re-picturing SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

self-consciousness and creativity

Consciousness (defined): the state of being conscious; aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, and surroundings.
I struggle to create and maintain consciousness in my everyday life. Some of the time it’s just easier to go on auto-pilot. Awake, work, home, sleep. Repeat.
Do you spend much time being conscious? Really conscious. In the moment. Breathe.
One reason we may avoid consciousness is that it sometimes transforms into its not-so-nice, rarely invited cousin, self-consciousness.
Self-consciousness (defined): The state of being excessively aware of being observed by others.
Instead of being captured by the moment, we become hyper-vigilant to how we appear to others. As if someone is taking a photograph,  up-close and personal, magnifying every wrinkle, imperfection, insecurity. Do I look OK? He’ll think I’m stupid if I ask that silly question. Everyone is staring at me.
One way that I remain conscious without becoming self-conscious is by immersing myself in the river of delight. I try to savor the activities that I love — photography, drinking good wine and eating good food, running, writing, talking with friends, playing music — without judgment. Not my own or the (often imagined) judgment of others.
What can you do today to become conscious?

LOVING THE RUN

I want to give a shout out to the Team at Loving the Run (my favorite running blog) where my post on the Journey is featured today! Happy 4th of July weekend!

re-picturing TRIBAL WOMEN

My heart is overflowing with joy as I share with you the beautiful film the talented Melissa Dowler from The Long Haul Project and Long Haul Films created based on her footage from the inaugural meeting (yes, there is already another meeting in the works!) of The Tribe in Manzanita. As I look at these fleeting moments with the women in The Tribe, I am reminded that sometimes it is difficult to capture the magic that emerges when several women with very different perspectives come together to create, connect, and delight in play with a photograph. So, today, I’m sharing Melissa’s film. Thanks, Melissa! Happy Re-Picturing Women Wednesday!

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/25628317]

re-picturing THE JOURNEY

I’m tired. Sweat blurs my vision. The sun and humidity feel especially oppressive on this Nebraska summer day. I’m strangely impatient when my sweet, curious Azura (our 2-year old yellow lab) veers off the path to investigate a rose bush or stops to leave her yellow calling card next to the fire hydrant. My legs are screaming with the uncomfortable mix of burning and itchiness that comes from running after my exercise hiatus.

I focus on one step at a time. If I think about the next step or the next step after that, I may just quit and slink home. It is difficult to find the strength to muster another step when I think about the hundreds of steps still in front of me.

I’m reminded of a poem by David Whyte that Meghan read to The Tribe during that magical meeting in Manzanita. That moment feels lifetimes away right now.

Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

This makes sense to me. When you are overwhelmed moving forward on a goal or dream, focus close in on the first step. But I’m wondering…Can you be moving in the right direction when you don’t know where you’re going? When you feel directionless. When you don’t know what your dream is?

I flip the question over in my mind for what feels like the millionth time, but no answer comes.

I’ve been feeling a little (okay a lot) stuck these days. Stuck at work. Stuck as an artist. Stuck in life, I guess. My immediate reflex with this “stuckness,” this lack of direction, is to make a list. Yes, a list will fix everything. I figure out what I want and lay out a step-by-step manual for getting there. A clear road map to go from point A to point B. I have made thousands of lists in my lifetime.

My current problem is that I don’t know where I’m going.

Can you be moving in the right direction when you don’t know where you’re going?

I am reminded of Agnes de Mille’s sage advice.

Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.

So, I run. I send an e-mail. I write a blog post. I take a picture. I plan a new study. I’m thinking about taking singing lessons. These are the first steps. Toward what? I’m not sure. But I keep doing them because deep inside I know that I must continue on the journey, even though the destination is unclear.

re-picturing WILL THE REAL ME PLEASE SPEAK UP

love instead of hate

If you start paying attention to the moment, perhaps spending some time being instead of doing, you will notice that you are never really alone. Even when you’re physically alone in your office, car, home, even the bathroom, the jibber-jabber of voices still hums along in your head.

Some of these voices are sarcastic, some are not-all-that-friendly, some are critical, and some are downright mean. And the target of their drivel – their sarcasm, unfriendliness, criticism, and mean-spiritedness is most often….you guessed it…me (I suspect that this the case for a lot of us once we really start listening).

Where do these voices come from? They certainly don’t sound like me. I wouldn’t say most of these things to my worst enemy (you know who you are)! Yet, they’re prattling on in my mind most of the moments of my day (will you just shut up already).

