Jun 16 2012

The Photo-therapist

Melissa Crytzer Fry

You may look at the photo below and say, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas the desert anymore.” And you’d be right.

I have the honor of introducing Julia Munroe Martin, a friend, blogger and talented writer from Maine to my blog this week. Her sea-inspired photos and words provide relief from the dry spell we’re experiencing here in the desert. Literally and figuratively. (I’ve been focused on novel edits, so Julia’s insightful post and gorgeous photos couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you, Julia!)

Just as the desert has the iconic Saguaros that Melissa writes so eloquently about, Maine has iconic landmarks as well, like moose, lobsters, pine trees, the rocky coast -- and lighthouses. This photo shows Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, affectionately known as "Bug Light." It is surrounded by a beautiful park, with an incredible granite boardwalk leading up to the lighthouse. Click to enlarge.

The Photo-therapist is In ~ By Julia Munroe Martin

Lately I’ve been in a writing funk. A lull. A lack of creativity. I might even go so far as to say I’ve felt some doubt. Can I do this? Do I want to do this?

It all started in the month of May. Our usually empty nest refilled. Our daughter was home for almost a month. Our son and his lovely girlfriend too. It was wonderful. My writing was at a point of natural ebb: querying my recently finished novel. But of course there’s more writing to do—there’s always more to do. Two novels in progress. One in early planning stages, but one already outlined in detail—ready to go!

But then it happened. I was enthusiastic until one day suddenly I wasn’t. Just wasn’t. And it (being unenthusiastic) didn’t go away when I tried the things that usually help. Like turning off the Internet, clearing off my desk, cleaning up the house, going on walks, watching movies, reading books or magazines, listening to music, going on more walks, cooking good meals, weeding the garden, baking cookies… none of my usual tricks worked.

A week went by of writing next to nothing. I started getting a little worried. Then two. Even more worried. Is this still my thing? Can I write anymore?

One day I lamented my plight to Melissa—okay, in the interest of full disclosure, Melissa noticed I wasn’t my usual writerly self, and she asked me. When I told her how I was feeling, Melissa was very sympathetic (she’s a good friend and as a writer herself, she’s been there), and she made this suggestion:

“…find someplace outside where you can just go and be with yourself—take the camera. That ALWAYS inspires me. Just go take photos one day in your backyard to jar your creative juices into flowing again. You can do it!”

As I read her email, I realized not only was I not writing as much as I used to—I hadn’t taken any photos for a long time either. And I usually do, for my blog but also just because I enjoy it. Within minutes of getting her email I was outside in my backyard taking photos. I gave it a good effort, took a few photos, but to be honest I really wasn’t into it. I took a few but just a few.

This is the first photo I took (in my garden) after Melissa's email. I like it because the peony really stands out, but also because it's not perfect -- it shows wabi-sabi in the weeds in the background and of course there's the ant inside the peony. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic based on the acceptance of imperfection, and a post I wrote about it last year was the first post of mine that Melissa ever read! Click to enlarge.

But a funny thing happened after I got back inside. I sat down and wrote, for the first time in about a month: 2500 words on one of my new WIPs!

The next day I decided I’d try again. I took my camera and headed for a favorite coastal spot—where I often see Ospreys and other birds, and it also affords beautiful views of the islands of Casco Bay.

Still, I felt lackluster, and I realized it had been so long since I’d taken photographs just for the joy of it that I wasn’t quite sure where to start. And it surprised me. After all, I live in one of the most naturally beautiful places in the country—one of Maine’s monikers is “Vacationland,” for goodness sake.

This photo and the next demonstrate one of my obsessions in the photographs I take: creating layers and stripes. In this photo of the Portland Back Bay I love the layers of colors and textures that are created within the jagged stripes of first water then land and finally of sky. It's something I experiment with again and again in my photographs. Click to enlarge.

I thought about Melissa, her blog, and the kinds of things she photographs, and I asked myself: What would Melissa do? For one thing, there’s the quote on her blog—her tagline:

“Sometimes our best inspiration for our writing—and our lives—is right in front of us. So whether you’re a writer or just someone who wants to experience life with eyes wide open, I invite you to see what I saw.”

Here's another of my experimentation with stripes. In this photograph of the Portland skyline, taken from "Bug Light" Park, I love the way the multicolored and multi-shaped cityscape cuts a line across the two different textured blue stripes of sky and water. Click to enlarge.

I thought of all the inspiring photographs I’ve seen on Melissa’s blog: her adventures in Betty, the wildlife, the beautiful open spaces and mountains, the old ghost towns, the mighty Saguaro, the trestle bridge, and so much more. I realized what I really like about Melissa’s blog—it reflects her genuine love of nature and allows us, her readers, to experience the things she sees with wonder, her inspiration, as though through her eyes.

And then I knew what I had to do! I used Melissa’s technique as a model—channeled her photographic lens to inspire my creativity and my photographs! In short, Melissa became my photo-therapist.

Melissa explores the desert in her new ride "Betty," and I'm not above admitting I'm pretty envious. That said, I'm very happy to bomb around southern Maine in "Frank" (dubbed after "Old Blue Eyes" Sinatra), the perfect car for blending in so I can discreetly go about my writerly business of gathering stories and taking photos!

Just yesterday, I went out to take more photographs. It was a beautiful sunny day, mid-tide flowing, and I went to an island about ten minutes from home—connected via bridge to the mainland. I wanted to take some more photos for this post, some photos that reflected what I see. I walked down to water’s edge, and at first I was disappointed. I looked for signs of life in the water, but it was murky, and I didn’t see anything. But I waited and just watched. Suddenly the water came alive. I saw first one tiny crab, then another. I saw snails and minnows and tiny clams…and so much more. I took photo after photo; you can see some of them below.

This short bridge separates two nearby islands: Cousins and Littlejohn. I love coming to this spot because in one direction you see one island, in another you see the other. But you can also see out to sea in both directions--toward the mainland but also toward the outer islands of Casco Bay. Nearby to this spot is where for a year of Sundays I posted videos on my blog of "Sandy Point Beach" on Cousins Island.

This is how murky the water was near the bridge. You can see why I never thought I'd see one living thing (except seaweed!) in the water. But I did see things. A lot of things! And I truly realized, that as Melissa says, it's all about experiencing life with eyes wide open. Click to enlarge.

In the desert Melissa take photos of animals who blend into their surroundings (like lizards and birds and even bobcats!). Here in Maine we have birds and land animals that blend in, but we also have animals of the sea that you could literally walk right by and never notice. Here's a good example. This tiny crab almost disappears against this barnacle-covered rock! Click to enlarge.

The big question is…Did the photography work? Am I writing more? Yes! I’m happy to report my writing is back on track. My current WIP is now at about 10,000 words, and I’m back to writing every day. More importantly, I’m feeling more enthusiastic. I know I might go through this again—okay, I can say with absolute certainty I will go through it again. But when I do, now I have one more trick up my sleeve.

And so do you. Just ask yourself: What would Melissa do? And writers – what techniques do you use to promote creativity when you’re in the doldrums?

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