Hilary Spencer Creative Photography » Creative photographer specializing in weddings, engagements, and family photography. I'd like to make you smile.

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“Behave well at the end of love.” – Katherine Woodward Thomas

I’m sitting here, a warm, snoozing dog drooling on my leg, and I’m trying to find the words I’ve been swallowing for almost 6 months. I’ve been spending a lot of time waffling (and not the good kind, with rivers of maple syrup) about how on earth to write about this. I’ve started so many posts and so many point form lists both literally and in my head, trying to navigate my feelings and outlook, most importantly on how to approach a topic that is.. uncomfortable. I’ve been feeling so stuck, so dampened by this “secret” I’ve been withholding from writing about, that I really do just need to get it out there. Rip that bandaid.

I’m going through a divorce.

Phew! Well that was the hard part, right? Just put it right out there. Called it what it is. Honestly, I don’t like saying I’m “going through it”.. as if it were an illness I’m currently suffering from… but it does give a timeline to hold on to, in that at some point, I will be past the active “divorcing” stage and into a remission of sorts where logistically that process is behind me. Until then, the wine flows, and the days go on.

When life decides to go in a different direction than planned, you have only two options: resist, or give in. I’ve spent days on the up, and days so very much down. I’ve spent days unable to think of the future and days where the future is so open and embracing it gives me goosebumps. I do want everyone to know that while it’s hard to understand, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening, and I just ask for respect while things feel a little disjointed. It’s been many months of moving forward and gaining strength, and I’m just so relieved to be able to acknowledge this chapter of my life.

As a writer/creator/creative individual, I strive to deliver authenticity in every medium I put out into the universe. I’ve been feeling very stuck in my writing lately, as you can see with my stalled posts about Portland – I want to completely envelope myself in my writing about such a life changing trip (which you can now understand came at the best time in my life possible), but I’ve been feeling like I can’t give myself 100% to my story without having the elephant in the corner called out for what it is.

I really do feel like I’ve been hiding this shameful secret, feeling fraudulent somehow; working through feelings of embarrassment (hello – we just got married! What the heck!) as well as hurt, confusion, and glimpses of excitement for what’s to come. I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to shout it from rooftops and moments where I’ve wanted to dig a hole in the sand and set up shop. I’ve battled the ethical conundrum of whether to post such personal details on social media, but it all comes down to this: If I can connect with just one person, one individual who has been through, or is going through, or will go through what I’ve been dealing with lately, it’s worth it. If I can give just one person some validation in what they are feeling, I will continue to write from the heart and speak my truth.

You see, I’ve really connected with the fact lately that I am a storyteller. I am a creator, a winding of words and images to create life and create narrative. I have been put on this planet to talk – and man, I can talk. But it’s what I’m here to do. I always feel the most aligned when I am working with people, connecting with people. Storytelling, in whichever form I choose that day, has always given me the most satisfaction and ultimate fulfillment, and by hiding a part of myself (be it because of shame, embarrassment, fear, what have you) I’ve been unable to fulfill nor satisfy the part of myself that I truly need to honour to be happy. That’s all this comes down to – I am pursuing happiness. And in order to do so, I need to acknowledge… and let go.

I’ve been asked how on earth I can continue to shoot weddings when they are such a suspected trigger, such an immensely emotional connection to my recent past. All I have to say is this: I still believe in love. I still believe in happiness. I walk into every wedding day with exceptional optimism; just because my path has changed, it doesn’t mean the path doesn’t still go on. I am an audience to great love every day, and it keeps my values strong and my head on straight. My work brings me strength. I’m so thankful to each bride and groom who have placed their trust in me; that is how I continue, and that is how I push forward.

