#100DayProject: Photography-Week Eight

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about. -A. A. Milne

I’ve been feeling like Eeyore this week—lost in contemplation and not quite sure what any of it means. The further I dive into my creative endeavors, the clearer it becomes I have no idea what I’m doing. I need to learn so much. In the meantime, my kids, my house, and my yard need my attention. I feel rebellious, antsy, and unfocused.

Part of this uneasiness might be my 45th birthday approaching. I wish I’d kept writing when I had children or started photography years ago. The horrible sense I’m running out of time has been hanging onto me this week and it made writing my short story and editing my photos this week far more challenging. My confidence feels fractured, but not fully broken. The only thing to do is keep moving forward.

One word and one image at a time.

Thank you for following my journey and rooting me on. I appreciate it so much.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 100 Day Project, the concept is simple. You choose any creative project you like and do it every day for 100 days, sharing your process on social media using the hashtag #The100DayProject. This year the dates are Feb. 13-May 24.

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I’m far more productive away from home. I can’t run into the kitchen for another snack when I feel a lull in inspiration or start doing something like laundry or dishes. I love the coffee shop I’ve been writing at, but it’s near my daughter’s school about a half-hour from home. Next year, she won’t be there anymore and I’ve been seeking someplace close to home.

After a few misses, I’ve found it at The Fig Tree. If I close my eyes tight and imagine the perfect place to create, this place would come close. Artwork on the walls, beautiful bricks, comfy spots to sit, bookshelves, and a drink called Persphone. I’m here right now and I feel at home and inspired. Here’s my view, taken with my iPhone 13 a few minutes ago.

Meeting Trouble

Bright colored houses line the narrow street. I pass a red table covered in perfect white sand dollars, twisting trees, succulent gardens, a weathered wooden door set into a wide brick wall, and a mural of black-and-white faces curving toward the sky. 

I’m drawn here time and time again.

Anytime I’m within an hour from San Francisco I must make the trip.

Each time it feels like a sort of pilgrimage.

Today is no exception.

The line snakes out the small door and I cue up behind several groups of people talking quietly to each other. It’s windy and blustery. Pulling my sweater tighter around my shoulders I wonder if everyone in line has come for the same reason.

Her.

The owner of Trouble Coffee, Giulietta Carrelli.

Since hearing her story on NPR in 2014, I haven’t stopped thinking about her.

She calls her shop Trouble in honor of all the people who helped her when she was in trouble. It’s more than a coffee shop—it’s a movement with a manifesto. Everything from the menu to the artwork has meaning and purpose; all designed to help her manage her schizoaffective disorder.

To oversimplify, there’s cinnamon toast for comfort, coffee for communication and speed, and coconuts for survival. Her cups say “Thrash or die” or “Live fast, die old” in her own handwriting. She’s cool, interesting and inspiring.

I feel a kindred spirit with her despite having nothing in common and not actually knowing her. I’m magnetically drawn to her and her space.

It makes no sense.

The shop has been remodeled since I’ve last visited and when it’s my turn to enter the small building my eyes sweep over the new black and white motif. There’s splashes of pink and yellow, artwork, books, photographs, and a collection of cassette tapes.

I love the new space.

Then, I see her. 

She’s making coffee with cutoff jean shorts, a headscarf, and her quite recognizable tattooed freckles on her cheeks. It’s like seeing an apparition or a ghost and it temporarily stuns me.

It’s her.

For years I’ve traveled here and thought about her, but this is the first time I’m seeing her in person.

I’m unprepared.

I feel weird and transfixed.

I know her life story, yet I don’t know her at all.

It’s an uneasy feeling; a false intimacy of a creative muse I’ve never met.

Her shop has become synonymous with art for me and somehow tied to my own creativity. I’ve watched it from afar, following her and her dog on social media, and somehow feeling part of her movement.

I can’t explain any of it.

I watch her now, in person, with a mix of awe and self-consciousness. Part of me wants to bolt, and perhaps I would have a year ago, but I don’t. I step forward and order cinnamon toast and an oat milk latte from a young man I barely look at. 

I can’t take my eyes off her, and for some reason, she locks eyes with me and smiles. I pull down my mask for a moment and smile back.

She switches the music to her favorite band, talking to me as she does. She rattles off the name and I nod as if I know it, but I’m too stunned to hear it fully.

She tells me she accidentally met her musician idol outside his concert years ago. She didn’t have tickets and when he arrived she did not recognize him and they began chatting. When she realized who he was she felt terrible embarrassed. She laid on the ground to try and hide from him. He laughed.

“I can see you,” her idol said.

He let her sell merchandise and gave her a ticket to the show. They became friends.

It was a funny story, told well and I wonder if there’s something in my eyes telling her the story was for me and for the moment I was experiencing with her. 

It feels as if she’s saying “I see you.”

I say nothing.

I barely breathe.

She shares a few more stories with me in the effortless way she does and I can’t stop smiling. She’s so cool and wonderful—exactly as I knew she’d be.

