Friday, November 27, 2015

My Most Personal Story: About Mom

My mom was an adept conversationalist, proper in dress and demeanor, and well read. In New Orleans where she grew up, she had been a high school radio announcer and member of the debate team. She knew me well enough to realize I had an irreversible condition even before I did, and she told me it was the only part about me that had ever really worried her. My mom had actually worried about me.

I’m going to tell this history in a non-judgmental way---as much as I can, I won’t allow emotion to muddy or cloud the telling of it. No matter how my mom had treated me in these particulars, I acknowledge the ways in which she operated against me were actuated by conflicts from which she herself suffered. They contorted her and attended to me via her in a vicious manner throughout the majority of my minor years.
The deepest root of the matter was that sensual and sexual feelings in me were enigma to my mom. They antagonized her. The innate desires that attracted me to girls horrified her and so as a child much of the time I was on high alert.

My parents when I was six and seven years old often monitored me in my bed at night for any slight, muffled signal that I was “touching myself.” Whether I was or wasn’t---if they thought I was--- I risked a spanking. I felt dread and associated pleasure with pain. I hid. I lied to escape bitter consequences of forthrightness.
I have always been enamored of women---as a kid I was--- and I am now as an adult. The feelings beg for satisfaction and expression. I always wanted to have fun with girls. I always wanted to hold hands with a girl I really liked. I wanted always to walk with a sweetheart in a park or on a beach.

But mom laid down rules. I was forbidden to deliberately walk with a girl home from school, i.e. seek out the girl to walk with her; walking home from school with a girl was permitted only if it should occur by chance.

Another rule forbade the entrance of girls I knew into the family home.
This next requires explanation. Every summer my parents sent me to San Francisco for a two or three week vacation at the house of my maternal grandmother. Before going one year, when I was eleven or twelve, mom issued an order forbidding me to enter the house of any girl while in San Francisco. I did anyway. This was reported to her by a sibling after the vacation, and Mom grounded me for the rest of the summer.
In 6th grade a boys' and girls' party was held for members of the class. After the party separate slumber parties were planned for the girls and the boys. Mom refused permission to attend the mixed party but granted permission to go to the boys' slumber party.
At my grammar school in 7th grade a sock hop was held in one of the classrooms and I attended contrary to the wishes of mom. A sibling reported the disobedience and I was reprimanded.
Mom forbade me to see the film “Westside Story.”
One afternoon--- a group of mothers who lived in the neighborhood and who had children, friends of mine, attending the grammar school I attended came to visit mom. They knocked on the door and mom let them into the house. I was watching and listened while perched up the staircase out of view. The women were asking mom to allow more freedom to me in regard to going to dances and mixing with girls in general. In short order mom curtly showed them to the door.
When I was 13 years old, our family went on a Catholic Church retreat to the desert. I met the most beautiful girl there I had ever seen, by far, and we clicked instantly. It was love at first sight and for two weeks I was living in heaven on earth laughing and enjoying companionship with this girl. Her eyes just sparkled. At the end of the retreat, we exchanged mailing addresses. A few weeks later, my folks called me into the living room. Mom was holding an open envelope and she had extracted and read the letter inside. She tore it to pieces in front of me and I realized then it had been a letter to me by that girl in the desert. On the inside I seethed at the insult and disregard to my privacy but didn't say a word.

When I was a junior in high school, I was on the phone with a cute blond and mom came with arms akimbo and stern face and stood inches away from me, making it impossible to have a private conversation.
These were all invasions against the heterosexual masculinity in me in a long standing war waged by mom.

When I reached 17 years of age I decided I had had enough. I began to devote myself to dissipation. I got high on drugs and stayed high on drugs as much as possible---I trashed the work ethic. My parents couldn't take it and kicked me out of the house and I joined the army. I took a discharge 16 months later and for the next nine years I lived on welfare in various northern California locations.

