I’ve often said that I use my art to heal and to cope with the struggles of life.

I’ve also been knows to say that photography has taught me many a life lesson.

Welllllll….for this post I’m combining the two and using my art (and this blog) to teach a lesson and to cope with a life struggle.

Folks, I’m quitting smoking. 

Don’t get too excited. I’m not. I love smoking. I’ve always had this romantic notion about the harsh pull, the smoke hitting the bottom of my lungs and the beauty of the smoke’s floating tendrils.

DSC_7346-2

I’ll miss it. I’ll miss sitting outside on the porch swing with friends having deep conversations.

I’ll miss getting FIVE FREAKING MINUTES TO MYSELF WHEN MY CHILDREN ARE DRIVING ME UP THE WALLS. 

I’ll miss using it as an excuse to have secret conversations.

I’ll miss all of it.

But my time has come and gone and since I’m thirty now I don’t heal from ailments the way I used to. My back hurts when I sit for too long. My knees ache. I don’t recover from a cold as fast as I used to. I can only imagine what my lungs look like. 

So here are some facts (facts help me see the reality and the danger of smoking):

DSC_7337-2

  • More than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking since 1964, including approximately 2.5 million deaths due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.

DSC_7364-2

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, and 90% of lung cancer deaths among men and approximately 80% of lung cancer deaths among women are due to smoking.
  • Smoking causes many other types of cancer, including cancers of the throat, mouth, nasal cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Urea, a chemical compound that is a major component in urine, is used to add “flavor” to cigarettes.

DSC_7363-2

  • Smokers tend to develop more lines on their face at an earlier age than non-smokers. This often makes smokers look older than they really are.
  • Cigarettes contain arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and 43 known carcinogens.
  • Smoking affects how the immune system functions by causing oxidative stress. This in turn causes DNA mutation, setting the stage for cancer and heart disease. Oxidative stress is also thought to be a contributor to the aging process. Antioxidants are nature’s way of combating the damage oxidative stress causes to the body’s cells. Smokers have less antioxidants in their blood than nonsmokers.

DSC_7367-2

  • COPD-related deaths are also primarily caused by smoking, with 90% of these deaths traced back to cigarettes.
  • Smoking can cause and is strongly correlated with emphysema, bronchitis, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer of the mouth, larynx and esophagus.

DSC_7354-2

Wish me luck peons. I go about this level headed but still holding to the romantic notion of smoking.

It may take me a while to completely quit, BUT for the first time since I started smoking I actually want to quit. And for me that is a HUGE step. I want to be around for a long time. I have the most amazing life; The most coveted man, the best, most well behaved children, an awesome job, top notch friends, my farm, my blog and my garden. I am too selfish to give it all up.

Good luck to all who are fighting the good fight as well.

Advertisements

I don’t do impromptu.

The fickle (and brightly colored) parts of my brain that controls my nerves don’t appreciate being rushed. They tell me that everything must be planned out, in perfect order, first. For my comfort, things must be thought out, from every angle, planned, dissected, and then written down. If I could make an itinerary for every day of my life, I would. 

I like lists too.

Bu sometimes things just happen.

And by happen I mean my cousin coming over and saying, “Hey I brought my camera, let’s take some pictures”

WHAT?! Pictures?? Right NOW? What about my lists!? We haven’t planned anything out yet! We don’t have outfits, or makeup or even SOME kind of direction! We just can’t! 

Of course I didn’t say that….Instead I cooly shrugged my shoulders and said “Sure”

Meanwhile my anxiety had an aneurism and died on the floor. 

So yes, this photoshoot had no direction, or aim (I know! Awful right?!), but it still somehow turned out to be pretty gosh darn amazing.

blood1

Katherine and I got half naked, slapped on some cool makeup and brought out my trusty (and well used) bottle of fake blood.

Folks, it was messy, it was sweaty and the fake blood burned our skin after a while.

We took turns using each others cameras so that all the good shots would be on both of them. (I think there may be some blood on my lens. meh)

dsc_6016

Shots of me courtesy of the lovely Katherine.

