So long as a person is capable of self-renewal they are a living being. – Henri-Frederic Amiel
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. – Ernest Hemingway
A year ago I made a crazy decision. A decision made totally on trust.
I proposed to co-lead a 3 1/2 hour master photography class at Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp. I did not really know the person with whom I was going to design and facilitate the class. I had seen and admired her photography work, but that was pretty much all I knew about her.
We live two hours apart. Nancy owns her own business, as a neuromuscular therapist and teacher, and I have been on the road, traveling for work, an astounding 39 of the last 52 weeks. So time was a very precious commodity for us both.
The idea for the class was my genesis, so I wrote the initial proposal: Expressive Photography – Seeing from the Heart. Here’s the session description:
Photographers use cameras like painters use brushes, or poets use words – to create images rich with emotion that speak from the heart.
Together, we will focus on different ways of seeing with your camera. We promise minimal technical jargon, but lots of ideas and exercises to bring your own unique creativity into your photos.
We will play with six core concepts of expressive photography, and apply them to nature, portraits, still life or street photography.
We met a total of 3 times before we arrived at the the conference; once by phone, once in person and once on Skype. Given that my usual way of tackling something is to organize the hell out of it, I put the first draft of the agenda and time assignments together.
We agreed on the outline and divvied up sections of the class to facilitate. Part of our plan included setting up stations for Still Life photography. This required bringing things from home to create lovely little still life vignettes. As I went around my house looking for items, I was in total dismay. I really am not a collector of lovely things – unless you count books. I had been to Nancy’s house. Her husband is a potter, and their home is filled with hand-made bowls, pitchers and other artful things displayed in casual but artistic ways.
Two nights before our session, we met to review our plan. She showed me her presentation for her parts of the class. Her photos were amazing. But, to my uptight project manager’s heart’s dismay, they were not organized into the sections we had agreed upon. I had a brief private moment of WTF?! Changing the agenda 48 hours before facilitation is not something I would have taken lightly in my past as a corporate training facilitator.
But it was easy to adjust, and I think I covered my surprise adequately in the moment.
Nancy and I chatted a little bit about how we had landed here together. She made a comment that went something like this: “We are so different! You are so organized, and I am so organic…”
I am very certain she meant this as a compliment. I had done the agenda, and put all the resource materials together – all the paperwork, so to speak. She had added the ‘soulful’ things to the plan – a guided visual investigation of the room and a body-centering meditation prior to our outside walk-about. She had brought the most beautiful things to photograph, and had organized them thoughtfully and creatively.
But that comment about ‘organic’ really bothered me. Am I not organic? That sounds like a really bad thing. I have chewed on this for over a week now.
She was right, of course. She lives on a lake in the mountains, in a passive solar house, swims two or three times a day, paddle boards with her dogs and is refreshingly natural in appearance and nature. She is totally in touch with her body and helps others do so as well. I get on a plane every week to work with financial services clients. I wear heels, blow dry my hair and like my hairspray and perfume. She is fit and I am not.
Even our photography eyes are different. She is drawn to the play of light and shadow, and excels at macro photography – the photography of small subjects and details. I am drawn to vistas, landscapes and scenes that tell the history and story about a place.
When I came home from Camp, I asked my son this question: “How would you define ‘organic’?
His first answer was typical of a lawyer, using the definition from chemistry – “containing carbon”. Carbon-based molecules are the basic building blocks of humans, animals, plants, trees and soils. Of course, ‘organic’ also means healthy, natural, clean and free of toxins. In literature, ‘organic’ can also mean harmonious, continuous, spontaneous, integrated.
The class was a harmonious and integrated smash hit. We nailed it. The adjusted agenda worked well, our time management was spot-on, and everybody learned something and had a lot of fun. A professional photographer friend at the conference crashed our class, and she loved it too.
Why and how did this work? Nancy and I both had specific and strong ideas about what we wanted to accomplish. We each were historically more comfortable working as a one-man show. But the combination worked. Why?
We both had a passionate love of photography and wanted to share it.
We appreciated and welcomed each other’s gifts.
We trusted each other’s competence and intent.
But I am still thinking about that ‘organic’ thing. Crazy thoughts. Including growing my hair out, living full-time in tennis shoes and clothes that move, cooking and writing and walking and photographing, all located somewhere in my beloved mountains. (Of course this vision also includes me losing 20-30 pounds.)
I may or may not do all of this. I’’m not sure I would look good with longer – and grayer – hair. Maybe I just have what we veteran campers call a “Camp Crush” on my friend. Camp is a place where you meet and fall in love with the most amazing people who inspire and motivate.
But there is something calling to me to live in a more authentic way. To drop my masks and shields, which I have worn/carried for 30+ years, to live a simpler and less artificial life. To trust more, to let things take their course, without imposing my will or forcing an outcome.
I did not expect to learn so much from leading a photography course.
At the most fundamental level, OF COURSE I am organic. I have carbon in me. I am a living being.
And I am capable of self-renewal.
So let’s just see what happens. That sounds pretty organic to me.