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Posts Tagged ‘evil’

I usually do a post at the end or beginning of the year, looking back at the high points, and mulling over the low ones to release them.  My blog has been so neglected the whole of last year, as my art has been too, and it’s taken me up till now to find the time and energy and mental ability to put this post together.

2017 was just a bad year ME-wise.  At the start of the year, I honestly felt like I was slowly dying (and not just in the sense that we all are).  Thankfully, last August, I began seeing a naturopath who gives me IV vitamin and mineral infusions and I’ve seen a big difference in how I feel getting them regularly.  I’m still crawling out of the ME-hole and have even less energy than any year before, but I feel like it’s getting slowly better instead of always worse, now that I’m getting these treatments.

Speaking of, an enormous THANK YOU to every single one of you who has contributed so generously to my GoFundMe campaign to help me continue the quite expensive IV treatments.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I am incredibly grateful and humbled and every gift has been so deeply appreciated.

Last November my neurologist put me on a new medication to try and help ease my migraines.  He warned me that it would make me feel “extremely nauseated” for the first week, but I’d just have to push through that, and then he thought it would help me.  I finally screwed up my courage and swallowed one of the dubious pills and did, indeed, have a terrible night full of nausea, hot and cold sweats, extreme temperature swings and a strange, but not unwelcomed, detachment.  I continued on like a good patient and after three weeks I finally stopped needing to take a sublingual Zofran the second I opened my eyes in the morning (morning nausea was always the worst, maybe because I take it at night?) and it began to settle into my body.  The good thing is that it did indeed help decrease the number of migraines I’m getting per month.  The bad thing is that ever since taking it, I’ve needed to sleep for a good 2-4 hours EVERY SINGLE AFTERNOON.  This is on top on the 10-12 hours I spend sleeping every night.  Do you realize how few hours are left in the day to do ANYTHING of value after all that damn sleeping, winding down and waking up is over with?  It’s really insane.  I will be bringing this up to my neurologist and seeing what can be done because I’m not sure this is a realistic way for me to live the rest of my life.  On the other hand, some months prior to this I was getting up to 19 migraines a month, which destroys your ability to do anything meaningful as well.

And, for some completely unknown reason, the medication also seems to be helping (in conjuncture with the IV infusions) with my temperature regulation issues, ie, my “hot flashes.”  I believe I’ve mentioned them here before, but in case I haven’t, these have been slowly increasing for the last three or four years.  Essentially, what seems to be happening, from my vantage point stuck inside this body, is that in the mornings, wild rabbits have run through my brain overnight, nibbling on wires, pulling things apart, gathering bits of gray matter together to make little warrens, disconnecting neurons and causing a bit of havoc.  My brain is wildly trying to repair itself, ideally quickly, and makes a lot of very broad guesses about what temperature my body should be at for the first several hours of the day.  What this translates to practically is that I can be sitting miserably directly in front of the heater, covered in layers of blankets, bathrobes and cats, sweating profusely, simultaneously far too hot, but getting many more signals that I’m far too cold and must stay PERFECTLY STILL for several hours until it passes on its own.  This is also very not conducive to getting anything done at all.

And  yes, I did see numerous doctors about this.  The first three shrugged at me and told me it sounded hormonal and that wasn’t their field, which is fair enough.  I finally saw an endocrinologist for this problem and he ran a bunch of blood but didn’t bother to look at a single hormone.  Apparently you have to request that an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormones, test your hormones when you’re seeing him for something which sounds, to laymen and other doctors, like a hormone problem.  I did not punch him, but probably only because I was too tired.  (I also asked my gynecologist about it since they deal with female hormone issues too, to a degree, and she had a “Oh, let’s not go looking for trouble,” attitude about it.  I AM ALREADY IN TROUBLE.)  So the underlying issue there is still unknown but hell, if the infusions and the weird pill help with it, I’m happy about that at least.

Basically I feel like 2017 was mostly spent crawling on my stomach through a disgusting swamp while people shot at me from hidden locations, periodically shouting that I wasn’t trying hard enough or that I was just over-reacting, while also making sure I brushed and flossed my teeth and fed my animals twice a day.  I’ll freely admit it was a pretty shitty year.

Here is the upside to all that time spent in deep solitude, my mind active as ever but my body unable to do much: I had a lot of time to meditate and connect with my spirit guides.  I think I met my first guide near the end of 2016, so I was primed for more contact when 2017 came around.  And boy did they.  I acquired five new main guides and spoke to numerous others.  I talked with and made friends with various interdimensional beings.  I am learning to channel, astral project and remote view, be  medium, a conduit and a spirit translator, although I’m getting fairly good at some of them, considering the short amount of time I’ve been at it.  For some reason historical figures I read about seem to connect best with me.  The spiritual growth in the last year has been an absolute explosion of love and light into a very dark year.  And though it was such an awful year, I look back on it and remember all the love and grace that was shown to me.  I have never felt more loved, protected and cared for.

