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.