After about ten minutes of staring at the screen trying to figure out how to even begin talking about the convention, I decided to just dive in.
It took me this long to write about it because in a way, I felt like if I talked about it and posted all the pictures then that’s it, it’s really over and there’s not much for me to share anymore. But I realized how wrong I was when I saw one of my best friends last night. I haven’t seen her in almost two months and she wanted to hear all about it and about the rest of my trip (after the convention I visited friends in Kentucky and Nebraska, but that’ll be in another blog post). Telling her every single detail I could think of made me relive the memories and I felt like I had to share that with you guys as well.
It took me about 26 hours to get from here to the retreat center. My first flight landed in Atlanta, and that was about 14 hours. I had a four hour layover and then flew to North Carolina. My first flight was probably the worst flight I’ve been on, but looking back at it it just makes laugh. I was stuck next to a couple and I had the window seat. They were asleep for almost the entire flight and I couldn’t get up to use the toilet or just stretch my legs. Also, I tried to get some sleep but kept waking up to the smell of fart.. Yeah.
So I got to North Carolina and I was supposed to meet up with Elena and Katy, the two girls I was sharing a ride with. I had no cell service and freaked out because I thought they’ll never find me and I’d be stuck there forever. I figured since I’d be waiting a while (Katy was supposed to land an hour after I did), I might as well eat something cause I hadn’t eaten in over 9 hours.
And then Elena found me! And I was relieved. We waited for Katy and then drove to the retreat center. The drive was absolutely beautiful. It took us about two hours to get there and we stopped for snacks on the way there. We had long conversations about life and psychology and our favorite cuisines and therapy and it felt like we’ve been friends forever. I love those two so much. We’re all so different, but we’re all the same. We connected instantly.
When we got there, we realized that the rooms were SO spread out. My room was in the spa, which was on the other side of where they were staying. Elena was kind enough to drop me off and pick me up everyday :’) so sweet.
So we agreed to meet up in an hour and go for dinner. The retreat center had an open buffet and most of the food was vegan/vegetarian, and it was delicious. My god. I’d go back just for the food.
We were sitting there, enjoying a nice meal when this girl comes up to us and asks if she could join us, and we said of course. We started talking and getting to know her, and she introduced herself as Alex. In the back of my mind I was thinking – isn’t one of the speakers called Alex? But I didn’t say anything. Then Alex was talking about being nervous about public speaking and all and Katy asked her why, and Alex said that she’s doing a talk the next day.. and we were all like OHHHH you’re Alex Beadon!!!
And lemme tell you, Alex is AWESOME. She used to be a photographer, but then one day realized she lost her passion for photography. And now she’s an amazing blogger and marketing guru. She teaches people the power of blogging and lots and lots of tips and tricks for social media.
I feel so honored that we got to talk and have a meal together. She’s just so wonderful and inspiring. She got us all talking about our dreams and fears and things we wanted to accomplish. I told her about a project I had in mind that I’ve been too scared to start, and she told me that I just have to do it. It was so cool to have someone get excited about something that I thought might not work.
So after dinner, we went to the main hall to register for the convention!
AND THAT’S WHEN I SAW BROOKE!
She ran to the door and gave me the biggest hug and I was going to cry and I basically followed her around like a puppy. I love her so much.
We all just hung out in the main hall for a while, meeting new people and seeing old friends and it was so much fun. We were supposed to have a bonfire that night but it started raining so they decided it would be a movie night. Before that though, those of us who were in the main hall sat together in a circle and we all introduced ourselves and shared something odd about ourselves. I said that when I was a kid, I used to think there’s a dragon on the moon.
Ok, I know it sounds stupid, but when it’s a full moon there’s always this darker outline on the moon and it looked like a dragon to me.. shh.
Anyway, then at around 9pm they decided to start the movie but I was dead tired and decided to go back to my room. Katy and Elena had already left an hour before because they wanted to get some rest. I had no idea how to get back to my room, and it was dark, and it was raining, and I thought I’d get kidnapped.