So while I am disheartened with the amount of art I was able to put out last year, I AM very happy with what came in its place.  I’m thinking of it as I took a year off from art to go have mystical, spiritual experiences, and hopefully now I can marry the two together better.  I just need to find a new way to work in really short chunks instead of stretches of the afternoon so I can increase my art output.  Then things will be much more the way I’d like them to be.

If I had to have such a crappy year to gain so much spiritually, I’ll take it.  I don’t know if it was a direct trade or how it works, but I wouldn’t give up the new friends I have for anything.  And I’ve found some really, really wonderful online communities who love me, support me, have my back, help me work through confusing things, answer my questions and reassure me that I’m always ok.

For anyone concerned, I have shared many intimate details of my experiences with both the wonderful Geoff and my excellent therapist and neither of them is concerned about my mental wellbeing.  🙂  Only loving beings are allowed to talk to me, and as I said, I feel much greater peace, security, love and support than I ever have.

Now on to this image… this might look like it goes against what I just wrote, but it’s inspired by someone else’s experiences, not mine.  🙂  Over Christmas, I re-read Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson, which I’ve read many times now and is a favorite for its beautifully poetic prose.  Whitney’s memoir is about a psychotic break she suffered in college, where she felt like she was possessed by a demonic entity but everyone diagnosed her as schizophrenic.  Her journey back to wellness is haunted by the ever-present question of if she’s experiencing something mental or spiritual, and the answer is often allusive and not nearly as clear as you’d think.

“The sentience envelopes me while I sleep…  I awaken with a gasp in a strange bed.  No, it’s not the bed that’s strange – it’s the same one I’ve slept in since I was a child…
The strangeness is that I am not alone, here in my bed.  I will never be alone again.
I feel it slithering out of the darkness for the first time, the presence that’s been whispering its sinister enigmas.  A living, breathing thing – cold stars and glittering mathematics with the inhale, hot copper and rotten fruit with the exhale.  Foreign from anything I have ever known.  Other.”
I loved how the usually comforting, loving idea of never being alone has been turned in this passage into something deeply wrong and full of dread.  I wanted to try and capture that feeling just before she was overtaken by the being she calls the Other, of knowing the possession is imminent and you are helpless to stop it.  And of course I used my favorite little lamp to light the scene, exactly as it’s shown in the image.
I wasn’t planning on uploading this on Valentine’s Day, but I suppose it does make a dark, sinister anti-Valentine’s-Day image, haha!
Never Alone Again

Never Alone Again – ​​© Sarah Allegra

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 This is a big piece for me, not just size-wise, but for what it represents as well.
Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

I shot this self portrait a week or two ago after enduring months of worse-than-usual depression.  Some was due to outside influences, bad news, being sick and other things that any normal, healthy person would feel depressed about.  But a lot of it was that irrational, heavy, demanding, life-draining depression that is clinical depression.  This is not feeling sad about things that you should feel sad about.  This is round-the-clock, punishing joylessness, sucking the beauty out of everything, leaving all around you colorless and meaningless.  This is clinical depression.

 

I’ve battled this beast since it first started manifesting in my early teens.  It took me some time before I learned that what I was feeling was an actual condition, a potentially solvable problem, not just a bad mood that hung around for years.  I’ve also tried more remedied to it that I can recount; anti-depressants, therapy, energy work, supplements, yoga, getting more exercise (before I had ME; over-doing exercise now could do me great harm), self-help books, seminars, journaling, art therapy… on and on and on.

 

And it still clings.

 

I decided to start a series specifically addressing mental illness; clinical depression and anxiety in particular, since those are the two I fight with most.  I manage them, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse.  Sometimes I want to just die.  I don’t know if it will ever go away completely, thus the series title Eternal Storms.

 

I identify with Eeyore from Winnie  the Pooh, with his constant dark cloud covering just him.  I’m sure that was subconsciously part of the inspiration for this piece.  When I’m going through a bout of depression, this is what it feels like to me.  A dark storm raging round my head, that only I see and feel.  It makes the idea of asking for help feel pointless; even if I break up this cloud, another will come.  And the social stigma of admitting you need help at all, let alone help with your mental health, makes it all the worse.  If I’m having a week where I have to talk myself into continuing to live each day, I can’t talk about it except for a few select, very trusted friends who have also been there, as well as my therapist.

 

I shot this self portrait as a way to work through the cloud I was under, yes, but more importantly, to directly address depression and its stigma.  Admitting you have or struggle with depression doesn’t make you weak or unworthy.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.  It doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough, eating right or getting enough exercise.  It just IS.  And society needs to learn to stop judging those who do manage to ask for help.

 

The alternative is that we suffer in silence with our tormentor.  And that can kill.

