Tag Archives: life

WRITE

I lay curled up on my yoga mat the other day, trying to meditate. It’s a new activity for me–normally my brain is a jumble, with fast-moving thoughts and fleeting impressions. Trying to calm it down always seemed futile. Before, I could only ever meditate by tricking my mind into focusing on something else intensely, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or playing a musical instrument, allowing my self-exploratory thoughts to hum forth in parallel to the engaging activity.

But I need to learn how to find a clear mind for myself. My life has gotten mixed up, and I’ve lost my sense of direction. For a while, peace has been utterly impossible.

***

I set a goal to move to California. I set a goal to go to graduate school. I have achieved both of those goals. There have been some clear things I’ve always wanted, and I’ve managed to claw my way up to them. Along the way, some of my long-term aspirations truly have changed–but others I’ve simply ignored, or tried to replace.

I am not a scientist. At least, I’m not the kind who works in a lab. I’m not neat; I’m not precise. Rules and safety procedures bore me. Math equations, writing everything down–it’s tedious.

The pissing contest of academia makes my eyes roll. I can best describe its culture by making a jerk-off motion with my hand. I love learning, and I love experimenting, but I’m not cut out to do science the “proper way.”

I am not a doctor, and perhaps I’ll never be one. I still like the idea of being a psychiatrist, but mostly because in that role I would be able to use my own expertise and care to help soothe the hurts of others, to bring peace. I want others to feel supported and connected. I want people to understand themselves and their own minds. I want to heal the wounds of society by starting with individuals.

***

I am a writer.

I hesitate to call myself by titles, because I feel I need to earn them. “Writer” has always been a coveted position for me, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to call myself.

For some reason, whether bred by humility or self-doubt, I’ve often avoided acknowledging my own skill as a writer. Mostly, it’s like “I haven’t written a novel yet, how can I ever call myself a writer?”

But I write. I will always write. I have always written. I “write as I breathe.” I have a portfolio full of published articles, and more pages of personal writing than I could ever even collect in one place.

It is the one thing, above all other things, that I’ve always done without outside prompting. It flows from me joyfully, automatically.

***

Recently, I’ve been metamorphosing. It hurts. It feels great. It’s bewildering.

I have the luck of being surrounded by the most wonderful people. I live in a beautiful old house with a big magnolia tree in the yard. I see the ocean every day. Wise old redwoods tower over me, always moist and green, smelling like the earth.

And yet, I’ve been flailing. I’ve been lost, confused. I failed a chemistry exam. I’ve gotten terrible grades on each of my genetics exams. I have a paper overdue by three weeks in my Research Methods class. My car is broken and the repairs are too expensive, but I still have to make payments on it. I’ve been working 20+ hours a week in a minimum wage retail job. I switched thesis advisors but I still don’t have a solid topic, and it’s already my second semester.

Most importantly, I haven’t been enjoying my life. I’ve been waking up with a feeling of dread, sinking into hopelessness, and having very bleak thoughts. A few weeks ago I was crying and upset so often that professors took notice–I met with the dean of students to explain my financial situation and emotional issues, and an official email was sent to my professors to grant me leniency in my classwork.

Something had to change. The past couple weeks, after I admitted to everyone how much I needed help, have been a process of assessment, rebuilding, and self-care.

This past week was spring break, an absolutely necessary reprieve from my brutal schedule. When thinking ahead to it, I imagined being productive and working to catch up on things the whole time. Instead, I’ve been relaxing and reflecting–and finding peace.

***

“Yield–don’t keep pushing against things that won’t move.”

As much as I thought medical school should be my next goal, it seems like every effort towards it has been frustrating and miserable. It was a goal I picked up only last semester, but decided to run with, in light of knowing that I didn’t want to be a laboratory researcher.

While I find the material in my science classes to be interesting, the fuss required to learn and practice it feels unnaturally difficult. Schoolwork always came naturally to me before–effortless. It’s not that I don’t want to do hard work, it’s that I am usually capable of doing hard work and feeling a sense of joyful fulfillment when I do it. I don’t feel that in these classes. It feels like drudgery.