One day many years later, in another era, after I recovered and was leading a self-sustaining life, I was visiting my parents at their home in Los Angeles. Mom and I were sitting in the living room with other family across from one another. Our eyes met and mom’s body jerked erect. She stiffened. She didn't do the jerk; the jerk had been done to her. Then I saw a curl of what looked similar to black smoke rise above her, and felt that the demon---that tormenter---was revealing itself.
Last week, I was preparing to do the Essential Somatic Movements contained in the CD by Somatic Educator Martha Peterson.
I watched and listened to this gentle and caring woman explain how the movements eliminate pain. She encapsulated everything about the embodiment of the female gender that's especially wonderful. Innate wisdom, compassion, sincerity. And I couldn’t help myself. I started to cry--- deep sobs of tears because this Martha Peterson was in no way at all someone evil. She was good and kind and gentle and my mom for all those years had remonstrated against my feelings in favor of girls altogether as special and good. I cried for some minutes; until I didn’t have any more water. In my 65 years this was the first I felt not bitter or angry about the abuse but just hurt at the enormity of the crime done against me--- and my mom.





Monday, October 26, 2015

A Man without a Country

Alan by no means appears the strapping type who would cross continents and traverse oceans in an eight year drive to meet the peoples of the world. He approaches instead the diminutive. We sit across from one another in couch chairs one afternoon last week talking under the bamboo roof of the guest commons at Hostal Rosario del Villa in Cuenca. He laughs easily and looks about 42 years old, wears a worn baseball cap and appears altogether nondescript, perhaps even somewhat undernourished.

Istanbul, Turkey

Alan’s assured cadence and deep voice tell a different story. Those reflect a personal need molded onto a framework of intense curiosity which for almost a decade has stopped at nothing to find universal commonality no matter country or culture.

Cusco, Peru

So is Alan a traveler? “I can’t really characterize myself as anything,” he says. “I can just say that I travel because that’s part of my life.”
A part of his life that’s more consequence than choice he says.
Alan had been working with computer software and hardware in the Silicon Valley high tech era, and started part time, taking personal growth courses and studies. It generated full scale change but not until Alan rammed into a dead end wall years later.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

He has always enjoyed helping people, he explains, helping people discover their hidden aspects, helping people to resolve differences, helping people to better understand their motivations.

Time after time people encouraged him. You’re so good at doing counseling, they said, you ought to practice full time. So he got out of the high tech field and without a psychology degree that is in fact what Alan did for about the next six years.

“I thought about (getting a degree) for many years” he says, “and every time I went to go something stopped me. The main thing is they weren’t actually seeing people, they were seeing statistics in general and I wanted to see people in specifics.”  

He says he did it until he got really good at it. He could figure out their focus of attention, see the things inside themselves that they wanted to change. But Alan says almost everyone wanted to change superficially, for instance, how to change to make more money or how to develop a more likeable personality.

“Is that all people really want?” thought Alan. “They were satisfied with what to me was just a beginning. It was just bread crumbs. And people were delighted with it. And I wasn’t. I needed a path, I needed to go somewhere.”
He felt frustrated doing life coaching because to use Ecuador as a metaphor, people wanted to hear about the country but only one percent ever traveled to it. No one wanted to actually go. People didn’t want a change that turns things inside out or the change that pulls the root of the self out for brave examination.

It was like people “watching the travel channel but then turning off the TV," says Alan.

Buenos Aries, Argentina

This was the dead end experience that birthed the consequence of Alan’s travels across the globe. He visited Asia, South America, the Middle East and Europe. He lived in Buenos Aries, Santiago, Spain, Istanbul and Cusco, Peru. He went to India. He began searching for a commonality among people that unites despite habits of language and culture or country and belief. He “ticked” to find what made other people tick under the clothing of their heritage and cultural upbringing.

This tick is what Alan describes as “intent.” It’s a third aspect that forms a triangle of being along with the nature and nurture aspects, our genetic and environmental aspects. No two intents can be exactly alike Alan is saying, not a one can match exactly that of another. Alan argues these intents are the stuff that make us tick.

While traveling for these many years, Alan has lost contact with his country of origin and to the extent his English has been expunged of American slang. He speaks a neutral English which German or French people can understand.  

Santiago, Spain

“I’m an American in the official sense," he says, "but I don’t see the world through the eyes of an American.”

I don’t know how Alan’s awakening took place. I don’t know if it was like the rise of a morning sun over the horizon, or whether it came as a thunder clap that dismembered the lone tree on an empty tract of land. But according to Alan it was a discovery that contradicted his almost canonical belief that inside everyone exists something which unites them to others of the same species.

…”that came as a big blow to me” he says, “…we were really not…. everybody has something that makes them tick but that’s the only thing they have in common.”

When the interview progresses to this point I’m beginning to wonder if in truth the design of an individual’s being is so unique it cannot ever unite in fundamental fashion with the being of another.

