March 20, 2019
I'll be entering the Orthodox church soon. Just the thought brings tears to my eyes. Why?
What will it be to become who the church is but still be me?
I'll be renamed, and I hope I change.
I don't think I can make myself a person I want to be.
I can't remember if I have felt this unstable before. Probably.
Late on rent. Unscheduled days. Mentors and friends worried about the boy I love. Inside I am so afraid. That I'll drift away from God, or God will drift away from me. To a lesser degree, that I'll drift away from Dillon or Dillon will drift away from me. I take solace from all of this in God's wings, but can I hide here forever?
I want to fix the loose ends but find myself unable to. Maybe it's okay to drift. I hope so.
So odd to revisit my website. I don't care about any of this. I wish I could tell the stories of all these people without having to sell myself or hate myself and my work. Maybe someday I will. I don't feel sad about that. I'm just waiting.
To Cad, who learns languages even if he’ll never use them again
A few characters: my travel companion and second mother, Joyce; a big-hearted badass named Jess; sweet Riley who gave me money for my last cab ride; and a blond British boy named Caderyn
The night after the last night of the field school we were all a part of, the five of us were together. We lost Joyce to a quiet night at the Ramada later followed by Riley, who decided to stay at his hostel and get some much-needed rest.
After a night of convenience store beers, bad dancing, and talking about life and love, we said an emotional farewell to Jess. It was 2 am, and Caderyn and I had just bopped to Rock Lobster all the way back to his hostel. We sat in the lavender hallway and I gave him a set of travel icons from home. I laughed louder than I should’ve at 2 am, and we cared less than we should’ve.
(Which, now that I’m writing this, might actually be a dangerous trend for the two of us. See a later installation for the sleepy Romanian man who found us on his balcony holding our sides and crying from laughing. I’m sure I’ll regret typing this later, but it actually was a magical day I guess? So, good job, Neil Breen.)
We made our way outside, and walked until we spotted a cab. Caderyn said a few sentences in Bulgarian to the driver, arranging for me to be taken to the Ramada across town.
Now, I want to note that he didn’t know Bulgarian before the trip began. In every interaction with a native speaker, he would ask for a word repeated and make a note of it in his phone. We both had short term plans in Bulgaria, and language learning seemed to me more effort than it was worth. But not to Caderyn, who took time to learn the Bulgarian words for all the different pieces of silverware once at dinner.
A good, long hug was exchanged, future meeting plans were restated, and then my new friend waved and watched as I drove off. It was simple exchange, but here I am back home in Kentucky, still thinking about it.
I haven’t travelled a lot. If I do, it’s brief enough to get back for my Tuesday morning geo class or comfy enough to not need new people to talk with. However, my travels in Bulgaria were neither close to home nor packed with pals. I was with my lovely Joyce, but, even then, I was low on energy and lower on familiarity. I don't think I was expecting to make such good friends.
Yet, here, buckling in as the driver ushered me past the sleepy streetlights of Sofia, I felt truly loved. Not for my talents or opinions or convenient proximity, but just for who I was, away from my home, worn out, and willing to be a fool on the dance floor.
Since then, I’ve still been trying to figure out how me and Caderyn clicked so well. It wasn’t that we had a shared home country, shared politics, or even shared hobbies. It wasn’t anything I normally use to measure the likelihood of connecting with someone.
When I want to make friends, I throw out things about myself and wait for reactions. When I hear something I don’t like, it’s easiest to file it away as a funny story to text my sister, and move on. Especially if I won't be with a group of people very long, it’s much safer this way.
So, how did we become friends?
I think it was how Cad’s overflow of excitement accidentally arranged a full group showing of my documentary that I was entirely unprepared for. It was his genuine desire to hear the conchs in the churches we visited used for liturgical singing and how he saw me wiping my eyes at Rila Monastery and gave me a votive candle he bought. It was that time he accidentally said y’all, turned red from embarrassment, and protested as I wrapped him in a huge proud Kentucky hug. He was all in for this friendship without thought of gain or longevity. There was no calculation of harvest yet he was planting and watering with abandon. We became friends because he's the kind of person who wanted to learn the language even if he would only use it for a few weeks.
