The Door.

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The first door I remember belonged to my grandparents house in suburbia in the city I was born. I don’t remember my first entry obviously, but there is a photo of me having my first bath in the bathroom sink, a pale green fashionable in the 70s that had fallen out of vogue by the time I was old enough to look at that photo and be intrigued. I lived there with my mother and grandparents and my two aunties who were 2 and 5 years younger than my mother. I remember my time in that house as a carefree existence. I must have run in and out of that door hundreds of times without giving it a second thought.

Later there would be other doors. The door to the caravan we lived in by the sea. The old door of the house we rented before my brother was born. The door of my childhood home. I walked in and out of them never really sensing a barrier between me and the outside world at all. I barely even registered their existence.

When I was newly pregnant with my second daughter and she was barely bigger than a lentil, tucked away in my womb, I went for a walk. I wanted to go to the library – a place of comfort for me my whole life. Bookstores and libraries were like church for me, I could spend hours breathing in the calm that surrounded them. I was a child that drove my mother crazy with the state of my room, clothes and toys strewn everywhere, but my bookshelf was immaculate. I would carefully alphabetise the authors and arrange them by genre. I pushed my eldest daughter in a pram to the library, I was excited to introduce her to the written word. Her father accompanied us. It was summer and the midday sun beat down on us during the walk home. I felt a little light headed. My heart rate picked up. I felt ill. I thought I might throw up or pass out and we were still a good fifteen minutes from home.

It was an anxiety attack.

I didn’t know what was wrong just that I was suddenly ill. I had to lie down – right now. He went back with our daughter for the car, I lay in the shade of a struggling sapling on the grass by the footpath.

When I returned home I rapidly became much better. And I was terrified it would happen again. Better to stay at home than experience that kind of crippling experience in public. I was embarrassed and horrified. I still didn’t know what happened. I thought maybe heat stroke or morning sickness. I should take it easy. I should stay inside.

The door became a terrifying thing. Suddenly it was no longer a benign presence in the house, barely given another thought. Now it signified the very real difference between ‘safe’ and ‘unknown’. And I have always been a cautious person.

Agoraphobia took me under it’s wing like an old friend. It whispered fears into my ears and wound it’s fingers into my hair. It seeped into the marrow in my bones.

I was housebound. I left only a handful of times for antenatal appointments. I didn’t go see my family. I didn’t go to the shops. At my worst, I didn’t even go to the letterbox. I would watch as the postman dropped our mail into it and suggest my eldest daughter toddle down to it. I told myself she enjoyed her ‘big girl job’ while I stood at the threshold of the doorway, unable to cross the line to the outside.

When I finally reached out for help after my second daughter was born, when I could no longer pass off my fear as related to pregnancy, my counsellor came to the house and visited me bedside. At that point, at my very worst, I left the bed only to go to the bathroom. The day I made it to the couch she cheered. And I was so frustrated and confused because who gets praised just for making it to their own goddamn lounge room? That’s insanity. It’s depressing.

Slowly, I learned to MANAGE my fears. That is very different to overcoming. Managing means you learn ways to deal with it, not that you are no longer frightened.

Some days I could step out that door without giving it much of a thought. Some days it would loom before me like a threat. Some days the very act of turning the doorknob and stepping into the sunshine felt like rebellion.

Because I learnt how to manage it so well and I could hide it so effectively, I had virtually forgotten I suffered at all. Until one day a few months ago I found myself staring at my front door unable to step past it. Until I retreated back to my bedroom and refused to leave. Until my lover brought me flowers and begged me to leave the room to put them in a vase in an attempt to coax me out and when I cried and said I couldn’t he fetched a vase himself and put them by my bed so I would have something ‘beautiful to look at’.

Then I knew. It had never left, just gone into remission. And now here it was again, ruining my life.

But see, last time I just bowed down. Last time when the door would threaten me I would retreat. This time, I’m fucking angry. This time I am committed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This time – no remission. I’ll cut it out myself. This time when the door stands in front of me, I will call it’s bluff.

