A Letter From Melanie

I don't often share the personal emails and letters I receive from my River Story™ tribe, but I think maybe it's time to start. Part of me has felt super protective over their words and thoughts, because I know, firsthand, how unforgiving the audience of on-lookers can be when you're all banged up, and vulnerable, in the arena. 

But this Theodore Roosevelt quote keeps showing up in my days lately, and I feel like it's time I push some of these incredible words written by these brave and beautiful souls, out of the nest. 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Sure, there might be some chatter among the critics, but my pack is strong, brave, and beautiful, and this has never been about hiding. 

Thank you, Melanie, for these words. Thank you for laughing and crying with me in the waters. Thank you for making all of this worth every crazy hurdle. I may never get rich from this work, but in a million ways, I am swimming in gold. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 


I wanted to reach out to you. There is something I'd like to share.

A couple of days ago I received 25 prints from artifact of my river story.

 I finally got to hold my river story photos in my hands.

Michelle I want to say thank you. For the first time since I lost my brother I could see from my river story how strong I really am.

I was proud for the first time of that girl in those photos- I felt a happiness course through my body. Everyone always says to me and my family how strong we are. And after holding these photos, I felt that about my own soul and I cried, I let so many tears pour. And it was this strange mixture of sadness for the amount of pain I know I went through and feel to this day but so so much more happiness for how far I've come, for who that girl in those pictures has become.

If Eddie were here he would scoop me up, squeeze me, he would smile laugh and tell me how wonderful I am.

The thing is, I always nod and accept people's kind words, and think that if they were in this position they would have to do it too, that choices don't come with this life and you are made to be strong, and that may be true. But those photos show me a wonderful light in my heart and I know my story is going to be okay. They proved to me what everyone always said but I never gave myself credit for which is that I am strong, I am beautiful, and I am making this life work for me regardless of the pain.

The moment I found your work you opened this part of my soul that seemed stuck. I read your words and follow your stories, I am inspired and I love myself more because of them. I see this sea of women with all this beauty- beauty that is real and not posed- raw and truthful, a string of souls with all their own unique experiences and journeys. It makes me proud to be touched by your journey Michelle, and to have you be interwoven in my own.

When I close my eyes and place myself back on that day, I can see my brother laughing and playing around the waters, scooping me up with love as I mentioned earlier, telling me how proud he is, and to keep going.

And you helped give me this. And for that I will forever be grateful. I have a long life to live without him, and I am going to live it with strength and love and I know I can, and you were a part of helping me realize this.

Thank you for this.


Summer Salt

I swear to you, I am a mermaid. 

As a child I would spend my summers washed up on the shores of the public beaches in Connecticut, salty skin and seaweed tangled hair. 

The water was thick brown and murky, and people all around smoked their cigarettes while yelling to each other over too-loud boom boxes playing Madonna, but for me, it was heaven. 

I swear my blood is 50% brine. 

When we left the driveway in our Airsteam years ago, I can't remember if I said it aloud or not, but I had a plan to find my way back to the sea. To drive until we hit water, set up camp on the sand, and then, like a little family of crabs, spend our days swimming and scurrying around in the sun. 

I thought maybe we'd land back in California, or maybe Florida, or maybe the coast of the Carolinas. I wasn't specific, and maybe I should have been, because we ended up smack dab in the middle of the opposite of what I wanted in God-awful Texas. 

I apologize to anyone reading this who has the lone star state sticker on their truck's bumper, or flashes the "hook 'em" hand signal casually to strangers in the grocery store instead of waving, but Texas was never my version of home.

For starters, I have a fear of wide open spaces, and Texas is giant beyond any reasonable proportions. When I first mentioned this to Braedon he shook his head and replied, "Borders are invisible anyway, Mom. Just pretend Texas ends and begins on our street." I tried his method, and here I am, over a year later, still feeling swallowed daily by ten-thousand-mile-wide ranches. I cannot tell you how many times I have woken up in the middle of the night feeling choked by the massive hands of the cowboys who shoot things for fun and eat steaks piled ten-high for dinner every night. Their breath always smells like stale beer, and they never care about the pottery I make in my kitchen. 

