Tag Archives: Art

African American Woman — FInished Drawing

Sophronsie in white hat

This is how the final version of the unfinished sketch that I posted below finally turned out. I managed to print out the photo of the sketch using a photosmart inkjet printer and watercolor paper, spray that with fixative so the ink wouldn’t smudge under erasures, then draw on top of it as if it were indeed my original sketch. In such a fashion, I was able to re-complete it “better” as it were than the original “wrecked” version. And indeed, I believe it is a great deal better than the version as shown below, for all that it is a complicated combination of photographic print-out of the original sketch, combined with an overlaid color pencil drawing. The strange thing is that in the end, because of the rather poor quality of the original sketch-photograph, the background came out this dull, slightly  green color (due to the lighting, not the paper it was on, which was actually white. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a perfect background for the finished drawing, and so I did nothing in the end but finish the portrait against that greenish background.

A technique I am learning/teaching myself is  one I thought I would never understand, let alone be able to do and that is how to do a kind of underpainting of whites or light colors, the highlights, before adding the darker tones.  I do not know, of course, if one is actually supposed to do that with colored pencils, but I did so anyway, figuring it might be time to try it. So given the original sketch to work with, I then heavily applied light peach and white tones where you can now see the lighter areas on the face, and only much later softened them with the darker chestnut browns and darker umbers, though clearly much peach shows through where the light is meant to strike the face on the left.

A  “real artist” would know how to do this beforehand, I expect, but I had to learn as I went, so it was all a process of delightful discovery, which is why I hope you will forgive me the foregoing description. It always amazes me to find out how many colors there really are in what seems to be a solid colored expanse, when you really look at it. I used blues and greens in Sophronsie’s skin tones as well as the peach-tones and whites. There are also some yellows and reds. And in some places I even used a silver pencil. It took me a while before I could even understand that the whites of the eyes are not white at all, not even slightly blue all over, but all sorts of colors, and that only if you painted them in a kind of pale multi-color would they begin to seem realistic. What is also interesting is that comparing the “white” skin on the child that I did in the earlier picture, or any of the other “white” portraits compared to the African American portraits, there is really not a great deal of difference in the colors I used. In fact, I start out with the very same peach and white for both skin colors, and only towards the end does this change, when I add darker tones for the darker skin, but it really only takes a little, and then not a great deal. This is so striking because it seems to say, in some profound way, that when you really look at all of us, “under the skin” (which skin people take for being so different) we really are all the same.  Of course in every real sense we are the same, despite our differences as individual human beings: genetically this is true, and philosophically, and morally and spiritually and in every other sense that matters, at least to me. We are all human and of the same “stuff” and nothing else matters. Nothing.


(There are not supposed to be any gaps in the following poem but for some reason it doesn’t cut and paste as it should and so it appears with the spaces…ignore them..)


There’s no excuse for it, I know, there’s none at all, but reading

about the death of the famous poet’s poet wife from cancer,
so cachectic and etiolated her limbs are thinner than a Giacometti
I find myself disgustingly hungry and envious, both.

It is not that I want to die, not even slowly, not even

an after-the-fact-romantic death recalled for years

by other poets. No, I like life, I even like living.
But I want this house, yes, I want this small empty apartment
filled with food rich and fattening as truffles, dark, creamy truffles
made of French chocolate and wrapped in tissue-thin edible gold
so expensive it’s a mortal sin to eat even one as long
as Africa starves and cholera saps the strength of flood victims
in Pakistan. Except that leaving them to melt and flow molten

on the August windowsill feeds no one while I, longing,

linger over my dish of celery and one small onion, lusting
to taste a life I can never enjoy, to taste a lust not for chocolate
exactly, but for the life that rich chocolate represents,
appetite throwing wide its arms and crying, Yes, yes, yes!

Newest drawings

Most recent drawing: a portrait (from photo) of Josephine’s niece, done as a thank you to her brother,  Megan’s father, who helped me out removing and moving in a recliner chair this spring. Nothing particularly “artistic” about it, just a simple likeness…

NEW DRAWING: Elder Woman

Unfortunately, while I loved this stage of the drawing, as I progressed I fear I ruined it…Or at any rate, it changed so drastically that I don’t know what to do with it, or where to go with it now. So I am putting what I have aside, since I no longer have this, to work on some other time. I wish I had taken a better photo of it at this stage, though. Anyhow, for what it is worth. Here she is, as she was…

Elder with Flaming City in Mouth

Then this is the more updated drawing as it got “over-processed.” Actually, what happened was that the watercolor paper did in fact start to wear out under my many erasures, or at any rate the color, the pigment grew so thick that when I erased it piled up under the eraser so that I had to keep erasing more and more of the drawing each time in order simply to erase one spot, because I’d otherwise leave behind chunks of unsightly “solid waste” of clumpy pigment. Eventually I couldn’t even draw on the paper any longer, it had become so mushy under that burden of erasure and redrawings, and so I decided to finally be done with it and decided quickly to do what the erasing suddenly brought to mind: an upside down city-scape, somewhat surreal, floating in the person’s mouth, and on fire…Do not ask me why! It is simply because that is what I “saw” in the patterns left behind by the unerased and uneraseable lines and colors on the paper…

TO tell the truth, I am trying to figure out how to either redo or “fix it” into something that I can work with further, can figure out what to do with as is, or how to cover up without making it look “collaged together, since that was not the effect I started out looking for. I’m eager for suggestions if anyone has any!

