Photography today is creating what isn’t real. It’s manipulation of you, the viewer. That beautiful scene with that family in an open field with amazing sun?
Nine times out of ten that’s not real. It was edited in Photoshop.
The power lines were painted out, the sun flare was added with an overlay and that kid who photo bombed the whole thing was quickly and quietly dispatched with the gesture of the mouse and click of a few keyboard commands like the photographer mafia.
That little girl sitting on a box, in a perfect white room, no clutter, no mess, no toys scattered around her, enjoying the wind of the fan blowing in her face?
The toys were pushed to one side, or brushed away via editing software.
And more fake.
Much of what you see in the photography world is fake.
It is airbrushed.
It is whitewashed.
It is cloned out and over.
It’s made to look pretty because people like pretty.
People like fake.
People like fake so they don’t have to face reality.
The problem is that even when a person knows it’s fake they tell themselves it’s real.
They compare and contrast their life with the fake.
Their house isn’t that clean.
Their kids aren’t that well dressed.
Their walls aren’t that white.
Their sink isn’t that clean.
The pictures in their frames aren’t that professional.
Their life isn’t that perfect.
Newsflash: no one else’s is either.
They just don’t want you to know.
I found myself awake too early after a long night helping my oldest with a stuffy nose and watering eyes, caught up in the popularity game of social media. Because that’s what it is – a game. An attempt to fit in with the popular kids, to be in the “in crowd”.
I was playing the game hard.
And I was losing. Hard.
I didn’t have as many likes, as many followers, as many comments.
Maybe I was posting at the wrong time.
Maybe I needed to network more.
Maybe I needed to edit differently.
Maybe I needed to kiss some more virtual butt.
To me the lack of likes and comments was equating to not being good enough, not being talented enough, not being important enough, just not being enough.
Because I don’t feel good enough as a mom and a home keeper (seriously, God, are you sure this is where you want me? I am horrible at keeping a house clean!)
I have found myself second guessing all my photography, my edits, thinking constantly abit how others edit and that If I don’t shoot or edit the way they do then I won’t fit in, I won’t sell with stock photography, I won’t measure up.
I really wish more people would stop trying to make themselves look enough.
That I would stop trying to make myself look and feel enough.
God says I am enough but because I stare at a phone or computer screen too much I don’t hear him.
I can’t hear him over the shouts of “Keep up! Keep up!!” In my head.
The demands to make my house look like her house.
To dress my children the way she does.
To edit photos like he does.
To write like her.
Cook like her.
Look like her.
Pray like her.
Trust God like them.
Hear God speaking to me daily like him.
Know God’s purpose for my life like her.
To speak positivity and prosperity over my life and have it all change in two weeks like the lady on that podcast.
Over and over and over those thoughts spin in my head.
There is only one way to silence them: recognize you are NOT THEM.
God has a unique plan for each of us.
Each plan is unique because each person is unique.
Stop playing the game.
Stop trying to be what you see in the pictures.
And by you I mean “me too.”
See beyond the shine and know that there is dirt.
You can’t see the mother crying just outside the frame, worrying she dressed her children “wrong” and her photos won’t look as nice as her sister-in-law or cousins or friend’s photos.
You can’t see the dad feeling inadequate because he works 50 hours a week but is still deep in debt.
You can’t see the toddler who threw a tantrum; the teenager who feels less than and rejected; the grandparents who only see their grandchildren in photographs because their daughter has been angry at them for years for things they apologized for over and over.
You can see all of that.
You can see all of it.
Because when you look at that pretty photograph, know that in it are real people in a fake scene.
Real people who struggle, who hurt, who cry, who suffer, who want to be loved and who are loved by the same God who loves you
Don’t stop asking if you can hug me
There we were driving over the back roads to the small Christian school my son attends and just like that summer was over.
Sure we had one more day before school officially began but on that humid summer night I felt a tight feeling in my chest and knew it was because the carefree days when I could hug him on a whim anytime throughout the day had come to an end for another year.
Here we were – his fifth grade year.
I felt a catch in my spirit. I mentally reached out for an imaginary lever to slow it all down but like usual the lever wouldn’t work.
I was sure it had only been a few weeks since I’d walked him into that school for the first time, him frightened and crying because he didn’t want me to leave. I cried too, all the way home, and at home.
At the end of each day I picked him up and he ran fast to me across the gym with his arms wide open and the widest, most excited smile on his face.
His hair was soft against my cheek and I loved the way he leaned into me, his comfort at the end of a long day.
On this night, a parents night to learn more about the new year and meet new staff, he ran away from me to see what was new. He’s independent now, excited for a new year and in some ways he doesn’t need Mom anymore.
