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Posts Tagged ‘journey’

I have new images for you as well as some updates about my personal life!  Since most of my personal life ends up coloring my images in some way or another, I suppose that makes everything relevant, right?  🙂

Mountain Dweller teaser - © Sarah Allegra

Mountain Dweller series teaser – © Sarah Allegra

I recently had a shoot with a model who was new to me, the lovely Teri Wyble!  Sadly for me, she does not live in Los Angeles, but she does travel here now and then and we’ve already made plans to do more shooting next time she’s in town.  She was such a joy to work with; she’s not in modeling just to look pretty or puff up her ego, she’s interested in telling compelling stories.  She has a natural grace and beauty which lend themselves perfectly to my kind of photography.  On top of that, Teri is also just a really wonderful soul, full of love and kindness, and we share many of the same interests.  It was a perfect collaboration!

I’m also going to be sharing a bit of my spiritual journey with you guys here.  For anyone who’s curious, I am a lightworker, but I don’t define my spirituality much beyond that.  Organized religion does not work for me, but I know many people who love their branch of it.  If it’s a good fit for you, stick with it!  If not, you’re still ok and you can still be a spiritual person.

Mountain Dweller 1 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 1 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

I believe in an unconditionally-loving higher power, which I like to refer to as Source.  “God” brings to mind all sorts of connotations which I personally find hindering.  I believe that everyone and everything is made up of energy, as physics teaches us, and since energy cannot be destroyed, it’s most logical to me that life continues beyond death.  I have no doubts about this.  I have spoken to and had contact with those who have passed over… which would have been enough on its own to convince me of our eternal life, but I do feel science supports this idea as well.

Toward the beginning of the year, I experienced an EXTREMELY powerful guided meditation with a lovely woman named Mojo.  If you’re interested in her services, you can find her page on Fiverr here!  She currently doesn’t advertise her guided meditations, which she does live over the phone with you, but if you contact her, she can arrange it for you.

Mountain Dweller 2 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 2 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

During this guided meditation, I actually got to meet and speak with my two main guardian angels.  Prior to this, I had believed in angels in a vague sort of way, but despite how much I would have liked it, I never felt that I could successfully connect with any of them.  I have also done other guided meditations which are supposed to introduce you to your angel without much success other than feeling more centered afterward, like with any meditation.  My point is, the meditation with Mojo was very different.  I could actually feel and sense my angels; I could hear and even see them in my mind.  I know now that they have always been with me every second of my life, and they will for the rest of my time on earth.  I am never alone and they are a great comfort to me.

This new connection with my angels led me to buy a handful of books about angels; I wanted to learn EVERYTHING that I POSSIBLY could about them!  As I’m sure you all know, my passions are all-consuming.  When a new one ignites, my life becomes focused on that and only that until I feel I have a grasp on it.  For anyone else interested in learning more about angels, I recommend Angels In My Hair by Lorna Byrne, and The Angel Therapy Handbook by Doreen Viture.  Both are fascinating, well-written and impart excellent knowledge.  Angels In My Hair is more of a memoir while the Angel Therapy Handbook is more of a textbook.  I feel they compliment each other well.

Mountain Dweller 3 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 3 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

I mentioned being a lightworker a little bit ago.  What I mean by that is that I am certified at level 2 in Reiki.  I do energy work, sending positive energy to people, animals, places, situations, objects, whatever you want.  It’s healing and can never be used to harm.  I also began meditating much more regularly this year.  In the past, when I’d try meditating, I would always enjoy the effects of it, but I had a lot of trouble making myself do it with any consistency.  I’m not sure what changed, but for some reason, this year I was able to push past that.  Once I got over that initial block, I discovered that I LOVE meditating!  It’s incredibly healing and healthy for your body, mind and soul.  I found it was a bit like starting to work out.  At first, you don’t really want to do it, but after a little while of making yourself stick with it, you like it and actually begin craving it.  I now have meditation (guided and not) as a regular part of my life and I’d highly recommend it to absolutely everyone!  One thing I discovered are the millions of meditation tracks on YouTube; literally something for absolutely everyone and every interest.  There are also long tracks of nature sounds and/or music, some with binaural beats in them, some lasting up to eight hours, so you could listen to them all night while you sleep.  I’ve been learning a great deal about crystals as well from my dear friend Jessi who owns the shop Mineralism Crystals.  I HIGHLY recommend her if you’re in the market for anything!  Even if you don’t see something in her online shop, chances are, she has it.  I’ve placed numerous orders with her and they always exceed my expectations!  Also, she is a fellow spoonie, so your money goes to help support her as she’s unable to work a “regular” job; win-win!

