Monday, February 22, 2010

Being Authentic

It's Monday night.....8:46pm and I'm exhausted. I woke up exhausted.

I was exhausted all last week and all weekend. I'm only 43. I'm too young to be this exhausted all the time.

As I type the word "exhausted" for the fifth time it doesn't look right....you know how that goes.....you write or say a word so many times that it doesn't sound or look right. Well, it doesn't feel right either.

Life is not meant to be lived this way. Life is meant to be lived in a full and abundant manner....joyfully, happily, peacefully.....

When I am not teaching, I am so full of life....exhuberant, happy, giddy, full of hope and promise, loving life, living life! I am a completely different person.....I AM the person I want to be.

Last night a friend asked me if I had been writing. I told him that although there was a great deal on my mind last week, I hadn't written since Sunday. Part of the reason was that I was worried about potential readers who might misinterpret my words or use them against me. I worried that if I complained about my job or last relationship someone would read the words and .... what? I don't really know what I was worried that "they" would do. It doesn't even matter because basically, I was self-censoring. That's not an option.

Tonight while in the shower, the words were swirling through my head like an F4 tornado in a furious rage. It was as if the words were debris being cast out of the tornado, yet being confined and restrained within my skull instead of being released onto an unknown trajectory and ultimately being allowed to fall where they may.

That's when it became very clear to me that if I'm going to really write and be authentic and true to myself I cannot worry about what anyone else is going to think about what I write or what the consequences might be. We all have our own interpretations of events. Anything I write here will be my interpretation and how I felt at that particular time. If I am going to do this in a way that is beneficial to me and possibly someone else, I have to be honest, completely honest. It doesn't mean that my perceptions or interpretations are correct or even sane, but they are mine and that is something that cannot be taken away from me.

For many years I tried to be what I thought I should be, what everyone else wanted me to be. With every passing day I am finding out who I really am....the good, the bad, and the ugly. But strangely enough, I like who I am. I have found out that I am a quirky, passionate, somewhat controlling when I want to be, lover of words and beauty. I crave deep connection and intense laughter. I love that I feel deeply and cry like an idiot at romantic movies. Although not religious in a traditional sense, I am very spiritual, but on my terms, no one else's. I don't fit into any mold - religious or spiritual - and I like it that way because I place my own meaning and faith into what I believe. And what I believe, I believe in very strongly.

I like that I am a complete goofball always trying to get people to laugh and see the beauty and romance of life even if my words fall on deaf ears and cold hearts. I love that I never give up even when I say I'm going to... that I'm done, I'm through.....I always come back and try again. I love that I have complete faith that someday, someday, I will find someone who will embrace all the weirdness that is me and fall completely and totally in love .... with me. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

It's forty five minutes later.....I'm finding it hard to believe that it takes me this long to write sometimes. Forty five minutes, really? For just a few paragraphs? It doesn't matter. What matters is that the words are falling where they may, even if only a few at a time.

More words will come tomorrow, because tomorrow I will listen when they are banging viciously on the inside of my skull begging to be released. The peace I feel for the first time today is enough to encourage me to stop tomorrow and write. Just write. Honestly. Without regard for who might, and that's a big MIGHT, possibly read this.

So for tonight.....I'm taking this exhausted body and going to bed.

Sweet dreams......

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On Love and Being Single on Valentine's Day



As I begin to write this, it is just after 5:00pm on Valentine's Day.


Valentine's Day....a day of love and romance.


Valentine's Day.....a day I always wanted to be full of love and romance.


Valentine's Day....a day that has never really been full of love and romance.....at least not for me.


I'm a hopeless romantic, I admit it, completely and fully. I want the love and romance, not only on Valentine's Day, but regularly in my life. I want to be with someone who actually wants to be with me.....not 24/7, that would drive me insane! I need my time, too. But someone who, at the end of the day, wants to call me and say "Hey, how was your day?". Someone who actually wants to take me away for the weekend. Someone who laughs at my stupid jokes. Someone who will tell me he loves me.....without me having to always say it first or when he does respond he doesn't mumble it or says nothing at all.


