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Updates from New Landscapes

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I can’t believe my last post here was in September. I haven’t been kidnapped, I promise! On the contrary, I have been writing weekly still for Widows Voice about all the goings on since my move… but I’ve neglected to share what creative things have been going on here.  Probably because its been a time of wandering and less direction… which is always when I seem to write less here. Somehow today felt like a good day to dig back in though. I suppose I should start with an update on just what has been going on creatively since my big move from Texas to Ohio.

Firstly, it is COLD in Ohio. And this has been an unseasonably warm winter for Ohio I am told. Despite that information, below freezing for 2 weeks in a row is something I have not previously experienced. That sort of cold only lasts like a day and a half in Texas before it goes back up to the 60’s. Sigh. I miss my flip flops.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 2.25.32 PMOkay, I am not really in love with the cold. So just what am I loving about this new place? The landscape. It is foreign. And fresh to my eyes. The trees are much taller. There are rolling hills, steep valleys and beautiful gorges. And all the water features, oh! Waterfalls and creeks and rivers and ponds and lakes everywhere…. ones that magically do NOT dry up 2 days after it rains, like in Texas. No, they actually exist all year, only changing in winter when freezing solid. Speaking of that, icicles galooore! Some of them 20 feet tall! Talk about magical. I may hate the cold, but winter here certainly leaves a lot of room for your childlike wonder to roam.

I have spent the past few months trying to get settled in. It’s been chaotic, and a challenge to make room for creativity. There haven’t been any big conceptual photo shoots. No climbing around in frozen landscapes in front of my camera to capture new self portraits. I’ve been a little bothered by this. I always feel, if I stop doing the portraits for too long, that I am missing opportunities to tell stories that are happening right here in the now. I’ve had to let go of that a little, and realize that I am telling those stories in different ways perhaps.

Mike and I have hiked nearly every weekend the past 2 months now. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking my camera along and shooting along the way. I never really hiked much in Texas, so this has been a great adventure. Everything has become less about my internal emotional world lately, and more about what is going on all around me. I suppose I am starting to put down the self portraits for a while… and lean into exploring what else there is to capture. What stories are told when I don’t have a figure in the image? How are they told? How does this change my own relationship to nature and to the images? There’s been plenty to explore for sure.  As I embrace this direction more, I can feel my creativity loosening up. I am experimenting with color images more, or adding tints and filters to my black and whites to give them a sheen of color. I’m even going back to old images and reprocessing them in completely new ways lately.

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A few of my older shots getting a face lift with some color tints!

After several years of hard emotional work, and using photography mostly as a means to do serious healing, I am enjoying the play. I’ll admit, I did start to feel stuck within the portrait series after a year of commitment to it. Slowly, it is beginning to feel good to let loose and just explore where things are going – both personally and creatively. I’m also looking toward some new ventures now that will include others within my creative process, something very new for me. More on that soon. Cheers everyone! I hope your new year is off to an inspired start!

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Mike out hiking around Gorge Metro Park

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Sandstone detail in Gorge Metro Park

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Blue Hen Falls – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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Prairie at Springfield Bog

The Voyager

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This may likely be my last post here until I make my way to my new home and get settled in up north. I came across this passage in a wonderful book I just finished last week, and I knew it was fitting for this moment in my life, and this image:

There is a time known as the between. The between voyager travels through uncharted territory, navigating dangers, attempting passage into the next life. There are times in life, after a death of some kind, when we are open to the slightest shifts, when our powers are acute, when we can change the future. The between voyager temporarily possesses an immensely heightened intelligence, extraordinary powers of concentration, special abilities of clairvoyance… flexibility to become whatever can be imagined, and the openness to be radically transformed by a thought or a vision or an instruction.” – Excerpt from the book I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

I can’t deny that, secretly, I love being on the edges of life. I always have. I love that moment when you are looking out into the unknown and part of you is scared, but part of you is ready to hoist yourself out, almost recklessly so. You want to go, to explore and find out what’s out there. Your fears start to diminish as an insatiable curiosity begins to burn and draw you towards the sun. That moment, just before you leap, when the air feels electric and uncertain and powerful. When your legs feel unsteady but your eyes are ablaze with something deep in your soul. It is a moment I have been in love with since I was a child.

