Why I don’t say “I am proud of you.”

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I cringe when someone says, “I am proud of you”, to me or anyone else. I have had this reaction for years, not just recently. I hesitated saying it to my children while they were growing up. It just sounds so condescending to me. Like I am saying, I know better/do/think than you and am qualified to point out to you that you are on the right track. I looked up the meaning of the phrase and according to the mass online presence, it means that the person saying it has been through or knows what you have been through to accomplish what you have accomplished. This would involve a very personal relationship to have been developed between the person saying it and the receiver and a very long relationship. In my opinion, teachers, mentors and parents could be included without question. Why did I use it sparingly on my kids, if at all? Saying it made me feel oddly superior and while I know we are superior in many ways to our kids. This phrase made me feel like I was egotistically reminding them of my superiority, like a reminder of your place in the hierarchy of relationships, a putting you in your place with a smile on my face kind of exchange. It took the focus away from the celebrated victory and placed it on my feelings about it. It felt deceptive, a little bit cruel and not at all conveyed the message I wanted to tell them, which was:

You accomplished such a monumentally important thing and I hope you bask in the glow of this feeling as much as I am right along with you.

I seriously rejoice in my kids accomplishments and personally think they are the best human beings on the planet. I also have a decent amount of personal pride in my accomplishment of raising two amazing human beings. I say, “I am proud of you” in the mirror to myself everyday, because, well, I feel superior to myself and need the reminder of where I fit in the relationship hierarchy.

 

No Memorial Service For Me

I recently lost my gram. This beautiful woman was such a vital part of me and was inextricable from my life. I feel as if a part of me has died with her. I was blessed to have been by her bed days before she left us to hold her hand and tell her that everything would be okay and that I loved her. To which she replied very lucid, “I love you too, I really do.”

I attended her memorial service to be there for my mom. She was the sole caretaker for the last years of gram’s life, while the rest of the family were off living their lives or too busy to care for the dying. At the end mom couldn’t even leave the house to go to the store or get the mail and yet the family still did not call or come to help. It was a great burden and took a toll on my moms health.

Mom and I did not want a memorial service for gram. Gram would have hated it. Another family member who is very much about the “show” insisted. That is what a memorial service is, a “show” for those who need to pat each other on the back and reassure each other that they were important to the deceased. Those who stand up and read a poem to the deceased while choking back tears, but hadn’t seen the deceased in years. Or the person who recounts a childhood memory and claims to be the deceased’s favorite but hadn’t seen or talked to the deceased in a decade. Who are these people to stand and speak out about a person that they had not loved or respected enough to come or call in years? Yet they have the gall to stand and speak as if they were a part of this persons life.

The whole service turned my stomach. I left before it was over. At the graveside I had had enough of the posers. They could continue their small patting of the backs and crooning over their very distant memories as they attempted to convince themselves that they showed the deceased love, comfort, concern and basic respect.

Memorial services are for this very type of activity. A funeral service ritual came about out of the necessity to transport bodies long distances after WWII, when the body needed to be preserved at a funeral home and a service held later at the deceased’s hometown. The booming and lucrative funeral service industry was born. Now it is big business to capitalize on people’s guilt. People that were not there for the deceased can assuage their guilt with the best and most luxurious coffin, service and buffet meal after while they read poems, recite memories from decades ago and make themselves feel better about neglecting to cherish a relationship with an aging person that was inconvenient for their life.

I do not want a memorial service. If you want to express your love for me, do it while I am alive. When I leave, those that were there in the end will have a party and drink my favorite wine, telling stories of our mutual adventures together. When I leave my body, cremate me and spread my ashes in my chosen places. No headstone, no grave. I will live on in the hearts and memories of those that loved me and showed up until the end. No posers allowed.

To my gram:

We said our words in person and there was no need for me to pretend that we were important to each other. We were together till your end and I will carry you in my heart till my end.

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Five Generations of Women in my Family

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I organized a photo shoot over a year ago with five generations of women in my family. We all went to my gram’s house and stayed overnight in order to capture a full day of photos. I assembled a back drop against the living room wall and brought a suitcase full of props and ideas. I was one of the five generations so I used a remote when I was in the photos. My granddaughter was only a little over a year old and it was a long day for her…well for all of us. You see when you get five generations of women in one room for an entire day, well more unspoken communication happens than spoken and the dynamics that play out between all is a constantly changing wave of emotionally charged energy. The shoot didn’t turn out at all like I wanted it too. My mom couldn’t stop moving and most of the shots of her are blurred and she wouldn’t look at the camera unless I told her to. My daughter was trying her best to corral a toddler. The toddler got bored, restless, tired and wanted “booby”.  My gram was in the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s and needed a lot of direction. I wore shorts and you can see me holding the remote in many shots. It was a rough day and we got tired and cranky but we got through it. I thought about doing another shoot in hopes of coming closer to my ideal goals for the shoot but I never want to do that shoot again…ever.

