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But not of beer.  Beer would have been so much better.

Well.  I’ve been meaning to tell you guys for FOREVER about the adventure I had surrounding my sinus surgery.  It’s a little bit long of a story; I will try and keep it brief but there was just a lot that happened, so I can’t promise anything.

From mid-July through the end of October, I was getting colds, repeatedly.  I’d get a cold, get over it, have about 2-3 weeks of more or less “normal” (for me) time, then get another cold.  One of these colds lasted for 3 weeks, 1 turned into strep throat and another turned into an ear infection so exquisitely painful that I gave serious thought to gouging the ear out of my head.  After a string of doctor visits, I was eventually sent to an ENT; an ear/nose/throat specialist.  I loved him right away.

He immediately agreed that this was abnormal, took a glance inside my nostrils and since there was nothing obviously wrong inside sent me off for some allergy blood tests and a CT scan of my sinuses.  The office was shockingly quick at getting this all set up; I’ve come to learn they are an extremely efficient and well-oiled, patient-loving machine.

The allergy tests showed a mild allergy to Timothy grass and mold, neither of which surprised me and both were too mild to be to blame for my illnesses.  The CT scan however showed inflammation and serious congestion in my sinuses, particularly on the right side and more toward the back of my skull.  I hadn’t ever really given a lot of thought to just HOW MANY sinus cavities you have in your body, but it’s rather a lot, as this image shows:

My ENT recommended a surgery where he would go in and clean all the cavities out (while I slept deep in anesthesia) because it clearly wasn’t going away on its own.  If I did nothing, the cycle of colds every 2-3 weeks would just continue, which was obviously not a livable option.  And it also happens that my doctor is not only an ENT specialist, but that he specializes in this exact type of surgery!  And Geoff has had this exact surgery twice!  I felt I was in very good hands with both of them taking care of me, so I agreed to have the surgery done.

Before

Before

November 4th Geoff woke up very early and drove me to the surgery center.  While I’ve had my nerve-blocking injections countless times, this was the first true, actual surgery I was going to have.  They knock me out for a short time for the injections, but it’s just a sedation, not actual anesthesia.  I was a little nervous, but mostly just excited to have the stupid sickness cycle stop.  I woke up with a sore throat; they’d had a little trouble intubating me (I’m guessing because I’m so small) and a little nauseated, but they gave me some nice drugs which cleared the nausea right away.  My ENT had taken a swab of the gunk in my sinuses and sent it to the lab to do a culture on it and see if it was anything that needed further treatment.  So other than a slightly sore throat, it was all very routine.

After - very sleepy looking

After – very sleepy looking.  Get used to the “mustache bandage” look.  I don’t know why my gown looks like it’s going to fall off at any moment.

The next couple days are a bit of a pain-filled blur in my mind.  Thankfully, Geoff stayed home with me to get me through the worst of it.  Of course, ALL my sinuses were inflamed and unhappy and my throat was really starting to hurt.  I’d expected to feel like I had a bad cold afterward but this was a whole new level of sinus and throat pain which I’d never experienced.  Geoff was able to call my doctor and explain my incredibly sore throat (talking was not going to happen from me) and he immediately prescribed the most beautiful, soothing numbing gel to gargle with.  It was a little messy, and about the consistency of pudding which made it hard to actually gargle, but oh my GOD did it work.  It turned me from the strep-throat severity of pain where breathing feels like inhaling shattered glass into something mildly uncomfortable when it wore off.  More points for my doctor!

Over the weekend, I started feeling better and better and by Monday, 6 days after my surgery, I decided I could run a short errand to my nearby craft store, since I had a really spectacular coupon which was about to expire.  As I reached for my purse (in a position I’d been in multiple times since the surgery) I felt something warm and wet in my nose.  I grabbed a paper towel, not thinking much of it until I saw I’d dripped blood onto the kitchen floor.  And then it REALLY started pouring.

