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Oh my goodness… so, so much has happened recently that I feel completely overwhelmed in sitting (or, rather, laying) down to tell you about it!  But I have a new image to share with you and I really wanted to post it and maybe give you guys a little gloss-over update at least, so I’m just going for it.  If I let myself think about it any longer, I’ll just get frozen with intimidation over how much I’d like to cover!

First news: health is poor.  I mean, yes, you all know my health is pretty much always poor, but it’s been even more so lately.  I feel like it’s been slowly sliding downhill over the past… year?  year and a half?  two years?  But the last six-to-nine months have been extra bad.  I think I’ve told some of you at least about the “hot flashes” I’ve been getting.  It’s actually quite a lot more complicated than calling them “hot flashes” implies, but I don’t know a better name to get the general idea across with, so we’re going to call them “hot flashes.”  What it really is, is my body suddenly seems unable to regulate its temperature properly, which sends me into sudden, drenching sweats, often while I’m shivering with cold at the same time.  Very similar to the sort of sweats you get with a fever, but it only lasts a few hours, it comes and goes quite randomly, I have absolutely no other fever symptoms and it seems to ONLY happen in the morning (because that’s when my day is busiest, I have the most appointments scheduled, etc, so it can be the most obnoxious).  This sounds like something that’s just annoying, which it is, but it’s quite a bit worse than that.  It makes me weak and lightheaded, it’s not something I can simply push through by will alone; I might have to cancel appointments or send Geoff to the grocery store on his own.  We both utterly detest grocery shopping, but I’m much too weak to do it on my own anymore, and if I at least go with Geoff, it’s company for a task no one enjoys, so I always feel bad if I have to make him do it by himself.

These were getting so bad and disruptive for a while that I saw my GP about it.  He tested my thyroid and a couple of other things in my blood, examined me, decided it wasn’t anything menopause-related (which, yes, would be QUITE young to start having them, but stranger things have happened), said it sounded hormonal and sent me on my way.  I saw my neurologist, he said it wasn’t anything neurological and I should probably see an endocrinologist; a doctor who specializes in looking at your hormones.  I also happened to see my pain specialist during this time just for my every-three-months-check-in, and mentioned it to him, and he agreed it sounded hormonal, but was outside his expertise.  So I did some research, found an endocrinologist nearby who got good reviews online and made an appointment.

The first bad sign was that the endo’s office doesn’t accept credit cards of any kind, only cash or checks, which they had not mentioned in ANY of the conversations I had with them when I set my appointment up.  Not only is that just absurdly behind the times, but I, like most people this day and age, very, very rarely carry either cash or a checkbook on me.  Before going to this doctor, I couldn’t tell you the last time I wrote a check.  Thankfully, I happened to have shoved my checkbook in the bottom of my purse anyway, but I had a mini panic attack in the waiting room wondering how I was going to pay these people.

Eventually I found it though and went into my appointment, which was mostly going over my medical history with the doctor and explaining what the problem I was seeing him for was.  Obviously, my medical history is much more like something George RR Martin would write about than a quick-read paperback, but the doctor interrupted me quite a lot as I tried to tell him details which were important and extremely pertinent to the hot flashes I was seeing him for.  Obviously, I did not care for that, but it is a very common problem with doctors.  If I wrote off every doctor who interrupted me while I was explaining things, I wouldn’t have any doctors left to see.  Anyway, he ALSO agreed it sounded hormonal and said we’d run a bunch of blood tests to see what was going on.  We’d be repeating everything my GP had already run because, the endo said, his tests were more thorough.  Ok, fine.  Six vials of fasted blood later, they were sent to the lab, Geoff bought me breakfast and I waited a week’s time until I could get my results from the doctor.

In this appointment (paid for with the check book which I’d triple-checked was still in my purse after the stress of the first visit), the doctor went over each page of the bloodwork results with me, explaining what was tested and how every single thing came back normal.  My blood was normal, thus, I was “perfectly healthy!” and did not need to see him any more expect for in another six months to recheck my blood and make sure it was still all normal and I was healthy.

