through and through

"When we begin to accept and appreciate all the good things we already have.

When we are able to look inwards with kindness and allow our true selves to surface.

That is when we soar."

—Chantelle Grady, The Better Things

insight

We were driving through Richmond toward route 301.  I noticed two ladies engaged in lively conversation, one wearing a lovely orange blouse and the other wearing a yellow flowing top.  They were waiting for a local bus. I asked Dave to pull over so I could ask to take their picture. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, powered by the pull of their colorful clothing and a kind of semi-bravery I was trying on for fit.

Well, these two ladies did not want their picture taken, and they made no bones about saying so. I was polite, telling them I understood and respected their choice. I tried to smooth things over but they were clearly distrustful of me and my motives. And I get this.

I walked away, proud that I had taken the high road, asking with kindness and honesty and accepting their “No way, No how” with grace.

Still, that No stung. Underneath it all, I felt as though I had done something wrong by asking. And for a few hours after, I thought about giving up this work of trying to photograph people. After all, there’s a lot less stress and confrontation in taking pictures of birds or flowers or old buildings.

I read something in a newsletter from my friend and life coach, Helen McLaughlin, today that addressed this issue perfectly.

This weekend, I had a quietly remarkable experience:
I asked a woman if I could take a picture of her fabulous hair and she said no to me.
Let's rewind for a moment.
She had the perfect curly hairstyle. It's exactly what I want for myself right now and have been seemingly unable to execute because of a combination of wonky weather (dry one day, humid the next) and an indecisive part (seriously, it parts on the left one day, the right the next).
In any case, she was a server in the restaurant and when I saw her whiz by, I sprang up, followed her, and promptly inquired as to who cuts her hair (we've lived here for a year and I still get my hair cut only when I'm back in New York, visiting with my family; #curlyhairtrustissues).
She gave me the card of a local hairstylist, we chatted about New York (she just moved back to Wisconsin from New York City!), and debated the merits of different curly hair product lines.
When I returned to our table with the business card and a story of meeting a new delightful person, my husband encouraged me to inquire about getting a picture of her hairstyle—so that I'd have a visual of what it is I'm after.
Brilliant idea! I returned to the server, who was now behind the bar, cutting citrus slices, and asked if I might take a picture of her hair.
"I'd prefer if you didn't," she said, eyeing the iPhone in my hands warily and then assuring me that the hairstylist would remember her cut and would help me find a style that would work for me and my hair.
"No problem!" I chirped. "Just thought I'd ask."
I hung onto that no (well, it wasn't an explicit no, just someone sharing that what she wanted was different from what I wanted) for most of the rest of our afternoon and could feel something, some little kernel of perceived rejection trying to lodge itself in my heart.
But: One new thought changes everything.
What was my one new thought?
Well, thanks to my current bedtime reading of Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone's Life by Michael Neill, I've been having lots of new thoughts, but the main one on this topic is:
"You can ask anyone for anything when you make it okay for them to say 'no.' Your ability to not take the word no personally, no matter how dramatically that 'no' may be delivered, is the key to success—not (by definition) because people will always say yes, but because it won't be emotionally devastating to you if they don't. The more comfortable you get with the word no, the less likely you are to get caught up in a sort of 'post-traumatic stress disorder' of the mind, walking on eggshells and becoming more and more afraid to ask for what you want."
Obviously the no I received wasn't delivered dramatically in the slightest. But it was still a no, and generally speaking, no is something I've taken quite personally ever since I was a very small child. (My poor parents can attest.)
Since childhood, I've perceived a no to mean a boundary has been erected (perhaps because I've been bad or too much, or maybe because I'm wrong or unwelcome) and I've been told to stay over there, on the other side, away from here. No, in my mind, has meant that someone doesn't approve of me or that my actions have caused displeasure.
But as I've done my own personal development work, and later coached several clients on the theme of rejection, I've come to understand that the problem is never actually in the no; it's in how we hear the no and in what we make the no mean.
Head over to the blog to read Your Insight is Closer Than You Think.

Some days I am still that little girl, the one who is afraid she will let someone down, hurt someone or do something wrong. She tells me to play it safe; her motto is "don't rock the boat." She loves it when everyone gets along and she will bend and twist and mold herself to keep everyone happy. She will give up dreams and pretend her art is just a hobby and it really doesn't matter.

But it does.

Visual story telling is my life's work. And it does matter.

By way of recovery, I took this picture, which in some way soothed my spirit.

There is hope and promise in even the simplest view.

letters on top of buildings

I am embarrassed to admit how little faith I have in my own way of seeing (and perhaps this extends to my way of being, too). When I shop for clothing, strolling through the aisles, I often find my eyes wandering to the nearby shoppers. She will hold up a top or scarf, and I will think, “That is so beautiful. Why did I not notice that same thing?”

I do not want to need reassurance that what I do matters; that who I am is enough; that the way I see is acceptable.

Even as I write this, I realize that it makes no sense to look to another to confirm what is uniquely my experience.

Recently I came across an interesting personal photography project, Letters on Top of Buildings, by Cynthia Connolly. Her photographs–signs and letters, perched atop buildings, black and white silver gelatin prints, presented in a letter pressed envelope—remind me of the familiar landmarks in and around my home. These iconic signs, with their distinctive typography, mark the boundaries of the places we live and work. They welcome us, guide us, and often set structure to our dearest memories.

I thought to myself, “What a clever and creative idea!” And then, as I studied Cynthia’s pictures, I realized that I have taken similar photographs. I had categorized them as snapshots, mundane and not worthy of further attention.

I wonder why I was so quick to dismiss my work.

Did I only see the value of my similar photos when I looked at them through Cynthia’s eyes?

When we stop fearing failure, we start being artists
— Ann Voskamp, Author

Bringing my photographs of letters on top of buildings together strengthens their impact. Converting them to black and white and printing them as sliver gelatin prints honors the timeless nature of such content—typographic sculptures—and signs of the times.  

If you visit Fredericksburg, look me up, and I’ll take you to Carl’s Frozen Custard for two scoops of one of the three available flavors: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry.

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