And yes, I came back from Wisdom House yesterday, after 2 and a half days instead  of 7…I was rather upset there, though the place was lovely and I thought that if the circumstances had been a little bit different I could have loved it…but I will write more tomorrow or today in the P.M. For now, I just wanted to  let you know…

Trip to Wisdom House

I have decided, with Sr Jo-Ann’s help, to arrive at the Writer’s Fellowship on Sunday morning, rather than Saturday evening, so that she can meet me, rather than have me face a crowd of fifty (silent) people alone. It was in fact her idea, but she offered to take me individually on a tour, and show me where to go and so forth, introduce me, which she thought she would have more time for on Sunday morning than on Saturday when everyone else was arriving. This also was a relief for the simple fact that I am so frantic with things I have to get done that it helps to know I have all of Saturday simply to relax and if I haven’t done so before, to pack. It isn’t as if I am bringing a great deal, not many clothes or “stuff”– after all, I am mainly going there to write. But that in itself entails bringing such things as my computer, a printer and a ream of paper at a minimum, and I want to bring a small hot pot and cup and coffee as well, since I cannot rely simply on sheer excitement to keep me awake, no more than I ever can. Not even Ritalin, which as you may know I have taken for decades to combat the nearly constant and excessive daytime sleepiness of narcolepsy, really keeps me alert. In fact, often coffee does a better job…On the other hand, I intend to take Zyprexa every day I am there too, which is sedating. This is just so that I know I will be able to read and stay as unafraid of things as possible. Once I get home, I’ll stop taking it, but why not keep on top of things as long as I am there?

I have written several poems in just the last week, but alas, I am unable to share them here.  I have learned that many contests and publications do not allow the appearance on the web of poems you want to submit to them or enter there, or else they will be disqualified. Thus I can only post ones that I am certain I will not try to publish or else that have already appeared in my book or previously in another journal, review or magazine. I wish that were not so, as I am thrilled with some of these poems. I also wish that I had not been so quick to enter a few of them into a certain contest, as with a little more rewriting, say, the 110th version rather than the 100th, I might have felt even better about them. Ah well, too late for recriminations. If a given poem is not accepted where I sent it, there are a thousand other venues that might take it when I submit it again.

Enough for now, it is already late and I needs must (how’s that for an archaic expression?) get to work finishing up the dishes and printing out poems. I will need at least 60 for my second book and I have to have copies I can work on at Wisdom House. There are a dozen other things to do before I go to bed tonight…zo I will bid you adieu, au revoir…

I hope I can post something from Wisdom House next week, but if not, I will do so when I get back. Hasta la vista!

Pencil Drawing: Gaia’s Last

I don’t want to tell you why i drew this or what I meant or intended by it (beyond whatever the title evokes in you). All I want to say is that it was largely drawn in colored pencil on watercolor paper, with a tiny bit of acrylic paints, the black background for instance, and the ecru skin of the blue-haired figure, but not the skin on the other other woman, where all the details as well as the skin itself was done with pencils. It is amazing how forgiving watercolor paper is – usually it is imposssible to erase plain old colored pencils, if they are not watercolor pencils. But on the watercolor paper, you can erase as long and as hard as you like, and the paper will remain intact. So it is not so difficult to get the marks off.

Welp, If you feel like commenting, I would love to hear any interpretations you would like to share. If you give me permission, I will also put them up here with the picture.

Collage of Christabel: Middlesex Occupational Therapist (finished)

Finally I have finished the collage here with the background completed and the candy foil earring (I saved foil from innumerable chocolates…and they have no come in handy as I know eventually they would.  What do they say? Everything can be an art supply, looked at with a creative spirit. Who says that? Well, I dunno, I guess I do! 8D

I call her Christabel, who was one of the occupational therapists in the hospital this past April and May (all of the OTs were great.) She was a wonderful woman who was the one person who consistently treated me like a human being at a place where I was often not treated much better than an animal or a bad child. Consequently, I never once, as I recall, had occasion nor impulse to scream at her in rage or frustration. Lkewise she never felt it incumbent upon her to withhold from me such ridiculous items as gluesticks or magazines, the sort of carrots with which the nurses attempted to “tame” me. That is, negatively, by taking them away from me until I ‘behaved’ according to their rigid standards. Never once did they acknowledge what I had begged them to understand from the moment I walked in there, which was that I suffered from Lyme disease-induced schizophrenia, and that both the rage episodes and my impulsivity were uncontrollable, (i.e. literally OUT of my control, and “not me” — as the weekend doc herself, Faye H., who knew me well from treating me for years in the past, noted several times in dismay).

