It was the first time I’d ever cracked into a fresh whole crab. It had been pulled straight from the Washington waters just days before but I barely remember it. The salt I tasted came not from the creature whose flesh had only known the salty sea but from my own tears. This had been one of the longest and most awful weekends of my photography career spent side by side with my newly minted ex-boyfriend. It involved back to back weddings in different states, 100 degree weather without shade, the most thankless bride I’d ever met, cut knees, sleeping in what we called ‘sex sheets’ as they’d very obviously just been slept in by the couple we were photographing, finally learning how to open a bottle of beer with out a bottle opener in the dark on a dock, multiple 5am days, driving back across three states with stops along the way long enough to get locked in a bathroom in the middle of nowhere Montana and to see a game warden about a certain piece of Idaho wilderness. Sitting on the splintered wood next to the boy who’d broken my heart eating the crab I couldn’t really taste, I wondered why. Why was I doing all that I was doing? What was it for? What was the point? Tears streamed down my face and for a moment I forgot my heartache over this specific complicated human and felt the heart of the matter. I don’t think I could quite put it into these specific words in that moment but my body didn’t need language to understand: I was building a life I did not want to live. And so my heart fully broke.
Broken I like so many began the process of rebuilding myself and my life (are those two separate things?). It got worse before it got better as it so often does. We break and then when we didn’t think it was possible we somehow break even more (can we really hold so much?). I’m sure the pieces of me began to come together before I could really see or feel it, but on Christmas day, one of the final days of that year, I went for a run in the morning and I saw the dew on the branches. I stopped. It was backlit by the light reflecting off the lake I was running around. I remember the clothes I was wearing. I remember the feeling in body. I felt whole again. I could see the world again. I could be in the world again. I took a photo. I breathed in that moment. It stands in my head as a marker of the before and the after. The Tori who was and the Tori who is.
I keep making the mistake after periods of massive growth and transition of thinking I’ve reached a place of arrival. I’ve grown. Yay! Celebration. Joy. Phew! So glad that is over. I know I will have to grow again but it will be different. I will never go back. My path is linear from hereto forward. I have mastered x, y and z, they will never be tested again. I am now here on the right and I will never be lured by the left again. And then I’m blindsided when all the things I thought I knew and learned are pulled out from under me like a rug, or like my clumsy first grade self that attempted a cartwheel on the pavement only to find herself stunned and squarely on her back with the breath knocked out of her. The path is not linear. It never is. It never will be. (And really would we want it to be? Somedays my answer is yes).
As winter and spring did their dance with one another this past year I finally surrendered to the slowness that had been beckoning me. I had been fighting it for so long. I almost chose ‘Go Big’ as my words for this year because that’s where I wanted to be. But which I? My true self? Or the self I impose on me based on some arbitrary expectation of who I think I need and should be at 34? But hadn’t I already changed and slowed down? Wasn’t that what I did after I cried over crab? I felt mad. Cheated. This is not the life I had signed up for.
This is not the life I signed up for. A thought on repeat this August. My life began to speed up this July. I thought I was over and through some things. That I had done the work and therefore I was now getting a neat bow for all that hard work, all those tears, the sweat, emotional strife, therapy, money, for all that the last year had asked of me. July was mostly bliss and I embraced it. I blasted the music in my car at full volume and danced at stoplights. I could barely sleep at times I was so happy to be awake. I camped a lot. I began to run. I cooked vegetables straight from the ground with creative fervor. I dug my hands into the earth tending to beets, broccoli, squash, cauliflower and marveled at the beauty of the dirt that clung to the cracks of my still young hands. My skin took on a golden hue from days out of doors. Every night was spent in the company of friends and loved ones. There was a rosy tint to my cheeks that came from more than the sun. And I was ever so grateful. I had forgotten just how good this life can be. But as it happens there was no bow. I had begun to speed up. I had abandoned slow. I am glad I got lost in the bliss but I can also see that I abandoned myself a little in there too. Because in the end I chose the word evolve for 2018 and evolution asks us for time.
