Adventure is worthwhile in itself. ~Amelia Earhart
Susanna. I’ve known this girl since she was very young. I’ve watched her grow up in the public eye. (The youngest member of a well-known pastoral family, people are always paying attention.) Whatever pressures that may have presented, she’s all grown up now into an incredibly strong, wondering, adventurous, gorgeous woman.
So, let me just say how much I adore this girl. She is HILARIOUS and makes me feel like I’m basically a comedian, because she laughs at all my jokes. Her sense of style is amazing; I was never this cool at her age. In fact, I’m still not this cool. She’s an incredibly talented actress, writer; her sense of comedic timing is exquisite. I love her untamed spirit,and her sense of adventure. She’s a dear love of mine and I was honored to have had the chance to capture her senior session.
Her session was such a reflection of her. When I asked her about her ideas, she said, “can we do something with an adventure look?” Yes please. I dragged this girl up a mountain, had her climbing all over rocks, back down the mountain (which in all honesty, was a pretty small “mountain”.) She was totally up for shooting part of her session in a parking deck, shopping carts included. So much fun! She was down for everything I suggested. She was such a good sport and a GORGEOUS subject. She’s an amazing person. Truly one of the dearest I know.The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.
“You must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
That’s the idea, right? Easy enough to say; harder to do. That thought though is what prompted me to begin this exploration of personal value. The Value Project has shown me that this concept has a different meaning to each person. Their perspectives are unique, thought-provoking. In the spirit of fairness, it’s my turn to take the spotlight and answer the questions of the hour: What kind of value do I place on myself? What makes me feel valued? I’ll be honest: I have struggled with the concepts of personal value in regards to myself. especially recently. Before a few months ago, the idea of personal value was not something that I spent much time thinking about. It was forced on me, in a way. This wasn’t a bad thing. The opposite actually. Often times when hard things come into our lives, they force into the open those things we don’t want to face in ourselves. In response to that, I felt I had no other option other than to deal with that question. I think that the view of my own value comes out of what I’m passionate about, the things I find valuable about life. So, perhaps answering that question first would help me clarify
The question gets asked, “What are you passionate about?” There are a million ways for that to go, but the simple answer for me, is people. As a believer, I know that we are each created specifically and beautifully; We’re not randomly here in this world. We are called to love each other as we walk through this life together; to look beyond our own line of sight to see what another soul needs. People are the most important aspect of life to me. Relationships are a gift. We could very well go through our lives solo, but instead we are given the gift of love. In saying that, I feel like part of who I’ve been created to be is to love those around me. I’ve been given the ability to really see who they are, who they want to be; I’ve been given a bold spirit, one that is unafraid to speak the beautiful things that I see in others. Don’t underestimate the power of words to build another person up and to push them forward. Sometimes we just need to know that someone else cares about what we’re going through, that they understand us. Such a simple thing, isn’t it?
Okay, so here comes the tie-in. What makes me feel valued? Intentionality. I guess that’s not really a word, but for the sake of all concerned, lets just pretend it is. In my relationships with others, I strive to be intentional; I want my time with them to be meaningful, to be what is needed in that moment, whether that means a listening ear, somebody to laugh with or a hug to counter tears. My life is crazy busy, but I think it’s so important to make time for those around us. I think because I put such an emphasis on this practice, that’s why it means so much to me when someone takes time for me; asks me how I’m doing and really wants to hear the answer. I feel valuable to them. They care enough to invest in me and that makes me feel that I am worth something… I have always had trouble asking for anything from anyone. I know that I’m capable of doing a lot on my own and its almost easier for me to struggle through something than to be vulnerable enough to ask for what I need. It’s hard for me to talk about what’s going on in my heart, the things I’m afraid of, my insecurities. That’s not because I don’t feel the need to talk about them or that I’m afraid to do so, I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my baggage. We all want to be known by someone. We want to know that our life matters, that we won’t be forgotten if we suddenly disappeared from this earth. We are such relational beings, searching for connection. However, that requires openness on all sides. Without it, we lose genuineness and authenticity. C.S. Lewis said, “to love is to be vulnerable.” That’s true for the giver and the receiver. I’m learning how to do this through practical application. I’ve been so blessed to be surrounded by people who care for me, love me and invest in me; who are teaching me, by example. There is a responsibility that I have to pass it on.
Like I said earlier, this concept of personal value is something that has not been easy for me to grasp. The view I have of myself is greatly colored by the view I feel others have of me. I love and value people greatly. But like everyone else, I have been hurt by someone that I trusted, having placed a great amount of value on the relationship, only to walk away from it feeling that whatever had gone wrong was my fault because I wasn’t ____. You fill in the blank. There are so many layers of “you’re not enough of this” or “you’re too much of that.” It’s a continuous debate going on between the head and the heart: there’s a disconnect between what I KNOW to be true and what FEELS true. I’ve found that most of the time, those two things rarely coincide. I know that I have value, but because it’s almost painful at times to wade through the doubts and my perceived ideas, I choose to not really think about it at all. That’s been true up to this point. I’m learning through this project the importance of valuing oneself, because how can we share the importance of this idea with others if we don’t believe it ourselves? It takes courage to face our insecurities, to work through the things that are holding us back and to be open to loving someone else through the same struggles.
