grief : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

Taking Myself Way Too Seriously

What follows is me working out some “stuff” up there in the ol’ brain pan. A bit indulgent to do this publicly, but maybe putting it out there helps someone else. Or makes me accountable for my own crap. Either way.

So here it is… I have been taking part in a Flickr group that challenges its members to do a new macro photo every week based on a theme the moderators choose.

I started participating on December 4th with this photo:

©2018 Karen Fayeth

I felt clever. Sassy. Like my photo was more creative and of better quality than the others in the group. Go me! I was rewarded with well over one hundred faves in the first day. Hey, fun!

So I kept going. Each week working hard and having fun doing these weekly photo challenges. Creating a new image every week. Some weeks I worked really hard (or agonized) over executing my idea.

Other weeks it came easy to me, I snapped a photo that was exactly what I wanted and went on about my day.

But always having fun and not taking it too seriously.

Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago I stopped having fun and got deadly (overly) serious about my weekly photo entry.

Let me back up. This Flickr group is huge, over 13,000 members. Each Monday between 800 to 1,200 photos are posted for the theme. This means in order to function, the group must be tightly moderated. And it is. Tightly.

I both like and respect that there are heavily enforced rules for the group. But I also HATE it because I’m an *artist* and The Muse can’t be contained by your silly rules. I should be able to break them because MY work is the best.

Yeah, okay. I own it. I got weird. I hate it when I get weird.

The week’s theme was monochromatic, and I turned this one in:

©2018 Karen Fayeth

I really like this photo. I worked hard on it and felt really good about it. I feel like I did something worthwhile. Artistic.

Less than ten minutes after adding it to the group, a moderator pulled it, telling me “This is not monochromatic, I can see both brown and green.”

I seethed. I stewed. I started looking at other photos in the group and found SEVERAL that also had tiny bits of another color that made it through the moderator’s net.

I bellowed about how unfair it was. I started making a list of all the other photos that were let through. I prepared to launch my vitriol on anyone who would listen and demand answers for my mistreatment. How could they hate my photo so much!?!?! (I know, I know)

Then I went to talk to The Good Man, and as I detailed all the ways I had been wronged, I heard myself. I listened to my words and realized…aw damn…I’d stopped having fun. I was this worked up over a photo on Flickr in a group where the only prize is some eyes seeing the photo and some faves.

Yeah. I hit the wall pretty hard. This came just a day after struggling with a story for a writing contest that just would not gel for me. I hadn’t given myself enough time to work on it and the story would not come together no matter how hard I tried. I tried to shotgun it and I failed hard. I did still turn in the story but I know it’s not good.

You see, I wasn’t mad at that stupid unfair moderator. I was mad at me.

And that’s no way to create. That is the antithesis of creativity. This dampens The Muse.

So I went all the way there and now I’m reeling myself back in. I swear. I sat my Muse and my brain down and we had a talk. Feelings were felt and admonitions were issued. Promises to be better. To loosen up. To remember why I do any of my creative work…to have fun. To let the creativity out. To create something.

And I’m better. I am. The following week I swore I wasn’t going to participate in the Flickr group again, but that was EXACTLY why I needed to get back in the game. So I made a photo based on the theme “in a bottle.”

Here’s my Valentine to myself. Green like the Hulk who gets very, very mad. Sweet like the victory of turning out a piece of art and something I really like. It also met the rules and made it past the moderators.

©2018 Karen Fayeth

Lesson learned. Scars formed. Exterior just a little bit tougher.

And this week? Try, try again.

When the Perfect Metaphor Raggedly Flies By

So yeah, I’ll just cut to the chase, I’ve been having a hard time lately. Moving, work, life, storms, general state of politics, hades-like heat in the Bay Area, all of it. Stress. Anxiety. Insomnia. It all just got on top of me, and stood on my neck.

Some days I’m stronger than others, but last week the final drop of strong independent woman inside of me got used up, and I broke. I had been in a prolonged email squabble with a really challenging coworker and I hit a wall. I totally collapsed into tears.

Sobbing, heaving, inconsolable tears. Not in front of the coworker, at least. But still. It was what I believe the kids these days call an ugly cry. Full on.

For a while I was so down, ragged and lost that I thought I might be losing that small tenuous grasp I have on sanity. I was actually pretty scared.

But through some tough love from The Good Man, some actual sleep (I swear lack of sleep would make the most calm person into a raving psychotic), and doing a much better job taking care of myself, I found my way back. Mostly.

I mean, it’s still there at the edges, the crazy I mean. This is the absolutely busiest time of year at my job and things always go a little pear shaped in September anyway. Tempers are quick for everyone and feelings are a little raw.

