Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

California Dreamin'

I dread the coming winter.

I used to love autumn. It was my favorite season. I missed it tremendously during the four years I spent going to college in Florida. I missed the way the color of the light changed from warm and golden to cool and white, the delicious tang of cooler days and frosty nights, the brilliant colors of turning leaves, the crunch of those leaves underfoot, and the spicy scent that I associate with fallen brown big-leaf maple leaves in particular. When I worked as a floral designer, it was definitely my favorite season because of the grasses and the pods, the bold dahlias and sunflowers, the antiqued hydrangeas, the joy of working in a palette of rust, chocolate, copper, cinnamon, orange, and burgundy. Fall always made me feel more alive. The sunny days were glorious and the rainy days seemed seasonally appropriate.

Today is the kind of sunny autumn day that used to set my heart singing. But instead I am filled with terrible apprehension. Fall and winter are not kind to this particular migraineur.

Take this photo, for example:

My parents, when choosing the house where I live, kept the benefits of passive solar in mind, and so all the main living areas of the house--the kitchen and family room, the windows of all the bedrooms except my own--face south. Because of Seattle's latitude, the angle of the sun changes dramatically between summer and winter. During the summer, sunshine penetrates all these south-facing windows by only a foot or so, which helps keep the house cool. In winter, the sun shines all the way in to the far walls, filling the house with light. As you can see in the picture, the sun of late September is penetrating deep into the kitchen. The problem for me, though, is that this change in the sun's angle is excruciating to my light-sensitive eyes. Sunlight becomes unavoidable. It spills across the kitchen table and the family room couches. It reflects blindingly from the chrome of the kitchen faucet. And if I look out the windows, it shines painfully into my eyes.

This picture also represents a terrible problem. Those dappled shadows spilling across the carpet (and Abbey) are my idea of hell. When the wind stirs the branches, causing them to move, the effect on my brain is nearly unbearable.

Shadows outside the house become problematic, too. The changing angle of the light casts longer shadows and the cooler light temperature means the contrast between the very white light and the very black shadows is greater than they are during the summer. The contrast between black and white is very difficult for the migraine brain to handle, which is why I seldom read books or magazines much anymore and I have to limit my writing and reading on the computer. The contrast between the thin black lines of print on a white page is nothing, however, compared to the shadows cast by trees on a sunny day and the worst possible thing is to be riding in a car through those shadows. The strobe effect of passing rapidly in and out of darkness back into bright light causes an instant, severe migraine.

Winter also means shorter days and, therefore, longer nights. When the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon, it means any outing undertaken in the evening is done in darkness and being out in the dark means encountering the contrast of bright headlights, streetlights, signage, etc., against the darkness. One of the most awful sensations as a migraineur is to be riding in the car and have the shadows cast by streetlights pass through the car. Most people, I'm sure, never notice the way the shadows seem to run through the car, one after another, but I find it agonizing. Last winter, I stopped riding in the car at night altogether. During the summer, when it didn't get dark until 9:30 or later, I seldom ran into the issue.

I spent last winter virtually a prisoner in my own house, unable to tolerate the roving shadows in the outside world, always having to sit with my back to windows, creeping and wincing through the house. Things improved when I obtained my light sensitivity glasses last March, but this fall I'm more light sensitive because of the concussion, so the benefit of the glasses is only about equal to where I was last year without them.

A wind-whipped Mr. Gorgeous in photo taken last
February. I was helping out his owners by walking
him regularly, but I was exhausted all the time
not from the exercise, but from the endless wind.
I have another worry, too. I used to find some respite in cloudy days, of which Seattle has an abundance, but my increased sensitivity to changes in barometric pressure, particularly the drops associated with bad weather, has me worried. Last winter, La Niña brought months of wind and I spent most of the early spring in exhausted misery. When the wind blows, it saps all my energy, lowers my mood, increases my migraines. There is no escape from it. I can't tell you how much I dread this coming winter, with its fluctuating bad weather and the possibility of another La Niña and months of wind.

