Black and White

My experience with photography started with me purposefully taking bad photos to correct them in photoshop, or to find things to play with trick photography. Having a lousy camera never held me back, because it was all intended for the web. Or at least, that’s what I told myself to make me feel better. My limited equipment is really probably why I only ever dabbled in it occasionally over the years.

Now I have a 4k camcorder that takes still images clear enough to enjoy on a large screen. My eyes limit me more than my equipment. I can actually approach photography/videography as a hobby for it’s own sake, even if it’s just to capture things that will illustrate my fiction.

This is all to let you know why yesterday was the first time I’ve ever tried limiting myself to shooting in black and white. I mean, I figured if I wanted a black and white photo, I could just edit a color photo to suit what I wanted.

I so wish I tried this sooner. I’ve been in such a funk every time I look around me and try to find something to photograph. This time of year, the grass is patchy where the summer heat sucks the life out of everything, temperatures in the hundreds over plains full of hard-packed, clay filled soil. Then autumn brings some rain, and a little flush of green, but mostly everything is still a dull olive fading to brown and everything looks a little frayed around the edges.

Taking the dreariness out of our landscape by only seeing it in light and shadow was awesome. I mean, I like dreary, when it has atmosphere. But a color photo needs a little something interesting about those colors, and that’s been a little scarce lately.

Being able to ignore color completely freed me; I began to enjoy interacting with my surroundings. My lousy little trailer (so disappointing a subject after spending the summer in a small mansion) started looking gloriously shadowy, and my lousy housekeeping started looking interesting and expressive instead of embarrassing. That’s fucking magic, right there.

I took my daughter to the park for some fun shots to send to daddy, and the ugly landscape and scenery this time of year didn’t hold me back. I got a ton of great photos of her, and the cracked pavement and tattered buildings were fun to collect along the way. I’m looking forward to more outings with my camera now, and it’s definitely eased my funk.

All in all, I have decided black and white photography is cheating a little, by making the medium simpler to use. And that is fine with me.

Picnicking With The Dead

It’s October, so naturally I must write again. I mean, there is nothing about this month that is not cool in some way. It’s full of entertainment for families, for lovers, and so many fans of things that slink in shadows. Creative types are allowed leeway in expression in their film, stories, music, and oh the beauty of those who break free in expression through costume, bless your talented souls.

If your imagination does not stir this month, you are dead inside. Which, this month, should stir your imagination.

This year, best of all, someone had the brilliant idea to fill a gap, a spot where writers have been wanting. If you’ve admired #Inktober or #Drawlloween on Twitter, now there’s #GrimList2019. When I first saw it a couple of days ago, it seemed fortunate as some of my Long Island carnival footage kept popping into my head and I wondered what to do with it. There it was, in the first prompt: “carnival”.

I took two and a half days to finish the first prompt, but I had to learn to edit the pitch of my voice for I sound nothing like a teenage girl, and not quite like a man (but close). I’m an amateur, but I’m learning. The written story is already on my fiction blog.

Which brings me to this post. Not only was it fortunate that I had a little carnival footage, it was also quite pleasing to see the next prompt was “cemetery”. I kept thinking a tour of the local bone yards might be just the thing to lift my spirits about leaving New York, as a tour of cities for the dead was on the wish list for Long Island.

In Staten Island, I saw gravestones made of clay to mark the dead of the first settlers to the Dutch colonies. Their names were crumbling and falling away, on headstones made of clay topped by hand carved angels. My camera is much higher quality now, still too much for me to handle with a great degree of skill really, and I hoped to find nice treasures to illustrate and inspire my fiction.

Our graveyards aren’t quite as rich with history and atmosphere, they reflect more of the prosperity that even early Tulsa had. This town was built on oil and art deco. Even so, there were a few stones crumbling beneath colorful lichens to keep me happy. I could see some angles probably looking lovely in the fog.

Unfortunately, the day was pleasant. There were a few fairy rings and withered, dead trees around though, but there was still the backdrop of a highway and the nearby (comparatively wussy and boring) skyline. Sorry, I’ll shed this “good-bye New York” chip on my shoulder soon, I swear.

We picked Oaklawn, the oldest cemetery in Tulsa, if you don’t count the one that no one talks about under the BOK stadium. The one that apparently people slacked off on when moving the bones, some still being found in construction sites to this day.

The kids had fun. I put Lacy in her hotpants because I didn’t want her disrespecting the graves, but I still I felt odd taking a puppy and a toddler to a graveyard for tourism.

