Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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New Pieces for “Faultlines” Exhibit at Studio Place Arts, Barre, Vermont Opening 5-16, closes 6-29

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I love summer in Vermont. The ice and mud is gone for a while and the art opportunities are here. Each year I show in the Book Arts Guild annual exhibit in Burlington, and I always submit to “Unbound,” the annual artist book arts exhibit at Artistree Gallery in Pomfret, outside of Woodstock. This year the season starts with Studio Place Arts group show exploring the divisions in our social network. Art New England did a little preview.

Also exciting each year is the themed show at the Old Church, Kent Museum in Calais. This year I’ve put it out there that I’d love to be invited to participate. The Hall Art Foundation in Reading is one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the US. Each summer they transport a themed group of works up to Vermont and fill the refurbished barns in this tiny town with quite amazing stuff. Worth a trip.

 

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Nancy Drew, Sibley’s and Me

Speaking of books, actual books, (the smell, the feel, the crack of the spine) it’s Nancy Drew’s 89thbirthday and I’m gonna go all nostalgic because May is my 69thbirthday month and that’s what old people do. We do nostalgia and we do it well.

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Back in the old days, the 50’s, we had actual adventures. Not the kind where you hit send and in two days you get your new book delivered to your door, or even quicker if you go the e-book route.

Buying an adventure book required an adventure.

We lived in Rochester, a small but busy city in New York state, famous for Kodak, Xerox, George Eastman, and now, Wegman’s. It had a real downtown with your choice of real department stores. The biggest was Sibley, Lindsay and Curr, although people had their favorites, maybe Edward’s or McCurdy’s. B. Forman’s for the elite. I could wander around any of them forever, depending on my mood. The toy department at Sibley’s was especially magical and included books. Series were big in those days, all lined up under the glittering lights, organized by volume. (Sibley’s also had a gourmet food department and as a child I became fascinated with exotic foreign cheese, a fascination which remains active to this day, requiring a statin.)

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I got a dollar every week as allowance. (I have no recollection of what I did to earn that dollar. Maybe I babysat my younger sister. In the old days nine year olds could babysit five year olds.) I was also allowed to take the city bus from the corner of our street. Alone, for one shiny dime, the No. 11 bus took me right to Main and Clinton and the Sibley, Linday and Curr. (Walking through the brass revolving doors always gave me the same thrill that I was, a decade later on a much bigger adventure, going to experience the first time I walked through the Damascus Gate into ancient Jerusalem, again all by myself.) In it’s heyday, all shiny and brassy with it’s huge clock and polished granite floors, Sibley’s was the largest such store between New York City and Chicago. It set my sights high, my expectations for a big and brave life. Just Like Nancy Drew.

Nothing bad ever happened to me on those trips downtown. I was warned not to talk to strangers unless they worked in the stores, and not to go farther than Sibleys, and Levis Music store a half block east on Main, where I could choose my piano music for my weekly lesson.

Soon I wandered a little farther both east and west. Scrantom’s Books and Stationary fueled my life long passion for office products and the feel of fine paper. The Planter’s Peanut Shoppe fueled my passion for hot, salty nuts (see “statins” above.) Fannie Farmer chocolates on the corner gave me the same migraines then as chocolate gives me now, but oh the smells co-mingling from the chocolate store and her neighbor the peanut shoppe. And I could get whatever I wanted! Both my father and uncle worked in office buildings a few blocks beyond but I never went that far and they would not have known what to do with a little girl popping in as this was long before ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day.’ And I would not have wanted my independence compromised with reminders of hierarchal relationships. In those hours I was my own boss. Eventually I even crossed the street to Midtown Plaza, where as an adolescent I would jump, high on cough syrup, into the fountain and get hauled outside by the police. But that was after a certain loss of innocence and nothing Nancy Drew would have ever have condoned.

My early life was tactile, sensory. I took the bus and wandered through aisles of books, I touched each one, my weekly Nancy Drew in the order I expected it to be, always crisp and perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my parents were glad to get rid of me when they could. Girls like me, we are never easy. I stayed out way past dark. I rode my blue Schwinn two-wheeler wherever I wanted, to the edge of woods where I could jump off and explore creek beds, wondering how far they would take me.

My independence got the best of me for a while, but never so badly that I was changed in the ways that women often are changed. Now-a-days I huff and puff up to the edge of the woods and I don’t go too far in, although I think about it. I want my 70thbirthday to hurry up and come so I can get it over with. I’ll be a relic just like the grand dame Sibley’s and the soon-to-be 90 year old Nancy Drew.