Be that as it may, when the nurses, or one of them, the one who really hated me, refused to grant me permission to use a gluestick one afternoon in order to work on this collage, it was Christabel who came to my rescue, by bringing some from the OT office, without so much as a word or caveat to “not tell the nurses.” She simply handed them to me, along with a handful of new magazines to tear colored scraps from, so I could continue work on my face, which I had only just begun.

Everyone asked me, as it was coming together, if I was modeling it on  anyone. But the truth is, though I call it Christabel, it is more in honor of her, than intended to be a true likeness. True, she is African American, and has very close cropped hair, but that is as far as the similarities go. In fact, the face is pretty much imaginary and generic. I took the features from, well, my mind, mostly, though I used various faces from magzines to give me an idea of how the light would fall and create shadows, and how the various contours of the features would look. Also to give me a better idea of proportions. The nice thing about these kinds of collages is that paper is very forgiving, so if I made a huge mistake, and made the nose too big or put the lips too close to the nostrils or, as I did, make the eyes too small and close together, all I needed to do was paper them over and start again. In fact, the more layers I used, the stiffer the underlying “post-it note” kind of thin paper foundation became, which proved a good thing when it came to finishing off the edges and finding a way to hang it. I cannot f rame it, as it is 46 inches by 32inches, approximately, and formally framing it would cost a mint. but I polyurethaned it, one, so it would not distintegrate, and bound the edges neatly, and think I will attach a dowel or piece of thin wood at the top to which I can affix a wire and hang it by that. The person, the woman who runs the solo shows every month at DHMAS in Hartford, said that though everything was supposed to be framed, basically as long as it can be hung by a wire, my plans sound fine.

Well enough of this. I think the new photo shows how I finished the face better. Though I could not get the bound edges into the photo alas.

Writing Fellowship at Interfaith Center

Sorry for my  long silence. Things have been busy at best, sometimes just plain hectic.

On the good side, though, this: the Writing Fellowship. A place called Wisdom House in the northwest hills of Connecticut offered free fellowships of 2-10 days for low-income writers from this area to come and stay to work on a writing project. I applied immediately, wanting time to organize, come up with a title, and send out my second book of poems to the Barnard women’s second book contest. Well, after speaking to my references and to my new psychiatrist, they accepted me, the sister in charge calling me last night at 9pm to give me the news. (As my friend, Leila, put it when I told her how late the director called, “nuns do not keep bankers’ hours!”)

Now the only reservation I have vis a vis the fellowship is that it is going to be held while the rest of the center is on a “silent retreat”. This means that everyone else,  aside from the two other writers and me, will voluntarily not be talking the entire time. According to Leila, they will not be looking at others or even raising their eyes. While I wanted time to write, I have to admit I anticipated a more convivial atmosphere, or at least a less daunting one. This does not sound exactly friendly. Spiritual, yes, but not friendly. Sr Jo-Ann does, on the other hand, and she has offered her help in any way she can (since I have been more than open about my illness) but I don’t know that she understands quite how difficult I may find this. Even the problem of getting to the dining hall, the speaking one or the silent one, or eating with other people, should I manage to get into the building wherever it is, may pose a huge obstacle, if my experience at the art and crafts center two years ago is any predictor.

Well, I am determined to go, so I will not let my reservations, nor even the tears I shed last night in sheer terror stop me. I must confess however that I am not without mixed emotions in face of this overwhelming silence — and the resulting loneliness or something much worse — I fear I may confront.

On a somewhat brighter note, for six week, I took an art class in New Haven, at the Creative Arts Workshop. I wanted to learn the rock bottom basics, which I figured I needed to start with. Even though I have successfully painted some portraits, I know I need to learn fundamental techniques, both in drawing and painting so I’m not just floundering around, painting more in hope than with real confidence and skill. But getting to the class meant that I had to drive to New Haven — on the interstate —  for the first time in more than 20 years. Unable to drive home that same night, I spent two days a week there, staying at my parents’ condo, usually with my father there (my mother was usually at the shore, at the other house). I enjoyed that part of it almost as much as the class. We were so long estranged that I love just seeing him and getting to talk with him, no matter what we talk about.

The class might easily have been too much for me. Three hours of drawing could have sapped all my energy and taken the enjoyment out of it. Instead, somehow the time just winged away, and after the first class, which was the most tiring because I had not yet adjusted to how long a span of time 3 hours was, I got into the rhythm, and never once left early. In fact, I often left with the teacher, just so I talk with her about art.

