Friday, October 14, 2016

Miss America


The title of this artwork is "Miss America and Her Black Baby."  The image was found in a dream.

During my dream I was at a party at my sister's penthouse apartment.  The party was only for mothers and their children.  Most of the moms were from high society.  The children were gathered in a separate area, controlled by nannies.  Women in high society use nannies and baby sitters a lot.  Toward the end of the party, all the women and their children had trickled away, except for an actress who I recognized as "America's sweetheart".  She was a young blond lady who had once been crowned Miss America and then went on to have a blockbuster career in movies.  It puzzled me that after all the guests had left, only the actress and a black child (with a black nanny) were left.  The actress did not interact with the black child and because of the child's color of skin, I did not think that the two were related.  "We can't be seen leaving the building together" the actress told the remaining nanny.  So the nanny and child left first, and after a space of time, the actress finally left too.

"What was that all about?" I asked my sister.

"Oh, the child is a secret" my sister replied.  "For the sake of her career, she has to seem unattached.  The pregnancy was an accident.  Its surprising that she was able to keep the baby a secret, but so far, nobody knows."

"Why does she feel she has to keep her baby a secret?"  I asked.

"It's the color of the little girl's skin" my sister replied.  "That dark hue is a constant reminder that Miss America had sex with a black man.  If people knew, then parts in movies would dry up.  America is racist.  We only want our white people to have sex with white people and black people to have sex with black people.  She lives with constant deception, but she has managed to hold onto the title of America's sweetheart."

"How sad for her" I said.

"Yes, and very sad for the baby" my sister replied.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Artist's Evolution, Part II


In 1991 it was difficult to meet the requirements for discharge from a mental hospital.

In order to leave the hospital I had to first demonstrate that I could hold a part time job.  I must live at the hospital and work outside of it.  Ideally they wanted me to have a job and take a class at a local collage.  There was another schizoaffective patient who did this.  She had a job, she took a collage class, and she lived with me on the locked ward.  She was very busy.   When I bumped into her years later in a clothing store she told me she had become a paralegal in a lawyer's office.

The first job I had while living at the hospital was working with brain damaged children.  It was a volunteer job.  The Institute of Living had a children's day program.  Most of the children were just a bit over kindergarten age.  They were old enough to walk and be mobile.  But none could talk.  It was explained to me that most of these children had been born to drug addicted mothers.  Almost all would eventually go to into institutional care when they matured.  Never I had I ever imagined human life could go so wrong, that brains existed that were so unsuitable for living.  The pain that these children bore in just their simple, simple existence was beyond belief.  The volunteer job was a nightmare.

The room where I met the children was large.  It had a square marked off on the carpet in blue tape.  The children were instructed to follow the line of the blue tape.  That was all they had to do.  Walk round and round the square of blue tape.  My job was to gently steer a child's body along.  Every volunteer was given one child.  And I quickly discovered that it was only a matter of a short time when the child would try to leave the path of the blue tape and have a crisis.  It would be an emotional meltdown.  The child would flap hands and make loud  distressed noises.  Sometimes the child would throw itself on the ground and thrash.  The volunteer must make soothing conversation and try to get the child up on its feet, quieted down, and focused again on walking the line of blue tape.

It boggled my mind that after the children's day program, these children would go home to caretakers (had the drug addicted mothers all recovered?) and in their mute world, in their mute distress, with their loud freak outs, exasperate a parent for hours on end.  And the children were at home all weekend! These special children required adults to take care of them who had endless patience and endless compassion.

What could I hope to offer the abnormal children of The Institute of Living?

As a patient at The Institute of Living I was an emotional wreck.  My problems were more than just dealing with the onset of the schizoaffective mental illness.  It was only after I had left the hospital and I could experiment with my medication that I really understood the big picture.  There were two strong side effects of the high dose of antipsychotic medication the hospital had me one.  One was akathesia.  But since this word is technical and I did not know what it was, all I could do was describe the effects to my therapist.  I described overwhelming anxiety.  It was the feeling that reality was a pane of glass.  A clear pane of glass that I could see through.  And this pane of glass was on the verge of shattering.  All that was real was going to break into shards and fall apart.  My anxiety was due to my perception that reality was on the verge of shattering.  I understood clearly that this new anxiety had no specific cause and no known reason.  Yet with restless, unrelenting intensity it intruded upon me several hours after taking my morning medication

And I became very depressed as my new medication started.  I wanted to die.  Life had little value.  I cried.  I cried a lot.  The other patients in the hospital did not cry.  Undeniably all the patients I lived with were all in tremendous pain.  Some were there because they had slit their wrists or tried to hang themselves.  I could see the body language of a new patient.  Many new patients came in in a fog. What were they feeling?  It could only be described as dense.  Very dense, overwhelming emotion.  But they did not come in crying.  And from my perspective as a patient who cried a lot it was madness in and of itself when a person was in pain and could not cry.  I believed I was sane for crying and all the dry eyed patients were not.  I was anxious and depressed and I had no problem about being vocal about it.

My therapist was adamant that medication only made me better.  She told me that it was uncomfortable facing reality.  I should feel anxious facing reality.  I should feel depressed facing reality.  These negative experiences were really signs of progress and healing!

The months passed.  Months of group and individual therapy.  My parents were brought in to have therapy with.  And I did not get better.  I quit my volunteer job with the children.  And then the hospital became fed up with me.

