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My Dream

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

This is the first photograph of mine that I posted here over 2 years ago. When pondering about what I would share as my "Hopes and Dreams" for this month's arts carnival, I thought about doing something new and creative. But this image captures the essence better than any other. So, I thought I would come back to it, but write about it in the present.

At the time I made this photograph, I was blossoming in terms of my commitment to external and internal awareness. Prior to this time, I had focused almost exclusively on intellectual understanding of my problems. And while that pursuit yielded good results, there was something missing and it was not enough. I quickly learned an important lesson: that the most healing comes from a balance between intellectual understanding and exploration on the one hand and emotional understanding and exploration on the other.

The context for this image is that "becoming one" or becoming "integrated" had dominated my thinking for many years. That was my clear goal—or hope or dream—for so long. I finally realized that, for me, that set up an unresolved series of internal tensions. Becoming "one," in a strict sense, is not who I am. It never was. So, I said to myself: "Why make a goal for myself something that is not who I am?"

Rather I see as a goal for me a fluid collaboration based on mutual respect and understanding. In this view, there is more flexibility. It creates the opportunity for various aspects of me to flourish and be laser-focused if they need to be or work together to accomplish what we cannot separately.

Having somewhat separate parts of my psyche is not at all the major problem facing me. It is having separate parts and that contributing to not being able to be safe that is the problem. Or having parts and having there be no communication or collaboration, thereby rendering them fully isolated. I cherish my ability to be able to accomplish goals in life that I know are borne from my compartment-based system; goals that I feel might not be possible without such a system.

So, the question for me has always been how to maintain safety and at the same time cultivate collaborations and communication leading to a more fluid existence? That is what this photograph represents. I had thought "becoming one" would automatically lead to safety and was the ultimate answer. But in many ways I believe that to be a draconian solution, and not even the best solution. I also thought it would someday just happen. After all, I have read stories of how others "integrated" and how it can happen very quickly.

The truth is, while I am not at all glorifying having more extreme forms of dissociation, I cannot not ever imagine a simple "become one" solution for me. The more and more I get to know parts of me, the more I appreciate who they are, what they represent, and appreciate their own individual hopes and dreams and hurts and desires.

This photograph can be seen as "one." It is one wall after all. But it is made up of many pieces. On one scale, all parts of me can be seen as one, and this is how most people in my life see me and this is what I want most people to see. It is absolutely true that together we make up one person. One system. But I also acknowledge that the parts of my psyche are not just aspects of one personality. They are more separate, and I accept that.

And it is through that acceptance that I have learned to move towards a more balanced existence.

In my post from over two years ago, I wrote:

This wall has been remarkably healing for me and it's an image I come back to time and time again. The wall has so many parts, some small, some large, but they each contribute to keeping the wall together and strong. This is how I've approached my own internal structure. This is when I realized that the goal is not to become one. The goal is not to be many either. The goal is to be both. This is when I realized what the saying "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" really means.

So, my hope and dream is for my life to be more representative of this image. That there be collaboration. That parts support other parts. That when viewed on a macro scale it appears as one. But on the micro scale it appears as many. That each part is different yet has similarities to others. And so on.


The Gift of Nana and Papa

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

In what was the first real post on this blog, a bit over two years ago, I wrote about safety and the healing I had done to that point. How fitting that on the two year anniversary of this blog, I am coming back to safety. Indeed, I posted this month's Carnival activity on safety—which will be published Saturday night. At the time, I did not think it was going to be terribly hard for me. Was I wrong!

I had no idea what to submit for my own contribution. The last couple of weeks have been enormously difficult, tumultuous, and confusing. I experienced some instability around the time I posted Hallelujah Piano Cover. But since then, I have experienced massive time warps, huge amounts of lost time, safety concerns, fundamental rifts in awareness and perception, as well as accomplishments that I thought were not possible anymore. The only point in telling this is that life has been too complicated to even contemplate how to capture safety in any way.

But, the ship was righted today. Almost precisely in the same way it was a month ago, except without needing to go into the hospital.

I decided that for my Carnival submission on safety, I would look through my photo galleries and try to collect images that are most safe for me.

