Archives for the month of: June, 2008

the rains have returned to the parched desert. thick, heady aromas are sped through the air on gusts of wind.

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“it’s still a heart. it’s just a little bent out of shape.”

my former fiance introduced that phrase into my life. it has stayed with me, well past my dramatic valentine’s day departure from the life we shared for six years. this phrase is the impetus for a deeply personal photo project that i have been working on for over four years now. my “found heart” series.

i am an artist, a creator. my medium is photography. capturing and creating images is my vocation and method of self-expression and exploration. my chosen art form is so central to my life that it truly defines the woman i am, the life that i lead. i am a photographer, as is he, which deepens the mystery of his betrayal.

on my recent road trip, i moved the last of my belongings from Nebraska to Arizona. space was limited in my car. i went through my belongings and chose the most important things to keep. this process is excruciating. painful in ways that are beyond explanation. every time i go through a move i am reminded that there are two boxes that have been missing since my split with my former fiance. two boxes that he took from me. two boxes that contained 12 years of my life. twelve years of family memories – sister’s graduating high school, my nieces entering the world, my dad in his signature Izod polo shirts. twelve years of my professional development as a photojournalist – my documentary projects, original negatives from my coverage of 9/11 while interning at The New York Times. twelve years of my life. Stolen? Destroyed? the detectives that investigated the case and questioned him were sympathetic and kind to me. they said he was sullen and cagey. uncooperative. with no absolute proof of his actions, the investigation could go no further.

twelve years of images created and captured by me…removed from my life for reasons that i shall never be privy to understand. my mind does not work in such twisted and inhumane levels. i do not possess the ability to hate anyone so strongly that i would attempt to destroy them, as he did me.

it has been years since this happened. years. i am only now able to speak about it in any kind of way. the ripple effect of his actions continue today.

one box did remain. a box of correspondence. love letters, cards, postcards. all from him. romantic, he was. he rarely called me by my name. he called me “Love”. simple. succinct. full.

i did not move that box to my new home. it went directly into the trash, which is the word that i now use to refer to him. trash. simple. succinct. full.

my heart, while deeply scarred, it is just as he said. it is still a heart, just a little bent out of shape. i find my misshapen heart everywhere i go. graffiti on the walls of bar restrooms…

when i remove my jewelry at the end of the day…

outside coffee shops where i lock my mountain bike…

in patterns in the linoleum of old churches while on assignment with the youth i now teach photography to…

on hikes in the desert with dear friends…

the hearts that i find are precious to me. with each heart that i find, i heal a little bit more. my heart opens up. my capacity to love deepens and my faith in the healing power of love solidifies. my hearts, in all their forms, prove to me that love is out there if i am willing to see it.

what do you do after a day of driving through intense wind storms? you share a fabulous dinner with a dear friend (mine = William), slowly sip a refreshing glass of white wine and savor every bite of a dinner you can’t really afford.

William and i had dinner in Tulsa, Oklahoma before getting back on the road toward my desert home in the southwest. there is a certain fun factor to choosing a restaurant in random fashion, not looking at the menu before being seated and ordering food that will make you swoon with pleasure. the restaurant we ate at, Oliver’s Twist, was on Peoria, just down the street from the restaurant my Dad asked my Mom to marry him. the meal was lovely, conversation splendid. it was William’s first trip to Tulsa. i drove him around Oral Roberts University, which he found scintillating.

William insisted that we take this photo for our mutual friend Becki.

apparently, if Becki (Roberts) ever enters the adult entertainment business, she has her name picked out already. hmm. even i’d pay cash money for that.

i insisted that William and i stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico for some serious carnage at my favorite BBQ place. yes…it’s a chain…but i’m cool with that. i was introduced to Rudy’s BBQ while living in San Antonio, Texas nearly a decade ago. it is a testament that i still think it is the best BBQ if i’m still talking about it.

super yummy. total carnage. vegetarians need not apply.