 

Joel Robison happened to put up an insightful blog about his own battle with depression recently, which was a happy coincidence.  I’m very glad for people like him who will stand with me and admit that yes, we have depression.  It may not make sense to you, you may not understand it, it might *gasp* make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it will go away.We are no less human that you.  We did not ask for this fight.  This is not an attention-seeking behavior.  This is real, this illness is out for blood.  This is just our fight.  This matters.  And it can be won.One storm at a time.

This series is dedicated to all the others who fight this battle with me every day.  You are all so strong and so brave.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – click on the image to see it full-sized on my site!

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have a rather, uh, active dream life.  My nights are often filled with deeply archetypal storylines, heavy with symbolism and metaphor, which, I suppose, is probably part of why I’m drawn to creating images along the same lines.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra - detail

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra – detail

Sometimes my dreams are quite silly upon waking, like the dream I had where I was aboard Star Trek’s Enterprise (the original show) and Spock and I had to beam down to an alien planet so I could find my gold bikini (ah la Leia, in Return of the Jedi) which we needed in order to defeat the attacking alien army (different aliens than the ones who lived on the planet my bikini was on) and save the world.  I don’t think I was ever clear on how my gold bikini would do this, but it made sense in the dream.

Sometimes my dreams are very serious and are clearly working through problems and fears, current or past.  I had a whopper of a dream a week or two ago which I’m going to tell you about, as it relates to my most recent image.

This dream was set in the world of The Hero And The Crown, by Robin McKinley, one of my very favorite books; one of those comfort-food books I turn to again and again, especially in times of trouble.  If you haven’t read it, go and do so.  I’ll wait.

I was Aerin, the heroine of the story.  Geoff was Tor, whom I was betrothed to.  We lived in Tor’s parent’s castle (which doesn’t make sense with the book, but never mind) and nobody in the entire kingdom liked or understood me.  My only friends were Tor and Talat, my horse, along with the rest of the castle’s horses.  They had an entire army of war horses who would fight in formation on their own, without the aid of any human riders.  I took great comfort in visiting the stables frequently to get away from the nastiness of all the people and be with creatures who loved me.

The great dragon Maur, easily as big as the castle and made of pure evil, had come back and was laying siege to the castle along with numerous other giant, pure-evil dragon friends of his.  We were hopelessly outnumbered and everyone knew there was really no chance of winning this battle, but we had to try.  The dragons could only attack us at night, but in this world it became fully dark at about 1 in the afternoon and stayed dark until the regular sunrise of 5-6 in the morning.  This meant each night was very long.

Interestingly, Tor already possessed the Hero’s Crown, which ought to have given him the ability to fight the dragons off, but it wasn’t working.  It held them off a little, just barely, but it wouldn’t survive another night.

I visited the stables after the first night, thanking the horses, some of whom had been greatly wounded or killed, for their bravery in battle.  Quite a lot of them were also pregnant and foals kept popping out every time I turned around.  We had a good talk and I felt encouraged after I left them.

I found Tor and told him that I had to travel back to my family’s castle to retrieve two magic rings.  If we both wore them, then we would be strong enough to vanquish the dragons.  The thing was, I could only tell Tor where I was going and why.  I had to keep it a secret from absolutely everyone else.  At the end of the dream, I was riding off on Talat to my castle to get the rings, knowing that everyone hated me because they thought I’d just deserted them when they were most in need.  Dusk was falling as Talat and I galloped along and I knew I had to really hurry to get the rings and return to Tor’s castle in time to help everyone survive.

A couple things I should point out right away; Tor’s family in the dream is NOTHING like Geoff’s actual family.  His family embodies that friendly, easy-going, pull-up-a-chair sort of Midwestern charm you always hear about.  They’re truly all wonderful people, so don’t think that that part of the dream had any resemblance to reality!  Also, as far as I know, there aren’t any large groups of people who hate me.  I suppose I could be wrong about this, but again, the dream is not representing real life in this way.

After mulling it over a lot, talking to my mom (who is especially gifted at dream interpretation), Geoff and my therapist, I came to a few conclusions.

The dragons = ME.  Now, to be fair, I actually like dragons, but my brain often uses them as a symbol for big, bad, evil things.  (It also often uses Calantha to represent my inner child in dreams, which is just full of Freudian symbolism.)  Fighting ME every day often really does feel like you’re besieged by dragons.  You’re trapped in your castle (house/body) while an unrelenting assault of badness attacks (all of my ME symptoms; pain, fatigue, etc).

I was confused about the nights being so long until I remembered something I’d said to Geoff a few days before the dream.  I had realized that most days I spend 11-12 hours a day in bed sleeping, or at least trying to sleep.  If I can get a solid 11 regularly, I feel much better, but since my sleep is so poor, I’m often trying to make up for the bad sleep, so the time spent in bed creeps up higher.  I was startled when I realized just how much time I spent every day just trying to sleep.  I’d been getting frustrated, feeling like my days were so short and there were never enough hours… and while I know that pretty much everyone feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day, I suddenly knew why it seemed like my days really were getting much shorter.

