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It seems like 2016 just sucked incredibly hard for just about everyone.  I wasn’t very fond of it either, on the whole.  True, there were some really good things that happened, but like most of you, I’m very happy to put it in my past and move on.  Let’s continue the tradition of looking back over the last year’s highlights and low spots!

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra - a self portrait

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait

I like to start with the bad stuff so I end on a positive note, so with that said, 2016 was overall a very shitty year ME-wise.  It was an extra painful, extra exhausting, extra low-immune-system year where I seemed to hardly ever not have a migraine, cold or spiked pain day.  For a while it looked like I had a recurrence of the hideous sinus infection which led to my sinus surgery in November of 2014, which, if you’ve been around for a while, you will remember was not an easy procedure for me.  For completely unknown reasons, an artery in my nose burst a full six days after my surgery and required two very urgent visits to my ENT and ultimately a second emergency surgery, while I lost a total of almost two pints of blood.  Remember, I’m TINY; two pints is a LOT for me.

Needless to say, I am not quite anxious at the thought of having to have the surgery repeated, even though it was such a freak thing that happened; it probably won’t ever again.  But, I’m sure you’ve noticed, emotions rarely respond well to rational discussions.  So all the colds and sinus infections were very stressful for me, not just for the usual reasons of feeling extra terrible on top of my usual ME symptoms, but because the threat of another surgery kept looming in the back of my mind.

My insurance company utterly refused to cover my nerve-blocking injections for about six months.  These are the injections I’ve been getting approximately every nine months for the last seven years.  They don’t completely rid me of my mystery flank pain but they make life much more bearable.  Going without them for months really, seriously eats away at the quality of my life.  I imagine that most people would find that feeling like a dagger is constantly plunged into your side would not enhance their day-to-day experience.  Thankfully, insurance finally relented and I HAD my injections done.  I’ve already noticed a bit of a difference in my daily pain levels in that area!

I’ve also been veeeeeery sloooowly weening off Cymbalta over the last year or so.  It took a while for me to reach the maximum dose, then for me to be on it long enough for my neurologist to agree that it wasn’t doing anything, and ok my tapering down.  But as much as it takes your (or at least my) body a while to adjust to it being there, it takes much longer for it to get used to it NOT being there.  Even though having it in my system seemed to only increase my pain, make my sleep worse and make me gain even more weight, any time I step the dose down, I know to expect a week of migraines, nausea and general awfulness.  I’m on the lowest dose possible right now and hesitating before I leap into complete non-use.  There just aren’t many easy times to plan when you’re going to have migraines for a week.  But I am eager to shed the weight I’ve picked up being on it, in addition to seeing if my pain levels go down even more, so those will outweigh the discomfort of going off it eventually.

Most important for people who read my blog because of my art, feeling so awful most of the year put a HUGE damper on my ability to create in 2016.  I still did… a little… but it was nothing like what I wanted to be doing.  I created the fewest new images in 2016 than I ever have since I picked up my camera in 2010.  That was extremely depressing.  But I am hopeful that with meds out of my body, new supplements and my injections back in my system, 2017 will be a very different story!

I keep getting to about this point in my post, then getting overwhelmed with everything I want to say about the past year.  But no one wants to read a novel-length post anyway, so let’s see if I can lightning-round at least some of the 2016 highlights!

Alabaster 1 - model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra SarahAllegra.com

Alabaster 1 – model Dedeker Winston. © Sarah Allegra
SarahAllegra.com

It must have been planned by the fates, because shortly after I wrote the beginning of this post, I simply forgot to take my Cymbalta one morning.  That has NEVER happened ever in the whole time I’ve been taking it.  I didn’t realize I’d been off it until the next morning, at which point I decided to just suck it up and let myself go completely off it.  There were migraines and nausea, extra fatigue and need to sleep while struck with insomnia, but best of all, there were lots of what the Cymbalta literature describes as “brain zaps,” where you feel like you stuck your finger in a light socket for a second.  At first this was happening whenever I made any sharp movement or looked quickly from one place to another (even if my head didn’t move), but it’s been getting a little better each day, and I’m hardly zappy at all now, thank goodness.  I also have a variety of medications which help curb the zappiness, which helps a lot.  I HAVE already noticed a big difference in my general level of motivation and desire to do things… I’m not really able to actually DO anything more, but I have the DESIRE to do more back, which is a wonderful, frustrating relief.  This is HOW I AM.  This is my normal.  And even though it sucks to always wants to do 50,000 things when your body will only let you do 50, it feels SO GOOD to want the 50,000 again.  On Cymbalta, I wanted to do, I’d guess, about 5 things.