As all these new revelations were opening up to me, meditation, angels, being able to “hear” animals more clearly when I contacted them energetically (for example, I was able to help one very special cat overcome his abandonment fears when he was newly adopted, something I was honored to have been a part of), Teri came along and we had our shoot.  I knew that I wanted some of this deeper spirituality to be reflected in something we shot, but I wasn’t really sure how.  However, I did know that I wanted to photograph Teri in a beautiful lace dress I had… that combined with feeling inspired by some images Geoff shot recently with a back-lit model that made me decide I would shoot an “angelic” look with the gauzy white fabric and light behind her.  (Although really, just try and make her NOT look angelic; that would be a far more difficult job.)

Mountain Dweller 4 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 4 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

As I suspected, Teri made the perfect angel.  Sorting through the images later, I realized that I was creating a new race of DreamWorld beings.  The Aethereans, as I called them, are DreamWorld’s angels.  They live high in the mountains, away from the more populated areas so they can be focus on devoting themselves to spiritual studies.  They are very wise from their decades of pursuing the truth in every facet of life, as well as skilled and compassionate healers.  Many of the other DreamWorld inhabitants send their young to train with the Aethereans for several years, where they are taught empathy, love, plant and animal care, healing, sacred geometry and the mysteries of the universe.  I thought that the Aethereans needed some kind of uniform or mark that visually informed everyone of who they are and the spiritual life they have chosen for themselves, so I decided they would all have a flower of life symbol on their foreheads.  I wish I’d thought to actually apply this in real life to Teri, but this idea only came later.  Thankfully, Photoshop made it possible to add it to all the images!

Teri did such a spectacular job modeling, she made it so very difficult to choose which images to work up!  I ended up editing quite a few more photos than I typically would pick because I simply could not narrow my selections down any more.  It took a bit longer to finish these because of the volume I had to work through, but also because of a couple other wonderful new journeys I was taking…

Mountain Dweller 5 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 5 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Through a very miraculous series of events, I discovered Calista Ascension.  Calista is one of those very rare spiritual teachers who actually embodies and lives everything she preaches; I have met very few more accepting, genuinely loving and wise people in my life.  She offers numerous classes which I was lusting after, but when I saw that she created her own Unicorn Healing System which I could take online from the comfort of my home, I was hooked.  I had to take it.  Immediately.

unicorncourse_logo-500x500

I’ll let Calista explain the course in her own words:

Unicorn Healing™ is a hands-on healing modality for empowerment and wellness, but also a development tool that can awaken your Souls’ gifts and purpose. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy or complemented with other energy practices.

Brought forward in 2009, direct from the Unicorn realm via Calista, it is a very sacred modality that can provide all that you are ready to receive.This is a course for those who are ready to step-up, break-through and arise in their POWER!

Just as you have a Guardian Angel that walks with you so to you have a Guardian Unicorn. Once regarded as the fabric of fairytales, Unicorns are very much real. They have walked with us since the times of Atlantis and are now returning to our awareness to help us awaken to love and the infinite potential we hold within.

As this is a distant learning course, you can set your own pace and progression. A commitment is required however as this course is deeply transformational – the more you put in, the more you will receive. The Unicorns are ever-present to those who wish to better themselves and assist Mother Earth to ascend with grace. 

Yes.  Unicorns.  REAL Unicorns.  As I mentioned earlier, I am well-versed with Reiki energy, which, I learned, is apparently an earth-based energy.  The Unicorns however hail from another planet (bear with me here) so their energy is cosmically-based.  (For those interested, Calista recorded an excellent podcast all about who and what the Unicorns are, where they come from, etc, with much more detail than I’m giving in this post, which you can listen to here.)  I hadn’t expected their energies to feel particularly different from each other; I just hadn’t thought about it.  You may believe that these Unicorns are simply a pretty fantasy I’m escaping to in my imagination (which I’ll freely admit is an escape I would likely pick!) but OH MY GOD – once you’ve felt their energy, there is NO mistaking them.  They are every bit as real as we are, and their energy is incredibly powerful… yet also full of the most unconditional love I’ve ever experienced.  It’s nearly impossible to describe how energy feels in words, but the ones that keep coming to mind when I think about my Unicorns are high, clear, clean, bright, powerful, silvery, shimmery, penetrating, deep, beautiful, wise, loving, celestial, ethereal, and immense.  I love Reiki, but the Unicorns really kicked things up a huge notch for me.

Mountain Dweller 6 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 6 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

As part of my studying, I went through an attunement with their energy, where I met my three guardian Unicorns, who all serve different roles, and who are all equally exquisitely beautiful.  I spent 30 consecutive days meditating and communing with them every day in different ways so we could really get to know each other.  And I also practiced doing healings with the Unicorn energy, both in person and across distance, much like you do with Reiki.  The Unicorn healings I’ve done so far have been the most powerful I’ve yet witnessed in my life.  Problems that have bothered people for very long times suddenly lose their sting, allowing the people to let go of them.  Hurts are overcome, trauma is healed.  They are truly miraculous.  And my guides assure me that I will become physically healthy myself in time.

