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!
A few years ago I found $50 I had tucked into a dictionary long before. I had hidden it there years before as a little gift from me to me, which I knew I’d forget putting there but would find one day. “When I do”, my past self thought, “I will probably feel loved and remembered.” I went to the bank and pulled out the money, tucking it in between the letters L and M, tucked it away for a future self who didn’t yet exist.
Two years later, as I was looking up the spelling for Langoliers, (a horrible movie!), the bill sussurred out from between the pages and tickled itself all the way down my legs and onto the floor. I felt the kindness and compassion of my former self flooding into the present moment, like a sweet, chalky perfume I’d once loved and nearly forgotten. It was me who had so thoughtfully made this effort, who who really cared about me all the way back then. I felt swept up in compassion from my own, former self. In that moment, I was at a time of struggle which I could never have foreseen back then.
It’s much easier to look backward – after all, we know the person we were before. Or do we? And looking into our future selves is even more nebulous – we know we’ll be the same person, sort of, but that person does not really yet exist. In six months from now, maybe we’ll have put on a pound or two over the holidays, but still be basically happy. Or perhaps will we find it in 16 years, after, who knows, a major financial windfall and the start of a new love affair, or after we’ve strangely gotten into the most amazing shape of our lives and finally gotten that job we always want?
Or maybe, when we stretch out our thoughts to ourselves in the future, we’ll reach into a void of pain and loss. When we stretch out to the future, we grasp the wispy suggestion of what and who we might in general. That person might be happy when they find this gift… but then again, she may need a little encouragement… or maybe a lot.
Sipping Coffee with Shadows
Why do self-portraits matter? Why do we really do them? Is it just to capture a moment, as if we were a tourist visiting our own lives? “Here I am, with my new hat!” Or “Look at me! I’ve in the bathroom at a fancy hotel!”
Maybe. But in a deeper way, I believe we photograph ourselves to tell ourselves our own story, to ourselves – it is always the story of I. The true purpose of self-portraits is to make a gift of ourselves to our future selves. Maybe, when we create a self-portrait, we are trying to see into our own eyes – the ones that will be, down the road, one nebulous, unknown day. When we photograph ourselves, we are talking to ourselves across time and, truly, across realities – in the moment we shoot a self-portrait, we are real – flesh and blood. But our future self is only the tiniest twinkle in our own eyes now. And if we try, yes, we can love that person. Loving our future selves will make a present day, some day, just that much sweeter.
But today, in the present moment, our past self is really only a memory, and the only proof that we lived exists in the form of photographs.
What if, some day in the future, when we really need it, we feel the hand of our real self from the past touching our lives? Who was thinking of us, loving us into the unknown days and years ahead? What if, through a self-portrait of encouragement, we make a tangible reach from the past into the current moment, when the two of us come together, our eyes looking into our own eyes, past to future, and back again? Maybe when we look into our own eyes from the past, we will feel the hair brushed from our face today, a warm hand tugging on our sleeve, an old friend arriving unexpectedly on our porch, bringing us chocolate cake on a Sunday morning for no good reason at all except that they love us?
But who does that? Who loves someone who doesn’t even exist yet? Who leaves them gifts they know they’ll find?
You do, that’s who.
And this is the real reason for self-portraits. We do them for love.
Even more so if the gift you give your future self is simply encouragement and kindness when you might need it the most. This is what I discovered last week when I found a self-portrait I’d shot two years ago in Spain. I was standing on the balcony of a beautiful room overlooking the Mediterranean coast, in Begur. I’d just attended a travel writer’s conference and we were given gorgeous accommodations in exchange for writing about the our experiences in each hotel. I couldn’t believe my life had taken me there. I couldn’t believe my feet were on that balcony and my eyes were seeing that sumptuous blue water, or that my skin was soaking in the buttery Spanish fall sunlight. I couldn’t believe my life, somehow, through some luck and a lot of hard work, had gotten me there. It was blowing my mind. I picked up a camera, not to capture a snapshot of the place. It was a private moment. I was alone, and I wanted to say something about what I felt. I wanted to talk about my life in the poignant silence of a photograph.
Yesterday I found the photo as I was looking preparing to edit something else. I didn’t even remember taking it. I opened it up and what I saw was strength, certainty, and calm in my face; I looked happy. I remember feeling as if I were resting deeply in my own perfect path, as if at last I were resting deeply in the arms of my dreams. I saw something else too – the lack of questions in my eyes. No. I saw no questions. I saw only answers. I made that self-portrait not to share where I was, though I was on a balcony in Spain, overlooking the sea. I made it as a statement of encouragement, a one-way conversation between me and me, that would occur at an unknown date in the future. That date was today.
I’m at the tail-end of two full years living nothing but questions, one tumbling across my life right another, and another, a turbulent river I can barely seem to climb out of. It’s felt as if my mind has been drowning in unknowns for so long that I’d forgotten what it’s like not only to know, but to not even need to know. I didn’t remember I was that person – the person who knew, until I looked into those eyes – my own eyes, two years before.
Yes. I feel loved and remembered, by me, by my past me.
