The first night of my photography workshop found me outside my town's train station, bundled up against the cold. My new compact mirrorless camera had been sitting in its box, unused since I bought it months ago. As family photographer, I wanted to improve and use techniques from the gazillion basic photography classes I took over the years. The photo bug was also in my genes: my great and second-great grandfathers were professional photographers back in the day.
However, whenever I opened my new camera’s user manual or fiddled with its digital settings, I got a headache and grabbed my trusty point-and-shoot instead. My latest class was advertised as being ‘photography in action.’ It assumed an intermediate skill level, so classes were held at various locations to get right into exploring different types of shoots. In other words, I would be forced to get out my unused digital camera and take pictures. Perfect!
This first shoot was an architectural stroll through town at night, capturing interesting aspects of the modern Town Hall and the adjacent old-timey train station. When I arrived and saw half-dozen people clicking away with massive lenses as long as my arm that were attached to huge, tripod-mounted cameras, I wanted to run away. I hadn’t brought my tripod. D’uh. Night shooting requires a slow camera speed and a tripod to steady the camera during its long exposure time.
Plus, I hadn’t figured out how to mount my new camera on its tripod. The instructor offered to lend me a tripod. I declined. I figured if the night didn’t get any better, it would be easier to make a fast exit without returning equipment.
We divided into groups. Advanced students (those with uber-lenses and tripods) wandered off on their own. Those remaining clustered around the instructor since we needed more help.
I needed help all right, but nobody had another mirrorless camera because it was a new technology. I was on my own. Sigh. It took five minutes to remember how to toggle between shoot and preview modes. Then my strap came loose, and my lovely new camera was inches from crashing on hard concrete before I snatched it back to safety. Scurrying around in the dark, aided only by dim streetlights, I found the missing tiny black piece that had fallen off instead of holding the strap in place. My bad. I hadn’t secured it correctly in the first place.
My stress level was off the charts. I felt s*t*u*p*i*d. Frustrated. Hopeless. Plus, it was cold. My fingers and ears were numb. I was desperate to end my misery and slip away.
Then I overheard two classmates discussing aperture control, a function that creates a blurred or sharply focused background: “Is it a large f-stop for a shallow depth of field or the other way around?” Ah. My kind of people! I could never remember that setting, either, and always carried a cheat sheet to explain it. Definitely feeling better. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know everything.
We stepped inside Town Hall for interior shots. Definitely feeling even better being out of the cold and in decent light. I snapped away. As we worked, I discovered my classmates felt much as I did. They also wanted to learn and struggled to take it all in. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
We walked together to the nearby train station for our next shoot, and as we crossed the tracks to the depot, the blue locomotive’s optimistic refrain from Watty Piper’s classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, popped into my head— I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. That plucky engine didn’t give up when faced with a challenging haul up a mountainside to deliver its load of toys to children. I wouldn’t give up, either.
There's a mountain-sized learning curve in the weeks ahead in my photography class. I must push myself to stay with it. That first night, I was miles out of my comfort zone, mere seconds from running away. My I-should-know-how-to-do-this-perfectly-and-immediately mentality almost shut me down.
This venturing into the unknown is magnified a hundred fold on a writer’s journey, with Mount Everest-sized challenges about writing, publishing and marketing books to conquer. I’m often out of my comfort zone trying to keep up and take on new ways. The worst is the crushing self-doubt that pops up when mega-efforts result in baby steps -- or no steps.
I wish I had a magic wand to make self-defeating attitudes disappear forever. Take that, evil, thoughts. Be gone! But I’m human, and those thoughts will always lurk and bedevil me.
Instead of giving in, I’ll give myself permission to be okay with being an imperfect learner as I face something new.
I'll channel the Little Engine's I think I can, I think I can, I know I can! mantra.
And I'll just keep trying.
Please join the conversation in the comment section.
How do you stick with tough new challenges?
What additional suggestions can you add?
