Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts on Being Published

It is a surreal moment when you walk past the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble and see your name on the front cover of a nationwide magazine. That moment happened to me this month. I found my writing and photographs between the covers of Artful Blogging, a magazine dedicated to featuring creative and inspiring blogs.

I wish I could say that I doggedly sent Artful Blogging submission after submission of articles about my blog until one was finally chosen, building up my tolerance for rejection in the process. But the truth is I never had the courage to submit anything, my creative life still too fragile to face even one rejection note. Artful Blogging found me, I don't know how, but I have a feeling that somehow my amazingly supportive community of online friends had something to do with being chosen.

Last September I was contacted by the editor of Artful Blogging regarding having my blog featured in their magazine. I had to read the email three times before I believed that it was true. Once convinced it was genuine, I quickly sent a response back saying that I would be honored to have my blog included in their publication. I was told I would be contacted by the end of September with the specific details. September came and went, and I heard nothing. I was disappointed, but rejection hurts a lot less when you don't initiate the piece to be rejected.

The rest of the year sped by, and I forgot about my potential brush with fame. In the meantime I was contacted by a brand-new online publication, Rural, a magazine dedicated to the simple life, no matter where you live. I was asked if I would consider being a contributor for them. Of course, I said yes. My 15 minutes of fame was back. I was told I would be contacted in early January with submission details.

Imagine my surprise one Tuesday afternoon in early January, when I opened my email and found not only a note from Jen, the editor of Rural, but also from Danielle, the editor of Artful Blogging. They both wanted me to submit for their next issues. Suddenly I had two articles to write in a three week time span.

I tackled Rural first, since that was due first. I had to write an essay piece of 150 words or less. Do you know how hard that is? VERY HARD! Thanks to my daughter's cut-throat editing, I did it.  When I had the luxury of 650-800 words for the Artful Blogging piece I thought it would be a breeze, but I spent two weeks agonizing over those 720 words. It wasn't as easy as it sounded. Again, I couldn't have done it without my daughter's relentless editing.

I let Artful Blogging chose the photographs that they would feature in the magazine. How does a mother chose one child over another? Each photograph captures a moment of my life; a place I have been, something I learned, an everyday routine. When the magazine came out, I was most excited to see my photography printed. That was the moment it all became real, I had been published.

Some thoughts about the process:

  • It is a lot easier for me to say that I am a photographer and writer now that I have been published 
  • I love my photography more than I realized
  • The joy is in the journey not in the finished product
  • It is hard writing something that won't come out for another five months
  • I love my blog even more, and the ability to hit publish any time I want to
  • I would never have developed the skills that I have without my blog
  • The friends I have gained through my blog are priceless
  • I need to print more of my work
I will continue to contribute to Rural when possible, other than that I am uncertain of where the future lies. I am going to enjoy the journey and see what comes along.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Celebration of Life

Last weekend my husband and I attended a Celebration of Life gathering for the wife of one of my husband's co-workers. We were gathering with the family to celebrate a gracious lady who passed away last fall, after a much too short battle with cancer. While the guys stood around talking about work, three of us 'spouses' sat at a long banquet table eating Swedish meatballs, and spinach feta dip with melt-in-your mouth homemade pita chips. While we caught up on each others' lives, we were also watching the photo slide presentation of Cathy's life on a large screen television. After the first loop of the presentation, the three of us made two observations: first, we were impressed with how many photos there were of Cathy and Charlie together; second, we needed to go through our own sticky page photo albums, and throw away some of the photos in them, before those photos showed up someday in our own Celebration of Life slide shows.

It's been quite a while since I have looked through those early years photo albums, so one day while everybody was gone, and it was only the dogs and me, I carried a dining room chair into our closet, reached into the back corner of a high shelf, and took down those dusty, sticky page albums. There are definitely some photos that need to go. My husband seemed to have a knack for taking surprise photos of me walking through doorways, I DO NOT want any of those in my Celebration of Life slide show. While looking through them, I across this photo, a 19-year old me in the late 1980's. Such a bad fashion era, when everything was oversized. Fashion aside, this photo was taken at the Hardy Dam, one of the dams I visited last week. This is still about as close as you can get to that fabulous building in the background. Needless to say this was disappointing.

I had much better luck at the Croton Dam, being able to view that from two different vantage points. This was the closest I could get. The explorer in me really wanted to go inside that building, but I know that isn't reality. I was jealous after I reading this sign.