Obviously, I am not healthy.  Even if you discount my mountain of other ME-related issues, the fact that I was presenting with extremely hormonal-sounding problems should indicate that something is amiss.  This doctor had absolutely no interest in finding out what this life-interrupting issue was though.  The impression he gave me was that he thought I was an overly worried, mildly hypochondriac girl getting her pigtails in a twist over nothing and that showing me that my bloodwork said there was nothing wrong would make the problem go away, because it was  probably something I’d dredged up on my own through pure will.  But the most offensive part of all… he did not check one single motherfucking hormone.  Not ONE.  On a case where three other doctors all had said the issue sounded hormonal, I told him I was concerned it was hormonal, he didn’t bother to check anything.

I’ve since been told by other people who have to see endos regularly that you usually have to specifically ask them to check your hormones, if that’s something you want.  WHY???  You don’t have to do this with ANY OTHER medical specialty.  I don’t have to tell my neurologist to check my brain, I haven’t had to tell my gynecologist to examine my lady parts.  How is this something that is not only allowed, but is COMMON in this one niche???

At the time he was going over the bloodwork with me in the room, I was trying to control being wildly disappointed over having yet another problem come back testing as “normal” and being shunted off again, again being treated as if I was making this all up, again being patronizingly patted and being told to not worry my pretty little head about it.  Look, I’m sorry that my disease isn’t something they teach a lot about in medical school, I really am.  I’m sorry that most doctors feel threatened when confronted with something they can’t simply write a prescription for and it’s solved.  I’m sorry that it makes them feel insecure, as if they don’t know what they’re doing because I don’t have an easy fix.  I am far, far sorrier about that than any doctor who’s treated me like a hot potato could ever be.  But I do not go around to doctors’ offices for fun to mock them for their lack of knowledge.  I go in with an open mind every time, despite years of consistent disappointment, hoping that, just maybe, this will be the time when I get an answer.  Not even THE answer, just a part of it.  But to not test any hormones for a presenting issue that, to every lay-person and doctor I’ve spoken to, sounds extremely hormonal is inexcusable.  I spent a lot of money in copays, I spent six vials of blood my body could have used, I spent a lot of time gearing up for appointments and recovering from them, I spent incredibly precious energy getting to my appointments, getting tests done, and sobbing after my last appointment as my hopes were again dashed and I realized it had all been wasted.  The absolute least the doctor could have done was run the tests I wanted done but didn’t know that I had to ask for specifically by name, because that’s how endocrinologists are.

Each time I have one of these horrible experiences with medical professionals, it makes it so, so much harder to even fathom trying again.  Why should I if most of them are going to just call me crazy and kick me out of their offices as quickly as possible?  And of course I know that I have to keep trying because giving up isn’t an option, but for fuck’s sake, can’t they at least try and meet me in the middle somewhere?

After that edifying experience, I couldn’t even bear the thought of looking for another endo and starting the process over again, even knowing now that you have to ask for your hormones to be tested.  The wound was just too raw.  What I did have was an appointment set up with Celestine Grace, my very favorite medium, who’s helped me a lot in the time we’ve been working together.  I asked her what would help my body and she told me to take rose hip supplements, which I knew are very high in vitamin C.  They’re cheap and easily available from Amazon, so I got a bottle and started taking them.  And you know what?  Within a couple weeks, my hot flashes had gone down considerably.  They still popped up now and then, but the difference was huge.  I ran out of them and it took a few days before I could get my replacement bottle in, and while I was off them, my hot flashes spiked again.  I’m back on them now and they’re going back down, but it might take a couple weeks, like it did the first time.

I am so, so grateful to Celestine for that bit of advice and for helping to turn around a very bad situation (and also all the other help and advice she’s given me over the year or so we’ve known each other) but it’s so incredibly ironic to me that four conventional doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t help me, but my medium did.  It goes to show the strength of her talent while underscoring how little conventional Western medicine has to offer me.  Thank you, Celestine, I can’t tell you how much those rose hips have helped me!