“Courage, dear heart.” ~C.S.Lewis
Okay, last confession for this post. Having my picture taken is an INCREDIBLY awkward experience. I’m a photographer. I totally get why that statement makes no sense, yet I will continue to make it. Honestly, it’s not the process that’s difficult. That’s pretty fun most of the time. It’s the end result that I have trouble getting my head around. Why, do you ask? Because I’m just so disappointed with what I see. The image I have of myself in my head doesn’t translate to what is produced by the camera. I’m much cooler in my head. I don’t stand awkwardly, I don’t do weird things with my face, I look like a competent human being, etc. So, when I see an image of myself, it just bums me out because I only see the things that I don’t like. Then I’m faced with the reality that this is what everybody else sees, all the live long day. Sheesh. I don’t say that to tear myself down or because I’m looking for affirmation from other places. It’s simply an honest look at how I feel and I’ve accepted it as such. I just choose not to think about in general. However, because the photographs are half of this project, it was a necessary process. Thankfully, I had a dear friend who knows how to make me laugh, help me with one part of the shoot. The other part, I had to do on my own because it seemed less awkward if no one was around to see it. Go figure.
Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this undertaking so far; Thank you for your kind words, for the way you have affirmed me and encouraged me. I am especially thankful for those of you who have participated in this project. I have learned so much from each of you. I deeply value the relationships that have come out of this and am humbled by the trust you have placed in me. Much love to each of you.
“At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.” ~Shanti
I found the above quote and immediately thought of Pippa. She is a delightful, mischievous, magical being. The air around her is just crackling with excitement and wonder. She seems to know more than she lets on, like she’s been told thousands of amazing secrets and if you’re lucky enough, she’ll let you in on the wonder of it all. I got that chance a few weeks ago. Early Sunday morning, I walked up to the house with the purple door and knocked. I heard tiny running feet and then there was Pippa. She greeted me rather non-nonchalantly, as she was right in the middle of coloring a rather intricate picture of an owl and she has her priorities.
Me: “Hey Pippa. How’re you doing?
Pippa: I’m fine. Just coloring.
Me: “What are you coloring?”
Pippa: “An owl. It’s for my mom. She loves owls.”
Me: “Wow. I love the colors that you chose. Your mom’s really going to love that. Do you know why I’m here?”
Pippa: “You’re going to take pictures of me.” (Still coloring)
Me: “I am. I’m going to take some pictures of you and then we’ll just talk for a little bit. Is that okay?”
Pippa: “Sure. (Points to a tent-like structure in the middle of the living room) That is my space fort. You can’t go in there though, because my cat puked in there. I’m allergic to puke!”
I started laughing and I knew the rest of my time with Pippa was going to be awesome. I asked her if she wanted to show me her room. She excitedly bounced off the couch and went running down the hall, because she had bunk beds to show me! The top bunk is apparently her favorite spot. I can’t blame her. I had bunk beds myself growing up and can totally relate. She scrambled up the ladder with the skill of a spider monkey, talking about the books that covered the end of the bed and the lovely bird mobile hanging from her ceiling. One of the things I love most about the company of children is the non-linear way they carry on conversations. Whatever is on their minds at the time, is what’s shared, often with hilarious results.
Pippa: “I have a friend who says he can jump up to the ceiling and put his milk up on the fan without spilling it. But I’m not sure that’s true…
Pippa: “My favorite place is the hammock, but you DO have to watch out for spiders. We have a lot of spiders here.”
Pippa led me through the kitchen and out to the back yard, all the while dancing around on her toes. She introduced me to her dog, Frannie, who has a her own special spot on the couch which we can’t really sit in. I also met her two cats, as well as the neighbors cat. We talked about the mint plants and the hammock, what she likes to do everyday. All of a sudden, she remembered that she needed to show me something inside, so away she ran. Of course, I followed. I didn’t want to miss anything.
Pippa: “Mom! Can you help me put on my Elsa dress?? I made up a song and put it on my moms phone. It’s called Let It Go. I can easily find it!”
Ah, Frozen. Pippa bounded off to her room and a few seconds later came back with book in hand. She started pushing buttons and Let It Go started playing. Completely lost in the moment, Pippa began singing along and dancing through the patches of sunlight filtering through the living room windows. Totally magical.
This whole time, Emily (Pippa’s mom) has been in the kitchen making pancakes for breakfast. I could hear her soft laughter as she listened to Pippa’s narrations coming over her Sunday morning talk radio. Pippa heard the theme music from this particular radio show and offered up her opinion on it.
Pippa: “That music is NOT music. It’s just something that’s important to my mom. She likes it. It’s just noise to me.”
Me: “So, Pippa. You just had a birthday, right? You’re 5 now?”
Pippa: “Yep. I go to kindergarten now. I get to ride with my friends on the school bus. I missed my mom on the first day, but i like going now. Sometimes. I just like spending time with them. (Mom and Dad.)”
Pippa took off running to the kitchen, apparently in search of a snack. She came back with an orange Bell Pepper, which she then proceeded to eat like an apple. She remembered that she hadn’t finished her picture, so back to the drawing board we went. She was totally happy to have me keep her company while she finished up. I was prepared to head out, but Emily insisted that I stay and have breakfast with them. How do you turn down pancakes, out on the back porch with your new buddy, two cats and a dog? The answer is, you don’t.
The pancakes were delicious and Emily came out to join us.We talked about The Value Project, with Pippa interjecting facts about her mom, neighbors and pets. As soon as we were finished with breakfast, Pippa offered up her hammock for a little relaxation. “Can we swing in the hammock and have a little chat?” Absolutely. Our chat turned into a tickle/giggle fest as all good hammock sits do.
Me: “Pippa, do you ever feel special or important?”
Pippa: “I feel important on my birthday and I always feel special. I’m special to my family. Whenever I miss my family, I put my hand on my cheek and remember that my mom loves me.”
Regrettably, I had to get going, despite Pippa’s desire for me to stay and play. She gave me a hug and asked if I was going to be coming back next weekend. If I was, I could totally see her new blue hair! Adorable. Before I could sign off though, I had to experience the space fort.
