Category Archives: Musings

Little Cabin in the Woods

  
At the outer edges of my noisy world exists a little cabin in the woods. A place where my soul can go to rest and reconnect with Nature and all of its beautiful gifts. 

 Whenever I go there it’s as if my soul does a giant exhale. A spewing out of all the damaging stress to make room for peace and healing.

   

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

   

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir

  

  
 

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” ~ William Shakespeare

 

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

     “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

  
 

**All photographs and videos were taken on my iPhone. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.**

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Purchase a copy of “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” here.

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Ode to Spring

  

“Ode to Spring” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

March is a time for renewal, when the first buds of early Spring begin to push their way towards the surface. The days become a bit longer, less dark and bleak. Flocks of birds begin to fly overhead and make their way north after a long winter layover. Their excited squacks and cackles instill a sense of hope in my soul, but also a feeling of sadness that I never took the time to visit them while they were at rest here in our valley. My soul was tucked away in front of the warm fire, wrapped in reflection, which is where winter often sends me.

I stand in my backyard as a family of Sandhill Cranes ride a thermal right above me. Their giant wings glide in circles as their gutteral call rolls from their beaks in an ecstatic chorus. They circle and glide, resting for the long trip ahead, a momentary pause in their journey as if saying goodbye. A tear escapes my eye as I look up and wish them a safe flight.

The sun sneaks out between big white clouds and leftover raindrops that have settled on the new blooms begin to shimmer. My focus shifts from the vast expanse of the sky above back to the tiny things below me. The longer I stare, the more amazed I become. This micro world of color and light comes alive as if the entire universe exists in this few inches of earth within my vision. Life and death begin and end there. Spring approaches to remind us it is our job to live, to let go of the darkness, emerge from our coccoons and acknowledge the beauty in all that we have been given.

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Pick up a copy of “Zen in the Garden” here. 


What Jesus Wants – Love Your Gay Neighbors

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I grew up in a Christian church and one of the biggest lessons I learned while I was there was love. I was taught that Jesus was the type of man who hung out with thieves, prostitutes, and the poor and loved each one of them in the same way he loved others. I was also taught that our place is not to judge others lest we be judged ourselves. The whole “he who casts the first stone” lesson.

The U.S. supreme Court decision on Friday that supported the right of same-sex couples to marry created much joy in the hearts of those who have been in support of equal rights for gay people. Those supporters include individuals from all walks of life. For those individuals, the fight has always been about love, not about any hidden “gay agenda” and definitely not about discrimination or hatred.

Mixed in with all the love and celebration of that decision came a strong dose of fear-based, judgemental, and at times hate-filled words. While those reactions were expected from the clearly bigoted, hateful groups of individuals who still exist in our country, it was disappointing to see some of these same reactions coming from people who claim to be “Christians.” The response was not Christ-like from a space of non-judgment and love. On the contrary, it was harsh, judgmental, and oft-times hateful.

There seems to be a great misunderstanding amongst some Christians (note I said “some” not “all”) of the Fundamental, Evangelical, or Conservative persuasions, that you cannot be gay and be a Christian. They take a stance of “us against them.” The “righteous against the sinners.” The “good against the bad.” The “moral against the immoral.” What an unfortunate, disillusioned, and limiting stance. In reality, a great number of gay people are indeed Christian. They go to church, they hold Bible studies, they pray for your souls, they feed and clothe the hungry. There are also Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Sikhs, Atheists, Wiccans, etc.; the same mix of faiths and belief systems as the rest of our wonderful country.

We are all human beings. We all deserve love. We all deserve equal rights no matter what our religious or spiritual stance may be. Basic human rights has absolutely nothing to do with your religion. We all should have equal protection under the law. The law of our country is not the Bible or God’s law. It is the Constitution. If the law of the land were based on one religion, then that would impede on the rights of others who choose to believe something different.

Gay people were given the Constitutionally protected right to marry the person they love. This in no way, shape or form infringes upon your right to choose who you will marry. It in no way, shape, or form infringes on your right to choose the religion you want to practice. You can still go to your churches, still read your Bibles, still pray for the souls of those you care about. Nothing has changed except for a new challenge to your own hearts. Acceptance.

We all have the opportunity right now to choose love and acceptance. There has been way too much judgment, hatred, fear, and misunderstanding surrounding the issue of gay rights coming from all sides. It’s past time for all who call themselves “Christians” to be the example and reflect how Jesus would want us to be. He would expect nothing less than for us to love one another in both word and deed and cast all judgment aside.

Love always wins.


The Lure of Minimizing and Living Off-Grid

  ** Pole Barn. North Idaho. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have always felt I would make the perfect Hermit. I love spending time alone and one of my favorite places to spend that time is lost somewhere in the forest. The noise and activity of the city excites me for short spells but grates on my nerves and makes me long for a quiet space after a day or so. 

As a child I grew up in a small community surrounded by beautiful and dramatic mountain ranges. The outdoor life was all I knew. I spent my summers hiking, climbing and backpacking through forests on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and my winters snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the backcountry. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t dream of someday living in a log cabin surrounded by pines and wildlife. My interaction with nature was the best part of my childhood and became my savior during moments of stress.

  
Oft-times childhood dreams are cast aside for adult realities. I grew up, went away to college, and landed out in the “big world” far away from my small town hamlet. Over time I took on my big city persona and began to lose touch with nature. While swept up in that grown up life of making lots of money in order to buy lots of unnecessary “things,” I was haunted by an empty feeling deep inside my gut. Everything I was doing, every hat I wore, every role I played, felt wrong. All I could think about was sitting on the porch of that log cabin somewhere in the woods where I could breathe the earth back into my soul. 

  
I am not the only one who has felt this way. More people have begun to heed the lure of homesteading or living off-grid and have made the bold decision to quit their corporate jobs, sell most of their belongings, and move their families onto their little patch of paradise far from the noise of the city life. I can’t think of a healthier way to exist than that of the Homesteader. To reconnect with nature, grow your own organic food, and live off the land is to me the ultimate existance. And this is exactly what we are going to do in the not too distant future. 

  
The wheels were set in motion when we recently purchased a small log cabin on ten beautiful timbered acres in North Idaho. Over the next several years we will work to downsize or minimize our belongings; in other words let go of the “things” that don’t bring us joy in life. We will spend most of our upcoming vacation time enjoying and preparing the cabin for our eventual move. The cabin is not completely off-grid in the sense it is connected to the power grid, however it sits two miles from the nearest paved road, draws water from a well with a spring as a secondary source, and can only be accessed by skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile in the thick of Winter and a 4-wheel-drive Quad or knee-high mud boots during the sloppy Spring thaw.

  
What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality and it brings such peace and joy to my heart to know it is there waiting for our ultimate arrival. We leave a week from today to pay our little piece of paradise a sixteen day visit. I can’t wait to sit on the porch swing and breathe in the beauty of the woods while dreaming of the day I will never have to leave there.

  


Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 2 – Go With the Flow

  

 

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free.” – Chuang Tzu

I have always been drawn to water. Whether the reflection of the clouds in a calm lake, the peaceful sound of a trickling brook, the hypnotic repetition of waves hitting the shoreline, or the breathtaking sight of a waterfall as it cascades down the face of a mountain, water relaxes me and clears my mind of all the clutter.

Water cools, refreshes, both gives and sustains life. The human body is more than 60% water. Without it we would die. For many, water symbolizes emotional energy, the subconscious, growth, and creative potential. For me it represents the rhythm of life. Water ebbs, it flows, it sits calmly, it roars, it carves canyons out of solid rock, it falls gently from the sky and touches the petals of a rose. 

Whenever I have the chance I make my way towards a body of water and I watch and I listen. The song is never the same. The message always different. At times it feels as if it passes right through me, renews me, saturates the parts of me that had dried out from neglect. 

If water were to serve as a metaphor for anything in my own life it would be one of change and growth. My most life-changing decisions and moments of growth have occurred when a body of water was present. Whatever water may mean to you, I hope you make the choice to incorporate it into your life on occasion. Walk along the beach and watch the ocean stretch out before you. Put your bare feet in a cool creek and feel it run over and through your toes. Listen to the magnificence as it roars down the side of a mountain. And more than anything let it set your mind free.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Embracing Those Zen Moments

  

Sunday morning I went to church. But this was not your typical preacher at the pulpit, dressed in our Sunday finest, we seek forgiveness for our multitude of sins, here’s five percent of my paycheck, followed by breakfast at Denny’s type of church. It was instead my personal choice of places to go when seeking communion with the Divine. My church of choice is Nature.

I grew up in those traditional houses of worship, but as an adult I find them uncomfortable and often filled with hypocrisy. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not harbor disdain for those who choose a traditional church as their place of worship, but I personally have been unable to find my own peace there. 

When I walk in nature with my feet planted firmly against the earth, embraced by the breeze and serenaded by bird song, I become instantly relaxed and at peace. In those moments I feel closer to a God than any other time in my life. Everything makes sense to me as I walk along and see the beauty before my eyes.

Yesterday I had one of those little “Zen Moments” where I felt connected to everything and found beauty in the simple things. My hope for each of you this week is you will find your own Zen moments as you navigate this noisy life.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Corned Beef, Leprechauns, and a Wee Little Bit of Irish Brogue



** Window display at Evangeline’s, Old Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Every St. Patrick’s Day I think about my favorite grandmother. She was as Irish as they come. She did have some noble French blood traceable back to the time the French Hugenots were driven from France mixed in with a bit of this and that, but she had more fun embracing and identifying with her Irish side.

There was no one in this world who could tell a story the way my grandmother could. On St. patrick’s day she would don her apron and spend all day in the kitchen cooking corned beef and cabbage. Later in the evening with her grandchildren gathered about her feet, she would sit in her rocker and in her best Irish brogue, spin tales of Leprechauns, pots of gold, and St. Paddy himself. We were mesmerized as we hung on every word that poured forth from her mouth in the language of our ancestors.

Her own mother, who I unfortunately never met, came to the U.S. from Ireland as a wee little lassie. My grandmother’s brogue was a part of her own mother and grandmother she loved to mimic when the appropriate occasion would arise. To this day I myself love to break into a bit of the brogue and whenever I do, I feel my grandmother smiling down on me for carrying on a piece of our history.

So to all of you who are of Irish descent and to those of you who simply like to try on a bit of Irish for a day, I say to you (imagine me with an Irish accent) what my grandmother used to say:

“May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
Quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.”

Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Equilibrium





** “Tango.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

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noun equi·lib·ri·um \ˌē-kwə-ˈli-brē-əm, ˌe-\

: a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other

: a state of emotional balance or calmness

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I have been thinking a lot lately about equilibrium. As humans we are in a constant struggle to reach it, some of us more so than others. 

A few days ago I was feeling stressed so I made it a priority to drive out to the local wildlife area and take myself on a walk. As I walked, I found myself involved in a battle to clear my mind. I was trying very hard to let go of the noisy, jumbled list of to-do’s that was being broadcast on one side of my brain while attempting to hush the nagging voice of worry and doubt that was trying to take over my internal dialogue from the opposite side. At the same time my whole mind was working overtime to oppose my spirit. The spirit that desired nothing less than to embrace peace. 

As hard as I tried, peace would not be mine that morning. I drove home feeling defeated.

Sometimes life brings you gifts when you least expect them but are most in need of receiving them. One of those gifts arrived that morning as I turned onto my street and pulled into the driveway. I noticed a police car parked in front of our neighbor’s house. As I opened the door and set my keys down, two more police officers arrived. I could hear our neighbor Jenny inside her house yelling and wailing. 

Jenny suffers from Bipolar Disorder. She struggles constantly with maintaining a balance. Her equilibrium is off more times than it is on. Even with the help of medication she struggles. 

I stood on the porch and observed as the three police officers and Jenny came out of the house. She was highly agitated and began to walk fast circles in her driveway. The police officers were wonderful with her. Their voices were soft, encouraging, and kind. One of them gave her a gentle bear hug when she asked for one. I heard him say “we all need a hug every now and then.” 

Jenny continued her fast dizzying circles as she threw her hands in the air and began to preach about God and Heaven and how much she needed to go back to the hospital. The officers redirected her whenever she headed towards the street. Her circles became larger the more manic she became then she would pause for a moment to look up towards the heavens as if waiting for an answer or some sort of relief from her mind’s frenzied state.

I felt my heart break for her and tears began to roll down my cheeks. 

I watched Jenny continue to struggle as if lost in some parallel universe where she could not find the doorway to come back home. Then she saw them. A row of beautiful flowers planted against the front of her house. She ran to the flowers and said, “this is exactly what I need to do!” She began to pull the flowers up by the handful to form a bouquet in her hands. Nature in all its beautiful glory was able to catch her attention and provide some semblance of peace for her shattered mind.

As the ambulance rolled away with Jenny and her bouquet, I realized I had found my own equilibrium in the scene that had unfolded before me. I was reminded of the fact we all struggle at times but even when we feel the furthest from peace, our spirits crave it, and seek it out, and eventually find it. My peace came that morning when I witnessed Jenny’s connection to the flowers. The flowers that were right there in front of me the whole time but I failed to notice them until Jenny pointed them out.



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


For Every Ending There is a Beginning



** A Dandelion flower in the fall as it begins to dry out and die. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014-2015. All rights reserved. **

I have been thinking a lot lately of endings and beginnings. I suppose my reflection is motivated by several events that have occurred in my life. My age for one. The older I get the more contemplative I become as I slither towards that inevitable ending with this dance on earth. Yet I do realize life can become extinguished at a moment’s notice and not necessarily at the point when one is old and wrinkled and worn out. 

The second motivator has been my health challenges over the past two years. First it was West Nile Virus followed a year later by treatment for skin cancer. Both were stressful physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Illness brings you face to face with your own mortality and changes you in ways you could never imagine while in good health.

When friends die or face serious illness or debilitating accidents, especially when they are younger than myself, it causes me to pause and take a good hard look at how I am currently living my life. Over the past month one of my friends and former Aikido Sensei’s, Denise, died from a sudden illness. She was eleven years younger than me. This was followed by the news of my friend Julie’s accident that has left her locked in a coma. Two very valid reasons why thoughts of the precarious balance between life and death have been brought to the forefront of my mind.

Nature is the perfect reflection of endings and beginnings. Within it there are many. It is the place to come to an understanding of the fluid nature of life. When you take a walk in the forest evidence of the cycle of life is everywhere. Out of the decomposing duff created by a fallen tree, wildflower and tree seedlings spring forth. The end of one thing makes possible the other. And on and on it goes.

Spring approaches quickly and the evidence is mounting. That which has passed before has allowed new life to arise. People die and babies are born. A flower wilts and another opens its petals to the sun. One door closes and another one opens. Life continues and ends right in front of us every single day. Whether or not we live the moments we are given fully, is our own decision. Whatever our choice, there will continue to be endings that turn into beginnings and beginnings that come to an end.



** Lupine growing near Bassi Falls, Eldorado National Forest, California. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon.


A Dance in the Spring Rain



This morning I woke up to a cleansing Spring rain. Unlike the east coast, things have been extremely dry here in California so any bit of moisture that falls from the heavens is welcomed with open arms. 

So in the spirit of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature,” I decided to start my morning off by donning my rain boots and doing a little puddle dance. It was so refreshing to stand in the rain and feel the drops fall on my face. I immediately felt more alive, awake, and cleansed.



For me the rain makes a perfect backdrop to focus on my writing. The remainder of my day will be spent working on one of several companion books to “Zen in the Garden.” The first one I am writing is about growing and harvesting herbs and spices for health and healing.

I will of course take many breaks throughout the day to stand in the rain, take photos of the new blooms in the garden, Look for the rainbow, and refresh my soul. My hope is each one of you will find a bit of time for yourselves today to sit quietly somewhere in nature and renew your souls.