I managed to grab a large wad of paper towels and run into the bathroom.  I have never bled like this in my life.  It was like all the veins in my sinuses just gave up and let loose.  It seemed to be coming mostly from the right side of my nose and very far back; if I tipped my head up or even held it level, blood waterfalled down my throat.  In a mild panic and not knowing what else to do, since I didn’t want to be swallowing all that blood, I held the paper towels to my face, leaned forward and let it drip into the bathroom sink.  And fortunately, I had my cell phone in my pocket, so I called Geoff, who had just gotten to work.  I was stuck in the “fright” of the “fright or flight” response and couldn’t think of anything else to do.

We discussed if I needed an ambulance and I just didn’t know; I did notice that after the initial panic, as I tried to slow my breathing and calm myself, the bleeding slowed a little, which gave me some hope.  Geoff called the ENT’s office and came right home, but we both knew it would be about 45 minutes before he got there.  So Geoff called John, one of my wonderful neighbors, hoping he was home.  John wasn’t home but he was close by.  He dropped everything and came rushing home to check on me until Geoff got there.  I later found out that John had been about to get his car washed and was about to send his car through the machine where the initial cleaning is done and there were people lined up behind him.  The car wash people told him it wouldn’t take long to go through the machine and then he could just leave, but John made everyone move their cars so that he could leave right that instant.  That’s the kind of people my neighbors are.  They more than have my back.

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John, who will make every single damn car get moved if he needs to check on me quickly

John got home and at that point the bleeding had mostly stopped so we agreed an ambulance wasn’t needed but he sat on the bathroom floor with me and told me stories to calm and distract me until Geoff got home.  He was an angel.  (And just to be clear, my other neighbor, his wife Donna, would have been equally adept in his role.  John happened to be closest to home so he took up the task, but Donna certainly would have done the same if she’d been around.  After all, she helped me take care of the opossum littler I found!)

After I’d calmed down and the bleeding leveled off, I took a few photos of the sink to record it.  The photos look dramatic, but every person who actually saw the copious blood agrees they don’t do it justice at all; both Geoff and John said it looked like a bad Halloween party decoration.  But to give you an idea, here’s one of my cell phone captures.

It looks like a fair bit of blood, but trust me, it was much, MUCH worse in person

This photo actually came from Geoff’s camera, not mine.  His takes much better photos than mine does.  It looks like a fair bit of blood, but trust me, it was much, MUCH worse in person.  Geoff was also a saint for cleaning up the whole bathroom by himself, which I felt bad about, but I was under strict orders to REST and lay down.

So Geoff and I went back to see my ENT.  He took a look around, determined that yes, I was bleeding rather a lot and decided to pack my nose.  Apparently, he’d used a gel-like packing while I was out for the actual surgery; it was similar in texture to Jello.  I couldn’t even tell that there was anything in my nose, it was so mild and comfortable.  The new packing however was NOT pillowy and Jello-like.  I can only describe it like having an entire tampon made of broken glass and cacti bits shoved up one nostril.  And that’s after they sprayed a numbing spray inside my nose.  My eye watered and watered on that side of my face but I did not cry.

The packing was so incredibly uncomfortable that I couldn’t even talk or all the glass shards and cacti quills jabbed at me from inside my nose.  I was to keep it in for two days to really stop the bleeding, then I could have it out.  I wasn’t exactly happy, but I was glad to have the bleeding stopped.

Bandaged up with packing up my nose, taped to my cheek

Bandaged up with packing up my nose, taped to my cheek

The rest of the day, I communicated with Geoff through gestures, grunts and writing things down.  At one point I laughed quietly to myself and wrote “this is like The Leftovers,” on my pad of paper and showed it to him.  I was not in the least bit comfortable, but I didn’t worry I was dying imminently anymore and I knew that I could get through two days of pain, high though it was.  My doctor made sure that I was well stocked on painkillers before I left, because that’s the considerate kind of guy he is 🙂

The next morning I woke up and realized I was swallowing… and again… and again… and then I jolted upright and rushed to the bathroom because the bleeding had begun again.  Since I was sleeping on my back, slightly elevated (like I was supposed to) and the bleeding was coming from so far back, all the blood was just pouring down my throat like a thick, gross waterfall.  I had no idea how long I’d been swallowing my own blood, but I was again alarmed that I was bleeding so much, even after the packing was in.  It was coming from so far back, it was even behind the packing; it was like it wanted to run down the right side of my nose, but since that was now packed, it was overflowing down the left side and down my throat.

