I wish that I was the sort of person to rush head-first into things, but in general I take a slower path. This is true pretty much across the board—I don’t think I’ve ever been good, out of the gate, at anything. I spent some time talking with my friend R this morning, soaking in a hot tub after a frustrating swimming lesson, and he paused a second before saying something along the lines of I’m going to say you’re not very good at change—because it means you’re not in complete control. It’s true—I’ve experience such frustration these past two months that I’ve almost broken into tears. This isn’t to say I’m frustrated at my life; I couldn’t be happier.
I’m learning to recognize the learning period for what it is to me: a period of absolute frustration, stubbornness and tears. It took six weeks of lessons before I finally had fun skiing. Two weeks ago I almost broke down on the side of the slope, chattery corduroy snow beneath my skis, my lesson group at the bottom of the hill and my best friend waiting there, looking at me, saying just don’t turn in the ruts… look at me… turn to me. No part of me was happy. I wanted to be better than this, to show him I can do this too, to show how much I’ve learned, to get to my class on time before they left for the lift, I wanted to be off the mountain, on stable ground, doing something I’m good at. I don’t want to be here. I looked down at him, looked past him to the group gathering near the lesson flags. The thing is—I had to get down. There wasn’t another option, there wasn’t a button I could push to level anything out, the snow wasn’t going to get any softer, and I wasn’t going to get any stronger just standing there, terrified and stationary. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it down. Because, I had to.
I’ve started to train for a triathlon. Most of the training right consists of forcing myself to get in a pool and figure out how to swim. It isn’t that I’m in danger of drowning—I’m a strong enough swimmer to play in the ocean or cruise around a lake, but I’m not a swimmer. The first two sessions were with some of the other women signing up for the tri with me—none of us are really experts, so we’re just kind of giving each other moral support. This morning I swam with one of my climbing partners and good lord, he is a wealth of information. R is a one of the kindest people I know, and one of the strongest, and he was very sweet about all the things I was doing wrong. Bending at the knees, popping my head up like a turtle, not tightening my core, not moving my arms close enough to my head… the list is pretty long. He had me laughing enough to avoid tears, but I’m frustrated. My body does not know what to do or how to do it, beyond—don’t drown. But so much of swimming feels, right now, like nearly drowning. I have to learn to ride that closeness, without panic, and breathe. Simple. Sort of.
I’ll get there. Right now, I’m nowhere close.
Does everyone relentlessly try to improve themselves like this? My rest day today consists of swimming in the morning, pretending to clean (but writing this) during the early afternoon, meeting another friend to boulder this afternoon and then games and dinner with family. Tomorrow morning, early rise to get to the mountain before lift lines become too insane and ski until I can’t anymore or my ride wants to head home. I’m not good at any of the things I’m doing this weekend. But I’m stubborn. And I’ll get there.
So much, so much.
I confess, I am a little overwhelmed by things these days. The new job is similar enough that the differences are frustrating and confusing. On the plus side, when I am feeling underwater I can walk out to the balcony and listen to the actual water of the shipping channel that’s only a dock-length away from my new building. AWP is coming into town, and I haven’t even thought about the readings and panels I want to go to. So much.
So of course now is the time I choose to start a new project. I’ve been playing with the idea of self portraiture for a while now, but I haven’t actually done anything about it. Something about the intimacy of portraits seemed important to me, and with my temporary roommate again in Hawaii I found myself alone in my place, rattling around a space suddenly too large, craving contact. A good session at the climbing gym helped, but I still came home wanting exposure. I still haven’t gotten around to putting artwork up in my room and while cleaning I found the tripod my roommate left behind. White wall, tripod, camera. Go.
While I am comfortable in my own body, I am incredibly uncomfortable in front of a camera. I put on music, grabbed the nearest thing to my bed (an old train lantern I bought to replace the one I remembered from childhood), set up the camera and jumped on my bed to get the white wall behind me. I wasn’t intending to strip layers, but the jeans were too bulky in the first test shot and I looked bundled and hidden. This project is about exposure and intimacy. Off came the pants, using skin to contrast the black sweater I had on and to match the white wall and bright point of light. I haven’t done anything with photography in a long time so there are a few misfires with focal ranges that are way too small and shutter speeds that blurred things just poorly enough to look out of focus but not intentionally so. The camera display is much brighter than the resulting images, and I have to re-learn how to adjust f-stops and shutter speeds while testing it on the blank nothing my body will fill in the space between a shutter and the 10 second shutter delay.
I’m including a few of the original shots here, unedited, and some of the final edits. I’ve been published the better results on Instagram, and you can find that whole stream with the hashtag #lanternseries or #lampseries.
These were taken across two nights, and I realized that as much as I like the idea of self portraits, I might need an assistant. At first I tried to balance the lantern on my feet– crashing disaster, and I’m lucky I didn’t scorch myself with hot wax or catch anything on fire. I switched to a camp lantern after that and while the luminosity is better, I don’t know if I’m happy with the aesthetic. One costume change into a black lace dress that I have (everyone has a black lace dress, right?). I’m only just beginning this series, and I’m excited to see where it goes, though I don’t really have an outlet in mind. It’s nice to be pouring into art again, in between climbing, skiing, a new job, remembering to cook dinner…. And it’s giving me something to do in the hours between darkness and sleep that feels intimate and exposing. I suspect as I get more comfortable I’ll strip these images down more, and then I really don’t know where they’ll be able to end up. I’m sort of ok if it isn’t anywhere– it’s the process that’s interesting me right now.