My guides… yes, I should mention the other guides too.  Meeting the Unicorns as well as my angels has opened my mind up to the idea of there being more spiritual guides for us in the universe than I had previously realized.  Currently, in addition to my guardian angels and Unicorns, I also have a dragon guide, a pegasus guide and a mermaid guide, although I have not worked with them nearly as long or as deeply as the Unicorns.  I’ve also started to sense and sometimes communicate with the elementals all around me.  The trees in my yard, for example, will remind me if the bird feeder has gotten low or the plants need watering.  I’m becoming a MUCH better gardener with their help!  🙂

Mountain Dweller 7 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 7 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Then, right on the heels on my finishing up my Unicorn Healing course, I began taking Doreen Virtue’s Fairyologist course!  This is more or less what it sounds like; you learn all about the various fairies that exist, what they’re about (the fairies are mostly concerned with environmental and animal issues, but certain groups emphasize different causes), how to communicate and work with them.  At the end, you take a quiz and, assuming you pass, you become a certified Fairyologist.  As I’m also in the process of having all my Unicorn work reviewed by Calista as we speak, I’m on the cusp of becoming both a certified Unicorn Healer and a certified Fairyologist… both are NOT things I expected that I’d be saying if you’d asked me at the beginning of this year!

I’m telling you guys about all this for several reasons.  One, working with my guides and walking my spiritual journey is becoming an ever-more-present, ever-larger part of my life.  I wanted to just lay it all out there in one go and not feel like I had to tiptoe around it on my own blog.  Two, everything in my personal life effects my art.  Case in point, the images I’m releasing today.  I probably wouldn’t have even shot them if I hadn’t met my guardian angels, and I certainly wouldn’t have added the Flower of Life symbol to the Aethereans (who would not exist) without having learned more about sacred geometry in my studies.  In my life, there is very little separation between the real world and my art.  It’s all one big pot of stew where each ingredient enhances all the others.

Mountain Dweller 8 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 8 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

And lastly, I’d like to invite all of you to explore your own spirituality.  When you find what works for you, there is very, very little in life that is as rewarding!  There are many charlatans both online and off, so you must be discerning in who you choose to listen to.  A strong connection to your intuition and sense of truth will help you navigate the waters.  Any of the people or authors I’ve mentioned in this post have gotten the thumb’s up from me if you’d like to start there!

Mountain Dweller 9 - © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

Mountain Dweller 9 – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Teri Wyble.

I am an energy worker.  I work with Unicorns and angels.  I talk to animals, fairies and elementals.  I am a creator.  I collect crystals.  I am an empath.  I am a photographer.  I am clairvoyant and clairsentient.  I am a fulltime student of truth.  I am a healer.  I am a woman.  I am an artist.  I am Sarah.  I am me.  I don’t apologize for any of that.  You go be you, and don’t apologize for any of it either.  🙂

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

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

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As so often happens with DreamWorld, the inspiration for this set of images came close to a year ago.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother series © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

Last summer, I had recently watched some of the BBC’s episodes of Life, their truly excellent series on all kinds of wildlife.  I was watching it while I edited other images (I rarely watch TV without doing a second activity, unless we’re talking about shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Rectify, etc, which all demand my full attention) but my editing suddenly halted when this segment came on.

I remember backing it up and watching the whole piece again, mesmerized, deeply touched and saddened by such complete, beautiful devotion from any creature to another.  As I watched it a third time, I knew a photo was going to come out of it somehow… it was resonating too deeply with me for anything else to happen.

Now, as to how the medieval elements worked themselves in… I can only give you guesses since I’m not really sure how my brain made the jump myself.  I know that part of it had to do with wanting to give her eight “tentacles” of some kind (which made its way into her hair) and wanting to give her a pouch to carry her eggs in.  For some reason, I thought of a kirtle, a medieval garment which lasted for several centuries.  The kind I was picturing were from, I believe, earlier on in the medieval period and looked more like what we might think of as over-dresses or fancy aprons.

A kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

A red kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

Researching medieval garments inevitably led to medieval hair… images like these set my brain whirling.

You can see how the braided and wrapped hair, along with beautiful headdresses leaked into my character.

As usual, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this when I started into it.

I had a longish, dark brown wig which I’d bought very cheaply quite a while ago.  When it arrived, I realized why it had been so cheap; it was already snarled and tangled before I’d even taken it out of the package.  I halfheartedly attempted to work the same wide-tooth comb I use for my own often snarled and tangly hair and quickly realized it was a futile endeavor.  I tossed the wig into the back of the closet and mostly forgot about it.

When this project came up, I remembered it though.  Even though it poofed up like a drying poodle as I combed it, that would work in this case, since I’d be wrapping it up and looping it around.  I spent most of one afternoon just combing it out – not detangling it, mind you; there was never any hope of this wig being tangle-free.  My best hope was to get it to the point where I could separate it into eight segments.  It took all the strength in my arms and they were very unhappy with me for the next few days, but I managed to do it.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

In the meantime, I had discovered arm knitting, which I found I could do without a) using much brain power, b) quickly c) without using much muscle power and d) it had very pretty and interesting results.  The resulting squares and shapes I made from the looping yarn had such a beautiful, organic look, almost like a coral reef or some other under-sea plant/creature, that it felt completely at home with an aquatic-inspired creature.

