The Long Way Home


Perspective
April 21, 2014, 4:48 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , ,
Train Trestle, South Side Slopes

Train Trestle, South Side Slopes

It’s three years since my mother passed away, and I feel more myself than I have in the longest time. I’m more alert, in-tune with my surroundings. I laugh without guilt, and take pleasure in ordinary things. My heart isn’t broken.  Scarred, yes, but I carry that small sadness around with me, a reminder that she’s always with me. Now when I hear of someone losing a loved one, it holds different weight for me. I know the complicated, heart-wrenching road they are about to travel, and yet, I still don’t know how to act, or what to say except I’m sorry. I know that death makes most people uncomfortable, that nobody wants to talk about it. I know too that it’s given me a  great deal of anxiety, which only recently I feel as if I’ve got under control. Some people have been very supportive, and others  have said clueless, insensitive  things; I’ve learned to forgive them. I asked one of my closest friends if I’ve changed since this happened; he said that I’ve deepened my connection to photography. I had to think about why that is. It’s more than just taking pretty pictures – it’s been a comfort, a way for me to make sense of who I am as a motherless woman, as an artist. As cliché as this sounds, photography makes me feel more complete. I see through my mother’s curious, creative eye when I pour through old photos she had taken. My photo adventures continue those stories, a way for us to carry on in conversation.

Crossing, South Side Slopes

Crossing, South Side Slopes

Steel City Pawn, Braddock

Steel City Pawn, Braddock

From the Rooftops, South Side Slopes

From the Rooftops, South Side Slopes

Perspective, Braddock

Perspective, Braddock

Hotel Puhala, Braddock

Hotel Puhala, Braddock

View of St. Michael's, South Side Slopes

View of St. Michael’s, South Side Slopes

Overlook, South Side Slopes

Overlook, South Side Slopes

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Time Travel: 1969-1972
August 18, 2013, 7:45 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , , , , ,
August 1972

August 1972

We cleaned out our studio this past month: 12 large trash bags and three trips to Goodwill later – we find things. Like a copy of “Nights of Arabian Dentistry” that Jeff found in a thrift store. My tiny black wallet that looks like a toddler-sized handbag. A plastic garden gnome that I did have in the trash pile, but Jeff rescued by popping off the head and keeping it. The books – I could spend hours talking about parting with the books. Once I admitted that I’d never read To Kill a Mockingbird or Wuthering Heights ever again, they went straight into the donation pile. It feels good to get rid of things, and to make solid promises to yourself that you will not accumulate like you have been for years. It made me ask why I carted around dated grammar books year after year, or keep clothes that don’t fit anymore. It made me think too about all the things that my mother held that I now own, things that were very important to her when she was alive, like books, and pretty dresses, and photos – especially the photos. “Things” don’t matter, but sometimes those things keep us happy, inquisitive, curious, and creative.  I like looking through these old friend photos that my mother took during a time in her life when she was clearly happiest. They comfort me since she is no longer here to answer my questions, or tell me her stories.

1972

1972

Erica, 1971

Erica, 1971

my godmother, 1971

my godmother, 1971

Lynn, 1969

Lynn, 1969

Virginia Beach, 1972

Virginia Beach, 1972

amazing beehive, 1971

amazing beehive, 1971

 

 

 

 

 

 



Focus
January 11, 2013, 5:17 AM
Filed under: Art Gallery | Tags: , , , , ,
a winter's tale

a winter’s tale

This past summer, I put my Spectra camera in our living room trunk, forgetting completely about it. Sunday I discovered it while cleaning and was happy to find it with fives frames of expired instant film, expanding and contracting through August heat and December cold, now come to light through perfect imperfection. The last few months have been difficult – the holidays, very much so. It’s hard to keep focus when I get depressed, so I try to keep busy, and in the process, I become too busy – I overbook projects and commitments. My day job is really stressful; I’ve developed an ulcer, lost 10 pounds since November. It could be this, or it could be that I knew I had to face a long, dark winter without my mother. It’s been almost two years since she passed away, and I spent 2012 not talking much about her, to anyone. Acceptance arrives at ordinary moments. The other day after getting the mail, I locked the door and leaned my head against the glass thinking holy shit, she’s gone. My breath catches. I tear open the electric bill. The world keeps moving.