My therapist said that there were now no more issues left for therapy to discuss.  She said the issues had been resolved with my parents.  She said that I was on the maximum dose of antidepressant and I should not be depressed.  So she had a new theory.  Her theory was that I liked living at the hospital and I did not want to leave.  I liked not working and having all my meals prepared for me.  I was refusing to grow up.  I did not want to be an adult functioning in the real world.  So my "mental illness" was my own fault.  But the hospital was going to give me one last chance.  I had been on the unit for a year and a half.  On our unit they only intended for a patient to stay six months. The one last chance they were going to give me was to get a new job, outside the Institute walls, and keep it.  If I could get a job and keep it then they would discharge me to a half-way house.  Otherwise they would discharge me to a State Hospital.  Apparently my family medical insurance no longer wanted to pay for keeping me at the Institute of Living.

At this crisis point in my life I met an Angel.  Oh, he was a real human being.  He was a retired lawyer.  Very elderly.  He was a volunteer for the United Way.  I met him at the United Way offices.  He was supposed to find me a job.  This one meeting with a stranger would alter my life forever.  That is why I call him an Angel.  An Angel of mercy.

When I met with this fellow I imagined I was only fit for janitorial work.  Pushing a broom.  Washing a chalk board.  Mopping a floor.  Truly I believed I was the lowest form of human life.  Having a mental illness and not being able to recover felt like some sort of sin just above criminal.  Criminals were locked up in jail, and I had been locked up in a mental hospital for a year and a half.  Since I could not recover maybe I did belong in the mental hospital.  Maybe I was a bad person like a criminal is a bad person.

The retired lawyer had a hard time getting me to describe what kind of work I wanted.  Because I really didn't think that I could do anything.  So he asked me to sit back, relax, and take a moment.  In that moment he wanted me to dream.  I should dream that if I could have any job in the world, what job would I have?  With his encouragement I took a moment to dream.  If I could work at anything, anywhere, then I wanted to work in an art museum.

He smiled.  With a twinkle in his eye  he said he would find me a job in an art museum.  And that is what he did.  I got a job at the Wadsworth Atheneum.  The Institute of Living and the Wadsworth Atheneum are both in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.  I was able to walk to work.

At first I worked at the museum as an exhibit monitor.  There was a special room designed by an artist.  It had boxes of sand on the counters.  This sand had object in it, like little plastic cars, barbies, and plastic soldiers.  The artist expected that people would come in and play in his sand boxes.  This was the "art experience" - playing in sandboxes.  I was there to make certain none of the loose knick-knacks in the sandboxes were stolen or that people did not throw sand or sweep it out of the boxes and onto the floor. 

Once this exhibit had ended the museum offered me a new job.  It was a mini-promotion.  My new job was working at the information desk by the front doors.  While working at the information desk I took entrance fee money and answering such questions as "Where is the bathroom?", "Where is the restaurant?", "Where is the Caravaggio?" and "How many Picasso's do you have?" 

The experience of leaving a locked psychiatric ward and then walking across town in my high heels to work at a museum transformed me.  The front of the Wadsworth is very old and looks like the front of a castle.  The Wadsworth will forever be for me a palace filled with priceless treasures.   And while working at the information desk, as I greeted the public and answered their questions about the museum's art, I became much more than just a simple mental patient.  Becoming an ambassador for the museum transformed me into art royalty.

The newly discovered sense of pride filled holes in my tattered soul. 




Saturday, April 23, 2016

Visit From God


After God visits you are changed.

God first visited me at the end of February, 2015.  He gave me a vision.  On rare and lovely days he returns and visits again.  But there are no more visions.   When God visits there is accompanying euphoria.  It is as if a drug has been injected directly into my veins.  A drug that makes me high as a kite and I cannot move.  My eyes are shut and bliss is all consuming.  God only visits when I am alone.  I am alone during the day while my husband is at work.  And when the visit starts, I lie down.   Rapture is not something to experience standing up.  You have to be lying down while in the grips of rapture.

I know God had changed me because after his visit my parents can not hurt me.  God made me a lot tougher.  Or maybe, when I am closer to God, I am better protected.  In April 2015 I spent Easter with my Father.  Typically after a visit with with my father I am suicidal.  Usually because of the distress I take extra medication in the car while my husband drives me home.  My husband and I have fought because my husband wanted to ban me from seeing my father. 

But Easter 2015 things were different.  My husband noticed that when my father tried to bully me a bit, I stood up to him.  My husband says that bullies back down very quickly if they are confronted.  And at the dinner table, as we talked, my husband said I rarely made eye contact with anyone.  My husband said that whenever I spoke I looked up at a spot over his head.  There was a window behind and above him.  So this was a window I looked out of.  My husband  said I seemed very much like an autistic child.  And yet, the visit was fun.  It was nice to enjoy my Dad.  My Dad gave me an awesome painting he had painted.  And I had no distress after.

