https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/10/15/mirrors-and-microprose/I am excited to see my interview with Maine artist Lauren Gillette up on Brevity this morning. I was also excited to have presented my panel discussion at the Burlington Book Festival this weekend, “Exploring Dimensionality in Narrative.” And I’m excited to be doing hybrid visual art. All of this exciting NOT just because I’m an artist and writer who thrives on recognition, but because any means of crossing bridges, any way of stitching together genres becomes a metaphor for healing the malignant divisiveness in our world today. The creative process can save us. Or at least help us survive.
Workshop offering at AVA Center for the Arts
Saturday Sept 15 and 29 from 12:00-3:30
The first session will be a tour of the current shows in each of the four gallery spaces. Focusing on my exhibit “Other Alphabets: Dimensional Memoir,” we will explore the use of numerous elements to visually create a sense of memory from combining objects in a variety of ways to tell a story, and we will tour the concurrent exhibits which also work with text/subject/object. Participants are encouraged to bring a sketchbook or journal to jot down ideas for their own creations. From there we will go to the studios where each workshop participant will be able to create their own clay vessel to contain their objects and text. Participants should collect small meaningful items: photos, poems, and favorite phrases to use on their containers, or as prompts, and feel free to bring other things that inspire you–books, images, objects from nature. Be creative–think of things you can bring to impress into the wet clay as well as those you will use in your own personal project. Your piece can be as simple as a flat slab on which to decoupage a photograph or as complex as a lidded container to hold ashes of a precious pet.
When we meet back for the second session, the containers will have been fired and we will be ready to “narrate.” We will work with prompts and develop our stories and how to visually suggest emotion and connection. Before we adjourn, we will spend some time experiencing each other’s work and how we will use this workshop to jump more deeply into our future projects.
About the photograph:
In the summer of 2017 I attended the BayPath University writing conference in Dingle, Ireland. Organized by Suzanne Strempek Shea, she brought on board a group of instructors and staff including Dinty Moore, Charles Coe, Ann Hood, Elinor Lipman and the inimitable Tommy Shea. We wrote hard every morning and I produced pieces in both Dinty and Charles’ workshops that I’m reproducing as memoir for the exhibit at AVA.
“Why We Are Artists in 6 Chapters, a prayer: Chasing the Dragon,” is testimony to the creative process. The writing prompt was to end the micro piece with the words ‘for ever and ever, amen,’ after reaching into our memory banks to find a moment in time that deeply influenced us as writers.
I was only about four or five years old when I was blessed with the awareness of artistic ‘flow’, and have been traipsing around after it ever since.
Another inkjet printer for the landfill. I tried to fix it, new ink cartridges (100.00) and several unsuccessful bouts of trying to align the skips, realizing I can’t live with every fourth sentence dropped. A whole package of transfer paper wasted. Three art projects on hold.
Two days before the new printer we needed a new coffee maker, this time I got a Cuisinart from Bed, Bath and Beyond purchased during my lunch hour with a coupon a coworker gave me. That leaves a Bialetti, a Krups, and two Mr. Coffees on the floor of the barn, the Bialetti less than a year old and already requiring three stop/starts and unplugging/replugging for just one pot of lukewarm coffee despite a name that sounds like it should last forever. It’s been three days and so far the Cuisinart is fine. The huge new inkjet (150.00 off on sale with 50.00 off for the recycled old one and 24.00 rebate for twelve ink tanks–six empty and six full) sat in its unopened box on the floor because I couldn’t lift it by myself. I need to finish the text transfers for the artist books I’m working on, ironically one is about my grandmother’s low-tech button collection, and another is about my mother’s hankies. If I’m 68, that gives you an idea how old those buttons and hankies are.
So many tools of our trade as artists and writers span the new technology (how did we ever exist before the inkjet and the laptop?) and the age old brushes, inks, typewriters, red-lit darkrooms we once relied on. I first went to art school in an army barracks in Jerusalem abandoned by the British and rented by the school for its Ceramics department. It was 1969. I walked through rubble and into a dark cavern before entering the actual studio which had only kick-wheels, no heat or hot water or ventilation, and open tubs of powdered red lead which we mixed into glazes with our bare arms and no respirators.
That I am still terrified of the toxic dust lurking somewhere in the interstices of my DNA goes without saying.
I still have most of the tools I have cherished through the years. Pottery scrapers we fashioned from broken trash barrels. Conte crayons in their original box from the art store on Ben-Yehuda. A clay stamp with my initials carved by my Japanese boyfriend in 1973 that I used to sign all my work from 1973 to 1984 when I closed up my production shop. The tiny treasured brush purchased in Japan in 1974, along with a journal and several iron chops. I still use them. Bamboo pens from 1978. My father’s Underwood from the ‘30s which I was able to somewhat refurbish in an old shop in White River Junction. Cheap Staples mechanical pencils–for measuring and note taking there’s nothing better. The specific Pilot Razor markers. The newly discovered, migraine-producing Chart-Pak colorless blender. The velvet Koh-i-nor Vermillion ink. And most recently, an antique ruler pen scored in the vintage market in Boston, with its worn wooden handle, an object I purchased for its beauty and only later figured out what it was for. It allows me my new passion, wordless Asemic writing, with that gorgeous velvet ink.
