by Ann Marie Bausch
In mid-2017, I had my first short story accepted for publication, and almost immediately hit a suffocating stretch of writer’s block. I was saved by a vegan photographer.
If you’re blinking your eyes in bewilderment, you’re experiencing much the same thing I did.
That summer, the viciousness of our national politics nearly did me in. The inferno that was the health care standoff affected my family personally, and my emotional health plummeted. And the tap from which my creative energy flowed seemed to run completely dry. I decided to ban myself from Facebook and Twitter for a stretch, and instead turned to Instagram, which I could curate to only show me things that made me feel happy and peaceful—travel photos, animals, and the like. I followed Goats of Anarchy, which led me to other animal sanctuaries such as Rancho Relaxo and Twist of Fate Farm and Sanctuary. After all, what could be more antithetical to shouting on the floor of the Senate than saving a lamb from slaughter? The folks who run these rescues changed my life.
Through following their work, I was inspired to go vegan. That’s a story unto itself. My spirit and my health began to recover and even thrive. But my writing? The one thing I’ve ever felt I was put on this earth to do? All I had was an empty, taunting silence.
As I learned more about the rescues and began to follow their posts daily, I noticed that some of the pictures jumped out as being of professional quality, and the same photo credit kept showing up: @sfisherx. Sammantha Fisher. There are a lot of talented photographers out there, but some seem to have an eye that goes beyond basic creativity or artistic composition. They see with more of themselves than just their cameras. Ms. Fisher is one of those. In photos of cows and pigs, I began to see sentient souls looking back at me. I would lose my breath at the beauty I had never known to look for in “livestock.” I felt myself peering into the eyes of a goat and searching for a language other than English in which to communicate, a language that has nothing to do with words. Based on others’ comments on the photos, this perception seemed to be universal. Such is the depth of Sammantha Fisher’s talent.
I went to her Instagram page and her website and began to learn more about her work. The gist is this: she travels the world photographing animals, and donates half her profits back to the sanctuaries that rescued them. In essence, she uses her creativity to do good. To feed compassion and gentleness to this world starving for any glimmer of hope. And she is a young woman doing all of this with limited resources.
It’s time to get back to the keyboard, I told myself. Writers and artists will always, always struggle with doubt, drought, lack of inspiration. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the work. If Sammantha could keep going, I thought, finding beautiful moments even while witnessing overwhelming cruelty—she travels to auctions and slaughterhouses too—I could do an hour’s work on a short story. It was time to stop squandering my potential.
I don’t know how far out into the world the pieces I write will ever go, and I don’t know if they will ever reach someone the way Sammantha’s stirring images do. And this was certainly not the last creative roadblock I will face. But none of this is an excuse not to try. These are times when just reading the paper or opening a news website can fill us with dread—getting through the day, much less creating art, can feel nearly impossible. Perhaps that is why I needed such an unconventional source to get myself moving again. If you’re feeling similarly paralyzed, whether you’re trying to compose music or greet customers or just compose yourself, you’re not alone. Perhaps try looking somewhere new for healing. I had no idea that farm animals could have anything to do with the writing of fiction. But surprises are everywhere. When I found Sammantha Fisher’s work, I learned that pigs don’t just fly. They soar.
Ann Marie Bausch is a writer and dog mom from Norfolk, Virginia. In addition to Rock & Sling, her nonfiction has appeared on The Mighty, and her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine. Find her at seekingandspeaking.wordpress.com, on Twitter at @anniebausch, or on Instagram at @anniemb4.