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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

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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Let me start by saying that I’m sorry I can’t give you more actual details about what’s going on, but I’ve been advised to continue to keep them under wraps.  Those of you who follow me on social media have already heard that I’m going through a difficult time right now.  What I can tell you is that I am about to do something on the 14th which is absolutely terrifying to me and has incredible, life-altering implications.  For me, Geoff and the fur-kids.  And while I have lots of people (like all you dear, lovely folks reading this) who are loving and supporting me, it’s all going to come down to the words I speak and actions I take on the 14th.  I will be alone at the critical moment; the pressure feels crushing.

I feel like Louis Zamperini in the POW camp holding his wooden beam.  I feel like Aerin facing the giant dragon Mar.  I feel like the unicorn standing up to the Red Bull.  I feel like one of Leonidas’ 300.  Frodo off to Mordor.  Rosie and Pernicia.  Lissar and her father.  You get the idea.

One small, anxious girl going up against something far, far bigger than she is; ill-equipped for the job.  The higher the pressure, the more my brain feels scattered and forgets important details.  And it’s crucial that I remember everything, no notes allowed.  The outcome of this will have a huge impact on my financial state, which is currently pitiful.  I need this win.

To say this has been stressful would be a huge understatement.  This sincerely feels like one of the single hardest, most frightening thing I have ever had to do.  But there’s no getting around it, I HAVE to do it.  And I will do my best.

The stress is causing giant waves of discord through my body, mind and soul; causing mayhem and destruction.  For weeks now, every night, I either have stress dreams or I dream that I’m dying… the dying ones are the worst because, in my dream, it’s wonderful, beautiful, the most peaceful, joyful thing I’ve ever experienced.  And then I wake up and remember real life and it feels like a glorious gift has been snatched from my hands while the weight of life crushes down upon me again.

Despite numerous antacids of all kinds, I’m having persistent heartburn, often in the middle of the night.  My pain levels are all elevated.  And as you can imagine, my sleep is suffering in quantity and quality.

I’m not writing about this to simply throw myself a pity party.  I am asking for your support.  If you pray, please pray for a quick and overwhelmingly successful outcome.  If you do Reiki, please send as much as you can.  If you light candles, please light one for me.  Please send all the love, good thoughts and energy that you can spare, whatever your system of faith may or may not be.  I will gladly take it all!

I am determined to win this battle.  And while it traditionally takes a while to hear about the exact outcome from the fight, I am equally determined to get an overwhelmingly positive answer, right then and there.  I am visualizing myself being victorious.  As much as I am afraid, I am doing my best to catch myself when I start to go into a spiral of worry over what will happen if I fail.  When I notice those thoughts, I actively change my vision of the future to one that I want.  I don’t need to open myself up to attracting any negative energy!

One thing about all the metaphors I listed a few paragraphs ago; despite the odds, they all succeeded.  Thinking about others who have overcome incredible trials is deeply comforting to me.  If they could do it, I can do it too.

I can say one thing: this is not about a new turn in my health or anything else along those lines.  My health is fairly crappy right now, as is usual, but I have not taken a turn for the worse…  other than the spiked pain, non-stop migraines, constant tension in my whole body, wildly increased anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well as extreme exhaustion brought about by all of this.  It’s stressful to the point where I don’t even want to edit or create many days, which is an almost unheard-of low for me.  But these are clearly responses to the weeks and weeks of stress and worry.  I don’t want you guys to worry that I’m hiding some terrible new diagnosis from you.

I know I will get through this.  And I know that with Geoff, I will deal with the outcome, whatever it is.  But more than that, I know I will win.  I have to.  Knowing that doesn’t take all my fear and anxiety away, but it does give me hope to cling to.

I feel incredibly fragile in every way, but I will battle and I will be victorious.  Still, your prayers, well wishes and love would mean a great deal to me right now.  I can use all the help I can get.

I promise that I will try and let you guys know exactly what’s happening just as soon as I can.  I appreciate that you’re all being very understanding about that and respecting the fact that I simply can’t divulge much right now.

This self portrait felt especially appropriate for this post.  It serves as a reminder and inspiration to me to keep fighting, to get up when I’m knocked down, and most of all, never give up.  Thank you all so very, very much for all your support!  I cannot thank you enough.

