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The Space Between

SpaceBetween

Acoma Pueblo, 1886. George Wharton James, California Historical Society (public domain)

 

By Marlene Adelstein

A friend and I — both having finished writing novels close to the same time — found ourselves commiserating about the unsettled spot in which we found ourselves.

We had sent our manuscripts out to agents and were waiting and worrying. Waiting for good news. Worrying about bad news. Some rejections came for both of us and then more waiting. And more worrying.

“What do you call this weird space we’re in?” she’d asked. I found it hard to move on to new work even though I had lots of ideas percolating — stories, essays even another novel, and so did my friend. We were in that hard to name place of finishing something big and desperately wanting to let go and move on but being completely unable to. “We’re not writing but we’re not…not writing,” she said. And I had agreed. “Exactly. We’re in the space between.”

I had grown as fond of the characters from my novel as if they were quirky family members who came for a holiday visit and wouldn’t leave. The precocious ten-year-old birder who disappeared from a Gap store. Her self-destructive mother who obsessively collected junk thinking it was clues to her daughter’s whereabouts. Moving on to something new felt a little like cheating on a lover. Or was I grieving these characters as if they were dead? Would moving forward mean admitting the book was over and maybe nothing would happen with it? The fear of rejection loomed large, and standing still, doing nothing was safe. I felt like I needed a twelve-step program to wean myself off the book I’d spent way too many years on.

This non-writing time made me feel edgy and unproductive. But I was determined to make use of this free time I suddenly had, the time I’d normally be using to work on the old novel. Slowly I began to ponder new stories and characters. I let them rumble around in my brain while I walked my dog; I made up ‘what if’ scenarios about them in the shower. What if an octogenarian painter dies leaving the bulk of her work scattered about the globe in old lovers’ garages and attics? What if her landlady has to go find them? So I jotted down notes, cut out articles, went to the library searching for inspiration, hoping for those moments of happenstance when wonderful little coincidences pop up and new pieces of a story fall into your lap like a gift. But, still, I wasn’t writing.

Forcing the writing is never good. So I took a break from trying to move forward. That conversation with my friend lingered. “What do you call this weird space we’re in?” What do you call this uncomfortable hiatus? It couldn’t be exclusive to writers. Most artists must have the same feeling when they’ve come to the end of a painting, a musical composition, a sculpture, but have yet to launch into the next project. I wanted to explore this in between.

It felt to me like being on a ledge, with vast emptiness below my feet. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be. It was a bit, I imagined, like withdrawal from a drug.

I remembered … Continue Reading

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Living at The Intersection of Emotion & Creativity: Why I Document Infant Loss

AileenReillyBTM--3 copy

by Aileen Reilly

Processing truth and pain has always been an important part of self-expression to me. At a very young age, I lost my father. And it wasn’t as if he died, rather, he walked away and decided not to be a father any more. As I grew older, I used my written words, through journaling, and my visual imagery, through photography, to process that loss. What I found is that often photographs express more than any written words ever could. And ultimately, some loss has no words.

By age nine, and having been three years without my father, my first camera became my voice and my refuge, my visual journal. I often picked up my camera and photographed wherever I was, whether at a relative’s home or on a trail in the woods. I used my photographs to express my emotions and those things which were too difficult either to vocalize or to write about. Often, too, I used my camera as a shield, placing it in between me and whatever it was that captured my emotion. It allowed me to feel, but to feel at a safe distance. Some feelings have no words.

Unlike journals and writing, which are limited by the very limits of words and language, photographs don’t ask to be explained. They simply exist. They are open to interpretation and to expression. They can contain an endless feeling, an endless emotion, an incomprehensible loss. They are limitless. Done well, photographs communicate a story in one image.

Because I often thought in pictures, I thought I might want to be a documentary photographer. But because I couldn’t see the path to become a documentary photographer and I didn’t know anyone who had ever done that, I went to college and then on to law school. And ultimately, the law is all about stories. Someone else’s story and how it’s being interpreted.

I became a felony prosecutor where I thought in words, wrote in words and crafted my spoken words carefully in the courtroom so I could paint that visual picture of the crime scene and the story of what happened there. Words are concrete and solid. I joined my love of language and imagery together. I presented witness testimony and expert testimony, and I explored other worlds — violent relationships, sexual predators, gangs, drug organizations — all in front of a jury. I got paid to tell the stories.

Later, when I had children and decided to stay home with them, my camera, my life-long companion, easily turned to them, and in turn, I told their stories of getting older, sometimes minute by minute. I also turned my camera towards other things. Things that called to me for some unknown reason. I realized, eventually, that I was processing my feelings again, much like I did in my youth and teen years. My camera was no longer solely a means of capturing an image, but rather it became a catalog of my interior emotions. All those places where I found words insufficient. Themes began to emerge, and I began to group the images into the stories that they told for me. The loneliness I felt, the isolation, the inner crumbling as my outer identity transformed from one of career person to mom, the rebuilding and ownership of my new self, transformation, and ultimately joy and acceptance. Again, my photography expressed that for which I could find no words.

There is a power in photography. A photograph can trigger a forgotten memory, a laugh, a song, a smile, an emotion. A photograph can take you back to another time and place, maybe a better time, perhaps a harder time, a time when you made it through. A photograph is honest and it is truth. It is a moment in time, a proverbial blink of an eye. The moment has passed, and yet, a photograph is someone’s history.

In 2010, recognizing my skills in photography and my skills in telling stories through photography, I began volunteering with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS), a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing remembrance photography to families suffering the loss of a baby. A birth is a time for celebration. But sometimes, unbeknownst to other families on the Labor & Delivery floor, another family is grieving the loss of their newborn baby. In our society, stillbirth or birth with a genetic abnormality that’s inconsistent with life is only spoken about in whispers, … Continue Reading

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