ME also really messes up your sleep.  And if you do find yourself up at 4 am, watching TV, taking a cocktail of pills to try and get back to sleep, as I often do, nights can feel especially long and lonely.

I think that the Hero’s Crown was all the stuff I’ve tried already to feel better, all of which promise to work and cure you, but none ever has.  The rings were a hope of future treatments or cures.  Going off to get them while things were most dire represented the typical path of trying a treatment, which usually involves over-exerting yourself in some way first (going to the doctor’s office, my several-times-a-year nerve-blocking injections).

I suspect that the crowd of people who disliked and misunderstood me is my fear of people not understanding that I actually am sick, even if I don’t look like it outwardly.  This is an extremely common worry from anyone with an “invisible illness;” any sort of sickness which does not manifest in outward signs.  I often feel the need to make sure new people in my life know that I have ME and have a basic understanding of what it is so that they don’t think I’m lazy, or that I just didn’t want to go to their party, or have dinner with them.  It’s a pretty big fear, to be honest.  Almost without exception, everyone who is in my life knows what my deal is and while they invite me to things, they’re all very understanding if I can’t make it, especially if I have to cancel last minute.  I really, really hate to cancel at the last minute, but sometimes your body leaves you no other choices.  The secrecy of my mission to get the rings was mirroring the invisibility of my case of ME.

As for the more pleasant things about the dream, Geoff as Tor believed me, and he also supported me even though the entire rest of the kingdom wished he wouldn’t.  That’s 100% Geoff.  He will love and support me, in a fantasy battle with dragons, or in the real world battling insurance companies.  He is a fearless protector and someone I can always count on.  I also liked that for the magic rings to work, we both needed to wear them.  I think that speaks to the importance of having someone caring for and supporting you through this stupid disease.  I can fight it on my own, but it’s a million times better to have an ally.

And lastly, the animals will always be with me.  I have had a special kinship with animals of all kinds, since before I can remember.  My dad likes to tell the story of how there used to be a couple of huge Great Danes in a house behind ours and how they would bark and bay and snarl ferociously through the small gap in the fence if they saw you.  One day I came inside and said, “You know those big dogs out there?  They’re really friendly!”  Alarmed, my dad checked to make sure I still had all my fingers, then came outside with me where he realized that the Danes were causing a fuss because they wanted attention, not because they were aggressive.  Then for a while I collected snails in a bucket and kept them as “pets,” which I believe led my parents to get my first dog because it was just so pathetic that I was gathering snails to be my friends.  Animals have always been a big part of my life, creatures I can trust and rely on, who are as unchanging and solid as a mountain.

As I was meditating on the dream, I kept being reminded of a few big scenes from the biggest battle in last season’s Game Of Thrones.  You don’t really need a lot of context for it, just that the good guys are trying to keep the very bad guys out, and they’re horribly outnumbered and outmatched.

(Sorry, YouTube won’t let you play the videos here, but if you click the little “YouTube” button near the bottom of the video screen, it will take you directly to the videos.)

It may seem silly to those who have never experienced ME, but this is what it feels like to me.  Like you’re outnumbered 1000 to 1, the other side has mammoths and giants and all you’ve got is a fairly useless sword to try and fight them all off.  There is no end in sight, and barely any hope that you’ll succeed.  This is also the way a lot of The Hero and the Crown goes, which is part of why it’s one of my favorite books.

It may sound silly to those who have never know chronic illness’s cruel touch, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has dealt with it will understand at once.  It’s exhausting to fight an enemy every day, who you can’t see or touch.  And even more so when some people don’t believe the enemy exists.

So, as I do, I had to take a self portrait to work through my feelings on this dream.  What could be more DreamWorldy than an image inspired by an actual dream?  I can imagine this being a snippet of DreamWorld’s rich history, perhaps during the Yellow King’s grab for the throne.  I edited it with both The Hero and the Crown and Game of Thrones in mind, lending visual inspiration.

We sick will keep fighting.  We will hold the gate.

I’ll hold the gate.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

My lighting setup for Hold The Gate:

Hold The Gate lighting setup

Hold The Gate lighting setup

My tripod it balanced on the mattress and the camera would shift slightly whenever Calantha, also on the mattress, moved.  There was just enough room between my bed, the closet and all the other things in that part of the bedroom to make this work.  Who needs a studio??  😉

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Time for another DreamWorld character!

The Eye Of The Storm - detail

The Eye Of The Storm – detail

I like to think of the Storm-Bringer as the counterpoint to the Wind Goddess:

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

They have similar powers and both rule over the sky, but one brings the weather we like, while the other brings that which we don’t like.  Which is not to say that the Storm-Bringer is an evil character; not at all.  Storms are useful to the world in a variety of ways; bringing rain is just one of them.  While me might prefer one over the other, both are needed and they balance each other.

