Sunday, July 30, 2017

Photographing Cemeteries

St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, Waterville ME
 I have had this blog for a long time, and I could have sworn I had written about my cemetery photography hobby before, but it's only vaguely mentioned in a post from 2015 where I talked about getting my creative spark back.

I've been visiting cemeteries in a non-funerary function for as long as I can remember. As a child, I used to help my parents as they helped fill Memorial Day orders at the family greenhouse for the local cemeteries, which included delivering arrangements and planting at the grave sites. Because visiting cemeteries was never associated with anything "scary" or "sad" for me (and indeed, the only "graveside" service I can remember attending is from adulthood) I have always found them a place of calm serenity. Oftentimes, if I need a quiet place to sit with my thoughts, I'll go to a cemetery. While some people do use them as walkable greenspaces (as they truly are), I typically have the place to myself for the most part, with the exception of the people who come to tend the graves of their loved ones. It's quiet, peaceful, and filled with art.

St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, Waterville ME
I started photographing cemeteries when I was in high school. I think the first time I put any effort into photographing something at a cemetery was at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery in Waterville, Maine, when I went with my mother as she tended to the graves of families. There are the most spectacular bronze angel statues guarding the gates of the cemetery (the Catholic side, because there is a secular side), one with a cross raised up to the sky, and another blowing a trumpet. It was natural, when I started photographing cemeteries again, that I recreate some of my first photos (the above is one of the recent photos). St. Francis is one I have traveled the width and breadth of because it is not only massive and convenient to get to, but it is filled with some of the most beautiful monuments. There are angels galore, many in varying state of decay due to age and the inevitable lichens that feed on the stone they are made from. There are virgin statues (see right), incredibly old grave markers that are barely legible, and new, shiny, modern marble and granite head stones with likenesses of the deceased etched into them with laser precision.

Maplewood Cemetery, Fairfield, ME
I have a set of personal rules or standards I hold myself to when I'm visiting the cemetery to photograph monuments. I try to remain as respectful as possible, and treat it like you would a national park: what goes in comes out with me. I try not to tread on the flat markers if I can help it (some have sunken into the ground and become overgrown over the years), and while I haven't encountered a fresh grave yet, I wouldn't tread on the dirt or otherwise disturb someone recently interred. I give anyone else in the cemetery a wide berth because I realize that some people find it weird and morbid and possibly inappropriate that I'm photographing grave markers and monuments. I also don't photograph (with one exception, because I hadn't seen one like it before) the names and birth/death dates if I can help it. If I can't, usually editing can help make them illegible. To me, photographing the personal information of the dead feels invasive. I do not sit on or lean on grave markers, ever. While a cemetery is a public greenspace, it is still a place where people are interred and their loved ones visit. It's not a park, or a playground, and I get upset when I see people walking their dogs through a cemetery or riding a horse through one (I have seen this). Cemeteries are sacred places to me, and they-- and their residents-- deserve respect.

Cavalry Cemetery, Skowhegan, ME
Photographing cemeteries is a sort of self-soothing act for me at times. It allows me to completely disconnect from the outside world for a while and do something creative. I often edit the photos on the spot and upload them to my Instagram account (you can find more there, but my page isn't all cemeteries), and I will walk through the more historic areas with their old, leaning marble stones to learn about the history of the area (anyone with an interest in epidemiology should visit an old cemetery or one with an old section, there's a lot to see and learn). Sometimes, though, I get sad, because I see graves with plastic or silk flowers on them, tattered and faded, and to me, that says "this is an obligation" or "I don't really care" and I would hate for my final resting place to be treated that way by the people I've left behind to care for it.

A friend recently asked permission to print some of my photos to decorate her office with and asked why I don't sell prints. Honestly, I don't photograph cemeteries for money or fame. They are available on my public Instagram page to view, and I would hope people would ask before reproducing them. I do this for myself. These cemeteries and the photos I take in them make me happy. I enjoy exploring different angles, getting close, and editing on my phone (because I take them ALL with my phone). I enjoy the time outside, walking, seeing the varying types of monuments, and learning the history of the area. I'd like to visit more than just the local cemeteries, but there is a lot here I'm sure I haven't seen. Cemeteries are a happy place for me.

If you're interested in death, cemeteries, mortuary science, and anything to do with death rituals, I highly recommend looking up Caitlyn Doughty either on Youtube or on her website. She's informative, funny, and a mortician that specializes in green burials.