Romance doesn't have to mean flowers and jewelry....in fact, those things aren't necessarily what I find romantic. What I find romantic is when he looks at you and you know just by how he looks at you that he loves you deeply. It's when he touches your hand and gently rubs his thumb over it. It's when he holds you so tight that you know he never wants to let you go. That is romantic.


This holiday, along with most other holidays, does nothing but make me want to cringe. As I look back, the last good Valentine's Day I remember was probably in junior high when my dad used to send me a rose every year. This year I didn't even hear from him.


My memories of Valentine's Days past are not pleasant ones. I'll never forget the year that my boyfriend at the time took another woman and her two daughters to dinner. I sort of invited myself along. Should have been an "aha" moment for me, but it wasn't. There were times that were nice, I suppose, but I just remember wanting for at least one day of the year to hear from that one person I loved that he loved me in return. Because it didn't come the rest of the year. What is sad is that I know he loved me....he just couldn't let himself say it or feel it. And at the end, when it was all said and done and I finally realized that he actually loved me deeply, it was too late. He had made a choice to be with someone else and found himself "confused" over the whole thing. He couldn't decide between the two of us, so I made the decision for him......I left for good.


I'm thinking to myself right now that maybe I shouldn't be writing this, but the other part of me knows I need to. I haven't the foggiest idea who, if anyone, is actually reading this blog, but I do know that I need to write it. There are things I need desperately to let go of so new things can come into my life.


It makes me wonder, and it has for years, if there is something wrong with me. So many people tell me how they think I'm great....I'm so funny.....I'm so caring.....so full of life, etc. Yet it seems that I don't attract men that think that as well, or if they do, then I'm not attracted to them. Why is that? I hate crying....just sayin.....


So...for 2010, I have made a committment to not date....to not search for love. Even though I am telling myself that, I still want love. I still want someone that wants to share his life with me. In my last relationship, I told the man I was with that I wanted someone to share my life with....he told me that maybe I was with the wrong person!! Again....should have been an aha moment, but I was clueless. I was in love. God, the stupidity of love.


Regardless, I still believe in it. Love. I do, very much. I know that when I am ready, it will come to me. As my dear friend once said....."You'll know him when you see him". I'm trusting that.....(you know who you are!)


I don't care what anyone says.....you can have real, true love that is incredibly deep. You can be so very connected to another human being that all the cliches you've heard your whole life finally make sense. I have had that ..... once. That gives me faith that I can have it again,.


I appreciate those of you who speak of the other kinds of love on Valentine's Day....the love of a child or a friend, but we all know that what most of us want is that love from that person with whom we connect on a level like no other. That love that brings you to greater heights as a human being.


I've grown so very tired of trying to be strong and basically not being true to what I feel deep down inside. I want very much to find someone who loves me as much as I love him and will actually let me know that and not run away and hide from it all.


I know I am not perfect, but I also think I have a lot to offer. As my son put it, I make one hell of a salad! Another friend says I'm the artist she aspires to be. Certain students say I'm the funniest person they've been around. I think I've got a few good qualities.


My passion for life translates to every area in my life.....that can be good or bad, but if you focus on the good it can bring to you, it makes the bad a little less pronounced.


I love very deeply.....at least in my limited experience I did. But that tells me I can do it and will do it again....love very deeply. I know there is someone out there for me.....I just haven't met him yet. Or, maybe I have, and our timing wasn't right when we met. It doesn't matter. It will happen for me......that I know for sure.


So, Happy Valentine's Day......ugh.