It didn’t feel odd to me when I went alone in Staten Island, even though it was for photographs, just like today. I mean, it’s one thing to be a tourist to the dead, but to bring a toddler who climbs on the fallen gravestones, and a puppy, and actually walk across the bones of strangers? In Staten Island, I took respectful photos at a distance through the iron bars.

Except, it was interesting when I stepped out of the car. This is only emotions I’m going to talk about here, nothing more than a wave of sudden emotional responses filtered through a creative mind (right?), but it was interesting when I finished getting the whole family out of the car and we started walking over the bones of those who have gone before us.

First, there was the probably to be expected feeling of relief at being alive, among so many dead. Similar to walking by a row of homeless people when you’ve been through shit yourself, but are far removed from the struggle now. You know; the relief that comes tinged with guilt and even more guilt when you realize there is nothing you can personally do to help the disaster of a life you are blithely waltzing by.

It’s okay though, waves of emotions had my back. There was an immediate expression of gratitude at the presence of life, of joy at a visit, even if it was the equivalent of watching a cute family ramble down the sidewalk by your window, when chained to your home by ill health. I know that emotion, I’ve had that chain, that’s why I recognized it. And… well, it felt like a response.

I mean, I’m not saying it wasn’t an expression of my subconscious, a way to deal with the presence of death. I am saying that when my daughter started sitting on graves, I started nervously telling her to get off of them, it was disrespectful (while snapping pictures quickly because fairy ring nearby and why didn’t I dress her in something white and flowing?) But, I had the feeling that someone nearby had that “stranger at a distance enjoying your children” (in a good way) attitude.

You know, the one you get when someone’s kid nearby is being a little rude, but they mean nothing by it and it’s kind of adorable, and as you watch the mother’s embarrassed panic you heart just grows warm with memories. Also like walking through a nursing home with a little one just learning to walk, the feeling of those eyes.

It seemed a strange emotional reaction to my own daughter running wild. Yet, I had to recognize that I just brought a cute puppy in pink pants and a little barefoot tomboy to the home of those who would have pleasant memories, if their minds were still there to have them. So, I guess next time I’ll bring a picnic, and maybe a ball for the puppy to play fetch. Because even if it’s my own imagination, it’s still worth having a picnic with.

On Moving Frequently: A Middle Finger

When I said I might post here sporadically, I did not mean with this much time between posts. I should have knocked on wood to not tempt the fates, but here are the reasons. Let’s see how ladylike I can express my frustration.

They could be called good reasons, if you look from the perspective of a woman with an adventurous heart suffering crushing disappointment, but that’s the view of the young. I’m middle aged. I can tell you with the wisdom of my years that it’s a flat-out temper tantrum which the unprofessional writer has the luxury of throwing, but it certainly won’t help my goals.

My goals, like any writer, include to shape the world by sharing my lessons learned, so I will share with you the aspects of my recent non-adventures as they have impacted my life as a writer. Let’s fucking grow together.

That welcome post I did? And the Instagram game? The mind of a writer likes to get all fired up during major life events, and these posts showed that. I had new environments, pockets of culture, and that recurring dream I have that makes me think perhaps I know a little of why Anthony Bourdain was into travel.

And now, I am back in Oklahoma.

I thought I would be in Long Island about a year, or at least through the school year for my son. Nope. And while I was in Long Island, I started a handful of multimedia fiction writing projects, as well as a few non-fiction things related to travel and nature writing, like journaling my attempts to draw crows to my yard and mapping out a series of trips to all the cemeteries on the island to find the most hauntingly beautiful.

I worked hard on a favorite multimedia project that had a plotline where the protagonist ran away to New York. I suppose I can rewrite the project so that the protagonist didn’t run to a new city (because I’m not sure I could pull off a reason to run to Tulsa). The thought is just massively disappointing because I had this vision of a series of flash connected by postcards linked to the story, and it would all feature videos of the old growth forest and saltwater marshlands around Long island, and hopefully some scenes in the city.

I mean, here in Tulsa, we have a lake or two nearby, and a bunch of hard clay and tall grass. Who wants to do a video project of that? Not someone pouting about being yanked around the country, that’s who.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone to live “about a year” in New York for a sudden return. By sudden, I mean twice Joe told me we had to leave that day because of his work schedule. We had four uncomfortably long road trips in way too short a time with a toddler, a teen, two dogs, and two adults. Twice, we only had one four door sedan. Only a couple of months passed between each move, giving me just enough time to settle in and start acting on plans to make the best of things before uprooting again.

