Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Climbing Your Own Hill

(Content warning: all sorts of autumnal clichés)

Later this month an article I’ve written will appear in a women’s wellness journal. I feel like it’s a “coming out” of sorts, I admit to my “condition”–a pulmonary auto immune disorder–and how I work to accept and manage it. 

It’s one of those “invisible” disabilities that people talk about. You wouldn’t notice it unless you were to walk up a flight of stairs with me or watch me climb a hill. Or if you knew me before–rushing through my eighteen-hour days–a fast walker and a fast talker. I’m still productive; I make sure of that, only different–almost embarrassing. On inclines I stop when I have to, winded. I take some deep breaths and keep going. Even though the effort cramps my calves and sucks the air right out of me. “It’s a metaphor,” I smile to myself. Mountains, hills, difficulties, complications. Or, “It’s not cancer, so stop whining.” I have one friend that I will take walks with, otherwise it’s just me and the dog. 

The steep hill behind our house, the part we own, is about six acres. It used to be a young ladies’ equestrian school run by Jessie Fisk in the 1930s. Jessie climbed many hills in days before it was normal for a woman to accomplish what she had. A botanist, first female professor at a major eastern college, owner of one of the first cars in our village, a postmistress. And with her partner, Miss Butters, she ran an inn, a riding school, and a restaurant on our property. When we were running the inn, my mantra during hard times was, “WWJD”…What Would Jessie Do? She wouldn’t whine, that’s for sure.

During the Covid era I have grown to love our hill, part of the bubble that surrounds us, the trails into the woods that the horses used to trot, the bench at the top where I sit with the dog. Right now it is ablaze with color as I look out over the hills and the sliver of lake below. More precious for the effort it took to get there.

My Kundalini yoga teacher sends out invitations to her yoga hikes. Kundalini breath work has become integral to my disease management. I scan the invitations for hints, how steep is the hike, how strenuous the yoga, how hot will it be? My breathing is worse in the heat and humidity so I check my weather app. 

I know I can’t sign up. I’d slow everyone else down. The anxiety alone would choke me. 

So I roll up my yoga mat, stick dog treats in my pocket, and head up my own hill. As I lay out my mat, the dog fights to lie on it, delightedly confused. An old playlist on my iPhone starts out with Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and I just set in to do whatever comes to mind, finding that my Kundalini aerobic set works perfectly to “Life During Wartime.” I lay in Shavasana with the dog on top of me. We watch the clouds trace patterns across the bluest sky. Now October, the wind is crispening. For a moment I become a wonder-filled child with perfect lungs, making up stories in the shapes above, until the dog gets restless. I do a simple mountain pose and it’s time to descend.


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About being your own lyrical essay

https://brevity.wordpress.com/2019/12/16/preamble-ramble/#comment-85364

I already wrote the rambling preamble for this hybrid piece which the Brevity blog so generously published. What I didn’t talk about, for the sake of brevity, is finding small islands of sanity in these times of grave darkness. At least for many of us, the current political climate stains us even as we work hard to keep our own hearts and minds above the murky water line. For me, I can find some peace–at times–cutting paper with tiny scissors, holding a yoga pose or chanting in my Kundalini class, or writing the perfect sentence. Sometimes contentment finds me as I listen to a patient make sense of their own pain or tell me that a medication is working and they feel, at least in a tiny way, that their life is back on track. Sometimes at 4 AM, that crazy witching hour, my little, once feral cat sits on my chest and purrs me back to sleep.

Whatever that is for you, I hope you find it tenfold in this season of darkness to light. Happy holiday, whichever one you choose.How to be Your Own Lyrical Essay_scan.jpg


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Another Opening Another Show, UNBOUND IX at Artistree Gallery, Pomfret, Vermont

“Unsent”…porcelain pages bound in rusted wireNina Gaby Art (Web Ready) BDP-1623

“If Counting Could Betray Disaster”…slip rolled porcelain scrolls bound in gravel and vintage boxNina Gaby Art (Web Ready) BDP-1636Nina Gaby Art (Web Ready) BDP-1638What do we owe to inspiration? Happenstance? Several years ago–six, seven, we lose count at my age–I came upon a book arts show outside of Woodstock, Vermont at a then small gallery (it has since moved to a beautiful building with a barn and theater) I’d never been to before. “UNBOUND (maybe V, maybe VI)” was up, their annual show. That voice in my head that I know so well, the “I want to do this” voice, rang out loud and clear. It’s happened before–holding a baby when I was young and hearing the voice convince me I wanted to have one someday. While considering my options for the future (I was in therapy at the time) the voice encouraged me to become a therapist myself. While devouring a book I realized, “I want to do this myself,” and I became a writer. And the first time I touched a mound of clay in the art studio in high school–”I gotta do this”–followed by looking at contemporary porcelain emerging as its own art form while I was a student at School for the American Crafts. And then seeing the show at Artistree Gallery–the many ways narrative could take form. BAM. I was at a low point creatively, was in a job that was less fulfilling than I’d hoped, and reeling from the financial and emotional disasters of the still recent past–and I got to work and my mixed-media-loosely-called-book-arts pieces were accepted the following year. A year or two after that I won First Prize. I owe so much to that moment of happenstance coupled with inspiration.

In the past, as an artist, I was lucky, hardworking, had many shows at galleries across the country. Galleries clamored for me, it seemed so easy. The wonderful art community in Rochester, NY and the Shoestring Gallery, the Memorial Art Gallery, pieces in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian and Arizona State University–I was embraced as a young artist. An old friend warned me back in 1977 that I “self actualized” too early, and it would be downhill. Certainly these recent years in Vermont have been more difficult at times, nonetheless, at the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, rejection makes acceptance that much sweeter.

Yesterday at the clinic I was working with a patient who, while struggling with depression and anxiety, has some exquisite moments in their studio. We paused together and celebrated that lucky crapshoot of creativity and the amazing energy it can bring if we pay attention. What would happen to us if those moments were made unavailable by funding cuts and the disappearance of brick-and-mortar galleries, museums, bookstores? A subject for another day.

UNBOUND IX opens tonight. It’s always a fun time.


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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