Before the migraines started, I was very seriously considering relocating to the Southwest, since I love the landscape there and I had noticed that from a mood standpoint, I feel ridiculously better when the sun is out. With this increase in sensitivity to changes in weather in general and wind in particular, the Southwest (and most anywhere else in the U.S.) with its windy springs and occasional thunderstorms is out. I am now certain that I will be moving to Southern California at some point. My parents are from Los Angeles and we visited every summer and I have extended family there. I liked to visit, but it was never a place where I desired to live, but Southern California, be it the Los Angeles area or San Diego, has some of the sunniest, most stable weather in the country, and being at a much more southern latitude, the changes in the angle of light during the winter is not so severe. It may be some time (as in several years), though, before such a move is possible. I must confess that the thought of spending not just this winter but many more here fills me with despair.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't Even Look at Me

I only have two regrets. One involves not saying some things to someone important in my life before that person died. The other one I rectified in a dream I had last night, which is why I have it on my mind.

I was sexually harassed by a classmate in high school. This is no big secret. Some of my friends knew about it and tried to protect me from him. I even told my parents about a lot of it. (Had I told them all of it, they probably would have acted, but at fifteen there were things I was not yet comfortable discussing.) The worst of it happened during my sophomore year, when we had six out of six classes together the first semester and five out of six classes together the second. By my senior year, we only had one class together and it was essentially over. My desire at the time was for the problem to just go away. I read and reread the section in our student handbook about the school's zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, but I never took the problem to the administration. I was worried that when I told about all the little comments, the innuendo, and, of course, that time in the library, it wouldn't sound like much. Or that he would just deny it all and it would come to nothing. Or even if they did believe I was being sexually harassed, what could they do? We took all the same classes and at least three of them were not offered at any other time, so it wouldn't work to reassign us to different schedules. What if telling just made things worse? So I did nothing. I didn't really get angry until I was in college and by that time, of course, it was too late. So that's my regret: that I didn't officially lodge a complaint of sexual harassment against this classmate with the school while I had the chance. Subsequently, he was never informed that what he was doing was not okay. It took some eight years for me to escape the power of his gaze and he got away with it.

If I simply sum up the various things he said to me, while a few of them were inappropriate, they don't sound like all that much, certainly not worth the amount of agony they caused me. How would it have sounded if I had gone to the school counselors and said, "Hey, this guy, he's really creeping me out, he's said a couple of times now that he's worried about how thin I am." I mean, that one doesn't sound like sexual harassment, does it? And I was horribly thin. But I can still remember nearly fifteen years later where I was when this conversation took place (German II) and how creepy it was because I could tell how much he got off on being able to talk about my body in this seemingly legitimate context. I also got the sense that he felt very possessive of my body and this mock solicitousness was really a way of asserting that my body belonged to him. This and other remarks made it clear to me that not only did he think about my body in a sexual way all the time, but that he wanted me to know that he thought about me this way. I am sure of this, just as I am sure that loathing and resentment was a component of his desire. But how was I to prove something that existed almost entirely between the lines?

And at fifteen, I didn't know how to say to an adult, whether it was my parents or someone at the school, that more than once I caught him with his hands in his pockets fondling himself while he stared at me. I can remember the circumstances of the first time so clearly. Our class was in the library. I had been looking up something in the encyclopedias. I glanced up, having had that eerie feeling that I was being stared at, and there he was, in a chair on the far side of the library, hands in his pockets, hands moving in his pockets, and looking straight at me. My gut immediately knew what it had seen, even though I desperately tried to think of reasons why it wasn't so. It wasn't just me, though, who saw him. They didn't see what he was looking at, but some of the other guys in the class had spotted what he was up to. I overheard one of them tease him as we were leaving the library, asking him if he'd been enjoying "stroking the lizard" during class. He hotly denied it, of course, but it was sickening proof for me that I hadn't imagined what I was seeing.