This time last year I was in Staten Island, where I learned that when you move to a city, tourism might not happen frequently. Life stuff can get in the way, but I still allowed myself to use my writing time to daydream of voyages into the city as soon as we had the chance. I did research, drew maps while listening to podcasts of local ghost stories, and threw myself into the words of Poe. When I did get to see where I wanted to visit, I would be able to seize every nuance of atmosphere to fuel my muse.

When I learned we weren’t going to be there a year and would be leaving very soon, frustrating barrier after barrier meant I never got to see Poe’s banister, or walk the streets he walked. I would not drink with the legend of Dilan Thomas’ ghost, I would not walk the bone-laden grounds of Washington State Park, immersing myself in the shadows of a city thick with history and culture like few other places this world has to offer.

In the aftermath of that disappointment, I did the thing I do and found a way to make it feel better by doing research on some of Tulsa’s darker history, planning on finally getting out and seeing the city. When I moved here, I was limited to the bus system for a decade. For those of y’all in proper cities, let me tell you, out here in the boondocks the metro bus system might take you two hours to get somewhere you could get to in fifteen minutes by car. Sight seeing becomes something you do while waiting for the next bus, and all the sights are parking lots. That was then though, and now I have transportation and pocket change.

I learned the downtown Tulsa bus station was bone-laden itself, as a nearby corner was the site of Tulsa’s first official cemetery. Also, somewhere in the area where I used to walk, there is supposedly still a hanging tree from the days of the old west. I found out why Cherry street is named Cherry street, and how the prostitution and bars in the days of the old west supposedly scattered a few ghosts through the area, including in a local new-age bookstore that I’ve enjoyed a few times.

This made me feel better. I even started visiting the grounds of the supposedly haunted Tulsa Garden Center when my laptop crashed, and it had been a couple of months since I backed up to the cloud. I lost all of that research, video footage, and the solid beginnings of a novel.

My disappointment was short lived, because I found out I would be going to Long Island. Instead of recreating my work, I switched gears to planning for a move. We’ve covered how well that turned out. Did I mention that Joe went back? He’s in the same house, just pays less rent because we aren’t there.

In short, I’m a little frustrated. Especially since this bouncing around has not just affected me, my toddler has become beyond a handful, my son’s school year was screwed, and I’ve been left with an amazingly short amount of time and energy to write. Chores are piling up from our homes and lives getting shuffled around. Preparation and recovery from a move are slow with fibromyalgia and a toddler underfoot. Every aspect of my life is showing signs of wear and tear from exhaustion.

I know I can pull it together, I’ve done it three times before in the last year after all. But, I think scaling back on my attempts at writing needs to happen for a little while. I need to focus on my family and home first, so that when I start letting my head roam around, it will be in an environment that’s a lot easier to focus in.

Besides, my muse has been interrupted multiple times, and she’s licking her wounds. It’s time to pull out the bullet journal and pour my creativity into reorganizing my life, maybe dust off my inner domestic goddess. I promised you lessons, and that’s one I’ve stumbled upon. Bullet journaling is not to be taken lightly.

I thought it was a distraction eating into valuable writing time, but it turns out that stuff keeps me running a tight ship better than writing reminders on the bathroom mirror. If I can plan meals and maintain a shopping list for the entire week ahead, I spend less time running to the store. Meals are eaten on more of a routine, often earlier, so my toddler goes to bed at a more reliable hour.

Scheduling tasks means I spend less time fumbling around wondering what all it is I have to get done, a distraction when I’m trying to daydream about protagonists. Little things like that add up, small efficiencies that you don’t realize were helping until they are gone. The “time wasting” part of it is the decorating, and that’s optional (but relaxing).

I’m not sure yet what lessons I’ve learned regarding my writing. I won’t say I’ve learned to stop yearning to seek out and express exotic environments or experiences. I’m not sure I could be disappointed enough for that to ever happen, now I’ve tasted certain possibilities and awakened memories of youthful adventures. The desire is pretty strong.

Besides, I’m unfortunate enough to be cursed with undying optimism, possibly an affliction that many hard core daydreamers must endure. I imagine I’ll just dust off the old ideas of pursuing creepy Tulsa while I look through my aborted projects to see which ones I feel like adapting and carrying forward with as my disappointment fades. I’m used to facing disappointment, it’s part of the curse.

