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Square Hole

Square Hole: a self portrait © Sarah Allegra

I’m sure everyone reading this has had times when they felt like the often cited square peg in a round hole.  It’s a pretty universal human experience.  And, of course, we shouldn’t all fit neatly into every hole society expects of us.  If we did, there would be no one to rock the boat, to bring about desperately-needed change, no inspirational leaders, no one going against the flow and showing us we can do the same.

We need those people who obviously, obtusely, refuse to contort themselves into whatever-shaped hole is expected of them.  We need our spiritual leaders, those who bring about social reform, who call out those in power and refuse to let injustice stand.  We need artists and creatives who show us with words and paint and dance and pixels how the world could be different.  And we need them all to help us make this possibility a reality.

It feels cliche to say this as an artist, but I have always felt different from most of the people around me.  I rarely felt like I fit in, except for with the occasional kindred spirit I would meet, shining like a beacon in the night.  Those other beautiful, misfit souls who also felt like they didn’t belong; when we were together, suddenly, we did belong.  And I am very lucky to have married such a man!  Having just a few people like that in your life, people who truly understand you and appreciate you for you you are right now in addition to what you might be can make all the difference in the world.  It can be the difference between life feeling like a desert wasteland or a lush garden, full of birds who eat from your hands and fawns who curl up on your lap like a Disney movie.

Humans need to feel understood, to find their tribe.  I am very grateful to have found so much of mine, both online and off!

This square hole is in my mother-in-law’s house and usually houses a very handsome metal owl sculpture.  She was kind enough to let me move the owl and Geoff was sweet enough to help me shoot with self portrait in it (along with a number of other self portraits which I’ll eventually get around to editing).  He was also in charge of making sure I didn’t plummet to my death; one side of the hole is about chest-high on me, on the second story of the house, but the other side opens into the main living room, probably 20 feet high.  I am quite scared of heights, but I will brave a lot that I wouldn’t normally endure for the sake of art… especially if Geoff is there to make sure I stay safe.  🙂

Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t fit in.  You will find your people.  And once you do, the whole journey will feel worth it.  Dance to your own drummer.  Break out of the mold people try to put you in.  Live your life authentically, because you’re the only one who can.

Square Hole

Square Hole: a self portrait © Sarah Allegra

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As a continuation of my last post, this one will also be talking about Andrew Ashcraft, the boy I played with when I was young who grew up to be one of the fallen Hotshot heroes from Arizona’s recent fires.

I created a photo to work through my grief, as I often do, but it didn’t feel like enough.  I kept thinking about Andrew’s poor widow, left with their four very young children to raise, all on her own.  And then I’d think about the families of the 18 other firefighters and how would they get by, and I had to do something.

So, 75% of all profits made from any sales of To The Lost will go to directly to the families through the donation program set up This applied to anything and everything To The Lost appears on.  I have, of course, my extremely beautiful and archival fine art prints, and also blank cards, stickers, clothing, Ipod, Iphone and Ipad cases.

There are 19 families left without fathers, husbands, providers.  The last thing they need while they’re still reeling from the profound loss is to worry about how the bills are going to get paid.  Let’s give them some of the aid they need.

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To The Lost

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It was last Tuesday, July 2nd, that I found out about the tragic deaths of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona a few days earlier.  At the same time, I discovered my childhood friend, Andrew Ashcraft, was one of those lost.  It took a while to sink in.  Andrew, who I had played with for years, was gone.

Not only Andrew, but eighteen others of Arizona’s finest firefighters were lost.   They were called the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew; essentially the Navy Seals of the fire world.  They were trained to go into the deadliest, most dire situations and kick the fire’s ass.  They went in to make a fuel break for the devastating forest fire when the wind changed and trapped them.  There was no escape.

My heart breaks for Andrew’s widow, left to raise their four very young children, the oldest of whom is merely six, by herself.  It breaks for Andrew’s mother Deborah, who has to bury one of her children.  It breaks for the eighteen others families in the same situation.

