Mermaids Whisper in the Garden. ©2014 Anjani Millet
What is readiness? What is creation? Is it magical? Is it ethereal, mercurial, or winsome? Is it a distant dream, or a discipline? There are as many answers as there are people, I’d guess. To me inspiration is mostly a case of listening though if pressed, I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m listening to! Is it the subconscious, or God, or the sound of wind in the leaves?
I love what Picasso said – “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” That’s been my experience too. For me, inspiration sails on the winds of momentum. Creating the space for inspiration – for listening – seems to beckon and seduce it out of hiding.
Perhaps that’s the true nature of inspiration – it is a shy deer in the woods. I like that. Inspiration is shy. To consider that inspiration is so flimsy and flaky that it can never be counted on makes me feel sad and lonely. Instead I like to think that inspiration is an actual living thing, a person, a being, a someone who is just a little shy, someone with whom I must be gentle and inviting.
Yes. That makes me feel better.
I think I’ll have to pin that above my desk for the next time I’m wondering what to shoot or write about!
Self-Portrait on Glass Table by Anjani Millet
I Give In: Self-Portrait on Glass Table. Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet
I am writing here because I am exhausted and maybe at an important moment. This is the truth, this is me, and this is what I have to offer.
I am up to my eyeballs, two states away from home again, taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my grandfather, 102, who is on his way out. I have been sleeping in my grandfather’s hospital room at night and caring for my mom during the day, switching shifts with my two siblings. Today we meet with the family to discuss whether to put him on a feeding tube or let him go, as he directed years ago. This is a terrible decision for any family to have to make.
Yesterday I took my mother to a neurosurgeon to discuss the mass in her brain, on top of Alzheimer’s. It appears to be non-threatening for now. At 9pm we rushed her to the ER in terrible pain and vomiting. Oh, my friends, I can never unsee my tiny, 100 lb., 4’8″, 83 year old mother on her little hands and knees vomiting in the kitchen.
Love offers a thousand ways for a heart to break.
There is no “aside from this.” I can’t begin to describe how squared into a corner I feel. It is taking a whole team to care for both of them. Our lives, all of them, are simply waiting in the distance.
Trying to find time or even a quiet space to work, or just putter…oh… Oh dear. I know this won’t last forever but exhaustion is right now.
Here is the merciful peace Into which I am dissolving in the question about how to find time or space to do “my own work:” I have no choice but to be the eyes and hands I am, and to be in the life in which I find myself. I have fought my own vision for decades now, but I am too tired to fight it anymore or even search for what it is. I give in. I can only be me. My own life is all I have to offer as an artist, and now, perhaps, I can and must let this be enough.
I went into business as a photographer and writer in the 80’s for over a decade, and then left for 12 years. Since I returned to my work as an artist 18 months ago, I find I still operate under the tired and old idea that the personal should be entirely separated from the artistic and business. That rule has constipated my creativity and soul, and stopped me from posting and sharing 90% of my work with you.
I give in. I can only be me. I can only offer me. I don’t have time to focus on the “right” work, the right subjects, the rules I believed were the right way to be and work as an photographer, a writer, a business person.
Those are the rules that are slowly killing me, my throat in a stranglehold by my own hands for too long. I am forced now to integrate my own actual life with my work. Yes. I give in. I am only this.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The personal is political, yes. And, the personal is the artistic. The personal is the business.
In great tiredness I release the old noose of my own making and say yes, I suppose I will have to be just me. I don’t have the time not to.
I write this from my hands and eyes, and extend this to you from my loving, supportive heart. I hope my own vulnerable moment might help you. If, like me, you placed your own best self aside in deference to the “correct” way to live, or the “best” way to do business, in whatever that may look in your mind, I extend my hand, and I invite you to let life wear down your walls a little bit. I hope for us both when we hear ourselves knocking at the door, we open it up and invite our own selves in for tea.
And She prayed. ©2014 Anjani Millet
Many years ago, after twelve years of owning my own photographic business, I lamented that I’d never done the one thing I was told all Good Photographers once did: Assist another photographer to learn the ropes. So, with my business at a stalemate, I decided it was me that was the problem. I found another photographer, asked if I could meet with her, showed her my portfolio, asked if I could be her assistant.
