R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Self-Portrait

Be Kind to Yourself This Holiday Season

It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and my social media newsfeeds are filled with holiday stories. I read along as scores of people tell of the frantic cooking, cleaning, packing, traveling, and visiting they’ve done (or are still doing). Most seem to enjoy the beginning of the winter holiday marathon.

I admire these people. They’re far more skilled at entertaining and conversation than I’ll ever be. But I also know far more people who secretly dread those crushing five or six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. People dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other chronic conditions often struggle to make it through the winter holiday season without falling apart.

Yep, I see y’all out there. I’m one of you. And I write to you today to say: It’s okay. You’re not alone.

Twenty-plus years ago, long before any of my diagnoses, I forced myself to attend every family holiday party. I thought I had no choice. I knew my relatives would say bad things about me if I weren’t there. Even though my mental health suffered from the lack of quiet and processing time between events, I still went. And, long after the holidays were over, I hated myself for being this way.

It took me many years to understand what was really going on. Decades later, I came to see that those relatives would talk about me—and anybody else who was different from them—no matter what. I could go to the party, or stay home, but they’d still somehow find fault with me. Hell, I could’ve walked in with my very own Nobel Prize for literature, and they still would’ve found something to frown and sneer and whisper about.

Today, well into middle age, I understand now what I didn’t back then. I feel empathy for that lost, confused, sad person who loathed herself for not being like everyone else. I try to make it up to “younger me” by treating myself with kindness during the holiday season.

What helps me most? Quiet time by myself and as much sleep as I can manage. If I do any shopping, I do it during the least-crowded times of day. If I’m feeling particularly frazzled, I ask loved ones if I can drop by and see them when they don’t have a house full of people.

Spending time outdoors helps, too, even if it’s cold and I’m all bundled up. So does marking off the days on a calendar: “Ah, just two more weeks until the holidays are over. I think I can make it.” When the forced jolliness and extroversion feel as if they’re about to flatten me, I try to think about just today. Or just this hour. Or even just the next ten minutes.

Most importantly: if someone’s being particularly awful, I give myself permission to leave. In the moment, I may or may not tell them to go to hell—but I will remove myself from the scene of their bullshittery. The holidays are tough enough without a PTSD relapse. Those are particularly unpleasant, and if I can avoid one, I will.

Yes, I’m a Southerner, but I draw a big, thick “hospitality line” around my sanity with an extra-large permanent marker. Jerks do not deserve my company. My mental health is one thing I will not sacrifice for someone else’s comfort. Besides, as the saying goes: Life is short, and I am not the Asshole Whisperer.

Now and then, in the thick of the holidays, I forget to follow my own advice. That’s when I stumble. It takes me a while to get back to my version of “normal.” I try not to beat myself up about this. (The key word here is “try.”)

Wherever Thanksgiving and the weeks to come may find you, I wish you peace and calm. I hope you can show yourself the kindness you deserve as you navigate this potentially difficult time of the year. You’re in good company.

You are worth showing yourself a little kindness. When you catch yourself feeling horrible, know that I’m right there with you and many, many others. We’re all in this together, surviving the holidays a little at a time.

Photo: Self-Portrait in Black, Rabun Gap (Rabun County, Georgia – 3 October 2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

In which I witness Grace and Love in action

For a while now, people have been asking me about setting up a patron campaign. You know, something with rewards for a monthly pledge, kind of like the patronage system of the Renaissance (except without all the Medici intrigue and espionage and murder). I know several other artists whose patrons–their fans, their readers–gladly support their productivity.

I thought about that for a long time, almost two years. But something in me just wouldn’t let me reconcile myself to it. “What? Let folks show me how much they enjoy my work? Give them special new pieces in return for their money?”

“It’s not the right time,” I kept telling myself. “It’s just not the right moment to think up a patron thingy. I dunno, it’s just not the right time, not yet.”