With that said, please wish me a miraculous victory as I go into this battle.  Now, let me go find my suit of armor.

We Rise Again - © Sarah Allegra

We Rise Again – © Sarah Allegra

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Something you’ll know about me if you follow me anywhere or have read any other blog entries is my deep, abiding love for Peter S. Beagle and all of his creations.  Yes, he is best known for his beloved masterpiece The Last Unicorn (the same story that was made into an animated film and you probably saw as a child, not grasping its full, profound meaning).  The Last Unicorn deserves every bit of praise it gets and more.  It’s the most incredible story, full of wonder and love and great sorrow… and joy, despite, or because of, the sorrow.  What many people don’t know is that Peter is an exceptionally prolific writer, having written more books and short stories than I can count (A Fine and Private Place is a very close second favorite to The Last Unicorn).  And every single one is just as brilliant of a masterpiece as The Last Unicorn.

In The Lilac Wood, a self portrait

In The Lilac Wood, © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

I actually don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the story of The Last Unicorn.  As in the book, “there has never been a time without unicorns,” so there was never a time for me without The Last Unicorn.  It came out the year before I was born and I grew up knowing it.  My brother and I both loved it, and to this day can still quote nearly the entire thing by heart.  We would make a game out of it, seeing how long we could volley the script back and forth.  As I got a little older, I started reading the book, and each time I did, I discovered new levels, new depths, new nuances that I hadn’t been old enough to understand before.  It’s a common misconception that Unicorn is a children’s story, simply because the movie made from it was animated. There’s nothing wrong with children reading or seeing the movie, but it is a story for grown-ups.  You can’t fully appreciate the skillful, deft writing, the terrible tragedy, the glorious splendor, the tear-inducing sacrifice, the depth of the characters until you’ve experienced more of life yourself.

And Other Secrets, © Sarah Allegra, Model: Anna Wood

And Other Secrets, © Sarah Allegra, model: Anna Wood

It doesn’t surprise me now that I look back and remember that the very first self portrait I ever took, far before I was a “photographer” or a “self portrait artist” was inspired by the book.  The character of the unicorn, magically transformed unwillingly into a human girl for much of the book, taken from immortality into a body she feels dying all around her, resonated so deeply with me.  I probably don’t have to draw you a very detailed map of how it relates to my experience of living in a shitty body possessed by ME.  And yet the unicorn gains something which sets her apart from all the other unicorns in the world by her ordeal.  She learns regret.  She learns to love.  She is made more full for all her suffering.  It’s a hope I cling to for myself, sometimes harder than others, but one I return to again and again.

The Importance Of Mortality, © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

The Importance Of Mortality, © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

About two and a half years ago, Peter magically discovered some of my work which had been inspired by his writing (both The Last Unicorn and other stories) and his business manager, Connor Cochran, reached out to me.  There is still much under wraps and it will all be revealed in time, but we began working together, which was more than a dream come true for me.  Bless him, Peter is the antithesis of the saying “never meet your heroes.”  Meeting Peter only me love him and his writing more.  There truly are few more kind, generous and relentlessly creative people on earth.  And he is this generous with everyone.  At The Last Unicorn Screening Tour (which I HIGHLY recommend you attend!!) he will stay until EVERY SINGLE PERSON who would like to meet him, hug him, have him sign their book or take a photo with him is seen.  Despite the often very long lines, he doesn’t make you feel rushed, he takes his time and lets you say whatever you need to say.  In the moment you’re with him, you are the only person in the entire world and you have his full attention.  This does mean the screenings often end in the wee hours of night, and I don’t know how they all do it, those hours would kill me, but it’s just who Peter is.

Salt Wine - © Sarah Allegra, model: Peter Onorati

Salt Wine – © Sarah Allegra, model: Peter Onorati

A little while after I had signed my contract with Conlan Press, Peter’s publishing house run by Connor, I gathered up my nerve and asked Connor if I could borrow Peter and photograph him as DreamWorld‘s King when they were in town for the next screening.  To my joy, Connor gave me the go-ahead.  This led to a nightmarish few weeks when I frantically created Peter’s incredibly elaborate costume made almost entirely out of paper (fully documented here) but the results were worth every tearful, over-tired night I had getting ready for it.  No one could be DreamWorld‘s King better than Peter.