This image was actually not one I’d set out to create.  Katie and I were shooting something else entirely, which had nothing to do with DreamWord, but when I sorted through the raw images, one of them really caught my eye.  I was shooting about Katie (from the second story of my mom’s house) and an image where she was flipping her hair around sparked something in me.  I looked at the next few frames where her hair continued its circular flip and thought it would look cool if I blended them all together.

Just for the hell of it, I brought the images into Photoshop and started playing around… and I played some more… and some more, and then I had a finished piece which I really loved!  As I looked at the finished image, I realized I’d created a new DreamWorld character without having planned it, but her story quickly formed inside my head.

We cannot have a world where there are only beautiful, sunny days.  Even an imaginary world.  The dark needs the light and the light needs the shadow, otherwise it would be a flat, saccharine depthless place.  DreamWorld started initially as an escape, and more importantly, not something I expected to turn into such a long, rich, detailed place as it has.  It is still my escape, but I can now fill in some of the darker areas along with the joy and sunlight.  A story isn’t a story without a conflict, without a villain.  Using a religious metaphor pioneered by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, a trinity (father, son, holy spirit) is inherently incomplete.  And one more facet to it, making it a quaternity (father, son, holy spirit and devil) and it becomes complete and self-sustaining.  The dark and the storms enhance the light, but the light will always defeat the dark.

Though, if we’re speaking purely of wish-fulfillment, I would never have a bright, sunny day.  I would fit in very well somewhere like Portland or Seattle, since my favorite days are the gray, overcast ones, a little on the cool side.  In my perfect world, every day would be like that, but even I realize the need for a storm now and then to shake things up 🙂

Check out the making-of gif below the main image!

The Eye Of The Storm

The Eye Of The Storm

The Eye Of The Storm gif

The Eye Of The Storm gif

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I actually shot the images for this self portrait back in 2012 sometime, as I recall, and it just kept getting pushed down on my list of photos to edit.  I generally prioritize images which have other people modeling in them, since they took the time and energy to come model for me, so sometimes my self portraits get a little forgotten.  This was one which I definitely did not want to let get completely forgotten though, so as soon as I had the time, I eagerly jumped into editing it!

I don’t think many of you will be surprised when I say I’ve had my share of troubles with clinical depression.  Even as a teenager, the seeds were being sewn.  It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my life.  I’ve been to many therapists, tried countless treatments, medications, alternative therapies, read books, talked it out, journaled, and, of course, done art therapy.  Art therapy and submerging myself in nature, with animals and my friends and loved ones are the things that seem to work best for me, but everyone is different.  I have mostly accepted that it will probably be with me to some degree for most of my life, which is an easier future for me to face than one where I’m constantly disappointed by finding myself under its shadow again.

***Side note: ME/CFS/fibro are often tried to dismiss as simply depression or other mental health problems.  They are absolutely NOT the same thing.  I have experienced both and they are completely different.  Where it gets tricky is that people with ME/CFS and fibro often develop depression secondarily to their physical illness, but it’s usually because they feel terrible every day, many people refuse to believe they’re actually sick and they suddenly lose huge, important parts of their life to their illness.  I challenge anyone to not become depressed in those conditions.  What drives me crazy is that no one suggests that patients with cancer, for example, who develop secondary depression are “simply” mentally ill, but it’s an extremely common conclusion for doctors to jump to regarding ME/CFS and fibro patients.  I’ve had doctors tell me the problems were all in my head.

None of this is to say that mental health problems are somehow less important or real than physical health problems, they are simply two distinct things and require completely different treatments.  The simplest explanation I’ve come across to illustrate the differences between the two is this: ask a person with depression what she would want to do the next day if she woke up feeling completely well.  She’d probably have trouble answering you.  Depression robs you of all joy and motivation.  Ask someone with ME/CFS or fibro the same question and they’d give you an entire list of things they’d like to do.  ME robs your body of the ability to do things, but doesn’t take away the desire to do them.***

Since the severity of my depression waxes and wanes, I tend to think of it as an entity which I am periodically under the attack of.  Sometimes I imagine it as a malevolent cloud, sometimes a huge dragon; something which is dark and dangerous and can completely envelop me.  When I find myself thus enveloped, I repeat a mantra over and over to myself; “The clouds will lift.  The clouds will lift.”  It might be hours, days, weeks or months, but I know that at some point this battle will be over and I’ll have made it through to the other side.

I’ve written about him before, but Andrew Soloman’s incredible Ted Talk on depression bears repeating.  It’s beautifully insightful, hopeful, even when I’m under the darkest cloud and most importantly, lets me know I’m not alone in how I feel.  It’s also supremely excellent at explaining clinical depression to those who have never experienced it firsthand; an invaluable gift.  As Mr. Soloman states, “half the purpose of art is to describe [depression.]”  I could not agree more.

I don’t know whether we’re friends because we all share the same demons, or if I just happen to have a large percentage of good friends who have their own mental health struggles, but I wanted to create this image to show not just my battle, but theirs… and indeed, the battle everyone with depression finds themselves flung into.

