The Words Return

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In the form of four fresh essays



This photo has nothing to do with this post other than it made me happy.

Photo by Archie Fantom on Unsplash

 

After losing track of The Muse for an extended period of time, I recently received an email from Medium about their Medium Writers Challenge.

The four prompts for the essay contest are: Reentry, Death, Work, and Space. Click the link above to see more of details about the prompts.

Right away, the contest was interesting to me. First, the prizes are pretty big with no entry fee. Second, there are some interesting celebrity judges. Finally, I liked that the judging criteria was based on creativity, originality, and quality. That means that the writer’s with the huge following who make thousands a year on Medium won’t necessarily be the winners. Or so I hope, anyway.

After a long dry spell of no writing and really no creativity at all, I was looking for something to spark the desire in me to write again. For some reason these prompts did it.

I set myself of goal of writing an essay to meet one of the four prompts, I already had a story already knocking around in my brain, and then a stretch goal of writing for two of the prompts.

When I’d written the first story, I still had fire so I knocked out the second one quickly. Whew, that felt good.

A couple days later, I had an idea for a third of the four prompts, and I wrote that one a bit more slowly. It took more effort to write but I am happy with how it turned out.

Satisfied, I set all three essays aside to breathe and give me time to come back and edit before submitting.

Lo and behold, while riding in the car back from a doctor’s appointment, I had a flash idea for the fourth prompt. I could hardly believe it and I wrote it easily. I was dumbfounded but proud that I wrote something for all four prompts.

Writing these four stories felt so good. It feels nice to write again.

All four essays have now been posted to Medium. The rules of the contest say we aren’t supposed to post them anywhere else until the contest is over, but they are public and available to read on Medium.

Here are links:

 

Reentry: Swim, Swam, Swan

 
Space: A Separate Place

 
Death: The Butterfly’s Effect

 
Work: That’s How I Work

 

In The Beginning…

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Learning as I go.


This past year has given me a new hobby, my “COVID hobby” if you will. I have been spending time learning about Monarch butterflies and about Monarch conservation.

The Monarch butterfly is considered endangered, however in 2020 there were other species in more dire situations, so the Monarch didn’t make the official federal Fish and Wildlife endangered list for 2020. It is expected that the gorgeous butterfly will make the list in 2021, as the numbers from the 2020 migration were down dramatically.

And so combing my recent research and my love of photography, I wanted to share my first Monarch egg of Spring 2021 that arrived a lot sooner in the year than expected. Thankfully I have enough milkweed to provide the food needed to sustain this new little life.

The first photo is a Monarch egg that is about 20 minutes away from hatching. The second photo is moments after emerging from the egg. The egg is about the size of the tip of a mechanical pencil and the baby caterpillar is about one quarter inch (6mm) long.

Both photos were captured using an Olympus mirrorless micro 4/3 camera and a 30mm macro lens.

 

Monarch egg soon to hatch©2021 Karen Fayeth

Just hatched monarch egg©2021 Karen Fayeth

 

I can’t wait to follow this little friend on its journey through growing into a large caterpillar, turning into a chrysalis, and eventually emerging as a gorgeous orange butterfly.

To do your part to help the dwindling Monarch populations, look to see if milkweed is native to your area, and if so, please plant some in your yard. Also, if you can, refrain from using insecticides that have so decimated the Monarch numbers. Thank you!
 


This post can also be found on Medium and you can see more of my work @karenfayeth over there

Seeds

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A Rumination On the Value of Mentors

 
   

Image for post

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The first day of this new year finds me in a thoughtful place and I know I’m hardly alone here. I think the end of 2020 and the new year 2021 has found a lot of us in in a thoughtful place and full of rumination.

It would be easy to look on 2020 as a mulligan. A do-over. A throw-that-in-the-bin and never think about it again kind of thing. Take it out with the trash.

But to do so would be a mistake. 2020 was a lesson. A mentor. A cruel but perhaps necessary education.

The past several days has me thinking about teachers and mentors who impacted me and more specifically, impacted my art. About how many of them are not in my life anymore, for various reasons. And how much I yearn to find replacements, how hard I seek the wise advice of those who know so much more than I do.

In fact, getting a mentor’s view on the lessons and tragedies of the previous year is exactly what I seek.

To my great sadness, in November within the span of forty-eight hours I lost two of the most influential women in my life. I find myself on day one of 2021 still reeling from their loss and scared to face the road ahead without their wise guidance.

On November 6th, my dear mother-in-law who was more like a friend and one of the strongest working artists I know, passed gently at home with her beloved son by her side.