The truth was–and I couldn’t yet see it–that I didn’t fully believe my work was worthy of people’s support. I didn’t believe my work was worthy of the love people had been showing it. If I didn’t think my work was worthy of love and support, then who else would? And if that was true, then why on earth was I still writing, still taking photos?

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t think my way around this mental block. But then an answer came to me, when and where I least expected one.

A few nights ago, I dreamed that I was living in a run-down apartment building somewhere several hours from home. In this dream, I was moving out of the building–“going home” at the end of my long, unhappy time in this place. My apartment was on the fourth floor. It was accessible only by a rickety set of metal stairs on the outside of the building. And I was one of the last people to move out of the dingy building.

I was sad, but not because I was leaving this awful place. No, I was sad because I had so many things so pack, and they were so disorganized that I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. I needed to be out as soon as possible…but how, with only myself to sort and pack what looked like ten years’ worth of disorganized belongings? On top of this, I had no transportation besides my feet–no car, no moving van, not even a rickety bicycle.

All I can really do, I thought, is pack some clothes in a small suitcase, and set out on foot. It would take at least a week to walk home, if I made it at all. I sat down on the dirty sofa and began to sob.

Just then, someone knocked on the door. I opened it to find several dozen people standing there: former students, longtime friends, new friends, neighbors, and even a few total strangers. The “ringleader” of the group blushed and smiled, and gave me a sheepish wave. “Hi! We came by to help.”

Before I could stammer my customary polite “Oh, no thanks, I’ve got it,” the group pushed past me into my messy room. Then they got to work.

Three former students grabbed my baskets of dirty clothes: “We’re going to the laundromat! Back in a little while.” Several other people brought empty cardboard boxes and began filling them with my belongings. I watched in awe as they seemed to know exactly which items I wanted to leave behind and which items I wanted to take with me. They packed my dishes in layers of old newspaper, placing each inside the box so it wouldn’t jostle against the others and break.

Two more people bounded through the door: “We got the van! Y’all bring down some boxes!” I peered out the grimy bathroom window. In the parking lot by the dormitory door sat a moving van. A writer friend waved to me from the open passenger window. On the metal stairway, a long line of people stretched down four floors. Each person carried at least one large box.

I returned to the living area to see more people bearing pizza boxes and grocery bags full of drinks and snacks. “We figured you probably hadn’t eaten,” one said. “So we thought we’d go ahead and get food for everyone.” Other friends kept me focused and happy, guiding me through each area of my room: “Do you want to take these towels? How about this pan? That bowl? These socks?”

When I peered out the door, I saw my ringleader friend and some former students skipping like little kids down the hallway. Cardboard boxes in one arm, they high-fived each other as they made their way out to the staircase. Back inside the apartment, everyone’s eyes shone with joy and compassion and love.

I awoke to the sound of pouring rain outside my bedroom window. I sat up in bed–three cats lay asleep at my feet. One snored next to my knees.

I lay back down and marveled at the kindness–even in dreams–of the people around me. I marveled at how that kindness reappears to buoy me when I think I may sink for good. In the dream, I felt stuck and helpless. In the dream, the people who see me for who I really am appeared out of nowhere, and helped me make the impossible possible. 

This was the miracle of other people’s love. This was the miracle that is Grace in motion.

In the dream, I did what I had been unable to do in waking life: I listened to these friends, and to the wisdom and love in their actions, their smiles, their presence. For once, I understood: This is Grace in action. This is love and kindness and healing, a huge interconnected net of help that I didn’t even know existed. Yet it had still been wrapped around me, around ALL of us, the whole time. In the dream, after a lifetime of not trusting others, of trying (and failing) to do it all on my own–I let go, let myself fall backwards into that web of love and grace.

The dream’s message was clear: People love you. People love your work. Now let them help.

Here’s the link to the campaign.

Thank you for cheering me on, for supporting my work in whatever ways you can and do. Your encouragement means so, so much to me.