J.K. Rowling started her career from what she considers “ultimate failure”. This ultimate failure, for her, began with the falling apart of her marriage. I believe that things happen for a reason. The next chapter of my life will bring challenges and changes that are meant to shake my world and warm my heart. I am a firm believer in kindness prevailing and love conquering all. Thank you to everyone who has provided support to both sides over the last chapter of our lives; to our families who have dropped everything to be at our sides, our friends who have given shoulders and warm hugs and beautiful distractions. I’d like to raise a glass to the future, to family, and to love. I promise, with a bit of help from a scraggly floof, I’m over here smiling.

Photo by Lindsie Grey

 

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I tend to be that one that you’ll end up in deep conversation with. You know, the type that you’ve just met yet somehow you feel like you’ve known me for years. It’s my superpower. My flight to Portland left super early in the morning from Toronto and lead me to Minneapolis for a layover. That first flight was so fast I barely had a chance to nod off, but I was wide awake when I was the last of 5 people waiting to get on the flight without assigned seats. It’s nothing in comparison to getting taken off a flight – but they did ask for volunteers to move their flights to a later time, for a cash reward. Overbooking sucks, man!

I ended up on the flight sitting next to one of my fellow unassigned adventurers and ending up having some great conversation throughout the flight to Portland. He was headed to visit relatives, and offered a few recommendations for spots to hit up. While we didn’t get into super personal details territory, he did offer something that stayed with me the entire trip – it will be an opportunity for some clarity and reflection. I’m sure it was said in better words (if you’re reading this, I’ve butchered a great moment, I should have written this sooner!) but it stuck with me each step of my trip. I’m incredibly thankful for meaningful conversations in unexpected places.

We landed and I caught a glimpse of Ikea from my window. I swear, the most recognizable land mark in every city we visit. I went through the usual Airport paces and headed to pick up my rental car. It’s as if they knew I was a 20-something female travelling on her own; the guy pointed me over to my whip for the next week, a ridiculously cute white Ford Fiesta. I honestly squealed. How silly we are to put any value in the look of a vehicle, yet here I was – squealing over my tiny happy car. Thank you, Universe. I needed a cute ride.

Killed time before my AirBnB checkin at my sanctuary. My home away from home. My long lost Target. Why they had to take them away from us up here… it hurts to see such beautiful things yet can’t take them home! I had to avoid the home section in case I fell in love and had to leave anything behind. And yes, it was in Target that I purchased The Hat. The iconic new piece of me that gave me a bit of weird satisfaction starting off this trip.

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The Tiny House. Oh, the Tiny House. It was absolutely perfect. I drove down streets that were perfect Portlandia, parking next to a tie-dye painted hippy van under a lush tree to the sounds of chickens and ducks. There sat my new home for the next week, impossibly small but absolutely perfect. I settled in, took in my bearings in the Scandinavian-esque home, climbed up into the loft bedroom and napped in the afternoon sun. This was excellent.

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After a little stretch and *I can’t believe I’ve got the rest of the week ahead of me* wonderment, I had to get on with my day – I had a concert to go to! Regina Spektor was playing in town and I had purchased tickets the week before. I had wanted to keep this trip fairly open, schedule-wise, but booked in a few pillars of structure to keep things grounded. I hadn’t listened to Regina in years (oh the drives around Oshawa at 4 in the morning as a teenager, CD’s with playlists named after feelings and friends you couldn’t imagine your life without) but I did a bit of homework before I left. She is timeless. So incredibly, insanely talented and humble to boot.

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I did a bit of a walk through downtown Portland (parked far too far away from the venue, which has a few different buildings under the same umbrella name in the city – way to go, Hilary – first night and you’re already screwing up!) and everything was blooming. I was told that the climate there is similar to Japan (you’ll hear about the Portland Japanese Garden later) in that it is incredibly wet, and they had gotten their Spring a few weeks before us Torontonians. Giant looming trees in the middle of a downtown core always gives me this feeling of nature prevailing over city sprawl.

