Bedside Books for Reading Therapy

Do you do this? I always have a pile of books next to my bed. This is what is there right now. Since I started writing here my intention has been to share more of the books I love with you. However it usually takes me longer than it seems like it should to get through a book. There are just so many responsibilities, muses and interests that take priority.

Oh, and there is a stack. Usually I don’t read through just one before I move on either. Evening reading is often based on my day. Struggling with the kids’ behavior pushes me to pick up the parenting book.  If I am trying to work out a plan for a photography project then I choose a technical photography book. A total lack of creative motivation or a surge of inspiration drives me to a book that will push me creatively.

Then there is the fact that if I don’t write about a book as soon as I finish it I feel like I need to re-read it to write about it. Right now, my reaction to finishing a book that I learned a lot from or have been moved by is to just sit, think and soak it in. Then life rushes in, time passes by and after that I feel like I have to immerse myself in that book again to tell you precisely why I felt it was so powerful…

This sounds like a never-ending cycle, doesn’t it? So sharing this with you is helping to reprogram my reaction and enlist you to keep me engaged and motivated to finish these great books. Thank you!

So for now I will share my reactions to these books as I read them and what has earned them a spot (and kept them there) on my nightstand.

Starting at the bottom is Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting written by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua and published by Focal Press. I have the Fourth Edition, but there is a newer edition now available.

If you are interested in photography and want to get serious about creating better images this book is an awesome investment of your time and energy.  The principles of understanding and crafting light in your photos are fully explained with diagrams and photographs of both successful and unsuccessful examples. Working through this book will dramatically improve your photography. Yes, it is about light, but it is not “light reading” and as I mentioned that best way to fully understand the concepts in the book is to shoot intentionally in attempt to recreate the presented material. It is a highly regarded book that is often used as a text book and is great as a self-study guide. I used this book as I learned how to light glass for photography and developed my DIY home studio method that I talked about in this article for Digital Photo Mentor.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the author who wrote Eat, Pray, Love)

This book is about the creative process, embracing it, enjoying it and surviving it! When it was released our local library system got about 40 copies! They were anticipating best seller status with their initial order and all copies were all checked out immediately! There was excitement about this book from the start. I got my hands on one of the copies from the library, read a little – and stalled out. I don’t know why, but I think it was my own frame of mind at the time. Even thought I knew there was a waiting list and I would not be able to renew it, I couldn’t push myself to get very far. Luckily for me, I was given a copy as a Christmas gift. When I finally did pick it up again, I couldn’t get enough. There were a few late nights soaking up every word because I just didn’t want to put it down. Now this is one of those books (like this one) that I am so excited and inspired by that as soon as I finish that last page, I flip to the first page and start reading it again!

If I Have to Tell You One More Time…: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling by Amy McCready

Just the title says a lot, doesn’t it? It sounds divine. Ahh, yes I was daydreaming of it just now. Again.  So, the principles in this book are based on the ideas of Alfred Adler (Alderian Psychology) that simply states “Children deserve dignity and respect.” “Three of Adler’s principles developed from this belief will influence all the strategies in this book.” (Read the book to find out the three principles.)

I appreciate this approach because I want my boys to grow up knowing they deserve dignity and respect. If they don’t get it as children, when will be the magic time that they feel they deserve it? I certainly don’t want them demanding it with rebellion. However, even with the best intentions, there are days when we are tired or stressed or overwhelmed and not sure what to do next. This book offers real life examples of how to examine our children’s behavior (as well as our own) and how those behaviors play together. We learn how we can be a positive influence on our children and develop a deep, meaningful, trusting, caring and close relationship with them leading to all the wonderful day-to-day benefits in the title. My bookmark was about ¾ of the way through from the last time it was on the nightstand when I felt that situations and scenarios were warranting that I brush it off and start again. While I’m reading now I found this quote on page 56 that explains my feelings as I instinctively reach for this (and other parenting books) in the first place. It is something I’ve felt, but hadn’t tried to communicate. “…as responsible parents we need to continually strive to improve on our own parenting style.” Yes! Thank you, Amy McCready. By the way, that sentence starts with “Of course, we all make mistakes, but…

Daily Peace: 365 Days of Renewal by National Geographic

This little hardcover book is a great gift for a friend or yourself. It features beautiful photography and thoughtful quotes each day to inspire your own “Daily Peace.” The book is published by National Geographic so you know it is top quality. It is difficult to choose just one quote from this book so I looked at meaningful dates for me and I found this one to be the most powerful. I will leave you with this quote since it is a perfect thought for when you are snuggled in bed, with your books back on the nightstand and the light off. “How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day.” –Anne Frank

ON ASSIGNMENT: a challenge that brings growth

We all have those days or weeks (maybe – months?) when we don’t know what, how or why to create.

