Friday, March 20, 2009

read me

I think that in general, I'm an open book. Even when I'm not divulging the twists and turns of my mind's goings-on on my blog, in daily life I wear my heart on my sleeve. I often wish I were subtle or mysterious, but the truth is that I'm pretty obvious.

But when it comes to photography, I realize that I feel like there's this sense of mystique about it. Like I just don't talk very much about my feelings with regard to photography, and really only the goings-on. I suppose part of it is that I'm not an expert on the subject, so why should I talk much about it, other than the results of my sessions? But for the most part, I have no good reason for my silence on one of the subjects nearest and dearest to me.

So I'm opening those pages, breaking the mystique a little. Feel free to dive in, if you're interested!

Have I ever mentioned that when I used to play my cello in front of more than just family, I'd get stage fright? Stage fright that all but immobilized me, and truthfully, sometimes did immobilize me. I remember this recital I did when I was 17. I had two solos. One was this piece by Breval:

....which I felt I had in the bag. I was totally confident about this piece. (Which makes me smile now, because if I were to play that would need some serious tweaking.)

The other piece was famous, beautiful, and one of those cello pieces that you want to master; you want to have this one under your belt. Bach's first cello suite.

Far more beautiful (in my opinion) than the Breval piece. And for me, far more difficult. I really, really wanted this one to come off perfectly. In the weeks leading up to the recital, I practiced madly, obsessively, and with the tortured feeling that I just could never get it to sound exactly the way I wanted it to sound. With a bow-hold that was already lacking in technique, all this tension in my body, tension that extended to my arms, hands, and wrists.....I developed a mean case of carpal tunnel. Which meant that I was crying at the end of these deliriously desperate practice sessions, and my teacher was chastising me and probably very frustrated by my incurable insecurity.

The recital came, and my forearm and wrist were burning. And I used that excuse to only pay the Breval piece.

I didn't play the Bach piece.

And as much as I would like to claim that I am exempt from regret, that my mistakes have all added up to greater good, this is one thing that I always, always regret. I regret most of all that my fear stopped me from even trying. That in this sense, my fear did immobilize me. It's not so much a sense of guilt as it is a sense of loss, and a sadness that I was so bent on perfection that I forgot that absolute effort is beautiful, too. Oh, it still aches. Give me a minute.

What does this have to do photography, are you wondering? Don't worry; I wasn't so lost in my regretful reverie that I forgot my original purpose.

With photography, when it comes to big events like weddings, I still have to some extent those fears of failure. But the difference is that once I sink my toes in, once I begin to take photos and find the light (literally and figuratively, in this case) and compose creatively, my nerves change. Bravery the Lion roars that stupid Fear right into a corner, and I can work. And not just work, but work in a way that makes me happy, and (we hope) makes my friends/clients happy. I get lighter and lighter; happier, more attuned to the process, more outwardly able while internally free.

This miraculous quiet confidence happened only three times in the course of my cello performances. Sometimes I think that if I pick it up again with my newfound bravery in photography under my belt, perhaps the performing side of cello will not scare me so much. Perhaps I'll find that secret sweet spot, that minute when I feel like I'm where I need to be and can do what needs to be done. And it needs to be done. Some part of me needs to do this. I think maybe our talents, gifts, passions--these things are also needs, and are essential to some part of our human development.

Or else why would I suffer so much over the memory of that halved cello performance?

And why would I find myself debilitatingly nervous for the week before I photograph a wedding? That's what I did yesterday; Phill and I went to photograph a wedding. Why didn't I say more about that before it happened? Because I was anxious. Because I was completely withdrawn, turning over again and again in my mind the What Ifs. Before yesterday, I had done three weddings--two of which were for forgiving family. And the last one was in 2007. I had the kind of random panic that made me wonder if maybe I should just back out and stop doing photography for good.

I prayed so much! I prayed, I visualized, I practiced, I talked to myself and to Phill and sometimes to friends.....I made myself as ready as I could possibly be. We even bought a new camera, a camera that ought to have made me feel very, very brave. But we ordered it quite late (due to the fact that we had to scrimp and save until just lately to get the darn camera in the first place). It was shipped on Monday. I waited with bit-down nails and hammering heart, and then when Tuesday came, went out with my trusty XT and shot bridals. Wednesday rolled around, and I thought, "Well, maybe it's best. Maybe I shouldn't try to learn a new camera so quickly before the wedding. It's fine."

Thursday came, and I woke up with a knotted stomach and shaky hands. But I was excited! Underneath it all was a desire to get there and get started! It took until the day of the wedding to feel this way, but I knew I'd be fine once I got there and got started. I knew I was still nervous, but I felt that a sense of calm had come over me, and I didn't think much could shatter it.