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Driving Down to Dillon:
A Very Short Story of Love and New Beginnings
These past weeks, JM and I have been on the road, overnighting in as many as three different places in a span of four days. We prepared for this happy hustle, and we anticipated there could be losses because of scurrying.
That first night in our hotel room, searching through suitcases for toothpaste and jammies, JM looked bleak. “I can’t believe I left my books and magazines at home,” he admitted when I asked what was wrong.
For my sweet historian, editor, and avid reader, the oversight was tantamount to disaster.
It was late, and we were too tired to find bookstores in unfamiliar territory. Instead, I popped open my tablet, pulled up the Library Anywhere app, and connected to my library 500 miles away in Carolina. Within five minutes, I downloaded an Inspector Gamache mystery by Louise Penny I knew JM would enjoy.
After a 60-second tut on tablet controls, he spent the next few evenings powering through the tale and asking for another download before our trip ended. JM, who saved “Auto Week” magazine as far back as the 1980s and has two rooms of books stacked on every corner and shelf, entered the digi-age at last…and he loved it.
As we crossed the eastern US on our road trip, listening to audio books downloaded on my smart phone and piped through car speakers, I considered the many reading options available today and over debate which is best.
According to a recent Pew Research study, print is the dominant way Americans read books:
More than two-thirds (69%) of people said they had read at least one printed book in the past year, versus 28% who said they’d read an e-book and 14% who said they had listened to an audiobook.
I adore the convenience of pulling up a digital book and seeing it appear on my tablet seconds later, without a run to the library or bookstore. Easy-peasy. Saves on gas and time.
I’m not a person who likes being still, so it’s tough to sit down to read for pleasure, (though I read online for work all the time). My mind races in a million directions, and I always think of something else I need to do. However, with ear buds dangling and an mp3 player tucked in a pocket, an audio book keeps me company when I exercise, tackle chores, and finish yard work. It even motivates during my morning routine to make teeth brushing and flossing less onerous. (My dentist loves the results!)
3. Alternative Learning
As a writing coach for college students with vision impairments and learning disabilities, I saw how audio books were lifesavers when printed words eluded these young people. Screen readers, another digital-reading cousin, even pull up text, highlight it, and read aloud with a voice quality and pace that users determine.
4. Sleep Aid
Full disclosure: I’m proud to be a librocubicularist. I hope we can still be friends.
Reading in bed at night helps me fall asleep; however, keeping a light on to illuminate my book keeps others awake. Tah-da! E-reader to the rescue. Using backlighting and control adjustments on my tablet, I snap off the lamp and read into the night without disturbing anyone.
Digital books allow print and layout customization that suit me to a T. I select a two-column spread on sepia background, with mid-sized font and gentle line spacing. My tablet is super light and easy to prop up. I even slip it into my briefcase or knitting bag to carry without adding serious weight.
6. Space Saving
Unlike those whose rooms are blanketed with books and piled along the back stairs (and you know who you are!), my books sit on a lovely, floating cloud in cyberspace. I imagine them there, smiling down on me, waiting for me to summon them in my reading queue. They remain in pristine condition, never crumpled or stained. Plus, there’s no need to dust them. Ever.
7. Kid Magnets
Has a toddler ever grabbed your tablet and started pushing buttons? They finding apps you didn’t know existed! Digital books and reading apps are made for those little fingers.
I marvel at the way my niecelettes navigate a reading app intuitively on their own. Plus, it’s pure delight to sit down together to scroll through pages and laugh at sound effects and pop-ups.
If you price an e-book against its print counterpart, you already know which is more affordable.
So, there you have my preferences. Whatever way we prefer, the important point is to get people reading, no matter which platform they use.
The Pew Research organization found that the typical American read five books in 2013. Let’s pump up that number for adults and get kids hooked on books, too.
Print. Digital. Audio. Whatever it takes. It’s time to get reading!
What's YOUR preference? Let’s have fun with two unscientific polls:
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What’s your favorite format for children’s books?
What's your favorite format for reading adult fiction?