To be able to ride an excursion train to this place, receive a tour, and have a grand dinner...Heaven! Can you imagine a time when this was an exciting adventure to many, as opposed to today's week long trips to amusement parks. I was born in the wrong era!

When my own Celebration of Life slide show plays someday, I want it filled with pictures of places I have been, things I have done. I want it to show that I lived this one glorious life to its fullest.


For those who are wondering where the mysterious stairs from my last post led to, they led to this old building which is still a functioning elementary school.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Needs More Feeling

Guilt hung over me like a pregnant rain cloud as I backed my car out of the garage. Three pair of sad eyes followed the car's progress down the driveway, one hand and one little paw raised forlornly in a wave, the third set of eyes sat in silence, staring at me from his spot at the living room window.

If only they would understand that I am a better wife and mother when I take this time for solo adventures. I am a better photographer and writer when I push myself to explore unfamiliar places. There is comfort in the familiar, but growth happens when I push into the unknown.

This spring, whether I wrote pieces for a writing class I was taking, or posts for my blog, after I wrote the first, bits and pieces draft, and then the second, some semblance of order draft, I always made the same note after re-reading them the following morning - Needs More Feeling - written in red ink.

By noting this I didn't just mean add more feeling to my writing, I also meant add more feeling to my life. I am so busy moving from one event to the next, that I don't allow myself to feel, only observe, note details and move on. It is alright to be an observer, but I have to be aware of how things make me feel, that is the only way to bring people into the story or into the photograph.

I set off that rain cloud morning, to explore and photograph something I remember visiting as a child and then again in the very early years of our marriage, when I was only a slightly more grown-up child; a pair of hydroelectric dams, located on unexplored back roads in a northern county. When I mentioned to my husband where I was going that morning, he didn't like the idea, saying "people get killed at those dams". Now I have not heard of any murders there in recent years, and the rebel in me wanted to go even more, just to prove him wrong. I trust my intuition and if something seems off, I tend to play it safe and avoid the place.

As I drove down the road, my rain cloud of guilt trailed along behind me, I knew the only way to make that cloud dissipate was to get that first photograph taken, somehow then the joy of creativity takes over and guilt is banished. The fruit orchards in this northern place were in full bloom, and blooms were on my photo bucket list for the spring. Orchard found, photograph taken, the sun came out and the oppressive rain cloud was gone.

Reaching the town closest to the dams, I decided to stop at the local McDonald's for a bathroom break and a snack. Snack in bag, I drove to a small park located in the heart of downtown. I remembered the park from camping weekends with the in-laws in those early married years.

The park was quiet, and the picnic tables were clean. I settled in with my snack and a book. When finished with my hash brown and caramel latte, I closed my book, a few more chapters read in my book for the upcoming book club. I lifted my head and took in the view around me. I was surrounded by detail rich, old brick buildings. There was a tan brick church directly across the street from me with a beckoning door waiting to be photographed. Just past the church was a set of mysterious metal stairs leading upwards toward an even more mysterious looking building. I brought my trash to the receptacle, returned my book to the car, grabbed my camera and set off to explore the town.

I hadn't forgotten the dams, but I was learning to slow myself down, and trust my intuition. I was curious to see where the mysterious stairs led and how I would feel about my discovery.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mental Health Day

Even though our winter was mild by Michigan standards, and I like photographing the barrenness of winter landscapes, it is not a time of year that I am keen on bundling up in many layers and traveling icy, snow drifted roads for the sake of adventure. Our spring has not been much kinder, full of raindrops, gray skies, and arthritis aching dampness.

Last Friday, the sun and the temperature finally united to form a perfect spring day. Knowing my daughter was working in town that day, and that she could give the puppy and my dear Scout an occasional potty break and romp around the backyard, I set out for a day long adventure.

As I drove towards my yet-to-be determined destination, I could hear the voice in my head singing with delight. I hesitate to call the voice in my head my Muse because that makes me sound so Woo Woo, and I am not a Woo Woo kind of person, but calling it the voice in my head makes me sound mentally unstable, so I think I will embrace Muse. I realized while I was driving, that I had not been on a solo adventure since last October when I drove to Pennsylvania to meet my friend Andrea for a week. Six months is much too long between adventures for my Muse, and she had grown very quiet, barely a whisper on the rare occasion. I need to hear her loud and clear in order to stay on my creative path.