But then there are those nights I hear him at my bedroom door and he tiptoes into the darkness and I ask what’s wrong.
“Can I have a hug?” he’ll ask, like he often does throughout the day, no matter where we are.
“I just need a hug,” he says, and I know he wants to sleep next to me for the rest of the night.
I give him the hug and let him sleep next to me because I know one day he won’t want me to hug him or hold him, at least not very often .
I kiss his head on those nights and I feel his hair soft against my cheek and I close my eyes.
I breathe it all in because for these few moments, maybe a few hours, he needs me to be his comfort again.
He listened to hear. Remembering a Wyalusing treasure
The line to the funeral home stretched down a long sidewalk to the driveway and inside there were more lines, weaving through rooms, people waiting to tell his family what he had meant to them.
We only have one life to live and he’d lived his well.
Was he perfect?
No human is.
But he was loved and loved back.
He smiled and laughed and made days better.
He made my days better when I saw him at council meetings or fire department events.
He made my dad laugh and shake his head often when they were in school together and afterwards.
Sometimes when you read someone has died you feel a twinge of sadness and you mourn briefly and gently because you knew of them but didn’t know them. Other times you read someone has died and you look down to see who just kicked you in the chest. You realize that ache right there in the center of your heart is your spirit cringing in shock and grief.
Tears rising from somewhere deep in your soul and they come suddenly, without warning.
That’s how I’ve felt before and how I felt last week when I read about the sudden passing of Wayne Felter, a friend of my dad’s and the cornerstone of the community I used to work in.
We’d stand outside council meetings during executive sessions, him and I, and Dave, the publisher of the weekly newspaper, the man who later became my boss. Wayne would tell stories about pretty much everything and Dave would often stop him and remind him I was there, young and a female. I guess Dave was trying to protect me from Wayne’s more salty tales, but few of them were inappropriate.
Many times the story would end with “you ask your dad about that. That’s a true story.”
And I would ask Dad and he would say “it’s true … for the most part” and wink at me.
I never made it to talk to his family that day, due to a hot and tired toddler squirming in my arms and the long, winding lines.
I’m not sure what I would have said if I had reached them. I didn’t know them well enough to offer much more than a brief condolence and to be honest I was feeling selfish.
I glanced only once at the casket, only briefly from a distance and saw him motionless there. In those few seconds I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to remember his smile, the twinkle in his eye when he was about to say something inappropriate for the moment or tease me, and his laugh when he’d succeeded in making someone else laugh.
As my dad said, Wayne made people who met him feel like they were worth talking to. He would seek people out simply to say “hello” and that made them feel special. There aren’t many people who do that anymore.
Today many people are distracted, uninterested and thinking about what they’re going to say next when someone is talking to them.
They listen to speak but don’t listen to really hear.
Wayne listened and heard and usually found a way to laugh at what he’d heard.
I will have to remind myself now when I visit Wyalusing that he’s not around anymore.
At least not physically.
The people of his tiny community will still see him, though.
Anyone who knew him, even only a little, will still see him.
They’ll see him when someone is sliding down frozen streets when they were supposed to be cindering or when someone is making a joke although others think the moment calls for seriousness.
They’ll see him when someone is laughing with a waitress or joking with the customers at the local diner.
They’ll see him in his children and his grandchildren.
And they will see him when someone stops and listens – really listens – making a person feel they are worth being listened to.
The yard sale and the lonely old man
I was inside when he pulled up to our yard sale. My son and husband were outside with him but I stepped out to see if he had any questions about the items he was looking at. He did but only about a film camera I was selling, which turned out to be his launching point for telling stories about his life.
“I took photos a long time ago, when I was in Korea in the service. Of course I traveled other places too. I have a box of color slides at home. My son takes photos, he knows more about these things than I do. You say it still works?”
It did, that I knew of, but had been passed down to me from someone else. I always told myself I was going to learn how to shoot film, but I’d never got there and had decided it was time to give up and sell the cameras, one of which had a broken lever.
Before I knew it and without speaking much at all myself, I learned the hunched over older man was 88, had flown planes for years, had traveled the world, had lost his wife in 2009, and had almost remarried two years ago.
As we talked I realized I knew the man but thankfully he didn’t remember me at all.
It was one of those times I was happy to see someone suffering from the ill mental effects of old age. I had written a feature story on him in my old life as a small town newspaper reporter and had been quite proud of the story of a war veteran and local hero who had established a fundraiser for cancer research with his wife in memory of their son. He wasn’t as impressed. His lack of praise for the article didn’t come from inaccurate information I had presented but the fact I had made him look “too good.”
