Friday, July 31, 2015

grace in small things #15

  • Not a "small thing" by any means but my awesome friend Jeremy was just here for a week-long visit with his kids, Ethan and Sam, which was amazing. And then I was all bummed when they left to go back home. Then I remembered that we still have our weekly phone chats to look forward to, which make living many states away from one of my best friends a bit more bearable. 
  • I printed out a couple free coloring pages for adults this morning, and over the course of the day managed to finish one page I really liked. It was fun to sit down and just color for a while. 
  • That thing where just when you're freaking out about how you must be a totally terrible parent, your kids go and show you that they're actually doing totally fine, in spite of all your failings. Take that, nagging voices of doubt in my head. 
  • After a very busy past few weeks, we have (almost) no plans this weekend. Tomorrow I'm planning on ditching the kids with Zach and getting a "Marcy day." I'm kinda psyched about it. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

wine weekend

Last month Zach and I joined our dear friend Sasha on a weekend trip to wine country, in honor of her 35th birthday (it helped that Zach's birthday was the same weekend, as well, so you know "two birds, one stone" somethingorother). It was a super fun weekend, and I now have photos from it up on I'ver posted just a few below, click here to see the rest. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On telling young girls that they are pretty

One of the easiest, and thus most frequently-heard, compliments given to little girls is on how pretty they are. This is especially the case with girls you meet on the street or at the park, or friends' kids you're meeting for the first time, etc, since really you don't know them and so looks is all you can go on and you're trying to say something nice, right? So we tell girls they're so pretty, or how much we love their dress or their shoes, and we tell boys they are handsome or tough or some other variation of our preferred masculine traits. As a feminist I bristle at this, and yet I've been known to do it, too. It's automatic, it's ingrained.

The internet has been awash with talk today about Serena Williams after her win at Wimbledon. I don't know much about tennis, but from what I've gathered it sounds like Williams is basically among the most badass athletes we have ever known. And so of course, a lot of the talk about her has been about her incredible accomplishments on the tennis court how her body is "too masculine," too bulky, how she isn't pretty enough, how she "looks like a man." It's awesome to see the great take-downs of many of these horrible comments, but it is still maddening and so very frustrating to see how even this incredible person, who is capable of more than the majority of the rest of us, male or female or any other gender inbetween, is still reduced to her looks. Because our bodies and how pretty our faces are, the clothes we wear and fitting into our oh-so-narrow standards of femininity and beauty, matter more than our actions or achievements.

It sucks to see this start so early, so young, when even little girls are praised for how they look, rather than their creativity, or their athleticism, or love of reading or art or gaming or anything else they may be into.

And yet....

In a world that constantly tells women we aren't good enough, that in order to have value and worth we must abide by beauty standards that are increasingly achievable only via photoshop, that clearly we must need this makeup and that undergarment and do this diet in order to be loved and accepted by others... maybe more girls and women could use people telling us we are beautiful just as we are.

For the first decade of my life I lived in Chile, in a home just blocks away from my Abuelita, my dad's mother. She was your quintessential sweet, loving, doting grandmother. Our whole family (gaggles of cousins, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces) would gather at her apartment for sunday tea every week, the one time of the week when we got to have soda and ice cream. She always had sweets at her house, too, all sorts, and we would play and watch Scooby Doo and other American shows on her tv, and it was just about the best thing ever. When she came to visit us at our house she would always bring small chocolate bars for each of us. But beyond all that, she always seemed genuinely delighted to see us, to spend time with us. I remember her often telling me how beautiful she thought I was, that I was the most beautiful girl in the whole world. She made me feel like I was her favorite. I have no idea if I really was special above any of my other cousins, or if she made each of us feel that way. She just embodied warmth and love (at least as I remember her, how she was with us as kids).

