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I was still in my 30s, Youtube was only 6 months old, Facebook was only accessible if you had a university email address, the iPad and iPhone didn't exist, and there were almost a billion fewer people on the planet.
Back then I had recently sold my web design business and had plans to become a writer. A blog seemed a good idea to try out different forms of writing, and a way of disciplining myself to produce something 2 or 3 times a week.
I began with short stories, but quite quickly it morphed into explorations of thoughts and ideas, along with observations of life and experiences.
My career as a writer never took off though. An inexplicable tiredness began to take over my life - a permanent feeling of exhaustion. After numerous tests I was eventually diagnosed with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I kept the blog going, although the number of posts eased off.
During this time I started using my camera more often. Something about the ability to twiddle the dials, change exposure, adjust shutter speed and play with compositions, gave me a sense of control in a life where the continual tiredness felt completely beyond my control. And when I discovered portraiture I felt I'd found my calling.
Over a few years my enthusiasm and skill with the camera grew, which led me to tentatively set myself up as a professional photographer, carefully building the business around the times of the day when I felt less tired.
Thanks to Mickel Therapy 5 years ago, I am much improved. I wouldn't say I'm 100% cured, but I do have considerably more energy than I used to, so now my photography is full time.
Inevitably more of my blog posts became centered around photography and a few years ago I changed the name of this blog from "Ramblings of the Bearded One" to "Painting With Shadows" to reflect that shift in direction. However, finding ever new things to blog about photography is much harder than it was to write about the everyday minutiae of life, so now I post only 2 or 3 times a month.
Given that most blogs are abandoned within a couple of months, and even the top 100 have an average life span of less than 3 years, it does feel like a bit of an achievement to have survived this long.
It took me 4 years to reach 500 posts, but a further 7 to produce the next 500. At this rate it will take me another 15 years to produce the 500 after this. But there are no plans to stop anytime soon.
While putting this post together I discovered something I'd written nearly 11 years ago for a different, short-lived audio blog, that had never been published in written form. It was created in response to a call from fellow blogger, Pat who had asked people for "brief encounter" experiences - times when there had been a fleeting but intense emotional connection with a complete stranger.
So in homage to my original vision for the blog to be a place of writing about life, observations and experiences, I've included this true short story below.
“Are you OK?” I called out.
The girl wandered over to the car. In her early 20s, she looked a wreck. I’d pulled over because I saw her standing in the central reservation of the dual carriageway, crying.
It was dark, nearly midnight and spitting lightly with rain. The occasional car drove past, but the road was mostly empty. “Not really,” she said, her eyes puffy and her cheeks streaked with mascara.
I caught sight of myself in the wing mirror; this tired, haunted face staring back at me.
“Do you need a lift?”
She looked at me clearly for the first time, then turned her head away, lost in her thoughts for a moment. She turned back. “Where are you heading?”
A wee voice in the back of my head said I shouldn’t let a complete stranger into my car, and she shouldn’t be getting into a car with a complete stranger either. But in that instant, heart aching and weary to the bone, I saw another soul, lost in the darkness.
“Just the other side of Stirling,” I said. I was returning home from Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow. It was half an hour’s drive from this point.
She stood for a long time in silence, plotting out in her head the potential consequences of her next decision.
“Do you know anyone out there?” I asked.
“I have a few friends in Stirling,” she began. For a moment I thought she was going to climb into the car, then suddenly she snorted with a hollow laughter; the moment was past. “No, no thanks, I won’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” She sighed. “Thank you for stopping, though.” With a brief smile and a wee wave, she disappeared down the embankment and I headed home.
Perhaps if she had joined me I would have told her how my baby girl had just had open-heart surgery but was still in intensive care. Perhaps she would have told me the cause of her own deep sadness.
Perhaps it was enough for the both of us to know we were not alone with our pain.