Fighting Hate with Love

It has taken me a long time to write about this. I thought that if I talked about it here I would be fuelling the negativity. Now I realise that by talking about it I have the power to turn it into something positive. Words can hurt but they can also heal. I know this will be rambling, but please hear me out.

I may be known for my photography and my blog but at my core I am still just a 22 year old girl from a small town, no better than anyone else. No amount of exposure has made me any less sensitive or any less capable of making mistakes. I’ll never be good enough but that is what growing as a person is all about.

I was a teenager when I started my blog. It felt like a digital home that I could fill with all that I loved. The things I saw and felt that set sparks off inside me. Back then I didn’t know the ways in which it would shape me, the ways it would change my life. In so many extraordinary ways but in a few darker ways too.

My first taste of the dark side of blogging was a phone call late one night. It was a woman on the other end and she told me my boyfriend would leave me, people only liked my pictures because I was young, I was ugly and I deserved to die. I couldn’t sleep that night, I could only cry. I couldn’t hate anyone, not the men who’d abused me or the girls who’d teased me cruelly at school. Yet here was a total stranger whose voice dripped with hatred for me, and I was caught wondering if I deserved it.

The more I blogged the worse it became. I received hate-mail thousands of words long. Then websites filled with anonymous haters. In those first years I took it all to heart, labelling people’s issues with me as my ‘flaws’. I thought if I was good enough no one would hate me and so I needed to fix myself. I even felt guilty that who I was had caused people to feel so negatively. So I wasn’t quite as cheery or loving, I toned down my writing and confidence and I didn’t share as openly. It didn’t matter if I had good intentions or genuinely wanted to make the world a better place. Every time I shared anything my head filled with countless judgemental voices, picking it all apart.

I knew reading all the hatred was making me depressed but it was so littered with lies and assumptions I was afraid if I didn’t clear them up people would believe them. Words have influence, even when they aren’t true. When I became a young Mother the judgement grew uglier. People said I should have Alba away taken from me. Girls became my friends to try to get ‘gossip’ out of me and it became harder to trust people. When they contacted my friends and my family with rumours it was bleeding into real life and that frightened me.

I was embarrassed that I let it get to me, I am embarrassed even sharing this. It feels like I am looking for pity but I am not. I always felt like I was being weak. After all, didn’t I know deep down that all I had was the present and it only had to affect me as much as I let it? Didn’t I know that every single person could be torn to pieces, that not one of us is perfect? Didn’t I feel how much support and love surrounded me? It is a sad thing that if we don’t fight it, darkness can be heavier than light even when the light is so much greater.

I decided to stop reading the hate. I thought, let the lies and the gossip be. The people I want in my life will be able to see through it, and will give me a chance. I am not my past and I embrace my failures, they have taught me even more than my successes. If I am secure in who I am and the decisions I make, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. I do my best and be my best and that is as much as I can do. Have trust in me.

One day I was staying with my friend Zelda in LA. Her Father is Robin Williams and all her life she has had to deal with negative attention and gossip. She said to me “You don’t need to post about your life Nirrimi. You’re a photographer. You have a choice to not make it personal.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years. It made me think about why I did blog the way I do. Why I choose vulnerability.

When I stopped posting solely about my photography and started sharing my thoughts an interesting thing happened. The emails I received were no longer short messages from people saying they loved my work and asking what camera I used. I began getting intense, deep letters from people who told me my honesty and perspective have had a lasting impact on their lives. That my words had gifted them courage to follow their dreams or that I had showed them the beauty in the world they had overlooked. My life lessons became theirs too. They are my reason.

I don’t feel angry at anyone who has set out to bring me pain. I know it sounds very ‘hippie’ but I feel like I do love everyone, because I know we’re all the same. We’re all making decisions based on the experiences we’ve had, all wanting to be loved and understood. I like to think that the people who do and say cruel things anonymously online aren’t fully realising the hurt they are causing the people they attack. As though they think we’re not as real as they are. There are many ways to justify hate but at the end of the day it is still hate. I feel that if you wouldn’t say it in the real world, don’t say it online.

Strangely sometimes I am grateful for it. It toughened my skin and helped me to let go of a lot of my ego. I remember reading the hate one day and thinking “if I didn’t know myself, I might not like myself after this” and that realisation made me question the way I felt about everyone. It made me think twice before I spoke badly about another person.