Now, I say all that as if it were easy and not problematic at all. Certainly no one in the class would have any idea that I feel as I do, but in truth I became quite certain, and remain so, that the teacher soon grew– how do I put it? — sick of me. Overwhelmed by me. Found me overbearing and overly enthusiastic and therefore unpleasant. I know my presence was too much for her to take and so I tried to tone it down, tried not to ask too many questions or talk too much so I stopped staying after class, or showing her what I had done during the week…And frankly, I am a little scared that if I sign up for her next class, which will be a continuation of the last one, it will upset her and she won’t want me there.

In point of fact, I felt the entire class was laughing at me most of the time, that they agreed with her and that they mocked me whenever I left to use the bathroom or to wash my hands of the charcoal that we used so often.

It was only just before the final class, when I brought my sketch pad and showed two people what I had been practicing, that they seemed to realize that I was serious about drawing and art, and not just a foolish older woman taking a class for entertainment. One young woman, Jennie, actually talked to me then, and said I was “very talented.” When she asked for my Facebook page, I gave her the name Pam Wagner, which of course she will never be able to locate me with, alas, as I would be happy to communicate with her.

Nevertheless, I remain wary of the teacher, and of taking her next class, lest I be more than unwelcome. Lest I be bothersome and actively hated. I feel it incumbent upon me to spread myself around, spread the burden around, spread the miasma I cause as wide and therefore as thinly as possible so as not to sicken anyone seriously. The only real solution I can think of though is to completely shut up and be as minimal a presence there as I can. To not be visible in any way, to make no sound or impression…To do the work, and learn what I can, without, so to speak, making a mark. That way I won’t bother anyone or disturb the peace, or anyone’s peace of mind.

Then there are less positive aspect of being “busy” — Well, no, I cannot dig into this at the moment, except to say that I need to take a break from seeing Joe. Joe, if you recall, is my long-time friend (24+ years), who has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and has been in hospital for 3 years, mostly paralyzed and on a ventilator. I have visited him almost every week, sometimes twice a week, all of that time, but now I need to take some time for myself, take some time to think about what to do.. It is true that I have sometimes been away for as many as 6 weeks, but that was when I was hospitalized, and while to Joe it may feel only as if I am absent — who cares why!– to me it is not voluntary time off and certainly no vacation!

I love Joe, but only as a friend, not as a girlfriend despite what people think. And if the people in the hospital believe otherwise, it is only because I told Joe when he first became ill, that I would “be his girlfriend” — the one dream he always cherished and held out for and hoped would come to pass for some 24 years! And mostly because it was the one gift I could give him, knowing that it was a dying man’s wish-come-true.

The problem is that when he was in fact dying, when he had terrible aspiration pneumonia and could not breathe without assistance (at which point, most people with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s, opt to die, knowing what the future holds) he asked to be put on a ventilator. Hence, for the past 3 years, I have had to act the part of devoted “girlfriend” (completely non-sexual, though, just as our relationship has always been). And it has long been assumed that my love for Joe is the sole driver behind my visits. Not pure loyalty, mind you, but in some sense my own selfish need to be with him. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that maybe I do it mostly for him, to help him and keep him company…rather than because I myself want anything from it at all.

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy seeing Joe, or that I resent spending time with him. Most of the time I do not, or when I do, it is only because I feel I cannot say, No, I cannot come today, or worse, No, I do not want to come today, not even when I haven’t slept and am utterly exhausted. Usually when or after I visit, I feel better in some sense — at least about us. I feel less guilty and more needed (a double-edged sword!)

But I admit that it is extremely tiring to have to stand up the entire visit — an hour or two — and pay exquisitely close attention in order to understand what his  computer (which takes eons to do it)  translates from his spelling into speech. When I finally get home after the 30 minute ride back with Josephine, I am wiped out for hours. Even on a good day, the rest of the afternoon is shot just because of visiting him, and that is true even when I only stay an hour.

Well, I said I wasn’t going to go into it, esp not with details, so I will leave that alone, except to say that recently we had a big — what was it? Altercation? Spat? Misunderstanding? Who knows what to call it, but it left me me feeling unappreciated, taken for granted, and most of all, just plain angry. Worse, it induced this exhausted feeling in me that left me hopeless and desperate. That is why I wrote Joe and told him I needed some time off, needed time to reflect and think about things. I did not ask him for it, nor tell him what I needed it for, nor how long it would take. I did reassure him I would be back. But otherwise I simply stated my needs and informed him what I was going to do about it.

I haven’t heard from him since, but unless he is still upset or angry with me, which would be unlike him, he is simply giving me the space I need.

That is all I have the energy and time for tonight. I hope to go out for another of the 2 mile walks that a friend and I have set for ourselves to do as often as we can. We are trying to get in 10 miles a week, but so far I think the best we have done is maybe 8 miles. Still, that is MUCH better than doing nothing at all, which was my usual, until we got together to spur each other on. Usually it is she who gets me up and over to the park to meet her, and I who keeps her going at a great clip. So we help one another and get our gabbing done into the bargain.