Alan’s finding overturned and undermined the very purpose of his world travels and led him to go on to write a book published last February, available on Amazon in print and digital forms entitled, “The Story between Us, Living and Relating from Being.”

Alan required anonymity to tell his story, and as the author of his book, he’s known simply as Alan S. 






Monday, October 12, 2015

Family History and Legend of Courtesy Lost

He said he would do it--- and he did. He plunged his short sword into Emperor Calígula. He rid the Mediterranean world of a tyrant. He executed the assassination and shed the blood of a beast till death. Cassius Chaerea. His name appears in my book two thousand years after the event. And there is no one around entirely like me to honor the one who was entirely the man Cassius Chaerea.

My family originated in America from Louisiana territory, vast French property sold by Napoleon for $3 million to the just formed USA.  In the few years before Pearl Harbor, the whole lot moved to California. They moved across an entire continent. Fathers and mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-grandparents. Families with surnames DeCuir, Bell and Porche transplanted themselves anew. They left New Orleans’ parishes for cities named Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco.They succeeded. Aunts and mothers raised families and taught in schools and sold stock. Fathers played music, built houses and sold insurance. 
So my blood is inherited south---French, English, Scottish, black African---Indian and Jewish. I call it gumbo and praline. That’s cornbread and grits when Grandma talks French to Aunt Sue in the kitchen.   

Alexis and Cornelia Porche on their wedding day.
Papa my Jewish maternal great grandfather had been a cotton broker and raised two families. He’d laugh uproariously while tossing dish candy out the window to his daughter’s grandchildren darting about in the yard below. I’d count Papa’s change and buy his white owl cigars.

That world in which I used to live---when most people went to church on Sunday or didn't necessarily lock their front doors---it's vanished.
In those days fifty years ago the sun lit bright the parks and lakes of California. White clouds in blue sky were swept by wind over landscapes of brown and green. A young woman walked alone unafraid at night on Market Street in down town San Francisco.
It's not as bright these days and I take a look from a particular angle.  

Catholic University of America students at Mass
See, in the old days my family prayed at Catholic church. We kneeled and prayed the rosary in our home with other Catholic families in the neighborhood. Protestants let us do our thing without comment. They didn’t deprecate Catholics. Protestant and Catholic people became friends and didn’t fight about religión.
But during Jesus movement days twenty years later, together with evangelicals, I looked inside a cathedral packed with Catholics singing with arms upraised and my Protestant companions scoffed at the sight. Why?
I believe it’s an example of disregard which dwindling courtesy enables. I know it's an impossible stretch, but maybe the start of this loss of courtesy in some mysterious way began the day Emperor Caligula announced he was a god---that somehow being the hidden seed to today's school shootings and rampant drug abuse---that evil spirit keeping people afraid out of fear.




Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An open letter to Peoples

I loaned my luggage bag to you Peoples, on Friday, September 11. I didn't give it to you. You said you'd return it Monday, September 14, to me, Michael Bell, here at Fresh Start. That was the deal. I loan the bag and you return it Monday. That's why I did it, because I was supposed to get it back Monday, plus, I wanted to help.

When you walked into my room that Friday afternoon here at Fresh Start, asking to borrow it, you sounded as if you could use a hand. Your assurances you'd return it Monday convinced me to make the loan.

Sheddric Don Peoples

I'm going to back track.

You had been instructed by staff that afternoon to line four garbage cans with plastic bags. You refused to do so and that's why you were getting ejected from program. Among most clients here, this is common knowledge. You had to go immediately. You came into my room asking to get your hands on the luggage I was planning to use to pack my stuff to go to Ecuador, and you succeeded.

A pic of the type of bag in question.

So after Saturday and Sunday, the hours to Monday, those hours are showing 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm---and I'm starting to feel a sting. It burns and it's telling me you're screwing me over.

You didn't call man, until later, but you called.

It didn't have anything to do about you having problems getting my luggage back to me, nothing like a heads-up you were having unexpected difficulties and sorry, you'd bring it Tuesday or Wednesday.

Your call was just angry. You were going ballistic over that phone.

I had posted a facial pic of you and another pic of you standing in front of a sailboat---I posted them on my FB page. In so many words I explained you had borrowed my luggage, told me you'd return it Monday, and here it was Monday afternoon and you hadn't yet returned my property.

Michael Bell
Then I sent a FB friend request to a member of your family who accepted. That's when you called.