For editing I threw beauty out of the window. These shots were incredibly raw from the start, so I continued that theme when I sat down to edit. I didn’t edit out the flaws: The bags, freckles, pimples, age spots, blackhead, what have you. (It wasn’t laziness I swear! It was VISION! Honest…)

Instead I amplified the flaws. Mostly because I didn’t want these photos to turn into glamour shots, but also mostly because that’s just how I roll. There is a time and a place for blood and glamour, this night was not one of those times. 

dsc_6051

I didn’t want editing to take away any of the detail, to smudge, and heal the rawness from these. To me they are messy, and ugly, and REAL and beautiful.

And no, they don’t have a message or a meaning, because I didn’t plan them. But they SPEAK!

dsc_6107

This was one of the last shots and I think it is fitting. It was after 1am by the time we filled our memory cards.

After showers, we crawled into bed with visions of blood and awesomeness.

Amen peons.

Amen.

Sometimes I love my weird brain. Sometimes I don’t.

Sometimes my brain says “Hey! Let’s recreate the four elements using sexy models!”

Cool idea, brain!!

Sometimes my brain says “Hey bitch, you’re gonna find a sexy model, somehow convince her to follow you into a creepy abandoned building in the middle of bum fuck Egypt, and throw cups of baby powder at her face”.

Um…..what?

“Yup! Convince that hoe this needs to happen”

So as you can see, my stupid brain wouldn’t stop nagging me until I made this happen. And I’ve learned to listen to my weird brain, after all, it was the one who told me to start this blog.

Que model Leilani Mallet. She and I have worked together before. Leilani is up for anything! At our last shoot we snuck onto a movie set, snapped some shots, and then got kicked out. Fun times.

We prepared for such shenanigans this time around. We packed water, baby powder, extra outfits, music, baby wipes, coconut oil (which somehow fixes everything) and camera equipment, and headed out.

My vision was for an elegantly dancing woman, surrounded by rubble and destruction, making scary monster faces. I envisioned darkness, black and white, depth, emotion, grace. But rarely do photo shoots turn out the way I plan.

My cousin and auntie volunteered their time and help for this shoot (thank gawd!) and they scouted out several locations for me days prior.

I told Katherine I wanted dark, scary, abandoned and dilapidated. Boy did she deliver!

dsc_3397

Especially on the scary part.

We used three separate locations. Each had its own charm. The first was a gorgeous run down “house” full of debri, rusty nails sticking straight up out of the floor, insulation falling on us from the ceiling and glass everywhere. It was amazing.

Leilani dressed in a black leotard and we got to work. I asked her for “Beautiful body, ugly face”

This is what she gave me:

dsc_3507

Gorgeous! But it was still brighter than I wanted. Time constrictions forced us to shoot during the day. Nothing a little photo shop can’t fix!

powder1-1-of-1

Boom!

powder11-1-of-1

And boom!

powder8-1-of-1

And boom x3!

The next location was only a few miles away and we drove there with excitement. Little did we know we’d arrive at satan’s armpit with all the undue excitment of children going to the dentist for the first time.

The beautiful graffiti on the walls belied the disgustingness of this awful place; dirty underwear littered the floor, accompanied by millions of glass shards, more debri, and an old mattress that I’m sure has seen some awful shit. And wouldn’t you know, we even found a bum’s last meal.

dsc_3544

Mmmmm.

I needed Leilani barefoot for this shoot. And I’m so lucky my assistants brought a broom with them.

As we went spelunking deeper into the abyss (trying not to catch an STD in the process) we happened upon a lovely brick wall. White. A pure white brick wall people. 

dsc_3568

Ok so it was not in my vision to have white. But I somehow loved the look, and I immediately saw the potential.

Leilani changed into a white leotard, we swept the floor and got to work.

My two assistants, Katherine and Teresa stood off to the sides holding cups of baby powder to throw at Leilani. Some shots came out PERFECT.


Others….not so much.

dsc_3600

We are not professional powder throwers.

What was perfect about this shoot was that Leilani gave her all. If I asked her to jump, she jumped (I cringed at the sound of her feet hitting the concrete painfully). If I asked her to contort her body but keep her face serene, she did it.

Sweat was pouring down her face, covered in baby powder, muscles sore, surrounded by societies cast offs and a homeless man’s ball sweat.

