Over-thinking and Under-playing…

I think I have a tendency to over-think things too much. A lifetime’s history of recurring depression and therapy and medication has left me hyper-vigilant to any warning signs of yet another potential depressive episode, to the extent that my constantly guarded concern gets in the way of the rest of life, clouding my judgement and darkening my horizons unnecessarily. Being so hyper-vigilant to attack all the time is quite frankly exhausting – it drains all the fun out of life, turning me into being a wizened, dried-up old stick-in-the-mud before my time.

I can see that what I really need to do is to loosen up, lighten up – let go a bit more, enjoying the good things in life as they come to me, and just have some fun while I can. Unfortunately, though, it seems that for me the other side of over-thinking the bad stuff is a tendency to under-play all the good stuff.

It’s not that I don’t see it as good as such, more that I just don’t always rate it as important to focus on – I don’t value it highly enough for it to register as meaningful on my internal radar. I’m always on the look-out for potential trouble in all things, so anything positive I see is automatically tainted with inherently negative threat, keeping me wary – a bit like the potential threat of being caught in friendly-fire in a front-line battle-zone. And that, too, is draining the life out of me.

So I feel that it’s way past time for me to move on from holding that persistently precarious position. Perhaps if I were deliberately to allow my blog to become only a positively creative space in which to explore the possibilities of having fun in life, playing both with words and pictures in whatever way I see fit, then that might help me break the bad habit of incessant doom-mongering. After all my real life is full enough of fretting and worrying without having (inadvertently) added another outlet for indulging the inevitable negativity that goes along with it.

It’s not so much a wholesale change of blog direction I’m looking for as a much-needed tightening up of remit – I can still be as randomly meandering as I like, just as long as each post radiates positive creativity overall rather than negatively draining the energy from the page. Part of my problem to date seems to be that I don’t associate a positive mind-set with being genuinely ‘me’ – but I feel it’s time that association changed for the better, allowing me to find a happier future, not only for me but also by extension for my long-suffering family… 🙂

Storytelling…

One of my earliest memories of primary school in late 1960s rural Scotland includes the absolute joy of daily story-telling. Our first task each morning was to draw a picture on the top, plain paper half of a pristine page, then write a sentence or two about our picture on the lower, lined half of our jotters.

At five years old we would just draw at first, and the teacher would add a few words dictated by us. But as we grew in confidence we could pencil our own stories, however hesitant and faulting the spelling to begin with. For me it was a thoroughly liberating experience – I was learning to develop my own written voice.

I can still remember the thrill of anticipation as the blank page welcomed me in – the silky smooth sheen of the creamy top section begging to be crayoned and coloured and the faint blue lines empty and waiting patiently below for words to make them flow. I remember the strange dry-dusty papery smell so reminiscent of school exercise books – even today a whiff of school paper makes me smile with fondness.

Drawing and writing my daily story was one task I needed no encouragement to complete, as I always had something to say and an image in my head to illustrate my tale – sometimes fanciful, sometimes mundane, but there was always something ready to pour out onto the page. It was my space to be me, my space to show the rest of the world how I saw my world. The blankness of the fresh page never daunted me. Instead it spoke to me, inviting, beguiling, openly seductive, and I loved it for it.

I suppose for me blogging feels a bit like a grown-up version of that long-lost activity – this is my imaginative creative space to explore and expand my world and share that experience with others. I can post my own images and write my own words on a whim – I’m indulging in my own kind of visual/ non-fictional storytelling, my blog a modern-day equivalent of my beloved school jotter. And that feels like a good thing to have, an individual outlet for self-expression, as much or as little as I choose, my own virtual space to show how I see the world and to say exactly how I feel about it… 🙂

To Be A Writer…

When I was younger I used to want to be a fiction writer. I pictured myself squirreled away in a cosy retreat somewhere with my own little hoard of ideas and plots and characters to be saved and savoured, each one coaxed and cajoled into various scenarios and situations, taken hither and thither, toyed with and toiled with until a wonderful novel emerged fully-formed at the end of the process.

But somehow it never ended up that way. Instead all my fledgling stories seemed at source to be about me in another guise, in another life. The language would be too flowery, too over-burdened and achingly over-the-top. But yet the resulting prose would somehow be too flat, too lifeless for my liking, and I would always be left feeling disappointed and disillusioned.

