The Long Way Home


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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Haunted Film
October 17, 2012, 6:21 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , , ,

jeff flea-marketed while i wandered into the woods

My friend Stacy was kind enough to give me this old pack of Polaroid 600-film that she had in her house for years. In contrast to the pastoral, painterly photos I took at Judi and Wayne’s farm a few weeks ago, these are unpredictable, creepy and scarred in beautiful imperfection, making my heart soar with happiness.

meet Bobcat, a one-eyed, no-tailed barn stray

golden field

through the car window

the road disappears



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



We’re On TV
September 30, 2012, 8:30 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , ,

the former building in this lot had caught on fire and was demolished. 

It’s funny how a place finds you. The longest I’ve lived anywhere is the place we live in now: former candy store/grocery store/children’s clothing store/bookstore in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. In the past, I’d carefully chosen the places I wanted to live, but then I fell in love with a sweet, strange man who told me he lived in an old store and I didn’t imagine that I’d be there (here) so long that I can’t imagine living in a ‘normal’ house. The area around our building has proven a good place for impromptu photo shoots, found objects for Jeff’s art projects, even providing us furniture for our cozy nest (the desk chair I’m sitting as I type this; a kitchen hutch and a coffee table turned into a guitar). We have half a mannequin from someone’s trash, and our neighbor left a long strip of bowling alley for Jeff to transform into something else. A few weeks ago someone left an old TV in our yard, complete with remote control. Nobody took it home , but the remote was gone the next morning.

the retaining wall in our backyard, site of many photo shoots

doors in friendship

you can’t even give these away now

self-portrait after work

i see this car every day walking home from work

something like dancing



Lunch Break
September 26, 2012, 7:29 PM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , ,

grotto, St. Patrick’s, Strip District

Lately I’ve been taking my Polaroid SLR680 to work so I can shoot photos on my lunch break, a time I usually reserve for reading. It’s not easy either – it’s bulky and noisy and when I pull it out of my bag, people are like, that’s a camera? You can’t hide with a 30-year-old folding camera right in your face. I even have  a fancy iPhone now, and I can’t bring myself to use the camera in full force quite yet.  There are some days I get caught up in work, some days I don’t want to trek outside. But unlike writing, where I can sit and stare at the screen for hours (procrastinating by watching movies or snooping on Facebook), photography forces me to interact with the outside world, making me feel less alone.

mirror and tire in the alley behind Altar Bar

in the garden, St. Patrick’s

city sky



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



Little Town of Bethlehem (PA)
August 12, 2012, 9:13 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , ,

self-portrait on chess board

Our dear friend Roya got married a few weeks ago to Mike, her sweet baboo, and they made their new home out in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I realized I dream so much about places outside of Pittsburgh (or Pennsylvania), that I don’t think much about our eastern neighbors. I didn’t know that Bethlehem’s former steel identity has transformed into a town that now fosters arts and music festivals, that it’s close to Philly and New York, straddling two PA counties, and so close to the Jersey Shore. It made me wish it were just a little closer to home so I could visit more often. I’m imagining it in the fall, leaves turning, full of ghosts.

a man taking a smoke break outside the masonic temple

meet laurel

bill and jeff on the bridge into town

site of the wedding in a former banana distribution center

a stairwell in the banana factory

i have always wanted to live in a castle

 




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