Long before I was a photographer, I was a writer. Lately I've hesitated to write, as I couldn't report the "truth" you might expect to hear. Consequently, other than the photos, this blog has begun to feel stale and uninteresting to me. Because I'm not the same person I was back in 2006 in Paris, when I began writing Paris Parfait.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” - Heraclitus
I have lovely and loyal friends of all ages, who at any given moment are going through momentous changes/disruptions in their lives. Many of them are accomplishing amazing feats on a regular basis, while juggling children and a family life. Others are completely on their own, experiencing similar situations and challenges I faced years ago as a single mom.
While I relish each and every story and admire my friends' tremendous style and bravery and emphasize with their struggles, I am at a different place in my life. I have moved on from worrying about what's fashionable to determining what fits. In case you've noticed a lack of blogging here lately: I am trying to honour my creative impulses and produce work to withstand the test of time, rather than that easily discarded with the vagaries of fashion or the next generation of social media platforms.
But I am emotionally and physically exhausted. The last year-and-a-half of my husband's serious health woes have taken their toll. At home I lounge about in the softest cottons, feeling fragile and vulnerable - while perversely trying to project an image of confidence and capability to the outside world.
Standing on my balcony, I see a girl in a rowboat, jumping out and climbing the nearest tall tree, Tom Sawyer-like. And I try to remember what it was like to be nine years old and fearless. Then I remind myself that many, many times in my life I've been fearless and even fierce, out of necessity.
I raised my daughter while living and working as a journalist in the Middle East, amidst cultural differences. When I took my daughter to pre-school, I was the only single mom. Most local women eyed me with a mixture of pity and suspicion: pity for my single status; suspicion that as a "wicked Western woman" I might try to steal their husbands!
For years, I bore responsibility for Every.Single.Thing. It was exhausting then and perhaps even more so now, with my husband's illness coupled with my own adjustments to middle age. As nearly every woman in her '50s can attest, it appears that society ironically conspires to ignore us at a time we actually have more to offer. If stress has resulted in a few grey hairs or extra pounds, we might as well be invisible.
In 2014, if women are not virtually flawless in appearance, any talents or ideas we may offer are considered negligible. The advertising-driven media reinforces this false narrative over and over, until we start to question our own worth.
On an intellectual level, I find these impossible standards and stereotypes appalling. But I am a perfectionist who is so very far from perfect (much to my dismay). And on an emotional level, I struggle with the idea of not living up to others' expectations - even if those expectations are ridiculous! All too often I've viewed each new grey hair; each stress-fueled pound with alarm - as though I've done something dreadful and should be ashamed of myself!
To counter these absurd and self-defeating thoughts, I try to focus on the positive and what I can control. Lately I am obsessed with editing: of ridding my house of unnecessary things that no longer appeal to my tastes or aesthetics. In a similar vein, I've bid farewell to certain self-interested friends, who have been quite happy to take, but never to give.
I am trying to listen more and speak less. The older I get and the more knowledge I gain, the more I realise how little we know for certain. Most of us are just winging it and hoping for the best.
"Maybe what you think is a breakdown is really a breakthrough." - Jen Lemen
Some days I prefer to cocoon and not see another soul. It's not that I'm anti-social; I just don't want my already-busy friends subjected to minutiae of the struggles I'm facing. And we creative types need a lot of time alone, even in the best of circumstances.
But I am tired of pretending everything's fine, when it's not. I'm tired of doctors not listening, when I clearly enunciate my well-researched concerns. I'm tired of being dismissed by hapless bureaucrats, who refuse to consider that their methods are clumsy and outdated.
I'm tired of not being heard; of not being seen. Maybe in the past couple of years, I've relied on photography more than writing, because it allows you to glimpse meaning for which I can't find the words.
I don't know the way forward. I'm trying to follow my mom's (and my friend Di's) advice to "take it one day at a time." But I do know that whatever happens next, this blog will be different. I want to tell the truth in all its raw pain and glory; not simply gloss over hard lessons. I don't want to limit your view to "pretty pictures," (as a couple of incurious readers requested during the last US presidential election).
I hope you'll come along for the journey, no matter how rocky the road.
Photo of artwork by my adventurous friend Christine Mason Miller and antique English ink bottles, vintage marbles and stones collected on my travels. Click to view detail.