Photo Synthesis (How A Set of Headshots Finally Set My Head Straight)

In life, we’ve all got “Stuff” — times and trials we’d rather forget. But when the reminder is etched into your own face, things get pretty interesting…

The truth is, I love photographs. Like my grandmother, I have boxes of them stacked in my closet which often distract me from putting away laundry. But when I was twenty-five, a bunch of Stuff happened (again), and the proof that remained was fairly easy to ignore — so long as I managed never to look at myself.

And so began a complicated relationship with the camera: chasing the warmth of captured memories, ducking those lenses like hardpacked snowballs. At first, it was more about how I looked to others (I’m happy to report motherhood has taken care of that). Gradually, I cared less and less what anyone else thought so long as I didn’t have to be reminded.  

When The Stuff reared for a third time in my late thirties, it triggered a total reconstruction of my priorities. An overhaul of my entire mindset, my approach to life. It drove me to get serious about my writing dream and fuelled the relentless determination I’d need to see it through. I reached an exquisite place of certainty, grateful for every wobbly step that had led me there.  

Or so I believed.

Five years later, when my publisher asked for headshots, all I could think was: Ah, crap.

Fairly certain an author photo of me wearing sunglasses wouldn’t fly, I pulled out the new top I’d bought to wear over the holidays. I dusted off my makeup kit and blew out my hair. Then, in a properly foul mood after so much mirror time, I asked my husband to take the photos he knew I was dreading.

In the end, the number of shots I didn’t feel immediately compelled to delete totalled exactly…one. In it, I’m expressionless (read: resting B—- face) and my husband’s thumb cuts off the bottom, so far too much cropping is required. But I see only myself there, and not the piece of my life I deeply appreciated yet obviously still struggled to face.

Relieved, I walked into the kitchen to show my family:

My daughter makes a face. “Are there any other choices?”

Nope. Still, I hand her the phone.

Ten seconds later, she hands it back. “I like this one:”

In it, I’m holding back laughter as my husband, desperate to get me to stop looking like a customs officer, whispers inappropriate jokes. But there’s wayyy too much Stuff ringing through; I can’t have it blaring at me from the back cover of my beloved novel.

Back to my original choice, then. “You really don’t like this one?”

My husband walks in and he, too, frowns in reply.

I stand with arms crossed as he takes a turn swiping through my phone. “This one,” he declares:

In his choice, I’m looking at my girl making silly faces and gesturing wildly from the sidelines, picking up on dad’s efforts to get me to smile. My expression is all love (plus a tinge of regret, because now I know she knows how much power that damn camera has over me, and it’s all starting to feel awfully bloody ridiculous).

I assure you, dear reader, I’m acutely aware of how low this all registers on the scale of actual problems.

My family banters back and forth, defending their choices but ultimately agreeing either of their two picks would do fine. That other one, though, the pic I chose? It was a nonstarter. Feedback from friends and family on Facebook echoed a similar pattern. Still, the problem stubbornly remained: nine months from now, when I turn my book-baby over in my hands, The Stuff is the last thing I want to be reminded of.

Even if . . . it’s the whole reason I have a book in the first place.

Back on the merry-go-round once more. “But what’s wrong with this one?” I beg, swiping back to my choice, voice higher than intended.

It’s how I still see myself.

It’s the side I wish I could show every time I catch people staring and wondering what happened.

It’s the unscathed version I’ve kept on life support all these years.

My little girl shrugs.

“It doesn’t look anything like you.”

Ah, crap.

“In mine,” she continues, “you look happy, and kind. And friendly. And fun! And that’s how you really are.”

I swallow hard.

Okay, Rache, let’s review:

Stuff happened which is inextricably linked to everything good and beautiful in your current life, but the plan is to keep clinging to a past version of yourself, one your own child doesn’t recognize, and affix THAT version to your debut novel which is – wait for it –LITERALLY about a bunch of people learning to embrace their uncomfortable truths.  

In the end, I figured out the trick.

All I had to do was keep looking at that photograph, the one where my daughter sees her mother and my husband makes me laugh, until the only thing that came to mind anymore was everything that went right.

Happy 2023, friends. Here’s to a year of owning our truth, listening to those who love us, and cutting loose what no longer serves us.



7 thoughts on “Photo Synthesis (How A Set of Headshots Finally Set My Head Straight)

  1. And here it goes … you making a brutal thing beautiful with your words (and me teary in the process). Kids and husbands always have a way of getting us to see the things about ourselves that we can’t/don’t/won’t. Thank you for sharing this with the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And the new found word that someone not so long ago brought to my attention….SHERO! You my friend are a SHERO!


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