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Just a quick note here for you guys to direct you to the guest blog post I wrote for Robin McKinley!  You know Robin McKinley, author of Deerskin and The Hero and the Crown, two of the most defining books of my life (along with The Last Unicorn).  I’ll be talking in the posts about art, ME and most specifically about creating DreamWorld.

Isn't this just the MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER EVER?? The cover was what got my attention when I was 19 and first read it. My childhood dog had also recently been put to sleep and I saw my mom reading it not long after that event. I guess I asked her why she was reading it because I remember her saying that there were lots of dogs in the book, and the way that Robin McKinley wrote about them made my mom think that she would understand how devastated we both were by his loss. I can only say that as I've had the truly delightful pleasure of getting to know Robin a bit personally, I am 100% sure my mother is right.

Isn’t this just the MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK COVER EVER?? The cover was what got my attention when I was 19 and first read it. My childhood dog had also recently been put to sleep and I saw my mom reading it not long after that event. I guess I asked her why she was reading it because I remember her saying that there were lots of dogs in the book, and the way that Robin McKinley wrote about them made my mom think that she would understand how devastated we both were by his loss. I can only say that as I’ve had the truly delightful pleasure of getting to know Robin a bit personally, I am 100% sure my mother is right.

The article I turned in to her was SO LONG that she was able to break it up into three chunks, so I’ll link to them as they go up!

In the meantime, enjoy this post!  Have a look at the rest of her blog too; it’s WELL worth subscribing to!  It’s one of the few blogs which, if I get behind on emails and they pile up in my inbox, I actually save and read them all instead of scrapping the old ones and tuning in to just the recent ones.  Plus, she loves sighthounds as much as I do.  In fact, Deerskin is a big part of why I love sighthounds so much.

Anyway, here’s a link; enjoy!

Creating DreamWorld, Part I – guest post by Sarah Allegra

 

*****

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Well, this is fun!  I had the pleasure of getting to meet with Timothy Rutt recently, a journalist who writes for the Altadena Blog.  He conduced an interview with me about my art, and it is up, so please head over to his page to check it out!

I’ve got some cool things to share with you guys over the next week!  🙂

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I’ve been talking a lot recently about the art side of my life here recently, which is perfectly appropriate; there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I intended for this blog to also touch on other parts of my life, and especially my constant struggle with my health.

I’ll be repeating myself a bit for older readers, but it’s been nearly five years since my body started dramatically falling to pieces.  There were many months before I had any idea what was happening at all, and really, I still don’t have the answers.  Eventually it was determined that I have myalgic encephalomyelitis, aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and mystery chronic pain for which there is NO explanation, except that it may be related to the ME.  Most of you probably know all this already.

The quest over the last few years to find answers and, hopefully, cures or a least treatments, has been extremely frustrating and rarely fruitful.  I have seen nearly a dozen different specialists during this time, and of course I have done tremendous amounts of my own research and reading about anything that seemed like it even might be helpful.  The problem always boils down to the simple fact that no one knows what causes ME.  If you talk to 50 different doctors or ME sufferers, you will get 50 different opinions about what the cause is, an what treatments might help.  It seems I have tried nearly everything at this point, although I’m sure that if I did a little more digging I could learn about rarer, more exotic and expensive non-Western things to try.

In all the reading I’ve done, and in listening to my own body and seeing how it behaves and responds (or, often, doesn’t respond) to things, I’ve come to believe that ME is ultimately a neurological disease.  There are several articles which come to mind that support this idea, but one of the things that really helped convince me was the documentary Voices From The Shadows.  I will warn you, it is not a cheery piece.  You may find watching it quite upsetting, especially if one of your loved ones has ME.  But they talk quite a bit about the autopsies done of people who died of ME, and every single one of the showed brain abnormalities.  Inflammation of the central nervous system if I’m remembering right, but don’t quote me on that.  But it just seems to make sense that this really all starts somewhere in the brain from what I see in my body.