The Journey Continues

Saturday morning, after stuffing myself silly with my ham and cheese omelette, I headed north on the Turquoise Trail. My first destination of the day was Sandia Crest, the highest scenic drive in the southwest. Located a mile above my starting point and two miles above sea level, I was anxious to make my way to the peak, camera in hand, ready to capture some phenomenal images. Unfortunately, the fog that had plagued me on my drive to New Mexico was hanging over the mountain that day like a wet blanket. At times I was able to get a peek-a-boo glimpse of the amazing vistas I knew surrounded me, but mostly, the fog enveloping me required me to simply slow down and focus on the beauty of the aspens, scrub oak, and hardy pines.
And slow down I did.

I opened the sun roof on my 4-Runner, turned on the seat heater, cranked the heat up a notch, and took it all in. The forest was draped in white... branches of firs and pines drooping heavily with burdens of snow. As I got closer to the peak, the whiteness of it all began to close in on me. It was breathtakingly beautiful and serene.

When I made it to the peak, there were three cars in the parking lot. I wondered what they were doing here because I didn't see anyone around. As I was exploring the area, a woman drove up and asked where she could find the cross-country ski area. Of course, I didn't know, but I thought how brave she was to be going cross-country skiing by herself on a day like this. But it is this attitude that prevails in New Mexico.....an attitude very different from what you'd find in Oklahoma. In fact, despite the dreary day, I passed many people making their way to the ski resort or to one of the numerous areas where you can pull over to hike or sled or just simply play in the snow.

From Sandia Crest byway, I drove northeast along Highway 14, making my way towards Madrid, the town famous for "Maggie's Diner" in the movie "Wild Hogs". I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had heard this little community was becoming quite an artist colony so I knew I would spend some time there.

Coming into the town, the first thing that struck me was the rusty sculpture tucked in throughout. Whimsical and clever ironworkings were everywhere. An angel, a guitar playing cowboy, an Indian skeleton, a bull skeleton. Each of them had a colorful story to tell, I just knew it. They each seemed to be grinning, knowing their secrets were safe for eternity. You could almost imagine them coming to life when no one else was around - dancing and drinking around a fire under the New Mexico sky.

The shops of Madrid were a kaleidoscope of colors. I knew immediately I wanted to return here when I had more time and more money. Everywhere you look there is something interesting to see and that's before you even enter the shops. I could have spent hours just wandering around this tiny village with my camera. For such a small town, it was packed with people. The narrow street that winds through its heart was lined with cars, but even so, Madrid had a very laid back atmosphere, one that was very gracious. It welcomed you to come in and just enjoy what they had to offer. I can't wait to go back.

Leaving Madrid reluctantly, I continued towards Cerrillos, another tiny historic village a few miles away. I had met a man in Madrid who asked about my travels. He highly recommended that I stop there after I told him I was on a photographic journey. Apparently, there were many interesting things to photograph in Cerrillos. He was right.

When I first turned left off of Highway 14 and headed into Cerrillos I have to admit I was questioning the man's sanity. But I listened to my instinct which told me to keep going. This ancient mining village is officially listed as a "ghost town" despite the fact that it still has many permanent residents living in a variety of adobe homes throughout the town. As I drove up and down the few muddy streets it has, I was overwhelmed with the number of interesting things to photograph. The man was definitely right.

The residents of Cerrillos express their individuality in their surroundings. And because this village is so old, it was brimming with dilapidated, ramshackle structures with peeling paint and decaying foundations. The colors and textures were overwhelming to the senses. I think I shot more photographs here than anywhere else. The Casa Grande Trading Post has a collection of dusty bottles displayed in their window that caught my eye immediately. Some of my best photographs came from this display.

(Just as a side note, photographs from this trip will be posted on my website artbykellithomas.com)

From Cerrillos, I once again traveled north on Highway 14 until I got to a sign that pointed east to Galisteo. Galisteo......I liked the name. Sometimes that is all it takes for me to change direction in my journey. So.....Galisteo it was.

Galisteo is another tiny village with only a few hundred residents. It is a community of artists. Like Cerrillos, individuality was definitely expressed here. As I drove through the town, I came upon a group of mailboxes lined up together.....all vividly hand painted. I love the little surprises you find in life when you get off the beaten path.


