DEDPXL "If It Breaks Me" - Anne AlmasyWhy are you a photographer?

I’m not questioning your motivation. I truly want to understand: what urges your soul toward this work?

Long after I heard my calling, I found the words to define my dream. And no, it’s neither darkroom nor Lightroom, neither prints nor pixels. I am consumed by the connections I make with the people who share their lives with me. A celebration, a portrait, a careful image made of a life well-lived: these inspire and enrich me.

As I examine my shiny, happy motivations for this work I’ve chosen, the duller flipside becomes clear to me. Some jobs can’t, won’t, don’t offer the same joy. And it’s okay. I can say no.

The ball dropped when an organization contacted me to shoot their fundraising luncheon. A nonprofit, they were raising money for a cause I deeply believe in. Their budget was small (aren’t they all?), but they repeatedly emphasized their nonprofit status and how highly recommended I’d come to them. And I caved, giving them Big Coverage for Little Money.

When I arrived, the organizers were nothing short of total jerks. No one so much as smiled in my direction, and I was ordered around like some shifty teenager who might dash out at any moment, a bottle of stolen champagne tucked in my jacket pocket.

Cause or no cause, the event turned out to be one of the least meaningful photographic experiences of my life, an abrasive series of grip-’n’-grins that said nothing, inspired nothing, meant nothing.

And just like that, I was done. I completed my contract, delivered the photographs, cashed my check, and vowed to say NO to work that didn’t align with my personal desires.

Connection. Inspiration. Authenticity.

I can go anywhere, do anything, and leave at the end of the day feeling disconnected, uninspired, and inauthentic. But I won’t – I can’t – do that with photography. Not with my art. Not with this craft that I’ve painstakingly honed every year of my life since I first held a camera at age 8.

I recognize that photography isn’t always fun and games. I understand that hard work and sweat and sometimes a sprained ankle are the reality of the job. But if those struggles aren’t accompanied by an end-of-day payoff, by feelings of connection, inspiration, and authenticity, I may as well resign to a cubicle somewhere, collect a regular paycheck, and enjoy employer-subsidized health benefits.

Photography was my dream. But as I repeatedly took on unfulfilling projects, my dream became my job.

Photography ceased to be my dream
and became the very thing I’d fought so hard to escape.


I never want to dread a day of shooting. I never want to be at the end of my rope with a client because I’m working a job that just flat-out sucks. I never want to be tempted to throw in the towel and walk away from a gig because I’m being treated like a picture-making machine.

And, yes, I accept that sometimes that’s just the reality. I can’t always know that this sweet bride’s aunt is a walking, breathing demon from the pit of Hades. I can’t always anticipate the planner who will change the entire timeline at the very last second then reassure me that, “You can do all those portraits in 7 minutes!” I can’t always navigate the stress, the anxiety, the drama.

But, to me, those challenges are just bumps in the road.

The roadblock is me.

When I can’t feel it any longer, when my camera is a hot brick in my hand, when the smile on my face is melting, and kicking someone in the shins would feel as natural as breathing: I’m in the wrong place.

It is a burden, this compulsion to say yes to everything. Yes to every opportunity, yes to every open door, yes to every eager request, yes even when I desperately want to say no.

I once sat through a sales workshop where the speaker implored us to avoid negative words at all cost. “Never say no!” he commanded. And maybe it was his authoritative tone, or maybe it was the cut of his expensive suit, but I nodded and took notes like Jesus Christ himself had descended from the sky to share this wisdom with me.

But now? The truth? Sometimes no is the truth. Sometimes no is the only right response.

No, I won’t do that for free.
No, I can’t be there at that time.
No, I wont be treated like that.

And even:

No, this job is not a good fit for me.

When, at last, I allowed myself to say no, it was like my soul glowed right through my skin.

I was sitting at the bar at one of my favorite meeting spots, chatting with a potential client about her upcoming wedding. And she was beautiful, and sweet, and wealthy. And she said the right things. And she asked the right questions.

But I could feel it in my gut, like too much sugar on a hot day. And 15 minutes in, I asked her, “Have you met with This Photographer? Because — and I hope this doesn’t sound crazy — I think you guys would be an incredible fit.”