There are many pictures of my daughters that show them as safe. Two, for example, taken when each was born, show them swaddled in the hospital blanket with the sock on their heads in the nursery crib. There are hundreds like that. All safe. And while I know I felt a huge sense of safety at the time, the images tell a story that the safety is really on their end. Plus, I did not want to imply that safety is only at infancy which, of course, is not even true for many.

So, I started looking for different images, going through each gallery to see which "spoke" safety to me. I quickly saw pictures of my now-deceased grandparents. Since I was extremely close to them and have often said that I have felt most safe with them, I knew I need to focus my attention there. But as I began gathering images to show, I started having an experience that is evolutionary for me. There are tears. But so much joy and so much awareness of safety.

We always did a lot as a family with my grandparents. There were the customary Sunday dinners, Christmas Eve with Santa Claus every year, our annual family apple picking trip, Papa teaching me how to do yard work and plant flowers, hanging out at Papa's barber shop, endless "silly banter" with my Nana, and, what I remember most, lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

When I was 22 and my life collapsed, I moved to the family home with my grandparents and parents. I was mentally very unwell. I tried to commit suicide, and nearly succeeded twice. And while life was nearly impossible for what felt like an eternity, I always felt a complete sense of safety with them that was unique for me. After a few years and a lot of treatment and effort, my life got much better and more stable. That was around 1994. I met my wife in 1995. Got engaged and bought our first house in 1996. Got married in 1997. Had our first daughter in 1998.

Those years were huge for me and my Nana and Papa. I had hundreds of dinners with them. We talked for hours. We laughed. I took up golfing with my Papa. We bowled together; he would take me to his weekly bowling league for a time. He had a 35mm Minolta camera that he did not know the first thing about. When I got into photography, I started teaching him and he would go with me to the local camera store. I taught him about different films, about lens filters, composition. He attentively listened. He took up art in his 80s; taking painting classes. At the time, I had no interest in making any art myself. I did not realize that now I would incorporate art—as well as photography—as important aspects of my healing.

While I was better, I was still severely internally partitioned. And while I told them I loved them a million times, I was really not able to see my relationship with them in a larger context. I was in the moment with them. All the time. I just knew it was love. I just knew it was safe.

But, on the day I got married, I gained perspective on what they meant to me. And this is a memory that I have tried very hard to learn more about, but could not. Until tonight.

We got married on a picturesque lake 6 hours by car from where we were living, in the town my wife grew up in. I remember that they were staying in a guest house with all my immediate family, including me. I was there a week before finalizing the wedding festivities with my then-fiance. My family came up a couple days before the wedding. It was all fun and relaxing.

On the night before the wedding, I think it was after the rehearsal dinner, I left them a card and a handwritten letter in their room. This is where the memory gets hazy. I remember I wrote something along the lines of "you saved my life" and also "you taught me what love is." But, aside from that I do not know what I said. And I do not remember their reaction, which was most certainly extremely emotional for all of us.

I think the writing of that letter was a transcendental experience for me. An aligning of sorts. Somehow, I was able to have perfect clarity and perspective on not only how much they meant to me, but also on what getting married to my wife meant in relation to my life history which included them. After, that perfect perspective went away. We partied at the reception and it just became a party, just as it was supposed to be.

When my daughters were born, they were a source of my grandparents' happiness. We only lived 30 minutes away and, so, we continued to see them all the time. Life changed for me in relation to them. It was no longer just me and my Nana and Papa. They died in March 2004 and January 2006 respectively.

Almost exactly two years after my Papa died, my healing journey changed course, and that is what this blog chronicles. My internal and external awareness blossomed like never before. I started using words like healing.

I like to think all these gains are closely connected to my Nana and Papa.

You see, I do not need to know what those words were in the letter I wrote to them when I got married. Because of the process of looking through their pictures, I now know precisely what I was feeling when I wrote it. And it is the feelings that are key.

I am having those feelings right now.

Of love. Of safety.

And that is why when they died, while I cried, I had absolutely no regrets. I told them everything I wanted to tell them. And they gave me everything they needed to give me.

I settled on three images of them. The first is my Papa outside on the patio posing—he was a ham—with my elder daughter. The second is of my Nana outside the hospital as her health was failing a little less than a year before she died. I was trying to cheer her up by taking a picture of her wearing my daughter's hat. She was not a ham like my Papa, but she reluctantly humored me. The third is most meaningful to me. It is a picture of my bedroom now. The chair was one of a pair that my Nana and Papa sat in every night in their own bedroom while watching television together. It is my safe chair. In the background are three paintings my Papa made. It is probably the safest spot on the planet.

