Everyone faces difficult times at some point in their life, and some days it can seem like the only thing preventing a rapid dive into the depths of despair is the ability to “reframe” a negative experience into something more positive. It might sound like a technical term for the old advice that when life hands you a lemon, just make lemonade, or that you should see the glass as half full instead of half empty, or that when one door closes, another opens… and it is! It’s exactly the same thing. Some people might call you naïve or even downright insane when you say, “Ok… so I broke my leg 2 weeks before that dance competition I was going to compete in, but what that really means is that I had time to read the most amazing book instead,” when they know the dance competition was important to you. But what other choice do you have? Will diving into the depths of despair and ignoring all the good that is still around you make your life more fulfilling? I didn’t think so!
I still remember discussing opportunity cost at the first economics tutorial at university. It’s the things you forego when you make a decision. For example, a parent with a baby might choose to go back to work early to earn more money, but the opportunity cost of that is less time with the baby, or the opportunity cost of spending money on photography equipment might be not being able to buy some new clothes, or the opportunity cost of doing a PhD might be less time to spend with loved ones, have fun with your camera, or write or whatever else you like to do in your spare time. There’s a flipside to everything and with all the things that are out there for us to enjoy and be grateful for, the opportunity cost of putting all our energy into what has gone wrong is just way too high!
I could have written down the 12th of February 2012 as the terrible day that my compact point and shoot camera began to fail while I was on holiday in Tasmania. But in reality, it was the day that prompted the unveiling of my favourite hobby. I was in a rush the next day trying to buy a new camera before I left Hobart to drive to Port Arthur. I had thought of buying a Canon DSLR camera before, and being in a rush and being in a beautiful part of Australia, I could not resist the price of one that was on sale – especially when the salesperson threw in another little compact camera for an extra $30 so that I’d have something I could use until I had a chance to charge the DSLR battery overnight. It wasn’t until a month later that I spent an afternoon/evening at Aldinga beach practising shooting in manual mode and another day at the Adelaide Botanical Gardens. Then I was up before the crack of dawn on the 25th of April 2012 to take sunrise photos at a winery in Clare, South Australia almost in tears having driven so far only to find that the rain was unrelenting and there was not a spot of sunrise colours or blue sky to be seen through the dark clouds. At times I juggled my umbrella and my camera while trying to take a shot, until I had to run back to the car with the camera under my coat when the rain got heavier. But it was also the day I took some of the photos that are my favourites to this day as I noticed the beauty of raindrops on flowers. I became hooked and I still spend some of my time deliberately looking for ugly things to try to get them in the frame at just the right angle and with just the right backdrop to look interesting… always reframing and trying to see the good in the not so good. Photography might no longer involve “negatives” but it still proves to be a metaphor for reframing the negatives of life into something more positive.
Much has been written about mindfulness, being in a state of “flow”, being fully engaged in what you’re doing, being in the present… it’s all the same, so call it what you will, but it’s what happens to me when I’m clicking away with my camera. My eyes are always on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary and imagining how it would look on film (errr… RAW file). I’m in almost constant “tourist in my own city” mode. I take delight in the warmth of my gloves on my fingers and in being able to operate my camera with them on, when I’m out on a cold morning; enjoy the peace and quiet of a beautiful sunrise while half the city is still asleep; feel gratitude to whoever invented waterproof hiking shoes and laugh at the sea lapping at my feet when I’ve put the tripod a bit too close; listen for the sound of birds; marvel at my ability to make even oil and water look interesting with the right props; and thank God for being able bodied and being able to walk over rocks and any other obstacle to get up close and personal with my subject and carry all my photography gear, and for having eyes with which to spot so much beauty in my surroundings and so many different angles from which to capture it all that I completely lose track of time.
But for every person who pursues an interest just for the sake of it, there’s another person who only wishes they knew what it was that they were interested in enough to get totally absorbed in. People who fall in the latter category have asked me how to find their “flow” activity, but I didn’t have any clear guidance for them. I think it comes down to two things. Recalling our childhood and remembering what activities we enjoyed at school – it might not necessarily be a proper subject, it might be the dancing or ceramics classes a schoolmate’s mum or dad taught at the school for a few weeks, or maybe it was an actual subject, but your parents dismissed your love of art, music, or making animal pillows in home economics as a waste of time or you grew up in an era when girls were discouraged from science and advanced maths classes, or you’re a man who’s friends deemed your love of literature to not be manly enough. Or perhaps it’s a matter of almost having a second childhood. I tried everything in the last 8 or 9 years – pottery, candle making, sewing, making my own journals with Coptic binding, making my own natural skin care products, Latin dancing, salsa dancing, belly dancing, painting (that I’m sure I’ll try again in my old age), Spanish cooking classes, playing the guitar (put that one aside for the keyboard instead), drawing and replacing all the colours of my treasured childhood Derwent pencils that were either missing or broken, swimming (still sometimes do that), knitting… probably more I’ve forgotten. The beauty is, as a grown up no one else can tell you what is or isn’t a waste of time. You can follow any interest you like no matter who once told you it was a waste of time and there is no harm in giving something new a go – it’s the only way you will know!
I wasn’t looking for a new hobby that would transform my life, it just found me on a random day when I wasn’t even thinking about it. They say that you find love when you least expect it and you’re not even looking, and while I don’t think they were talking about the love of photography, it’s how it happened to me.
© Szilvia Virag 2013