This too shall pass, it always does. I mean, October 1 is only three weeks away. I can survive three weeks, right?

Today, this lovely Saturday afternoon, when I should have been doing work but just couldn’t bring myself to sit in front of a computer, I instead sat on my back deck with camera in hand, trying to photograph hummingbirds. Not an easy thing, and I’m learning a lot about both the birds and who I am as a photographer.

I shared one I really liked on all the social medias.

Here is another:

Today as I sat and watched and listened and kept my eyes open for the hummingbirds, another animal caught my eye: A Monarch butterfly.

A sure sign of pending Autumn, the monarch. They are special to me in so many ways, not the least of which is how closely tied they are to Dia de los Muertos in the Mexican culture.

I silently wished for the Monarch to land and let me get some photos.

Well, I got my wish, just not quite in the way I expected.

The butterfly flew in listlessly, bumped into a wall, ricocheted and then landed on the side of the deck.

As I got closer, snapping quickly with my telephoto, I soon realized the issue.

“We have an injured warrior out here,” I texted to The Good Man.

I wondered what had happened to this beautiful animal. Did it go through a rough storm? Get batted at by a sporting cat? Fight for territory with another butterfly? Or was it just at the end of a good life?

What sort of hell had this little guy gone through, and how was it still flying?

After some Googling, I tried making some nectar and coaxing it into a box, but alas, no. It mustered up some of its last strength and flew off.

I was left sort of sad, wanting to give the injured insect a safe haven. Wishing I had just left it alone.

But as it flew off on one good wing, I couldn’t help but admire its tenacity.

A tenacity I wish I could find. Or perhaps find a little more of.

May I (and you and we) find the strength to fly on our own battered wings. May my poor ragged butterfly inspire you as it did me.

Slowly Fading Out of Sight

I drove a 1979 Mercury Bobcat. It was a Ford Pinto made by Mercury. Less flammable.

It featured a rigid manual clutch and four speeds on the center console. With a good tail wind and a steep New Mexico hill, I could get some speed in that tin can of a car.

Its vintage meant that it was too new for an 8-track player and too old for a cassette player. Only an AM radio was provided. You’d pull the button out and shove it back in to save your favorite station.

There is a lot of wide open land in New Mexico. So uninhabited that radio signals from faraway populated areas don’t always reach. Spin the dial and listen to different kinds of static. Only static.

I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college at New Mexico State in Las Cruces. The same day I moved into my freshman dorm, my parents moved to Carlsbad.

To go from Las Cruces to Carlsbad, you get to the other side of El Paso and face about two hours of nowhere and nothing. No people. No animals. No radio.

The seatbelt on the passenger side fit nicely around my boom box, a Christmas present from my mom. A stack of cassette tapes queued up to take a turn in the dual slots.

The Mavericks, Patsy Cline, Foster and Lloyd, Dwight Yoakum, Buck Owens, Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson.

Merle Haggard.

And that’s the point of telling this story, isn’t it?

Those voices, those songs, those musicians. Then and now, they are a part of telling my life’s story. The music of Merle Haggard lives in my DNA. It’s a short hand between friends. An access code for memories, to instantly revisit a time and place.

There was this blue eyed cowboy. He loved to sing. Occasionally he’d even sing to me. There was this dance in Mimbres. The band let him do a song, “Silver Wings.” Merle’s music and that cowboy’s voice. Everyone talked about it for weeks.

I wasn’t even there (he and I had parted ways by that point) and it’s still a part of my story, the collective story of all of us Ag College kids from that era.

Back then a band or a jukebox or a cassette tape would play a Haggard song and we had to dance, had to sing along.

When I was taking acoustic guitar lessons, I spent a lot of time learning how to play “My Favorite Memory.” I never quite got it right.

Merle Haggard told stories. His stories became our stories. His stories became timeless. The opening cords of any number of his songs thrum a string in my soul.

Seventy-nine years is a lot and yet somehow not enough. I had recently been trying to get tickets to a show. He’d rescheduled February and cancelled March. I knew he was having trouble.

Knowing the end is near and the arrival are two very different things.

We last got to see him in December 2014. He came out to the stage looking tired and at half a lung down his voice was a little thin. By the end of the show he had energy and that smooth Merle Haggard sound rang clear, filling the venue and spilling out onto the streets.

We left the show full up to the top with the music of Merle Haggard. Though we’ve lost the man, his music lives on. In that way, we’ll always have Merle.

I’m saddened for his family who lost a husband, father and friend. We lost a good man yesterday. Today seems a little paler for the loss.

Rest easy, Hag.