The Waiting Game

"Upside Down" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Upside Down” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The past few weeks have been spent focused on design projects for clients while finding ways to keep my stress levels under control. Burying myself in “busy” is a great way to forget about the cancer but it doesn’t necessarily bode well for subconscious stress management. We have been having quite the heat spell here in California so I have not been spending as much Zen time out in the garden with my camera. Instead I have been starting my days off by making my way to the air-conditioned gym to pedal, lift, and sweat away all those ugly stress bugs.

"Cradling the Moon" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Cradling the Moon” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The surgery to remove the cancer on my back is now scheduled for August 27th. The back surgery should be relatively straight forward with minimal recovery time. A lot will depend on the pathology report a few days following the excision. If the margins are not clear, then I will need to go back in for more. If they are clear then I will have 10 days to recover before the Mohs surgery on my face.

I am the most nervous about the surgery on my face. Most of that comes from all the unknowns that are tied in with this spot. They won’t know until they begin to cut away, freeze the tissue and look under the microscope how much they will need to remove that day. It could be anywhere from a few passes to an all day affair. It all depends on how far the cancer has spread beneath the surface. Once the surgeon gets clear margins I will then need to have reconstructive surgery with the Oculoplastics surgeon that same day. Again, how much reconstruction I will need is an unknown until the cancer is removed.

Hibiscus flower - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hibiscus flower – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Tuesday of this week the U.S. Surgeon General for the first time ever issued a call to action to prevent this disease. This warning is long overdue. Hopefully it will have a strong impact on how people think about UV exposure and the real threat it has on their health. I know it took my own diagnosis to shake up my world and clarify for me the real dangers of tanning, whether it be from the sun or in a tanning bed.

Please wear your sunscreen and those big, floppy, oh-so-sexy hats. Protect yourselves and the ones you love. Pale is definitely the new sexy.


Finding My Center

"Qi" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Qi” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past week I have been embroiled in a feeble attempt to find my center. There are moments when I feel like a derailed train that continues to move forward without a clear vision of my destination. There have been a whole lot of unknowns that surround my day-to-day. I float somewhere in this middle ground that follows diagnosis but comes before surgery and treatment.

I don’t do well with unknowns. What I do know is the cancer is still growing while I wait to have it removed from my body.

So, I spend an inordinate amount of time doing research on anything related to skin cancer, Mohs surgery and Efudex treatment. I have always been the curious sort with a need to know, oft-times to my own detriment. But I would much rather be educated than blind to the facts and possibilities before me. I suppose it provides me with some semblance of control in the midst of feeling out of control over the current circumstances during my body’s rebellion against the sun.

"Gazania 2" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 2” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

When you stop and read the statistics on skin cancer it is a bit astounding. One in five people will have some form of skin cancer in their life time. One in five. Yet we continue to have this sordid love affair with tanning booths and the sun.

Skin cancer is not just a simple trip to the Dermatologist to have a couple of bad cells scraped off or frozen away. It can be that for a few, but it also has the potential to be extremely disfiguring. And it can kill you.

We have been taught to shrug our shoulders and say “at least it’s just skin cancer.” In my mind this is nothing more than a statement of denial since we tend to place bronzed skin and vanity on a pedestal far above common sense. Skin cancer of any type can metastasize and spread to the organs if left untreated. I challenge anyone who thinks that skin cancer is “no big deal” to Google it and read the blogs and stories of people who have or are now going through it. It’s not pretty.

Black Beauty

Although I do feel lucky to so far avoided the diagnosis of the creeping black spider that is Melanoma, this in no way diminishes for me the seriousness of my own diagnosis. The fact I have any type of skin cancer at all increases the probability that I will have more in the future. All those days in my past spent carelessly soaking up the sun for the sake of vanity altered my DNA and have finally culminated in something not so pretty.

"Gazania 3" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 3” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Monday I meet with the Opthamologist/Oculoplastics surgeon for the pre-op appointment prior to the Mohs surgery on my face. Since this lesion is close to my eye and my eyelid it is considered high risk. I will need reconstruction surgery and most likely a skin graft following the removal of the cancer by the Mohs surgeon. I should know shortly after this appointment the date of my first surgery.

So, for now as I continue to ride the roller-coaster of stress and emotion and fumble for my center, I take trips out into the garden and attempt to focus on the beauty I see through my lens. When I do this I feel my whole body exhale. I feel my feet grounded on the soil below me. I begin to find my center. I forget, if only for a moment, about the ugly and garner hope for a future filled with the magnificence of the small things we are often too blind to see in this life.

"Emanating" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Emanating” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

You can now purchase any of the photographs from my “Zen in the Garden” series on my Etsy shop here.


Floating Weightless In-Between

"Winged Beauty" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Winged Beauty” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am the strong silent type. An observer from day one, I have always preferred to sit back and watch the world. To the dismay of the people closest to me, I crawl into my cocoon of thought and don’t emerge until I feel ready to talk about the things that have impacted my life.

"The Retreat" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Retreat” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Since my last post “A Million Angel Kisses,” I have been doing a whole lot of digesting. At this point I am floating weightless in-between. This is the waiting game before the surgery dates are finalized and the biopsy sites and Cryosurgery areas heal. I have traveled from the warp-speed moment of hearing the news to this point that feels as if I am stuck in some relentless traffic jam. I just want everything to be over so I can move on with my life.

"Hopper" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Little Hopper” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am not one who likes to have my body poked and prodded. Who does? I feel grief for the loss of control over what is happening to my body. Pieces of me are being removed and examined under a microscope. I don’t like that kind of attention. This makes me feel angry, then sad. Frustrated, then relieved that the prognosis for the type of cancer I have is very good. But there is still this underlying fear of an increased likelihood that more will pop up over time. And that “more” might just be the “bad” kind.

In the midst of my angst and fear I have blamed myself for all those times I basked too long in the sun for the sake of vanity. I suddenly felt guilt for the times I allowed those I love to do the same.

"Carnivale" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Carnivale” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am aware all of this is part of the process of reaching acceptance for the cards I have been dealt. This isn’t the first time I have felt this way. I have been through other struggles in life and was quite happy to morph beyond the ugly and back out into the light. Struggle has definitely made me a much stronger human being.

"Baby Snaps" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Baby Snaps” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

So, I continue to find my way back into the garden to clear my mind and find some semblance of peace. Little did I know when I bought my new macro lens and made my first “Zen in the Garden” post a month ago how healing that simple act would continue to be for me.

"Walking the Line" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Walking the Line” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past weekend we made a trip to the Sierra’s where I took a long walk in the woods and found plenty of beautiful things to photograph. I of course was slathered with sunscreen, wore my big sexy hat and spent most of the day in the shade, but it was just what I needed to rid myself of the angst I felt the week before. I still have moments of fear, especially during the quiet times at night.

There is still a bumpy little road that I need to travel over the next several months, but I will try to remain focused on the beauty that resides on the other side.


A Million Angel Kisses

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

freck·le (ˈfrekəl)
noun
1. a small patch of light brown color on the skin, often becoming more pronounced through exposure to the sun.
synonyms: speckle, fleck, dot, spot, mole, blotch, macula

When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me the freckles that appeared all over my face and body were the result of a “million angel kisses.” She assured me every opportunity she had that I was special and the angels had smothered me with kisses before I was even born. As time went on and more freckles began to surface, I was convinced it was simply a sign of their undying affections.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I know now that my grandmother wasn’t exactly telling the truth about my freckles. Her diatribes about making her way to California from Cleveland, Ohio on a wagon train were also untrue. But that’s what Irish grandmothers do. They spin magical tales that captivate the wee ones who sit wide-eyed at their feet. When I think back on all her tall tales spoken in her dramatic half-cocked Irish brogue, I realize these are the best memories of my childhood.

In reality, freckles are pigmented spots that arise from sun exposure. Anyone can get a freckle, however some individuals (like myself) were born with the presence of the melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant. This genetic variant is why some of us end up with a ton of freckles as we grow and are exposed to the sun. When we are exposed to UV-B radiation it activates melanocytes which increases melanin production. This can cause freckles to become darker and more visible. So in essence, I am still special, just not angel kissing special…

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Not only am I blessed with the melanocortin-1 receptor MC1R gene variant, I am very fair-skinned and have hazel/green eyes. In other words I burn easily. I grew up at a higher elevation (4,500 feet) in a small community surrounded by mountains. Playing outdoors was all I knew as a kid. We climbed, we hiked, we skied, we swam, we did anything that had to do with outdoor activities. And we did it all without sunscreen and more often than not without a hat. I can’t even count the number of times I received sunburns so bad I blistered and eventually peeled. Those were the days when moms brought out the aerosol can of Solarcaine to soothe the screaming pain of sunburn. Oh if they only knew then what we know now…

Sun exposure, especially to the point of sunburn, can have a dramatic effect on the skin over time. It can actually change the DNA and result in skin cancer. You do not have to have fair skin to end up with skin cancer. Even dark-skinned individuals have been known to experience skin cancer. People who have sunburned at least once increase their chances of getting skin cancer by a whopping 50%. Imagine the odds if you have had multiple burns over time.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Nowadays more young people are being diagnosed with advanced Melanoma, many of them in their 20’s. Pediatric Melanoma is also on the rise with some cases occurring as young as the age of 2. There is no cure for advanced Melanoma (Stage IV). There are a lot of experimental drugs, but no known cure at this time. The prognosis for Stage IV is usually 6-9 months. Grim indeed.

I have heard people exclaim “well at least it’s only skin cancer.” To me that is a pretty foolish statement. I suppose we like to remain in denial when it comes to the sun and like to think we can just run down to the Dermatologist office and have them scrape these little annoyances off so we can get back to tanning. Cancer is cancer and it can be unpredictable and ugly. Once you get skin cancer, whether it be Basal Cell, Squamous Cell, or Melanoma, the odds become higher that you will have more skin cancer at some point in your life. And if you are one of the unlucky, it will spread to your internal organs and you might die.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with my Dermatologist so he could check several other spots of concern on my body. This appointment followed my initial visit and biopsy of the first Basal Cell Carcinoma near my eye. I had eighteen Seborrheic Keratoses (pre cancerous growths) frozen with liquid nitrogen (Cryosurgery). Seven of the spots were on my hands, eight on my face, one on my leg, and two on my chest and upper abdomen. I also had one lesion on my back biopsied to check for cancer.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

My Dermatologist is very concerned about my face to the point he is putting me on Efudex (topical Chemotherapy) for 3-4 weeks in the fall/winter to fight off any pre-cancers or cancers lurking underneath the surface of the skin. Efudex is not a very pleasant experience. In his words: “Efudex is a topical chemotherapy, and, like many other types of chemotherapy, it is aimed at selectively destroying abnormal cells (in this case precancerous and cancerous cells). Over the course of the treatment we expect the affected areas to get red, inflamed, swollen, and sore. These areas may ooze straw-colored fluid, may bleed, and may become quite scabby. Some undergoing treatment will experience severe pain in treated areas. The reaction caused by Efudex in the skin can be quite dramatic and even alarming. For some people, 3 weeks of treatment is an impossible goal; for others it can be done relatively easily.” Let’s hope I am one of those “relatively easily” peeps.

Of course I was all over researching Efudex the minute I got home from the doctor last eve. I came across the typical horror stories as well as patients who had very minimal difficulty going through the regimen. Here is a video of one man who went through Efudex treatment. He is a fellow videographer and his production made me laugh and understand better what it is you go through with the treatment.

Today all the spots he froze have lovely raised blisters. They still sting a little bit but the one on my chest which was the largest pretty much burns constantly (see photo below). The biopsy spot on my back is also continuing to protest a bit. The last thing I wanted at this juncture in my life was to look in the mirror and see blisters staring back at me. But I realize the importance of attacking these cells before they have an opportunity to morph into something far worse like Melanoma. Indeed a small percentage of people who have Basal Cell Carcinoma have had their cancer spread to internal organs and die. But it is a very small percentage when compared to the rapid and difficult to control spread of Melanoma.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Now I await the biopsy results for the lesion on my back. I am also waiting for the Mohs surgeon and Plastic surgeon to coordinate a date and time for my surgery. Plastic surgeon you say? Yes, I will most likely need some reconstruction surgery when they remove the Basal Cell on the bridge of my nose because it is so close to my eye. It will all depend on how much skin they need to remove on the surgery day. They won’t know until they start cutting and looking under the microscope. The thing about Basal Cell is its affinity for rooting out under the surface of the skin. It is not simply removing the exposed tumor on the surface, but more often removing tissue beneath or around the tumor until the margins are clear. They can be sneaky little bastards. The result can be quite disfiguring. Thus the Plastics surgeon…

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

[Up on my soapbox now] – Please remember to use sunscreen; one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Limit the amount of time you and your loved ones (especially your children) spend in direct sunlight between the hours of 10 and 4. When you go outside, wear a great big sexy hat to protect your beautiful face and scalp. And please, oh please don’t be misled into thinking tanning booths are safe. They are not. They are responsible for a large percentage of the cases of Melanoma today. I don’t want you to have to go through what myself and millions of other Americans are going through on a daily basis. One person dies of Melanoma every hour…

Pale is definitely the new sexy.


More Zen in the Garden

"Twirling" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Twirling” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The pain and limitations of my torn Rotator Cuff have caused me to slow down a lot when it comes to my photography. I can still use my iPhone with relative ease but my DSLR is a different story altogether, especially when I use my heavier lenses such as the 300mm zoom or FD macro lens. This past week I have learned to embrace my tripod all over again.

"Sleeping Beauty" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Sleeping Beauty” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Although a tripod increases your odds of taking a sharper image, I have always loved the freedom of shooting without one. Many years ago I spent a lot of time at several of our local wildlife areas shooting with a 50-500mm zoom. I learned to steady the lens with my elbows tucked tightly into my ribcage or resting it on a beanbag on the edge of my car window or hood. The types of shots I was after simply did not warrant the time involved to set up a tripod and get the camera tethered and setup properly. By the time the setup was complete, the bird or animal I wanted to capture was long gone or had stopped the behavior I wanted to catch. I tried to use a monopod but still found it to be restrictive in a number of ways. Eventually I sunk some money into a shoulder rig but still only used it on occasion because again, it still restricted my ability to react quickly when the need arose.

"Katydid Nymph" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Katydid Nymph” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Slowing down with macro photography in my garden has been good for me. I find I am searching and shooting with more deliberation and spending more time being focused on “seeing” the things before me. I now wander the garden with my big floppy UV protective hat and sunglasses like some crazy old lady on a make-believe safari in search of my next trophy. Crazy old lady or not, the act of wandering the garden has been very healing for the soul in the midst of the cancer diagnosis. When I have a bad day due to pain in my shoulder or when pondering the possible biopsy outcome of additional spots on my skin, I grab my camera, tripod and hat and am instantly transported to another place.

"Spring Showers" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Spring Showers” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Macro photography requires a large amount of patience and mental focus. When I am bent over my camera positioning the lens to obtain the desired focus and depth of field, I find myself taking several long, slow, deep breaths in order to release any tension and zero in on the subject at hand. It may sound funny to say it, but I find myself becoming one with the insect or the flower in front of me. The minute detail of these tiny subjects through my powerful lens astounds me. I find myself gasping on occasion at the beautiful colors and interesting physical structures that are hidden to the naked eye.

"The Pollen Gatherer" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Pollen Gatherer” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

All fearful thoughts or feelings of frustration are cast away on the breeze as I study the subjects in front of my lens. I feel a sense of amazement and a joy for life as I continue to wander.

"Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


The Unexpected Twists and Turns of Life

doctor

Since my last post several weeks ago, Zen in the Garden, a lot has changed. I tore the Rotator Cuff in my right shoulder (my dominant arm) and was left pretty incapacitated for several days along with severe inflammation and pain. I have a fairly high pain tolerance and have suffered quite a few sports related injuries in my life including a ruptured Achilles Tendon that required re-attachment surgery. But nothing prepared me for the pain of this shoulder injury. The shoulder muscles are involved in even the tiniest movement of the body. So pretty much anything I did made me cry out in pain. The day I paced the living room like a panting canine with tears rolling down my cheeks was the day I finally gave in and called my doctor.