After the combing session, I put the wig away for a day or two.  I brought it out again after my arms had regained a little strength.  Of course this also meant that it had had a couple days left completely on its own without any outside help to start tangling again, so I spent a little time re-combing it to get it back to a manageable state.  I quickly arm-knit a band of yarn which would form the circlet of my headdress and made sure it would fit.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then I divided it into eight more-or-less equal segments and put a hair band around each one to help keep them from getting into too much trouble.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I put the circlet of yarn back on top of the hair and began crisscrossing the yarn (which was a beautiful, slightly metallic variegated blend of soft pinks, blues,  lavenders and silvers) over the different segments, using liberal help from my glue gun to keep everything in check.  Each segment was attached back up to the main part of the circlet after its crisscrossing was done.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The two front, face-framing sections of hair were left for last.  I added some looping pieces of yarn between the other segments to make it more headdress-like.  The front segments got crisscrossed with their own lengths of yarn and were then attached to the very back of the circlet, forming two large loops on either side of the face, with hair tentacles hanging underneath them.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then was the fun part: beads!  I raided my bead stash, with an eye toward pieces from a very elaborate headdress I’d made which had recently died, spilling beads all over the floor.  I knew there were some really cool pieces which I’d used for it, so I repurposed them again in this piece.  I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly be-jeweled and sparkly, just enough bling to make the character look a bit important; perhaps some kind of royalty.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Moving on to her dress, I had a high-necked, sleeveless, pink chiffon dress from Ebay which I’d gotten for little more than a song.  Pink isn’t a color I’m usually drawn to that much, but since the original octopus was pink, my character was going to be pink too.  I kind of eyeballed the general shape of a kirtle from ivory tulle; a lot was going to happen to it and since it was so light and transparent, it didn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.

I free-styled a yoke for the kirtle with more arm knitting and added some cap sleeves (which are only visible in some of the images unfortunately).  One thing I was finding with the arm knitting was that is is EXTREMELY forgiving.  Arm you within an atom bomb’s range of what you were going for?  Then it will probably work!

To unify the costume and also enhance the organic, oceanic feel, I arm knitted a piece for the bottom of the kirtle, basically a large triangle, and two smaller, upside-down triangles for either side of the egg pouch.  I left several yarn strings loose from the pouch triangles which would be used to tie the kirtle behind the back of the dress, just like a regular apron.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The eggs were leftover from a shoot I did with Paul Telfer as the Sleeper’s Sentinel.  I’d had to buy a dozen of the super-large plastic eggs so I had PLENTY to use for other shoots!  I kept these fairly simple since there would be a lot going on visually in the images; I started with spray-painting a base coat of a semi-metallic light gold color and added flecks of bronze-black to make them look more like real eggs.  Repeat until they look right.  I knew I’d only need five or six eggs, since that was as many as would fit in the pouch I’d made so I didn’t waste any time painting extra eggs.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I did do one thing to just one egg though…  I found a nail and a hammer and while the egg was still in two pieces, I hammered a hole through from the inside out.  Some sharp knives, pliers and more hammering later, I’d created what looked like a fracture in the egg from a chick inside starting to hatch.  Eggs = done!

I’d had my faithful model Dedeker Winston in mind for this character the whole time.  I usually cast characters in the same way I create them, just by what “feels right.”  I had not consciously remembered it, but it turned out there was a really wonderful real-world reason to have Dedeker play the octopus-mother caring for her eggs.  Dedeker has been an egg donor many times to couples who are unable to have children on their own.  In fact, one family has two children, both from Dedeker’s eggs, and they just requested a third!  It’s very unusual for a family to have so many children from the same donor, but I think it’s really lovely that all of their children will be linked in this extra way.  And clearly Dedeker produces really fantastic babies!  🙂  Once I remembered that, it felt truly serendipitous that we were shooting this character together.

I knew that my wig was several shades darker than Dedeker’s hair and I had a couple thoughts on how to deal with it.  I knew she had a dark brown wig of her own which we could layer under mine, or we could totally cover all of her hair with a wig cap.  In the end though, she simply twirled her hair into a low bun, I set the wig on top of her head and since there was so much going on with the hair, it looked completely natural and blended right in.  If you looked closely, you could see that some of the hairs on her forehead were a bit lighter than the rest of her head, but I matched them up in about 30 seconds in Photoshop.  Sometimes the simplest method is the best!

We set out on a morning last summer to capture these shots of the character I’ve dubbed the Pink Mother.  We got started early and the sun was already blazing; it promised to be a miserably hot day but at the moment it was still pleasant.  I started shooting Dedeker in a dryer, dustier, yellower scene and led her along a path which gradually got greener and lusher, mirroring the octopus’ journey to find the perfect environment for her eggs to be born into.  The color pallet moved from warm and vivid to cool and less saturated, especially in regards to the Pink Mother herself.  As she nears death, the paler she becomes until the last shot, where she is very white.

