Unceremoniously, the Great Lakes are in retreat. Some normalcy in what feels like a very un-normal world. I’m celebrating, but quietly, lest the climate gods and goddesses think I’m taunting them. In other good news here on the Lake Michigan shoreline:
there’s a ton of milkweed growing
I haven’t had to pluck a tick off myself yet this year
the family of eagles living nearby are thriving
my neighbor’s construction is done
either there are more birds than usual, or I’m just noticing them more (some are a bit much, like the crow that woke me up tapping and cawing from my roof early one morning this week–but most are just chatty)
I’m forcing myself out of a creative rut
there are fresh sweet cherries to be had today
I’m actually taking a week off of work (which feels indulgent but also necessary)
I sent a few rolls of film to the lab last month, which felt good because it meant I used my favorite cameras and I actually had some time and energy to get out and photograph. Is it just me, or is everyone exhausted? I’m so tired lately I feel like the world is starting to pass me by. I’m not even sure I feel bad about this. Anyway.
I used a roll of Cinestill 800T in my Mamiya C220 in May, I think, or maybe it was late April even, on a hike in the woods behind the cottage, an experiment with my friend Jane while she simultaneously shot a roll on the other side of the state. It was a gray evening and we had a project in mind, but I ended up thinking I’d completely ruined the roll and expected only a few images to come from it. This camera is finicky; if I don’t forward the film slowly and carefully, it doesn’t catch where it should and I over-advance, which means I get fewer (sometimes MANY fewer) than the 12 frames per roll that it should deliver. I could maybe get someone to repair this, but there’s something I love about the quirks and constraints of a finicky camera. I mean, I’ve got my quirks, too, and I don’t want anybody fixing them.
I happen to love the starkness of these two images and the light leaks. Some of the other images from this roll were over-exposed or just boring. But I love these two.
the heady scent of lilacs as a monarch drifts over the blooms the sand, still warm from the day the breeze twisting, twirling my long hair the lake, not too cold for bare, brave, knowing feet the sandy, wet puppy, who is not interested in me the older dog, who lets my hand gently drift across her back the dog owners, who smile and tell me their names, which I promptly forget the blue sky that was just a moment ago gray the wispy cloud that, when I notice it, mirrors the shape of the dune beneath it the cloud that looks like the softest, sweetest lamb’s coat the sun as the clouds soften its landing into the lake the breeze as it begins to chill the nearly full moon as it bursts onto the scene
Should that headline be followed by “and lived to tell about it”? Or, “and didn’t die of embarrassment”? No. No it shouldn’t. It’s just menopause, and it happens to everyone with a uterus (oh, is that a scary word, too? sorry-not-sorry), which is a lot of people. C’mon. Bodies, functions, life. No biggie.
I don’t really talk about work here because this blog is a place for me to share my film photography and personal writing, but I did write this article and a terrific co-worker through some workplace magic got it to the right person who then got it to someone who wanted to publish it. So it’s a short article about how employers can support their employees going through menopause in the workplace. I’m proud of it. But there’s so much more to say.
I’m not an expert about menopause in the workplace. I work for a great company, an HR services company that helps employers stay compliant and do the right things for employees and for their business. I read plenty of articles about keeping millenials happy and engaged, and I see a lot of images of hip looking young people attached to these articles. But, most workplaces are made of multiple generations, and so many women I know are working their asses off right now, and I’m not really seeing articles about making sure we’re happy, engaged, fulfilled, and expanding in our positions. We’re just kind of there, plugging along, holding down all the forts, because it’s what we do.
Maybe the bigger issue is that women become invisible after a certain age. If we’re not sexy, we’re not terrifically useful anymore. And menopause, apparently, is not sexy. Personally (and again, I’m no expert here) I’m kind of thinking menopause is sexy. I mean, you don’t have to plan things around periods anymore. You don’t have to travel with all the accoutrements that periods demand (pads, tampons, period underpants, which are a real thing but I still take them to mean the ugliest, oldest skivvies in the back of your drawer that you save for when you’re on your period because they’re already ruined and you can’t ruin them any worse). And hot flashes? What’s sexier than stripping in the middle of whatever the hell you’re in the middle of because suddenly your body is like this incredible furnace that can heat up a room in seconds flat?