Pippa: “5…4…3…2…1… Blast off!! Psssssshhh! (This all came from inside the fort.) I’m an astronaut heading into space. I’m going to Mars. I’m looking for special rocks. Oh no!! It’s moving! The wild Mommy!! One alien: It was big and blue and green. I’m going to fly off and explore later. Oh! And I remembered my toothbrush and space food. Bye Mommy Alien!!!”
And off she flew.
“Roald Dahl said something along the lines of, ‘You could be the ugliest person in the world, but if you have happy thoughts, they’ll shine out of your face like sunbeams.’ So, I think that a long as you’re generally happy, then you can be a beautiful person.”
Calvin was one of the first friends that I made after starting at Cup-A-Joe. He would always have some wild fact to share about some subject that I knew nothing about. I always had a fun time listening to his perspective on life and the things going on around us. As it turns out, we share a love for the peaceful quiet that being in the woods can bring, so we headed out there for his Value Project segment. We wandered around for a bit, trying to locate one of Calvin’s favorite places near the Eno. We didn’t end up finding that specific spot, but after walking for almost an hour, we decided that a comfy-looking log on the side of the trail would do just fine. Birds calling, the buzz of insects, the subtle whisper of leaves and branches created a peaceful accompaniment to our conversation. Robert Louis Stevenson painted an accurate picture when he said, “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
“I’ve always really wanted to travel. Raleigh’s not really that far away. That’s where I’ll be going to school. In the future, I’d love to see different parts of the world. I’ve been in Hillsborough my whole life. It’s a really awesome town and I’ve enjoyed staying here, but I’m intrigued by variety, so it would be nice to get to see other places as well. To see what else is out there. I’m studying Biology, the study of life and I think that’s a very important field. I find it really interesting and critical to the advancement to the human race. I guess that’s why I decided to study it. Whatever I end up doing, I hope people are better off because of it. I want to make sure that in the end, I’ve given something back to the world. I don’t want to be a negative impact. If at the end of my whole life, I’ve contributed something, that I can do something good for everyone else, I’ll be happy. I don’t think it has to be just one thing. It’s more of an overall sum total…”
“The idea of personal value is something that I’ve struggled with. I think everyone has an intrinsic value. Whether or not they choose to cultivate the better part of that is up to them, I suppose. There is something of value in everyone and it’s important to recognize in yourself… I think that’s really healthy, but it can be difficult to do sometimes. I try to find something interesting about everything. I’d say that’s one of the most important things to me in terms of approaching my everyday life. I try not to dwell on the negative and to find something interesting about every situation. Not necessarily positive, but interesting. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I think it’s important to not let the little things get you down. Once again, I say that, but I’m not always successful in implementing that. Its important and I want to try to do that more.”
“Do I see myself as valuable? That’s a hard question… Not all the time. I would even venture to say not even most of the time. I don’t always feel that I have lived up to the standards that I set for myself, I guess and having that discrepancy between who I want to be and who I feel like I am can be very difficult to deal with. I have to find solace in other aspects of life, like music or coming out here (to the woods) and walking or hanging out with a good friend. Those kinds of things help you remember the value that you place in others and you kind of have to have faith that those people put value in the interaction that they’re having with you. Companionship is a really important part of life and as social animals we really need interaction with others in order to be mentally healthy. In sharing something, there’s a sense of equality. When a person takes an interest in the things that are important to me, that translates that I am important to them. That’s what makes me feel valued.”
“There’s a peacefulness in creating things like music and art, that’s very meditative. I think both social interactions and artistic expression are ways to develop a sense of self, which in turns develops a sense of self value. I tend to be an escapist. I like to get out of my everyday routine and experience something new. If I can’t physically do that, I use music, movies, books to get out of my own head space, my own life really. I’m just looking for something… Bigger.”
I didn’t know Carol very well when I asked her to be a part of The Value Project. I had met her through the coffee shop and was really impressed with the quiet way she carried herself. She is beautiful, elegant, gracious. Since our interview, I have had the opportunity to spend more time with this lovely woman. She has welcomed me into her life and enveloped me, in a way. We’ve talked, I’ve cried; She’s listened and cared. She has become very dear to me and feel incredibly honored that she has allowed me into this space that she has so intentionally created.
“One of the things that I’ve always known about myself is that I’m really good at seeing a path forward for people and I’m really good at seeing the silver lining. It brings me a lot of pleasure and joy to talk to people that are struggling with something. It’s always very easy for me to flip it around and I can sit for a while with people in very dark places, without judgement. To say that any of us are judgement free is BS. We all have them. But I really do feel like I can get around mine pretty quickly. My career, my job has never been a big emphasis in my life. It’s been relationships and friends. I have come to understand that one of my roles is an up-lifter or that I have a catalytic sort of spirit to me. It’s often easier for me to that for other people than it is for me to do that for myself. Although, I can apply that to myself. I can look at a problem or something that I’ve felt a lot of pain about and find a way to transform that. I don’t like the terms “transcend” or “get over it”. I really do feel that you have to weave that pain into your life and use it; keep it and hold it someplace. I don’t think you ever get over really serious hurts. They can be used in a really productive way.”
“I was raised Roman Catholic, so themes like resurrection and transformation were always intriguing to me. I loved all the stories of the saints who did unusual things, while their spirits lived on. The mystical side of Catholicism was always much more meaningful to me than the church side. I believe that we all deserve second, third, fourth chances. What that means for you inter-personally when you’re dealing with someone that has maybe hurt you, that’s a whole other ball of wax. I really understand people who are dealing with shame. I don’t know where this comes from. I think as a kid, I was always super sensitive to other people anyway. If someone was getting yelled at or punished, it just went inside me. I can remember making a conscious decision at age 12, that this hurts too much to feel this much. I can remember the day: I was laying on my stomach on a dock, looking at a pond and somebody said something that hurt my feelings. I remember thinking, ‘I am not going to do this’ and it wasn’t until age 19 or 20 when my dad died, to open that back up again.”