That’s the kind of friend Jesus was, and that’s the kind of friend I want to be.
So, here’s to Caderyn and how he taught me to be a better friend.
Thanks for just wanting to know about the people around you, to hear their loves and experiences. Thank you for your ability to brush off false assumptions and hear dissenting opinions without needing to prove them wrong. Thanks for wanting to love the music I love.
And, as I said before getting in the cab that night in Sofia, thanks for being my friend.
If you were here, I’m sure you’d say what you said then:
“Are you kidding? You know it’s so mutual, right?”
Because, then, like always, you never made it about yourself.
I created an audio/visual experience of “A Poem Made of Water” by Ibtisam Barakat, a female Palestinian-American poet. I was inspired by the importance of water in the Quran, the role of nature poetry in Sufism, and the experiences of Muslim female voices, especially in Palestine.
Mark Estepp, 50, of Lexington, Ky, found escape in gaming as a child. Now raising his own children, he uses gaming to parent.
For class, we were asked to map out where we see ourselves in the next few years. Here are some of my thoughts and ramblings:
Plan 1: Internships: One, Two, Career?
Use spring 2018 to bolster photojournalism portfolio. Graduate from WKU with a degree in photojournalism Spring 2018. Spend several years working various visual storytelling internships at non-profits and newspapers. Join the Christian Peacemaking Teams and take my camera to document the fight for peace in war-torn Syria. Work for a year at the live-in Christian community and publication at Sojourners’ in D.C. Explore the multitude of photo jobs I am interested in through internships—inner-city education efforts, outdoor recreation, environmental activism, etc. Hopefully, one would stick and I would get a job offer.
LIKABILITY: 4/10 Meh. Constantly being uprooted seems unhealthy mentally, spiritually, and socially. Also, I cannot point my finger on it but this plan does not make me very excited in general. The specific ideas all seem cool but I worry about being away from my community.
CONFIDENCE: 8/10 I could pull this off. I have next to no idea of what it would look like specifically, but I think I could get internships. I am a good networker and have lots of nonprofit experience. Additionally, I have lots of contacts in different cities, so I could see myself settling into living situations without too much difficulty.
COHERENCE: 9/10 This makes sense. Go to college, graduate, then do internships in your major until you find a job you like in the field. This is exactly what my professors would like me to do (except that the internships are with Christian organizations instead of with The New York Times). The only issue is social coherence. I am very connected to a community of family and friends in the Bowling Green area who I want to do life with. However, this plan does not rule out the possibility of exploring internships then moving back to the area after five years.
Plan 2: Bowling Green Intentional Christian Community
Background: Me and two close friends have long been interested in intentional Christian community life—groups of Christians with lives characterized by cohousing, purse-sharing, common prayer, sustainable living, community service for and with those in need, etc. These two friends (my sister and her husband) are starting a house in Bowling Green of this sort this semester. By next year, they will hopefully be somewhat established.
Graduate from WKU in Spring 2018 and move into the newly formed Christian community in town. Continue to photograph weddings, grow clientele, make a real business of my small “Photos by Abby” photo studio side work. Possibly apply for grants and/or pitch photo project ideas to publications to work on more fulfilling community journalistic storytelling.
Although this approach could work, I see myself wanting to get out of Bowling Green eventually to explore the world more.
LIKABILITY: 7/10 Being a wedding photographer is not exactly fulfilling a “calling.” However, I am really good at it. Shooting weddings is fun but exhausting with little making-the-world-better pay off. In terms of the housing situation, it has long been a dream of mine to live in community with other Christians. However, I like the idea of going off into the world for a while and exploring other communities before being in a brand new community with my family and friends. Will I be happy living in my hometown with people I have always known? On one hand, I will have a strong support network for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. On the other hand, I may always wonder what other possibilities are out there beyond Bowling Green.