The whole thing got me thinking that I may just need a whole different approach to my health, so I began to look into different specialists and alternative treatments.  I mean, that’s something I’m continually on the lookout for, but I was searching with a new urgency this time.  Giving vitamin C intravenously has been a growing trend… since my body had responded well to the rose hips, maybe it would like a more concentrated dose even more!  I have found a naturopath who is nearby, returned my phone call herself to discuss if we would be a good fit for each other and offers IV vitamin C along with a ton of other therapies I’ve been interested in but haven’t been pushed far enough to try yet, since most are expensive and not covered by insurance.  I have an appointment with that doctor next Monday morning, which will just be a consultation between one to two hours where we just go over my history, what changes I’d like to see and what treatments might be good for me.  They also test hormones.  🙂  As hard as it is for me to allow myself to be hopeful that maybe this time it will work, I can feel hope trying to quietly creep in.  I’ll let you guys know how that appointment goes.

As my body has gotten more and more painful and uncomfortable to inhabit, I’ve been turning to my own form of spirituality for strength and comfort.  It works for me.  It helps significantly, so much so that Geoff has noticed its effect.  It’s a bit too much to get into it all now, but it’s based in meditation and finding my own path up the mountain toward god/source.  A lot of it might sound like new age woo-woo, but I stick with what works, and this does.  My variety of spirit guides have been a big part of keeping me from utterly falling apart as things have gotten more and more difficult all around… just thinking about them makes me feel more peaceful.

I frequently mourn the health I once had, the life I once had, everything ME has taken away from me.  I mourn for those who I wish I could have gotten to know in this life and not just in the next.  I still mourn the loss of our previous home with our incredible neighbors, even though this place is finally feeling more like home and we have great new neighbors here.  Mourning is a universal human experience; I’m sure every one of you can think of things you mourn.

My new city has a lovely, tiny, serene, old little cemetery within what would be walking distance for most people from my home.  I wanted to shoot there when I had the excellent Teri Wyble over (quite a while ago now, I’m terribly behind on editing).  I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to shoot there, or what I was trying to say at the time.  This sometimes happens.  I’ve learned by now to just go with it, that its reason will become clear to me later.  That was the case with this image.  I asked Teri to imagine this was the grave of someone she loved and missed horribly; someone whose loss she still mourned.  I don’t know if she was tapping into a loss in her own life or if she’s just very good at imagining, but she portrayed exactly what I wanted:

Loss.  An inability to move on from the blow of death.

But I didn’t want it to be completely bleak.  The birds swooping in to comfort her speaks to me of the healing that comes after we let ourselves grieve.  Yes, you have to pass through the darkness first, but there is eventually light.  Sometimes it comes to you on feathered wings when you least expect it.

Whether the viewer has recently experienced this themselves or not, it’s such a common part of just being human, I wanted to create this.  Not to wallow in the mud of despair, but to remind myself that the heaviness will someday lift.  The pain will ease.  The grief will lessen.  Maybe even, a treatment will eventually work.

Thank you so very much, Teri, for your beautiful, emotive modeling!  You are a wonderful human being and model.  🙂

Enjoy, my friends!  If this speaks to you, I’d love to hear what it brings up if you’d like to share that in the comments!

Mourning Dove

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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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**Before I get into the meat of this post, I am happy to announce that I will soon start holding mythic photography workshops!  We’ll go over techniques for drawing the magical and awe-inspiring out of the ordinary.  Email me at sarah@sarahallegra.com if you’re interested and I’ll keep you up to date!**

Closeups of both finished photos.

Closeups of both finished photos.

Oh my… this is one of those posts where I have so much to say I can hardly figure out where to start!

I think pretty much everyone reading this will already be familiar with my DreamWorld series, right?  The series portraying the characters and landscape of the world we visit in our sleep?   I have become quite obsessed with it, even though the photos usually demand so much more preparation and work than other photos do.  There is something incredibly therapeutic and wonderful about imagining an entire world and breathing life into it one photo at a time.

