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. ❤

Everyday Wonder

Ordinary Things, Meaning and Mystery (a moment when I sound like a total flake and don’t care)

It might sound obvious, but whenever I look at my favorite photographs or paintings, I have the confident sense that they mean something … I’m just not really sure what.

It’s the peripheral-vision pull of it — the feeling that something important is just out of reach — that attracts me.

(I’m much less interested in things I’m sure I understand).

And every once in awhile, I’ll have the privilege of spotting a moment of almostness in everyday life, which is what happened a week or so ago with the photograph you see above.

(It means something to me.  Or almost means something.  And it’s totally okay if you can’t see it.)

I was driving down the interstate when I spotted that truck, saw the way the hard morning light caught in all its little metal quadrangles.  The sun sharpened but also seemed to undercut the painted words, and I kept staring at them like a foreign language I could decipher if I squinted just right.

(Maybe this is how my subconscious speaks.  Just this:  the sudden resurfacing of a bitten-off edge of dream.  Driftwood.  Flotsam.  Lake-lapped, water-smooth bone.  An image I’d forgotten I remembered, diminishing fast in the waking…)

Thomas was sitting beside me in the passenger seat, and I stole a glance at him out of the corner of my eye, feeling the breath catch inside me.

“I want you to take a picture for me,” I said, my voice tight.


“I’ll tell you exactly what to do.”

He got out my camera and aimed it through the Volvo’s windshield, and I kept taking brief little knifelike glances to see if there would be a reflection on the glass.  To understand the angles, the way I might compose the whole thing without ever looking through a viewfinder.

When Thomas had the shot lined up, I loosened my hands on the wheel, felt the car steady under my hands.  “Take a shot every time I tell you,” I said.


I feathered the accelerator just slightly, letting the Volvo float behind the truck — closer, closer — until I could see the lines closing in the way I wanted.




Later, when I saw the shots, I knew they were right, at least for me.

I’m still not sure what they mean, but that’s okay … Maybe the meaning will hit me six months later, when I’m driving down the road behind some other truck, in some other state, and the revelation will open like a flower inside my chest… Or maybe I’ll never know at all.

And maybe that’s exactly the way it was meant to be. ❤