Again

Imagine sitting on a couch with a heating pad having taken pain medication and crying because the pain only gets worse. Nothing you do stops the sharp shooting pain from radiating through your arms and legs as you slowly shift your body weight as you move an inch; your elbows and knees as you bend your limbs; your rib cage as you breathe in shallow breathes.

In November 2008, a week after Thanksgiving, I started to feel ill. My bones hurt. My muscles felt fatigued. My joints began to stiffen and it felt as if my body – quickly – became riddled with pain. It was as if my body was giving up on me. And for awhile, it did. I went through about a year’s worth of testing, during which I heard words like Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, to name a few.

I went from hiking and running 3-5 miles a day (sometimes twice a day) to having difficulty walking up the street. I shuffled. I cried in pain almost every day. It hurt to be touched or hugged by friends. I drank my drinks with a straw, because I couldn’t pick up the glass for any length of time. I was constantly cold. And I was put on heavy medications. And from those medications came a very unwanted side effect, especially to someone who has struggled with eating disorders. I gained a lot of weight.

However, the pain started to subside in May of 2009 and I started to slowly feel better. I still do not know what ailment hit me; however, the hard climb back to being in shape has not been a steady one. Even though I religiously kickbox three times a week (for almost a year now) and am now in pretty good shape, my body is not where I want it to be. Nor is it even remotely as thin as it was in May of 2009. I was put on a series of medications that not only made me heavier, but also have caused my metabolism to come to a screeching halt and enable me from loosing the weight I gained.

Over the years, my health has been on a rollercoaster – as I have heard Lupus once before – and gained a substantial amount of weight from medication when I was 21 and 26 years old. For several years I ebbed and flowed between somewhat slender and heavy, but by the time I became sick again in 2009, I had successfully dropped the unwanted weight and had become a slim 5’6” small/petite.

Some people may not understand the importance of being slender after the exhaustive experience of being ill – especially accompanied with the fear of one day having to use a wheelchair; however, one’s comfort and security with oneself can be (and usually is) tied up with how they look. When I was slender in November 2008, I finally came to a place where I felt not only attractive, but also confident. Confidence was what I truly gained and then sadly lost with my declining health.

I must admit that being in shape at this weight gives me a sense of confidence that I did not truly have when I was heavy before. I may not be slender, but I have stamina, strength and increasing boxing skills. To see myself successfully grow instills a new confidence, which is a lot like the confidence I had when I was an athlete.

My steady climb towards my goal weight started in March of 2008. I was tired of feeling unattractive and heavy and wanted to take control of my life. Looking back at one of my earlier posts back in December of 2007, I saw how positive and focused I truly was:

A few years ago I did a three-week vegetable/juice/protein shake detox that made me feel fabulous and, after it was over, I began a very restricted way of eating that involved eating mainly nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables, brown rice, and meat. I was walking six miles a day and had a wonderful schedule that involved waking up at 6 A.M. and journaling for a couple hours before I began my work. (I am a writer.) I was writing for about ten hours a day, with two days off a week, which I tried to keep open for strictly fun stuff.

Soon after this lifestyle began – and I call it a lifestyle, not a diet – I was then diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which restricted my diet enormously, and Candida. I went on a stricter diet that involved limiting my fruits, as well as my vegetables…

It’s amazing how important it is to have a streamlined lifestyle in order to be a successful, happy, healthy individual. And I don’t want to use the word “restricted,” because then I am setting myself up for failure. I have so many things that I want to do with my life and I know making sure that I am healthy will help, aid, propel me forward in my work. Our bodies are our vessels, our machines, our temples, and if we don’t take care of it, we will not work the best possible way we can. If you don’t put the good gasoline in your car, it won’t work as well as if you had.

To be healthy, in shape and slender again is my renewed goal; however, it is very difficult to stay on track when you get derailed. I realize that I have problems committing to things that make me feel restricted – “I don’t want to use the word “restricted,” because then I am setting myself up for failure” – and I have to create a new way of looking at regaining my slim self. Perhaps it involves thinking of myself as an athlete again. Thinking that I have a goal that I am training for.

When I was a runner, my goal was to break school records. Which I did. When I was an ice hockey player, it was to be the best player on my team. Which I finally became. When I was a soccer player, it was to be a varsity starter. Which I was. When I rode horses, it was to connect with the animal. Which we did.