I don’t mean to be cavalier about the health aspects of it. Menopause has some issues aside from the physical nuisances, like osteoporosis and increased risk for heart disease. But, so does aging. The alternative is not being alive, because living is aging. And that’s not where I’d like to be.
So, anyway. I wrote a little work article about menopause and I hope I can write more articles about aging in the workplace. And, I’m lucky enough to be working for a company that values and honors me and other women at this stage in our lives. I hope you can say the same. But if you can’t, maybe take a chance and start talking about it at work. Maybe don’t be afraid to tell people what’s going on with you or if you’re struggling. I’ve had some interesting conversations since the article came out, and that’s where it starts.
I’m still still here. Hoping you are, too, without having been kicked around too much by what we’ve collectively gone through, now over a year of COVID, the end of a U.S. administration that tried our humanity, the beginning of a new one that maybe helps you breathe easier, too.
I realize what I just wrote there will connect with some who read this and will cause others to roll their eyes, stop reading, unfollow this blog. But there, I’ve said it. If you don’t know me personally or haven’t guessed from previous posts, I am a liberal, pro-human, science-believing, hate-hating human. I want everyone to feel safe, secure, loved, cared for. The last four years under the former president were traumatizing, and the final year of that administration felt like the icing on a great big shitcake.
I’m breathing again. I don’t flinch when I see a news update pop up on my phone (at least not as often–there is still dire news, but our current president’s reaction to it is more appropriate, without insults or hate-tweets or disinformation). And now, because people I love are getting vaccinated, I can see them, hug them, look at their whole faces and expressions. But this country is profoundly divided. I don’t know if it’s more divided than ever; it’s always been divided. It feels deeper to me. There is no meeting in the middle with people who believe something global and devastating is a hoax, or that helping their neighbors takes something away from them, or that trump’s version of a “great” America denies Americans whose ancestors built this country.
I don’t have answers, but I have some hope. I wish I’d have written here about how I was feeling a year ago when the virus began to unfold. How I felt when a knee on a neck made people take to the streets and demand the human rights they should already be afforded. How I worried about family and friends getting sick. How I felt when a friend suffered an unimaginable loss. How navigating grocery shopping turned into a political landmine. Staying quiet has been my protective blanket to avoid the uncomfortable. Staying home got comfortable. It will take me a while to feel safe outside of the cocoon.
I’ve missed my daughter and haven’t seen her in a year and a half, but she is well and safe. And, we will see her and her partner this summer. Our son, his partner, and another friend just came and stayed with us for two days. All grown young adults in their early 20s, they were happy to be parented a bit while recovering from their vaccines. We cooked for them, and it connected me to the memory of my mother doing the same. When I was in my early 20s and came to the cottage with my boyfriend, often bringing other friends, my mom was ebullient, cooking for us, starting spontaneous dance parties, organizing late night skinny dips, howling at the moon, staying up late into the night with us, wanting to know everything about our lives in the city. This part of parenting is delicious. Like when you have little kids and they fall asleep wrapped around you and you’re sweating and need to go to work or do dishes but it’s so painfully delicious that you’re not about to disturb them and so you stay, sweating, maybe with an arm or leg cramping beneath their weight, not doing what needs doing but wrapped in the biggest, yummiest love. It feels like that. Different, but just as delicious.
I’ve been busy, though. I am grateful to have a job that has kept me busy doing something I love and working with people I respect and admire, and for a company that I know values me. Even so, I’ve given a lot over the past year and haven’t allowed myself balance. I promised myself this year I’d take my PTO and I may need reminders to do that, but I’m committed.
My cameras need some love, too. I still have a shoebox of film, although I’m down to the oldest, most expired, and weirdest rolls at this point. I shot a few rolls over the last two months but am in no rush to get them developed. I’m not bored with my usual subjects, but I’m eager for some new scenery, a new town or woods, a new photographic find. I’m painting, and trying my hand at sketching. It feels good to create. It has always felt good to create.
Anyway. I am feeling some hope in what feels like an in-between time of still not-quite-right, but starting to get a little better. Spring brings growth and that is a physical manifestation of hope, at least for me. I don’t want to go back to what was our normal, because I don’t think it was particularly sustainable. I want to go forward to something else, something with a whole lot of love. I don’t want to use any energy toward anything else.
