A photo that is just over ten years old at the time of writing. I took this and knew the title right after viewing the developed negatives, and intended to make some juvenile political statement over the intransigence of congressional republicans. I tracked numerous sources for that and a handful of other issues, but a crush of personal problems deprived me of what I hoped to say. In time, my sources were just scattered articles with tenuous collective meaning, and the message that burned within me had vanished without a trace.
Thinking on this now, the shining example of a house on a hill, the exemplary and admirable qualities that the metaphor speaks to, are what I desired of my creative passions. Losing nearly all of my previous friend group around the time of this photo had shaken my sense of self, and I thought – as all tortured artists do – to prove my worth with my craft. I ceased traditional art and music production to focus on photography and writing, which flourished for a time. My short stories, one created as the other was being queried, were rejected with plain formality. I made transformative leaps as a photographer, but found no place among art communities. I even began and finished a novel, which a few work buddies asked about from time to time.
Unsurprisingly, tying my worth and identity to my creativity and artistic success was vastly detrimental to my mental and emotional well being. I believed I’d find acceptance through achievement, belonging through expression, and community through exposure. Finding peace and a sense of place via my calling seemed all but certain, but I was unpublished, unseen, and with no one to meaningfully turn to. In turn, my art felt uninspired, I felt invisible, and I couldn’t shake off a profound feeling of worthlessness. I’d built everything on shaky ground with no foundation, and a vast emptiness watched everything crumble apart with anticipation.
I’m sure that a lot of my misguided belief was shaped by and made to feel so familiar because of the patriarchal culture I was raised in, of the gnawing and poisonous assertion that men are only valuable because of their ability to work and the product of their work. I unknowingly gravitated to a concept that I intellectually rejected, and the result was predictable. Decreased output, lacking confidence, and crushing isolation. My repeat failures and inability to find common ground made me question if I should altogether quit writing in 2014, which was as much of a blow as considering death.
It took over five years of soul searching, but I recently learned how to travel a path towards lasting self worth. Through that, I have begun to define my value not through what I do or what I’m capable of, but simply by who I am, and have found a contentment that was previously unknown to my artistic career. I celebrate my qualities that warrant it, seek to improve what doesn’t, and meet both with compassion and understanding. I have no guarantees on the road ahead, but know there’s a better life in graceful acceptance than in arrogance and attention seeking, and hope that knowledge helps me stand more firmly before any struggle that lie ahead.
Torn and gouged protective foam outside of a loading dock.
Minolta MD 75-200mm f/4.5
Kodak Ektar – ISO 100