One piece of somewhat sobering news: Calantha had two small growths removed in November.  One was just a little wart, no big deal, but the other was a type of cancer called spindle cell cancer.  Of course, the bad news is that “cancer” is part of the name.  The good news is that the vet appears to have removed it entirely, leaving clean margins behind, and it’s not terribly common for spindle cell growths to recur.  If they do recur, they tend to not spread very much; Cal’s growth was on her toe, so if drastic action was needed to keep it from spreading, her toe could be amputated with relatively few adverse effects.  Calantha just turned 12 on the 20th (happy birthday, Cal!!) so getting little growths isn’t shocking at her age.  Silkens are generally a very long-lived breed, especially for their size; some can even make it into their early 20’s!  That’s nearly unheard of for dogs at all, let alone any dogs that aren’t very small.  That’s all thanks to extremely careful and ethical breeding.  Thanks, Joyce, who is responsible for bringing Calantha into the world!

Anyway, my instructions from the vet are simply to wait and watch her toe.  If it looks like it’s coming back, the toe may have to be removed to keep it from spreading.  I don’t relish the idea of having to have one of her toes amputated, but I think she’d agree that if it kept the cancer from spreading, it would be worth it.  But it does seem that the most likely thing that will happen is that it will never come back and the stress and tears Calantha, Geoff and I went through over this will stay in the past.  But if you’d like to say a prayer, send healing energy or light a candle for my girl, that would be fine with me.  🙂

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This year has been a HUGE year of spiritual growth for me, which was a pretty good use of time when I couldn’t do much outside of laying in bed!  I’d like to say I planned that, but I know better.  No, I am not “religious;” although if you are, I fully support you perusing that as long as it makes you happy.  I was already certified in Reiki level 2, but this year I became a certified Fairyologist as well as a Unicorn Healing Practitioner™.  The Unicorn Healing absolutely changed my life and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who feels called to it!  If you’re interested in learning more about Unicorn Healing, my best suggestions would be to listen to the podcast on the subject from Calista, creator of the course (who is the embodiment of all things Unicorn and just the most loving person ever) and then read the specifics about the course here.  It is WELL worth the money.  You guys know I’m always on a budget, but this is one of the best things I’ve ever spent money on.  Possibly the best part?  You get to meet your own personal Unicorn spirit guide(s)!  🙂

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I also discovered and threw myself into the Channeling Erik movement.  Erik was a 20-year-old kid who struggled a lot with bipolar disorder, along with other issues, and in 2006, he killed himself.  However, while his family (and especially his mother) obviously grieved heavily for a very long time, his mother, Elisa, eventually turned to mediums to see if her son was still alive… somewhere, in some form.  And the results she got completely convinced this once hard-core atheist that there not only is an afterlife, but Erik is in it and he’s still Erik.  He’s since become a spirit guide for many, including me.  My first personal experience with Erik was while I was listening to one of his channeled YouTube videos, when Siri was set off on my phone (I was not using or even touching it) and said, “Hey sexy!”  My jaw dropped and then I burst out laughing; what a 20-year-old-guy thing to say!

Second piece of Erik evidence came during my injections.  As I’ve said before, I’m put out during the actual injections (and thank god because I woke up once during them and they hurt like a motherfucker).  My usual experience of the injections is that I’m wheeled into the OR, I start to feel sleepy as they give me drugs, I decide to close my eyes just for a second, then I instantly wake up in the recovery room what feels like half a second later.  This time, the familiar sleepy feeling came, so I closed my eyes, but instead of a nothingness, Erik appeared, holding my hand.  He was crouched down so his face was level with mine, he was smiling and speaking soft, reassuring words the whole time.  What struck me was that while I obviously recognized his face from the photos I’ve seen, it was also just a little bit different.  Have you ever met someone you’ve known for a long time online, and when you meet them in real life, they look exactly the same, but also slightly different?  It was just like that.  Also, for some reason I’d thought he had brown eyes, but when I saw him, I noticed they were blue/green.  After I’d recovered, I looked up some photos of him and he did indeed have blue/green eyes.