That is their gift to me.


Camera Painting

| By Paul | | Comments (9)

Abstract Photography

I have been an active photographer since the 90s and discussed some of my relationship with photography in Photojournalism as Psychologically Aware Seeing. Around that time, I began wanting to explore abstract photography.

Well, yesterday was my first attempt. Summer has brought many colors to my gardens and I wanted to try a simple technique to see what I could get. The idea I had was to use the camera as a paint brush. When we paint we "load" the brush up and our stroke applies the paint. With the brush, we cover a distance over a period of time.

Generally when one makes a photograph, you do not move the camera. The idea is to capture a scene in focus and frozen in time. But one can accomplish a "brushing" effect by leaving the camera shutter open and moving the camera over the course of the exposure.

For my work yesterday, I experimented with different long shutter speeds from 2 to 1/15 seconds. Since you are moving the camera, focus means very little, so I just put the camera on a very small aperture (in this case f/16) and tried different ways to pan the camera (or in art terms, apply a brush stroke).

I did not do any of this which much feeling. It was mainly a technical exercise. But it is interesting what I chose to work with. I focused on two bright colors in my garden. The first set of images I made were with large green hydrangea leaves, which is one of my favorite plants.

My second set was with canna flowers. These have important personal significance for me because they are flowers that my family has cultivated in our gardens for three generations. This was the first year in a long time I was able to introduce them to my summer garden. This is the particular flower I was working with for the abstract image at the top.

Of the 100 images I made, the above image was the one that had the most interest for me. The image was made at 200mm with a half second exposure and a gentle pan of the lens.

I hope you enjoy it. You can click on the images for high resolution versions.

You can see all the photography images I have used on Mind Parts by visiting my Photography Gallery.


Other Internal World Images

| By Paul | | Comments (5)

Art Therapy Dissociative Identity Disorder

For last month's Expressive Arts Carnival, I had a few choices for what I was going to submit. Experiences shift so quickly. One minute I felt whole. Another I felt fragmented.

The above was the image I was going to submit. This is the normal way to represent my internal experience. Through shapes and colors which overlap in layers, sometimes blocking out any clear picture of what's really going on.

The other image I was going to submit was the unedited "Empty Chairs" photograph. The message here was alone and empty and separate. But it also held promise for what was to come (this was taken before a graduation ceremony). There is also strict order in the image.

Right before I submitted this image, I decided it needed to also portray the experience of being fragmented. So, the image was taken into Photoshop, cut up, and arranged in a more or less random pattern.

Here is the "Empty Chairs" photograph as seen by the camera (shot at f/3.2). The focus is on the section of chairs in the background which was where the boys sat separate from the girls.

Art Therapy Dissociative Identity Disorder


Portrait Reflection Dissociation

There has been a push from inside over the past couple years to do more "meaningful photography." What I mean by "meaningful" is work that speaks to my own experiences more fully. Put another way, I want to do photography that is psychologically aware.

I got interested in photography around the time my kids were born; that was more than a decade ago. And since the kids were the focus for so many years, photography had been mostly about happiness and documenting happiness.

It didn't take me long to realize that photography was about seeing and not just looking. For someone who had lived a life based on dissociation, this was a real breakthrough and insight for me; a small first step in healing and becoming aware.

I have developed what was a small hobby into something a bit larger. I do some portrait work professionally, but my main interest has been photojournalism and sports which I shoot for local news outlets. Portrait work is intensely personal and requires a huge amount of "presence," engagement with the subjects, and directing. Sometimes I am simply not able to do that, which poses a problem if people have made appointments with me. So, I tend to minimize those kinds of assignments now. I sometimes become scared and forget all my skills and the images come out quite lousy, at least by my standards. It's too unpredictable, because sometimes I can be perfectly "on" and sometimes I can be "not at all there."