And so, where are you? Are you strong right now? Do you have even a moment here or there that you feel certain? Happy? Strong? Confident? Or even just amused by and affectionate toward yourself? Or do you wish you did?
When you do, tell no one your plan: grab your camera and dress up a little, for yourself. Go to a place you love and feel loved – even if it’s the tiniest corner of your own kitchen. Relax in your chest. Hold the camera before you, and relax your eyes. This a private moment, between you and you. Look into and straight past the lens into your own eyes, your own soul, your own future self who will need this one day. As you look, relax your irises, feel them really relax and dilate. Then, when you feel kind and open and at ease, pick up the camera, bring it close to you, with your elbows bent – and imagine – know – you are speaking to yourself through yourself, one into another, now to then. Don’t worry about smiling. Just breathe your kindest, softest breath of gentle, loving kindness toward your own heart, and take the shot.
Don’t look at it yet. Put the camera down. If you felt uneasy or worried, put the camera down. Have a sip of tea. Look out at the yard. You live, and you are good. Shoot again when you feel you have more to say to yourself, when you feel more open, when you arrive at the feeling you want to wrap up in a soft bundle and offer it through your eyes.
Now you can review the photo if you can. Be careful not to judge yourself now – you want to stay very open and gentle in your feelings. If you would prefer a different moment, then relax, breathe, try it again. Sip that tea.
When you feel you have really captured a feeling you love and cherish that you might like to feel again one day, save it on your computer to a file called A Gift To Me, or Photos To My Future Self. If you can, email it to yourself on a certain day, or attach it to a calendar appointment 1 year from now. Surprise yourself with it. Print it, and put it in a book you know you’ll read, and label the photo like a gift card: “This too shall pass,” or “You are good,” or “Hi. It’s me. I like you.”
Save this photographic moment of encouragement somewhere you’ll be sure to find again one day. In this way, with a camera, say yes to kindness and save it for a rainy day. It’s a gift made by your hands, and your eyes, and it’s just for you, bundled up warmly in the form of a loving, thoughtful photograph.
One day, you too might feel loved and remembered by the past, who cared for you before you even existed.
If you try this, or ever have, write me and tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.
Only good things,
On a beautiful Spanish Tuesday afternoon, I landed at the Hostal
Empuries, near the sleepy Spanish town of L’Escala, in the Costa Brava
region, near Girona. Don’t let the name of this wonderful hotel confuse
you: ‘hostal’ does not mean ‘hostel’: far from it. It simply means
‘hotel’. Nestled between pine trees and sand, the hotel rests on
Portitxol Beach with its “dainty” cliffs.
This seaside resort
is a quiet and beautiful hotel and spa, established more than 100 years
ago. It is the first hotel in Europe to be awarded Gold LEED
certification — the highest environmental achievement, and aside from
being gorgeous and environmentally responsible, boasts a beautiful
restaurant as well. Serving sumptuous eco-mediterranean cuisine, the
Villa Teresita provides formal dining under the excellent care of Chef
Rafa Peña, as well as the more casual Bistró del Mar.
pleasant afternoon interview with Susana Bosols, Director of Marketing,
we shared black coffee and she described for me their main objectives:
social and ecological responsibility, rejecting waste culture, and the
notion of “following the ant’s trail.” Along with LEED certification,
the hotel espouses the concept of “cradle to cradle.” From their
website, they describe their principles:
“One of the
principles of Hostal Empuries, according to our social and ecological
responsibilities, had been to think globally and act locally, in order
to create awareness of the Earth as an organism which must be cared for.
Based on the idea that the population of ants on the planet is 3 times
greater than that of humans, understanding that they are beneficial to
this biological organism, the Earth, we want to follow the ant’s trail.
building type we have used, therefore, has green roofs which increase
plant life and biodiversity. We have chosen plants typical of the local
area, which are drought tolerant and are only watered from rainfall
collected from the roofs or recycled from the bathrooms and kitchen. For
fertilizer we use nothing more than organic matter left over from the
At Hostal Empuries we care
about humanity and the inheritance to which we are connected. We aim to
provide the best experience possible for our guests and leave a lasting
legacy for future generations…In truth, human beings are the only ones
capable of carrying the responsibility for their harmful behavior and
actions which instigate the destruction of our habitat and the habitats
of all other life forms on the planet.
must therefore commit, in a personal way, to take preventative action
and plan for a better future.In order to best plan and develop the
greater part of our initiatives we take advantage of the finest
standards available in order to guarantee sustainability.”
The LEED certification and Cradle to Cradle principles are:
* The Certificate of Sustainable Architecture “LEED,” whose aim is to
ensure that a building becomes a regenerative agent in its environment,
preventing erosion, improving water quality and increasing biodiversity
to benefit the whole community.
* The “Cradle to Cradle” Principle
or “C2C” which promotes the use of materials which are not only
sustainable but whose useful life might continue beyond that for which
it was originally intended, to be re-used in other ways and finally
being converted back into new base material.
outstanding environmental stewardship, the hotel has a beautiful
restaurant, including on-site organic gardens which supply the kitchen.