I told my friends about these various instances and they tried to surround me and protect me when they could and I developed a number of strategies to try to maintain space between us, but the fact of the matter, especially during my sophomore year, was that every hour of the school day was spent in his vicinity. That proximity--and his gaze--were the worst of it. I could not avoid him and I could not stop him from looking at me and he'd said and done enough things for me to know exactly what he was thinking about when he stared at me every day in every class. It was horrible, it made me feel sick, it even made me ponder violence, but I was worried that all the little instances, the little things that were said, wouldn't sound like enough, so I didn't go to the school authorities.

It was during my freshman year in college when the annual Clothesline Project shirts went up that I finally understood that even the gaze was a violation. The Clothesline Project addresses violence against women; individuals decorate T-shirts in colors corresponding to various types of violence (assault, rape, etc.) with their stories and hang them on clotheslines for others to see. While reading the stories on the shirts, I recognized what had happened to me. He may never have touched me (and how I had longed, in a way, for him to do so, because I was resolved that a touch would be the final straw), but he managed to hurt me nonetheless. I got very angry. But it was too late to hurt him.

I already struggled with social anxiety, but the attention of his eyes made it even harder for me to tolerate being looked at by others. It didn't help that my freshman year I was considered the Hot New Thing on Campus. I'd been pleasantly invisible (except to my harasser and my friends) in high school, so it was unnerving to discover that everyone at my small college knew who I was and that just about everyone found me sexually attractive. It made me feel very vulnerable. I ceased to feel like I had ownership of my own body. I don't want to equate my own experience to that of being raped, but I also don't want the fact that there was never any physical contact to minimize the damage that was done. To be looked at became a sexual assault, the equivalent to an unwelcome and inappropriate touch. I worked with high school kids that first summer after I went to college and fourteen year-old boys are incredibly obvious when they check a girl out and I got checked out a lot. Midway through the summer, I shaved my head. The next year at school, I didn't go out much. At my worst, I yearned to retreat from society, to never be looked at again except by those whose gaze I knew to be benign, to exist without a body at all. I improved during my final two years in college, but it was several more years (not to mention medication and therapy) before I was able to feel my body remained completely my own while being looked at by others.

I hope I never see my harasser again. He was one of the reasons I skipped my ten year reunion and I've blocked him--preemptively--on Facebook. A little while ago his face popped up in an old photo posted by someone else, which is probably why I dreamt of him last night. It gave me a nasty, sick feeling to see his face again. It pulled back up a lot of those things I never said: the curses, the gagging, the howls of fury, the unemphatic THIS IS NOT OKAY. It also reminded me of how dearly I longed to smash that face in with a metal lab stool during the long year when we had to be chemistry partners. I used to mentally rehearse it so I'd be ready when the day came. But the day I was waiting for, the moment when he'd cross the line, was actually behind me. I'd fully been the victim of his obsessive longing/loathing since that afternoon in the library. I see that now. And while I'm still angry, I'm not his victim anymore.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More New Listings!

I listed a lot of cards over the past week, most of which can be see in this post, but I put up more photographs in the macro shop, too. Here's the rundown:

(No one has looked at this one yet, but I really like it!)

It was a busy week! I also had a sale in the mouse shop and got the final okay on a trio of mouse photographs for a commission. I've been snapping pictures like crazy (I've already take 1070 photos with the new camera) and am trying to get as much done as I can before the weather changes for the worse, so this flood of listings may continue.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Case in Point

This is why I love macro photography:

The other day I was taking pictures of the various polished rocks I collected as a kid and in one of the groupings I included a murky reddish little flake of stone that looks like this:

Abbey can be seen in the background overseeing my activities.
When photographed with my powerful new macro lens, however, an unexpectedly complex beauty emerged. That's the same stone at the top right.

