I was a kid once upon a time. It seems like only yesterday, and by yesterday I mean the 24th. Actually, I was only reflecting on what it was like to be a child. When I was wee, I did not have an answer to the immortal question, what do you want to be when you grow up? I never did, probably most children don’t. I didn’t think about it all that much specifically, but being an anxious perfectionist even early on, I kind of felt bad not having an answer to that or any question. Looking at it now, it is a silly and sad thing for a child to feel that pressure. I did not lose that inner pressure, but eventually, in my late high school and early undergraduate days, I found an answer, even if it wasn’t sure like a dictionary definition. “Writer” shone on me, but trying to reach for it felt like trying to grasp the light in my hands before it fell on my face. At that point, the only thing of importance I ever believed I was good at was being an academic. Well, an academic and a basketball fan. I knew because I never thought about it. Everything else felt doubtful and guilty, especially: can I call myself a writer? And not so long ago, I came up with an additional one: am I real photographer? The questions implied subtleties, perhaps, more to the point, am I good writer? Am I the photographer I want to be, that I can be proud of? Am I good enough? Can I be the best? I have wasted a lot of time on those questions, even though they are themselves essential. Doubt reigns eternal, but that is how a person improves: she struggles so she can strive.
I still feel that sad, silly pressure at times, but I like to think I have a better way out of it. When I ask, am I good enough? I try to give myself the answer, I am not, so it doesn’t matter. It is time to get better, to do more, to work. It is not so much a matter of what I do is what I am, but a matter of faith. Life goes on, whether I fail or whether I succeed, whether I photograph or write or whatever else. It is difficult, because anything is possible, and sometimes it is hard not to try to imagine all the possibilities. In one way I wish I was like my kid-self: I wish I had no answer at all, because the question is all I really need.
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That is sort of how I entered the arena of arthropod macro photography; I did not realize the rows of seats reached up to the clouds in the sky. I happened to see some great photos online, and I thought: I want to take photos as good as that. I was taken with wonder and possibility and the creative spirit, and unselfconscious interest made it less fraught with anxiety and fear of failure. It took a while for me to realize a lot of people are similarly taken. It makes perfect sense that the abundant colors, forms and behaviors of bugs bring so many people to their attention. Mainly through the Flickr community, I have discovered more and more insect photographers from all over the world, some of whom are undoubtedly masters of their art and craft. It is daunting however at times, when excellence is the goal: great work naturally looms. I remind myself to eschew comparison and its consequent pitfalls. I haven’t woken up with a “Best Bug Shooter” sticker badge affixed to my chest; if it hasn’t happened yet, the safe bet is to forget it. The best thing to do is to learn.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to follow through on that to a modest degree. Once I developed some aptitude and found a place in the community of bug and nature photographers, I knew I was in a good place. If nothing else in the bug sphere connects us, there is that kindred love and appreciation of the natural world; and bugs, so often reviled by humanity, provide us with an almost secret, shared knowledge. I, for one, feel a certain pride and specialness with my window into their world. The other side of being part of such a particular group is that I now realize my appreciation is (somewhat) peculiar. Unlike many (but by no means all or a majority of) arthropod photographers I do not come at my work from an entomological background. I suspect entomologists have more people in their immediate social circles who already appreciate things like insects and spiders. The good part about not knowing a lot of bug people offline is I get to tell people why bugs are so great. I dislike missionary attitudes, so I avoid preaching (usually!), which is not that hard when you have a photograph to show and a little knowledge about behavior and place in our ecosystem to tell people. I’m not sure if it is like (or simply is) finding religion, but being in this “space of bugs” gives me a sense of peace and perpetual motion. When I am in that space, I never have to worry about being not good enough. The only question is, where is the next bug?