Photojournalism, in contrast, is a style of photography that is more detached and a bit less personal, but one could argue has a larger payoff because the images look spontaneous. The idea behind a photojournalism style of photography is that you become an impartial observer and document the details of the event. Mostly, the goal is to document all the scales of detail that you "see", from those that most everyone would recognize as the describing the event to those small elements that nobody really pays any attention to (e.g., the little kids poking their heads out from under the Bride and Groom's head table). It is really the only way to shoot live sports or any event where there are people going about their business.

Photojournalism is a microcosm of what healing from dissociation is all about. To see an event photographically, you must be prepared to do it from an "all of you" perspective. From this whole perspective, you can capture not only the range of length scales (from macro to micro) but also the range of human emotions. Sports is one great example, because there is always "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Another is a wedding. And a third is any news event.

The photograph above was taken at a local elementary school's art show. I took many real-life people pictures at this event. But as I was looking at some of the art on display done by children, I stumbled upon this scene. In a self-portrait of a boy, I saw the reflection of other framed artwork several feet away. There were rows of art on display, and if I had to do this over again, I would have swapped out the reflected images that weren't self-portraits with ones that were. One of the tricks of photojournalism is that if you can unobtrusively change the scene, you assume you have the authority to do so, granted to you by your press badge, and just do it.

The obvious composition of this image would have been to focus on the boy, and the reflected images would blur. But that's what you see with your eyes and that would be boring. That image would scream "amateur mistake" because who would want reflected images in the background? Since there was no way to remove the reflections from the flourescent lights, I had to think about it in a different way and see beyond the obvious.

This is an image I would never had been able to make just a few years ago. I took me a while to get the meaning of what the reflections were telling me, for my eyes did not see this interpretation. Once I did, I composed the frame with the boy and the green background, focussed on the reflected images and opened the aperture to wide open at f/2.8, knowing that would blur the boy's face. Then, of course, the other trick to photojournalism is to not be shy to shoot because with digital, images are essentially free. So, I fired off about 30 other frames with various compositions and exposures. Then later I can decide which image works best.

There are multiple meanings behind this image. On one level, it could say that nobody really sees the boy as he is (i.e., he's a blur). On another, it could say that behind the boy is a complex world with various compartments and other selves.

What does this image say to you?

For those who are interested, there are some excellent books on photographic "seeing" and composition. They are:

  • Andreas Feininger, Principles of Composition in Photography (1972, not in print so you would most likely find it at a local library)
  • Michael Freeman, The Photographer's Eye (2007)
  • Freeman Patterson, Photography and the Art of Seeing (1985, but updated in a 2004 edition)
  • Bryan Peterson, Learning to See Creatively (1988, but updated in a 2003 edition)
  • Henry Poore, Pictorial Composition in Art (1976 and still in print)

For other psychologically meaningful photographs on Mind Parts, see my Photography Gallery.

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The Jigsaw Puzzle

| By Paul | | Comments (11)

Puzzle and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Here are some early morning ramblings after not sleeping all night.

I was reading an interview just a little while ago, on the somewhat unrelated topic of "intelligence gathering", and this was said:

One thing I hate is this term "connect the dots." It is not connect the dots; it's putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I tell my students, suppose someone gave you a jigsaw puzzle, and some pieces are missing, some don't belong, and you don't have the box with the picture. You have to put the puzzle together, and it's not so easy.

I thought it was a rather interesting comment, because intelligence gathering and trauma healing are not so dissimilar. But I think he missed the point a bit.

I like to think of healing as having to put together a bunch of puzzle pieces (with a lot missing and without the picture). But on those puzzle pieces are the little dots, and as you put the puzzle together, patterns start to emerge and you get better and better at predicting and making decisions.

This photograph is of some work I did with my therapist last summer. I painted puzzle pieces of various sizes and arranged them in a way that made some visual sense to me. I had many color options, but I chose only red, white and black. We never quite finished, having intended to go back and rearrange and reshoot. The pieces are still sitting in my therapist's office on top of her bookshelf. Perhaps we'll take them out again soon.


Boston's Irish Famine Memorial

| By Paul | | Comments (15)

Boston Irish Famine Memorial

In a little square in downtown Boston, there's a memorial for the Irish famine. There are two statues; one shows a family of three dying of hunger (pictured) and the other shows the same family full of hope (which I presume is after they've fled to Boston). In the statue on hope, the family is rather well-dressed, they appear striding forward, yet looking off in different directions. In the hunger statue, the mother's hands are reaching up as if pleading with God. The father and son are hopeless, with hands open as if waiting for help. Their food basket is empty.