Kidding. Well, kinda. But it turned out that someone else was asking about how to get down to the spa and one of Brooke’s assistants heard me asking about it too so they said you guys should walk down there together, and they told us the way. That’s when I met Kyla, this awesome badass super sweet girl from Canada. I love Kyla. It took us about twenty minutes to get to the spa, but it was awesome. We talked like we knew each other forever. Then Kyla asked me how I’m getting around during the convention cause everything’s so far so I told her about Elena and Katy and told her she could join us. And that’s how our little group was formed (minus one person, but we’ll get there in a bit).
The next day, we all met up to go to breakfast at 7am and also met a few other people attending the convention. We woke up that day to a massive cloud of fog and mist, which lasted 3 whole days. We couldn’t see anything and it was COLD. Oh, and it was raining nonstop, almost.
And that’s when I met Samantha. I think I have a girl crush on Samantha. But totally not in a creepy way. The day before the convention started, Samantha posted a picture of herself on the convention’s Facebook group saying “this is my face, if you see me give me a hug!” and I did see her and gave her a huge hug. Later, I don’t know why I did this, but I walked up to her and said “I know this is going to sound weird and maybe creepy, but I think you and I are gonna be good friends.” And then Samantha was a part of our little group.
Fast forward to the last day of the convention, and both of us are CRYING RIVERS OF TEARS. It was unbelievably hard to say goodbye to Samantha. And everyone else, really. Katy and Elena and Kyla. Brooke.. ok, saving the tears for later.
So after breakfast, we went for orientation, where Brooke basically talked about the schedule of the convention, introduced the speakers, and told us where everything is taking place. We had a fifteen minute break after that and headed off to workshops!
My first workshop was with Alex Beadon, and it was about blogging. (Oh man, she would be ashamed if she found out it took me this long to write about the convention. Sorry Alex!!) It was exactly what I needed and I was determined to make blogging a consistent part of my life, and stop being lazy about it. SHH DON’T JUDGE ME, I will do it. Starting now. I promise. Regular blog posts, yay!
Ok, back to the convention. The entire schedule is here, if you guys wanna see it. We had lunch after the workshop, which was followed by lectures. One was with Alex and one was with Tamara Lackey, who is super awesome and so cool to be around. The last lecture was supposed to be with Lindsay Adler, who unfortunately couldn’t make it to the convention cause she was sick 😦 sucks. So Brooke took over and did her own lecture and as always, it was incredibly inspiring.
There was a panel discussion that night, but I had to miss it because I started feeling sick. I don’t know if it was the time difference, the exhaustion from traveling, or the weather – but I was not feeling good at all. I went back to my room and passed out.
I still wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t want to miss anything. After breakfast, there was a photo walk with Brooke. We basically followed her around and watched her shoot while explaining her process. We could also shoot if we wanted to, but I was happy just watching.
After that, I attended Brooke’s workshop. Not to sound redundant or anything, but it was inspiring and motivational.. of course. Brooke constantly makes me want to be a better person, in terms of photography and also in life in general. She believes that we all have this.. greatness inside us, and all we have to do is tap into it. There’s been so many times in the last year or so where I just did not believe in myself, but then I’m around her and it all changes. She makes me believe that I can do anything.
After lunch, lectures started. The first one was with Hans Gruenig – one of the most fascinating human beings I’ve met. Hans is a university professor, and he teaches stuff like Asian philosophy, buddhism, philosophies of the self, and happiness and human flourishing. When I told my friend about Hans, I said “dude.. he basically teaches people how to be happy, but like not in a lame or hippie way” haha. He’s awesome.
I also have to tell you guys about sharing a ride with Hans. Elena and Katy left to the airport together on the last day because their flights were around the same time, but mine was later that day. Hans was leaving about an hour before I had to leave and said he wouldn’t mind having people join him, so I did. I was intimidated at first, I thought.. I’m going to spend 2 hours with a university professor and I suck at small talk. But it was SO much fun. Hans and I discussed something that was in his lecture, and he told me so much about meditation and the benefits of it. Then he introduced me to something he’s incredibly passionate about – tabla. It’s an Indian/Pakistani form of drumming, and he told me the story of how he got into it and how he managed to meet and learn from Zakir Hussain, a famous Indian tabla player, and Hans’ mentor. I absolutely love hearing people talk about things they love and are passionate about. There’s something about the way their eyes light up that makes me so happy, and when that happens, no matter what the topic is, I want to know more.