Next I thought I would head up from Galisteo into Santa Fe and spend some time there. Yet as I drove, I saw a sign for Lamy. Once again, something inside told me to go a different direction. So I did.


I knew nothing about Lamy, but I knew I was getting hungry so I hoped to find a place to get something to eat. Driving into Lamy my hopes were diminished as I saw what a small town it was. I pushed on....you never know. Crossing the railroad tracks into town I came upon a train station. Across the street from it was a restaurant! But it was closed. I looked back across the street at the train station and situated next to it was an old train car. It was the "Talladega", the Lamy Station Cafe Dining Car. People were leaving the car, so my hopes were up again that I might find lunch!

Walking around to the back I saw that the railroad tracks were maybe forty feet from the dining car. I've never been on a train, so this was a new experience for me. Walking up the steps I didn't know what to expect. I opened the door, and sure enough, it was a railroad car. Very narrow with seating on either side. There were maybe eight or ten tables in the place. It was cozy and intimate.

Seating me at my table in the far end of the dining car was a tall, thin man in a chef's jacket. Later I would realize this was Chef Michael and this was his domain. Tucked into one corner of the quaint dining car was a man with a guitar, gently playing to the small crowd in the dining car. He had a bucket on the table for collecting tips. There was a couple who seemed to be having a minor disagreement as they ate. She was stunningly beautiful, he was handsome even with his dreadlocks pulled back into a ponytail. They looked very sophisticated to me. Next to this couple was a mother and her young daughter. Apparently they were waiting on the train to arrive. Seated at the table closest to me was an older couple. The older gentleman seemed to be having difficulty with very mundane tasks and his wife patiently encouraged him to try to do what he needed to do, guiding him without him even realizing what she was doing. It was beautiful.

The waitress, in her colorful bracelets and long braids, brought me the menu. What a selection.....the prices were reasonable and the entrees sounded scrumptious. Even though it was only a late lunch, a glass of wine sounded perfect. I chose the Ziti Pasta with Wild Mushrooms, Leeks, Spinach, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gruyere and Garlic Toast. The waitress brought my wine and as I waited for my food, the older couple left and another man came in and sat in their place. Soon after that, the artist I had seen painting outside the station also came in and took a seat across from me. Drinking my wine, I picked up my camera to review the photographs I had taken so far. I was pleased. The older man sitting next to me struck up a conversation about my trip and soon the artist joined in.

The next hour or so, the three of us sat... chatting about trains, travel, and other miscellaneous topics. We ate our lunches while talking with each other at our separate tables. It was the most enjoyable lunch I'd had in a long time....excellent food, wine, and company. I didn't want it to end, but we all had other things to do. We exchanged information and went our separate ways. Something tells me there will be more to this story....

Charlie, the artist I met, suggested I head towards Los Alamos. He told me it was beautiful countryside and since I'd never been in that part of New Mexico, I followed his advice. Parts of the drive were some of the most stunning landscape I'd ever seen. And despite, getting slightly turned around in Los Alamos, it was well worth the extra time I took to make the journey. The photographs I took revealed an expansive landscape that makes you feel so very tiny in comparison to it all. I didn't want to leave. But I did.....I still had several hours of driving ahead of me and honestly, I was getting sleepy from all the driving I had done in the last 48 hours.
I continued on, traveling through Jemez Mountains. At this point, I was so tired that for the most part, all I did was drive....anxious to get back to Albuquerque and my bed where I could once again look at the photographs I had taken throughout the day. The sun was beginning to tuck away on the horizon so taking more photographs was no longer an option. So I drove, silently reflecting on the day I was wrapping up.