On top of that, the time required for me to succeed in these classes while also working and taking care of my life has made it nearly impossible for me to do the things I LOVE–making art, making photos, making music, writing. Creating, beautifying. Reading books, watching films, seeing art.

I made a motto for myself many years ago: “To pursue and create beauty.”

The other day on the phone, Tim said to me, “Stop getting distracted by all these side-bitches in life. Do what you’ve always wanted to do.”

***

I lay on my yoga mat and I asked myself what I want. What do I dream about? What do I love?

I get phrases stuck in my head, often. They come from somewhere inside of me–either as the product of a linguistic equation I’ve been silently working out in the background of my mind, or drawn from some collective human unconsciousness that I access in my sleep.

I don’t know what produces them, but they jump up in front of me and I write them down. I try to apply them, to test them against reality and see what meaning they have.

Recently, one phrase was, “mundanity is an illusion.”

It is easy to feel like each day doesn’t matter. It’s easy to feel a sense of routine, a boring gray sense of “grinding away” at things. I think we surrender to this illusion because feeling things can often be intense. If we pay attention to our senses and feelings fully each day, they can reveal truths to us that may conflict with our everyday lives, threatening our senses of security. We don’t want to be confronted with the realization of our own freedom, because it presents us with the opportunity to either make use of our courage and seize it, or to squander it.

“Timshel”–the word that holds the potential of a man’s greatness, if he wishes to make use of it.

We squander our freedom every day under the illusion of mundanity. Wasting our lives is easy if we tell ourselves that today is not important, if we ignore our senses and subscribe to some sort of defined path just for the sake of security. We anesthetize ourselves because we are afraid of our own freedom, our own limitless potential. Making use of our freedom is terrifying, but exhilarating–many people only experience it in discrete episodes of their lives.

***

A few of my housemates and I have formed a “lucid dreaming” club. It’s pretty informal–mostly we just tend to be outside smoking around the same time of night, so we talk about our dreams and what they mean. I have lucid dreams sometimes, but my one roommate Sasha is basically A DREAMWALKER, and lucid dreams on an advanced level.

“You can do anything,” she said. “Anything you want.”

She related stories about dreams in which she’s flown up above the sky, through the ozone layer into space, and traveled to whatever planets she wished to visit. She’s talked about times she’s approached people in her dreams and asked them anything she felt like having an answer to.

The important part of becoming lucid is to realize that YOU are the dreamer. Everything around you is a product of your mind–so it is malleable. You can create anything, mold anything to be what you want it to be, as soon as you recognize your freedom to do so.

***

I lay on my yoga mat exploring myself, venturing inside my mind. I chose to lie on my back, my knees drawn into my chest, my arms wrapped around them. In this position, I feel my own potential energy–I am coiled like a spring, waiting to act.

Something strange happened. Suddenly, I became a part of the air around me.

I thought about old philosophers who used to talk about the “ether” to describe the “empty space” around us–they knew it wasn’t empty, but didn’t yet have the scientific knowledge to talk about air molecules or invisible gases.

I felt that I was not an object sitting in empty space–all of my surface area was interfacing with a thick substance all around me. I recognized that this substance was touching everything else, too, by proxy. I melted into the substance and let myself feel submerged in it, dissolved in it. I could feel that distance is an illusion, that everything is connected.

The most hippy-dippy feeling of “oneness with the universe”–and I understand what that means, now.

Albert Einstein said that the most important question for us ask is, “Is this a friendly universe?”

Yes, I believe this is a friendly universe.

And as soon as I chose to believe this, I knew the answers.

***

The universe has confirmed it to me, has begun clearing a path for me. I am stepping along it lightly, joyfully. My worries are melting away because I trust the universe and by proxy, I trust myself.

The day after I meditated, I walked out of a store and the first thing I saw was someone’s vanity license plate.

It said, “WRITE.”

I guess I’ve known it all along.

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Step outside, the summertime’s in bloom

In the middle of August, I am going to be moving to northern California for graduate school.

I feel very “right” about my decision to do this–about the area I’m going to be living in (the redwood forest!), about the field I’m going to be studying (neuroscience!), and just in general about the way I’m going to live my life going forward.

