Sometimes You Have To Start Over

I started this blog back in January with the intention of documenting my own personal revolution. I’ve gotten a little off track. I’ve started to write to attract readers instead of writing for myself. I haven’t been digging or changing like I had hoped way back in January. I’m starting over because the revolution has stalled, but the need for change still exists and it’s more urgent than ever.

I believe that I’m the creator of my own world. Here’s an example: after ten years of living in a rundown duplex that had so many gaps in the windows and doors the winter winds howled through the living room and ants marched on their well-worn path across my carpet from the side door to the kitchen, I decided that I was ready to move. It didn’t take long for a rental to show up on my Facebook newsfeed. It took a couple of friends pointing it out to me to get me to call, because I was sure it would cost too much. I set up an appointment to see it anyway and became uneasy as I drove up the street. The neighborhood was in and out of sketchiness and I was headed toward an infamously dangerous part of town. However, as soon as I got to the top of the hill, it was like the clouds parted and the angels began to sing. I knew this was my house. I wanted it and I got it.

This kind of creating hasn’t happened a lot in my life. I never expected much from life and that’s what I got: not much. I didn’t so much create anything as I fell into it. Creating by default is what Abraham Hicks calls it. Life was always a struggle and that’s what I thought I deserved. Childhood shit. You know.

I am so tired of the struggle though and I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I know that I can do better. I’ve tested the universe and I know that there is power out there that I can tap into. I was in it for a while, but I seem to have gotten lost lately. I feel as if there is an epic battle going on in my mind between my old self and my new self. I want so badly to let go of all those ways of believing that have kept me in the mire for so long. I can let go occasionally and it feels incredibly good. I try to hold onto that feeling as long as possible, but soon the doubts and the unworthy feelings come creeping up and the old me takes control and slams me to the floor again. It’s so discouraging to feel the joy slipping through my hands. It’s like trying to hold onto sand.

I feel like the battle between the old me and the new me is coming to climax. I am so miserable I can hardly stand it. I heard someone call it a “dark night of the soul.” According to Eckhart Tolle, the “dark night of the soul” is a moment when everything you previously believed to be true about your world is turned upside down. It’s a collapse of “the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning your mind had given it.” Intellectually, I know that everything I’ve always believed about myself is just a story that I made up to make sense of what was happening around me and to protect myself from being hurt. It has hurt me though. It’s stopped me from growing. It’s made me miss out on a lot of experiences and a lot of fun. I’m tired of being the one standing in the way of my happiness.

I’ve got two options: I can take that first step off the cliff and have faith that the bridge will build itself with each step or I can turn around and go back to my old ways. Turning around isn’t actually an option anymore, though. I can’t go back. I know too much. The only option I truly have is to have faith in a bridge I can’t see.

The past couple of days, I’ve noticed a few words coming up a lot. Faith. Phoenix. Shedding. Revolution. The word revolution prompted me to revisit why I wanted to write this blog. The signs are all there. I even saw that old Cherokee story-for the thousandth time-about the young man who had two wolves battling inside him, good and bad. He asked his grandfather which one would win and the grandfather said, “The one you feed.” Which one am I going to feed? The old me vs the new me. The old me believes that I’m unworthy of anything good while the new me knows that we’re all deserving and worthy, even me. They’ve been battling it out for quite some time now. I know the new me is going to win, but the old me isn’t going down without a fight. I have to sit back and allow the battle play out, because I need to shed the old me once and for all. I’m tired of the struggle. The revolution has begun and it won’t be televised. It will, however, be shared on this blog.

As F Scott Fitzgerald said in The Crack-Up, “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning.” Fair warning.

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Making The Best Of It

In January, my brother, sister, and I went to Alabama to visit our dying father. He suffered from dementia and it was an exhausting visit just trying to convince him that he didn’t need to go put gas in the car. He was ready to go home and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t go. We would explain it to him, he would say okay and then a minute later, tell us again that he was ready to go. For a sick old guy, he sure was in a hurry to get going.

We didn’t have the best of relationships with our father. He was never too pleased with how we live our lives and I think secretly (or not so secretly), he wished we were more like his wife’s or his sister’s families. However, I believe he was truly happy that we came to spend a little time with him. I was extremely proud of how caring and loving my brother and sister were with him despite knowing how he felt about us. I’m glad we were all there together, because they gave him what he wanted. I couldn’t.

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Since it was such a stressful trip, we took a little time for ourselves and went to Sweetwater Creek State Park, right on the outskirts of Atlanta. It’s a beautiful state park with miles of trails along Sweetwater Creek. I find it amusing that they call it a creek, because where I come from, we would call it a river.

The ruins beside the creek date back to the Civil War. New Manchester Manufacturing Company was a textile mill that processed cotton into yarn. It was built solely from the resources surrounding the stream and was powered by the waters of Sweetwater Creek. Toward the end of the Civil War, the Confederate soldiers were forced to retreat and the Union soldiers torched the mill. It has been standing in ruins ever since.