The spa too adheres to the strictest environmental standards, using
natural oils and other products for the body, and natural products for
cleaning. This is true throughout the hotel.
Rafa Peña generously spoke with me after a beautiful evening meal, and
even shared his recipe for Cod Brandada. He offered a great tip for
finding the perfect restaurant while traveling:
you travel, go to the best restaurant you can find and afford –
Michelin starred, for instance – and have a meal there. Lunchtime is
often a bit less expensive. Then, ask the chef him or herself where to
eat in that city. Go where they tell you. The good chefs always know
where to go!”
What a great idea. Thank you, Chef!
loved the Hostal Empuries, its philosophy, the lovely rooms, the
gorgeous beach environment… and the food was outstanding. I’d go back
tomorrow if I could. Maybe I will!
Hostal Empúries – Platja de Portitxol s/n Ap. Correos 174.17130 l’Escala, Girona, Spain
Tel: 972.77.02.07 | Fax: 9184.108.40.206, firstname.lastname@example.org, GPS: 42.13182400, 3.12234900
On a sultry afternoon in September, I finally found the Silken Park Hotel in the town of San Jorge, Platja D’Aro, in the Costa Brava region of Spain. I had been invited, as a Travel Blogger’s Expo guest in Girona, Spain, to stay at, review, and write a piece on the resort. I was excited about the seaside resort, which was said to be top notch. I arrived two days early due to a scheduling error but the hotel kindly found a room.
Unfortunately that room was not facing the blue sea at all. It was a dark brown prison-like room facing the parking garage, which faced a busy highway. The room was depressing and lightless, with one tiny window, and smelled of mold and fuel. Unfortunately, I had another night to spend there two days later, with a brief interlude at another hotel the following night. I was glad to leave but would have to return in two days, much to my chagrin. I couldnt’ wait to leave and didn’t want to return.
The day I did, I was given a room with a view – of a tree. I asked nicely if they might have a room in which I could actually see the ocean, since I had been invited there to report to their potential clients about how great the oceanview hotel was. I was begrudgingly given one. A room with a gorgeous view was made available and it made more sense why the hotel was well-considered. The room, though, was nothing special and retained a distinctly mildewy smell, as had the two before, but the view was spectacular. Just beneath my lanai was a sandy veranda, and below that, the beach and its lazy sea, dotted with one tiny island. Its crest was adorned with a few enthusiastic trees stretching their happy limbs out over the water. The island could be reached on a brief walk from the hotel.
That evening a wedding was taking place in the main gathering area of the hotel and as I relaxed over a book and a glass of wine, I was asked by a waiter to leave. “No hotel guests are allowed here right now, because of the wedding.” Guests had to clear out of the bar, restaurant, cafe, foyer, and patio, and had to either leave the hotel entirely or head to the beach for several hours – or go back to their rooms. In those rooms, incidentally, wifi was iffy. But why would you spend time on the net with that view? Dinner that night was surprisingly delicious, though expensive, and service was curt.
Once the pretty bride left with her retinue, the veranda was clotted with 14 drunken Irish retirees, who were so amusing I laughed Coke out my nose. As they left I asked one of them how long they’d all known each other. “Over 40 years!” he answered, “They are the best men you’ll ever know, that’s certain.”
The next night, despite my shyness, I crashed their party and they took me in for a long night’s silliness. They boasted one beefy young man in the group, a handsome firefighter who never once took his sunglasses off in the dark night. He couldn’t remember our waitress’s name, so she gave him her badge so he’d remember – “StePHANIE,” he repeated over and over. Eventually he got so drunk, StePHANIE had to stop him from falling off a balcony trying come back down to the party from his room – three stories below it, in fact. He’d forgotten he could take the stairs. Eventually the gentlemen insisted I join them in town for dinner, where they competed over who in the restaurant would sing me the loudest song, or give me the biggest bouquet of flowers (borrowed momentarily from the busker), or buy me the next round of huge, head-sized drinks I couldn’t possibly finish. At 2:30 a.m., when when I couldn’t keep up anymore, one of them walked me by the hand to a taxi. I told him I needed to get to bed, which he noted was ‘pathetically pathetic’. He was easily 20 years older than me. Evidently the swoozy crew, all pushing 70, stayed out until 4:30 a.m., or so said StePHANIE at breakfast; they all appeared at 8:30 sharp, chipper and Irish, for breakfast. Except the fireman, who couldn’t bear morning just yet.
That final oceany day, so sunny and blue, was eclipsed only by that evening’s lusty full moon floating over her watery view. I lingered in my room for hours in the dark, listening to the tide and watching the world disappear into the azure evening.
The moonlight was worth the bride, the mildew, the closet, and the curt staff. All of it was worth the drunken golfers with their crazy loud songs and brazen disregard for noise regulations and good punchlines.
I wish I could promise you the Irishmen or the moonlight. Barring those, my advice on this hotel is to skip the stay and visit the hotel and beach during the day, or if you do stay there, be very sure you’re getting an oceanview room. Without that room, I’d skip this hotel.
Avenida Andorra 28, 17251, Spain
T. +34 972 652 311
F. +34 972 652 576
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