The very first character I imagined for DreamWorld was its queen (who we will meet in the future) and eventually I thought that if there is a queen, there probably should be a King  too.  And while I imagine that the queen is really the one in charge, the King is the ultimate father figure.  Warm, approachable, unfailingly kind and wise, but still powerful and majestic.  It’s a lot to ask of one person, and I mulled over who could play him for a long time.

While I contemplated that, I thought about what the King’s costume should be like.  I wanted it to be book-inspired, both literally and metaphorically.  Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s writings have had such a big influence on my life, and on this series in particular, I wanted the King to be an homage to them and their works.  So books, paper and writing would be the main themes of the costume… and as usual, I had no idea how I was going to pull it together.

While all that was happening in my head, I learned that Peter S. Beagle would be in town as part of his world-wide “The Last Unicorn” movie screenings tour (which I HIGHLY recommend!).  I suddenly pictured Peter as the King, and once I’d done that, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it.  He was absolutely perfect.  He is the King.  Every single time I’ve met him, he has exuded such warmth, wisdom and kindness that I wished I could adopt him as an uncle.  And given my recent partnership with his publisher, Conlan Press, I thought it would be the mutually beneficial to everyone.   I’m very happy that Connor, Peter’s publisher and manager, agreed and was able to loan me Peter for a few hours while they were in Los Angeles.

So, casting was settled, but that left me only about three weeks to build every prop and costume I’d be using.  Which was not nearly enough time.  I’d begun working on the King’s magic book before I even got a yes and had already spent over 30 hours just building it.  It was going to be an ugly three weeks, but very, very worth it, so I launched into creation mode.

You really have to see the book in person to understand why it took so long to make.  At this stage, it's just many, many subtle layers of paint.

You really have to see the book in person to understand why it took so long to make. At this stage, it’s just many, many subtle layers of paint.

Peter would be wearing long robes that would transition into paper scrolls at his feet, along with a crown made from folded paper.  His collar and cuffs were lace made from tissue paper, with crinkled paper accents.  A buckle portraying a tree of life would hold the robes closed, and the part I was perhaps most excited about was the collar of paper birds taking flight.  That was the end goal… how I’d get there, let alone in three weeks, I had no idea.  But I started with what I knew, making the tunic under his robe, and the fabric part of the robe itself.

sketches

Initial sketches

The tunic and robe themselves were pretty easy, standard pieces of DreamWorld wear, so they came together quickly.  The robe was made mostly from cotton muslin, since it’s inexpensive and takes tea-dying well (which I suspected would be in its future).   The yoke was made from the most beautiful metallic gold jacquard-type fabric (I purchased it as a remnant, so I’m not sure exactly what it is, other than gorgeous).  The first introduction of paper into the robe came by using long sheets of corrugated cardboard in the place of pin-tucked fabric.  I broke a needle on my sewing machine trying to get it on before finally locating my super-heavy-duty-heavier-than-duck-and-denim-together needle, which held up.

The robe with cardboard "pintucking."

The robe with cardboard “pin-tucking.”

I’ve never felt especially adept at sculpting, but I knew I was going to have to do at least some for the King, so I got some silicone clay which could be baked in an oven and a couple molds.  One mold featured different female faces on it, while another had branches, leaves and birds.  Leaves I though I could probably get away with on my own, but with the time I had, I didn’t want to have to try messing with making a beautiful face on my own.  Plus, the molds were on a 40% off sale, so I took it as a sign.  Most of the sculpting ended up on the cover of the book, which became quite symbolic all on its own, incorporating elements of Joseph Campbell, Peter Beagle and myself.

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Beginning to sculpt. You can see the shell of the unpainted book in the upper left-hand corner too.