Though I have almost quit a few times, I have kept on. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I will always want to use the skills and time I have to do good for other people. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change, but it is something. I can give more and I will. This world (both real and online) is filled with too much darkness and it needs more light.

I have written this post as a call to action. Whenever you see unnecessary negativity or hate online or in real life, speak up against the hate with loving intention. Let’s make the world a kinder place.

Thank you for reading. I’m grateful that I get the chance to share my side. Here is a silly little video I recorded, filled with ‘ums’ and not at all eloquent (seriously, I can barely watch this without hiding behind my hands). But, hey it is me!

Pale Fire

One day my sweet friend Claire drove me & Ashlin out of town. The winter wind drew goosebumps on Ash’s skin while we photographed so we wrapped her in a blanket between shots. We watched the sky change colours and saw the light change along with it. I realised how glad I am to be a photographer, to get the chance to embrace so many sunsets and idyllic places. To soak in the world’s beauty.

Stylist: Claire Hart

 Model: Ashlin

Edited with Digital Film + India + Dust

Life Passing II

Six months ago.

A hundred feelings, a hundred faces, a hundred places. I am living lifetimes inside single years. I am strong, powerful and brave. I am confused, alone and afraid. I am lost but I am finding myself. I have come so far but I still have so far to go.

I nurse my broken heart and broken dreams lightly, often forgetting they are there at all. I escape my past by embracing my present. When the dark quiet of night washes over the world nothing can distract me from my pain. But then the day comes and sets everything alight, reminding me of all there is to be grateful for. Everything is going to be okay, better than okay.

Sometimes in the middle of the night I will reach out for him and my hands will find no one. Sometimes I feel alone when I am surrounded by people because none of them truly understand me. Sometimes I am worried and I long for someone to hold me again and tell me they will take care of everything, that I don’t need to worry about a thing. But it is just me now and I have to be strong. There are times when my shoulders buckle under the weight but they don’t break. I’ve got this.

I look at him, remember studying his features with endless fascination, and I realise I see him through different eyes now. In some ways I can’t recognise him any longer. His arms no longer hold the safety they once did, his eyes no longer hold the affection. We are both different people now.

It’s strange how someone can be your world one day and almost a stranger another day. Some nights I would do anything to be back in our mountain home where I knew everything was going to work out, that our love was invincible and everlasting. In those moments it was, and the ending didn’t diminish its magic. But that chapter is long finished now, leaving space for new chapters to be written.

From my hometown we drive to Crystal Creek. On the way we pass a little produce stand and pick up some ripe fruit. We swim in the pool beside the waterfall, hot sun on our skin and cool water swallowing our bodies. We open pomelos with a pocket knife and the insides shine like little pink jewels.

We set up the tent in the trees by the water. From inside we watch and hear the waterfall and it makes its way into my dreams. When the sun rises I swim naked in the creek, pushing against the current. A thousand cold hands run across my body. I dry myself on a rock in the sun, and climb back into the tent to read a book and breastfeed Alba.

I should spend more time outside. When I am out there things are simple and clear. It is easy to be present. I will forget those nights I stayed up late watching Game of Thrones, but I will never forget the morning I was naked beneath a waterfall.

We drive to the beach one night. I bring a curry I cooked, a flask of hot chocolate and a picnic rug. Life has a cinematic quality. The kind that new experiences bring. I remember being here as a child, and now here I am with my own child. Somehow I am a Mama now, not a child any longer. Life passes.

Alba swims with my sister, who is no longer the quiet little girl I once photographed in the backyard, she is a teenager now covering up her freckles with make-up. My brother is here too. He is sad tonight, going for walks by himself and writing pages and pages in his journal and I think maybe I understand him better than anyone.

I swing on a swingset and when I get to the very highest point I close my eyes and imagine I keep going, flying out into the stars. I hear Alba laughing with my siblings by the water. In this moment I feel a slow sweet joy fill my soul.

I don’t remember if we flew or drove home. I look at these photographs and the notes in my journal to remember, but outside of these souvenirs this time is a haze now. I barely photograph these days, not like I used to.

Alba turns two. I wake up before her and marvel at her tiny face. The dark, sweeping eyelashes and the small pink lips. Her long fingers are like miniatures of my own. But despite the similarities, she is more her own person than I ever could have predicted. How could it be only two years since she took her first breath? She has already taught me so much about life.