She laughed and responded with, “What the hell? You’ve been a working photographer for twelve years? Why are you here? Oh, I know what it is. You have what I have, which is the crippling Expert Syndrome. You think you have to be perfect, and an expert, and if you aren’t perfect or an expert in EVERYTHING, you freeze and nothing you do is good enough or even good at all. Listen: you are already a working photographer. And my competition. This is silly! Go out and be my competition!”
Eventually crippled by my own doe-in-the-headlights self-doubt and perfectionism, I left my career behind, sold all my equipment, and entered a completely different field. I turned my back on what I’d spent years building.
Well, I’ve returned full circle to photography, and writing, but that perfectionism had amazing staying power and never left, though I did. I face that dragon again now. Zoom forward to a month ago and another interesting reflection from a friend. He noticed my crippling perfectionism too, and gave me an assignment.
He told me of a student who was so crippled with perfectionism that her professor assigned her the task of writing – and turning in to him – the very first draft of a paper. If he found she’d edited it, he would fail her from the class. Wow! My friend said, “You are just like that. Here’s my assignment for you: you must make a plan that is deliberately imperfect and do that plan.”
So, this week, with my first presentation at a museum, I chose to present knowing full well that what I was about to do was imperfect, and do it anyway. I discovered that I didn’t die, and no one else in the room did either. My one suffered renal failure as a result of my imperfect introduction in this talk, and the slightly unsure wrap up of the story. It was imperfect, but I did it. Despite that, one man in the room told me my writing had answered a question for him that he never been able to articulate. He said this: “I want you to know that what you wrote really meant something to me, personally. You helped me understand something about my place in this world. Thank you.”
If that is the result of humble but shared imperfection, with its wobbly, nervous introduction and a not-perfect wrap up, I’ll take it.
On June 30 of last year, as my contract at an I.T. firm was ending, I decided to start writing in a more focused way, and not return to my job behind a desk. I wanted to return to my roots and career as a photographer and writer. So, I promised myself to write for 15 minutes every day before breakfast, starting on July 1. I began with one single sentence as a writing prompt.
By July 15, I attended a writer’s conference, and heard that I could present my book idea to the editors present; someone told me to tell them my book was 50,000 words, an average novel’s length, and I decided right then I’d complete those 50,000 by the end of that month. I had written only about 1,300 words by the day I “pitched” to the editors, and to my astonishment, they loved my book idea. When I told them I guessed it would be 50,000 words, they told me to aim for 80,000. By July 31 I had written 80,000 words – a few hundred pages of a book.
By September I had a rich relationship with the characters in my book. I felt more than a little astonished and frankly a little freaked out by how much this had taken over my life, this creative process, freaked out and in love with writing a book. I put the book to sleep for the winter in January to focus on photography, and have begun to turn my attention to integrating the two together now.
I just found this note yesterday, at a time when I find myself frightened again, still, to leap into my own greatest dreams. My main character, Georgia, told me this, when I had hit a wall in September:
“I think you frightened yourself with your speed and alacrity. Frighten yourself again. How can you do that? Make a goal to frighten yourself every day with your powerful progress, creation, and mastery. Yes, I said it… mastery. What would a goal of mastery in writing look like? What do you want to master in 5 years?”
Noun: Brisk and cheerful readiness.
Synonyms: readiness – willingness – eagerness
In building a business and a life as a photographer and writer, or as any artist, or anyone with the dream to truly live the life they dream to live, focusing on projects and business planning is one important way to approach the future. But this is another. What do you want to truly master? What will blind you with amazement at your own “speed, alacrity, and mastery” in five years? One year? After dinner tonight?
And by the way, I want to have loved mastering it by that date, not just plodded through.
Today I leave for 4 quiet days in the forest, on my own, to deeply reflect on my future self, and figure that out. When you are an artist, you yourself are the business. Starting with your own mind and heart is the beginning of the deepest kind of business planning.
What do you want to master in five years? I hope whatever you decide, you find the deepest joy in getting there. I’d love to hear what you dream of being and doing!