Beloved Of The Crown - Peter as the King, with Dedeker Winston and Katie Johnson as his maids.

Beloved Of The Crown – Peter as the King, with Dedeker Winston and Katie Johnson as his maids.

Aerie - Peter as the DreamWorld King.

Aerie – © Sarah Allegra, Peter as the DreamWorld King.

Why am I telling you all this?  Just to illustrate what an incredibly special and remarkable person Peter truly is, and how wonderful Connor and everyone at Conlan are.  They put their all into every single screening.  They are genuinely all wonderful people, and Peter is everything you would hope he would be and more.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended two of them; the first time was the same day that I photographed Peter so I had no energy for dressing up myself for the show, but the second time I went as Amalthea, as seen below (which won the costume contest that night, probably because of my handmade Have A Taco Purse, which I can make for you too!).  Seeing the movie in a theater never fails to bring tears to my eyes.]

At the screening as Amalthea (with purse) and back at home.

At the screening as Amalthea (with purse) and back at home.

Which, in my rambling, round-about way, leads to the main thrust of this post.  The tour had planned on traveling to multiple countries in Europe this year, and while the movie will still be shown and everyone will still have a fabulous time, Peter will be unable to attend due to a non-threatening health issue.  Peter is ok, there’s nothing to worry about, but still… even non-threatening health issues suck.  Peter hopes to be back on the road soon, but I thought that it might cheer him up if we all rallied and showed him some love.  What do you say?  For our beloved author who writes the stories which make us weep simultaneously from sorrow and joy?  He has given SO MUCH to the world, let’s try and give even a fraction of it back to him!

To Be So Full, © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

To Be So Full, © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

What do I mean by that?  Well, feel free to leave a comment here on the blog.  I’ll send them on to Connor who can forward them to Peter.  Feel free to leave kind words of encouragement on his Facebook page or send him an email at contact@conlanpress.com.  I’m sure he will really appreciate everyone’s show of support!

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John Harnagel

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John Harnagel

And let’s face it; we owe him.  For decades of wonder, joy and poignant insight.  For holding up mirrors full of fantasy which still reflect ourselves back and help us make new discoveries.  For every brilliant word typed, every tear shed and every heart which grew in size because of his writing.  For showing us what heroes are for.  For bringing us unicorns.

Get well soon, Peter.  We all love you 🙂

Now Has Come The Time For Silence -© Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

Now Has Come The Time For Silence – © Sarah Allegra, a self portrait

See all my Peter S. Beagle-inspired images here and buy fun things with these images on them here!

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I was invited to join in something of an art-blog-chain-letter and it sounded fun, so here we are!  Thanks to Hand Andy Pandy for inviting me!  I’m very pleased to be able to call this very talented photographer and self portrait artist my friend.  You can find him on his site, Twitter, Flickr and Google +.  He’s nearing the end of a really wonderful, whimsical and humorous 365 project, which I would highly recommend you check out!  I have great admiration for people who not only can start and finish a 365, but especially for people like Andy who do a high-concept piece each and every day!  It’s draining for me to just think about; I have no idea how other people do it, but I admire it!  You can see Andy’s blog hop post here!

Chocolate and Vanilla, by Handy Andy Pandy

The blog hop requires everyone to answer these four questions:

1. Why do I do what I do?

The short answer is because I can’t not create.  It’s just a part of my soul.  Days when I’m very ill or in too much pain to work are incredibly miserable for me, not so much because I feel physically bad, but because my ability to create is stifled.  I’ve tried just about every visual artform there is and many non-visual ones (with varying degrees of success) but photography has been the best thing for me and resonated the most with me.  It also helps that I can do much of my editing while laying down in bed with my laptop; that gives me a MUCH greater ability to work on images than if I had to sit in a chair at a desk.