In just less than a week now, I will be embarking into uncharted territory. I’ve spent the past few weeks tirelessly going through every box and bag that I own… all of which has sat in storage these past three years since he died. Ironically, yesterday I came across an interesting old photo. It was from the last time I was packing up my entire life, a few months after he died. This picture, showing boxes piled up to the ceiling in my small Dallas apartment, had a timestamp on it for this very same week. I was so shocked. How surreal that on the very same week three years ago, I had just finished packing up my life, and I have just finished doing the same this week. For a moment, two versions of me existed… taking deep breaths in quiet moments on the edges of tomorrow. One is a tomorrow I have lived for the past three years. The other, a tomorrow I do not know yet.

Despite how difficult this journey has been since he died… stepping out into the unknown and allowing life to happen to me was the best decision I ever made. I have learned more about myself and about life than I ever thought possible. I have met so many incredible people – most of which I never would have met had I not taken this chance. I know with much more certainty the things I hold important. Although still in the early stages, I am also now committed to doing meaningful work that matters to myself and helps others.

I don’t quite know who I will be as I enter this new world, nor do I know how this new land will change me. All I know is that I will be changed, and that excites me. I’ve been changing by darkness for years now, and I’m ready to be changed by the light again. Who’s with me?

The Promise

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A lot has happened in the past few months. I have fallen in love again, for the first time since my fiancé died. The growth of this new relationship has brought about unbelievable new joys as well as painful new layers of grief. One of the hardest things has been mourning the life I had planned with someone else. Deciding to begin a life with someone new has me feeling that pain sharply. And now, a more physical representation of that is about to occur. After 8 months of living 1400 miles apart, I’ve decided to move closer to the man I love (and his lovely daughter) and explore a whole new life. Starting a new direction though comes with goodbyes too.

I have been waiting for this day for some time… wondering when it would come. Knowing one day I would be ready to take flight once more. I’ve been stuck creatively for months now, unable to communicate my feelings into images. I hate when this happens… but it seems to always occur whenever big shifts come. I’ll sit stuck for weeks or months even, until suddenly one day, the fog just lifts, and I realize with such clarity what’s next. This happened a few weeks ago, while journaling. I suddenly realized that the next part of the story is about goodbyes, and that I needed to photograph the nest. Not the human-sized nest I shot for Sanctuary, no, but the one that was the very inspiration for that iconic photograph. This is the nest I found at the cemetery just weeks before shooting Sanctuary. It had fallen from the tree over my fiance’s grave site and landed right next to his headstone. That same week, I’d watched an inspiring documentary about Anne Geddes in which she reclaimed her inspiration by photographing bird’s nests. The next week I also watched a presentation on grief in which the speaker talked about losing your sense of home when your spouse or partner dies. The connection was so clear. It wasn’t long before the full concept for Sanctuary began to form.

After all this time, the little nest that inspired that photograph has been sitting in my office on the shelf. Never did I think of photographing the original nest itself. It didn’t fit the story, until now.

Slowly, without realizing it, I have become larger, stronger, and more capable over the past year. I have outgrown the nest that once surrounded me. It was not until recently that I saw it. Just suddenly, with the talk of moving. Moving far away from where my parents and my fiance rest. Far away from cactus and cowboys and the friendships and family I’ve known for years. Despite the fears and worries of such an immense change… I can feel it in my bones… it is time. Time to take flight and to trust my own wings to carry me to new lands. Time to believe that the unknowns out there will be beautiful, and exciting, and full of wonder. Time to build a sanctuary someplace new, one with room to grow.

I’ve been readying my heart to cut loose enough to catch the wind. Preparing to make a promise… to myself, and to everything and everyone that has gotten me this far. A promise to honor not only life but also death. To not abandon the nest which grew me in these years of my deepest grief, but instead to carry it with me and keep it safely within the space of the new sanctuary I will build. To hold it close to me always and to never forget all the love that has brought me here. The love of so many… all of it woven so warmly around my broken bones these fragile years.

