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?

Jun 3 2012

Roostin’ & Hummin’

Melissa Crytzer Fry

My husband is a saint. For years, the man has built a plethora of platforms to quiet his wife’s frantic squawking.

“But they’re building over there, and their twigs are falling. Can’t we help them?”

Yep. I’m talking about birds and bird platforms (and me doing the most chirping, not the birds).

This is one of two roadrunner platforms that hubby installed in our house-under-construction. The roadies kept building in the rafters on narrow 2x6s, so most of their twigs fell to the ground. They quickly abandoned the first (lower) platform in favor of the rafters again. Finally, after construction of the higher platform (pictured), they built once more and eventually had two baby roadies. Click to enlarge.

Then there was this argument:

“But they’re trying to build in the lights. We have to help them.”

This time it was the orioles stringing their dried grasses throughout the compact fluorescent bulbs under the breezeway (you know … the high-energy bulbs that look like squiggly piggy tails).

So, I asked hubby to build this platform. Though the orioles didn’t take to it, the resident Say’s Phoebes did. They had three babies this spring. Check out their nest. Click to enlarge.

In early May, I was actually minding my business with no intention of intervention as I worked from my own perch in the writing studio on wheels. I noticed a mama hummingbird zipping back and forth, and her frequent rest stops on the outdoor white lights. When I realized she was building a nest (something she attempted in the past, but aborted), I couldn’t resist that urge to “help.” Big surprise.

May 5. This is the spot our girl chose to build her nest (I named her Anna, thinking she was an Anna’s hummingbird, but I confess I'm not sure what she is. She could be a Black Chinned, a Broad Tailed?). Click to enlarge.

Despite my yearning to find some way to stabilize the lights (they really rock when the wind rushes through the breezeway), I decided I would sit on my hands not ask my husband to intervene this time. We’d just see how it went (how do you brace dangling lights, anyway?).

Our hummie mama uses her beak, chin and body to press spider webs (the ‘glue’) into her nest ensuring that each dried paloverde flower and piece of grass goes exactly where she wants it. Click to enlarge.

May 6. What a difference a day makes. Hummers go to great lengths to camouflage their nests, even so much as to find paint chips to match the color of the house. That’s precisely what those tan strips are! Click to enlarge.

May 15. Look at the size and depth of the nest now. To put things in perspective, the nest is still only the size of a walnut! Click to enlarge.

Even though nest-building is complete, she keeps repairing and strengthening her nest. She is pictured here with more flowers in her beak. You can see her first nest attempt to the left. Click to enlarge.

Okay … so, given my past history, you knew I couldn’t sit around and do nothing, right? So – in the midst of Mama Hen’s building, I did some research and came across some cool hummingbird houses:

All the components within the Hummingbird House – includes a little leaf for shade, and materials for nest building (two houses come in the kit). Click to enlarge.

The hummer house screws on to an eave and is positioned this way (though I need to bend the branches back to give her more room to fly on/off her perch). Click to enlarge.

After my purchase (and more research), I realized that Mama Hummie was too far along in the building and egg-depositing process to use the new houses. That means, for now, the Hummingbird Houses will wait until the winter nesting season, which also means, for the first time, I have let nature take its course.

Stay tuned for mama and baby progress reports  and check out our Hummie Cam, which updates with refreshed images every 30 seconds.

For Writers: Hummingbirds and writers have more in common than you might think.

  • A hen is already carrying eggs when she begins the nest-build, and sometimes lays the first before construction is complete. When writers come to a new story or project, they already carry ideas inside them. Some are bursting and ready to be born while others stay in our bellies until we’re ready to build that next special thing.
  • The hen begins building two different nests at once, testing various locations to see which is best (for shade, wind, protection), and then she picks the most favorable. The writer often starts with multiple story ideas, themes, and characters. She might build some of them up and quickly abandon them, testing them along the way … until she picks the one that appears most stable – or shall we say most saleable.
  • When chicks are only days from buzzing out of their nests, mama begins constructing a second nest. She’s a multitasker, just like novelists who finish up one story and are off to the next before the ink has dried on the first. *

In what ways are you like a hummingbird in your writing?

Nest shot from above. Click to enlarge.

*Insight about hummingbird behavior from Dan and Diane True, and World of Hummingbirds.