She sacrificed everything she had for her eggs.  She loved them, cared for them, caressed them.  She journeyed over countless miles to find a safe, green place for them to be born.  Though it cost her everything, she never hesitated.  And, it seems, her journey was worth it.  The cracks in the eggs prove her right.  They were brought forth from the deepest love there is, and that can only be the best start to these new beings.

So thank you to Dedeker for being my medieval octopus mother and letting me share your story about your own eggs!  And thank you for trusting my vision even if it seemed questionable at the time 😉  You were the perfect, purest-loving mother to those babies!

And now enjoy the full images, some detail shots and behind-the-scenes captures!

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

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Yesterday, the 27h of May, marked my five-year anniversary with ME… which leads me to talking about why I call it ME verses the multitude of other names given to it, in addition to introducing my latest photo on the subject which you can WIN a print of!  Make sure you read all the way to the end to find out how to enter 🙂

Vanity's Murder

A detail shot from my new photo

I’ve been wanting to address this for some time and it just keeps getting pushed down to the bottom of my blog to-do list.  But my anniversary seemed like a good time to bring it up.   In the United States, we call ME by a whole host of other names; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (fibro), chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), Chronic Epstein-Barr virus (CEBV), and most insultingly, the “yuppie flu.”  Luckily we seem to have mostly left the “yuppie flu” label behind us, but many of the other names are not much better.  Calling it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been likened to calling tuberculosis “Chronic Coughing Syndrome,” or stomach cancer “Chronic Upset Tummy.”  The names are not indicative of what’s really happening in our bodies.  They are trivializing and patronizing.

I like myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which is what most of the rest of the world calls it.  It literally means “inflammation of the brain and spinal cord with muscle pain.”  This at least hints more accurately at what may be going on.  Muscle pain is one of the defining characteristics of reaching that diagnosis (as I can personally attest to; I woke up nearly weeping from muscle pain after a strenuous shoot yesterday) and the evidence is suggesting more and more that this is ultimately a neurological condition.  ME at least doesn’t carry the negative connotations of the other names; people are generally under the assumption that they are not “real” diseases.

In Between Awake And Asleep

In Between Awake And Asleep

I should be perfectly clear that there is still a tremendous amount of controversy over what name to give us, and if they really are all more or less the same disease.  I genuinely believe they are the same disease from everything I’ve seen and read, but there will be many who do not agree with me.  However, since the entire reason the US broke off from the rest of the world’s name in the 1980’s was to create an insurance loophole so companies could deny coverage to patients… I am reluctant to believe what anyone on that side of the table claims.

So I call it ME, though since it is a lesser-known name here in the US, I’ll often consent to referring to it as ME/CFS.  Meeting the names halfway, so to speak.

As I said, yesterday was my five-year anniversary with ME, although the signs were certainly starting to form years before that.  I was unnaturally tired all the time, I got sick and injured easily and seemed to have a little more trouble healing.  But since I barely knew ME existed, and I was young, in my late teens and early twenties, I figured it would pass.  You think horses, not zebras; you don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that you have a strange, little-known disease.

A Fading Girl

A Fading Girl

Some of you have heard the story of how I became acutely sick with ME before, so I will try and just hit the high points.  Five years ago Geoff and I went out to lunch.  We’d been dating for exactly a month.  After lunch, I felt tired so I laid down and took a nap.  When I woke up, my stomach was very upset and I thought I had food poisoning.  Though it wasn’t pleasant, I figured it would pass quickly.  Several days later I still felt nauseous, so I saw a doctor who was very unconcerned about me and suggested I take some Pepto Bismol.  How helpful.  Over the next several days the pain in my stomach gradually changed from an all-encompassing gripping, nauseous pain to an extremely sharp and localized pain in my right flank.  Appendicitis? I wondered.  The pain was higher than would be classic, but it was so sharp, extreme and had come on so suddenly, I worried nonetheless.

After 10 days of pain and nausea, I finally saw a good doctor.  They determined pretty quickly that it wasn’t my appendix, ordered an ultrasound and a LOT of bloodwork (the only reason I didn’t faint was because I was sitting down, but I felt bad enough to wish I’d fainted.)  Everything came back normal.  They thought it must be a kidney infection, so I took the antibiotics, glad that we had figured out what was wrong and that I’d be over it soon.  But the treatment didn’t do anything; I still felt terrible.

That same story repeated and repeated over the next few years.  For a long time it was thought that my crazy flank pain and my fatigue were two separate problems; at this point, I believe the evidence indicates they both stem from the same cause.  I have undergone more tests and procedures than I care to remember, I have tried every food and supplement imaginable; every Western and alternative approach.  Occasionally I find something that helps even fractionally, and I cling to it like a drowning girl.