Thanks for your patience. I have another entry planned, and hope to work on it tonight for posting tomorrow or the next day — about delusions of grandeur and other symptoms.

Klimt Collage: “Using Klimt” (updated post)


Sorry for not writing for so long. I will get back here soon, but for now I wanted to post my most recent art work, at least as it stands now.

Using Klimt

This collage was made by tearing apart several posters and calendar reproductions of Gustav Klimt’s works then making a collage of my own out of them. If you know Klimt’s works you may recognize some of them in this work, though of course the picture itself is my own…That is why I call it “Using Klimt.” It is 20 inches by 30 inches though I was not able to get all of it into the photo. The head was cut off a bit as were part of the legs…

Oh yeah, I meant to add that the position the couple assumes is based on the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo taken on the occasion of VJ Day (Aug 15, 1945) when he wrote that his camera happened to catch a sailor spontaneously grabbing an unknown nurse (Edith Shain just died, 6 days ago, at 91) and smooching her, a glorious photo that is possibly the most famous one ever taken. Certainly, not one person I have mentioned it to has not immediately known what I was talking about. In fact, several people even commented that this collage brought it to mind…How perspicacious! Mine, if you notice, has the couple reversed, though, with the man to the right instead of the left…You would have to remember the original photo to understand this.

Vision Therapy, Art and Wonder

The following may repeat some of what I have written before, though expressed rather differently. I “purloined” it from a letter I wrote to someone I once knew, who I hope will forgive me if he ever visits this blog and recognizes it here.


Life continues to present many challenges, which both the poetry book and Mary’s introduction to WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS illuminate , I suppose, in some detail. But among the thrills and wonders of these last few years of recovery are two that are related to one another but which I would never have dreamed of in relation to me.

I speak of vision, one — of depth perception —  and two, of art. I don’t know if you have heard of the recent science memoir by Sue Barry called, Fixing My Gaze, in which she describes her strabismus  and her work in vision therapy. Apparently the book has become quite popular, at least around here, after a review in the Hartford Courant (Barry lives not far from Northampton, MA). Strangely enough, I have been writing for the past year about, among other things, my own experience in vision therapy trying to achieve stereopsis .  I believe I must have had “3-D vision” at some point, since I did not have strabismus as a child. At least not to the same extent as Barry, and I think I did when very young “see” what others said they saw through those Viewmaster toys (you must remember those binocular viewers with the “3-D” slides?). My later lack of 3-D vision never bothered me, apparently, and I never knew that I was missing anything, until I developed frank double vision about four or five years ago. My optometrist told me I probably had had unrecognized intermittent exotropia since childhood, but that my eye muscles had been somewhat stronger then and so my vision had stayed single. She could not say however if it had indeed been binocular, that is to say that I had used both eyes in seeing.. In any event, it was only when I was given prism glasses in 2008 and in February suddenly experienced brief, brief flashes of stereopsis that I understood what most people see, what I had in  fact  gone for so long without seeing. The world was suddenly, achingly more beautiful than — well, than anyone else seemed to recognize:

The first time on the Broad Street Green I passed the huge tree with its bark “sticking out” I was stunned, stopping dead in my tracks to stare at the reddish burnt sienna ridges that had suddenly leapt out at me. Stark, knifelike and jagged, the crusty surface was backlit by an early setting sun in such a way that  it all seemed limned with light. A gentle roughness edged the troughs and depressions. Spawned from the cortex wood, the bark strained and stretched. I could scarcely believe how the air gently touched and tasted each indentation and projection of bark — as if saying, “I love you, I love every inch of you and my kisses, my airy bearhug proves it.” Just as surely as I knew the air loved that bark, I knew that space, the “emptiness” that cups and holds everything in its place safely,  adores matter. This struck me as neither bizarre nor even uncommon, only obvious. What was strange and unfortunate to me was the fact that no one I spoke to about this experience seemed to know what I was talking about…

I cannot tell you (or anyone else for that matter, except perhaps Sue Barry, or Oliver Sacks) how much “space loves us” and everything it touches. Space is what gives us as a gift to ourselves..And when I saw it, saw space for the first time I fell in love with matter, and with the hollows and shapeliness of everything. I wanted to do nothing but gaze upon the world without touching it or or talking for at least a week…I wanted to walk around in silent solitude, experiencing space without interruption, to see without the interposing of frivolous conversation how incredible it was that you write words with pens held above the paper; that when you see a sign or a billboard, there is — and you are as certain of this as of any delusion —the knowledge that there is  flatness to it, and that “more space” lies beyond it…Someone’s nose which reaches out in space is far more interesting than their voice, and the way a hand extends outward can be the most lovely thing seen…Indeed, I would tell people quite spontaneously how beautiful they looked, the way their noses projected from their faces, or their hands suddenly coming out at me…