I might even find a few things to film, I really have been enjoying the multimedia inspiration thing. It’s just going to be more of a challenge to find something interesting in the land of flat, dry, and boring. I’m sure I’ll be able to pull it off though. Right after this research about dogs while I play with my puppy.

P.S. – The apple belonged to the people who owned the house we were staying in, it was a discarded, forgotten, battered wax apple that would likely be tossed if they ever got around to cleaning out their storage rooms. It seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor, and I kept it near my writing area until it inspired something. It inspired nothing until I decided to steal it.

The Instagram Game

Oh look, even though my welcome post was more than “Hi, world”, I have another post for you already. Don’t let this set a precedent, I swear my posting here will likely be sporadic, as working on my first book is the priority. My flash fiction blog will still always post on Tuesdays, but I reserve the right to go on hiatus if the novel looms large.

As the stay-at-home mother of an adventurous and energetic toddler, I can’t wake up and do leisurely morning pages. I can’t even maintain an uninterrupted thought. When you throw a new puppy in to the mix, well… I just find it so hard to believe something has more energy than my baby girl.

I’ve found my ways to adapt, choosing my mental focus with my morning coffee and carrying a notebook with me everywhere helps. I find creative projects that allow me to zone out with an eye on my toddler to get that inner muse to start speaking when she won’t let me write. Some pursuits generate more ideas than others, but when we moved we only brought one car load of things with us, and most of my toys (why did I leave my knitting and coloring books?) are back in the trailer.

Except for the 4k camcorder Mom gave me, and my little camera that was used to chase bugs around the yard. No way they weren’t coming to New York. Photography wasn’t really a pursuit that generated a lot of ideas for my fiction, but it is something that I enjoy.

And then I had a fortunate accident. My toddler decided the above mentioned camera I used for macro shots could fly, but instead it fell two stories and bounced on the cement patio below. So, I was limited to a cell phone and a camcorder that I still barely know how to use, and I’m in a beautiful new home within a stone’s throw to a nature preserve. Cell phone photography. The opposite of my quest to see the world in glorious definition.

I decided to see it in the best way possible. At the time, we didn’t have WiFi yet, so it would be easier to get images on my blog, now I wasn’t feeding them through the computer and Gimp for adjustments. Instead, I could try that Instagram thing all the kids are doing, and simplify my editing process. After all, I’m not a professional photographer, and I wasn’t taking pictures of a lot of interesting subjects. Just tarot cards and local plants or insects so I could see them more easily with my horrible eyes. The eyes that made me laugh when editing and I saw the first sentence of this paragraph.

The process of adding a little mood to the photo was so simple, it began to feel a little like a video game to find and collect bits and pieces of the world around me. Kind of like the simplistic form of photography in one of the Sims games, where you go on vacation and get a camera, then it gives you “collections” you fill by having your sim take photos. In the process, you see the game through their eyes. Thinking of video games while taking pictures, specifically the sims where you play real life, started making connections with my creativity, and a little magic happened.

Next thing I know, that experience led to me being a photographer through my character’s eyes, or through the eyes of a private detective investigating them, or a cop investigating their murder. The muse within me lit up, stopped taking photography so seriously, and started playing. Awesome. So much awesome.

Sometimes my daughter is still so distracting that the experience doesn’t flow that well, but the game is a habit that is a constant reminder for my mind to play with my environment without the need to come up with words and phrases; putting the pressure elsewhere, letting me keep my observation focused on the dreary or haunted in the well-manicured lawns of the new ‘hood, finding the decay even when the neighborhood would rather I didn’t, the twisted heart in the gleaming homes around me.

Because no words are needed, talking to her doesn’t interrupt the train of thought as badly. If words do come, my notebook is always handy so I can record the initial idea and then set it aside.

I saw a pattern emerging. When trying to play with my new camcorder, it is all I’m focused on. I enter a calm, meditative state while enjoying interacting with the natural world in any small way I can. The kind of relaxation I try to work into my writing routine, but it wasn’t producing story ideas or words. I’ve had ideas for video projects that might help me promote my writing, but it wasn’t interacting with the writing process itself.

It was the Instagram game that was stimulating my creativity, enhancing my observation and refining ideas for making images interact with my stories. Like playing in adult coloring books rather than attempting to draw a masterpiece. Also, of course, always with me when my camcorder wasn’t.

It made sense. Photographers talk about telling stories with photos, and writers use photos as prompts to help overcome writer’s block. I’ve browsed a few articles on Instagram, but being new to it, I’ve not run across a lot on using it in creative exercises. Yet, it’s happening in one of those synergistic ways that is just magic. I’m thinking about ways to express the element of air rather than how to improve my camera’s focus, and words expressing air are happening right alongside of it.