The amount of detail is incredible!
I was totally blown away. You can only see the faintest suggestion of the agate's patterns with the naked eye. After seeing the photographs, I had to dig through my box of rocks to find it again, which wasn't easy. It's hard to believe how small it really is! I'd like to find a slightly larger piece of the same kind of stone so I could make it the sole subject of a photograph (it's a trifle on the small side even for my camera unless you start compromising on quality), but it's too hard to tell on the internet if the pieces available have this kind of minute patterning or not. But what a wonderful surprise! I just love discovering something is far more beautiful and complex when viewed up close than you would ever imagine otherwise!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today I received the first of my monthly disability payments. This is a relief, for the most part, since my financial future is no longer in jeopardy, and there is also something rather validating about having one's disability recognized by the government and I am thankful that there is a system in place to help folks like me who are unable to work. But I must confess that my feelings are somewhat mixed.

For one, it feels a little different to be depending on the government versus depending on my parents. (Well, I'm still depending on my parents at this point, but the day will eventually come when they will no longer be there or able to support me.) While it doesn't always work out that way (for any number of reasons, from dysfunction to lack of resources), there is a certain moral obligation for family members to look after one another. I am acutely aware, however, that the government doesn't owe me much. Unlike a retiree on Social Security, I haven't spent a lifetime paying into the system. I only put in about five years of full-time work before the migraines took hold. The size of my monthly payment reflects this rather paltry contribution, but the fact is that over the years, the government is going to be paying me a lot more than I ever paid them. It's not just the monthly payments, either: once I'm independent of my parents, I'll need subsidized housing and food stamps to survive. So I'm profoundly grateful, but being the recipient of charity isn't an entirely comfortable feeling.

And then this: I wish I were able to work. Trust me, I'm not malingering, I'm not looking for a hand-out or an easy ride or scamming the system. To be thirty years old and unable to work because of illness is disheartening. I liked working. I was very proud of being a good employee. I was looking forward to a lifetime of work. I had a very satisfying job working as a floral designer and was starting to study graphic design while also investigating whether I wanted to return to grad school to study scenic design for theater. I was so excited about my future. Although I've always been someone who needed a fair amount of downtime spent alone, it was because I have an extraordinarily active mind, an intense compulsion to create, and a powerful work ethic. Idleness has never been of much interest to me!

The flower shop where I worked for many years was extremely flexible, understandable, and accommodating when it came to my (pre-migraine) health issues, and so it gave me a lot pleasure to do my job well in return, whether they needed me to wash buckets, act as a navigator during deliveries, or make beautiful arrangements. However, I made a point of being a good employee even when I wasn't in a job that suited me as well. I worked just as hard in various temporary office jobs during school breaks as I did arranging flowers. I was proud of the fact that the mortgage company where I worked one summer expressed tremendous dismay to learn that I would be leaving them to go to grad school--they'd already come to see me as reliable employee who was quick to learn new skills and very thorough in her work. For a while I had a rather difficult-to-describe temporary position with a company that put advertising circulars and catalogs online for national retailers and I was very proud of the fact that I picked up my duties so quickly and was able to explain them so clearly that within a week of starting, the other temps were coming to me with their questions rather than to our supervisor. This did not go unnoticed, so by my second week on the job, my supervisor had ME training the next round of incoming temps! The bottom line: no matter the job, I was always hard-working, thorough, detail-oriented, honest, reliable, quick to learn, good at taking direction, good at giving direction, provided quality customer service, was able to remain cool in a crisis, and always got along well with fellow-employees. (I was NOT good at lifting heavy things. That was my primary (and literal) weakness at the flower shop. Also, my tendency to be thorough and detail-oriented occasionally meant I was not extraordinarily fast at what I did, but I was always efficient and organized in my thoroughness. I am utterly incapable of producing sloppy work; to do so would be offensive to everything I value. Fortunately, my version of "slow" tended to be comparatively fast!) As you can see, none of my attributes, or even my weaknesses, as an employee make not being able to work very palatable for me!

I consider myself lucky that I can work, so to speak, on a very limited scale. I take my art seriously, and while I'm not at the point where I'm bringing in much money and certainly not with any regularity, it does offer some of the satisfaction of having a job. The frustration, of course, is that I am only capable of a couple of hours of work on a good day, and none at all on others. I have sufficient ideas that I could work ten hours a day, six days a week on various creative projects. But I'm well aware that only being able to do little bits of work at a time is so much better than nothing.