CONFIDENCE: 7/10 I currently do not have a lot of time to shoot weddings so I do next to no promotion. However, I shoot a wedding every two or three months. I charge around $1000 which is cheap for the market, but enough to pay rent. That would need to go up to several weddings every month if it was a full-time gig. I have no idea how to begin marketing my work, but I know several professionals who I am sure would be willing to mentor me. However, would I have insurance or any other benefits? If I am working as a wedding photographer, I have no boss or company behind me. That also means I am setting my own hours and must be motivated to edit photos and get them back which may or may not be a problem for me. I would have to be very careful about procrastination and time management for photo turn-around.
COHERENCE: 8/10 This makes sense with who I am as a person socially and spiritually. No one who knows me well would be surprised by this plan. There would almost certainly be a place for me in this community house. My only lapse in confidence is related to my ability to market and manage myself as a free-lance wedding photographer.
Plan 3: Girls Just Wanna Be Nuns
Winter 2017-2018: visit and conduct visual ethnography on Russian women’s monastery through a WKU FUSE grant. Spring 2018: complete photojournalism capstone on religious communities in Kentucky and present Honors CE/T comparing religious communities in Russia and Kentucky. Summer 2018: intern at New Skete Monastery in New York. Fall 2018 through Fall 2019: work local job in Bowling Green, focus on prayer life, complete chrismation process in the Orthodox church.
2020: Spend year or two visiting monasteries around the country—possibly doing freelance photo projects on the communities and pitching these to publications. During this process, keep in touch with my priest Father Jason about my spiritual journey.
2022: Become novice at my best fit monastery of the ones I have visited.
LIKABILITY: 9/10 Exploring religious communities, devoting time to the Lord, and forming relationships with experienced spiritual mentors all make me so excited. Since doing a photo project on the local Orthodox church last December and attending there since January, I have totally fallen in love with being in Orthodox worship settings. For example, I help clean the building on Monday mornings and I can stay there afterwards for several hours in silence thinking and praying and just sitting with the beautiful icons and fragrant incense. It is one of the highlights of my week. When I am stressed, I find prayer bolsters my confidence. When I don’t feel like praying but do anyway, my strength and desire grow every time.
CONFIDENCE: 3/10 Being a nun is a lot of hard work. I thrive with a flexible schedule, especially because of my depression, so I do not know if I could survive the strict schedule of monastic life. Also, I am very social, so I could only see myself thriving at a monastery where I can do lots of service and outreach in the surrounding community. What about the vow of chastity? I’m not currently dating anyone nor do I have a burning desire to do so, but I’m not sure I don’t want to have a family one day. Moreover, could I handle the spiritual regimen of prayer and fasting? It is hard for me to do my rule of prayer, especially evening prayers. Sometimes I wonder if I could devote myself to a life of prayer if I have difficulty doing 15-20 minutes of prayer by myself in the evenings. However, I am growing. Also, as the semester gets busier and busier, I find myself missing more church services than ever before. Is this because the “honeymoon phase” at the orthodox church is fading? I don’t think so, but I do worry that maybe I am only as passionate as I am because everything is still novel.
COHERENCE: 4/10 This plan makes sense only in my spiritual life. Professors would scoff at this plan, family would have concerns about my distance from them, friends may doubt my focus and devotional ability. But since last winter, I have practiced a 3-times-a-day prayer rule, developed heightened focus in prayer and mediation, and come to love prayer. However, it is not putting my degree to particularly good use. Father Jason has been supportive of this plan but is as uncertain as I am as to my being suited to monastic life.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky.
Wednesday, Gov. Matt Bevin unveiled a new plan that he says will save Kentucky’s debt-laden pension system.
“This plan requires us to not kick the can down the road,” he said in a press conference, according to a video posted on his website. “It requires us to fund the actual amount every single year for the next 30 years. That’s how it’s going to get paid for.”
The plan would transition teachers from pension retirement plans into 401(k) plans.
Bowling Green Independent School District superintendent Gary Fields said this move would have a huge toll on the school district.
While current employees would continue in the pension system until 27 years of teaching, teachers looking to work beyond those 27 years would not be able to accrue the benefits available in the current system after 2023.
Fields said this effectively forces teachers in to retirement after 27 years.
According to his count, if all BGISD staff up for retirement take the option in 2023, one in four teachers will retire.