Because I believe ME is essentially a brain malfunction, I’ve been wanting to see a neurologist for quite a while, but without any more blatantly neurologic symptoms to convince my insurance, they wouldn’t approve a visits.  But for better or worse, I’ve been tripping a lot lately.  The first couple times you can write it off as just being clumsy or not paying attention, but then it started increasing.  As the tripping increased, I also began to feel more disoriented while I was driving; mostly over longer distances and on the freeway… it just felt like everything was hurtling at me so fast I was having trouble processing it all, which was a bit alarming.  Armed with those new symptoms, my insurance finally agreed to let me see a neurologist.

The first neurologist I was sent to refused to see me for very suspicious reasons that really, truly seemed to be based solely on me having ME.  Well, I wouldn’t be the first ME patient to be discriminated against, and if the doctor was going to be such an asshole about it, I’m glad I didn’t even have to have an appointment with him.  The second one I was sent to was very different.  I loved him.  He not only believes in ME’s mere existence, but also believes that it is a physical and neurological disease.

But, as he told me in the kindest and most caring way, there was absolutely nothing he could do for me.  The only way he knows how to do any fighting against the disease is simply treating the symptoms, which he admits is woefully inadequate.  He did a neuro exam on me just to be 100% sure I don’t have MS, or a brain tumor, or anything else they might be able to actually treat, but I passed all the tests beautifully.  He made an interesting argument suggesting that fibromyalgia and ME are essentially the same thing, which was a new thought for me, and raised other interesting points and questions also.

His theory about what causes fibro and ME is that, essentially, our brains let in more stimulus than they ought to, and the amplify it even more.  Which would explain the completely disproportionate pain we feel, our sensitivity to light and noise and smell, and plain old visual stimulation.  Every time I go to the grocery store, I have to steel myself beforehand, because I know all the lights and people and noise and navigating through it all is going to suck.  Unless someone comes up with a more sound theory, I’m going to stick with this one.

The appointment was informative, the doctor was so caring and kind; he went out of his way to answer questions and took a lot of time with us.  He talked a lot about the problems fibro and ME people face with the medical community and public disbelieving us often.  It was a very valuable appoinment just for the sheer validation from the doctor.

But, oh, I had not realized how much I was hoping he would be able to help me until I knew he couldn’t.

I don’t think there are any other specialists left to see.  He was the last one on the list of anyone who even might have something to offer me.  He was also the one I was holding out the most hope for.  It felt like I’d finally reached the Wizard of Oz, and there was nothing in his black bag for me.  Truthfully, it was heartbreaking.

For most of this health journey, I’ve felt that I’ve been mostly on my own; that it’s up to me to find a cure for myself, and I feel that more than ever now.  The neurologist suggested that the medical community might have answers, and perhaps cures (or at least better treatments) within my lifetime, but that is a cold comfort right now.

This disease wears on you.  Bearing it for a day is something anyone could do; it’s the relentless suffering with no relief that breaks you.  Having only the vaguest, most nebulous hopes for it ever changing is a bitter, bitter pill.  The last few days have been very depressing.

I have not given up.  I will not give up.  But having what seemed like the best chance of change and improvement disappoint so will require some time to bounce back from.  For the time being, I need to metaphorically retreat and let my wounds heal before I can start battling again.  I need time to shed some tears and allow myself to grieve the lost hope.

And whenever I write posts like this, I always want to say that I know it can be worse.  I do not think that the things in my life are the worst things that have happened in anyone’s life ever.  I know that.  But I also know that other peoples’ pain and suffering doesn’t invalidate mine, and refusing to acknowledge them for being as painful as they are will do me no good.  You can’t heal from something you deny.

So thank you all for listening to me, and special thanks to those who have been sending well wishes and prayers.  Extra thanks to my friends and family for listening to me so patiently and lovingly.  This too will pass.  It will take time, and it may suck for a while, but it will pass.

They Lived To See The Dawn - This photo feels appropriate for this post; a girl and her dog who have made it through some very dark times, but made it out ok.

They Lived To See The Dawn – This photo feels appropriate for this post; a girl and her dog who have made it through some very dark times, but made it out ok.

