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


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.



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.


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.)


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.











Liminal Spaces


Liminal Space 2 Gaby

“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”:


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


art-perc-pg-1-e1552927074461.jpgArt Perc pg 3


To read more by Shirley Dawson, go to:

To order Ceramics Art + Perception:



The Not So Young and Restless

Neil and Dru

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:


Anniversary note–be OK


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.

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“Denial-Deviation-Perfusion (as Unrelated to Donald Trump)” reprinted from VOX, the Rock&Sling inaugural journal, 2016

Us creative types, when we can’t sleep we write. When overwhelmed we try to make some sense of it by creating our own narratives. But I don’t have to tell you that. I watched Oprah on TV last night, campaigning, reminding us that NOT voting is disrespecting our ancestors. A great-grandmother I never knew inspires me in this piece. And here we are, on the eve of the midterms. I am repeating myself to comfort myself as I did when I wrote this piece in 2016, still in shock. It happened right here.

Vox cover.JPG



THE NIGHT BEFORE I VISITED the clinic for the last emergent appointment available that week, I had the rabid squirrel dream (the one where I rip them apart with my bare hands as they puncture me with pinpoints of venom) and even though I lay safely under my high-thread-count summer blanket, my pulse was erratic and the pressure on my collarbone was punctuated by the dull airless thuds of skittering squirrel toes. I had been diagnosing these symptoms on my own for two months as anxiety, humidity, heat and Donald Trump. No more than any normal sensitive person’s reaction to the politics of the summer of 2016. It is summer after all and my tiny office, where I work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner amid my many careful relationships, is missing an AC vent. I am more worried about the vicarious trauma truffle in my brain than any missed squeezings from my heart or the struggle to pass air into my lungs in what I describe not as vertigo, not as dizziness, but as a sense that I am simply going to drop. I decide that I have reached maximum saturation from work and worry and that I have to tough it out because that’s what people like me, pink bunnies and women in pantsuits, do.

So I wait until the very end of the week to schedule my own appointment so that I don’t have to cancel any of my patients. My trusted nurse practitioner has retired after indicating to me that maybe it’s time for me to, as well. It is the last appointment of the week for the clinic where some provider who will probably look twelve years old (probably a Bernie-or-Buster because we are in Vermont, or maybe a rural of the old Take-Back-Vermont ilk who means well but whose family has always been Republican and why stop now) will check my blood pressure sitting, then standing. The youngster will glance at the picture of Hillary’s proud bicep pinned to my chest, will tell me to drink more water, stop working so hard, exercise more. Relax. Maybe get a quick rhythm strip. There may be a hint of condescension. Because of my advanced age, my weight, my politics. I think I already know how this will play out.


“So it’s a thing.”

“Yes,” agreed the kindly gray haired male physician. He could have been a healthy- my-age or an exceptionally well preserved decade older. Not the youngster I anticipated, whose clinical reasoning I could have ignored. This guy was Norman Rockwellian. He tipped the glossy red and white graph paper of my EKG towards me.

“So, like, it’s not stress. Not the heat. The humidity?” Not even the stupidity I thought but didn’t say because I was batting back big sloppy tears and nothing here warranted

humor. Certainly not the kind expression on this Marcus Welby’s face, and I am over- whelmed with gratitude for this. “Not Trump?”

“No. Not stress. Not Donald Trump.”

As I leaned forward I tapped my hand over my sternum. As we spoke my platelets sticky with fibrinogen slid along as they had always done, plasma propelled by the electrical current of my now suspicious septum.

I refuse to go to the hospital.


It gets worse, doesn’t it. Now that it’s November, wrapped in similarly high-thread-count sheets, seasonal flannel, but with the same element of privileged catalogue acquisition as my summer ones. The air has changed. It is no longer humid. The world has tipped off -axis, like the left-leaning deviation of my now not-to-be-trusted heart. Nothing is recognizable here. As if my lungs don’t understand oxygen, even though I am told by a host of cardiologists and beeping machines and documented values that I am stable. It’s nothing I did, with words like “inherited, idiopathic.”

“Lucky you,” my leading men say. I am “supremely sensitive” to the beta-blocker, says the one who reminds me of Omar Sharif. “You’ve taken good care of yourself.” Another assures me that my chance of sudden cardiac death is under one percent as he smiles and suggests I buy those odds. But I do not feel perfused. I am choking. Dropping. Everything is wrong. The cell phone on the nightstand tells me it’s 4 AM and the election is over, the floor listing under my feet. These are not my slippers. Not my squirrel toes. Not my Golden Retriever who trips me in the pre-dawn gray hoping for a treat.

There must have been a moment when my great-grandmother in Russia woke with a weight of anticipation, thinking to herself, “something’s really wrong here.” As the weight that she would slowly, one by one, say goodbye to her family as they left to escape the Pogroms settled in on her in one dark morning. A weight that maybe made her feel for a moment that she would drop, but maybe she couldn’t. People like us don’t just drop. Maybe she stumbled outside for one last look at a vegetable garden or clothes hanging on the line. Tripping over a dog, slapping away a squirrel.

I take some Tylenol and wonder if an extra Metoprolol would help despite the one percent risk of more nightmares. I pull the flannel covers back over my head and commune with her, this great-grandmother whose name I never knew, who died in a suspicious fire soon after sending her youngest daughter to America. Whose anxiety follows me through generations, gnawing at my septum. A sudden shared geography.


4 Comments 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.

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Dimensional Memoir

Why we are-text

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.

Why We Are



Tools of the trade


The workbench

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.)