Then in summer of 2015 I spent two weeks at my mother's home on the coast of Maine.  Again, I suffered no distress from having this prolonged contact with her.  What I knew, during my visit, is that I must display no signs of emotional vulnerability.   For there is a pattern to mother's conversations with me.  After God had visited me, I understood how thing work.   God must have made me aware of what was going on.  If I doubt myself, or show any signs of weakness, my mother attacks me.  Her voice becomes very hard, condemning, criticizing.  If my mental defenses are at all lowered, then this will be the moment that she emotionally tries to destroy me.  Perhaps, that during that summer, I was so close to the vision of union with God, that there simply were not many times of self doubt or emotional uncertainty.  Mom and me were good because I was stronger than I have ever been.  Mom collapsed in her bed in the hour before I was to leave because she did not want me to leave.  I brought her tea in bed and hugged her.

So what exactly happened, when God first visited?

I was in bed and could not make art.  Because I was very worried.  The worry had left me exhausted.  It was morning, and I was exhausted.  There were thing happening, out there, in the far world.  Strangers were looking at my art and judging me.  My art was at the mercy of their opinion.

In the preceding year, 2014, all my effort had gone into making a ten piece series of large oil pastels.  My goal was to create a ten work portfolio to submit to the New York City art gallery Ricco Maresca.  Ricco Maresca has for decades represented the schizophrenic artist Ken Grimes.  They are open to representing artists who have disabilities.  But Ricco Maresca is elite.  My husband says they are Harvard taste and I would be better represented by M.I.T. taste. In truth, I am a little risque for Ricco Maresca.  But there are so few galleries that offer open submissions.  Ricco Maraesca was at least open to reviewing a portfolio by an unknown artist. 

On the day before God visited my husband had submitted my art to five New York City art galleries who all promote Outsider Art.  Emotionally I could not represent myself so he had to represent me.  I was just too frightened of them.  Yet I knew I needed them.  A gallery is a place to sell art.  I wanted to sell art.  So I needed to find a gallery.  The terror of their judgement was killing me.  Ultimately all the five galleries would turn my husband away.

So he submitted my art on a Sunday.  And on a Monday morning I lay in bed consumed by hope and terror.

The rapture was so sweet that there was no alarm.  I didn't fight being swept up.  And up, and up and up my emotions went into ecstasy.  When I closed my eyes, I saw in my inner vision a view of the earth from outer space.  And everything was enveloped in Love.   Me, the earth, all the creatures below and the empty space between the planets of our solar system, all was filled with Love.  It was God.  God is the fabric of the universe and God is alive with Love.  The idea of an independent self is mostly an illusion.  So much of who we are is an expression of God, that there is almost no room for a self.  We are vehicles. We are vessels.  Not just human beings.  But a dog.  A dog is the manifestation of God.  A coffee table.  A coffee table is the manifestation of God.  All dense matter.  All empty space.  All are alive. The Universe is alive.  And its awareness is that of Love.

Now before this February visit from God, in global news, there had been much alarm over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  One the BBC, one article I read asked if this would be start of World War III.  Personally I was scared.  President Obama was at a European conference and he then said that his primary worry was a nuclear missile detonating in New York City.  This remark occurred a day after a journalist asked, in an internet article, "Why is the eastern seaboard at the highest nuclear threat level?"  After hearing Obama's remark,my guess was that there was a Russian submarine off the New England coast and Putin was threatening New York City.  Putin held New York City as nuclear hostage in order that the United States to stay out of the conflict in the Ukraine.

So this is what was on my mind, besides waiting for the galleries in New York City to respond.  Those were my worries.  And about these worries, the Universe had a message to convey to me.

In my vision, up high above the earth, the Universe showed me the coastline of New England.  Part of the earth was dark, with the light of the cities, and part of the earth the sun lit up.  I saw where I was, and I saw where Russia was.  And then I felt, I heard, I understood, I was told this: "Everything is O.K.".  If the human species is foolish enough to destroy itself, and foul its planet with nuclear detonations, still, everything will be O.K.  In part this is because on the other side of death there is the rapture of Love.  What I experienced that moment I would again experience after death.  All creatures return to the universal consciousness of Love after death.  It does not matter to the Universe whether I live or die.  Because, the message to me was, "Everything is O.K."  It matters not the Universe the whole of humanity's history.  For in the cosmic eye, our troubles are less than blink, and our whole evolution is less than a yawn.  The earth is small when viewed from the vastness of space. And humanity is small in the arc of the existence of the Universe.  I must understand that whether or not the art gallery Ricco Maresca was interested in me, still, "Everything is O.K."

God chooses when he will visit.  I have tried to summon rapture by working on art to exhaustion.  This does not work.  Sometimes so much time passes without rapture that I think, "It was good while it lasted, but I am now on my own and God will not visit again."  And then to my surprise the rapture and touch of God returns.

In writing this and remembering the vision, I am now at the edge of rapture.   Often at night before sleep I send out a prayer, "I love the Universe".  When I say, with my inner voice, "I love the Universe" yes, then I feel the edge of rapture.  If I can say wholeheartedly "I love" then usually a taste of cosmic love returns to me.

I love God. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Clear Headedness


Before I make another post, I want to update people on my health.

1. I no longer say things that don't make any sense.

2. I no longer think things that don't make any sense.

Several years ago my posts were describing a new phenomena.  It was a worsening of my illness.  Naturally I was alarmed, and I described the few incidents.

Since taking hormone replacement therapy for perimenopause the advancement of my illness has stopped and I have reverted to a much calmer place of peace of mind.  While I still have episodes of torment, well, I've always had those going back to childhood.  But most of the time now I am in a place of contentment.