I am thankful for birthdays as a reminder that time does keep on flowing, that my little girl is less little than she was yesterday, and that I need to stop often to appreciate her. Her Papa and I take her out for breakfast and I look at him watching her and know exactly how he is feeling. Look what we created. This bright, giggly, empathetic, creative toddler is ours.

There are moments when I look at Alba and my heart breaks because I am afraid I am failing her. Will she grow up daydreaming about her parents falling back in love like I did? If I am not enough for her, I hope for all of the incredible people in her life to overfill the gaps. I hope for her to grow from her struggles with the strength I already see  burning in her eyes. Even so, I will never feel enough, and that is what it is to be a Mother sometimes.

Images with me were captured by Matt.

Life Passing

I honestly didn’t think I’d be writing another life post but when I started putting together the images for this post and began to write a paragraph encompassing this period of my life, it wasn’t enough. The words just started flowing from me.

I’ve realised that the more honest and open we are, especially with the raw parts of ourselves that we normally hide, the more we all realise we are not alone. That we’re all flawed and fighting battles and none of us really know what we’re doing and that is okay. Deep down we’re all the same. We just have to keep on growing. And so I find myself sharing my own journey again. My joy and my struggles.

Life is always more lucid when we’re moving. My sweet-hearted Niece was getting married in Wollongong so we decided it was time to pack up our little car and hit the road again.

We went to Byron Bay the first day and saw the morning markets, heard the street music, tasted ice creams on the beach and felt three pairs of tangled legs on clean hotel bedsheets. Alba was wide-eyed and soaking in the world. I was skipping like I was 5 years old again, excited to be exploring a new town. After dinner we were walking through the streets when I heard a voice that took my breath away. As I watched this musician sing I felt myself falling in love, as I often do with total strangers. Just before I had to leave I caught his eye and our connection hung in the air.

The next night we stopped by a beach. The moon was full above the ocean and the sunset hung like a painting in the sky. We filled an inflatable mattress in our car to sleep on. Alba and I giggled in our funny, cosy home and we listened to the sound of the sea crash on the shore all night. In the morning we watched the sun rising over the Earth from our bed and we were all so happy.

When we arrived in Wollongong my Father was there, he had come to Australia earlier for his son’s funeral. I hadn’t seen him in seven years and I was beside myself with excitement. He was filming the wedding and when I saw him my heart leapt in my chest. Sometimes me and my brother had wondered if he was even real or just some crazy character in a film, but here he was in the flesh. “It’s Dad!” I told my Mum excitedly, but I didn’t interrupt him. Even my Mum couldn’t help smiling in his presence.

Then a magical thing happened. Alba picked up some flowers petals the flower girls had thrown and wandered over to my Dad. She looked up at him with her big blue eyes and held out the handful of petals. He stopped filming and saw his granddaughter for the first time, his eyes brimming over with kindness and warmth, shining with tears.

“Thank you so much Alba” he said gently as he took the petals. Normally Alba is very shy with strangers, but somehow she chose my Father from the crowd and looked at him lovingly as if she had always known him.

Then of course he saw me and my heart leapt again. His hug swallowed me whole and I was safe. That night we sat by the dancing fire and he held my hand and told me stories, pausing in between sentences to tell me he loved me. I felt like curling up in his lap and closing my eyes. Drifting in the warm, slow river of his words and letting his stories come to life in my mind. “I can’t tell you just how proud I am of you,” he told me sincerely, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

We only had a few special days with him and then he had to return to England. He left me with a old suitcase full of memories. Hundreds of clippings from newspapers and magazines that had featured him, poems he’d written, letters from my Mother when they’d first met, photographs of his adventures, films he’d written and directed, awards for all kinds of things and momentos from my childhood. Our last hug lasted forever but ended too soon.

I shot a campaign for a clothing label in Sydney and then it was time for the long drive back home. Home now was with my Auntie Megan and her three girls, with our ambling veggie garden and our roaming chickens. Alba played happily with the girls outside all day long. I fed all of us from the plants we grew in our yard and the food I bought from the markets. Every Tuesday we’d get six loaves of organic sourdough from a local bakery and I’d slice into the fresh bread right away. Such joy in little things. Sometimes we’d have a fire and talk late into the night, kids snuggled up in our laps.