So, this week, I’ve started playing a game. Will the real me please speak up.  When one of these voices starts blathering on, I ask myself who the source of this voice really is. I often find that although it sounds awfully familiar, it is not in fact my own voice. Instead, these voices often sound very similar to old teachers, colleagues, friends, ex-boyfriends (I thought you were gone for good), or critical reviewers. Being able to identify and label them provides enormous power for finally silencing their often hateful message (alright, some peace and quiet) and provides space for listening to the quiet whispers of my own loving voice.

Who’s talking to you today?

picturing TRIBAL VOICES

Manzanita

Many of you know that I traveled to the Oregon coast last weekend. For some, I was simply getting away. For others, I was headed to a creativity retreat. Still others believed I was gathering with friends. When I mentioned my trip to Manzanita, a coastal village two hours south of Portland with 8 other creative women, people wanted to know why I was going — what was the purpose of this trip. Being the purposeful person that I am, I was quick to provide them with what I believed were “reasonable” expectations for the trip — rest, rejuvenation, and connection.

journey

However, the only real reason I embarked on this journey was that I said “yes” when Meghan (the lovely soul who dreamed the weekend into reality) asked. This simple utterance triggered a magical sequence of events, in which 9 individual women came together and created a collective tribe, that continues to unfold.

Rain was forecasted, but my polka-dotted rain boots never left the darkness of my suitcase because the sun shined every day. Discussions of the everyday — work and relationships — were peppered with the extraordinary — whale-sightings and moon-sets. We brought new creations — mosaics, collages, and photographs — into the world.

However, perhaps not surprisingly, for me when it really boils down to it, this is a story of voice.

My interactions with this amazing group of women began through their voices. I heard their voices through the lovely words they wrote in their blogs and e-mails, but also through their actual voices — some giddy, some knowing, some tentative — during our initial phone conversations planning the logistics for the trip. Some people spoke more, some spoke less. Some were louder and some were softer. Everyone had an accent.

When we arrived at our beach house, I was finally able to put their voices, names, and faces together. Some were different, not better or worse, just different from what I expected. In the quiet voice that I heard over the phone I found a strong wisdom. The voice of practicality was full of dreams. The voice of cynicism spoke of possibility. The voice that felt stuck found direction for the next step. The voice of frustration found hope. The voice that often wants to have it all figured out voiced her desire to just play. The broken voice sang sweet songs of connection. Voices of loss were full of joy. And, even though there were a lot of voices, the universe had room for all of them.

"The Tribe" Photo: Rebecca Murphy

As we worked on our mission statements, each person trying to find their own words and then excitedly sharing their voice with the group, I was reminded that one of my truths is that everyone wants to be heard. And over the weekend, we heard and were heard.

Some of us spoke things outloud that we had never spoken before. Some of us found healing from old hurts. Others found hope for new dreams. All of us were brave. It can be scary to share scars that we have buried deep in our hearts.  What if people don’t understand? What if they judge? What if they hear the words that we are saying, but don’t really hear us? It can be even scarier to share our dreams. By speaking our dreams outloud, they become more real. What if our dream is silly? What if we try and we fail? What if we succeed?

We also heard the voices of our two tribal sisters who could not physically be there. Their poems and words were shared and we felt their spirits. Even the chantings of the tribal women who came before us sometimes found their way up through the fireplace as we shared, connected, played, dreamed, and loved.

By coming together, we began to identify, remember, and reconnect with our own individual voices, but we also began to hear the whispers of a collective tribe. When I flew back to Nebraska last Sunday, The Tribe’s voices stayed with me. As I dozed in and out of sleep, I still heard the voices of Meghan, Elizabeth, Emily, Melissa, Rebecca, Sophia, Darlene, Celina, Stefanie, and Lindsey. I continue to carry their voices back into my world and they are helping me to remember that I, too, have a voice. One that is authentic, vulnerable, wholehearted, imperfect, curious, joyful, and worthy of being heard.

Tribal Voices

re-picturing QUIETING THE CRITICAL VOICE

Everyone has a critical voice. For some, it is louder than others. For others, it is peppered with positives, but the it still goes for their jugular when they let their guard down.

Journaling helps me to quiet my critical voice. Somehow putting the criticisms on the page makes them stop running through my mind. It makes my fears seem manageable.

How do you quiet your critical voice?

re-picturing PHOTOGRAPHY

Objectification is defined as seeing and/or treating a person, usually a woman, as an object (Nussbaum, 1999).