This time when Geoff called the ENT’s office, they told us to just come in right then, so I did, pale, woozy, feeling awful, still in my PJs, since I didn’t dare take the time to get dressed, nor make any movements which might cause my nose to bleed more.  I sat in their lobby for a few minutes, while the bleeding had blessedly stopped momentarily, with a huge ball of paper towels clutched to my face and a plastic grocery bag in my other hand in case I started dripping.  I laid my head against Geoff’s shoulder, closed my eyes and tried to forgot the lobby full of people who were staring at me in alarm.

The nurses were trying to clear a room for me when I suddenly felt the surge start back up for no reason.  Geoff alerted the nurses.  One of them brought me a kidney bowl to hold under my chin for dripping, then they were able to usher me off into a room away from the frightened eyes of the other clients.

kidney bowl small

A kidney bowl just like this!  The curved shape makes for good under-face catching.

My ENT was in the middle of surgeries of his own, so I saw one of the other doctors, who was just as lovely and kind as everyone else had been.  All the available nurses hovered around, trying to find anything to do to make me more comfortable; one wet paper towels and dabbed my forehead, another brought me some ice water to sip between procedures from the doctor.  There was one nurse in particular who stayed right by my side the entire time, no matter how gross it got.  She would frequently hold my hand or pat my knee during difficult parts and she was completely sincere about it; she wanted me to feel better and was doing any little thing she could think of.  As truly, completely awful as I felt and as unpleasant of an experience as it all was, whenever I remember that nurse, I feel a surge of the warm love she radiated.

This doctor decided to remove the packing, since all it was doing was obstructing the view of where the blood was coming from, so he pulled it out… and my god, I don’t know  which was worse, going in or coming out.  Either way, it’s not something you want inside your nose.  Removing it started a fresh flow, much of which was freely flowing down my face into the bowl under my chin.

The doctor kept needing me to tip my head back so he could see what was happening inside, which meant the blood kept going down my throat and getting swallowed.  At one point I started to feel very nauseated (more so than I had all morning).  I murmured to Geoff that I thought I might throw up and then a moment later, I was barfing up blood into my kidney bowl.  Geoff held this bowl for me under my chin as I filled it, he and the nurse did some sort of quick shuffle with bowls and I filled a second one.  If you’re ever given the choice to throw up blood or not, I would strongly recommend you choose to NOT do it.  That was probably the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me, and the whole time, Geoff and my nurse stood right by me, holding bowls (she did have gloves, but it still had to be pretty unpleasant), smiling and patting encouragements and holding my increasingly icky hands.  They are saints.

Shortly after that, the doctor was able to temporarily stop the gushing and I heard him and Geoff discussing that I would need an emergency surgery that day so they could go in and stop the bleeding for real.  I was going to be transferred to a hospital where I’d wait for my ENT to finish his current surgeries, then he’d meet me at the hospital and work on me.  They were weighing the options on either Geoff driving me over or having an ambulance come and take me when I asked if I could get up and wash my hands at the sink in the room, since they’d gotten spattered with blood and whatnot.  I made it to the sink, slowly, and I washed my hands, carefully, and then…  I’ve fainted before, I recognized the rushing deafness and darkness and knew I was about to go out so I hurried to plant my back against the cabinets and tried to slide down to the floor before I lost consciousness, thinking I’d have a shorter fall from there.  Looking back, I can see it would have been better to just say, “Hey Geoff, I’m passing out,” but of course you’re not thinking very clearly at the moment.  Luckily he saw what was happening so he leaped across the small room, nimbly avoiding expensive machines and he grabbed me before I hit the floor.  From his quick action, I never quite lost consciousness, but I was pretty well a rag doll for a few minutes.

At that point, the doctor wisely decided I should travel to the hospital by ambulance.

