Tag Archives: documentary

Timber Men

The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The arbiters of a healthy forest.They prune and lift and fell when needed, like surgeons with their trusty tools.



At times they climb trees like Spiderman with their lengthy webs of rope. Just a little bit slower, and a lot more cautious. they face danger without much pause. 


Determined, they continue their dance towards the top.

Like Goliath, they possess a super human strength…

Whatever is taken, is given back , in order to enrich the cycle of life…

The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The super heroes of a sustainable forest.



Pick up a copy of Zen in the Garden here:  

The Strangers I’ve Known

I met “Gypsy” at a rest stop at the top of a mountain pass. He was wearing a woman’s dress and had a scarf wrapped around his head. He sat barefoot on a bench with a bottle of Windex and a rag politely asking people who passed by if he could clean their car windows for a small donation. “Gypsy” said he has lived in his car for several years because he prefers to travel and be free from the expectations of a society he “doesn’t fit into.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

I think often about the strangers I have met. They come to me in different places on their journey; the young, the old, the worn, and the tired. They each have a story to tell, written in the pain along the edges of their faces and the in shadows that have settled in their eyes.

Nikolei, Jamie & Spike in Old Sacramento, CA, 2010. This photo is from the first time I met Nikolei and Jamie. Nikolei, 20, was laid off from his job at FedEx and began living on the streets after he could not find another job and could no longer pay rent. He had been homeless for 6 months. Jamie, 16, was kicked out of her parent’s house 2 months prior and felt safe hanging out with Nikolei and Spike. She sold her skateboard the week before so they would have some money for food. The two had plans to make their way up to Washington where Nikolei hoped to find work. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

There is something that draws me to them. Some distant feeling of recognition. I understand their pain, their sorrows, their fears. A piece of me wants to ignore them and move on with my day in search of beauty. While a part of me feels drawn to stop and talk to them, it is at the risk of revisiting those dark memories hidden away so conveniently inside my mind.

They are a reflection of all that can go wrong with this life, with the mind, the heart, the body, and soul. Lost in the shuffle of humanity and caught in a downward cycle of demise, they exist on the other side of the thin veil between a successful life and some sordid alternate reality. The mirror they hold up forces us to look into ourselves and question our 

own choices and circumstance, and causes us to wonder why this world can be so incredibly cruel. So we divert our eyes, walk on by, and pretend they don’t exist. 

  I met Charles on K Street, Sacramento, CA, 2011. Charles grew up without either of his parents. Both of them were incarcerated from the time he was a baby so he was raised by an aunt and uncle who abused and neglected him. In his early twenties he got married, had two children and began using drugs and alcohol heavily. He divorced and ended up homeless on the streets. Charles now suffers from chronic liver disease including Hep C and cirrhosis of the liver. His abdomen was swollen and painful and he had recently filled out the paperwork to receive medical assistance. He chooses to sleep in the woods. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

Are they there because of the choices they make? Or have their lives been dismantled by ugly circumstances beyond their control, by the terrifying things we cannot see? Who are we to judge them? Really. We are all human beings. That is our common ground from the beginning. 

I am always surprised when I take the risk and reach out to talk with those strangers who cross my path. Some of their stories are harrowing, some extremely sad. While others admit to choices that have lead them to where they sit, others are like free spirits who choose to remain there, like gypsies, unbound by societal demands. Some are clearly in need of help for both physical and mental ailments but lack the resources and the ability to seek it on their own. 

 I met Christina and Ears on Market Street, San Francisco, CA, 2010. Christina had been homeless off and on for five years. She suffered from bipolar disorder and at one point suffered from Neutropenia related to the psychotropic medication they gave her in the hospital. She turned to self medicating with heroin when she ended up on the streets. Christina was passionate about rats and bred and raised them to sell the babies to pet stores. She was receiving Methadone treatment for her addiction to heroin at the time I met her. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

Some have been well educated with degrees and plenty of job experience. I have met teachers, artists, musicians, and even a former attorney. Each one had a different story surrounding the tipping point that lead them out onto the streets. Many have spent their lives running from the shadows of an ugly childhood, and like the many Veterans I meet, are struggling with the horrors of PTSD.

 I met Malcolm on L Street in Sacramento, CA, in 2010. Malcolm had been homeless for four years. He had to leave home when he was 18 and when he couldn’t find a job to pay rent, he decided to hop freight trains and see the country. He had visited 48 states and was on his way down to Florida with his two dogs and his girlfriend. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

Thanks – You Are Steller!

Just a quick post to say thank you all for your support for my recent post about my favorite mobile storytelling app Steller. My Steller story “Pow Wow” has received over 24k page views and yesterday it reached the #2 position of Most Viewed on Steller.