I finally after months of staring at these photos, trying to edit out the parts I don’t like, thinking I would re-shoot myself now out of context of the previous shoot and various other avoidance behaviors, have decided that this photo shoot shows these women and me exactly the way we are…a chaotic mess of interwoven complex energies that are reflected in the photos. I threw up my hands and picked out the images that show the story of that shoot. You can view them here.

Reno Roadtrip

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My twenty year old son, mom and I took a road trip to Reno this past weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I did most of the driving and as always I passed photo after photo opportunity. I always notice the most photo ops while I am behind the wheel of the car. You know that perfect light meets matter moment and you catch it as you are whizzing by at 65 miles per hour. Or the tractor is plowing across the field, leaving a cloud of dust behind and the sun is situated at just the right angle…these moments kill me as I fly by…missed shots that I silently mourn as I keep on keeping on. Sometimes I call them out to my son hoping that at least someone can capture them but once called out the moment has passed and the shot isn’t THE ONE. I entertained the idea of having someone drive me around for a “driving photo shoot” just so I could see how many shots I could capture that I feel I miss while driving. The one I am still mourning from our trip to Reno is the “ghost diner” along hwy 39 in Cali. It was complete with old neon sign, frosty cones and whispers of teens gone by pulled up outside.  I may have to drive this route again just to shoot that one.  Happy drive-by shootings!

Settling In and Squirming About It

The experts say it takes as long as you were gone studying to go through the stages of reverse culture shock upon returning to your home country. That is about right. So my absence has been an adjustment period for me and I think it took a little extra time to adjust to a new city upon return. Chad and I moved into a new apartment in a new city or rather in my old hometown where I grew up and lived for most of my life. In the meantime, throughout all of this adjustment I managed to continue my classes at PSU. The first term after my return from Italy I took all classes online and then the current term on campus. Life events seem to be changing so fast. This term I find myself a senior and facing the end of my sojourn through an Art History B.A. and it seems it just began! My plan is to continue my education in art history, classical studies, conservation/preservation or some such Masters degree. I am looking at programs in Europe, probably Eastern Europe if all goes according to plan. I would love to study Balkan art history in depth and formulate my thesis on that area of art. I am moved by the history of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. So many ancient layers of art history moved through there over the periods and so much to discover and preserve.

I am itching to travel again and while I feel weary of travel in general and am burrowing in to my new place to feel rooted somewhere, I can already feel the urge to go out and seek again. I don’t know if this ever goes away. This need to find new places out there in the world and inside myself. New sights, smells, tastes and feeling the edge so close that balance becomes mindful. It really is an addiction. I am going to the Bahamas in a few weeks to spend some time on my own, reading, writing, soaking up the sun and while there of course visiting the art museums and cultural museums to get a taste of Bahamian roots. Photos will come! I have a brand new Pentax just waiting to be explored and this trip will be it’s maiden voyage.

I am enjoying the smallness of my life right now because I know from experience that it can change and become huge in a split second. I cherish time spent with my granddaughter and her wonder over how the light turns on and off. Her joy in discovery reminds me of how miraculous the tiny things really are. We flip a switch and have energy, water, TV, music, transportation…illumination. Image

New Year, New Beginnings, New Body, New Sight…New Life

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As we move into 2014 I am thinking back over the last year and what a year it has been. So many changes at a fundamental level for me. Friendships have been redefined, my body has become a healthy dwelling place, my mind has relaxed into a state of grace and really life has become closer to being what feeds my soul and gives meaning to the words, ” live with intention.”  Italy was one of the defining periods of my life over the last year, Italy opened me up and breathed it’s sweet wine into my spirit. My thankfulness is overflowing for that experience and as I have only left Italy 2 weeks ago…I am still processing what took place and how the levels that living as an Italian were transformed within me. I know that seeing my mom standing in the airport waiting for us was one of the best sights ever and being a part of all of the love and support from family and friends has been the highlight of this journey. True friends, the ones that support you even if they don’t agree with you or think your ideas are crazy and family that understands you and supports your dreams and even encourages you to follow them are what it is all about. These people are why I went to Italy and they are why I came home to live near them. As I think more about connections, support, community and where my energy flows I wish all of those that I call friend a wonderful new year and I look forward to being your friend in 2014 and supporting each other in all we endeavor.

Mid Term, Mid Shift

I am half way through my term studying in Italy. It is hard to believe but it is true. I look at my calendar and cannot believe I only have a little over five weeks and I will be back home. Here is a collection of little “notices” about life here…

Italians walk looking straight ahead, not to the side or down at the ground as one would think they would with the beautiful sights and uneven cobble stones. I have learned through my daily walks to school and home that it is because one gets extremely dizzy and loses balance if line of sight is not steady. This applies to the greater picture as well.

I get up everyday looking forward to my day and the experiences that it will bring. Yes, I am tired, sore, cold, hungry and have too little time to accomplish all I need to do BUT I know I will see great art, have a cappucino break several times, stop and talk to my friends and colleagues, learn amazing things and eat tasty well prepared food. This makes it all worth it. It is balanced. When Italians get tired they stop and rest, when they are hungry they stop and eat and when they need a little shot of divinity it is around every single corner.

