Happy Photo

(Scroll to the end to just see the photo! What follows is a brief update on my life and some info on my photography equipment and methods.)

Time for another happy photo! The main reason is that I don’t have the energy for a full post. And I’m kind of excited about this series. It gives me a chance to really use my photos and impute meaning onto them, rather than just looking at them from time to time.

So you may recall I mentioned in a recent post that I was probably breaking up with my bf. Well, it happened. As is often the case with these things, much of the pain was felt in the months and weeks preceding the actual event. But it still hurts a lot. I was with him for over ten years. Since my twenties, before I was a real grownup.

It didn’t happen because of anything horrible he did, or I did. It was just time for me to move forward with my life. I’m in a transition stage. I’m aiming high. But I have to tell you, right now I feel like one big fail. I’m weeks behind on reading my New Yorkers. Weeks, people. I had a lunch date a few days ago, and spent that evening drinking wine, watching A Letter from Fred, and crying so much I needed a towel to mop up the tears. (Please, Internet, please take that video down.)

Yeah, things are tough right now. Hence…happy photo! We all need one sometimes! For those who are not interested in the actual mechanics of photography, go ahead and scroll down now. I’m going to spend some time discussing my equipment and methods, just because.

A couple years ago I bought a used Nikon D5000 from a good friend. It’s a pretty good camera, what I think would be considered just under the professional-level model. It came with two lenses, the kit lens (a standard 18-55mm) and a telephoto zoom (55-200mm). Up until recently I used the kit lens exclusively, but was not totally satisfied with its performance. It’s not a high-quality lens, and in my opinion the images it produces aren’t very sharp (this could be because I’m not a very good photographer, though). Last month the zoom on that lens got stuck between 18-24mm. So I started using the telephoto, which has turned out to be great because I like the shallow depth-of-field effect produced with more zoom, and I’m now able to get some good wildlife shots. I eventually want to buy a 35mm prime lens, but I’m waiting until I can afford both the lens and an intermediate photography course. The only other piece of equipment I use is a polarizing filter I bought for the kit lens.

I shoot mainly in manual mode, because I’m trying to learn technique. So far the only controls I really know how to use are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, but when I was out in Colorado recently I learned how to set my own white balance for taking pictures of snow. I also play around with the flash and exposure settings on occasion. So I guess you could say I know how to use most of the important controls, but not particularly well. For example, I still cannot take a landscape shot with everything in focus. Fortunately I don’t really like landscape shots anyway.

My favorite types of shots are close-ups with blurry backgrounds (bokeh). I also tend to like shots of interesting groupings of objects, or single objects against contrasting backgrounds. So far I have not had any interest in shooting people (haha). I use minimal processing for my photos, in iPhoto. Generally I increase contrast to bring out color, lighten or darken as needed, and sometimes pump up the color (I like the saturated look). On some photos I increase the definition, because I think it can impart a cool look for certain subjects.

Okay, on to the photo! I took this shot on the La Chua trail, right after my party was rescued by rangers when a gator crawled across the path and stopped, blocking us totally from getting past (and he grinned at us maliciously the whole time while we waited for the rangers to show up). It was certainly an adventure for my visiting friends, who had been hoping they might perhaps “catch a glimpse” of a gator on the hike.

I like this photo because it reminds me how clumsy large birds can look when they try to take off, which reminds me that nature (or God, if you are a believer) did not design us to be graceful or look good when meeting the challenges of life, but did design us to take them on.


“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” (Henry Ford)


When there is no payoff

DSC_0825Why keep doing something if there is no payoff?

As a writer, I ask myself this a lot.  Writing doesn’t pay off. You keep doing it, and no one really cares. You get better, and the only celebrant is you.

Our society only values something if there is a progressive outward sign of success. Society would deem me successful if I had publications. This is the question people ask the most when I say I’m a writer. Am I published? No? The conversation generally goes dead after that response. Because they think it means I am not successful, or not a “real” writer yet, or maybe they think it means I must not be very good.

But I’ve stopped seeking publication because being published has nothing to do with my worth as a writer. If I did get something published, what would that mean? Nothing much beyond the fact that someone else likes what I write and my story would reach a small audience. (Not many people read literary journals.)

