Thursday, June 18, 2009

Photoshoot and Followup


This is the result of a photo shoot I did the other day, followed by some work with the GIMP. I thought I'd share some of went into this image - the "behind the scenes," if you will, as I rarely talk about how I set up shots or how I edit and so on. I normally just give the finished product. I found it easier to write this as a list rather than as a cohesive whole.

Fact 1: I'd had this image planned out in my head for a few months.

Fact 2: I set up and wrote on my arms while playing Flyleaf's album way too loud.

Fact 3: I needed a room where light sources could easily be controlled, so I went to the same place I always do for shoots like this - the bathroom, which has no windows.

Fact 4: The black backdrop is courtesy of my brother's cloak

Fact 5: The black words were written with dry erase marker. "LOVE" originally was as well, but the red dry erase marker didn't show up as well as it needed to, so I went over it with sharpie.

Fact 6: The lamp I usually use for lighting went dead at the crucial moment. I still needed a directed light source. My solution? Seven candles and an oil lamp clustered around the sink in front of the mirror. Not as bright as I really wanted, but with some help from my camera's flash, it worked.

Fact 7: I was using self-timer for this, obviously. I stacked up books between the candles and put the camera on top of that - because the mirror was behind the camera I could see the view screen reflected from where I was sitting and could adjust as necessary (yes, I planned it that way).

Fact 8: I was doing this in a limited amount of time. I wanted it to be done before my siblings got home, and I wasn't sure exactly how much time I'd have. Fortunately they got back later than I expected.

Fact 9: The battery ran out after the first few shots. I dashed to the charger and plugged in the battery for about 5 minutes, to give it just enough power that I could hurriedly get better shots.

Fact 10: It gets very, very hot in a small, enclosed room in summer with little ventilation when you have 7 candles and an oil lamp burning.

Fact 11: It took a few minutes to scrub off all the writing afterwards, but much less time than if I'd used black sharpie (as I know from past experience).

Fact 12: The shot I ended up most satisfied with was the last one I took, which is unusual. Normally when I do multiple shots of the same thing, it's the first or the second I like best, and I never manage to capture it any better on the following takes.

Fact 13: I knew before I took the picture that I'd be grayscaling it, which turned out to be a good thing. Because of the interesting lighting issues, I had to do some shadow correction, which is much easier when working with all gray tones.

Fact 14: Basic outline of everything I did to the image in GIMP: I cropped it. I desaturated it. I increased the contrast. I darkened all the colors except the skin and hair. I used the smudge tool to make the hair look smoother. I used the airbrush tool to correct the shadows around the face. I increased the contrast on the arms so the writing shows up better. I went to the layer of the original, colored image (when doing image manipulation, I almost always leave an untouched version of the picture as a separate layer - it's very helpful) and selected just the word "LOVE." I copied it onto a new layer. I made it look smoother using airbrush, and darkened and lessened the saturation so that the red blended better. (If you're curious, this is the image I started out with: click)

Fact 15: This was supposed to be stylized, so if it looks rather "fake," that's fine. It didn't turn out exactly as I wanted, and I may be playing around with it more, but all things considered I really can't complain.

- Elraen -

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Looking Back: Clean Place Moot 2008

I can remember very clearly where I was exactly a year ago today.

We were driving. I had my face close to the window, staring at mountains outlined in fairy traces of snow. It was like a dream. I was in a van full of friends, girls who had been my constant companions for the past two years. My mother and my friend Kalmiel sat in the front seats, as they were taking turns driving. EveningStar sat on my row. Emerwen and my sister Telpe sat in the row behind me. My older brother Maranar sat in the back row with his small white mouse, Trillian, who was along for the ride.

When we finally turned onto Mangy's street, I looked at the street sign and remembered all the times I'd seen and written that address. I couldn't believe I was actually here, after two long years. It took us a few moments to maneuver our bulky 15-passenger van into the small parking spot in front of Mangy's house. We went around to the back door; I still don't remember why. Emerwen and I were walking ahead of the others. I was wearing my blue cloak, knowing that that would make me very easily recognizable. I remember walking around back and hearing screams of excitement from inside. My very first impulse was to turn around and run.