 

Where Earth Meets The Sky, model Katie Johnson

Where Earth Meets The Sky, model Katie Johnson

 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I suppose the biggest way my work differs is that I’m drawing from my own experience and inspiration, which is inherently different than anyone else’s.  Even if there’s another female, conceptual, fine art photographer and self portrait artist who has ME and really, really loves Peter S. Beagle and Robin McKinley, our work would still be different because of the forces which have shaped our souls.  I also think being self-taught helps you develop a unique style since you’re always traveling on the path toward creating the vision you had in your head and have to figure things out as you go.  There’s nothing wrong with formal education, and being self-taught can leave odd holes in your knowledge, but from my experience, it’s often helpful to artists maintaining their individuality.

 

The Court Of The Dryad Queen - model Dedeker Winston

The Court Of The Dryad Queen – model Dedeker Winston

 

3. How does my creative process work?

It depends somewhat on the image, but I’ll give you a couple examples.  There’s always some kernel of inspiration which explodes into a concept; I’ll often make rough sketches or make notes about how I want it to look, what fabric/location to use, colors, mood, etc.  Anything important that I’m afraid I’ll forget.  If I need to build costumes, props or sets, I do so.  I photograph my concept, and sometimes I stick exactly to my original vision while other times I discover as I’m creating that there are better ways to express whatever it is I’m wanting to express.

After the images have been shot, they move into my editing queue, where they could languish for anywhere from a few hours to many months.  Once it’s that image’s turn to be edited, that can take anywhere from a few days to months.  Then, after all that time, I finally declare the image done and release it onto the internet!

 

In The Lilac Wood - a self portrait

In The Lilac Wood – a self portrait

 

4. What am I working on now?

I’m always working on 50 different things at once, but I’ll give you the highlights.  DreamWorld is constantly in some state of creation; I have a number of images to edit as well as pre-production tasks on my to-do list.  What’s lined up next to edit are a few shots inspired by HBO’s True Detective, so I’ll be re-watching the series to soak up the flavor as I edit.  Oh darn 🙂

 

The Shadows Lengthen - the first True Detective-inspired image I created

The Shadows Lengthen – the first True Detective-inspired image I created (but not the last!)

 

Be sure and check out Robert Cornelius’s blog hop!

Eternity in an Hour, by Robert Cornelius

 

Also please see Angela Butler’s!

By Angela Butler

 

These very talented photographers are also putting blogs up today, and I’m happy to count them as friends as well as!

At this point, I’m supposed to link to the artists who will continue the blog hop next week, but for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to get in touch with all my artist friends and ask them.  So, if you’re reading this and would like to carry it on next Monday, feel free to!  Let me know and I’ll post a link to you 🙂

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I have known Erick Reidell for several years, but he and Geoff go way back to high school.  Erick has always been an adventurous, creative, gregarious person, and we found a lot of artistic common ground to talk about when I first met him as Geoff’s new girlfriend a little over five years ago.  Which was a relief to me, since I just wanted Geoff’s friends to like me!

It was a shock to everyone when he was diagnosed with cancer that same year.  Cancer cruelly seems to always pick on the best, most wonderful people.  Erick would not be anyone’s “typical” cancer patient.  He doesn’t smoke, lives healthfully and is always full of optimism and cheer.  That first year Geoff and I were dating, Erick had a seven-pound tumor removed from his abdomen.  There were many breathless months while Erick endured chemo and treatments and recovered from surgery.  I vividly remember the night Erick’s wife called Geoff to tell him that the most recent scan had come back clear, and for the time being at least, Erick was in remission.  Everyone was, of course, extremely relieved.

Since then I’ve gotten the chance to get to know Erick better myself, and I can say he is one hell of a guy.  Hard-working, artistic, funny, a great husband and dad and always ready to face the next challenge his body throws at him.  He is such a lovely man that I suggested he become ordained online so Geoff and I could have him marry us at our wedding, which he did.  The wedding was, of course, a wonderful, beautiful blur of a day, but it will always mean so much more looking back and remembering it was our dear friend, and not some stranger, who performed the ceremony.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff's dad/best man, Larry.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff’s dad/best man, Larry.

Late winter, after several years of being clear, Erick’s cancer once again returned, and once again, he beat it.  Not without great effort from him and his doctors, but he did it.  When we knew we’d be seeing each other over Christmas, Erick asked to be a part of DreamWorld, which I gladly said yes to.  I also felt that a very serious charge had been given to me.  I wanted to make sure I did something special for Erick, something true to DreamWorld, something that spoke of his struggles and also something that would ring true to other cancer sufferers.

