Self… Portrait, Pity, and Introspection

This is an all about me post. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself most of the time and I rarely get in front of the camera, but I am pushing myself this year… creatively and emotionally. Sarah Wilkerson, CMPro, mentor, admin, and COO of Clickin’ Moms, is hosting a self-portrait challenge on the CM forum this month. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get in front of the camera and challenge myself to use the Cowboy Studio 43″ brolly box that I got for Christmas from my MIL (thanks, Judy!). It’s a softbox umbrella that goes over my Speedlite so that I can use it as an off-camera flash (OCF) for studio lighting. I think to be a well-rounded photographer, I should be able to photograph in any kind of lighting conditions so I bought Zack Arias’s One Light DVD when it was on sale and watched it through twice. I’ve also been reading and studying Neil’s Van Niekerk’s books. Just as learning to shoot in manual mode is a complicated, technical endeavor, so is learning about OCF. But I mastered the former and I’m on my way to grasping the latter.

For this image, I wanted dramatic lighting with a moody feel… ’cause that’s how my life has felt this month. I’ll get into why in just a moment.

For the true photog geeks among us, here are all the details about how I set this up:

  • Cowboy Studio 43″ brolly box
  • Nikon SB-600 speedlite
  • Nikon D300
  • Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 (macro) lens
  • f/10
  • ISO 200
  • SS 1/200
  • matrix metering (I’ve since learning that the metering mode is irrelevant)
  • triggered with a remote release

OCF mounted camera right with the brolly box at a distance about 6-feet away and 6-feet high. Camera also about 6-feet directly in front of me. On-board flash set to M1/128 power, OCF set to M1/1. Bounced speedlite into black reflective surface with white umbrella facing me. Closed all blinds to reduce ambient light. Forgot to use the reflector on camera left, d’oh!… but will try that next time. Converted in ACR to b/w, slight clarity reduction masked to skin (those pesky wrinkles!), added grain and strong vignette to emphasize moodiness and dramatic lighting. Opened in PS CS5 to add color fill, increase contrast slightly, resize and sharpen for web.

And yes… I really am that goofy looking.

Getting in front of the camera makes you really look at yourself, especially when you are viewing your own pores at 100% resolution. I’ve also been really looking at myself the last couple of weeks on the inside too. I’ve been wallowing in a pity party and I don’t like it. Let me explain why…

Both kids got sick the first week back to school after Christmas break. Dominic managed two days, then was out two days. Anna managed the first week and a few days of the second week, then was out until yesterday. Dominic had a full day of psychological testing last week but only got through about half of it and got tired so he had to finish it up yesterday; he missed two full days of school for that. The testing cost over $1000. Ouch. Weekly therapy is running $125 a session. And Dominic has had three referrals for behavior since Christmas. Each referral goes on his record and future teachers will see them. Every time I see the school’s phone number come up on my phone, I cringe. The teacher’s evaluation says that other pupils don’t want to be his friend. Double ouch. Last week was also Anna’s triennial ARD where all of the re-evaluations get reviewed and we hear that her IQ has dropped into the 50s (don’t believe it) and that her OT services are going from direct to consultative because “her current placement in a life skills based environment is adequate to meet her needs based on her level of cognitive functioning”… yeah. Nice. She has made very little progress on her IEP goals this year because the class went from 5 students to 12 with no additional help and she is completely overwhelmed and her placement isn’t ideal. Anna knocked down a girl in her class yesterday and spends all day crying, nearly every day since Christmas. Why are my children so unhappy at school? Why are they so behaviorally and emotionally challenged? It makes me wonder about genetics, about what I did during pregnancy, about how I parent. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I was a happy child. I was a good child. Do they exist anymore?

Last summer, my thyroid started failing. I got an ultrasound, they found a nodule, gave me Synthroid, and said come back in six months for another ultrasound. I had that followup scan done a few weeks ago and my doctor calls me saying, “It’s grown a little and now there are calcifications. You need a biopsy. It’s probably nothing.” I had the biopsy last Monday and my neck swelled up like an orange. The results? Inconclusive… too little tissue in the sample. So we wait another six months and have another ultrasound. I’m not worried, I simply don’t have time to. This month also marked the one year anniversary of me knee replacement surgery and I’m definitely worse off than before the surgery. It is still swelling. Every 3-4 weeks, I’m getting between 40-50cc of fluid drained from the knee. With a big needle. Every month. My orthopedic surgeon has no idea why. My rheumatologist has no idea why. So we’re doing a trial of auto-immune suppressing medications. The fibro is definitely better but my knee keeps swelling. I don’t have good range of motion in it and it hurts all the time. ::shrugs shoulders::

Now the petty stuff… our freezer stopped freezing while we were out of town, so we had an appliance repair guy come look at it. He said it could be one of two things so we had him fix the least expensive of those two options for $240. Five days later, the refrigerator side of the unit stopped cooling. We made the wrong choice. So instead of investing another $600 in a very old unit, we decided to buy a new refrigerator. Two days of research, renewing my subscription to Consumer Reports, and salvaging what I could from the fridge side out to the small garage refrigerator, we went to Lowe’s to buy a new refrigerator, French-door style with the freezer on the bottom. This was going to be our very first real grownup appliance purchase and I have to admit, I was kind of excited. Right before we left, I measured the space where our old side-by-side resides and discovered it was 1/2″ too short to fit the fridge I wanted. In fact, it is 1/2″ too short to fit any French-door style refrigerator. Only a side-by-side fits in that space. Sigh. Back to the drawing board, more research, then off to Lowe’s to buy an exact replacement for what we have now. They don’t carry it in stock and had to be special ordered. Two weeks. So about a week from tomorrow, we’ll have an $1100 ugly fridge. Trooping out to the garage every time we need something is a big pain in the tooshie and I’m looking forward to getting our new fridge next week.