My doctor ordered an x-ray to rule out anything involving the bones and set up an appointment to meet with her following the x-ray. Let’s just say the process of my arm being placed in compromising positions from the point of removing my shirt, donning the robe, being repositioned during the x-ray, then getting dressed again was nothing short of Hell. My doctor then put me through a variety of painful strength and movement tests that confirmed what I already felt was true, I had torn my Rotator Cuff. Fortunately she felt I did not need surgery and prescribed a high level of anti-inflammatory drugs in order to get the fiery pain under control. She also gave me a few beginning stage rehab exercises to keep my shoulder from freezing.

doctor3

While visiting my doctor I took the opportunity to have her take a glance at a small wart-like growth that had appeared on the bridge of my nose near my eye. It started growing several months after last year’s bout with West Nile and has continued to get a bit bigger. She took one look and made an appointment for the next day to see a Dermatologist. There were also a few more dry patches and a couple clear wart-like growths near my hairline on my forehead but she wanted me seen immediately for the one growth and booked me into the single lesion clinic.

My Dermatologist took one look and said he was certain it was Basal Cell Carcinoma. He did a biopsy and sent it off to the lab. We then had the discussion about how common this type of skin cancer was and that the prognosis was very good. There are a small percentage of cases where the cancer spreads to organs in the body but generally speaking this is one of the less invasive forms of skin cancer. Because it was the single lesion clinic, I could not discuss any of my other concerns at the time.

doctor 4

Three days later the lab results came back and were positive for malignant Basal Cell Carcinoma. As an adult, I wear hats and cover myself with sunscreen when I spend time outdoors. Alas, all those hours spent in my youth lathering myself with baby oil and worshiping the sun for the sake of vanity are what finally caught up with me. I now await a call from the Mohs surgeon who will cut the tumor layer by layer until there are no cancer cells remaining. How deep they have to go can only be determined on the day of the surgery itself when they start the task. The beauty of Mohs surgery is the surgeon’s training in reconstructive surgery. If the removal ends up taking away more of my nose than the size of the growth itself, a few weeks later they are able to do a skin graft and rebuild the area with minimal scarring. I also have a follow-up appointment scheduled with my Dermatologist in a week for a thorough exam of my other points of concern and a search for additional carcinomas that weren’t addressed the first time around. I adore both my General Practitioner and my Dermatologist so I feel like I am in very capable and caring hands.

skin cancer

Alas, after a year of great health and feeling like the world is now my Oyster, I did not expect to be back under the medical microscope this soon in my journey. I definitely did not anticipate this new level of concern for my body and fear of things unknown. But the minute the inflammation was back under control in my shoulder, I made my journey back into the garden with my camera and began to focus on the small and the beautiful in life. I of course have to make some adaptations and learned to control and shoot my camera with my left hand (always on a tripod of course) while trying to keep my broad-rimmed hat out-of-the-way of the viewfinder. But my garden has revealed some amazing things these past few weeks.

Photography is a deep blessing to me. It has always allowed me to find beauty in the midst of turmoil and pain. It has helped to refocus my mind on the moment before me and provided respite from the barrage of fear based thoughts that sometime crowd my mind. It has been the basis for healing from a broken past and will undoubtedly continue to be a healing tool in my future.


Sipping Coffee With Maria Shriver

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA. 2009 - ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA. 2009 – ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

I have always been a huge admirer of Maria Shriver.  She has been a staunch supporter of many things that are near and dear to my heart such as Special Olympics, programs that support low-income and at risk youth, and she has provided major support for women through the annual California Women’s Conference.  To top it all off, she is also an extraordinary journalist.

In 2009 I spent a lot of time wandering Capitol Park at the California State Capitol while interviewing and shooting photos and video of homeless individuals for my M.F.A. thesis project.  On one sunny Spring afternoon I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Maria Shriver, then California’s First Lady, who was touring the grounds around the Capitol for the launch of her “WE Build and WE Garden,” a playground and community garden-building initiative for school-aged children.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Maria Shriver at Capitol Park, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA.  2009 – ©Tracy J. Thomas. All rights reserved.

I stood there in jaw-dropping awe as I watched her interact with the media and a group of children who were planting in a garden plot set aside for the purpose at hand.  This iconic woman was so genuine, intelligent and warm to everyone that surrounded her.  It was an honor just to be in her presence and a privilege to capture several photos during those moments.

She was the type of woman I could envision grabbing a cup of coffee with just to chit-chat about the state of the world and what we can do to change it.  A big fantasy, I know…

But then it happened.  This year Maria Shriver read the book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the stories that kept us small” (Seal Press) and her staff said she loved it!  Myself and 26 other amazing women just happen to have stories in this book.

So now I can more realistically envision Maria Shriver curled up in her big comfy chair next to her fireplace (if she has one), sipping on her cup of coffee (not sure she even drinks it), while “listening” to me “tell” her my personal story.  Wow!

"Dancing at the Shame Prom" on Maria Shrivers blog.

“Dancing at the Shame Prom” on Maria Shriver’s blog.

And now, our spectacular co-editors, Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris have a piece about the book on Maria Shriver’s official blog! (You can read it here)

So, coffee with Maria Shriver, check! One more thing knocked off the old bucket list…


At Times Like This…

"Chi" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Chi” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

It’s at times like this when our country is left with the resounding question “why?” that we are reminded life itself is fragile and the moment of our death is unpredictable at best.  We have no control over our future and can only hope for the safety of our loved ones and ourselves as we journey along our paths.

During these moments it’s easy to dwell in the collective outrage that begins to surface and crowd our puzzled psyches.  It’s hard for the majority of us to understand how a human being can possibly be so evil.  We feel helpless.  We swell with sadness and anger and our wish is justice for those innocent souls who were injured or met with such an untimely and violent end.  We relish, at least for the moment, the fact that our own loved ones are still safe and within reach for us to embrace, to cherish, to love.

"Love" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Love” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

What we often fail to remember during these heart-wrenching times is the amount of beauty and good that still exists within our world.  When we contrast that with evil, it is easy to get swept up in the dark shadows that lurk along the edges.  But when we place our focus on the light, it’s harder to see those shadows and so much easier to heal our broken world.

"Healing" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Healing” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

With a background in martial arts, I am a firm believer in our ability to reshape energy (chi) both as individuals and as a collective.  When we focus on the beauty and kindness in this world we are giving our fellow humans the most wonderful gift.  That kindness and that love begins to swell and brings with it healing and a deep sense of peace.  We might never find all the answers to the questions we seek but we have the opportunity to make this world a much better place by remaining focused on all the good that is in it.

"Peace" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Peace” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

My heart wraps all those effected by the events in Boston with a blanket of love.  May you dwell in the kindness and the comfort of your fellow humans and find healing and peace.

 

 

 


The Magic of San Miguel de Allende

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The cobblestone streets of San Miguel… ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

I know. I have been unusually quiet since arriving home from the International Writers’ Conference in San Miguel. Forgive me. It is hard for me to believe that it has been one month to the day that I was on a plane headed back to the U.S. Where did those four weeks go?

The interesting thing about social media and building relationships in cyberspace is when you finally meet in person, something truly amazing happens. In ways, my cyber connections have been afforded the chance to know quite a bit about me even before our first face-to-face foray. This allows for all those shallower “Glad to meet you, this is what I have done in the past, etcetera, etcetera” niceties to be cast aside so we can get right to the deeper, more meaningful conversations about life.

Although I had met several of my writing friends in the “real” world at previous physical gatherings, the conference in San Miguel provided me with the opportunity to be introduced to some of my life-long idols and to add new contacts to my growing list of wonderful human beings I am happy to know.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

La Parroquia in the Jardin.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

There are so many claims about San Miguel de Allende being “magical.” Some swear it is because the city is built on some mysterious bed of crystals. Some blame the 6,000 foot elevation that limits the amount of oxygen to the brain. Some attribute the magic to the number of Huichol Shamans known as “mara’akame” that reside in the area. Whatever the reason, it is beyond any doubt an astounding city. My personal experiences while in San Miguel were full of “OMG! This is truly a magical place” moments. And it has taken me four weeks to digest those experiences…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The first bit of magic occurred the moment my shuttle dropped me off at the front door to my host’s beautiful home. As faculty members we were each offered the opportunity to be hosted by one of the many wonderful residents who are lucky enough to live in this mecca. When Barbara opened the door, I was immediately taken by her warm personality and the beauty of the courtyard that greeted me. I had my own room on the upper floor of her casita and felt so welcomed the entire time I spent there.

The faculty luncheon was held the day after I arrived and was hosted by the Mayor and city of San Miguel.  There was glorious food, margaritas and fabulous company.  I had the pleasure of eating lunch with Cheryl Strayed, author of the New York Times bestseller “Wild”; Amy Ferris, author of “Marrying George Clooney” and one of my co-editors on “Dancing at the Shame Prom”; Hollye Dexter the other glorious co-editor of “Dancing at the Shame Prom”; Sarah Stonich, author of “Shelter,” “These Granite Islands,” “The Ice Chorus,” and the recently released “Vacationland”; Samantha Dunn, co-contributor to “Dancing at the Shame Prom” and author of “Failing Paris,” “Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation,” and “Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life;” and Jody Kobak Feagan, original co-founder of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and all-around wonderful human being.

From left to right: Hollye Dexter, Cheryl Strayed, Jody Kobak Feagan, Amy Ferris, Sarah Stonich.

From left to right: Hollye Dexter, Cheryl Strayed, Jody Kobak Feagan, Amy Ferris, Sarah Stonich. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

And did I mention Cheryl Strayed???! ;-).  What a down to earth, fabulous and funny person!  I, who adored her book along with countless millions, never in my “wild”est dreams thought I would end up breaking bread with this remarkable icon of memoir.  Right off the bat I began to believe in the magic of this place.

Jody's table

Jody’s table. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

And then there was Jody’s table…  Jody Kobak Feagan’s table in her beautiful home, served as a meeting place for an endless stream of amazingly creative human beings.  A throw back to the days of artist colonies and enclaves where conversations waxed poetic, philosophical, and occasionally surreal.  And oh yes, there was always an abundance of margaritas.  Perhaps that’s why some conversations felt so surreal…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The grounds of the Hotel Real de Minas where the conference was held provided a wonderful gathering area during the afternoons.  Blankets and pillows were strewn around the shade covered lawn for reading and relaxing.  Those same blankets seemed conductors of magical experiences like a picnic lunch with none other Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine.  Now that is something I never imagined would happen in my own humble lifetime.  But it did!

Suzanne

Suzanne Braun Levine (middle), first Editor of Ms. Magazine. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

One of the most memorable moments happened when I joined six other amazing women on the stage for the “Women Write Their Lives” panel that was moderated by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter.  The room filled up with 400 people who laughed and cried with us as we shared our lives and stories with the audience.

Photo © John Ware, 2013.

From left to right: Samantha Dunn, Brooke Axtell, Laura Davis, Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, Suzanne Braun Levine, Tracy J. Thomas, Brooke Warner. Photo © Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

Lucky me between Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine and Brooke Warner, former Executive Director of Seal Press and founder and Editor of She Writes Press. Photo © John Ware, 2013.

Lucky me between two of my idols: Suzanne Braun Levine, first Editor of Ms. Magazine and Brooke Warner, former Executive Director of Seal Press and founder and Editor of She Writes Press. Photo © Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

For those of you who know the story of my sordid childhood, this trip was akin to traveling full circle when I was introduced to a woman whose book literally saved my life back in my 20’s.  Laura Davis, co-author of the iconic book “The Courage to Heal” was not only a presenter at the conference, but was also on the “Women Write Their Lives” panel.  Laura’s book was the first I read that honestly propelled me into my own journey of healing from my ghastly past.  I got to spend many amazing moments with this wonderful human being and feel blessed to be able to now call her my friend.

Photo ©Erin Doyle, 2013.

Me and Laura Davis.  Photo ©Erin Doyle, 2013. All right reserved.

On Sunday I taught my “Dominating Social Media: How to market your writing to the masses” workshop that brought in a full house of eager and inquisitive writers which culminated in several private consultations.

Photo ©John Ware, 2013.

Me having a lot of fun teaching my workshop.  Photo ©Jon Ware, 2013. All rights reserved.

Luckily I had a few hours during each day to wander, take photographs and get to know this wonderful city on a more intimate level.  Those hours were by far the most magical.  I would spend time outside the small cafes that surrounded the Jardin, where I would sip Cappuccinos, breathe the people into me, and watch the activities of the day unfold before me.

One afternoon while wandering the streets in search of my next photo op I ran into “The Three Amigos.”  Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris twisted my arm and I joined them for a few cervezas and photography talk.  Jon Ware is a fellow photographer from Minnesota who is married to the wonderful Sarah Stonich, while John Drake and Ken Ferris are cinematographers who both have quite an extensive list of Hollywood accomplishments (just peruse the links from their names).  These three great, supportive men mesmerized me with their knowledge of photography and made me feel like one of the gang.

"The Three Amigos" - Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“The Three Amigos” – Jon Ware, John Drake and Ken Ferris. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

The morning I had to pack my suitcase and catch the shuttle back to the Leon airport was a sad day indeed.  But there was to be yet one more moment of magic when I stepped into the van and found Amy and Ken Ferris being shuttled to the airport in the same vehicle!  It was like the icing on the cake for me.  A way to slowly and gracefully peel myself away from all the magic by spending several more hours in a peaceful transition back to reality with these two wonderful human beings.

I felt mesmerized with San Miguel.  I was smitten in a deep way.  Even now when I think back on my time in that beautiful city, I struggle to convey in words the impact this place and the people I shared it with have had on my soul.  It’s a quiet, deeply internal, life-changing, eerily mysterious, effect.  I get the feeling the true magic of that place will continue to be revealed until I find myself strolling along the cobblestone streets once again.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Until we meet again… ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Tienes mi Corazón San Miguel de Allende

The bride and groom of a traditional wedding leave the Parroquia in a horse-drawn carriage followed by a mariachi band. - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

The bride and groom of a traditional wedding leave the Parroquia in a horse drawn carriage followed by a mariachi band. – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

I arrived home this last Tuesday night after spending a week in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I presented a workshop on social media for writers, gave private consultations, and was part of a “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel during the International Writers’ Conference held in this beautiful city in the heart of Mexico.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Chicle para usted” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

For the past four days I have been catching up on my work, my sleep, and have been struggling to find the right words to describe my experiences in this truly magical place. So for today I will let a few of my photographs do the speaking for me until I find my voice again. To say that San Miguel de Allende won my heart is an understatement. The culture, the beauty of the architecture, the amazing faces, and the kind hearts of the people who live there will forever remain etched inside my soul…

"Flores en la Puerta Roja" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Flores en la Puerta Roja” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Músicos" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Músicos” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Cruzar la puerta de la iglesia" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Cruzar la puerta de la iglesia” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Dolls para la venta" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Dolls para la venta” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Esperando en la Puerta" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Esperando en la Puerta” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Sombreros y Bolsos" ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Sombreros y Bolsos” ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

**All images were shot with my iPhone4**

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This Thing Called Photomontage

"When Tempest Tossed," iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“When Tempest Tossed,” iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

I stumbled across the world of mobile photography a year ago this month when I purchased my first iPhone. Yes, I was a bit behind the times in regard to the little rectangle of metal, glass and plastic that people have been addicted to for some time now.

When I first got my iPhone I had plans to use it for everything but taking photographs. Having just graduated with my Masters of Fine Arts in photography from the Academy of Art University the month prior, the use of my iPhone to create images worth keeping was truly a hard sell in my mind.

And then I stumbled across iPhoneart.com. To say this website was a life changer for me would be an understatement. The brilliant work I witnessed as I perused the galleries of images on this website blew my mind. How could this be possible? These images were shot and edited on an iPhone? Really??

I began to download photography apps and thus began my own addiction with my iPhone. Before long I realized it truly does not matter what tool a photographer decides to use. What matters is the photographer behind the lens, and the end result of its use. This has been true throughout the history of photography and the multitude of cameras made available to create photographs.

