to give and receive

I rarely take pics of myself. Let me me rephrase that. I rarely take pics of myself that are fit for general human viewing. I do in fact take copious selfies of myself on the couch, or in bed, with one of my cats sprawled around my neck like a furry scarf. There are approximately 2-3 people that I will send these to. In fact, one friend of mine and I are unofficial cat pic selfie penpals. We have an unwritten agreement that we will send each other cat selfies on a regular basis.

But there are very few photos of me standing upright, wearing shoes, hair brushed, that I would want to have framed and seen and saved for posterity. And just as few of my son and I together. I take millions of photos of him, as you would imagine, but I’m always on the other side of the lens, or the phone, more accurately.

I was just silently lamenting this fact about a month ago, and within a day I got a message from a friend, who is also a photographer, that she has had a feeling on her heart to reach out to me and offer me a photo session with my son. Don’t you love it when the universe reads your mind and hands you that thing you didn’t think you could have?

Now my friend is an amazing photographer. She owns a photography studio and has been professionally photographing people and events for years. But beyond that, she is the type of person who can see someone walking down the street, see something in them, ask to take their picture, and next thing you know have a high quality editorial photoshoot generally only seen in fashion magazines and national publications.

I can’t really remember how she and I met. I know it was online, even though she’s local. And I think our first interaction was me answering a call she put out soliciting donations for refugees resettling in our area. My son was quickly moving out of the baby/ toddler phase and into the little boy phase and I had tons of supplies that needed a home. And she had tons of homes that needed supplies. We have kept in touch over the years and I still donate whenever I’m able. She keeps an ear to the ground and is able to reach out and meet the needs of these families in ways that official rescue organizations sometimes can not.

I think my relationship with her may be the first that developed over the bond of giving to others in need. And I find it appropriate then somehow that she has in turn given me this most amazing gift. My challenge was accepting the gift gracefully. Why is accepting gifts so difficult?

We met last weekend at Ft. Monroe, inside the moat. This setting was my request as my father had two tours there when I was a child and it holds sentimental meaning in my heart. As I drove through the small tunnel that brings you into the Fort, I imagined my dad driving through there about 45 years ago, in his little powder blue Volkswagen beetle.

I don’t think he ever imagined he would have a grandson standing in the same places he stood, as he left for heaven a year before my son was born. I smiled as I watched my son, so playful like his grandpa, who insisted, absolutely insisted, on bringing a hand puppet along to the photoshoot. He doesn’t know it, but what a grandpa move that was. It brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

The photoshoot was quick. My friend is efficient and knows exactly what she is doing, what she is looking for, and exactly where to find the right tones, backgrounds and lighting. Before we knew it, we were done, only briefly interrupted by a very curious dog and his even more friendly owner, who seemed intent on hanging out with us for awhile (the owner more-so than the dog actually).

She captured my son so well, and he had fun. He’s a natural as the saying goes. I myself am not a natural, but she still managed to capture me with open eyes (a challenge) and a genuine smile. I’m sharing a few of them here, though not all, as they feel somehow sacred and very personal. She managed to catch a glimpse of not only his charming personality, but also our close relationship and how intensely protective I am of my son.

I will cherish these photos for the rest of my life. How many gifts can one say that about? Very few.

Thank you.

Stacey Salerno Photography

Fort Monroe, VA

there’s more than one way to save a life

I brought my son to church on Sunday. And I was dreading it.

The court had just overturned Roe v. Wade and our priest it known for giving very topical sermons, relevant to current world events.

The church we go to is Catholic. We are known for our solar panels, environmental consciousness, multiculturalism, and social justice. I have heard people call us the ‘hippie church’. And that’s why I like it. But still, it is a Catholic church, and I didn’t want to hear any sermon about the sanctity of life.

Well, I got my wish. There was no sermon about it, or about anything at all for that matter.

When we pulled up in the parking lot I said ‘oh shoot, I forgot our masks’. Well … I guess we’ll be ok. Conscientious, obsessively responsible in our mask wearing habits, my son and I have been gradually venturing out more and wearing them less and less. So we walked in, sans masks. Most people in our congregation had also abandoned them at this point, though I noticed friends of ours are still wearing them. I felt self-conscious as I smiled and waved as we sat down in front of one family we know, the daughter a classmate of my son, as they waved to us with smiling eyes, N95s still attached to their faces.

Well, we’re here now, what are we going to do but press on.

And the Mass started. Our priest walked in and made an announcement. I noticed he was double masked. It was difficult to hear what he was saying. From what I could gather, he took a train to a conference, someone on the train was unmasked and coughing the whole time, and our priest caught Covid. He was weak and still recovering.

I panicked. Should he be here? Should we leave? Should we take communion? What should we do?

Our priest didn’t give a sermon that day, and he didn’t give communion. He blessed it for the lay ministers to give out and he primarily sat quietly distanced at the back of the altar.

He did tell us, let my illness be a lesson to you. Covid is not over. Wear your masks.

And that is how I didn’t have to listen to a sermon about abortion and the sanctity of life. And this lesson was to me, a more important lesson about life.