But I spent the past year absolutely working my ass off in order to make it happen. There were a lot of times when I would feel sad or frustrated or worried about the future, and wonder whether I was ever going to be able to get the things I wanted. At those times, I’d usually start working even harder–and I asked myself, “When will I ever feel that it’s okay to rest a little?”

At the beginning of the summer I was still humming on all that nervous energy. I thought I would spend the summer like I spent this past year: by myself with a bunch of textbooks.

But then I realized that this is the perfect time to rest and enjoy things. While I am, of course, doing all the preparatory stuff that I need to do before I move, I’m also savoring all the time I have and taking good care of myself in the meantime.

After all, this is going to be the last time that I’m in my Central Pennsylvania home for a long while. Although a large part of me still celebrates my departure on a regular basis (most often when I encounter the extremely conservative social and political opinions of the people around here), I am also taking time to appreciate the natural beauty of my surroundings, the familiarity of home, and the company of longtime friends.

I’ve also been indulging in art, writing, and music on a daily basis and it just FEELS SO GOOD. I am the queen of never having enough time for everything I want to do, and I often push my creative cravings to the side when they don’t have due dates or paychecks associated with them.

But I’m getting better at treating artistic expression as what it really is to me: an outlet for my feelings and a means for me to relax and play. It’s much easier to prioritize creativity when I look at it as an important component of my emotional well-being.

SO, one of the things I’ve returned to is film photography, of course.

I was only shooting black-and-white for a while, ever since the beginning of the year. I still want to keep using it regularly because I like it stylistically, but then last week I discovered like, 8 rolls of unshot color film that I’d forgotten I had.

I’ve been shooting with my Olympus OM-10, which has proved to be the most reliable and lovely film camera I’ve ever had. I’ve also been TRYING to use my Zenza Bronica medium format camera, but medium format and I just don’t seem to get along too well. I’m not familiar enough with it to troubleshoot it yet, and so that’s frustrating.

I’ve been the only one to touch any of my films, processing-wise, for the past two years. I am now very comfortable with the whole routine–spooling film with my eyes closed is second nature; I can judge approximate temperatures  just by putting my hand in the water. I used to worry every time that I was going to somehow screw up my film, but that’s only happened to me maybe once in the entire time I’ve ever processed it.

I know how to adjust timings, temperatures, and agitation/inversion cycles for each chemical in order to get the effect I want, and since I’m confident I won’t ruin my film anymore, I have been playing around with it a little. I’m going to probably start playing with it even more.

I am also going to be stretching the limits of my C-41 Tetenal chemicals and seeing what comes of that. The current batch I’m using was mixed over a year ago, and they’ve been used to develop many more rolls of film than is deemed “ideal” by the manufacturer.

I actually wasn’t sure if they would still work on the 35mm rolls I processed last week, but I added time to the developer and Blix steps to account for the degradation of the chemicals.

Usually I develop for 3:30, so I added a minute to that to develop for 4:30 (at approx. 102 degrees F). In hindsight, I shouldn’t have added as much time because the developer is so time-sensitive. The photos came out all right, but the highlights blew hot. Adding 30-45 seconds would have been better.

Following a guide I found online, I also Blix’d them for SO MUCH LONGER–15 minutes, actually. I’m glad I did though, because some of the medium format film I processed before the 35mm rolls definitely started to do some alarming things (change color, grow spots) while it was hanging to dry, and I guarantee it’s because it wasn’t fully fixed.

I have been vacillating about buying new color chemicals, but I don’t see the point in doing that since I’ll be traveling across the country so soon and don’t feel like worrying about their temperature or security while they’re packed in my car with my other stuff.

So I’m going to be doing some more experimental stuff for fun with these chemicals until I leave! Look forward to some weird stuff, I guess.

For the following photos: the black-and-white is mostly Tri-X 400, although there is one roll of Ilford HP5 mixed in there (CAN YOU SPOT THE DIFFERENCE?). The color is one roll of Ultramax 800 and one roll of Agfa Vista 400. There’s also some of the medium format in there, which is Lomography Color 100.