Then we found ourselves on the other side of the country, driving up the west coast in M’s Father’s car. I stood at a cliff and let the beauty of the red land and blue sea consume me. Thinking as I often do, that I could never appreciate this enough. We stayed by a cove where dolphins visited every day. I stood knee deep in the crystal waters with Alba on my hip and called out to dolphins in my thoughts. Soon a Mama dolphin and a baby dolphin swam up to meet us, as though they had heard my call. The moment was magic and I knew then I would never forget it.

Then we went to Bali, where I had rented a twelve bedroom villa to live with creative friends from all over the world. For a while, it was truly and utterly blissful there. I found myself in a new loving family of young artists and every day was an adventure. One of the girls I’d invited was Kelsey, a fashion designer from New Zealand. Within a day it was like we had been best friends our entire lives. She was pure sunshine and together we giggled all day long.

Sometimes it is strange being with people who know me already from my blog, they know my most personal thoughts and have their own ideas of who I am. But I never am who they think I am. People expect someone serious and insightful, but in reality I am so silly and goofy. Constantly making bad jokes and being childish. I am just real, no more special than anyone else.

This time is all a haze now but as my mind wanders backwards I grasp at feelings and they fill me again. The painful memories feel the strongest, but each time I remember the pain is less, and eventually it is just a dull ache in the pit of my belly.

I was torn apart by heartbreak last November. The future that had built up around me, like a bridge built on dreams and love and hope, was destroyed. The ground was pulled from beneath my feet and I was hurtling through the unknown. It took a lot of heartache before I could realise I didn’t have to fall, I could fly and that what was torn down could be built up even better than before.

M and I ended. I was a broken girl, trying to hold myself together during the day to be a good parent and falling apart at night. I was so afraid of being a single Mama, of being lost, unloved and alone. The jealousy burned and I made myself suffer. One moment I felt everything and the next I was numb, living on auto pilot. Speaking my lines from the script just right.

Those nights were some of the hardest of my life. Over eight years we’d collected enough memories to keep me up all night reliving them. I had failed, I had lost, I was nothing.

I found solace in the arms and loving words of the girls around me. I hadn’t had many friends when I was in a relationship, we had unhealthily poured all of our energy into each other. Now I was learning how important it was to have their perspectives and support. I knew it was only the beginning of the lessons I would learn on my own.

After a while I stopped romanticising our past and began to see things clearly. We weren’t the same people we were in the beginning and our love had changed along with us. I stopped fighting the situation. I accepted it, and I even started to see how this was all for the better. It was something I had known would happen deep down before we had fallen apart.

It felt like a lifetime before he was back. I wore an invisible coat of armour. We flew home to Australia and continued to live together. I was wounded but I would always love him. He was my best friend and my family. For now we would be co parents.

Sometimes things were beautiful, sometimes we were even happier than we were before. We’d have moments with the three of us in bed playing monsters in hysterics. We’d still eat dinner with my family and laugh at each other’s terrible jokes. We’d share our immense pride in all of Alba’s accomplishments and reminisce about special times. But things weren’t always easy.

One day my Mother called me in tears. My little brother Zake had tried to kill himself. It wasn’t his first attempt. Of all my family, he is the one I hold dearest. He is the coolest, sweetest, most inspiring person I know and I couldn’t imagine a world without him.

I had plans to road trip with Kelsey but I knew I needed to cancel, that I needed to be with him. And so we flew to my hometown. When I arrived I pulled my brother into a big hug. Of nine siblings, he is my only full sibling. We share our smile and so much of our perspective. Sometimes when we were younger it felt like it was us two against the world.

The night he had tried to jump off a bridge he had unintentionally broken the nose of a policewoman trying to sedate him. My Brother has Aspergers, and being held down terrifies him. One day he stood in the hallway and told me: “If the court case goes badly, I am definitely going to kill myself.”

I scrambled desperately for the right words but all I could say was “I love you.”

“You can’t change my mind.” He replied and I recognised his stubbornness as my own. Please, please, please don’t die, my thoughts cried.

It was Alba that ended up doing him the most good. When they were together they both glowed with joy. When Zake left the house, Alba would cry for him at the door and he couldn’t bear to leave her. They were almost inseparable. One sleepy night she nuzzled into me, smiling, whispering “my Ake….” and I knew she loved him and that pure love was healing him.

A long time ago M told me he felt I had been a little bird and he had clipped my wings. Now I could feel them finally growing back. I was finding myself. I had gone from being two halves of a whole, to being a half and now I was learning to be whole again on my own. Things were going to be okay.

(Images by myself & Alba’s Papa)