Once my children were born, I dabbled in writing poetry – a habit that has stayed with me over the years. I wrote – still write – from personal experience, dealing with emotional issues, telling my story through the tighter framework of stanzas where fancier language fits better, feels more creatively comfortble.

Then when my children were grown I went to University to study for my degree in Psychology and Sociology and had a little romantic fling with the rigours of academic writing. Even here I oh-so-carefully crafted my essays to ensure they flowed – always academically correct, but creating a fluent narrative nonetheless.

I discovered that what I love most is writing about real life – fact, not fiction. Not that I write much of anything since graduating, other than my private journal; an ongoing project, my favourite therapeutic tool. I don’t even write much on my blog – apart from my haiku, most of my posts these days are image-related, photography-focused. But I find that when I don’t write I miss it; miss the thrust and parry of rapier witticisms, miss sporting with myself in order to find the perfect word or phrase that fits and the sated satisfaction when it all finally comes together in fluid form.

So somewhere deep down it seems that a little part of me still wants to be a writer, but I’m far more realistic these days. I may like playing around with words, but that’s entirely the point – I like playing with them, not working with them. The bottom line for me is that writing is bloody hard work and it seems I just don’t want it enough… and happily that realisation is absolutely fine with me 🙂

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Z is for Zoom-burst…

Try as I might I just don’t really like zoom lenses – I generally find them cumbersome and awkward to use. I’ve always said I’d far rather carry two separate low-light lenses with wide open apertures and swap them about as necessary than carry one heavy zoom with relatively limited apertures. I’m not particularly good at hand-holding my camera steady for any length of time, and to date I’ve not been keen to use a tripod, so this may have a lot to do with my preference for faster lenses that let in lots of lovely light.

However, now that I do have a tripod, I’ve discovered that there is one kind of image my zoom lens can take that none of my prime lenses can manage – it requires a long shutter speed that changes focal length during the exposure, known as a zoom burst image. I’m not sure how practical that may be for everyday use, but it’s a challenge I haven’t yet tried and I figured I might as well give it a go… So combining many of the new skills I’ve learned during the course of this month (including developing photographic patience!), here is my artistically creative, very weird-looking zoom-burst version of a congratulatory bunch of flowers for all of this year’s Blogging A-Z Challenge participants, with a huge ‘well done’ to all of us!

carnation-zoomI took this crazy-looking shot of a vase of orange carnations from above, using a tripod to hold my camera steady while my zoom lens was (inexpertly) turned manually from telephoto to wide-angle during the exposure. It took a lot of trial and error (and I do mean a lot) to get anything anywhere half decent enough to use for this post. I tried so many different permutations of everything before getting to this point, as there are so many different elements to play about with – to zoom outwards or zoom inwards, ND filter or no ND filter, which shutter speed and aperture combination, where best to fix the manual focus (starting point or end point), how quick or slow to manually turn the zoom, what makes the best background?

I found placing the vase directly onto the neutral-coloured kitchen flooring was just too bright, with too much reflected light over-exposing the resulting images, and using an ND filter to reduce the amount of light entering the camera just didn’t work at all well here. So I tried putting the vase on a matte reddish-pink scarf, but although the exposure was much better with the darker colour, it proved to be just too similar to the colour of the flowers. I finally ended up sitting the vase on a washed-out, faded tie-dyed cotton wrap, and the muted blend of colours added nicely to the overall groovy psychedelic effect without detracting from the flowers.

I found it produced a far better effect to focus manually at the expected zoomed-out end-point, and then without touching the focus ring carefully zoom in again before taking the shot while progressively zooming out. I set the camera (fully on manual) at ISO100, f/22 for 2 seconds, opened the shutter and started zooming out continuously as smoothly as possible until the shutter closed again. The final result may be technically far from perfect, as ideally I wouldn’t want to be touching the camera while taking a slow exposure, but it’s impossible to zoom without taking a hands-on approach along the barrel of the lens so I guess a little camera shake was inevitable. And actually I quite like the soft blurriness of the central flower-bud, it all adds to the overall wacky effect…

So here we are at last, at the final letter of this Blogging from A-Z Challenge – phew! And now that’s over I’m sure we could all do with some well-earned Zzzzzz… 🙂

Creative Coping…

When life gets me down I create things to help me cope – I write poems, I take photographs, I cook, I crochet – and it’s only when life gets beyond difficult that I stop being creative and just sleepwalk through the days, dragging depression around with me, soaked to saturation point in utter misery, until finally I feel the heaviness start to dissipate once more.