The time period they span is varied. Some are older that I just hadn’t developed; most are recent. One roll is double-exposed, which was something I vaguely remember doing but had completely forgotten about until I saw what came out of the roll. My scanner is terrible at detecting and cutting in the right places with the double exposures and the medium format shots, so I just embraced the weirdness of it and let some of the photos bleed together.

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Forward/Backward

It’s been a really weird month, and I only have two rolls of film to show for it.

As I mentioned before, working three jobs really wore me down. I’ve been doing it since August, and I love being busy. But combined with all the other things going on in my life, I was really feeling like I was just being dragged around by my neck from one obligation to another. I actually didn’t have a day off for over a month.

This town always drags me down, too. Something had to give at some point.

But, I did quit my job as a manager at a grocery store. I put in my four weeks’ notice at the end of October, and finished up right before Thanksgiving. I really feel a sense of relief, and now I have a much more open schedule to dedicate more time to my other two jobs, particularly my newspaper assignments.

I spent a stupid amount of time being laid up in the middle of the month–I had wisdom tooth surgery, and then I was sick the next week. I don’t normally like stopping my forward momentum, but it was necessary.

I fell very unexpectedly in love towards the beginning of the month. Outside of all the crazy things happening in my life, it’s so nice to have this very, very good thing happening. It makes me excited for the future, even though I’m also terrified of my future right now.

With all the things I’m trying to keep in order, my anxiety’s been resurfacing. I’m facing a lot of old struggles that I thought I was past, and I’m not being very nice to myself. I always take on too much, but I’m trying to do better. It’s just disappointing to feel like I’m moving backward in regard to my personal progress.

My productivity has suffered from my schedule. And when I run back and forth from one mundane thing to another, or lie on my couch for days, there really isn’t a lot of photography happening. Which is why it’s been over month for me to shoot and process just two rolls of film.

I usually prefer not to develop a single roll of film, since I have a tank that can hold two spools of 35mm film. Since it takes long enough to get all the chemistry to the correct temperature, it just makes way more sense for me to do them both at the same time.

I haven’t had any problems at all processing color film. So far I’ve done six rolls with these chemicals, so I’ve already more than gotten my money’s worth out of them.

I was worried about the chemicals this time, because I didn’t use them for a month and have stored them on my enclosed back porch, which isn’t AS cold as being outside, but is still cold enough that we use it as a makeshift refrigerator in the winter.

The developer is looking a little brown, but apart from that, there was no noticeable difference in the quality of the photos.

I’m going to keep using these chemicals until I notice any sort of degradation of the image–partly because I’m cheap, partly because I want to avoid mixing a new batch for as long as possible, and partly because I’m really curious to see how long they can realistically last.

Actually, I love everything about processing film. To me, the hassle is not a hassle at all–it’s a really gratifying process. I understand that digital is convenient and all, but it’s just not the same. It doesn’t have the same heart.

Film is half science, half magic, to me. Right now, my shots are sort of a cobbled-together record of my life, but what I really want to do is shoot purposeful, planned film shots, in which the medium itself is part of the expression.

All I want for Christmas is a bunch of different types of film, maybe some more chemicals. I’d love to lock myself in a darkroom for a week and make good use of my enlargers and the piles of negatives I have from the past five years.

SADLY, life doesn’t let me do the things I want. So for now, enjoy these random shots from the past month or so. The earlier ones were shot on Kodak Ultramax 400, while the later ones are Ultramax 800–nothing exotic, but I still love these films.

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Autumn feels

I’ve been beyond busy for the past couple of months and, frankly, it’s wearing on me.

These pictures, as a result of me having so little free time, span almost a whole month. And they were only two rolls of film! That’s how much time I haven’t had to shoot photos.

So, enjoy pictures of my friends, and angsty shots of fall features, and some weird lonely photos inside my house that I took because 4 pm light is golden and magical (and also I was really sick of having a roll of 100 ISO film in my camera). There are random bits-and-pieces as well, since I carry my camera everywhere.

Some of the photos were taken with Ferrania Solaris 100, the others were Kodak Ultramax 800. All were processed by me, in my sink, when I finally had time.

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