Apparently I had idealized him too much and given him so much positive coverage he felt embarrassed and humiliated, as if he had been bragging about himself. So there I stood one day, in the front of the office of the small town paper I worked for, listening as he scolded me for saying too many nice things about him. I didn’t even know how to respond, other than to silently consider digging up some nasty dirt on him to balance out the portrayal.
This annoyed response to a positive article actually wasn’t the only of its kind for me. A few years before that the mom of a friend had told me the same about an article I wrote on their dairy farm. My personal affection for what I saw as an idyllic rural upbringing transferred the story, in her opinion, into an unrealistic view of their world and made it appear that she and her family were perfect, when she knew they weren’t.
Again, I was stumped. After these incidents if I began to second guess positive feature stories I wrote, wondering if should throw in some negative antidotes about the subject or ask them to provide me with some personal failings to flush out the story and make them look less appealing as a human being. I tried my best after those complaints to never make a person look “too good” again.
The man at the yard sale talked away, saying my name sounded familiar, thought he knew someone with my last name (he does and it’s me and my husband, who he’s also been interviewed by for another story about the fundraising event held in memory of the man’s late son.).
“I used to have one of these. Took photos when I was in the Air Force,” he says, the camera strap hooked around his neck now. “I’ve got some old color slides in my attic. Korea and Greece and places like that. My son knows about cameras. He takes photos. He lives over in South Waverly. Just down the road here.”
Each item he looked at seemed to trigger another thought.
“I almost got remarried a couple years ago. I knew her in high school or course. We used to go to the roller rink. She got married and has some kids and so did I. My wife, Joan, she died in 2009 and her husband had died. She would pull up in front of house and I’d go out and we’d talk. Well one night I went to hug her and she pulled away and said “what are you doing? I’m not a hugger.’ I said to myself ‘well, that’s that, because I’m a hugger.'”
He talked away, about nothing and everything.
I listened because I knew he needed someone to listen.
Even though he didn’t remember me or know that I knew him, I did remember and I did know.
I knew he was alone in a tiny little house he’d once shared with his wife and his twin boys and a daughter. I knew one boy had died from cancer as a teenager.
I knew his life had been hard, full of pain, but also joy. I knew he was humble and didn’t like anyone to think he thought he was better than anyone else.
I knew he needed to talk and he needed someone to really listen because really it’s what we all want – someone to really listen when we talk and not just listen, but really hear.
I told him to stop by and show me the photos he took with the camera. He said my address out loud a couple of times, to commit it to a memory slowly failing him and promised he’d stop by again.
He crossed our busy street, back to his van, and we waved our goodbyes.
I didn’t know if he’d remember me later, or even the conversation we’d had that day, but I was glad to have been someone who listened to stories of his past on that summer day.
Mud, leg bruises and fun
I picked up my 10 year old son the last day of camp and found him covered in mud and smiling – just the way I like to see him.
He attends a day camp about 45 minutes from our house in rural Bradford County, Pa. for a week each June.
Stoney Point Camp is literally in the middle of nowhere, or at least it would be considered the middle of nowhere to anyone not originally from Northern Pennsylvania.
Someone from this county is used to dirt roads that lead to camps deep in the woods or sometimes to another dirt road and sometimes to an empty field.
The camp is full of Christian-based adventure and the day camp offers activities related to Christ and wildlife. They also offer horsemanship and teen camps throughout the summer.
Each day my son learned about wildlife, nature and God, which sounds like a good way to spend a summer day to me.
He spent two nights away from us at his friend’s house because our friends live less than ten minutes from the camp and it was easier on those days to have them take him with them. My friend is also one of the art instructors at the camp.
I won’t lie, we missed him terribly while he was gone.
We missed his laughter and the way he can make even the gloomiest day seem brighter.
He’s never been big on sleep overs, taking after his mom and preferring to spend his evenings home in the familiar so he was ready to come home on that final day, he said, even though he’d had fun with his friend.
We weren’t sure how Little Miss would handle her brother not being home since she’s so used to him being there every night. She handled his absence better than I thought, but did ask each night before bed where he was. The day we were ready to pick him up after his sleep over, I asked if she was excited to go get him, expecting a “yes!” but instead she said “No. I’m not excited anymore.”
I guess the process of preparing to head out the door to pick him up had eroded her anticipation.
But she was excited when we finally had him in our van and headed home for the day, stopping by an ice cream stand, complete with a climbable wooden pirate ship and a small playground, on our way home.
Jealousy, lost dreams and love
I scroll down the page and my heart sinks. Here I am again, feeling left out and less than.
A group of photographers met up and their meeting was full of creative opportunities. They’re all sharing photos and gushing about the chance to expand their artistic wings.