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Liminal Spaces

 

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“Liminal Space” mixed media, Nina Gaby 2019

I am working with a student one day a week at the clinic. She is already a seasoned medical nurse practitioner who is now studying for her second certification in psychiatry and I mentor her on Thursdays. At first I was anxious, as while I know the psychopharmacology, in my practice I use a lot of intuition and experience. I match symptoms and medications (or maybe no medications) and try to “get” the person before I make recommendations. I’m not one to ponder long on the functionality of a receptor site in the brain or the half life of a molecule. I want to know what the patient wants out of this experience, what has worked in the past, and what their insurance (or the generosity of a pharmaceutical rep) might cover. And then it’s on to the next patient because it is always a busy day. Is this even going to begin to answer all a student’s questions?

So it is a great surprise to find that, at the end of the day, she and I can actually explore the “beingness” of our patients. That instead of rushing through my documentation alone in the now quiet office before jumping in the car to commute home, sometimes a little teary or anxious about all the stories I have heard that day, I can actually sit with a brilliant colleague and ponder the bigger questions. Some of them pretty existential in nature. As my Kundalini yoga teacher said to me yesterday, “You guys sit in the belly of the beast.” And as I like to think–we stand staring into the abyss, holding hands and containing what we can. Feeling honored by the process.

And then I go into the studio or sit down at my laptop and try to transform what I have learned from the process into something meaningful that reaches people through words or images. Art is a beautiful antidote, and here is a link to my latest published essay on Randon Billings Noble’s journal “After the Art”:

https://aftertheart.com/2019/03/19/certain-imperfection-revisiting-zetsu-no-8/

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Detail, “Zetsu #8” by Nishida Jun, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston-permanent collection

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Nina Gaby: “Ways to Tell a Story,” interview by Shirley Dawson; Ceramics Art + Perception, #111

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To read more by Shirley Dawson, go to: rochesterartreview.blogspot.com

To order Ceramics Art + Perception: http://www.mansfieldceramics.com

 


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“Not Bad for a Yankee”

Thud. Pause. Thud. The cardinal bashed against the picture window of the group room where the twenty or so of us were gathered for a retreat. “Second Blooming, Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be,” was held at the Homestead Education Center in Mississippi and I was invited to present a workshop by the owner, Alison Buehler, and the editor of the book on which the weekend theme was based, Susan Cushman.

The cardinal bashed again and again. March in Mississippi has birds and flowering trees. Where I come from, Vermont, we have ice, more ice, and windows we can’t see out of as the snow still rises to at least midway. It was nice to see a red cardinal despite the eccentricity of his behavior, because I’m facing at least two more months of winter.

When we went downstairs to do yoga, the cardinal threw himself against those windows too. Alison calls the bird a “he” and thinks he is drunk on the red berries outside the window. She thinks it’s the same bird who has done this for years. I don’t know, is he drunk or is it just his imprinted need to belong? I think about that goose who imprinted on that guy in Oregon and follows him everywhere. The man didn’t ask for it, but the goose chose to belong to him.

So here’s the thing. I wasn’t sure, when invited to present at the retreat, that I would belong. Or want to belong. Because–here it comes–it’s Mississippi. I am from the bluest state, a sober northern pro-choice Jew, a soul shattered anti-Trumpster who says ‘motherfucker’ (a lot) and on top of all that, agnostic. I have an anxiety disorder. I wear mostly black. My writing can be pretty bleak and my artwork follows no guidelines. In my day job I deal with suicide, addiction and trauma. I often do not “belong” so I rely on snark and sarcasm as a defense. I’m psychologically clumsy and pretty transparent. The opposite of a southern belle.

And I’m scared of the divisions in our country.

And clearly, a cultural profiler.

But I trusted Susan and we had a frank discussion about any fears she might have that I’d flip into batshit political provocateur. She did not. I prepared a slideshow of my art work and two dozen little glass reliquaries for the participants of the retreat to fill with treasures and even had to switch planes in Chicago without incident, careful to leave the underwires in my carry-on so I wouldn’t set off TSA.

The participants were glorious. Within minutes we were sharing stories, hugs, kisses on the cheek. This is the warmhearted south, not the reserved and disengaged New England I now call home. Politics were not the focus, but when they came up I was sweetly surprised, kindness and decency prevailing. Throughout the weekend each presenter offered creative, professional information about how we as older women can find ways to bloom on, second/third/fourth times through as many decades as we have health and energy for. Despite the losses–the oh so similar losses–we have all faced. How creativity and encouragement will drag us forward.

I wasn’t in the retreat center ten minutes before I heard someone say, “I just love her. She’s not bad for a Yankee.” I turned to find Kathie, a woman my age with the mischievous affect that, had we grown up together, we’d have raised some hell. She’s laughing and already embracing me, my anxiety turning to humor.

And so it goes.

Linda confides. Jeri drums. Pam and I practice wrapping her hair like a gypsy with my scarf. A different Susan and I talk shop. Alison leads yoga. Another Kathy reads. Wanda’s eyes are non-stop beauty. Another Susan throws out one liners we wish we’d thought to write down. Patricia lists our emails, Corinna connects to rebuild. Brenda drinks it in. Everyone of us offer up jewels, bring us to tears. We all eat.

