Seeds

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A Rumination On the Value of Mentors

 
   

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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.

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

Every Picture Tells A Story

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The Story is in the Eye of the Beholder

 

Photo by the author, ©2019 Karen Fayeth

My photography teacher and mentor holds regular photo review sessions where we, her students, come together to show our photos and receive feedback from the group.

The rules are that we show our photo but stay silent. The photographer says nothing while the audience to reviews it, forms their opinions, and then provides feedback. Once feedback begins we are allowed to answer questions but the preference is to stick to the aspects of the photo and not stray too far into the backstory of why, what, or how.

Our teacher learned this from her own mentor, the legendary Al Weber. It was how he worked sessions with his students.

There are plenty of juicy quotes out there in the world about how a photo should tell the story without further explanation. How the photographer should say what they want to say visually and refrain from adding more explanation.

I understand that view and don’t entirely disagree. In a different photoclub meeting a few years back, I had quite a spirited debate with a fellow photographer who insisted that the technical aspects of the photo were all that mattered and “telling a story” was unimportant.

I insisted that a photo that doesn’t tell a story is boring. We agreed to disagree.

His technically superior landscapes remain astounding in their quality and dull in aesthetics. My photos have something to say, but are technically imperfect. Both of our photography styles are relevant and fine. The artist makes their art as they see fit.

You see, I’m an unapologetic logophile — a lover of words. I’m a storyteller from birth and when I look at photos, I like to hear what the photographer has to say about how and why they took the photo and what it means to them. I find sitting in silence a challenge when I’m so creatively inspired by my peers.

Also, the story a viewer gets from my photo may not be the story I was trying to tell. I know, I know, that’s fine. Everyone sees art in their own way, through their own filters, and that is valid. Of course.

But sometimes, like the photo in the header of this story, I want the viewer to know more. I want you to feel what I felt when I took the photo. I want it to resonate on a deeper level.

So now that you’ve seen the header photo, I’m going to tell you the story.

t was the first week of this past December and I was traveling home to California from Tennessee. My itinerary said that I would fly on a small commuter plane from Knoxville to Denver, and then from Denver to San Francisco.

Riding on the very small commuter plane gave me no small amount of pause, in fact I wrote about it here:

My Fear of Flying

Before heading to the airport, I’d checked the weather in Denver and the news was not good. Snow. Lots of snow. Here I am flying on a very small plane right into the heart of a winter storm. Due to land in Denver around 6:45pm, it would be when the storm was expected to be the worst.

I was, to put it in crystal clear terms: Freaked Out.

Snow, small plane, winter, ice, terror, tired, just want to get home, will I even make it home tonight, I don’t want to die, pleaseohpleaseohplease… Like that, swirling around in my head. (Isn’t anxiety just so helpful?)

That header photo, the one with the beautiful sunset, was taken over eastern Colorado. Above the clouds was the most magnificent view of the sunset from the plane’s large window. The roiling storm clouds gave a great foreground. The contrast of blue and orange are a perfection of complimentary colors that only Mother Nature knows how to create.

Now, let’s be honest with each other: There are a lot of beautiful photographs of sunsets out there in the world. Plenty of astounding locations, views, and colors. My photo is surprisingly clear and well-focused for having been taken through a plane window. I used a Sony Cybershot as it was the best camera I had on me at the time.

I look at that photo and I love the brilliant colors, that I managed to mostly (but not precisely) center the sun, and the clouds make it very moody. But when I see that photo, what I feel is fear.

The dark and foreboding clouds below that gorgeous Colorado sunset were a metaphor for everything I was feeling when the shutter clicked. This photo was taken at the edge of the storm, you can see the ground on the right lower side. We had not yet begun to find the center of that winter storm when this photo was taken. It still lay ahead.

I should probably title the photo “Yearning for the Runway” because as I both watched and photographed that sunset, I kept visualizing over and over in my mind a smooth landing, pleading to the universe for safety.

Turns out by the time we got to Denver there had been a break in the storm and the runways were clean, dry and perfect. We landed pretty much as I had visualized. The snow was projected to start again soon, so after a little deicing, we took off late but made it home to SFO on time and intact.

I don’t know if telling my story makes you see the photo any differently. Maybe what you see when you read the story of that photo is different from mine.

I like knowing that my photo is more than just a lovely sunset, it’s my reminder that life is both precarious and precious.

And small planes are safer than I think.

Just wait until I tell you about my photo of a deceased ladybug.

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


 

Stream of Self-Consciousness

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A Modern Fable

 

Photo by Alex Parkes on Unsplash

That moment when you are sitting at stoplight as a pedestrian crosses with the light in front of your headlights and you notice that the early morning sun is giving this gentleman a solid backlighting. As he strolls directly in front of your view, you notice that the hairs that extend well past his nostrils are beautifully set to glowing by the golden California sun rising in the east.

And you think to yourself, “Oh wow. That’s…well that’s something.” And you laugh alone in your car because why not. You can sing in there so why can’t you cackle like a dyspeptic hen in there?