Hi there. I’m still here–are you still here, too? Are we all okay? As okay as we can be, that is?
I’ve had so many feelings about this shitstorm of a year. And, mostly, I’ve felt not unable to write, but more of a sense of impropriety about writing. The horrors of living through a global pandemic are not even the issue at this point. It’s the maelstrom of what the virus has exposed. A world I don’t know or understand. People I no longer know how to connect with. Maybe I never understood, but I felt like I had more of a grip on things.
Being introspective about it here, on a public (although minimally-followed) blog feels indulgent, and just plain wrong. But, I started this blog and it’s been a way to remember events in my life, so… I don’t know. I’m navigating some things, like aging and menopause and working and creativity and family. These things continue, regardless. I miss writing my way through life’s complicated bits, selfish as it may be.
I do feel lucky, though. To not have gotten sick so far, that my family has not gotten sick so far, that mostly the people I love and care about are weathering this. I try not to get bogged down in what’s next and focus on this: I’m still here. I’m doing my best to stay here. I want to see this play out. I want to fly to Austin and visit my daughter and her two new kittens. I want to sit and have a beer with my son and talk about his life. I want to be so in love with the world again that I sing, alone in my car, loud enough and for long enough to make my voice hoarse. I want to see mountains and rocks jutting up from the ocean floor in places I’ve never been to. I want to skinny dip and lay in warm sand and get muddy in the woods. I want to have weird conversations with strangers.
So goodbye, 2020. You were awful, to say the least. I’ll admit you had a handful of bright spots, and I didn’t lose my ability to laugh or be caustic. You taught me a couple of lessons, too, about how much I really don’t (and conversely, do) need and how much better I want to be about nurturing relationships–including the relationship with myself.
I didn’t take very many photos this year, but here are my very favorites of the maybe 10 rolls of film that I shot. I really only shot with my two Minolta cameras this year and the two medium format Mamiya’s that were gifted to me by a friend’s dad, although my favorites here are from my go-to, the Minolta SRT-102. Next year I’ll have to put the other cameras in my stash to work. Maybe a project of one camera per month might get me moving in the right direction again..
What do we do? What do we write, or say, or create? Are we allowed to be happy amidst the misery and uncertainty of a global pandemic? Can we make plans for the future?
I haven’t written since early February and while I was already feeling plenty of uncertainty then, now everyone, everywhere, is feeling a level of uncertainty. Unprecedented. My husband chides me for using this word. “If I have to hear ‘unprecedented’ or ‘the new normal’ again…” (he finishes this statement with various and sometimes dramatic endings). We are all tired of the commercials, the corporate messages, the politics, and yet they continue.
And we are the lucky ones, with a house and food and jobs to busy ourselves, for now, anyway. When my mind wanders to those without these things, I don’t know what to do with the ache.
There is a pause happening in the world–a musical conductor with her baton poised, ready to begin the piece of music that just isn’t written yet, with instruments and musicians not yet materialized.
I shot a few rolls of film in February and early March, and then as this pandemic grew I froze. I put the cameras away, stopped writing. And that didn’t feel right, or make any sense, and I still have a shoebox (well, a hiking boot box) full of film, so the cameras have come out again. And the watercolors. And the pens and notebook. And I’m venturing into creative outlets again, and even if sometimes for a moment I feel selfish about that, it feels right and it makes sense out of the things that don’t make sense, and for that I’m grateful.
For those of us that have a strong need to feel control over things, we will have to learn to give up some of that in this new world. We still have to be strong for others, and we have to plan for futures that may or may not materialize, and we have to be okay with not knowing.
Right now, little white flowers called sand cress are blooming all over the open dunes. Fresh green shoots of dune grass are popping up amid the pale yellow grasses from last summer. The fern shoots are shoving their way into the sunlight and I will be here to hike on the ridge and watch them unfurl in the coming days. The trillium, I hope, will not have suffered from the recent polar vortex and will carpet the forest floor soon. Pandemic or not, overfull Great Lakes or not, these things continue. There is reassurance in this.