My red state experience is red like a cardinal. Red like heartbeats and intoxicating berries. The group is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Nina retreat

The book: “A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be,” is edited by Susan Cushman and published by Mercer University Press.

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My piece, “A Couple of Bad Nights in Brindisi,” talks about rebuilding after a close call, “a night that can change a person,” about diligence and trying to age with grace.

The Homestead Education Center, Starkville, Mississippi:
And the presenters were:

A SECOND BLOOMING, introduction – SUSAN CUSHMAN

USING GROUPS TO SUPPORT YOUR CREATIVITY – ELLEN MORRIS PREWITT

LITTLE ALTARS EVERYWHERE – NINA GABY

HOW OUR STORIES SHAPE US – JENNIFER HORNE

PUSHING UP THE SUN – KATHY RHODES

Closing drum circle-Jeri Van Winkle Mangum


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The Not So Young and Restless

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Kristoff St. John was found dead in his home yesterday. For many of you it will just register as a quiet “who?”

If you know me you know that I have been a Young and Restless (Y&R) fan since the first day it aired in 1973. (I’ve been a soap opera fan since the days when I sat on my Grandma’s lap and watched Young Dr. Malone on her black and white TV while chicken soup simmered in the kitchen.) That was followed by As the World Turns (ATWT for those of us in the know) and Guiding Light and the one about the Irish family in NY, and so many others. I was not, however, a fan of Luke and Laura, although I did appreciate that their drama brought the soaps into the mainstream. Back in the days when I was in my studio cranking out production porcelain for 60 hours a week, the soaps kept my ADHD brain satisfied from 12:30 to 4 pm (focusing on two things at once helps) and then I switched over to All Things Considered (ATC) from 4-6 on my boom box radio. The psychological underpinnings of my addiction is beyond the scope of this blog, but Katherine Chancellor did get sober shortly after I did and I cheered her on every step of the way. It was like I had my tribe right there in the studio. And sick days when I was little? My soap opera family drowned out what my real family was doing. And it got me through two months on pregnancy bedrest and the subsequent post-partum depression.

I’m not going to pretend that I liked Kristoff St. John’s character, Neil Winters, on Y&R. He was the ultimate mansplainer. But when he fell in love with Drucilla in 1990, a ballerina (a black ballerina) the show took on yet another social thread. And the tension between the bad girl and the good boy was delicious. And then the story line quietly wove him in as a black CEO (or something similarly important) and in typical soap opera fashion, the narrative was way ahead of the rest of TV.

So yeah, I cried yesterday when I heard that Neil Winters, I mean Kristoff St. John, was found dead in his home. And that his real life son died by suicide a few years ago. And I’m DVR’ing the show today so I can see how his televison son is doing, because he’s going through a lot. And Neil’s daughter is in jail. And Billy Abbott stole the company jet without asking Neil’s son so he could visit Neil’s daughter in jail. And that’s just half of it.

For more on writers and their soaps, check out Suzanne Strempek Shea’s:


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Anniversary note–be OK

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A year ago today I walked out of a beloved job. I just want this to be a reminder that things do get better. Much better. I quit the job that I loved because a corporation bought the business and created a hierarchy that I could not live with. This was not my fault but I took it on as though it was, this maladaptive but typical defense that we use to give ourselves an illusion of power and control when power and control do not exist. And in this corporate world with its greedy governments and destructive institutions, we have less control that we even imagine.

I quit without another job lined up. So there were months of hoodie/PJ bottoms Facebook posts and appeals to Unemployment (“yes your situation was bad [dearie] but not really that bad”) and catching up on Young and the Restless (ok yes Bold and the Beautiful as well). (OK, Game of Thrones.) The ‘dearie’ is mine, Unemployment didn’t say dearie, and the judge denied me any recompense for my pain and suffering. But that was a year ago.

After I walked out of my office for the last time, I drove to an opening at a gallery in another town with an artist friend. It was a good way to end the day. Fewer tears since I had my mascara to think about.

The winter unfolded, and the friend and I fell out of touch. The relationship devolved. (Like I lost a limb.) I had an iffy CAT scan and my primary care provider quit and there was no one to tell me what was going on. This, as one can imagine, added to the desolation of the winter. In these parts, winter can hang around till May.

Anyway, I had a soft landing. That’s the point. I do not have cancer. I have a job in a clinic that is the type of clinic that should define health care. Tonight that friend and I are going to an opening at the same gallery, a gallery that offered me my own show last September and for it I produced work that I actually had some time to do since I wasn’t working and was no longer desolate. Today’s hoodie is the powder blue one but I’m wearing it because I’m heading for the gym and the TV is off. I still check in with my soap opera families occasionally, but basically I am OK.

So. Give it time. Be OK.