I have no athletic goal to focus on. There will be no kickboxing matches in which to spar. Part of me wonders if I should consider my goal to be never to become ill again. But I cannot promise myself that; however, I can promise myself that I will work hard every day towards becoming healthier and healthier. And with that, more secure in myself – emotionally, physically, mentally and professionally – as a person. I want to take control of my life. Again.

Phoenix From The Flame

My Phoenix – aka a Czech Peacock

A re-printing of “Phoenix From The Flame”(WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2007)

I have the desire to make sure my life is secure. That I’m doing things right. That I’m living my life the way I should. I love that feeling of security. Centeredness. Assurance. The knowledge that the path you chose in life is the right one.

Sometimes you get sidetracked and go off on tangents, but how wonderful it is to get back on track. Sometimes you need the time spent smelling the roses on the side of the path. Sometimes you need to slow down your pace or just stop walking/running/sprinting all together. Sometimes you need a distraction.

Lately I’ve been balancing work, my health and my social life pretty well. I don’t feel off track, although I do realize that I am burning the candle at both ends. And I have the burns to prove it. Sometimes you have to burn your candle at both ends. You burn brighter. You burn brightly. And sometimes it is necessary to live this way. It’s like the phoenix rising from the ash. It has to combust in order to move forward.

Who Inspires Me?

I recently spoke with a woman about her photography course at the Pasadena Art Center. She told me about a questionnaire their Professor gave them on their first day of class. The woman complained about only having a few minutes to complete the form and I understood her desire to take it home. Quickly scribbled answers jotted down in haste are not necessarily reflective of who you believe you are influenced by. These names may not be the only souls who inspire you and your art.

As a new photographer, I have a particular affinity for portraiture. Either simple pieces or more complicated ones that say something about time and place. Photographer Jason Bell’s portrait of Florence Welch (from Florence and the Machine) is an example a portrait of the musician within a space – a location that tells a story along with her presence – while my own self-portrait below is of a more simple nature.

Self-Portrait

One of the questions was along the lines of “who inspires you as a photographer?” As an artist, we have a number of avenues from which to get inspiration – the world around us; our personal experiences; stories we hear; every day moments; and art. I cannot help, but wonder what names I would have written down with only a few minutes to collect my thoughts. Who inspires me?

Immediately, a number of photographers come to mind… In Cindy Sherman’s biography on her website, it reads that her photographs are “most definitely not self-portraits. Rather, Sherman uses herself as a vehicle for commentary on a variety of issues of the modern world: the role of the woman, the role of the artist and many more.” One reason that I like Sherman is because of her cinematic quality of some of the portraits, which can be seen in her “Untitled Film Still” series:

“The sixty-nine solitary heroines map a particular constellation of fictional femininity that took hold in postwar America—the period of Sherman’s youth, and the ground-zero of our contemporary mythology. In finding a form for her own sensibility, Sherman touched a sensitive nerve in the culture at large.

Although most of the characters are invented, we sense right away that we already know them. That twinge of instant recognition is what makes the series tick, and it arises from Cindy Sherman’s uncanny poise. There is no wink at the viewer, no open irony, no camp. As Warhol said, “She’s good enough to be a real actress.”

The fierceness, strength and (what seemed to be) a lack of fear is something I truly admire in the late Diane Arbus, who is a photographer “noted for black-and-white square photographs of ‘deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists, circus performers) or else of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.’” Other photographers that come to mind are art photographer Edward Weston and war photographer Lee Miller, as well as fashion photographers Annie Leibovitz, Lillian Bassman, Helmut Newton, Mario Sorrenti and Paolo Roversi.

I am very new to photography and have an interest in a number of different avenues – namely art photography and fashion. When I am preparing to shoot, I look at both artists and photographers who best inspire the look that I am going for. Perhaps – because I am so new to this – I still need the influence of other artists at times. One particular photograph of a fashion model sitting on the ground and leaning on a chair while reading a book made me want to create my own version of the photograph.

Meanwhile, portrait painters – like Renoir, Vermeer, CaravaggioDegas, Sargent, Klimt, Picasso (notably his Blue Period,) Valentin Serov, Andrew Wyeth, Rembrandt, Mary Cassatt, Suzanne Valadon, Millais, Anna Bilinska and Ingres – have influenced me to use a more stylized wardrobe, which includes things like turbans.