And she stared at me with the sweetest little smile frozen on her perfect mouth, and she said, “Oh! Okay!”

Then we talked for another 30 minutes about the town she’d grown up in and how she was named after her grandmother. Then we shook hands. And I left.

And it felt glorious.

With every fresh blog post, every website revision, every social media share, I ache to communicate, “This is me.” I crave connection with like-minded human beings who see the world like I do. And we will work together, and we will struggle together, and we will emerge on the other side feeling grateful that we chose each other.

Feeling inspired, connected, authentic.
Feeling fulfilled.

We only get to do this once. I’m gonna do it right if it breaks me.

Anne Simone

Anne is a lifelong photographer and accidental writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She prefers whiskey over wine, cheese over chocolate, and flat shoes over heels — because you never know when you might need to run for your life.

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  1. Tom

    Wow, this really resonates with me in this moment. I’ve struggled as a relatively new photographer the last 4 years trying to find my place in all of this. A full time job and shooting weddings on the side, but I’d like to someday go full time. Friends say take the plunge, take the plunge. But I can’t seem to finish my website. I can’t seem to make the time. I’m not marketing. Word of mouth has been good enough and I associate shoot for a great team. I’m saying yes to everything that comes my way. I’m trying my hand at everything photography-wise. Is wedding photography even where i’m supposed to be? Photography is what I am passionate about, it drives me and warms my heart and soul. I’ve shot too many jobs that didn’t warm me in anyway. Some had red flags. Others…well sometimes you just don’t know, it happens. A good friend told me recently, “Start doing more of what you love and less of what you don’t” and as simple as that sounds I wasn’t. I’m holding on to those words. I’m making time to shoot just for fun. I’m saying no to jobs that don’t align with my heart and soul. It’s liberating. I feel more fulfilled. It’s never been about the dollars for me. In the end I want my heart to feel rich in what i’m doing. Thanks so much for sharing this, it really spoke to me.

    • Anne Almasy

      Thanks so much, Tom. I’m still in that place. There’s a lot to be said for maintaining a “real job” as you pursue your dream. I still think about going back to Starbucks so I can say no to more stuff.

      • Sarah

        Anne – Thanks (again!) for writing this post. So well written, and so right on.

        I can especially relate to this paragraph (which exactly describes a job I accepted that I immediately regretted): “I never want to dread a day of shooting. I never want to be at the end of my rope with a client because I’m working a job that just flat-out sucks. I never want to be tempted to throw in the towel and walk away from a gig because I’m being treated like a picture-making machine.”

        Tom – I still work a day job, as well. I refuse to be in a position where I have to accept every photography gig that comes my way. I want to keep my photography as pure as possible. As Anne said, I don’t want my dream job to become my day job. Of course, I want to be able to work as a photographer full time, and eventually I’ll just have to make that leap…but until then, I’m letting my day job pay the big bills so that I can focus on getting better at my craft and doing good work that I truly enjoy.

    • Amy

      Tom, I’m another day jobber. Working at photography part time has helped keep it a passion, and not a burden. It’s not the best fit for everyone, but it works for me.

      Thanks, Anne for sharing – powerful words that ring very true.

  2. Jorge

    I like making pretty pictures. Sounds dumb, but that’s it. I don’t get philosophical about it, I don’t have any yearning except to make nice images that I can be proud of.
    Period. And, if I happen to get paid for such work (I shoot ALOT of stock work, and weddings) then so much the better.

  3. Simon

    It’s amazing that your post isn’t even directly connected to photography.

    It can apply to ANY passion for anybody.

    When you’re not smiling at your job anymore, stop.

    Thanks for this reminder!!!

  4. David stanton

    Anne beautifully written i can’t agree more, we as photographers must be able to connect with our work and those we work with without that then we may as well be working in a 9-5 take our pay cheque and switch off as soon as we clock out. clients need to realise that its not just button pressing work it is much much more than that. so keep saying no to the work you don’t connect with even if that means having to do other work to help sustain you as your time will come where because your only doing the stuff you love then your portfolio will glow so brightly that the good work will come. all the best david

    • Alex

      These words fit exactly for me.

