It has been a long time since I last sat down to write a piece, since I was able to do so. Whilst the world around me changed completely, whilst planes were kept on the ground, companies had to shut down and people were confined to their homes, I was trapped in what felt like hell without an emergency exit. Utter shock upon hearing the worst possible news about my dad....a huge brain tumor...months of hardly any sleep that followed, my dad's passing on Mother's Day, just 17 months after my mum, whom he had taken care of almost my entire life.
I felt numb, almost without the ability to feel anything except being bowled over. People told me over and over again how this was simply not fair...how this should not have happened to me, how we had been through too much already with my mum's illness. All I could say was that it is simply not up to me to decide what is fair, it is not up to me to control what can not be controlled. Who am I to say that this should not happen? It happens, it happened, it is reality. Reality is what it is, not what we think it should be.
My brain shut down and only let grief trickle through when I least expected it...Grief, when it comes, it bowls you over, it undoes you, it unravels you. That what used to make up part of your identity is gone. This leaves you with a vacuum...now what? A vacuum of total non-identity...Can one create from that?
Of all the things that I know to be true about creativity, I know that it starts with some kind of emotion that needs to be expressed. Like one of my photographer friends said: "You can work with emotions, either positive or negative, but you can't work with numbness." He was right, I could not work from numbness and there was very little I could actually do to get out of that state. There was no way to control any of this and so...I accepted that I had nothing to share, nothing of beauty to give, no words of encouragement or teaching to post.
I had to accept that I did not feel like creating, writing, teaching or even seeing people. I withdrew into my own universe, because I know that there is only one person that I need to connect to in times like these and that is to myself. With the knowledge that underneath the numb surface, life itself is still there and life in its essence is something that wants to grow, that seeks the light to start flourishing.
For artists and creatives this situation is one that they fear the most. A vacuum, a life without itinerary, numbness beyond belief....Can one simply create in spite of that? Well, you can, but if there is no you to express, the resulting work will miss your soul.
The only thing that is worse than not feeling creative is trying to fight the feeling: "I should be creative, creativity is supposed to help overcome grief, I should overcome this asap, I should get back to my life."
The beauty that you can find in these kinds of situations is acceptance. Simply accepting that you have nothing that can be expressed at this time, that just for now there is nothing that can be said.
Acceptance means you just let it be, the numbness, the lack of inspiration, the feelings of disconnectedness. Not even waiting for it to end, but being open to the moment when it does end. And then one day a little spark of curiosity, a tiny urge to write, a quick thought of taking a picture comes up and you stand up and follow where it leads you. You might be forever changed and you might also not be able to find back the person who you once were and are therefore not able to create the same kinds of things, but this is not a bad thing, this is in fact the thing that makes life utterly beautiful....it wants to grow, evolve and flourish.
And so, after many months without even touching my camera and wanting to write, a little hint of a spark returned. It started to lure me back to the life I hold so dear. Nature started calling me back, curiosity began to creep into the little cracks in grief and words also wanted to be written again. My father wrote that I should stay true to who I am and to be happy. In this curiosity, in my photography and writing lies my true nature and so I am here....showing up when inspiration wants to be heard and taken seriously. Back to my old life is no longer an option, it does not exist anymore. Back to my true nature however is.
And so I tentatively picked up my camera again, drove to the forest, started taking pictures. I felt that I must have lost "it" for sure. The first two times that I went out I still felt like a robot relying solely on compositions and techniques of the past. The third time however, I noticed that I did not want to go home, that I wanted to stay, that I had been working on a photograph of one a small group of trees for one and a half hours and the vacuum that I had felt for such a long time, started being filled up again with joy and a zest for life. The pictures in this post are the result.
What my photography will grow into is yet uncertain, it can only be seen in retrospect, but I am willing to let it change and take me where curiosity leads me. With the numbness gone, inspiration has a chance to grab hold of me once again. There is now something to express, there is a me to share again and I will let my photography do the talking for that which is beyond words.
My book Woodscapes can now be bought in the Dutch bookstores (Dutch language), but if you are not Duch and would like to learn all about forest photography, my eBook The Magic Of Forest Photography will help you on your way