since unfortunately there’s a deeper layer here. My father idolized Ansel, and so his work sometimes disturbs slumbering memories from the depths. It makes for hesitant reading. After trying to read a couple of the Adams books and making minimal progress, I stumbled across “The Art of Photography” by Bruce Barnum and decided perhaps it would better fill my needs of the moment. Bruce seemed to speak to the part of me desiring to find a way back into photography and reading at the same time. I can’t say it has helped jumpstart my reading, but it has definitely helped me focus more on practicing my art.

In “Art”, Edward Weston is credited with describing photographic composition as the “Strongest way of seeing.” While I have always looked for subjects and resulting images which piqued my interest and solicited an emotional response, I’d not thought much about the process past that feeling. Armed with a bit of awe and some resulting intentionality, I set out to see strongly.

After work one evening the following week my wife had an appointment at a slightly unusual building. I decided to take advantage of my free time to walk around and find some images which spoke to me. Months ago I had taken to keeping a small DSLR in my purse, and so I was all set when we arrived. She went in to her appointment and I strolled around with a camera in hand as I like to do.

At first I tried a few perspectives in a courtyard but each time the images fizzled. I didn’t feel anything. That heavy stuck feeling started creeping up inside.

Shadowed walkway

Peeking around a corner, I saw a passage of deep shadows between two buildings crowned by sky. It seemed an escape from where I’d been trapped in the past, from where I starting to stick in the moment. It was an invitation to look up and back into the light.

Pac Man on gate duty

I climbed the stairs and turned, looking back the way I’d come. A change in perspective and continuing to be open had pulled me out of the darkness. Inspecting the gate, I realized the Pac Man of my youth (albeit a bit rusted) had been relegated to gate latch duty. A smile formed.

After a moment of reflection I continued around the building. The sidewalk fronted along a wide avenue whizzing with cars and trucks just feet away. I longed for the quiet shadows of the passage or even the courtyard. Still, it is better to keep going forward. Walking around a Pub on the corner, I found a vantage point with light and color. I stopped and paid attention, noticed what drew me to the scene, the light was layered, the colors contrasted, and that sky!

Around the edges of my perch were a few planters with colorful flowers and ivy drawing my eye in. With some work I managed to capture just what interested me, and not the giant cigarette disposal device almost interwoven into the ivy of the planters.

The tang of wort and sharp citrus of hops filled the air as I walked on. A brewery guarded by towering tanks and an old delivery truck stood in front of me as I down to the back of the building.

Behind the brewery, detritus from replacing the walkway to their drinking patio was stacked haphazardly against a post. Density of texture, color and light jumped at me just waiting to be seen.

Coming back to my starting point, I was confronted by a panalopy of flowers. Clearly they had been there when I began my walk, yet only now was I seeing them. What had changed in the intervening walk so I was now able to see the shock of black-eyed Susans right in front of me?

I had started to inhabit the world around me, to notice, to be in the present. I was seeing strongly just by giving myself an opportunity to do so. I’d spent a pleasant hour almost entirely present, being in the world of light instead of the shadows of my mind. It is a place I intend to inhabit more often.

Focusing in with Macro

I’ve been experimenting with macro photography lately as an offshoot of taking so many flowers pictures this spring. It reminds me of being fascinated with microscopes and the tiny world I discovered as a child.

Until just now I’d forgotten how one year for Christmas I got a pocket microscope in my stocking. Yes, if you’re wondering I was a bit of a science geek as a child. I carried that microscope around the yard, on walks to the park, and when my family would take day trips to the mountains. While I didn’t much care to look at bugs with it, there were plenty of wonders in the micro world to observe.

I loved Lego as a child, and was thrilled to pass that love on to my son. As I’ve been unpacking from a recent pair of moves – one to a new home, another from my office – I came across a few Lego mini figures my son gave me as gifts when he was younger. They had graced the office at work which I no longer occupy with a shift to permanent remote work. While I have so many more mini figures in bins of my childhood legos hidden in the attic, these were right in front of me begging to be photographed. Ideas bubbled up in my mind. I could spend the month of May making pictures of mini figures in various locales. It would be a wild & crazy adventure of #MacroMay.

Wild & crazy Lego backpacker guy.

I lined a few up on my desk and started snapping pictures, remembering to use small apertures to get some depth-of-field so the entire figure would be in focus. A few tries were meh, and then by adding a flash I got a reasonable image. Was this really worth my time? Or was this more of a flight of fancy? Still I kept at it.