      Thank you Anne , thank you Simon

  5. Katrien

    So well said, Anne…
    As I’ve learned to say ‘no’ about a year ago I can really relate to your feelings and this great decision.
    As being a photographer is my second job, I have the freedom to select the jobs I do or the couples I take on for their wedding 😉 like you said, you feel it when there is a match!

    You so perfectly put into words how I feel about what this job means to me, that I might quote you in Dutch 😉 if I can!

    Thanks for this, it made me feel better & love this job even more after a really tiring shoot with little girls on a very hot day 😉


  6. Steve

    Zak, as someone who’s only started his career within the last year I have to say that I loved this post. It’s so tempting to say yes to any job that pays for fear of it being the last but the truth is the results of jobs we aren’t passionate about never match those of ones we are, at least in my case. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Steve

      Oops, missed that this post was from Anne. Love it!

  7. Frank Grygier

    With age comes wisdom. With wisdom “No” is easier to say.

    • Zack

      Well said Frank.


    • GK

      If there is wisdom and fulfilled money consuming power, then saying “no” it is like piece of cake.

  8. Tyler

    Dear Anne,

    Holy shit.

    Today I read every article you’ve written for DEDPXL and have found myself nodding along in agreement with every single one. Something about the way you see our industry/the world and the way you write just speaks to me.

    I keep a bookmarks folder called “Kickinthebutt” for things that inspire me to get off my ass and make something, or cheer me up. Your stuff is going in there, right alongside Ground Glass posts, Zen Pencils comics, and Zack’s “Transform” video.

    As for the topic of this post, it’s something I struggle with a lot. I’m a full-timer due to my lack of another job but haven’t found my niche yet, at least not a niche that can support me financially. I constantly feel pressure from myself and others to accept every job I can and market my ass off to get jobs where I get hired because I’m cheap and competent — mostly fundraiser events where I have two hours to shoot two dozen people eating and then watching a PowerPoint presentation, and the client sends me angry emails when I deliver 40 really strong images instead of the 200-300 images that some other photographer delivered for a different event.

    It’s the constant struggle between “shoot only what you love” and “this career isn’t art, it’s business” and I don’t have enough life experience to figure out to balance those two pieces of advice. I say yes far too often because I “need the money” more than I need the sanity, and don’t know how much each individual job hurts me. Something tells me that very few people ever figure this out, despite how many people write fluffy bullshit blog posts about it (and I am NOT referring to yours here…no fluff or bullshit on DEDPXL).

    I believe that what you wrote about in The Mess & The Boredom & The Work applies to life in general. We make our best, most meaningful art, when things are tough. Although I can’t remember where or who, I once heard somebody say, “to make good art, you have to be a little bit broken.” Here’s to being a little bit broken.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more.


    • Anne Almasy

      I spent so many years taking whatever came my way because I needed the money. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything, really. I cut my teeth on those shitty job and mismatched clients. But now I feel like I’ve climbed this huge mountain, and I’m looking out, and the view is… well, it just ISN’T.

      But I believe it CAN be. There is so much work that I seriously FEEL, in a deep, powerful way. Still. But it’s not the work I spent so much time pursuing. It’s not the stuff I thought I wanted. So what’s next?

      “Here’s to being a little bit broken.”


  9. Hal Leach

    Exceptionally eloquent and concise. Thank you. This is such an odd business to be in, so easily influenced and set adrift by external factors and emotions. The ‘funk’, which comes around at the most inappropriate times and slams the brakes on everything, is a fearsome obstacle for me, but when it lifts, it’s like being born again – an almost religious re-awakening. So much so that it’s almost – almost worth enduring, and I’ve come to expect and accept it.

    Photography APPEARS to be such an easy endeavor until one actually commits to it. Walmart never has to decide whether or not to sell a particular product to a particular customer, but a photographer who fails to do so – and carefully – is murdering their own soul, and the creative process that flows from it can be unreasonably fragile and needy.

    As much as we try to separate and compartmentalize personal and professional needs, emotion and events, this is one vocation where the private side of your life can have devastating implications in your work, or contribute explosively with little or no warning.

    I love DEDPXL more for the insight than the (although great) technical information, and it helps immensely to know we all go through these cycles of conflict, introspective uncertainty and bewilderment. When it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad, it is truly horrid.

