I’m writing this sitting on the couch next to Johnny. Accompanying me is an Earl Grey, dark chocolate stars from Trader Joe’s, a lazy fire in the stove, Build Me Up From Bones by Sarah Jarosz on the sound dock, and the hum of the dishwasher in the background.
Today was a day of small successes. It was the completion of the first week of my 365 project, for which I’m very proud. I got the Christmas decorations put away, worked on Pro IV and organized some pictures. I bought white asparagus for the first time and made one of Johnny’s favorite German dinners, and while my Hollandaise sauce took two attempts (the first one turned into scrambled eggs), it all turned out pretty good in the end. And Johnny and I had a long talk today, sorted out all the world’s problems and discovered the meaning of the universe. Well, almost.
Every day is an opportunity to live a better life. To live better isn’t necessarily always to improve your circumstances or yourself, but maybe just to be a little kinder and gentler to yourself and to the people around you. And to accept that life is not perfect, but it’s beautiful as it is. A 365 project confronts you with this truth every single day. I’m convinced that in order to successfully complete a project like this, you need to practice acceptance and let go of control.
1 down, 51 to go.
…and sometimes, things just work out without very much effort at all, but that’s rare.
Today was the first day I didn’t carry my camera with me, because I took this shot this morning before breakfast and knew I would be happy with it. I think this is the first time in 7 years that I share a digital photograph without any post processing, retouching or straightening, just how the camera and I saw it together.
It’s hard to put into words how significant this is for me. It feels as if the universe decided to give me a rest from working so hard on myself, and granted me a little something that I could feel was perfect today. Without trying, without needing to accept something I am not happy with, without having to work on anything to make it better. I cannot remember the last time I experienced this. As silly as it may sound, it feels to me like the most wonderful gift.
This is definitely one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever done, and it was a rough start. But I’m happy that I did it. One of the encouraging aspects is seeing Johnny’s 365 project two months in. It’s so much fun to look back on and remember the small events of everyday life. It’s easy to recall bigger things but the little things, which may be even more meaningful, often fall out of memory. In a way, the 365 is helping me to be a more grateful person. Aside from having to lug my camera around everywhere, trying to take halfway creative shots on busy days when I don’t feel like it, and scheduling time for blog posts, these are small inconveniences compared to the joy of honoring everyday life, paying more attention to what is around me and what thoughts and feelings I experience. I am sure that after a few months, I will feel this even more strongly.
It was 12º today, and the type of cold that goes right through you. I can feel my body adjusting to the different climate here. Ireland has very humid and balmy winters; Maine is frigid and exceptionally dry.
I love the light here in January. It’s pale, and gentle, and directional all day. I’m looking forward to seeing how the light changes throughout the seasons. This afternoon we hiked up Mount Beattie in Camden (which must now be a tradition on a very cold day) and enjoyed the view at the top while the last light lingered, the coastal towns and the ocean extending as far as the eye could see.
My heart seems to knit to this place the longer I am here. I feel as though my internal compass, disoriented my entire life, finally rests. I have the sense of my inside matching the outside and clicking into place. I’m reading a book right now called Daybook by Anne Truitt. She writes about this feeling which exactly puts it into words: “This dependence on placement is engrained in me. I pay attention to latitude and longitude. It’s as if the outside world has to match some personal horizontal and vertical axis. I have to line up with it in order to be comfortable.”
It’s wonderful to feel home.
This picture is what I see on my coffee table every day for the past 59 days. My husband Johnny is also doing a 365 project but he started his in November, when we moved to Maine. His project centers around documenting his first year of impressions in the United States. He journals every day in that leather book and takes his daily photo with his film Leica. Along the way he is offering fine art prints of some of his images, and after the year is finished he will be publishing everything in a book. This analog approach is very different from my own and I think it’s wonderful that he will have tangible things at the end of the year, a handwritten journal, film negatives and prints and a book.
Funny story behind this picture: I am really picky about how things are arranged in a still life and tend to move everything around until it looks balanced. When I looked at this through my lens everything inside of me wanted to rearrange the camera and the iPhone before I took the picture. But I didn’t, because I want to embrace the exercise of letting things be as they are and not imposing my ideas of perfect on them.
Maine is settling down into winter over the past few days. It was hardly a quiet arrival (its introduction came in the form of a midnight blizzard on December 29th; the evening before was clear and calm, the next morning by 6am we had about 5 inches).
Today we went to coffee and braved a chilly walk down to Rockland harbor with my aunt, uncle and cousin, who came for a brief 24-hour visit from Boston. They are some of the kindest and most thoughtful, uncomplicated people you will ever meet. I’m grateful for the family I have. It isn’t perfect by any means, and as I get older and more aware (and make more of my own experiences) I see more of the complex issues that have trickled down through the generations and found their way into who I am. Peeling back these layers and understanding them hasn’t been the most comfortable process. But today I had the realization that these parts of me need to be accepted as much as the imperfection of my photographs. While my urge is to reject everything that doesn’t meet internal (and sometimes external) expectations, I am learning that my task is self-acceptance without neglecting the work of becoming a better artist and person.
When I decided to do a 365 project a few months ago, it was after a lot of deliberation. My main hangup was my fear of imperfection. I relentlessly, sometimes mercilessly pick apart my photographs, finding critical flaws in almost everything I create. This drive for perfect helps me in some aspects and hinders me in others. I share very little, proportionally, of what I actually shoot, but what I do share I usually feel very internally contented about.
This project is driving me out of that happy place I had created for myself where the imperfect can be hidden in the archives and I had the luxury of not shooting when I am not comfortable with or inspired by my surroundings. I am faced with the prospect of a daily exercise which demands that I must let go of perfect. I cannot top myself every single day, and nothing about my repetitive daily routine will be as exciting as September in Tuscany or a road trip through Death Valley. This terrifies me to the point that I felt several times in the days leading up to today that I had made a huge mistake in ever committing to this project. I don’t like the feeling of vulnerability, nor of letting go of control when it comes to my work. Why I have showed up here on January 1 is simply because of my own stubbornness – I don’t want to fail. I realize that these are lessons that I need to learn. It’s important for my photography, and it’s important for me.
I took 15 photos today around our little house here in Maine. I chose to share this one because I like the story in it. What is actually tangible is not in focus; what feels most real is only a reflection.