On some levels, the year started out well. I had just left my roommate situation in St. Johns and moved into my new apartment downtown alone which was so good for my mental health. I had found a wonderful therapist who I was seeing on a weekly basis. Shortly after the move, I started dating and subsequently fell in love with an amazing guy while simultaneously diving head first into my photography. I had just received an honorable mention in Coast Weekend's photo contest, did my first No Strings hanging at Blue Sky Gallery, and had a photo included in the MemberSPACE show at Newspace Center for Photography. I was also elected to the Board of Directors for the Portland Photographers Forum, was running monthly networking Meetups at Blue Sky Gallery while also doing monthly gallery sitting shifts there too on top of my weekly Saturday volunteer shifts at Newspace Center for Photography. I had also been asked again to donate two photographs to Expressions, the annual art auction for ShelterCare's homelessness prevention program. Meanwhile, Juan and I were spending lots of time together going to concerts, film festivals, artist talks, walks, movies, watching football, and going out to eat. We took a weekend trip to San Francisco shortly before my birthday and had plans for several more trips on the horizon. On my birthday I learned that a photo I submitted to Lightbox Gallery in Astoria was selected to be included in a month-long exhibition. But that's when things took a turn. Juan had been struggling with his own mental health issues for some time and two days after my birthday, unexpectedly and suddenly broke things off between us to work on them. I understood he needed to do what was best for him but was devastated nonetheless. I had come to love him, something I never told him, and thought he was someone I could spend the rest of my life with. The months that followed were extremely difficult for me emotionally, and honestly, still are on certain levels.
Two days after the breakup, I was scheduled to present a collection of my photographs at Newspace Center for Photography as part of their Slideshow night. I was uncertain how I was going to get through it. To get up in front of a large group of people and talk so openly about something that was so personal to me in the midst of the pain I was going through seemed nearly impossible without breaking down. Luckily, I was stronger than I realized because I not only did well, but my work was well-received and several folks came up to me afterward to talk to me about it. Not too long after that, I attended the opening of the very first exhibition, Kinesis, in the new coSPACE gallery of Newspace, in which four of my photographs were on display. I went directly from that show to Astoria for the weekend to attend the opening of my other show at Lightbox Gallery. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and outwardly successfully did so but not without a lot of struggle internally. I was worried about Juan, I was frustrated that he pushed me away, and I was angry at myself that I wasn't fully present and enjoying my photographic successes. To top it all off, we had a new administration to contend with that made each day a new nightmare to wake up to. I was missing my family and friends in Wisconsin so much and felt so alone and far from home. I broke down and cried every day when I was alone, sometimes before I could even make it into my apartment after work.
I figured the only way to get through all of that was to keep moving forward. I continued my work with all of my volunteer endeavors as well as my meetings with a subset group of people from the photo critique group at Newspace to launch a new photography zine called 1/2 Stop. I did the event photography for Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation's annual gala, had three photographs included in the Oregon Society for Artists show and did my first photo shoot and interview as part of my newly crafted Legacy project. A remodel at work presented an opportunity for employees to have their art hung and I happily contributed a handful of photographs to display. I was still struggling with the breakup though and decided to take the money I had set aside for a trip to Spain with Juan to fly my best friend, Lana, from Wisconsin out for a visit. She too had recently gone through a breakup so the timing was perfect for us to be together. I planned an action-packed three days for us and showed her around Portland, the coast, the Gorge, and even Mt. Hood, introducing her to some of my friends along the way. Shortly after she left, I got really sick, yet again. A theme that had seemed to be developing over the past few years.
In a desperate attempt to help move on from the Juan breakup, I decided to try dating again, mainly as a distraction. It didn't take long though to meet someone who I surprisingly really liked and the day Lana flew back to Wisconsin, I had a first date with Matt. He and I took things really slow at first. He knew I was fresh out of a difficult breakup and seemed very understanding of that. We went out to dinners, drives through the Gorge, hiking, movies, and even a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Bandon. In the meantime, I learned that I suffered from chronic fatigue and needed to make some big lifestyle changes if I didn't want things to get significantly, and possibly permanently, worse. So I made the difficult decision to quit everything in my life except my job and relationship with Matt. In time, I met Matt's dad's side of the family and was pleasantly surprised to learn how nice everyone was. We soon decided to make things official between us and shortly thereafter even decided to move in together in the fall. But then some family issues in Pennsylvania called him away for what was supposed to be a week but in fact turned into almost a month. Without all of my activities to keep me busy, it was difficult not to overthink the situation and how we communicated long distance and dealt with stress. After his return from Pennsylvania and shortly after meeting one of his close friends, I learned he wasn't ready to move in together after all. Something about that last month or so didn't seem right and with this new information, I made the difficult decision to end the relationship altogether. I think part of me also knew that I wasn't really over Juan either so it was the best thing to do for both of us.
After that breakup, I decided to focus more strongly on my minimalism journey which I had started earlier in the year. I was still struggling with insomnia pretty bad and through minimalism, I was hoping I could reduce my stress level and focus on my mental and physical health more. Minimalism helped me focus on what was most important to me in other areas as well which birthed the idea for my Second Saturday Soirees in which I pushed my culinary comfort zone and gathered friends once a month for a feast. This fall, Cole and I began taking long walks in the mornings to explore and photograph different neighborhoods of Portland. I started doing more road trips with Cole to the coast, through the Gorge, and in Eastern Oregon. I began to think about my photography from a business perspective again and launched an Etsy site which seemed more easily marketable than my website to sell prints. I also began to focus more on my travel writing and launched a new website devoted to traveling in Oregon, Almost-Solo Nature Junkie. To help promote it, I created an Instagram account for Cole and started to get more active on Twitter.
Most recently, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make another big change in my life. In order to better pursue my dreams of traveling, I need to have true financial freedom. Without debt, the possibilities of where I can go are virtually endless. I made the difficult decision to sell my car, coincidentally exactly three years from the day I purchased it. The process of driving to the sale was unexpectedly emotional, I didn't realize I would have such a strong reaction to letting it go. I couldn't get past how it felt as if I was abandoning my best friend and I cried all the way there and off and on the rest of the day. I had so many good memories wrapped up in that car, roadtripping with Cole, exploring thousands of miles of Oregon, Washington, and California over the last three years. Now is the time to focus on the positive though. I will use the money saved from that expense to pay off my credit card and old medical debt. It's going to mean a few adjustments on how I get around town but I feel confident I'll navigate all of that just fine. There are also a plethora of rental cars to choose from in town for those road trips Cole and I enjoy so much. Another step I'm taking toward this financial goal is moving to a studio apartment on the Northwest side of town in February. It will mean significant savings in my rent to further help my debt payoff with the added bonus of a new neighborhood for Cole and me to explore. It also gives me another opportunity to further minimalize my belongings which is a process I truly enjoy. It's an interesting process to go through and an eye-opening one at that. So much of our stuff really isn't needed to have a comfortable life. As I slowly sell things off, I see all the space that is opening up in my current one bedroom apartment and I think I finally understand what I've read a hundred times: the more space you have, the more things you will acquire to fill it up.
I'm not sure what to expect in 2018. I guess all any of us can do is trust that whatever happens is needed to get us where we're supposed to be. This year, I'm especially thankful for the friends who supported me, my family who loves me from afar, an amazing little pug who is always by my side, a job with a great company that has been so understanding of my health issues, and for the privilege of living in such a beautiful part of the country. Happy New Year to all of you and thanks so much for following this crazy journey that is my life.