Because someone can scream to the rooftops about life inside the womb, but what about the sanctity of the lives outside the womb, that we are experiencing every day?

in which an artist is unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown

When I moved to Virginia over 10 years ago my hair was somewhat red. It is now entirely grey.

At the time my father was still alive. He died two years later. I miss him every day.

I came to Virginia with two cats; Fats Domino and Angelina. They have both crossed the rainbow bridge.

I have two cats currently; Oberon and The Gremlin. I briefly had a beautiful cat named Tahli that left this earth after our one year together.

When I moved here, I had never been a mother, and never foresaw that happening. However in 2013 by some miracle I gave birth to a beautiful boy.

Mother is now the overwhelming meaning of my existence.

I briefly lived in Germany and revisted the place of my birth, before returning to Virginia again.

When I moved here, as throughout my entire life previous, I did not drive. I got my permit within my first year of moving here and finally my license about four years ago.

In these past years I recall starting two paintings, and then stopping. I have sketched less than 20 pages in my sketchbooks. Maybe less than 10 even.

I have written very little. And thrown most of it away.

I have done little treasure hunting and the things I’ve found I have not sold and shared or displayed but rather tucked away in boxes at the bottoms of closets and drawers.

My very nice camera which I used to carry everywhere sits dusty and untouched.

My cocoon has been comfortable. And it has adapted and grown to fit me during my hibernation and complete restructuring of myself. But it has served its purpose.

I emerge as not a beautiful butterfly but as an entirely different creature.

this is the moment

Statue of Liberty

I have been quiet, and in hibernation, for so many years, waiting for the perfect moment to open my mouth and make my voice heard yet again. I have been waiting for the muse, the impetus, the cause, the push … for something I couldn’t identify.

This is the something.

In my downtime, I prefer to revisit old movies or tv shows. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Moonstruck. I know every nuance of the Inn on Newhart. I sing along to the Love Boat opening theme.

Recently I added the original Dallas tv series to my repertoire. I watched it a bit as a kid, but was never that into it, thank goodness, as I am now learning it was pretty risqué! Revisiting it now though is a wonderful strangely comforting guilty pleasure. The scenery, the clothes, the scandal, the drama! Pamela (Victoria Principal) is like a St Joan of Arc fighting the corruption of the Ewing family from the inside out, in of course the most charming and ladylike of ways.

Her brother Cliff is billed as the left wing radical. As a kid growing up in the South, I thought he was a bad guy. Now I find him incredibly relatable. However, let me say I am only in Season One, so it is entirely possible my take on the characters will change over time.

Last night I put on an episode called “Election”, which turned out to be about abortion. And I thought to myself ‘how strange … how timely’. In this episode Cliff is running for office against a Ewing backed candidate, and in an effort to ruin Cliff’s chances, JR digs up a secret from Cliff’s past which effectively blows the election. It turns out many years previously, Cliff had a girlfriend that had an abortion and died due to not receiving proper medical attention. This was in the world pre Roe v. Wade, before abortion was legal. Cliff loses the election because the public finds it reprehensible that he was involved in such a horrible, illegal practice. Cliff shares in a touching monologue, why he helped his girlfriend obtain the abortion.

Dallas is currently free to view on Amazon, scroll down to Episode 13 to watch this interesting, and frankly, historic episode.

Dallas, Season One

So, that was last night.

Today is Friday. TGIF and all of that. I went to work. It was mostly a good morning. I had a challenging meeting, but nothing too horrible, and the moment my meeting ended (and my brain was a little scrambled) I received a text:

“Have you seen the news?”

No. I had not.

So I googled.

Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Oh.

That was my reply to her … Oh. And a few minutes later … Wow.

Because I didn’t really have the words to describe what I was feeling.

Even as I write this, and I have come to this part, I don’t know how to continue.

I am sitting at my kitchen table, eating a late dinner, chewing, staring blankly at my laptop.

Oh.

Wow.

Let me say that I have never had an abortion. But let me also say that there were times in my life when I may have considered it. I can’t say for certain because it wasn’t a choice I ever had to make. But … it was a choice.

I never sustained a pregnancy until I was in my 40’s and I very much wanted that child, my child, that is very loved today.

But what if I had gotten pregnant when I was young? When I was unmarried. When I was irresponsible. When I didn’t take care of my body in any way shape or form and made very unwise and unhealthy choices.

I know so many women that have had abortions. People I went to high school with, whose parents secretly flew them away for clandestine surgeries. People I went to college with. Whose abortions were paid by collecting money from other girls in the dorm. People who had abortions young, and then went on to marry and have children later in life. People who probably have never told their husbands of their past. These husbands who are virulently against choice, clueless to the fact their wives would probably not be their wives today if abortion had not been an option for them when they were young.

Abortion is not going to end. Legal abortion may end for some. For young girls, who can’t travel, who don’t have the money, the connections, the resources. Abortion will continue for others. The wealthy, the privileged. Having children will be their choice.

But the poor, the marginalized, the abused, they will be forced to bring children into that world. Into poverty, into uncertainty, into fear.

And will the anti choice movement love these children? The ones that were forced onto mothers unprepared and unwilling?

Who will love these children? Who will prepare their way in life? Who will protect them?

Oh.

Wow.