My interest in lighting comes from many of these artists. I find the use of light to be very important in setting mood and making a photograph or film feel classic and romantic or emotionally removed. As a filmmaker, I have been searching and honing my own personal style over several decades and, because of my filmmaking background, a sense of story also finds it’s way into my photography.

My Workshop Professor says that award-winning photographs tell a story and that one must find what Henri Cartier-Bresson defined as being the decisive moment in a photograph. Perhaps that is a good road to wander down artistically. Sometimes you need to spend time finding the photograph, but as I hone my skills and preferences, maybe what  I really need to do is seek out that moment when the photograph is asking to be taken.

Inspired By Photographs

“Claire” – Photograph by Helen Alexis Yonov, 2010

A re-printing of “Inspired by Photographs” (SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2007)

As I was driving down Melrose Boulevard today on my way home after doing my tenth Pilates session, I looked to my left and saw a sign with a photograph of a woman’s legs on it and the words “WESTON at the Getty” beside it. I almost forgot to focus on the road. Edward Weston’s photography is at the Getty!

In 2004, I had a similar reaction driving west down Wilshire Boulevard when passing LACMA. I saw a sign for Diane Arbus’ photography. Again, I almost forgot to focus on the road as I looked up at the photograph and the words “DIANE ARBUS.” I think it was a few days later when my friend Leigh called me up and asked if I wanted to go to the exhibit with her and her friend, Kate. I jumped at the chance and we went to LACMA where we spent three hours walking through the different rooms filled with nearly 200 of her most significant work.

I couldn’t believe that I was seeing her work in person. Up close and personal. Not only were there rooms of her photographs, but there was a room (or two) that displayed some of her belongings, like contact sheets, cameras, letters, notebooks, and other writings. I’ve always found artist’s personal objects to be fascinating. A window into their world. A momentary glimpse at their tools, which might tell you a secret if you stand there long enough. Why did she photograph the people she did? Why did she write these words? Why, oh why, did she kill herself in 1971?

For the past six years, I have been working on a story (off and on) about a woman who is a photojournalist and so I started getting very interested in photographers and their lives. I stumbled on a couple very interesting things when I was researching my story.

First off, there is a fantastic War photographer named Lee Miller, who was the assistant and lover of Man Ray. She is one of those fierce women that makes you wonder if you could ever be truly that brave with your own life. There are so many things that I want to do with my life and I think I’m a pretty brave person, but people like Lee Miller make me feel like I am playing it safe… which in many ways I am and in many ways I’m not.

Another photographer and woman that I admire is Deborah Copaken Kogan. She wrote a book called Shutterbabe, which I was absolutely sucked into. I’ve read her book numerous times and am constantly amazed by the life this woman led. It was poetic, cinematic, raw and filled with color and life and sex and danger.

Reading about these women makes me want to pick up a camera and travel halfway across the World. Reading about these women inspires me to make sure I experience life to the fullest. And maybe I write in order to live out the types of lives these women actually had. Lives that they woke up every day to. Experiences they felt intensely.

But writing allows me to experience many lives, not just one. Writing allows me to be anyone I want to be – woman, man, child – and I don’t think I remain at my computer because I’m afraid of what could happen. I think it’s more about what I found myself in love with… and what found me… which happens to be a rather safer way to live your life…

Or is it?

trains, planes and backpacking through europe

A partial re-printing of “trains, planes and backpacking through europe” (SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 2007)

When I was eleven, my parents took me to Switzerland to go skiing while we lived in Moscow. Our train wound around the side of the mountain slowly, which gave us time to take in the scene outside our window. Having stopped writing in my notebook, I looked out at fresh, white snow covering everything outside. The tree branches hung low, weighed down by the snow, and the train plowed its way around every corner. I thought to myself that this was one of the most perfect moments in my young life. Right there, I said to my Mother, that I had to return to Switzerland, perhaps live there one day, and ride the train as a respected and established writer.

Soon after the Switzerland trip, I went to St. Petersburg with my parents. As the train sped along, I sat next to the window and wrote in my notebook. I would periodically look out my window at the passing night and would occasionally see the lights of a small town train station go by. We always took the night train whenever we went to St. Petersburg or to Finland. When we went to bed, I was rocked to sleep in the top bunk while my parents slept in the lower two bunks. In the morning, we would be greeted with glasses of hot tea (chai) and again I would find myself seated next to the window and looking out at the passing countryside, now visible in the early morning light.