As you turn the corner and head into the parking garage you think to yourself. “Don’t laugh, sparky. There but for the grace of a nose hair trimmer go I.”

So then you surreptitiously check both barrels of your own breathing device to see if the protective filtering is tidy and in place.

And you realize that, you know, you could use a little trim yourself.

So you sit in the car facing east and while the morning light of a California sunrise floods in through the windshield and you use the scissors from your small Swiss Army Knife to give a quick clip, just enough to let your sanity rest during the day that lies ahead. Because no one should have to worry all day long about the nostril streamers that suddenly seem to grow with less control than they once did.

And when finished, you feel both satisfied and mildly crazy and kind of blind because why didn’t you notice a trim was in order when you looked at your tired face in the mirror this morning?

But alas, you did not. Then you vow to take care of this problem more fully later tonight. And you should probably put on your reading glasses and give the eyebrows a check too because I bet those are out of control.

And then you get out of your car and walk into the office and enter this crazy day in a crazy way with crazy hair growing in crazy places.

Did you ever have a day like that? Yeah, um, me neither.

Because this is just a fable. Or a morality tale. Or a work of fiction…right?

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

Ginkgo

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A Literal Metaphor

 

Photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash

It’s a gray, cold winter morning. I open the front door and gale force winds push me back. I try to believe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t go to work today, that Mother Nature needs me to stay home, but even I don’t buy that story.

I turn to lock the door behind me while sideways rain pelts my back. Once the tumblers fall into place, I turn into the wind and face it head on, squinting at the horizon as fog rolls and swirls in the street. This is winter in Northern California. This is what it does. I remind myself that as a Californian I am supposed to be thankful for the rain. I am thankful in an existential way. But I am not thankful, not today.

Holding the handrail with both hands, I make my way down one, two, eight steps to street level. Slow progress, necessary due to the slick wet palm and maple leaves stacked up on each riser.

At the sidewalk I stand up straight again, and realize my car is not where I left it. Sleep addled brain has something to tell me. Wait for it. Oh right, I got home late last night and had to park well down the street. This should be fun.

The best word to describe what I do is trudge. I trudge down the block and find my car where I left it, parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The neighbor with the adorable corgi dog.

Also the neighbor with the small ginkgo tree growing on the berm between the sidewalk and the street. I’ve left my tired and faded black Jeep safely under the branches of this little tree. The wind and rain have assisted in the removal of leaves from branches and deposited them on my car.

The bright sunny yellow ginkgo leaves are a startling contrast to the dark clouds both hovering low in the sky and infused in my mood. I’ll allow that the yellow ginkgo leaves are kind of pretty. This bright pile of nature’s sunny hue against the black paint of my car is a delicious morsel of something joyful in an otherwise dull day.

The leaves are piled high, covering the roof and windshield. I’ve only recently returned from a work trip to a place where it gets really cold. The kind of cold that requires ice scrapers and snow sweepers. I look at the pile of leaves on my windshield and wish I had one of those small snow brooms in my car, but I don’t. And I’m glad that I don’t need one. I hate scraping windows.

I opt for the “drive very fast” methodology of leaf removal. Windshield wipers give me enough space to see out the window to drive and off I go in a bright yellow cloud of beauty, fluttering like butterflies in my rearview mirror.

Most are gone by the first mile, but a few hang on, shellacked to the windows by a sturdy winter wet. Adhered. Stuck.

When I pull into the parking lot at work, there is one particular ginkgo leaf that has become my little buddy. Right there on the left side of the windshield, we became ride or die on the commute. I drove faster and it hung on tighter. I imaged a little leafy “whoo hooo!” when we really got going on the highway.

Now at rest, I pluck the leaf from the glass and gaze at it closely, studying the lines and whorls. I can’t bear to drop it on the ground and walk away, so I don’t. Inside it goes with me. I set the leaf on my work desk and spend all day looking at it, picking it up, examining from every angle. It’s so cute. So pretty. So yellow.

A bit of cheer during another dreary work video conference call. While we pick low hanging fruit and maximize our ROI, I turn the leaf over in my hands just off camera. It makes me smile. A reminder that something beautiful exists.


Photo by the author,©2019 Karen Fayeth

But as the days will do, time passes. The sun goes down, and I pack up and go home, leaving my friend on the desk for the next day. And the next.

Then it’s the holidays and my employer shuts the doors and I slip in a few extra vacation days too. Two weeks away from work and I forget about my ginkgo friend.

When I return to work it’s a sunny day. A new year. A new outlook. The same old me. My personal clouds are a little less dark.

The leaf is still on my desk. The bright yellow has faded to a dull beige. The sides have curled in. The broad leaf is now a tight roll. And yet it is still beautiful in its now gnarled and aged way.

I can’t bear to throw it away, so I don’t.

Not yet.


Photo by the author, ©2020 Karen Fayeth

It is only after writing this true story that I remember Ginkgo leaves turn bright yellow just before they die.

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