It’s from here that the story gets interesting (if you’ve kept up with my monotonous play by play so far) – I get into the theatre, and find a lineup for drinks. I hadn’t technically eaten dinner and absolutely wanted a beverage to go with my experience. An attendant is checking ID’s and I chuckle as I hand him mine – “I’m from Canada! Date is down there.” He barely glanced at the ID and said “We can’t accept this, we’ll need your passport.” Shiny, happy, bubbly, *the world is my oyster* Hilary got knocked down a rung and I frowned. “Oh, ok, I’m sorry.” Classic Canadian, apologizes for something that shouldn’t need apology. Clearly I hadn’t brought my passport with me to a concert – it was safe in the tiny house. I moved out of the line and over into another line for pop (my new American friends died at the term – it’s soda!) feeling a bit defeated. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around to find a girl that had been standing in front of me from line to line coming into the venue – I had noticed her dress earlier, totally cute and very Regina-chic. “Hey – we overheard – would it be weird if we bought you a drink?” My little heart. I’m supposed to be the nice Canadian! “Oh my gosh. Seriously?! That is so nice!” I follow her back and I’m introduced to her fiance, Dominic, and Dominic’s parents. They buy me a drink (“on us – no, seriously!”) and we get chatting about Regina and how I’m travelling alone. “We thought you were just at the concert alone – you’re like, alone-alone?!” We end up chatting about their upcoming wedding and I tell them I’m a wedding photographer. They have a friend doing their photos for the wedding, but “have you done an engagement session?” “Nope.” “Would you like to? On me – this is a cool enough story on it’s own!” We plan for the next day after my scheduled waterfall tour – “We can meet at the Mountain.” Oh, yes, so casually – let’s just meet at the mountain. I died.

Regina Spektor killed it. The venue was incredibly strict and wouldn’t let anyone take photos with their phones (I got angrily whispered at by an attendant) so I have zero evidence that it happened, but Camille, Dominic and family were only a few rows over and they can vouch! Regina had a few hiccups but humbly took them in stride, and after all these years to still be nervous performing speaks volumes to me – I don’t know that there will be a wedding day I won’t be nervous for, or even a meeting with clients where I don’t second guess myself. Her words of wisdom were “Maybe if I close my eyes this will be easier.” She felt her way back through to the melody and continued playing as if nothing had happened. I want to say that was another lightbulb moment for me – sometimes, following the instructions and protocol can get in the way of truly feeling what is right. I’d been so structured for so long attempting to be the best version of myself, when really all I need to do is close my eyes… refocus… and play. Needless to say I was a bit teary through her set, the weight of the last few months and the buzz of excitement of the next few days meeting in a rush of feels. It was a beautiful night.

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I drove home to my tiny house and collapsed into (after climbing up to) bed. This was only barely the first day. Tomorrow was completely mine to spend as I wish. The feeling of freedom washed over me and I couldn’t quite believe that I was miles away from home, yet felt so absolutely comfortable, so calm, and so grounded. I drifted off to sleep knowing I’d wake to my own adventure.

 

To go back and read Part 1, click here.

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Mt Tabor Dusk

I sat at the top of a mountain. My teeth chattered, my mind raced, my feet hurt. But I was at the top of a mountain… at dusk… miles away from home… and feeling calm wash over me. Finally some breaths came easy and my heartbeat slowed. That’s all it took – fresh perspective, fresh air, a feeling of being grounded when everything is a million miles away from solid, stable ground.

I planned my trip on a cold, dull day in February. I was presented with a week that was booked off, with money set aside, and an opportunity gained from a garbage situation. Where would I travel to alone? What was a bucket list spot that would feel safe yet brilliantly new, fresh and fulfilling? I looked at beaches. I looked at resorts. I thought about not going anywhere. And then I thought about Portland.

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Thinking about Portland gave me feels. It gave me a little nudging whisper of “this could work” in the middle of a lot of things not working so well. The thought of driving the coast, of being in the middle of a new place alone to navigate and scavenge. In the past I’ve generally enjoyed the “travel” part of travelling alone – only one set of things to look after, only myself to answer to when at the airport coffee shop. And sometimes a good window seat. I began to get a taste of how this trip would plan out – a day of travel to a new place and new things and new feelings. I found the flights, I found the place to stay (more on that in a bit!). I was going to Portland.