I’m not complaining. I just used spell check from the tool bar on my laptop and will magically produce a page on my website. Well, complaining a bit, I suppose, about the landfills and shame on us for producing tools like coffee makers that die in a year and printers designed to spit ink into the ever darkening void. But as commentator Willem Lange always says, “I gotta get back to work.” (When he says that it always makes me think of old farm tools and milking stools.)
(2015 submission rejected by the American Journal of Nursing)
- Nursing school
It was May, 2015. I’d been trying to percolate some sort of blog entry that would bring my author’s platform up to date and also commemorate National Nurses Week, Mothers Day, and my upcoming 65th birthday. Is there a quatrofecta that lets me write a four for one?
In an essay a couple years ago, published in I Wasn’t Always Strong Like This: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse, I write about when I said goodbye to the relative freedoms of an artistic life and became a nurse: “At 34, I was the third oldest person in my Bachelor’s program, several of us ‘non-traditionals’ in a group of otherwise very bright and age appropriate young women. I was the wildest, with the most energy, and I looked nothing like a nursing student, whatever they were supposed to look like.
“She’s an artist,” people would whisper. “She’s old.”1
My new friend Fran was ten days older.
We met the first day of nursing school in 1984. We were both the same age, with careers, entering nursing in our thirties as a means of achieving goals we otherwise might not. We were both interested in a myriad of health and social issues. Fran was to focus on patient education, and I switched gears from wanting to be a nurse midwife to settling on psychiatry and eventually becoming a specialist in addictions and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. That very first day Fran told me Florence Nightingale wrote about nursing as an art.
Along the way I had a baby and Fran moved to Arizona. Then I moved to Vermont.
We established a ritual to keep us connected. Every May, between our birthdays, we would exchange “Flo.” Flo is a little plastic nurse doll we named after Florence Nightingale, the cake topper my mother put on our graduation cake in 1986. I made a special foam-lined box, “the official Flo transport system,”so she could travel safely between Arizona and Vermont. This year, I would be getting her around Mothers’ Day. I miss my mother, and the ritual, of which I have very few, helps me feel connected to the best parts of her as well as to my friend.
Fran planned. She had a year planner, a five year planner. I was lucky if I could plan the next five minutes. She gets to retire this year at age 65. I made impulsive life changes along the way; I will never be able to afford to retire. Fran wins awards.
In the morning, when I called to congratulate her on her three newest awards, she tried to brush them off but I wouldn’t let her get away with it. “You got a freakin’ legacyaward,” I insisted. At our age the word legacy is fraught with meaning.
We overdosed on Erik Erikson in nursing school, feverishly memorizing his Stages of Psychosocial Development along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for exams. But who thought it would ever be us we were talking about?
So here we are, leaving Generativity vs. Stagnation, the stage of middle adulthood, for our last phase: Ego integrity vs. Despair. Late adulthood. Age 65 through death.2
We are those people now wondering what our legacy will be. At least I am. Fran got an award to define it.
What I didn’t tell her on the phone was that when I read the news of her awards I had been sitting at my desk for twelve hours trying to master a new electronic medical record system. Everyone else in the clinic had gone home. I put my exhausted head in my hands and sobbed. No one’s going to give me a legacy award for spending my life feeding a hospital computer system, I cried. I can admit stuff like this now, old enough to know it is a universal thing, this is jealousy and despair. This is human messiness, and we nurses know about all that.
3. Mothers Day
What she did remind me was that I had had a child. She did not have, nor were having children ever in her plan. She reminded me that I was not factoring in the 25 years of pregnancy, bed rest, postpartum depression, motherhood. Would I have gotten a doctorate if I’d not had my daughter? Probably not. Written more essays? Made more money? Would my legacy feel any different? No. I’m a direct-care clinician, on the front lines. I help people. And now my daughter, in graduate school to become an end-of–life specialist will as well, help people. I am proud of her, I am proud of my friend. And yes, I am grieving my youth and worrying about the continued integrity of my ego. I will probably sob again before the month is over.
My Mothers Day card reads:
“No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden for another.”
1 Gaby, N. (2013). Careening Towards Reunion. In Lee Gutkind (Ed), I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse Pittsburgh, P.A. : In Fact Books.
2 “Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development” Wikipedia.
3Dickens, C. (originally published in 1865, 2013). Dr. Marigold. On line publisher at OverDrive: A Word To The Wise.