I took in her sweet words, but didn't believe them. For a long time I thought she was crazy to think I was beautiful. Me, pretty? Please. I had a funny nose, and funny teeth, and funny hair. I was odd and clumsy and dumb. But her words kept echoing inside my head, so that in my teens and beyond, years after the last time I heard her voice, I could still hear her telling me that I was the most beautiful girl in the whole world. I eventually started wondering if she might have been right, and tried to see myself through her eyes. Her words were powerful for me.

So I don't know, maybe girls do need hear that they are beautiful, just as they are. I think they need to hear it from people who love them dearly. I think they also need to feel their other qualities valued as well, whether they be strong, curious, creative, playful, passionate, nurturing, athletic, etc. It is imperative for girls to grow up knowing that they are worthy of love and respect just for being who they are. But in a world that constantly criticizes and tries to cut us down based on looks, it may be helpful or even necessary to help girls build a shield of loving compliments.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

random things on my mind

Several days ago this link floated across my timeline on facebook, claiming to identify your facebook friends' personality types by their status updates. I would not have paid any attention to it, expect the person who posted it had quoted this part:

It's like looking into the mirror, but made of words.

(to be fair, I don't ever get into vehement arguments with my conservative uncle on facebook... because I learned my lesson and blocked him years ago, and know better than to friend any of my other conservative uncles. but the general gist of that description is pretty damn accurate)

So then I got curious and took an online Myers-Briggs personality test which confirmed me as an INFP, and reading the personality profile was incredibly eerie because so much of it was so very spot on. Especially the parts about being very hard to really get to know. I've worked at trying to be more open (this blog being one of the best ways for me to express myself), but still, very few people get to see my inner workings.


I recently read Lee Gutkind's You Can't Make This Stuff Up (on writing creative non-fiction) which was really interesting and inspiring and responsible for several of the blog posts I managed to actually publish in the past month or so. I am now close to finishing Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist (indeed, need to finish it in the next 2 days and the library needs it back...) which is also pretty amazing. But it's also been fascinating how, after reading Gutkind's book, I am reading other nonfiction works both for their content and also noticing and thinking about the writing itself (at least in a different way than usual). I am reading it from the perspective of a writer as well as as audience/reader.


Soon after writing my last post, I remembered the advice I have read many times in regard to writing and other creative practices-- make it a daily habit. Set up a daily practice, so you do it even when you don't quite feel like it, and the practice and ritual will make you better.

So I'm trying this new thing-- I have an alarm set on my phone for 8am every weekday. That's a time when, most mornings, I am out of bed and having my coffee, and the boys are awake but often occupied with a game or show. So when my alarm goes off I will sit down at my computer and work on photos, for even just 20 or 30 minutes, which makes the task seem less daunting. The goal is to help me get through the less-exciting parts of my workflow, so I can do more of the fun stuff, too. I am notoriously sucky at making and maintaining new habits like this, so we'll see how it goes. I'm on day 4 right now, and so far so good.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

the fauxtographer

I was just thumbing through my latest copy of Click Magazine, which came in the mail yesterday, along with a reminder that my subscription was about to run out. I almost let it lapse... but ended up renewing after all. I feel like I'm not getting as much out of the magazine as I used to, but I still like getting something delivered to my doorstep filled with beautiful photographs. Sometimes they spark inspiration or help me learn something new. Other times they serve as reminder of how little I use my camera nowadays, how in some ways I feel like a fraud to my beloved hobby.

Several months ago I posted something on facebook about how I want to do something meaningful with my photography one day. Not sure what and not sure when, but just... something, sometime.

I got a bit of scolding from my mom, who was outraged at the insinuation that my photography has not been meaningful all this time... And she is totally right, it has been incredibly meaningful and special for me to be able to so aptly and beautifully capture my boys growing up, and it's provided me with a creative outlet and fun hobby. And I like to think that others get something out of the photos I share, as well.