When you’re in the throws of it, you don’t feel strong or brave, but I know that we are.  We bear terrible burdens which can break the human soul and every time we don’t succumb to it, we should celebrate.  But mental health is still greatly stigmatized in our culture, so there is rarely any celebration; there is rarely any acknowledgement of the battle that rages at all.  I feel it’s important and part of my job as an artist to discuss these issues which we would like to pretend don’t exist.  If we deny depression, then we will lose the battle.  The only way you can fight it is by first saying that yes, it exists; yes, I am under its cloud; no, that does not me a less worthy person; yes, I am brave and strong even though I don’t feel like it right now.

So this image is dedicated to all my dear friends who have been under that same cloud.  To my friends who have not experienced the cloud themselves, but support us when we’re in the throws of it.  Who love us, accept us and keep us going.  Shame and secrecy feeds the depression monster.  Truth and soul baring disarm it, love and strength defeats it.   Many, many thanks to my dear friends and loved ones who help me through these battles.  I just hope I can do the same for them.

Let’s take a step toward making the world a better place.  Let’s finally let the stigma around mental illness die.  No one would ever, ever choose to be like this.  We fight unimaginable battles to overcome it.  Instead of shaming those covered in battle scars, let’s celebrate their success.  They made it through.  There may be more fights, but they will make it through them too.  They will if we start supporting them instead of shaming them.

To everyone who knows this malevolent cloud firsthand, you are beautiful and strong.  And the clouds will lift.

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail – I made custom bat wing brushes to construct the clouds

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

If anyone would like to share stories of their own mental health struggles, please share it in a comment!  Talking openly about these problems is the first step to erasing the stigma.

*****

Just a few more days!!

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
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First things first: the light.  Let’s get to the winner of The Blue Ribbon!  Drum roll please…

Congratulations, Brittany D. Perkins!!!  You have won a beautiful, 10″ x 15″ print of  The Blue Ribbon!.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper and will be hand-signed.  Please send an email to me at sarah@sarahallegra.com with your mailing address and I’ll get it to you!

What do you guys think?  Was that fun?  Something we should do again?  Did the tweeting format work for you?  Let me know your thoughts and I can fine-tune my contest process to make it better for everyone!  Don’t forget that my fundraising will continue for the entire month of May, so stock up on your art purchases now while they’ll do the most good!

Now, onto the shadows of this post….

The Exiled King Preview

The Exiled King Preview

You remember how I hinted that DreamWorld‘s first dark character was coming to life?  He has arrived.

I think I was telling you guys about the evolution of this character.  I’ve always had a thing for horns and antlers on people (see my very first self portrait as proof) and wanted to work them into DreamWorld from the beginning.  As with most mythologies, I felt there was room for a Puckish, trickster character, which is what I had in mind when I started constructing this creature.  The beginning of my work on him coincided with the beginning of True Detective, a pure coincidence, but True Detective’s ominous Yellow King bled into my concept, and before I knew it my trickster had transformed beyond a mere Puck or even Loki into the DreamWorld version of The King In Yellow.

DreamWorld is an ever-evolving place, and while this King is the first sinister character to be portrayed, there are other forces at work.  We will meet them eventually.  For now, I think it is enough to know that the King in Yellow has been sent into exile by DreamWorld’s true King for trying to usurp the throne and plunge DreamWorld into darkness.  He has been foiled for now, and is thus known as they Exiled King, though some still whisper of the King in Yellow and restoring him to his rightful, dark glory along with those who seek the same goals… but I don’t worry.  The King is strong and benevolent.  And we haven’t even met the Queen yet, though we will soon.  She also rules for good, and is not to be taken lightly.

Let the whispers and secrets travel where they will.  The King in Yellow has been sent into exile as a merciful punishment, but I doubt a second grab for the throne would be met with such leniency.

Now that you know about the Exiled King, want to see how he came to life?

My initial inspiration for the antlers was the Makhor goat’s horns, such as seen in this stock image:

© Erinpackardphotography | Dreamstime.com

 

Horns are always tricky to build for human heads.  Making them stable but light, keeping them balanced on the head while trying to appear that there’s no supporting structure at all… they’re always a nightmare to make.  And I knew these ones were going to be the largest pair I’d made yet.  As usual, I dove in without a real plan and figured it out as I went.

