I have been a hobby writer since elementary school and a hobby photographer since about 2008 when I got my first “real” camera. I love writing and taking photos. A hobby can be a great way to give your life another dimension, especially a creative one that goes beyond work and family. There is also something quite freeing when you are not trying to make money from it and you do it just because you love it. It is also lovely to have a creative outlet. Finding ways to express myself has helped me to deal with feelings and find meaning when I was stumbling and looking for direction.
For years, I didn’t really share photos or writing with anyone. I kept notebooks and scraps of paper and files on my computer of writing: many unfinished projects and even some completed stories, essays, and poems. The urge to share, though, grew stronger as the years passed by, and it wasn’t just about social media. I think the urge to create community and to share what we make is all around us and is part of what it means to be human. How we connect and share can be tricky when you feel isolated, alone, and uncertain. With the internet and social media, it definitely became easier to reach out beyond our own towns and geographic areas. I am hesitant to say, though, that social media creates community, when in fact, we can see some of the damage that it has caused, especially in the hands of just a few companies with interests in profits over people. (I’ll leave that rant for another time). People, though, can create community in many different ways, where in the past it might have been writing letters and forming clubs, to today finding connection in websites and forums, and yes, even in social media. I think we still crave those personal one on one connections, though.
I started this blog in November 2010, but it took a while before I even made the site public or searchable, and then it took another couple of years before I was even sharing that I had a blog with anyone. For the most part readership is small, but I have never done much to promote it, and I like keeping it small and letting the focus be broad, so I can write about whatever is interesting to me or what I feel I need to express. I do remember connecting with a couple of other bloggers, after finding each other in comments or discovering each other’s blogs via the WordPress platform. I made a couple of blog friends, and those connections were important. It was fun to see their words and photography or to see their name pop up in the comments.
As much as I loved the blog, I knew, though, that I also wanted to write for others. In April 2012, I submitted a piece to The Upper Room, that posts and publishes a different devotional each day from writers around the world. Growing up in the United Methodist Church where printed copies of The Upper Room were freely given out, I always wanted to see my writing published there. I loved reading the personal stories of faith and seeing at the bottom of the page the name of each writer and where they lived. In December 2014 (two and a half years from the time I submitted that writing), my devotional was the one for the day. A couple of months before it was published, the Upper Room staff reached out and asked if I wanted to submit a blog piece to accompany the devotional and that if I wanted I could also interact with the readers who read it on the website. I remember that day was a thrill; I logged in early in the morning, unaccustomed to this connection with the Upper Room (I had always read and prayed with a paper copy and didn’t realize the website was a spiritual destination for many). I read and responded to friendly and encouraging comments by people who had read my words, and included the blog website, in case anyone wanted to read more. I figured this was an amazing one-time connection and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As much as I loved that connection, I still preferred my solitary reading and praying with the paper copy, but I could see that in many ways, people had formed a digital congregation. To my surprise, a couple of lovely folks (they know who they are) followed the link that I shared and not only read posts on my blog, but reached out and commented to share how they had found my essays. They continue to read and comment to this day. I like to think of these two as spiritual friends across the miles, and I am grateful for their reading, commenting, and forging friendships. It’s awesome to think that we are still connecting almost nine years later.
Eventually, I got brave enough to share my writing elsewhere, but I still struggled with the idea of getting paid for writing. The Upper Room paid $25 at the time in 2014, and outside of writing a couple articles for work, it’s the only time I have ever gotten paid for writing. Even though I’ve told myself that it is something I would like to do, eventually, I haven’t made any moves in that direction, but continued to find ways to write more. The library in the town where I lived published a community anthology for a few years and I had a few things published by them, including a couple of short stories and several essays. The fun of that anthology was they published it as a book, so I got to see my work and name in print, along with a bunch of other local writers. I even got to participate in a couple of readings. Each of these steps was encouraging, and I felt a little more confident as different editors said yes to my work. Over the course of a few years, I wrote four essays for Elephant Journal, and then a couple of blogs for a website that was dedicated to volunteers teaching others how to meditate. I had an essay published on the website of Community Works Journal, and was asked to become a contributing editor, which meant I could write regular essays on teaching and learning and I loved doing that for four or five years. I think my last one for them was in the spring of 2018.