"Drowning in a Speed Queen," iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Drowning in a Speed Queen,” iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Not everyone who picks up a camera of any sort can create images that can stand next to the best in regard to subject matter, composition, use of light, line, color, and texture. But those who understand the technical and conceptual aspects of photography and are blessed with a bit of natural talent can indeed create compelling images no matter what tool they choose. It doesn’t matter if that tool is an SLR that uses film, a pinhole camera made out of an orange juice can, a plastic Holga, expensive large format, Polaroid, DSLR, point and shoot, or an iPhone; all have been tools used by some of the greatest photographers in the world.

What I have found endearing in the world of mobile photography is the controversy in some circles surrounding composite photography, better known as “photomontage.” Photomontage is basically joining two or more photographs through the use of layers into an illusion to create a surreal or artificial virtual reality. Photomontage has existed in the world of photography since its beginnings, long before the digital age, and was still considered to be “photography” because it was, and still is.

A great example is the image “The Two Ways of Life” by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, created in 1857. This piece was assembled from 30 individual negatives and printed onto one large piece of paper. Rejlander’s piece was first exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 and Queen Victoria purchased a copy for Prince Albert.

"The Two Ways of Life" by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, 1857.

“The Two Ways of Life” by Oscar Gustav Rejlander, 1857.

In the early 1900’s, the Dada movement out of Germany was instrumental in moving montage work into the limelight with their political protests against World War I via photographers such as John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann. The Surrealists and Constructivists continued the trend of photomontage, which has moved on into the modern-day contemporary photography movement.

From "The American Way of Life" by Joseph Renau, 1949.

From “The American Way of Life” by Joseph Renau, 1949.

From "Flying Houses" by Laurent Chehere, 2012.

From “Flying Houses,” digital photomontage by Laurent Chehere, 2012.

The grumblings in the world of mobile photography seem to arise from the lack of knowledge of the history of traditional photography. Some of the individuals heading the “movement” appear so caught up in the tool itself they seem to forget that it is just that, another tool to take photographs. It is really nothing new, other than being super portable with the all-in-one ability to edit photographs directly inside the same tool that takes the images. If someone uses an iPhone, it does not magically make them a photographer.

Photomontage, composite photography, photographs with a painterly effect, etc. are all accepted in the world of fine art photography and are exhibited in mainstream galleries around the globe. Photographs taken with mobile phones have also begun to show up in these same galleries with the same level of acceptance as traditional camera photographs.

"Rubber Band Man," iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Rubber Band Man,” iPhone photomontage. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Of course there are rules and ethics surrounding composite photography in the world of photojournalism, as there should be. Yet, the remainder of the medium along with those who lend their support to photographers (whether film, digital, mobile or otherwise) should remain open to not only “straight” photography but also those who choose to express themselves by way of “fine art” photography (manipulated or not).

As others have stated before me, eventually all this brouhaha surrounding mobile photography will subside. The iPhone will be viewed along with all other cameras as simply another means to an end. We saw it happen with the Holga, the Polaroid, the first digital cameras. Before long, every digital camera on the market will have the equivalent editing capabilities of the mobile phone.

The most important change will occur when photographers who choose mobile phones as their primary tool begin to compete on the same level as the master photographers who have come before them. Many have begun to enter that realm already with success including Karen Divine, Chase Jarvis, and Richard Koci Hernandez. These photographers view the iPhone as another tool to take photographs and they treat this little rectangle of metal, plastic and glass in the same way as they treat their more traditional cameras. It is one of their tools of choice to create the compelling imagery that comes from a space of technical and conceptual mastery. It is as simple as that.

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My Favorite Superhero

My son Justin was born with FG Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder linked to the X chromosome that affects him physically, emotionally, neurologically and intellectually. His syndrome has in no way stopped him from blooming into a remarkable and independent young man with a heart of gold, a wonderful sense of humor, and a deep sense of compassion for both humans and animals. He is the defender of the underdog. He is my role-model for unconditional love. He is my favorite Superhero…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

[**All photos shot and edited on my iPhone4**)


A Self Portrait in Pieces

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

These eyes have seen the depths of Hell and stared into the very face of God. They have stayed themselves on beauty and sought out the very truth of every soul they’ve met.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

This mind is often lost in thought. A thousand pictures formed in rapid fire across the neurons, reminding me of things I’ve seen and forming visions of what is yet to be.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

These hands have written a million words, played a thousand tunes, gently cradled a newborn child, clenched closed with rage, and held my heart for all to see in tenuous trust.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

These wrinkles. Each one earned as a badge of honor over time, woven across a once smooth surface like a roadmap leading to my past.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

These feet have climbed a dozen mountains, walked a million miles, run as fast as they could carry, and propelled me through the dark out into light.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

And this heart still keeps on beating, whether broken or whole, happy or sad, empty or content, with others or all alone. And it will beat on, until the day it decides its job is complete.

This is me.

[**All photographs were taken with my iPhone4 using the Hipstamatic App, Tinto 1884 Lens and D-Type Plate Film**]

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Happy New Year!

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Today I went on a long walk and reflected on what an amazing year this has been for me professionally. It has been filled full with exhibitions, publication and a ton of wonderful projects that kept me focused and moving forward with my life. There were of course some difficult times – you’ve heard the expression “starving artist” I’m sure – however, I used those times to focus on creating art which carried me right through to the brighter side. Art always does that for me.

May each one of you reflect on all you have accomplished during 2012 and have a wonderful and very happy New Year!!

Here are some highlights from my year:

Exhibitions in juried shows at:

The Lunch Box Gallery in Miami, Florida (2x’s)
LA Mobile Arts Festival in Santa Monica, CA
Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, SC
Nuovo Film Studio, Savano, Italy
The Overpass Gallery, Loano, Italy
Orange Gallery, Orlando, Florida
Black Box Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Gallery 1075, West Sacramento, CA (Solo show)

Featured Artist on the App Whisperer, Life in Lofi, Pixels, iPhoneOgenic, Mobile Photography Awards, and iPhoneography Central websites.

Artist of the Day at iPhoneart.com (3x’s)

Two-time featured documentary series on SocialDocumentary.net

Finalist in Digital Photo Pro Magazine’s Emerging Pro Photography Competition

Finalist in the Digital Arts: California “Wide Open Digital” Competition

My photography was featured in PhotoWorld Magazine – China, The Huffington Post, LAist, Lesnscratch, the Miami Herald, F-Stop Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltic News Network, The Daily Mail UK, and the West Sacramento Press.

I was published in the Seal Press Anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the stories that kept us small.”

I was added onto the teaching faculty at the San Miguel Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

I was contracted by the Academy of Art University to write the “Business Practices and Principles for Photographers” course.

May 2013 be just as good or better for all!


Digital Arts California: Wide Open Digital Finalist

Screen shot 2012-12-28 at 9.25.20 AM

What an exciting week! The good news for my iPhoneography keeps on coming! In addition to being notified I am a finalist in the Digitial Photo Pro Emerging Photographer Competition that I wrote about in yesterday’s blog post, I just found out nine of my iPhone pieces were chosen along with 66 other digital artists and photographers for the Digital Arts: California “Wide Open Digital” competition.

Here is a link to the online exhibit: http://www.digitalartscalifornia.com/?cat=14

From the Director:

“Our latest exhibit, ‘Wide Open Digital,’ showcases exciting innovative work by 67 digital artists and photographers from 22 countries. This show includes 293 images that range, in style and technique, from one end of the digital spectrum to the other. These images represent some of the most talented work in digital arts around the globe.

I would like to mention that this was a very competitive show, and thus, having even one image chosen for inclusion is a high honor. As much as we would have liked to have included every entrant in the show, we did not. But, we can say that every image we evaluated showed promise. We hope that those artists whose work was not chosen will continue working to further that promise.

…I would like to thank my fellow judges. These two graphics professionals have long resumes of accomplishment in the visual arts. As Art Director of Buddah Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, and 20th Century Fox Records, Glen Christensen was, for many years, a major figure in graphic design in the music industry. He has received two nominations for the prestigious Grammy Award, for Best Album Package. Gary Viskupic has, to his credit, an extensive body of work in editorial illustration. He created most of this illustration during his long tenure as an editorial artist at New York’s Newsday. In addition, his international freelance work has included many award-winning posters and illustrations for magazine and book publishers. Gary has been recognized many times by such prestigious organizations as the Society of Illustrators, Graphis, The Society for News Design, and Print magazine. He is currently an instructor of illustration at New York Institute of Technology.”

Additionally, on Wednesday of this week I was chosen as Artist of the Day at iPhoneart.com!

ipa


Finalist in Digital Photo Pro Emerging Pro Competition

DPP

I woke up to some really cool news this morning. My iPhone piece “Illuminati” is one of 42 finalists in the Fine Art category for the Digital Photo Pro Emerging Pro Photo Competition. Now it is up for People’s Choice Award and you can help me out by voting for it (if you are moved to do so of course).

Digital Photo Pro is a major photography magazine with a circulation of 100,000+ and I am so excited they chose one of my iPhone photos as a finalist alongside many other beautiful pieces shot with DSLR’s.

Just follow the link below and choose “Register” on the left (it’s free). After you register click on “Return to Contest Page” then under “Vote Now” choose “Fine Art Finalists” and give 5 stars to the little man with the illuminated umbrella (photo below). It will be greatly appreciated!

http://www.digitalphotopro.com/6th-annual-emerging-pro/fine-art/finalists.html

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "Illuminati" - Apps used:  vintage cam, camera+, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, pixlromatic, scratchcam

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “Illuminati” – Apps used: vintage cam, camera+, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, pixlromatic, scratchcam


Twenty Little Angels

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved

It has been a week since the Sandy Hook shootings…

Most of us are still reeling from the tragedy and attempting to navigate a roller coaster of emotions. This shooting has been more difficult to deal with than most.

Maybe it’s the proximity to the holidays; the time when most little children are wide-eyed excited about lighting the Menorah or sitting on Santa’s lap.

Maybe it’s the reality these were little innocent six and seven-year old’s, many of them sitting in a Kindergarten classroom singing songs and reciting the alphabet. Trusting their teachers to impart the knowledge required to navigate this big and oft-scary world.

Maybe it’s simply because we are just done. Our shoulders are breaking from the burden of helplessness. Done with the continuing senseless shootings at the hands of troubled young men with automatic assault weapons and endless rounds of ammunition loaded into military-style clips.

Whatever the reason, these twenty little angels have come to stand as symbols of all that is wrong with our world.

The great gun debate has once again reared its ugly head with little talk of equally important things like mental health issues. The head of the NRA made the extremely insensitive choice to speak at a press conference a mere hour after a national moment of silence for the victims. In his speech he failed to take the stance of gun control and instead decried the absence of armed guards in all of our schools to protect our children from all the “evil bad guys” waiting in the wings to kill more of our children.

The NRA does not care about protecting your Second Amendment right to bear arms. Really, it could give a crap.

What the NRA cares about most is a $3.8 billion industry that keeps them in the money. The purpose of the NRA? They are lobbyists who represent gun retailers.

There is a ton of money behind the NRA because the gun business is BIG business. Of course they will take the stance that we need to put more guns in our schools. More guns in our schools means more gun sales for gun retailers which means more money in the coffers of the NRA so they can buy more politicians. You see how it goes…

What the NRA does not refer to in these speeches meant to rile up the NRA’s gun-toting “4 million mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters,” is the fact Columbine had two armed guards at the school during the time Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 and injured 21. Or that Virginia Tech had an entire police force housed on campus when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 17. Armed guards made ZERO difference.

Our focus should remain on the twenty little angels who died that fateful Friday. As mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, we should continue to shout the names of these victims. We should keep a face on the innocent lives lost whenever a military-style assault weapon is wielded by a mentally ill individual and turn our focus away from arming ourselves in paranoia against all the potential “bad guys” who are creeping around in the shadows waiting to pounce.

Violence always begets violence.

As I stated in my blog “For the Innocents Lost,” we cannot look at gun control in a vacuum. We need to keep the conversation surrounding mental health on the table right beside automatic and semi-automatic military-style weapons and gun control laws.

We owe it to the victims and their families…

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Aveille Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino
Dawn Hoschprung
Anne Marie Murphy
Lauren Rousseau
Mary Sherlach
Victoria Soto
Nancy Lanza

For twenty Fridays forward, I will create one angel piece in memory of the twenty little angels that died that day. They will be limited edition (100 pieces) printed on 12×12 metal. Fifty-percent of the proceeds are being donated to one of the Sandy Hook victim’s relief funds that focus specifically on help for the siblings and classmates of these victims. The prints can be purchased here: For the Angels of Sandy Hook.

Thank you to all who have already purchased a piece from last week’s posting.


For the Innocents Lost…

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Yesterday was art day for me. A kind of therapy day in the midst of a very busy week.

I was in the middle of working on the above iPhone montage when the news broke of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings.

I was stunned.

I was heartbroken.

I cried. No, I sobbed…

How in the world could anyone take the lives of such innocent babies?

Like everyone else in this country I feel devastated.

In the past I have addressed the gun control issue on this blog. I believe strongly that automatic and semi-automatic weapons should not be available for purchase on the market. Stricter laws surrounding background checks and proper identification should be enforced. However, purchasing firearms by way of “legal” retail channels is not the only way people who intend to do harm find those guns. If someone is set on using a gun, they can find it and still purchase it through illegal means.

I am all for the gun control conversation, however that conversation should not be held in the vacuum that it is usually held.

We need to stop sweeping mental illness under the rug. That is the BIGGEST conversation our country needs to have right now… It should be the “why?” Not the “what?” or the “how?”

We know that guns kill. But so do knives and bare hands and barrels of fertilizer and all the bombs we drop on other countries. Gun control is an important conversation because it gives us all a sense of “control” during a time when we feel utterly helpless.

But we should also be brave enough to face the fact that mental illness is REAL and there are a lot of individuals in our country who suffer.

Parents, teachers, doctors, clergymen, friends, family, etc. need to be trained to recognize the signs. We need to encourage our politicians to stop cutting programs that help the mentally ill. We need to have a conversation about the constant stream of violence that fills our televisions, the internet, our music and video games that feed unstable minds. We need to have a conversation about dysfunctional families and how they serve as triggers for mental illness.

But more than that, we need to start loving each other a little bit more. We need to stop and listen. We need to give a lot of hugs and kisses and stop our self-absorbed busy existence long enough to make a difference in the lives of a young person who might be hurting very deeply inside their soul…

For now, I am going to continue to embrace life and cherish each moment I have been given on this beautiful planet, as if it were my last day. But I am also going to love more deeply, listen more intently, attempt to understand more thoroughly, and always take the time to wrap my arms around the wounded souls that cross my path.

[I have decided to run a fundraiser for the siblings and classmates of the victims. You can purchase the above limited edition 12×12 print (run of 100) for $80. Fifty-percent of the proceeds after cost will be donated directly to a victim’s relief fund set up for the children of Sandy Hook. You can read more or purchase the print here: For the Angels of Sandy Hook]

For the little angels of Sandy Hook:

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Aveille Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

We will hold you in our hearts forever…


Feeling Gratitude

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Although my life is currently the busiest it has been in a while I am feeling incredibly grateful. Grateful that I am able to wake up every single day and create art for a living. Trusting life enough to cast all other expectations aside and take that step off the precipice with faith was not easy. But doing so has brought me such a full and satisfied heart filled with great peace. Finally, I know my purpose in life.

My days are now ruled by writing and photography and creating. All the things my soul has longed to do since my childhood. I am finally free enough inside myself to bring this life to fruition. It is through these very gifts that I have been given that I was able to free the chains that bound me for so long.

Today I am grateful, as I am every day. Grateful for the gifts, grateful for the opportunities, grateful for the people in my life who have always cheered me on through the good and through the bad. Grateful for the chance to wake up every morning and breathe in a new day. Grateful for nature and all of its beauty. Grateful for the knowledge that through my words or one single photograph, I may make a difference in someone’s life. And that is all that really matters.