A slightly delirious and maybe evil Peter Pan mini figure!?

Perhaps I should to be more serious. Become the cold and detached photographer documenting their observations. Well, perhaps not, but it’s a fun image.

Should a photographer be an ice queen line this mini figure complete with stylish camera bag?

Even after years of awareness and work, I’m still discovering things about myself and my childhood. These discoveries and connections still occur on a regular basis even after years of therapy and effort at healing. Time and reclaiming passions of childhood allow things to bubble to the surface of awareness where they can be processed. I know I still have a lot of work to do in my recovery, but fortunately I’m not alone. I have help along the way.

I’m finding out today that looking closely and focusing on the minute is another way to distract and avoid the world around me. In the present it’s mostly about observation and discovery, but as a child… It was that and more. It was a way to dim awareness of the unsafe world I lived in. If attention was focused on a blade of grass, the veins of quartz in granite, the grain of a stump, then I was able to not know about the terrible things I experienced. The micro world became yet another tool in my box to cope, to keep from knowing. I’m realizing I’ve spent a lot of my life not knowing things which were too much to process or cope with as a child.

Those same coping skills can bring joy now. Maybe not a fair trade, but I’ll make hay while the sun shines.

Spring Flowers

It’s springtime here in the south. The sun is brighter, the days are warmer, and pollen is ubiquitous. This also means flowers in bloom, which this year is all of them at the same time. Colour spouts everywhere. Walkabouts with my camera to explore my new neighborhood have been filled with bountiful blooms.

I’ve been taking pictures: experimenting with close up photos, with framing and with depth of field. It’s been enjoyable, diverting me from the stress of moving, from memories just under the surface. Having to focus on minute details and put into practice skills long unused keeps the mind from wandering to anxiety provoking topics of both the past and the present.

These are the kinds of pictures my father never took, which makes them the kind of pictures I want to take, because they are mine. I claim them for my own, inhabit them completely without being cast into darkness by his shadow.

I never would have expected to see myself interested in these vivid subjects. As a young photographer I was drawn to sweeping vistas, dark skies, and faraway things. The thought of stooping to sample the roses would never have sat right with me. It is too quiet, too sedate, not interesting enough.

I’m reminded of an evening photography class I took one summer as a tween. It covered many topics I found engaging, but it’s the one I wasn’t thrilled about which sticks most in my mind – attention to detail. We were given an assignment to shoot an entire roll of photos of a single object – a stump. I found it difficult to focus on that stump for 3 or 4 frames, how could I take all of 24? I knew I was never going to make it as soon as I started. It’s hardly surprising I got negative from that assignment, though I might still have the few photos I took someplace.

That has changed so much over the intervening years. Now even the smallest thing pulls me in if I let it. A contrast of different color flowers on the same azalea bush, a mix of orange and purple pansies in the same bed. It seems anything becomes helpful in avoiding that which I really don’t want to know or can’t deal with just now. If it’s quiet and beautiful, that makes it even easier to lose myself.

So I walk around, camera in hand soaking up the world waiting for things to draw my attention. The surroundings speak to me visually as I try to notice the wonders hidden in plain view around me instead of the dark memories within.

Every now and then something jumps out, begs to be seen where it wasn’t visible just a moment ago. So I raise the camera, snap a few images to capture an ethereal presence which won’t be there tomorrow and walk on looking for the next moment before the spring flowers fade.

Cameras to manage anxiety?

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading about cameras. So much so, you might assume I’m planning to buy one in the immediate future, but actually no. I’m reading about cameras because, well, it’s calming. For some reason I can’t quite identify yet, reading about all sorts of different DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) and some of the newer mirrorless cameras helps me manage anxiety. I *am* interested in cameras, because well… photography is part of who I am. It’s a hobby I’ve claimed since I was a child. However I’m not pining after the latest and greatest camera right now. I just read about cameras when I get anxious. Why is that? All I know is that if I find myself browsing pages on Ken Rockwell’s excellent site, I know I’m likely unsettled.

I can trace some of this back to when I wanted to learn more about my current primary camera – a Nikon D90 – after years away from using an SLR regularly. After that I started reading about the newer models which replaced it over the following 12 years, then I read up on some of the film cameras of my youth, and then some of the ones that had been in my dad’s collection. Things got a little scary down that dark alley, so I shifted back to modern digital cameras. Now rarely a day goes by when I’m not reading about a lens or camera or some aspect of technique even when the pandemic keeps me inside, away from taking as many photos as I’d like.

