We’re so super happy to present the photos from the portrait studio. You can view them all at the Heal Something Good website. (That’s the lovely A’Driane Nieves shown below.) (Psst. Here are links to the audio you listened to in the portrait studio: Amy Turn Sharp & Robin Plemmons.)
You wake up and everyone is outside picking peas in the garden. It’s the morning at your parent’s home before the morning you’re going to leave and go home. This visit was too short and you won’t see them for a few months. Again. Maybe six or seven. Maybe eight on the outside.
Mom’s the fastest pea-picker. She’s got the most experience. Joe tries to keep up, but her fingers are defter and have years of practice.
Dad is pulling up weeds, then pea plants. Occasionally he looks over, evaluates what Mom is doing and then, copying her, manages to pick a pea pod and put it in his bowl. He’s unsure about what they’re doing out there, but wanting to be a part of things, he carries on.
You snap a few photos because that’s what you do and there is a safety, a distance, at watching your father fade away slowly through the lens of a camera. You can hardly make yourself look straight at him this trip. It takes a herculean effort to stare straight at the sun, eyes never wavering, and accept and love and hold him in your heart because it doesn’t even feel like him anymore. He’s almost not there at all but what is there still looks like him and smiles like him and smells like him, mostly. There’s a new scent about him now on top of the other more familiar ones. You can’t place it but wonder if it’s just the smell of getting older. It’s still him, just not quite him.
The cousins do a puzzle in two hours flat and when you interrupt in the middle to corral them outside so you can take photos, they roll their eyes dramatically like you’ve just asked them to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in clown suits.
But, they oblige with some good-natured, dramatic protesting, then ham it up for the camera.
Your sisters are some of the most beautiful people you know and they let you snap their photo.
And so do your brothers and your husband because recording every dang moment together feels important right now. Ever more important.
Most of the garden beds are flowers this year. What once held tomatoes and lettuce and carrots and other things that needed constant tending now hold wild flowers because there isn’t anyone with enough time and energy to tend them anymore. It’s beautiful and truthful and hard and sad. Dad can’t tell the difference between weeds and vegetable plants and Mom spends her days and nights watching over Dad.
She helps him with everything. Everything. You hear her in the other room reminding him to do the smallest things that you know he’s done millions of times in his lifetime, but now they are just beyond him. She gets him his snacks. Helps him take a nap. Reminds him who all the people are in the house that he doesn’t know. And a few seconds later he’ll ask again where the pretty flowers on the table came from and Mom will explain, again, that they are from the pretty bush he loves and planted in the front yard. You’ll smile, again, and tell him they smell lovely. Dad will nod. And then ask again in a few minutes. With every rotation of the conversation you can feel your heart hurting and it’s also just the way it is, so you deal with it and feel glad he’s still there to ask about the flowers at all.
Dad reads the paper. *You watch him turn it this way and that way, folding and unfolding, staring and looking and reading the same articles over and over. You look away because you remember what an avid reader he once was. You remember him reciting from memory poem after poem while you sat in mortified silence because you were embarrassed that your dad was such an old, stodgy nerd that would read those old, fogie poems and take the time to memorize them and then make you sit there for minutes on end, nay, all of eternity, while the phrases of Rudyard Kipling’s If rang out of his mouth, loud and clear, commanding the room at every family function.
What you’d give now to hear him be able to recite anything. Or even remember who you are. And you have pains in your soul in a way you can’t even describe. Too bad you didn’t pay attention to any of that poetry. That’s probably where the words are that escape you and you’re angry at your teen self for being so short-sighted and wasting valuable time being so…so…teen. Even with the confusion of all the hard things that were between you, you love him deeply and wish you could have a conversation about something, anything, even if it was hard.
You ask Mom if she’s lonely. You want to make sure she’s ok, that she doesn’t feel isolated or left too much alone, without support. She says she loves Dad as much as she ever did and considers this the next part of their partnership. She says she’s fine, that she takes care of herself along with Dad and not to worry. You worry anyway and you love her fiercely in a way that you didn’t know possible and the grief rises a little and you wash a few more dishes and wonder what you can do to be more supportive from hundreds of miles away.