I ordered a replacement bag yesterday from, so I'm good.

I give the luggage to you Peoples. It belongs to you now, understand, not because you didn't return it but because I give it to you.

Friday, July 17, 2015

My Recovery Story

This narrative of what it's been like to have a virtually unchecked propensity to abuse drugs, to suffer bi-polar and schizoaffective disorders---this is my story.

I start at the beginnings. In the 5th grade, after class, I left the room by clamboring out an open window. A classmate reported this to the teacher and I was reprimanded. In the sixth grade, I trod bare-footed through a dirt field laden with sharp prickles which induced me to jump and skip. I did it deliberately and yelled in pain while traversing the whole lot. While sitting in a pew in a Catholic Church with other grammar school kids, I punched my jaw hard, repeatedly. Why did I act these ways? I don't know. All I know for certain is I was acting weird. Still, my grades in school were excellent and I was arguably the best little league pitcher in town. I published an issue of a class newspaper, and I was generally favored. I had friends and I was allowed by the nuns and priests to work at the coveted job of washing pots and pans on week-ends at the nearby monastery.

My brother Paul on the left, in San Francisco, on summer
 vacation at Grandma Porche's house, pretending to fight for the camera.
I graduated in 1964 from St. Rita's Grammar School in Sierra Madre, CA.---and entered La Salle High School, at that time an all male college preparatory school in Pasadena, run by the Order of Christian Brothers. In the second semester, junior year, I smoked a marijuana cigarette for the first time. I couldn't get enough. My grade point average plunged from near 3.0 to failing. Call it inherent character weakness, misguided epicureanism, youth rebellion. I had absolutely no defense against the appeal of pot, which liberated me from inhibition and opened the door to hilarity--- but which also demoted my aspirations to little more than the aspiration to smoke another joint. I couldn't proceed to the senior year because I had failed to pass almost all the junior year courses.

In time, my dad discovered a joint hidden in my bedroom---that was the last straw---bam!---my parents ordered me to vacate the house. I understand. I can see how I might easily have required the same if I were in their position. I honor the memories of my deceased parents. Still, I did feel driven to rebel. My mom and dad were much too strict, not only in my estimation but in the estimation of most of my friends. I feel my folks unwittingly helped to foment in me the very rebellion they decried.

I joined the Army in summer 1967, at age 17, while 500,000 U.S. troops were waging war in South Vietnam.

Graduation day: Basic Training, Ft. Ord, CA.
I'm second row down from the top, second from the right. 
I was a bad fit. I didn't care about being a soldier and it didn't take the Army long to find out. While I was stationed in Germany, Master Sergeant strode into the bunk quarters and told me to roll up my shirt sleeves. I did and he saw the bloody mess I'd made of both arms by slicing them up and down with razor blades.

The Army sent me to a mental hospital in Frankfurt, then across the Atlantic Ocean, across the United States to the Presidio in San Francisco, where on September 16, 1968, I was honorably discharged with a 10 percent service connected disability rating.

A veteran buddy and I rented an apartment on Waller Street, a block up from Haight Street in San Francisco. One afternoon I came home to find the apartment crowded with hippies who had moved in and bedded down with sleeping bags and blankets.

Top Floor Apt. on Waller St.
 which became a homeless shelter.
Without consulting me, my old Army friend had notified all of Haight Ashbury that our apartment was open to shelter the homeless.  It was chaos, but out of it a communal family of close friends was born that lasted seven years. Sheila, Ron, Larry and Bill and I rented an old Victorian on Sutter Street near Fillmore, then leased and operated a coffee house next door named "The Sign of the Fool." My job was to buy the eggs, cream cheese and bagels, apple juice and bananas. Larry cooked the omelettes.

But we were in more than the restaurant business. Plainclothes police with guns drawn barged onto our premises and arrested us one night on charges related to selling LSD. After our stints in jail, after we either bailed or were released, we piled into a 1957 purple jalopy and headed to Ohio.
I'm attempting to recount my story in linear fashion, but the memories jumble and overlap. I know the effects of drugs and mental illness often hold hands. I know for instance I had a supply of thorazine prescribed to treat me for an LSD induced nervous breakdown.
With hindsight, I see I was overwhelmed, or crushed, be it because of the turbulent times, my bad choices, the drugs everywhere so easily available, or because of a personal predisposition to mental illness, or, because of an amalgamation of these factors, but, around this time, I stopped talking. I didn't stop voluntarily. I stopped because I could no longer talk, and I couldn't talk for about a year.