Naturally I’ve decided every bit of flash must now have a photo from the game, which means that walks with my baby have turned into something that keeps me focused on my fiction rather than the beauty of small treasures in the flowers and hollows of trees, where nature will trap my attention. It’s a perfect fit for the way I’m living my life right now.

RIP, Craigslist freebie camera, my old and dear friend. You will be missed briefly, and eventually replaced with something cooler.

P.S – If you have a toddler and you stop frequently for pictures or writing, be prepared to reward them for their patience with a park or somewhere else to run around wild for a while, or they will not be happy campers, even if you brought along toys and snacks.

P.P.S. – This shit directly led to a film. Like, newbie film student level film.

I’d embed it, but apparently if you are silly enough to pay for an upgrade, it becomes more difficult to embed a video so enjoy your old-school link.

P.P.P.S. – I am working on self photography, and it’s making me feel a little creepy. Because of who I am, this tells me it’s something I need to do more, and it’s time to put my own image out there.

The View From Here: Welcome

This is where I pitch to you. I make promises about my content, and what you will expect to see from me in the future. You have enough voices to listen to, what about mine might be fresh or exciting?

Right now, when you look out of my windows, you see a land lush with prosperity. Every window shows well tended yards edged with ferns and mosses, homes beaming with verdant pride in the shadow of what was old-growth forest. When you look within, you find our family with holes still in their clothing. This is not our house, it has only shortly been our home.

This home is a haven for Joe’s coworkers. New York can be hard to find housing in, and men in Joe’s field are often willing to travel for the paycheck, so they stay here while they work or until they find their own housing. Joe stayed here for a few months, while we sat in Oklahoma and missed him. Then when his roommate was moving out, he got his boss (the landlord) to agree to let the whole family move in for a while.

Our new landlord agreed to let us stay as long as we like, so we can take a breather in the struggle to pull our pennies together and crawl out of decades of poverty as fast as we can; a chance to accumulate some comfort before we start the work of moving to land ownership again.

A chain of bachelors and men away from their families has been living here. It seems many of them weren’t very up on their chores. The owner has been living elsewhere while renovating. His children’s trophies were still gathering dust in the corners, paperbacks and photos haunt several nooks and crannies, and there was still plenty of dog hair from a dog that hasn’t lived here for some time. Every time I sweep and mop, my feet still end up getting black again fairly quickly. The concrete parts of the floor seem to trap every scrap of dirt and release it when it would be most inconvenient, and my cleaning supplies are paltry. I have no idea whose clothes are in the closets. The place is beautiful though, the chores are worth it.

This house has a voice. It’s full of clicks, and trickles and hums. It has a chill when it shouldn’t, the floor is dusty, it feels like I’m alone when I’m not, and not alone when I am. Stranger’s belongings, flickering lights, unfamiliar noises, in suburbs so perfect they make me wary. Given that I love to play in the shadows, I’m having fun.

I like to pretend the renovation is to cover up the scene of a murder, and I have a blast creeping myself out so much I’m a little reluctant to open my eyes when the house starts talking at night. I enjoy wandering around with my cell phone camera, looking for things to distort somehow, twisted perspectives to help feed my muse.

I love the unsettled feeling of a fresh move, the surreal sensations when enjoying culture shock. I love the metaphor of a groaning home that’s slightly damaged in places, in transition, wiping off the scars of its long history as it is renovated for a new phase of existence. It’s been glorious.

The shadows of my heart where the muse plays has responded with project ideas, images, words, and connections springing forth in a rush. I’ve been here only a little over a month, and I’m just now reigning it in, making myself settle down and focus to polish off the best of the creative wave and make something real of it.

Naturally, I’ve decided to renovate my writing practice as much as my new home.

I noticed at some point that my flash fiction blog looks a lot better when I keep any mentions of my life down to a brief P.S. and stick to just fiction under 500 words. But I miss talking about my life. I like talking about nature, creative projects, the beautiful things I see, the haunted things that move me, the adventures I’ve had, and the things I think you should experience in my voice, because I promise you my perspective is unusual.

Therefore, this blog is here, and so are you. And you should click follow and stay, because while I might not post on a regular schedule yet (not going to commit to anything until I see how well I can work it in around other creative projects), when I do post something, it could be about a subject you very much enjoy.