I recently had the incredible privilege of shooting with the delightful and talented Alan H Bruce in a beautiful sun-lit loft in San Diego. This recent trip was my version of a 'vacation' - three nights away from LA, spending time with family and my secret husband, and of course a loaded schedule and eagerness to spend every minute possible on my laptop, digitally conquering the world. Plus, you know, a couple shoots thrown in for good measure. A vacation! .. I may be doing this wrong ..
Either way, I was doing a perfectly horrendous (my word of the week) job at doing any kind of relaxing, or any kind of productivity-ing. I had wrapped my mind too tightly around the concept of this 'getaway,' and when one thing out of my control happened prior to leaving, the whole house of cards came tumbling down. I suppose in this analogy, I would be the queen of hearts, laughing madly in the totally 2 dimensional pile of chaos on the floor - 'cuz that bitch is crazy.
Real quick let me put in a teaser photo, before I lose your interest all together (this is going somewhere, I think!)
All my usual bullshit goes out the window however (or at least it SHOULD) when the universe reminds me of the pain, and the reward, that results from new chapters in our life. Breaking through is ugly. Breaking through is HARD. And breaking through is also insanely, incredibly, indescribably beautiful.
At least that's what I've heard.
I'll let you know once I'm on that other side.
This most recent reminder that, hey jin, life is hard, but also miraculous - maybe you should just chill the fuck out - came in the form of aforementioned darling and talented photographer Alan H Bruce. ... (keep reading, we're getting there!)
This was my second shoot with Alan, but the first was over two years ago. The modeling and photography community as a whole in fact has been lamenting the temporary absence of Alan's camera for the past year and a half because, Alan, who is not quite yet 60, had a very serious stroke.
Here's another picture, and I SWEAR I've got some kind of point. I'm pretty sure. Actually it's really really late right now, so this is mostly just rambling. But hang in there! This might get good!!
Let's add another one.. to make sure I keep ya here. I mean, how about dem boobies. Everybody loooves boobies.
As I mentioned, the entire community has felt the temporary loss of Alan as he has spent the last 1 1/2 years in recovery. Many of my amazing and world-renown model-friends have worked with him over the years, and I believe we would all consider him a perfect example of a wonderful professional and a true creative. Plus just a delightful human bean. So when I announced my trip to San Diego and received an email from Alan expressing his desire to start shooting again, I was very honored and of course excited to be his first model subject since his stroke.
In the last year and a half Alan has had to relearn essentially his entire life. And he has been an incredible inspiration through all of it, sharing his recovery via email updates all along the way.
Which really makes the fact that I was stressed for three days because I hit 5 o' clock traffic leaving LA seem like some pretty pussy-ass-bitch shit, no?
And the most beautiful part of Alan's shared journey, is that he still suffers from what's known as Aphasia aka the loss of ability to understand or express speech. Which you would notice instantly, if not entirely understand, reading the written communication from Alan as he tells his story the best he is able to. And while his speech has come a long way since his stroke, his communication is still it's own, unique, language.
Personally, I find it poetic.
Alan may disagree. It's likely that he wishes that I didn't have to describe "let's shoot at one o' clock" as "hold up a single finger, and that many hours past noon aka that time when both clock hands are completely upright back when an analog clock was a thing, let's start then." Numbers are one of the things that still seem a bit lost in the vortex for Alan. To me it's a novelty; to Alan, it's a daily struggle.
Here is a look at an email Alan sent out over a year ago:
And here is the email he sent along with these images:
His speech is just like his writing which, again, I find to be beautiful. Like a puzzle that's missing some pieces, but you're still able to see what the final picture will be.
Despite the very drastic step backs in language, and of course the many physical challenges as well, Alan has consistently written and shared his journey as he has started his life all over again. There's essentially a black hole in his brain in the wake of the stroke, and his mind is creating new connections wherever it can to get things 'back online' to compensate for the now totally dead area. This is an incredible, miraculous, and I'm sure, painstakingly slow and difficult process. And Alan has been nothing but honest, open, and positive through it all.
I was so excited to get to shoot with this "After" version of Alan and to discover that, while his speech and physical abilities are certainly different from when we first met, the same bright, curious, creative, caring, and silly personality of "Before" Alan still sparkles bright in his eyes. Alan was always one to share a joke, a story, a good laugh, etc, and that hasn't changed.
It just takes a little longer now.
Here's the point, I promise.
