Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Tashlich and these days of awe

 

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.

 

https://ninagaby.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/from-after-the-election-2004-my-thirteen-year-old-daughter-helps-make-a-minyan-in-vermont/

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Original title: I’ll Give You Something to Cry About

https://roarfeminist.org/2017/05/11/still-training-for-the-end-of-the-world/

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.

roarfeminist.org   (donate!)


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Telling, Breathing

 

 

“Show Don’t Tell” is the favorite meme of writing advice. Though, in guru Philip Lopate’s nodal book on writing the essay, I seem to recall that he does dispute this. His is a large book, one that I don’t carry around. Especially not on an overseas trip as now, to Ireland, to a writer’s conference. While at said conference, my most recent creative non-fiction piece is published back home, and I’m feeling quite “all that” until I look at it with a newly critical eye.

 

I have committed the sin: I told. I barreled ahead and wrote it all down thinking, well, it might help someone else– this exposition of clumsy forgiveness. It certainly helped me to write it and measure how far I have come. And here I am, telling you again. And I should just let you read it if you wish, in this amazing and loving journal Manifest-Station, while I breathe this cleansing sea air and stop apologizing.

http://themanifeststation.net/2017/07/21/not-quite-forgiveness-yoga-story/

So imagine what it is like to be in Ireland, 2819 miles from work, from the honorable but vicarious trauma saturation of my profession. It is as if I am slowly being wrung tight and stretched across the green field, lain across the stone fences, in the sun, drying out. Here on the Dingle Peninsula, once again forty years later. Long walks in the early morning and long days surrounded by like minded souls. Young Madelaine who reads her poetry with the cadence of a classically trained jazz singer as she dances us through her words. Beautiful Leanna and Suzanne, steel and the voices of angels. Elinor, so, so on point. Kathy and Tommy and Ann and Charles who layer their words with transparency of emotion that makes us all quietly gasp. Then laugh. Then gasp again. Judith who doesn’t do her homework the first day (there are tears) and then wows us beyond belief in the second class. Dinty who slices it up with kindness and precision. All of us so holy in our efforts. (I’m the only one judging me, of course.) And then we gather and sing and laugh and eat a lot of cheese. This cheese is very different from the cheese I ate on Dingle forty years ago. Many more choices today. And I am very different. Another story, another type of drying out. And here’s the newest essay, I can only say, I told you.


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Non omnis moriar

 

Non omnis moriar, not all of me will die. A tribute. 

“Autonomy” from Poems New and Collected by Wislawa SzymborskaNon Omnis Moriar - Gaby

Mixed media, porcelain, paper, wood, text by Nina Gaby

In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two/ It abandons one self to a hungry world and with the other self it flees/ It violently divides into doom and salvation, retribution and reward, what has been and what will be/ An abyss appears in the middle of its body between what instantly become two foreign shores/ Life on one shore, death on the other/ Here hope and there despair/If there are scales, the pans don’t move /If there is justice, this is it/ To die just as required, without excess/ To grow back just what’s needed from what’s left/ We, too, can divide ourselves, it’s true/ But only into flesh and a broken whisper/ Into flesh and poetry/ The throat on one side, laughter on the other, quiet, quickly dying out/ Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar—just three little words, like a flight’s three feathers/

The abyss doesn’t divide us/

The abyss surrounds us.

Wislawa Szymborska

Artist’s note: I had chosen a portion of Szymborska’s “Autonomy” as the epithet for my anthology “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women” published in 2015. The idea that we separate and we go on, we persevere, had become an important theme in my writing. The recognizable connections in this piece have to do with the recent death of the poet, the idea that we leave something behind– “not all of me will die” (non omnis moriar) and the encasement, the box, with its obvious reference to a casket. What is most interesting to me is the fact that I do not recognize these connections myself until the piece is done. Nina Gaby

 Another artist note: Every summer I submit work to two regional exhibits. UNBOUND is a book arts show outside of Woodstock, Vermont and where, a year before I made my first artist book, I was aquainted with the work of Szymborska. Her poem “A Contibution to Statistics” was made into an art book exhibited at the show. I made a deal with myself to get into the show the following year. I made good on that goal. Last year this piece, and another were not selected for the show, but my rambling, dissociative piece on a disintegrating ego did make it in, and I admit the whole thing surpised me. I tend to fall in love with my own work, be it written or visual or even the work I do with patients as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. The creative process has saved me every time, starting when I was four or five, and rejection is a fundamental and inevitable blow. It was not my disintegrating ego, at least on a concious level, but could have been. I have not heard back as to whether my submissions for this year have been accepted. My work is small, fragile, full of esoteric and crowded fragments of memoir. I don’t know if the fact that the judges have all been male has made a difference, or if my tiny, strange statements are too easily disregarded. I remind myself that I should focus on the process.