This has me thinking about Central Coherence Theory, which basically says that humans organize and process information within a context that gives it meaning, looking for the big picture. We focus on information which fits with the big picture and set aside information which doesn’t fit with it. It’s a concept I learned about when researching Aspergers and Autism after my son was diagnosed at the age of four. At the time there was a theory postulating those on the autism spectrum have weak central coherence. It proposed they have a reduced ability to coalesce information around a central idea, and discard the rest. The results is a flood of extraneous information which overwhelms and leads to reduced executive function which is typically seen in those on the autism spectrum. I’m not sure if it was ever accepted, but on a practical level the concepts helped me understand some of my son’s challenges. How does it apply here though?

Well, like most things with me, it comes back to trauma. My brain spends an inordinate amount of time avoiding awareness of memories of traumatic things which happened to me. Holding all those awful things in mind would overwhelm me, make it impossible to function. So those memories are pushed down out of awareness. To keep memories at bay, to keep my mind from pulling information back together and putting disparate pieces together thus finding the core idea, my brain tries to protects, tries not to know. It’s just part of how PTSD works.

How better to keep these memories from floating to the surface and coalescing into awareness of the terrible truth of my childhood than finding something else to focus on. Enter cameras.

Fortunately photography is a deep and complex topic. I can ask myself countless interesting questions based on my interest. What would be the best travel camera for when COVID winds down and I can visit interesting places again? (A Canon EOS M5 or Nikon D3500 are small enough to fit in my purse) What lenses make sense to purchase next that work with my longer term camera upgrade plan? (a Nikon 10-24mm DX ultra wide) Which camera will fit my hand size best? (heh.. none, though small SLRs are okish) What’s the best way to get film developed and scanned these days? (Turns out there is a lab in town) What’s the next book I should read about photography? (The Photographer’s Eye) Where should I take my next photographic vacation to? (Yosemite – my wife has never been there) The list is almost endless, engaging for my mind, and most importantly, far from my trauma memories.

Well, mostly distant from those memories. Actually, there are some crossovers with the more adverse experiences of my childhood. Stumbling across those connections when I’m trying to avoid knowing can be far, far too much. It is more destabilizing than a vivid flashback since it connects to the topic here and now… and then I have to deal with my trigger reactions, anxiety, body memories, fuzziness. Yay.

What surprises me most about this is that things I know be triggering about cameras and photography are losing their ability to invoke strong reactions in me. As memories spilled forth early on, I never thought I would be able to handle a real SLR camera again, much less a film Nikon, the camera choice of my father. Yet now I not only own one Nikon SLR, but two. One digital and one film. The sound of the shutter no longer makes me jump. As long as the camera is in my hand, in my control, I am ok.

As I read, learn, and distract, control comes back to my hands. I choose what happens now. I chose to take photography back. I choose to read about cameras when I am anxious. I choose to write about these things because this is my life. I am no longer powerless. I no longer have to suffer through triggers and overwhelm blindly. I have coping skills, including camera distraction to manage the anxiety that comes with my memories. I no longer have to white-knuckle overwhelming times.

It is a slow path to make sense of my experiences, to take my life back, but I work at it one click, one article at a time.

Strolling in the Light

Over the last few months I’ve been feeling photography grow ever more comfortable. When I posted earlier this year about taking photography back from childhood trauma, about making the hobby mine again, I had reached a point where it had switched from being a trigger to a pleasure. Lately something unexpected has happened – photography has become solace.

Since memories of childhood trauma came pouring forth the best part of a decade ago, I’ve often found myself wondering how to make sense of my life experiences. Though I have explored the disjoint, terrifying memories in the safe embrace of my journal and therapist’s office, I wrestle with how to translate these experiences onto the page. I yearn to tell my story, yet how to do so without scaring my readers or befuddling them with disconnected slivers of memory has long evaded me.

Since the summer, I’ve been mentally rummaging in the junk drawer of my mind, going back over experiences trying to find a common framework from which to make sense of things. Unexpectedly I discovered photography showing up all over life, not just in my trauma memories. From pictures of childhood events, to family voyages photographically assaying the American West, to images of my own independent travel and those of my son, photography is the river that has flowed through my experiences. The negatives and positives of my life are all connected by an unending spool of film.

As I worked through all of this in my journal, I actually could give attention to it for the first time. Instead of shying away because of being triggered, I was able to embrace the idea of using photography, both mine and my father’s, as a way to understand my own story.

