Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Do it too soon
I’ve been feeling stuck. Not unhappy, can’t-get-out-of-bed want-to-hide-under-a-rock stuck. But standing-staring-at-a-signpost-pointing-567-different-directions-unable-to-decide-which-way-to-go stuck. A few weeks ago, I actually chose one of those 567 paths and took a few faltering steps into new terrain. I then turned around and sought out the comforting (if confusing) sight of that signpost again, and stayed put a while longer. Until today, when I turned and took another few steps.
As I type, I am listening to the hum and whirr of a 17-inch Canon iPF 5100 fine art printer in the process of initializing. It arrived on April 7, on a pallet that was dropped off, thunk, in our driveway. When we tried to lift the 3′ × 4′ box, it had no bottom; so instead of wrestling the oversized container into the back of my SUV (destroying our backs in the process), we found ourselves gazing at an array of long, flat boxes; plastic-wrapped trays and manuals; and a hulking form swaddled in white protective foam adorned with bright orange tape and red attention! tags.
All this was relatively easy to transfer into my car, and then to the Roost—though the printer was still awkwardly big and heavy, and threatened to slither from our grasp on the crabwise shuffle through the gate, down the driveway, and up the stairs. But soon it filled the four-foot banquet table bought special for the purpose. I then liberated it from its foam sheathing and stood back to admire its professional size and look. The paper tray, which now held two foil-wrapped print heads and twelve foil-wrapped ink cartridges, along with the Getting Started manuals (in English, French, and Spanish) and three CDs, I shoved under the table. Then—I turned and fled. And I have barely been back to the Roost since.
It’s not that I’m afraid of the printer—or, rather, of what it represents: being creative, striding off in a new direction, taking a risk. Turning more to photography, in which I have no training, while relegating words—my profession and comfort zone—to personal exploration and play. No, that’s not what holds me back.
What holds me back is my gremlins, who have a nasty habit of muttering under their breath. Although I don’t actually hear the words, the tenor of their message is clear: “You think you have a chance in hell making it as a photographer?” “You don’t have the patience to fine-tune a photograph until it’s right!” “Wait until the critics have a go at you!!!” All this accompanied by derisive laughter. These guys have been with me a long, long time, and they are insidious; invidious too. Downright no good. And—I have to keep reminding myself—they do not exist. They do not exist. They are entirely in my mind. And over that, I have some control. I can guide my thoughts in a positive direction—away from the sneering gremlins.
So as I ponder this new path, I am determined, if nothing else, to prove those gremlins wrong. I won’t ignore them—bless their gnarly hearts, they are only trying to protect me. But I will show them that their concern is misplaced. I may not “make it” as a photographer in the sense of making a living, but I can find joy and satisfaction in making good photos, making good prints, and putting my work out in the world. And I know I can be patient and thorough: my work with words has taught me that. As for critics, I have a lot of friends who appreciate my work. Strangers—well, they can have their opinion. I don’t need to please everyone. Or even anyone. Except myself, in doing the work and finding pleasure in it. Taking risks and learning from the experience.
So this evening I followed the crystal-clear 38-step instructions for initializing the printer: I installed the print heads and the various color-coded ink cartridges, spooled the roll of matte paper, and, with anticipation, pressed the power button. As the machine whirred to life, I felt that I’d been joined in the room by an ally—someone to take my side against the gremlins. A co-creator. Or, in the end, a tool. But certainly not an enemy, something else to do battle with. Though I do anticipate a learning curve as I figure out printer profiles, calibration, and color profiles.
And I thought about the first print I would make on my new printer: something from my bathroom at the roost, taken on a rainy day; quiet, intimate, a bit mysterious. You don’t immediately know what it is, but when you recognize it, it makes you smile. At least, it does me. I am happy to have seen the possibility of this photo, and the subject matter brings back some sweet memories. What could be better?
All this brought to mind a quote I ran across recently, by Barbara Sher: “Doing is a quantum leap from imagining. Thinking about swimming isn’t much like actually getting in the water. Actually getting in the water can take your breath away. The defense force inside of us wants us to be cautious, to stay away from anything as intense as a new kind of action. Its job is to protect us, and it categorically avoids anything resembling danger. But it’s often wrong. Anything worth doing is worth doing too soon.”