On November 8th, my photography teacher and dear friend passed peacefully at home under the loving care of her wife of 22 years.

These double blows were hard to take. I even wondered at the time if I could sustain the loss.

In a text to my best friend, I told her that the grief was stacking up and I had no idea where to put it all. Could I build metaphorical shelves to store the pain? Maybe rent a unit where I could put all of this sorrow and then sort through it on the weekends?

No, there are no metal shelves and no locked doors to store the grief. Turns out I have to carry it with me. At times the load bends my back into a question mark. At other times I carry it almost (but not quite) lightly.

I can forget about it for a moment and think I am through and then a smell or a sound or a visual will bring it all right back with weight and ferocity and my back bends further. Bend but not break is the theme, or at least the hope.

I have questions. I have thoughts. I have worries. I have wonders. I am working on a big project, a goal I set for myself and it is a big goal and oh how I wish I could talk to both of these powerful, creative, and smart women to get my head on straight about it.

One would make me a cup of coffee and listen to my thoughts and fears and tell me that she understands and how hard it can be, but that continuing to work, that doing the work, is what matters.

One would make me a cup of twig tea and then verbally shove me around a little in the most beautiful and caring way, telling me to forget what anyone else or the voices in my head say, to just keep making art. Because making art is necessary in this world. Not a nice to have, but mandatory.

And then dazed and thoughtful after each of their wise counsel, I would go back out there into this mad world and I would keep making art. Putting word to page, and paint to paper, and images through a lens.

Because the road to making art is a long road, the journey beautiful and painful and frustrating and worth it. One must walk through low valleys of making really bad art and occasionally look up to find you have arrived at the peak of a beautiful hill. That something you made is actually not that bad and might actually be very good.

From that view atop the hill you can see more hills, steeper and more meaningful and you must, have to, can’t stop now, start moving towards them. Sights recalibrated, on you must go. To keep walking is what matters. To keep walking is necessary.

Even though I miss them both so much perhaps I can find them, then, in just continuing to do the work I set out for myself. And when in doubt, I make myself a cup of coffee or a cup of twig tea and sip and pause and listen and then…get back to work.

To find an image to accompany these words, I went to Unsplash with their thousands of free images, and searched with the word “mentor.” My eyes landed on the image found at the top of this piece. I loved the color and the visual and the feel of the photo. “But that isn’t about being a mentor,” I thought. And then realized I was wrong.

The dandelion with its many seeds waiting for a gust of wind to carry them off is actually perfect. Exactly the image I needed to see. Writing this out, saying these words helps me carry my grief a little bit lighter today.

I cast my own seeds of creativity to the wind. I can’t wait to see where they land.

This post is dedicated to the beautiful art and spirit of both Jamie Dedes and Marty Rose Springer and the impact they had on my life. I am forever in their debt.

Talking About That Little Lady

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Pondering What it Means to be Ladylike in the Modern Era


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Several years ago, my husband and I had some friends who were members of one of the Yacht Clubs in San Francisco. We would occasionally join the couple for dinner after a day of sailing.

The views were fantastic, the bartenders gave a deep pour, and the food was good (but not great).

San Francisco is well known for its more liberal political leanings, but the yacht clubs are where the more conservative (i.e. wealthy) can be found in the notorious hippie city. The rules of the yacht club dictated that we had to mind our p’s and q’s while there.

On one memorable night after a hearty dinner, the four of us retired to the bar with drinks in hand and began a rousing and competitive game of liar’s dice.

Just as things really got rolling, as it were, an Admiral of the club who was a huffing old man with a bulbous nose blooming with red capillaries, bustled over to us. He leaned over the bar and blurted, “Ladies do NOT throw dice in bars!”

Remember when you were a kid riding in the front seat of the car? And that moment when your mom would hit the brakes and throw out that strong mom arm to protectively keep you from flying through the windshield?

That is roughly the approach my husband took to keep me from getting very unladylike in a real hurry.

After the adrenaline dissipated and another drink was poured, I remember thinking how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.


The George Moro Dancers at El Rancho Vegas, 1949 — Photo by Don English, photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

These days I’m a lot older and a lot less inclined to take any guff off of anyone, particularly a stuffy old rich man. But this concept of “being a lady” and acting ladylike is still something I think about. In fact, as I age, it’s on my mind more than ever.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and had me late in life so I ended up with a more old fashioned set of values than many of my peers in school. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women weren’t having kids into their late thirties, so my parents were a generation older than my friend’s parents.

Where they had cool bell bottom pant wearing moms and sideburn wearing dads who were easy, open, and permissive, my folks were stodgy and carried a depression-era sensibility about almost everything, including but not limited to: money, discipline, and politics.