“I was a rebellious teenager and he was a very compassionate, kind, gentle, rational person. He was an engineer. I was this wild, energetic, precocious, kind of mouthy kid. I got into drugs and I was drinking at an early age, cause that’s what you did in our community. We were always at odds and I always felt like I was disappointing him, so the minute I got out of high school, I drove to California with a boyfriend that they didn’t approve of and we lived in California for a while. While I was gone, my sister, brother, mom and dad were in a car accident. My dad was killed and my mom and sister were hurt. It has stuck with me that I never got to have a healed relationship with my dad. However, the minute I flew home and saw him in the casket, I felt like our relationship really blossomed. There was a way that there was no longer these physical bodies and personalities that we couldn’t see each other anymore, but that it was really spirit to spirit. I felt seen by my father and I could see him. He was a very beloved person. He was kind, generous and helpful to other people and an enormous amount of people showed up at his funeral. I think there were 900 hundred people there. It helped me to see, as a young person who was going from teenager to a woman, it really helped me to see a side of my dad that I had really neglected and not acknowledged. Even though that was a very tragic event for our family, (my dad was 47, my mom was 44 with 3 teenagers) it allowed me to have a lot of healing with my family. I wanted to honor that fact, that there was something lost, but that I could start to turn my life around. I was going nowhere fast. It was a couple of years after that, I was very aware of the presence of my father. I had a friend who was a psychic, who did a couple of readings for me and I remember one vividly. She said to me, ‘Your father was walking down the hall with you at school and he also appeared at the foot of your bed.’ Those two things actually happened. I distinctly remember walking down Carol Hall at UNC School of Business and being suddenly aware of my dad with me. I wanted him to be proud of me, that I had actually gone to college. I was just very aware of him being there. The night before I was going to see Camille, I remember laying in my bed, contemplating a little bit and I really did see my dad at the foot of my bed. I can remember saying, ‘I’m doing okay’. When I graduated from the University of Michigan, I felt that was me saying to my dad, ‘You didn’t have to worry about me. I wasn’t really going to screw anything up that bad; I wasn’t going to hurt myself, stay a wild child for too long, but I needed to do that.’ I wanted to create this ongoing relationship with my dad as best as I could.”
“Maybe 5-6 years ago, I knew that I wanted to build a big table to have friends and family to sit around, share meals and talk. My dad was an engineer, an artist and a furniture maker. My dad had made a lot of large tables with benches, for us out at our cabin in Michigan and for my uncles and cousins. A friend of mine had a beautiful shop and I asked if he would help me to build a table. We met once a week for about 5 months and we designed it together. The wood was very rustic, full of knots and holes and I wanted to use some of my dads tools. There wasn’t much left, but I had a planer and a few other things. My dad died in 1982 and here we were in 2005. I wanted to take that loss and transform it into something that gave me joy. At the time, I was married, very briefly for two years and it was an extraordinary marriage. We were married two years, to the day; July 11, 2000 to July 11, 2002. It felt very much like a contract. We had come together to walk this path, (he had esophageal cancer). He had two teenagers at the time and they’re still very close to me and in my life. I used a couple of his tools as well.”
“Even though I felt close to my dad and I felt like I had healed a lot from that loss in the family, there were many times that I wondered what our relationship would be like? I love to design, I love to build and make things. He had a lot of technical skills that I didn’t have and I have a much better eye than he did. I thought that we would have made a great team, so I had this fantasy of us designing and making things together. I was approaching the age he was when he died; He was 47 and my husband, Tim, also died when he was 48. I was reaching this place where I realized that the two most important men in my life were gone. I was about to surpass their age and live beyond them. It also made me aware that in the times when I felt tired and stressed, that I felt profoundly unprotected, like I didn’t belong to anyone or anything. In those weak and tired moments, I felt a little forsaken. But, I didn’t want that to expand and be the story. The idea of making the table was to take something that felt like a hidden or secret kind of hurt and to make it into something where I would always have community and family around. I’m not alone: I’ll never be alone. There are family and friends around all of the time. there are people that need me and I need them. I felt like a table was a great way to make that idea manifest. It’s very contemplative too. When it came time to finish the table, I didn’t want to use a hand sander. I wanted to scrape it and plane things by hand because I really just wanted to think, pray, cry. It’s just this source of joy now. I could dwell over the negative, I could dwell over the loss or I could use that very thing. What does loss feel like? It feels like the lack of something, so how do you turn that into the addition of something? I think that it’s really sacred work for all of us to take our tragedies and use that as the propellant for going forward. I don;t think you have to seal it off in some other place. It almost needs to get woven into your life and honored in a way… I love the idea of taking the darkest, hardest, ugliest thing; don’t shy away from it. Just go in there and grab it, stare at it and then see how you can soften it, lighten it and turn it into something powerful in your life…”
Carol’s home is quiet, calming, peaceful. The front door was open, allowing a breeze to flow through the house. The wind chimes hanging just outside her door were creating a sweet soundtrack to her stories. I found myself getting caught up in the words she shared, in her thoughts. We were coming up on an hour and it felt like no time had passed at all.