Comments on each other’s photos range from “amazing!” To “outstanding”. My photo, posted five hours ago, has three pity likes and no comments. In some ways I feel like I’m in high school again.
I look around my room
Our washer just died and I’ll most likely be packing up the laundry to visit the local laundry mat the next day.
The cat is screaming and I’m threatening to throw her in the street if she wakes up the kids. My bedroom is a mess and I know I need to add cleaning it to my list of chores. There are groceries to buy, diapers to change, playgrounds to visit, bills to pay.
Artistic outings aren’t a reality in my world.
I feel the envy rising up.
The comparison game is being played.
The dreams never realized are on my mind again, long after I thought I had succeeded in pushing them into the box marked “failed ventures. Move forward and don’t look back.”
It’s days like this that remind me social media breaks are needed and necessary and welcomed. To stop the voices, the comparing, the wishing, the envy and the hurt.
I look around me and my children are asleep next to me. The cat has finally stopped screaming and she’s asleep at the end of the bed.
I’ve been reading more about God and His plans for our lives.
I’ve been claiming His healing, listening for His voice.
I don’t know why some of my dreams were never realized or why I always seem to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the photography circle, but I know I am a child of the one true king, a mother to two amazing children, and success isn’t defined by accolades or attention but by love.
And I am loved.
And so are you.
Less is more – why minimalism is a great idea for an over thinker
Less is more.
Less is more.
These words have popped up in my head a lot lately, maybe because of blog posts like this one from Rachael at Our Beautiful Adventure.
To quote Rachael “This gave me serious pause for thought. How can it be that those classed as rich don’t feel rich, but I, classed as poor, do feel rich? To be frank it is because it is just that, a feeling. Not a fact. To be rich you only need to feel it.”
And maybe it isn’t only the blog posts I’ve been reading but because some weeks finances are tough to balance and having less forces me to remember that having more isn’t always better.
Having less to see you have more. Having less so children imagine and appreciate more.
It’s a concept I love.
So this week I’ve concocted a plan to rid our life of clutter and “too much” stuff.
Go ahead and laugh.
I’ve been laughing too. Doubting myself and doubting I can even do it.
Still I’m soldiering on with plans to declutter in many ways – physically, emotionally, and mentally and from materialism.
Emotionally will be, of course, the most difficult.
Physically I will be opening closets and hauling out anything and everything we haven’t touched in months and preparing it for a yard sale or goodwill.
As for the mental decluttering I have reduced my social media and internet usage this week to try to unclog my mind. I have added morning devotions, though I’m not batting 100 percent on that front. I’m also trying hard to carve out a few moments a day to myself, but this is difficult being a stay at home mom whose husband has a full time and part time job and does yard work in some of his spare time. There are days I can sneak away for a break but a clingy 2-year old adds to that challenge too. The more her attachment moves from mama and to daddy, the easier finding a break will be.
I’d love to say that my mind is already clearer because of the Facebook fast but in reality I’m finding my thoughts bouncing all around my insides because I no longer have the mind numbing distraction of scrolling through the newsfeed. Instead my mind is racing through what I can do, what needs to be done, what I want to do, and what hasn’t been done.
Now the task at hand is to slow my thoughts down, stop them from fluttering from subject to subject. In many ways the mental buzz social media creates with all its various subjects scrolling by brings harm to an over thinker like me. Not only does it create thoughts at a thousand miles per hour, interrupting sleep and daily tasks, but when it is turned off the brain is still left racing through all the subjects that were just read.
Now, though, the brain has to focus on all those things it could avoid while sucked into the social media drama or brainless distraction, whichever void the newsfeed filled on a particular day.
With social media placed on hiatus my mind slides to what I’d imagine God knows I need to focus on and some He wishes I wouldn’t dwell on: the reoccurring theme of rejection in my life; health anxiety; financial concerns; personal loss; past betrayals; broken family relationships; lost dreams; hope for new dreams; worries about the children; an overwhelming desire to cook more but the fear I’ll fail like I’ve failed at so much else.
Slowing down the incessant mental chatter in the over thinker is definitely a challenge. For me yoga, editing photographs, listening to sermons, watching cooking or traveling shows, reading, journaling and taking photographs are some ways I achieve this. It’s in the dark of night when the chatter grows louder so I often fall asleep listening to a comedian or a hopeful pastor like Joseph Prince. If the subject matter is too heavy or deep it will spin my thoughts off into other directions and I could lay awake in bed for hours, jumping from deep thought to deep thought.