  10. Richard Wintle

    Another wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    This really makes me think of Zack’s stories of his early years, shooting the insides of apartments for some apartment rental/real-estate website (Zack, apologies if I’ve mangled the details). Pays the bills, yes. Artistically fulfilling… well I’m pretty sure that was a “no”.

    Your post is reminding me that the paid work I do needs to be fun, challenging, and fulfilling (and at the moment, it is… thank goodness). And that the unpaid work should also be the same.

    So thank you again. 🙂

  11. Davindra

    I am a regular reader of your articles and videos , your work is very inspiring and educational to me. After reading the above I think I may have to say no.
    Thank you for your inspiring and educational work , keep up the good work.

  12. Evelyn

    Anne- Thank you so much for this! I am in this place myself. I am glad it is not just me!

    • Anne Almasy

      It’s never just you, Evelyn! Not to get all Sondheim on you, but “no one is alone.” 🙂

  13. Ben W

    When I was 15, I went to see Clapton with my dad. It’s one of my favorite experiences, ever. But I didn’t touch my guitar for nearly a month after the concert. I was too distraught about the fact that I would NEVER be that good. I got over it, though, and at the ripe medium age of 36, I’m a slightly below average guitar player. Progress!

    That’s how I feel when I read your stuff. You’re seriously good at writing about not just photography, but the business of and the life of photography. Sometimes I think I’m pretty good at writing about photography, but then I come here and you’re throwing a four-seam fastball and I realize that I’m playing tee-ball and I want to delete my blog.

    This is so, so good, Anne, and I hope you realize how impactful it is. I’m a fan. Thanks for another inspiring post. Please do them more often.

  14. Patrick Magee

    I learned to say “no” back in the early 80’s. My side gig was photographing and videotaping weddings when the video camera and recorder were separate pieces of heavy equipment. One bride could not understand the problem with taping the wedding with the only light being provided by two candles. Two candles! She had her brother shooting stills and he was mumbling about how hard he was going to have to push the Tri-X he was shooting. I sold my video equipment and went back to photography as a hobby where I felt I had the freedom to say no whenever anyone asked me to shoot a wedding. My day job was fulfilling, had a lot less stress and paid a lot more money.

  15. Michelle Wolff

    When I first started drawing I offered a lot of non-profit animal rescues free drawings for their auctions. Rarely did I even get a cursory thank you and I was never offered tickets to the auction events. This is when a custom drawing would take me 15 to 20 hours plus I covered postage! I was so disillusioned and as word got out I was inundated with what felt like pure greedy agencies. The good thing is it taught me what you say above so eloquently. I got over my resentment about how I’d been treated and learned to say no and feel good about it. Now I say yes if I feel it in my gut and more often I trade art for blog reviews which is fine because it feels reciprocal. I was very shocked at how awful people can be to someone hand making a product like photographs or drawing. Now I’m shocked at how people think because I can do a drawing in 7 hours that I should charge less never mind all the hours it took to get faster, I just have to shake my head. What I learned best is that when I changed inside and drew an internal line in the sand for what I will and won’t do the selfish people seemed to just disappear from my world. It was a rough year of freebies but I learned so much from it! If it’s not right in your gut it won’t be right anywhere for anyone. I love how you wrote this, I love your work and your authenticity. My daughter Morgan and her wife Sarah plan to get family photos of them and my beautiful twin grand daughters from you at some point and I plan to make sure I’m in town so I can say thank you in person!

    • Zack

      Thanks for adding to the discussion Michelle.


    • Anne Almasy

      I love hearing from creatives in other fields who share these struggles! I look forward to meeting you and your daughter and her family one day, Michelle!

  16. Ryan

    Yes. It can be so hard, but saying no is the only way to realize your dreams in this industry. I still struggle with it a lot. It’s good to get some encouragement. Thanks for writing this.

  17. Cindy | Lesbian Wedding Photographer

    Anne: You slay me with your writing … every time.

    Still climbing that mountain and loving all the perfect-fit shoots and enjoying most of the not-so-good fit ones, and laughing at the oh-so-bad fit ones.

