A lovely idea and a great example of doing what you can to help. Also helps that Shannon’s work is beautiful! Check it out!
Typhoon Haiyan left much of the Philippines in ruins. The death toll estimates are staggering, and the numbers are astronomical.
According to CARE.ORG:
11.3 million people affected
673,000 people displaced
300,000 of those people are without shelter
No electricity, no water, no food
Often, when it’s not in our backyard, it’s hard to empathize with someone else’s tragedy. It’s easy to turn a blind eye, to say it’s not my problem. There is always a tragedy. There is always someone who needs our money. What about us, we’re struggling too, invest in the US. And besides, the holidays are here. I need to budget for presents, and turkeys and such.
Believe me, I helped run a non-profit, I know the drill.
I remember a few years back when we got hit with “Snow-Tober”, as we liked to call it. Much of New England was out of power…
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This post originally appeared on my website, but I thought I would share it here. It explains how I got started in photography, and how my photography found a home alongside my writing:
I was grieving the first time I picked up a camera. Less than three months after my brother’s death, it was a shield between me and the world, an acceptable reason to be a step removed. I raised it to my eye and the viewfinder cropped life into manageable pieces. Pieces I could capture and pin down. Make permanent.
With the push of a button I could stop time.
Which was the thing I wanted second most. What I most wanted was to turn back time, to go back three months and stop my brother from hanging himself
Despite his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, despite the attempt he’d survived during his senior year in high school, I hadn’t seen it coming. I hadn’t noticed how depression had crept into the corners of his life and spread, working its way into every crack, until there was nothing left for him but darkness. I was living hundreds of miles away. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see.
I picked up a camera three months after his death, looking for something to hold onto. Hoping to learn how to open my eyes.
I have experienced a lot in my life. Over the past fifteen years I have moved across the country twice, earned two college degrees, traveled to the other side of the world, and grieved the loss of all my grandparents. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt. I have suffered from depression and anxiety. I have dealt with infertility. I have survived a serious illness. All of these things, and more, have included risks and rewards, joy and pain, failure and achievement. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.” All of my trials and adventures, once I learned to pay attention to them, have served to crumble me.
My brother’s suicide was not my first experience with loss or grief, but it was the first time I became aware of the crumbling. Moreover, it was the first time I realized that I needed—that I wanted—to be broken down. I wanted to be soft and yielding. I wanted to make wildflowers.
In the first years after my brother’s death, I knew only that I wanted to create: love, life, art. I took pictures, I wrote, I tried to have children. In the decade since then, I have realized that the act of creation is part of my crumbling as well. It enables me to get outside myself. More importantly, it has proven to be the path to connection—to myself, to others, and to something larger and unknowable. The collective undercurrent of all existence.
Photography, for me, is no longer a way to stop time. It’s a way to settle into it, to become grounded in the present. It’s a way to share my experience, to participate in the larger narrative—to be a thread in the tapestry of life.
I have learned how to open my eyes. I have also learned that I will continue to open them over and over again. That I will spend the rest of my life learning how to see.
And so I am making a space here for my pictures. My wildflowers.
A quick note to all you instant film lovers: Fuji is discontinuing their black and white pack film. There’s a petition on Change.org. You can sign it here.
Three years ago, in October, my grandmother died. The following October I lost over 20 percent of my body weight, was unable to eat, and doctors were unsure what was wrong with me. The October after that I lost the only pregnancy I’ve ever had. And then, this October, I lost my best friend.
I don’t want to be paranoid, but I’m sensing a pattern.
Fall used to be my favorite season. I loved the crisp air and clear skies, the sweet smell of decaying leaves. I loved pumpkins and apple cider. I loved Halloween. And this year, before my dog died, as the air began to cool and the leaves began to change, I found myself reaching backward, scouring my memory for that feeling. I let myself hope that a piece of my life could revert back to what it used to be.
I really ought to know better.
No, that’s too harsh. I don’t think we ever stop hoping to recover what we’ve lost, whether it’s a person, a place, or something as simple as our innocence. It’s part of human nature. We seek pleasure and push away pain. We struggle against change. We try to keep solid ground under our feet.
Unfortunately, we’re not capable of building ground solid enough to withstand life. As Pema Chodron says, trying to control our experience “is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later we’re going to have an experience we can’t control.” We are going to lose someone we love. We are going to get sick. We are going to die. And, not surprisingly, we aren’t going to feel very good about any of it.
But guess what: we don’t have to. “We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it works together with joy,” Pema says. “The point isn’t to cultivate one thing as opposed to another, but to relate properly to where we are.” It’s okay to be sad. To grieve. To be frightened or angry or anxious. Joy would not exist without sadness. Love would not exist without death. Spring would not exist without fall.
I think I loved fall so much as a child because it was a little death. I knew spring and summer would come again, and so it was easy to be right where I was, to enjoy everything the season had to offer. As the deaths in my life have gotten bigger, as the metaphorical springs and summers have become unpredictable and unknown, I’ve learned that love changes, life changes, and I change, too. The ground beneath my feet will continue to shift. It’s time to get comfortable with falling.