I wish each one of you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you will carry a sense of gratitude with you beyond Thanksgiving day and into every day you receive the opportunity to open your eyes to a new dawn.


Soliloquy Continued…

so·lil·o·quy noun \sə-ˈli-lə-kwē\: a dramatic monologue that represents a series of unspoken reflections.

It is in nature where I cleanse myself from the constant drone of the city and absorb the quiet beauty all around me. A deep breath of fresh air and my lungs open to capacity, free from the exhaust and toxins spewed out hourly by the bane of a “civilized” society. My feet do a happy dance as they touch the raw earth beneath them. It is much more forgiving than the asphalt and concrete of everyday life. I feel connected to the core.

Surrounded by an infinite wisdom that transcends the exterior casing that houses my soul, I walk. I listen. I see. I discover. A swarm of white gnats gathers next to my cheek. I am amazed by an almost silent, collective “whoosh” created by their tiny wings. They move in unity with barely a space in between. Somehow they know to move left or right or up or down as one, without impeding the flight of another.

I continue my walk and contemplate. Hours go by and I feel refreshed, renewed, ready to move forward through life. The fall air lays its final kiss across my skin and once again the evening comes to slowly bid adieu…

“Soliloquy 9” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 10” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 11” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 12” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

More Soliloquy here.


We Are Women and We Roared!

To say that I am ecstatic today would be an extreme understatement. I am so much more than that emotion, but it is virtually impossible to match a word with how I feel.

Election night was incredible. I shouted, I cheered, I laughed, I cried. Once again I found faith in my fellow Americans. Not only did they rise to the occasion and vote Barack Obama back into office for a second term, they also voted strongly for women and women’s rights.

Following an extremely contentious campaign season that saw a plethora of Republican candidates spouting insensitive and misogynistic statements about rape, incest and a woman’s right to choose, Americans responded, and in a big way.

New Hampshire became the first state in U.S. history to elect an all female contingent. The Governor, the House, and the Senate; all women. They include Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D) and Ann McLane Kuster (D) who join the Senate incumbents, Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R).

Wow! Can it get any better than this? Yes!

Massachusetts chose to elect Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren (D) instead of the Koch brother’s puppet incumbent Scott Brown (R). Warren becomes the first woman Senator in the history of Massachusetts.

Missourians sent a strong message through their votes for Senator Claire McCaskill (D) and literally shut down “legitimate rape” challenger Todd Akin (R).

Tammy Baldwin (D) becomes the first female and openly gay Senator by way of Wisconsin, after voters showed their belief in her abilities. Baldwin won this race by holding off a political comeback by popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson who had never lost a statewide race.

Mazie Hirono becomes the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate and Hawaii’s first female Senator.

Then there is Iraqi war Veteran Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) a helicopter pilot who lost both legs and part of the use of her right arm in an explosion during combat, and was awarded the Purple Heart for her injuries. Duckworth defeated Tea Party incumbent, Representative Joe Walsh for the Congressional seat in her district.

Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was elected to the US House of Representatives as the first ever practicing Hindu. Gabbard “voluntarily served on a 12-month tour of duty with Hawaii’s National Guard, and then became the first woman in the history of the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy to be designated a ‘distinguished honor graduate.'”

Altogether, the 113th Congress will have at least 20 female senators and the House of Representatives at least 77 Congresswomen, more than at any other time in U.S. history.

And of course there are all the female Representatives who were elected to their State Assemblies. Among them my friend Sara Gelser (D-Corvalis) who was re-elected to Oregon’s District 16.

I have had the honor to know Sara for many years. Her strong sense of integrity and fearless drive to fight for the rights of others less fortunate than most, has always impressed me. Sara is the youngest woman in the Oregon Legislature and has served since 2005. She is the Assistant Majority Leader, Chair of the House Education Committee, serves on the Revenue Committee and the Rules Committee, and President Barack Obama appointed her to the National Council on Disability. The nomination was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the US Senate. In my educated opinion, the future of U.S. politics has “Sara Gelser” written all over it.

Each one of these women is a hero to me, no matter their political affiliation. They have fought the battle, and against the odds, are rising to the top of their game in a man’s world. They serve as positive role models for our daughters, and are paving the way for all women now and into the future.

As I reflect on this historical time in our country I am still in agony over my attempt to describe in words the raw emotion that continues to rise inside. So, instead of attempting to put words to how I feel, I will turn your attention to the following video which displays how I feel quite eloquently.

This rather raw video captures Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families as he announces to campaign staff and board members that the vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the State of Minnesota was too close to call. As he was about to end his remarks and tell everyone to go home and get some sleep, Carlbom was told by the campaign’s communications director that the A.P. just called it. An ecstatic, joyous, tear-filled celebration ensued. This was the first time in U.S. history that an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment had been defeated.

I can relate to this expression of pure joy on so many levels and for so many reasons, but I will leave that for yet another blog…

(The real joy begins at around 2:50)

(Video by Robert Arvid Nelsen)


Readying Myself for a Knock-Out-Drag-Down Brawl With All You Self-Appointed Body Snatchers

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved

(*Trigger alert*)

I am a woman and I am pissed off.

No, I’m not just pissed off. I am frothing at the mouth angry over all the recent insidious and self-serving comments about rape and a woman’s right to choose made by a bunch of blathering, wrinkly-faced, Cialis-dependent male politicians.

Well, maybe not frothing at the mouth, but I am pretty damn angry.

No war on women? You had better believe there is a war being waged on women by right-wing conservative males with control issues. It continues to rear its ugly head during the recent political campaign and unfortunately won’t subside until women take a united stand to shut them the Hell up.

It feels as if our country has suddenly fallen into some black hole and has been sucked back in time to the 1950’s.

For those of you who were fortunate enough not to live through it, this was the time when a woman’s place in the world was well-defined. This was the era of the Stepford Wife. A woman’s job was to bear children, feed her husband, and stroke his ego (among other things), without ever giving consideration to her own needs.

There were a whole lot of aprons and meatloaf and women who greeted their bread-winner husbands at the door with a martini in one hand and a pair of slippers in the other. Women had of course barely earned the right to vote, so they relied heavily on the instruction of their husbands who told them how to cast their votes.

It all seemed a bit trivial back then, this voting thing, because women of course were living in a state of misogynist-induced bliss…

Education is power.

Ignorance and the spreading of untruths are the weapons of those who seek power over others.

Educated women are the bane of those men who seek to control them.

When women took a step forward and began to seek an education and a fulfilling career, they realized there was far more to life than mopping linoleum floors, vacuuming the shag carpet, and spitting out babies from their overly spent uteri.

Women have found their power, and that has pissed off a whole lot of misogynistic men.

It is clearly not just about the issue of abortion. These self-righteous bastions of “morality” who believe they have the right to dictate what a woman does with her body, are also attacking access to birth control and reproductive healthcare.

This feels vaguely familiar to me. Snatch the woman’s right to choose back away from her so she will go back to pumping out babies and serve the single purpose that “God” created her to fulfill. Oh and while she is birthing and caring for all those blessed bundles of joy, I the man, will once again stand tall with my ego intact because she failed to block my sacred seed.

All will be well with the world when a woman is back in her place… You know, that place where a man has his hands all up inside her uterus.

And now these behemoths of righteousness have the audacity to announce to the world that a child conceived of rape or incest is really a “gift from God” and a “blessing.”

For Christ’s sake. Really???? Do you constantly walk around this world with your heads up your asses or what?

As you can probably assume, the proclamations of these ignorant little men really did me in. Their flagrant insensitivity caused me to come forward swinging hard with both fists. It was a flailing mad, deep guttural growling while gritting my teeth so I don’t spit on anyone kind of angry.

Yeah… those insensitive remarks made by a variety of out-of-touch men, kind of triggered something deep inside of me. A kind of rage…

Rape and incest are not crimes of passion you see; they are crimes of domination and control. The majority of the perpetrators are men. These men have a desire to dominate their victim’s bodies and eviscerate their very souls.

There is nothing gentle or tender or loving or blessed or gift-like about incest or rape.

It is ugly. It is vile. And it wreaks havoc on a woman’s psyche for a very long time.

I know.

It is so very convenient for these men to bring “God” into the conversation. How else could they possibly justify denying an abortion to a woman or a child who was forced into pregnancy outside of her will during an act of rape or incest?

Do they really want to force this woman or child to carry this fetus to term and then bring it into this world? The traumatic memories of the vile event that lead to that pregnancy are horrific enough. Now they want to add to the power of the perpetrator by forcing a victim to feel that unwanted baby while it grows and moves inside of her on a daily basis, even when she doesn’t want it to?

On top of it all, 31 states in our country reward the rapist by giving them legal custody and visitation rights. That’s right. Once again, they empower the perpetrator and eviscerate the soul of the victim.

These people have tailored the definition of God to fit their own needs and their own agenda. This is definitely not my God and I would never serve theirs.

The God they speak of is the God of the 1950’s. The one who conveniently created all women for the single purpose of receiving the seed of man, even the rapists, in order to bear his children. The same God they say created a man to serve as ruler over the household. The King over all. The decision maker. The bread-winner. The all-powerful, consummate Dick.

One thing these holier-than-thou female body snatchers don’t seem to remember is women have the right to vote. In fact, women fought for over 70 years and suffered arrests, beatings, harassment, and torture at the hands of men, so each one of us would have the opportunity to be involved in the legislative process.

It is our responsibility as women to rock that vote and to fight for our rights collectively.

No judgement here, just consider your conscience and ask yourself how you would feel if you were the one who was brutally raped. And yes, rape is rape is rape is rape, as incest is incest. It is ALL “legitimate.” There are no categories as some men would like you to believe and absolutely no magical physical process in the body that shuts down conception if it is a “legitimate” rape.

Better yet, just imagine how you would feel if you were twelve years old and brutally raped by your own father. All you could do after the attack was puke your guts out while draped over the toilet and sop up the blood from your torn hymen.

Then just imagine how you would feel if you found out you were pregnant with your own father’s baby. Then you were told you had no choice but to carry that child to term.

I doubt very much you would view it as a “blessing from God.”


Soliloquy

so·lil·o·quy noun \sə-ˈli-lə-kwē\: a dramatic monologue that represents a series of unspoken reflections.

Nature has always been my savior. No matter how dark, cloudy or confusing my life circumstances become, I can always turn to the outdoors to calm my nerves and regain perspective.

Nature helps me to breathe a little more deeply and to strike up an internal conversation with self. That internal monologue can be dramatic and filled with expression in order to release frustration and solve all of life’s dilemmas or it can be quiet, centered and reassuring.

I will forever embrace it as the grounding mechanism for my soul. My safe place. My source of replenishment. My healing balm. The inspiration for self-dialogue. My soliloquy…

“Soliloquy 1” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 2” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 3” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 4” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 5” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 6” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 7” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 8” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.


Bubble Heaven

On a brisk Fall day back when my son was a toddling three-year-old, I sat on our back patio with him and listened to my favorite piece of classical music, Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.

Justin was a hyperactive child and classical music calmed him and helped him to focus. There were moments when a rise or fall in the music would stop him dead in his tracks. He would become instantly transformed into a ballet star, arms stretched over his head as he twirled slowly on his tiptoes to the music.

On this morning however, Justin was hyper-focused on bubbles. I blew a steady stream of the soapy spheres to the point my lips ached. He jumped and he stomped and he giggled and tried his best to catch or pop every bubble I blew.

After an hour of his tireless squeals of “More Mommy! More!” I told him it was time to rest. He plopped his tiny butt down next to mine on the concrete step and took the wand in his little hand to blow a few himself. His full lips puckered up tight and he let out a great big puff only to watch a stream of soapy liquid and spittle fall straight to the ground.

He was a determined child and never gave up easily on any quest. Finally, success. A line of small bubbles left the wand and began to float slowly towards the concrete. A slight breeze gave them rise and they climbed in a circular pattern above the fence line. Before long, they disappeared like translucent rainbows high into the clouded sky.

Justin watched them float away with wide eyes and a hand over his brow, as he strained to see where they had gone.

After a few minutes he sighed and looked at the ground. That is when he asked me one of the most important questions of my life.

“Mommy, where do bubbles go when they die?”

I smiled and searched my mind for a logical answer. This was my opportunity to put on my science cap and teach him a lesson on the changing states of Matter. But something deep inside caused me to hesitate. The next words that left my lips surprised me.

“They go to Bubble Heaven of course. They float far, far away over oceans and mountains and when they land they are all together in a beautiful meadow with a stream lined by flowers and bunny rabbits.”

His eyes opened wide, he grabbed the wand again and began to blow and blow until a few more bubbles would form and float away. He watched them rise with delight and waved and squealed “Bye, bye bubbles. Have fun in Bubble Heaven!”

Although twenty-two years have now passed, every time I think about that morning I smile. It has become a reflection of just how magical life can be when we use a little bit of imagination.

My son, now a man, has continued through life with that same sense of excitement and wonder he had as a three-year-old. That beautiful part of him will never die. He is one of the lucky few who refuses to be cemented down in the serious side of life. He still finds wonder in the smallest things and will pause to dance a pirouette when the music calls to his soul.

Now close your eyes and just imagine how beautiful that world would be…


Shaking My Booty All Up in the Face of Shame

When I was a freshman in high school I wrote a fictional story for my English class. This story was about two sisters and a bad news boyfriend who enticed the older sister into taking drugs. This was a story about a disjointed family and a helpless young girl who longed to save her sibling from the gates of Hell where she was surely headed.

As with all my papers back then, I handed it shyly to my teacher and bit my fingernails for days until she handed it back with a grade.

I remember the day my teacher handed my story back to me as if it was yesterday. I was shocked to see an “A” at the top of the page with a long hand-written comment underneath. My teacher told me she thought the story was very well written and wanted to submit the story to “Scholastic Magazine” after I made a few suggested changes.

She felt this piece was worthy of publication.

My heart began to pound as I read those words. Wow! But then my heart dropped as I read the line about her suggested changes.

This was a woman who believed in my potential. This was a woman who encouraged me and saw right through my shy external persona and recognized my abilities. This was a woman who wanted me to succeed.

Although a part of me was doing back flips with great joy, the other, darker and much stronger side of me was saying things like: “yes, but it wasn’t perfect,” “yes, but she told you to make changes,” “yes, but they will never publish it.”

So, as I had done for the past 13 years of my life, I gave into doubt. I did not make the suggested changes. I did not resubmit my piece for her to send to Scholastic Magazine and I buried that paper away in a box underneath a stack of other things I wanted to forget.

Once again I had fallen into the story I had been told my whole life. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t deserve good things in life.

I continued to struggle with these same doubts well into adulthood. Though I moved forward in life and earned college degrees, moved swiftly up the ladder in corporations and eventually began to have some of my writing published; in the back of my mind I had to continually fight the feeling that I simply did not deserve these things.

All the self-defeating messages that circled my mind in an endless symphony of pain. Thoughts that were conjured by childhood experiences and held tightly, based on the false belief that if released, there would be nothing there to fill the void. I knew little else outside of that ugly masquerade of shame. My identity was tethered completely to that smothering leach that is doubt.

For the longest time in my life I would push people away. I had built a pretty impenetrable wall of self-protection. I trusted few, based on a lifetime of people who had chosen to abuse my trust.

About two years ago I came across that story I had written in my freshman English class buried under a stack of old papers. I read it and I cried.

For three years prior I had been immersed in my thesis project for the Academy of Art University. Photography had become my soul’s outlet of expression. I had struggled with the same doubts in this program even though I had been encouraged and constantly told by some very caring people I possessed a lot of talent. This program and the focus of my thesis project was emotionally excruciating for me but at the same time it proved to liberate my soul.

Near the end of my studies at the Academy, I had been experiencing success with my writing and photography and was being published in magazines, newspapers and books. New doors had begun to open for me and I had learned to believe in myself and my abilities in new ways. My protective walls were finally crumbling.

About this time, Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris walked into my life after I had joined a women’s writing site called “She Writes.” Eventually our lives became tangled in a variety of ways and soon they became two giant cheerleaders of my soul. I was humbled and honored the day they asked me to write an essay for their upcoming anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom.”

