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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Alone Again – ​​© Sarah Allegra

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

In The Lilac Wood, a self portrait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salt Wine - © Sarah Allegra, model: Peter Onorati

Salt Wine – © Sarah Allegra, model: Peter Onorati

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

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

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

Aerie - Peter as the DreamWorld King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get well soon, Peter.  We all love you 🙂

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

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

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

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I can’t remember now how I came across Phlearn.com, although I imagine it probably had to do with Googling some kind of Photoshop technique I was having trouble with. However I found out about them, I am SO glad I did! There is no better site on the entire internet for providing photography and editing tutorials. And so many of their episodes are free! They also sell very in-depth, comprehensive Pro Tutorials for a very nominal price considering the wealth of knowledge each one contains. I myself have bought and thoroughly enjoyed several of the Pros, and I’ve been watching their frequent free episodes with pleasure. There are few times I watch an episode and don’t exclaim, “holy shit, I had no idea you could do that!” at least once.

The thing is, Phlearn teaches me things that I’m interested in learning. Let me give you an example; I’ll introduce you to them the way I came to them, with an episode on editing your photo to give it a fairy tale feel. As soon as I saw the title, I knew I was in for something very different. The internet is full of information about Photoshop, and many tutorials, yes, but few like this. No other site comes close to matching Phlearn’s inventiveness, it’s constant ability to stretch and challenge itself and its audience, while simultaneously breaking Photoshop down into understandable chunks. I’d been editing my photos, doing composites and levitation photos for a while; I was not unfamiliar with Photoshop, but I feel that my skills have improved dramatically since I’ve been watching Phlearn. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Phlearn’s founder, Aaron Nace, and how much he personally adds to the learning experience. He is friendly and silly, and immediately puts you at ease, like your good buddy is talking to you. But that ease is combined with an unmatched, nearly omniscient knowledge of Photoshop, and a gift for explaining complicated things in a way that’s easy to grasp. Phlearn would not be Phlearn without Aaron… who is also unfailingly nice every time we interact on Twitter 🙂

Want some more examples of the kind of instructions you’ll be getting with Phlearn? Here you go.  Turn day into night.   What makes a good composition: Analyzing 7 great imagesHow to create a cinemagraphCreate stars and fog in PhotoshopChanging the mood of your photo with color and textureCreate scary eyes Make Lady Gaga-esque makeup.

The list of episodes just go on and on. They run the gamut from lighting, composition and other photo basics to the surreal and fantastic. That’s why I love them; they cover absolutely everything useful and interesting about photography and Photoshop. If I ever have a question about either subject, I look to Phlearn first, and there’s usually a video ready to explain it to me.

Plearn is so endlessly inspiring to me, it’s difficult to pick out just one photo of mine and point to it as a direct result of an episode. I tend to use bits and pieces here and there, and weave them into my photos naturally as the need arises. But, here are a few I can point to where the hand of Phlearn can be seen.

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain't Lived - I replaced the original tree in the background with a different tree I'd shot, "tailored" the dress to fit Veronica better, and did a lot of color work.

Hope Of Heaven When Their Lives Ain’t Lived – I replaced the original tree in the background with a different tree I’d shot, “tailored” the dress to fit Veronica better, and did a lot of color work.

The Rending - I used color toning techniques, light theory and created lighting effects all learned from Phlearn.

The Rending – I used color toning techniques, light theory and created lighting effects all learned from Phlearn.

The Importance Of Mortality - another self portrait.  I used lighting and light painting techniques I learned through Phlearn, as well as adding in the atmospheric "dust" or faint "stars," however you want to describe them :)

The Importance Of Mortality – another self portrait. I used lighting and light painting techniques I learned through Phlearn, as well as adding in the atmospheric “dust” or faint “stars,” however you want to describe them 🙂

 

And no, I’m not getting paid in any way for this post; no one’s even asked me to write it.  I just genuinely love Phlearn.  It’s such an incredibly useful site that gives so much while asking for nothing.  Aaron Nace is committed to spreading knowledge as far and wide as possible, so that all can benefit from it.  That’s such a rare and worthy motivation.  So since other people who read my blog are also into photography, I wanted to make sure everyone knew about Phlearn, to keep the knowledge growing.  And maybe have the chance to thank Aaron and all the other people it takes to run Phlearn just a little bit for all their very hard work.  It is certainly appreciated 🙂
Don’t forget to order your 2013 calendar of my work soon if you want it for Christmas! The blank cards would make excellent stocking stuffers also 🙂
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