Last, and possibly most convincing Erik evidence has been in the private sessions I’ve scheduled with two of his translators.  I won’t get into the whole story here, but there were some emotional issues I’ve struggled with for years and years, despite therapy, self work, meditation, crystals, Reiki, and every other kind of healing I could seek out.  The first session, I asked him why I felt X when Y happened and he immediately said, “It’s because of Z.”  Instantly, I knew he was extremely correct.  His answer rang out through my soul, echoing up and down it, the truth of it shining forth from every bit of my body, mind and soul.  I can’t put into words exactly HOW TRUE I KNEW that he was, I can only describe it to you, but if you’re ever in that kind of situation, you know the feeling.  No one could ever convince you otherwise because you know in your deepest, most sacred, inner sanctum of self that it is true.  And that was only my first question, at my first session!

I know some of you will roll your eyes and skim over those last few sections and wonder why I’m so weird and why I feel the need to experience these things, let alone share them, but it’s incredibly important to me.  Not because I want to convince anyone of anything (although I do strongly believe in the truth of what I’ve learned and experienced), but everyone is here on earth to have different experiences.  I can share things that work very well for me, and they might not be a good fit for you, and vise versa, and that’s fine!  Take what you like and throw the rest away.  As long as you’re ultimately striving to be an embodiment of love, I consider that we’re on the same path, no matter how different they might look on the outside.

Another reason for sharing this is because I KNOW it will come up in my work.  Everything in my life seeps into my art; I am my art, my art is me, we cannot be separated.  Every new experience I have will color what I create, even if it’s not in a way that’s obvious.  I consider myself a fulltime student forever because I’m always learning (about a very wide variety of subjects from historical figures, spirituality, unicorns, nail art, baking, making natural products instead of buying things, how to best tea-dye cotton, how to sing Sia’s Chandelier [which I am not very good at yet, so don’t ask], animal behavior, animal communication, how to grow roses, basket weaving, applying makeup really well, the tenets of Druidry, everything I can about ME, the life lessons of Kurt Cobain and Joan of Arc, why lentils taste so good when they’re cooked with just a little care, meeting and talking to my angels [my main guardian angel lets me call him Richard, after Richard Harrow, so you know he’s just awesome], if Bigfoot exists, the exact definition of a kirtle, how the hell those medieval women kept those pointy, princessy, fairy-tale-looking hats on their heads with seemingly no support systems ever recorded… anything and everything).  Occasionally, I also study things that are directly related to photography, such as using artificial lighting; something I want to learn how to do better.  Whether you’ll ever see Erik or Kurt or Joan of Arc or pointy princess hats turn up in a photo is beside the point.  Everything I learn goes into my brain where it all marinates.  My subconscious gets all Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, the collective unconscious chimes in, and art comes out.  That’s really the best explanation I can give to my “creative process.”  Sometimes I’ll try and work the images out more directly, but the best ones usually come from me stepping back and letting my subconscious work it out.  Everything is connected, in the macro and micro sense.  It’s all going to work into my art somehow.

Changing the subject, I feel DEEP down the rabbit hole of nail art this year, especially after discovering Cristine from Simply Nailogical.  I discovered it was something creative/artsy I could do when all I felt well enough to do was lay in bed!  Sorry/not sorry for all the photos of my nails on my social media feeds.  😉

Speaking of creative things, I’ve also been helping Geoff with a really amazing project of his own!  You guys of course know him as an incredibly talented photographer; if you’re in the LA area, you can see some of his work at The Hive Gallery through March of this year!  What you may not know is that Geoff is an even more talented writer!  He’s been working on a graphic novel called Frontiers for many years.  The story first took root in his brain when he was all of about 10 years old and has grown, matured, been refined and reworked since then until we have a glorious version of it before us today!