Out of these swirling thoughts came the Yellow Knight.  Yellow, since that color is associated with cancer-awareness ribbons, LiveStrong bracelets and the like.  His armor is made out of little bits and swirls of ribbon (or paper, as it ended up, but it looks like ribbon) much like the awareness ribbons.  Though ribbon would seem like a frail and flimsy defense, he defeats the horrible cancer-monster.

I’ll talk briefly about how I made Erick’s costume on, again, a next-to-nothing budget.  His cloak was the same one I’d used in Paul Telfer’s Sleeper’s Sentinel photos, so that was already made.  I wanted to make a chestplate and bracers for Erick’s armor.  Ihough I’d originally planned to use actual ribbon, I was dissatisfied with the ribbon selection both in my ribbon drawer and the craft store, so I decided to use paper instead.  That was also quite a bit less expensive, so double win!

For the chestplate, I stared by gluing two layers of cardstock together to give it a firm, stiff base, and covered one side in muslin for a more “polished” finish.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

You can see my black and red suitcase on the floor, which just shows how hurriedly I was trying to put this together before we left for our trip.  I got the bracers made too; fabric shapes with cardstock bones to give them sturdiness.  I was planning on just tying the bracers on with ribbon, and I figured I’d do the same for the chestpiece since you wouldn’t be able to see the back or sides anyway, so the problem of keeping them on was easily solved.

bts4

Bracer with cardstock bones.

At this point, we really had to leave, so I just cut lengths of paper and used my rotary cutter to slice nice, straight even strips into them.  I packed my glue gun and other supplies I might need and we hit the road.

Our time visiting family was short, so we decided to shoot right after Christmas.  I spent one long afternoon of our trip bent over the chestpiece and bracers, hot gluing the ribbon strips to them as quickly as I could.  I alternated the colors, types and thicknesses  the papers frequently to give it more depth, using cardstocks, vellum and tissue paper.  Unfortunately, I was so busy feeling stressed about getting it done before the shoot the next morning, I completely forgot to take photos of the gluing-on process.  But you can probably imagine what a slightly-crazed woman wielding a glue gun in one hand, paper ribbon strips in the other, muttering dark curses under her breath, hunched over fabric/paper constructs and commanding the glue gun to heat up faster and just GLUE looks like.

The morning of the shoot came, and I’d managed to finish the costume (though my lower back was still complaining from having hunched for so many hours).  I knew I’d be doing a lot of work to the cancer-monster in post, so I simply had one black trash bag bunched up into a ball which Erick could punch, and I’d made a very, very rough wire frame for another black trash bag into something that was somewhat wing-shaped.

I scotch-taped the bags as needed to hold their shapes and let Erick pummel the central mass of the creature.  Geoff helped tremendously with flipping the cloak and holding the wings up for me to photograph separately and composite into the final image.  All said, it took perhaps half an hour.  The park we were in was just beautiful and quite deserted given the very cold weather and early hour, and I couldn’t resist taking some snapshots of plants covered in jewel-like snow.  I’ve said it before, but as a California-native, snow is UTTERLY MAGICAL to me whenever I encounter it.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

Erick looked incredibly noble and at home in his costume, and I’m so glad Geoff reminded me to take a portrait of him not in action.  They’re quite different shots, but I think a lot of Erick’s quiet, inner strength and grace shows through, especially in the second portrait.

After that, we all had a lovely breakfast at a local cafe and warmed up with hot food and coffee.  A successful shoot!

I hope these image can be an inspiration to others fighting their own battles; perhaps simply reminders to not give up quite yet.  If you have had experiences with cancer or other long illnesses yourself, I would love to hear from you!  I hope I can make the cancer community proud.

And with that, let’s see the finished photos!

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight -detail

The Yellow Knight -detail

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor - detail

Ribbon Armor – detail

Thank you, Erick, for coming to play in DreamWorld!  🙂

This is not the time or place to get into it all, but it seems I will be heading into another of my own health battles, of the bureaucratic nature this time, and any well wishes and prayers would be appreciated!

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