So to Social Security: thank you! I'm extremely grateful. But believe me, if I do have a reversal in health, I'll be so glad to go back to work!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blown Away

I'm feeling vexed today (when I have the energy to do so) because I have things that I want to do, but the weather has changed and it's wiped me out. I was particularly looking forward to starting to list the new notecards in my Etsy stores, but the wind is blowing, and even though I'm not having migraines at the moment, I feel weak, utterly exhausted, and am thinking very slowly and not very clearly. I have absolutely no control over the weather, so there's nothing I can do to get my energy up. (Believe me, I've tried!) Instead of it being a getting-things-done day, it looks like I'm going to have to have a going-back-to-bed-already day. I must remember, on days like this, that I have no deadlines to meet, no timelines, and my disability always has the final say, and furthermore, that's okay.

Friday, September 16, 2011

This Week's New Listings!

I put up four new listings yesterday, three of them taken with the new camera! Sometimes the inspiration for a particular listing strikes and you go with it. I've also put up a more fall-colored banner and selection of featured images on the front page of the macro store. If it seems like I've been neglecting the mouse store a bit, well, you're right, but I have a limited amount of energy and I want to have a fully stocked macro store sooner rather than later!

My order of cards arrived today, so hopefully in the next few days I will be feeling well enough to start putting those up. I also need to get my Christmas cards listed, not because anyone is going to buy them right now, but apparently it tis the season to be noticed by blogs and whatnot that will soon enough be featuring interesting Christmas items. Tonight, however, I am still woozy from a medication complication (the pharmacy gave me a generic that I don't tolerate well) and having done my shop publicity for the day, I will once again resume a prone position.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New Camera

My new camera with the macro lens.
I've long had two big plans for my disability back benefits money: to pay off my student loan, eliminating all of my debt, and to buy a "fancy-pants" camera. So when I was granted disability last month and the $9000 hit my checking account, it was time to put those plans into action. The loan was easily paid off in full (I didn't have much left to pay) and so there was nothing left to do but start researching cameras. The starting point, actually, was researching lenses. I figured this was the one time I'd have a large chunk of money at my disposal and so the smartest way to spend it (in terms of cameras, at least) would be to invest in the very best macro lens on the market and pair it with whatever camera was necessary to do it justice. I did enough reading on the internet to familiarize myself with the terminology and the various options and the general price ranges. There was one lens in particular that stood out: the Canon EF 100mm 1.28L IS USM. I was already leaning towards getting a Canon because I've been so impressed with my Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot, so it was nice to see that they made some excellent macro lenses. So, with that little bit of research to back me up, on Sunday I went to Kenmore Camera, where my family has always purchased our cameras, and told the clerk that I had a sudden windfall, was ready for my first DSLR (that's the fancy camera body), and that despite being a DSLR novice, I wanted the best macro lens that money could buy. Vinny, the guy who served me, was extremely helpful, very patient, and I felt quite gratified when I mentioned a) I liked Canon and b) that I wanted the best macro lens that he immediately reached for the box behind him containing an EF 100mm 1.28L IS USM. I also really liked that he went out and picked a geranium from somewhere behind the store, sprinkled a little water on it for a dew effect, and then put that on the counter as my test subject while I checked out the lens, the camera body features, various ring lights, and tripods. In the end, I walked out with a Canon Rebel T3i with a 18-55 IS II lens, the 100mm macro lens, a ring light (it's a circular light that fits around the lens, eliminating the need for the harsher light of a flash), a super-heavy-duty one of those bendy tripods, a special mounting ring for the tripod, and a large memory card. I spend nearly $2,500 (which was what I was expecting to spend, so there was no sticker shock!), but I consider it an investment in my future as an artist.