But I also feel a pull to do something more, to go beyond capturing our own lives and do something that gives back to others (beyond immediate family members enjoying the pictures of my boys). I've thought at times about trying to make this photography hobby into a career, but have hesitated because a) I still feel like I have so much more to learn before I could promise consistent results and feel right asking people pay me for it, and b) I don't want to turn something that is fun into something that feels like an obligation. It's also just intimidating-- it's one thing to have fun taking cute pictures of my kids (and it being no big deal if none of them turn out well). It's quite another to have someone depending on me to do a good job.

But still...sometimes ideas go turning in the back of my head. I've wondered about pairing up with nonprofits to volunteer photography services. Or somehow offering portraits for low-income families (are portraits of your kids and families over the years a frivolous luxury, or something everyone ought to have even if they can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars per session?). Or birth photography. Or teaching photography basics. Or... I dunno.

And yet, I hardly ever seem to pick up my big camera anymore. It sits for weeks or sometimes even a month or two at a time just collecting dust. When I do use it, more weeks pass before I get around to sorting, tagging, editing, and uploading the photos. I still get a thrill from producing and sharing a beautiful photo, but many of the steps between pressing that shutter button and uploading the finished photo kinda feel like a chore (hence my attraction to film photography, and aversion to shooting in RAW). Soon after getting my first dslr, and for many years after, I averaged about 1,000 "keeper" photos every month. Most of the past year or so, I have maybe 200 photos from each month, mostly from my phone. It's a significant drop-off.

I can think of many reasons/excuses for this slowdown. For one thing, parenting has in many ways become much easier or at least less overwhelming than many of our early days of no sleep and round-the-clock breastfeeding, but the kind of parenting I have chosen to do, especially with homeschooling, requires that much of my energy-- mental and physical-- be devoted to my boys. Supporting Zach in his studies and career has also become more intense since he switched from his engineering track to business and consulting (it's almost strange looking back and remembering a time when he didn't leave for work till close to 9am, and was home in time to cook dinner most nights). All of this leaves me with very little time and energy for creative endeavors.

(there are also other roadblocks that I can identify, like that our current house doesn't have as good a quality of light as many of our previous homes; the rhythm of our days being different and the boys being older and more conscious of the camera mean needing to move to a different style of shooting altogether; my trying to be more present in the moment, at the cost sometimes of not capturing the moment in a photograph; all things of which I can be mindful)

To be frank, I know I'm good. I have a good eye, and my technique isn't half bad. I feel like the things that stand in my way as a photographer are things that could be within my grasp-- it is mostly a question of taking the time to slow down, to think through each shot, to sit down and learn proper editing skills and techniques for fixing things like tricky white balance or skin tones. Ah, but there's the rub-- taking the time.

But if I were a TRUE photographer, I would MAKE the time, right? I would find a way, somehow, somewhere. Right?

(this is where that "feeling like a fraud" thing comes in)

This struggle of the creative parent not actually being able to create because they are too busy being a parent is certainly not unique or new, it's been written about eleventybillion times before I'm sure (hell even I have bitched written about it many times before). Like most other people who wrestle with this same stuff, I have complicated feelings about it. Much of the time I feel ok with just letting go, realizing that this phase in my life is temporary, and that I (hopefully) have many years ahead of me when I can focus more on myself and things like writing and photography. I also know that life is short, that we never know how much time we really have, that I don't want to look back one day with longing or wishing for things I never took the time to do. And also too, I mean, I love being so present with my children right now, in their present ages and stages. It is a unique and precious opportunity. I am not wishing for a different life, as contradictory as that may sound.

What does all that mean? I don't know. I want things that I can't have in part because of decisions I have made that I continue to stand behind, and I feel both satisfied and frustrated by it all. That I can sorta kinda see the forrest despite the large trees in the way. That I am trying not to beat myself up too hard for not managing to squeeze more into the 24 hours of each day.

And also, that I stayed up till midnight to write this post, and I am glad that I got it all out, and I will pay for it in the morning, and that one sentence more or less sums up this massively long post in a nutshell.


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