Just so you know I’m writing this in a Word document. When I have something to say, I feel like that kind of helps. The pressure isn’t there. I don’t have to post it if I don’t want to. I keep the title in lowercase so it doesn’t seem so official. Today and yesterday I babysat our neighbor while her parents worked. She’s right in-between Jax and Jonah’s ages- and while she keeps Jax entertained, she’s loud. The kids fought and played and wanted snacks and jumped off bar stools mid-meal, trailing crumbs and sticky prints all over the kitchen floor. At one point, I hid in the laundry room to scroll through instagram as a mini escape- because there’s no way those three were going to nap together. Her mom takes breaks from work at about eleven, so like yesterday- she got here at around 11:15 to say hi to her daughter, and went next door to eat and then back to work. I kind of wondered what she thought. Both today and yesterday I answered the door in sweats. No makeup, air-dried hair, and smiling, asking how her day was. She kind of seemed down. And I don’t know her enough to even wonder what about. Maybe because she knew her daughter was probably not finger-painting and learning the ABC’s at my house like she did at daycare- or maybe because she wasn’t home, on the floor in sweats reading to the kids with dried snot on her shoulder and mayonnaise on her hardwood floor. Who knows. And maybe it was something else.
The other day I came home from a meeting late at night. And McKay said to me something like, “Did you even hear what I said? Get off your phone.” That day had been bad. Like just draining. Also, I want you to know that I tripped at church in front of a ton of people and felt like the most awkward human ever driving home. And I had a late meeting that night- so earlier I asked McKay if he could have the boys in bed by the time I got home- sort of a plea to just spare me the bedtime routine one night and do it yourself. But he couldn’t. Because Jax took a late nap. So that night, Jax was up until ten and then McKay and I talked and we went to bed. I told him I was sorry for being on my phone and would work on it. It’s true. I take about 30 mini-vacations during the day scrolling through other people’s lives that have nothing to do with me. So if you really calculated that out- it’s at least an hour, I’m sure, of mindless time that generally makes me feel worse about myself or what I’m doing. And it’s probably more time than that.
Just to clarify, this isn’t about jealousy. And to clarify again- it’s not about fulfillment. I completely believe that you can love your life, believe in how you spend your time, be completely fulfilled, and still feel like you don’t measure up. And with other people’s lives so public and vivid around us, it’s usually the world’s yardstick with which I’m measuring.
Today I read this awesome post written by this guy named David duChemin. He’s a photographer, writer, leads workshops, and the list goes on. Anyways, he wrote that as photographers, we kind of measure ourselves up against the current trends. He specifically was talking about the sharpness, clarity, pixels, whatever. Those are the things that matter to us (and he was generalizing obviously). The people with the clearest, sharpest photos are the best (generally). But it’s a trend. It’s just the way we measure ourselves as photographers now. And in ten years, when the camera technology is better, the trends are different (or whatever) the photos we took today will be outdated and armature because they don’t measure up. So we’ll buy a new camera. But this is what he said:
When we have nothing interesting or important to say with our photographs, and I’m talking in broad strokes as a community in this particular place in time, all we have left is “look how good my camera is.”
So what he’s saying is that there are all these photographers, who by current standards, are skilled. They have nice cameras, and are doing everything right, but really, aren’t saying much of anything. They are following a trend- working (or buying) to measure up to some visual standard that’s easily attainable because of technological advancement. But nothing is inspired or crafted or risked.
But to a large degree these things don’t – they can’t – define what makes a good photograph, and I feel nothing but sadness for those for whom they do. Because they will never make a good photograph. Ever. Because the target keeps moving, and at a rate we can’t hope to keep up with.