And then the questions began. “Portland? Why Portland? What’s in Portland?” Air. Air is in Portland that is so fresh and so green and inviting. People are in Portland that provide a quirky, welcoming experience to even a random solo traveller like myself. Space is in Portland. Space to think, to grow, to learn, and to nurture my little heart that’s been through a lot. It’s always been on my bucket list… but it just felt right. There’s no rhyme or reason why I didn’t decide to go to San Fransisco or Miami or Boston or Vancouver instead – Portland just had this little hold on me, and I couldn’t say no. Plus – Seattle was also on the bucket list, so that nailed down two places in one go – with a roadtrip to boot. There were a select few who did appreciate the sentiment and had wanted to visit the city themselves, or already had, and gave me best wishes and many recommendations. I began to make lists upon lists of spots to visit, to pass by, and to witness throughout my week. Planning isn’t necessarily my strongest suit so I left things up to a bit of a “how I’m feeling that day” regime – with a few tours and concerts booked in to provide some structure. Otherwise, all was just waiting to be discovered. And it felt great.

The Tiny House – my goodness. I knew I wanted to stay in an Air BnB to save a bit on my stay. The Tiny House was just way too cute to pass up – and at a decent cost. I figured it could work out one of two ways – either it would be absolutely perfect, or absolutely a nightmare. I’m happy to report that it was the former, rather than the latter. I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

All of the pieces began to fall together. I was going to Portland. I was going alone… and I was going as a recently separated woman. I only had myself to answer to; it felt both absolutely terrifying and incredibly freeing at the same time. I can’t imagine that the trip would’ve happened under any other circumstances, and regardless of how the future will turnout, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Keeping in mind that this was a fairly safe itinerary – plane to car to tiny home to car to waterfalls to tiny home to car to plane. I wasn’t backpacking up Annapurna (to my mother’s relief) and I had all the resources necessary to feel safe even in remote locations (thanks, Google Maps Offline!). My Tiny House had all the amenities and everything was either a short walk or drive away.  I acclimatized to the city very quickly, meeting new friends and exchanging pleasantries with anyone who was willing to chat. I was alone… but not lonely. I was independent and strong. And it was a truly life changing feeling.

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I’ll be separating out my trip through a few blog posts, mostly so I can soak in the feeling of each incredible day and relive the tiniest perfect moments I’m sure to forget as I settle back in to routine. I never want to forget that feeling at the top of the mountain… the feeling at the base of a waterfall… water booming and crashing around you, blocking out all feelings and thoughts until it’s just you and the crushing weight of that water. It’s just you and the earth. It’s just you. And that’s ok.

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“Don’t should on anyone. And surely… don’t should on yourself.”

Slowly but surely, the “shoulds” have been lifting off my shoulders. I find, especially growing up with such a structured itinerary of the path that you “should” take, you can’t help but end up in your 20’s having a quarter life crisis and wondering how the heck we got so off track.

Hint: there is no track. Or in another sense… you’re on the track of life. It’s going to go where you go, and you’re going to go where it goes. Ouch, my brain.

I should graduate high school with honours. I should go to a post-secondary school and get good grades, because I should get a job right out of said post-secondary institution and I should end up making a decent income within a few short years because I should be praised for all of the hard work I have done and I am doing to make sure that I am where I SHOULD be.

Well, suffice it to say, I’m finally letting go of a bad life-long case of the “shoulds”. And after writing that last sentence the word doesn’t even feel like a real word anymore. It’s a terribly draining word to put on yourself and others. It is especially difficult when you are in an entrepreneurial field, where a lot of your guidance is from peers and other entrepreneurs. Suddenly you’re in a battlefield dodging mines of terrible advice and potentially heinous connections in order to find the few gemstones of great information. But my mind still jumps to “I should be blogging seven days a week, because that’s what a good entrepreneur does, and that’s the only way to get followers, and that’s the only way I’ll end up with more business, and that’s just what people do.”

