Exposure therapy revisited, or: A personal practice for tolerating awesome

· 1076 words · 6 minute read

Almost 12 years ago I wrote up a few thoughts about a morning routine I’d adopted to help me deal with some creative and personal insecurity. I called it “exposure therapy,” and it was just an active practice of looking at photographs, understanding a lot of them would be better than the ones I was taking. I stuck to it for a while until something broke up the way I organized my mornings. I kept at the habit of at least looking at pictures a few times a week, but at some point I stopped doing that and just started reading blog posts about photography. I stopped thinking about the images and started just … thinking.

Over the past month, away from work, I’ve been thinking about that routine. I’ve had more time to play around with cameras, pictures, and tools, and I’ve thought a lot about assorted technical aspects of picture-taking, but I’ve not really done anything to prime my creative pump. Worse, there’s a small part of me I have to own who is properly wondering what he’s supposed to be up to, what he should be expecting for himself, and what he should aspire to. I am so immensely grateful for the circumstances I am in, because I can sit with these things, ride them out, find new reasons to rediscover a kind of optimism I used to have in so much supply. And I have space to deal with the sense some days that I fell through a wormhole ten years ago, had some interesting adventures, and now am out the other side needing to take inventory about what happened to the me who tumbled in.

Thinking back to that morning routine, I remember the feeling I had when I’d see something go by that was just … awesome. After enough times it was sort of like a sunlight therapy lamp: Enough exposure and my sense of personal energy and creative restlessness would go up and I’d want to get out there and do it myself.

With the big Twitter flap and the sudden surge in Mastodon people, I’ve been trying to follow photographers as they turn up so I can build a list. Tonight, though, I also opened up a new Flipboard account because it really is a wonderful way to browse pictures from assorted feeds, and I imagine I can turn my assorted social media photography feeds into a Flipboard magazine.

Anyhow, here’s the post. I appreciate the me who wrote it. He was dealing with some stuff and it was really, really hard to just sit there and be overwhelmed by how much goodness there is out there, but he pulled it together and made himself stare into it.

March 23, 2011

I read a short bit a few weeks ago titled A Simple Guide for a Mindful Digital Life, and it offered some suggestions that resonated with me, along with a few that would not be practical for a good many people. I recommend it, though, because I like the author’s take on ownership of online presence. One thing that came of trying a few of his recommendations was a modification to my morning reading routine.

Over the past year, my iPad has become my morning paper. I like to get up a little early and sit by the fire reading the things I consider interesting but disposable. I use Flipboard and Twitter lists to skim through the things with which I’d like to have headline-level familiarity.

I like the morning skim because I don’t have to place any weight on anything I read there. Sometimes I bookmark useful things for later, but it’s the only time of the day I’ve got that I consider solely mine. After it’s over, my time stops being just mine for long stretches.

One neat thing Flipboard offers is support for Flickr as a “digital magazine.” You can subscribe to your own Flickr stream, those of your friends, your own favorites or (and this is the part I really like) the flickr “interestingness” feed.

Flickr’s always been a little hard for me the same way the rest of the Internet can be a little hard for me. There’s just so much good stuff going on, so many people being completely amazing, and so many things that seem almost casually wonderful that it makes ever doing anything hard. To paraphrase Theoden, who can stand against such reckless awesomeness? Why even get out of bed, because if it hasn’t been done, it’s in the process of being done and probably in the form of a multi-year project with incredible JavaScript transition effects.

That’s harmful thinking on a few levels:

  • You never end up doing anything.
  • Other people have an easier time telling you your limits.
  • After a while, it makes you crabby about everything, because crabbiness blunts the sheer radiance of all the random awesomeness going on, making it easier to live with.

So Flickr’s been hard, because it’s full of great photographers , and the Interestingness feed pulls in a lot of their work.

It occurred to me a few days ago, however, that maybe the thing to do would be to just dive into that pool of greatness, so I modified my morning routine a little by tweaking Flipboard. I pushed a lot of the lists about Facts and Things to the second page, and I filled the front page with interesting photography feeds. First in line is the Flickr Interestingness feed. I’ve been flipping through it each morning and marking a few of the pictures I see as favorites (another nice thing Flipboard lets you do). I’m trying to treat it as a mindless exercise, something done without a lot of reasoning, because I think doing it that way allows me to silence the inner critic for others, which makes it easier to silence the inner critic for me.

I try to stop thinking about the things I used to think about: Is this image overprocessed, did the photographer go too far with the sharpening, is the image correct, is the underlying sentiment hackneyed, and on and on. I try to just like stuff. Sometimes, though, I see a picture that achieves something I once tried and failed to pull off, so I favorite that for when I can circle back later, when I’m in a better frame of mind, and consider the things that will help me take better pictures.