But being creative throws me an early lifeline, helps keep me afloat in my deep ocean of emotional upheaval, gives me a bit of respite from the inevitable storms threatening from above and below. Sometimes concentrating on being creative is enough to stop me from going under until my brooding skies clear again, but at other times it all gets too much for me and I find myself drowning anyway.

It seems a cruel quirk of fate that my creativity reaches its productive peak within that tumultuous threshold between only just coping with life and not coping at all, but it is what it is, and I’m glad to have it there nonetheless…

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Expanding my Creative World…

Hmmm… a comment from Claudette on my Q is for Quality, and Quantity post regarding the digital manipulation of images has prompted me to consider playing about a bit more with photographic effects as a purely artistic venture – so here are two recent images I’ve first turned into an inverted negative, then greyscaled, just for fun. I love the clear, distinct shapes of both holly leaves and roses, and this way both look quite different yet still remain instantly recognisable…  negative-holly negative-rose

Perfectionism vs Creativity…

I grew up being encouraged always to do my best in all things, and although in some ways this constant quest for self-improvement has proved somewhat beneficial in life, the down side for me has been living with a never-ending niggling feeling of simply not being good enough as I am…

The nagging feeling that I should always push myself to do better has ignited a need for striving for perfection in all things, which of course can rarely (if ever) be achieved and so leads to frequent disappointment. For life’s inveterate losers like me, the focus is always necessarily on the winning, never on the taking part – we always have our eyes firmly fixed on that elusive prize carrot, forever dangling tantalisingly just outwith our reach…

And worst of all, I find my perfectionist streak seriously curtails my creativity. Creativity for me is all about curiosity – exploring, experimenting, being prepared to try (and inevitably fail) multiple times before finally finding your feet with something. But I’m really not good at feeling I’m failing at things; failure triggers my not-good-enough button, makes me feel bad about myself, so much so that over the years I’ve learned to avoid keeping on trying with anything I might struggle with, sometimes giving up before I even get started…

I put it down to a lack of patience, and make jokes about it, but I think it goes beyond that. It’s more a fear of failing that prevents me forging ahead when I don’t immediately succeed. It’s as if I just can’t deal with the repeated emotional trauma of constantly highlighting my not-good-enough-ness, consistently exposing myself as a potential failure and risking the inevitable rejection that goes along with it, so I’d rather give up at the first hurdle than face going there at all…

But thankfully the tide is slowly turning. Blogging is teaching me to trust in my creativity again, to stop paddling about so fearfully in the shallows and start pushing the boat out – so I post my imperfect photographs, share my mediocre poetry, join in challenges just for the sheer fun of it, and now in my fifties am finally learning to truly enjoy life again!

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I is for Inspiration…

“Time runs and flows and only our death can stop it. The photograph is a guillotine blade that seizes one dazzling instant in eternity.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Who or what inspires me? Well, ironically the photographer that inspires me most, Henri Cartier-Bresson, is known for his gritty yet gripping reportage-style street photography, telling everyday artistic ‘of-his-time’ stories as seen through his camera lens. The irony of this inspiration comes through me feeling thoroughly uncomfortable with the intimacy involved in catching people at unguarded moments in public, so in general I tend to shy away from it, much as I crave trying it out for myself. His sense of creativity speaks to me – I do wonder if I simply feel fascinated by what I find most mysterious and decidedly outside of my comfort zone?

But other than the ongoing allure of capturing everyday people going about their everyday business, and having the patience and instinct to simply wait for just the right moment to release the shutter and put them in the frame (or not, as the case may be), it is nature that inspires me most in life as well as in photography. So for now I make do with a lot of images of flowers and trees and landscapes, and look forward to each changing season with anticipation… 🙂

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Spring in London, ripe and luscious and full of promise…