When I think back on this time, I feel like what was happening in my body is best expressed by this scene from Akira, near the end of the movie.

Tetsuo's grim end.

Tetsuo’s grim end.

My body seemed to completely fall apart and spiral out of control, with me stuck in the middle of i.  Up until then, I had been quite consistent with doing Pilates and yoga, and enjoyed their effects on my body.  I ate pretty well, I didn’t smoke, drink or do any drugs.  I felt like I was doing things right.  But when ME finally hit, none of that mattered any more.  My body became a disgusting, horrible prison with a mind of its own, seemingly bent against me in every way.  And the fact that almost none of this showed outwardly made it even worse.  One of the things I hear from other ME people as being the most frustrating thing is having people say to them, “You don’t look sick.”  It’s true, often we don’t (until you get into the very dire, extreme cases of ME) but inwardly, that movie clip is what I felt was happening to me.

Thankfully, the flank pain has been reigned in somewhat over the years through arduous nerve-blocking injections, although it never truly goes away.  And we still have absolutely no idea what’s actually causing the pain in the first place.  But since it used to feel like I had a shard of glass trapped inside my abdomen, I’m very grateful for every bit of pain chipped away from it.  The fatigue and muscle/tendon/anything-but-my-flank pains have all gotten steadily worse over the past five years.

The Fog Rolls In

The Fog Rolls In

My life has become smaller and quieter each year in response to the unreasonable demands of my body, only to have it ask for even more.  To a degree, it’s generally agreed that staying as active as possible is best; that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”  This is tempered with one of the few things known with absolute certainty about ME: if you continually push yourself past what you can handle, you WILL get worse.  And it can get much, much worse than what I experience.

The UK documentary Voices From The Shadows paints an uncomfortably vivid picture of how bad ME can really get.  It shows people completely bed-bound, in constant, wracking pain, despite morphine drips, eyes continually covered as they are unable to endure even sunlight filtered through curtains.  Ears always protected with earplugs because they are so sensitive to sound.  From my end of things, going to the grocery store is only barely tolerable.  All the light and noise, oh the cacophony of noise… people talking, carts wheeling, plastic crinkling, children crying, music playing, announcements made… I genuinely dread the necessary trip each week.  And if I feel that way about it when my case of ME is one of the mildest diagnosable forms, I can hardly imagine the miserable existence the poor souls with severe ME endure.

Unjust

Unjust

I don’t want to have to know what severe ME feels like first-hand.  So I keep trying treatments and supplements.  I modify my bedtime, my sleep habits and try to rest as much as possible, without giving up any of the physical ability I still have.  I try to do gentle yoga and do more walking, which I can also use as time to scout locations.  My family and friends all know that any plans made are subject to the whims of my body and I may have to cancel at the last minute.  Very, very thankfully, they have all been extremely understanding and supportive.  It’s a hard enough battle to fight your body every day; I am sorry for those who also have to fight with their loved ones too.

People not understanding is at the core of our problems.  The medical community that doesn’t understand what our disease is or how to help us.  The public, who have been led to believe our disease is not valid.  And we ourselves who are trapped in these confusing, maddening bodies that seem to be actively working against us.

Breakable

Breakable

Luckily, I do believe the tide is finally starting to turn.  More and more noise is being made about ME, and we are starting to get even a little bit of recognition and validation.  More research is being dedicated to finding out what’s really going on in our bodies.  I try to maintain a balance between being open to changes coming and breakthroughs being made without actually hoping for them.  The disappointment is too great when they don’t pan out.

Through it all, the highs and lows, the dinners I can attend and the ones I have to stay home from, the times I weep from pain and frustration and the days I walk easily through meadows, I have my art.  I’m sure you’ve all heard me talk about my Enchanted Sleep series, photos from which are scattered through this post, and how I use my photos to portray what living with ME is like.  Art has helped me keep my sanity through these last five years.  It’s something I can do, not just in a metaphoric sense and raising awareness, but it’s physically something I can do.  Walking through the woods scouting locations is good for me, body and soul.  I can still edit even when I need to lay down (which is frequent) since I work on a laptop.  Sometimes muscle or tendon pain in my right arm or wrist will force me to stop for a few days or weeks, and those are always agitating times.  I want to be creating.  That is where my soul finds meaning and pleasure.

Spoon Theory

Spoon Theory

It’s been a rough five years.  But it’s also brought some incomparable joys to my life; my discovery of photography, for example.  And most importantly, Geoff.  Geoff who stuck by me when I became very ill after we’d only known each other for two months, and been dating one month.  Lesser men would have run.  He has supported and loved me every step on this tricky road, and is always there in the dark moments when I want to give up.  He gently pulls me up and sets my feet going again.  I am so incredibly grateful for him.