I don’t want to base my feeling of self-worth on someone else’s judgement. And if I want to reach readers, I can just put my stuff up online. Which I’ve done.

In this area of life and others, I try to structure a personal payoff that is independent of what the wider world might give me.

But you know what? It’s human nature to seek approval and validation from outside the self. And even though I know it’s ultimately unhealthy to do so, I still feel that something is missing from my life.

I have a growing suspicion, though, that this is just how it is. In most things we endeavor and struggle and there will never be any kind of acclaim. This should be something that we understand and accept from a young age, but our culture tells us that there should be more. Fame, fortune, admiration. Success. Accumulation. How else are we to tell if we’ve “made it”?

And so in my secret heart I keep waiting for the payoff.

I hate that I do this.

Positive steps toward unsuccess

Lately I’ve embraced trying to live a life of unsuccess.


What is unsuccess? I see it as a combination of two things:

1. Not doing what society wants me to do
2. Doing what I want to do

It is not the same as unsuccessful. I chose “unsuccess” to describe what I am aiming for because it hints at the fact that some of the life choices I make will be viewed by society, or others, as unsuccessful. However, the word itself does not actually exist, thus hinting at the fact that what I am trying to do is live life by my own standards, not those of others.

Unsuccess has two dimensions. The first is taking account in a personal way of the big things society expects of its mainstream (i.e. “valuable”) members. Here are some of those things and the implicit assumptions they contain:

  • Women get married and have children, even if it makes them miserable.
  • More money is better, so get a job that makes you enough to buy lots of things, and swallow the stress.
  • Security is ideal, so sacrifice whatever you must in order to have savings.

Here is my personal accounting of the above big things (stress on the personal – everyone will do their accounting differently):

Am I willing to marry or have children when I know I would not be a happy wife or mother? No. Am I willing to live with enormous stress in order to be able to buy whatever society says I should? No. Security – that’s a really tough one for me to give up. But am I willing to sacrifice my peace of mind and lifestyle that makes me happy for such an illusory ideal? No.

Then there is the second dimension, the implicit assumptions of our society, which are more challenging to tackle. Here are two with my personal accounting combined:

  • Time should be productive. Sitting around daydreaming or resting because of a bout of the depression blahs is wasted time because it has not produced anything of merit. (No, it’s not true, take the time to daydream or heal.)
  • Life should be cumulative. If you are not building on things, progressing, and getting better, you are not a success. (No, it’s not true, don’t listen to what others say is successful or not.)

These second dimension things eat away at us subconsciously as we struggle forward. They are constraints on joy and abundance that we do not even always know are there. I fight against these as much as I can. The first step is recognizing them.

Here’s something I did recently that demonstrates what unsuccess looks like in my life: I cancelled my attendance to an international conference in my field, choosing instead to spend my money and time on a trip up to Philly to have a joint birthday party with my longtime best friend, catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in ten years, and begin serious work on revising my novel.

The conference was part of a successful life. Present my (academic) work, make contacts, etc.

The Philly trip was about enjoying myself, healing some heart wounds, and working on something that may be my passion but will never make me any money and may never even see the light of day. In other words, unsuccess.

This wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It was the result of a careful accounting process that I have been undertaking for some time. I made it after a number of related decisions/steps that have borne fruit in terms of helping me create a path to an alternative future. I’m being thoughtful but also brave. I am surveying the land and then taking (little) leaps of faith.

So there you have it, a first post of what I can only assume will be a collection on how I am trying to make my life one that I will be satisfied with when I am doing that final accounting, whenever that may be.

Photograph taken in Costa Rica.

I am so never making it to top

SunflowerOne of my favorite blogs is by a woman who is successful at what she does, which is create start-up companies and give career advice (Penelope Trunk). Most of her writing is on doing well in corporate careers. This topic is irrelevant for me, because one of the things I desire least in life is to have a corporate career, or any job that requires me to put forty hours a week into something I do not have a significant personal stake in.

My aversion to mainstream work and how I am making a living for myself otherwise is something I will explore through a number of posts into the future, so I will not treat it exhaustively here today.