When I did first speak again, our commune family was living in Port Costa, in the East Bay. I spoke to Sheila when we were in the kitchen. I'll never forget how happy she became, calling out to everybody in the house that "Michael talked!".
As I say, my memories don't permit me to assure you my story is narrated in proper, step by historical step order. But our commune fell apart after we returned to the San Francisco Bay Area from Ohio. Not that we didn't visit and see one another from time to  time, because we did.

I got on General Assistance and rented a room not much larger than a big closet in the Golden Eagle Hotel in San Francisco's gaudy North Beach district. While there I took a tab of acid and flipped out. I went psychotic. I couldn't handle the bad trip I was having due to an awakening awareness of my bi-sexual dispositions. I wandered the corridors and the stairwells in that hotel for two days. Probably the hotel manager called an ambulance, but when I saw those men dressed in white coming towards me, I fled up an extra flight of stairs and threw myself out the 4th story window. No way was I going to spend the rest of my life locked in a rubber room.

It was like I had never been born--- until I woke and saw and heard doctors at San Francisco General Hospital asking me if I could feel the needles they were poking into my legs, which I could. For the next six months I wore a white plaster body caste---from a hospital bed I watched the first man on the moon take his famous steps. And every week, my old hippie family friends came to stand by my bed and visit, even though much of what I said to them was absolute gibberish.

Eventually, after having been moved to Laguna Honda Hospital, a technician sawed off my caste,  and after physical therapy, I relocated to Hilarity Heights Apartments in Tiburon, in Marin County. A year later, in 1971, I bought a 25 foot wooden cabin cruiser and anchored it out in the waters of the Sausalito houseboat community.

Gate 5 Sausalito, where I often anchored my boat.
Much of this time I was sane and lucid. I was still plagued however with recurring nervous breakdowns. Not only during the two years I lived in my boat out on the water, but also when I moved onto land and into dirt-bag hotels in downtown San Rafael.

I began shooting heroin on a regular basis. If I didn't inject the dark stuff in time to keep from getting sick, I'd shiver and sweat.  I injected lots of speed and cocaine. I contracted Hepatitis C.

I was also during these times a well known client of the Marin County Mental Health System. I'd get into the locked looney bin at Marin General Hospital, Ward A, get released for three or four months, then return the next time I caved into the mania of a psychotic break.  I saw a vision out a window of Fidel Castro walking down the gang plank of a space ship. I was taught by pretty women witches how to walk past doors unseen. I never did learn how to talk to the dead on a telephone, but these witches tried to teach me. I met a fish wizard. I was put into the rubber room for God in Heaven knows what offense, but the touch under the door of the fingers of the woman patient with whom I had danced connected my life to her heart, and my isolation disappeared.

Those years were like a merry-go-round of disfigured horses. My friends were mostly mentally ill types, who went in and out of Ward A, and when out, went as I did five days a week to the Marin Psychiatric Day Care Center on Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael. Jumbo would look in a mirror and talk to Bob Dylan.  Bubba would slowly walk in circles in the day room for hours at a time. Once a week I bared my ass in the privacy of the Day Care office so a nurse could inject prolixin into me. We smoked bags of pot and drank cases of beer and then watched basketball games in the afternoon on TV.

Maybe...maybe round about this time it was the first time I ever prayed to Jesus Christ with some authentic measure of sincerity.

I remember this time to this day. It was raining. I was on the ground laying face down in mud under the Richardson Bay Bridge in Mill Valley. I felt an immense weight of flat rock on my back, and it was pressing me to the ground so much so I couldn't get up. I knew it was an imaginary rock, but still, because of it,  I couldn't get up and that part was for real. So I prayed to the Christ and the weight of the rock was lifted. Right then and there. I've never forgotten that experience.

Sometime in 1973, once again, I was on Ward A at Marin General Hospital.
Locked up once again at age 23 for mental illness issues, once again overwhelmed, mowed down once more by this disease that had already been knocking me to the ground for years.

I was in the day room on Ward A, and I collapsed. I utterly and entirely abandoned myself, so to speak, and leapt off a cliff hoping against all hope that the hands of Jesus Christ, if He were real, would stay my fall. I didn't care by then. If He were not real, I wouldn't care to go on living anyway.