You take out your camera for the annual photos for next December’s Christmas card. You snap shots, this way and that way, looking at your parents through the lens and wondering how things can be like they are. The frustration at how unfair it feels fades away as you do what comes second-nature. You check the light, check your f-stop, check for dust on the lens and realize there’s nothing on the lens that keeps making things look blurry, that’s just you. You stare with the safety of the lens into the eyes of your dad and try to find him in there.
Then, your husband grabs the camera and takes a shot of the three of you and you see you, with them, and maybe some of who the man your dad still might be deep inside himself looking back at you. At least you want to think so when he gives you a hug and says, “Thanks. Come again sometime soon. We like it when our friends come to visit.”
You wave goodbye to Mom who is standing by herself outside where they both used to stand when you left, blowing kisses and waving. And then you cry. And promise to come back soon before he fades too much further away. You hope. *And wouldn’t it be nice to believe that someday, maybe in heaven, Dad will be like he used to be or even better and you reconsider your non-belief of religion.
You get melancholy and your almost-twenty-year-old youngest son makes you laugh by buying a tshirt with a cow on it because it’s kinda funny and takes photos of it in bathroom mirrors where, as he says, all tall guys have problems seeing their heads.
You make friendship bracelets with him on the long drive home and think about how you don’t want to waste any moments and you realize he’s probably just humoring you, making knots and spending time creating “manly jewelry,” but you don’t care and you eat it up like it’s the best food you’ve ever eaten.
And you smile because he’s there and you’re with him and what else are you going to do, anyway, if not try to enjoy every moment possible before they fade away.
(*This was slightly edited after publishing.)
We talked about what you’re supposed to say on a day like this. You don’t want to say, Happy Memorial Day. That sounds….wrong. But saying something like, “I hope you spend the day thinking about all the people that have died for you to enjoy said day,” sounds like a bit too much.
You know that many of your friends and family are getting to spend the day with their loved ones and that’s happy. You aren’t near your own family so you do the next best thing and spend it with good friends.
You remember the brave service men and women that gave their lives so all of us have the opportunity to sit around an outside table in 80 degree weather, watching meat slowly cook while sipping the beverage of our choice. You appreciate the people currently in service and you worry a little about your own kids, partners, parents and other friends and family who are in the military and keep the hope of peace in your heart.
You make your mom’s favorite potato salad recipe because you miss her and then you find out your sister in Seattle made it, too, and you feel just a little closer than 1,255 miles. You make the 7, no 8! Layer Dip that’s made you famous. In fact, I hear you’re “known for your 7 Layer Dip.”
You make fresh croutons and BBQ sauce because anything less wouldn’t be right for today and you’re resourceful and creative and they’re delicious enough that a non-grain eater eats them.
You feel lazy and unhurried in a way only an extra long weekend provides. You wander around the backyard, feet burning on the hot pavement until you borrow someone’s flipflops to get around.
You take the time to inspect the seeds on unripe strawberries promises and the blossoms dropping off the cucumber vine.
You’re charmed to find the tiniest globe hidden in a flowered archway and take the wee selfie.
There’s a dog.
There’s hopefully always a dog.
A very cute dog.
You drink beer and sweet tea out of mason jars because that’s how it’s done on a day like today, where you have the luxury of time and friends and family and love.
You ask your friends to pose so you can practice a new camera setting and they oblige because that’s the kind of friends they are and we’ve all got nothing but time today, anyway, so why not. But, mostly they do it because they’re your friends.
The sun keeps peeping through the green leaves and winking at you.
You’re so glad you get to be lazy and drink out of mason jars and spend the day with good friends and pet adorable dogs and your heart feels bursty.
And then it’s time to eat grilled chicken with homemade Alabama White BBQ Sauce and you don’t even like BBQ sauce but this is different and it’s the best you’ve ever had and you’re already looking forward to leftovers the next day.
Thanks, Chad & Jen.
I cleaned my camera lens and then I took a photo of pretty flowers. Nothing not to like about today so far.
It would be easy to say as things get older they automatically go towards entropy like moths to a flame in the witching hour.
But the truth is, the easy answer isn’t always the true answer and where entropy is falling a little closer towards chaos and disorder every moment, we actually keep following along the perfect arc towards the inevitable, sure, but it isn’t chaos. It’s exactly what’s supposed to happen next.