Okay, so going back to the convention again (there’s so much to talk about that I keep getting sidetracked!) – the second lecture was with Jennifer Thoreson. Oh my god, Jennifer. Ok, in case you guys don’t know this, I’ve been a huge fan of Jennifer and her work before I even got into fine art photography. I remember watching Creative Live’s Experimental Portraiture with Sue Bryce and Lara Jade, and Sue mentioned Jennifer and talked about some of her work, and I fell in love. Jennifer’s work is heartbreakingly beautiful. Her portraits and Flora series inspired one of the first images I created when I started taking photography more and more seriously.
Jennifer talked about some of her projects, and how certain things that have happened in her life influenced different projects. She talked about the importance of what she called a “restoration period”, where after she finishes a project, she needs a lot of time before she can start a new one. And in her period of rest, she gathers and cultivates. She teaches herself new skills, even things that aren’t related to photography. It was such an inspiring lecture.
(sidenote: how awesome are these behind the scenes pictures?! Kim is not only an amazing photographer, but she has the kindest heart. I didn’t get to spend much time with her, but during that one long conversation we had, she managed to make me cry so much (good tears). She’s so wonderful.)
After that, there was a lecture with Mitch and Shalem Kitter, who talked about their Love is Love project. They told the story of how it started and how it’s progressing and I think that it’s amazing how they persevered through all the negativity they encountered. They’re so inspiring – they have something to say and they’re not afraid to say it. Also, they’re SO sweet!
And after that, there was a panel discussion with Brooke and Jennifer, and I have a short clip for you guys to see:
And that concluded day two. It was almost the end but I think we were all in denial about it, not wanting to get out of this bubble of inspiration and mist and love and rain.
We kicked off day 3 with another photo walk. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures that day. But after that, I took Nirrimi’s workshop and oh. my. god. I don’t know if I have the right words to describe how amazing Nirrimi is. If you don’t know who she is, you are missing out and you need to go check out her work and blog asap. She told us her entire story, and it’s one filled with heartbreak and loss and love. She’s only 23 and she’s already an established photographer traveling all around the world shooting campaigns for well-known brands. Diesel flew her all the way to New York to shoot a campaign for them when she was a teenager.
When Brooke announced the convention speakers, I didn’t know who she was. I looked her up and I’d seen some of her images around pinterest but I didn’t know they were hers. I found her blog, and I was hooked. I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent just reading her blog. Everything she says and writes sounds like poetry. Every single word is thought out and at the same time, it’s like she’s speaking or writing directly from her heart without censoring anything. During her workshop, I wrote down things she said, not like usual notes, more like quotes:
“I think of experiences as colors and I collect them to create with them.”
“When we create from the rawest, bloodiest part of our hearts, that’s when the magic happens.”
After Nirrimi talked about her story, we went out to shoot. And it was similar to Brooke’s photo walks where we follow her around and watch her creative process.
After lunch, it was time for lectures. The first one was with Nirrimi, and she talked about stuff that was similar to what was in her workshop. This is from her lecture and I absolutely love it:
And theeeeen.. I did something I said I wouldn’t do. I skipped a lecture to go shoot with Samantha and Marsha. I met Marsha last year during Brooke’s retreat in Hawaii and she’s one of my favorite people, and models. She’s such an amazing person, beautiful inside and out. Being around her brightens up my day. I could go on and on about how much love I have for this girl, but I’m not going to. Instead, I REALLY want to show you what we did!
Marsha and I collected a bunch of dresses and props and met up with Samantha, then drove around the retreat center trying to find a location both Samantha and I like. We found an awesome spot with this really cool rock wall, but we decided we’d come back for it once we thought of an idea for it. Samantha had an idea she wanted to do so she went first. She had me and Marsha lie down on the grass.. that was wet.. and freezing.. in dresses.. Ok ok, it really wasn’t that bad. But once that was over, we went to one of the spots Brooke took us to during one of the photo walks. I just really loved it. Marsha had that black dress and I instantly knew that I wanted to do something with a bird-theme. She also had this feather belt thing (no idea what it was), so we used that as a collar.