All photos in this post are mine. If you want to see more, use the link above to visit my Instagram. Please don't steal them, I don't want to start using watermarks.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I'm Peopled Out

One of the tricky things about me is that I'm an A-Type personality but also an introvert. Combined with bipolar disorder, sometimes being social can be overwhelming. Between graduating and getting my job, I had about 2 months of unfettered free time in which I could do things. I could barely get anyone to make plans. I've been at my job a month now (holy shit, when did that happen?) and since I started there I've been to two weddings, and pretty much had full weekends where I'm spending time with people and not a lot of down time. This weekend a friend reached out to see about going to dinner at my favorite restaurant but I had to ask if we could do it another time. I love my family and friends, but I'm an introvert and I'm peopled out.

My original plan this weekend was to not even leave my bed. I was going to be super lazy and read trash romances, give myself facials, and play video games. My car, however, is an old cranky bitch and decided to have exhaust problems, so I had to drive to my parent's house to have my dad look at/fix it for me. Mom and I went to the farmer's market (I bought goat chops! And lots of basil!) and once my car was done, I went home, where I had planned to stay in a state of inactivity for the rest of the day.

...Until I realized there's a cemetery within walking distance of my house (I'll write about that in a post for tomorrow). I've logged over 8,000 steps on my fitness app when I originally aimed to hit fewer than 500, and caught a new Pokemon I hadn't gotten yet. I will say though, that while I was planning on lazing about, reading and giving myself facials (which I am going to do because what even is skin), cemetery photography is something I do for myself, that makes me relaxed and calm.

I appreciate when the people in my life understand, however, when I just don't have the energy to be social. I've been active today, but being in prolonged social situations isn't something I have the headspace for right now. In fact, I've felt so busy every weekend since I started working that I don't even want to do food prep tomorrow like I have been, so I won't. I'll figure out lunches as I go.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Spirituality isn't Your Tumblr Aesthetic

I've talked about my spirituality before, but very very long ago, so it bears a refresher before I get into this rant. I discovered Wicca when I was 15 as I prepared to put my beloved dog to sleep and realized that the Catholic faith of my mother (which which I had loosely associated myself) had no room in heaven for dogs. It appealed to my love of nature and my affinity for fantasy (I was particularly interested in herbal healing) and it provided solace to my broken heart as I worked through the grief of my dog dying. I read books, visited the local occult shop when I could, and when I had regular access to the Internet, joined a Wicca message board (and made and maintained friendships with some of those people, even though we have all taken differing spiritual paths over the years). But, as I entered my 20's, something about Wicca felt... off to me. I didn't believe in the Wiccan Rede, I hated how, although it was based on early nature-based religions, it was terribly one-sided in favor of the Divine Female, the Goddess, with little attention paid to the actual duality of nature or the recognition of a God within the structure. I hated the fluffy, feel-good, be nice to everyone and harm NOTHING vibe. I loathed the little girls who thought it was the movie The Craft (which is an awesome movie, don't get me wrong, but it's entertainment, not fact) and used it to rebel against their parents.

At around 23 years old, I reevaluated my spirituality, and decided to drop Wicca as a personal identifier. My spirituality is much more grounded in the world I live in, existing in nature, celebrating the primal energy that surrounds us. I have an animal guide (ravens and crows, which I have tattooed all over me). My own personality is much too grey-area to stick with something so love-and-light as Wicca (which is a modern religion, don't let anyone tell you it's ancient) so I prefer to refer to myself as an extremely solitary, shaman-ish dirt-worshipping tree hugger, because I don't particularly like the term "Pagan," even. Given all this, maybe my rant is going to sound a little salty-old-Pagan, but so be it.

Sooo ~aesthetic~

There is a trend currently of girls appropriating certain aspects of various Pagan religions and declaring themselves "Wiccan" or "witches," when really, they're in it for the aesthetic. It's all over Tumblr and Instagram: aesthetically arranged crystals and candles, all put through a millennial pink or cool, blue-toned filter, alongside pictures of mermaid/unicorn hair (as an aside, I am so over unicorn and mermaid fucking everything) and maybe some witchy-sounding text. As someone who actually worships nature and has spent a long time pondering and evolving her own spirituality, I am actually so offended by these Tumblr witches. Insta witches. Facebook witches.

