I’d like to take a moment to talk to the fledgling photographers out there; you know who you are. You’re the one who’s looking at the pictures and saying, “I wish I could do something like that,” or “Gee, she sounds like she’s having so much fun, her life must be amazing, I could do that if…,” or my personal favorite, “I can’t take pictures like that, all of mine are so lame.”
(It’s my favorite because I catch myself saying it. A lot. And I have to remind myself that typically, I’m the only one who sees the flaws.)
And so I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, I was a writer. I worked at a car wash with my husband Jerry for just above minimum wage; we lived in a trailer park – a nice one, with good neighbors and a fenced yard; I came home to two dogs and two cats; I liked hockey (the Anaheim Ducks are still my first favorite team) and rollerblading with my Husky mix. Life was nice. And I was a writer. I had an entire galaxy inside my head, with people of all shapes and sizes who lived lives very like our own. And every spare minute in between cars when the towels were caught up I’d be at my notebook, scribbling down the scenes that had occurred to me while I was was ducking in and out of the vehicles, washing the back windows. After work, I’d be at the computer, adding the words I’d written during the day into the word processing program and continuing to add to the story. For hours.
On the weekends, I’d be at the computer, writing, writing writing. Developing characters, building scenes, solidifying outlines, just telling the stories of these people of the Galactic Sphere.
I finished a novel, rewrote, revised, polished it, and then started sending it out to publishers.
Form rejection letters were all the response I received. But I had expected that – I’d spoken to other writers, I understood how hard it was to break into print. (Bear in mind this is years before the electronic-publishing age and the revolution it started among the self-publishing community.) So I kept working; writing, revising, editing, writing, polishing, striving to write that production-ready novel I had to have in order to interest editors. And I wrote other novels, because stories don’t stop beating against the inside of your head just because you have no outlet for them.
Life happened. Years passed. We moved a couple of times, I changed jobs. I kept trying… but I was starting to wonder what was wrong with my writing, that I couldn’t interest anyone in it. Maybe… maybe I was meant to be something else? No, of course not. I was a writer.
Then Jerry went into the hospital with an aortic dissection. And I discovered how pitiful our medical insurance was. Emergency open-heart surgery and post-op recovery isn’t cheap (to the tune of $150,000+), and neither is having the family income halved for five months. We suddenly went from ‘comfortable’ to drowning in debt – because the medical insurance only covered the first $5,000 of the bill.
And I started drowning, too. Every month, I wasn’t sure we could meet all those financial commitments; every month, I’d try to cut our costs and find ways to build our income. I stopped writing. I couldn’t connect with my characters, their stories, because my head was filled with debt and two jobs and worry – about money, about the consequences to our credit, about Jerry and his initial desire to retire permanently after the surgery, and then about his desire to return to work as soon as possible, whether it jeopardized his recovery or not – and I couldn’t see a future. I could only see years and years of debt and restriction and stress.
One night, Jerry and I were discussing our finances and how we were going to claw our way out of the pit we were in, and he asked me, “But what about your book?”
And I said, “It’s never going to happen, okay?” I was being adult. Responsible. I was putting reality ahead of the pie-in-the-sky I’d been chasing for years.
The moment I said it, I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t mourn. I just went… hollow. Empty.
Dreams and the imagination to build them, along with the persistence needed to bring the dream to fruition, is what sets the human being apart from the other animals that inhabit the planet. Giving that up… is choosing to cast aside the greatest part of humanity.
If you enjoy photography and want to create beautiful images, it’s not out of your reach! Yeah, I know life is busy, life is hectic. You might have kids who have daily activities and you’re rushing, rushing, rushing between work and school to pick them up to take them to activities and then home to get dinner together and then after they’re in bed you pick up a bit and try to watch some TV before you have to go to bed yourself. You might work multiple jobs. You might live in a city with nothing to take pictures but grey walls (or so it appears at first glance).
But one of the basic traits, a key characteristic, of the human being is that if something is important enough, we find a way.
Got a desk at work? Bring a camera and arrange the objects into patterns and then play with the camera settings. Got coworkers who love to pose for their own cameras? Have them pose for yours on breaks, and again, play with your camera and see what kind of effects you can create. Live in a city? Find a vantage point where you can capture the city lights at night, maybe with a local iconic building in the background. Got kids who participate in sports? Bring the camera to practices and you practice, too. Get really good at those stop-motion shots and maybe the coach’ll ask you to be the official team photographer!
Having a hard time coming up with ideas for when to practice your ambition, or what to shoot? Find a friend who’s typically optimistic, encouraging, enthusiastic, and ask them to help you brainstorm. Find other people who enjoy photography in your area and get some suggestions from them.
And what’s calling to you doesn’t need to be photography, either. Just… don’t let the world hollow you out. Find your dream, and then go out and capture it.