I started with a regular headband and some strong but light wire, wrapped around itself and twisted generously onto the headband.  I began introducing the twisted shape by wrapping it around my arm a few times.

horns1

I wrapped a thin layer of newspaper over each wire frame, adding a layer of masking tape on top to help it hold its shape and smooth it.

horns 2

Looking very lop-sided at the moment

I initially tried spraying the antlers with spray adhesive to try to help smooth the antlers further, but all it really did was make it tacky, even after it had dried.  I sighed and decided I’d try and use it to my advantage by covering the antlers with a layer of metallic gold tissue paper (which smells really weird, by the way).  I filled in some of the larger dips and gaps with hot glue and added a little more tissue paper, but I knew I’d end up having to do a little smoothing to them in post production.  I don’t remember why now, but I ended up getting these finished just the evening before my morning shoot, so I didn’t have more time to tinker with them and make them absolutely perfect.

horns 4

mantle 1

You can see here the careful support structure I created literally with toothpicks and popsicle sticks broken into smaller strips.  Sometimes the most straight-forward way is the best way 🙂  They’re also reinforced with a little bit of monofilament line to help them not bow away from each other.

mantle 2

With the antlers done, I moved onto the leaf mantle.  I used approximately a billion fake leaves for this which I’d collected over several years and a number of projects.  I still found myself nearly running out by the end and had to ration them carefully.  I concentrated on the leaves around the face first, which also conveniently covered the antler’s headband and support structures.

mantle 4

A full mantle of leaves

vest

I’ve had this one vest in my “costume” supplies for a very long time and I just love it.  It looks very rugged and home-spun and fits a very wide variety of looks and styles.  I’m pretty sure it was made for someone closer to my size than Dan’s, so I quickly added extra length to it by cutting straight through the shoulder seem and building a new shoulder strap with leaves hot glued to each other.  The yard provided a wealth of beautiful acorns to choose from and use as buttons.  And don’t worry, the squirrels still had more to eat than they ever could.

leaf1

Next was the big leaf amulet.  I’d gotten this pack of huge, very realistic leaves probably two years ago and had been holding on to them, waiting for them to become useful.  Now was their time!  This heavy chain was also in my stash for similar reasons, and became a lovely chain for what would be a leaf amulet.

amulet 3

Some smaller, gold-dusted leaves, a large gold key and an amber-colored, leaf-shaped crystal finished it off.

amulet 2

Almost done!

foot 1

Leaf slipper tops

The very last thing I made were “leaf slippers,” for lack of a better word.  They were just several leaves glued together with elastic straps to help keep them on Dan’s feet; super easy!

Leaf slipper bottoms

Leaf slipper bottoms

I also cut up some strips of a golden-brown, rustic-looking cotton to tie around Dan’s sleeves and pant legs, but that would be assembled the day of.  As far as my prep work went, I was done!  I honestly can’t remember exactly how long the whole costume took to make… several days of solid work, no sleep?  Eight weeks?  I have no idea, but it was long.  When I’m deeply involved in a project like this, time melts away for any practical use.

Before I get more into this, let me back up and tell you about Dan Donohue, who so beautifully brought my character to life.   Dan is celebrated actor, best known for his extensive theater work.  He played Scar in Disney’s Broadway version of The Lion King and left for Oregon almost immediately after our shoot to go play Henry the III at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s version of Henry the III, as well as the father in their production of A Wrinkle In Time.  You would never believe from meeting him that he does evil and sinister so well; he is truly one of the kindest, most enthusiastic and genuinely lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  But the moment I told him to be a villain, it all fell away and for a second I had to catch my breath because he so completely embodied The King In Yellow.  Dan is a muse if I’ve ever met one and a pure delight to work with!  He’s also very creative and funny, as I’ll get into more later.

The morning of the shoot came quickly, Dan and I found our location and the entire shoot was easy and felt effortless.  There may have been a bit more effort on Dan’s part trying to keep his antlers and mantle from toppling over if he moved his head too far in any direction, but it seemed that his theater experience really paid off and helped him manage this probably cumbersome bit of costume beautifully.

Antler wrangling

Antler wrangling

Generally when I shoot new DreamWorld characters, I edit one or two images; maybe three if I feel they’re all really compelling, but in this instance I edited five.  This is almost unprecedented.  The only other time I’ve edited more photos from a single concept, with no costume or location changes was for the Katie’s World set.  That says quite a lot about how perfectly Dan was able to become the Exiled King.  But enough talking about them.  You want to see the images, right?

You’ve seen this first one already since I used it to tease the series, but I’m posting it again so the whole set can be seen together as intended.  To set the mood, here are the two quotes which most directly influenced how I took the set, one from Robert W. Chamber’s book The King In Yellow and one from True Detective.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa.
–Cassilda’s Song, The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
“Him who eats time.  Him robes; it’s a wind of invisible voices.  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, Carcosa!”
– Miss Delores, True Detective episode 7, After You’ve Gone
The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen

 

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail.  Dan’s hand here kills me every time, it’s SO PERFECT.  I never knew a single hand could be so expressive, yet it is.

 

Pliable Reality

Pliable Reality – shot using a home-made “Lensbaby” which was the top of a water bottle

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

 

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

And perhaps my favorite of them all….

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

 

Whew, still with me?  I know that was a long post, but I had a lot of photos to cover!

He's not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

He’s not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a couple fun things.  Dan does these really fun recreations of scenes from movies, hunting down the original locations and taking photos!  Dan’s spoof of Anthony Hopkin’s letter to Bryan Cranston about Breaking Bad (read the original letter here).  Doesn’t Dan sound exactly like Anthony Hopkins?  And lastly, if you have a chance to go see him perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, do it!  You won’t be disappointed!

