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.

 

Dying Well

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Movies and mythic journeys always talk about “dying well”. When you think about dying well in this instance it usually involves something heroic or being remembered for an altruistic life. Extraordinary experiences of profound impact on others or the world in general are usually what get written down in books or played out on screens. Immortalized character traits that set the bar high for all of us left living to aspire to.

In the Mayan culture a human would  volunteer to be sacrificed to the God’s because it assured them a place in heaven. To be sacrificed was “dying well” to the Mayans. The human sacrifice was thrown into a cenote, a deep dark cave with an underground river and if the bound human sacrifice survived the 60 foot fall, after a period of time they were brought back up and asked what the God’s told them while in the cenote.

In my experience sitting with people that are dying, people die the way they lived. Those memorable heroic moments that happened maybe once and that everyone always associates with the person…yeah, that isn’t what the dying are sorting through in the end. The end brings what one spends the majority of their time and energy on. If it was being fearful, then it is fear gripping you in the end. If it was regret, then it is regret that wafts over you and spills out of your eyes and soul. Our one defining moment is death and it is at this time that our truest spirit is expressed. Not the many faces we live and use daily in life. Those are only needed by the living. Death being the equalizer that it is, brings us to ground zero where our base energy lies…that which fuels our thoughts, desires, needs, and propels us into action. It rarely is altruistic and even rarer is heroic, at least not in historical or Hollywood terms. It is instead that day in and day out, moment to moment, small hum of energy that is not noticed by anyone but you most of the time. That lingering tug at your consciousness as you are falling asleep at night..there, that is what surfaces in the end, like it has been waiting and trying to get you to acknowledge it for a long, long time.

It makes you think about the way you live now. At this moment. If you spew anger and hatred towards your family, if you judge people, if you are jealous or resentful, if you love and respect others, show compassion, are generous… whatever you spend the most time and energy on is what will be staring back at you from the mirror placed before you in the end. And that mirror comes to us all.

And of course no one knows what happens after death, what if we continue on in some other existence based on these very characteristics that we lived in this life? What if this life is step one and our actions in it determines step two? Would you change the way you live your life now to “die well”?

Your mileage may vary

This is a great message for all…young, old or in-between! Go for the dream! Always go for the dream, everything else will work itself out.

Piaggia Del Giuggiolo

Libba Bray

Recently, I received a post that really got under my skin. It’s from Fiona (Hi, Fiona). I started to dash off a reply and then I thought that it required a much longer, more considered answer. With her permission, I’m reprinting her original comment below followed by my response. My response is lengthy; I apologize. But it is from the heart.

“I’m in a bit of a dilemma and I made a deal with my father that I would get advice from three people: my high school counselor, my voice coach, and an author. I want to go into the fine arts: writing, singing, composing. My father wants me to go to Columbia, Yale, or Harvard. I’d be fine with these but I want to go to a smaller school and then study abroad for at least two years. “It’s my life and this is a decision that will alter…

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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.

Journeying Through the Underworld

I have been in bed sick for the last week. Welcome to Sofia! It was bound to happen at some point and glad it is now out of the way. When I am sick, I am out and down for the count. No walking around, or passing myself off as well. I envy those that can…and think they have super powers. Sickness overcomes my body, mind and spirit. I travel in and out of consciousness and feel on the verge between the two worlds. Often I succumb and dive down deep to the underworld where things are dark, shadows take shape and speak secrets. I have done this as far back as I have memory. As a child, I remember one Easter being so sick that I hallucinated several Peter Rabbit’s jumping out of my closet and hopping around my room. This time around in Sofia, as I lay on my couch/bed staring at my map wall..I noticed that the land mass of Europe, from where France meets Spain and all the way East past Romania, it looks like the shape of a wolf. Take a look.

wolfSee the nose pressed up against Spain, the ears standing up, Italy is the front leg and Greece is another leg. Okay, my map is clearer or maybe it is like seeing shapes in clouds and just helps us organize and order our world. Which is what I am in the midst of doing here in Sofia. I am trying to order my new world. For instance I studied a few words in Bulgarian; Da-yes, Ne-no, Blagodaria-thank you, Molya-please. The important ones, or so I thought! I should have studied how to call a taxi and give addresses in Bulgarian. In response to my Blagodaria…Merci! I was told it is easier to say and so it has been adopted. I finally stopped pointing at streets for the taxi’s and use my full hand to indicate direction. Pointing with one finger is rude here. I still have not mastered the head shaking side to side to indicate yes or Da. It is opposite what it is in the States. I say Da and shake my head up and down to which the taxi driver looks at me perplexed. And when I give a driver the address and he nods side to side, I repeat the address until I finally realize that he is saying yes or Da. Strange how one simple gesture carries so much weight in meaning and I didn’t even realize it. Well, this is what traveling to foreign cultures is all about. I try to remember that as I wait outside the grocery store for a taxi that isn’t coming because I gave the wrong address. I compare my journey to the recent stay in Italy and know that it gets better and easier to communicate and get around …just about the time it is time to leave. I find myself trying to rush the process, so I can be comfortable and not feel I am missing anything. The truth is, I am not missing anything, I am experiencing it all, each moment I am here. I just experienced being sick in Sofia, the sunrise this morning, the making of the coffee, the sounds of the twin 4 yr olds next door going off to school. I don’t look back on Italy and feel I missed anything, even though at the end I didn’t want to leave. I know it will be the same here. Until that time, Sofia will be my belly of the wolf.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white
Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white

