Thursday, February 9, 2017

twenty sixteen


January always starts in the car ride to the airport. Someone was missing but still, we celebrated. My family felt closer to me than ever. Two days into the year, I shot a wedding with Jay and everyone was Australian and I got swept up in their world so quickly. I started to get used to having someone to come back to. Seeing my friends made me giddy. We spent a lot of time at the bookstore cafe across the street. “Now there is always a person in the room who is looking out for me and I for him. It’s the light from inside rushing out and hitting something.” I was full to the brim with thankfulness. I shot my first styled shoot. My sister and I sat together on the kitchen floor. I left the house as much as possible. Prioritized my female friendships, stopped listening to what the world’s always told us. I let myself be taken care of. Two years since Josh and I did not visit the bridge. I stayed home; heavy. My neighbour Debbie passed away. Realized I was on my phone too much, online too much, numb too much. Decided this is an important time in my life, I want to truly be here for it. I don’t know if I’d remember any of this had I not written it down. At school, we were shooting every day and I lived for that rush of creation. I tried a lot of different film. I finally sang to God and He said, “this, right here right now, is a reunion.” 


I was a poor steward of my time. I started reading the Old Testament and it started changing things. I had pictures in my head and my beautiful friends helped me to make them real. I wasn’t sleeping well because I was excited about being alive. I wrote about my friends almost every night. Quietly wondered about my vices. I had my first mini art show. I went shooting constantly. The year felt like collecting experiences. We watched Oscar Noms on Wednesdays. We went to Festival as much as we could. Had a real Valentine’s day, let myself be constantly distracted by the thought of him. Missed him always. It was such a steep learning curve, with us. I started thinking about life after school. I didn’t do a good job of taking care of myself, but even on my worst days, my heart spilled over with love for my life. 


We started frequenting First Fridays. “I want to bring my camera everywhere, I want to lose my fear. I want to make important images.” We ate pizza on the floor of my best friends’ studio. I woke up anxious about not being productive. Still, Sunday morning came and God took my shame. I had the opportunity to be vulnerable and I ran from it. It’s such hard, messy work and I didn’t know I could do it more than once in a lifetime. The skies went black for a few days. “I sat at the table feeling like my heart was physically trying to leave the room.” I couldn’t write it down. I chose honesty and it felt like it came at great cost, but brought great relief. We drank wine most nights. Halfway through the month, I turned 23 and danced with everyone I love. My heart was full from getting to learn with my dear classmates. I woke up feeling empty sometimes, tried to live outward instead of in. “I want to love better.” Made the choice to photograph the marks on my body that came from recovery, planned to put it up in a gallery (shaking scared). Luke and I spent more time with my family. My soul felt sick some days, I wanted to talk about it but it didn’t seem easy. When I woke, I had to choose to fight it. Luke sang around the table at Easter and his grandma cried. He took me to see Death Cab and I felt so lucky in every way. I tried to keep my heart open. Realized I’m okay showing up alone and it made me proud of myself. I met new people who made me believe I can do more, be more. 


We went searching for homes left empty. I started feeling like a capable photographer, the feeling I went back to school for. For the first time in my life, the eye doctor told me my vision had not gotten worse and I cried. I tried to learn how to speak my feelings out loud. I had an art show and I displayed my photo of overcoming disorder. "I created something out of myself. My struggle, my fight, my hope. And one by one, people told me its impact and I almost didn’t do it. I thought it was too personal but if I am not going to make meaningful art, then why am I making art at all?" I had friends over for the first time in ages. Luke and I went out constantly, art galleries and restaurants and I felt so connected to my city and happy to be with him. Head over heels. I got bad news but I had a reckless optimism and it proved right. I measured my days in how much work I got done and how much was left in the glass. I packed my days full and changed my mind whenever it made sense, that spontaneity reminds me I’m alive. “Everyone gets so stuck on being happy,” ML told me. “It can’t always be like that. I don’t want to be happy, I want to grow.” We hurtled toward the last day of school and I could barely take it all in. Eve made wine and we drank it around the fire, everyone running around with cameras, chasing the sunset. And just like that - we graduated. My sister took me on a birthday trip to Kenora. I decided to go back to the radio station for a few months. 


The clinic tested my blood but couldn’t give me any answers. But I already knew what was wrong. “Look how far we’ve come.” Zach said to me. Luke sent me letters in the mail. I worked from home for two weeks and it gave me a glimpse of how I wanted my life to be.  We visited my family, together. Steph and I climbed on the roof like when we were kids. He made me supper in my kitchen. We drove home in a thunderstorm. I woke up one morning, “I am a thousand pounds lighter in body mind and spirit. How could I respond with anything but praise?” We had a big picnic in the park and we drank whiskey and whispered about love and held our arms out for Spring to come home. I did not limit myself where I should have. I loved being with my coworker family at the radio station again, but the work wasn’t right for me and it felt heavy. Doors Open weekend hit Winnipeg and we spent all weekend exploring. I went shooting with my beautiful, talented ladies and we created art. I’ve been doing too much. And the solution isn’t “get better at everything”, it’s “rest”. I started to learn that relationships require sacrifice. 