No, brain. That’s silly. Calm yourself.

will blog when I truly have great content to blog. I will gain more business through tried, tested, true, fresh and newly invigorating avenues that excite me and allow me to confidently share my business and brand with the world. I would love to be that chick who has everything together, but coming to terms with the fact that I’m not… well that’s been the most freeing feeling ever.

I should be in bed right now, but I will blog this thought train until my eyes close up shop and my bed shouts “LAST CALL!”

Don’t should on yourself. Will yourself to do great things. Support ideas and feelings and good vibes. You are right where you aught to be, wherever that may be.

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There are some days that I just feel full. Full of happiness, or sadness, life, or love. And there are some days that I just feel full of words. Writing has always been a secret outlet that I fail to use efficiently; I write in spurts and bursts and in an inconsistent attempt to empty my brain like a maxed-out memory card. Some days writing is easy, and some days writing is hard. Incase you haven’t noticed, writing has been the latter for me lately. But as it usually does, the bug came back to bite in the wee hours of the morning on an insignificant Tuesday evening.

A lot has happened in the past 6 months. For most, you’ve only gotten snippets from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. For some, you’ve been with me the whole damn ride (screaming to let you off, I’m sure). So thank you to those who already know all of this, and a warm welcome to those who don’t.

In July of 2014 I opened a photo studio. Remove the Pinterest-esque image of a photography studio out of your mind; we’re talking an office-sized, square room. Weathered hard wood floors, antique century doorhandles and two walls of windows had me dreaming of simple setups and breathtaking naturally-lit photo sessions. Babies, children, couples, pets; I was completely overwhelmed with what an empty room could mean for my on-the-side photography business. It was a mild summer morning in May, and I said yes. I said yes to leaving a job I was no longer interested in, that took me far from home and drained the life out of me, to the absolutely heart-wrenchingly scary world of “let’s try to pay bills with photography!”. I left a Toronto high-rise in early June, camped at my dining room table on my laptop for a month, and painted that little room with enough optimism I could have exploded if someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I had shoots coming through. I had a few in studio, a lot on location, and the most weddings I’ve had in my career scheduled for the summer ahead. I paid a month’s worth of expenses solely through my new “career”. It was a very weird, exciting feeling. It was also becoming clear that I wasn’t steady enough to be fully depending on this income, so I picked up a part time job as a receptionist at a day spa. I lived my little daydream out loud, spending every waking moment immersed in my passion. This is what dreams are made of, right? Right.

Then an opportunity came along at the end of August. An in-my-face, loud, “you cannot turn this down” opportunity. Not photography related, not one bit. It was a position with a company, full time (contract to start), doing what I had been doing in Toronto, only very close to home with very enticing hours and security that could not be ignored. I went in head first, never having more than the expectation that it’s worth a try. After an interview on a Tuesday (what is it with Tuesdays? So innocent, yet so not at all) I was at my new desk not 24 hours later. It was surreal. What happened to the exciting, scary, entrepreneurial adventure I was only just beginning? Why did I have that sinking feeling that I was somehow selling out?

If you should know anything about me, it’s that I have many different aspects of fulfilment in my little heart. Think of this like one of those children’s puzzles where you have to fit the star-shaped toy into the star-shaped opening. I have a square, a triangle, a circle, a star, and a slue of other shapes waiting to be paid attention to. Photography takes up one of these spaces. And for that little part of the summer, it grew big enough to take up most of the spaces. But you can’t fit the star into the circle, you say! Well, you’re right. You can’t. While I can probably try to jam that sucker in there, it just don’t fit. And it took months of figuring out how to stop feeling like a sellout to realize I can’t ignore the different shapes of my heart. So I now have a photography spot, a day-job spot (which fills an academic appetite that is a very big part of me. The nerd glasses are real!), a fiancé spot (we’ll touch on that later) and a few other unlabelled spots waiting to be sorted out.