But to their credit, where many of my female friends grew up with their parents saying, “When you grow up and get married…” mine were saying, “When you grow up and graduate from college…”

Pretty forward thinking for my ultra conservative folks.

So I followed their advice, went to college, got a post graduate degree and these days I work in operations to support scientists, including both physicists and engineers. While the percentage of women in the various STEM fields is still small, it is certainly growing. I am lucky to work with a lot of strong women in non-traditionally female professions. This has me thinking more and more about what it means to be a lady.

If clothes make the man, does how a woman dresses define whether or not she is a lady? With each passing year, the dress code of employers becomes more casual. Both men and women can wear khakis and a button down, so maybe clothes are no longer a deciding factor.

Once the measure of being a lady was being demure, subservient, speaking in low and melodic tones. My mother’s 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook explains that my job as wife is to have the children clean and tidy for when my husband comes home. I should dress in a pleasing way and greet him at the door. That advice was prudent for the times, but is no longer the measure of what makes me, or anyone, a lady.

I’ve been noodling over writing this piece for a little over a month. I had started getting down the words when the Be a Lady They Said video went viral. I saw it posted on all of the social platforms. I didn’t want to seem like riding the coattails of that sentiment so I set this story aside. Perhaps I’m not the only one thinking on this topic.

This question of what it means to be a lady continues to rattle around in my brain so I dusted this story off and starting thinking about it again. As I enter the time of my life where I will no longer have the ability to bear children, an aspect some say defines the very nature of womanliness, I wonder who and what I am now that I am no longer young, with the power and energy that youth brings.

My face in the mirror is changing, my hair is rapidly turning gray, and what it means to be a lady, for myself anyway, is also changing.

So I haven’t yet answered the question of what it means to be a lady, and maybe I never will. Or maybe the answer is being a lady means whatever I want it to mean.

And for the record, ladies most certainly do throw dice in bars.


Royalty Free image from corbisimages.com

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

Love in the Time of Covid-19

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It’s not all toilet paper and hand sanitizer, you know.

 

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Today I reluctantly rose from bed, put some mismatched clothes on my body and headed out. The roads were unusually empty. Stopping at my neighborhood grocery store, I parked and hopped out of the driver’s seat.

Behind me I heard, “Hey! Is anyone coming?”

Assuming this was not directed at me, I leaned into my car to grab my wallet and heard again, more insistently this time, “HEY! Is anyone coming?”

Realizing this was in fact directed at me, I whipped around to see a man in a very new and very shiny cherry red Mustang. He pointed as if to show me that he couldn’t see around the large Amazon delivery van that was parked next to him, and was wary of backing out in the tightly packed parking lot.

“Oh sorry,” I said, and turned to look, the morning sun blinding me as I did.

Shielding my eyes and with a pirate’s squint I said, “Yeah, it’s okay, come on back.” I stood there waving my hand and muttering encouragement while he maneuvered his pretty vehicle through the obstacles. “Yep, keep coming. Yep, you’re good.”

Finally, the driver straightened out the wheel and put it in drive. While pulling away he yelled out the window, “Thank you! I love you!” revved the engine, and was gone.

I stood there for a minute with a perplexed look on my face.

Then laughed.

Then went inside the store. Chicken salad was my goal.

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash

The encounter and the sentiment stuck with me. I could easily write it off as a funny but odd human moment often found in city living. One of those “See, people aren’t so bad” kind of thoughts.

Inside the store, I walked down the toilet paper aisle (the most express way to the deli counter) and saw boxes stacked up. I saw my fellow citizens wearing face masks. I sneezed into my elbow.

While washing my hands for the umpteenth time today, I realized that a funny brief moment of human compassion had all the more resonance today. Right now.

It’s easy to separate: me vs them, you vs me, us against them all, but times of crises have a funny way of bringing people closer.

We’re all in this together. We’re on the same team. It’s us against a virus. We’re all scared. We’re all uncertain. We all just want to have a nice day.

And so this shouted “I love you” from a stranger was about the nicest start to an otherwise beautiful early-Spring day.

I did not shout anything back in that moment, so stunned was I by the declaration, but you know what Red Mustang Driver? I love you too.

Love, love, love. Maybe the Beatles had it right? Love is all you need.

But just in case, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, get some sleep, stay hydrated, and wear your seatbelt.

For when all of this is over and you are mad because I root for the wrong team, vote for the wrong person, or say the wrong thing, just know that I’ll still love you in my own Red Mustang kind of way.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there