We got everything ready to send James and Bailey down the aisle. I felt the strain of not being the person I want to be. I knew I should be more vulnerable in love, but I couldn’t do it. Working the 9-to-5 felt like waking up in the wrong body. “I’ve been letting life just happen. way too fast, way too busy and it’s almost like I’m missing it.” As I prepared to switch to full-time photography, I wondered if I could survive it. and then the fog lifted like it always does and my own laughter surprised me. I wanted to talk about God. “I will not spiral” I wrote. I learned to pour less. I was unwell a lot and Luke cared for me. I looked at my friends and felt so lucky to know people so passionate, so invested, so caring. Client work picked up and I started meeting some of my amazing couples. And then June 20th; my diagnoses. I went to the doctor for the first time since the sixth grade. The black hole I fall into got a name and it did not come with the relief I was expecting. I already knew it. The drugs scared me so I pleaded my body to heal itself. I attended the Solstice party and it was exactly my kind of place. And I got to stand up beside my dear friends as they got married beside a fallen tree and everyone cried and everyone danced. Luke and I celebrated 6 months from the revolving restaurant and we sang together for the first time. We headed down to Momma Mcintosh’s - burgers and red wine on the patio. That’s family time. “I believe in myself. I’m gonna build something from the ground up and I’m not going to let anything stop me.” We spent a lot of evenings at Cousin’s. “It was beautiful to laugh with them and Luke was there and I had soup at 11:30pm and it was wonderful and I went home feeling like I was lacking nothing.” 


I thought maybe this year I wouldn’t love Canada Day. It was perfect - the crowds, the sun, the flags everywhere, the fireworks, the kids getting excited. Love was a reason. I learned about my own procrastination. I drove out to Folk Fest for the very first time and it was magic to me. Us in a sea of thousands. The music pouring off the stage. Taking pictures of everything because I can’t stand to lose this. Love growing thick and heavy. It was so hard to leave. I created for my clients and I gave my heart to them and they were gentle with it. They took me to beautiful locations by the water. I cried three times in one day and most of it had to do with my loved ones who are gone. “But today the weight lifted. Today the sadness climbed off my chest and I felt joy again.” My sister told me she’s pregnant and my heart grew again. Fringe Festival came back - my favourite time of year - and it brought me back to life. I spent July dreaming; not something I normally do. So much was happening, we were on the edge of so many things. One by one, I started telling my loved ones about my struggle. “What is it like for you?” Zach asked. That question meant a lot to me. Luke and I set my oven on fire and we sat on the kitchen floor, laughing.  He took care of everything. Could not imagine my life without him. Near the end of July, I wrote, “I miss God.” On a Sunday afternoon, I looked at Luke and said, “Let’s go somewhere.” And like that, we started planning a trip to Vancouver. My body wasn’t holding up well, but I was meeting new people and seeing old friends and it everything I forgot I needed. But I became less and less vulnerable. I cut down my hours at the radio station. Went to the beach with my dear ladies, went skinny dipping for the first time. “My life bursts at the seams sometimes.”


Love ran through my head like a banner. I wanted to be better. I wanted him to know what to say but I didn't ask. I thought about where we could go together. I started craving emotional connection. It seemed like the floor fell out beneath me but it came to me, the light, “for such a time as this.” My wedding season began. “August is full of good.” I wrote. “August is the start of the dream.” I saw old trust that I’d carved out, wondered how to start that again with someone. The wedding days were long and tiring but incredible. Stepping inside someone’s world so wholly. And then we got in the car and drove and drove west and I was so happy to finally be free. I took so many pictures of Luke. I was unwell and it made me tired, but still I was grateful to be in such beautiful places with someone who cares so deeply. I started listening to podcasts for the first time, driving through the mountains on the trans-canada highway. We explored Calgary and Vancouver and went to visit Tyler in Squamish and I was so thankful I got to see him. We went swimming in the ocean and visited bakeries in the rain. We met up with some friends and laughed all evening, halfway across the country from home. I tried to bring God into the everyday. 