Hand to handle.

Pull it open.

Just one step.

Outside.

Fate.

I read an article that was a little bit pretentious in itself but the message still came through. Basically the woman in question was talking about how she had the perfect life because she didn’t have any expectations of what her life would be, therefore in not deliberately seeking it out she allowed it to come to her. It bothered me a little because some of that is sheer luck. And also because many of us cannot take a passive role in our own lives. I struggle constantly between my belief that fate is a true guiding force in our lives and the belief that if we want something we must get up and get it.

What I know is, things usually work out for me. I mean that as in – shit frequently goes tits up – but usually everything works out and often I can look back and think, “Thank god that didn’t work out.” I can point to specific moments in my life that when they happened it felt like they were absolutely MEANT TO HAPPEN and even if I had made a different choice that day, eventually the universe would find a way to right itself.

Sometimes though you can sit and stagnate on things for the longest time and you have to go out and find destiny or fate or whatever it is. Let’s say you want a dog. And all you can think of is how much you need that dog and how much more awesome your life would be with the dog…sitting on the couch watching Netflix while Pintresting photos of dogs isn’t going to get you a dog. You need to go to some shelters, browse rescue pages, find a registered breeder. You might be fated to have a dog but you gotta give fate a hand sometimes.

I don’t know. I’m rambling.

The point is…maybe I’m not exactly where I am meant to be. Maybe I know that. Maybe I wake up every morning and look around and realise I’m in transit. I understand that I’m fated to be elsewhere, do something different. Hell, I can even give you a checklist of exactly what needs to be done to get from point A (here) to point B (that place I’m meant to be). And it’s a lot of work and that can be disconcerting because I know it will be years. It almost causes me visceral panic where I want to bend over with my head between my knees and breathe so I don’t hyperventilate. The hardest thing for me right now is to sit back and watch the scenery because I want to DO something. I don’t often give myself enough credit that this fallow period in my journey is actually important. You cannot recover if you’re running every day. So I rail against it. I resent the journey. All I can do is sit there and feel impatient that this isn’t where I am meant to be. I spend all my time looking backwards at where I was or forwards to where I want to be and can’t see the beauty in where I am RIGHT NOW.

And there HAS to be beauty here. There has to. I will find it. I will trust that fate is working behind the scenes and wherever I am right now – it’s important to where I will end up. There is no rule that says you can’t keep pushing towards something and still enjoy where you are. They’re not mutually exclusive.

With this in mind I unclasped my camera bag and pulled out my camera which fit into my hand like it was a part of me. I got my keys and I left the house. I didn’t know where I was going and the time of day was wrong for good photos but I just drove, hoping something would catch my eye. Just one thing, I told myself. Just take one photo that you don’t hate. It doesn’t matter if it’s shit. Or that the light is bad or that you don’t have a plan. Just find something you think is beautiful here and shoot it.

Breathe in the now. Trust that the universe is unfolding how it should. How many days will you waste looking ahead instead of what is right beside you?

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Grafted.

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I long for the quiet of the country sometimes. I remember when I moved out there feeling this true excitement at the fresh start. The country was beautiful and I had moved at the best possible time of year, September – the beginning of Spring. When the worst of the cold is over and the wildflowers line the sides of the roads. The flocks of galahs greeted me. The drive out was always soothing, acres of fields in a patchwork of green and gold and brown, dotted with gumtrees. The sign into town signified home. The old buildings unassuming and friendly.

I didn’t realise until I fled to the city two years ago how much of my photography lay in that town. I knew every inch of it. The light was different out there, more golden when it isn’t filtered through street after street of suburban houses. The city was the same thing after the same thing. Anonymous. Without character. All the lawns the same, the housing estates were the same handful of houses duplicated one after another like they had been xeroxed. Where was the beauty? I would kill for a dirt road, for a lopsided fence, for a crumbling brick wall, a rusted piece of corrugated iron. Give me a weed, an unintentional dandelion – some wildness – and keep your polite gardens of plants that never changed.