A few months later, maybe in early 2019, I saw a website, dedicated to women and the workforce, was looking for community bloggers. I needed to submit an audition blog, and go through two phone interviews, and then I was selected. They were planning a big website launch and asked for weekly blogs that could cover a variety of topics, including job stuff and personal development. I enjoyed the weekly deadline and ended up sending them around 20-30 posts. For whatever reasons, funding and other issues, the website is the same shell that never launched. While frustrating, it was still fun to be selected and to write a few things. I also loved the creative motivation that a weekly deadline provided me.
While writing is my first love, at some point, I also became more serious about photography, at least in terms of time and attention. Unlike writing, it has never been a desire of mine to be a professional photographer. I was starting to take photos almost daily, and going beyond the auto mode of my digital camera. It was probably in my deepest isolation, living alone and without a car during the early parts of the pandemic, that I started reading photography stuff online, both in terms of tips and tricks, but also all the camera nerd stuff that abounds on websites like Emulsive, Casual Photophile, and 35mmc. While I enjoyed all three of these websites and others, the one I felt most connected to was 35mmc. I found lots of great reviews of cameras, which I read voraciously, even when I had no plans to buy that particular model of camera, and helpful technique articles, along with personal reflections written by a variety of people. In fact, 35mmc is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. While it was founded by Hamish Gill and, at the beginning, written solely by him, he expanded the website to become a true community. Sure, I enjoyed the community aspect of 35mmc, but for the last three years or so, I have pretty much just read the articles, not ever commenting or interacting with other readers and commenters. I remember seeing the invitation for anyone to submit an article and being intrigued by the idea, but too shy and unsure of my photographic abilities to do anything about it. Last December, though, I read through the guidelines of how to submit an article. The first step was to create a login, which is simple. I stopped at that step, letting that dream (like many of mine) stay buried because I was too afraid, too unstructured, and too focused on my supposed lack of time and talent.
Early in January, I received an email from Hamish, asking if I had any thoughts to contribute something. Nothing like a follow up from a real human to force me to really follow up with an idea. I quickly replied with a brainstormed list of possible article ideas, and he responded that any of the ideas sounded good, and to go ahead with one of them or something else and send a draft article to him. All in all by the end of January, I had written an article that he had approved, and he asked for a few photos to go with the article. I looked through my old digital files, and had fun picking photos to illustrate the piece. By mid-to-late February, they had accepted the article, along with the photos, and then they scheduled it to be published in early April. In late March, inspired by a lovely evening walk and a beautiful sunset, I sat down and typed out two articles and sent them off to see if 35mmc would be interested again. Because I had gone through the process once before, the second time was little easier, because they allow contributors to submit writing and photos with a clear set of step. It makes it easy for the editors to make any changes if needed, and then to schedule it for being published on the blog if approved. In April, my first piece, “An Ode to my First ‘Real’ Camera” was published. I was excited and a little nervous, because it had been a long time since I had written for anyone besides my blog, and I haven’t even done much of that over the last three years. I woke up early that morning to see the article live on the site and saw several pending comments. I had fun all day peaking at the website when I had a spare moment, checking in on comments, and replying to each one. It reminded me a lot of connecting with the readers on The Upper Room back in 2014, because the comments were mostly from readers on the day the piece was published. The next day they have new articles published.
What I loved, in addition to getting my writing published, was connecting with the readers. I realized that reading, commenting on other articles, and contributing articles is how the 35mmc blog really is a community. Looking over articles, similar names pop up both as commenters and contributors. What I have been surprised by is that there were no negative comments, and the editors make sure to keep that true by approving the comments before they are posted. People didn’t seem to care that my photography skill level is that of a long-term beginner. They shared memories of their own favorite or first cameras. One of the editors even connected with me on Instagram, and was kind enough to say that reading my essay inspired him to write about one of his favorite cameras.
Yesterday, I was excited to see that not one (as I originally thought) but two of my articles were published together. I had written them as sort of point/counterpoint to each other about the virtues of always carrying a camera and the joys of intentionally leaving your camera behind. Again, I logged in and replied to each comment and realized that I should return the favor by reading and commenting on other articles. I sat down to read a couple of articles and commented, not just for the sake of commenting, but for the exchange and letting the writer know that I connected with their words. I just submitted another article to them, and as long as they’ll have me, and as long as I have something relevant to share, I am hoping to send them something monthly. It’s the first time, in a long while, that I have felt so excited. It feels like part of me is coming back to my true self.