I had waited for that moment for two years. I had been part of the online community Clean Place since three weeks before my 15th birthday in 2006, and I had managed to meet a few members in person. Nothing like this though. This was the second annual "Clean Place Moot," where members from all over the country would gather in Colorado Springs for 10 days of fellowship and writing. Last year I hadn't been able to go due to financial issues, and it had been very hard for me to be so far away when so many of my friends were together. This year twice as many members were going as had before, and my family and Texan friends were among those new "Mooters." There was a sense of excitement, and yet at the same time I felt nervous - afraid I wouldn't live up to the person they thought I was, to the person I should be. Afraid I wouldn't be able to talk to the right people as much as I should.

Those first few minutes after the door opened are a blur in my head. I remember hugging Mangy, and I remember that Shalana was the only one I didn't immediately recognize (we only had one or two pictures of her at that point). I remember that there was a pavilion out back. I remember Mar bringing out Trillian to break the ice. I remember going in, and Nia making me sit down and drink water (I was coming out of the worst illness of my life, and my endurance was next to nothing at that point). Silver bounced over and gave me some Korean candy to eat. I kept looking at Mightimidget to assure myself she was actually there.

The Ferns arrived pretty quickly. I was very nervous to meet them, because I had known them fairly well for some time and I didn't want to disappoint them by who I was in person. I must have seemed very quiet and cold when I said hello to them.

We headed out to Yellow Leader's that night. I don't even remember the drive to his house anymore; I was so overwhelmed. Someone went down to call the boys up from the basement, and soon Wolfsong and Kryos came dashing up the stairs. I remember shaking Wolfsong's hand and thinking he was friendlier than I expected. For the next thirty minutes, Wolfsong was trying to teach Kryos everyone's names.

We all got sticky note nametags, and before long were eating. I was on the back porch with EveningStar and the Ferns. I was trying to make Telpe drink water, while trying to make myself eat. Soon all the name tags got switched - I remember seeing the dog run past with my name tag stuck to her, and then later sitting down on a couch and grabbing a pillow to find that my own name tag was stuck to it. I was wearing Yellow Leader's for much of the evening, though I don't remember who I got it from.

When the van with the TN and GA crew arrived. I stood flattened against a wall, watching everyone get out. These were some of the people I'd known for longest - Warrior Maiden, Lissi, Elya, Legossi. I wondered if any of them wanted to say hello to me. I walked closer and stood on the outside of the ring of people. No one noticed me, so I went back and stood against the wall again. Eventually Legossi (who I had met before) came up and said hello and gave me a hug. I don't know if I've ever been more glad of a hug in my entire life.

There are so many scattered memories of that first evening. I remember Child playing "How to Save a Life" on the piano, and I remember working up the courage to talk to her briefly. I remember that I talked to Warrior Maiden briefly, and wanted to talk more but was too afraid to keep trying.

Those first few days were basically a continuation of that (though somewhat improved). I enjoyed the activities in small groups best - my favorite memory from the first five days is going to get Caspian at the airport on Monday with Mangy, Lissi, Midget, Child, Mar, and Eowyn. Afterwards Child, Caspian, and I got the lasagna in the oven at Mangy's and we all stood around talking. I think that was the first time I actually enjoyed myself at all.

I fought with myself so much those first five days, trying to learn to talk to people, to smile, to laugh, to hold a conversation without feeling terrified that they'd see through my disguise and realize how incredibly insecure I actually was. I went back to our host's house and cried myself to sleep four out of those first five nights. One night I locked myself in the bathroom and cried and threw things until I felt better, even though I knew it was childish. I felt stranded, and stressed, and alone, and like there was something terribly wrong with me for feeling like that.

The turning point of the whole trip for me was the car accident on Tuesday. We were in a van with 9 girls, and another driver pulled up right into our blind spot as we were turning. There was a bump and everyone screamed. We'd scraped the front of the other car. We lost a hub cap and took some minor scraping, and the front of her car was dented a little.

