Kristen Kidd: “It’s really a two-part experience”

I hope to normalize the experience of profound love we have for our pets. Many of us love our pets as much, if not more, than some humans. That’s a wonderful bond that deserves to be recognized and celebrated for all of its depth and richness. I also hope to help eradicate the stigmas associated […]

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I hope to normalize the experience of profound love we have for our pets. Many of us love our pets as much, if not more, than some humans. That’s a wonderful bond that deserves to be recognized and celebrated for all of its depth and richness. I also hope to help eradicate the stigmas associated with anxiety, depression, divorce, major life changes, reproductive challenges, death and other grief. I thought what better way than to create a testament to the spectrum of the human experience through the lens of a woman’s bond with her dog? The best way to eradicate a stigma is by normalizing the experience that is stigmatized.

For over a decade Kristen Kidd, Author of Woman’s Best Friend, nurtured, in tandem, a dedication to professional photography and a career as a social worker. Here she honed the skills of connecting with clients and capturing the essence of their identity and relationships. At the beginning of 2017, she stepped away from her career in order to fully dedicate herself to her photography clients. Now, she brings everything she loved most about her career in social work to her photography; namely celebrating deep connections, our “why” and the fun of life.

Woman’s Best Friend book project was born out of the moving stories women told me before their photo sessions. Time and again women approached Kristen to be photographed with their dogs. They shared how their canine companion was there for them unconditionally and without judgement. Their dog BFFs intuitively stuck by them in their grief or made them laugh when laughter seemed like an impossibility. Through depression, anxiety, divorce, death, rape, loneliness and so on; woman after woman shared how their dog saved them.

Thank you so much for joining us Kristen! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

There was a quiet magic to my childhood. I grew up in rural, central Virginia in Cumberland county. The closest town was Farmville — not kidding — and It was 20 miles away. I was homeschooled and I grew up on two acres of land that were masterfully gardened by my father. My parents instilled a love of learning and an uncompromising work ethic in me. In addition to the friends that dotted the mile of backroad that I lived on and the surrounding community, I enjoyed the company of my Basset Hound named Cedric.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

My family owned a collection of the “Funk & Wagnalls” Encyclopedias. Any questions about the universe posed to my parents was met with a stern “Go look it up.” (I’m dating myself. We’re talking pre-internet.) Sometimes I would just go thumb through the volumes; I was enthralled with all there was to see, do and know in the world. That was the beginning of something stirring within me to take action. Something within called out to go and do something that mattered.

However, one article in particular about the Rwandan Genocide inspired me to take action. I was in middle school when I and a group of friends began sponsoring a child from Uganda together through an organization called Compassion International. We pooled our money together and wrote him letters. I received a magazine from “Compassion” on a monthly basis about their general work. In one particular issue I read about the genocide in Rwanda. The article featured a photo of a small child with a machete scar across his face. The story caption read that he’d received it when his family was attacked. He saved his life by playing dead amongst his deceased family members. That photo and story had a profound effect on me. I cut the photo out of the article and displayed it in my room as a reminder of gratitude for all I had. It was this moment that I knew that I wanted to tell the stories of others through the medium of photography and the written word.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Specifically concerning the “Woman’s Best Friend” project, I knew that there was something important to be shared with the rest of the world; a message that would resonate with others. A main part of my mission includes photographing families in which a huge portion of that time was spent photographing women and their dogs. Sitting across from countless women, I asked them about the greatest depths of their bonds with their canine companions. They shared stories of their deepest vulnerabilities and how their dogs were there for them in ways that other humans could not. They all felt isolated in their experiences — while simultaneously being in a deep connection with their dogs and their personal journeys through grief and mental and physical health issues. I began to see it was important to show these women and all outside individuals that they were not alone in their struggles. They’re not alone in how deeply they love their pets.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

I hope to normalize the experience of profound love we have for our pets. Many of us love our pets as much, if not more, than some humans. That’s a wonderful bond that deserves to be recognized and celebrated for all of its depth and richness. I also hope to help eradicate the stigmas associated with anxiety, depression, divorce, major life changes, reproductive challenges, death and other grief. I thought what better way than to create a testament to the spectrum of the human experience through the lens of a woman’s bond with her dog? The best way to eradicate a stigma is by normalizing the experience that is stigmatized.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

Yes. Many women who have shared their stories for the book have expressed that they have felt tremendous healing through sharing their experiences with others. Those that have read the book have shared a feeling of resounding connection with the stories and women featured.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.

I knew a movement had begun when I saw the outpouring of stories flood my inbox. The response was overwhelming. So many women wanted to share just how much their dogs have meant to them. People are aching for a place to talk about their four-legged family members and not just avoid judgment, but be embraced for the deep love and connection they share with these special creatures.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

The response has been the same from readers throughout. There is an overarching sense of commonality and kindred spirit expressed by the community that feels a deep connection with their pets. Many times, readers [of Women’s Best Friend] will launch into sharing their own stories in context to reading the book. There is also a sense of awe and respect for both the women and their canines. Readers are stunned at the courage of these women and the intuitive presence of their dogs during some of their most seminal moments.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

It’s really a two-part experience.