Isn’t it the same for us. In our lives. When we scroll through photos of other people’s. There are some pretty loud trends: fitness, fashion, healthy eating, beauty, take-your-kids-to-five-
museums-a-day, take pictures of really good foodie food, etc. And that’s not to say that people who post those are super inspired- or inspiring others. They say things that are valid, and important, and motivating, encouraging, and helpful. I just think that there is a lot more to say- to show- to teach, and sometimes those things don’t fit into a current category so they aren’t said. And more often than not, it seems like if we are to be unique, or different, it has to be so intentional- like we have to think it over, craft it perfectly- and then put it out there for everyone to see as something that’s different, that doesn’t keep in line with everything else. It is intentional and planned. I just don’t think it has to be.
Make your art with the tool you have. Use a Polaroid or a RED camera. Use film or digital. Use Leica lenses or Lensbabies. Create abstracts and impressionistic studies of shape and colour, or stunning landscapes that are tack-sharp @ 400%, but don’t kid yourself – it’s not sharpness that makes it great. It never has been. Humanity doesn’t need more sharpness. That is not one of the things for which we hunger. We hunger for beauty, and meaning, for stories, and for love – among other things, things that are communicated visually through light and composition – through our use of balance and tension and movement and scale and colour and a hundred other things that you can’t buy in the B&H catalog, and won’t be found in the manual of your new camera, no matter how much money you spend, no matter how much better your camera is than mine. We get it. Hell, every one of us has, right now, at least one camera that’s better than what every photographer who created a truly iconic image before the year 2000 ever had. You can make sharper, larger, cleaner images than any of them, together, ever made. And you know who cares?
Okay, so in full-transparency disclosure- today I was scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or something and I saw that some girl I knew growing up was going to be a Beachbody coach. You know what I pretty much immediately thought? I was like McKay and I have been doing Insanity for months and eating super healthy, I wish there was some way to show that without being annoying or obvious. WHAAAAAAAT. Like seriously. Even typing it out is so embarrassing and dumb! Why would I even care? And not to say that people who are public about those things aren’t passionate about them, I bet they totally are. And not to say that people who don’t aren’t. But that’s the thing. It’s kind of easy to define each other by what we post online. That girl is all about fitness. That girl dresses her kids the cutest. That girl has the best house. That girl always has dinner on the table and is the best wife. And some of us feel like when we have it all (or some of it) together in life we have to make sure people know about it- or it’s almost kind of worthless. But I bet those girls have a lot of other things together- and a lot in their life is probably a mess. And it’s the same with us.
So when my kids are playing perfectly in a spotless room and I feel like I should get my camera rather than enjoy the moment, I like to think about these inspired words,
Do you know the other day my kids were PSYCHOTIC in Albertson’s. Jax was mad that I wasn’t getting him cake batter Teddy Grahams so he screamed for probably 20 minutes straight. Strangers tried to calm him down with bribery, nothing worked. Jonah kept pulling his hair and Jax literally punched Jonah in the face. PSYCHOTIC. We got to my car and as I unloaded my cart, still holding my screaming kids, this older man with tattoos up his arm pulled up to my car and stopped. I am ashamed to say that for a split second I thought, oh great, pleeeease don’t say something weird or try to teach me a life lesson right now. But you know what? He stuck his head out his window and said, “Just so you know, we have twin four-year olds at home…And I think you’re doing great.” And he’s lucky he was in his car or I may have just cried for a half hour on his shoulder. But my point is, there’s no way to really documents the moments that define who we are. I mean, we can post a picture and write about it (which I actually did). But nobody saw me struggle to keep it together inside the grocery store that day. Nobody is there at the end of the day when we are completely defeated, and it’s 11:00 and our kid is kicking our legs and screaming on the floor of his room, and we want to just slam the door and turn on the TV downstairs but we don’t. We kneel down next to him, pick him up and rock him to sleep. NOBODY SEES THAT. And those are the moments that I feel define us as people. As mothers. As wives. As friends. As sisters. Or whatever. And documentation is important, and so is passion. But some things don’t get documented and some passion is private. And how silly is it to diminish worth in the things we do when there’s nothing to show for it.