What do you think about digital books?
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Driving to Dillon: a Very Short Story of Love and New Beginnings.
I had time to gather my thoughts about a million things during our 1,000-mile December road trip to celebrate two birthdays, including Dad’s 90th birthday bash, and family holiday gatherings in three states across the eastern US.
I also finished a wool shawl started last January after taking a knitting class. Learning how to knit was something I always wanted to do. Even though I finished this big project, I'm not now, nor will I ever be, a knitting guru, and I have no desire to tackle complex patterns. But I can knock out a mean scarf with simple loops. I hope people won’t tire of receiving Cat-knit scarves for Christmas and birthdays.
My shawl experience and holiday travels led me to think about how I want to grow as a writer and be a better inhabitant of this planet. I came up with six simple ways to keep on the write track.
1. It’s the journey; not the destination
2. The road is bumpy
Writing is fraught with literary curves and technical potholes. Keep the pitfalls in stride and author onward. (See point #1 above.)
As Alan Rickman’s intrepid Dr. Lazarus spouted in Galaxy Quest:
Never give up; never surrender!
3. It needn’t be flawless...just your best effort
4. Be patient when trapped in traffic. Try a back road.
Whether driving, writing, or knitting, there are times when the going is slow. Just turn that crawl into a game and find something to smile about.
As traffic jammed the interstate during our holiday trek, we hopped onto back roads through rural Pennsylvania (US). We relished the change of pace and loved the quirky discoveries found in the small towns we passed. Funny how our stress level dipped.
A change of pace works for writing, too. Give that elusive chapter or frustrating e-book format a rest. Walk around the block, hug a puppy, or text a friend. Find whatever you need to re-set your soul, and then get back to it. Guarantee the task will be there when you’re ready for it.
5. Be in the present
I want to savor each moment, taking in blessings that are right in front of me, instead of beating myself up because I’m not accomplishing everything on my to-do list. This hit home as I watched Dad celebrate his 90th birthday.
My father was a vital, active man, a 30-year veteran of teaching middle-school science. However, a stroke that came six months after losing Mama paralyzed his left side. Now, he depends on others to assist him with activities of daily living, but his mind is whip-sharp. His amazing carer stays with him during the day, and my siblings and Aunt Red take turns in the evening. “They’re babysitting me,” Dad explains with a laugh when I phone to see how he’s doing.
Seeing his sweet joy in spending his birthday afternoon surrounded by dear friends and four generations of our family makes me want to emulate his example of grace and gratitude --- which leads me to point 6.
6. Build a Strong Support System
I’m not talking social media here, Lovely Readers. Writing can be painfully lonely for this extrovert. There are only so many times I can babble away to ever-patient JM before he loses his mind.
Human contact keeps me motivated. (Yes, sing along with Barbara Streisand and me: People. People who need people …. ) Because our family lives far away, I look to cyber-friends, gal pals, neighbors, and community to unplug from the keyboard and connect with life.
I feel better, too, when I tackle creative outlets, like photography and choir, that bring immediate results. They nourish my soul and keep the writing juices flowing. Plus, I get to be with people (Okay, let’s sing that refrain again.)
Plus, I'm beyond grateful my writerly colleagues and readers welcome me. I love hearing from readers and I'm jazzed about celebrating hard-working authors as they soar. There’s something lovely about sharing good news and stepping into that circle of gladness. Makes my endorphins do the happy dance.
That’s why my one and only New Year’s resolution for 2015 is this:
I’m offering daily at least one hug AND one atta-person
(in-person or virtual; family does not count).
Who wants to be first?
Thanks for staying with me on my writerly journey these past 12 months. I'm beyond grateful for your company.
Here’s wishing you an amazing 2015 ...
surrounded by dear people,
wrapped in love, joy, and all good things.
Please be social and join the conversation in the comment section below.
How do these tips work for you?
What do YOU do to keep on the write/right track?
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Driving to Dillon: a Very Short Story of Love and New Beginnings.
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