Again, I’m not writing this to brag. I have only been paid a couple of times to write, but writing and getting it published is still a dream come true, and over the years, it doesn’t get old. It’s been fun to write for 35mmc because ten or even five years ago, I would never have guessed that I would write about cameras or photography. I will admit, though, that the biggest victory for me in each of these examples has been to actually finish an essay, article, or story, and then take the next step by sending it off to an editor for publication. I can’t control what the editor will say or do, but I can follow up on my dreams by finishing the piece and finding the invitations for publications and continuing to answer my own call by writing for this blog. There are tons of publications and websites that publish writing, but many don’t take work from unpublished writers. However, if you love writing and want to begin, look for the invitations. Does your favorite website seek submissions from the community? In every single one of my writing experiences outside of my blog, I responded directly to one of those, because why not start with the ones asking for work?
In each of these times, I have also connected with other writers, editors, and readers, and I have loved that the most. Writing is a mostly solitary act, me in front of my laptop, so it’s lovely to have reactions in comments, in conversations over emails, and in the friendships that emerge. Writing and photography are lifelong pursuits, I think. There’s always something new to learn or try. Whether I go for a book (I’m in the midst of reading and proofreading the first draft of a book of essays) or look for freelance writing opportunities, I am not sure, but I do know that I love writing and sharing and finding connection. Will I want to let go of the freedom of a hobby if I pursue freelancing or book publication? I don’t know yet. I do want to get back to regular posts on this blog as well, dare I say it, even weekly? I might try my hand at some other forms and genres. What I have learned from writing and photography is that I actually have no expectations from it, and that is a beautiful place to be. I love not worrying about the results or the outcome, instead truly loving the acts and finding the connections with others.
What inspires you? What creative urges do you have? What scares you so much you’re ready to begin?
Hi, Kary. 🙂
Well, I’m happy to ‘fess up to being one of those Upper Room people. 😀 (Has that *really* been 9 years??) Yes, I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Lots of times in reading your blog posts , I’ve had moments where I clearly realized something that I had kind of always known, but that had never consciously come to the surface. (Does that make sense?) When that happens—that kind of crystallizing, or clarifying of my own thoughts—then I know I’m reading good writing. 🙂
Re the 35mmc forum, that sounds like a good place. I’ve been on lots of discussion boards, some I enjoyed more than others, and think the key factor is how warm and welcoming of a place it is. Good will and a positive climate where everybody feels appreciated are so important in those settings. I’m glad you’ve been able to enjoy contributing to that.
My creative urges have mostly always involved music. I’ve played lots of instruments—none all that well, but I’ve had and continue to have a lot of enjoyment out of that, and also exploring the vast classical repertoire.
I’ve always been interested in art, also. More admiring the work of others than doing my own, thoughI used to do quite a bit of work in oils, and now sporadically do some in gouache / watercolor. That also is very fulfilling, and I’ve always had people say they like my work—but it never matches what I had in my mind. Example: now as I type, the golden late afternoon sun is coming through the tree branches, through the window, and playing and dancing on the floor. That magical light turns everything to gold, if I could just capture it…
My other great interest is anything old, most particularly silent film; it’s like a magical window into a forgotten time. But I’ll stop before I get into that.
Getting back to the photography, one question that stuck me as I read the next-to-last paragraph: what connections are there for you between writing and photography? Obviously they’re both creative endeavors where you’re making something new. Are there other parallels? Is photography an extension of your writing, would you say?
Always a pleasure to visit with you, my friend! 🙂
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Thank you, thank you, thank you! I don’t include names without permission, so thanks for owning up to being one of the Upper Room friends! 🙂 I guess, it’s actually 8 1/2 years, but who’s counting?!? This post was a bit of a ramble, and writing it was a nice walk down memory lane. I appreciate so much that you mentioned that part about recognizing a similar insight at the same time. I think sometimes it’s that we don’t always articulate those things for ourselves, and then something we read, or hear, or a conversation we take part in, and it resonates in a different way. Thanks for the compliment about the writing, that will keep me flying for days! 🙂
I loved hearing about your own creative outlets. Playing music, making art through painting, appreciating art and music, and enjoying silent film, wow! These sound like such cool ways to express yourself, admire someone else’s work, and find ways to relate to others, and maybe even find new ways of understanding yourself! I think what you expressed just now, about seeing the light as you type, and knowing that as you paint it, it won’t end up looking like you had it in your mind’s eye: I think that’s one of the classic struggles of someone who creates. It’s not always exactly as we hoped to show it or express it, but here’s our attempt. Maybe it’s that space between that keeps us going? It’s a lovely, even if sometimes frustrating, struggle. Maybe struggle isn’t quite the right word, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say.