William stayed for a lovely, long visit with me in Tucson. i adore having him in town. he fixes things around the house for the single woman that i am. he makes us fabulous dinners every night – over which he listens to me yak incessantly about how much i love my job and the people i work with. we went for a series of small hikes at Saguaro National Park. it was already in the mid-90’s by 10am, so we took it easy.

William thinks the Saguaro cacti are fascinating. last time he was here for a visit he got into a bit of a tussle with one. he was smarter this time round, but i wasn’t. i backed right into one. yikes!


when i think back upon my childhood, this is the house i think upon most. 1911 E. 53rd Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. my parents purchased the house and spent a couple months renovating the house before they told us kids about it. this is the house my youngest sister Abby was born into. this is the house where my Mom, Melody, made me walk up and down the wood parquet floors with a book atop my head in an (successful) effort to correct my poor posture and pigeon feet. this is the house where my Dad awoke us via the built-in intercom one Christmas morning as he pretended to be Santa Claus – he scared us to death actually and we stayed in our beds until he came to assure us that Santa was not a deranged lunatic loose in our house. this is the house where my older sister Julie taught me her cheerleading routines in the front yard and taught me how to dance (once upon a time i had no rhythm). this is the house where my sister Holly would lead Heidi and Abby in goofy dress-ups and act out even sillier skits. this is the house where i received an emergency breakthrough call telling me that my sister Heidi had been hit by a car (she was okay. suffered a concussion and from then on looked both ways before crossing an intersection).

on my return drive from Nebraska, we (my co-pilot William and i) took a detour to Tulsa. i was in search of a connection with my past. i was in search of a connection with my Dad, Mark Niles, who died in 1995 of a brain aneurysm. i was 20 at the time and he has been gone from my life for nearly 13 years now – longer than he was a part of my life. over the past four years, as life presented me with trials, tribulations, great successes and greater challenges i have come to miss him more and more.

Dad was a comedian. funny. intelligent. he drove a fabulous British red Triumph TR7, which was representative of who he was as a man – compact, sporty, fun, bright, unique. he was addicted to “fire” jolly rancher candies. taught me to play chess. he was quick to laugh. he married my mom – a single mother with four young daughters – and together they brought one more Niles Girl into the world to make a solid 5 daughters. when i broke both my wrists in 5th grade and was stuck at home over spring break with plaster casts on both arms, Dad brought me lunch every day – a cheeseburger and fries from Braum’s. the first day, he laughed when he caught me staring at my lunch with concentrated perplexity (the casts prevented me from holding the burger). he cut the burger in quarters every day after that.

in a family of seven, one-on-one time with a parent is a near impossibility. i had one main objective in returning to Tulsa – to find the place where i spent a small, but great, period of time alone with my Dad. i was in 5th grade and he picked me up downtown after i toured an insurance company while on a field trip for “smart” kids. that afternoon he took me to a hot dog place, The Original Coney Islander. it had mahogany wood paneling along the walls. you ate standing up. there were no tables, just a long, skinny wood bar with a few stools along the wall. Dad pulled one of the stools over so that i could reach the bar. i remember black and white historical photos on the walls, but more importantly i remember how special i felt in that moment. my Dad had that effect on people. he made you feel special. his deep brown eyes would focus on you when you spoke.

(photos/William Lauer)

thanks to William, we found the place. it wasn’t open on Saturdays. i’m actually glad that it wasn’t open. if it was, i would have been compelled to go in and have a hot dog – just like i did with my Dad (steamed hot dog with melting shredded chedder cheese and diced white onion) – but it would not have been the same. recreating memories never achieves what you wish it would. standing in front of the place (which has a different name and has been renovated since i was there) i realized that afternoon i spent eating hot dogs with my Dad was over 20 years ago.

i wonder what advice my Dad would have given me over the past 13 years. i wonder what kind of father he would have grown to be to his adult daughters and what he would think of the men we have chosen as partners. i wonder what kind of grandfather he would have been to the children my sisters all have now. his death has had a profound and prolonged effect on our family, especially my mother who has never recovered from it.