Now let’s see if it’s possible to double that! https://steller.co/s/5EeDxX32fH6

If you have already had the chance to view “Pow Wow,” here is a link to check out my latest, “Timber Men.” https://steller.co/s/5FwPcK3KhyH


The Better To See You With…

ophthalmologists Phoropter - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Opthalmologists Phoropter – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Last week I had my appointment with the Ophthalmologist who will be my Oculoplastics surgeon directly following the Mohs surgery. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I came to his office for the pre-op consult and examination. He examined my eyes closely with a numbing yellow dye and a split scope then took a ton of measurements of my face from my eye up to my hairline, from my eyelid to the area of the lesion, and across the bridge of my nose. He then took a lot of photographs of my face, especially of the area where the cancer lives.

Split Scope - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Split Scope – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Dr. J as I will refer to him explained the difficulty of the surgery based on the proximity to the eye. He told me when cancer is found on the midline of the face it is considered high-risk. The face is made up of different types of skin cells so grafting to the area where my cancer grows with skin from somewhere else on my face (i.e. behind my ear) would not do very well. Instead he will be pulling a skin flap over the open region with adjoining healthy skin. This may mean skin pulled over from my top eyelid, bottom eyelid, or down from the bridge of my nose or forehead to the area of the medial canthus. Part of the difficulty of reconstruction for this area is the fact it is a concave pocket and skin likes to grow in a straight line from point A to B especially when they use a graft from another area of the body. However skin cells used from adjacent areas can more easily conform to the natural concave shape of the area.

Anatomy of the eye - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of the eye – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

We discussed the unknowns including the fact they won’t know how much skin will be removed until the actual day of the Mohs surgery. Therefore Dr. J does not know how much reconstruction will be required until I make it to him following the first surgery earlier in the day. Such is the nastiness of skin cancer. It likes to take root and grow just under the radar beneath the surface of the skin. The beauty of Mohs surgery is their ability to remove a layer, freeze it, look at it under a microscope to determine whether or not they got clear margins all in the same day. That way you don’t have to wait two days and come back for more surgery. They just keep cutting away until the margins are clear.

I can’t honestly say my anxiety was relieved by the pre-op appointment. There are still too many unknowns at this juncture. I did receive the date for my Mohs surgery and reconstruction the day after my pre-op so at least I now have a target date for which to mentally prepare. The cancer on my back will be removed first in a few weeks by my Dermatologist, most likely through excision. I will then have a month or so to heal before my face surgery occurs on September 8th. Relieved to have a date, however the intensity of it all gave me one big headache.

Me getting rid of my headache with my Spa Comforts lavender eye pillow.

Me getting rid of my headache with my Spa Comforts lavender eye pillow.

Dr. J gave me a handout with post-op care instructions before I left his office. There will be a period of time I most likely will not be able to wear my glasses due to inflammation, swelling and tenderness. This is not a great thing since I am pretty reliant on my glasses to read and see. They told me to expect redness, bruising, and swelling to not only my eye area but my face plus the possibility of bleeding into the white of my eyes for a period of 4-6 weeks. I will need to sleep with my head elevated (yay for brand new, über comfy La-Z-Boy recliners) and I won’t be able to do any heavy work, bending over, lifting or exercise. In other words I am going to be bored for a bit :-).

However boredom is the perfect trade-off for becoming (fingers crossed real tight) cancer free.

A Million Angel Kisses

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

freck·le (ˈfrekəl)
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.

Taking the Leap

"A Conference of Clowns" - Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“A Conference of Clowns” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

I was looking through my photo archives for one of a series of photos I took a few years ago when I was documenting the “Occupy” movement with my big girl DSLR and I came across the following photos that I decided to share in this blog post.

My studies at the Academy of Art for my M.F.A were in Documentary photography and I still love taking photos of people whenever I get the chance to wander the streets. I do a ton of that street photography with my iPhone although until recently I haven’t shared much of that work since I have been so focused on creating and exhibiting my montage work over the past year.  But perusing through my archives this afternoon has rekindled my desire to delve a bit further into my street and documentary photography with my iPhone.  All my serious pro work has been captured with a DSLR but I think I am ready to take the leap as soon as my iPhone 5 arrives (yes, I get the upgrade this month finally!).

I was also extremely inspired by hearing Richard Koci Hernandez present at MacWorld.  A photojournalist by trade, Koci now shoots his street photography exclusively with his iPhone.  And God knows we need more women representin’ in the world of street photography.

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

“Happy Hippy” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

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

“Strike of the Sunflowers” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

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

“Half and Half” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

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

“The Thinker” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

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

“Two for a Buck” – Oakland, CA ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.






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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