Oh, it is so impossible to convey the sheer — well, even now there are no words for this, no words beyond that single inadequate word, beauty, for which there seems to be no useful synonym. All I can say is that while I felt no better about myself, I certainly fell in love with the substance of the world! Who can say, What is the matter with the world? Seriously? All is the world is the matter, and that matter is more exquisitely lovely and worthy of being preserved than even many principles — Free trade, capitalism, rugged individualism above socialism in any and all forms etc —  Americans feel they have  a right to hold so dear…
As for Art? In my cooler moments I reduce it to “medicine”, to symptomatology…thinking perhaps this amazing talent, so unexpected and newfound, has merely to do with the Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or seizure disorder with which I was diagnosed after having ECT about 3-5 years ago. I don’t know. (I read in SEIZED by Eve La Plante that not only are there personality changes but one can acquire sudden artistic abilities and interests, almost full-blown after developing TLE..so who knows?) Perhaps not. In any event, (I should mention that this is my theory little mentioned to anyone at all…Not sure to whom I should talk…) starting in 2007 I took up lifesize papier mache sculpture in a serious way, and just a week ago suddenly, VERY suddenly, discovered that I could paint portraits, just like that…I had never done a portrait before, rarely even tried to draw, had always said I couldn’t draw or paint for beans. Then one instant I felt drawn to paint (with which I had always decorated my papier mache, with swirls and colors but not true representational painting) and to doing “real art”. I “decided” I would paint a young man, and then went ahead and fearlessly did so (see first attachment)…Since then I have done one portrait a day. Some imaginary, some from photos…And I have no idea, had no idea I could do so at all! Frankly, ditto the sculpture, though I am getting used to that ability now that I have several to my name…(see two other attachments for examples of earliest pieces).
I hope you won’t mind all this “Wow is me” stuff…I’m not usually so impressed with myself, I assure you. However, while I am at it, I want to send you three newer poems. I actually dislike most of the illness poems in the book, and want you to see what I have been doing more recently,  since the DIVIDED MINDS book was finished in 2003. I hope these poems speak for themselves. The “Epithalamion” one got a lot of chuckles, and ought to, when read properly (best out loud). I read it at my twin’s wedding. “To the Reader” will be the first poem in my second book, the opener, though perhaps not as “welcoming” as “How to read a Poem”.  And the vision therapy one is about what I have been doing in order to regain stereopsis. Which by the way really works, vision therapy that is, despite the skepticism of most ophthalmologists, who never bother to try it out, just condemn and contemn it out of hand, because it is done by ODs not MDs….VT has to be continually practiced though or like me you can lose the ground you gained after a while. Now I struggle to gain it back. I vow to  keep practicing. I do not think I can go without the exercises not after having gotten my eyes to do what they should do. It is so discouraging now to be back at nearly square one, I must admit…

The Icarus Project and Mad Pride

This is how Newsweek begins its article about the Icarus Project and Mad Pride:

We don’t want to be normal,” Will Hall tells me. The 43-year-old has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and doctors have prescribed antipsychotic medication for him. But Hall would rather value his mentally extreme states than try to suppress them, so he doesn’t take his meds. Instead, he practices yoga and avoids coffee and sugar. He is delicate and thin, with dark plum polish on his fingernails and black fashion sneakers on his feet, his half Native American ancestry evident in his dark hair and dark eyes. Cultivated and charismatic, he is also unusually energetic, so much so that he seems to be vibrating even when sitting still. http://www.newsweek.com/id/195694

Readers will note two things immediately: It is not common for someone diagnosed with schizophrenia these days to be “delicate and thin” — despite articles claiming to prove a supposed link between schizophrenia the illness and obesity, most of us would say that weight gain went right along with taking meds from the get go. And that most of us were originally either of normal weight or even thin compared to “normals.” the other striking thing, I think, is Will Hall’s level of energy. Most of those with schizophrenia, at least those on meds that I know, have a much lower level than normal of energy and motivation, which again is attributed to the illness itself. Now of course negative symptoms might be an effect of the illness, yes. But I also know that at least when I took the older drugs, like thorazine and mellaril, they added tremendously to any inner listlessness I might have felt. Indeed, what else is the infamous Thorazine shuffle but a drug side effect that practically screams medication-induced psychomotor retardation?

In any event, it may be that some of my readers with schizophrenia, and many of the mothers (and in my experience when caregivers visit this site it is often mothers who do though sometimes fathers do as well) of those with schizophrenia, may well disapprove of my posting this link. But I feel it deserves a viewing. Too many of us suffer the effects of medication without benefiting from its advantages not to offer another form of hope. As long as someone is not a danger to him or herself or others, why should they not be offered the experience of Mad Pride, should they prefer it? In these later stages of my own “condition” I too long to be off meds and to experience my experience, to do art unencumbered by the effect of meds that fatigue me if nothing else. But if I feel enabled now, and emboldened by some inner force to do art, I just might be liberated to unknown heights once off the meds, and if I can control the dangers I used to put myself in vis a vis cigarettes and such, why should i not be permitted such an experiment. Alas, no one here would ever allow it. I would have to endure such remonstrations and scolding and worse from relatives and others it is simply not worth it, or else I simply could not bear the bitterness of fighting with them…SO I am stuck, stuck on these deadening and dangerous medications until such a time as I feel free enough to move away, leave town and move elsewhere. Until such a time as universal health care enables me the freedom to leave the benefits Connecticut so generously provides me as a Medicaid/Medicare patient, and live elsewhere, I am simply forced to live in my same old tiny apartment and change nothing.