In the last few weeks, really all of the last 52, my subconscious has been asking what kind of life do you want to live? Do you want to make a lot money? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to live on a farm? Do you want slow mornings? Do you want children? Do you want to be videoing your life in 15 second bursts constantly? Do you want an editorial calendar of photos and snippets of thought? What about creating the perfect grid? Do you want to be a wedding photographer? Many of these questions I don’t have answers to. But I do know what I would do every day if I could. Read, run, write, garden, photograph and cook for people. I do many of those things daily as it is. Maybe you’re scoffing at how luxurious that sounds. Isn’t that what we all want? Tori, there is health insurance, and mortgages, and 401ks, and college savings, and college loans, and, and the washer is breaking unexpectedly, and we have to go to that cousin’s wedding on the east coast that we don’t want to go to, and laundry, and picky kids to feed, and the ski trip to save for, and never enough sleep. Yes, yes there is. But what if we’re living all wrong? What if society has sold us a lie?
The minute I realized the rug was pulled out from underneath me I decided I was finally going to do ten things I have been thinking about for a year(s). Cookbook pdf, set up that newsletter, #versatileveg, rebrand my wedding photography, women’s portraits, donate 1% of my profit to a non-profit, book that trip to Italy with my mom, build my food photography portfolio, photograph more farms, cut my hair, die it, get a tattoo—all worthwhile things. All things I will do. The truth of the matter: I was reacting, I was running, I didn’t want to lie on my laminate floors and feel all the things that hurt. I literally tried to hike myself into numbness and when I finally succeeded I found myself 8 miles in at a glacial lake I could not actually see. So I sat there and I cried and I took a nap. I came home and sat on the couch with a glass of wine next to a bowl of peaches in the dark and I let myself mourn what I had lost and what I did not understand. I did it again another night. And one morning. And one afternoon. And I will probably do it again.
A friend pointed out to me last week that the majority of what I do is an extension of myself and my heart. Maybe, she suggested it’s hard to do all those things like rebrand and change my whole business and life because I’m not actually ok right now. Oh. Oh. Perhaps it wasn’t the time to move full steam ahead. My body knew what my mind did not. My friend was right. I keep trying to be over there in this place where I think I should be, want to be, need to be, hope to be, instead of where I am. I hardly ever sit exactly where I am. Instead of sitting with my own suffering and being curious towards it I had feverishly hiked away from it. What can it teach me? If I build these ten things, not only will they be a distraction, but then I can prove my worth. Why do I really need to be full? I am valuable because I built this business and finally became the doer, the act-er, instead of just the talker about-er. Am I still not enough?
Sitting in the dark next to that bowl of peaches I made a decision. We get to decide what kind of lives we want to live. Again I feel the gentle tugs of stillness and slowness. They’re at the hem of my dress. They’re the soft fingertips on my shoulders. They’re the hands soothing my temples. They’re a quiet urging that has grown so loud it’s the white noise of my every minute. Do the things you know you want to do. Do them. Be present in them. Focus on them. Be intentional. Don’t think about the should. The newsletter you should create. The scalable business model you need to build. The family you long to create. Do the things you are already doing. The wedding clients you already have. The families inviting you into their homes this fall. And then write. And write some more. And photograph. And run. And be curious. And spend hours tapping your keyboard and with your pen and moleskin and your mind. Go to the library. And cook. Cook from all your cookbooks. Have everyone over. Make a cake without a recipe. Bake bread until the flour is permanently lodged in the cracks that winter will bring to your hands. Do the work that you have well and with intention. Be more present than ever before. Stop being exhausted from all the responsibility of never-ending achievement. Never-ending goals.
Even as I write this I feel so privileged. There’s also that fearful voice that worries I’m getting left behind, telling me, I have to do all the things. If I don’t I’m just spoiled and not good enough and I should be able to be and do more right now. We get to choose. We get to choose. We get to decide. My 401k may continue to suffer. This may be a consequence. But what might I learn from stillness? From sitting down to write with out feeling guilty. Or creating photos for the sake of creating photos. Or just how many more lunches might I get with my mom? Will I finally bake that chocolate cake I have wanted to bake for 2, maybe three years? It’s on my vision board for goodness sakes and yet for some reason I bake everything but that chocolate cake. I just made peach scones. Another friend asked me why I have not baked that chocolate cake yet? It never feels like the right time. Chocolate cakes don’t have seasons, not like plum tarts, and peach galettes or tomato pies. We get to choose. Today I chose peach scones.