Estrogen protects females from schizophrenia.

I am wearing an estrogen patch on my hip right now.  I have been using hormone treatment for the last year and a half.

Two bits of information made me seek hormone replacement therapy.  The first was a study by Japanese scientists I discovered online.  The Japanese found that schizophrenic women needed less medication during menopause if they were taking hormone replacement therapy.  Schizophrenic women who entered menopause without hormone replacement therapy eventually needed more medication.  This indicated to me that mental illness was exacerbated by menopause, and protection was given by hormone replacement therapy.  The second thing that made up my mind was an anecdote by my medication nurse.  She is near retirement, but when she was young she worked as a nurse in a psychiatric institution that warehoused the mentally ill.  I asked her what they did with female schizophrenics who had difficulty during perimenopause. She said the hospital put them on hormone replacement therapy.

In all, I did a lot of research about perimenopause and menopause on the internet.  I was starting to have classic signs that my body was changing and nearing menopause.  There were some scary first person accounts of husbands who watched helplessly as their wife's personalieties changed drastically.  While these women still were able to function in society, their behavior could be described as mentally ill.  Then there were the reverse stories from women in menopause who felt more confident and more serene.  However, it is cold hard fact that the suicide rate for women is the highest along the entry point of menopause, and that the divorce rate for couples is also the highest near the entry point of menopause.  Evidently, it is a time of great emotional upheaval.

My best friend is 53 and entered menopause when she was 50.  She is paranoid schizophrenic.  During perimenopause she described her cognitive abilities as sharpening, and the feeling that she was becoming very wide eyed and perceptive.  "I am thinking the best I've ever thought" was a comment she frequently made.  During perimenopause she only needed a slight increase in her anti-depressant medication for sudden depressive episodes and crying boughts.  When menopause was official she rejoiced.  However, this last year her schizophrenia worsened.  It was heartbreaking to watch.  She became terrified and tormented by paranoid thoughts.  Her pain was profound.  Her world was so very dark and cruel to her.  I have known her for about 25 years and she has never been so unhappy.  And I thought, like the Japanese women in menopause who are unprotected by hormone therapy, she is going to need more medication.  And that was the outcome.  She is now on more medication.  Because of this medication increase she has very little energy.  She is very sedated.  But I understand, and she understands, that there is no other way to live.  She has to accept the medication because she could not survive the Hell-On-Earth that her delusions made her live through.  Her voices are still very cruel, they tell her cruel stories of how people are whispering behind her back insulting, demeaning, and mocking her.  Every morning she reads the Bible and prays.  She tells me that the one prayer, said every morning, is she wants God to help her ignore the voices and not react to the viciousness of other people.  Pretty much, she thinks the voices are accurate.  She feels people giving her stares and negative attitude every day.  But she prays that she not react.  That she can ignore them.  Even, perhaps, to smile at the people who hate her.

Do people know that a paranoid schizophrenic would pray, every morning, for such a thing?   A mind assaulted by persecution wishes to turn away and be quiet.

My new physician is an older woman.  She entered menopause when she was 40.  And she has been on hormone replacement therapy for 21 years.  She told me that research done by Duke University proposed that estrogen delivery by the patch, as opposed to a pill, does not create health complications like cancer.  My doctor said that breast cancer runs in her family.  Yet she has no intention of stopping the hormone treatment.  I told her that she must feel the benefits of the hormones outweighs the risks.

Her advice to me, after hearing the story of a worsening, then reversal of my illness, is that I stay on hormone treatment for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Brother and Me

Who will want my work?  I sent these two pictures to my friend.  He said to me, "Who is your audience?  Is it psycho killers and the criminally insane?"

As a contrast to my art, here is my younger brother's art.  He is quite well and does not have a mental illness.

My brother and I artist wise, don't even seem to be on the same genetic tree.  

You can't choose your camp.  But most artists fall into into one of two camps.  You either live in the mountains, or you live in the valley.  Either the sunshine of the soul, or the darkness of the soul.  As for my bright colors, they may suck in your attention, lure you with the lusciousness of bright color vibration but don't be fooled.

My brother is on the side of light and good and peace.

I am on the side of darkness and chaos and energy.

He calms.

I frighten. 

He is quite happy with life.

I have profound episodes of torment.





Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Artist's Evolution Part I








I started making art in a psychiatric institution.  The ward was locked and I lived there for two years.  I had my brother and sister drive me to this hospital when I was nineteen.  I rather thought it was like a hotel where you could check in and check out.  But once they had me, they didn't want to let me go.

When I arrived I could not read.  As the year before I had been reading Emmanuel Kant and Henry James, some of the most difficult philosophical and literary text ever devised, not reading really bothered me.  I had to have something to do to pass the time. Since  I was new to the hospital my mental state was unknown to the staff.   So movement and privileges were severely restricted.  I asked my mother to bring me two things.  Artist's plastic modeling clay and the largest box of Crayola crayons she could find.  I wanted as many colors as I could get.