The second show is the Vermont Book Arts Guild members annual exhibit. It will run this year from July 6-August 25 at SEABA Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington, Vermont. There is an artist talk on Tuesday July 11. This group is a great resource. I will post more on this show after we set it up tomorrow.

http://www.bookartsguildvt.com

 detail Szymborska  Continue reading


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Apparently I have forgotten to blog

Media slacker. I get so darn excited when my work is selected for publication. All that free dopamine squirting from neuron to neuron in these otherwise bleak times. So in the manner of unashamed self-promo, these are the last four things I can recall being published. Hugely thanking Entropy, The Diagram,  Proximity, Brevity. And I have my finalist flash upcoming at Quarter-After-Eight, a piece in Rock and Sling’s inauguration journal, and an essay in the long awaited Second Blooming collection edited by Susan Cushman, out this spring.

I’d love to know how others feel about self-promotion. I’m not an MFA, don’t have a significant group of writers around me (although the few that I can share with are worth their collective weight in gold and I have some very smart friends who will read and comment.) Do others feel the rush? Crave the neuro cascade and that momentary Sally Field ‘they really like me’ validation? Or am I alone in this, desperately propelled like an addict for that next fix?

What ever keeps our little fingers flying through the muck.

And a huge shout out to the editors (my legal pushers)…Ander Monson, Dinty Moore, Stacy Murakowsi, the Entropy team.

https://entropymag.org/paying-partial-attention-knowing-an-alternative-route-would-be-out-of-the-question/

http://thediagram.com/16_6/gaby.html

http://proximitymagazine.org/project/13-gaby/

https://brevity.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/im-writing-like-a-mf-again-a-thank-you-note-to-dj-trump/


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A Kind of Gratitude

turkeyThe patient was in her fifties, simple alcoholism (as if any addiction is simple) and doing well in her treatment. It was twenty two years ago and the big relief for her was that she had never added crack to her repertoire. “I want to quit smoking cigarettes too,” she told me, so one of her recovery goals was finding something she enjoyed that did not involve bars or bad men and kept her hands busy. She joined one of those ceramic classes that I used to joke about with my art school friends. Once upon a time, during my own days struggling with “simple alcoholism” I was a serious art student, getting a BFA in Ceramic Art and would go on to have my work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian and support myself and my studio selling my handbuilt porcelain objects in fine craft galleries across the country. Selling pieces I could never have afforded to buy myself, and very much a craft snob. My work was professionally photographed and I was featured in coffee table books. My friends and I called those little hobby shops where ladies went to paint bisqueware “s’ramics” and we often made fun of them. Of course that was just a cover up for shame at our own beginnings, at least my own, in an aesthetically barren, or at least questionable suburb of the fifties, where housewives like my own relatives and neighbors did crafts when their husbands would let them out of the house. Our own living room was full of ashtrays that my aunt had glazed, often in holiday themes, although the pieces I still own and have grown to cherish include a boomerang shaped nut dish in a gold and turquoise crackle and a plate with a shadow image of a little girl in pigtails with my name across the bottom.

One day, after I had closed my clay studio and become an advanced practice nurse, still a snob regarding the university I had chosen but nonetheless somewhat more humble, the patient came in for her monthly “check up.” She had completed the group portion of treatment and was now in AA and reunited with her daughter and grandchildren. Maybe she got her driver’s license back, maybe she was working again. Her appointment was the day before Thanksgiving. She was carrying a box which she set down on my desk with a flourish, lifting out a ceramic turkey with a fan of lollipops as its tail and carefully painted eyelashes. “I made this for you and your family!”

My first inclination, a nod to the loyalty of art school snobbery, was an “oh no” and my second was to remind her that therapists can’t accept gifts. But I did neither, instead I thanked her and in good therapist form we discussed what this turkey represented to her (sobriety, love of family, gratitude for my help, finding a new way to be) and I brought it home and put it in a prominent place on the holiday table, where others said things like “what the hell is that” and my three year old daughter was thrilled and my nieces and nephews stole all the lollipop tail feathers over the course of the holiday afternoon. Twenty two years later it’s hard to find those same lollipops and nothing else fits the little holes quite right so I just put him out without a tail.

For a number of years after I left healthcare and we moved to Vermont, I couldn’t find the ceramic turkey. My husband said it’s just as well, he could never understand my attachment to it, and my daughter forgot about it. We went through some hard times, I gained humility and managed to stay sober. I found the turkey.

I never lost him again, although every year I worry that he won’t be in the plastic holiday crate with my grandmother’s menorah and the handmade ornaments from my daughter’s elementary school days and the frayed felt stockings from my husband’s childhood and my own. I admit there are a few aesthetically pleasing objects in the crate but less than my old self would have thought. Every year now I put out the ceramic turkey as I make dinner for a much smaller crowd-one year it was just me and the tail-less turkey, as my daughter was doing her Junior year abroad and my husband was sick and stayed in bed and my mother had died and the rest of my family was in another state. The turkey flirted with me from his perch on the piano. And I understood a kind of gratitude, a new way to be.