Even if you can’t pledge, keep checking in. As always, I’ll post new material at least three days a week on my website. I’ll be posting some free public content on the Patreon page, stuff you won’t see elsewhere. And I also post a lot of stuff on social media–so keep on liking, commenting, sharing, and telling your friends about my work.

Thank you again for everything. I love you all.

RSW

 

Photo: “Self-Portrait with Stripes, Rabun Gap” (Rabun County, Georgia – 5 October 2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 11/1/17


“Traveling Shoes, Part 3”
LaGrange, Georgia – 13 September 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

When Dreams Speak

Lately, I’ve felt uncomfortable in my own skin. All I want to do is hide from the world. Everything feels weird, ungainly, and awkward—like a return to my teen years, times 100. And, of course, this feeling hits exactly when I most need to be visible, both in person and online. Of course.

Then I sigh and remember that this is how it always goes. This always happens when I’m dealing with a lot of emotion. Everything has to find a place to go. Eventually, it all finds its way out, in some form. Sharing it here with you makes the process a little more bearable.

This overwhelming urge to hide reminds me of a dream I had several months ago. It means even more to me now than it did then.

In the dream, I had to go onstage at my friend Maggie’s small music venue, as part of Singer-Songwriter Open Mic Night. This was NOT something I wanted to do. I do not play guitar well at all. I have written exactly five-and-a-half corny, semi-original songs.

But I had to do it. Maggie needed my help. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint her. So I picked up my guitar, trudged to the stage, and steeled myself for utter humiliation.

There I was, singing and playing each of my little songs: timid, ready to cry, dying of embarrassment. My performance wasn’t bad; rather, it was just so painful to be in front of a crowd when I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a musician or songwriter. My fingers kept missing frets when I’d go for a C major, a B7 major, or an F# minor barre (“easy” for most players, but difficult for me due to peripheral nerve issues). The muted strings and missed notes made me want to disappear. “Why did I ever agree to this? I’ll never be able to show my face in town ever again…”

But when I’d finish a song and start to walk offstage, the people in the audience clapped and clapped. They kept asking me to stay and play another. And another. And another. Each time I sat back down behind the mic, I thought, “Oh God, what if I run out of songs? I don’t think I have any left…not that I had that many to begin with…”

It didn’t matter. Again and again, every time I tried to leave, they waved me back up onstage. I guess I didn’t run out of songs after all. There I was, red-faced and wanting to crawl into a hole…but the people were so kind and supportive.

And they weren’t just being polite. They kept asking for more—more songs about trains rumbling in the distance. More songs about orphaned baby chimney swifts, and day lilies in roadside ditches, and the ghosts of beloved cats, and the smell of kudzu blossoms in the rain, and sweet, lonely, messed-up fellas from Opelika, Alabama.

Don’t get too excited. You won’t be seeing me at any real-life Open Mic Nights, at least not anytime soon. Instead, I take all this to mean I’m supposed to be “onstage.” I take all this to mean that there are people out there just waiting for my little “songs”—people who need to know that someone else knows what it’s like to be weird and uncomfortable and awkward, yet still fully in and of this world.

Photo: “Self Portrait: Restoration No. 1” (Newnan, Georgia, 3 August 2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 8/30/17

“Traveling Shoes, Part 2”
Columbus, Georgia – 13 August 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Notes from the Happy Kitten Cottage: Next Issue Out Aug. 20

A quick reminder that the latest issue of Notes from the Happy Kitten Cottage, my twice/thrice-monthly newsletter, will go out Sunday 20 August. The newsletter is mostly “notes on my writing & photography, my cats, rural places, plants and wild animals, dilapidated buildings, country music, and Lord knows what else.”

You can sign up here, and unsubscribe anytime.

Photo: “Self-Portrait #3, 2 August 2017”

 

Hillside Monday: 8/14/17

“Brocade, Velvet, Patent Leather”
Pure Life Studios
LaGrange, Georgia – 8 July 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

An Awkward Blessing

Although it sometimes causes me heartache, I’m grateful to be shy, reserved, awkward, and worried. I’m grateful to be enthusiastic, creative, and a little strange. I’m grateful to be supportive, loyal, and encouraging in spite of the tremendous cynicism that surrounds us.

