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.

Taking Myself Way Too Seriously

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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

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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.





The One Thing

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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?”

Bah.

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.




The Roots of My Raising Run Deep

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Part V, and the conclusion of a five part series.

It was a short plane ride, take off, cruising altitude for something like a minute, then get ready for final descent into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas. My kind of town. Vegas and I go way back. Now you know my not so secret secret, I wasn’t actually born in New Mexico, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.

My dad was working out at the Nevada Test Site and one thing led to another and…

Growing up some of my friends liked to tease me that my parents took a gamble and lost. Oh! Hey! Good looking crowd. We’re here all night. Tip your waitress.

My folks loved living in Las Vegas, but for various reasons moved back to Albuquerque when I was very small. Really too small to remember much of life in Las Vegas. All I’ve ever known is New Mexico, so I still rightfully call myself a native.

I scrambled off that Southwest Airlines jet, through the jetway, and hit the carpet in McCarran Airport. I walked without hesitation to a bank of slot machines that were unoccupied and pulled up a seat.

My family likes to gamble. A trip to Vegas was my present for my twenty-first birthday. My folks used to get out there at least once, maybe twice a year and we kids often went along. I didn’t grow up in Vegas but I grew up an awful lot on the many casino floors through the course of my life.

The Vegas I know is an old school Vegas, from the 1970’s, and it always feels a little right to be there.

With twenty dollars in the slot machine, I managed to make it play for a little over a half hour. I’d get down to the last dollar then the machine would pay off again. I was on a nice hot streak. Not hot enough to cash out, but hot enough to have some fun.

When that was gone, I picked another machine and chased another twenty dollars around for about fifteen minutes.

When that was gone, I got up from the seat with a sigh. I felt hungry and went in search of something not airport-awful to eat. Over a really disappointing slice of Sbarro’s pizza, I stopped chewing for a minute and smiled.

A thought occurred to me. In that same day, I had been in New Mexico, I was in Las Vegas, and I’d soon be in California. Those are all of the places I have ever lived. Those are all of the places I know.

Those are all of the places I belong.

Kind of cool, really. Kind of a nice way to end my journey. A full circle kind of a thing.

My trip to New Mexico was, all in, pretty good. I was so glad I made the trip, so glad to see my best friend and my goddaughters, so glad to go home and immerse myself in memories (and make new ones too).

My trip to New Mexico was also a little difficult. You see, my dad died in 2005 and he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe. There was no way I could live with myself if I was in Santa Fe and didn’t go to the cemetery. And yet I really, really didn’t want to go to the cemetery. It’s not a joyful thing.

The last time I had visited was in 2009 and I was without a job and had lost my mind a little bit. I was scrambling to find a way to get back on my feet. That year I took a trip home to New Mexico to see if going back to my roots could help me find my compass needle.

I had cried a bit when my dad had died, but I was also a little stoic. My mom had asked me to be strong so that she didn’t have to be, and I agreed. I was as strong as I knew how to be back then, and a few years later there may have been some pent up stuff that needed to come out.

In 2009 when I found the stone that marks the place where my dad’s ashes are stored, it was a surreal experience. Gray skies opened up with rain and I stood there with my hand tracing the letters in stone and I cried, I keened, I howled. I scared the grounds crew. I honestly did, I freaked out this nice man taking care of the row of headstones nearby.

I guess back then I had some things I had to work out. On that recent spring day in March 2014, I was afraid that monster was still inside of me. I was terrified I’d find myself keening again at my father’s graveside. When considering going to the cemetery, I balked, I stalled, and finally I borrowed the keys to my friend’s new Suburban and set up Apple maps on my phone and took off on the highway, dreading it all the way.

Apple maps led me on quite a merry chase through the streets of downtown Santa Fe. That is a very old city, built by the Spanish Conquistadors so the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are high to accommodate horse drawn carriages.

With a little bit of axel grease and a shoehorn, I was able to navigate a huge Suburban through the streets, getting more lost by the moment.

Eventually, Siri found her head and I found my way, and there I was again, at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, both ready and not quite ready for what lay ahead.

That cemetery is always a difficult place for me. Rows upon rows of headstones mark all of my fellow New Mexicans who served in the military and who passed on, either in service of their country or later, as my dad had done. It is quite a humbling place for me, and that is even before I get to the place where I have to face my personal sorrow.

I had a bit of a false start, stopping at the wrong row of stones and realizing I was off by a bit. It didn’t take me a long time to find the right row and my father’s stone.

His ashes are in what is called a columbarium and it’s covered with a lovely piece of what I think is marble and secured to the wall with these connectors that look, to me anyway, like conchos.

They are so beautiful and so New Mexico appropriate.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth


For personal reasons, I will decline to post the entire stone, but I wanted to share a nice photo of that fastener. It stands on its own as a useful reminder.

On this visit I didn’t keen and I didn’t wail, but I sure did cry an awful lot. I put my hands on the now weathered stone and I traced his name and the word “Korea,” the war in which he participated. I felt the cold marble and I noted the sand blasted wear and tear and laughed at the unyielding New Mexico elements that caused the letters to already become faded. It’s only been nine years.

“Well, dad, I guess I’m doing a lot better than I was the last time I was here,” I said aloud. And I was.

Seeing my father’s name carved into stone never fails to break me on some level. After pacing a bit and having a pretty hard cry, I walked up the row and sat on one of the benches. It looks out over the valley and has a gorgeous view.




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth



The mountains at my back and the dried grass and valley in front of me. The New Mexico unrelenting wind dried my tears the moment they slipped from my eyes. I laughed as the wind whipped at my hair. “Goddamn springtime wind,” I said to no one as I sat there alone.

Tumbleweeds of thoughts bounced in my mind. Through tears of sorrow, I smiled, because of that view, that place, that moment.

I had spent the past three days wondering I was even a New Mexican anymore. Sitting there, letting the climate steal my moisture and feeling grounded, I remembered that I always was and will always be.

I can never not be a New Mexican. Just as I can never not be born in Las Vegas. And I can never not be a damn near twenty-year veteran of California.

I am all of that. I am none of that. I am more than that.

I am greater than the sum of all my parts.

My version of New Mexico may not exist anymore but it’s mine. My particular brand of Las Vegas may not exist anymore, but I own it. My California is still telling me its story.

There is a lot left to learn about all of those places and as I gaze forward to the celebration of another revolution around the sun, I humbly admit there is an awful lot yet to learn about me.

What started as a fun trip to see my best friend in the entire world and my gorgeous godkids turned out to be something of a journey. A grounding moment in time that changed me, humbled me, reminded me and helped me grow.

I had no idea that was going to happen. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know. To paraphrase one of my oldest goddaughter’s favorite songs (that dates back to my college years), I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss that dance.

And there is no way I’d ever miss out on a good dance with some of my most favorite people in the world, back home where I belong.





Both photos Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. The fastener photo was further edited in Instagram.