It’s a phrase we’ve heard so often: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’’. Indeed it can be very freeing to escape the minutiae of life, to simply step over that distracting little detail in order to focus on walking towards your goal. But at the other end of the scale, the small stuff can be comforting, even necessary. The astronaut, Chris Hadfield (whose book, ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life of Earth’, I have just read) says that an astronaut who ‘doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut’. Yip, thank goodness that in all safety related activities, checklists, protocols and procedures are practised and ‘sweated’. That’s comforting to know! But in between the ‘insignificant detail-shedding’ and the ‘dead astronaut’ ends of the scale, I do wonder if, at a very human level, we are designed to be attracted by the small stuff.
Arguably, all art is about detail. That photograph of a beach can be transformed by the presence of a passing bird in flight. A poem that speaks of ‘a big question’ often does so by distilling down to a single image. In a landscape painting our eye is often drawn to that tree or that figure in the distance. I have watched a dancer through an entire choreography and been inexplicably moved by the tiniest movement of a hand. Even during the art of conversation we are unconsciously picking up on almost imperceptible gestures and movements in order to find deeper or even hidden meanings and intentions.
There is beauty in the small stuff. It can present us with non-threatening access to the bigger stuff and it can provide a welcome pause, a moment in which paying attention to a small thing can give our over-worked minds a rest.
The thing about fertility issues, assisted conception and the grief of childlessness is that it often pulls our minds inexorably into the future. I can’t tell you the number of times I would be calculating dates for fertility cycles when I was meant to be resting or relaxing. I would link seemingly unconnected things to my fertility. For example I would renew my car tax for another year and think, ‘By the time this runs out surely we’ll have our child.’ Or I would be contemplating that huge ‘what if’ of childlessness. This meant I was always forcing myself to look ahead, to be impatient for the days to pass so that I could just know for sure, ‘Will I be a parent?’
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, one of the tools that was key in my path to healing was my camera. On days when I felt I was a slave to time or I was feeling overwhelmed by grief, anger or any of the other big things, I found myself being drawn to getting outside and taking photos of the tiny, the passed over, the almost hidden: our microcosm.
Photography brought me right back to now – to the huge tininess of this one moment, this one activity, this one small thing. Do you remember those moments when you were a child: cutting out and sticking on, colouring in, lying on your back and contemplating the sky? Those moments of being absorbed in play were really important. While we play we quite literally re-create ourselves. We learn about our world and our self. (I’ll come back to this concept of play many times in future posts).
Grief and anxiety, anger and despair mask our playful selves. I know it might seem like an impossible switch of the mind to even contemplate feeling playful. It may even feel like a betrayal to your grief. If this is the case, start ‘small and short’. You could quite literally start with a picture of your feet, of your first step then stop. Tomorrow, or whenever, you might be able to dedicate five minutes…then be surprised when fifteen minutes pass without your noticing!
Now with smart phones, it’s so easy to stop and pause to take your photo and to build up a library of your ‘small-stuff moments’ that you could use as inspiration for other artistic pursuits or simply to look at in times of stress. (See my latest ‘I-diem’)
Most of my photos were of nature but yours could be of anything – abandoned objects, small things in your home. The objects don’t necessarily need to be small. The essence is that you are doing something that requires focus on one amazing thing at a time. For example you could seek out things that look like other things – I’m thinking about telegraph wires that look like music staves or hay bales that look like giant hair curlers!
Remember, these small moments of play and your resulting works of art are for you and not necessarily to share with others, so feel free to abandon the ‘is this good enough?’ dilemma.
The big ‘what if’ can wait. You’re not abandoning it nor banishing it. And it will, no doubt still be there in some form in five or ten minutes. But this one small moment, this one small thing is for you and you alone.