I have a ragged New Mexico road atlas that goes with me on my travels. As I make my way through the Land of Enchantment, using a yellow highlighter, I highlight the different roads I take with the goal of traveling on the same road as little as possible. Since I bought this atlas a few years ago, the yellow marks of my adventures are quickly filling up the cobweb of New Mexico byways on which I have driven. Each mark is a memory of an excursion with my camera....sometimes alone, sometimes with a companion. Each excursion is memorable and precious to me.

My travels in New Mexico always renew me. When life is bogging me down and I feel as if I can't breathe, New Mexico quietly beckons me......come home.....come home....... And although I have never lived there, it feels like home to me. It is there where I am my most creative and spiritual self. It is there, amidst the mountains and desert, that I am at peace. It is there, in the Land of Enchantment, that I can finally.....breathe.......

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Mexico...

February 6, 2010

Cedar Point Grille in Cedar Crest, New Mexico at the southern end of the Turquoise Trail...my coffee and orange juice are on the table and I'm filling my time waiting on my Ham and Cheese Omelette Supreme by working on my blog. People are looking at me funny because I'm sitting at my table, alone with my mini lap-top, typing away (at least I hope that's why they are looking at me funny).

I like this place. It has good character and the people are all friendly even if they are wondering what I'm up to, pounding away on my keyboard. This little cafe at the base of the Sandia Mountains is good for writing. I'd like to come here for breakfast and write every morning.

Today begins the second day of my adventure in New Mexico. Driving west on I-40 Thursday night was an adventure in itself. I drove through varying degrees of fog most of the way. At times it was so thick I had to slow down to almost 50mph. Inside joke...even the fog doesn't slow me down much. However, at one point I had maybe 20 feet of visibility and turned on my hazard lights just so people could see me coming more clearly.

Arriving in Santa Rosa around 10:30pm Thursday night, I was already exhausted because I had only about three hours of sleep the night before, taught fifth graders all day, and finally drove for six and a half hours in the fog. Just as I was falling asleep a young couple with a screaming baby checked into the room next to me, completely oblivious to the fact that there could possibly be other people in the hotel trying to get some sleep. Their child screamed off and on for the next two hours resulting in me getting only three hours of sleep that night, too.

The next morning, my alarm went off much earlier than I would have liked. Eyes heavy and a sleep deprivation headache starting, I rolled out of bed and stumbled next door to the office, travel mug in hand, anxious for the caffeine jump start I needed. I walked through the outer doors, looking for the coffee that I was told would be in the office at 6:00am. But the office door was locked and the woman behind the counter looked at me rather rudely apparently wondering what I wanted so early in the morning. When I held up my empty coffee mug, she pointed at the clock. It showed 5:00am. That's when I realized I hadn't changed the clock on my Blackberry from Central Time to Mountain Time. Coffee wouldn't be ready for an hour. I dragged myself back to the room and took a shower.

The excitement of the day ahead of me energized me quite a bit. Before leaving Santa Rosa, I stopped and bought a large cup of coffee and began my journey. Once again driving west on I-40, I was jamming to the music playing on my XM radio. The New Mexico sunrise was at my back and I was heading to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary located southwest of Grants, New Mexico.

My morning excursion took me through Albuquerque. As I came upon the Sandia Mountains, located just east of the Duke City, I was once again reminded of why I love New Mexico so much. The reddish color of the mountains is immediately warm and welcoming. It is said that they were named the Sandia Mountains because of this sanguine hue. Sandia, in Spanish, means watermelon.

Continuing on, I made my way west to Grants, turning south on Highway 53 and eventually headed further west, to the isolated wolf sanctuary where I found the most incredible animals I'd ever seen. My love of wolves started last year when I set about researching them for a book I am writing. I was immediately drawn to their sense of family and the intense loyalty they share with their mates.

A beautiful, twiggy girl named Kate led us around the snowy complex with its tall chain link fence enclosures. As she told us about each and every one of the wolves, she kept them close to us by tossing chunks of hot dogs over the fence or by pushing the chunks through the openings allowing the wolves' teeth to ever so gently graze her palm as she fed them. There were two to three wolves in each pen, specially placed to ensure a good cohabitation between them. Kate had only been at the wolf sanctuary for three months, but already she had a vast knowledge of the wolves and a very deep connection with them.