Me and my new toy!
I love my new camera. I love the heft of it. Unlike my point-and-shoot, which weighed just six ounces, this camera, when the macro lens is attached, weighs nearly three pounds! I love having to support the camera by cupping my hand under the lens: it feels so professional! I love the sound it makes. I've only had it a few days, so there's going to be lots more to learn about it, but the camera itself and the lens are easy enough to use in automatic settings that I've been able to start right in on taking pictures. There are all number of things that could be played with and there are some involving focus--such as how to select certain areas to focus on--that I will attempt to learn sooner than later, but it's certainly user-friendly enough that I've been able to have a good time already!

Hello, Abe!
At the maximum macro 1:1 level, this is what a penny looks like. As you can see, it more than fills the image! That's pretty small! There is one crazy macro lens out there that can focus down to the point where a grain of rice fills the image, but I don't need to zoom in that close! And with 18 megapixels, the clarity of the images is amazing. For example, you can not only see each beautifully colored kernel of Indian corn in this picture, but all the dust between the kernels as well! While there may be situations when the camera might give you almost too much information, it is very cool to be able to capture so much detail. My interest in macro photography is rooted in being able to show how amazing ordinary things are when viewed closer than the eye can normally see, so while occasionally you might run into some dust, the results are still amazing.

This lens's very shallow depth of field (the distance between the nearest and furthest points in focus in an image) creates a few challenges, though I'm sure with practice I will become even more adept at making the most of it. I've gotten used to taking photographs of objects at an angle, but that can result in images like the purple daisy below, where not even the whole center of the flower is in focus. It looks pretty smashing, but there are occasions when you'll want to have a slightly larger area as the subject of your picture! I'll have to adapt my practices slightly to make sure I always get the look I'm going for.

The shallow depth of field and the resulting blur can be used for artistic purposes, however. I was just reading about the so-called practice of "bokeh" (from the Japanese word for blur), the intentional use of blurriness in photography and now I'm finding myself in possession of a camera capable of producing beautiful blurs.

In this picture, for example, the tiny foreground flower is in focus, while the background flowers dissolve into what looks like a watercolor painting.

I like the way it separates out just a few blades from this sea of dry grass.

In the case of these fuchsias, it is just the nearest tip of one of the pink petals that's in focus, causing the rest of the scene to appear as though through a dreamy haze.

You can't see it so well at this size, but there is some incredible detail visible on the sides of these tiny flowers, which I think contrasts nicely with the simplicity of form and brilliance of color in the less-focused areas of the image.

Another things that really impresses me about this camera is its ability to function in lower levels of light. I bought the macro lens with additional image stabilization built into it (that's the IS in the lens name) because I often have a slight tremor in my hands, something that can be disastrously magnified when trying to take macro photographs and low light makes it even worse. There used to be all kinds of places in my house or times of day or even times of year that were off limits for photography because there wasn't enough light for my point-and-shoot to handle in the macro setting. Not so with this camera! Here's a comparison between the two:

This is the lock on our sheltered front door as captured by my old camera.

And this is what the new camera was able to "see."  The difference is amazing! I can even take photos inside at night with standard house lamps without needing a flash! The ring light will provide soft, even lighting for situations when I do need more light than the camera can capture, but it's so fun to be able to pick up the camera at any time of day or any weather and snap pictures at will. Being able to make use of lower, softer, cooler light is also great from an artistic standpoint, since it evokes a lovely, wistful mood, as you can see in this photo of a pile of well-worn toe shoes.

The clerk at the camera store mentioned that this lens also worked well for portraits, which I've found to be very true, at least when it comes to my dog. 

This is simply the single best picture of my dog ever. That's EXACTLY what she looks like!

I also captured this cute picture of Abbey sleeping hard with her paw over her nose. She was afraid of the new camera initially, but she's quickly gotten used to me sticking it in her face!

So while there's more to learn, there's already been lots to enjoy with my new camera! Here are a few other recent favorites.

So look out, world, there are going to be even more pictures to come!

Friday, September 9, 2011