In the country when I felt overwhelmed I would take my camera into my backyard, only a 1/2 an acre on the edge of town and spend some time shooting. The chickens would cluck around me curiously as I shot them scratching beneath the peach trees. The goats would nuzzle at my hair and I would breath in the smell of hay and feed and earth and sunshine and shoot the camomile that grew through the cracks in the bricks, wildly escaping the confines of the garden bed. I would shoot the animals and the plants and the children as they played. I would lose time and come in hours later with grass stains on my jeans and leaves in my hair, my cheeks pink and I would feel alive and refreshed. The photos weren’t brilliant, just parts of my garden, but it was mediation for me.

Now my camera gathers dust because the animals are gone and my backyard is short lawn and there is no afternoon light begging me to play in it. I don’t know how to shoot in this place where everything is planned and the camomile would have been ripped out and tamed and people put on special clothing to take a walk.

I didn’t expect this to happen. I grew up here, I was raised in the city. I dreamed of housing estates and perfect lawns. The country…it was serendipity. I never planned that. So how did it creep into my blood?

I cast my lot here two years ago, amongst these carbon copy houses and traffic that never stops even in the darkest hours. Where you can never really see the stars properly because there are too many lights and I can hear my neighbours conversation like they were sitting in my own living room. Here I am. But it is not where I am meant to be. I am wild, open spaces and lazy fields of yellow flowers. I am closed stores on Sunday and rambling camomile. I am wooden floors and tongue in groove walls. I am the sound of rain on a tin roof. I am quiet gumtrees standing silently in a field. I am the smell of lavender in Spring. The country sings to me. I belong to it.

Some plants cannot survive on their own, they must be grafted on to a different plant to be strong enough to make it. Roses are one. A knobbly graft marking the place where the stock plant was merged with the rose. The stock plant would be chosen for it’s hardy roots, the other may be chosen for its beautiful blooms. Perhaps I was never meant to be here. Perhaps I was always supposed to be attached to another place where I could grow strong and bloom.

Drought.

“What do you really want to do?” She asked me.

I stared at my fingers, fiddling with the rings on them because when I would look up into her face she was watching me with such expectation that I felt like I’d just been called on to answer a question that I was supposed to know automatically and I was embarrassed to admit I had no idea.

“I don’t really know, I suppose.”

“Well, what do you love to do?”

“Read. Write. I use to take photographs but I don’t do that anymore. The last time I felt a passion it was photography but it’s gone now.”

“Why do you think that is?” Her pen poised over a notepad, occasionally scribbling down something I would say or making a note.

“It went away, I guess. The light….I can’t find it here. I was shooting families and I was…it was like a cookie cutter. I would say the same thing. And they would laugh because it was the first time they would hear it but it was all the same. Even if the people or location was different. It was the same.”

I tried to explain my favourite shoots. The ones where you would wake in the middle of the night and the image would already form in your head. Where you knew that everything else that day would disappear, the clothes would go unwashed, the dishes wouldn’t be done, we would eat something you could just throw together because until that shot was taken and out of me, I was obsessed with it. I showed her some images to explain.

“Maybe you should just start shooting again, see if you can’t find that passion again.”

And she tells me I was good. And I have no response to that because I can see all the flaws in each image, I can count dozens of people I know that are better off the top of my head. And even if how good you were didn’t matter, and it doesn’t if you are just shooting for yourself, it was art. It was art and I was never the creator of it really. I was the vessel. And I can’t explain to her that I could shoot all day and maybe never hit the mark. That each image came into being because I NEEDED to make it. That it was already created before I ever took the camera from its bag. My muse, whatever it was, is silent. I don’t know how to force it, it always just came.

“Why don’t you try? See how you go.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

But I already know, I won’t. If it comes back to me at all, it will be because it returned on it’s own. Not because I went looking. It’s not the ocean. It’s the rain.

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