If I had to narrow down and categorize all the things I’ve done in the past three years that have made a huge difference in my life and just pick one to share with you, one thing that literally shifted my life into healing, it would be this: Positive Energy.
Part of that is accepting life as it comes, in all its myriad layers and textures and believing that on some level, this too is for my good, whatever it is. Embracing the next thing that comes, choosing to see it as an exciting challenge instead of an attack on the fabric of my soul.
It can be scary at first and it’s still hard from time to time, but I take that opportunity to look at myself in the mirror, smile, and say, “I love you! You are doing so great!” even if it’s a smile through tears, because that weeping smile is no less real and valid than a smile done in pure joy. I really and truly am doing great, the very best I can do at any given moment. And so are you.
I’m getting older, no question. New wrinkles. Thighs of cellulite. Gray hairs to beat the band. And along with that a whole new way of perceiving my life. Maybe a little bit of wisdom? Do I dare call it that? I tread lightly here because the past has shown me that on the occasion I think I know something, I might not really know that something and soon may fall flat on my face in a sea of faulty expectations.
But on this particular day, yes, I am so bold. Living in a more positive light, choosing to see life as trying to provide me with the very best it has to offer me, looking for the good, allowing others in my life to make mistakes and knowing they are doing their very best as well – this has made my life sweeter and more satisfying than any other change.
Next time you’re in front of a mirror, pause and smile. Tell you that you love you. 15 seconds of fake smiling triggers the same endorphins of a real smile, and a real smile hits your pleasure center the same as thousands in cash or bars and bars of chocolate. Pretty valuable smiles.
I had the good fortune to spend the afternoon with Marci and her two lovely daughters plus a group of the nicest women you’ve ever met a few weeks back. (Fun fact – I actually realized I knew some of them from years ago and it was so nice to see them again!)
Marci’s friends threw her a Girl Shower, all about how great it is to be a girl. Everything was pink and floral and the weather was perfect. It was such a lovely day.
This is my favorite shot from all 600+ shots I took. (I know! So many! But little girls are pretty and fun and everything was, as I think I mentioned earlier, lovely. I couldn’t stop taking photos.)
Just look at that joy.
You can hire me for a photo shoot here.
You guys. I’m just going to go ahead and apologize ahead of time because I’m going to be using phrases like, “I remember when,” and “Back in the old days,” and I’m very aware of how tedious and eye-rolly that can be. BUT.
Back in the old days (See? I wasn’t kidding.) when I first started online journaling in the late 90s, it was a brand new world where I could share a story on my computer with my family who lived miles and miles away. I’d post pictures and write what was essentially a monthly update about the kids and it was fun and it meant something personal.
And then in 2002 when Joe moved me to WordPress, my mind was blown with how easy it was to add posts and update more often and easily put in images and add headers and and and…
But it was the day he introduced me to Dooce.com and said, “Look. Here’s someone else writing about their life and sharing it with the others,” that I realized there was the possibility of a real community out there in the innernets.
Soon after that I started my sidebar blogroll and kept people listed there that I felt a connection to and I started my interview series to highlight interesting writers and photographers and “internet people.”
We had a smaller group then. It was 2004 by that time and more and more people were beginning to write their stories but it still felt like we could keep track of each other. It still felt small even as it was growing. I kept seeking out new bloggers so other people could find them and I loved it! And then at some point the world of blogging wasn’t about storytelling anymore. It was all about “Brands” and “Cultivating an Audience” and sidebar ads, which I tried out in various forms myself and have nothing against in the abstract.
But things changed over the next few years, didn’t they? We started having fewer and fewer storytellers and leaving comments on blogs became a way for people to make money. Traffic was king and everyone was being judged on their numbers. We could look up each others stats and decide if that person was worth knowing on or offline at a conference. If they were worth our time. If what they were saying mattered because other people said it mattered. Oh, popularity. Just like High School.
That was when I didn’t want to do interviews anymore and I shut my series with bloggers down. It wasn’t fun to get emails from people saying they should be interviewed by me because “they were getting 10,000 uniques a month and wasn’t that enough? Why wouldn’t I interview them? What was wrong with them?”
I stuck to Google Reader. I went in and read the websites I loved every single day and left comments when it struck me to do so based on their stories and not on their brands. I still felt a part of a community of friends.