The King’s costume incorporated keys and locks in numerous places, a metaphor for how Peter and Joseph Campbell’s writing had unlocked so much wisdom for me.  Around the large keyhole (obtained from a wonderful architectural salvage yard) I sculpted two pieces which could look like either paths or (bull’s) horns, nods to “The Last Unicorn” and the hero’s journey.  I made my own little cloven-hoof stamp by carving the end of an eraser and covered the “paths” with a smattering of hoof prints.  Between the paths/horns was a woman’s face with long white hair and a horn coming out of her forehead; an obvious reference to “The Last Unicorn,” but also to my own own identification with the story.

For added symbolism and a little more depth, I also crafted two small anatomical hearts, alluding to the “Two Hearts” story Peter wrote as a novella sequel to”The Last Unicorn.”  Though you could never accuse “The Last Unicorn” of being shallow, “Two Hearts” adds such richness and depth to it that I feel it’s really just a continuation of the same story and not two separate ones.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

After the sculpting and baking came many coats of paint.

Painted pieces, along with a key I ended up not using for this photo (but which will be used eventually).

Painted pieces, along with a key I ended up not using for this photo (but which will be used eventually).

The keyhole and clay pieces were glued to the book cover and that prop, at least, was done!

At some point during the three weeks I was making all this, I pictured Peter with two ladies in waiting.  At first, I dismissed the idea since I already had more than enough work to do, but, to my annoyance, once I pictured it that way, I knew it would be lacking without them.  Damn.  I sighed and added two more costumes to my to-do list while I emailed frequent models Dedeker, Aly and Katie to see if they were available.  Unfortunately, Aly’s work schedule prevented her from joining us, but I was glad to have Katie and Dedeker along!

Turning my attention back to Peter’s robes, I used more of the corrugated cardboard t make wide cuffs.  I’d found some beautifully-dyed, crinkly paper, a little thicker than tissue paper, but not by much.  I had some in orange and some in purple, and I used the purple paper to edge the cuffs.  The inside of the cuffs was lined with an untold amount of tissue paper, cut to various widths and run through a paper punch on one side to create a look like lace.  I alternated white tissue paper with some beautiful, metallic silver tissue paper.  The white tissue paper went through the punch well, but the silver paper would utterly clog the punch up after 3-4 presses, no matter how few or how many pieces I put through at a time.  I even tried running it through at the same time as some nice, heavy cardstock, but the paper press just laughed at my attempts and clogged again.  In the end, I used less of the silver paper than I had planned, but was left with more of my sanity intact, so I thought it was a fair trade.

cuffs

Tissue papers, purple crinkle paper and the cuffs coming together.

I used the orange crinkle paper to make a lapel and more of it was used as a belt.  I’d wanted to give the robes a feeling of embroidery, so I used some metallic gold paint to create swirling, organic, art nouveau-like designs on the pin-tucking.

robe

Speaking of the belt, I wanted to have another Campbell reference, so I decided to use one of the most commonly recognized mythology symbols, the tree of life, on the buckle, quite literally bringing everything together.  The backing was made out of clay and painted with several layers of gold, green and bronze paints.  Some pretty green rafia made up the tree itself.  The untwisted ends made very convincing leaves, and the twisted ends made wonderful roots.  In the middle was another keyhole, continuing the motif.

Tree of life buckle.

Tree of life buckle above the paper belt.

Around this time, I started wondering how I would turn the robe ends into paper scrolls.  I spent several nights not sleeping while I contemplated it, and eventually came up with the following.  I sewed six long panels of muslin, each about two feet wide, and of varying lengths.  The sides were sewn with wire in them, and I covered both sides of the panels with torn-up paper mache.  The paper mache was made from countless pieces of tissue paper I had tea-dyed from a barely noticeable off-white to a dark cream.  I used the lightest pieces at the top and let it gradually darken toward the bottom.  I washed the panels with layers of thinned-out white glue (many, MANY thanks to my wonderful neighbor Donna for giving me a huge vat of glue!) until they were suitably stiff.  Applying paper, painting and letting them dry between took the better part of a week.  By the time they were done, it was nearly time to shoot and I didn’t know what I’d do if they didn’t work.  I breathlessly tried rolling one of them up… and it stayed.  It looked like paper!  It looked like a scroll!  I was so relieved!