In February, when we were not worried about a virus but were very much worried about Lake Michigan’s rising waters, our diminishing protective bluff, and the impending decisions to be made about saving the cottage, I shot a few rolls of black and white film in the Minolta SRT-102, experimenting with some old Cokin filters. I shot the lighthouse with this ridiculous filter that has pink and yellow and red dots all over it and an eye shape in the center, with a clear “iris.” I tried to find samples on flickr and elsewhere but I don’t think anyone has found a good use for this filter, at least not with color film, so I tried it with black and white film and, well, I kind of love what it did to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse.
I still have decisions to make about the cottage–big ones. The Great Lakes are still rising, and the future is pretty damn uncertain. But, I’m going to keep searching for ways to move through this.
I went to San Jose for work in November and then drove north from there with my friend (and coworker) Rachel where we got spoiled rotten by her super interesting aunt and uncle and we did some redwood therapy in Hendy Woods State Park in Mendocino County. I shot this roll of black and white film and then it sat kind of hidden behind a few things on my office desk and I although I didn’t totally forget about it, by the time I sent it to The Darkroom with two other rolls of film a week or so ago, I’d actually completely forgotten what was on it. And because I don’t have the actual film back from the lab yet (I have the scans) and I’m completely useless with note-taking on my photography, I honestly cannot remember what film this is. Maybe I’ll update this post next week when the film comes through the mail, but knowing me, I’m not going to remember.
All I know is these shots are super contrasty and I’m really digging them. Mostly I remember the smell of the forest as we were walking through, but because those redwoods are so massive, I think even on a very sunny day it’s just always dark in a redwood-heavy forest. I loved the occasional spotlights of sun that burst through, though, and I was trying to capture that where I could.
I have everything I need to develop my own film except the chemicals. I’m procrastinating because although I do have a scanner, it’s a royal pain in the ass to use and I haven’t gotten one decent scan out of it yet. I’m not blaming the scanner–it’s probably my fault but I’m running out of patience trying to figure the damn thing out. But I do think I’m closer to pulling the plug on buying chemicals, and I either need to have a local lab scan my film or I need someone to show me how to use my scanner. With a tighter budget coming up, I should save money where I can and develop my own film. Right?
Anyway, here are some shots from Hendy Woods, all light and dark and contrasty-yummy, from a gorgeous day last November.
I’m a little frozen, and not in the “it’s winter in Michigan sense” but in the sense of being overwhelmed with all that is life. This isn’t uncommon for me–I’m fairly easily overwhelmed outside of my professional life.
I’m not sure why, but work is the easy part. And, my work is busy–sometimes crazy busy–but it comes innately to me. Life is a different story. When I have too many balls in the air, so to speak, I have a hard time managing. I’ve had too many balls in the air for a few months now. Emotional balls, big life decision balls, money balls. I am realizing that I’m most content when things are humming comfortably along, with no crises to manage or fires to extinguish. I like comfort, probably too much. Being so drawn to it has made me near incapable of managing the zingers anymore.
Life lessons don’t fit into that comfort-seeking behavior, however, and here I am staring down the barrel of taking on the financial obligation of the cottage that I love so much. That part I’ve been ready for, the ownership and what comes with that. The part I was not prepared for, but that I feared was coming and is in fact here, is the expense of saving the house from becoming a victim to the rising lake.
I spent the summer stewing about this, worried and waiting for neighbors to catch up with me on the worry front. The very bottom section of our beach stairs, a temporary and cheap homemade build as the low bluff began to disappear and the first cliff appeared, needed to be pulled up as there was no safe place for it. The low stairs we built in the 1980s (after the record-high water level began to subside) appeared from beneath the sand and I hoped we could use those all winter. But the next storm in October swept those away. The next section of stairs disappeared in the wild waves later that month; a mid-section in November, and by late December the upper stairs were loose and then gone in January.
The platform that was the top of our beach stairs remains now, with nothing beneath it, in a lopsided half-hold, its last gasp.
I know about coming and going. I know about the Great Lakes and their interconnected nature, the ebb and the flow. I know about the Army Corps of Engineers and their monthly reports on the water levels. I know about the news stories and the houses that have fallen in, or are torn down just before they are about to plummet. The desperation of homeowners trying to subdue something that cannot be subdued.