I had two destination possibilities in mind, both were off the same highway exit, it was just a matter of turning right or turning left. When I reached the exit, I chose right. Right was towards a town I had wanted to explore last summer, but summer ran out before I got there. It was a twenty mile drive from the highway to the town, I settled into the country drive, and kept my eyes open for possibilities. About halfway to my destination I saw it: a small, white clapboard outbuilding nestled into the tall pine trees in an old country cemetery. The building would be perfect for the first lesson in Susan Tuttle's new e-course, Mobile Art Mastery. As usual, I didn't react fast enough to turn onto the narrow cemetery lane, so I drove to the next gravel road, and did my first three-point turn of the day. Once parked on the cemetery lane, I got out my camera and tripod, and got lost in the moment.

Overjoyed with my first find of the day, I knew I had made the right turn. As I drove on towards my destination I saw a mileage estimate sign for upcoming towns. My destination was only seven miles away, but another town, one that I had never been too before was only twenty-seven miles away. Well what the heck, the day was still young and I had plenty of time. I drove through my destination town and on to unknown adventure.

As I neared my new destination, I began to look for a bathroom, the chai latte I had had an hour earlier started to make it's presence known. Then suddenly to my left, I saw a sign for the Leila Arboretum, I forgot about the bathroom. I drove along the tranquil blossom filled roads, but then the chai's presence returned, I looked for a restroom along the tranquil roads, but no such luck. I decided to drive towards the downtown find a bathroom, have an early lunch, and then return to the gardens.

After lunch I returned to the Arboretum. Grabbing my camera with macro lens from the back seat I set off down the paths filled with flowering trees. Being high noon, I knew the macro was my best option, I wasn't going to get full landscapes, but I could get close up shots of the blossoms under the shade of the trees. I spent an hour walking, photographing and exploring.

I knew this was a town I wanted to come back to and investigate more, so I left the rest of the town for another day.

On my way home, I had the option to return the way I had come, or to pick an alternate route. I chose the alternate. There was more stopping, walking and photographing as I traveled along, all the while my Muse singing songs of joy. It was the creative day that I needed, and something I need to do on a more regular basis, both for my sanity and for the voice of my Muse.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Making New Friends

The last place I expected to be on a rainy April afternoon was at a rectangular, faux wood-grain  table, my butt firmly planted in a metal folding chair. I was staring chocolate caramel brownies and chocolate chip cookies as big as dinner plates in the eye, sipping Maxwell House coffee loaded with sugar. To make matters worse I was surrounded by piles of brand-new paperback books.

I had not planned on joining another book club, having ended the relationship with my previous one only a year ago. I loved the ladies in that group but I was tired of the hour long drive, the 7:30 p.m. start, and the icy, snow drifted highway in the winter time.

I had stumbled upon this small independent book shop a month earlier, after a lunch of ground turkey burgers with fresh sage mayo, blue corn chips, and perfectly mixed Arnold Palmer's, at the cafe next door. I knew the book shop was here, but had only been in once, a decade earlier. Over the past decade many book stores, large and small, have closed their doors, yet my love of the small indie book shop has only grown. I am delighted when I find one, and am only too happy to support them.

After a wander around the shop that day, I stepped up to the checkout counter with two more books I couldn't live without. One of the owners happened to be the one at the register. This was a  place that knew it's regular customers, since she asked me if I was new to the shop, I said I was. We got to chatting. About this time I saw the sign on the counter listing the books their book club was reading for the rest of the year. For some reason I felt compelled to ask about their book club. The owner said they had been meeting together for almost twenty years and it met on Wednesday nights. Another night book club did not sound appealing. Then she leaned closer to me and said "We have a brand new book club meeting for the first time next week Thursday afternoon. Afternoons, brand new, first meeting; I was hooked. I bought the book and went home to read it.

I was back the next Thursday, fully prepared to not like the group. They would probably all  know each other, me being the only out-of-towner. Despite all the confidence I have gained over the last four years through my photography and writing, those adolescent insecurities still lurk just below the surface. I also tend to be someone who imagines the worst case scenario.

As it turns out only two of the gals knew each other, more as acquaintances than as friends. Most of the ladies were newer to the area, being transplanted there by jobs or retirement. We were all looking to make new friends.

This rainy April afternoon is the second meeting of our group. We have decided to close the group to new people, each of us feeling we want to invest in each other's lives and keep the group small. The leader of our group said if she has new people interested in a book club, she will just start another one on a different afternoon. Sitting back nibbling on my chocolate chip cookie, drinking the Maxwell House coffee loaded with sugar, I knew I had made the right decision to join another book club.