Andrew with his family

Andrew was only 29.  He had been named the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Hotshot crew.  He’d had to really work to get into the crew.   That was what he wanted to do.  He chose to be the best, bravest, most worthy of men.  I am in awe.

It’s important for me to state that it had been a long time since I’d seen Andrew… I was probably 13 or so.  But he and his brother TJ were a big part of my childhood.   Our moms were friends and would frequently trade babysitting, so for years my brother and I saw and played with the Ashcraft boys several times a week.  My brother was the oldest of us, TJ was next, then me and Andrew was the youngest, even though only four years separated us all.  It was just enough of an age difference that the older two boys would want to go off and do Secret Older Boy Things together (mostly involving GI Joes, as I recall) so Andrew and I were often our own group… which sometimes consisted merely of sulking about being left out of Secret Boy Things.  But we made our own fun.

I can't find a photo of th four of us together, but here's a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

I can’t find a photo of the four of us together, but here’s a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

One of the clearest memories I have of the four of us is arguing heatedly over who played which character when we would play Batman.  My brother, the oldest, was naturally Batman.  When he and I played it at home, I was Robin, and I felt that was my part.  But TJ’s slight age difference made a good argument in the logic of children for him assuming the role of Robin.  The debate was settled when we found out about Batgirl, who I would obviously play, leaving Robin to TJ.  But poor Andrew was always forced to play Alfred or some random henchmen; he never got to play a really good character.  I had laughingly told this story to Geoff quite a while ago, not realizing the irony that was to come.

Andrew grew up to be a real, living, actual hero.  He lived his heroism more than any person I know of.  He went out doing what he loved, with the men he loved, and if he ever felt fear, he never let it stop him.  I am so sad his family has lost him.  I am sad that the world has lost such an amazing person.  And I am sad that I never got to know Andrew at this age, that we lost touch, and I only discovered what an incredible person he was second hand.  The world is nineteen wonderful souls poorer.

As I cried into Geoff’s chest the day I heard the news, one of the first things he asked was how I was going to work through my feelings photographically.  This is just one of the many reasons I love him, because I was already mentally hard at work trying out different concepts and trying to figure it out.  As I was working through my grief and trying to put my feelings into a visual form, I was also talking a lot with Katie, who had recently experienced a similar kind of loss.  It was a great comfort to have her and other people in my life familiar with grief to talk to.  Katie and I already had a shoot planned in a few days, so I told her to just expect that we would shoot something to honor Andrew and the other firefighters.

This was another shoot done on a non-budget.  It took just a few big, yellow smoke bombs and the fresh flowers.  Also, HUGE thanks to Geoff for being my human shutter release!

Usually I edit things in order of them being shot, as that seems fairest, but this got bumped way up in line.  I really wanted it to be released today, the day of the big memorial service in Prescott.  You’ll see that Katie is playing the role of the rescuer, pulling me to safety, but not far from the danger herself.  The smoke wrapping around my body and throat actually happened exactly like that, straight out of camera, and seems to want to pull me back and not let go.  Katie is carrying nineteen large orange, yellow and red flowers, symbolizing the fallen heroes, and I like that there are smaller yellow flowers connected to the stalks; they seem to symbolize the fireman’s family.

When I searched for a title for this photo, I immediately remembered what Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire says before each drink instead of the standard “cheers” or “bottom’s up;” he says “to the lost.”  For Jimmy it was about his lost comrades during the war, but it seemed to fit here perfectly.  This is also only the second time I’ve ever done a square crop on a photo.  For the most part I stick very strictly to my 2×3 ratio.  This photo just called for something else, so I went with it.  There are some detail shots of the photo below.

I hope Andrew’s family heals as quickly as it can, along with the rest of the families.  There is nothing I can say or do that can make it better for them.  How I wish there was.  All I can do is try to honor the fallen heroes, with my words, my photos, and my many, many tears.

Andrew was a badass… but the very best kind, who hasn’t lost his softer side.  He was a true hero, like Prince Lir.  We didn’t know that Andrew was the biggest hero of us all.

He should have been Batman.

You can donate directly to Andrew’s family here.

To The Lost

To The Lost

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

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