But some of you might be wanting to make that change and be more capable of it, be more able to maintain 1) stability and 2) a family support network, rather than a state of constant resentful watchfulness and remonstrations of such bitterness that make it not worth the effort. I know my friends would definitely support me, but I need my family to as well, or feel I do…I am not yet ready to say I can do without it at any rate…And so I remain in thrall to their demands on me, despite the fact that for many years I had no ties to them at all, and neither help nor obligations bound us. If it is good now between us, and I love that part of it, it also means that I feel that I must live up to expectations I could disregard before…and that is so hard, and often such a burden.

Nevertheless, I love them, insofar as I am capable of the emotion of love (see posts below for an explanation of that caveat). And if I am not, then I feel for them as mu9ch as I am capable of feeling for anyone…which is all they can ask.

But I have diverged from my initial subject matter which was Mad Pride. Tomorrow I give a talk and a poetry reading at the House where I live of 250 residents, though only a handful are expected to attend.  IN the talk I finish by answering the question, do I link mental illness and creativity, and my answer is, Maybe, but even so, in most cases the best work, mine at any rate, is done “best when I am better.” I mean by this that deep in psychosis I cannot write anything decent, if I write at all nor do any decent art, because I am no longer motivated nor able to concentrate well enough to do so. Perhaps in a manic state I have been able to, but those have sadly (yes!) been too few. Otherwise my more extreme moods  have been called a mixed state or major depression. In any of those moods, and certainly when extremely or even moderately paranoid, I do little work at all. And when hearing “bad voices” ditto, since that is when I am most likely to be concentrating on acts of self-harm and least on self-nurturing activities such as art. So you see why I say what I do, that only when I am at least getting better do I do my best work?

Moreover, I believe this is true of most people. It seems to me that even in the case of the Mad Pride artwork at the Newsweek site, those artists were not in fact psychotic at the time they did their art, Oh, perhaps they were depressed, but clearly not catatonicly depressed, by definition. And I cannot believe that they were disorganized even if their diagnosis was schizophrenia, because however weird the artwork, there was recognizable order and ordering in each and every one…

Welp, I am getting fatigued just writing this, so I will leave you with that short disquisition and the link to The Icarus Project. I am not endorsing or not- endorsing it, only expressing my interest and indicating my plan to continue to read up and find out more. Somewhat not surprisingly, there is an active ? branch in Northampton,  MA, which is the town I have wanted to move to for a number of years, but have not yet had the nerve. Nor has there been the financial or medical feasibility. Now there might be, but it is still not possible. Oh, I wish I could move, but there is Joe to consider, and I would not leave him now.

That said, here is the Icarus Project Link. Enjoy? Comments will all be read and appreciated. I will respond if I can.


Self Portrait

Self portrait
Self portrait

No one who has seen this has not recognized me, apparently, however simple this portrayal might seem. It was a mere sketch in comparison to the others, I must say. Done late at night, with a hand mirror, with only one decent light, a standing lamp, near enough to illuminate me but clearly casting rather dramatic shadows.

Since then I have been fighting an on-going migraine and so I have not been able or felt up to doing painting of any kind. Cleaned up my apartment under the duress of some visitors coming, but aside from that have gotten nothing of any substance done. I am supposed to be editing my father’s book (the primary author is someone  I’ll call PN but I will refer to it as his book for now, a shorthand for PN and his book) I am supposed to be editing their book but this headache has so laid me low that I have done very little this week. I simply cannot do any difficult mental work when my head is throbbing! At the moment — at the moment I can feel it building back up in the background, though it had been better for a couple of hours (I woke in the middle of the night and stayed up for a while writing this and wandering around trying to shake off my listlessness to do something (I was wide awake otherwise).

Well, no use worrying now. I am yawning so sleep beckons. Must go to bed. TTFN

Portrait painting — what me?

The eyes have it
The eyes have it

I did these the last two nights…Cannot believe I was capable of it, but I somehow managed to paint them. Started with the eyes, and the rest grew around them. THe only practice I had was painting the three eyes beforehand. Weird!

Then, out of the blue I painted these two portraits, with no notion that I had the ability to do so. I simply was filled with the desire to paint them, and so I did!