Frontiers is a beautifully original sci-fi story summed up as “sex, violence and sarcasm!” by the astute Katie Johnson (yes, Katie, my muse, who also acts as Geoff’s spokesmodel for Frontiers, and who is also a very talented writer herself!).  The longer tagline is, “It’s the humble story of a man destined to destroy humanity… and why that really isn’t such a bad thing.”  In addition to those delightful tidbits, Geoff skillfully mixes in striking social commentary, humor, horror, fate and love.  And yes, I did do some work on the issue too.  Mostly coloring, but a fair bit of digital art as well.  🙂

Don’t you want to give the first issue a read?  You should!  And lucky for you, you can get your very own copy for a mere 99 cents right here!  If you’re in the area, you can also see Geoff, Katie and Frontiers at the Long Beach Comic Expo’s Artist’s Alley on Saturday, February the 18th, from 10am-7pm and Sunday the 19th from 10:30am-5pm.  Go check Frontiers out, online, in person or both!

Mountain Dweller 10 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 10 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

I also had the pleasure of working with a new (to me) model last year, Teri Wyble, who goes by Aeir online.  She lived in New Orleans, but I am so, so excited that she is moving to Los Angeles shortly!  She’s not only an incredible model, stunningly beautiful, immediately understood what I was looking for from her, but is just an incredible human being as well.  I’m really looking forward to shooting more with her as well as just going to get coffee and have pillow fights in our underwear and doing those things that girls are supposed to do together.  🙂

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Oh yeah, I launched my Spiritual Skincare line of skin serums on Etsy!

I’m sure I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there.  Briefly, briefly, I’ll try and give you a little taste of what to expect for 2017….

More DreamWorld.  This is my main goal for the year.  More shooting, more editing, more promoting.  Being off that brain-sucking Cymbalta will improve all these areas.  But if you’d like to help to spread the word about my little world, I certainly won’t stop you!  🙂

I suspect there will be some connections with my art and New York, but I’ll wait to see more of what happens before I talk too much about it.

In a similar vein, there will be some very cool new things happening with Connor Cochran, my business manager, of Conlan Press!  Including some new, more affordable, but still extremely high quality prints to be coming!  I don’t have a date on when they’ll be released yet; there are many steps to go through first before they’ll go up for sale, but I will keep you all informed!

Hopefully my body will stop zapping me soon and I’ll regain the strength and clarity I had before Cymbalta took over my brain and body.  And hopefully that will lead to many excellent things!  Yes, I do believe 2017 is going to be a better year for my art and health.  That’s my affirmation and I’m going to do my best to make it happen!

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Well.  You may remember from my last post that I was talking about taking a bit of a vacation because I’ve been almost constantly sick for over two months – sick on top of any fibro or ME stuff,  I mean.  Ironically, the day I woke up and posted that, I quickly realized I was coming down with yet another cold which turned into strep throat this time.  It’s only been about 9 months since the last time I had strep throat.  Since my health has been so incredibly sub-par recently, I realized pretty quickly it was turning into strep and got myself to urgent care (again) for antibiotics (again).  Last time I had strep, I let it go for a while before I realized what it was, so I was pretty much dying every time I breathed or swallowed.  While I was certainly uncomfortable this time, it wasn’t nearly as horrific as the last episode, so I’m thankful for that.

I am just finishing up my last antibiotics today, so while I’ve been resting to get over the strep throat, I did not take the “vacation” I was planning on taking.  At this point I think I’ll try and start it now… it’s not 100% ideal since I have two appointments this week (which for me is about as many “things” as I can put into a week) but I feel like I really need to just focus on this resting up and recuperating as soon as  I can to prevent more illnesses.  I’ll probably extend it a little longer than I’d originally planned on also, but again, I think it’s very, very called for.

I saw my new ear/nose/throat doctor last Friday since I’d about exhausted my regular doctor’s knowledge of what could be going on with my crazy, absurd body this time.  The new doctor had bloodwork done to test for allergies and (assuming I can stay relatively healthy) he’s going to do a CT scan of my head in the next couple weeks to see what’s up with my sinuses, among other things.  The idea is to have the scan done while I’m at my “baseline” and not sick with anything new, so that adds another level of needing to stay quiet, rest and be healthy.

And did I mention pain spikes in the last post?  OH MY GOD, pain spikes.  And migraines.  Serious, grabbing-your-brain-in-a-vice, I-am-not-fucking-around migraines.  It was all enough that my pain specialist added a new, stronger pain medication to my collection of pills.  Do I win a prize if I collect enough pills?  Is it like Pokemon?