I will miss “my hill” and our daily time together. It gives me health, a fabulous view and solitude in which to meditate.

A walk home is never just a walk home…it is smiles to passing people, a stop at the art store to buy a paint brush, a stop at the corner market for wine, pausing in the doorway of the upholstery shop to watch the man bent over his work and listen to his classical music, deep inhalations when passing leather stores with their doors open and lit up display windows full of every color of leather purses imaginable, a stop for gelato…I could take hours to get home here.

Life is very different here, not better or worse just different and I love the rhythm, smell, taste and feel of it all.  Italian life revolves around a social structure not economic or political…at least at the street level and daily existence. This from the perspective of one who has only been here for a few weeks and barely brushed the surface. I know that family is the core of existence here and it shows.

The Hunger Games

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lost Souls

Spiritually, about half the populace in the United States congress, has clearly lost their way.

Completely.

They claim to adhere to the Christian values of mercy and charity, but instead, they worship money. They are so far removed from the suffering, poverty, hunger, and despair of ‘the least among us,’ that they actually consider cutting $40 million dollars from the Food Stamp budget (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a victory.

217 men and women in Congress — who’ve never been hungry or cold or homeless or desperate in their whole lives — cut the money that feeds 47 million Americans, many of them children.

They claim that all children…

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Release

I was married to a drug addict for six years and after years of abuse to my spirit, I left him to deal with his own demons. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. In the all knowing hindsight, I , of course wish I would have done it earlier. But it is what it is. My son was the diamond that came out of that coal. For ten years after  I left him, I held my breath, I waited, I closed up, I retreated, I moved far away, I shut down. Every knock on the door was greeted with terror and fear. My two kids and I could not move far enough away to feel safe. Then he killed himself. I cannot begin to describe the mixture of emotions that swept through me. My son was ten and his father was dead. It was a long two years for us, sleeping on the floor next to his bed, looking at him and seeing only his father looking back, his anger thrown directly at me. We danced the dance of two locked together in grief. At times neither of us wanted to be that close to the other, yet there we were. I only cried when he couldn’t see me, little did I know that when I finally did cry with him, the true healing began.

That was in 2004. Two days ago I burned his letters, cards, our wedding book in the wood stove at my grams. The letters were sent from him when he was deployed on the USS Truxton in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. I was ready to let the last little bit of him go. My son, Chad was wandering around the house and knew what I was doing, at one point asked me, “is that it? No saying anything or doing anything?”  I replied, “yes. It has all been done. That’s it.” We both got out our cameras and took photos of the flames. Cause that is what we do, when the words won’t come.

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8 Days until we Leave for Italy

I am doing the waiting game. I never seem to win this game however. I am ready to go and have been since we left Portland. At least here at my grams house I can be helpful and spend time with family. But I am really ready to get on that plane. So ready that I have even imagined it step by step, like what I will wear for comfortable sleeping, where I will put my laptop and dvd’s for easy viewing, will I wear the stylish shoes or my comfortable slip ons. Yeah, my brain drives me crazy sometimes.

Things about Gram’s and the reservation life that I enjoy: It is sometimes so still and quiet, at night you can see a blanket of stars against the black sky, everyone knows each other, the post office is a hang out, people shake your hand, it is so beautiful with trees everywhere and if I want the ocean is 15 minutes away, photo opportunities are everywhere, the negative ions feel great, dogs walk down the middle of the street and have the right of way and hanging with the family is never dull and will be missed.

There is one restaurant/cafe here called The Little Chief and it is your typical small town cafe, where the men gather every morning for coffee and talk about the state of the world or who grew the biggest tomato. The long suffering waitresses put up with their sideways advances and brush them off, the owner is also the cook and they make the best homemade hash browns ever, fried in real butter. On Thursdays you can eat there for free and it closes down daily at 2pm. They have a jar out at the register for donations for my trip to Italy.

Last week was The annual Run to the Rogue event.  It is a 234 mile relay run/walk in memory of the Siletz Tribal ancestors who were forcibly removed from their homeland in Rogue River country in the mid 1800s and marched north to Siletz and the confinements of the Coast Reservation. Mom and I gathered with a group of about 50 other people up on Government Hill where the annual pow wow is held and after a man sang a Whale song accompanied by a hand drum, we all followed the color guard down the hill and across town to where the road comes into town from out there, off tribal land. We all stood and watched in reverence as 3 kids dressed in shorts and hoodies started off walking for the first leg of the relay.  Everyone disbursed and went to The Little Chief of course. It was a holiday feel around town, the clinic shut down, the school brought the students down and it was observed, that this was a day to remember. I didn’t take photos as I don’t at most tribal gatherings, they have a different view on photographing sacred happenings.  But here is a full moon shot taken from Siletz.

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