I attached the panels to the end of the robe with some heavy-duty safety pins and hot glue, then added another layer of tea-dyed tissue paper, creating a gradual transition from a little below the belt of the robe with just a touch of paper, all the way to the bottom of the scrolls where it was thick paper.

scrolls

I’d had a very clear vision of how I wanted the King’s crown to look, formed primarily from folded paper, dotted with keys and old quill nibs, which I found a whole bunch of on Ebay!  While it wasn’t really hard to make, it did take a lot of trial and error.  I am not much for origami, so I ended up just cutting out different shapes and experimenting with what produced the best results.  I used a cream-colored cardstock for this, quite a relief to work with after the filmy, fragile tissue paper.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

The crown ended up being my favorite part of the whole costume.  Geoff kindly took some BTS photos of me working on it.  The medallion in the middle of it was something I found in the jewelry-making section of the craft store, and it added the perfect finishing touch with the purple gem in the middle of it.

Making the crown.

Making the crown.

Around this time I realized I also needed to make a staff for the King.  I had actually found such a good stick while I was hiking one day that I brought it home, not even having a plan for it, just knowing it would be good for something, eventually.  I spray painted the stick bronze and gold, and used several thin washes of acrylic paint in green and gold tones on a glass Christmas tree ornament (which I have a large stock of for a future project).  A very, very thin spritz with some dazzlingly-silver spray paint finished off the ornament, which I flipped upside down and anchored to the stick with a big old blob of hot glue.  I had wanted to incorporate some more flowers into the costume anyway, and having a cluster of them under the ornament hid the transition beautifully.  A key under the ornament and flowers finished it off!

staff

Things get a little blurry as I think back on the days right before the shoot, and I honestly don’t remember the exact order of events anymore.  But in the last couple days, I sewed some easy, empire-waisted gray chiffon dresses for the girls, with long, matching chiffon sashes.  The dresses were decorated at the bustline with a fan-shaped piece of folded cardstock, tissue paper lace and flowers.

The big project for the girls, which bled over into the last of the King’s costume, were the paper birds.  Those damn, damn paper birds.  I printed untold sheets of cream and white cardstock with chains of birds (which I’d laid together in Photoshop) which then had to be cut out by hand, one by one.  I was so sick of seeing the pile of papers waiting to be cut out by the time I was done.  Days and days of cutting out birds.  So, so many birds of different sizes, shapes, angles and colors.

birds

Sheets of cardstock with birds cut out, a pile of cut birds, the king’s collar being assembled.

Obviously, many of the birds went to making the King’s bird-and-lace collar, but the majority ended up going to the two maiden’s headdresses and arm pieces.  I loved the symbolism of the birds; they were taking off from Peter’s throat (where words take flight as well), they landed and traveled down the girls’ heads, as they take the stories and information in, then they make their way down the girls’ arms to their hands as they put the lessons they have learned to work.  Just remembering it all gives me a headache, but I really loved how it turned out, even though it was nearly midnight the night before the shoot when I glued the last string of birds together, was finally done and went to bed.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

The morning of the shoot came after not nearly enough sleep, and I knew it was going to be a very long, grueling day, but I was very excited!  Donna and John, my neighbors, had very kindly allowed me to use their dining room to shoot in, which gave me more room to move around.  I started hanging curtains and getting the set constructed while I groggily drank my tea.  Everyone helped me get the set ready, which I was very grateful for; I couldn’t have done it all on my own!  Then my lights decided they didn’t feel like working, and I had to troubleshoot that as it got closer and closer to the time of the shoot… it was quite stressful, but it all came together just in time!

Thank you, Dedeker for these adorable furbaby pics :)

Thank you, Dedeker, for these adorable furbaby pics 🙂  They are a friendly lot!