My life had come full circle.

I bit my nails for days after I handed them my essay. Here were two amazing women who recognized my talent. Two women who saw the beauty inside my soul and wanted nothing less for me than to succeed. But doubt still echoed somewhere in the distance.

The day they emailed their response to my essay was like the day so many years ago when my teacher handed my story back to me.

My heart pounded…

My head hurt…

I had handed them a piece of myself, a raw piece of my soul. I had written about things that few others in my life had ever been told.

I felt naked. I felt scared. I felt alone.

When I opened up their email I was amazed by what I read. They loved what I had written and thanked me for my honesty. Yet as with most editors, they made suggestions for change. They wanted me to go deeper than I already had.

There were those words again. “Suggestions for change.”

It could have all ended right there just like it did 40 years ago. All that negative self-talk could have come rushing back in. I could have tucked my tail and ran, buried my essay in another dark box under a ton of worthless crap.

But I didn’t.

This time I stuck with it. This time I believed in myself. This time I realized I was not alone and there are a multitude of loving people who truly believe in me and want nothing less than for me to succeed.

Tomorrow, September 18th, is the official release date for “Dancing at the Shame Prom” by Seal Press. The book is filled with incredible, redemptive stories about shame by 27 amazing, successful women, including me.

Tomorrow and forever more, you will find me doing pirouettes in my living room; throwing out a couple of jazz hands in the aisle of the grocery store; doing a break-dance on the sidewalk for all to see and shaking my booty all up in the face of shame.

I have finally learned to dance at the shame prom with complete abandon and it feels absolutely incredible.


I Left My Heart in Massachusetts

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Here we go again.

With every trip I take, I find myself falling in love with the new surroundings and reaching the conclusion that yes, I should definitely live there. Or there. Or over there.

I have done this with Port Townsend in Washington, Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, San Luis Valley in Colorado, Moab in Utah, the island of Kauai, Paris, London, Singapore, St. John in the Caribbean. And the list goes on.

Just call me fickle. Or maybe it’s due to a little bit of gypsy intertwined somewhere in my DNA.

Our most recent foray was to the lovely Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For decades now I have longed for a trip to Boston and Rhode Island in order to place my feet firmly on the ground where our country had its beginnings. I finally got my chance when asked to shoot a very special wedding in New Bedford.

The minute our plane circled over the Boston skyline and approached Logan Airport I knew this was going to be an epic trip. I became immediately smitten with the aerial view and had no doubt I would fall even more deeply once my feet hit terra firma.

“Mass Turnpike” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

As with any new relationship, the first contact was a tad tentative. Finding our bearings and navigating the Mass Turnpike was a bit nerve-wracking straight off a six hour flight with nighttime approaching. We only missed one tunnel and were lead back smack into the heart of the downtown. But there were plenty of friendly Bostonians to point us back in the right direction.

After an hour drive, we reached our accommodations for the week; a charming little beach house in Fairhaven. The moment I stepped outside onto the back deck I felt myself take a deep breath and release it in a long, slow sigh. I could hear the ocean lapping at the shoreline mere yards from the house.

I was in love. Yet again…

The next morning revealed an astounding view of Buzzard’s Bay from the big bay window in the living room.

“Buzzards Bay” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

There was a quaint little beach shack directly behind the house that held fishing poles, clam rakes, a kayak and anything else one would desire to use at the beach.

“Beach Shack” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

In between shooting the pre-wedding events, we took as many side trips as time would allow.

No journey to Mass would be complete without riding the “T” into and around Boston. We drove to Quincy and hopped on the red line that lead us to the orange line that was supposed to lead us to the blue line where we would walk mere yards to the Long Wharf to catch a Boston Harbor cruise.

“The T” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Well, being a tourist is simply not being a tourist unless you end up lost at least once. We exited the “T” earlier than we should have after speaking to a local who told us we could hop out at Downtown Crossing and take a short walk through Quincy Market and past Fenueil Hall to the Wharf. His version of “short walk” and ours were worlds apart. So we missed our cruise.

We discovered how nice Bostonian’s could be when the ticket agent not only gave us a full refund but booked us on the next cruise for free! That gave us time to have lunch at a seafood restaurant where I drooled over a bowl of lobster bisque and fresh out of the oven french bread. I washed that all down with a wonderful Maine-brewed Hefeweizen.

“Boston Harbor” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

The harbor cruise was relaxing and informative and provided a glorious view of the city skyline.

“USS Constitution” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

After the harbor cruise, we chose to follow part of the Freedom Trail up through the Italian section to the North Church, past Paul Revere’s house and then back to the Olde State House.

“Olde State House” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

The next day, we had lunch in Providence, Rhode Island and walked the hilly streets that were lined with incredible Cape and Victorian-era houses.

We strolled through beautiful Brown University where I began to think of ways I could attend Brown and acquire yet another degree. It’s good we didn’t visit Yale or Harvard or Dartmouth because I would certainly feel conflicted. Yes, I also fall in love with educational institutions. Especially the ivy-league kind that I could never afford to attend.

We drove to Falmouth and took a ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard one afternoon. Everything about Martha’s Vineyard embraced me. From the oldest working carousel in the nation to the quirky and colorful gingerbread cottages that line the MVCMA.

“Gingerbread Cottages” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

And then there was the steamed lobster…

Alex lovin’ on his steamed lobster – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

On our last day of the trip, we decided to drive all the way up the Cape to experience Provincetown. Of course I fell in love with every little historical town that lined the cape thinking “I could live here. I could live there.” The sense of history and beauty of the area was astounding.

Though quaint, P-Town was a bit too touristy for me. I can certainly understand its lure during the non peak season. We had lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall cafe that served incredibly delicious Lobstah rolls.

Lobstah roll in P-Town. – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

On our way back down the Cape we stopped in at Highland Lighthouse and were pleased to spot a pod of whales feeding just off the point. I got great pleasure posting this on my Facebook status: “Whatcha’ doing right now? Oh, just watching whales swim by off Cape Cod… Nothin’ special :-).”

Lighthouse at Truro on Cape Cod – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

It was such a magical trip for many reasons. I fell hard for the history and beauty of the area. I fell hard for the friendliness and happy demeanor of the people. I of course always fall hard for any town near an ocean and beaches, but these little towns drew me in like few others.

I could only imagine the lure of the Fall colors and how that would have sealed the deal for me. I would have adamantly refused to climb back on the plane for home if the wedding had occurred but a month later in the year. But that is one more of many good reasons to visit the east coast yet again in the future.

“Alone Time” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.


The Great Gun Debate

Every single time an unstable individual decides to go on a shooting rampage in this country, the great gun debate rears its ugly head.

People begin to shout the extremes on both sides of the aisle about our Constitutional right to bear arms or the lack of stringent gun control. Many choose to place the blame on guns themselves.

What I always fail to see in these debates surrounding horrific mass murders is an examination of the core issues that drove the individual to take such measures in the first place.

It was the person who decided to pull the trigger with intent to inflict death that is responsible here. Not the gun.

It doesn’t really matter if a law is in place, people who decide to commit a crime, choose not to follow the law. Plain and simple.

When a person is set on killing, he or she can decide to do so in a number of ways. Even with the most stringent gun laws in place in this country, a “bad guy” if you will, can still purchase a gun on the black market. And they do, all the time.

Even if guns were obliterated from the face of the earth, a “bad guy” would have many weapons of choice at their disposal. If he or she is intent on killing, he or she will.

I grew up in a home of hunters. There was a gun safe with a variety of rifles, shotguns, pistols and ammunition. We were taught at an early age how to handle guns in a responsible and safe manner. Those guns were tools used to feed our household. A pretty poor household that would not have had much meat on the dinner table otherwise.

Having experienced their benefit, I tend to sit in the middle of this heated debate.

Yes, guns can kill people. But so can cars and knives and baseball bats and bare hands and even barrels of fertilizer. They have all been used before.

True, semi-automatic rifles with special clips that hold 100 rounds similar to the kind the Aurora killer used can kill and wound more people in less time than say a knife or one’s bare hands. We already know this because we use those types of weapons in war with that same exact intent.

But even though semi-automatic and automatic weapons have been “outlawed” in many states in this country, the “bad guys” still have a way of getting hold of them. They are usually sold to them by other “bad guys” who buy them from bigger “bad guys” and so on and so forth.

Sometimes I feel the great gun debate is a way for us to stay lost in the depths of denial. The denial of the inherent dark side of some humans. Humans who will stop at nothing and will use any means to annihilate other humans. When we cannot answer the question “why” we turn immediately to blaming something more tangible. Something we can wrap our heads around like an inanimate object that has no hidden personal motive on its own; guns.

Guns require people to pull the trigger. People who choose to pull the trigger with intent to kill another person are responsible for that action. We as the human race are responsible for figuring out where our society has gone wrong when one of its members makes such a devastating decision.

The lives of many innocent people were lost or forever changed on that fateful night in Colorado. My heart hurts for them just as much as anyone else in this country who has a conscience.

I in no way harbor empathy for the shooter. What he chose to do was horrific and blatantly wrong and devastating to the psyche of everyone who is reading and hearing about the aftermath of his crime. But I am forever curious about the “why” that led up to his fateful decision. The “why” cannot be answered by the changing or enforcement of some gun law. The gun was merely his choice of the “how.”

My hope from this latest chapter is we stop the divisive arguments and the finger-pointing blame and begin to work together to identify the deeper issues that feed and encourage these broken minds to take such desperate and horrific measures in the first place.


Un Viaje a San Miguel

“Set in the mountainous reaches of the Mexican desert, this astounding city of colonial architecture, thermal hot springs, perpetual blossoms and perfect light has an everlasting spring. Recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Miguel de Allende, contains a lively mix of Mexicans and foreigners. Ten percent of its 80,000 residents are expats from the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere, people who’ve left their old lives behind to immerse themselves year-round in San Miguel’s myriad cultural offerings, climate, and dynamic artistic community.” – Laurie Gough

On Saturday morning I received word that I have been added to the Faculty for the 2013 San Miguel International Writer’s Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The conference will be held February 13th through the 17th and I will be teaching a workshop titled “Dominating Social Media: How to Market Yourself to the Masses.”

I am more than thrilled. I am over the moon ecstatic with happiness to be a part of such an amazing conference in such a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world. Just the thought of roaming the historic cobblestone streets to capture photo after photo in such a magical place gives me goosebumps. A week surrounded by amazing writers and creatives will surely have a life changing impact on my soul.

This morning while out on my run I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful year this has turned out to be thus far. I graduated Cum Laude with my M.F.A. from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco; I finished my first half marathon in May; my photos are landing in galleries and private collections all over the world; I am a contributor to the upcoming Seal Press anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom: The stories that kept us small;” and now I am on the Faculty of one of the premier writer’s conferences in the world.

I can’t wait to see what other wonderful things are waiting for me around the next corner!

For more information on the San Miguel Writer’s Conference visit their official website here. Registration and schedule information for the 2013 conference will be released in August.

Highlights from the 2012 Conference including Margaret Atwood & Naomi Wolf:


Bullying: An Abuse of Power

**The following piece appears in iPinion Syndicate’s special issue on bullying.**

[bul·ly – noun \ˈbu̇-lē, ˈbə-\: a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker. A hired ruffian.

Synonyms brutalize, bully, ill-treat, ill-use, kick around, maltreat, manhandle, mess over [slang], mishandle, mistreat, misuse

Related Words molest, outrage, violate; harass, harm, hurt, injure, oppress, persecute, torment, torture; burn, sandbag, victimize, wrong; beat (up), mess (up), rough (up), work (over), bluster, trash-talk; affright, alarm (also alarum), frighten, horrify, scare, shock, spook, startle, terrify; menace, terrorize, threaten; badger, harass, hound; bludgeon, coerce, compel, constrain, dragoon, force, make, oblige, press, pressure, push around; demoralize, psych (out), unman, unnerve; discompose, disconcert, disquiet, distress, disturb, perturb, upset]

Bullying is an abuse of power. Plain and simple.

There is no honor in being a bully. The bully is not some Hero born to help those in this world perceived by some as “soft around the edges” to “toughen up” and “take it like a man.”

The recent surge of stories in the press and desire of many to alleviate the abusive bullying of our youth does not in any way lead to the “Pussyfication” of America. Misogynists love the word “Pussyfication” (http://thethirdlittlepig.com/pussies.htm) and feel being bullied is somehow a right of passage that will keep America strong, virile and on top.

What the Hell?

Thank God there are people in this country who actually have a conscience and recognize the horror that exists in the rash of blatant, vile, vicious persecutions that have led children to kill themselves.

The bully is a person who makes a choice to target others with their abuse in order to make themselves feel bigger and better than they are.

I would bet a million rupees that most bullies are individuals who have been bullied themselves at some point and have chosen to strike out in anger in an attempt to regain some of that lost sense of power and self-esteem.

Each one of us has chosen to treat someone in a mean way at some point in our lives. That is part of being human.

The difference between a momentary lapse of lashing out in anger or spite and a bully is consistency and the absence of remorse. Sounds a lot like a Sociopath doesn’t it?

A bully strikes out at others with calculated intent. Their intent is usually of the serial kind meant to wear down, conquer and destroy their target over time. Their weapons can be physical of course, but more often they attack with lethal words.

Oh the power of language.

We all know words have the power to heal and to uplift. Words can help us to feel loved and cared for. The spoken word can help us to understand the internal workings of our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones. The right words can build us up and help us to feel whole, confident, strong.

But the dark side of language is its ability to give life to feelings of venom and hatred. All the ugly, nasty, negative words that create a visceral response in the gut when one reads them let alone hears them directed at self. Such is the vocabulary of a bully.

Most of us were taught as children the “sticks and stones” bit. An early lesson in arming ourselves against those in our society who choose to hurl nasty labels and verbal insults.

But for how many of us did that little verse really work?

Honestly, how easy was it to let those vile words roll off your shoulders when you stood red-faced on that playground surrounded by children while Johnny called you “fatty” or “blubber butt” or even worse?

Again, I would bet all my money no matter how hard we tried to make them roll, most of us who heard them were still deeply affected by those words.

In fact, we carried those words with us through life beyond childhood. We heard them echo in our heads any time we failed to meet the world’s or our own standards.

They became the self-defeating mantra we whispered every morning when we looked in the mirror and every single night as we lay in bed.

Yes I was bullied. As a young girl I became the Queen of bullied. I was an overweight, painfully shy, terrified, shuffling target. It was devastating and all I wanted to do was to curl up and die.

There was a severe abuse of power every single day of my life in my own home. This bullying was verbal, it was physical, it was sexual, it was emotional. My resultant lack of self-esteem opened the door for more bullying in school and in my own neighborhood and beyond.

By high school I began to find my own internal strength.

In no way do I attribute the development of that strength to the fact I was a bullied and abused child. This is not a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger moment.”

Instead, I attribute that strength to all the wonderful mentors in my life who chose to use words of love, encouragement and support and who helped me to see the good within me.

The only thing the bullying and abuse did for me was to make me feel so bad about myself I struggled with the will to live on a daily basis.

My internal self-loathing eventually turned into anger and I began to lash out at others who I felt were weaker than myself. This was the ugly side of me, the one who on occasion said mean things or laughed at others because they were “different.”

Fortunately for me I had a good, forthright group of friends who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was being mean and helped me to realize my targets were undeserving.

At the end of every day when all was quiet and I was alone, I would still hear that negative self-talk inside my head. Being mean to someone else never changed that. Add to that the embarrassment I felt about belittling others and doing so in front of my friends who in no way approved. A hard lesson to learn but I realize today my friends saved me from becoming the very thing I loathed.

We are each imperfect humans. At any moment in time we can choose to hurt or we can choose to love. Our words have the power to heal as well as to destroy.

There are children killing themselves in this country because other children have become the abusers, the buffoons, the bullies. Those children learned that behavior somewhere and it was most likely taught by an adult.