In terms of photography and writing, it’s hard to say for sure what the connection is. I think in many ways they are completely different, and yet similar in the sense that they are things you can do lifelong. They are both things that can be done almost anywhere (sure there might be some limitations in terms of film, or digital access for photography, or internet access if you’re writing on a blog, for instance) and alone. I often think about infrastructure and whether or not something I enjoy is something that is portable and support-able. I think that came from growing up in a two small New Mexico towns, and even as an adult thinking about if these were things I could do if I moved back to either of those two towns or somewhere else that is a bit tiny and isolated. Photography has been a fun way into something visual. I got shut down my kindergarten teacher on the first day about the way I colored in a heart, and took that as I wasn’t “artistic” and at the time, artistic to me meant painting and drawing, so photography has been a fun way to think about the visual, something I really ignored for a long time. I do think that at times there have been unexpected connections. When I first started the blog, I didn’t really think about visuals, and it took a few years to realize that I should at least put a picture at the top, so digital photography became part of it. I think in some ways they are completely separate, and yet, complementary, and probably I use different parts of my brain, heart, and soul, and that’s fun!
35mmc has been a lot of fun. I’m with you, a lot of digital online forums can be fun, and yet frightening, especially as it’s hard to keep track of strings of conversation, and how negativity begats etc. Luckily, 35mmc is more of a website and the community part that I have found has mostly been among the comments, and recognizing someone’s name in the comments as a writer of an article, etc.
There’s something you said above and it’s something I’ve been wanting to write about: about the quality of our creativity. As in do we think what we do is good or bad, and how does it measure up against external views, etc.? And then that other question: do we share it? I think what we need is more people creating, sharing or not, and not worrying so much if it’s good or bad. I hope you’ll keep creating and appreciating! Thank you for encouraging remarks over the years, and thank you for your friendship.
Anyway, that’s a really long reply, sorry for not being more succinct. Thanks again for your friendship.
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Don’t apologize for the long reply; I enjoyed your responses. 🙂
Concerning the question of our own attitutdes toward what we create: with me,
alas, that dreaded Perfectionism (with a capital P) rears its head. That feeling of everything having to be right, or it’s no good. I know in my mind that’s hogwash, but it’s hard to shake it.
Take music: if I hear someone’s musical performance and there are imperfections here and there—even obvious ones—it bothers me not one whit. I can still enjoy it thoroughly, and in fact, the imperfections just give the piece more character. This is a human soul making music, not a computer. And visual art? There is no bad visual art—just different styles, which is what makes things beautiful and interesting.
BUT…when it’s my own playing or my own art? Nope. Anything wrong and the whole thing is no good. And it doesn’t matter what others think, good or bad, so much. The problem is within me. I don’t know what the psychology of that is…but I’ll keep working on it. But yes, perhaps it is that tension between the ideal and the product that keeps us motivated; that may be a good thing to remember.
That’s interesting what you say about the thing being portable and supportable. There is indeed something about being able to “take it with you”. And concerning the blog photos, “complementary” is just the right word; they certainly do complement the writing and give it a new dimension. They put a face on it, too, in a way, if that makes sense.
Thanks, also, for your friendship. 🙂
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Donnie, yeah, the perfectionism thing is hard. I had it for a long time and then at some point decided to stop caring, at least for writing and photography, but it was a long journey and there were many years of not writing. But I write about fear a lot, and so I’m sure some of that fear is perfectionism and some other stuff, too. I don’t know if it will help, but a book I read talked a lot about the creative process, and at least about fear. It’s called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. You might like it and there’s probably a copy at the library. I just started reading The Meaning in the Making by Sean Tucker, and I know it’s about creativity and I think he said he has perfectionism issues, but not sure how much of that is in the book. I’ll let you know (he’s a YouTube guy, but very un-YouTube, if that makes sense) how it is when I finish it, especially if it talks about perfectionism. I hope you can find a way to create!
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