I went outside last week (Thursday I think?) to find a little critter to shoot for some macro work. I needed a moment of peace, of respite. I wandered to the side of the house, glanced up, then did a double take. There were TWO giant holes in the side of our house! About 6-8 inches in the second story, I wondered what could’ve made those holes. I worried it was rodents or squirrels, but then about peed my pants when I saw two pigeons fly out of one of the holes! Holy crap! Our hardiplank had rotted (this has been a continual problem over the last several years) and the birds just pecked holes into the side of our house. I then noticed the insulation littering the yard and back deck. Those rotten stinkers! They had torn everything out down to the drywall. UGH!!! Luckily our neighbor down the street has his own small construction business (LC Austin Construction for anyone who needs work done in Austin) and he came over the next day and sealed the holes with steel sheeting. This week, he replaced all of the rotted hardiplank and will finish it up in the next week or so after he’s done with another job. There goes another $2000. Then we will have to have the house painted. There goes an additional $3000. Goodbye savings account. Part of our fence fell down while we were in Ohio. We’re ignoring it.

Oh did I mention that our foundation is cracked? We’re getting that fixed at the end of February. $8000. We’ve been saving to have that fixed for over a year so at least we knew that money was earmarked already.

Sooo… pity party commences. I feel like I have to explain the details. It’s not that I had to have a thyroid biopsy, it’s that it was inconclusive and I can’t rule out future problems. It simply isn’t that we have to replace our refrigerator… it’s that it takes two weeks and a special order to get one that fits and that we get stuck with one that we don’t even like. Does that make sense? It’s like our problems can’t even be simple problems, they have to be complicated like the rest of our life. And it’s not even about the money… but it seems like when we finally have get a chunk of money saved (was I crazy to think we might get new curtains or a TV after 15 years?), something comes up and poof, it’s gone. It could much worse, I know that. I’m grateful we have (had) a savings account and don’t have to put it on the credit card. But it’s just one thing after another after another. And this is our life. This is our reality the majority of the time. Some crisis. Some damage. Another call from the principal. Another specialist to see. All.The.Time.

Some days it’s just too much. This month has been too much. So I wallow. I’ve been plopped in the mud of self pity for weeks. And I hate it. I don’t like it about myself. I notice that I withdraw, I don’t reach for my husband or my family, I don’t play with my children as much, I don’t shoot as much in my daily life, I don’t engage as much online. Maybe everyone’s lives are this complicated and I’m just a weenie. So I’m getting introspective. How do I change my viewpoint to one of gratitude and peace? How do I let go of the anxiety and worry? How do I appreciate what I do have? When the next problem arises, how do I rise to meet it instead of letting it beat me down? How do I compartmentalize the petty stuff and not let it seep into coloring everything else? How can I role model this for my son who is already struggling with these things at age 7?

Some answers would be nice. 🙂 One day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day. One foot in front of the other. I’ll keep trying to steal my Zen moments when I can and share them because they bring me joy. I share because I want to grow. I’d love to hear your words of wisdom, if you’ve found specific things that help you cope with your worry bucket. Of course, chocolate and ice cream are on my list (can’t drink anymore, doggone it!… meds) but would love to know of more philosophical pursuits. Anyone want to share?

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  • "Professor" - Nice photo! It reminded me about the times I took photography class. Now I am doing digital and 99% of my pictures are including the mechanical assemblies’ auto repair stuff and document reproductions.
    I still keeping my film camera but pretty sure I will not use it.
    I had some background experience related to thyroid imaging therefore I like to share some ideas.
    It is not unusual for nodules to calcify, but microcalcifications similar to the snow flakes should warrant more investigation.
    The sample was bad most likely due to the blood contamination (this probably caused swelling afterwards); so the ultrasound must be done under Doppler color flow to dodge blood vessels.
    Some doctors are very enthusiastic about Afirma molecular testing used on the questionable biopsy sample to r/o cancer. I would like you to read about this test.
    Best.ReplyCancel

  • angela king - beautiful photo. truly. i really don’t have any suggestions or advice for you. it seems as if all kinds of bad stuff is happening to you and it’s so very easy to be down on ourselves but please remember that none of it is “your fault”. not that that makes it any easier. i hope things get better soon. big virtual hugs and well wishes heading your way.ReplyCancel

  • Holly - Thank you for the information about the Doppler color flow and the Afirma molecular testing, Professor!
    Angela, I so appreciate your support. You are such a kind soul and your words mean a lot to me. <3ReplyCancel

  • Katherine - No words of wisdom. Just support and hugs. Keep marching forward one day at a time. Life is hard. No one tells us that. Sometimes we get too many things thrown at us at once. It is not fair.

    In my instance, I have a daughter who had cancer diagnosed at 9 months of age. Turbulent times. Uck! Somehow you find the strength to keep waking up and living all the while hoping tomorrow will be better. I think that is the key. . . hope. (Yes, I am an introspective person too. . . tough times will do that to a gal!)

    On another note, thanks for the self-portrait set up info:) As one mama photog who never gets into a photo, I think this is something I need to do.ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Spencer - Everytime I read your blog I think the same thing – why don’t we live closer to each other? 4800 miles seems so far when I just want to come over there and give you a big hug xReplyCancel

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