First Love

Artwork – Mu’umu’u Mama

Mu'umu'u Mama
Mu'umu'u Mama

This is the one slide that didn’t make it into the mini artshow, even though I had meant it to. So here she is, about twelve inches tall or so, and of mixed ethnicity, given her lovely dark skin and incongruous Roman nose! But mixed heritages are in these days so I guess I can be forgiven, being her creator…

Papier Mache Artwork

I thought I got her eyes down particularly well...
I thought I got her eyes down particularly well...

Child SculptureIguess I don’t have to say too much about these photos since they pretty much say it all. The Child is papier mache painted with metallic acrylic paints. I made her clothes out of poster paper and paper toweling and her hair from tissue paper, the rest of her skin is mostly a layer of  heavy duty newsprint or packing paper.


We are having an art show in my building in March so I am trying to finish a few projects in order to be ready for it. Alas, the Child is taking up so much time that I dunno that I will have finished much else besides by March…since I needs must also review the galleys of my book of poems and write several articles and perform any number of other necesary duties. Here are two other small sculptures I have made that I could add to the show:



Crazy Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon
Crazy Fruit Bowl with Mini-Melon

MuuMuu Mama

Art and Recovery

Art capital A saved my life. More than that. Art gave me a new life, new hope, and something to get up in the morning for. It’s not that I stopped writing. Clearly that is not the case. But I was writing in a vacuum and needed an outlet for my creative urges that involved more than just my brain. Oh sure, writing involves the hands, too. But not in the way I mean. What I needed was, well, what do I mean? I wanted to make things, create objects or works of art that could be seen and touched and even smelled and if scratched or thrown to the ground, heard. And if I were like van Gogh, I might even try to taste them! In short, I wanted to create something physical, not just an imaginary or remembered world.

I have always needed to work with my hands, making something or doing some sort of craft or artwork, though I gavitated towards the crafty side of arts and crafts, fearing that I could not “do real art”, that I was not the stuff of which true artists are made. (And pray tell, what stuff is that, Pamela?) So even when I – on a whim – dove into sculpture during a manic episode, creating that llama-in-a-day I have spoken of, the result was mostly folk art, which is to say, unsophisticated, rustic, and at best a craft-like work. Sure, I was pretty proud that I’d made a lifesize animal that actually stood up firmly on its own four legs. But with a deli container head (underneath the papier mache) and huge mailing tube body, scarcely concealed, big enough to have once held a large amateur telescope, it didn’t look much like a llama. In fact, the result was not much more than that tube covered with a few layers of paper and glue, and all of it painted red. Nevertheless, I was proud of “Dolly the llama,” though it took me a year after the mania was treated to finish her. Her saddle blanket fooled many into tugging at the finge to see if it was real or not. a trompe-l’oeil — eye fooling — success that pleased me no end.

But a year was much too much time to complete a sculpture, even a life-size llama. I was almost dreading the work by the time I got to applying the last few strokes of paint. I needed more drive than that to do art, but I didn’t seem to be able to sustain the energey or enthusiasm for much of anything. I wasn’t sure how I managed to write the book, even. Then, during my last hospitalization it seems this obstacle was overcome: on Abilify and Geodon I suddenly had both energy and stamina galore. Or perhaps it is simply that the medications enabled a well me to come out, someone who could sustain an artistic effort, even if it was for the very first time. Given a different life I would have been doing this sort of thing all along had I known it was possible, had I had that kind of stamina… But I didn’t think about this, no, for me there was no looking back.

Over the year and a half since then I have created several pieces, large and small, from a large tortoise to a “crazy fruit” bowl. From a large seated man, to a child detachable from her hassock (not quite finished). My female sculpture, the Decorated Betsy, has even won a NAMI national contest on creativity and mental illness. But why tell you about them. I want to see if I can upload a few photos instead here, but you’ll have to bear with me as I try out the “program”. First, I want to upload a picture of that llama, just so you can get a look at my very first attempt. She now resides in my parents’ bay window, a placement that I regard as an honor.

Looks mighty co-o-o-ld out there!
Looks mighty co-o-o-ld out there!

Here is the Dream Tortoise, otherwise known as Yurtle the Turtle, which is about 3 feet in diameter.

What you lookin' at?
What you lookin’ at?

There are two other large scale sculptures, each a person, plus a work in progress, but it is nearing my bedtime and there will be hell to pay if I do not get my 8 hours of essential-to-my-mental-health sleep. So I will stop here and get back to this tomorrow, posting at least two if not more photos of my artwork then.


Aw hell, here are two more, but without comment or caption except to say that the prescription that the man holds in his hand reads: Dr John Jumoke Rx: art, poetry, music. But first the earliest human I have done, the Decorated Betsy (note that half her face is also decorated, and since Jumoke was supposed to be her doc, his face is decorated too. Does this perhaps indicate that perhaps he too is- infected?:

Decorated Betsy: Lifesize Papier Mache
Decorated Betsy: Life-Size papier mache sculpture 2008 January by Pamela Spiro Wagner

And now Dr John Jumoke

Life-size and attached to home-made papier mache chair
Life-size and attached to home-made papier mache chair