What I fashioned from the modeling clay wasn't much.  It was one shape, then destroyed in my fist, and another new shape.  I don't think I take naturally to sculpture.  But the crayons were my joy.  I didn't draw with them at first.  I suppose my mind was too destroyed at that point for drawing.  What I did was make crayon rows.  I simply arranged the sticks of color.  An orange crayon next to a blue crayon next to a green crayon next to a red crayon.  Each crayon tight touching the next.  My premise was that in a line of fifty colors there are some harmonies of sequence that work better than others.  It is rather subtle to say that a melody is arranged of deep notes, loud notes, and quite notes when you are considering strict linear contrasts of pure pigment - but that is indeed art.  The compositions I arrange today on my sheets of paper using oil pastel pull the eye in circular and diagonal movement.  I am in no way an abstract painter today.  But when my mind was stripped bare and hardly functional, my artistic talent could only be in terms of fundamental color interplay.  And pretty much, if I must be honest, my biggest challenge in my contemporary work is in terms of color interplay.  You do not know the oodles of time, really countless, that I have complained to my husband "This work is a disaster.  The colors are all wrong."  I love color more than I love chocolate.

My crayon rows were done while I was sitting on the floor under a table.  In our main common room there was a table next to the window that held potted plants.  While underneath, people didn't bother me.  It felt safe.  And at the time, I didn't wish to walk.  I preferred to crawl from room to room.  All that crawling wore out the fabric in my pants and made my knees red.  Sitting under tables was cool too because people would come and have interesting conversations and not even know you were present.  I enjoyed listening to secrets and gossip.

As I started to recover I tried to read.  I had my mother bring in all my children's books she had kept as mementos.  The patients were my audience.  I remember reading "The Little Engine That Could" about a train climbing a mountain to a man who had both wrists heavily bandaged from a suicide attempt.  We sat on the floor together, backs against the wall, shoulder to shoulder to look at the pictures in the book.  I remember him being very happy but a bit bewildered having this story read to him.  And every night, before bed, I read one new Chinese fairy tale from my illustrated Chinese fairy tale book to my roommate.  This made her grow very fond of me.

Then I started drawing with the crayons.  And a morning ritual developed.  I wake early, so this was done while most everyone was still asleep. I would go to the end of the hallway where there was a large window and sit on the floor in front of it.  Usually it was still dark outside. I did five scribble drawing.  They were done very fast with no conscious guidance.  Too slow and I would be "thinking".  I didn't want to "think" while I scribbled.  What fascinated me was that no two drawings looked the same.  Day after day my scribble trove grew, and never ever did I repeat myself.  I viewed the scribbles as a direct product of my unconscious mind.  For if I was not consciously guiding the scribbling hand, what was?  And why should the product of the unconscious mind be endlessly original?  Then, like with the reading of children's books I started pulling other patients into my service.  I would show a patient my scribble trove.  Next it was explained that I was collecting scribbles, and I wanted to see their personality in a scribble.  What the patients who participated did was illuminating.  I realized that there were indeed new ways, with new people, of scribbling.  Each person had their own scribble style.

The patient who was most ill was non-verbal.  Even if you could force him to talk, (rather, I didn't force, I sweet talked) - what came out was a classical word salad.  Words grouped together that had no attachment to one another.  There was intelligence in his eyes, total awareness, and I can only assume that he knew it was impossible for him to communicate verbally.  Probably he was exasperated or embarrassed with his disability so he preferred silence.   To me his scribble effort was the most frightening.  It was just a tiny grouping of a few lines in the center of the paper.  This he gave me after a lot of my coaching to try, just try.  My scribbling was expansive and energetic and covered the whole paper.  Next to me was impoverished and limited.  I tested him again and again to see if he could improve.  Nope.  If ever a scribble could look hopeless, his did.

After the children's books, I moved on to short magazine articles.  It would take an entire year of healing before I could read my first book.  That book was "Rock Star", a torrid love affair by Daniel Steel.

Eventually it became clear to staff that I was odd but totally harmless and they let me use scissors.  I cut colored construction paper.  There was a bulletin board that the doctors said I could have to decorate.  I remember doing a monster scene that was reminiscent of Miro abstraction, but with eyes and mouths.  I wanted then to go bigger.  I stared decorating the wall next to my bed.  Just put rolled tape on the back of the cut out paper and it will stick to the wall.  Never did I think I was making art.  I was just making.  For the fun of it.  To escape the violence, the hopelessness, and the tedium of the hospital.  Mental escape while you are a physical prisoner.  Staff eventually said that my wall in my bedroom had so much paper on it that it was a fire hazard and I had to reduce it to a third of its size.  In tears, I destroyed it all.  It had been a popular landmark, patients standing in the doorway to look because no one was allowed to go into someone else's bedroom. What did it mean? they would ask me.  Nothing, I said, it meant nothing.

As my skills in reading improved, I tried to write short one page stories.  And I started drawing in proper.  I had not drawn since kindergarten.  I would make a small monster in pencil, and then when the lines were corrected and I got I wanted, I went over the pencil with a ball point pen.  A patient looked at a collection of about fifteen small drawings of absurd little impossibilities (for none of my drawings could have ever existed in nature)  and said it looked like something he saw in a book.  A book of what?  A book on an artist.

It took everything out of me to create a sentence or to sketch a tiny two inches by three inches monster.  There was no creative flow.  I know now, as a mature artist, what it is like to be in creative flow.  But in the hospital, my concentration would not permit the linking together of moments in my mind.  In every sentence I wrote I remember struggling over the order of words.  I wrote and re-wrote sentences.  Linking sentences to form a paragraph was the hardest because the thoughts jumped abruptly from one sentence to another.  Like my shattered mind, my paragraphs also were shattered.  But I had time to edit endlessly.

