Getting Scary Close

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“You just have to read it” she said over the phone, “I don’t know why, I just feel like you should.”

My mother, who lives three provinces away back in my hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario, calls to chat with me often, but not to make book recommendations. Like most mothers and daughters, we have very different tastes. She knows it. I know it. But there she was anyhow, with no language to rationalize instinct.

Two weeks later Donald Miller’s Scary Close arrived for me at the quaint little library on Cortes Island. On the third page I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to put this book down. My mother was right. Big-time.

I know Donald Miller wasn’t writing his confession because he knew I needed to read it, but it felt like he did. Just a little (maybe a lot). And It started with this brisk slap in the face, as he explained the connection between love and writer’s block:

Being afraid to love and being paralyzed at the keyboard both involved a fear of being known, a fear of making mistakes, a fear of being found lacking.
— Donald Miller, Scary Close

Guilty.

As an artist and a hopeless romantic, I’d spent all of my time trying to become a person and create things that other people would like. I didn’t want to share my artistic process, my personal shortfalls, or straight-up-career fumbles with anyone. Nope, I wanted to jump in the shower where no one could see me cry and come out fresh, as if nothing happened.

I would tell myself: “Everyone else has their shit together! I too should have an Instagram-ready life!" If I deserved love it’s because I was perfect. If I found career success it’s because I honed my style, and each piece I created was perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Perfectly Exhausting. Because (gasp!), I’m not perfect. So, instead of being myself, I was trying to be an “Amanda” I thought worthy of love.

The whole experience makes me wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn’t wasted because the most powerful, most attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive, but has opinions about what is seen along the journey.
— Donald Miller, Scary Close

Turning page after page, I realized that in my effort to be perfect, I was actively preventing my own happiness. I was afraid to truly be seen. I was afraid to be vulnerable. I was afraid to let people too close. If I wanted to experience true intimacy, Donald Miller revealed, I had to let people in close. Not just close, scary close. Thanks Mom.

So what happens now that I’ve finished the book? As I try to adopt these lessons into my own life? Cue adorable coming of age story.

A man named Charles Hughes entered my life. To this day I can only describe his presence as inexplicably comforting. One hike and beach-fire later, I boldly shared that I was ever-performing. At work, in relationships, I was never truly myself. I wanted to stop. Before I knew it, I was confessing it all to Charlie: my desire to be perfect, my fear of being found-out as an unsure stumbling artist---as an unsure, stumbling woman. I was scared. It was the first time I was truly vulnerable with someone. And you know what he did? He listened. And then he said “me too.”

Doing the inner work to understand yourself and your motivations is tough. It can take a lifetime of rewiring to change your behaviours and overcome fear. Charlie and I are still unpacking our stories with each other, but we also put a few thoughts into action.

Together we planned how I could re-shape my artistic practice to align with who I am, right now. Not who I want to be tomorrow, or who I think someone else wants me to be. Charlie asked what it would look like if I was photographing for myself. For fun. What inspired me? What moved me? What would challenge me in a way I would enjoy, while honing my skills? What could I actually commit to?

It was during this conversation that my series The Cortes Portraits was born. The plan was to complete a series of shoots, one each month, where I explore this incredible island I call home. Nothing showy, no complicated set-ups of ornate locations. Just Cortes, myself, and the people who agreed to join my journey and be photographed. And you, as the audience.

Each session from The Cortes Portraits will be posted on my blog, as an incomplete body of work, ever-developing as I learn and grow, change and explore. Because things don’t always have to be perfect and finished. Being a work-in-progress is being human. Plus, damn, it feels really good to just be yourself.