“Last year, thousands of refugees were pouring daily into Greece. That story had a profound affect on me. Here were these people leaving everything that they had. They were willing to go someplace where they had no connections, no resources, just to be free. It really helped a lot of these petty worries that I was having about my life, what I had or had not achieved, just fall away. I have so much freedom, so much safety. I was searching for a way to make a difference for somebody. I was willing to have refugees come and live with me. Right about that time, a friend ended up moving in with me for about 6 months. With her came a daughter, occasionally her son, another daughter and her boyfriend, so it had that texture to it. O wasn’t bringing Syrian refugees into my home, but I was welcoming a refugee of sorts. Someone who needed a haven while they sorted out what was next in their life. It was as much a benefit to me as it was to her. We spent morning’s drinking coffee and talking about life, astrology, our families and it was very satisfying for both of us.We both needed something inside of each other. I have laughed so much in the last 6 months! I created this space. It’s not a lot, but it can be really something to someone who needs it and I want to welcome people into it. I also designed it and my life in such a way so that it has as few moving parts as possible. I feel like i can pick up and leave with having to worry about leaving a bunch of things behind. It’s really liberating to me. Even the way that Riley is set up is the same. There’s a leash and bowl in my car; he doesn’t need anything else. He was a conscious choice too. I wanted a living, breathing animal in this house. Hes not really what I was looking for when I went to get a dog. He’s just kind of a goof. he has these moments where he does look kind of regal, but he is clownish. I guess I feel that way too… He’s been a really great pal and companion. I can never say that I’m alone.”
“The world can be a battering place. It’s not additive, it’s cumulative. We all need to be really tender with ourselves. I want to be really aware of what other people are experiencing. I always learn something from what other people are going through and you never know how things are going to land or what is going to mean something to someone… As much as I wanted to escape my small town as a teenager, I think it’s ironic that I wound up in a town very similar to it. I had an enormous family on both sides. I don’t have them around me, I haven’t for a long time, but I’ve recreated a version of that here in Hillsborough. This is a really beautiful place to heal.”
“The one thing I’m sure of is that I love this place and I kept being drawn back to it, even with some obstacles. I feel like I belong here. I feel like there’s something out there that I’m supposed to do. I’m just not quite sure what it is.”
Her hair was the first thing that I noticed about Stacey. Beautifully alive, wildly curly and the envy of many. Myself included. The woman herself though, is equally as beautiful, vivacious, hilarious, deep. I had gotten the chance to spend some time with Stacey before our session for The Value Project. I was really looking forward to our conversation and what I would learn about this woman that I found so interesting and entertaining. She started with the story of how she landed in this little town.
“I’ve been in New York for about 15 years. I like New York, I don’t love New York. I’m not one of those people that says, “oh god, there’s no other city but New York!” I like it enough. There’s never been any place or any person that’s been enough of a catalyst to pick up and leave. I went on a trip to India in 2013 and Ellen Steinberg was my roommate on this trip. Ellen decided to go last minute. You don’t usually decide to go to India at the last minute, but we both did and we ended up being roommates because of it. We realized that we actually grew up 6 miles away from each other, but we finally met in Kolkata. The following year, Ellen invited me to come stay with her for a few days. I came to visit and she showed me around town. I just fell in love with it immediately. Then I met Laura Farrow and we hung out at her studio a little. I’m kind of a frustrated artist, actress, comedienne. I don’t really do much with it, but I did ask Laura if I could come out and work in her studio. Everyday I got up, I’d go to yoga and then out to Laura’s studio. She would come home and make dinner, we would hang out and she’d teach me a couple of things. I did that for 10 days. I ended up teaching a little bit of yoga, because she (Laura) wouldn’t even talk about me paying her. So I would teach classes. One day we were walking downtown and and I saw a for “rent sign” and I wondered what it would be like to pop up a yoga studio and see what it would be like to live here. I did that the following November. I just kept coming back and then I bought a house. I loved it here. I felt more at home here than in New York. Its just a magical little place.”
“I feel very loved here and I love so many people here. That’s very important to me. Me falling in love with this town wasn’t due to any one person. This town was just sparkly for me and it’s because of the friends that I met. People slow down here enough to have substantial connections. I never felt connected in New York. I have very good friends there, but everyone is so busy and it’s hard to get together with the people that I’m closest with. Unless I’m working with them on a project, ( I do a lot of corporate work) I’m not seeing them everyday. It could be months before I see some of my favorite people. It can get lonely. Here it’s not that way. People are always accessible and I have so many really strong relationships. They’re not shallow people; you end up going deep and they’re truly listening. More often that not, they are just really interested in you. Because there are so many people to love and spend time with, you have a lot strong connections. There’s definitely value in that. It’s just a very special place. But it’s like a black hole too!! You can think, “oh my god, it’s noon! I’ve been leaving for 3 hours!!” Sitting outside the coffee shop, with all those people: You just can’t explain it. It’s so entertaining! It’s not for everyone. Me? I love people. I could sit there everyday for 3 hours and it wouldn’t feel like too much.”
“You know people have that teacher in 3rd grade and they’re like, ‘You should be a (this) and you’re like, ‘I should be a (this)!’ You have this path and someone draws that out in you. I never really had that. Not that I was raised in a barn and never saw the light of day or had teachers. I just never had that connection. I went to college because that’s what you do. Then to grad school, because there was a program, etc. Sometimes I do wonder what I’m doing with my life. I struggle with it because of choices that I’ve made in the past and I’m not sure that I’m in a place where I’m adding as much value as I could, should, want to…”
“I do this other corporate work, (That’s what I do to pay the bills). The yoga is something that I’m growing. I definitely feel like I’m adding more value by teaching a class here and there’s 6 people in it, than if I was doing a 3 month long project in the corporate world. This here, the teaching, feels valuable and I know people are getting good stuff out of it. I don’t know if I know the answer to that value question. The thought comes in, if you’re not married and you don’t have kids, what’s your value? I mean, I know the cliches: I’m a good daughter, a good friend, aunt, blagh blagh. I do struggle with that question though, because I’m not sure. I know that I love the yoga. I’ve always loved practicing and I do love teaching. In New York, it’s a rat race. Everyone’s a yoga teacher, so I didn’t really pursue that there, a little out of fear. But this place, no matter how old you are, it’s easier to carve a path. Even if it’s a new path! That’s what I want to do here, I’m just not exactly sure what that’s going to look like. It’ll definitely include yoga, but right now, yoga’s just buying me cappuccinos. It has to be more than that, so making a living out of this could happen at some point. I’m just trying to figure out what to do in this place that I love.”
