Secrets, Self-Portraits & the Subconscious … & also, a Silver Lining

I am a keeper of secrets — especially from myself.


A long time ago, I realized I was one of those souls who felt everything too deeply —

Who wept inconsolably when I saw a little bird crushed by a car tire.

Who agonized over the troubles of friends and characters in books.

And so, over the years, I learned the trick of keeping all this emotion where it couldn’t hurt me:  I’d sink it deep in the cold waters of the subconscious — repressed.

This is both a useful habit, and a dangerous one.


A year ago, when I began photographing my own body, I learned another trick:

In an unguarded moment, my face would say a great deal of things I never knew about myself.  In the hollows below my eyes, the hard lines of my mouth, I’d suddenly see all the secret emotions I’d been hiding from my mind.  A lot of these were emotions that should have been acknowledged honestly and released many years before.

And so, I’ve learned to recognize my soul’s unguarded moment when it comes.  I might be hiking over a mountain pass or ambling down the grocery aisle.  I might be hunched at my work desk, or mowing the lawn.  But wherever I am, when I feel my subconscious rising to my musculature, my skin, I pull out my iPhone and snap an image, before the moment can pass:


Slowly, I’m teaching myself a better way to heal.


I’ve mentioned, briefly, that I’ve been carrying a quiet hurt for three weeks now.

And it would be easy at this point to ignore it, forget it, sink it below the surface like a body in a lake.


Earlier this week, while walking in the woods at twilight, I feel a strong emotion cross me like a shadow.

I pull out my iPhone.

I snap a picture:


There.  Do you see it?  Slow ache and sleeplessness and regret?  Me too.

So now, the only question is what to do with it.


It would be such a simple thing, to do what other people do when they’re hurting:  buy a drink.  Dye my hair.  Ride around town with friends.  But these things are deliberate distractions from the hurt, and lately I don’t want to be distracted.  Because if life has taught me anything, it’s this:

When my soul is wide-open to hurt, it’s also open to joy.

When my senses are attuned to my troubles, then they’re also attuned to magic and mystery — my spirit suddenly imbued with the language to understand each word the wind whispers in the leaves.  And I don’t want to miss this.

So I get out my paintbrushes, my camera or my journal…

I give myself permission to feel it all.


Three days ago, in the fading light, I take a long walk.

On the last uphill climb toward home, rain begins to fall, and I could run for shelter, but I don’t.

I lift my face, let the rain fleck me all over — drops of wet cold that sequin my hair, my skin, my lips.

I close my eyes and breathe … feel a sense of wonder crossing over me like light.

I take out my iPhone.

I lean back and snap a picture:


This is what a silver lining looks like. ❤