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While you can’t walk around the ruins any more, you can take a boardwalk right down to the fence line for a closer look. My siblings both chose to wear red that day for some reason, perhaps to make my photos more interesting. Thank you, siblings.

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The next photo is me taking a photo of my brother taking a photo of my sister who is taking a photo of him. Pretty clever, I must say.

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It was a rough trip. Dad was semi-lucid the first day we were there, but by the second, he didn’t know who we were or that we were even there. Only two weeks later, we would make the trip again, this time by car with the rest of the family for his funeral.

Oil Refineries Make Me Homesick

What is it about Autumn that makes us nostalgic? It happens to me every year. It’s always tinged with a bit of sadness and I know I’m not the only one this happens to. The definition for the Welsh word hiraeth describes the feeling exactly.

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When I was out for my drive the other day, I had the most visceral reaction come over me. I guess you would call it hiraeth. I felt as if I were transported back in time to the TriState Fair in Amarillo when I was a teenager. I used to love the fair. I loved the damp smell of the hay in the animal pens. I loved seeing all the different farm animals us city kids never got to see. I loved all the exhibits, even the ones for housewares. I loved the scuff of boots on the hard dirt and the cowboys in their wranglers with the Skoal rings on the back pocket. And I loved the rodeo, not for the events, but for the cowboys. I love me a Texas cowboy. It must have been the distant smell of a feedlot that brought the memories flooding back and I hung on to it as long as possible.

A little bit further down the highway, I passed a food processing plant in the distance. It brought memories of late night drives home from my grandparents’ house in Kansas. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven through the Texas panhandle, but there is a whole lot of nothing for miles upon miles. You can see a town in the distance and think you’re getting close and an hour later, you still aren’t there. When you’re driving at night, it’s almost as if you are the only people on Earth. The sky is so black and you hardly ever pass another car. I knew we were close to home when I would see the eery blue-white glow from the lights at the Pantex plant near Panhandle. Pantex was a big secret back when I was a kid. One of my parents’ best friends worked there, but he wasn’t allowed to tell us what they did. We all knew, though, that they manufactured nuclear missiles, but we weren’t supposed to talk about it. I wondered why, if it was such a top secret operation, they lit it up like a neon sign in the desert. It didn’t matter though. I knew I was almost home. Finally, I’d get a whiff of the oil refineries and I’d know we were home. To this day, I find the smell of an oil refinery oddly comforting.

The funny part is, I had a terrible childhood. It was full of pain and sadness. So why do the memories of home bring such warm feelings? Is it like any traumatic pain in which our brains cannot recall the level of pain we went through as a protection method? When you break a bone, you remember that it hurt, but your brain won’t allow you to feel the actual feeling of pain. Once the broken bone is set and casted, the pain subsides and you have a good story to tell. Maybe that’s what nostalgia is: the good story you tell yourself in order to not relive the pain.

I’m A Noticer

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Have you ever been looking for your keys and you just can’t find them anywhere? You look where you normally put them. You look in that other place you sometimes put them. You look in the freezer and think, “I wouldn’t put it past me to put them in there.” You look until you’ve exhausted all your options and you give up. A little while later, there they are. You must have looked there three times and didn’t see them. So, you didn’t see them, were they really there? Or did they materialize when you saw them?

It used to happen all the time at the lab. Every sample had a unique identifying number, but we often searched for samples first by the size and shape of the container they normally came in. For instance, if a client often sent their samples in a plastic cube, when I went to look for it, I was looking for a plastic cube. I would go to every cart and look for that container. I would look where the analyst usually put cube containers. Finally, I would give up and go ask someone else to help me find it. Most of the time, they would find the sample right away, because they had no expectations about what the sample container should look like. I couldn’t see it because it was in a Nalgene bottle instead of a plastic cube this time.

Certain philosophical schools and even quantum physics would tell us that an object doesn’t exist outside of our perception of it. I’m not a philosopher nor a physicist, so I don’t know the science behind any of those schools of thought. I could study it if I wanted to, but it’s more fun to simply ponder and puzzle them out on my own.

Why am I talking about this? Because I like macro photography. I like to focus on the tiny details of the plants that often go unnoticed.  Or the interesting way a lime looks after I’ve squeezed all the juice out of it. (My physics 101 teacher thought all universities should have a required class on noticing. I agree.) As humans, we like patterns and we like the security of knowing what a flower or a lime looks like. We like that we can all agree that, indeed, that green citrus fruit is a lime. That makes it real. However, what if we look at the parts arranged differently than expected? Or we look at them so closely that we notice the things we’ve never seen before like the tiniest detail on an already tiny plant? Can we be sure what to call it? Does it alter our ability to be absolutely sure that that photo is the plant we trample on every day as we walk across the yard or that, yes, it is a lime and not a macro photo of a flower or even some microorganism that has yet to be identified? And if we’re unsure of what to call it, how can we be sure it exists at all?

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Steeple Chasing

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I’m a Sagittarius. The need to travel was given to me by the stars. I need travel like a plant needs water. Without it, I’ll wither up and die.