My one hope is that by physically decluttering our living space we will also declutter our thoughts in some way. It’s like having hundreds of cable channels. When you have so much to choose from you become overwhelmed and don’t know what to choose. Sometimes you have to turn the TV off because it is simply too overwhelming.
The same is true when your house is full of material items you don’t need. There is so much to focus on you don’t stop to focus on what is important. When you have less dishes to clean you have more time to spend with your children. When there are less clothes to choose from your mind can focus on what activity you can do together as a family instead of what shirt matches which skirt. When your children have less toys they can focus on developing their imagination with the toys they do have or with other objects in the world around them.
Mentally decluttering is a supernatural process that I believe only God can accomplish.
By focusing on His word and His promises it is often easier to slow thoughts down and rest in his care.
I’m not sure how far I’ll get in my physical minimalism goals but I intend to work daily on the mental minimalism effort because that is definitely one of my most difficult tasks.
Summer playing, sad pet stories and art
So far this summer there has been too much playing and not enough cleaning.
The laundry has taken over the laundry room; there are dirty dishes trying to crawl out of our sink; the neighbors invited us to swim but Little Miss just fell asleep on my lap, covered in paint; Legos are strewn across the living room floor, the aftermath of a battle between me and the adventuresome, trouble maker cat named Pixel; and there is still salt on the floor, gritty like sand, after Little Miss dumped the salt shaker when I wasn’t watching.
If all that wasn’t enough our 18 year old cat Smokey is slowly dying under the dining room table and probably won’t make it through the week.
This has been a year marred by pet loss after losing our 13-year old Chihuahua Jack Russell mix, Copper, in February. We knew Smokey would be next and actually we thought she’d pass before Copper because of her advanced age.
We are a family of old animals. Two years ago our 19 year old all black cat passed away a couple of months after Little Miss was born. At my parents the cat I had from junior high until long after I was married wandered off and disappeared at the age of 16.
The cat I rescued from a relative’s house shortly before marrying was at least 17 years old when she died, while living with my parents who ended up with her since we couldn’t have pets at our apartment in that first year of marriage.
And yet another cat – Leonardo – died just a couple of years ago at around 13 or 14.
The cat I named after watching Romeo and Juliet (the one starring Leonardo DiCaprio) the week he arrived on my parent’s deck after being dropped off and after Mom said “don’t name that cat! If you name him you’ll think we’re keeping him and we are not keeping him.” I was home from college for the weekend and I said “hey, there, Leonardo. You look like a Leonardo.”
Mom said, “I will not stand out there and call Leonardo for him to come for dinner.”
But she did.
For the next 13 years.
“Leonardo!” I still giggle at the thought of her out there yelling that name she said she would never yell out over the valley and fields below their house on the hill.
For many of those years, until she passed away at 93, my grandmother was the only one Leonardo would let pet him.
He never did let me pet him.
Smokey has tolerated me for years, mainly accepting me only when I started leaving her my leftover milk from my morning cereal. She’s a milk addict. Her affection became even more pronounced when I was pregnant with my son. I was in my phone the day she rubbed her head all over me and I asked Mom what she thought that was about.
“You’re probably lactating.”
And once again her love for me came back to some form of milk.
In the back yard, there is a newly amputated stump of a bush that refused to bloom this spring, for the first time in 14 years. It’s the same bush our puppy once hid his toys under. My melancholy side thinks of its’ death as simply another sign of sadness, another ending.
My hopeful side, which often cowers under the melancholy pessimism, tries its’ best to see it as the closing of one chapter and the start of a new, exciting one.
So even as sadness looms in our midst with the impending passing of our octogenarian kitty, we have been playing and squeezing every last bit out of summer, almost forgetting we have two and a half months left of it.
We’ve been at parks and pools and apparently, I’ve been embracing the idea of letting children learn by doing because I’ve had to wash a lot of paint off my children in the last two weeks.
My art friend Maria came one day, carrying with her a painting she is working on for her sister. She set her easel and paints up on our front porch, igniting an artistic interest in the 2-year old and then that spread to the 10 year old and before we knew it we had an impromptu summer art class happening on the front porch.
The painting continued even after Maria packed up her art and her son (I am picturing him being slide into an art case, but really he’s ten so she just ushered him away from his best friend, my son, and into her car) and headed home.
Most of the night consisted of “stop that! That’s my paint!” Until finally I carried the 2-year old inside and away from her older brother so he had the space to create how he wanted to for once. I know siblings should share but even 10-year olds need a little quiet time to think and process.
That impromptu paint party progressed to the purchase of more canvases and paint and even a field easel.
I’m hoping it inspires more art instead of fading into the background, but even if it does, at least the supplies will be there when the creative flame sparks again.