“One of the things I say, because my teacher told it to me, is that ‘you become really good at what you practice, but you don’t necessarily practice good stuff. you keep practicing ‘oh, I should have/could have’ and you get really good at thinking and feeling that. I’ve always been very hard on myself, but that’s not a public thing. I don’t go around saying that out loud. That’s why I do yoga: Keep the thoughts at bay; keep all the crazy out. That hardness on yourself doesn’t always come from how you grew up. To this day, my parents are so supportive. I could have told them, ‘Oh look! I’m dating a giraffe!’ and they’d say, ‘If it makes you happy, it makes us happy!’ I don’t necessarily follow it myself, but this idea that you become good at what you practice, that’s just a really big mirror. I’m very good at convincing myself of things, whether or not they’re good or bad or bad for me. So, then you have a habit. It’s a good thing to remember.”
This whole time, Stacey has me laughing hysterically. She’s using different voices, her face and hands are so animated as she talks me through her thoughts. I’m still really listening though. She’s incredibly open, raw almost, in her honesty. This really resonated with me. The things she admits to struggling with, are thoughts and struggles mirrored in my own life. We talked for a long time and I could have stayed and continued to talk with her for hours.
“I was an artist in high school, (I think I was even voted most artistic), but I didn’t really do anything with it. I quickly changed paths from art to communications because I wanted to draw cartoons. I have a lot of interests, but then I get bored. I start to wonder if I’m lazy… Except for yoga, that grounds me and reminds me that I’m not lazy. You don’t get up at 5:30, grab coffee at Cup-A-Joe at 6 and then go do yoga for an hour and a half, if you’re lazy. Other than that practice, I’ve hopped around a lot. I would like to think that if I found that THING, that I would stick to it. I just don’t know what IT is. I don’t know when I’ll know. I wish divine intervention would set in. I have been operating on feeling with jobs and with people. Sometimes I ignore that visceral feeling. I know what the answer is even if i say that I don’t. Whether I choose to listen to it or not, that’s my decision. I can’t blame anyone but me. But I usually know.”
“My Grandmother lived to be 104 and she always said that if you have your health, you have everything; If you have your health, you can DO anything. I do try to remember that when I’m feeling lost or feeling like I have no direction, no purpose. I try to remember that there’s nothing that I can’t do. People start and do things, create at any age. I’m still trying to figure out what to do in this little pond. I would like to do something big, something significant… This place I love, it feeds me and I’m really happy here.”
“The whole point of most of the work that I do is about trying to bring more respect and kindness into the world. To provoke people in conversation about matters that affect all of us is really what I’m passionate about. It brings me a lot of contentment and I seem to have found my voice with that.”
I had met with Steven on a previous occasion to talk about The Value Project and what my time with him would look like. We had spent some time just getting to know each other that day and I was impressed by the intentional way in which he listened to my vision and the encouragement he offered. I thought about that as I prepared for our “conversation.” Walking up to Steven’s home, I was greeted by Zoe’s barking, informing him that I had arrived. We headed up to his office and I smiled as I took in the light gently filtering in through the windows. Its a quiet, contemplative space. Thoughtful and purposeful, much like the man himself.
“I’m writing columns for The Washington Post and USA Today just about every week. I like to bring what some people see as a very arcane practice of advice giving or etiquette advice, into politics. There’s always a political underline to what I do. I wish that I could say that I had a master plan; That growing up I said, ‘Oh, I want to be an advice giver.’ That did not happen. I did want to become a journalist. That DID happen and allowed me to get into the line of work that I do. I didn’t have a master plan. I think the real answer is serendipity.”
“I half jokingly, half truthfully base a lot of what’s happened in my professional career on the worse blind date ever. In my twenties, I had been diagnosed with cancer, so a friend thought that she would match me up with another guy in his twenties with cancer. We had dinner and there was no chemistry. We still had a lot in common, (I had my collection of etiquette books, he had his collection of cookbooks going back one hundred years) so we started to establish a friendship. About a month later, he called me and said, “I’d like you to do this book of gay etiquette.” That was completely out of the blue and I feel really fortunate to have had that blind date. The whole experience with David really taught me about serendipity and being open to serendipity.”
“I’ve been cancer free for 32 years… I was cured after 5 years, but I think for anyone who has ever had cancer, it never entirely leaves your consciousness. For better or for worse. There’s always that fear of recurrence and there’s also just the ways that it changes you. It did change me and it almost continues to in different ways. I remember at the time I was diagnosed people saying that there’s this type of cancer personality that wins and then another personality that dies and I was like, I don’t have any idea who I am. I was very scared to learn to trust myself; to look beyond what was in my brain, which was where I was really comfortable and more into my instincts and feelings as a way to maneuver through all of that. In the past few years, my mom has developed lung cancer. That’s helped to create a new, different bond and holds a lot of meaning for us. She’s being treated in the same hospital that I was in New York. It sounds weird, but in a way it’s very comforting for both of us to be there together, because we had been there together a long time ago in completely different roles. Now I have become the care giver and the guide. I did not anticipate it when she was first diagnosed, but I think that I’ve found ways that there’s been light in it.”
