Years ago I was both simultaneously very open and very closed. Actually that’s been almost a constant in my life. I’m a walking contradiction. I always liked that quote by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I was open because when I was a photographer I sold myself. I sold my work also, my skills and my style. But I also sold who I was as an artist. Frequently by the time a client came to me and booked in they knew my kids names, what pets I had, they had often read my old blog, they had a sense of who I was as a person. I believe it was why so many clients tried to add me on Facebook after a shoot. And most of the time I accepted that request. I was happy to have them connect with me. I was open about my life’s little bits a pieces. Funny things the kids had said or done. My fondness for Creamies – a biscuit I discovered (to my great dismay) had more calories in four of them then a large cheeseburger meal.That I slept in sweatpants in winter because while I desperately wanted to be one of those women who could do the school drop off in PJs I also feared my car would break down and I would be greeting the tow truck driver wearing pug pyjamas.
At the same time I was very closed off. I didn’t often discuss my ‘feelings’. In fact I viewed feelings as a great weakness. Love was reserved for teenagers too young to know better and one’s children. I was very uncomfortable with affection. I would hug babies and toddlers and my family on special occasions. It was widely known amongst my friends that I was not a hugger. Some would even give me warning before they hugged me, “I’m going to hug you now, okay? I know you won’t like it but I’m going to do it anyway.” And they would put their arms around me and I would stand there stiff backed and perhaps grudgingly pat them on the shoulders. Hold my partner’s hand in public? Forget it. In fact he was similar so it would have been an uncomfortable experience for both of us. I didn’t say I loved people. I could say I loved cake or dogs or the smell of lavender. But I could not tell my cousin I loved her.
Open and closed off.
Now I’m basically the opposite. I’m very careful with what information I release and to whom. My circle of people is tight. My Facebook locked down. I shut down every business because I couldn’t run them effectively or in the same way and hide. I use to put up a snap of me with the goat chewing my hair and me with the worst forehead wrinkles as I screwed my face up and not care. Now, I will rarely show my face straight on if indeed I photograph myself at all. But I am more open. I hug people. I tell people I love them. I share more intimacies. I will kiss my partner openly in public.
When my partner and I started dating I knew if this ever was going to work I had to break down those walls. The first time he kissed me in the city, in public, I was so stunned. I don’t think I even had time to feel awkward about onlookers because I was so taken with him. And afterwards I thought, isn’t there enough hate and negativity in this world? Wouldn’t this whole place be better if more people were kissing and in love and just generally being good to each other instead of giving each other bitchy looks at worst and ignoring each other at best? Wouldn’t it be nicer if I could just hug my friend? Why do I reserve my affection but happily share my experience with a shitty driver on the highway? And the thing with him was – I didn’t want to hold any part of me back from him. I wanted to lay my life at his feet and see if he would claim it. I wanted to pour myself into his hands and see if he loved what he saw just as much as I loved what I saw when I looked at him. I wanted to be as real and honest with him as I could be.
And it was fucking terrifying, if I’m honest.
How vulnerable it was to unreservedly love another person. The capacity to be hurt was so great. But if it worked… And I kind of realised that was what I had been worried about for years. I held people at arms length because I didn’t want that weakness and vulnerability. I didn’t want to be hurt.
What sort of life was that? Letting no one in because I was scared of what? Being alone? I was already alone. Because I never let anyone in. Love required vulnerability. And I wanted this so much. I had to let go. Throw caution to the wind. Tell someone I loved them with no idea whether he loved me back or if it would work. Maybe it wouldn’t work. But at least I would never live with a ‘what if’. At least I wouldn’t be lying there in ten years time wondering if I might have had a chance at something incredible and soul changing if only…if only.
You would think it would take time to dismantle walls but they came down at once. I slid into a new me as though I’d never been any different. It deepened my relationships with everyone who mattered. My children. My family. My friends. My kid’s friends. Have I been hurt? Oh, yes. Oh my, yes. Without the walls everything just ran in. I felt like I was being bathed in emotions. You know I never use to cry? I actually couldn’t. I would sometimes think a good cry might be just the thing and nothing at all could induce one. Now barely a day goes by I don’t cry over something. I cry because of sad things and happy things and people being good and people being hurtful. There is this one film clip of when this guy got his leg caught between the train platform and the train in Perth and all the commuters worked together pushing the train to the side so he could free his leg and – oh my god – I cry like a baby every time I see it. The vulnerability of being open – it can sting.
There is another part of that Song of Myself by Walt Whitman that I like where he says, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Connection is a gift you buy. The price is vulnerability. And its value is immeasurable.
No ‘if only’.