Addendum 2018: Fran got yet another award for which I congratulated her on yesterday, and I’ve quit and started several jobs since the original writing of this, and have finally settled in a medical clinic as their psychiatric provider and feel as though I’ve come home. As I sent the box with Flo carefully tucked inside to Arizona, I told the story to the postman and started to cry. He had a similar story of his own.
Composite/collage. Synchronicity in text and image, transparency, translucency, opacity. How do we make it work?
In order to write in any sort of intimate way about mental health and addiction, I essentially make a hybrid of characteristics of an individual, spanning time, place, gender, symptoms. The point is to paint an accurate image of what without focusing on the who, on the why without the where. For obvious reasons, this allows me to shine a light on an issue without breaking confidentiality, and allows me to honor without alarm. I want the reader to understand what goes on for people in this world of addiction and psychiatric disturbance, within that understanding we might see impact or at least volition for change.
It’s a dilemma. CNF (creative non-fiction writers) will often say, if you can’t tell the whole truth than don’t bother writing about it. Others will find it good enough just to blur the lines. Others use permission contracts and footnotes. At conferences I’ve listened carefully to experts such as Lee Gutkind and Susan William Silverman, Dinty Moore and Jacquelyn Mitchard. My work has been picked apart by editors and lawyers. I don’t have an answer except that there are narratives that need to be told and images that need to be made.
I collage 3-D memoir from mixed media and think about whether transparency can truly exist. I work in porcelain and encaustic as well as words, all radiant in their translucency. I think about politics and the opacity that crushes us. I am proud of these stories I write about people I have been honored to know.
Here is my latest, a Monthly Muse contest winner from New Millennium Writings, “The Sum of its Parts.”
The time between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is a reflective time, and the term awe can need not only reflect wonder, but also horror. This year in particular I grieve the world as I once trusted it. I can’t put my mascara on until I reach the parking lot where I work with opioid and alcohol and crack and marijuana addicted people because I cry all the way to work. I spend my hour commute listening to either VPR (hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, fundamentalism and our own shameful government) or I listen to the original Blood on the Tracks and think about how it’s been the soundtrack to my own life and no other music fits the bill these days. Mostly I’m sad because I can’t really do anything besides steward my own little corner of the world best I can. Sometimes I write angry essays and send checks to The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Jewish Anti-Defamation League, Citizens United for the Separation of Church and State and I’m suspicious of sending money to the Red Cross. I keep driving mascara less to work, but the facility where I work is being sold to an out-of-state company and I am feeling shaken and worried about that. It’s the cliché that so many workers in our country have gone through and now it’s my cliché. My husband has already lost his job with them and how do I negotiate his grief along with my own?
I will cross the pontoon bridge and climb up to the waterfall and empty my pockets of crumbs into the rushing stream, in ritual for the New Year I will cast away my sins. On that same bridge right now a father bounces his little boy over the old wooden railing. I can’t hear what they are saying but I believe there is teaching going on. About water, about fish. And the reflection of themselves I am sure they can see on this still morning. Likely they are not doing tashlisch since this is Vermont and not a mecca for observant Jews, but who knows? On that bridge last night my neighbor who had a stroke last year holds her husband’s hand as they take her daily rehabilitation walk. They seem too young for this stroke and too old to hold hands, and they wave up at me and I tell them they look fabulous and they air pump the sky calling out their awesomeness.
In the fall of 2008 I published an essay in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political alongside Nancy Pelosi, Benazir Bhutto, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Lamott, Cindy Sheehan. It was the second big publication for me so I knew my writing wasn’t just happenstance but something real, good even. I wrote because of my horror at George W. Bush getting re-elected, I wrote about my daughter and how, even in temple and in school, she mattered. I wrote about other daughters, especially the young Orthodox woman in Jerusalem who tried to learn English from me so that she could go to college in America, and whose father forbade it. I was twenty years old, and now at sixty-seven I still think about her, knowing it is likely nothing changed.
I am rambling, such is the off-kilter gait of grief and hope. I am still proud of this essay, proud of my daughter, my husband, proud of all of us who keep on keeping on. I will celebrate this season of reflection, of Tashlich, and repost it with my wish for a sweeter year ahead.
In honor of Hillary Clinton’s book which comes out today, which I prefer to call “What the Fuck Happened,” which has already garnered tons of hysterical misogyny and controversy (even though it’s just out)…I am reposting a piece I published on ‘ROAR: Literature and Revolution by Feminist People’ last May.
We changed the title to “Still Training for the End of the World.” Although in retrospect, the original title feels so right, you know when you look back and think, wow, what was I bitching about then?????
Sometimes I like to stand in the very spot where I conceived of this piece back in 2016. And while the husband still sits in his same comfy chair, the TV has a very different message. And I am pissed. I am pissed that Bernie Sanders did not shut up and pivot quickly enough to help avert this disaster. I am disgusted with the so-called “Green” and “Libertarian” party egos who did not have enough sense, among other things, to step down and say, hey lets get behind her before something awful happens.
Something awful happened. And I’m still screaming.