Life can, and does, change in an instant. We often get thrown unexpectedly back into some hard hitting lessons - and often times these lessons are ones that we've learned again and again before. The frustration of having to relearn to walk, to talk, to forgive, to commit, to fucking relax; it's always a new chapter, but sometimes the theme is painfully reoccurring. We all have struggles we have 'conquered' in the past, and yet they might still rear their ugly heads at you in the mirror each and every day. When there's just too much at stake, too much pressure, too much stress, too much familiarity in being stuck somewhere you don't want to be, it's often our very souls that long to just give up. To throw in the towel and say fuck it all.
I've got four weeks until my ass is officially on a Trip Around the fucking WORLD, and I'm repeating through a million of my same old, here we go again, really more of this bullshit??, self-destructive habits. I'm learning to walk and talk all over again each and every day in order to make this dream a reality. It often SUCKS. I've had more than one day blurried by anxiety medication; more than one evening lost to the sloth and mind-numbing idiocy of netflix; more than one cheat day expand into four days of pizza and beer and anything deep fried; and more than one morning ruined by a body-destroying hangover.
Basically, I am afraid, and I keep letting fear take the wheel.
Because breaking into new levels in life means facing all the bullshit that has kept you in the lower levels until this point. And in every single moment of my life there is that whisper, that dread, that deep, heavy, sinking feeling in my heart that maybe I will never let go of this bullshit. Maybe, I will never reach a higher level. Maybe, I was never meant to in the first place.
I am drowning in fear of failure.. if I allow myself to that is. And all it takes is one second of doubt for it to be all-consuming.
Just as I am sure that Alan must be afraid at times too. There must be a fear in him that he may never gain back a sense of normalcy in his life. Just as I fear that I'll never "get a handle" on my own life. But what can you do, in the face of that fear? When a new chapter starts whether you want it to or not? Or when this new chapter is really one you feel you've already read a thousand times before? What do you do when you're afraid that you'll never be good enough or work hard enough or get your ass up early enough to book the shoots and find the hosts and pay for the flights and to feel joy in your work? When you're afraid to your core that maybe you just were never meant to be happy in the first place....???
If you're like Alan, you get up, and you fucking do the work anyway. You break through.
I had to go to jail for shoplifting twice before I learned not to take what isn't mine (and neither time was exactly a short visit). Alan goes to a speech class every week, twice a week, and goes through the same verbal exercises as he did the week before. All to relearn a language he spoke just fine for nearly 60 years. Sometimes it just takes time, a whole lot of repetition, and an insane amount of patience, forgiveness, and self-love, to get through the day.
But no matter what you don't give up.
'Oh! Not a single one of the 100 photographers I spent all week emailing wants to shoot with me? That's ok, I'll just email 100 more.'
You can either sit back and wallow in it, or you can do the work to get yourself out of where you know you don't want to be.
You try to embrace it, try to smile, try to have faith, and you try to learn something new. Even if it's something you've learned before, this time you try to learn it better. Sometimes you'll wish that the funds were just in your account before you leave on tour. Sometimes you'll wish that your right arm would just move like it used to. Sometimes you'll wish that you were able to just stop eating after one serving of dessert, or that you would just not hit the snooze button eight times every morning, or that you would just tell your spouse that you love them instead of reminding them that the car still needs an oil change. Sometimes, you'll wish you were just BETTER already. But you'll never get there if you just give up.
It doesn't matter what challenges you face, whether their out-of-left-field new, or might-as-well-take-your-last-name familiar, as long as you face them, everything will be OK.
Don't fall into your fear of failure, even when you and your life feel like a completely broken record.
Hang in there my darlings, you got this.
A quote from the absolutely incredible, lovable, and legit as fuck Jen Sincero** perfectly encompasses all of this, I think:
We have to let go of our fear, our dread, our excuses, our self-sabotage; we have to forgive and let go and move the fuck on in order to CREATE so that we can share and laugh and love and know that where ever you are, right at this moment; no matter how hopeless, or overwhelming, or batshit filled with rage it might be; that this is the exact moment where you are meant to be.
I'm doing my best to do just that each and every day.
How about you?
Welcome back to the world of photography, Alan. We have missed you! You have made such a difference because, through it all, you have never stopped being you.
All images are ©Alan H Bruce Photography 2017
*** Jen Sincero's book "You Are A Badass" has been a huge step in helping me to change my life. I have bought copies for dozens of friends and I still listen to the audiobook version almost every day. I'm so excited to have just picked up my copy of her latest book, "You Are A Badass at Making Money" and I will be seeing Jen on her book tour in LA on May 12th. I hope to see some of you fellow badasses there!! <3