Owning some pretty crystals and spouting bullshit about your chakras (I guess Wicca is East Asian now?) doesn't make you Wiccan. It doesn't make you Pagan. It certainly doesn't make you a witch. ~Faerie majik~ is bullshit. I'm all for people having religion if it helps them (although I do believe wholeheartedly that organized religion holds us back as a species) or some form of structured spirituality, but come on. My spirituality isn't a trend. My spirituality is primal. I, on occasion, cast curses, because nature is not kind and sweet. Other times, I commune with the world around me and talk to animals (I have always had an affinity for animals). I read the weather in the leaves on the trees, in the clouds, and behavior of animals. I feel the world around me with every fiber of my being. I am happiest near trees and with crows nearby. It is not enough to have some shiny rocks that you've "charged" in the moonlight to be any form of Pagan. It's a belief set. It's a faith. If you want to take aesthetically-pleasing pictures of crystals and candles, by all means, do so, but don't pretend to belong to an established religion or faith when you don't know a damn thing beyond what pop culture throws at you, and you don't actually believe in what it says. Religion and spirituality are personal things, and Tumblr witches discredit those of us who have taken the time to examine our faith and refine our practices.

I'm not the only one that gripes about this. I'm friends with all sorts of flavor of Pagan, and we collectively roll our eyes at newly-minted batches of pastel-haired "Wiccans" who fill their feeds with pictures of crystals and sparkles and faeries because it's so aesthetic. Yes, there are some pretty tools in the more modern practices, and some gorgeous things crafted by talented artists that can be used for rituals and such, but pretty things shouldn't be the basis for choosing a religious path.

Maybe I am a cranky, salty old witch. Lately, as I've been craving being primal raising up some energy (it really has been a while), I've been stewing on the topic. I've been stewing on it for a while but maybe it's the upcoming new moon, maybe it's some amazing ancient Northern European inspired music I've been listening to, but I've felt my spirituality particularly acutely these past few days and seeing fake Pagans makes me salty. Maybe I'll go send out energy for their Instagram accounts to be hacked. ;)

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Matriarchs of Public Health

I started thinking about entering the world of public health all the way back in 2009 when my amazing cousin Stephanie planted the seed in my head as I spiraled further and further into job dissatisfaction. Granted, I didn't act on that until 2015, and this past May, I graduated (I'm not technically finished, so I don't feel comfortable putting the credentials after my name yet since I'm not officially an MPH). In my 2 years of graduate school, I found myself inspired by our program director (who just retired from the position this month) who had, in her long career, done it all, but mostly in the realm of end of life care. But, because she had done it all, I learned some valuable skills from her, as much as they make me groan (work plans and budgets are not fun things to draft). She has stories and experience and has seen the field I'm interested in-- technology in healthcare-- literally evolve from paper charts to the sophisticated electronic medical records and health-related devices and mobile apps that we have now. She has written programming for early systems.

At my current job, I work with an amazing group of (mostly) women, and our department head is another seen-it-all-done-it-all bastion of public health. She has been doing what she does since I've been alive (seriously-- she's been in her position since 1980 and will be retiring to a per diem status in October). I started my job 3 weeks ago and probably since before I started she has been working on writing grants for future projects. Grant writing is a huge undertaking and as she explained her process to us, she said, without a shred of vaingloriousness, that she is granted nearly every grant she applies for (which is good news for my department and my job security). She knows everyone in the state, she has experiences and stories to share. She has shaped public health, disease prevention, and the spread of evidence-based health education in central Maine.

These two women remind me so much of each other, because they share so many of the same attributes: their calm demeanor, their shrewd, innovative thinking, and their soothing voices. These women that I look up to are the matriarchs of public health. When I think of leaders in public health, I don't think of men leading the way (although there have been amazing male contributors to the public health world and I've had the pleasure to learn from some very gifted scholars) I think of these wizened, caring women who have paved the way, who fight for the health and wellness of everyone in their communities, who put their nose to the grindstone to apply for grants to ensure that resources can be generated, studies performed, and health services delivered.

I'm 37, and I can't even imagine getting to that point, to that level of achievement. I admire these women so much and it saddens me that I am only now encountering them in the twilight of their careers as they prepare to retire and pass the torch to another generation. These are women who have been in public health for decades, have witnessed social change, policy change, changes in attitude toward health and healthcare delivery. These matriarchs of public health have been the backbone for people like me, entering the industry. They're grassroots people, people I can relate to, when so many of the women in my program I couldn't relate to at all. They have built the foundations of what I do, and I will forever admire and be grateful for them paving the way.