Ten minutes before we left, while the boys ate sandwiches and peaches, someone knocked on our door and gave us a box containing my shiny new 50D. The sound I made was a cross between a sob and a shriek. (it was an ugly sound, let me tell you) My hard-won calm was absolutely in pieces. Here it was, so beautiful, so fancy, and what?! I was supposed to use that thing?!

I ran to my room, cried, prayed, laughed, and then shamed myself for looking a gift camera in the lens. This is wonderful, you silly girl! I told myself. Stop your crying! What a blessing! You get out there and figure it out!! So I did. Thankfully, Canons are built much the same across the board; once you've played with one, you can quickly get the hang of another (I say while knocking on the wood of the desk here).

I got enough acquainted--where's aperture? okay. exposure? check. ISO? check.--that I felt like I could get good pictures while using it. We brought both cameras just to be safe, and because the new one only had one battery. The entire way there, I felt nervous enough that I thought I'd throw up. But once we walked in, that blessed sense of calm returned, and almost with tears in my eyes I felt again like I was in the right place, doing the right thing. Not just one of my favorite things--one of my "right" things. One of my Rachel things.

I wasn't a quiet river of peace. I was still nervous here and there. But the subjects were beautiful, willing, and cheerful. The venue was ideal with lots of natural light and classy settings. The event itself was relaxed and elegant, full of poignant goodness and laughter.

Eight hours later, once we were home in pajamas and laying on the couch, I felt like I had conquered my fear and created something beautiful for the bride and groom to reference their memories. I felt blessed, protected, tenderly watched over by Heavenly Father.

I felt like I had played the Bach suite eight years ago, and that even with a missed note or tiny squeak here or there, I had performed well. I felt the way I do every time I come up against something big--be it photographing a wedding, publicly playing my cello, relocating to another country, or birthing a baby: I was worried, but I did it anyway. I was scared, but I mastered my fear and did something I'm proud of.

Just for that day, I made peace with my regret.

I feel like some gifts are given to us in the form of confronting and conquering our fears, and that these gifts of progress and according confidence can give way to great peace. A little at a time, I back that fear into a corner*, until eventually it isn't even worth mentioning. Until one day my weakness is more of a strength.

*Is anyone else hearing the phrase, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner!"?

**Stared at this post for about twenty minutes before actually deciding to post it. Unsure (still) if I want to make myself this vulnerable. May yank it from the blogsphere if I keep feeling this bare.


leslie the licorice stick lady said...

You knock that fear down into that corner, and let Rachel lead the way! No way! Don't take this post off. It shows YOU so well and lets us all know that you are susceptible to the fears of life just like the rest of us! Have fun with that new camera! Can't wait to see some of those wedding photos!

Heidi said...

Don't take it down.

Going back to read your post again while listening to the Bach piece playing in the background and imagining it's you. Because someday you're going to play that piece for me, right? I'm counting on it.

Thinking of you all day today, need to get words onto page and email you.

You are amazing...

Lara said...

Okay, first of all. You got a WHAT? I don't think I can speak to you anymore from jealousy. It's going to be a long time before I can ever dream of getting such a camera, and by the time I do, they'll have already released an 80D or something.

And, I think we all feel that way. I am still horribly insecure about teaching voice lessons, and doing vocal solos. I don't freeze up anymore, but sometimes I almost do. And I will probably never do a wedding because I am totally scared of it. So there. You are braver than I am. :)

MAG said...

What an absolutely wonderful post! I'm so happy for you about getting that shiny new 50D!! Woohoo!

And I love all you had to say about photography! I just love it, too. And I refuse to stop trying even when I sometimes take awful pictures and especially when I read a post like this!

Love you!

Qait said...

Oh, Rachel...Rachel, Rachel, Rachel...
It may take an entire post to reply to your thoughts and feelings with my own.
You know what? I've heard you play that Bach piece countless times, and it was beautiful always. Even when you stopped abruptly and shrieked in a way that made Mom raise her eyebrows in such a high arch that they matched her frown while she prepared dinner. I knew what you were going through, though...really.
*sigh* I think this certainly needs a full post. [coming soon]
I love you!

Cyndie said...

Love you, miss you. Tears in my eyes from the Rae I adore so much and haven't seen in so long. I absolutely MUST make a trip down to see you. I love your blog, I love your photgraphy, I love you. (and your cute sweet-ums kids too!)

Kelly said...

That's what I love about you-- so open, sharing, and giving. :)