Dan as Richard the III - Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Dan as Richard the III – Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Thank you so much to Dan for being the perfect King in Yellow and furthermore being extremely patient as I slowly edited all of these!!  Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see the Exiled King’s companions and cohorts!  Dan has been invited back again whenever he returns to California, so he may pop up in more photos; I hope so  🙂

 

Us

 

*****

 

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography.

 

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Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.

This is a preview of a new set I’m currently editing for DreamWorld. This set will be important to the entire series as it marks the entrance of the first non-benevolent character.

At first I had envisioned this character, whom we only get a glimpse of for the moment, as a more Puckish, trouble-maker character, but as I worked on the costume and planned the shoot, I was also watching the first few weeks of True Detective. True Detective (one of the most original, mythic, challenging, well-acted and completely-fabulous-in-every-way show I’ve seen in a long time) had already begun making dark allusions toward The King In Yellow, and I found it seeped into what I was doing. And the darker I took the character, the more right it felt, so it was perfect timing on the part of the universe.

My model for this shoot is the incomparable Dan Donohue, an actor known for his extensive stage work, including just about every Shakespeare play you can think of and Scar, in Disney’s Broadway production of The Lion King.  Dan is currently rehearsing for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where he will play Richard the III in Richard the III, along with Mr. Murry in A Wrinkle In Time.  While Dan himself is one of the sweetest, sincerest, most lovely and generous people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, he has the magical ability to summon inner darkness on whim. I had him start the shoot a little more Puckish and less evil, and let him get more and more dangerous as we progressed. And, of course, I ended up loving the darkest shots the best.

I have the wonderful problem of having too many wonderful images to choose from, but I’ll get by somehow. I wanted to send this one out into the world today, not only to harken the rest of the set, but to celebrate Dan’s appearance on Brooklyn 99 tonight!  It’s a fantasic comedy in its own right, and Dan will be a great addition.  He’s one of those all-talented people who is good at just about everything. It should be a lot fun to watch, especially since Stephanie Beatriz, aka Rosa is his real-life girlfriend!  Think Rosa will warm up to him?  Let’s find out by watching tonight!  🙂

* * * * *

In other news, there are some new ME/CFS developments which could be incredibly damaging to how the medical communities, and in a trickle down way, the public in general, think of us and treat us.  The short story is that the government has hired a new commitee to come up with a new definition for ME/CFS.  Not only is this completely unnecessary as we already have two extremely comprehensive definitions in the International Consensus Criteria and the Canadian Consensus Critera (both PDFs), but because the team of 15 people they have assembled is comprised of only 8 ME specialists.  I’m having trouble finding the data at the moment, but the remaining specialists in the team may not all even be doctors.  This does NOT seem like the optimal group.

With the pittance given to ME research in the US, it seems absurd to spend nearly 1/4 of it reinventing the criteria wheel, and even more absurd when so many of them had no prior knowledge of ME as an illness.  The ineptitude of the group can be read about in the sample letter below.

There is something we can do to combat this nonsense.  You can go to: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/, type in your zip code and find your representatives.  Email them the following:

Recently, the IOM released its report on Gulf War Illness recommending that the illness be named “Gulf War Illness” and that the two existing case definitions be used.  In short, the IOM has done exactly nothing since they were hired four years ago– for $840,000 – to come up with a case definition.

The illness, they said had “too many symptoms.”  HHS has now hired IOM to “define” Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) – another complex illness with many symptoms – to the tune of 1 million dollars. And, like the committee hired to review GWI, the IOM committee for ME/CFS is primarily composed of non-experts – people who have no research or clinical experience with the disease. 

Fifty of the world’s top ME/CFS experts have formally protested the IOM contract to Secretary Sebelius. They have pointed out that there already is a case definition for ME/CFS designed by experts, the Canadian Consensus Criteria, and that having non-experts devise a new definition will set research and patient care back by decades.  These experts are backed by thousands of patients, some of whom publicly voiced their opposition to the contract on January 27, 2014 at the IOM public meeting. 

Jim Binns, chair of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses says, “The conclusions of the report show that it was a waste of money. The committee never had the expertise or the process to do a case definition.”  The current IOM process to review and redefine ME/CFS is an even bigger waste of money. It also a waste of time, which patients who are desperately ill with this disease cannot afford to lose. 

Please support us by asking HHS to cancel the IOM Review of Diagnostic Criteria for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and to follow the recommendation made by the experts: Immediate adoption of the Canadian Consensus Criteria for ME/CFS.

The implications of what this group decides could be devastating to the already disadvantaged ME/CFS sufferers.  You can, of course, add your own details, but the letter above is a good sample.  One thing we have seen is that this group can respond to public pressure and outcry, so let’s make them respond!

My deepest thanks to anyone who is willing to do this!

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen

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