the sunday evening before Dad died unexpectedly, my entire family gathered for dinner at Julie and Jason’s apartment. i’m fortunate. the last words i ever said to my dad were, “I love you” as i gave him a big hug goodbye that night. the next time i saw him two days later, he was gone. his spirit had left his body, his eyes were without his intense vibrancy.

my Dad wasn’t a saint. he was a man. he had faults. he was exceedingly stubborn with a quick temper. he and i argued more than he and any of my sisters ever did. our last major fight created some positive change in both he and i, which i am thankful for now that i am an adult. i have a deeper respect and admiration for the challenges that my Dad accepted without question when he married “his family”. the house at 1911 E. 53rd Street is also where my Dad ran after my biological father’s car with a baseball bat when the biological father brought us home hours late after court-appointed visitation and my parents were worried that we had been abducted. this is the house where my parents nursed the newly-pierced ears of Julie and I after biological father took the earings out with pliers because he thought our tiny smiley face earrings were tawdry. the house on E. 53rd Street is also the family Home we lost due to my parents five-year battle to retain custody of my sisters and i when our biological father and his family repeatedly took my parents to court and all money was devoted to court and lawyer fees.

one of the greatest compliments my Dad could receive was when someone would tell him that his daughters looked like him (an impossibility due to the technicality that we were not related through blood but through choice). on the day of his memorial service, i stood in the receiving line to greet all who came to honor my Dad. the service was delayed due to the incredible turn-out of people. it was standing room only, even with the anteroom that was opened to handle the overflow of people. that day I listened to story after story about my dad from people that knew him as Mark. until that day i really only knew him as my Dad. i’m thankful for those stories. they provided me with a more complete vision of who my dad was as a man. the laughter these stories were shared with, despite the sorrow of the event, is a testament to the nature of my Dad’s spirit.

i do resemble my Dad. i have his traits. tenacity. insatiable curiosity. deep and unwavering devotion to those i love. i have a love of laughter and practical jokes, as he did. i have his sarcasm and quick wit. i carry these parts of him with me in a loving attempt to keep his engaging spirit alive.

my thoughts have been pulled into a black hole of focus that has paralyzed my ability to redirect my mind towards creative projects. this has resulted in a major case of writer’s/creator’s block lately. i’m trying to work through it. i’m hoping that accomplishing my goal of a serious blog update will release my mind.

my trip to lincoln was fabulous. it felt wonderful to be in a place that is deeply familiar and full of people that i have deep friendships with. it was very filling for my soul to be in a place that is lush and green.

(photo/William Lauer)

Nebraska really does look like this. farms with windmills and red barns. rows and rows of corn. puffy clouds slowly moving through bright blue skies. it is pure Americana, and i have a love affair with it. there were tornado warnings nearly every day that i was there…with lots of rain, thunder, lightning…even was teased by sirens announcing a tornado that never materialized.

thankfully, i had opportunities to spend quality connection time with some of my favorite people on this planet. i had an awesome photo shoot with the Green family: Tom, Amy and Grace.

Amy, the matriarch of the Green family, is one of the most lovely and precious people in my life. she is an old soul, a sage. her insight and intuition has guided a great many people through this thing called life. Tom and Grace are fabulously intelligent and challenging young people. the Green family owns the most magical ice cream shop in lincoln – Ivanna Cone – where i spent hours learning how to make fabulous home-made ice cream. Ivanna Cone is special in ways that are hard to quantify in words. it truly is an experience unlike any other.