Letters to friends and family were written on brown paper bags ripped up into an uneven shards.  Pencil is just visible on paper bags, readable, but with some eye strain.  My Uncle apparently was very alarmed at receiving his paper bag shard in the mail. I doubt it was alarm over what I said, it was the oddity of the physical manuscript.

When my sister came to visit me during her spring break from college she brought her college boyfriend.  He was an English major and wanted to be a professional writer.  I shyly let him read two one page stories.  One story was about a beast named Misery and the other story was about a tiny thimble sized King who God smites.  Obviously I was just echoing my current condition in life.   

My sister said her boyfriend claimed, after reading my stories, that he might as well give up writing.  My sister said he really was in turmoil.  Maybe he was a bit jealous of me?  Why did my writing make him despair?  Perhaps he felt that a woman in a psychiatric institution should not produce writing that was superior to his own.  No doubt he considered himself quite sane.  And someone whose sanity was in doubt should not get away with producing evidence of superior talent.   

This fellow's reaction to my writing was the first time ever I considered the idea that madness can produce brilliance.  Not everyone's madness.  But yes, it is so, in the case of the rare few.   I love, love the work of the Victorian painter Richard Dadd after he went mad.  Before, he was only so so.  Before he was romantic and a technical virtuoso.  But after the breakdown he went places no sane mind would venture.  They say that artists in the artworld haven't been inspired by Dadd that same way that musicians and writers have.  I think sane minds loath to break rules of reality.  Our eyes are constantly giving us visual reminders of what reality is.  Questioning the sanity and rules of the eyes is hard to do.  I know in this era of modern art all the abstractions seem to point to the artist's mantra that reality doesn't have to impinge in artistic creation in the least.  But the best painters, in my taste, make a poem out of reality.  They make reality rhyme.  They make reality into a song, into a taste.  But they hang onto something essential and then add the spiritual.  Dadd's spiritual was demonic.  I don't mean this to mean evil.  I mean it as the opposite of law and order.  My art too is demonic.  A very early oil pastel drawing was once shown to an immigrant baker of bagels.  He called it "devil's crap".  I don't think he knew much about art. But he was keen to his senses. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

De Kooning's Alzheimer's; My Alzheimer's Drawing


The title of this oil pastel drawing is "End of Life".  When I was designing it I didn't know what it was about, story wise.  And I didn't know what I was doing, nor what I was drawing, nor why why I was drawing it.  For a while there, I was really disturbed by what I was making. The violence and darkness of the subject matter didn't bother me.  I was disturbed by internal variations in my normal sensation of creative flow.  In this drawing, somehow, my creative process was less satisfactory.

However, its final phase, the story is very straight forward and clear.  The drawing is a variation on the Greek myth of the three fates.  The three fates were women who dealt with string and the timing of one's life.  One Fate to spin the string, one Fate to measure the string, and one  Fate to cut the string.  So a person's lifeline was created, you lived it out, and when a Fate cut the string, you died.  The black string in "End of Life" is perhaps less about measurement and more about the assent from earth into the afterlife.  A journey is taking place.  A transference.  Movement from the Earthly plane (why, there's green grass on the ground) to a more celestial plane (the cart is flying through the blue sky).  Note the baby saint, or Jesus, in the womb of the winged Billy Goat.  Is it a symbol of rebirth?  Is it a symbol of the destination of Heaven?  Is it a symbol of a plane of existence that I'm at loss to depict in a drawing?  I don't know, but somehow, I get a good feeling of hope from my pregnant, cart hauling, aimed upward, winged Billy Goat.  He isn't the goat that is associated with the Devil, no way.  Maybe its my own personal spin on drawing an angel.  An animal angel.

Where there is flesh of the Godly Fates I used a lot of pink tones.  Where there is flesh of those that have died, I have used tones of green and blue and brown.

I asked my husband, "Why are their holes in the women's breasts?"  and without hesitation he replied "Because they lack the milk of human kindness."

But my husband does not understand why all the dead people's faces have unhappy looks on them.  "Sometimes you say you want to die" he said to me.  "If you want to die, shouldn't the faces in death be happy?  Because you got what you want?"  He continued on this line of thought.  "I think because the faces look unhappy, you really don't want to die, even when you say so."

I got a notion that repeated itself to me while planing and executing this drawing.  I kept thinking that the drawing was different from preceding work.  And that the difference was because I was showing early stages of Alzheimer's.

Now, reality check.  Do I have any sort of problems with my memory?  No, absolutely not.  Still, I kept telling my husband, like a broken needle on a record, "It feels like I have Alzheimer's when I draw."  Do I know anyone with Alzheimer's?  No.  But what I was trying to express, I think, was that my thoughts felt blocked and slowed down.  Schizophrenia is a type of dementia, but I wanted to say that while making this art I felt like I had dementia on top of dementia.   Creative flow felt altered, and not in a good way.  It was my husband who pointed out to me that during the Christmas season I had gone up, a tiny bit, on my antipsychotic medication.  Just one extra 20mg pill a night.  The holiday time is a former time of hospitalization.  Its hard to remember, but I think I've had two hospitalizations right before Christmas.  So its a kinda a danger zone.  And since I was doing so well on the higher dose of medication I just kept on taking the increased dose.  More medication all throughout January.  During the planing and execution of this drawing. "Your probably really sensitive to how the medication alters your creativity." My husband said to me.  "It must be that you don't like the way the medication affects your creativity."