We covered just about every topic driving to Edmonton. Cracked my heart open a little. And then we met up with everyone for Spencer and Brynn’s wedding and it was both work and play and I was so glad to see so many people I love. Just like that, it was over and we were home again. The fog lifted and I wished I could do it over again but I was thankful we went. I prayed to God to open my heart because I couldn’t do it on my own. “I want to stop taking and start giving.” My family came to celebrate Alex’s second birthday at my house. I got a job at a camera store. I was scared to succeed and it paralyzed me for far too long. I started keeping gin in the house, even though I used to hate it. I got a fish and named him Edmund. I struggled to know how to communicate with love. I was desperate to be understood but felt powerless.  As stressed as I was by my deadlines, every time I picked up a camera I knew I was doing the right thing. I went to West Hawk Lake with Jay. “It’s like I can’t take stock of my life. How can time possibly go by so fast”. September was the start of a spiral that would last the rest of the year. Scared and selfish and unproductive. I didn’t know how to help myself, let alone be kind to myself. My sister came to visit and made things a little lighter. I spoke up about what I need. I had my last day at the radio station with the people who’ve become my family over the last 5 years. And on the same day, I had my first shift at the camera store and met a new crowd of people I’d grow to love. I joined a march for peace. I photographed what people were creating in my city. “I’m functioning at 25% of my capability most days. Maybe less.” I didn’t write anything for a few days after that. 


Started October spinning my wheels. Luke and I took pictures in the park we walked through the first time we hung out. It was stressful, being new and working at the camera store, but I was surrounded by other photographers and I’d missed that. All my work felt too huge and overwhelming. Luke went over and above, made sure I was still eating and taking care. There were a few good days. Celebrated thanksgiving with two families out of town, and then came home to the family I’ve made here. I was in survival mode, burnt out and important things were not getting done. I wasn’t present in my own life. I took a hard look at my photos. “I don’t want to take pretty pictures. I want to document love and life as it is.” I fell apart a couple times. Forgot about my own mental and physical wellbeing and it showed. I was carrying so much but didn’t need to be. I took stock of everything I’ve been given. “My heart aches lately, for I have  so much to lose now.” My mind and body grew worse and worse. “before you know it, weeks have gone by and you don’t remember anything from them. just hazy. no good memories made. I’m doing this all wrong.” Stayed in my house way too much. Leaving felt like coming alive, when I remembered to do it. The days got busier and busier and then Halloween came and I hit my limit, cried at a party in a pumpkin costume. This whole month is grey in my mind.  


My sister found out she’s having twins and our family was so happy. Her and I spent a lot of time on the phone. I felt better for a while. Luke and I made time for real talk. I ached to become more. The same old realizations - “I’ve been living with my heart closed. I haven’t taken enough pictures that matter.” I reread all of Nirrimi’s words and it was like getting dunked in cold water. I wanted the way I live to be art, too. Adventure. Love. I tried to be open with the people I love but it was very hard. I started to see cracks in things that had always seemed so whole. I asked myself questions that I didn’t want answers to. I wasn’t excited for a new day to start, anymore. I used any means of escape. And every time I came back to reality, it was worse and I ran farther. I was a total captive to my own fear. “My life hasn’t felt like my own for a while.” I kept reading and tried to learn from it. “I am waking up. I’m so sad for the months where I wrote so little. that time feels lost to me.” I pulled the car over when the sun was setting red. I felt on the cusp of change. “life is rich and fulfilling, but it’s work. I’m ready to work again.” Life becomes beautiful through the unbeautiful work. I started bringing my camera with me. We all visited Dustin and Cassie and their new baby.  We all spent the car ride home talking about the creative life and our inspiration. I smiled in the dark, happy to be exactly where I was. My niece came over, just us for the first time. My heart is full of love for her. My mind was always racing. I gave every bit of energy I had to my deadlines. I started to see how I’d been burning myself out and began planning my recovery. 


December started strong. We set up everyone’s Christmas trees in one night. I was so behind on work and going through my usual panic but I stopped short, “I’m so unbelievably critical of myself and I’m starting to get sick of it. It is making me tired and I need to get better.” Realized I need to be all in or all out - I suffer in the in-between. I learned a lot about willpower and prayed it would help me. My Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. My work wouldn’t give me the day off to go see him and I cried. December is for making memories but I wasn’t. Someone smashed my car window and stole my tripod. I felt so heavy all the time. I tried practicing mindfulness, but all my tendencies are towards numbing and I struggled. I created a schedule so my photo work wouldn’t take me under. I started making smoothies in the morning. Taking care of myself in small ways. Seeing my friends was like light in the dark. “It’s hard work - being present in your own life.” It barely felt like Christmas. But we made time for exchanging gifts and being kind to one another and it made my heart full. The fog descended and I spent so much time at the camera store, I felt like I missed so much of Christmas but finally seeing my family was so perfect and we had Christmas just like we always do and it brought me peace. I got to hear the twins’ heartbeats. I didn’t realize it was new years eve until it happened. 

I know this post has come a little late. In 2017, I have been working to change who I became last year. Healthier, present, more calm, more clear. More creating. More feeling.