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

 

Save the Ears, Save the Girl

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Learning to manage my audiophobia

 

Photo by Jaee Kim and found on Unsplash

I remember following my mother into a large department store in the Winrock Shopping Mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the doors opened, I winced before stepping inside. I shuddered and pulled at my mom’s hand. There was a high-pitched noise and it hurt my ears. I mean really hurt.

My mom didn’t know what was going on with me on that particular day, but after it kept happening, she figured out that the security alarm in the store gave off a noise that most people couldn’t hear, but I could.

I’ve always had sensitive ears. I like to blame it on the fact that I had a lot of ear infections when I was a baby and toddler, but maybe that is counterintuitive. As an adult, I had some ear issues and when an ENT looked deep into my ears they reported that I had a small scar on one of my eardrums. Likely due to all of those ear infections.

Then the doctor looked at my hearing test and commented that I have strange hearing. I hear very well at the very high end and at the very low end, beyond to so-called normal range, but my hearing in the mid-range is far less acute.

This personal auditory feature was endlessly annoying to the musician I once dated. I would pump up the bass and treble on my cheap aftermarket car stereo and drop the midrange. It sounded better to me. He was constantly fiddling with the equalizer to suit his ears dulled by years of standing in front of a guitar amp turned up to eleven. As soon as he exited my car I’d set it back.

So to put it blunt terms, I have weird ears. I always have. I figured I would lose hearing capacity as I aged, and I do think that has happened some, but I still have ears like bat. At my, ahem, advanced age I can still hear those so called “mosquito” tones aimed at shooing away teenagers.

This also means that I have to manage my ears, which has come to my mind lately due to working from home every day and spending four to eight hours a day using Zoom. I share a space with my partner, so I have been using a good pair of in-ear headphones for the many, many Zoom meetings I attend each day. Those in-ear devices fit right up in there. Piping the sounds of Zoom very efficiently and forcefully to my eardrums.

At the end of last week I hit an audiophobic wall. After participating in a lot of work meetings it felt like my head and nerves were jangled. I found it hard to concentrate. I found myself restless. I found it hard to understand and respond to simple questions asked by my partner.

My immediate reaction was to chalk it up to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. And that is not completely wrong, but there was something more going on. I realized that my ears, my tender little ears, were overstimulated. I had hosted my coworker’s voices all up in my head all week long and I couldn’t stand one more sound agitating the cilia. Not one more.

Going outside and sitting in the sun for a little while helped. My neighborhood was gracious in its momentary silence, providing a sliver of peace. I could hear the birds in the trees. I could hear the unmistakable “toot toot” of a BART train in the distance. And I could hear no human voices. It was nice. More than nice, it helped me regain some sanity.

I realize that Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon, and my ears aren’t changing anytime soon either. Better managing these adorable little audio problems on the sides of my head is going to be key.

A new set of over ear and noise cancelling headphones has arrived. Switching the types and timing of using each kind of headphone is being considered. Finding time to rest my ears at the end of the day is also being planned.

Next, I need to figure out these hips joints that are tired and cranky from sitting in a not terrible chair in front of a Zoom screen all day long.

I love working from home, but it is not without some costs. Zoom fatigue is real.

This item 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.

I Went to a Hipster Dentist

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And I’ve never felt more like George Washington



This little bit of goofiness was written in response to a satire writing contest and I must have been in some sort of weird state of mind. I had a lot of fun writing it. My story didn’t go anywhere in the contest, but it found a home on Medium and I wanted to share it here.


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Photo by Nathalia Belfort on Unsplash

After working four years and six months at my Angel Investor-backed, cash-infused, market-disrupting employer, I finally qualified for benefits. Whew! I know, I know. As far as unpaid internships go, that was on the short side.

After unironically eating too many Flintstone gummy vitamins from the company breakroom, my back tooth started to ache, so I found a company plan-approved dentist in the rapidly gentrifying part of town.

Okay, it was the only approved dentist, but no matter. I have insurance!

Well, color me delighted when I arrived at Dr. Ethan’s one-room office in the backroom of a nail salon and was greeted by the sight of so many archaic dental implements scattered about. What a collection!

Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d actually use the hand drill on me. But he did. Without novocaine.

 

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An illustration of dental keys for tooth extraction from Savigny’s catalog of surgery implements, circa 1798, and found here

I guess the screaming upset the mani-pedi customers, so Dr Ethan handed me a half-empty fifth of gin and an old Iomega at Comdex giveaway stress ball to squeeze. It was all very Old West and I feel honored to be a part of the vintage dental ways.

I can’t believe people actually lived through this! I bet my brother — the one with good job — has never experienced anything so cool.

After the rotten roots were properly canal’ed, Dr Ethan offered me a wide range of replacement teeth in many colors, none of them white and porcelain.

Oh, I could have chosen a gold tooth (not covered by insurance), an amalgam of something toxic and something radioactive (also not covered by insurance), or a nice assortment of wooden teeth.

I don’t know if it was the gin or the blood loss, but I was pleased to have the chance to choose between a knotty pine, a beautiful mahogany, or a nice hard teak.

Well, I chose mahogany that day and haven’t looked back. Sure, the varnish is seeping into my salivary glands and small splinters of tooth fly off when I eat oatmeal, but I am now the coolest, most throwback guy in the office. I can hardly wait for the next tooth to rot out of my head! And for this infection to go away.

The only downside: My urge to chop down cherry trees has never been stronger.

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

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