A big title for a small post. I have been in Sofia now for 12 days, 10 of those days were spent in a jet lag fog and briefings at the embassy were probably lost on me. Let’s hope not the important ones! I am an introvert by nature and whenever I need to adjust to new places or ideas or comfort levels, I draw inwards. So, my number one priority when I know I will be adjusting is to find a rental space that is private, secure, and comfortable. My apartment in Bulgaria is all that and more. I hit the motherload here and it has seen me through my adjustment period very well. It has a wonderful shower complete with rain showerhead, heated towel rack and heated floor. A balcony, microwave, TV with cable and many shows in English, lots of light, comfortable mattresses and pillows, chocolate, good cookware, an espresso maker and more…

I sit here now on a Sunday morning feeling a bit guilty that it is my second weekend here and I haven’t ventured out further than to the grocery store and the embassy and back. I am sure the owners of the apartment, who live downstairs and have invited me out more than once are wondering what is wrong with me. I have to do this on my schedule and I have plenty of time to see Sofia and the rest of Bulgaria. So yeah, I just got over jet lag and now I am taking a beat to gather my thoughts and organize a plan. Sofia is covered in a mass of white snow and it is beautiful to see from my windows. Not sure I want to be out in it however. Except for maybe a walk in the park across the street later.

While I am nesting I am reading about Bulgaria’s history and trying to get facts and names to stick in my mind. Some of the plans I had about my research are changing as new information comes into play here in Bulgaria. A new layer of understanding trumps the old distant one gathered in bits and pieces online. Even the online material content available is different when viewing from Bulgaria and the embassy than back home in the states. All previous assumptions or knowledge are in suspended disbelief…pending further research. This process is exciting to me. Diving in deeper water and getting to know information that cannot be found anywhere but by being here in Bulgaria. This is why I came. Now to do the information justice by recording it and accurately disseminating it to the interested parties. I can only hope to brush the surface and give my slanted opinion mixed with some historical facts, sprinkled with interesting photos.

The Medieval Manuscript class that I am taking, half in class before I came and now online is curating an exhibition for an intact manuscript at the Millar library on PSU campus. This new (to me) view on the curatorial comes at an advantageous time for me. The focus is helping shape my direction on the research and photos I will be taking in Bulgaria. My work at the embassy will be focused on the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and the work it has done in the past and present. We will be returning to the sites and photographing them. An exhibition could be forthcoming and perhaps parlayed into my independent research on the monasteries here in Bulgaria as some of the AFCP sites are monasteries.  So working out puzzle pieces and seeing where and how they fit together is what is happening. Along with this is my own personal take on Bulgaria and what it means to me.  Right now Bulgaria is just starting to show her self to me beyond the facts and so we shall see…with new eyes, we shall see.

Internship in Bulgaria

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia, Bulgaria

My next journey will be to Sofia, Bulgaria in late January. I have accepted one of four offered internships at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was offered internships in Milan, The Holy See and Romania. It was a tough decision to make but I chose Sofia for a few reasons, including the rich history of the area and my fascination with how they have maintained a cultural identity given the many invasions and rulers that have occupied Bulgaria.  I intend to research and photograph some lesser known story. I will also be spending forty hour weeks at the embassy learning all about public affairs and cultural affairs in addition to working on a research project on Byzantine sources supervised by one of my professors and a PSU class online on Gothic art. I will be busy!

The internship lasts three months and then my son will be joining me in Bulgaria and we will travel to Greece and possibly Turkey for a couple weeks. Then make our way up to Germany to see my brother and sister in law who live in Stuttgart.  Another reason I chose Sofia is to take part in a fresco photo documenting expedition with the Balkan Heritage Field School. I support their efforts to document and archive the frescoes that are being destroyed and lost to history.

I have so much to learn in the next few months before I leave, I hope my brain will expand and contain it all!  I am still learning Italian, because I am tentatively planning on applying to graduate school in Lucca. I am learning some Bulgarian, which is really hard because it uses the Cyrillic alphabet. I am brushing up on my microsoft skills (ha) and learning to use excel (I use google docs for everything).  In addition I am putting together a cookbook for my son who will be living the bachelor life and does not know how to cook, some of his favorite dishes in easy to read format.

My life is really full but it is full of the things I dearly love and as my vision of how I always wanted to live becomes a reality, I can only look around in awe and say, Thank you, I am so blessed.

Micro Vision

Paper TowelLivingroom rug

Sometimes I am shut up in my apartment for days on end. I spend hours editing photos, researching scholarships and internships and just taking some down time. If I get the photography itch during these periods, I wander around my apartment taking micro photos of anything and everything. The above is a photo of a paper towel and one of my living room rugs. I always learn so much from these shoots, about my camera settings, about light, about pattern, shape and perspective. Taking the vision down to a micro level also expands my small apartment view and I feel less disconnected from the greater world. I go from being the smallest thing in the here and now to the largest. When I look at the world in micro vision a whole new world of photography opens up and I could literally spend weeks just taking photos in my apartment. Think about it…water drops, rugs, pillows, walls, wood flooring, quilts, paper towel…

Fearless

I entered a contest that is based on being FEARLESS.  After studying in Italy for three months and taking my autistic son with me, coupled with my age and all the challenges that come with getting older and trying to accomplish great things…I think I am FEARLESS. Please consider following the link and casting your vote by “liking” my photo.

http://fearlesspsu.com/gallery?sort=recent&i=105

The name is Charolette S. and in the photo am standing in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy. It seemed a fitting image for FEARLESS.

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