A Lovely Workshop with Yvette Roman and Elizabeth Messina


About six months ago, I heard the garbage truck approaching my house, and knew I had another bag to take outside. I grabbed it and ran out the front door. I held it aloft like a prize, and flew down the stairs. I flew, until I fell. After catching one foot on the opposite pant leg, I tripped and fell down the stone stairs, onto the concrete path, tore my pants and gashed my leg. The garbage man came running, not to get the bag but to see if I needed an ambulance. I honestly didn't know. I saw some blood, couldn't breathe, and was in pain all over that I couldn't identify. It is a miracle I didn't break both wrists as well. He took the bag, and I managed to get inside to the sofa and my laptop.

I was scheduled to fly to California to see family and friends the next morning. Instead I spent the entire day under ice packs and bandages, and made plans to undo my plans. The first thing my aunt said was, "Maybe this is a sign you need to slow down. I can't even keep up with you on Facebook". She was absolutely right, and I knew it. I have been running and chasing I don't know what for I don’t know how long. Sometimes I am running toward something, and other times I am running away.

France was one of those mixed up experiences. I wanted to be a part of Elizabeth Messina's Lovely Workshop since the day I learned about it. I was running toward it, and away from something else at the same time. Imagine my surprise when Elizabeth said, on our first day at the workshop, "slow down". I knew I was in the right place. I still didn’t know exactly why I was there, but I was getting some good messages. Sometimes my intuition is better than my logic. In fact, it always is, but often I forget to listen to myself.

On our second morning at the chateau, I got into a conversation with Yvette Roman about her website. I hadn't seen it, didn't know her or her work, and was asking questions because I was feeling frustrated about my own website that was recently completed and about to go live. I had approved the design, but I didn't really like it. I was frustrated that the process took me a whole year, and still the final product didn't feel like me.

When you meet and listen to Elizabeth Messina, you understand that her being infuses everything she does. She pours herself into her photographs, her website, her art, her workshop, everything. One night, she said she is always photographing herself and her life through her images. She sees and shoots women the way she see herself. I noticed that long flowing hair plays a big part in this. The paradox here is that she despises being photographed, and yet she is in every image she makes (more on that later).

"Gina's smile"

I wasn’t sure what I was seeing in my work. I can’t even say whether I have a style. I have many styles, many interests, many looks, and a lot of passion. I really like to capture real moments between real people. I want them to move and laugh and run. I don't want them to sit still for me. I want them to look like I am not there, and they do not see me. If I had a show, I might call it “Searching for Intimacy”, because I am always looking for those fleeting moments when people are being most themselves, and I am the voyeur.....able to show them something about themselves or their loved ones that maybe they don't always see. Or maybe the show is called "I Am Not Here". Ouch. It hurts to say that, but I know it is true on a few levels. Not being there certainly played a role in the failure of my own marriage.

Yvette said she gave her website designer one sentence to work with: "I want it to smell like an old book", she told him. Of course, when you are married to your website designer, a single sentence will do. I would love that advantage any day. I looked at her website and from the very first page I was swept away by the beauty of it. To say that he "got her" is an understatement. Surprisingly, she didn't know that 'Roman' in French meant 'novel' in English, but she seemed pretty thrilled when I told her. On a very deep level, Yvette Roman's website reflects who she is. If I could only figure out who I am, I could probably have a nice website too.....but honestly I have been trying to get to the bottom of that question for decades.

"Carnets du Voyage"

In a separate conversation, I showed her a picture I took of my hotel room in Paris where I stayed for a night before heading to Poitiers for the workshop. It was just a bad snapshot I took with my iphone, but I was really moved by the place. She said, "show that to your web designer", and THAT was the beginning of the unlocking of my mind and heart in a way that I could never have anticipated.

Suddenly I was talking about incorporating sketchbooks into my website...travel journals…. because so much of my life and work is about travel. I can't draw, but my father has a real gift for sketching, nurtured for about 60 of his 70 years on earth. I mentioned to Yvette that the one thing my sister and I will fight over when he dies is who gets his sketchbooks. (Sorry dad, we don't want you to go at all!) And then it suddenly came to me that I can scan them now and incorporate pages of his work into the website of my dreams. I can even ask for more. Yvette said “Do it!”

My father gave me my start in life as a person and as an artist. I've always seen him as a sort of Renaissance man. He knows a lot about a lot, speaks a few languages, and is a true artist in many media, though he an architect by trade. When I have a medical emergency, I call my father. he knows what to do. He gave me my love for travel (we went around the world in 1970 when I was 4 and my sister was 2). He nurtured my creative urges with clay, crayons and pastels. He taught me to make jewelry using lost wax when I was 15. He has always been part of my inspiration, and my foundation as an artist, and it seems right that my website would incorporate him in a big way.

Of course I am now even less happy with the site that is about to launch, but at least I know where to go next.

There is one book I read in high school that affected me deeply: "The Garden of Forking Paths" by the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges. I didn't understand it. I sat in the hallway crying because I had to write some paper on it and I had no idea what it was about. My teacher saw me, took me into an empty classroom, and tried to explain it to me. Everything fell into place and I understood. Years later, in college, I ended up dating that teacher (now THERE is a story), but it was that moment of clarity that really gave me what I needed.

I understood the garden of forking paths, the endless series of stories that can be created in our lives due to the choices/paths we take or do not take. I have been so overwhelmed by choices, that I have felt unable to choose. Elizabeth talked about the importance of editing ones work. She talked about how she publishes/posts things that are a reflection of who she is. She said she started her blog: Kiss The Groom, as a way to publish what she liked, for herself. (All of us who have had work published know that art directors always choose to publish the images we like least) It turns out when you are 100% authentic in what you say, people tend to like it more. No wonder we are all so drawn to Elizabeth and her work.

I still wear a pretty ugly scar down the length of my right shin. It reminds me to slow down, be patient with myself, and let the inspiration come quietly. My first day at the workshop frustrated me because I wanted someone to give me some answers and direction. By the second day I knew I already had them. Yvette and Elizabeth gave me a flashlight for my path, but the path was there.