That was a first for me; an ambulance ride.  The medics were all very nice and clearly knew what they were doing; they got me on a saline IV before we even made it to the hospital, which was only a couple miles away.  I did decide that I didn’t like laying down and facing backwards in a moving car though, it would have made me carsick if the ride lasted much longer.  Although I don’t think that I would have had anything else to try and throw up.

The hospital got me situated in a room pretty quickly, a nice one by hospital standards; it was private, I had my own bed, bathroom and TV and there was a curtain we could draw over the glass doors.  Since at that point I was stable, we just had to wait a while for my doctor to finish his other surgeries and come over to the hospital.  So for a while, everything was surreal and strangely calm.  We watched some TV.  I saw my first episode ever of Seinfeld.  The staff came, drew blood, determined I did not need a blood transfusion, and switched out my now-empty saline bag for another one.

In my bed at the hospital, still being a trooper

In my bed at the hospital, still being a trooper.  If you look carefully you can see how pale my lips are compared to the rest of my face.

It was fairly late in the day when my ENT was able to get over to me, but he seemed as fresh and alert as if I’d been his first patient of the day.  He brought an assistant with him and they used one of the hospital’s anesthesiologists.  We spoke to the anesthesiologists for a little while before they took me into the surgery room and Geoff mentioned that they’d had trouble intubating me for the first surgery.  The anesthesiologists looked at me assessingly and said, “I don’t think I’ll have trouble,” which he did not.

For me, then it was being wheeled into different rooms and getting various IV injections; the first one made you really, really relaxed and the second made you sleep.  As a chronic insomniac, I wouldn’t mind that every night 🙂  As I was told later, once I was under, my doctor looked inside my nose and determined that one artery at the very back of my sinuses, where the two sides join together had simply burst for no good reason, and that was what was causing all the bleeding.  He cauterized the offending artery along with a few of its friends for good measure, filled up my right side thoroughly with the Jello packing and let me wake up.  I spent a little longer in the hospital, in a different room with Geoff.  The anesthesia had again made me a little queasy, but the nurse gave me an injection which made that stop.

Groggy and pale after the emergency surgery, but I could muster the will for a thumbs-up, goddammit

Groggy and pale after the emergency surgery, but I could muster the will for a thumbs-up, goddammit

And then we finally went home, more than 12 hours since we’d left it.  Thankfully, our neighbors had come and let Calantha outside much earlier in the day and also fed her dinner.  She and the cats were happy to see me and concerned about all the medical smells on me.  I think I stumbled around for a little bit, while Geoff feed the cats, I found PJs to wear which hadn’t just been in a hospital, all the while Geoff kept telling me to lay down; I don’t actually remember very much of this part.  But I think I fell asleep fairly quickly.  As soon as I woke up the next morning, I checked myself anxiously; did I taste blood?  Was everything ok?  And for the first time in several days, I was ok.

Geoff stayed with me for a couple of days which ended up being really needed.  I was extremely weak (and extraordinarily pale, everyone kept telling me, even considering my baseline paleness) and almost any movement made me very, very dizzy and light-headed.  Geoff made me lay down as much as he could, but I’d have to get up periodically to use the bathroom, or for some other task he couldn’t do for me.  It was a procedure though.  First, sit up in bed instead of laying down, propped up on a pile of pillows.  Let the dizziness pass.  Swing legs over side of bed and wait.  Let the dizziness pass.  Slowly stand and immediately put your hand (and probably face) on the wall while you ride out the biggest wave of dizziness.  Once you’re a little more settled, you can probably walk the 10 feet to the bathroom.  Geoff hovered anxiously every time I got up just in case I started to go down again.

I went back to see my ENT two days later and my GOODNESS, did EVERY person in that office remember exactly who I was.  I made quite the impression on them.  (Even now, as soon as I walk in, there’s a chorus of greetings from the whole staff.)  Everyone was happy that the surgery had worked and I wasn’t bleeding at all any more.  So why did the artery burst in the first place?  No one has any idea.  It’s just a mystery.  My doctor talked about how every now and then, you’ll have a patient who bleeds later on the day of the surgery, or maybe the day after, but 6 days later is unheard of.  There I go again, baffling doctors with my weird body.  I felt so, so much better compared to how I’d felt at the beginning of the week, I didn’t even really care how weak I was, I was just glad to be not bleeding, not at a medical facility, at home and not nauseated.