In photography, women are often treated as sexual objects in which their appearance or sexuality is regarded as more important than their other characteristics, for the use of other people, and capable of representing them (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Kilbourne, 1999).

You know it when you see it.

When the camera lens focuses on a woman’s body parts rather than her face, she is objectified.

When a woman who is extremely thin with perfect skin and hair needs to be photoshopped to fit in with the other women in a beauty magazine, she is objectified.

When a woman is depicted as welcoming or enjoying sexual violence, she is objectified.

When a woman’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, dreams, hopes, and desires – those very things that make us human – are not apparent, she is objectified.

But, how do you not objectify women in photography? Through this project I have learned that this is much easier said than done. Even with the explicit goal to challenge sexual objectification, how do you not create images that objectify women? After all, photographs literally are objects. By simply clicking the shutter, your subject becomes an object, a two-dimensional thing, rather than a multi-dimensional person. This is frustrating as I think about ways that I may be contributing to rather than resisting objectification.

However, words keep popping up as I struggle work my way through this project. Although I didn’t realize this initially, this seemingly random occurrence revealed one way in which we might photograph women in less sexually objectify ways (I’m not convinced that we can completely eliminate sexual objectification from photography).

As a noun, voice is defined as the sound or sounds uttered through the mouth of living creatures, especially of human beings in speaking, shouting, singing, etc. As a verb, voice is defined as to give utterance or expression to; declare; proclaim.

Although we may not audibly hear women’s utterances in photographs, we may literally give women voice, the power to utter, express, declare, or proclaim, when we read the words that women choose to describe how they make meaning in their bodies, their frustrations with their bodies, or the ways their bodies give them strength.

I have only recently begun to hear these voices, but as I listen and create I find myself finding a new photography voice of my own.

Have you discovered ways to photograph yourself or others as subjects rather than objects? If so, I would love to hear your voice.

re-picturing FAT TALK

Do you engage in fat talk?

A classic example:

One person says: “I’m so fat”

Another person says: “No you’re not.”

There is a lot of scientific evidence that women and especially adolescent girls frequently engage in fat talk with other women and girls.

I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, it can promote closeness and connection with others. Women need to be able to talk about appearance and weight-related issues, especially with other women.  Society places an enormous weight on girls and women when it comes to their appearance. Being able to vocalize and share that experience with others can be freeing. It is also somewhat positive and complimentary. Given the importance we place on women’s bodies, hearing someone else say that we look OK or good enough can be reassuring.

On the other hand, however, implicit in “fat talk” is the idea that it is not OK for women to be heavier or bigger. In fact, when people hear fat talk, they tend to think being skinny is even more important than before they heard it. When I was 17, I lost 20 pounds very quickly. I never fancied myself as fat, but after I lost the weight, you would not believe how many people asked “Have you lost weight? You look great.” Gosh, how bad did I look before? It is for this reason that I rarely ask people if they’ve lost weight. Again, it seems complimentary, but carries along heavy baggage.

Do you engage in fat talk? Do you think it helps, hurts, or both?

I wish I could offer a simple answer here, but I think it is a difficult and weighty issue.

re-picturing THE LOVELY LIST

Have you made your lovely list? It’s a list of those things that you love about your body.

Can you list five things you love about your body?

This question often meets with an empty stare and a thoughtful silence.

OK. One thing that you love about your body?

Something you even like about your body?

When I ask people what they hate about their body, comments abound. If we really want to transform from self-hatred to self-love, we need to be able to look in the mirror and find something, anything that is endearing.

Now wait. This will not work if it is not authentic. Half-assed affirmations about bodies do more harm than good.

I love my thunder thighs. Cellulite makes my arms more interesting. No, no, no.

However, can you come up with 5 things that you actually like (perhaps even love) about your body. If you can, write them down. Share them with someone. Post them here. If you can’t, ask someone else. Often times others reflect our beauty back in ways that we cannot do ourselves.

My list is below.

1) The color of my eyes — a mix of aqua that appears blue in some light and green in others

2) I have successfully run 26.2 miles in the Marine Corps Marathon.

3) My straight white teeth (from 5 years of braces starting in 2nd grade)

4) I enjoy moving in my body — walking, running, biking, swimming, skipping, hopping, jumping — it makes me feel alive.

5) I have a relatively narrow waist (that remains narrower than my hips and breasts no matter how much I weigh), so A-line skirts look good on me.

Wow, that was actually kind of fun. Your turn :)