The last time I had a real, honest to goodness vacation was a trip to Arizona two and a half years ago. Since then, I had a three day trip to Colorado for Christmas and two trips to Alabama to see my dying father and attend his funeral. The last two, I don’t count.

I used to go on one good vacation every summer. I’d usually go to Colorado to climb a fourteener with my brother. Sometimes, I’d go by myself. I went to Yellowstone two summers in a row, once by myself and once with my niece. I absolutely love western Wyoming in the summer, so it was worth going twice.

I feel the lack of travel withering my soul. I watch as other people post photos of their trips on Facebook. I follow a lot of photojournalists and professional photographers on Instagram who are constantly going to exciting places. Even their not-so-exciting trips fill me with a terrible yearning to hit the road.

There are many excuses I use not to travel right now. Since losing my higher paying job almost two years ago, I haven’t felt comfortable spending money on anything extravagant like a trip. I didn’t want to use credit and I clung to every penny I had to get me through the lean times. I’ve been unemployed now for four months since quitting my last job, so travel is completely out of the question until I remedy that situation. Even when I get a job, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get one that pays grown-up money, so traveling may not be in the cards anyway.

I love my house, but it has become a prison the last four months. I go to yoga a couple times a week. I go to the gym. I go to the grocery store. The rest of the time, I try to keep myself occupied with little projects, so I don’t go crazy.

I hated working at the lab. I hated the production-like responsibilities. I hated that they weren’t happy with you unless you devoted your entire life to that place, which I was never willing to do. The money was good enough, though, that I couldn’t make myself leave because who else was going to pay me that much money, right? I felt as trapped as Aron Ralston (you know, the guy who got his arm trapped by a boulder and had to saw it off to survive). Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, but it FELT that way. I was afraid to unlock the door to my prison even though I had the key in my hand the whole time.

I feel exactly the same way now. I see no way out of my current predicament. I see no way that I’ll ever get out of here, even for a week long vacation, much less permanently. And I was okay with that when I thought it would give me the time to take all the classes I needed to become a decent enough designer to start freelancing.  Now that appears to be off the table as well, because all the jobs that I can get want me to work weird midday shifts that leave me no time to work in a class. Besides, taking one class at a time is taking too long.

I used to jump in my car and go on small road trips all the time, too. That was before I leased a car which keeps me limited on the number of miles I can put on it. (I’ve built my prison really well this time, haven’t I?)

Well, today I took a little road trip anyway. It wasn’t anything fancy. I just needed to see something different. I drove for about six hours through rural Nebraska. I shot photos out the car window as I was driving. I call it drive-by photography. It’s hit or miss, but sometimes I get a good one. It’s hard to stop on those rural highways.

I also decided to continue steeple chasing. I just made that term up–pretty good, huh? Trademark. According to the internet steeple experts, time was rather arbitrary until recent years. Most people set their watches according to the sun, so everybody’s watch was set a little differently. It was difficult to say “Church is at nine,” when no one’s watch was set to the same time. Churches used bells to announce services and since the sound needed to travel quite a distance, they had to be built into a very high structure, like a tower.

With the advent of modern timekeeping, the bells are no longer necessary. They’ve evolved into steeples, usually with a cross on top. Next time you’re out in the country, keep an eye out. You’ll see a steeple long before you’re able to see the actual town. It’s the same even in the cities. Look for high points in your city and you will probably find a church up there.

So that’s what I did. I looked above the treetops and found church after church. In one town, population 494, there were three churches all huddled together on the high point of town. I’m very interested in the architecture of churches, especially old Catholic churches. Churches built before the 1950’s are usually very beautiful architecturally. Anything built after that time has no real personality, in my opinion.

It’s also harvest time, so I got a few photos of combines in the field. Harvest time is busy season in the lab. They will do over a million soil samples within two to three months. It’s incredibly insane the amount of hours that people are expected to put in and I’m grateful to never have to endure another soil season again.

My little day trip didn’t take care of the yearning in my soul, but it did keep me occupied for a bit and made me wonder if perhaps I should try to unlock my prison door. I do hold the key, after all.

Aleph

Typography is one of the most important, but often least understood and overlooked pieces of graphic design. If the typeface is wrong, it can obscure the message and make the design less interesting.

The assignment was to use a letter from the Phoenician alphabet in three different ways. I did quite a bit of research and I found a quote from a short story written by Jorge Luis Borges titled The Aleph and knew immediately that it would work really well in a design.

We were also required to use one color. Again, I did some research and found that astronomers from Johns Hopkins calculated the average of all the colors in the universe and the average color turned out to be a shade of beige they named Cosmic Latte. I tried to approximate a color similar to Cosmic Latte to use in my design.

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The primary focus of the first design is the symbol itself. aleph-2

The focus of the second is on the word Aleph. I chose to use the symbol as well to add a little cohesiveness to the design.

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The quote is the focus of the last one. What a beautiful way to describe the universe.

This was one of my favorite assignments and being a word nerd, typography is one of my favorite subjects.