When I saw this, I couldn't help but see distinct identities and the parallels to my own life. I viewed them all as one unit, just as I view myself as a dissociative. Often we can have hope one minute and despair the next and often they can exist at the same time. There is old and young, male and female, those who protect and those who are hopeless.

But, it is who we are as a whole that is most important. As a whole we do not give up. As a whole we march forward, sometimes into the dark forest of the unknown. As a whole we speak our pain. As a whole we search for truth. As a whole we mend our heart. As a whole we search for love. As a whole we heal.



| By Paul | | Comments (14)

Little Chick Being Held

A couple weeks ago my daughters and I were at the local farm collecting eggs.

Since I'm now in the hospital and am having a very difficult time, I find this image soothing.

I feel that this is what I need right now, to be the little chick and be held. I know, I think, that it is I that has to do the holding. Sometimes I don't know that. Sometimes I long for someone else to hold me. But I'm really not in a position anymore for that to happen.


Symphony of Parts

| By Paul | | Comments (7)


In an earlier image of a cobblestone path, I was reminded of internal order that is sometimes needed in order for many of us to move forward. Several of you remarked that the image was too "regimented", "trapped" and "constrained". So, I followed up that image with one showing masts and rigging from a tall ship. That didn't sit very well with me.

The other day, I saw the Japanese film "Departures" which won this year's Oscar for best foreign film. It was extraordinary on so many levels. I guess I was feeling particularly "open" while watching it. In the beginning, the hero was playing cello in a small orchestra. They were playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the one which ends with the famous majestic chorus. If you listen to the whole symphony, you will know that the main melody of 15 simple notes is present throughout the entire piece and only in the end are you treated to the full glory and majesty of that simple melody.

I was sitting there and thinking to myself, "This is the metaphor I want to use for parts of my psyche!" It's better than cobblestones and better than sailing rigging.

There are two components to the metaphor. The first is the majesty of the piece and the choral crescendo towards the end. This is a celebration! It's saying, you have this very simple set of 15 parts (notes) and you work with it (or play with it) throughout the 55 or so minutes of the entire symphony, exploring every possible combination of what these 15 parts can do. In the end, quite suddenly, you are treated to something quite remarkable. Who would ever imagine that ending? Who would ever imagine that 15 simple notes would yield such beauty and power?

The other component has to do with the members of the orchestra and chorus. There are so many, and each contributes to the glory of what this piece is about. They each play their own part, but when put together they create beautiful music.

I was out in my garden today, thinking about this musical metaphor and wondering what kind of image I could put with it, when I happened on these "annabelle" hydrangeas. They look, more or less, like an orchestra to me, a "symphony of parts."

The past few days have been horrible for me. I had planned to go into the hospital. But I decided against it today. Instead, this was what I did. I thought of the symphony. I looked around me. I listened. And I felt better.

I've also included a high resolution (1920 px) image. Technical information: Nikon D300 camera with Tamron 90mm/2.8 lens, 1/200s and f/10.


The Tangled Web We Weave

| By Paul | | Comments (8)

Tall Ships Rigging

The previous post was an image of a cobblestone path. On the same trip to Boston this past Friday to see the "tall ships", I also took the above image.

I was struck by the seemingly complex nature of the sailing ship's rigging. I was also struck by how easily the crew members navigated this structure. To them, moving around up and down the masts was second nature. I wonder, then, if it's possible for us to find some way to move so easily through our complex internal systems?

I know it's possible, because I've been able to do it before, but not for any sustained period of time. This past week has been really difficult for me while I'm in the midst of teaching an all-day summer course for 2 weeks. On Monday, it was a disaster. On Tuesday, the image of my experience was of perfect flow, which prompted me to write Respect, Responsibility, and Water. The rest of the week can only be described as a roller coaster.

So, again, I ask what this image says to you? Is there a metaphor here? Does it help you relate to your experiences?

I've also included a high resolution (1920 px) image. If you look closely, you can see where dust has settled on my sensor and now this camera has been dropped off to the shop to get a cleaning. Technical information: Nikon D300 camera with 17-55/2.8 lens at 55mm, 1/250s and f/16.