It is our responsibility as adults to intervene and put an end to all this madness. It is not our place to stand idly by and cheer on some convoluted “right of passage.” If we do, we should be held accountable for the crime of neglect.

I would never want my own child to suffer abuse at the hands of another. Nor would I want my own child to carry the blood of another on his own because he chose the actions of a bully, while I sat idly by and made empty excuses for his behavior.


Building a Better Man

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “Building a New Man” – Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, picture show, scratchcam

I have been pondering the recent political “war on women” over the past few weeks. There are some men in our country who exist inside the bubble of deep denial (or is it one of rampant stupidity?) and will poo-poo any notion that women are treated with inequity in this day and age. Those are the men who undoubtedly are most comfortable living in the 1950’s, greeted at the door by their woman who holds out a pair of slippers and a martini with two olives while flaring their nostrils to the smell of meatloaf cooking in the oven.

Get this Mr. Denial: it is the year 2012 and women are still earning only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts while performing the same exact job.

What is reprehensible to me and millions of other women in this country is the fact the ERA has not yet been added to the Constitution.

“What?!” she says scratching her head. Yes Virginia it’s true… Our equal rights as women to earn and to be treated on equal footing as men are still not protected by the Constitution of these awesome United States some 89 years since the time of the ERA’s introduction.

It is maddening to me that the ERA still has not been ratified in 15 states. These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. It is maddening, but not surprising when I think about the overall demographic and general attitude of these particular states.

Come on now. Really?

The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1923. It did not pass the Senate and House of Representatives until 1972. Congress extended the deadline for ratification to 1982 and when that deadline passed, only 35 of the required 38 states had ratified the ERA. Because there is a constitutionally required three-fourths rule, the ERA has STILL not been added as an Amendment to the Constitution.

Therefore the inequality in pay and other arcane treatment continues in the workplace even though women perform the same jobs just as well or better than a lot of men.

So what the Hell are men so afraid of? Well, obviously they are afraid of losing their power (or at least their perceived power) over women. I am not talking about ALL men of course. There are many on this planet who have evolved far away from the Neanderthals who precede them, but there are still a hairy few who insist on treating women as objects to use as they please.

Now, I would not dare to speak for all women, as I know there are those few who choose to continue to play the role of doormat with a Stepford Wife smile on their pretty little faces (note all female Republican Senators who voted “no” on the Equal Pay Act because their party told them to). But women in general are feeling very angry. Finally.

The solution?

I think it is time we as women began to build a better man. Take all the characteristics we desire to see in our counterparts and simply build a new model.

Start with your own children. If you bear sons, then raise them to understand we all deserve equal treatment whether male, female, black, white, brown, rainbow-colored, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, any other religious persuasion or not. If you raise daughters, then teach them the same.

But better yet, let’s use the power that a lot of these political idiots seem to forget we still have: the right to vote. Our fore-mothers fought for it, won it and we in turn need to continue to use it. We need to cast our votes to weed out all the hairy Neanderthals who continue to hold us down with their attempts to control our earnings, our power, and even our right to choose what we do with our private parts. We need to cast our votes for the ones who have a genuine belief and interest in our power as women.

Together we can build a better man.


That City by the Bay

I don’t normally do crowds too well. They make me nervous and anxious and grumpy and a little twitchy to the point I want to break out and make a run for the wide open spaces. But I find I can usually tolerate a massive sea of people when walking the streets of the City by the Bay.

San Francisco is one of the few cities where I feel completely comfortable. The sounds, the sights, the smells, even the people, inspire me.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Conductor” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfeclyclr, camera+, moku hanga.

[**”The Conductor” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone.]

I worked for several years in downtown San Francisco both on the waterfront in the Embarcadero and also in the Financial District. All I wanted to do at that time was get into the city and up to my office and then rush out of the city at the end of the day. I never took the time to wander back then. It was all about work and money and putting in lots of hours and I rarely slowed down to enjoy the pulse of this beautiful place.

When I started my M.F.A. program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco my work was completely focused on nature and wildlife and all quiet, peaceful open spaces far from the noise of cities. Several years before I had broken away from all the high stress insanity that was the technology industry and gravitated myself back to my two passions: photography and spending time in nature. Little did I know at the time my journey would come full circle.

Long story short, the focus of my thesis project was a documentary series on the homeless. This series brought me back into San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Sacramento, etc. for a period of three intense years of shooting. I was reconnecting with my family history, I was reconnecting with my personal past. Instead of running from my reality, I faced it head on.

During that time I learned to move with the rhythm of the city again. I began to visit the places my own family members had walked many years past. I found a new respect and love for the streets and the people it held. I learned a lot about myself as I wandered, wore out the soles of my shoes and found myself reflected in the lives and the faces of the homeless people that I would meet.

Yet during that time, I was focused once again on my work and I rarely took a moment to just enjoy what this place had to offer.

When I was in San Francisco last week for my M.F.A. graduation, I finally took some time to do the touristy thing. I made a point of riding the cable cars whenever I made my way to an event. I had not ridden a cable car for some 30 years. The first day I hopped on board I was mesmerized and felt the broadest smile cross over my face.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “Chinatown” – Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge

I made my way into Chinatown where I walked at the pace of its elders. I felt a sense of balance and ease as my eyes took in all the colors and historical spaces. My nose was filled with the aroma of a Chinese bakery and a Dim Sum restaurant preparing for lunch. I listened to the rhythm of the language and heard the voices of happy children playing in a school playground. I found myself mesmerized with this place and vowed to come back soon to spend more time shooting.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Tenant” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge.

As I continued to journey through parts of the city I had never before seen, I came across older dwellings where clothes flapped in the breeze from fire escapes and I felt myself move back in time to a simpler way of life. I imagined the history of each space and wondered about the people who had lived there.

[“The Tenant” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone and was chosen for The App Whisperer‘s Top 10 Special Jubilee Flickr Group Showcase]

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Race” – Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, picture show, scratchcam, pixlromatic, rainydaze

When riding the cable cars I was intrigued by the steep hills these train cars climbed and then crawled down. Along the way I saw a few brave souls attack those same steep hills on bicycles and even one on a skateboard. My imagination went wild and inside my mind I viewed a race down Nob Hill between a bike and a cable car so of course I had to create a piece called “The Race.”

[** “The Race” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone and made it into The App Whisperer‘s Top 10 Flickr Group Showcase]

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “I Left My Heart” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, wood camera, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge

I no longer work in San Francisco, my family members left there many decades ago and my thesis project was completed and presented last December. But I know I will head back into this wonderful city on a regular basis to photograph its people and its places. This particular city holds a piece of my heart and an important piece of my history and I still have a lot of wandering and discovering and creating left to do.


Hitching a Ride on a Minnow to the Moon

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “Hitching a Ride on a Minnow to the Moon” – Apps used: 645 pro, juxtaposer, wood camera, filter mania, scratchcam, modern grunge

I truly believe all things are possible in this life. With a lot of hard work, focused goals and a steadfast belief in one’s passion, most anything is achievable.

It doesn’t matter which pile of crap you have been handed in this life. It doesn’t matter how ugly things have been at times. We each have the ability to shovel out the muck and create the life we deserve. Believe you can, and you will.

This past December I finished all the requirements to graduate with my Master’s of Fine Arts in Photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. This past Thursday I walked in the graduation ceremony held at the Cow Palace in Daly City.

This was not my first spin down the academic catwalk while donning that Darth Vader robe and mortorboard. It was my third.

My first time down that catwalk was 30 years ago when I received my Bachelor of Arts. On that particular day, I felt the happiest I had ever felt to that point. I had beat the odds after surviving a horrendous childhood that statistically should have landed me permanently on the streets either drinking, drugging or otherwise abusing my life away. I had earned what no one else in my family had earned: a college degree.

That first degree was not my magic ticket to success, but it definitely opened many doors for me that would most likely not have opened had I failed to stick with it.

M.A. graduation from University of San Francisco

My second spin on the catwalk occurred 15 years ago following a divorce and my constant struggle to provide for my son as a single mom. I was accepted into an accelerated Master of Arts program at the University of San Francisco. I somehow managed to work full-time, attend to my son who was born with special needs, and carry a full load of classes. After two years of extreme sleep deprivation, I received my degree and graduated with honors.

That was the second happiest moment of my life. I had once again beat the statistical odds of both single motherhood and an ugly past. I was beginning to believe the notion that all things are possible.

My M.A. definitely opened more doors for me and soon I found myself rising to the top of the computer software and internet industries. I was flown to countries I had never before flown. I was pampered in first class and stayed in hotel suites that were larger than my apartment at home. Soon I was able to buy a new car and a house on a lake. Vacations were suddenly possible and I was no longer worried about paying the bills and providing for my son. This new life was the opposite of the life I knew as a child.

That life continued until the crash of the technology industry in the year 2000. Stock was suddenly worth zero and pink slips were handed out like candy. I found myself walking out the door with a box in hand and a severance package with zero job prospects and a mortgage to pay.

Sometimes seemingly negative events can actually be the best thing to happen in one’s life. This layoff was my opportunity for re-evaluation and over the next year I was able to reconnect with my creative side and my passion for photography. Once I began to shoot again, I felt happier than I had ever felt in life. I took the plunge and sent in my portfolio to the Academy of Art and was accepted into their M.F.A. program.

After five intense years at the Academy, I made my final spin down the academic catwalk to receive my M.F.A and graduated Cum Laude. So many wonderful things have already occurred in the five months since I presented my thesis project. This degree finally feels like the most truthful, honest, from-the-soul and the depths of my passion piece of paper I have earned.

So where to now? Well why not hitch a ride on a minnow to the moon? There are no limits, only possibilities.


Running Through My Past

Me on the far right front, preparing to run for my high school cross-country team at the Mammoth Lakes Invitational, 1975.

Distance running by women was thought to be un-ladylike, a violation of natural law. The common wisdom held that a woman was not physiologically capable of running mile after mile; that she wouldn’t be able to bear children; that her uterus would fall out; that she might grow a mustache; that she was a man, or wanted to be one.” – The New York Times

The above quote is a reflection of a skewed belief system that existed well into the 60’s. In my opinion, it was another ruse to keep women “in their place” as submissive domestic slaves and child-bearing agents. It was an overt attempt to belittle the strength and abilities of women to succeed in any way independent of men.

I grew up in the era that touted these ridiculous notions. Although I had a hidden desire to run as I watched the Olympic men compete in their marathon, I had few female role models to encourage me to move my body over long distances.

But in 1967, twenty-year-old college student Katherine Switzer became the first woman to “officially” challenge those notions when she signed up for the Boston Marathon without telling the race officials she was a woman. Switzer was not being devious, the race application simply did not ask those who entered to state their sex. They assumed everyone knew only men would and could enter this race.

There had been several women who ran the marathon without numbers before Switzer, but none drew national attention in the way she did. As the press discovered a woman running with #261 pinned to her sweatshirt, they quickly surrounded her and began shooting photographs.

Boston Marathon official Jock Semple attempts to push Katherine Switzer off the race course.

Race official Jock Semple jumped off a truck, ran after Switzer and attempted to knock her off the course while he shouted “Get the hell out of my race and give me that number!” Switzer kept running. Semple made a second attempt and Switzer’s burly boyfriend gave him an elbow and sent him flying. Switzer finished the marathon and the photo of an enraged Semple attacking her went to press.

Women were not allowed to officially enter the Boston Marathon until 1972, four years after Switzer’s heroic finish and the year I started high school. This was the year Title IX came into existence; created to allow equal opportunity for female college athletes. And this was the year I began to run.

Running for me became a lifeline. When I put on my Nike’s and sped out the door I felt a freedom I had never felt in my life. I was the one who was now in control of my physical body. I was the one who could overcome the doubts of others and my own doubts about my self-worth and stomp them into the ground. When the noise in my head became too loud and the visions of my ugly childhood began to play, I could run faster and farther and longer until they faded with the resultant flood of endorphins.

When I ran, I felt strong. I felt happy. I felt accomplished. I had finally discovered something I could do well and nothing in the world was going to take that away from me.

So I ran, and I ran and I ran.

When I look back now I realize in ways I was running through my past. I was not running away, but I utilized running to help me deal with the pain and move through it. I still continue to do that to this day.

Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA.

Last weekend I ran my first half-marathon at Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. I had trained for this run for a period of four months with the goal to run the entire 13.1 miles and cross the finish line as close to the three-hour mark as possible. I wasn’t out to break any records nor to win any prizes.

I was there as a 54-year-old woman who can glance back in my lifetime to a period when women were not allowed to officially compete in a run longer than a mile. I was there as a testament that no matter the difficulties, no matter the hurdles nor the negative odds one might face in this life, it is within one’s power to move right through them and cross the line victorious.

And I didn’t even lose one single internal organ in the process… 🙂

My finisher’s medal, 2012 Avenue of the Giants Half-Marathon


Dead On Arrival

"Blue" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. Apps used: vintage cam, filter mania, picture show, snapseed

Death is not a stranger to me. I have been aware of its presence since the age of seven when I witnessed the aftermath of a murder.

There were two women. They were stuffed into the back seat of a dark-colored Cadillac parked illegally on the curb along a busy boulevard. One was crumpled on the floor face down. The other was lying on the back seat in a fetal position with one arm stretched over the top of her head. There were pools of dark blood on the seat. Pools of dark blood on the floorboard.

Blood.

Everywhere.

Dark crimson strings of coagulated blood stretched from deep gash wounds on the neck down to the floor, as if suspended in time.

So much blood.

And the smell. I remember the smell quite well. It was a musky-sweet, putrid smell that caused me to gag. The kind of smell that made me cover my nose the minute the police officers opened the car doors.

The night prior, these two women were animated, full of life, as they shopped together in the mall. They were surprised by some unknown knife-wielding assailant when they carried their packages back to the Cadillac.

He made them drive to an unknown location, then used his knife to inflict multiple stab wounds. While their husband’s reported them missing, he drove the car around as they were dying in the back seat.

Maybe he had some deep inkling of virtue or Catholic guilt or possibly unbridled bravado. Whatever it was, it caused him to drive the car back to the mall where it all began.

It’s as if he left the car parked illegally at the curb for someone to find. And then he fled. Or at least they thought he did.

Maybe, just maybe, he was now standing with the rest of us. Watching. Waiting. Taunting. Relishing in the reaction of the crowd to his crime.

The scene was akin to a horror film. We stumbled across it when my best friend’s older sister Donna drove us to the mall for ice cream. She was curious about a small crowd gathered near the sidewalk. Donna lead us to the low brick wall, a few feet from the busy street and the dark Cadillac parked there.

The car doors were still closed. The police had just arrived. The first officer looked through the tinted back window, turned to his partner and shook his head.

More police cars arrived, then the Coroner. The news crews were everywhere. They interviewed Donna who crimped her 60’s bouffant and asked us if she looked okay.

My stomach had butterflies. My mouth felt dry. My eyes were fixed in a wide stare as the detectives began to methodically poke and prod the lifeless bodies and search the car.

I already knew bad men could inflict pain on women. I already knew bad men could inflict pain on little girls. But on this day which is burned like an indelible tattoo in my memory, I suddenly knew bad men could do more than inflict pain. Much more.

The bodies, now stiff and drained of blood, were a mixture of pale white tinged with blue. They placed them one-by-one on a stretcher, then zipped the body bags to transfer them to the morgue. There they would be identified by grieving husbands, these mothers and wives. Never again to kiss, to hug, to love.

There are some things to which a seven-year-old should never bear witness.


Cuttin’ a Rug at The Shame Prom

Ever since I was a wee little lassie I have loved to boogie. My favorite television shows were Soul Train and American Bandstand. I still remember the day Chubby Checker performed “The Twist” and my 3-year-old booty was a twistin’ and a shakin’ along with the rest of the dancers on the floor.

I still love to dance, so when I was asked to contribute an essay to the upcoming Seal Press anthology “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small,” I had my dancin’ shoes on my feet in a heart beat.

The book is edited by two amazing women, Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter, who I have the honor of calling not only colleagues but dear friends. It is available for pre-order here on Amazon.com and is set to be released on October 2, 2012.