If you told me, while I was busy doodling mermaid fins on the ends of the model's legs in old People magazines that I borrowed from rest stops along the way, that I would end up in the middle of Texas, I wouldn't have even looked up from the page because I'd think you were completely insane. 

And, yet. 

And yet just this morning when I mailed the check to Lily's dance school, right there in the upper lefthand corner was my return address. 78736. Somehow, here I am.  

Every day, something like ten million new people move to Austin, and I think I've spoken to maybe two of them, but I'm pretty sure the main reason is because of the crazy computer job market here. The money in that market is unreal, and I'd be lying if I didn't share that it's the reason we decided to call this place home. I mean, of course it wasn't the only reason, but then again, I think maybe it was. Thomas got a killer job offer the same day the pipes in our camper froze, and by the fifth day of no running water, I would have given anything for a hot shower. 

We found a house.  We enrolled the children in awesome schools. Thomas put on his shoes every morning and went to work every day. And I sat, alone, counting cactus needles and mosquito bites. 

It's no secret, or maybe it is, that pretty soon after we landed here, my health fell completely apart. I began having migraines with auras daily, and lost movement on one side of my body. I couldn't eat without throwing up for hours, and my mental cognition was so poor that on Halloween when my children dressed up, I almost didn't recognize them. I couldn't drive. I couldn't type. I couldn't think. 

I called my friends and asked them to google, "disability benefits," and grieved any sense of ever living a healthy life again. I gave up my wedding business, I gave up my River Story™ sessions, and towards the end, when I couldn't leave my bed, even though I hate to admit it, I totally gave up hope, too. 

I believed that I was stuck. I believed that I was landlocked and shell shocked and frozen in place. I forgot about the magic of things. 

I have a whole new blog post (coming) dedicated to how I turned my health around, but I need to share about that darkness because in the middle of it all, when I was cheek to cheek with what it means to die, one day the mailman knocked on my door, and with my wobbly, knobby knees, I answered. He handed me a small package and I opened it before the door was completely closed behind me. 

Inside was a print, from my friend Lindsey, that said, "Take me to the ocean," and I felt it return: hope. I felt it flood my heart and rush over my skin. I felt it in the way that you feel the things in life that are unmistakable and unavoidable and true. 


The ocean.

So I wrote in my journal, "Maybe there is still a way. Maybe this is not a cage, but a nest." 

And so I surrendered to the fight of things, and floated for a (longer than I would have liked) while. I allowed Austin to be the fire that burned away what I didn't need anymore. I let it tumble me around, so that my edges were smoothed, and my gaze, more refined than ever. 

This pin on the map has kicked my ass, but it was never for the sake of struggle. It was always in the spirit of strength. 

Austin has taught me about the word "and." It has shown me that I can be devastated and terrified AND growing and brave. It has shown me that I can hate something AND love it with all of my heart. 

But most importantly, and where I am going with all of this, is that I have learned I can live here AND there. 

I can have Texas AND New England. 

I can spend my winters straddling the potter's wheel, stacking bowls on dusty desert shelves, trading soup recipes with the Mamas at my baby's schools. And I can spend my summers in salty solitude, chasing waves and capturing weddings; collecting sea shells to put in my bowls. 

There are some things I remember and forget over and over again, and one of them is possibility.

So, I am typing this mermaid's tale here in hopes that this time it sticks. This time, maybe the understanding that we are never really stuck, and there is always a divine light guiding us towards things we cannot yet see, maybe it won't fade away again. 

There seems to be permanence in the written word once it is shared. A sort of immortal song that never completely stops playing. 

And I share it because maybe you need to hear it, too. 

I cannot wait for the moment next May, when the tips of my toes touch that dirty brown Atlantic sea again, and I can declare, once and for all and without any doubt, that this was all worth it. 

And the big plan might change, and the tides may pull me in another way, but that's the whole beautiful point. 

For now, I am certain of this: between the dates of May 23rd and August 15th I will be in New England, and I cannot wait for the weddings and River Stories™ that await. 

Sure I could have posted a pretty graphic here, or shared my instagram image from earlier in the day, to declare my return to New England. But some things deserve the oxygen that only story can bring, and for heaven's sake, I am so ready to breathe again. 






the lyrical jump

I felt the change coming, the same way I've heard my Grandmother tell how she'd known when a Quebec snowstorm was coming days ahead, with no real evidence to point to. Sometimes, you just feel these things, and do the best you can to prepare. 