So we jumped up on the table and shouted anarchy
And someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox
It it was California Dreamin’
So we started screamin’
On such a winter’s day

We end up singing part of Punk Rock Girl together for a brief magical moment before she hands me my coffee.

“I have to tell you I love you,” I say.

My face turns red. I didn’t mean to say it out loud. I don’t know what I wanted to say, but certainly not the weird and creepy thing I did say.

She laughs and looks at me in the way people who can see you fully do—a penetrating gaze which oddly doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

“You don’t know me,” she says. “Do you?”

It could have felt stinging or biting, but it felt more like “you don’t know me yet.” She smiled and her blue-eyed gaze felt approving and kind.

“Thanks,” I say.

“See you around,” she says.

Holding my coffee and cinnamon toast out in front of me, I walk into the biting wind and barely feel it. In a daze I pass the same landscape as before but I feel less removed from it now.

The last few months I’ve been making huge efforts to step fully into my creative self and to be vulnerable and seen.

It feels scary but right.

Seeing Carrelli was the message I needed. 

I’m on the right track. 

She saw me and I saw her.

I didn’t shrink and I didn’t run.

Two palm trees cast their feathered shadows across the sidewalk and my new blue converse.

It feels amazing.

If you need me, I’ll be in my love apartment

I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.

These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.

I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.

Up and down.

Round and round.

The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.

Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.

“I’m not in chaos.”

I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.

I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.

No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.

In those ways, I am not in chaos.

Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.

I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.

The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.

I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.

I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.

I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.

I’m not in chaos.

I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.

I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.

img_8497I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.

“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“What floor?”

“You pick.”

“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”

“Whatever you think.”

“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”

I barley glance at her.

“3rd floor.”

“OK.”

I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.

There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.

img_8496I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.

I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.

No tall white walls.

No judgmental monks.

No plunging ferris wheels.

I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.

“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.

“Yes,” I whisper.

From under my heating blanket

img_8394Three times in the past week, I saw the streetlight outside my front window turn off. Each time, as I sat tucked under the heating blanket in my oversized chair, it struck me as something remarkable.

I’ve lived in this house for over 15 years, and I’ve never seen it happen before this week. I want to say it’s because I’ve had some enormous shift in perspective. It would make my mom happy to hear I have taken her advice, I’m finally slowing down and appreciating everything around me.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write my book again, and it involves me staring out the window thinking, fighting against fear, until I open my damn laptop and start writing. Then I stare out the window some more.

Sorry, mom.

I wish I could slow down, and in lots of ways I have, but it isn’t in my nature to ever be satisfied with doing the same thing over and over. I’m not restless, exactly, but more curious. I want to test my limits, figure things out and explore, all things I can’t do without discomfort.

The past few months have been filled up, and parts of me feel completely depleted. I have taken risks, driven hundreds of miles, pushed myself past exhaustion, learned to be friendly to people even as they are insulting me, and to trust in my own abilities to learn new skills.

I have gone from feeling an outsider in a room full of artists, to feeling as if I am an amateur who can learn and grow from being around them.

I am accepting my need to create, but also solid in the knowledge it comes with moments of complete panic. I know the perfectionist within me will scream with anxiety often, and I’m learning to be OK with embarrassment and rejection.

Shit.

These ARE sounding like big shifts.

I swear they aren’t.

It feels more like I’m uncovering something which has been there all along, like digging up the old Ewok figure we buried as kids in the backyard some 20 years later. It has been there, waiting, it just took a long time for us to find it.

I’m getting paid to help run a writing workshop, encouraging others to let go of all the bullshit lies we tell ourselves. I am writing with this group of highly-talented women; basically, getting paid to work on my book. It’s the push I need and I’m not wasting the opportunity.

My house is fully decorated for Christmas, and I feel overwhelmed by all the new things the kids acquired. My garage is impossible to walk in, and the recent rain has caused the weeds to grow in the front yard to a level I’ll have to address soon. I’m supporting a friend by eating a very restrictive diet, which forces me to cook a lot, so there are always so many dishes.

All this, and I’m still sitting in my chair staring out the window, watching the streetlamp go out and thinking about characters, unmapped futures, the meaning of true love and thousands of other strands of thoughts swirling within me. I’m battling within and holding sacred this space I’ve been given to create.

This is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Something is happening here

All the windows were rolled down and the sunroof open. My hair whipped about my face and I was smiling.

Really smiling.

The kids and I had a fantastic morning highlighted by a delicious breakfast, lots of book talk and my daughter squeezing “I Love You” into my hand in the secret way my grandma taught me when I was her age.

As I sang and danced alone on the drive back home, I could sense something different about me. Something is happening.

My fears about my depression deepening again seem to be subsiding and I’m feeling hopeful.

Summer is coming.

I painted a picture of the sun and decided to turn it into a Summer Countdown.

Each ray of sun gets us closer to the freedom of lazy mornings, swimming with friends and staying up late.

Each ray of sun stands for another day that I’m working on myself and learning how to undo years of twisted and negative thinking.

Each ray of sun is a possibility and a chance to make things better.

Summer is coming and I’m no longer afraid.

I’m excited.

Bring it on!

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