Most of you who know me well have heard the story of the next two hours many times. Something weird happened in the two and a half hours I spent sitting by the road, helping deal with the other driver and the police officer when he arrived. I forgot myself. I remember praying and giving those hours to God, trusting Him to work things out according to His perfect will. I focused on helping the others around me, at that point particularly the friend who had been driving the van. By that evening I was stressed, sunburned, exhausted, and dehydrated, but something had changed.

The next few days were better. The play was incredible - I found the courage to get up on stage and perform for the first time in years. This was a huge milestone for me. One of my favorite memories is the night I got to sleep over at Mangy's. Mangy, Silver Eagle and I got snacks ready for the next day, Midget crashed on the futon, and Child and Eowyn sat on the living room floor watching Monty Python while Rasi RPGed on her laptop. I loved driving up Pike's Peak. I'll never forget the crazy conversations with Wolfsong and Kryos, how helpful and kind Caspian was (even when our van broke down for the third time), the way it snowed (in JUNE). The insanity of organizing a group picture, eating grapes and crackers and cheese in the cold. Then there was the camping trip. To this day I have no idea why I chased Wolfsong over the mountainside because he stole the marshmallows, but I don't regret it. We all went out and howled at the moon together, and we talked until past 1:00 a.m., even when the fire died down and we were standing shivering by dying embers.

It was the last two days of the moot that I actually felt completely accepted and at home (yes, it took me that long). For the first time I hated to be separated from the group, and I would beg my mother and my roommates to move faster every time we had to go back to the house for something and be away from the action for a while. I don't want to detail the last two days much for personal reasons, but I guess the most important events of the moot really happened then for me.

I remember saying goodbye - hugging everyone, climbing into the big gray van. Sticking my hand out the window and holding onto peoples' hands until the van's motion pulled me away from them. I put earphones in and listened to "Say Goodbye" by Skillet.

It's been a year now. Since that moot I've seen relationships change drastically. I've been through one incredibly difficult and painful year of college, and I have survived. I've seen some of those CPers again, and it's meant more than I could express. Some I may never see again. But there's something I carry with me from those ten days, and it's something I never, every want to lose: the concept of unconditional love. The moot totally changed the way I interact with other people. You know my whole concept of everyone being fragile on the inside? It was the moot that originally started that. It was the moot that taught me that no matter where someone's coming from, what habits or beliefs they have that conflict with yours, no matter how far away they live... no matter how much they hurt you, they are beautiful and worth being loved in spite of all the ugly bits. That's what God did for me. That's what I want to do for other people. That is the legacy left in my heart by the Clean Place Moot 2008.

With time and distance separating me from those ten days, someone might ask me now to sum up what I feel about the Moot. I think I would say something like "It was one of the biggest milestones of my life. It was also overwhelming, exciting, fun, chaotic, stressful, moving, painful, beautiful, and absolutely terrifying." I would have to pause for a moment and smile before finishing with "and guess what? I'm doing it all over again in two months. I can't wait."

If you're an 08 Mooter reading this? I love you more than words can express. God bless.
- Elraen, the Wandering Star




Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why I Should Drink Water

This morning was one of those mornings. The kind where I found that my siblings had moved my coffee, and I couldn't find it. The kind where my 8-year-old brother dropped raw eggs on the floor and didn't want to clean them up. The kind where I was wearing extremely mis-matched socks and didn't care anymore. The kind where I had a major homework project done and had been up later than I'd wanted to be.

I hurried out the door with chai instead of coffee (as the coffee was lost). I got to British Literature class, and we had a devo. Dr. W had promised we'd take a “field trip” to his office this morning, as we were talking about Bible translation and he had some things he wanted to show us. We all crowded into his office – 12 of us, in a rather small room. One whole wall was covered with framed pages from all sorts of Bible translations, ranging back to the 1500s – one page was hand written because it was copied before the printing press was invented. He talked to us about each one and went into its history. I was paying close attention, because it was interesting.