To be honest, I have been depressed with this anniversary looming ahead of me.  I have heard that if you don’t go into remission within the first five years, you’re never going to.  And while intellectually I realize that’s a pretty ridiculous, sweeping statement to make (how could anyone possibly know that when we don’t even know what it is we have?) it’s made this date feel even gloomier.  I am choosing to not believe that I will automatically never go into remission, simply because it hasn’t happened yet… but it’s also ok for me to feel sad.  It’s ok for me to mourn the things I have lost.  It’s ok for me to have bad days when I just cry and burrow under the covers all day.  It’s ok to be human and have emotions.

Mourning For Things Lost

Mourning For Things Lost

I work hard at my art, not only because it’s so deeply satisfying, but because it’s something I hope to make a career out of.  Means of employment get fewer and fewer for me every year, but I can do art.  It’s a way for me to earn money and contribute to my family’s income, things very important to my sense of identity.

I think this is going to be a good year for my art.  Not only with my recent good news, but other things are starting to happen too.  I think this is going to work.  But please feel free to support my work and pick up some blank greeting cards, limited edition prints or sign up for my online self-discovery-through-photography course.  🙂

Each journey through ME is different.  This is just my story.  I can only hope that by telling it, it adds another drop to the sea of change coming and will bring us a tiny bit closer to recognition and a cure.

Longing For Better Days

Longing For Better Days

I’ll just say a few words about my latest Enchanted Sleep photo, Vanity’s Murder.   My hair has always been quite fine and refused to grow any longer than my shoulders.  No matter what I did, how often I did or didn’t cut it, nothing changed that.  While it’s always annoyed me, since I would love to grow it romantically long, it was a fact of my life that it never would.  A few months ago, I thought my hair seemed a little shorter, but I dismissed the thought.  It kept nagging at the back of my mind though, even though I hadn’t gotten it cut in months.  Finally, I looked at a photo of me from about six months ago and I was shocked by the proof of how much shorter my hair was; nearly down to chin-length.

I went in to my doctor, since hair thinning and loss is a possible side effect of almost every medication I take, but he suspected it was a response to stress, not medication.  I finally made an appointment to see my fantastic hair guy (Hurley, at The Hair Pyrates).  He agreed that the loss was probably stress-related too, but importantly mentioned that the hair I’m seeing now first started growing four to five years ago… and I think we can all agree that I started undergoing a great deal of new stress five years ago.

After everything ME has taken from my life, all the things it’s made me give up, my hair just felt like the absolute last straw.  I had no idea how much of my feminine identity was tied into my hair until its existence felt threatened.

The good thing about stress-induced hair loss is that it’s usually pretty reversible, at least in theory.   At Hurley and my doctor’s suggestions, I started taking a hair, skin and nails supplement and I was startled by how quickly I saw a difference.  It still has a ways to go, but I’m so grateful that it is coming back.  Worrying about my hair may seem like a very superficial, frivolous thing, but it wasn’t to me.  It was about having one more thing taken away from me, it was about losing control over another big factor of how I appear to the world, and the things that contribute to my identity.  There is so much about ME that is outside of my control.  I am very thankful that this time, I could fight back, and actually win a little.  Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come.

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder

Vanity's Murder - detail

Vanity’s Murder – detail

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder – detail

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder – detail

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder – detail

Lastly, let me tell you about how you can win a signed and numbered limited-edition print of Vanity’s Murder!  The very kind people heading up the ME and You fundraiser were very receptive when I wrote them and offered to donate a print to their cause if it would help them.  And while I’m sure they have more than enough on their plates, they quickly came up with a way to do this!  Want a chance to win the print?  Follow the directions below!

  • Click on the ME and You button below and donate whatever amount you can through the big yellow “Donate” button on their site.
  • Leave a comment on this post saying that you donated and mention that you’re entering to win Vanity’s Murder, as several artists are doing similar giveaways.  Make sure that the name you leave in your comment matches your Paypal name!
  • Leave a message for the ME and You people during your Paypal  checkout, again stating that you’re entering to win Vanity’s Murder.
  • A winner will be randomly selected on June 6th and I will announce the winner here!

Click here to donate!!

That’s it!   This is such a win-win situation; the cause is so worthy and someone will get a beautiful print as well.  🙂  For anyone who missed it, the amazing people at ME and You are trying to raise funds to do further testing of a new drug that has shown real promise in helping to cure ME.  This is something we absolutely must study more, and hopefully, within a few years it will be approved and people all over the world will be able to try it.  And just maybe, some of them will go into total remission like some of the people who it’s been tested on.

Remission.  I can hardly imagine what that would feel like.  But I would love to find out.  If you can, please consider donating to this great cause.  And thank you very much!

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I had the great pleasure recently of shooting with Lauren Cohan, the very talented actress many of you will know as Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has its season finale this Sunday!  She was also a special guest lead in this week’s episode of Law and Order: SVU.

I’d had a couple of concepts in mind to use with her, so let me back up a little and take you through the whole creation process.

