I finished teaching at the Mill Street Loft's Summer Arts Intensive camp and boy was that an exciting challenge.
We had a diverse group of students from all walks of life, and all levels of photographic ability.
At first I thought I would go in and teach some photo fundamentals, but I quickly realized that these students were going to challenge me to something much greater.'
You see, we all spend so much time in our lives looking for outside permission to be ourselves, to share our truths, and to live authentically.
When we're young that can be a particularly brutal time if we're constantly told that our authentic selves aren't welcome.
We learn to bury our truth and our genuine joy in order to fit into the more accepted roles society has to offer. Sometimes we even become afraid of our own truth.
I had a few particularly tough students who seemed to shut down every time I offered them a camera.
So my job became less about teaching them the technicals of photography, and more about creating the space inside to give themselves permission to create - and "fail" if need be.
(You know how I feel about the word "fail"!)
The session especially I let the reigns loose quite a bit and said, "Here is something to play with: a technique, a thought, a new angle on the world. Take it and run with it."
From that point on the students daily impressed me, challenged me, and humbled me.
Their ideas and excitement and creativity have been so inspiring, but the thing that has stood out to me more than anything this session is their desire to say something with their work. Many of them have been reluctant to pick up their cameras until they're ready to take deliberate action.
Yes, some of that definitely comes from a fear-based place of feeling like they're not enough, or that showing some part of their truth would be too vulnerable. It's what my boss and mentor for this camp has coined "The Editor."
We all learn to edit ourselves. Sometimes that's a good thing, and it's a part of being a socialized human being.
But we often take it too far, and end up conforming into roles and shapes that hurt us.
So I respect "The Editor," but I'm learning more and more not to trust it. Self-editing can happen after the creative process, not before.
"The Editor" is the one that demands brilliance from us from the get-go, and doesn't give us room to grow and learn - or even have some of those healthy "failures" along the way.
Listening to "The Editor" can be crippling habit for an anyone, especially artists, to get into.
But at the same time I also have to respect the students' need to create something authentic, rather than simply creating something to fulfill an assignment.
So I didn't push. I just gave them the room to give themselves permission.
And some of what they ended up creating was beyond anything I ever expected:
Looking back to my own days as a student, I see how much I needed someone to look me in the eyes, see me and say :
"Here is it. Here is the key to finding and loving yourself. All it is is permission, from yourself, to be."
I believe that the only permission that we need in life to create, to be authentic and to feel fulfilled comes from listening to our own deep knowing and truth.
That is what I hope I can give these students, and that is what I hope to give the world at large.
Because that's all it comes down to for me. Do no harm and let yourself be.
So from that perspective I respect the students' desire to let themselves be and let their work come from a place of self-truth and authenticity.
If we can just find that permission within, it hits a pressure valve to release all of the external noise and the internal self-judgement, the world opens up.
Yes it takes time. Yes it's scary.
Don't expect it to be an overnight thing. That's "The Editor" and Fear ganging up on you, expecting an unreasonable amount of polish and perfection.
Whether it's through finding like-minded community, or quiet communion with yourself, creating a quiet space within is an important first step so that you can begin to hear what it is your soul is trying to tell you.
For me, it started by creating images that were almost what I wanted and needed to say. It was like creating tiny pieces of a much larger puzzle.
As the pieces came together, the overall picture began to take shape.
And then one day it dawned on me, and I almost wondered why I hadn't seen it all along.
Like Dorothy in her red shoes, we all have the power within us. But sometimes it takes that journey into Oz to recognize that truth.
I hope that today you can find that much-needed room to just be, to listen to your own truth, and to give yourself permission to follow it down your own Yellow Brick Road!