December 2014 at the Uptown Theatre in Napa, CA

Black and white photo from Ben Haggard’s Facebook page all rights stay with the originator. Color photo ©2014 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.

The One Thing

Last month I found myself in Chicago attending a writer’s conference. The event was sponsored by a large publishing house and I went to learn more about the publishing industry. Boy did I.

Part of the weekend also had us working on some writing exercises. We were given a topic and told to write about it for ten minutes.

I’m pretty good at these off the cuff wind sprints, so I was sailing along nicely creating the words and feeling all of those blocks melt away.

That was until we got to the prompt: “What’s the one thing you won’t write about?”

Ugh. Well. The snarky voice in my head kicked in, saying things like “well if it’s something I won’t write about, why would I write about it here? In this uncomfortable chair. With 500 of my closest friends in attendance?”


Then I started thinking, what really IS the one thing I won’t write about?

I know what it is, but I’m still not ready to write about it.

It’s grief. My overwhelming grief is the one thing I just can’t write about. Not yet.

Both December and January ushered in tremendous losses for me, one after the other, and though I’m told I have to “just grieve” and “get it out” and “go through the stages” I find myself a bit at sea. There are times it shows up inappropriately and I cry so hard I wonder how I will ever stop crying.

When I do finally stop, I become near catatonic for the rest of the day.

There are times I know it’s sneaking up on me and instead of trying to head it off, I am able to find a way to hide in the bathroom or outside or in my car and let it happen. A little.

And sometimes I simply have to tell the freight train that no, it doesn’t get to run me over today. When I head it off, push it down, it only means the grief builds up a bigger head of steam for the next time.

It is a demon and I am wrestling with it. And no, I’m not ready to write about the details. It’s too tender, too fresh, too painful.

One might argue that since writing is my thing, I should be writing about it. I should be writing it all out furiously and fast and working through all of those darn steps, up and down the ladder until I’m free.

As if one can ever really be free of grief. Actually, that’s part of the problem. This fresh and overpowering grief has ripped the lids off of the many other losses I have experienced so I get to go through all of that again. As if it’s new and present and today.

So yeah, letting it all out, that’s probably what I should be doing.

But I can’t. Not yet.

And it remains the one thing I won’t write about.

But I will write about it. Someday.

Maybe this post is just one small step in the right direction.

Image found here.

A Tip of the Cap

How does one eulogize a legend? I’m certainly not qualified, but my sincerity, hopefully, will win the day.

Over the weekend Major League Baseball lost a Hall of Famer, and it’s given me quite a few moments to pause and reflect.

Lon Simmons didn’t play the game but is as integral to the sport as any home run champion.

Simmons started out calling San Francisco 49er games in 1957 and then also began calling games for the San Francisco Giants with longtime partner Russ Hodges in 1958. This was just after the Giants had moved west from New York.

Lon’s deep resonant voice is iconic in its own right as is his very dry sense of humor. So dry that occasionally athletes and other broadcasters didn’t quite get it when he’d lay down a quip. In my opinion that sometimes led to awkward encounters, but Simmons was so affable that he could always save the moment.

Any baseball broadcaster worth a damn also has a signature homerun call, and I believe Simmons’ call is the foundation for any good call you hear today.

It went something like this *crack of the bat* “…that ball is way back, way back….tell it good-bye!” and he said with a rising inflection that built the tension, made you clutch the steering wheel in your car, hug a loved one or just squinch down waiting for the payoff. Then yesss! Tell it goodbye! Now that’s iconic.

In the early 2000’s Lon was still broadcasting pretty regularly for the Giants. I have a confession to make, back then I was starting to get pretty frustrated with Simmons. He was of course legendary but his game calling had lost a step. Perhaps it was the impatience of youth, but I used to turn it off if he was calling the game and listen a different way. Sad but true.

When he retired from the Giants broadcasting, I was relieved. I believed then as I do now that it was time. There are other legends, Jon Miller among them, ready to carry on the legacy that Lon Simmons began.

Over the last decade or so, Lon could often be seen at the ballpark and we’d always give him a hero’s welcome. Retirement seemed to suit him and when he’d come on the air, I was a lot more forgiving of his slow style and sometimes awkward pauses.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Mr. Simmons deserved his Ford C Frick award and his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His voice, his storytelling, his homerun call, they are all a part of the fabric of the game that I love so much.

So on this second day of the 2015 Major League Baseball season and the first day of the San Francisco Giants season, I salute Lon Simmons for his service, for his style and for bringing baseball to life for me with his voice and his words.

I tip my cap to a great man. May he rest in peace.

Russ Hodges (l) and Lon Simmons (r)

Image found here

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