Then Samantha shot Marsha in the same spot and I just watched. I love watching other people work, it’s always so much fun. I love seeing what goes on in their heads, especially when they make tiny tweaks. Look how beautiful this turned out! Samantha is awesome.
Then I did another quick shoot, which I’ll be posting pretty soon so stay tuned! 🙂
We realized we were quickly running out of time, so we headed back to the main hall just in time for Me Ra Koh‘s lecture. I cried. I tried so hard not to, but I did. She talked about her life and her travels, her family and her husband. It was all so inspiring. After the talk, I went up to her and told her how much it touched me, and I told her why it made me cry: I’ve been doing some exercises with my therapist lately, and in one of the sessions we focused on the law of attraction. My doctor made me write down an entire paragraph of what I want, and how I want my life to be. Everything Me Ra talked about, everything she said about her husband and her family – it was almost exactly the same as what I had written down. And I know that a part of me had doubts, like is this really possible? Can this actually work? But then listening to Me Ra talk about it, she did it, she has it.. it made me realize that nothing is impossible. And I felt like I had to share that with her. I cried again, and she had tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said: “it is possible, and I have no doubt that you’ll get it. I’ve only just met you but I see so much strength in you, and one day you’ll send me a message telling me that it all came true. I look forward to that.”
And of course, that made me cry even more.
I’ve met so many amazing people during the convention, and if I mention them all here, this blog post would be way longer than it already is. So if you guys are reading this, thank you. Thank you for making me feel like I belong, thank you for being so kind, thank you for being who you are. You are all incredible.
Then it was the last panel discussion, with Nirrimi, Branden, Mitch & Shalem, and Me Ra. They talked about travel and photography, and how they balance the two. They’re all so hilarious, so inspiring, and just so lovely.
Brooke did such an amazing job of bringing together like-minded people, who aren’t afraid to give and share, who truly want to watch others learn and grow. Her closing talk was the most wonderful thing to witness, and I’ll always remember it as one of the most important moments in my life.
Brooke talked about strength and courage, and how we should all let go of the things that hold us back, the things that make us feel safe. Because in doing so, we not only conquer our fears but also discover so much about ourselves. So many of us hold back because we’re afraid. Afraid of failure, afraid of success, afraid of the unknown, and afraid of what comes next. But if we all just let go of that, then the possibilities would be endless. There’s nothing that we can’t do.
And after talking about letting go of things that make us feel safe.. Brooke talked about her hair, and how much she loves it. Then asked the audience for scissors.
Oh my god, you guys. Rollercoaster of emotions. I feel like I can state the facts, give you a detailed description of what happened at the convention, but nothing can even come close to how it felt.. It’s a memory I will cherish forever.
Here’s an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote while I was waiting to board my next flight after the convention:
“The amount of joy I feel right now is insurmountable. I’ve met beautiful souls, spent 3 days in the most heart-enriching place, surrounded by trees that were slowly shedding their greens to welcome beautiful shades of red and yellow. The mist covered everything, making the world seem like a magical place. The rain washed away all my worries. No longer did I feel afraid, no longer did I battle my demons. I was filled with peace and serenity. Those are the moments that I want to hold on to. Moments when I believed in myself. Moments that made me see a light within, a light that I hope never fades. Inspiration and passion are running through my veins and I feel like I am ready. I’m ready for the world. I’m ready to put the past in the past and be the person I’m meant to be. My heart is filled with love and awe. Every new person that came into my life these past few days made my heart feel weightless. The beauty and compassion that was in everyone there was constantly shining through. Their energy was contagious, their passion heart-warming. I felt connected, whole..“
The day after the convention was over, we woke up and the fog was gone. It was the day most of us were leaving, and we all saw it as some kind of sign or metaphor. We could see so far out into the horizon, we could see the fog in the distance and we could see how much beauty surrounds us.
I am so unbelievably grateful for being able to be there for all that magic.
Brooke, you make the world a better place.