I have seen art transformed by Alzheimer's.  I think there was an unconscious reason I picked this disease to describe how I felt.

A couple of years ago I read a very good and detailed biography of the abstract expressionist painter Willem De Kooning.  When De Kooning was at his best his work has intense energy and vitality.  At the end of his life De Kooning had Alzheimer's so bad he stopped speaking.  I suppose that's part of the normal course of Alzheimer's.   At this point in his life, when a paintbrush was put in his hand (oh, they were trying to get him to paint right up to the very end, he was so bankable) - all he would paint on canvas was a circle.  The story of his art was all there for me to see in pictures in the book - early art training, decades of artistic searching, the mastery and breakthrough, and eventual pictorial dementia.  I HAVE SEEN AN ALZHEIMER'S PIECE OF ARTWORK.  WHEN I SAID MY WORK LOOKED LIKE I HAD ALZHEIMER'S, I WAS SENSITIVE TO A SUBTLE ALTERATION THAT MIMICKED EXISTING ALZHEIMER'S ARTWORK.  I BELIEVE THIS WAS BECAUSE OF A SMALL INCREASE IN ANTI-PSYCHOTIC MEDICATION.

When De Kooning was good, he was very good.  I especially liked his series of Women, who were ugly sexual goddesses (sometimes with teeth!) that dominated and made a strong subvocal statement to the viewer like  "I exist!  I am solid!  I am all woman! If you have sex with me I'll eat you whole and spit out your ribcage!".  The museum that I worked at in my youth had two de Koonings.   One was a delicate, somber, semi-realistic man relegated to the wall of a staircase (not an esteemed position).   The other painting was done after fame had arrived, in signature abstract expressionist style.  This painiting was far more advanced, in power and scope, and was one of the lynchpins of the 20th Century art wing of the museum.  So, in a way, I've had the several year experience of live contact with a massive, impressive de Kooning in addition to any of the illustrations of his work that I've seen in books.  

When Willem De Kooning started his abstract expressionist style of painting he pretty much became a success overnight.  He had been known in the artworld, lots of artist buddies, but not yet much noticed or talked about by the art critics.  The trajectory of his talent proves to me that for some artists, they must spend decades of searching before they find the style that exudes power and creative grace.  Van Gogh is another other example of an artist who trained and searched before he became a master.  Most people agree that Van Gogh was a creative genius.  Yet I own a two volume complete set of reprints of his work, and for the first ten years he was painting he was nothing more than an average painter (sometimes a horrible painter!). Early Van Gogh had some definite flops.  A Van Gogh flop?  You bet.  For some artists, it takes years of practice and dedication to get to the point where they exhibit the unearthly powers of a creative genius.  At the end of his life Van Gogh made a masterpiece every day.  You can be born with talent, maybe even genius, but not many are genius prodigies, obvious and known at a young age.  Often there is a learning curve before the artistic miraculous happens.  In America the myth is that fame and fortune happens virtually overnight (on American Idol?)  and we forget that for some creative stars there is muckcrawling and unrewarded practice for a long time.  Slogging away in darkness before the light shines.  And when that light shines, the artist truly becomes themselves.  Unique and like no other.  That's when the art world notices the talent; when the artist breaks with history and finds a signature style.

De Kooning had a wife named Elaine who the biographer that wrote my book didn't like very much.  If you encounter her on Wikipedia, they seem to be very nice to her.  They name her among the greats of the abstract expressionist movement.  I think this is a weird lie - I've never seen any work by her.   I prefer to believe the author of my book.  He never pays attention to her art.  The DeKooning marriage wasn't much of a success.  They both went on to have affairs and stop living with one another.  Yet they never divorced.  Elaine liked being married to a famous artist and she especially liked big money.   She was a mouth piece in the art world and high society promoting her husband's work.  When he started showing signs of dementia, she covered it up as best she could.  She got him assistants sworn to secrecy.  She moved him permanently out of New York City to an isolated studio Willem had designed and built the country.  Elaine did not want the high prices his works commanded to deflate.  Afterall she was his wife and entitled to a large share of his income.  Elaine promoted the visual change in Willem's art as a next step in the evolution of a master painter.   It was true that up till then  DeKooning's trajectory had always been one of evolution.  At a point in the 1980's the look of De Kooning's work definitely changed.  The abstraction in the paintings became very fluid.  Looking a bit like it had been smoothly poured in patches.  Much different from earlier paint that was broken, gestural, interwoven, fast and furious.  In late De Koonings forms of color floated serenely.  The colors were all separated from one another.  There was new peace and order in the paintings.  The dementia phase work was wholly abstract, with no subtle reference what-so-ever to any object in reality.  In my museum's De Kooning there was a pair of lips.  A lot of abstraction but a definite nod as well to a red pair of feminine lips.  The late De Kooning canvasses were still interesting - that's probably why the value held.  De Kooning's illness was relegated to rumor - but a definite departure in style had occurred.