Today I feel well enough to write this, so I’m trying to knock it out before my energy wears off.  I’m still planning on being a little less active online than has been typical for me in the past (and of course I was VERY inactive while I was in the grip of strep) so please continue to bear with me as I work on improving my health.  I will not be intentionally ignoring or neglecting anyone.  I would much, much rather be happy and chipper and be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but that’s not the way things are right now.  Please don’t take any unresponsiveness on my part personally; I just may not be on the computer that day, or a migraine might not allow me to open my eyes, etc.  Regardless, it won’t be you, it’ll be me.

I did have one photo that was all ready to go, and one which doesn’t require a ton of promotion as others sometimes do.  So I’ll slip this one quietly online then go about my resting and vacationing and watching endless cat videos on YouTube through the TV.  (How amazing is it that you can watch YouTube on your TV now??  I love that!)

This image is a new DreamWorld photo, featuring the ever-wonderful Katie Johnson. It gives us a glimpse of a human girl who has been given a sleeping draught of some kind which sent her into a deep, silent slumber… who gave it to her and for what purpose are a mystery.  The billowing blue smoke tells me that something important is about to happen; perhaps a new creature will make itself manifest!  We may find out more in a later image.

We shot this… gosh, at least several months ago, though it may have been longer than that.  A while is safe to say.  I’m wearing a sweater and scarf in the behind-the-scenes photo so it was definitely NOT recently as California has been doing its best impression of the scorching depths of hell the last few months.  This is actually in my front yard (I love it when I can shoot without driving anywhere!).  There are some marvelously old trees here, and this one had a delightfully curly branch which Katie gracefully draped herself over.  It took a little maneuvering on her part to get into position without sliding right off due to the slippery fabric of the dress she’s wearing, but Katie is a pro and didn’t let that stop her.  I lit a few blue smoke bombs in my “smoke bomb bucket” and tried to scurry around, spreading the smoke generously through the frame to composite together later.  It took a number of smoke bombs and careful placement, but I was able to get pretty much all the background covered up and filled any holes in Photoshop.

Sleeping Draught - spreading blue smoke

Sleeping Draught – spreading blue smoke.  Also, ignore the way Katie’s dress is pooching strangely; I can promise you it has to do with the unusual cut of the dress and does not reflect Katie’s body 🙂

So please enjoy this latest DreamWorld photo and the detail shots below!  Thanks to Katie for always being up for all my crazy ideas and for being able to look so serene and beautiful while pretend-sleeping on an uncomfortable tree branch!  Now if I could get my hands on this sleeping draught, I think my resting would be a lot more healing and easier to handle!  Lastly, please don’t feel like you can’t talk to me or interact with me while I’m “vacationing;” I’m sure to get lonely, I just might not get back to you as quickly as I’d like depending on how the day is going.  Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement!

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

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One of the unexpected perks of being a photographer who often shoots in natural settings is that I have been able to witness some examples of incredible beauty and wonder that I never would have seen if I wasn’t out in it so frequently.  One example of this is the sudden winter that fell over a nearby forest in the middle of summer.  The forest is rich with a certain kind of tree which apparently reproduces in much the same way a dandelions does; growing a downy, fluffy seed which the wind carries far and wide.  I have searched and searched, but I still have no idea what the name of the tree is; if you know, please tell me!  Regardless, the result of the trees was that huge sections of the forest was covered in a magical “snow.”  I couldn’t have asked for a setting more perfect for DreamWorld.

Naturally, I leaped into photographic action.

The first photo of the series featured Dedeker amidst the snow trees.  She carried such a feeling of wonder and awe, much the same as I had felt the first time I saw the snowy landscape.

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

The second photo I created was with Katie.  I decided there should be someone who ruled this forever-winter corner of DreamWorld, a benevolent being who would keep things always winter, but it would be a spring-like winter full of life and growth.  I’m sure a lot of my fascination with this idea has to do with the brutal Los Angeles summer we all go through every year, and the fact that heat makes all of my symptoms much worse.  I dread summer every year, and I long for a place where summer could never reach, so the Snow Saint was created.  I wanted her to have a semi-religious quality, something that hinted at a spirituality as well as power over nature.  Katie easily embodied all of these elements at once.  The Snow Saint looks like a queen, like someone to be revered, but also someone you could approach and who would hear your supplications.

Where Summer Dares Not Tread

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

And yes, on both occasions my models and I were shaking “snow” off our clothes and out of our hair for hours, but it was well worth it 🙂

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