I knew it was coming but I had no idea what it would bring. It was as though all the elves in my creative North Pole just didn't show up to work one day, and then the next, and so I played the JayMay station on Pandora loud enough to drown out my fears, and made bowl after bowl on my pottery wheel, just waiting, and listening. 

It's a strange place to be, as an artist, in this land of a million questions but no answers. I had a list, pages long, of what I knew I didn't want, but my lineup of plans and what-comes-nexts was entirely blank. 

I journaled a lot, and called my friends a lot, and finished knitting a sweater that I started last year. I cleaned the bathrooms every other day and at one point the neighbor downstairs actually complained that I was vacuuming too much. I was.

The calm before the linguistic storm. The countdown before the lyrical jump. 

I was letting go of things the only way I really know how, but there was a tiny voice that worried the muse would never return; part of me definitely wondered if the workshop had closed for good. 

As a Birthday present to myself, I got an annual physical and my blood work showed I had no iron, no iron stores, low b12 and low folate. I cried on the drive home because of course my body was mimicking my soul, I have always been that girl. In the car, watching the mothers who wear red lipstick and high-heels whizz by, I wished so hard, that I wasn't me. If only I could be them.

But then again, no. I have things to do in this lifetime and wishing I could unzip my skin and step into someone else's is the last thing I need to be doing.  

I have been eating one half of a Trader Joe's children's vitamin since then to try and bring my levels back up. 

But really, I've started writing, which I think (I know) is exactly what this whole vapid creative season has been preparing me for, and what will bring life back to my bones. 

It's time. 

There is so much more I have to say about all of this, but my my kids just walked in the door and one wants to play "keep the balloon up jumping game" (again, our downstairs neighbor loves us), and the other is (always. permanently.) hungry.

I'll share more about this new beginning, so soon. 





Wiley and the Water / A Preview

On the drive home tonight, speckled with deer and wild jack rabbits, Thomas asked what the biggest difference was, shooting a man for the first time in the river. I didn't have an answer then, but after editing these previews I now know, without a doubt.

When I am shooting women, I am constantly and freely telling them what I absolutely love about them, because, each and every time, I am falling in love. It's part of what I do and what I'm all about. I can't help it, and I don't really want to. 

But, with Wiley, I locked a lot of that up, because I didn't want it to be awkward for him. And now that I'm home, and editing, I'm just like fuck that. Why was I afraid to tell this beautiful human being just how incredible I think he is? Don't brilliant and strong men deserve to hear it, too? Don't their rough edges deserve to be traced with grace? 

So, my friend, I just want you to know, I think you are beautiful and I think your freckles are awesome and I am totally humbled and honored that you came all the way from Washington and trusted me with this, tonight.

Here's to new beginnings... 

Erin // A River Story™

Here is a letter I wrote to Erin the night of her session while the ends of my hair were still wet. 


Beautiful Soul,

Thomas is asleep with Lily and I am sitting here feeling like my head has been cleared of everything and replaced with starlight. 

I truly don't know, sitting here in the dark, if it is possible for you to fully understand just how radiant you are. And it has nothing to do with your past, or anything like that. It's so much deeper, and higher, than any of that. I never understood what people meant when I'd hear them say, "I wish I could bottle up her sunshine," until this very moment. You have a gift, and I am just in awe. 

It's fascinating to me how, if tonight was a movie, it might look more like a comedy than a sacred story, but underneath it all, there was a constant hum of something so powerful and beautiful, and that's kind of how life is for some of us. Things might look hopeless or horrible, or terrifying or hilarious, but just below sea level, all the good stuff glows on, unharmed, unfazed. 

I felt vulnerable tonight. I felt humbled and nervous. And I want to thank you for that. For lighting my creative heart on fire, and trusting that in the end, it would all be ok. Better than ok. 

Here are a few previews, but I assure you, choosing just a few to share with you was close to impossible. These images... I just cannot find words. 

I just want to say, I see you. And I think you are really, really, realllly incredible.