But not once did she complain. Bless her heart.

powder14-1-of-1

We were surrounded by destruction, as I had planned, but I hadn’t planned on creating such beauty in the thick of it. We were essentially in the forgotten parts of the world. A house once loved and warm, now abandoned and hopeless.

powder4-1-of-1

I’d like to think we brought some forgotten happiness to those locations as we tried our damndest to make it worth something.

We could see what we had accomplished, even as the powder created balls of dough in our noses.

Let me know what you think of Leilani in the comments!

powder6-1-of-1

Happy shooting! Happy editing!

Living with Anxiety

Alright folks, grab some popcorn. It’s about to get real up in hizzere.

This is my coming out of the closet post.

“Mom, Dad, I have Anxiety”

“Well have you tried choosing not to have anxiety?”

I’ve been hesitant to write this post for some time. Even though it’s been in the works, stewing inside my weird brain for some time.

It will be difficult for me to articulate just how such damaged emotions affect my life. (The main reason I used the awesome powers of photography to convey them instead). I mean, I am a good writer, but how to go about putting Anxiety into words is beyond me.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Once upon a time a happy young mother was talking to her brother on the phone.

Brother- “Why are you breathing so weird?”

Happy young mother- “What are you talking about?”

And that’s how it all started. Seems stupid right? It felt stupid. I went to the doctor anyhow, explaining that I just couldn’t take a deep breath (although I kept trying, which is why I kept assaulting my brother’s ear with my creepy, heavy breathing).

I couldn’t make the air hit the bottom of my lungs. It was like taking half breaths all the time. I’d try, over and over, to make to air fill my lungs but it just wouldn’t. Very frustrating.

So doctor said. “Oh you have Anxiety. Here are some pills”

A doctor’s answer for everything. Fast forward a few months filled with lorazepam and late nights, and I found myself back at the doctor with bags under my eyes.

Doctor- “Have you been crying a lot lately?”

Why yes, yes I had.

“You have depression”

Those words floored me. Why would I have depression? What on earth did I have to be depressed about? I was a new mom, married to my high school sweetheart. I was surrounded by family and friends who adored my little family.

I didn’t know at the time that those little facts meant nothing to the Beast (you like my loving endearment for Anxiety? Good, me too).

For fear of boring you, let’s go ahead and get onto the pictures.

two.JPG

“The Harvey Dent effect” was created to show that there are two sides to me, always. Since that phone call with my Brother, I was no longer just me. I was split into two people in that moment. The Beast is this skulking, androgynous creature. Always there. Always a part of me. I can pretend it isn’t there sometimes, and I can fight it sometimes too. But like that drunken hook up that you regret, it’s always lurking in the mind.

I didn’t tell anybody about my diagnosis for so many long years. I didn’t want people to look at me differently. To see me as weak. If they knew my childhood, they’d know just how strong I have been. And I didn’t want attention for it. I see all too often how people use the facade of Anxiety to gain sympathy from people.

I was embarrassed. I felt weak and stupid. I was me, but I also wasn’t. (See what I mean about it being hard to explain)

insomnia

“Insomnia” One of the side effects that bothers me the least, honestly. But probably the one that made things worse for me. 

The quiet moments of the night seemed to gnaw at my bones. The still air whispered insults into my ear. The Beast was there with me every night; reiterating over and over all of my regrets, insecurities and worst fears. It conjured up my worst nightmares and set them on display before me. Those nights were the worst.

The Beast forced me to get out of bed, over and over, to check on my children. To watch them breathing, sure they would just die in the night. The Beast made me smell smoke in the house, running around in the darkness like a hound dog trying to identify the source. Of course there never was any fire, just the fear of one. The Beast fed on my fear. I never slept well with The Beast sleeping next to me.

“Panic attacks”

panic

Panic attacks are my worst nightmare.

It starts with a gnawing worry. Like I’d left the stove on and gone grocery shopping. Or I’d lost twenty bucks in the parking lot. But there is never any reason to feel that way. It’s that feeling of stepping off of curb that you didn’t know was there; that jolt that starts your heart, but it’s there all the time.

For me, the sweating is next. Uncontrollable, salty sweat pours down my sides. Sometimes the fear of having a panic attack is overwhelming. You just want to cry “Not now! Please not now!”

