oh, paradox

One thing that I’ve had to chew on a little more these past few months was a particular paradox in creativity. That of the ability to love your work as if it’s the most precious thing while you’re making it, and then be able to let it go and not care about it once you’ve released it into the wild as a finished product to be enjoyed/viewed/judged by others.

Elizabeth Gilbert talked about it in her interview with Marie Forleo when they discussed Big Magic, and I still think it’s probably the single best interview that she’s done on her book because of all the different topics they were able to delve into during the lengthier interview time they had.

(It’s a really great interview and I highly recommend listening/watching. :D)

“The paradox that you’re going to have to be able to hold on to if you’re going to do anything creatively – is that as you approach it, you have to approach it as if nothing matters more than this. And then, sometimes minutes later, you have to be able to throw it away. […] You love it and then you dismiss it. If anything, I have been its baby. Because everything that I am, and everything that I have learnt, everything that I have been and become in my life, is because of the creative things that I made. In other words, they were making me.”

I find it so much easier to appreciate such sound logic from afar, but to actually practise it… is a daily challenge in itself.

It’s such a fine balance. Being able to work on something as if it’s the most precious thing in the world and then almost cavalierly dismissing it after you’ve finished with it because then it doesn’t belong to you anymore. “It’s not ya baby!” It’s a paradox, but as Liz says, we are all adults here and we ARE capable of wrestling with paradox. Because the beautiful thing is that in the process of making something, as opposed to it being a one sided effort of us making it, on the hand hand, it would have made us. As much as we have created it, it has created us.

One reason that I feel so strongly about this concept is that I’ve hand my fair share of ups and downs with film photography. I love it so much because there’s just nothing like it when a roll of film gets beautifully (always to a certain degree, unexpectedly so) developed. No matter what, just the fact that it’s film and it’s one of a kind makes me feel that there’s nothing in the world quite like it and that in itself imbues it with its uniqueness and beauty. But there have been so many unsuccessful attempts these past few months as I’ve grappled with a new camera (that is actually notorious for having problems crop up). But when the photos are in focus, to me, they are simply gorgeous beyond words. 🙂

However, with film, things really don’t go according to plan (which on a philosophical level I suppose, is frustratingly similar to life). For this most recent camera that I’ve been dabbling with, first the focus was really hard to pin down. I had to try adjusting my technique of focusing it, aiming to focus on a plane closer to the foreground because it was perpetually back-focused. But the problem is that my success rate for getting a decently focused photo was almost 50%, which is something that was not worth it monetarily for me at least because it’s not so cheap developing film. After making the decision to get a new model, the first roll that came out had the dreaded problem of overlapping frames. But thankfully, thankfully, there are kind souls who have posted their solutions to the exact same problems that they have encountered with the same camera and on the next try, it was finally up to standard with good focus, and no overlapping frames after I learnt a new technique from a random contributor to a forum online. After all that…for what?? you might say. And truly, those thoughts always end up crossing one’s mind for these endeavours. But in the end, it does boil down to one thing.

“Failure has a function. It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert

Don’t you think? 😉 I just couldn’t agree more. After each successive setback, the same question that you will keep asking yourself is, is this worth it? Do I want to continue going on with this? And if the answer is no, then you’ll learn more about yourself. What you’re willing to give up and the limits of any form of sacrifice you’re willing to take. And along the way, there is always going to be some form of an unexpected outcome. Not just in the work but in yourself. For me, learning to deal with film is always an exercise in trusting the unknown. And finding out for myself, the limits after which I am no longer comfortable with blind faith alone and need to take things into my own hands. The difficult part, I find, is knowing when to give up on something vs when to persist because there’s still a chance it can be fixed. But with all that we go through, our ability to wrestle with such questions will only become stronger as we know ourselves better.

Below are two of the photos from the roll of film which had the unfortunate problem of overlapping frames.



(1. My dearest Ahpo. 2. Bougainvillea petals from the incredible flourishing bougainvillea plant outside her next door neighbour’s house.)

Of course I was disheartened at first to discover this problem. But at the end of the day, it’s another lesson in life isn’t it? Figuring what to do with unintended outcomes.

It brought to mind something that Maria Popova said in her interview with Krista Tippet:

“…it was William James who said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to, and only those things which I notice shaped my mind.” And so in choosing how we are in the world, we shape our experience of that world, our contribution to it. We shape our world, our inner world, our outer world, which is really the only one we’ll ever know.”

–Maria Popova

As always, it is what we choose to focus on that decides the eventual outcome. And the end product may not always be what was expected. It might be worse of course, or it might be better. Certainly, it will be different. But that can be the source of its beauty as well.

So here’s one of the final photos after I had tinkered a little with it and cropped out the overlapping edges.


In the end, it’s still a photo that tugs at my heartstrings. And now, it’s got a story behind it.



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