As I’ve mentioned before, the interview aspect of the project is both my favorite part and also the part that I most struggle with. As I stumbled through it, Steven took each question in stride. When I questioned him about the concept of value, he paused for a long time, deeply pondering his response.
“Reader response is one of the ways that I feel that my work is valued. I was having dinner with a relative last year and I was possibly ruing the fact that we had not had any children and he said, “you have such an impact on the people who read you and listen to you, but you don’t even realize it.” I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but I started paying more attention to what he said and I did come to think that. I do have correspondences and relationships with a lot of the people who read me and they care enough to to tell me what they think, to stay engaged. Even when people don’t agree with me (I’d say that’s about 50% of the time that they don’t) that’s fine. In a professional sense is all I could ever ask for; For people to be thinking about what I’m trying to say and having a dialogue. I think that’s true for most writers and I feel really fortunate that it’s happened. I also feel valued by my husband. He manages a lot more than 50% percent of the day to day stuff in our lives, which allows me the peace of mind and the gift of time to do so much of what I’m able to do. That kind of support really matters and has had a huge impact on our life here in Hillsborough and also on my own work. It has allowed me to not worry so much about leaving my job in New York and has fulfilled my desire to write and create more. “
“In my life, I’ve often been afraid of making certain decisions or doing certain things. I’ve had a very good friend in New York for about 20 years and through conversations with him, he has gently guided me towards the idea that there’s not always a right or wrong decision, but it’s important to make a decision when you’re at a fork in the road. You really can’t stand there forever. I sometimes have a natural instinct to be paralyzed. The idea of moving forward regardless, the larger metaphor from that is not being paralyzed by fears, but taking them apart in some way; Stepping over them, stepping around them. they may still exist, but try not to let the fear guide your path. I’m still learning it.”
“Talk less, listen more. Offer whatever you have. I think I’ve become more mindful and aware of this and try to practice more of this kind of living, just out in the world.”
Driving out to Jim’s studio, the sun warming my face through my car window, my mind was filled with thoughts about the session; “What kinds of questions should I ask? What’s the space going to look like? Am I going to be able to handle myself without my awkwardness taking center stage?” I was struck too by how much excitement I was feeling to be getting the chance to work with this man that I’ve come to know just a tiny bit over the past two years. What was I going to learn about him?
“I’ve always liked shaping metal and trying to make elegant shapes out of this stubborn material that’s typically not elegant looking. I’m really turned on by nature, observing things; Weird little nuances in my periphery catch my attention heavily, so they get incorporated into my work. Like the little spindly tendrils off of plants. I’m as interested in those as I am the flower. Very rarely will I make a blossomed flower, but I make all kinds of tendrils and leaves that become sculptural pieces or pieces of jewelry. I try to capture those in my drawings and paintings. Boats and vessels, the forms and ribs, are all things that catch my eye. I like curves that are very feminine and flowing, rather than abrupt. Those things are on my mind all the time.”
“As a full-time artist, the idea of value is one that’s always on my mind and generally translates itself to the work. The work; They’re just objects. They’re only as valuable as what someone is interested in paying for them. But in terms of my personal value, I think I try to bring that into my work as well. It’s the notion of something that’s seasoned and has a sensibility to it, but also is spontaneous and elegant. There’s some history in the work that I do. Every hammer mark changes the shape of the thing that I’m making. It takes a lot of hammer marks to change them into what they end up being. Maybe I (personally) have a lot of hammer marks… If I let my experience and perceptions influence what’s coming out of my hands, then the work has even that much more interest and that much more character. It might even look simpler than something I did years ago, but it took a lot more to make it.”
“Now, I want to eliminate everything that’s non-essential. The curve of the line, the general form, the elegance of it; The simpler it is, the more that has to be the significant thing. I feel that way about myself too. Get rid of everything non-essential and that’s been a big part of my life over the last 4-5 years. My time with my daughters is essential and the quality of it. Maria and the relationship that we have, is essential; The guys that come out to the studio, my time at the coffee shop, all of that is essential. Just being present is a big thing. Taking that time to be fully present. It’s not common necessarily. This concept didn’t even have a name for me until maybe 6 or 7 years ago.; to be present. It’s practicing being mindful and considerate of whats going on in the moment and not distracted by what’s outside or in the periphery, but to be intentional. It’s not just focus; It’s a deeper awareness than focus, if that makes sense?”
Sitting across from Jim as he talked, I was struck by the kind way he allowed me to enter into this private space; how he was so willing to be open and share bits of his life with me. There’s a grace and thoughtfulness in his presence, the way he carries himself. His character is as evident as his deep voice, resonating around the studio as he shared more of his thoughts.
“Most of the work I do now is commission based, meaning I’m in a relationship with that client. I want the clients to come out early on and sit in the studio with me to talk about how they live. If I’m going to make them a table or a bar for their home, even a drawing or painting for their wall, how they live will determine how I make that. What it LOOKS like is secondary; How you live is really important. I want to design with the way that you live, positively. I think there’s a way to incorporate your own form and language into the context of what people would like to have and still participate with as well. Because they still want YOU. That’s why they came to you. But to get them involved makes it even more meaningful and I try to do that.”
“I have been really fortunate in the art world to have great teachers. I wouldn’t know how to do anything that I do if they hadn’t shown me the way.You don’t just wake up and know how to do this.I don’t care how good you are, how much skill you have, there are people around you who are equally as skilled and maybe do things differently. I have so much still to learn. I have a lot of respect for people who quietly excel. I’ve watched some of the most masterful people be incredibly humble, quiet and generous teachers. I long to be that generous as well. I love teaching. I love when people come to my studio and want to learn. I love teaching them whatever I’ve got. Listen more and offer whatever you have.”
