Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare

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More than the Sum of its Parts

collage 2

Book collage in process

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.”



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.

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

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.   (donate!)


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.

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.


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.

 detail Szymborska  Continue reading


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.