I swear that half way through this drawing, when all the white of the paper had been eradicated by a first layer of oil pastel , I felt such a violent rejection of my creation that I wanted to destroy the artwork.  What stopped me was all the time and effort that had already gone into the piece.  I did reason with myself.   Feeling violent disgust toward my own creation is something I've wrestled with before.  Artwork has been destroyed, much to my later regret.  So no matter the dark impulses I was feeling I had to finish it.  I can't do much about my perception of my artwork.  However, I can suspect it.  I don't trust it.  One day I can like a work, another day looking at the work fills me with self loathing and a feeling of failure.  Usually when I finish an artwork, and I look at the thing done, it makes me feel crazy.  Completed work seems so energized that my sensibilities can't tolerate it.  That's always a current reaction to any work done on low dose of anti-psychotics. I like it, but I can't bare to stare at it.

I know that the disease of schizophrenia alters self awareness, and most importantly, self perception.  I don't have problems with grandiosity.  Instead I can be visited (this usually doesn't last longer than a day or two)  a rather horrible sense of self regard.  I recently had a day of darkness when I remarked to my husband, "I am shredding myself.  Cutting myself up inside and making me bleed by self condemnation.  What a horrible, unnecessary thing to do to oneself."

When I finish any piece of artwork I take a picture and email it to friends and family.  The support, and liking of this drawing has been strong and positive.  My mom really liked it.  She asked that since it seemed to her to be so creative, had I recently gone DOWN on my medication? (There was so much irony and humor in this question I almost didn't believe I had heard the comment correctly.)  However, I will make one small observation about my Mother.  She likes works done on a lot of medication.  She is distinctly troubled by low dose medication artwork.  I think they confuse and alarm her.  She has said to me, with all intended kindness, "I'm trying hard to understand your new style."  I have noticed that the art she enjoys living with, decorating her home, is light, happy, simple, and straightforward.  Mass media art.  My artwork that she owns is mostly crammed into the smallest room in the house.  This room used to be a pantry for canned goods.  My brother's realistic painting of three potatoes has a place of honor over the table in her large kitchen.  So a picture of three potatoes is what my mom prefers to look at.  I have been directly asked by my mother not to gift her anymore artwork. 

If you want to compare two works of art on two different doses of medication (and make your own opinion about the effects of medication on art), compare the picture of the last post to the picture of this essay.  They were both done on the same size of paper, 22"x 30".  You can click on the image to see it enlarged.  January's post drawing is the paper held horizontal.  February's post is the same paper held vertical.  Last month's drawing, "Love is Complicated" was conceived on 60mg Geodone.  I was happy with it when it was finished.  This month's drawing, "End of Life" was conceived on 80mg of Geodone.   While as a honest critic I see "End of Life" has solid elements of innovation, composition, and meaning, - I still feel a much looser and less passionate connection to it. I feel its me, but too, it isn't me.  And for some reason, that pisses me off. 

When I went up on medication several things happened to my personality.  I became less critical of my husband.  Whenever he said something I disagreed with there was less of a tiff.  More medication meant a more serene, agreeable me.   And formerly, every night, I had felt a darkness.  Sadness, despair, and hurt once the sun went down.   Mornings were good, but evenings, right before I took my daily dose of medication medication (with dinner - food activated the medicine) were often horrible.  On the higher dose of medication my mood stayed more constant and pleasant.  And on the higher dose of medication there has not been one incident when I said things that make no sense.  No more "everyone in the world is laughing at me", no more "everyone in the world wants to kill me", and no more strange observations like "I think I'm made out of sugar and onions."  What did happen each month, on both doses of medication, I lost the ability to speak.  It really doesn't matter how much medication I'm on, occasionally I will loose the ability to speak.  There are ways to communicate, but never with words.  And even on oodles of medication I've gotten to the point where I could not speak or move, frozen in place.  Usually that happens after a period of tremendous stress and physical activity - sensory overload.  So no amount of medication can prevent the occasional occurrence of catatonia.

Actually, there is a lot less catatonia on low medication.  But there is a lot more of what my husband calls "the scalpel".  This is critical thinking that will not tolerate any lies, fabrication, or long winded stories in conversation.  Low medication Karen wants the truth, straight forward and simple in conversation.  I'll cut with a scalpel to the chase.  No head games.  Once the scalpel is out, I will not tolerate head games.  I think this includes a diminished ability to appreciate humor.  An increase, perhaps, of concrete black and white thinking?  More medication and I'm much more light-hearted.  Less medication and I'm more mean, critical, sarcastic and biting in conversation.  My husband's dreaded "scalpel".   

My marriage was smoother, and happier, this past month while I made this artwork!  A noticeable difference!  However, my consistent distress over making artwork that I did not feel for some reason emotionally attached to (the complaint of Alzheimer'! Strange wonderment -  it feels like I now have Alzheimer's!) caused my husband to make a sudden pronouncement last weekend.  "Go back down to 60mg" he said.  "Its ok with me."

So now I'm on day 3 at 60mg.  I'm drawing everyday, planning my next piece.  But I think too I'm a little weirder, meaner, more unhappy person. I got an email from a male friend yesterday.  "You keep talking about boobs.  What is it with boobs?"  Ah yes, the return of obsessional thinking.

But I'm happy again and feel connected to my drawing.

I feel a dawn and rebirth of things not of this world.  But all said and done, the drawing on this post is still very odd.

I never stopped being the DEADLY SERIOUS IDIOT.