Connor pulled up and dropped off Peter and his assistant Cat, who was helping them with the tour, and then I had a most surreal moment when Peter Beagle, one of my two very favorite writers, author of “The Last Unicorn,” a story that has profoundly influenced my life, was standing in my living room.  He was just as warm and wonderful as all the other times I’d spoken to him, and he showed excellent taste in admiring Calantha and asking what kind of dog she is.

I caught Connor snuggling Maynard and made him stand there until I got a photo of it.

I caught Connor snuggling Maynard and made him stand there until I got a photo of it.

Peter told me he’d been instructed by Connor to be regal and majestic, which I agreed with, but also highlighted the King’s warmth and kindness.  Peter said, “So I should be regal and majestic, yet warm and approachable?”  I said yes, and he just said, “Got it,” and then he was all that, all at once.  I helped him get into his costume (with the help of Katie, Dedeker and Cat, it was really a several-person task).  I shot a few different setups; since this was not going to be a chance I’d have again, I wanted to cover all my bases.  And everything fit everyone, and it all worked and came together beautifully, and I knew that the last weeks had been more than worth it.  Katie very thoughtfully took some behind-the-scenes photos once her part in the shoot was over, which I’m so happy to have!

Thanks, Katie!  :)

Thanks, Katie! 🙂

Mei Mei photobomb

Mei Mei photobomb

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

My imagination hero.

My imagination hero and me.

After the shoot was over, we all helped Peter out of his costume and then I got to just chat with him and Cat and the girls until Connor got back from the errands he’d been running in preparation for the screening that night.  It was my first time meeting Cat; she was utterly delightful and I was honored to have them lounging in my living room.  Again I was overcome with the surreality of the situation.  Connor got back shortly, and we parted ways for the time being.  We’d all meet up again that night for the screening in Newport Beach.  The shoot was successfully checked on my list!

I have to say, though all my shoots are done on a budget, this was the most expensive one yet.  A lot of the expenses were things like the paper punch and a self-healing cutting mat (for all the damn birds) that I’ll be able to use again.  All in all, I think I spent between $100-$150; an amount that felt absolutely extravagant to me!  The total time I spent on this is really incalculable.  A couple hundred hours on pre-production, but I spent a good six weeks editing it… it’s easy to say that I spent hundreds and hundreds more on post-production.  There were many times I was cursing myself and why couldn’t I just take nice, pretty photos that edit up in an afternoon (not to mention don’t require hundreds of paper birds) but even in those moments I knew it would be worth it… and it was.  🙂

Katie was giving me a ride into Hollywood on her way home, so Geoff and I could meet up and travel in one car, so she helped me dismantle the set.  We got some lunch since we were ravenous after such an exciting morning and she left me with Geoff while she went home for a bit before also heading down to Newport Beach.

I was exhausted, but also completely wound up.  I attempted a nap in Geoff’s office, but it was pretty pointless.  It was going to be a long night though, so I thought I’d better try anyway.  With anxiety over the shoot done, I could now concentrate on being anxious about that evening.  Connor had specifically asked me to come to the Newport Beach showing and bring my portfolio with me so that he could introduce me to Peter’s fans as one of their new featured artists who will be working with them.  Gulp.

Connor under the marquee.

Connor under the marquee.

Geoff and I (and Katie, in her own car) battled the traffic from Los Angeles to Newport Beach and made it just in the nick of time.  I really wasn’t sure what “introducing” me meant, so I had lots of possible meanings to be worried about.  I was heartened when I got to the theater and was greeted as long-lost friends by Connor and Cat (Peter was somewhere else) and then entered the theater to find a bunch of my family there, which I was not expecting!  It was so sweet of them all to come out and support me.

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There was a great Q&A session before the movie started.  There were raffles, giveaways, and the mayor of Newport Beach showed up to present Peter with a plaque.  It was really quite an event; I would heartily recommend it, of course to any fan, but just to anyone in general 🙂

The mayor giving Peter his plaque.

The mayor giving Peter his plaque; thanks to my grandmother for taking this photo!