Maybe we try and get frustrated or just don’t feel motivated to try at all. I’ve been there and I know many creative people who experience the same thing. So if you’re wondering why this happens to you… I hope it helps you to know that you are not alone with this. It was comforting to me when I realized it, so I hope to share that with you. I’ve even read the theory that being creative is a cycle and a period of creative drought is part of the process.

Broken-Hearted Still Life
Open your heart of glass and ice spills out: the world of the broken-hearted. Black and white still life image created by Cheryl Belczak with a window light challenge.

Part of the process or not, it brings me peace to notice, understand and choose my own ways of coping with it. I try to find things to occupy my time and thoughts in an effort to work toward busting through the grip of unseen creative barriers.

Sometimes it is not glamorous. A massive cleaning/organizing/decluttering initiative puts my hands to work, making progress I can be proud of, while leaving my mind free to wander, imagine and scheme. Never underestimate the power of a freshly organized desk to put your mind in the right creative mindset! Yes, some may call this procrastinating…

Flower Dream. Photo taken while "ON ASSIGNMENT" with an in-camera double exposure challenge.
Flower Dream. Photo by Cheryl Belczak taken while “ON ASSIGNMENT” with an in-camera double exposure challenge.

Other times I turn to alternative projects. I read an article titled “What to Do if You Can’t Find Your Passion” by best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, where she shared “I temporarily ease off the pressure by exploring something new, some completely unrelated creative endeavor—something that I could find interesting, but with much lower emotional stakes.” She speaks of passions and curiosities. This was familiar to me because I had been doing this. Yet I was doing it without the realization and intuition that this is helpful and perhaps part of the process. For me my passion is photography. Aside from that I explore other things that somehow benefit my photography. Activities like reading, gardening, writing, crocheting and other things. [Check here for more information about a quick, inspiring and motivating book that will get back to your work.] I usually try to incorporate some level of creativity into everything I do. Even getting dressed!

cosmos_sparkle_Angelou_quote copy

Another method that seems to be more proactive, related and relevant is to go “ON ASSIGNMENT.” For me, it helps to limit my technique or subject in photography in order to explore one concept more completely. It also motivates me to *just shoot* without so much pressure.

Usually the images I am most proud of are the ones that I carefully set up, compose and light. This leads me to resist using my camera if I don’t have the time, energy or patience to be that involved and engaged. These are the times when an assignment or challenge gives me the freedom to not be so serious and just shoot to see what happens.

I participated in an online monochrome challenge with the Digital Photo Mentor, Darlene Hildebrandt where she suggested setting the camera to record in monochrome. I did not like that idea for many reasons, but I took the leap anyway and learned a lot. I learned enough to fill another post and to recognize all my “reasons” as excuses. Check back for the link to my thoughts about it.

Currently I’m involved in a “Black and White Working Group” where we meet once a month for four months to explore the concept of black and white photography including what makes a compelling black and white image and how to create one ourselves by making and talking about our own images. At each session we are also challenged with a subject and/or technique. My current assignment is to use window light only. Often I shoot at night with artificial light at night. This challenge forced me to find time during the day to work and it seemed like it would be less complicated to set it up, but the ultimate benefit is that this assignment pushed me to experiment, take photos and learn from the experience.

Now I know that the next time I’m feeling unmotivated or intimidated by using my camera. I will look for an assignment. If you would like to try the same thing you can find ideas or challenges online. I find it’s best to find a buddy or community AND a due date to make it happen. Many people find daily projects (the 30 day or 365 day shoot-every-day type) to be a great learning experience. I’ve tried a few times and haven’t been successful yet. I’ll try again, but I feel that if you choose a large project like that it could be awesome… And it could completely backfire! I felt lousy that I couldn’t keep up. Also if you are trying to ride out a productivity slump, this may not be the best time to dive into that kind of project. You know yourself best if you can handle it, but I would suggest something a little different. Try just limiting one aspect of your photography. Some ideas include:

  • Shoot Double Exposures in-camera
  • Commit to a tripod
  • Set your camera to record in monochrome
  • Take photos inside using only window light (modify however you like by diffusing or reflecting it – just don’t use any additional light sources)
  • Use only one lens
    • A prime (fixed focal length, non-zoom) lens makes it most challenging by forcing you to “zoom” by moving your feet
    • Try a specialty lens for an artistic look. You could choose
      • Lensbaby lenses to create selective focus images
      • Fisheye lenses with unique distortions
      • Holga lenses offer a low fidelity, imperfect look of a plastic lens with softness, edge vignette and even some light leaks for a vintage-style look

These are just a few of many possible ideas. What other “ON ASSIGNMENT” ideas would you like to try? What other resources and communities inspire and motivate you? We’d love for you to share in the comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback!  Wishing you much creativity and motivation!