Tara Coomes, science teacher at Bowling Green High School said if the plan went into effect she would retire at 27 years.
“I love my job and I have planned to work past 27 years,” she said,” but I have to have money to pay the bills and send my own children to college.”
Additionally, Fields said, without pensions or higher pay, young people will not want to go into teaching in this state.
“It’s already a tough sell,” he said. “And this plan will make it a tougher sell.”
Coomes voiced similar concerns that the plan will create a lack of qualified and willing educators.
“There go all the 37 year teachers, all the mentors, all the older teachers full of passion who get better every year,” she said.
Coomes said that she is afraid for the future of Kentucky schools.
“Even if you’re not a teacher, this effects you,” Coomes said. “Your kids go to school. These graduates will work for you one day. Do you want them in schools with 45-student classes or no AP programs?”
Several times at the press conference, Bevin said his plan should make teachers happy.
"If you are a retiree, if you are working to be a retiree at some point, you should be rejoicing,” Bevin said.
However, Coomes said the plan has her colleagues less than optimistic.
“I have not talked to a single administrator or teacher who likes this idea,” she said. “I can’t imagine why he would do this. Bevin acts like he is for the teachers. This plan is not for the teachers.”
A look into how one man's pinball collection led to an unexpected friendship.
BOWING GREEN, Ky.
As passerby hustled about their days, Walter Wilkerson, 77, sat with his thoughts in the crisp September air.
Wilkerson, of Adolphus, who boasted of long southern lineage, said he believed the removal of confederate monuments was the unacceptable.
“Leave them alone,” he said, as he adjusted his Vietnam veteran baseball cap, “Just because off-color people are offended doesn’t stop them from being history.”
After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, defending a confederate monument became notional news, the overlapping issues of race, Southern identity, and white supremacy have come into the national spotlight.
The echoes of these events have reached Kentucky, where, according to the National Park Service’s website, there are over 50 confederate monuments.
Although Gov. Matt Bevin firmly disagrees with removing Confederate symbols and monuments, many cities including Lexington have begun the process of removal.
Bowling Green police officer Wade Hughes, 40, said the statues should be seen as a reminder of bad times the country has survived, not as honoring the men they depict.
“Slavery was a very dark time. I 1,000 percent disagree with it,” he said as he rested his hand near the gun strapped to his side, “but we can’t pretend it never happened.”
Although Hughes sees the statues as grim reminders to be avoided, others disagree.
Michelle Jones, who was attending a local Fall Festival in Bowling Green, said the statues are obviously intended to honor the confederacy.
“You don’t honor someone like that, someone filled with hate,” Jones, 49, said, as she waited while her daughter got her face painted. As a self-identifying African American mother, Jones said she will be happy to see confederate monuments gone.
Another mother, Renee Hulsey, 34, said she doesn’t want kids to be taught to erase history.
“It has become a race issue,” Hulsey of Bowling Green said, “But if we start taking down everything they find offensive, what’s going to be left?”
Hulsey, sighing, said that black people find the statues a tangible thing they can attack after mistakenly feeling targeted by the police.
Although Hulsey, a white woman, said the removal is not a race issue, an August 2017 Quinnipiac University national poll found that white voters oppose removal 57 percent while 67 percent of black voters support it.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kentucky has nearly 20 white nationalist groups. However, Bowling Green computer technician Matt Folker does not see these groups as a threat.
“There could not have been more than 15 white nationalists in Charlottesville,” Folker, 33, said. “The media is making this up give them ammunition against republicans.”
Reuters and multiple local reports put the number of white supremacists at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally between 250 and 400.
Although white nationalist organizations are fighting against the removal of statues in Kentucky, many other Kentuckians disagree with the removal for other reasons.
Scoffing at the efforts for removal, Cameron Hagin, 19, of Bowling Green, said the white nationalists have it all wrong.
“The confederacy wasn’t about slavery, it was about regional pride,” he said.
As for African Americans who see the monuments as offensive he says, “Well, were you ever a slave? Then stop being offended.”
Abby Potter is a photojournalism student based in Bowling Green, Ky.
Keep up with my visual and written journalism endeavors here!