The predictions for the lake levels are dire for 2020. Many cottages along the shoreline are in trouble. Did we court this by building so close to the water? Maybe. We tempted the lake, and in repayment for our enjoyment of her shoreline, she is knocking on our doors. Some are building seawalls, walls of cement, layers of giant boulders. I would rather get out of her way, and that’s where my decision leans. With such an unstable bluff, however, and not much room to spare, my hope is that we can hold on until spring, when a move can happen.
Even with the upheaval and the concerns about finances to pay for this move, a friend asked me to go with her to Sedona in the spring to hike and commune with nature, and I said yes to red rocks and desert air and sights I’ve never seen. This is something to look forward to. And my cameras have been a little lonely, so I’m excited to choose one or two to take with me.
I’m sending two rolls of film off to the lab on Monday and I can’t even remember what might be on one of them. The other I shot of beautiful ice formations on the beach last weekend. There is beauty even in the devastation, at least.
I’ve meant to get back to those last rolls I shot on the west side and I’ve just been so busy. Busy at work, busy being busy, busy avoiding things, busy with things I don’t feel like doing but must do. You know. Or maybe you don’t (lucky you).
I’ve been missing my dog. I know it takes time, but I miss having her near me. I miss hearing her breathe. There is a lot I don’t miss about how her last several years were, but I feel a bit lost without her. There are moments of tears that surprise even me.
Last week was a whirlwind of work meetings in California, then a long weekend on a mountaintop near Ukiah, spent with an old friend plus strangers who now feel like family. I felt mothered for a weekend, and I haven’t felt mothered in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed this, either. Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but to be cared for is such a treat. I want to have this and to provide this. If you come to stay at my house, I want to make you feel this way. It was nourishing, and I am grateful.
I still feel like I’m recovering from the trip. I left a sunny, hot mountaintop to come back to an early winter and six inches of snow. This week in Michigan was gray, dull, cold, a sharp contrast to the sun and brilliant colors of the changing leaves on fields of grapevines blanketing the valleys and hillsides of California. It’s been a rough re-entry. After travel and several beds, and the summer at the cottage and the fall back-and-forth from home and the cottage, I often have to get my bearings when I wake up each morning. I’m not quite sure where I am for a minute or two. And I’m enjoying that, really. There’s a moment of dream state and a realm of possibilities before I know where I am settled.
But I meant to get back to those rolls of film I shot in September, and so here are some photos I took on the I guess not-so-newly released Kodak Ektachrome. Gosh, it’s pretty, the cool, saturated colors of this slide film. I walked through the woods with it loaded in my favorite camera, the Minolta SRT-102, and took my time with it, waiting for colorful sunsets and clouds over the lake.
You can see a few more from the roll here, if you like.
Both literally and figuratively. I’m paddling hard here.
Lake Michigan is high. I mean, all the Great Lakes are high. Polar ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, we’re toasting up this blue ball we live on here and the news isn’t good. But I’m not tackling all that. I’m just one person in one little cottage atop a bluff on Lake Michigan, and that lake is getting closer.
That’s the literal bit.
The figurative bit is that it’s been a rough summer. It was different, sharing close quarters with my dad. I think we did ok but there were bumps for sure. And, I lost my sweet old dog in early September. It was for the best, but I’m still bruised and missing her. Things are going on with my kids and my husband, too, but those aren’t my stories to tell. It’s interesting, parenting grown people. The things I worried about when they were little make me laugh a bit now. If I’d known the challenges of parenting adults I might have softened up a bit back then.
Hindsight is 20/20 though, right? Or so they say.
Anyway, I sent seven rolls of a variety of films off to the lab a bit more than a week ago. Here are images from one of those rolls, Ilford FP4+ shot on my Mamiya C220.
Silver Lake State Park is just a few miles from me. Most people think of the park as a place to go dune buggy riding, and that’s probably what it’s most known for. But I like it for the landscape. And I like it best off season when I can hike all of it, not just the areas relegated for foot traffic. Plus, I feel like I’m the only one out there off-season–just me and 3,000 acres of dunes and woods. The dune buggy season ends at the end of this month, so I’m really looking forward to visiting again soon.
I love shooting here. I can shoot the same piece of driftwood a hundred times or year after year–I swear it’s different every time. The sands shift, the wind covers one piece and unearths another. These skeletons of old trees are gorgeous sculptural elements on this vast, shifting landscape. I can never get enough and so I will keep going back.