Plenty of people, of course, would find all this wrapped up in one person to be a tragedy—a cause for deep, enduring shame. For years, I did, too. But now, in my forties, I’m beginning to understand the blessings of my natural quirkiness.

Being me means being highly sensitive. As a writer, I recognize and value this gift: the ability and willingness to experience strong emotions, to be unafraid of my feelings, to identify deeply with others’ fears and hopes, joys and pains, wishes and failures. Even though my emotions sometimes overwhelm me, my closeness to them reminds me what it means to be human. . .what it means to be fully, completely alive.

I know many sophisticated, urbane people. I admire them. But I never have been—and never will be—one of them.

Not that I haven’t tried. For a long time, I hated myself for never fitting into that crowd. I hated myself for being essentially openhearted and goofy, for my comfort in showing and saying how I feel. Much later, I discovered that so many of those jaded, worldly people tremble with fear at the thought of genuine human connection.

Once, I envied these folks. Now, I feel awful for them. As I once did, they too hold themselves to a false standard of behavior that doesn’t match who they really are. They wear the mask of their inauthentic selves because they believe that’s what they have to do for others to accept them. On some level, most unconsciously recognize that this lie leaves them strangely empty and unsatisfied.

Everywhere I go, I meet them. I extend to them kindness and patience. And I say a little prayer that one day, they’ll shuck off those masks, allow themselves to feel, and finally start living.

But sometimes, despite all this, I’m still afraid to show others my true self. What if they don’t like me? What if they reject me? What if my contributions aren’t welcome? What if I’m weird, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable?

No matter. I’ve learned (and relearn all the time) that everyone feels this way. We’re all terrified that others won’t love us as we are. In that spirit, holding back who I am helps no one. If others don’t care to include me in their circle, that’s all right.

I can’t control what other people think. I can control only myself. It hurts when I discover that others find me too unconventional for their tastes. But I’m willing to risk the hurt, to risk looking like a fool, because the rewards are priceless for every one of us.

I’m grateful not to have lost my emotional edge over the years. I’m grateful to be me—awkwardness, eagerness, and all.

Photo: Self-Portrait No. 2, 13 September 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: First published on 11 April 2014, this post appears here with revisions.

 

Friday Photo: 7/7/17

“Self-Portrait with Porous Concrete”
Kansas City, Missouri – 16 June 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

New piece up at Madcap Review!

My latest piece, “First-Year Seminar,” is now out in Volume 6 of Madcap Review! Go read it!

Photo: Self-portrait at Cochran Gallery, LaGrange, Georgia – 20 January 2017

 

A message from our sponsor

2014-07-19 13.52.28-1

When I write, I really WRITE. Nothing can distract me. I will not allow it. It’s part of a vow I made years ago to my work, a vow I take seriously. When I’m involved in a project, as I have been since late April, I tend to disappear, both online and in person. Nothing is wrong—I feel fine. This is my process.

All I want is to get the words right.

Right now, everything I have goes into my work. (Details when it’s finished and out of my hands.) My loved ones will tell you that, when I write intensely, I have difficulty forming even simple sentences outside of the project. That’s when it’s much easier for me to speak through images. Seeing—trying to find the truth in what lies before me, trying to capture it faithfully—lets my mind recharge for the next day’s heavy writing.

Now you know. And I hope you’ll bear with these photo-rich posts a while longer. Eventually, I will return—along with my words.

Thank you, as always, for reading and following. You are the best.

Love,
Rachael

P. S. It took me six days to write this.

 

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Here’s a self-portrait.

2014-03-23 21.39.43

Sorry, folks. This is all I’ve got today. Major projects make me downright stingy with words, when I’m not on the clock.

Oh, the t-shirt slogan? It’s true.

LaGrange, Georgia — February 2014

 

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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