Just before the show started, Connor had some of the vendors who had come with their Unicorn wares stand up and pointed them out, and at the very end of all that, he had me stand up and introduced me to everyone, saying I’d be there after the show with my art.  Whew.  One hurdle down.

Then we all got to watch the movie itself in a theater, which no fans my age and younger have ever been able to do.  It was pretty amazing.  I cried, and not just because of what an emotional day I was having.  Seriously, if you get the chance to see it, GO.

After the movie, Peter was around to sign books, take photos with people and talk to them like they’re actual human beings and not just cattle being herded through a chute.  Cat and Connor set me up behind one of the tables where the wares were spread out, and I set out my portfolio and my cards.  Geoff and Katie both really stepped up and stayed the entire night with me.  It was so good having them both there with me since I’m so intensely uncomfortable a) in crowds, b) around strangers, and c) having attention drawn to me and people looking at me.  Hopefully this is something I will get more used to.  It was great having the two of them there to distract me and make me feel less alone.

Wearing Geoff's jacket over my pretty dress - it got quite cold!

Wearing Geoff’s jacket over my pretty dress – it got quite cold!

Peter was true to his word and stayed until every single fan who wanted to had a chance to say hello and have their book/DVD/whatever signed, then all the theater workers still there got their turn.  I’d told my mom I would have him sign a book for her (“The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche And Other Odd Acquaintances,” which contains “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros,” the favorite short story of my mom’s, mine, Cat’s and Peter’s) and Katie and I wanted our own photos with him to cap the day off right.

Getting mom's book signed.

Getting mom’s book signed.

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Katie, Peter and me!

And then it was all over!  Months of mental planning, weeks of physical planning, all the crunching and sleepless nights and hard work… it was done.  I was relieved and disappointed, and also knew that it was going to be one of the highlights of my entire career, no matter what else happens.

We didn’t leave Newport Beach until 1:30am, and it was closer to 3 by the time I got home and went to bed.  Luckily I was so exhausted it overcame my nerves and I didn’t have too much trouble getting to sleep.  I knew the next day was going to be ugly, and it was.  You can’t throw that much work and lack of sleep at ME.  Not to mention the very long, emotional day it had been and how late I’d been up.  ME doesn’t let you get away with that kind of shit.  I planned on feeling pretty terrible, and I did.  But it was underscored by a feeling of deep satisfaction, and even more, an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything that had happened.  I was a bit emotionally fragile by then, and I burst into tears more than once that day, just out of sheer joy and thankfulness.

I am so grateful that I get to partner with Conlan and Peter.  I am so thankful they not only agreed to let me do my photo, but were enthusiastic about it.  I am blown away by what amazing people everyone at Conlan, my friends, models, family and husband are.  They have all been so immensely supportive of me and my art and my journey…especially Geoff as I ignored him night after night in my struggle to complete everything.  I am very lucky to have wonderful neighbors who will let me conduct an entire photo shoot in their home at the drop of a hat,  Everyone who reads this, who emails me, who comments on photos, who encourages me to create, thank you all.

But most of all, thank you to Peter.  Not just for creating the measuring stick by which all other fantasy will always be compared.  Not only for ripping our hearts out with his words, and returning them back to us more whole and healed.  And not just for being willing to play the King, but for being the King.  Peter simply is all those qualities that make me love the King so much.  And I got to capture it forever in two photos in my favorite, most meaningful series.  That is unbelievably wonderful to me.  Thank you for all of it.

And with that, I present to you the DreamWorld King.  Detail shots are below each main image.  Click on them to see them larger!

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

A very quick, thankful, somewhat tear-stained selfie the day after the shoot, wearing my beautiful horn from Firefly Path, which is going to be my every day wear now.  Click here to visit their Facebook page to get your own horn!

A very quick, thankful, somewhat tear-stained selfie the day after the shoot, wearing my beautiful horn from Firefly Path, which is going to be my every day wear now. Click here to visit their Facebook page to get your own horn!

Thank you to every single person who helped make this day happen.  I will never forget it.  🙂

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