When Google Reader went away, I really felt like I was being abandoned. (I’m still kinda upset about it.) The other options of feed readers were all lacking (for my needs) so I just dropped out. And I’ve missed out and I’ve missed you!
I miss the real stories. They are still out there. I see some of my old friends are still blogging and talking like real humans without all the freshly pressed look of a fine magazine going on. Not that I’m dissing fine magazines. I like them. But I’m much less likely to leave a comment on a post that isn’t a personal story. That’s where the heart is.
I recently noticed that Angela has an old-fashioned sidebar blogroll (You don’t mind if I call it old-fashioned, do you Angela? Not you, it!) and it got me thinking. I should stop complaining about missing Google Reader and woe-is-me-ing and do something about it.
So here it is, finally, the request I have for you. If you know of a writer/blogger who is telling personal stories and not “crafting their brand for an audience,” would you let me know? I’d like to add them to my Storytellers page. I’d like to read them and connect with them. I’d like to cultivate a community again. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed you! I know there have to be thousands out there that I’ve missed out on while my head’s been in the sand.
Personal story telling and this community is what’s helped me through some really tough times. Really feeling other people’s stories is what it’s all about for me. Help me find you.
When my kids were young, when we first came back from Germany, when my marriage to the other guy was being held together with tape and googly eyes, when I couldn’t breathe, when I couldn’t think, when I wasn’t on meds and needed them badly, when I was dissociating, I took the kids to the beach.
My feet, which had walked way too far and way too long to get there, were suddenly surrounded by rushing water and the Space of Nothing I needed. The water was cold and fast and then pulled at my soul before it receded, taking my fears, confusion, disappointments and grief with it on its way back out to sea.
This was “Our Beach” and the kids knew how far they could walk and still yell into the surf and find me. There were huge boulders and small crabs and hot sand for miles. There was my daughter wearing her suit with the rainbow, ruffled rumba-butt, worried what might be lurking in the water that she couldn’t see. And my oldest refusing to have fun because he was just-that-much-too-cool and pulling a towel over his body, taking a nap nestled in the grains of sand while the sun kissed a slice over his leg when the make-due-blanket slid down.
And there were my other two boys, unashamed to have hard, wild and loud fun, running into the waves, grabbing boogie boards and refusing to let me swipe sunscreen on them because they just can’t stop running right now, Mommy. Can’t stop right now, but soon.
I sat. I watched. I stood at the edge of the world where the packed, wet sand meets eternity, with my feet sinking lower and lower with every pull of water and wondered who I was, where I went, and how I could find me.
In the summer more people came. More and more each year. Parking got harder. Walking was further. The jugs of water, towels, sunbathers and canopies that dotted the sand got closer and closer together. The water began to burst with more and more surfers and swimmers but we didn’t stop going to Our Beach because, well, it was ours. No matter what else it was, it was ours.
The world ended one spring, just as we had started going back to Our Beach that year, and I had a vacation in a mental hospital with strangers that knew me better than anyone else. Within minutes the kids had moved with their dad to what might as well have been another country and I had no passport. The gates closed on Our Beach and we never went back.
I spent the next ten years or forever driving past Our Beach every other weekend and sometimes in the middle of the week on a Thursday to see them play sports or be in a play, using any excuse to get to watch their faces talk about everything, anything, please talk about something, to me.
I looked out the window at that water and wondered what it did with all my secrets. But I never went back to Our Beach because it wasn’t ours anymore. It was just a regular beach now, like a hundred other beaches, one that belonged to everyone else in the world more than me or us.
I’m finding new beaches now with my guy, the guy that stands by me when the tide is high or low. I don’t claim these wild beaches or try to make them my own. I understand better that the magic when the water races to the shore and dances around your feet, pulling out the grief and sadness, belongs to everyone. You can’t own a wild thing, anyway. It’s just pretending to think you can and I don’t need to pretend anymore.
I sit. I breathe. I stand in the surf on the edge of the world and watch my guy swim out into the magic and feel so much joy it hurts in a delicious and comforting way, now that I’m healing, now that I’m happy in my soul where it’s quiet, now that I can breathe, now that I can think, now that I’ve found myself.
Heal Something Good is available for Pre-Order here.