One of the first days I was able to stand for long on my own.  But look, I'm not at the doctor's!  I'm not at the hospital!  I'm wearing 18 layers because I have no blood, yes, but I'm home and on the mend!

One of the first days I was able to stand for long on my own. But look, I’m not at the doctor’s! I’m not at the hospital! I’m wearing 18 layers because I have no blood, yes, but I’m home and on the mend!

My doctor tells me I lost 2-3 pints of blood between the 2 days of bleeding, which is significant, especially for someone as small as I am.  And frankly, I’m still feeling the effects of it.  I learned that it takes 120 days for a blood cell to replace itself, so even though I’m taking iron supplements to help my body along, it’ll be the middle of February before all my blood is replaced.  It’s getting better, but there was a while where I could hardly do anything that involved walking for more than a few feet without getting dizzy and winded and having to sit down.  Even now, I still have to be careful.  For some reason it there’s any kind of incline I’m walking up, even a very gently sloping one, I feel like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill.  I still have to take a break halfway through walking the one flight of stairs at my therapist’s office, and another breather when I get to the top.  It is getting better though, noticeably so, and my doctor assures me this is normal for the amount of blood I lost.

I also found out that the culture they’d sent in of the goo inside my sinuses had turned out to be harboring a staph infection, which the antibiotics I was on as a natural result of the surgery should get rid of also.  I ended up needing to go two rounds with the antibiotics to really clear it up but it seems to be gone now.  And I have not had a single cold since I had my surgery, which goes to prove that really was the cause of all my summer sicknesses.

Overall, this was definitely not a fun experience but there were some good things that came out of it.  I know what a caring and attentive ENT I have now, along with the entire staff.  I practiced really resting and allowing others to do things for me when I needed them to, which is hard for me to do.  I’d much rather just do it on my own even if it makes me pass out than bother anyone else.  I watched Winter’s Tale and had a lovely afternoon with my mom, who came to stay with me one of the days Geoff had to be at work.  I felt loved and cared for.  And then, of course, there’s this… my mom brought this “to cheer me up” because of who was on the cover:

Matthew McC small

Thanks, mom 🙂  And big thanks my neighbors, my ENT and all of his staff, the ambulance workers and everyone at the hospital, if any of them are reading this somehow.  My friends and family were very diligent about checking in with how I was feeling by text, which was perfect as that was about all the communicating I could do.

And of course big, HUGE thanks to Geoff for taking such excellent care of me!  He always does, but I always appreciate it!

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

Closeups of both finished photos.

Closeups of both finished photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sketches

Initial sketches

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

The robe with cardboard "pintucking."

The robe with cardboard “pin-tucking.”

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

sarahallegra.com

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

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

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

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

Stamp, hearts, unicorn girl and hoof prints.

After the sculpting and baking came many coats of paint.

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

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

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

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

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

cuffs

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

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

robe

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

Tree of life buckle.

Tree of life buckle above the paper belt.

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

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

scrolls

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

Trying out different objects as stencils.

Trying out different objects as stencils.

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

Making the crown.

Making the crown.

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

staff

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

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

birds

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

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

Calantha helped whenever she could.

Calantha helped whenever she could.

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

Thank you, Dedeker for these adorable furbaby pics :)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Katie!  :)

Thanks, Katie! 🙂

Mei Mei photobomb

Mei Mei photobomb

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Dedeker and Katie being beautiful.

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

Cat took this one for us; thanks, Cat!

My imagination hero.

My imagination hero and me.

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

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

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

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

Connor under the marquee.

Connor under the marquee.

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

sarahallegra.com

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

The mayor giving Peter his plaque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting mom's book signed.

Getting mom’s book signed.

sarahallegra.com

Katie, Peter and me!

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Beloved Of The Crown - detail

Beloved Of The Crown – detail

Aerie

Aerie

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

Aerie - detail

Aerie – detail

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

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

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

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