Bolstered by this framework of how the pieces of my life might fit together into a cohesive whole, I let myself slip more into photography. I let it envelop me, become part of how I see the world again. I finally looked back over my catalog of pictures from the last 20 years and beyond. I started to write a mixed media essay with some of those photographs. I began to read about photography and cameras, which I had never been able to do before. In daily life occasional images would impress themselves on me. Bright pansies in a planter surrounded by the browning world of late fall caught my eye one day, a Christmas wreath around a streetlight another, and Thurman with a particularly vivid background on yet another. Interesting images were all around me, I simply started noticing.

I found myself wandering around the neighborhood, camera in hand allowing my eye to once again see things as the camera might. I’d found something I never thought I would experience again: the countenance between light and dark, the sharp joyful spark of color, the excitement of the unexpected caught still. Small, even inconsequential things became my subjects and created a smile as I found life in the ability to represent things as I saw them.

A crossroads in the sky.

I am no longer only tolerating capturing an image. I’m finding joy and life in creating with my camera. I’m using photography as a tool to help myself now. When I go numb, disconnect or get anxious because I am overwhelmed by memories, a walk with the camera grounds me to the earth. These walks connect me to things waiting to be seen, to life itself because in order to capture the world as I see it, attention must be given to the present instead of what is going on inside. I am forced out of the darkness of images trapped inside my mind to instead experience the light of the world around me.

In the land of the pansies, the purple queen reigns.

Somehow moving toward instead of away from memories of my father the photographer has allowed me to work on accepting the duality of my relationship with him. In turn I have felt a peace develop around cameras, photography and how they weave into the fabric of my life. Once again photos are an outlet for me to express myself as an artist, instead imprisoning me.

There is still darkness in photography for me, but as long as I walk in the light, darkness lives only in my past.

Moon Over Home

Trying to find normality while in the midst of this covid-life feels like a fruitless task most of the time. The brain alternates between getting on the hamster wheel of spinning thought going nowhere, or completely disconnecting. Spacing out staring at the wall. There is also a third possibility. Napping for no apparent reason.

I managed to do all three this afternoon. After a flurry of activity earlier in the day, I wound up on the couch staring at the opposite wall, half aware of a painting from my friend Lorna on my wall, half disconnected. Then slowly falling into a nap. I woke, mind already churning and turned again to the news outlets flipping endlessly through articles, unable to truly occupy my mind.

I miss being able to lose myself in a book like I have so many times in the past. It is an ability that seems to come and go now for no particular reason I can discern. At the moment it’s gone. So my restless mental hamster was on the wheel running trying to find a place to rest. Finally after an hour or so it occurred to me I should use one of my coping mechanisms – stepping outside.

Up off the couch and out onto the balcony. Pleasant, late evening warm spring air greeted me. I took in the comforting slanting rays of sun illuminating the building across the way. Soaking in the embrace of comfort and calm, I glanced up. A waxing gibbous moon, just past halfway way to full stared down at me from a slice of sky above.

It sparked something inside.

I used to love astronomy in another life. That life I had before my childhood trauma came to haunt me. For just a moment the joy of seeing a bit of the cosmos from my own private vantage point on the universe came back. It filled my emptiness inside and helped me find my feet below me, the sky above. Memories of laying on a picnic table stargazing through binoculars as a child filled me. Again the wonder of the cosmos presented itself.

I remembered my camera, my desire to take back photography, and excitement rose at the thought of actually being able to capture a few pictures of something steady, solid and eternal.

Long shot of the moon over an urban office building in the evening.

A few wide hand held snaps, then some close up ones. The tripod came out when my hand wasn’t quite steady enough for such a small object with a long lens. Then more precious moments spent just taking in the eerie, but pleasant quiet of a world still not quite awake from covid reclusion.

And now? Contentment flowing from doing something creative. Remembering how much I loved astronomy and space as a small child, trips to the planetarium, gazing at the stars, reading about space, watching the first shuttle launch and land. The sweetness of those childhood memories, and also the bittersweetness of knowing darkness was underneath all of those memories, hidden even from me.

Reconnected to the world I am feeling again, and that makes me feel alive.

Closeup of the waxing gibbous moon in the evening sky

Interesting Astronomy links – Great for checking on the current phase of the moon.

ClearDarkSky – An astronomer’s forecast for locations in North America, there could be one near you. I’d like to visit here sometime Casitas de Gila Observatory

WorldWide Telescope – an interactive walk through the skies right from your browser.