About a third of the way through our tour, one of the wolves began to howl. Then a second, and a third, and before long, the entire compound of wolves was howling, not in sync, but in a chorus of howls. Each wolf has a distinctive howl that is can be easily identified by someone who knows the wolf well. The howling was overwhelming to me....I got choked up and my eyes quickly filled with tears. I couldn't believe the impact it had on me. Hearing a recording of a wolf howling pales in comparison to being there....literally ten feet away from a full-blooded wolf, throwing his head back, thrusting his throat forward, ready to join the chorus. I watched as he closed his eyes, formed his mouth perfectly, and let out a guttural, primal howl. The experience touched me on a very deep and personal level.

As our tour continued, I felt even more compelled to write my book on wolves. For centuries, people have been misinformed about wolves. They have been trained to fear and loathe them. Then there are those people who feel a need to try and keep wolves as pets only to discover that they do indeed have a wild animal at home. That's when they turn to people who actually understand the true nature of the wolf.

Reluctantly, I ended my time at the wolf sanctuary. I spent some time in the gift shop buying a few souvenirs and talking with Jaye who runs the gift shop. She asked me to send her some of my wolf art.

I can't wait to return. Next time I will call ahead and schedule the photographer's tour. This will allow me to actually go into selected pens and interact with and photograph the wolves, up close and personal.

Leaving was hard, but I knew there was so much more to see. I headed back to Albuquerque to my hotel. After getting a much needed good night's sleep, I set out in search of the Turquoise Trail.

The Turquoise Trail is a national scenic byway that starts near I-40, just east of Albuquerque and meanders in a northerly fashion along Highway 14. My journey began by taking the little part of it that is actually south of the interstate. There wasn't anything really open yet, so I turned back north and found the Cedar Point Grill and thought it looked like a charming place to have breakfast....and so it was.

My Ham and Cheese Omelette Supreme was delicious and a perfect start to the day. I don't know what lies ahead of me at this point. My idea of a fun day of travel is to follow your heart and see where you end up. I've had many wonderful adventures this way.

So, I begin day two of my New Mexico trip......more to come later......

Monday, February 1, 2010

Connection

I haven't written in a couple of weeks.

There has been plenty on my mind, but it couldn't find it's way out for some reason.

I find myself, as always, on my journey.......looking for answers, looking for connection. At times I feel almost desperate for someone to understand me, actually GET what I am feeling, GET what I need. It is so hard to find someone that understands me on that level. And if you find someone that you think might, just maybe, perhaps, understand what you are feeling.....you can't quite seem to connect with them.

Someone very dear to me recommended a book to me....Women Who Run with the Wolves. I thought it was a very fitting title to recommend considering the time I have invested in wolves whether through my art or my researching of the book I want to write. How fitting that she should recommend a book with that title. Once I started researching what the book was about, I was stunned. The book is about reconnecting with the Wild Woman inside of you. A woman I am just now coming to know intimately. How did she know? Does she relate to me on a level I did not recognize?

Maybe I am looking for connection in the wrong places. With the wrong people. It seems to me that if it is right, it will flow, it will come.....the energy is there. When you are trying to connect with the wrong person, it is awkward, uneasy, painful even. When you connect with the right person, you know. You just know.

I had an experience recently where I felt I connected with someone very deeply. Maybe the connection was only meant to be a temporary one. But I felt it. I understood it. It all made sense.

I suppose that really, the most important connection I need to have is the one with myself. That is the one that has been fractured for so long. Rather than looking to an outside connection, I need to look within.....to the Wild Woman who is pacing anxiously within me, ready to be free again....that's where my peace will be found. Once that vital connection has been made, it will pave the way for other connections in my life. Long lasting, deep connections.

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