My hands and feet go numb next and I have trouble using my fingers. Then my heart rate skyrockets. This is the time I call my husband, Brett. He is my rock, and his voice soothes my heart. The Beast doesn’t like Brett. It cowers away from him. Brett knows all the phrases that calm me, the words that still my mind. I have trouble forming coherent thoughts when I’m panicking. My mind races. Sometimes I call Brett in time to quell the attack. Sometimes I am too late.

At this point every bad thing that has ever happened to me comes flooding through my mind and I cry. I cry hard. And then I hyperventilate. Brett will scream at me to “Breathe! Breathe!” but The Beast sits on my chest and forces horrible images into my head. I can’t breathe with it sitting on me.

My stomach starts to ache with a horrible mixture of dread and the runs. Sometimes I need to vomit.

By the end of a panic attack my blood sugar is dangerously low. I usually crawl to the kitchen to stuff some juice or almonds down my dry throat.

I fear panic attacks like nothing else. They are quite possible the most annoying, most inconvenient thing I have ever experienced, to put it lightly. There is only one thing I fear more…..

“Depression”

depp2-1-of-1

I didn’t know what was happening to me. I would wake from fugue states to find myself crying. Like a zombie, I would complete my daily tasks, with no memory of doing them. Surely I fed my child, but I just didn’t remember it. There are gaps in my memory that scare the crap out of me. My best friend told me some of the things I did in those times and I wanted to curl up and die when she told me.

I had no desire to shower, or eat, or clean. I remember thinking how much better off my family would be without me. I didn’t deserve them. I was so much wasted flesh, burning through air that was better spent on my child.

Those were hard times. And climbing out of that hole was the hardest thing I ever did. And the reason I fight so damn hard every day. I wont ever go back.

“Obsessive compulsive disorder”

ocd

This is embarrassing to talk about. And one of the reasons I stayed hidden for so long. How do you explain to people how irrational your brain is?

I’d like to get out in the open how stupid people sound when they say “I just organized my kitchen OMG I’m like so OCD” or “I went all OCD on my nail polishes. #ocdorganized”

I seriously want to punch your vagina when you say things like that. And I know I shouldn’t get all weird and offended by it. But truthfully, it’s insulting to me and to people who suffer from this disorder. (I say suffer because it is truly what we do).

You can’t understand the complexities of this disorder unless you suffer from it.

The best way I can describe it is the deepest, most powerful urge to perform tiny rituals. If these rituals are not done there is a burning, tingling and anxious feeling that overwhelms me.

I have a list of two pages, front and back, of rituals that I do daily. My weird brain tells me that if I don’t do them, I will suffer consequences. I believe The Beast when it whispers these things. I know its irrational, and yet I still believe it. To my very core.

For example if I set down a paperclip, it MUST point south-east. Because if it is pointed in the direction of where a loved one lives then they will die. I know it’s stupid and yet I believe it. 

Another ritual is touching things with the second knuckle on the back of my hand. If I don’t touch things five times with that part of my finger it will literally burn until I do it.

I live every day doing these tiny rituals, dozens of them, to keep my family safe. To stop terrorist attacks. To keep volcanoes from erupting and the tectonic plates from shifting. I am responsible for keeping everyone safe and alive. It’s a lot of pressure.

On a side note, I plucked out my eyelashes for five years! I had no eyelashes. For five years. Think about that next time you want to make fun of somebody with Obsessive compulsive disorder.

Why anybody would want to pretend they have anxiety is beyond me. If I could rid myself of The Beast I would trade my left tit! In a heartbeat. Take my tit! Take The Beast!

I made these pictures to heal and to cope. To learn that I am still me, and I am still beautiful. I am damaged, yes, but even an apple with bruises is still sweet.

A lot of people ask what it’s like for me, inside my damaged brain. There is so much that I cannot, or will not, say. But if you’re reading this then you have a tiny glimpse at what it’s like for me. And you can understand why, now, I choose to laugh, instead of cry. Why I fight so hard instead of giving in.

If you too are fighting and need somebody to talk to, drop me a line. We can talk about The Beast and maybe I can keep you from plucking out your eyelashes.

The Four Elements. And seeing my vision.