  18. Lynn Ellis

    I am now semi-retired and doing some weddings etc. Enjoying my photography at long last. I am now much more careful. I had a relative I shot a free wedding for who refused to select their photos from an online gallery I set up for them and then a year later when I decided to delete them wanted me to send all the photos on a thumb drive. I should have just used my iPhone to shoot with …

  19. Scott Talbot

    Well Anne, I have to say, I’m fast becoming a huge fan of your blog posts!

    This post particularly resonates with me, but not just from a photography standpoint. I’ve reached that point in my life, where I realise that I’ve been working purely to pay the bills. I’m not getting any enjoyment out of my job (I fit bathrooms/kitchens etc) at all anymore!?!

    As a result, about a month ago, I just said NO! I’ve closed my business, and re-ignited my passion for photography. This time im going to bite the bullet, and make a career out of something I love! Right now, I’m poor, but I’m HAPPY…!

    • Anne Almasy

      Wow, that’s really exciting, Scott! And totally scary! I shot Atlanta’s TEDx last year, and one of the speakers, Mark Riedl, said, “If you’re not scared of failure, you’re working on the wrong problem.” I remind myself of that every time I get bored or complacent. Cheers to new adventures!

      • Scott Talbot

        I admit it’s a little scary, but it feels right so gotta give it a go. To new adventures! 😉

  20. Michael Anthony

    God damn. That’s it that’s all I have to say. I don’t know you Anne, but I am proud of you.

  21. Gwen

    Wonderful to be inspired by the journeys of fellow creatives.

  22. jamie

    I dunno. I go the other way, to an extent. I take lots and lots of assignments, because to me doing anything with a camera is a better than doing some other waste-of-time job.

    I have a camera in my hand. I’m looking at the world through a viewfinder. It’s better than slinging another latte across the counter.

    You aren’t excited about an assignment? Make it interesting for yourself by bringing just a couple of favorite lenses, and make it about photography. Sure, there are times when you just can’t see working for a particular person or client, but in my view the reality is that photography is a craft and a service, and unless you are a fine art photographer (and even then) you are going to have to do some of it just to survive.

    At the end of the year, a bunch of invoices will represent non-memorable gigs, just as on every shoot, some pictures just won’t be as good as others.

    You want to work as a photographer long term, for the long haul? Get over it. It’s a business, and artful business to be sure, and often a real joy.

    Sometimes though it’s not a real joy, it’s just a job. But you have money in your pocket to buy that x100s ’cause Zack says he loves it and you love him and you want to try it, or you can pay for that expensive website template, or turn some crappy gig into enough money to do 3 mailers to send out over the next quarter, or buy a plane ticket.

    If you’re waitressing or doing whatever, you’re not getting better, you’re not seeing, you’re not practicing.

    Get out there, commit.

    • Anne Almasy

      I totally hear you, Jamie! I cut my teeth on saying yes to everything that came my way. I shot my first wedding in 2001 – 13 years ago – and over the past decade+ I’ve done a lot of shooting that was forgettable. I like finally being in a place where I can embrace WHY I started shooting, and accept that maybe saying yes to everything isn’t my solution.

      Maybe for you, photography is a career choice. It’s a job that’s better than all the other jobs you could have.

      For me, photography is part of my heart. And really, truly, honestly, if I start hating photography, I’d rather be slinging lattes across a counter. There’s no shame or wrongness in that.

      No matter what we do to pay our bills, at the end of the day we need something that feeds our souls. When we begin to overlap the two, sometimes our soulfood becomes tasteless and unhealthy. If photography is going to be just a job for me, where will I get fed? Not literally, but spiritually, emotionally. These are the questions I’m trying to sort out for myself. And for now, my answer is that sometimes I need to say no.

    • David

      You know, it’s funny. When I was in high school and first getting into photography, I worked at my local feed store (small TX town). You are right, I didn’t learn anything about how to use off-camera flash better, or how to pose people. I did, however, learn how to talk to people and feel comfortable conversing with strangers. Many old cowboys would come in just to talk about what was going on, and I was another ear to lend to their tales.

      You’re under the assumption that simply taking photos is enough to get better. While this is true to some extent, this method does wear out very early on when learning photography. Eventually you have to make an effort to improve, and when you’re shooting stuff you’re not interested in or that gives you a bad feeling in your gut, you’re not going to improve. Yeah, sure, you’ll get the job done, but you probably going to perform adequately instead of great.