It got very, very warm in the office. The air conditioner hasn't been working right on that side of the hallway apparently, and the bodies were closely packed. I started spacing out, and couldn't focus on what Dr. W was saying. I remember thinking about The Last Night by Skillet, as I often do, and my thoughts got stuck in a circle, words repeating themselves and refusing to come into focus. I felt like I needed a drink. I figured we'd be back in the classroom soon enough, and I could get a drink then and sit down. Then it felt like something was shutting off in my brain, like I had been locked away in a glass room. It was the weirdest feeling in the world.

Images flashed in front of my eyes – images of friends, of family, of a Skillet concert, a circus. It didn't make sense, and I was confused. Then I saw a face I seemed to recognize but couldn't place, a guy with blond hair.

“Hey, are you alright?” he asked.

Then I recognized him as RJ, the guy who sits beside me in Brit. Lit. Why was he here? Wasn't I at home? Or was I in the classroom? And why was I on the ground? Was this a dream? I blinked, but the situation didn't go away.

“Yeah, I'm alright,” I said, giving the typical answer and feeling somewhat confused.

“Hurry, lay her out on the floor. We need to get her feet elevated, and I'll put her head in my lap,” Ellie was saying, a sweet girl who sits on the other side of the room from me.

Dr. W was handing Ellie something. I saw my friend M, who's in the class with me, glancing at me and walking away. I was so confused. I was on the ground, and RJ brought in a damp paper towel that they put on my forehead.

It finally processed that I'd passed out, there in my professor's office. Dr. M, a Bible teacher who I respect and admire (but had never met in person before), was there telling them to bring me to the hallway where it was cooler. I think I walked, but then they had me lie down again. The secretary was there. She asked if I wanted her to call my father (who, for those of you who don't know, works at my University). I said I was pretty sure he was doing a set-up in this same building. By this point I was thinking clearly. Ellie was fanning me, but all my other classmates were back in the classroom with Dr. W. They were saying that I was starting to regain color, and that I'd been white as a sheet a moment before.

The head of security came in before too long. He took my pulse and asked me a few questions. He asked what we'd been doing, and I explained, and he and Dr. M both agreed that maybe I passed out from sheer boredom, but told me not to tell Dr. W they said that. I laughed. It was a really weird way to be introduced to some of these people, but every time I tried to apologize for causing trouble they told me not to.

After a while lying down, they let me sit up, and then even sit in a chair. There was a long debate on whether or not to call EMS in. I decided now would be a bad time to mention that I had a deathly fear of all things medical, as it really wasn't my call to make. They eventually decided not to. The head of security said he was guessing that it was just heat, not enough to drink, standing for a long time, and so on. I'm guessing it also had something to do with having too little sleep. The head of security offered to drive me home, as I wasn't supposed to walk. Ellie brought me my stuff from the classroom. She was incredibly sweet – I'd never even talked to her before, and she went way out of her way to help me. She told me to e-mail her if I needed a ride to class tomorrow morning. My father walked with me out to the security truck. I was driven home, and left with very strict instructions to rest for the rest of the morning and not to walk anywhere in the heat. I was told to drink and to stay cool.

I think at this point my greatest fear is that I knocked something over or broke something in my professor's office when I fell – I was too disoriented when I first came out of it to have any idea what I'd hit. I apparently banged my elbow (it's a little scraped up), but they say I didn't hit my head. Overall, I'm just glad I was allowed to go home without any more trouble, and I'm so incredibly grateful to everyone for being so nice and so helpful. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before, and I pray it never will again, so it was really just... weird.

I'm taking one very important lesson away from this: it's important to actually do things like drink water and sleep. So often I don't take care of myself because I feel it doesn't matter, it's a waste of time and energy, and I'm not worth it. I'm understanding now that actually, when I do stupid things (like not drinking water and not sleeping or eating enough), it's causing those around me trouble in the long run. Not taking the few extra seconds to make sure you're functioning right is actually self centered. I'll have to remember that next time I'm tempted to skip meals or to stay up way too late.

The biggest plus of the whole experience? Going home from class an hour early and not being allowed to go into work. I have my midterm tomorrow and a huge project to finish by Friday, and now I have time to do it at home as well as to relax. In a sense, this is a blessing. I'm so much less stressed now than I was.

- Elraen -