"Magical?" my six-year-old daughter interjected. "Oh no. I think Mom is going to go crazy!"
My daughter knows all too well that I am not one to believe in magic. I am not one to believe in much at all. I think a lot of things. I have a lot of opinions, but I look at the world from a position that I like to think is firmly grounded in reality.
I went into the trip to Oasis certain that although I would have fun once I got past my initial nervousness and fears, it was going to be just a trip, not a life altering experience; not magical.
I was intrigued when I learned about the 2011 Shutter Sisters Camp, but beyond watching and loving the video slide show that introduced the camp and showing the video to my husband, I did not think that going to something like that was realistic--especially not for me, considering I do not like to break from my routines and step outside my comfort zone--certainly not when I do not have to.
This year, for my birthday, my husband surprised the heck out of me by presenting me with a printout of the registration for Shutter Sisters Oasis. I was so touched by this gift, I cried. But I also had mixed emotions because this was a big (and expensive) gift. I did not know that I was worthy of it. I am not a real photographer, after all. And I did not know that I really wanted to go.
I was nervous about it. I would not know a soul. And I would simply not be like the other women. I knew that. I know how to have fun. I am friendly and loyal and giving and hard-working. But I am not optimistic. I am not a dreamer. I am not a believer. I am not a hugger. I can be cynical. I can seem cold (though, I am not). I am wound tight. From what I have seen of the women who are contributors to and followers of the Shutter Sisters, I was not going to fit in.
I did get the opportunity to meet one person--Kasey--who lives near me in Indiana ahead of the trip, so that made the idea of going a little easier; at least there would be one familiar face.And she was cool. It seemed we could be friends.
I arrived early in Palm Springs--well ahead of the three pm check-in time at the Ace hotel. I had rented a car, so I drove around. I went to Target to get a few necessities that I could not bring on the plane.I tried to kill as much time as I could, but I ran out of things to do in this unfamiliar town. And I was without a plan. I went to the Ace hotel early with the intention to find some others who were there for Oasis or to get some lunch or both. Now if I had been going to Palm Springs and the Ace Hotel to stay by myself on my own little vacation, I would have been perfectly at ease. I love to be alone just as much as I like to be with friends and family. And when I am among strangers, I like to stay anonymous. But this trip was not going to be about that. So I was a bit uncomfortable.
I met a couple of women in the lobby and introduced myself. I found out they were first timers to this Shutter Sisters experience like me, so we had that in common. Kasey walked in a few minutes later along with her friend, Amy who also lives in Indiana, so I got to meet her. Soon there was a small group of women in the lobby and before we knew it, we were off to lunch. It was already starting to be something special.
After the official registration, though, it was Tracey Clark who greeted me first. She asked my name and I told her and then she hugged me even though she did not know me. We had never met before now. I don't think I hugged back; that was not on purpose; that was just me. Part of me wanted to shrink away again.
But I did not. And things only got better from there. I met Kim and we became fast friends and spent a lot of time together for the rest of the trip. Then I met Lin, who lives in Chicago (pretty close to me) and she was a great person to be around; so fun and interesting and friendly. I got to know Lauren (who had eaten lunch with us) and Kasey and Amy better. And any conversation I had with other women was friendly, kind and warm.
There was still a lot of talk about magic and I was not quite buying this but I was certainly starting to have fun. We had dinner and we had drinks (including bad margaritas. One of my favorite moments of the week was when Tracey Clark walked by the table I was sitting at with the other women and she asked the group, "do you hate the margaritas?"), we had conversations. But magic? Nah.
I also had my plans (I like plans). Well before the trip, I had looked on the internet for places to photograph the sunrise. The first place I wanted to go was up and out of town on Highway 74. I did that on Monday morning. It did not take me long to decide I did not want to do that again. Apparently, I just do not drive like a Californian! I don't honestly know how people can go so fast down that mountain with all those twists and turns. (I was fine going up because that was not the way the other drivers were going; on the way down, I accumulated such a big line of traffic behind me, I had to pull over to let everyone pass. I was afraid either they would know I was not from here (even with the California plates) or I might be the victim of someone with road rage.)