I went through a dry spell a few weeks back. I woke every morning uninspired, went about my day void of any creative thoughts, and slept without dreaming. It seemed the daily grind got the better of me.

Then one magical day, on my way to work, a song inspired me (as good Music is usually wont to do) and an idea sparked in my weird brain!

I like to create sets or series’s of photos. It’s more fun and challenges the old noggin. And Lordy did I need a challenge!

The four elements seemed challenging enough. Earth, Fire, Air and Water. My idea was not to photograph these elements but to personify them. To give them a face, a personality, and bring to life the four things we are constantly surrounded by, yet take for granted.

I called one of my go-to models, Patty. She is always up for a fun photo shoot and, as a seamstress, has loads of props and outfits. Sure as shit, she showed up at my door thirty minutes later with various plant life and a box of make up. Love her.

There are few people in my life who can understand my vision. Few people who can see passed the uncut, raw, unedited photo and trust at what it will become when I am done.

Can you be naked from the waist up? Great! Now stand on one leg. Awesome! Hold this beach ball, it represents a ball of energy. Perfect! Now hold still. Make angry eyes. Angry eyes! Angrier!”

I can imagine how difficult I must be to work with. But if you trust in my vision the outcome will be worth it.

On the day that I was inspired I asked Patty to hold a handful of soil and pretend that she was magically growing a flower with her awesome earth powers.

I searched through my repertoire and found this photo of a flower I took years ago:

DSC_6698

And I shopped it onto the soil in her magical hands. It came out like this:

Earth3 (1 of 1)

We often use my closet doors to pose in front of because: 1) They are white. So adding a background is a lot easier. 2) My bedroom has Bomb.com natural lighting (If you don’t know about my hatred of fake lighting please read my post titled “What I’m rockin’. A Photographer’s toolbox”) 3) Because I am a cheap ass and I don’t want to pay for a seamless.

Next I added several texture layers (like almost 20) of plant life, leaves, green, sparkles, blah blah blah, technical jargon, blah blah etc etc. Blah.

The end result left me astounded. I usually have that moment, when all is said and done, when I sit back and think “Wow. I made that. Me! I am awesome!” FISTPUMP!! 

I effectively personified the Element EARTH:

Earth4 (1 of 1)

Beautiful isn’t she? I amuse myself with thoughts of her frolicking around in a barren field, growing brightly colored flowers and singing songs that sound like the rustling of leaves. But I digress.

I used myself for Fire. I am very familiar with editing my own face and at the moment I sport a red mohawk. It just made sense.

I started with this gem (In front of my closet. Shocking I know):

fire1 (1 of 1)

I used one of my umbrella lights for this shot to bring some light to my face because obviously there is a flame in my palm. DER! (p.s. I have huge eyeballs. That is all)

I used GIMP to remove the myriad of scars on my face (No Fire Goddess is walking around sporting stitch scars from a car accident from when she was four years old. Just sayin’). The piercing holes and tattoos were the next to go, and they were a doozy! I still have trouble effectively removing tattoos. You’ll notice the faint remnants of my head tattoo in the finished product. But I’m ok with that. Who’s to say that this sexy Fire Goddess isn’t a Michael Jackson fan. You don’t know her life!

I spent a huge portion of the day creating my own layers, which included blowing cigarette smoke (don’t judge me!) in front of a black background, and starting a small fire in the fireplace (Wouldn’t you know it was 100 plus degrees that day. What I do for Art!).

smoke (1 of 1)

I used some free fire layers that I pulled offline and for the background used pictures of stormy clouds I had taken years ago. They looked like smoke to me so….

After several hours, and a few smoke breaks (You judging again?) I sat back and had my moment. “Me. Awesome”  Fistpump. You get the point.

Fire:

Firegirl1 (1 of 1)

Fire and Earth totally hang out. They have drinks and gossip about Air and Water.

Speaking of the missing two elements…guess what? They aren’t done yet! They haven’t even been photographed. Water and Air are happily living in my weird brain, growing, shaping and evolving. They are still in the early stages of life. Namely planning, planning and more planning. But fear not! They will have their very own blog post when I am done with them. Until then you can enjoy these two sexy Elements while I go have a smoke. I AM the Fire Goddess after all. (How’s that judging going?)