      I’d rather excel and improve by taking 3 jobs, instead of trudging through 10 jobs and not improving at all because I had miserable experiences.

      Also; some of us don’t need the fancy bells and whistles that come with being “successful” at the business of photography. I know a photographer who was miserable at her day job so she sold everything and went abroad with her camera. She builds WordPress websites for other photographers to make enough money to survive, but she hasn’t bought new gear in forever, and she doesn’t live lavishly. Money as the end-all be-all of photographic success is a very Western consumerist ideal that takes the heart out of the art/craft for me.

  23. S. Dirk Schafer

    That was very well written.
    If you can’t say no to a bad fit you’ll usually be sorry.

    Nice job Anne,


  24. Jay Rodriguez

    Wow, this was an awesome read. Thanks for reminding us that we are hard working people and that there are options.
    In our profession, as photographers we need to not only be educated but we also need to take the time and educate the people who want to hire us. We need to let them know that not only the pictures and portraits we make, we need to educate them and show that there’s value all around.
    Thx again for this refreshing read. #JustSayNo

  25. Karen

    Bravo! I have been in those shoes many, many times…. your words remind me it’s ok to pass… So hard when you are saying no to a paycheck. I have to remember it’s saying no to soul less work, and that should make it easier.
    Thanks for the read!

  26. Tyler Vance

    When we meet with a potential bride, she thinks she is interviewing us… but actually, we are interviewing her.

    Life is too short and there are too few weekends for a bad fit.

    We won’t take a weddings unless we meet the bride in person beforehand.


  27. Carrie

    Just wanted to say that I love reading your posts.

  28. Kelsey

    Great post to read as a beginning photographer. I have already had to say no, despite my novice status. I decided I wanted to be true to myself and my art from the beginning. Of course I believe in pushing outside the box and trying new things, but not at the expense of not listening to my gut. As someone new trying to break into the field, this reminder of WHY is so important. My why? I want to inspire people to chase their dreams and be authentic and my medium happens to be fine art photography. That why will always push me to be authentic and true in my own life.

    Thank you so much for your words and to all the commenters… truly inspiring.


  29. Ranti

    I recently asked myself the same question.Why am i doing this(photography)?After a lot of over thinking ,a bit of panicking and some drama on my part as in what i would LIKE to do instead and pay my bills with instead I came back to photography and the several reasons i chose it in the first place.I came across a quote from Charles Bukowski and it came back to me when I read the last sentence on this post of yours,” I’m gonna do it right if it breaks me.”.This quote(Bukowski’s) which set me of questioning why I wanted to be a photographer and other questions on wether or not I am doing something I like wether i am enjoying it or not at the moment.Here’s the quote:,
    “My dear,
    Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.

    For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.

    Falsely yours,
    Henry Charles Bukowski”
    I just thought I’d share it since your post sort of reminded me of it in general.

  30. Charlie

    That’s an interesting question. I like to create and I like art. I enjoy a bit of the technical and when I’m bored at work I secretly love to look at stuff I can’t afford. I love exploring things in my area, even if it’s just a simple drive in the country. The camera helps me do that. It pushes me out the door. My 8 year old self gets to go play in the mud puddles again. Also, I find so much negative comments about my area it’s nice to find beauty in what other people find boring. I’m an amateur photographer that never wants to make it a business.

    • Charlie

      Forgot to say thanks for the read. It made me think 🙂

  31. Fury

    Thank you. for this.

  32. Jon Ed Rowe

    I absolutely feel every word of this. I do photos on the side, mainly weddings and senior portraits, and there are those shoots that I just cringe at the thoughts of. I’m a people pleaser…and cave in if put on the spot.

    I am married now and try to get every free moment I can outside of work to spend with my lovely wife. Those moments I cave in take away from that, and those moments I cheapen my craft takes away from what we should have together.

    You’ve truly inspired me…thank you for your time in writing this, it really was great to read my own thoughts from someone else 🙂

  33. Patrick

    I think learning to say no is a necessary step for all of us – photographers or not – and you expressed it beautifully in this post. It is all about finding the right balance between being passionate and being able to make a living of it. It is so easy to get bitter and frustrated in this profession that it is essential to define your limits. Thank you for putting into words feeling that I share too. Patrick