My wings are ready. It’s time to fly.

The Dance

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As I continue in this direction with hands I keep being drawn to… I have found myself suddenly at a powerful intersection of both my work and my life. Since the earliest days of the “Still, Life” series, I have held this image in my heart. It was always meant to be a continuation of the stories told in Hope and Desperation (below). It first came to me at a time when I was seeing a variety of images that included a second figure… a man. Some of these images were meant to speak of a connection to my late-fiance in the spiritual realm, while others were meant to speak of someone else… someone new. I decided hiring a male friend just to capture these stories wouldn’t work. It needed to be real. It needed to actually be the next man in my life. And without even a remote glimpse and no feeling of even desiring someone new yet, I put these ideas aside to wait patiently for that day to come.

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And here we are, arriving at the day this image finally came to be. It is precisely what I imagined for all those many months… except for one thing: the story on the other end. That I could have never known.

The Dance depicts a meeting of souls. That pivotal moment in time when two paths cross in the darkness and a bond is formed. It is the story of brothers, of sisters, of soulmates and friends… each has met desperation and hope in their own way – making them unafraid to see one another in the darkness. In this way, something very powerful and solid is created from the dark places inside us. Such meetings are sacred. For it is the darkness that bonds us to one another in ways we cannot ever bond in the light. It is the tests and trials found here that reveal the truth of a person’s character, integrity, and loyalty. It is the place that changes us, and the place that unites us.

There is something I cannot describe as anything but magic when I think about this image. To have spent so much time with this visual in my head and heart – with no idea when I would ever meet this person or be able to create it – and to now see it made real. And not only to see it, but to now know both stories. To know now what I didn’t know a year ago – that this man’s story would end up being just as important as my own story to the shot.

This soul, who I didn’t even know existed just 4 months ago, matches my own dark journey in a way I could have never imagined. A way I will always wish didn’t exist… because he also endured the death of his love. His beautiful, bright-shining, courageous wife of twelve years. To an agonizing long-term illness. A journey very different to my own sudden loss, but a journey through the darkness nonetheless. As a relationship has begun to unfold between us these past months, I came to know with certainty… he is the one I have been waiting for – to tell this part of both of our stories, and to live this part of my journey.

The Story of Hands

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As a symbol, hands have begun to fascinate me lately. They have so much power to tell the deepest, most primal stories of our humanity. Fear, survival, love, belonging, safety, evolution, history, ability… there so many stories contained within this single element of our bodies.

These images were shot at the end of my last shoot with the calf’s heart, just experimenting and going wherever intuition takes me…

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No 37: Baring Secrets

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“Baring Secrets” speaks to some new and very personal things stirring inside me in the past few months. Most significantly, the ideas of love and vulnerability. I met a man recently who I formed an instant friendship with. From the get go, it was less like meeting for the first time and more like remembering someone I haven’t seen in a very very long time. It is the very same sort of feeling I had when I first met my fiancé.

Being faced with such a connection has left me both thrilled and terrified. Both happy and conflicted. And interestingly enough, I now realize why it took so long for the heart images to come to fruition. I think things were getting in the way on purpose until my heart was in the very space it needed to be to tell this story – until the circumstances of meeting this person came about.

There are stories of fear and bravery here. Stories of the secrets I hold deep within me… the places of pain that no one else sees. Places even I have not dared to venture within myself since my fiance died. Places that I have sewn tightly shut for the past two and a half years. Places that I know – once the stitches are removed – have the potential to be very painful and scary.

So it goes with the heart… with the possibility of allowing someone new into the most sacred parts of ourselves. It is not only for the widowed, but for anyone who risks their heart. Because we have to open up the stitches of old wounds if we’re really going to love and be loved. We have to be willing to bare the secrets that reside in those most private, dark, dirty, worn corners of us if we ever want a chance to feel that beautiful soul-filled unconditional love from another.