I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by my idol Joseph Campbell, in which he really delves into his concept of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey, aka the Monomyth, is the story outline that all classic stories, folktales, myths, fairy tales and most popular movies of our day follow.   I will let him describe the basic Hero’s Journey in his own words: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix… it’s easier to find examples of stories which are not variations of the Hero’s Journey than those that are.  And of course, the actual Journey he proposes is much more complex than that brief blurb could touch on; there is the Departure, Initiation, and Return, each of which have six or seven individual steps.

Heroesjourney

I’ve found the Hero’s Journey to be a fascinating concept ever since I first heard about it.  And as Joseph Campbell wrote so heavily, and influentially, about dreams, myths and the importance of both in our modern lives, I knew his work would color much of what DreamWorld is becoming.  Recently I decided I would like to do a sub-series in DreamWorld portraying each of the steps along the Hero’s Journey.  It will be a challenge, and a long journey of its own, but I felt it would make an important contribution to DreamWorld.

As I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell has been taking us through the Journey one step at a time, using examples from mythologies and religions all over the world.  Crossing The First Threshold  is the moment where the hero is given his first real challenge and he realizes there’s no going back (eg, taking the red pill).  In illustrating this step, Campbell talks about a story where a thunderbolt in one’s belly is used as a metaphor for a person’s essence.  It is their soul, their spiritual center, and it is what gives them the strength and intrinsic ability to overcome the challenges the Journey will throw at them.  I loved that image, so I set about figuring out how to incorporate it into my photo.

While I puzzled out the thunderbolt, I decided to start working on two pieces of my Hero’s costume; a crown and an amulet.  I made them both in a very similar easy, quick way, starting with some cardboard from a cereal box I had finished recently.

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I had a large deer-head necklace that I’d been wanting to use for a while, and I thought it would make a beautiful center to the amulet.  I doodled a complimentary shape on the cardboard, traced the shape onto a piece of paper, flipped it, and gave myself a very symmetrical base.

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Next I started working on the crown, using the same doodle-trace-flip method to give myself as much symmetry as possible.

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Pinning and gluing the crown pieces together.

Once I had the basic shapes down, it came time to wrap them all in aluminum foil.  I just smooshed it on, not worrying about making it smooth, since having a bit of texture was going to actually be good for my purposes.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

The next step is one I remembered learning as a kid from a library book which taught you how to make your own toys and crafts; pirate coins in this case.  Smear black paint on the whole surface, then rub most of it off with a paper towel.  The paint will stick just in the cracks and crevasses, giving a much more authentic, aged, weathered look to the pieces.

Post paint.

Post paint.

I added a couple of hair combs to the crown to help it stay it Lauren’s hair.  Then came the fun part; decorating them both!

I knew I wanted to use the deer necklace on he amulet so I twisted it on with a few wires, so I have the option of taking it off and using it somewhere else later (as I almost certainly will).

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At the bottom is a decorative piece from a hair pin I’d gotten as a teenager and never got rid of after it broke because it was pretty. I am SUCH a magpie, but it can be a handy curse.

I dug into my bead stash and found a bag of purple and orange beads of various sizes and shapes which I thought would work really well.  I began hot-gluing them on, which is not the way to do it if you wan something really solid and lasting.  I did not.  I wanted it to hold together long enough to shoot, then be easy to take apart and use the beads again somewhere else.

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Done and done!  Now on to my thunderbolt/soul piece.  I do not recall the exact chain of thoughts that led me down this path, but something about the word ego and its similarity to egg made me want to give the soul an eggy, oval shape.

This one I started with a cardboard oval, cut from more of the same giving cereal box.  I covered it with foil, then glued lot and lots of little scraps of lace (left over from my lace leaves) to give it a little dimensionality and wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap.

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Plastic-wrapped soul egg.

I painted the outline with some soft purple paints, darkening the color gradually around the perimeter.  And lastly, as a nod to the “thunderbolt” part of the story, I topped it off with a sparkly, snowflake-shaped ornament.

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All that was left was the glue the egg onto a length of wide ribbon to make a belt of it, and there I was done!

The day of the shoot arrived, and Lauren was fantastic for everything; a trooper and such pleasure to shoot!  I suspected that Lauren’s acting ability would lend itself well to my concepts for her, and she did not disappoint; she was wonderful 🙂

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero's Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren... my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot.  She bore this with good humor.

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero’s Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren… my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot. She bore this with good humor… or rather, humour, in her case, since she’s British.

btsCalantha Bomb

The ubiquitous Calantha bomb of the talent; she manages to work herself into the background of most photos at least once.

 

photo 5(2)

This time Calantha not only photobombed us, but she decided that my laying on the ground to get the angle I wanted was irresistible and she HAD to lay down with me.

btsphoto 5(3)

photo 4

photo 4(1)

She decided I was boring, so she took a nap.

I have another photo to work up still, but I’ll be posting those later.  Editing just this one was tough enough; I put well over 50 hours into it.  I’ll need a little break before I get to the rest!  But for now, here is Lauren Cohen Crossing The First Threshold of the Hero’s Journey!

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

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