“I love to get to do what I do. It’s not an easy way to get through life. It’s pretty humbling to be really good at something and barely make a living at it. I could be really puffed up about this, but it’s hard to be because the fruit of the labor is minimal. Except for the fact that there’s a lot of joy in living this way.”
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. “
I can honestly say that when it comes to this guys music, that is so true. Chris Adkins is an incredibly talented, classically trained guitarist. He’s got a doctorate, actually. Man, is he good at what he does. I’ve had the opportunity to sit and listen to him play many times and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Here’s an idea! Come listen to him play at Antonia’s in Hillsborough. (http://www.antoniashillsborough.com/) He’s there every other Tuesday night, serenading the patrons. You won’t be sorry you came. You can check out a little sample of his awesomeness here: https://youtu.be/t26x9PaWWr8
I met Chris almost a year ago now when he joined the Cup-A-Joe barista crew and we instantly became friends. He’s hilarious. One of the funniest guys that I know! My face constantly hurts from all the laughing that I do when hes around. He’s also a pretty fantastic barista, FYI. Chris is totally genuine, kind, great at giving advice and I’ve enjoyed getting to know him. (And guys? That hair. The most fantastic hair I’ve ever seen.) Sometimes you get the chance to meet someone and you just click with them. You say to yourself, “You know what? You guys are probably going to be friends for life.” And that’s something that I’m truly thankful for.
I also want to give a shout out to Cup22 in Saxapahaw for letting us come and shoot upstairs. When we were planning this photo shoot, I knew that I wanted a great indoor space, with fantastic lighting. I got just what I wanted. If you’ve never been out there, it’s totally worth a visit. It was just what Chris and I were looking for. I know that I had a lot of fun working with this guy!
So, you guys go get to know my friend, Chris Adkins too. He’s pretty awesome. Book him to play at your wedding or a friends wedding! Have him come serenade your special event! Get to know him as a person and you won’t be sorry you did.
“When I saw our pictures, that was the first time that I thought I looked really beautiful.”
Wow. My heart soared with that comment. I guess that’s one of the main reasons that I feel being a photographer is so wonderful. When I show someone an image of themselves, they get a chance to see what other people see; Their beauty, strength, uniqueness, value. I love that. Let me share with YOU Jonathan and Megan Leiss!
Megan and Jonathan Leiss are two good friends of mine. This may not be widely known, but I taught kindergarten for seven years at a wonderful little place called Orchard Hill Children’s School. (You’ll be hearing more about this in later posts. In the meantime, go check it out! www.orchardhillschool.wordpress.com)
I met Megan when she came on as our third teacher several years back. She was somewhat of an intimidating force for me, back in the day. This woman is strong, determined, driven, capable, seemingly not afraid of anything. She has backpacked through Europe, was nomadic for many years before coming back home to North Carolina and even worked on a fishing boat for a summer, with a crotchety, old fisherman. Honestly, I’m not sure that there’s anything that she cannot do. You see why I was a little intimidated?? As I got to know her, my intimidation changed to appreciation as she showed me love, kindness and grace. I valued her friendship as she has been there to talk through my hard life stuff, as we stood out in the woods watching our kindergarten charges climb trees and build friendships. Through the years, Deborah, Megan and I formed an incredible bond through teaching and loving each other and it’s one that I wouldn’t replace with anything in the world.
I was able to witness Jonathan and Megan’s relationship change from friendship into love; I attended their charming and simple wedding in the woods, heard the vows that they said to each other and their promises to love and honor one another for the rest of their lives. I’ve been out to the farm, heard story after story of their adventures and their crazy, beautiful, wonderful life. Oh! Did I mention that Jonathan and Megan started a flower farm? While they have been building their house? THEMSELVES?? Also, Jonathan is a fireman,(working THAT schedule) and Megan is STILL teaching school! Sheesh. Their life makes me tired just listing all the things that they’ve got going on. So, that’s where we are. We’re up to date!! I had the opportunity to go out to their farm, capture them in action and see what was what. I sat down to talk with Megan later on, as is our custom and she told me some more of their story.
Jonathan and Megan have been married for 3 years now. They lived for a time in a cozy little house in Hillsborough, but their dream wasn’t to stay there. It was so much bigger than that. They wanted to have a self-sufficient homestead, where they could own their own land, grow their own food. They wanted to grow in excess, because they wanted to give back to their neighbors and to also donate to a local food pantry. Their combined love of farming pointed them towards flowers and they started Spring Forth Farm. The flower business allows them to be able to live out their dream of growing more food than they need and passing it on.
“Flowers are so beautiful and it feels really good to be able to bring something beautiful into what can often be a very gray world.” ~Megan Leiss
So, they set out on their journey to find the right property. They bought a Frolic to live in until they’re house could be built. You know, a Frolic? An 11′ x 7′? No shower, no plumbing, 77 square feet kind of Frolic? Yea, that’s the one. They’ve been living in it for over 1 year, 9 months. “We’ve lived so happily in our little Frolic”, says Megan. “We felt really strongly about living without debt. That was more important to us than anything.” Their house is gorgeous. They have about a year or so left before it will be move in ready, but they are so patient. The end is in sight!!
So, what’s next for Spring Forth Farm? They are booking weddings for 2016 as we speak. Their plan is to stay the size that they are currently and just fine tune their growing, harvesting process. They grow a variety of beautiful flowers and greenery, all without the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides. They strive to grow the best plants and flowers that they can, while providing a unique and enjoyable service to brides and local businesses.
Check them out: www.springforthfarmnc.com
I asked Megan what inspires her. She told me this: “Being outside is so inspirational. Taking a walk out in creation; saturated in all these colors around me, seeing grass blowing in the wind. Whatever Creation is doing on it’s own, that’s what keeps me inspired.”