Today I want to write about why I read a blog that seemingly has nothing for me.

First, because it allows me to understand my own values in contrast to the ones presented.

Second, because there’s more to PT than meets the eye. Her foremost concern is that people do what fits their personalities, which she advises measuring through a Myers-Briggs-type instrument (there are plenty of free ones online; I’m an INFJ – the rarest of all types [shocking]).

She writes a lot about how women with children don’t want to work full time. She cites data.

Ok, so that doesn’t fit me either, since I don’t have kids and probably never will (at least that’s how things look for now). But the idea that it’s normal and acceptable to not want to work forty hours a week on something that is not of primary importance in life – yeah, that definitely resonates.

I work more than forty hours a week. Not at a job, though. On my life. On living. On the things of primary importance. Achieving balance, finding joy, and meeting my own goals on things like being a good daughter, friend, girlfriend, pet owner, and community member. I read a lot, and think a lot, and write. I also work really, really hard on not sinking into intense anxiety or God forbid another bad depression, which has much to do with how I arrange my life.

Somewhere amidst all that life work is what I do for money. Currently, teaching and freelance editing. Both are, for now, activities that I get personal satisfaction from, and feel I have a significant personal stake in. I in no way spend anywhere near forty hours a week on my money-making activities. It’s of primary importance to me that I’m able to take off to the park in the afternoon with a blanket and a book if I feel the need. Like today.

I don’t make much money. Many of my peers from school days would laugh or sneer (at least I imagine they would, and I recognize I could be totally wrong about that).

I don’t have much in terms of retirement savings, and I’m at an age where that is, from a mainstream perspective, shocking. (Although PT maintains that retirement savings are outdated.)

I have days when I feel scared about finances and the future. But I spent many years trying to be as mainstream as was possible for me and I felt scared a lot then, too. And I also felt near constant despair.

When I made more money, I felt deprived and hopeless. Now I am experimenting with living life as I choose, at least within my capabilities to do so, and I feel like I am living in abundance.

I want to stress that I am trying to live a life that suits me, not a life that is “ideal” from any other standard. There is no one size fits all. And being able to choose what I want my life to look like is a luxury I do not take for granted. There are a number of reasons I have that luxury, a primary one being that I have decided not to have children. Because I know myself and what kind of life would make me happiest.

I’ll never make it to the top of any field. I’ll never have that kind of success. Because what that implies is basing the shape of my life and my output on comparison with others people’s and on other people’s judgements. I try to the best of my abilities not to do the former. As for the latter, it’s difficult to avoid entirely. People are gonna judge. And they have their right to. But nowhere in that right is any obligation on my part to listen or care. Although I might, if it seems appropriate or useful. But mostly I’m just going to keep on trying to live my life the way I want to.

Dog collar quilts and courting an unsuccessful life

I am trying to do more of what I like in life and less of what I don’t like. That’s why I’m making a quilt and have cancelled my participation in an international conference in March. Which is something I may write more in depth about at some point, because you see so many blogs about the Big Things people are doing, adding to their schedules, and progressing in, and very few about tossing out the to-do list, becoming less productive in the Big Things, and dedicating more time to activities that bring less (outward) success to life, like making a quilt that will serve no other purpose than covering a bed. And not feeling guilty about that.

materialWhy do I call it a dog collar quilt? Why, let me tell you. When I got my black lab, Manley, I became obsessed with making him innumerable fashion collars. These are some of the materials I bought for him. My favorites were the ladybug pattern, the Hawaiian, and the pink one with brown bees. I especially like Manley in pink.

I got so good at making collars that I even sold some ($10 each), but eventually I got bored of the endeavor. For several years all that material languished in my enormous crafts Tupperware in the closet, which also contained material from projects stretching all the way back to my preteen years. Then suddenly (literally suddenly) one day this January, I realized I would use it all up to make a quilt, which I would hand-sew in its entirety in the evenings whilst watching reruns of Julia Child cooking shows.

And so that’s what I did. Am doing, that is. I’ve cut out all the squares and am at the point of sewing them together into pairs, which I will then sew into blocks, etc. Expect updates.