Becki and i joined another incredibly fabulous matriarch, Joellen, for an evening of music. Joellen’s four “kids” are all not only smart and creative folks, but all have deep connections to music. this evening Jo’s daughter Terri was performing on the “fiddle” with her old-time music band, which included a wash-tub bass. Terri’s vocals are lovely – haunting and strong. beautiful evening all around.

i adore road trips, especially when my co-pilot is the awesome Miz Becki. we made good time, only missed one junction.

i’m totally happy to be on the road…and on vacation!

on the road to interstate 40, in northern Arizona. this area reminds me so much of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. the drive from Arizona to Colorado is always such a beautiful drive. the landscape changes so drastically every hundred miles making the drive exciting. i only wish we had time to have stopped for an overnight adventure in Santa Fe. next time, i say, next time.

a few rants from the road:

Verizon appears to be unconcerned about the company’s carbon footprint. they have a moving billboard, the purpose of which is to be driven aimlessly around only for the sake of advertising. ridiculous waste of fuel and a rather un-environmentally friendly thing to do. did i already say, ridiculous? i hereby boycott Verizon.

in Las Vegas, New Mexico a motel owner is doubly happy to be “American owned”. i should have walked into the office and asked them which country their ancestors immigrated from and demanded they provide me with their definition of “American”. having just driven through the Navajo Indian Reservation, i found it incredibly offensive.

this beauty greeted us at a gas station in south Denver. i have no words, only snickering giggles. welcome to cowboy country.

Becki dared me to ask the driver “How’s it hanging?”, but he left before i made it back out from the ladies room.

the beautiful Becki and the flat land of the prairie.

Welcome to Nebraska. i’ve photographed this sign every time i’ve driven past it. “Nebraska…the good life.” so true. that evening found me sipping Miller High Life with my dear friends Becki, Amy and William on the back patio of Becki’s house, my former roommate. it was like no time had passed and it was lovely. i even got several mosquito bites.

this morning, i had the best cup of coffee in town…at William’s house. he made us a lovely mushroom omlette, complimented by fresh cinnamon scones made by Mark.

tonight is the tradition of attending Jazz in June with my friends. it is so nice to back in Lincoln, to be around friends and to be in a familiar landscape. i’ve already run into several people that i know, totally randomly. ahh…to be “home”.

now that the magazine is complete, it’s time to relax. friday was a perfectly random and relaxing day. met Mamta at Epic for brunch, then i wasted three hours playing on my computer. Becki and i discovered a Mexican restaurant neither of us need to return to. we also went on a power hike during the sunset hour at Gates Pass.

stunning views combined with challenging hike = refreshing and fun.

that evening we joined Monica and Sean at The Hut for a perfect ending to a stressful week. local samba group, Batucaxe, performed to a fun and varied crowd that spent the whole night dancing. i even got Sean out on the dance floor (no easy feat!) for a rendition of “People Get Ready”. i went to bed that night feeling incredibly relaxed.

the next morning we snuck in a quick hike in Catalina State Park before heading to Phoenix for the first leg of our road trip to Nebraska. we had dinner at Jill and Micheal’s beautiful new home (which Jill unpacked in a miraculous two days!). awesome guacamole Micheal!

The Release Party for 110ยบ Magazine was a fantastic event. it was well attended and went smoothly. I had a splendid time…only found myself wishing for more time to talk to people who helped make the magazine possible. i do admit that i spent that morning in full freak-out mode, stressing about the slide show…all for nothing…it all went without a hitch.

Here are some pictures from the evening…

these are the super ladies that i work with. left to right: Lisa, me, Donnamarie, Katie, Rachel and Angel. Regina is the only woman missing in this frame.

Becki (left) was my beautiful date to the party. she joined the lovely Peitzmeier sisters, who came down from Tucson for the party – Jill, Lauren and Erin. Micheal was also there. it was really special for me to share the evening with my friends from Nebraska. i would not be working for Voices if it wasn’t for Jill, who found the job posting and forwarded it to me. Jill says we are even, due to the fact that my departure from the paper in Lincoln led to the hiring of Micheal – who is now her fiance.

my family also drove down from Phoenix for the evening, and Julie supported Voices by purchasing the print of the cover image. thanks julie!

the youth staff were all dressed up and looked great. their readings of excerpts of their stories was very moving and powerful. Sean took some video. i’ll let everyone know when/if he gets it posted online somewhere.