It’s tricky to put a finger on how I feel about this from a business perspective. While I would absolutely love to pursue photography full time, I can’t ignore real-life necessities and real-life financial stress that bubbles up in my system until I’m balled up yelling at the money-shaped bus that ran me over. If this position hadn’t come along, I would have continued to work part time in order to alleviate that stress, ramping into a potential full-time photography adventure when the time came. What’s nice is, I can still have that option. I can continue to be a “weekend warrior” (it’s a real term, I’m told) and live comfortably while doing so, saving for a wedding (yes we’ll get there, I told you) and subduing that money stress, at least a little bit. One day I will wake up and walk to my home office to work. One day I will be holding a wriggling two year old while I attempt to get some photo editing done, simultaneously maintaining an effortless appearance while doing so (that’s the dream, no?). For now, I wake up and go to an office ten minutes away, put in a day’s work, and come home to the second day’s work. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but when isn’t life a balancing act really?

Now, backstepping to that little perfect room we’re calling a studio. I had the grand opening back in October, celebrating the beginnings of success with friends and family (there you are! Dropping all your names in that generic blanket!) and opening my door (and my heart) to the next chapter of Hilary Spencer Creative Photography. I’d like to think that I am the business, and that the grand opening was an opening of my love for photography and working with such beautiful families and faces, fiddling with engagement rings and fluffing dresses, playing with toy cars and shouting dirty words to make cheeks turn red and smiles explode. I am not the space that I reside in; my work is a product of this little magical thing inside me that dares to speak out and let everyone know: I am in love with making people smile.

I’ve given my last month’s notice to the wonderful owner of the building I was camped out in for those few months. You see, it took taking a huge leap, that one jump out into the world, to push me past all the “what if”s and “what now”s to really find out that I love what I do. I’m so happy that I have spent the time investing in myself, in the business, because it propelled me into the future, which is where I’m now focussed. My future will now hold a photo studio in my home, in a freshly painted finished basement that was sitting empty without any laughter or joy. Believe it or not, I’ll have more room than I did in those four optimistic walls, and I can’t wait to transform my space into everything I had dreamed of for a small-but-mighty studio space. And the bonus? Rent free. Money that can be thrown to new equipment, props, lighting, or hey… that wedding.

This little (not so little, I’m a dirty liar) novella is to air out a bit of what I’ve been holding inside, holding on to, and now letting go. I’m so focussed on each step in front of me, I can’t be bothered to look back for anything else but epic memories. My 2015 season is so busy, we couldn’t plan to fit in our own wedding. I’m burning the midnight (and sometimes 3am) oil almost every night, but I’m exhilarated to the point where I couldn’t sleep if I tried. To my new work folks, you know why the bags under my eyes could be checked at the airport (with extra fees for oversized luggage). And to my photography clients, here, there, and in the future, you are truly what wakes me up every morning (or afternoon, after I’ve strategically power-napped), allowing me to live out my dreams and passions through that lens. Every time I feel exhausted, a little girl will chase me around a room with fists full of crackers shouting Taylor Swift rifts. A newborn baby will grasp my finger, making those heart-melting sleepy noises while I tuck fingers back under blankets. A freshly engaged couple nervously laughs and embraces under a sunset; my own personal movie that I’m directing in the moment. I am truly blessed to be trusted with your memories, and I will continue to strive for perfection in the craft that has called me home. My square is fitting snugly in it’s place, whether that’s in a box, in a room, or in my heart; I’m happy, and you know it.

 

 

(And to those waiting for the fiancé update: He said “So?” and I said “Yes.” I bawled and we laughed and I can’t stop looking at my left hand. The story is perfectly “us”, and you’ll hear it soon enough.)

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