Peeling back the layers.

This week when my husband and son returned from traveling for work it was so nice to have everyone home that when Thursday rolled around and then Friday I just couldn’t pry myself out the door to go into the city. After my post from the other day about learning to be alone it felt so good to not be alone that I just wanted to stay home and revel in the chaos that ensues when we are all together.

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By Friday night I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that I needed to go to the apartment. so I woke up early Saturday morning and headed in. I had reasons. Even though my husband had been in the city for a couple of days during the week he hadn’t checked the mail. I wanted to take some pictures and have something to blog about. Not much to blog about in Connecticut these days. I had a list of events that I wanted to check out. Nothing earth shaking; just a couple of street fairs and Holi Hai, a Hindu festival that involves lots of music, food and covering your friends and family in colored paint powders. I’d seen images from the event and of the things I could do, that had the biggest draw for me. Partly because of the photo ops and partly because I’ve actually been to many Holi Festivals in another life when I still had a guru I followed. I was curious to see what the Holi in NY was like in comparison.

I got to the apartment, collected the mail, made lunch and planned my agenda for the day. And then I procrastinated.

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It was a glorious day — the sun was shining, the air was cool, the sky was a brilliant blue. There was every reason on earth to get outside and enjoy it. But that required me to get on the subway and then step a bit outside my comfort zone. See, in order to get the kind of photographs I wanted to get at the Holi Festival I’d have to get right in there and do the thing that makes me quake in my boots: ask people if I can take their pictures. People I don’t know. In a crowd.

My theme for living in the city has been pushing against my own limitations. I started small — really small. Like using the subway to go places that I would normally just walk to or take a cab. Or taking myself out to dinner instead of getting take out and eating in the apartment alone. When I started to talk myself out of going to the Holi Festival  I decided that this would be a great opportunity to take one more step outside my comfort zone. If it was too bad I could always leave and go do something else.

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As I’m writing this I’m thinking that if you are reading this you must think I’m just slightly insane. But for the past 20 plus years I’ve been really insulated. I feel like I’ve been living in some kind of suburban cocoon. As with most cocoons, I built it myself and it was pretty cozy. But my cocoon is getting old and it’s falling apart. And I think that if I don’t break free of it, well, I’ll die in it and that won’t be pretty.

For the sake of honesty here I am pushing sixty. There. I said it. Sixty years old. Next year. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve done a lot of things and been a lot of places in those years. But all the same I ended up living in that cocoon and now it’s time to break out of it. Maybe I’m not starting out for the first time but I am starting again.

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There is a video going around on the internet these days of a woman who still runs at the age of 100. She took up running when she was 67 and has been running ever since. So there’s still hope for me. I want to be that person who finds something later in life and keeps doing it. Honestly, I doubt it will be running because I don’t think my knees or ankles would be too happy about that but there is that Yoga thing that I’ve been trying to get back into. Just for the record, I started riding dressage and doing Yoga for the first time when I turned 50. And I thought that was old.

But back to the Holi Festival. And my discomfort at asking people if I can take their pictures. Which, by the by, got completely in my way at the Easter Parade. I got there and gave myself permission to leave if I got uncomfortable. I walked around the perimeter of the action before I went inside. But the music and the dancing drew me in. I started doing my thing of taking candid shots of people involved in their activities and looking away from the camera. This is my comfort zone mode. I have gotten some pretty good shots this way. I can take pictures, remain anonymous and be pretty happy with the results. But that wasn’t what I wanted from this event.

Side note here: I totally blame Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York for this.

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I wanted to capture interaction and in order to do that I had to interact. “Hi. Do you mind if I take your picture?” I had to get in there and get messy. Literally. Because it’s hard to stay clean at an event where the main focus is throwing paint.

At first I watched other photographers.  The smart ones who had probably been to the festival before had their cameras protected with plastic bags. They approached people with ease and everyone was very happy to have their pictures taken. No one was biting anyone’s heads off. People were just doing their thing, having fun, enjoying the music, the dancing and the sight of everyone covered in bright colors. It was infectious. So I tried it. “Hi. Do you mind if I take your picture?” Dang. It wasn’t hard at all.

The moment when I allowed myself to relax into the whole experience was when a woman in a sari came over to me and marked my forehead. “Happy Holi” she said. That drew me in and made me remember. This was a celebration she and the others were sharing with all of us. “Thank you. Happy Holi to you.” I responded. And that’s when I let the fun begin.

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Maybe I am wrong but I am pretty sure that having the apartment in the city is part of the process of emerging from my cocoon. Because really,  faced with the train trip in to the city and then the train trip back, I would have more than likely talked myself out of the whole thing and spent the day puttering in the garden and cleaning the kitchen. I’m not sure why it is but at home in Connecticut it’s easier to add to the cocoon rather than peel back a few more layers.

It was a huge lesson for me that I know I will use from here on. It may not sound like a big thing but seriously, it was. I hope that you agree that I got a lot of really nice images, images that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t moved past my limitations.

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