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I can’t remember now how I came across Phlearn.com, although I imagine it probably had to do with Googling some kind of Photoshop technique I was having trouble with. However I found out about them, I am SO glad I did! There is no better site on the entire internet for providing photography and editing tutorials. And so many of their episodes are free! They also sell very in-depth, comprehensive Pro Tutorials for a very nominal price considering the wealth of knowledge each one contains. I myself have bought and thoroughly enjoyed several of the Pros, and I’ve been watching their frequent free episodes with pleasure. There are few times I watch an episode and don’t exclaim, “holy shit, I had no idea you could do that!” at least once.

The thing is, Phlearn teaches me things that I’m interested in learning. Let me give you an example; I’ll introduce you to them the way I came to them, with an episode on editing your photo to give it a fairy tale feel. As soon as I saw the title, I knew I was in for something very different. The internet is full of information about Photoshop, and many tutorials, yes, but few like this. No other site comes close to matching Phlearn’s inventiveness, it’s constant ability to stretch and challenge itself and its audience, while simultaneously breaking Photoshop down into understandable chunks. I’d been editing my photos, doing composites and levitation photos for a while; I was not unfamiliar with Photoshop, but I feel that my skills have improved dramatically since I’ve been watching Phlearn. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Phlearn’s founder, Aaron Nace, and how much he personally adds to the learning experience. He is friendly and silly, and immediately puts you at ease, like your good buddy is talking to you. But that ease is combined with an unmatched, nearly omniscient knowledge of Photoshop, and a gift for explaining complicated things in a way that’s easy to grasp. Phlearn would not be Phlearn without Aaron… who is also unfailingly nice every time we interact on Twitter 🙂

Want some more examples of the kind of instructions you’ll be getting with Phlearn? Here you go.  Turn day into night.   What makes a good composition: Analyzing 7 great imagesHow to create a cinemagraphCreate stars and fog in PhotoshopChanging the mood of your photo with color and textureCreate scary eyes Make Lady Gaga-esque makeup.

The list of episodes just go on and on. They run the gamut from lighting, composition and other photo basics to the surreal and fantastic. That’s why I love them; they cover absolutely everything useful and interesting about photography and Photoshop. If I ever have a question about either subject, I look to Phlearn first, and there’s usually a video ready to explain it to me.

Plearn is so endlessly inspiring to me, it’s difficult to pick out just one photo of mine and point to it as a direct result of an episode. I tend to use bits and pieces here and there, and weave them into my photos naturally as the need arises. But, here are a few I can point to where the hand of Phlearn can be seen.

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain't Lived - I replaced the original tree in the background with a different tree I'd shot, "tailored" the dress to fit Veronica better, and did a lot of color work.

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain’t Lived – I replaced the original tree in the background with a different tree I’d shot, “tailored” the dress to fit Veronica better, and did a lot of color work.

The Rending - I used color toning techniques, light theory and created lighting effects all learned from Phlearn.

The Rending – I used color toning techniques, light theory and created lighting effects all learned from Phlearn.

The Importance Of Mortality - another self portrait.  I used lighting and light painting techniques I learned through Phlearn, as well as adding in the atmospheric "dust" or faint "stars," however you want to describe them :)

The Importance Of Mortality – another self portrait. I used lighting and light painting techniques I learned through Phlearn, as well as adding in the atmospheric “dust” or faint “stars,” however you want to describe them 🙂

 

And no, I’m not getting paid in any way for this post; no one’s even asked me to write it.  I just genuinely love Phlearn.  It’s such an incredibly useful site that gives so much while asking for nothing.  Aaron Nace is committed to spreading knowledge as far and wide as possible, so that all can benefit from it.  That’s such a rare and worthy motivation.  So since other people who read my blog are also into photography, I wanted to make sure everyone knew about Phlearn, to keep the knowledge growing.  And maybe have the chance to thank Aaron and all the other people it takes to run Phlearn just a little bit for all their very hard work.  It is certainly appreciated 🙂
Don’t forget to order your 2013 calendar of my work soon if you want it for Christmas! The blank cards would make excellent stocking stuffers also 🙂
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