I had also seen an internet post about going to the Amtrak Station to photograph the wind turbines. The post said the Amtrak Station was always deserted and that was just up my alley. I went there Tuesday morning by myself. Then I went there Wednesday morning with Kim who said she was interested in going and we had a lot of fun--especially when we took photos of our shadows up against the turbines. I went back again on Thursday morning (our last morning there) because I had a car and there were a few other women who wanted to go and had not had the opportunity yet and I certainly did not mind. Each time I went, I got a little closer to the magnificent man-made structures. It was one of my favorite places.
I also wanted to go to Joshua Tree National Park. I did not want to have flown all the way to Palm Springs and miss the opportunity to go to Joshua Tree. I was going to go by myself one of the mornings, but I had a conversation with Kim and Lin and they wanted to go as well. We made a plan to go Wednesday afternoon and be there for sunset. I am glad we went and that I am especially glad I did not go by myself. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. I especially loved that Lin brought her tutu and she was carrying it along with her camera and then said, "I'm going to put this on just so I don't have to carry it." She spent the rest of the time in the park with her tutu on.
I thoroughly enjoyed the planned trip on Tuesday that took us up on the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto State Park. That is an experience not to be missed. The views and the surroundings up there about 8000 feet are wonderful. And even though I am a bit afraid of heights, the fast ride up was fine . . . even fun.
I was doing everything I wanted to do and I was very busy, which I love. I like to keep moving always--it is a good and bad trait.
I did not realize it right away, but I was changing a little bit, too . . . in small ways and in big ways. I was more relaxed than I have been in a long time. I was not worrying about anything--not about work, not about whether my husband was doing okay with the kids and certainly not about whether he was vacuuming the cereal and popcorn from the carpets every day. (Of course, I missed my husband and kids but to be realistic, it was not that long of a trip I was on!). I also no longer felt like being at Oasis meant--or had to mean--anything in particular. I could just be there and enjoy the company of other women; other photographers; and enjoy my surroundings. And enjoy my time away.
Also, I learned that I do not have to do everything text book correctly. It is okay to get a great shot with a mobile phone; that's not cheating -- in fact, it just might be best way to get a special moment I could miss out on otherwise (thanks to Stephanie Roberts and all those that have iPhones or smart phones with a better camera than mine has for teaching me that.) Now, when can I get one of those?
Taking pictures of people can be fun and satisfying in addition to what I tend to like--nature, macro, landscape--stuff you can hang on the wall. I can learn to take pictures of people better with a little bit of help and practice. Plus, getting a fold up reflector is a great idea. I really enjoyed using Kim's reflector in Joshua Tree National Park. I will be getting one of those.
Also being in the frame is not such a bad thing (some people took some photos of me where I actually think I look pretty good!) and I may even be able to get the hang of the self-portrait thing (though that will take much more practice).
Photographically speaking, I learned a lot, too. I may not do a lot of things differently than I have before; it is still difficult for me to promote myself and to refer to myself as a photographer. I still would have to work up a lot of courage to do something like ask to have my photographs put up on display in a coffee shop or book store, but I got a lot of encouragement and I feel inspired to work a little bit harder and do a little bit more. I want to make a difference, even if it is in the smallest way. I want to try. I still need to figure that out a bit. I can figure it out, though. I will stick with my day job; it is good--even when it is not so good. But I will keep working at photography just because it is a fun. And it is important to me.
Most importantly, I can believe. I do believe--even in magic--in man-made magic. Or, more accurately, woman-made magic.
I want to thank all of those who made Shutter Sisters Oasis possible. I can only imagine the long hours and hard work, talent, skills and thought that it would have taken to organize something like that, with all the research, marketing, phone calls, emails, paperwork, record keeping, and creativity. And it was flawless; it went off without a hitch. You have my undying admiration and gratitude.
I thought for sure this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me, but now I am determined to come back next year and every year that I can. I am planning on it.