Then I felt Him inside, holding me up. I felt Him alive, and experienced for the first time that He is a resurrected Lord. His love welled inside me from deepest, innermost cell to outermost bodily member. I shuddered and convulsed with tears that wracked me with sorrow because I realized I wasn't deserving of the crucifixion He had suffered for me. I laughed. I laughed and mixed the crying and laughing with a liberty, freedom and joy I had never before felt, not up to that time, nor after.  He was alive after all!

St. Emydius Catholic Church, where in 1978 on Sundays I used to
read selections from the epistles to the congregation. 
There was nothing else to do but laugh with joy and light without equal. Every distant and obscure rumour about the resurrection  of this God made man was proven true to me in an instant of transformation. I became a Christian, and despite  all later sin, all later misgiving and doubt, my faith in Him can never be taken away, not forever, not completely, not even by the demons I harbor inside myself.

I got off welfare---went to study at the College of Marin. I joined the Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, lived in an ecumenical community of Christians, and did work as a landscaper and carpenter. I later found work as a furniture finisher and refinisher for Furniture by Gatti in San Francisco. I worked this trade for 15 years, 3.5 years while in business for myself. I earned a B.A. in Journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for three years.

My former wife and greatest support, Claudia Audelo,
after lunch, 2014, in San Mateo, CA. 
I married a wonderful woman and stayed married to her for nine years. I worked nine years as a security guard.

Office of the St. John Valley Times in
Madawaska, Maine, where I worked as a reporter.
I still have mental health issues. I will always need to fight for my sanity. I had a serious nervous collapse years after my conversion to Christianity, while I studied at San Francisco State University. There is no such thing as a magic bullet. I struggle still...with urges to do drugs. I had a major drug relapse just last March, and smoked bowl after bowl of crystal meth daily for a month. I abandoned my apartment and all of my property because the junkies and meth freaks living in my place wouldn't leave. I'm living now in a residential treatment house in San Francisco for veterans in recovery. I struggle, still---with doubt, with issues concerning faith and belief. I learn and I refuse to learn. But all in all, I believe I progress. I'm contented, even happy in a wonderful, confounding way.

Table and set of chairs I finished for a client while in
business for myself.
I'm interested. I want to live fully, more than ever. Yet still I have this part of me that seems to cling, to remain open to the temptation to deny, that wants to obfuscate, that fears complete honesty because of a pride within that balks at the truth that I'm not always humble, that sometimes I am arrogant and need to get with the program, need to hand the defects of my character to my Lord, my Higher Power, for healing that will work in God's time to shape me into the way He most would have me be while alive on this earth. I welcome the challenge this entails.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Her Visuals Herald Artistic Portrayals

She finds art awake in moments when expression itself captures the eye of her camera. A model's unsolicited gesture, the landing of a flight of pigeons in an old world plaza, distilled...rendering signature portrayal of beauty each unique in its depiction.

So it is with "Marianna Photography," founded in 2011 by a thirty something Polish woman who earned two Master's Degrees in Software Engineering, one from Blekinge Tekniska in Sweden; the other from Politechnika Wroclawska in Poland. Marianna went on to work a year in international business but felt a deeply rooted part of herself missing.

I ask about her greatest inspiration.  The answer speaks volumes.  Her choice to exchange a highly remunerative career for a niche in photographic art was influenced by Alan Watts, the philosopher and writer, who lived in the circa 1960s Waldo Point houseboat community in Sausalito, CA.   She supplies a link. It's by Watts and entitled "What would you do if money wasn't an object."

"What he is saying is absolutely true," she says. "They teach you all your life to run after money, but this won't give you satisfaction. You need to follow your passion to become successful."

Even when a photographic rookie, she had sufficient talent to shoot a picture included in the Finalist Category "Relations", part of Sweden's 2011 Metro Photo Competition.
"I think I just have a unique skill set," she says. "Technical skills are easy for me but at the same time I am creative and think unconventionally." And Marianna wanted a deeper level, something more than knowledge of modes of business.

She had always had an interest in photography. She bought an SLR camera about five years ago and discovered a passion she didn't realize she possessed. "It just clicked in," she says. " I have been going around everywhere with the camera and looking for amazing views, better angles, better composition, different settings and light..."

She didn't gain a certificate or degree in the field of photography. She claims she didn't take a single course. Instead, she maintains she studied the field on her  own.  She researched the internet and read books of her choosing. She molded her study to fit her own spirit of inquiry. "I believe that studying [in school] can limit your creativity,' she says. As well, friendships with other photographers, and the trade talk which ensued, helped her with lessons she valued more than any in the curricula  of institutional study.