I feel as if the first year, I shared too much and so I became guarded. I trusted people I should not have trusted (this, I chalk up to the delirium of grief). Some friends seemingly vanished from my life; loss is much harder for me now. I want to say, hey, I’m no longer death-contagious, it’s safe to come back. I’m learning to live without those people. I concentrate on strengthening  existing friendships, and sharing more laughter (and love – always this) with Jeff. I’ve also grown more afraid – of taking risks, of having regrets if I don’t take those risks. It’s a daily challenge to strike that balance of responsibility and dreaming. So the point is: I drifted away from film, a self-imposed exile to give myself mental space, but I couldn’t stay away. Photography is one thing that will get me through this winter, the rest  of 2013 . It brings me happiness and gives me life.

cat's cradle

cat’s cradle

the necklace

the necklace

bellevue

bellevue

accidental exposure

accidental exposure



A House By the River
October 24, 2012, 8:49 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , ,

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October began with a dream about my mother: my sister braids my hair, a tightly knitted plait coiled around my head. Our mother reaches out to touch it, the braid unravels. You ruin everything, I say, and I wake feeling guilty. I look up the meaning of ‘braids’ in dreams and it means ‘organization,’ ‘to plan,’ something that I’m often teased about by those who know me – I like to have things in their places. In grief, this isn’t possible. The first year, I realize, was like slipping into a fog, and now I’m slowly drifting out of it. I remember things. I can focus. I am more conscientious of those around me, listening to their pain. There are times I cry for no reason, and then accept that this is just how it is, for now. A few weekends ago, we celebrated my youngest nephew’s ninth birthday. I was in the delivery room the day he was born, a big healthy pink baby sliding into the world; years later, he takes Jeff, his uncle Mike and me into the woods to show us his clubhouse  by the river. It’s a warm October night; there are twigs snapping underfoot, the smell of damp leaves, a house that could be haunted. I laugh when they tell me about river rats as large as cats. I forget I am afraid of the dark.

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This is How I Imagine Home
October 10, 2012, 5:32 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , , ,

at the mahoning dam

Jeff and I spent Sunday the 30th visiting our friends Judi and Wayne at their farm in Armstrong County. The farm is out of GPS range, so we followed Judi’s hand-drawn map and written instructions, excited that we were going deeper off the city grid. Pittsburgh is one of those places where you don’t have to drive too far to be out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees, lost in winding dirt roads with no signs. We ate homemade applesauce and pulled pork for lunch while  listening to the cows across the fields,  and later, took a drive through a torrential downpour in the little town of Dayton. We learned the secret to spotting Amish houses (one tied-back curtain swag framing plain white windows), marveled over the turban-shaped wasps’ nest hanging from a tree in the driveway and made friends with Bobcat, a one-eyed, no-tailed kitten that Jeff still keeps talking about adopting. Judi told me stories about working at Dairy Queen with my mother when they were younger. It means a lot when others talk about her without fear of upsetting me. I find it comforting, like the smell of wet leaves and wood smoke, or the solace of early darkness.

this is how i imagine home

wayne and jeff were behind me in the garden picking peppers and tomatoes

dayton train station – some of the papers dated from the early 1980s

jeff inside the train depot

after the storm: a field on judi and wayne’s farm

cold autumn sky

sunset over open fields



The Second Year
August 26, 2012, 10:11 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , ,

in the walled garden, mellon park

Words fail me this summer. I read a lot  though (mainly Scandinavian mysteries) and copy-edit; in between obsessing over hyphenated words and slashing adjectives I’m instant film obsessed. Shooting with instant film makes me a more deliberate, careful photographer: I think about composition, framing. I edit the photos in my head before they develop. I am more aware of temperature, in subtle shifts of light. I am becoming more patient, not only in film, but what’s around me. The second year of grief has been difficult, but in a different way. The pain that felt permanent inside my chest has settled into something else: the acceptance that my mother is gone. I knew this intellectually last year, but it’s difficult for the heart to catch up  to death’s finality. I get anxiety when I think about this, and it’s confusing to those around me who may think that I should be “over” this, whose words of comfort may fail them as well. It’s also surreal, that someone you have known your entire life is just one day no longer here. There are also moments of intense joy – the ones that made me feel guilty last year, in the wake of her death, but now I see as gifts after a long hard year – ones that I like to believe are from my mother.

liz on her wedding shower day

a view from under the bridge, gateway clipper

wedding tradition: the pittsburgh cookie table

my dream room, full of books and natural light

in the ivy



Happiness
May 25, 2012, 5:37 AM
Filed under: Vintage Photo Album | Tags: , , , ,

four girls

After my mother graduated high school in 1969, she got her first taste of independence: a front desk job at the Hilton downtown and a two-bedroom apartment with four other young women. She talked so much about those times in the last years of her life that she became mired in nostalgia, happiest lost in memory. Recently I found the photos in this post among her albums, and I try to match the stories she had told us over the years with the people in them: parties full of weed and wine, wearing micro-mini skirts to work, dancing late at a club called 2000 (I think) over in the North Side – eventually meeting my father at the Wooden Keg, now a Dunkin Donuts. I never had a god-like illusion of my parents that others may have had about their own; they had always been refreshingly — sometimes painfully — human.

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joy ride

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