Her Movable Bridge, a Tall Tale of Truth.
Reflecting on personal growth as spring arrives. The following is a tall tale of truth to help with this task.
She bounced into the car—the passenger’s side- to downtown destination to meet up with friends. Some were long term friends and few that she would be meeting for the first time. She felt the brand new night’s invigorating energy. Yes! She had banked enough “recharged” hours in her introvert energy account, so she was ready to tear into this rare night out.
The group met up and talked politics and art at dinner, followed by dancing. They all danced for hours under the mesmerizing disco ball swirling patterns made room-wide. The music could have been better, and she stopped herself there. No, no negativity because this night has been really and truly fun! She felt grateful to have met a new person in the group, Lou, who, like her, was an artist. It was rare for her to be able to talk to other artists face to face. He liked her work, he said. He thought her photography was really interesting, and unique. This made her smile big. She had just began turning the lens on herself and discovered what seemed to be a whole new world in which she loved getting lost and found.
She could feel herself gaining strength from the experience in self-portraiture, because it was teaching her things and providing a sense of freedom, even though there was no expectation for this to happen. She trusted the process and respected it, and felt like there was so give and so much to receive within it. And maybe she wished she had learned all of this earlier in life. But whatever it was, it seemed like it was here now. And that was more than good enough for her.
The group had danced for hours, but it felt like only minutes. The bar was closing and the disco ball was slowing, the room was growing painfully bright. The group headed to the parking lot. It was time to shift to calm energy and call it a night, something she sometimes finds really difficult-she was still really charged up.
There were hugs and a bit more conversation before they all headed to our own cars. The last words of the night were said to me by Lou post farewell hug: “You know, you really look a lot shorter in person than in your photographs.” To say that at this juncture might seem like a strange way to part company. But in that moment she was focused less on the strange and more on the pain. Because it stung immediately. This has happened so many times before, in fact, you might think her silly to want to leave the house like she did that night for fear that the whole time could be spent fake laughing or just swallowing the overwhelmingly constant statements made about her small stature. She would very much like to talk about something else, anything else…and she had made it through the whole night without a punch to the gut until that last statement. She did not bounce back into the car- the passenger side like she did at the beginning of the night. She slid in with the speed of cold oatmeal and lowered herself in the seat. Catatonic and unable to comprehend the massive shift in energy. She knew only this much at that point: he didn’t intend to upset her. He didn’t know that he hit her where it really hurt, right where the lifelong word-daggers that had repeatedly knifed her, leaving a still open wound.
Over the next few days she realized a bit more. She knew that she had let the comment dig in and develop roots. Because, of course, this was far from the first time something like this has happened to her. And though she had grown so many new flourishing vines inside her, keeping her upright and enabling her to bloom, there were still a few places where weeds could grow wild and be very well nourished. She could only hope the new growth could keep the weeds from taking over and elbowing out potential new growth.
Over the next few years, those weeds, the seedlings of Lou’s words, remained, but did not take over. They continued to teach her, as she continued to search and reflect on how the pain could create strength. She realized a few more things about this experience that at first knocked her down pretty hard and created a whole lot of self-doubt.
Rightly or wrongly, she assumed his words “shorter in person than in her photos” were code for every imaginable negative physical trait one could have. She thought this because, sadly, that is a pretty strong message in our society. She was also afraid that he thought she was misrepresenting herself in her work. And if he thought that, others might think the same. One-hundred million people could tell her all the nice things about her until they were blue in the face, and she would fail to believe them. But if one person were to say something negative she could easily take it, run with it, hailing it as fact and validation for all the reasons she has to hate on herself. But she was trying to work through this, finally seeing not only it’s ridiculous logic, but it’s wasted time and energy. Through her self-portraiture she was beginning to see sides of herself she had failed to see her whole life. She was perhaps beginning to see that maybe, just maybe, she could find some sort of self acceptance and not hate on herself so much because her stature made her such an outlier. She was certain she was not born to conform. That much was clear very early in her life. But she couldn’t always accept it in it’s entirety. This is the bridge that is her self-portraiture, and her art. It would mean different things at different times and shift with her- a customized and moveable bridge. And as long as she continued to give herself to it, it could be there to catch her if she got too close to the edge. And misrepresentation? To do this would fail HER most of all, and fail her something terrible. For her, this is about connection, acceptance, and love. All of which have to be “real to be real,” she says. She made these photographs and it was her actual body, her heart, and her soul represented in them. She does not know how to do it any other way.
This story of self-doubt for her, and yet another incidence of her stature causing her grief, is not regrettable. Perhaps her customized and movable bridge is made up of self-doubt, reflection and searching. And as far as the weeds she has growing inside, well everyone has them. And now, she just calls them flowers.
About the artist/author:
Natalie resides in Peoria, Arizona, with her husband, two children, and two dogs. Her artistic journey has taken many twists and turns but photography and writing have become the primary outlets for her artistic expression. She is an artist at Offset.com. Her work/photography has been published by Lensbaby, Beyond the Wanderlust, and has been licensed for ads by Samsung and other companies for advertisements. Her best days are filled with trying to guide and raise up her offspring and pups, music, reading, creating photographs and writings, hiking, yoga, cooking, and sky-gazing. In the social media world, she can be found on Instagram @natalie_a_wheeler, and as a moderator for @theechoesinside, a hub for self-portraiture.