Marianna exudes charm and self confidence. We banter during the Skype session about inconsequential matters. She's entertaining to interview, and although a beauty in her own right, although she has European flair and continental style, she's plainly down to earth. This approachable aspect musters ingredients of social skill which aid to sharpen the makings of her art.

"For me in photography the most important aspect is in the expression, the feeling," she says. "Usually those pictures are made in the moment when they [the models] don't expect to be captured...sometimes I am distracting making a joke to get them to smile."

As well traveled as Marianna is, having visited sixteen European countries from Spain to Bosnia to Ukraine, she fastened on Ecuador in South America as type and perhaps haven of second home. She lived six months in Ecuador's capital city of Quito, speaks Spanish, English and Polish, and raved about the topography of this small yet diverse country.

She currently lives in the mountains of Ecuador near Cotopaxi, where I wager a good portion of her most spectacular landscape photographs have been taken.

Marianna's photographs hurdle into viewers' sensitivities. Indeed, by force of content they must spur many a private exclamation that goes something like this...How can anyone's camera portray anything so beautifully!?!

Marianna reports not only with visuals but with writing that sometimes bring distant parts of the world close to where the reader. Her photo-reportage on Ukraine is immersive, an amalgamation of history, current conflict and compelling photographic tale. For my part, with my measure of interest in current affairs and international relations, her story on the tumult in Ukraine intrigues. I had no idea of the depth of what it has been like over there.

So yes, Marianna teaches. She teaches lessons about how to photograph, about hidden tricks of the trade. It adds usability to her website. Photographers can learn for example that, as she writes, "...there is no bad light in photography. You just need to be a little creative." She offers tips on how to use shadow or position of the model. She explains what she does to make her photos stand out in particular ways.

Anna Maria Marianna
As an artist, photographer and teacher, it's apparent to me that Marianna is offering all that she has to give not for the love of money but for the dream of finding and doing what she loves with passion.

Photos by Anna Maria Marianna

Monday, July 21, 2014

Handling money with a manual budget.

If you’d like an effective way to budget your income, try the arithmetic method. It keeps track of how much money you’ve spent throughout the month, and what expenses you still need to pay.

I use the arithmetic method because I’m on a fixed income and saving money to retire in Ecuador. That’s a personal top goal. Consequently other items take second place importance. I allocate minimal amounts in the secondary categories so as to save more. These amounts will be enough to cover the expense and no more.

You can use this uncomplicated budgeting system to plan for funding whatever needs or wants you have in your life.

It’s a manual system that monitors how you’re spending your money. It tells you in black and white if you’re staying within the budgeted amount for each category of expenditure. That’s why I like it. It tells me where I am. Knowing where I am means I can find wiggle room.

Unexpected expenses this month hit savings for Ecuador hard. I will be able to deposit only about 25% of its regular amount.  But I had to pay those surprise billings to stay on track and keep the house in order. Living is much like maintaining a home. It sometimes costs more than expected. The roof needs repair when it leaks. The car battery is dead. The printer ran out of ink. I know these unexpected expenses will happen; I know they slow down the rate of savings, but if I didn’t pay them I wouldn’t even be in a position to save to go to Ecuador.

In my personal budget, fourteen categories of expense are included.  I list them from top to bottom on the left hand side of a Word document. The list includes rent, food, gasoline, haircut, electricity; Mostly basic needs. One item is for miscellaneous expenditure.  One is for entertainment, which pays for Netflix. No way will I cut Netfix out to save $7.99 a month more for Ecuador. Then the amounts budgeted for the items are typed next to the items. The figures for the items when added exactly equal total monthly income. With receipt in hand after spending, I sit and find the category of expense for the receipt and subtract the charge from the amount in that category. I then see precisely how much remains at that time for that category for the remainder of the month.

I set aside $200 monthly for food, so I go to the grocery store weekly and buy no more than $50 worth of food. This month I set aside $50 for AT&T, but the bill was $46 so I moved the $4 surplus to the miscellaneous category.

Budgets reflect priorities. This week I added a new category. It will slow Ecuador savings by $120 a month but still to me it’s worth the expense. I hired someone from El Salvador to talk Spanish with me two hours a week at $15 an hour.