No words can do justice to the humility and honor that I feel in the moments that I spend sitting across from these women quietly listening to their stories. That is a sacred space. They are sharing some of their most vulnerable moments with me — their greatest loves in life. Then, like magic, I see everything they shared with me come to life in front of the camera during their session. It can be overwhelming (in the best sense) for me as well as them. I remember one moment during the photo session with Tricia and Monkey from the book. In her story, Tricia shared about the week that followed her miscarriage and how she couldn’t move from the couch. All she could do was lay there and grieve. Monkey would not leave her side. She couldn’t have imagined getting through that tremendous loss without his constant presence.

During her photo session, at one point, she laid on the couch in the studio with Monkey nestled in the crook of her arm and closed her eyes. He closed his eyes too and they rested there together. I began to well up and had to photograph through the tears. I felt like I was right there with them back at that moment when he had showed up for her in such a profound way. I was so deeply moved too, because I knew that I was helping her see that moment from the outside and experience his love and dedication in a new and immortal way through photography. I was on cloud nine when I stopped photographing, wiped away my tears and Tricia sat up and quietly said, “That was really cathartic.” That experience was everything and really represented what it was like to do the entire project.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

No. I believe when every worthy endeavor starts humbly from a place of compassion, empathy and curiosity, there is only goodness that follows. The naysayers don’t really resonate.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

Every book is a tool to resonate a world view. Throughout history, like all tools, when placed in powerful hands, it can be used to launch a movement. Books are an enduring account and a tremendous act of vulnerability by everyone who has a hand in its creation. Every single book, no matter the genre, has been an attempt to make the reader see the world in a different or specific way. Writing has always been a way of baring ones’ soul and uniting people for good or for bad. The mark is indelible when the work arrives at a time when enough people are ready to listen and find a body of work that reflects their common interest. That’s when movements, revolutions and true change happens.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Incessant writing of every kind throughout my life has contributed to any success I’ve ever had. When I wasn’t journaling I was writing poetry; when I wasn’t writing poetry I was writing letters; when I wasn’t doing any of that I was blogging. Like everything worthwhile, it is constant exercise and practice. My mother was vigilant in instilling the role of writing in my life. One of my earliest and favorite memories was when I started writing a pen pal. Stumped at eight years old about what to write this new friend, my mother instructed me in organizing my thoughts in an outline — And it wasn’t simply some bullet points. No. She required that I complete an official outline complete with roman numeral headings, sub-headings and sub-subheadings. It was about my favorite Disney characters and it was a fantastic letter. Thanks mom.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

There’s so much content and information in the world at any given moment. It can be overwhelming as a viewer and as a creator. It’s easy as a writer to feel like your words are lost in the noise and wonder if you’re ever going to make the impact you set out to make. I’ve learned to lean heavily on the perspectives of other writers and thinkers that I trust. I’ve found that my own personal feelings of success rely on the community that I create, the tribe that I’m growing and the trust that is cultivated in that space. I don’t need to worry about the masses because my work isn’t for the masses. It’s for, as Seth Godin says, the smallest viable market. I’ve saved my sanity by cultivating perseverance in creating work that I genuinely believe in and holding tight to the affirmation of those that need it, and in turn, I get it in my community. They then share with their tribe and from there we all grow.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)

  1. Focus on what you know.

I believe everyone’s life experience can serve as an inspiration to others whether those experiences be good, bad or otherwise. There is also no experience on this earth that has never been felt by at least a handful of others. Start with what you’re passionate about, from there, you know your voice will be authentic.

  1. Pay attention to what resonates in your community.

Communities are communities because they have commonality. You are part of a community of some sort and likely you share interests, views and concerns. Pay attention to find out what messages are longing for a platform and could unite within your own group.

  1. Above all, do it authentically.

No impactful, movement-making project should be done because it’s what everyone else wants. Recognizing an opportunity to create a movement around something you don’t personally believe in is just reading the market and it’s a power grab. You need to care deeply to make a lasting impact.

  1. Also, recognize that it’s not about you.

At the same time, when you set out to create a movement concerning something you care deeply about, you need to let go of the death grip of control. The ego must constantly be in check. Humility is essential. You’re creating a platform in which the greater community can show up together for one another. That requires a lot of organization, but also flexibility. You are merely the orchestrator of something way bigger and way more important than your idea or your message. Respect that truth.

  1. Get help.

There are a lot of moving parts in creating a book that creates a movement. Know what you’re good at; enjoy and work hard at your strong points. Know what you need to fire yourself from and find someone else to do it. From PR, to transcribing to social media to walking your dog and cleaning your house. Know your strength. Know your weaknesses so you can get help for the weak spots.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

One specific area (among many) that I feel passionately about is masculine emotional engagement in our culture. While it has become more socially acceptable for men to express themselves as complex emotional beings, there remains deep wounds in our culture. We still hold high the ideal of a “real man” while villainizing the man who struggles to express a full lexicon of emotion. There are few safe spaces for male vulnerability. I would argue that other problems in our society such as wage gap, ceilings and various other disparities, violence and abuse could be more quickly remedied if we created a movement around empowering men to be liberated in their emotional spectrum and prize vulnerability and empathy as a strength.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

F/I @kristenkiddphotography

I @womansbestfriendproject

T @photo_kidd

F @lifestyledogtographer

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