It is not easy to open up these deepest wounds. It takes incredible bravery. The open air can be excruciating at times. We have no guarantee that the person who is loosening the stitches will do so gently and with love. No guarantee that they won’t try to rip them out, or seal them shut without a care to heal them. All we can do, is hope, and trust that we chose someone who can do the job right.

God, it is terrifying… so terrifying to let new hands begin to loosen the stitches. Especially when someone else had already done the job so well, years ago. Someone else, who’s death caused new stitches. But… I think, far more terrifying to never let new hands touch the heart. To never try and allow someone to be gentle with me. Because in that, I will never learn that someone new can do the job well, too.

After years of hiding it away, I am finally presenting my heart bravely, and allowing some of those stitches to be loosened. Not all of them, and not all the way. But some, and slowly. Thus far, these new hands have been gentle. They have not tried to open my heart any more than I am ready for. They have not tried to sew the wounds back shut once they saw inside. Instead, they have held my battered heart quietly, with strength – seeming to know that all it needs is to be held, to be seen as fully as it wants to be seen.

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Project Update: Into the Unknown

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There are new things on the horizon, I can see it. New landscapes I’ve yet to explore – within my artistic career and myself. I’ve been feeling it for some time now… and as I sat down today to write week 37 of the series, I somehow ended up with THIS post inexplicably. So I’m deciding to pay attention… to listen to whatever stirrings have finally decided to come out….

Closing One Chapter:
Although I have not reached a full 52 weeks on the project, I have made it a full year of shooting the series. (A few weeks were missed for holidays and bad weather). And so I’ve decided that I will make the informal close of the first year be at week 35. The dates of my last 5 or 6 posts I think will reveal I’ve slowed down things a bit. It’s good, in a way… it is because so much life has been happening. Rushing in quickly since the beginning of the year. Still, Life is happening, indeed.

I never planned on Week 35 to be the closing image, but somehow looking at it now, it feels appropriate. It is about the point in which life truly begins again… the rushing in of life and the reaching out into it. It suddenly feels just right for this image to close one chapter and allow for the next chapter to begin.

I say the “close of the first year” because I’m intending to continue “Still, Life” indefinitely, but at a slower pace. Perhaps one image a month. Or perhaps just organically as life allows room for. I will be working that out out over the coming weeks and months. I’ve still many shots planned for this series and others still unknown that will come – so I’ve no doubt that this is now going to be a series I carry on for a very long time.

Into the Unknown:
As for what lies ahead… there are other things my ambitious heart is yearning to get itself into. It’s a bit terrifying, and I have no idea where it’s going yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve just submitted my first proposal for a public speaking engagement on death and creativity. I want to begin speaking to people about the healing power of creativity, about everything this project has taught me in the past year. About everything I’ve learned over the course of my life about creativity and healing, and the power of death to help us live life more fully. There is so much to share from behind the scenes of this series, and I’m feeling like it’s time to begin making room for that.

Along with public speaking, workshops, articles, and the like… the even bigger project that is calling my name is the “Still, Life” book. I have dreamt of this since I first begin the series. Have held it in my mind and heart all this time. With every image and every word written… with every painstaking hour and uncomfortable position I put myself in for a shot… always, the book was there in the background whispering to me. A physical manifestation of one woman’s voyage… navigating the depths of herself as she lives through death, loss, fear, anger, and despair… coming out the other end more powerful and more alive than ever before.

This is the first time I’ve been so open about sharing of the book. I’m hoping it lands in supportive hearts… I’m having faith that it will be heard by just the right people out there who can help me to make it happen too. I believe in those connections… in opening the door and the right person walking in. I’ve got faith and things to share and I know the right publisher will be found. And the right speaking and writing opportunities will too. If you’re out there read this, and have any advice, ideas, or connections for me, feel free to leave a comment below or message me on my Facebook page. My heart is open, I’m ready for what’s ahead, and I’m all ears.

I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me thus far, whether you have been enduring your own journey with death or not. The growth and number of lives this project has touched could not have happened without every one of you. When it’s gotten hard to keep going, just knowing I had an obligation here – with you – kept me pushing ahead. And it will continue to do so as I take my first steps into the next phase of this journey… onward it goes. Thank you all!

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