I’ve managed to banish false modesty just far enough to admit that I am possessed of at least my fair share of creative gifts. I can write, paint, draw (sometimes), cook, and sew. However, at least two major creative arts lie outside my sphere. I’ve long since come to terms with my lack of musical ability. I appreciate music, I can play the notes on the page (on one instrument – the flute), but I lack the ear, voice, and vision to create from music. As much as I regret my singing voice, I’ve learned to accept that in music, I get to be the audience. Others create. Photography, however, is another matter entirely.
Photography is a visual art. It should be right up my alley. Ah, yes, we’ll get back to the dreaded “should” in a bit. Yet, as I’m sure readers of this blog have realized, while I can paint pictures with brush and with word, the simple act of framing the moment I see in a lens and pushing a button is beyond me. No matter what I see with my eyes and appreciate with my heart about a scene, my photos rarely, if ever do it justice. They never seem to penetrate the depths of the moment. All of the elements are there, but something is missing. In writing, one of the rules is “show, don’t tell.” My photos tell.
Now, I have several friends and family members who are gifted photographers – some to the extent of professionalism. But, one friend’s pictures make me downright jealous. Her blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed are filled with beautiful, arty photos that capture the joy and delicacy inherent in the details of a scene or the small moments of life. “This is what life is supposed to be,” her photos say as they trace the sunset-colored veining of a dragonfly’s wing or tease the impish glee from a child’s glowing smile.
‘Well, crap,’ I think, looking at her latest posts. ‘We’re good friends; our kids play together; we live less than two miles from each other. How come my life doesn’t look like that?” As I scan through sparkling shots of kayaks on open water, cherubic faces of happy children, and glowing, velvet, layers of color, I think of my bathroom sink, smeared with streaks of my makeup and flecks of my husband’s beard. I focus on the slime growing in the container that I’m pretending isn’t in the back of my refrigerator, the piles of laundry – clean and dirty – taking over my bedroom floor. I hear two of my three cherubic children screaming at each other in the backyard and keep my ears peeled for the sounds of violence or the stray obscenity.
Now, I know Robyn well enough to know that her life isn’t completely captured in her photos either. I know her well enough to know her own struggles, lapses, and untidinesses. In fact, those are the things that I like best about her. Her openness about not only the triumphs and joys, but also the frustrations and failures, of her own life make me more willing to be real myself.
Yesterday morning was one of those glorious spring days that isn’t pastel-perfect but is instead layered with the exact proportions of shadow and light to fill one’s heart with a sense of miracle. I ran just over 2.5 miles of my 3 mile loop, allowing myself a cool-down walk through the nature trail at the back of our local park. I thought of my iPhone in my pocket and contemplated taking pictures, but I had just been looking and some of Robyn’s photos and knew how much the inadequacies of my own pictures would frustrate me. ‘I wish I were like her,’ I thought, resting my hand on the trunk of a tree and studying the contrast between the umber edges of the bark and its silvery surface. I closed my eyes, letting the sun warm my back, as my hand rested against the solidity of the tree, and was reminded of the warmth and solidity of my husband. I walked a few feet further, picked a sprig of rosemary from a bush bursting with purple flowers, and brought the sprig to my nose, thinking of Sierra bringing me rosemary bouquets. The willow beneath which Aidan and I gathered branches last year for his shelter-project had filled out with delicate, green leaves. I touched the petals of a rock-rose, and my mind walked through my parents’ garden. Strands of horse-tail reminded me of long ago trail rides, and the brief moments of respite before remounting my unreliable, bucking, yet beloved mare. Flowers popped from a tree, and I wanted to show them to Caitlin, far away from me on her own adventure this week.
As I passed through the tunnel beneath the road, I realized that I had been taking photos in my own way. Capturing the pearls of white-flowered fairy rings nestling in the darker blades of grass, framing a twisted palm frond glowing in the sun against the black asphalt of the street, picking the highlights off of a stick, fallen onto the bark mulch beneath a redwood. The gift of my friend’s photos, and the gift I found in myself, is the gift of the small moments. When we pause to frame and snap those details, we are capturing the essence of our lives. Think back to the biggest events of your life. What do you remember, truly? Do you really feel, deep within you, the entire event or day? Or do you smell the scent of a grandmother’s perfume, or do you recall the feel of your lover’s cheek beneath your hand, or do you hear a laugh, carried on the wind?