Amy Ferris is author, editor, screenwriter and playwright. Her successful memoir, Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From a Midlife Crisis recently had a run as an off-Broadway play at CAP21 Theatre in NYC. She also co-wrote the movies Funny Valentines and Mr. Wonderful. Amy is on the Advisory Board of The Women’s Media Center, is on faculty at The San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference and is a visiting teacher at the UCLA Writers Workshop (extension), among other things.

Hollye Dexter (aka Hollye Holmes), first touched my heart in the television series “The Adventures of the Wilderness Family.” Hollye played the role of “Jenny,” the sickly daughter of a family that fled the city for a life in the wilderness away from all the mundane stresses. The grown up version of Hollye is an accomplished author, editor, teacher and singer/songwriter with four albums under her belt. Hollye was also on faculty at The San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference and is a visiting teacher at the UCLA Writers Workshop (extension).

“Dancing at the Shame Prom,” the book, is filled with brilliant essays by a group of amazing, accomplished women who share their shame and how they rose above it.

I am deeply humbled and honored beyond words to be included with this group of outstanding human beings.

These writers include (links go out to extended bios):

Brooke Axtell: Singer, songwriter, poet, Brooke is the author of Kore of the Incantation and Daughter of the Burning, she is the winner of the Phyllis Smart Young Prize for Poetry. She won “Best Traditional Ballad of the Year” from KOOP Radio, Austin (91.7 FM) and first place for her short story “Maya’s Mirror” in the Young Texas Writer’s Awards.

Nina Burleigh: Author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty, a New York Times bestseller. She’s written for numerous publications including Businessweek, The New Yorker, Time, New York, The New Statesman, New York Times and is a contributing editor at Elle. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, The Today Show, 48 Hours, MSNBC, CNN and C-Span, on NPR and numerous radio programs.

Rachel Kramer Bussel: a New York-based author, editor, blogger and event organizer. Rachel has contributed to 100+ anthologies, edited 40+ anthologies and is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations. She has written for numerous publications, including Alternative Press, CNN.com, The Daily Beast, The Frisky, Gothamist, The Hairpin, Huffington Post, Jezebel, Lemondrop, Mediabistro, The Nervous Breakdown, New York Post, New York Press, Playgirl, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, xoJane and Zink.

Sharon Doubiago: Author of South America Mi Hija, nominated twice for National Book Award and was named the Best Book of the Year by the LA Weekly; The Book of Seeing which was named one of The Ten Best Books of 1988 by The Bloomsbury Review, received Gloria Steinem’s Woman Writer Award, and The Woman Writer Genius Award from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, plus more.

Samantha Dunn: Author of Failing Paris (Toby Press), a finalist for the PEN Center Fiction Award and Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt & Co.), a BookSense 76 pick & Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation (Henry Holt & Co.). Dunn’s essays have appeared in numerous national publications including the Los Angeles Times, O (Oprah) Magazine, Ms., and Shape.

Amy Friedman: Writer of internationally syndicated children’s column, Tell Me a Story, which is published in 150 newspapers; her audiobook, Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder, won the 2010 Audie Award for Original Work; and a recently completed memoir Desperado’s Wife.

Elizabeth Geitz: An Episcopal Priest and award-winning author of numerous books including Soul Satisfaction: Reclaiming the Divine Feminine and Gender and the Nicene Creed and her most recent book I Am That Child: Changing Hearts and Changing the World. Elizabeth’s books have been hailed by Desmond Tutu, John Berendt, and Helen Prejean.

Colleen Haggerty: A writer of creative nonfiction and memoir, Colleen has an essay in the anthology The Spirit of a Woman (Santa Monica Press) and another in He Said What? (Seal Press). She is an ambassador for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation and created a walking campaign – to walk 100 miles in 100 days – to raise money for prosthetics limbs for people in developing countries.

Robyn Hatcher: Best Actress in a Short Film for her work in “Asbury Park,” Robin is a contributing writer to American Express Open Forum and has a book on presentation skills in development with Motivational Press. She is a TV and film writer, has done radio commercials and has appeared on TV in commercials and dramas.

Monica Holloway: Is the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving With Dead People, described by Newsweek as “unforgettable,” and deemed “irresistible” by the Washington Post. Her bestselling memoir Cowboy & Wills was called “sweet and heartbreaking…” by PEOPLE, and is a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient. Monica recently received the Women of Distinction Award from Special Needs Network in recognition for her work and contributions to the underserved special needs communities in Los Angeles.

Liza Lentini: An award-winning playwright, journalist and author. Liza’s plays have been performed around the world, including Off-Broadway’s McGinn/Cazale Theatre, The Women’s Project, Chicago Dramatists, and The Cherry Lane Theatre. In 2009 Manhattan Repertory Theatre performed a festival of Liza’s early plays aptly titled LIZAFEST. Liza founded Elephant Ensemble Theater (www.elephanttheater.com) a charitable organization which brings educational, interactive productions to children in hospitals.

Meredith Resnick: Her work has been published in Newsweek, JAMA, Los Angeles Times, Santa Monica Review, Culinate, The Complete Book of Aunts (Twelve) and many others, and writes the Adoption Stories and More Than Caregiving blogs at Psychology Today. She is the creator of The Writer’s [Inner] Journey, a 2012 Bloggies Award finalist.

Jenny Rough: A lawyer-turned-writer whose articles and essays have appeared in a range of publications, including AARP The Magazine, More, The Washington Post, Whole Living, and Yoga Journal.

Laurenne Sala: A storyteller, comedian, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post, KCET, and her own blog, Humans are Funny. With a Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology, Laurenne teaches writing therapy workshops that encourage the sharing of human truths. She produces and hosts Taboo Tales, a storytelling show with the same mantra.

Marianne Schnall: Founder and Executive Director of Feminist.com, Marianne is a widely published writer and interviewer. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, CNN.com, EW.com, the Women’s Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a regular blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51% The Women’s Perspective.

Julie Silver: Julie is one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. With over 100,000 CDs sold, her songs have become “standards” in worship, camp, and academic settings. It’s Chanukah Time, recorded in 2007, was the first Jewish holiday CD produced exclusively for the Barnes and Noble bookstore chain, and the only Jewish album to ever be recognized on Billboard, peaking at #5 in 2009. Julie speaks nationally at high schools and universities, and has become the “go-to role model” for people struggling to come out as gay or lesbian in the Jewish world and beyond.

Teresa Stack: For the past 15 years, Teresa has worked as president of political news magazine The Nation. She previously served as circulation department manager for Fairchild Publications’ 14 magazines.

Lyena Strelkoff: Lyena’s critically-acclaimed, autobiographical one-woman play, Caterpillar Soup, has been touring throughout the U.S. since 2007. She regularly speaks to university students, health care professionals and civic groups about her disability experience and the transformative power of loss.

Kristine Van Raden: Co-author of Letters to Our Daughters (Hyperion,1999). Kristine is a partner in Matters That Matter (LLC), offering workshops around the country. Their mission is “to inspire all to live according to their own deeply held values and priorities by bringing courage, contentment and grace to life.”

Kate Van Raden: Kate is a self-taught photographer who pens a fashion and photography blog. Kate is also a twenty-seven year old woman who has struggled with the trials and tribulations of anorexia for the better part of five years.

Kedren Werner: is a published writer of personal essays. This is her first inclusion in an anthology.

Amy Wise: Author of Believe in Yourself ~ Inspire Others ~ Spread Joy (2012); Divorce, Dance or Dare (forthcoming); and is a contributing author in the anthology, Oil and Water and Other Things That Don’t Mix (2010). Amy is a contributing writer for EmbraceUS Multicultural Magazine, TheNextFamily.com and the Oil and Water blog. Amy recently edited The Eat From Home Diet: How to Get a Slim Body and Fat Wallet, (2012), she is currently writing a memoir, and working on a screenplay.

Marcia G. Yerman: A contributing writer for EmpowHER and Women News Network. She has been published at Huffington Post, AlterNet, The Women’s Media Center, Daily Kos and The Raw Story — among others.

Victoria Zackheim: Author of The Bone Weaver and wrote the documentary, Where Birds Never Sang: The Story of Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps (On the Road Productions), and Maidstone, a screenplay in development. She has also edited 5 anthologies and is a 2010 San Francisco Library Laureate.

And then of course there is little ole me, Tracy J. Thomas. If you have been following this blog for a while then most likely you know quite a bit about me. If not, you can always read my bio on the About page here or journey out to my “big girl camera” photography website or to my iPhoneography obsession website to learn and read more.

So steady yourselves for some powerful, gut-wrenching, humorous, harrowing, nail-biting, “oh-my-god!,” “I can totally relate!” stories come October.

But for now, break out those dancing shoes because we are going to celebrate each little victory over our own shame and just do “The Twist!”…


A Stranger at the Gate

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "A Stranger at the Gate" - Apps used: hipstamatic, juxtaposer, iquikdof, pictureshow

My whole life I have struggled with the presence of a stranger. A shadowy figure who lingers at the periphery of my existence. I have seen him in my dreams, this man without a face. Lurking… Watching… Waiting…

I never knew what he wanted exactly, but if it was fear he meant to instill, I felt it.

Hyper-vigilance as an adult is a reality for most who were victims of childhood abuse. Since trust becomes a big issue, every human encounter comes into question. I would wonder why that man on the street corner glanced at me a certain way. I was positive he meant to do me harm so I would cross the street in order to avoid him.

For many years I would double-check my blinds, pull the curtains tighter, glance into the back seat of my car before climbing in. A constant vigil of fear, bordering on paranoia, in order to protect myself from the lingering sense of danger.

It took many years for me to make the connection between that lurking stranger at the gate to the memories of my father. Eventually I realized I was still giving him power over my life by dwelling in the fear of what “might” happen.

I learned with the help of many wonderful, caring humans how to face my past and throw the ugly parts away. When the dirty memories would begin to creep in again, I would metaphorically throw them into the washing machine and cleanse them from my life.

Tomorrow is my birthday. Every year around this time that stranger has a way of creeping back into the shadows to pay me a visit. An ugly reminder that he played a role in the creation of my being. His unwanted DNA is intertwined with my own. But today I hold the power. He is no longer allowed to creep back into my life and cause me fear, not even on the day I was born. He did not earn that privilege, instead he lost it through his endless brutality and attempt to destroy my soul.

Today I am doing a little laundry. I will toss the dirty dregs into the machine, turn the scalding hot water on high and walk away with a smile.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "Drowning in a Speed Queen" - Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, pictureshow, filter mania


Four Levels of Women

Just the other day I realized I have been so obsessed with creating iPhone art that I haven’t written any fiery musings about politics, strange religious movements, same-sex marriage, or even arrogant bastards in quite some time (yes, these are links to past blog posts if you are interested).

Since the political atmosphere of late seems to focus on all things related to women, I have decided to jump in on the conversation and use some of my iPhone art purely for illustrative purposes.

Women are of course as varied, unique and complicated as any other creature on this planet, but for today’s purposes, I plan to explore four levels of women.

The first being the “Geisha.” We have all of course been awe-struck by the beauty of the Geisha girl in movies and on television. However, the history of the Geisha is not so pretty. Though most were entertainers, poets and writers, the majority were held in slavery and many served as prostitutes. Their life was focused on one thing; to bring pleasure to men. They never spoke without being spoken to nor did they ever disobey a man.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "Geisha" - Apps used: vintage cam, flowpaper, juxtaposer, filter mania, photoforge2

There seem to be many Geisha-like women existing in our country today. Most have been swept up into right-wing conservative or fundamental religions that preach antiquated doctrine which states the man is always ruler over a woman. And a “woman of God” is a subservient one.

Though these women are not physically bound by slavery, they are being held by the power of a belief system that appears to be picking and choosing verses exclusively for the benefit of men.

Not all women are subjects of religious tyranny. Some are simply silenced by the misogynistic men they have chosen to accompany through life.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "She Lost Her Head" - Apps used: camera+, juxtaposer, iris, pixlromatic, modern grunge

These are the women who have lost their own thoughts, their own voices, their own independence, after years of unending verbal and or physical abuse. These women become the doormats of overpowering male bastards who want nothing more than to dominate and control.

I feel sad for these women and I implore them to dig deep inside themselves and find a way to get out, now…

But there is one level of women these right-wing conservative control freaks and these misogynistic idiots, seem to be overlooking. These are the women who have had enough of the caveman-like attitudes who are attempting to keep them in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. These are the fired up, politically savvy, more than just pissed off multitudes who won’t sit quietly on the sidelines any longer. These are the women who fight on the front line, who use their voices loudly, who will cast countless votes against the barbarians whose desire is to squash their inimitable power.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "We Are Woman Hear Us Roar" - Apps used: vintage cam, pixlromatic, filter mania, photo studio

These are the glass ceiling breakers. These are the women who will rise up and vote. These are the women who will march en mass through the streets of our nation while making a very loud and angry noise. These are the women who will roar and make a difference for the future of their daughters.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. "Moon Angel" - Apps used: vintage cam, filter mania, art wings, snapseed, scratchcam, photoforge2

Many in this country have a decidedly sexist view of a strong woman. When a woman speaks her mind she is labelled a “bitch.” A man doing the same would be called “strong” or “admirable.” When a woman rises to the top in business or politics and raises a ruckus for the rights of other women she is labelled a “feminist.” When a man rises to the top in business or politics he is labelled a “success.”

This has to change. Women have been fighting this battle for far too long. But there is hope.

A strong, peaceful woman is a woman who always follows her convictions and states her mind without fear of being silenced by a man with control issues. Always believing in ourselves and the strength and beauty we have to offer this world is the attitude that will send us over the moon, forever rising up to the top to the place that was meant for us since the beginning of time.

It does not matter what kind of woman you are or at what level you currently exist. All women have the potential to be great women. Women of conscious, of great strength, of great and equal power.


The Great Equalizer

Last Sunday I ran 8 miles in preparation for an upcoming half marathon. At the end of that run I felt the healthiest I have felt in a long time. Strong and at peace with the endorphins surging through my tired body, I felt ready to take on the world.

Today, a mere week later, I barely have the strength to make it from the living room to the kitchen. The culprit? That nasty of all nasties; a flu virus. Yes indeed, the very same virus I had in my “Got Soup?” post on Tuesday.

It still lingers…

Fever, cough, chills, aches and pains. No sleep due to the persistent hacking of my bronchial tubes. The kind of cough that makes you wish you had a compression helmet to hold the fissures together in your skull for fear they’ll break apart and release your brain from its casing the next time you cough, cough.

With deep red, watery eyes and a raw nose from all the tissue removing the top layer of my sensitive Irish skin, I was still able to pull it together long enough Friday evening to attend the Art & Ag show opening at Gallery 1075 where my View of Farmlands series is hanging for the month of March. But just those few hours of meeting and greeting and discussing my work set me back a few strides and once again, I have not felt well all weekend.

Part of my "View of Farmlands" series hanging in Gallery 1075.

I realize my flu is menial when compared to the chronic illnesses some friends and acquaintances are contending with right now, but it definitely causes me to appreciate my health in a way I don’t normally consider in my day-to-day.

I have been fortunate in my life to be a pretty darn healthy specimen with only one surgery so far that occurred after blowing out my Achilles tendon while playing softball. I have always been the athletic, outdoorsy type who made it a point to workout and eat right only occasionally suffering from a cold or the flu.

But I am not naive and I know that debilitating illness could strike any one of us, including myself, at a time when I/we would least expect. This thought keeps me humble. This thought helps me to realize I should appreciate life in the moment and embrace my good health while I have it.

So for now, during this time when I am feeling but a mere shadow of my former self, I plan to embrace the lessons of this nasty bug; this great equalizer that has left me vulnerable and caused me to stare into the pale face of the weakness that is this human shell.

Today I will sit in the sunshine for a while and try to breathe the fresh air into my lungs as deeply as my bronchial tubes will allow. I will envision myself running down the healing path at a record-breaking pace and revel again in that endorphin induced high.